Review: One

I was totally drawn in to Sarah Crossan’s One by the buzz. I’m not going to lie: I was hearing about this book everywhere: on twitter, on instagram, on booktube, in the blogosphere, and I’m a bit like that really: I kind of like to know what all the fuss is about. I don’t stay away from books that get a lot of hype because I have this need to break free from the crowd and ‘those books are never any good anyway’ – I go after them with grabby hands because what if they are that good and I am missing out. I don’t like to miss out.

So, One, the story of teenaged conjoined twins Tippi and Grace was everywhere and there were whispers of a Wonder like magic and I loved Wonder so freaking hard and I wanted in. I WANTED IN. & soooooo I read it (thanks Netgalley, for that) and here I am SO MUCH LATER BECAUSE WE ALL KNOW I HAVE SUCKED THIS SUMMER and I am ready to talk at you about it.

S’a good book.

Don’t worry, that’s not the end (hello, have you met me? Of course that’s not the end.)

That’s the starting point though: it’s a good book.

The ending is predictable (and I feel like such a little rebel starting at the end) and possibly a little bit too much, probably the only time actually when I felt that emotions were being shoved in may face: this is how you should be feeling Josephine so go ahead and feel it, but Wonder was the same at the end and I suspect that might have more to do with my not being the target demographic than anything else you know? & honestly? I did feel that way, all of those things that I think Crossan wanted me to feel. I totally felt them.

Really, the whole thing could totally have been overly sentimental and teeth-rottingly sweet and just too much but it wasn’t. This is actually a pretty beautiful book.

It’s very cleverly written which as always gives me all the love/hate feelings (how do you words I love you. how do you words I hate you) and it’s poignant and powerful and lovely. It’s written in verse which is awesome and unusual and I love and so sometimes there’s only a handful of words on the page so you know, no overly flowery descriptions here, but that’s what makes it so clever: every word feels like it counts for something, like it holds a message, like it matters.
It’s such a refreshing change too, to read something that’s different to most other things. You don’t get that many books written in free verse, unless you’re hanging out in the poetry section obvs (and perhaps I ought to do that more. Jen, send me some recs please *heads over to Jen’sbooktube*) I mean, what is this book? Poetry collection? Novel? Both? 

Whatever it is, I bloody loved it. It’s what made it for me I think. I mean the story is excellent and the characters are gorgeous and it’s a book about issues – not just Tippi and Grace and what their lives look like, but anorexia and HIV and alcoholism all feature – and it’s a book about life and it’s a book that makes you think and question and feel; it’s relevant and it’s important but more than that it’s so beautiful. SEDUCE ME WITH PRETTY WORDS. I’m not going to lie: I’m a bit of a smitten kitten and I want some more Sarah Crossan in my life please.

You should read it peeps: this has been a recommendation.

Review: A Place Called Winter

I think, basically, that if you haven’t read this book then you’re doing life wrong. In fact, if you haven’t read this book then what are you even doing right now? Don’t read this blog post: READ THIS BOOK. Seriously. Go. Go.

In case you can’t work it out for yourself, I cannot recommend A Place Called Winter highly enough. I loved it with a capital L O V E D. It’s just…it’s..well it’s a really well told story I guess. Basically, it’s what a good book should be. It’s wonderful and moving and raw and just…freaking excellent. It’s incredibly beautifully written and so atmospheric and its one of those books that sort of gets under your skin and stops there. It ripped my heart from my chest in the first chapter and then kept hold of it until the very last word. It’s fascinating and enthralling and ALL THE GOOD ADJECTIVES. ALL OF THEM.  If you visit this blog often (in which case I love you) then you know I could totally rant on for all of time about all that is good about this story and how I love Harry so hard it makes my chest tight but I don’t really want to do that. What I want to do is thrust this book into the hands of everyone I know and demand they read it right now. & I want to give Patrick Gale a really huge hug and say thanks, matey, for writing it. .

It’s about – because God knows you’re likely not going to read a book based on that paragraph alone – this guy called Harry, who in early 20th century England somehow finds himself married to a lady called Winnie, and father to their little girl Phyllis. Harry is quiet and stuttering and unassuming and utterly enchanting and for a while, all seems to be pretty okay. And then he meets someone, and he cheats on his wife and as often happens with these things, he gets found out. By his wife’s brother which you know: killer. Anyway, actions have consequences and Harry finds himself with little option but to leave everything he knows and loves behind and move to Canada, were he makes his home on a plot of land in a town called Winter and well, stuff happens: good stuff and bad stuff and sad stuff and beautiful stuff.

It’s another of those split narrative books – alternating between Henry’s time in the ‘therapeutic community’ he joins after leaving a mental asylum and the events that led to him being institutionalised in the first place –from his life before Winnie, to his marriage, his affair, his moving to Winter and beyond. It’s stunning. It’s exceptionally well researched (and is based on the story of Gale’s great-grandfather. Right in the feels people, good gracious.)
The whole thing is a really fascinating look at human nature and at treatments for mental illness – and what constitutes mental illness in the first place -  and the views on homosexuality in the early 20th century. It was hard and heartbreaking but it was also fascinating you know? Besides which, Gale’s prose is glorious – you’ll be captivated by his descriptions alone. 

I'm not even above begging here: please, please read this book.

Review: The Heart Goes Last

The Heart Goes Last. God, but you have no idea how much I wanted to love this book; how excited I was when I first heard about it; how I actually danced around my living room when I finally got my hands on it back in the summer. You cannot beat a good bit of living room dancing. Or kitchen dancing: last night I danced around my kitchen to Kylie whilst cooking my tea (and then I had regrets because my back is the hurtiest this week omg) but I digress: my dancing skills or lack thereof are not what I am here for. 

The point is, I love Margaret Atwood. I have such an author!crush you don’t even know. I adore the woman. Actual feelings of adoration. I was so ready for this book to be all kinds of glorious because it sounds like everything I love about Margaret Atwood and everything that she does best.

A sinister, wickedly funny novel about a near-future in which the lawful are locked up and the lawless roam free

That’s what it’s being sold as and yep, sign me the hell up because you can’t beat a good dystopia and nobody does it like Atwood. This was going to be glorious: terrifying and shrewd and darkly funny and I could not wait. I was totally ready to read it and be all ‘but Margaret, how do you words.’

& you know what, it was all of those things. It really was, it’s just that…oh, I don’t even know. I have this woman on an honest to God pedestal and I had all of these (probably stupidly high) expectations and I was left feeling sort of deflated. I think I wanted it to be a little bit more The Handmaid’s Tale but it’s nowhere near that good, not even close. & that makes me the saddest.

It’s a bit like when I read The Year of the Flood and really loved it but didn’t love it as much as Oryx and Crake. I was sad about that too. I really loved Year of the Flood but still, I didn’t love it as much as Oryx and I had all the feelings about that. That said, somehow The Heart Goes Last did feel a little bit like The Blind Assassin does dystopia and everyone knows how much I love The Blind Assassin (AKA my fave Atwood EVER) so swings and roundabouts I guess, swings and roundabouts.

The story centres around a young married couple, Stan and Charmaine, living in their car and living off stale food, the key always in the ignition in case they need to make a quick getaway and all to eager to sign up for the Positron Project that promises them a brighter tomorrow, despite Stan’s brother’s promise that if they do they’ll only leave in a box (FORESHADWING ALERT). The whole premise is nuts, again: obviously. Who else could write this shit and make it believable, really? There’s a woman sexually attracted to a teddy bear (thanks to this procedure that programs people to fall in love with the first person they see when they wake up) and these sex-cyborg dolls (better than real) and a boat load of Elvis and Marylin Monroe impersonators, and there’s this city where people live a month in jail and a month ‘free,’ living the dream. Whilst they’re in prison another person, their ‘alternate’ takes their place, and vice versa and so much stuff goes on that it kind of makes your brain hurt :blink:

It’s fucking nuts.
It’s Margaret Atwood.
It’s like a really mental version of Pleasantville.

It’s weird, and when somehow – quite without the other realising – Stan and Charmaine find themselves embroiled in a plot to bring Positron down from the inside it gets crazier still and I love that. I love the premise, I love the story, I love the characters - the characterisation is excellent, obviously (and probably that’s where my whole The Blind Assassin comparison comes from because that book is such a character study and I love it so hard) but of course it is: this is Atwood, this is what she does - and I love the potential that I could see in the whole thing. I’m just really sad that it didn’t quite reach it you know?  I think a major point is, is that there’s so much dystopia around these days – all dystopia all the time - and there’s a risk of it becoming a little samey you know? With The Heart Goes Last Margaret Atwood had the chance to show she was still at the top of her game, to be the one to take that next step, to give us something utterly original and whilst she did, she also didn’t.

What you may or may not know about The Heart Goes Last is that it’s edited into a novel from a serial that was originally published a few years ago and you can totally tell – the editing shows I think, it’s kind of badly sewn together in places. I mean don’t get me wrong here, it  has the social commentary  you come to expect from Atwood’s work, it’s as satirical as her stuff usually is and yep, it makes you think, but whereas I believed utterly in Handmaid’s and MaddAddam, I believed in this a little less and that surprised me. Atwood’s ‘speculative fiction’ is usually so freaking excellent because you can totally imagine it happening, can see it being just a short step away from wherever we are now; it has that ‘holy fuck what are we doing to the world if we don’t stop everything will go to shit and we’ll all be eating chickienobs’ quality to it. I didn’t get that feeling here, not in the same way. Not enough is explained, not enough is shown, the editing is sort of shoddy and whereas Atwood is usually so good at the tiny details that grab you and hold you and awaken your imagination, here, a lot of that is missing. It feels, and I can’t believe I am saying this, rushed. Also Margaret, where is my strong female protagonist please? This book was crying out for a woman that did not make me want to shake her.

I can’t believe I’m even saying all this. I feel like a house elf right now, like I have to go and smack myself in the face. 

All of the above said, Margaret Atwood is incredibly good at what she does, she’s so very very socially aware, she’s observant, and she’s a really freaking good writer. I guess when it comes down to it, the truth of the matter is that I felt a bit let down. Le sigh.
I mean, you should read it, you should because it’s not bad (it’s good)  and it’s not boring and some parts made me laugh out loud, but it’s nowhere near her best, and if you’ve not read any Atwood before then holy smokes but don’t let this be the place you start. 

(Start with The Handmaid’s Tale because Margaret, how do you words.)

In which I am back...

Let’s talk about life.

I feel like that is a thing that should happen, since it’s what’s been going on in the way that it tends to do, and seems to have gotten in the way of any kind of blogging ever. I was doing so well this year too, reading all the books and writing all the reviews and then LIFE. So, let’s have a catch-up post. Not that any of my news is all that exciting.

Except, maybe a little bit exciting.

You may remember that I spoke a few months ago about The Break-Up which was epically epically shite and totally knocked me off my feet. It took me a while to pick myself back up again truth be told, but I did. I did some crying and some shouting and I lost my dignity for a while because hey, there’s nothing less dignified than a heart that is broken, but now I’m here and I am doing ok.

No really. I am. I’m doing ok. I am doing so much better than I was two months ago. I can stand here, finally and say I’m alright and more importantly I can mean it. I made it.

And, AND, I have my own place.

This is A Major Thing. I’m 32 and for the first time ever (save for a few months when I was 18 and lived in a grotty bed sit that falls under Things We Don’t Talk About) I am living on my own. ALL BY MYSELF. I know. Amazing.
It’s a cute little house too, super small, and also super cute and I feel like I’m going to really love it. I already kind of really love it. I mean, it’s not perfect yet: I need to get pictures on the walls and my books on shelves but once all that happens I feel like it’s going to be excellent and I’m actually kind of excited.

Let’s be real here: this was not what I wanted and this is not the direction I ever expected my life to go in, but since it has I’m kind of determined to make the very most of it. I’m going to make the rest of my life the best of my life and I care not a freaking jot how much of a cliché that makes me. Do you hear me? I do not care.

So, in amongst breaking up and moving out and starting over, WHAT HAVE I BEEN DOING?

Well, I went to London to visit Jen. We walked a million miles along Regents Canal -  a million miles and that is not an exaggeration (I know, I know, totes an exaggeration) – and drank cider and ate pizza and giggled our way around Alice’s Adventures Underground which is crazy and trippy and all kinds of excellent.  I also saw Jen again on Saturday night – this never happens. Seriously, the two of us being in the same place at the same time without several months between is unheard of. So on Saturday night I drove over to Ilkley where Jen was doing an event and we went for dinner and it was, as always, marv. Jen’s doing another 100 poem challenge this week actually, you should check that out.

And Helen had a baby who has stolen my heart oh my God. Seriously, I am so in love. SO IN LOVE. She’s called Molly and she has all this hair and she’s just perfect. Perfect.

I’m off to London again on Friday to see Cumberbatch as Hamlet, again with the exciting. That’s with my friend Natalie. We’ll see Hamlet and eayt lots and drink cocktails and probably shop and maybe catch the Audrey Hepburn thing at the National PortraitGallery and it shall be a lovely lovely time.

Other than that I guess I’ve just been being, you know? It’s been nice because I live 5 minutes walk away from my favourite pub so I’ve slipped right back into going there on a Friday night with the same friends I used to drink with a decade ago so that’s been excellent. I’m seeing Helen and my Mum and I have other friends in walking distance and I’m also doing a really godo job of enjoying my own company. Naturally that means I’ve done a little bit of reading and a little bit of getting excited about books because that’s just what I do, even if I’ve done it a little bit less this summer. Let’s talk about that a minute shall we? Let’s talk a little bit about the 6 books that I am probably most excited about right now, and then I’ll queue up some reviews and it will be like I WAS NEVER AWAY. (You do not even know how much I cannot wait to have internet access at my house. Hashtag first world problems, I know.)

If you know me at all then you’ll know how much of a Rainbow Rowell fangirl I have turned out to be and it will come as no surprise that I am spiralling a little every time I think about her new novel Carry On which is released this month. Carry On is the novel that features in Rainbow’s fabulous Fangirl and I am gloriously delighted by all that it stands for. I absolutely laughed my socks off when I heard that Rainbow was writing it and I cannot wait.

The third book in Kat Zhang’s Hybrid Chronicles was released in paperback a couple of weeks ago. I loved the first two books in this series, and if you haven’t already I suggest you read them right now. SO GOOD. I read Echoes of Us this weekend, and I actually really liked it. It’s a pretty good conclusion to the series I think and I’ll talk about it soon in its own post so I shan’t go on too much, just, check it out okay? Okay.

There’s a new Atwood - The Heart Goes Last - out RIGHT NOW, which y’know even though this is definitely not my favourite of hers, Atwood owns a piece of my soul and I can’t not be excited for more of her stuff being out in the world. I’’ll be posting a review of that one very soon so eyes peeled please! 

Ilke Tamke’s Skin was released in August. It’s on my TBR and I am super excited to give it a go: 

 Imagine a world where everyone is born with a 'skin' name. Without skin you cannot learn, you are not permitted to marry, and you grow up an outsider amongst your own people. This is no future dystopia. This is Celtic Britain

I know right, it sounds amazing. There’s been a lot of buzz surrounding this book and I have to admit to having gotten a little caught up in the hype. I hope it’s as good as I feel like it might be. 

David Levithan’s Another Day was published at the end of July. It’s a companion to Every Day which I loved and I’m super looking forward to it. 

Since The Gracekeepers is one of the best books I read so far this year it’s probably no surprise that I’m super excited about A Portable Shelter. It’s on my bookshelf due to my pre-ordering skills (it was published in August) and it’s so pretty and I just know it’s going to be wonderful. I can’t wait to read it. 

If you keep checking back I’ll be talking about the new Atwood, Patrick Gale’s fabulous A Place Called Winter, Sarah Crossan’s One, Katie Pierson’s ’89 Walls, What Milo Saw  and The Sin Eater’s Daughter as well as The Hybrid Chroncicles over the next few days. I’m also planning a lovely re-read of the Little House on the Prairie books so I’ll likely blog about those. Lets see if I love them as much as I did twenty-plus years ago. Also Jen and I discussed a reread of His Dark Materials so that might be a thing I talk about.

Right now I’m reading Rainbow Rowell’s Landline. It’s a nice time. Then I might read A Little Life. I’ve had an ARC for a while, but it’s so huge. I think I need to work on my arms a bit at the gym to be able to lift it….