Wednesday, 20 April 2016

What I Wonder About The Royal Family


When I wonder about the royal family, I wonder about their day to day lives. I wonder if the Queen washes her own hair, and what she has for breakfast. I wonder if tea is only made in dainty china, never mugs. I wonder about the process of making a shopping list, the little treats they like. If they've ever had a Magnum.

I wonder how they process being princes and princesses. I wonder if, when the children are of an age to have a sort of understanding, they have a talk with them. Explain how it works. Explain that they're special. And how they do that without inflating egos. I imagine anxieties over little boys running riot at nursery, stealing toys - because mummy says they're royal.

I wonder if the Queen reads, and who her favourite author is. I wonder if she watches telly and I wonder if she secretly loves Loose Women.

I wonder about secret scandals, hidden romance and mental illness, and I wonder about their Sunday lunch - making small talk around the table and settling onto the sofa for a lazy afternoon.

I wonder if they see the humour, in a lifetime of waving and smiling, and I wonder if they ever wish for anything more.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Genrethon round-up




This week I took part in Genrethon - an online readathon encouraging trying out different genres.

As much as I was excited to get involved I was also wary of the concept of a readathon, worrying I'd get carried away and focus less on enjoying the reading experience and more on finishing books. 

I needn't have worried, the readathon didn't change the way that I read, it just changed what I read - meaning I tried genres I haven't ventured into before (horror and sci-fi), and picked up books that have been sat on my shelf for far too long (plays). I loved a classic I didn't expect to and finally got round to reading a brilliant memoir that I will now be recommending to everyone.

My reading list for the week was made with the idea of picking and choosing as I fancied, but I actually read so much more than I expected, hugely helped by mostly reading really short, quick books!

So overall I read eight books from six genres, and here's what I thought:

The Complaint - Nick Whitby (play) 
This was a play I'd bought as part of a mystery bundle, and I didn't love it. The set-up of a complaint within a crazily bureaucratic nonsensical society was kinda interesting, but I just didn't really feel any kind of reaction to it.

The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly - Jean-Dominique Bauby (memoir) ★★
This poetic memoir was stunning. Former Elle editor Bauby writes (via a transcriber, blinking for appropriate letters) of his life with locked-in syndrome, contemplating his new situation and the life he left behind. It was funny and thought-provoking, and just a wonderful read.

The Colossus - Sylvia Plath (poetry) 
This wasn't for me. There was more focus on nature than I'd expected, and amidst the mellifluous writing I struggled to connect.

The Martian - Andy Weir (sci-fi) ★★
So much fun! I enjoyed this way more than I thought I would, and found myself really needing to find out what would happen. As gripping as it was, it was also funny and generally a light read. I'll definitely be trying more sci-fi after this, and think it's the perfect accessible entry point into the genre.

Bird Box - Josh Malerman (horror) 
Horror is a genre I never read and now I have no idea why - I loved this. Really tense and genuinely scary at times with those fun hold-your-breath moments you get in good horror. I could completely imagine and believe in this world and found it really intriguing, nervously anticipating what would happen next.

Not The Worst Place - Sam Burns (play) 
Exploring two teenagers at a point of deciding whether to stay in or leave their hometown, this was an enjoyable read with a believable relationship and characters - though not powerful enough to leave me thinking about it for long.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass - Lewis Carroll (classic) ½
So I started reading a novel I've got high hopes for but wasn't really engaging in to begin with, and the protagonist mentioned Alice, so I decided to pick that up instead! And I'm so glad I did. It was a really fun read that I'd like to write about more. I loved the pure imagination of it and also Alice as a character - how curious and precocious she is. I did find, because it was so random, I needed reading breaks from it so I didn't grow tired of it but could just really enjoy it for what it was: fantastical, nonsensical fun.

Lungs - Duncan Macmillan (play) 
This is one of my favourite plays I've ever seen on stage and I finally got to reading it. Watching the play was completely absorbing and emotional, and on taking it in for the second time some of that emotion was lost with the surprise factor gone, but I still think it's a remarkable piece of work to read. It's a realistic, powerful look at a relationship that captures everyday moments and builds up to a snapshot of a lifetime. I think if I hadn't watched it I would imagine it would be a much more heavy watch whereas there are actually so many funny moments. I'd be curious if that comes through when just reading it.


Thanks to the lovely BookTube ladies who ran the readathon: UnderTheRadarBooks / Lauren And The Books / squibblesreads / ViennaWaitsBooks   

Let me know if you took part and what you read during the week :) You can follow me on Goodreads here, and also on Twitter.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Recent TV & film recommendations

I don't tend to write about TV or film but there are a few things I wanted to recommend and talk about a little, so here goes!

TV


Behind Closed Doors
 aired on the BBC last month and was a shocking insight into domestic abuse, following the stories of three women over a year. This was a really difficult watch. Obviously I knew the situation was awful but seeing this footage was something else, and I found myself in floods of tears. I was also taken aback by the criminal justice system in dealing with these situations - it's just ridiculous. Though it was hard to watch it was really worthwhile and I would urge you to watch it if you can. It's on iPlayer until 14th April (1am).


Also on this issue (though watched a few weeks later), I watched the BBC one-off drama Murdered by my Boyfriend which originally aired in 2014. The story follows a 17-year old girl who meets someone and falls in love. Early on things don't seem healthy, and we watch the situation escalate over the following years until the conclusion of the title. And again, even though you know the premise and the ending going in - this was still a shocking watch. Simply done, well performed and definitely worth seeing. On iPlayer until 19th April (4pm).


Keeping with dark subject matters but definitely an easier watch was Thirteen, one of the first series to be produced by BBC Three and only available via iPlayer. This mystery drama begins with a girl's escape from the captor who abducted her 13 years previous, when she was 13 years old. The police investigation into this increasingly odd situation is shown alongside protagonist Ivy Moxam's reactions to the changed world around her, settling back into family life. Thirteen was a really intriguing, enjoyable watch - even if it didn't quite pan out how I'd expected with a slightly disappointing ending. Currently on iPlayer until August.

And to lighten the mood a little, this was originally on telly but obviously I just watched on YouTube - here's Jennifer Lopez's Carpool Karaoke, because I always love these but also it's made me remember JLo exists. What a babe.

Film


I went into 10 Cloverfield Lane knowing nothing about the plot and I'm so glad I did. I don't want to say too much here except that I thought it was brilliant - a really gripping watch that kept me guessing.


The Big Short was more fun than I expected. I suppose if you're making a movie about the financial crash, you need it to be accessible and understood - and the way they handled this was really playful. The film was also more than important than I'd anticipated - exploring the deceit and manipulation of the banks, and how this affected people especially those earning the least, and with the least insight. It was also interesting realising you're rooting for people who will be making money out of other people's losses and the guilt from that, realising there's no heroes in this situation - it was just one massive mess with some more knowing than others.


An older film I caught this month (and by older I mean not in the cinema) was The Untouchables - a French film telling the story of a man who rocks up at an interview only wanting a signature to prove he's been. To his surprise, he gets the job - caring for a wealthy quadriplegic man. It was a really heartwarming, funny watch. It refused to patronise either character (often the case) and it was a joy watching their friendship grow.



Any recommendations please do let me know in the comments or over on Twitter :)

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Genrethon TBR: reading outside my genre comfort zone




Some of the lovely ladies over on BookTube (YouTube - about books: my new obsession) are hosting a readathon that I wanted to share a post on as I loved the idea of it.

From 10th-17th April they're encouraging you to read from different genres to your usual choices - reading at least three books from different genres. They'll be talking throughout the week on social media via #genrethon, and there'll be a live streamed chat on Sunday 17th April 8pm (UK time). So yeah, it'll be a lot of fun! And no pressure involved.

Personally, I tend to read mostly literary fiction and non-fiction memoirs. This is a good chance to try something new and see how I get on.

I struggle with the concept of a TBR (to be read list) because I always want to go with how I feel at the time. So I thought I'd treat this as a wishlist to choose from across the week.

Play
I love theatre and see so much of it, yet I rarely read plays since I left uni. So I'll choose at least one from these three that have been sat on my shelf for far too long.
  • Life After Scandal by Robin Soans 
    This is a non-fiction play crafted from interviews with famous figures who have suffered downfalls and shaming at the hand of the media.
  • Not The Worst Place by Sam Burns
    Originally produced by Paines Plough (who make wonderful work), this is the story of seventeen-year-old couple Emma and Rhys. Having grown up in Swansea, they face the decision of if and how they can leave the place that shaped them.
  • The Complaint by Nick Whitby
    Described as a chilling play that begins with a work complaint but escalates into "a Kafkaesque world where nothing is quite as it seems". I'm intrigued!
Poetry: The Colossus & Other Poems by Sylvia Plath
I've been watching performance poetry online and live for a while but only recently got into reading it (I loved Andrew McMillan's Physical last month). I've heard great things about this collection.

Sci-fi: The Martian by Andy Weir
I never read sci-fi and so this seems like a good, accessible starting point. If you haven't heard about the plot via the film or much-discussed novel - it's essentially about a man stranded on Mars. Good starting point I think!

Horror: Bird Box by Josh Malerman
Again, I love horror films but never read them. Last one was probably from the Goosebumps series I reckon. Good times. I've heard a lot of buzz about this so have high hopes.

Memoir: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby 
Now I know I read a lot of memoirs but I really want to get to this ASAP. Former editor-in-chief of French Elle Magazine Jean-Dominique suffered a severe stroke aged 43, leaving him almost completely paralysed and suffering from locked-in syndrome. The book was dictated by him blinking his left eye to select letters to a transcriber, and the memoir explores his new life and perspective.

Graphic Novel: tbc
The last graphic novel I read was Daniel Clowe's Ghost World when I was about 16 and obsessed with the film. My plan is to go the library and see what they have - so any recommendations please let me know!

Fiction/YA: Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller
Because I started this the other day and may still be reading when Sunday rolls around. Which apparently counts towards Genrethon. Sneaky sneaky.


Let me know if you'll be taking part and what you'll be reading!

There's also a giveaway involved in the readathon, with details in Brittany's announcement video here:

Saturday, 2 April 2016

What I read in March


reviews andrew mcmillan physical toni morrison beloved zadie smith the embassy of cambodia choke chuck palahnuik wuthering heights emily bronte jellyfish janice galloway how to live well with chronic pain and illness toni bernhard

Here's what I read in March!
Wuthering Heights - Emily Brontë ★½
I preferred the song. But to be fair, it is a bloody brilliant song. Good old Kate Bush. Anyhow, I don't tend to read classics but wanted to give this a go. At first I really enjoyed, but less so as it went on. I felt like I stopped caring about half way through.

Jellyfish - Janice Galloway ★½
These short stories were insightful and interesting, but I felt either a lack of connection with what I was reading, or perhaps that the energy felt a little flat overall. I'm struggling to recall more than two of the stories, which probably isn't a good sign.

Choke - Chuck Palahnuik ★★★
Somehow this managed to be dark & intense but also so much fun. Playfully written but also really thoughtful, Choke tells the story of a man struggling with sex addiction who makes his way in life through a restaurant choking based scam, while trying to support his ailling mother and piece together his past.

The Embassy of Cambodia - Zadie Smith ★★★
This really short little novella is subtle but packs a punch. We follow some time in the life of a live-in maid, from the Ivory Coast and working (for free) in North West London. Not a huge amount happens but the writing is evocative and leaves you with a lot to think about. I borrowed this from the library but you can read for free online here.

How to Live Well with Chronic Pain & Illness - Toni Bernhard ★★★
Obviously this won't be for everyone, but if you do have chronic illness or pain, I really recommend this. Toni gives personal, practical advice that compassionately looks at the physical illness itself but also the mental toll this takes.

Beloved - Toni Morrison ★★★★
This is some of the most beautiful writing I've ever read in a novel. I struggled with Beloved at first - the writing feels dense and flits through time and perspectives, but once you settle into it - it is so worth it. Set in 1873 Ohio, this is a powerful and painful story of a woman living a life free from her previous life of slavery, but struggling with her past - both her own actions and what happened to her. There's elements of magical realism that I didn't anticipate here, and I also didn't expect the playfulness of form. This is a wonderful book, and I need to read more Toni Morrison.

Andrew McMillan - Physical ★★★★
Whether you read poetry or not, read Physical. It's stunning and completely blew me away. Masculinity and the male body are discussed, but also universal themes of love and loss. I know I'll be reading again.


Find me on Goodreads, and let me know any recommendations you have here or on Twitter. Also let me know in comments if you've read any of these :)

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

What I read in February


After my new year's resolution to read more which started well in January, I've had another great reading month. I'm into the habit of reading a few hours most days now and really loving it.

So, here's what I read over the past month. I've linked titles to their Goodreads page which also has links to buy.


The Vegetarian - Han Kang ★★★★
Blimey. This was a powerful, beautiful and haunting read. I was intrigued by the title but got so much more than I'd anticipated - a story of trauma, escape and obsession. It felt both dreamlike and viscerally real. I look forward to reading more by Han Kang.

The Pearl That Broke Its Shell - Nadia Hashimi ★★
Telling the stories of two young women in Kabul, this novel explores what it meant to be female in Afghanistan across two centuries - and corresponding ideas of liberty and destiny. It was a tough read looking at bleak situations which I was interested to learn about, though I had hoped for more from the writing itself.

Furiously Happy - Jenny Lawson 
A funny memoir exploring mental illness sounded right up my street, and at first it was - I was laughing more than I have with any other book. But I struggled with how meandering this was - random stories and conversations, and rare discussion of mental illness. I found I struggled to keep reading because of this and the relentlessly high-energy writing style.

Wonder - R.J. Palacio ★★★★
Why didn't I read this earlier? This is such a lovely, lovely book. I smiled throughout and did some crying too. This is the story of Auggie, a young boy with a facial disfigurement, as he begins going to school. It's a heartwarming, wonderful read.

Not Forgetting The Whale - John Ironmonger ★★
This seaside, small-town story follows one man's escape from normality and the adventures that ensue. It was a nice read but didn't blow me away and, perhaps because of being so dialogue heavy, felt a little like watching an ITV drama. A good one, but still.

Sum: Forty Tales From The Afterlives - David Eagleman ★★
I loved this! Each short story proposes a post-death scenario of what happens and what it's all about. It's thought-provoking, often funny, and definitely worth a read.

We Were Liars - E. Lockhart 
A story of youth and friendship set over several summers - this was an enjoyable, intriguing read with playful writing that felt filmic at times.

The Other Hand - Chris Cleave ★★
Another novel telling the story of two women with alternating chapters, here it's the story of Nigerian refugee Little Bee and English mother and magazine editor Sarah. Through unexpected circumstance they meet and change each other's lives. The writing here is brilliant - with believable characters and a story you feel really invested in.

Modern Romance - Aziz Ansari ★★½
When I first saw Aziz had a book out I presumed this would be another comedic memoir but I was wrong - this is a really interesting and enjoyable look at, as the title suggests, modern romance. There are indeed personal experiences in there but the basis of this is a legit sociological study.

The Girl On The Train - Paula Hawkins ★★
I needed a fast-paced, easy-to-read thriller to get absorbed in and this was exactly that. Gripping, addictive and a lot of fun.



Find me on Goodreads, and let me know any recommendations you have here or on Twitter.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

What I read in January

Last year I only read twelve books, and only two of those were fiction. On entering the new year I decided to change that. Like many, I want to read more. It's one place of pure escapism, no distractions, just tunnel vision with the words on the page and the worlds they create. I love it, and it's silly that my reading habits have slipped.

So I created a reading list from everyone's recommendations, tackling the problem I have of feeling so overwhelmed on choosing what to read next. From that plan, I've found some brilliant books. Feeling so unwell recently, these stories have sustained me. I haven't been to the theatre once this year, but I have read eight books. They've distracted me and at times they've dazzled me.

I've decided to start doing a monthly round-up post to share what I've read. So, here's the first - what I read in January:


Hotel World - Ali Smith 
Ali Smith is my favourite author, and on reading the first chapter of this it was like coming up for air. Her writing is playful, and this first chapter - ironically from the perspective of a girl recently deceased - felt so alive, I wanted to read it aloud, it felt like something to be performed. And then, I enjoyed reading it but I wasn't gripped - and I felt myself wanting the book to end, which took me by surprise. It dragged a little. But still a fun read!

Grief is the Thing with Feathers - Max Porter ★★
This was a really quick, but really powerful read. A mum has died and a house is left changed, with a grieving dad and his two sons. Each chapter (and they're short) is from the perspective of the dad, the boys, or - the crow, who has joined them to aid their grieving process (go with it). The writing is both poetic and everyday, and I quickly found myself on the brink of tears at how honest this felt. To read at the end that this is Max Porter's first novel felt ridiculous. A stunning piece of work.

Americanah - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie ★★
Americanah tells a story of a young woman living in, leaving and returning to Nigeria - and also living in and leaving America. It explores race, identity, relationships and so much more. It's an easy read that I couldn't put down, with some really beautiful language.

Knots - R.D Laing 
For a short book (90 pages), this felt like a long read. On seeing that this book read like poetry and a play, with a focus on psychology, I thought this would be right up my street. It wasn't. It was repetitive to the point of feeling dull and hard to read without zoning out. I know repetitive is the point, the behaviours we repeat, the commonality of relationships and situations that feel unique but aren't, but it didn't feel revelatory or meaningful, just a struggle that didn't quite feel worth it.

The Psychopath Test - Jon Ronson 
This was a lot of fun. Jon's writing is really relatable, you feel in safe hands with him - he's funny and curious, and it's so easy to get swept along with his excitement. In this case, it's his interest in madness - specifically, psychopaths. He looks at how we spot madness, but also why we seek it out - with some particularly interesting observations on the media.

The World According to Garp - John Irving 
This is my Dad's favourite book and now one of mine too. It's an incredible read that I absolutely loved - the best thing I've read in a long time. Following the life of writer Garp, this covers so much that I'm stumped as to how to sum it up, and so I won't try - I'll just say: read this book.

One Million Lovely Letters - Jodi Ann Bickley 
This really is such a lovely book. Jodi's true story is inspiring, uplifting, and written with such genuine warmth that gives a rare kind of reading experience - you feel comforted, and you want to comfort her too. In the midst of her struggles Jodi finds strength through kindness towards others, sending letters to people around the world with words of hope. What really made this book resonate with me was being able to relate to Jodi's situation with my own experience of long term illness. If you're in a similar boat then definitely check this out.

Find Me - Laura Van Den Berg 
I was intrigued by the concept of this. Though a familiar idea, the set-up of an illness pandemic held potential, with the protagonist being a young woman who is immune, with an interesting back story. Unfortunately while the concept was strong the execution wasn't, and the book seemed to meander and lose its way. There's some striking prose and interesting moments but overall this felt unsatisfying.



Find me on Good Reads, and let me know any recommendations you have here or on Twitter.

And finally, two reading related shout outs: