Book Review: The Seed Collectors – Scarlett Thomas

The Seed Collectors is a magical book about complex family relationships and the seeking of enlightenment. The Gardener family are mostly botanists – we learn about five generations of them. Three members of one generation went missing during the search for a mysterious, deadly plant that is rumoured to be a short cut to achieving enlightenment.

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The Seed Collectors on Blackpool Prom.

Despite the whole enlightenment thing, which might not be your cup of tea (things like that generally aren’t really mine), it’s really a story of relationships. The Gardener’s could be generally thought of as rich, self-centred and interesting. Oh, and fairly obsessed with sex.

The cast of characters is a little overwhelming, but a few highlights are Beatrix: The oldest living Gardener. She likes investing in fashion brands and watching pornography on her computer. Her son, Augustus, who sadly doesn’t appear much.

The main characters are the children of Augustus and his generation. Charlie – ultra controlled and paleo loving, Clem – an acclaimed wildlife documentary maker. Their cousin Bryony – completely uncontrolled when it comes to eating, drinking and spending money, simultaneously devastated by her size. Another main character is Fleur – daughter of Briar Rose, one of the missing, and taken in by the family. She has worked for free learning how to run the hippy retreat in the family mansion. And don’t forget the Robin who lives in the garden of the mansion, he narrates a few chapters!

There are so many children, spouses, friends and colleagues, and the relationships are even more complex than you originally think. You get a family tree at the start of the book, and an updated one at the end. It was really useful because it took a while to figure out how this myriad of people were connected. There’s so many of them you only get a brief visit to some which seems a shame. I think you might have been able to lose some without much damage to the story and it might have made it less unwieldy.

Oleander’s funeral is the opening chapter of the book and some of the strange items inherited are key to the story of the mystical, mysterious plant the older Gardeners were looking for when they disappeared, presumed dead. Oleander is an older relative who runs the hippy retreat Mansion.

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I enjoyed The Seed Collectors as a bit of escapism. I liked going into this world of rich, selfish people who basically destroy their own lives and those around them by their awful behaviour! It’s not a difficult read, and it’s hilarious in many parts. There’s a short sex scene towards the end of the book that was so awful, it was funny. Awful because of the characters behaviour, not awfully written.

Interestingly, this was a book club choice and we met yesterday to discuss it. Only 2 of us, out of 12 or so, liked it! Many hated it so much they didn’t finish.

Have you read The Seed Collectors? What did you think?

 

Family Film Time – July 2017

Every week we have enforced family film watching time. Its partly to try and have a couple of hours down time, partly to be able to share our love of film with our kids, partly to have a tradition we hopefully will continue in the future. We take turns to pick. The participants are currently 39, 37, 7 and 4.

I say every week, but we’ve had a run of months where it’s not been possible to all sit down together. I can already tell you August is going to be a nightmare for this! So what did we watch in July:

The Simpsons Movie

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I’ve seen it so many times already, usually getting to near the end before it all becomes so familiar. Wasn’t sure what the children would make of it – they haven’t ever watched The Simpsons. My son found all the slapstick elements of it HILARIOUS, and they both loved SpiderPig. A hit.

Ice Age

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This film is from 2002! How?! My children wanted me to choose Ice Age 3, but I can’t possibly start a series of films in the middle. So the first Ice Age it is. I tried to help them understand the timeline of ice ages and times with dinosaurs etc. I probably shouldn’t have bothered. 😀

Pokemon: Destiny Deoxys

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Of all the pokemon films I’ve had to sit through so far, this has actually been the most enjoyable. Yes, you heard me. I quite enjoyed it. I mean, I’m not going to watch it again by choice, or actually recommend it to anyone, but it was alright. The best character was Munchlax. Pure comedy gold.

 

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This is Munchlax. 

The question I quite want to know is: How many more Pokemon films are there that my son has access to? I think he might have at least three more lined up…

20 Books of Summer – 2 months in update #20booksofsummer

I’m now up to fourteen books read – eight read in July. Helped by being on holiday for the last few weeks while my kids were still at school! As you can see, the idea that I can plan my reading in advance is a total nonsense. I have only read six from the original list of twenty books I made, and three of those were book club reads that I *had* to read.

Six have been netgalley reads after I went a bit crazy requesting books and then realised they were going to have to dominate my reading to get through them! I’m nearly through them and have now done the exact same thing with requesting Man Booker Prize longlist titles…

Two have been audio books. This has been great on my commute to work (40 mins each way). Not so much since I’ve been on my summer holidays.

And one was over 500 pages!

I have one month left on this challenge and I think I should be ok to get though 6 more books and reach my target!

  1. The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry (review)
  2. Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng (review)
  3. Reservoir 13 – Jon McGregor (review)
  4. the Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
  5. Hope in the Dark – Rebecca Solnit
  6. Men Explain Things to Me – Rebecca Solnit (review)
  7. Nobody Told Me – Holly McNish
  8. Dear Fatty – Dawn French
  9. Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood
  10. The Power – Naomi Alderman (review)
  11. The Lottery (and other stories) – Shirley Jackson
  12. Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  13. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot
  14. The Jungle – Upton Sinclair
  15. A Quiet Storm – Rachel Howzell Hall
  16. How to Build a Girl – Caitlin Moran
  17. The Road – Cormac McCarthy
  18. The Girl of Ink and Stars – Kiran Millwood Hargrave (review)
  19. Wonder – RJ Palacio
  20. The Color Purple – Alice Walker
  21. Queen of Spades – Michael Shou-Yung Shum
  22. Living the Dream – Lauren Berry (review)
  23. Inferior – Angela Saini (review)
  24. Holidays On Ice – David Sedaris (review)
  25. The Unseen – Roy Jacobsen (review)
  26. Nasty Women – 404Ink (review)
  27. All Grown Up – Jami Attenberg (review)
  28. Anger Is An Energy – John Lydon (review)

Books Bought and Read – July 2017

Bought

Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls. I love this book. The stories of loads of amazing women written like fairy stories with amazing illustrations. I just want books like this lying around my house for my children to pick up and look through!

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small girl looking at the fabulous illustrations

Bit of a kindle 99p sale spree:

  • The Circle – Dave Eggers
  • Alice – Christina Henry
  • Howl’s Moving Castle – Diana Wynne Jones
  • I am Malala – Malala Yousafzai
  • Still Alice – Lisa Genova
  • Anger is an energy – John Lydon

Persepolis – Marjane Satrapi. I’ve been after this for ages and it popped up on a lightning deal for under £5.

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The Seed Collectors – Scarlett Thomas. The next book for a book club I’m in. I don’t know anything about it.

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Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty. 99p kindle deal. I LOVED the TV series of this

I’ve decided I should always have an audiobook on the go, so have been getting the audible daily deal. I won’t get many listened to until I’m back at work at the end of August though. I’ve now got:

  • Engleby – Sebastian Faulks 
  • Swimming Lessons – Claire Fuller
  • Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders

Hot Milk – Deborah Levy (99p kindle deal). I’ve seen too many giant book shop displays of this to pass it by.

After the Man Booker Prize longlist announcement I had to buy a couple of them to read so I picked up:

Solar Bones – Mike McCormack. It’s one sentence. I’m intrigued!

Swing Time – Zadie Smith. I have on goodreads that I’ve read White Teeth, but reading the plot summary I’m not sure I ever actually did read it! So this might be my first Zadie Smith.

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More kindle 99p deals:

  • The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell
  • Dark Places – Gillian Flynn

Read

Click to link through to the review:

Anger Is An Energy – John Lydon

A Girl of Ink and Stars – Kiran Millwood Hargrave

All Grown Up – Jami Attenberg

Nasty Women – 404Ink

The Unseen – Roy Jacobsen

Holidays On Ice – David Sedaris

Reservoir 13 – Jon McGregor

Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng

Bedtime Stories with my Children

Diary of a Minecraft Zombie – Book 1. Utter trash that my son adores.

Danny the Champion of the World – Roald Dahl. I didn’t think I’d ever read this one before but the story seems familiar, so I must have read it once as a child.

Matilda – Roald Dahl. Again!

The Witches – Roald Dahl. Genuinely terrifying!

Picasso and the girl with the ponytail – Laurence Anholt. I know… it’s great though!

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Cinderella. *yawn*

Aliens Love Underpants – Claire Freedman and Ben Cort. -The noisy book version. At least it’s over quickly…

Book Review: Anger is an Energy – John Lydon

I like John Lydon. He is straight to the point and I agree with a lot of his core attitudes and beliefs. That’s not to say I agree with everything he says, and boy, does he have a lot to say. At almost 520 pages this is no quick read. Still, I loved every minute of it. You are fully getting his no holds barred opinions here. Or if he is holding back, you certainly can’t tell!

If you stand up for whatever it is you really believe in, if you really stand up, and be accounted for, people will rate you highly.

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Anger is an Energy on the kindle with some other punk books!

His account of the Sex Pistols days is fascinating and quite sad. He felt alone and disregarded and/or ignored by the rest of the band most of the time. It comes across that the other three (Glen Matlock, Steve Jones and Paul Cook) never really accepted him fully into the band, as they already formed the band before John came along. I have no doubt that John, as he freely admits, isn’t the easiest person to get along with! and he just rubbed them up the wrong way (a theme throughout the book). I would definitely like to read some other accounts of that time period to get some other perspectives on what happened. As you can see from the picture above, I have Steve Jones’ book ready to go.

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L-R Glen Matlock, John Lydon, Steve Jones, and Paul Cook.

 

It is fascinating though. That band were truly at the heart of an amazing moment in history. It probably helps that I’m a fan of punk rock. I love his scorn of the majority of punk bands. I share a lot of the same views. So many identikit bands trying to out macho each other. Repulsive. The bands he praises are all stand out bands like the Buzzcocks. He hates that punk quickly became very narrow in its definition: there’s a certain uniform, a haircut, a way of treating people, a sound – and woe betide anyone who doesn’t conform. John refuses to be narrowly defined – especially musically, but actually in every aspect of his life, and so he gets constant abuse in his life beyond the Sex Pistols. A constant minority who seek him out and are angry because he ‘sold out’. In other words, he dared to move on and try new things that musically interest him.

Being open-minded to all kinds of music was Lesson One in punk, but that didn’t seem to be understood by many of the alleged punk bands that followed on after, who seemed to be waving this idea of a punk manifesto. I’m sorry, but I never did this for the narrow-minded. I was horrified by the cliche that punk was turning into.

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The Sex Pistols after Sid Vicious had replace Glen Matlock. L-R Steve Jones, Sid Vicious, John Lydon, Paul Cook. 

Earlier in the book we get some of his home life growing up. He’s from a very working class London background. His descriptions of himself at school were great and really clear – I know EXACTLY what sort of student he would have been in my classroom – one of those cheeky, annoying but lovable ones! Frustrated with their lack of effort because you can’t follow their particular interest all the time. Full of questions that are related, but are a distraction to what you actually need to teach that day. Oh, sorry, just having high school teaching flash backs there!

His move from a school to basically a technical college for naughty kids chucked out of school is interesting and there he meets Sid. I love this quote about his time at the technical college. The idea that he still wore his school uniform is absurd, and says so much about his personality!

It was basically just school by any stretch, so I wore my William of York uniform still, because I didn’t want to wear anything that I liked. But it was a bit of a fashion parade. Sidney certainly used it as a catwalk.

After Glen Matlock leaves the Sex Pistols, Sid is brought in and the break up of the band seems almost inevitable at this point. It’s such a dysfunctional relationship they all have.

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Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten (aka John Ritchie and John Lydon)

After the Sex Pistols you get a lot of details about line up and management changes for Public Image Limited (PiL). I’m not familiar with the musicians from this band, and didn’t know any of the many people discussed. It’s still interesting, but in more of a vague way of seeing how all over the place the band and John’s life was. This continues up until the later 90s where you get a Sex Pistols reunion tour. Then in the 2000s there is I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here – which I remember watching because Lydon was on it. Followed by a few nature programs he makes. And of course the infamous butter commercials!

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John Lydon by Paul Heartfield from http://www.clashmusic.com/features/in-conversation-john-lydon

At this stage you discover that Lydon, and his wife Nora, begin to parent Nora’s grandchildren. It’s a sweet part of the book where he explains how they had to change their lives to give everything they could to these wild teenagers that they were suddenly responsible for. All the parts of the book where he describes his love for Nora are quite beautiful. They fell in love when they met during the Sex Pistols time, in 1975, and they are still together today.

Overall, this is a great book. It possibly helps if you have some interest in Lydon to begin with, but I imagine you must if you are considering reading 520 pages about him! It’s glorious that there is a note from the publisher at the beginning basically begging you to not sent in grammatical errors from the text – Lydon has his own way of using English and the ‘mistakes’ are just how he is talking!

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‘Don’t let tiffles cause fraction’

Lydon is upfront, unapologetic, harsh, and uncompromising. But he’s also a family man, loyal, a supporter of education, and interested in everything the world has to offer. There’s a place for him at the table of my imaginary perfect dinner party anyway.

Book Review: The Girl of Ink and Stars – Kiran Millwood Hargrave

A sweet, magical adventure with Isabelle, a thirteen year old island dweller who decides she needs to investigate the disappearance of her class mate. Aimed at 10 – 14 year olds, I wouldn’t recommend it for adults unless you just really want a super easy read! It’s a lovely adventure though and would be perfect for younger readers.

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Isabelle lives with her father, a cartographer, on one part of an island, Joya. The villagers are living under a repressive governor who has banned them from going to the rest of the island or leaving via the sea.  A series of mysterious events lead the govenor to organise a search party to go into the Forbidden Territories. Isabelle (disguised as a boy obviously!) manages to get in the search party as their navigator, and to map their progress, using the cartography skills taught to her by her father.

It was one of the first things Da taught me. Stars are the earliest maps, the most precise. They can tell you where you are better than a compass – after all, they have a bird’s-eye view. If you can learn to read the stars you’ll never be lost.

Isabelle is a lover of stories, and believes the myths about the island’s origins, involving a girl warrior and a fire demon, are literally true. Are they? Maybe we shall see!

There are demon dogs, mysteries, friendships, an extremely mild love story, peril, challenged gender expectations, love, dictatorships, and maps! It’s also got a gorgeous cover.

I feel like I’ve read a lot of books set on islands recently! Looking back though, it really is just this one and The Unseen. Weird!?

The Man Booker Prize Longlist 2017

The Man Booker Prize longlist has been announced. 13 books, published in the UK between 1st October 2016 and 31st September 2017. Writers of any nationality are allowed, it’s the publication in the UK that is the defining criteria, and it must be written in English (there’s an international prize for translations). 

I’ve only read one of the thirteen book, Jon McGregor’s Reservoir 13 and I really disliked it! Here’s my review if you wish to see what a literary dunce thinks of it.

I’m sad that one of my favourite books of the year, The Power by Naomi Alderman, is not on the list. (review)

I have a copy of 2017 Pulitzer prize winning Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad staring at me because it’s the September book for a book club I’m in. It looks soooo good. I can’t wait to read it.

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Hopefully I’ll get time to read a few of the others too. Looking at these short descriptions I really want to read Solar Bones by Mike McCormack. It’s one sentence?! I need to see this. I think I’d like to read Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders too.  Finally, Autumn by Ali Smith is another I want to read. It’s the first in a series of four books named after the seasons. It’s about life in post-brexit Britain – maybe it will be too painful! I’ve read Ali Smith before: How to be Both and it was one of my early reviews!

The short list will be announced on 13th September.

Here’s the full list:

Title Author (nationality) (imprint)

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster (US) (Faber & Faber)
Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (Ireland) (Faber & Faber)
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (US) (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Pakistan-UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
Solar Bones by Mike McCormack (Ireland) (Canongate)
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor (UK) (4
th Estate)
Elmet by Fiona Mozley (UK) (JM Originals)
The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (India) (Hamish Hamilton)
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (US) (Bloomsbury)
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (UK-Pakistan) (Bloomsbury)
Autumn by Ali Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
Swing Time by Zadie Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (US) (Fleet)

What are your thoughts on the longlist? Tell me in the comments!