Monthly Archives: February 2017

Book Review: The Girl On The Train – Paula Hawkins

By some miracle of my own cultural ignorance I had no idea what the plot of The Girl on the Train was. I knew it was very popular and also a film now. I hadn’t read anything about it because I knew it was a thriller, so didn’t want to expose myself to any plot twists which would ruin any eventual reading of it.

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I enjoyed most of it. There’s a slow build up that fills you with questions about different characters. You get past a slowish middle and then when the action really begins it took me a while to put together the Who in the Whodunit (mainly because I had wild theories about what I hoped had happened). It becomes exciting and fulfils all the page turner requirements I really wanted it to. Then by the end I felt flat. Disappointed. I’ll explain why later on after I’ve given some big old SPOILER alert warnings.

I have to admit I tried to read this book last year. I thought I’d tried to read it. I was slogging through a completely tedious book, wondering what the fuss was about. It’s extremely rare for me to abandon a book once I’ve started (I can’t actually think of any I’ve outright abandoned – many I’ve just shelved for finishing ‘later’). How could this be a big, gripping bestseller? Turns out I was reading a book with a title that is one minor word away from Girl On The Train. And I hadn’t paid enough attention to the author name…

I’ve definitely read the right book this time. There’s a girl, on a train, and thrilling events take place. The girl, on the train, is Rachel. She’s a mess. An alcoholic. Her husband left her 2 years ago for the women he had an affair with. She can’t let go and move on. She sees their house (her old house) every day on her train commute into London. She also sees the house of their nearby neighbours. She doesn’t know them, but has made up a  perfect fantasy life in her head for the strangers a little way down the road.

THERE’S GOING TO BE SPOILERS FROM NOW 🙂 So, if you have somehow existed in a cultural void, like me, and think you might want to read this one day, look away. Thanks for reading my blog, now go and read the book, then come back and we can discuss it.

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It was all going so well. I wanted to finish it so badly once I’d got to the finale part of the book. I even hid myself away from my family to try and finish it, undisturbed. It was all going so well. I love the premise. We all watch people. Can probably all pick people out from our daily journeys to work. People we see all the time, don’t know and make up little stories for. Rachel is an utter mess. She’s pathetic and annoying, but it works for the story.

The reveal of what happened on the night of the murder is where it all went wrong for me. It was just such a tedious, boring, depressing reveal. Essentially, the women are all pathetic, weak, damaged, needy and desperate. The men are all violent, controlling and jealous. Rachel’s reveal is gaslighting 101. The love of her life is actually a manipulative twat who made her think she was violent during their relationship, when it was the other way round. The murdered girl has a right final night. Violently assaulted by her boyfriend, she escapes to meet her violent fling, who kills her. Even physically it’s all so cliched. The women are pretty and slim, the men are handsome and physically imposing.  Urgh. I was so hoping one of my more imaginative theories was going to be true. One that gave some interest to these characters. But no, *yawn*, the inconvenienced man murdered his bit on the side because she was pregnant and going to threaten his *real* relationship.

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The Girl on the Boat – P G Wodehouse. I don’t know anything about this book, but the change of transport has possibly made this more interesting. 

Short summery of the book: women are stupid; men are violent. I really need to read a book where people are nice to each other next. Or where there are horrible people but they aren’t so cliched. I really enjoyed Gone Girl because the reveal was unexpected, a bit unusual and it made the characters interesting! I’m convinced this book is so popular because we can all recognise aspects of the abuse in this story from our own lives, or from that of people we know. Even just glimpses. How depressing.

Also, mild annoyances, but the completely unprofessional police woman was awful. I hope police don’t go winding people up and stirring like she did! Also, the structure meant I kept having to flick back to check dates. pfft.

Anyway, I have to go. 2015 is calling and wants it’s book of the moment back…

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Book Review: The Polysyllabic Spree – Nick Hornby

I knew I would love reading about someone else’s reading habits. I already like reading blogs about it, and I love the book club I’m in, partly for just talking about books. I would put Josie Long and Robin Ince’s Book Shambles as my must listen to podcast, followed by  A Good Read then Open Book, on Radio 4. Put like that, it seems strange I haven’t read a book about reading books before.

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My main motivation for starting this book though, was that I needed something that had a good chance of being quite light. I’ve read some heavy books recently and  needed something I could breeze along happily with. Pick up, read a little, feel good, carry on with something else and repeat. Perfect. And it’s on my reading challenge book list for the year. Score!

This is a collection of essays Nick Hornby wrote, over 14 months, for The Believer magazine. They cover 2003 – 2004. They are about his book buying, and reading, habits. It has a few extracts from mentioned books too. It’s not very long, I managed to read it in a day whilst also being in sole charge of my two children (probably tells you all you need to know about my parenting style). In fact, it was perfect because each essay is just a few pages long.

Reading a book about someone reading will inevitably cause me to buy or wish-list more books I haven’t really got time to read. Which is a bit funny considering that’s partly what the book is about. Well so far every essay has at least one book from my 2017 reading challenge list. They’ve been bumped up the to-read list! Fortress of Solitude – Jonathon Lethem, How to Breathe Underwater – Julie Orringer, and Old School – Tobias Wolff are given particularly stand out praise. Typical that these are books I don’t already own. David Copperfield (also on my 2017 book challenge list) should now be on the top of my reading pile, but it just still doesn’t appeal. I got through Crime and Punishment last year and the part of my brain that wants to be punished (I mean REWARDED) by reading long, difficult, old books is still broken.

I am now really glad I did get through Crime and Punishment so I could get the references to it. I’m slightly sad I’m not well read enough to fully understand the other 50,000 classic book references, but don’t let that put you off reading The Polysyllabic Spree. It’s fun, entertaining, I learnt quite a bit, and also have many more books I now want to read!

Book Review: Beloved – Toni Morrison

This is a book that will break your heart. The story of Sethe, and those she knows, gradually unravels. She was born into slavery and manages to escape, though of course, her experiences never leave her. It’s about an how someone might rather kill her children than see them taken back into slavery.

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This book is about the worst in people. About racism and about how vile people can do vile things to other humans in the name of power, profit and thinking they are superior. It’s also about love and what on earth that can mean when you’re whole life makes you feel used and wretched.

Heartbreaking, difficult, raw, but with touches of hopefulness and joy. I’m glad I read this.

Update 26/2/2017

Last night I watched The Quentin Tarantino film Django Unchained. It is set in pre-civil war times in 1858, and covers themes of slavery in America. Beloved is set in the post civil war era (after 1865), but covers the same era as Django Unchained in the characters histories. It really helped bring Beloved to life to see a visualisation of the world of Beloved.

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I have never studied American history and had no clear visual idea of what 1860s Kentucky would look like, for example. In Django you see the American west (I hadn’t even managed to put together this era in the same time frame as Beloved!), then they move to the South and the plantations. You see the slave collars described in Beloved and generally get an idea of what the landscape might have looked like.

Django has it’s problems, but is a good entertaining film. There are issues with the representation of most of the slaves though and I certainly didn’t watch it thinking it was telling me anything real about slave life.

Book review: Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

Oh wow, I loved this book. Unbelievable that it was published in 1953, it felt like it could have been written last year. It’s also written in beautiful poetic prose.

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reading at my desk at work.

Guy Montag is a fireman. Firemen set fires in this dystopian future where books are banned. If books are discovered, the firemen are sent in to find them and burn them.

The population are kept busy with frivolous soaps and constant meaningless, shallow entertainment. To think deeply is not ok. When recounting their society’s history, it is said:

‘the word “intellectual”, of course,  became the swear word it deserved to be’

There was a race to make everyone feel like no one was their intellectual superior, and books were banned before they knew it.

Guy begins to realise he is unhappy with his life. He is utterly disconnected from his wife. A war is going on for reasons he can’t recall. He remembers dimly knowing that firemen used to put out fires, not start them…

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It’s scary how current this all feels. Attacks on facts and science and intellectualism seem to be rife in politics, especially in America. I know I’ve been shocked by political events this last year (Brexit, Trump, ffs! ) and perhaps I’m realising how much of an echo chamber I exist in.

This book read like a warning that we could all do with. I urge you to read it if you haven’t already.

Book review: Dancing With Myself – Billy Idol

Great for the early punk stuff. Wish I’d then just abandoned it.

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His account of London and the early punk scene is great. He was there when it all started and I really enjoyed this part of the book. I am much more of a fan Generation X rather than most of his later music anyway (except White wedding and Rebel Yell, obvs!).

The rest of the book is  him completely wrecking himself with drugs. Random explicit pornographic stories.Then getting over heroin and cocaine addiction with a two week holiday. Also, spirits are real. And women are just objects. At one point he is at a brothel with women who just have numbers on them. He even gets someone else to choose because these women are nothing but warm holes to him. Yuck.

This book details his addictions in such a lighthearted way, along with his destructive, violent side. So then I wrecked another hotel room, oops. Paid them some money then did it again. Oh well!

I would read the first third, then forget the rest.

Family Films – January

We’ve started a weekly family film in my household. Two hours a week where we hope to get some peace and quiet, while also subjecting our children to films we loved ourselves as children, only to be painfully disappointed and also shocked at the content of 80s films we thought would be kid friendly. Note to self: the 12 and 12A rating didn’t exist in the 80s, so PGs cover up to the 15 category.

For context, my children are 6 1/2 and 4. We are taking turns to pick the films.

Labyrinth

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Yes! My choice of film. Labyrinth is a marvellous film. Jim Henson puppets, David Bowie as the Goblin King, an Escher style maze, and a race against time for 15 year old Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) to get back her baby brother who the Goblin King has kidnapped. There’s brilliant, funny puppets. Peril! The Goblin King and a cute baby dancing with the puppet goblins. Ludo. Hoggle. And let’s not forget David Bowie and his magnificent pants.

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A brilliant film for everyone!

Zootropolis

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Completely brilliant. We all loved this film about a little rabbit becoming the first rabbit police officer. Normally, it’s just the large animals that get to be cops. In Zootropolis (Zootopia for US audiences) animals are living together in harmony. There’s a scandal erupting about predators ‘going wild’ and Judy Hopps (our bunny hero) must investigate with the help of  Nick Wilde, a sneaky fox (or is he?).

Full Out

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It’s main saving grace was that the littlest family member chose the film this week and it was nearly Nativity again.

This is a TV Movie about a gymnast who has a terrible accident and misses out on her chance at olympic glory. She’s not recovering very well and so joins a hip hop dancing group, obviously. Then she goes back to gymnastics and is great again.

It really wasn’t that bad. 🙂

Batman – Mask of the Phantasm

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I’m so sorry, I had a tiny bit of a hangover this day and I fell asleep during family film time. I will, sadly, never know what this film is about.

Book review: Me Before You – Jojo Moyes

This book is my book club secret santa and I’ve really been looking forward to reading it – sometimes I just want an easy read that is almost guaranteed to make me cry! In case you weren’t sure, the cover lets you know this is and INTERNATIONAL PHENOMENON, and also a major motion picture. I was given this book with the words: This will make you cry. Hooray!

*spoilers ahead*

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Overall, it’s a super easy read. No dictionary required. You get easily drawn into the story of the slightly useless, 26 year old Louisa Clark. She’s aimlessly going through life and without much consideration, beyond a quite desperate need for money to support her family, she ends up as companion/carer to 35 year old, quadriplegic Will Traynor.

It’s revealed he is planning on ending his life at Dignitas, but has agreed to give his family 6 months before he does this. She begins to implement a plan to change his mind, and obviously falls in love with him. As he falls for her too. But it isn’t enough for him. He feels he’s not enough for her. So he’s going to do it anyway.

All the hooks are there to get you invested and throw your emotions all over the place. I enjoyed reading it and couldn’t put it down for a few days until I was finished.

Many people have an issue with the fact that Will’s decision to end his life gives a very negative view on living with disability. I didn’t have too much of an issue with how this is presented in the book. I can accept it is presented as one person’s opinion and not a general comment on disability. I understand why others may find this extremely distasteful.

What I really had a problem with it that a past sexual assault is given as the reason she starts to dress alternatively. I get that the assault is a turning point for her and something she hasn’t dealt with yet, but citing her wish to dress modestly because she thinks she attracted to assault, and mixing this up with her starting to dress individually and colourfully is wrong to me. I suspect this pushed my buttons because I’m not a conventional dresser myself and it irked me that this defining, positive part of her is revealed to be the consequence of assault!

In fact, the entire sexual assault subplot is completely unnecessary in my opinion. When it was revealed, I might have even audibly exhaled. Not another book turning to a rape to explain a character’s life. Would it have been so bad for Lou to have decided to stay in her home town because she ummm… just wanted to?

The overall theme of Me Before You is about Lou having her horizons expanded. She starts off with no ambition or clue about what to do with her life and ends up excited about furthering her education and doing some interesting things with her life. She also ends up inheriting the means to do this. Convenient!

Having said all that, if you want an emotional roller coaster, good, easy read – then this is the book for you!