Book Review: All Grown Up – Jami Attenberg

All Grown Up left me feeling sad and emotionally depleted. The main character, Andrea, is the saddest portrait of a modern woman I’ve ever read. I just feel awful for how emotionally devoid her life is, and I think I’m supposed to finish reading this book feeling like she’s some modern, feminist icon, refusing to partake in life as society expects her too. But instead we have someone with literally no joy in any aspect of her life. There may be a few spoilers in the following review, so if you think you might read it, stop here.

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I went into this book with expectations given from this description:

An enthralling confession of a woman contending with the outside world’s expectations of who she should be. 

Powerfully intelligent and wickedly funny, All Grown Up delves into the psyche of a flawed but mesmerising character. Readers will recognise themselves in Jami Attenberg’s truthful account of what it means to be a 21st century woman, though they might not always want to admit it.

I didn’t get any of that AT ALL. What I read was a terribly sad account of a depressed, robotically unfeeling, self destructive, childish, selfish, awful child-woman. There was barely any humour in in at all. I was hoping for something a bit like Living The Dream, which was genuinely hilarious, but it was nothing at all like that.

Andrea is 40 years old. She hasn’t got children and she appears to have never had anything other than fleeting relationships. She hates her mundane job. She’s a borderline alcoholic and frequent drug user (more so in her earlier years). She’s shockingly selfish when it comes to her family and is probably depressed. Andrea has hardly any sympathetic qualities. We find out that she had a difficult upbringing. Her mum had a hard time after her dad died (drug overdose) and this resulted in Andrea being put in some very unsafe situations with regards to abusive men being present in the family home in Andrea’s later teenage years. She also had a bad experience at grad school when her mentor told her she was rubbish at art.

Andrea’s family are die-hard New Yorkers. Her brother has a terminally ill child when Andrea is around 35 and he moves to New Hampshire with his family and eventually their mother moves too, to help them with the baby. We experience all of this through different chapters covering various important stages of Andrea’s life.

The overarching theme is of a woman who deliberately emotionally cuts herself off from everyone around her. She has a pathological hatred of babies. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with not wanting to have children, or even to not really want to hold and coo over other peoples babies (I don’t really do this and I have children of my own!) but Andrea hates them. She tells one of her lovers he isn’t to talk about his child with her. She drops friends as soon as they have a baby. Actually, she seems unable to handle the fact that life may change for a person who’s just had a baby. She berates friends for disappearing from her life, only to reappear a few years later. She doesn’t consider that maybe a friend needs support or is having a difficult time. She just sees that they don’t want to go boozing with her.

She has a difficult relationship with her mother – expected given the situation Andrea’s late teens. But her reaction when her mum says she’s moving to help out with the terminally ill baby is horrendous. Andrea feels abandoned and lets everybody know about it. She only meets her niece a few times in her five short years. Once is when she drives her mum over to live with them. Here she leaves after one night without telling anyone. Her brother is clearly a broken and struggling man and she offers him no support either. She’s just pissed off at him for taking their mum away from her. Here, she is sharing a room with her mum on her first night at her brother’s house, after she has moved her mum in with them:

“I’ve had enough me to last a lifetime,” my mother says. She’s facing the wall and her voice is dreamy. Then she tells me she loves me, she tells me to go to sleep. “In the morning we’ll have a new day, ” she says. “That’s the best part of going to sleep. Knowing there’s a new day tomorrow.” “That’s the kind of thing you tell a child.” I Say. “I expect more from you.” “Andrea, enough!” she snaps. “You know, you’re doing better than you think you are. You can survive without me.” “I’m not,” I say. “All right, even if you’re not, which I don’t believe is true. just grow up already,” she says. She flips over, and her voice is closer to me. “Handle your shit, Andrea. You’re thirty-nine years old. You can do it.” “I’ll try,” I say. “One more thing,” my mother says. “I see you not holding that baby. You think I don’t notice it, but I do.” I say absolutely nothing. “Tomorrow you hold the baby,” she says. I’m the sick baby, I think. Me. Who will hold me?

The absolute worst thing happens at the end of the book. She still won’t engage with her family or offer them any support with the dying child. Until she’s basically forced to read a book about life with a dying child. She suddenly realises what a selfish human being she is and want to be in all their lives. Her niece dies in her arms. The book ends. You needed a book to tell you life with a dying child is hard?!?

I wouldn’t mind Andrea making any of her life choices if she had done it because she genuinely wanted to make them. If she was happy with her life that would have been amazing, but she’s so clearly utterly miserable. I don’t think a man or a baby would fix this of course, she maybe needs to read some more books as that is the only way she made any connection 😀

I wouldn’t be put off reading anything by Jami Attenberg again, it’s really well written and brave to write such an unlikable character. It just didn’t work for me.

I wonder if anyone else has read All Grown Up? What did you think? Have I got it all wrong?

p.s. I recieved this copy of All Grown Up from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Sorry if this is too honest!

The Mid Year Freak Out! Tag

I haven’t been tagged by anyone to answer these questions. I have just seen the tag and liked the idea of summing up my reading for this year with these questions 😀
So far this year I have read 42 books – way above my target, and around double what I have managed for the last few years, each year. I’ve managed this by just fitting in a bit of reading where I can: waiting for the kettle to boil, 20 mins in the morning, a bit at lunchtime etc. and I’ve been watching less TV! Not none… I’ve had to watch American Gods and The Handmaid’s Tale, and University Challenge and Only Connect obvs. 

1. BEST BOOK YOU’VE READ SO FAR IN 2017?

Impossible to pick one, and difficult to narrow it down because I’ve really enjoyed a lot of books I’ve read this year. The top ones have to be the ones I gave 5*s to. You might not believe it, but I’m quite stingy with my 5*s!!! (click through for reviews):

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2. BEST SEQUEL OF 2017 SO FAR?

I’ve not strictly read anything that’s a sequel so far this year. I’ve been meaning to read Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword for a while after reading Ancillary Justice a few years ago. I’m going to have to pick John Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came in from The Cold. I’m on a (very slow) mission to read all of Le Carre’s books. So that’s book 3 done… in 4 years. Might need to get a few more out of the way soon!

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3. NEW RELEASE YOU HAVEN’T READ YET, BUT WANT TO?

Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ I’ve had my eye on this all year but haven’t got a copy yet.

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Out of the books I own, that I haven’t read yet, that are also quite new, these are the ones I most want to try but haven’t got round to yet:

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4. MOST ANTICIPATED RELEASE OF THE SECOND HALF OF 2017?

One book I’m looking forward to is The Book Of Joan – Lidia Yuknavitch although I don’t think it’s out in the UK until 2018? It’s been described as:

a genre-defying masterpiece that may very well rewire your brain

See? sounds awesome!

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Also, The Mother of All Questions – Rebecca Solnit, a follow up collection of essays, on feminism, to Me Explain Things To Me. 

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5. BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT?

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor. Click through to the review if you must! I much prefer liking books!

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6. BIGGEST SURPRISE?

Frankenstein – Mary Shelly. I really enjoyed it, and I didn’t mention it in my review, but reading a bit about Mary Shelly herself was fascinating.  I really want to read Romantic Outlaws – Charlotte Gordon now too – especially after a friend also recommended it to me a while before I  read Frankenstein. It’s about Mary Shelly and her mother Mary Wollstonecraft.

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7. FAVORITE NEW AUTHOR (DEBUT OR NEW TO YOU) ?

I’m going to choose Celeste Ng and Lauren Berry. Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You is just beautifully written and I can’t wait for her next book Little Fires Everywhere. Lauren Berry’s Living The Dream was hilarious and one of the funniest, most relatable books I’ve read in ages.

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8. NEWEST FICTIONAL CRUSH?

Hmmmm might have to be Shadow Moon from American Gods, probably more influenced by the TV show than the book!

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He’s no Rupert Campbell-Black or Richard Sharpe though, obvs.

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9. NEWEST FAVOURITE CHARACTER?

I’m going with Francie Nolan from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Betty Smith. She’s a strong and determined character and she grows into a kind and thoughtful woman over the course of the novel. Also, she loves books.

10. BOOK THAT MADE YOU CRY?

Without doubt this award has to go to Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. I sobbed through the last 20 pages and wasn’t much better at various other stages of the book. There was something about the main character having my name, probably being around my age, and being unable to get on with a career as a scientist… also trying to make sure your female children aren’t held back by societal sexism, while trying to not damage them and also not ignoring your other kids! Such a good book.

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Runner up for this has to be Beloved – Toni Morrison. Such a beautiful, moving book.

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11. BOOK THAT MADE YOU HAPPY?

I’m not sure about any of them making me particularly happy, but plenty made me laugh.

I’ve read two of David Sedaris’ novels this year: Me Talk Pretty One Day, and Holidays On Ice. He can be completely hilarious. One part of Me Talk Pretty One Day had me uncontrollably laughing.

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Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut made me smile a lot. And Bel Canto by Ann Patchett was the novel that made me feel the  happiest, I guess.

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12. FAVOURITE BOOK TO MOVIE ADAPTATION YOU’VE SEEN THIS YEAR?

 

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13. FAVOURITE REVIEW YOU’VE WRITTEN THIS YEAR?

I’m going with Men Explain Things to Me – Rebecca Solnit. I loved the book, I loved the artwork in it by Ana Teresa Fernandez – some of which I included in the review, and I loved using this gif:

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14. MOST BEAUTIFUL BOOK YOU BOUGHT OR RECEIVED SO FAR THIS YEAR

I’ll just put these beauties here with a gorgeous peony.

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15. WHAT BOOKS DO YOU NEED TO READ BY THE END OF THE YEAR?

So many… here’s a shortlist:

and I have started, but need to finish:

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If you want to do this tag? Consider yourself tagged by me and just get on with it!

Let me know your answers to these questions in the comments or leave me a link to your post.

Thanks for reading!

Book Review: Nasty Women – 404 ink

Nasty Women is a collection of 21 short essays by women about life in the 21st century. It’s interesting and wide ranging and I really enjoyed reading it.

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There’s so many subjects covered, from being Puerto Rican and living under a Trump presidency, to being a fat person and taking a flight. There is being a black woman in Scotland, brexit, pregnancy, contraception, class, immigration, loving Courtney Love, and much more.

The very first story is from an American, living in America. Combined with the Hillary Clinton reference in the title, I assumed it was a collection from mostly American writers. I was very wrong. A lot of the writers live in Scotland, and this makes a nice change from being London-, or US- centric.

There are several stories about women and punk rock and I particularly loved these because I completely recognised the issues in them. The stories are so wide ranging though, that there will be something for everyone in here. These just happen to be the stories I could identify with the most. From Why I’m No Longer a Punk Rock ‘Cool Girl’ by Kristy Diaz:

Let that shit go. Never deny yourself the music you enjoy. Sing and scream along with every breath. Collaborate with women and other marginalised groups in punk, rally around each other, protect and support each other and invest energy in creating. Never apologise for an inch of space you occupy and answer to no-one. Fuck it up at DIY shows and dance to pop music recklessly, wearing heels and glitter and jeans and cut up T-shirts, Be taught nothing. You know everything.

– Kristy Diaz

I particularly loved the story ‘Touch Me Again and I Will Fucking Kill You’: Cultural Resistance to Gendered Violence in the Punk Rock Community by Ren Aldridge. Ren is the singer in the band The Petrol Girls. I haven’t heard them before so I looked them up and they are BRILLIANT.  Perfect, especially considering I’ve been looking at my own sexist listening habits recently. The gendered violence she describes is something I’m familiar with from being involved in the punk rock community. Her explanation of her use of the term survivor is great, using it rather than victim, and giving permission to use the word with a Destiny’s Child soundtrack, which I’m sure everyone does mostly anyway, right? Understanding that there is a continuum of gendered violence is also important, from everyday harassment to sexual assault and rape. An important observation is

…as one survivor quoted in Salvage points out ‘I think with radical circles, 9 times out of 10, it’s just a microcosm of what already exists, just with different haircuts.’ Activist and punk circles claim to counter mainstream society whilst reproducing the exact same power dynamics, focusing their efforts outside whilst not considering what’s happening inside.

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There’s also the fact that the scene is

completely dominated by white people, despite anti-racism being a core of punk and other radical left groups’ politics.

I love that the essay goes on to detail some action that is being taken to try and address gendered violence in punk rock. The article is so quotable, I’m trying really hard to limit myself to just a few here. Instead, here is the fabulously appropriate and great song, Touch me Again, referenced in the title to this essay in Nasty Women:

What a bonus. Reading a great book, through it discovering a great band, and finding that they are playing a festival I’m going to in 2 weeks! I had already made it my mission to seek out and support female and BAME artists at the punk festival. I now especially can’t wait. 😀

Other highlights in Nasty Women include Black Feminism Online: Claiming Digital Space by Claire L. Heuchan, and Lament: Living With the Consequences of Contraception by Jen McGregor. The contraception story reminded me a lot of the issues in Inferior by Angela Saini:

I didn’t realise, back when I embarked on this journey at the age of 18, just how far contraception and women’s health still have to go. I learned that the hard way. Whether that’s the result of institutional sexism in the medical profession or simply a matter of where we are in the timeline of medical developments may be debatable, but the fact remains that there are plenty of women out there in my situation, with messy and uncontrollable bodies and situations, for whom ‘woman’ feels more like a diagnosis than a sex category.

– Jen McGregor

The Trump election was the trigger for Nasty Women being created. You find out in the afterword that the day the US election result was announced they put the idea together. Within 17 weeks it was published. My only criticism is that some of the stories seemed rushed. Overall it’s a great collection and I really highly recommend reading it, but a few stories fell a little flat. I’m not going to single them out, especially as the ones that didn’t work for me might just be the ones that sing to you. It’s just that when I read at the end that it was put together quickly it gave me an ‘oh, I seeeeee’ moment.

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The overarching message from Nasty Women, is be a ‘nasty women’. Stand up for yourself and look out for each other. *group hug*

p.s I received a review copy of Nasty Women from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks NetGalley – I loved this one.

 

Book Review: The Unseen – Roy Jacobsen

A Norwegian translation about life on a remote island, Barrøy, inhabited by one family, the Barrøy’s. There are other islands nearby and a mainland with a village. It’s an enjoyable read as we follow the family like through around 20 years. Their life is tough and they can’t escape the elements. They fish and farm and have a constant struggle between life on the sea and time on land. The text is poetic and lovely. The translation is by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw.

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The family are Hans Barrøy, his wife Maria, his father Martin, his sister Barbro, and daughter Ingrid. Ingrid is three when we meet her and she becomes an adult over the course of the story and truly this is her story. People come and go – don’t worry, I’m not going to be writing any spoilers about how their lives change here.

…three-year-old Ingrid with the long, tarry-brown hair and bright eyes, and feet that probably won’t see a pair of shoes before October; where did she get those eyes, so devoid of that lethargic stupidity engendered by poverty?

It took a while for me to place the novel in time. The Barrøys lead a traditional life and this means they could be living 100s of years ago, or be in modern times but shunning modern technology. There’s one reference to something being on the beach for 100 years that they discover in the story. So it’s set 100 years ago!

Barbro has some learning difficulties and several times she is supposed to go to the mainland to work as a maid, but it doesn’t work out. The pull of the island on the family is one of the themes running throughout The Unseen. As is the role of women and men. There are challenges to traditional gender roles, both overt and more subtle. It is revealed that the reason Barbro carries her chair around with her is because a generation before women weren’t allowed chairs! And she enjoys work that is considered ‘mens work’, but it is convenient for her to carry on with it to help the family.

From that day on Ingrid cards much faster than Barbro, who is thereby relieved of this drudgery and can be in the barn or the boat shed repairing fishing nests like a man.

Hans also went into the cowshed, a man in the cowshed. Martin had never heard or seen anything so ridiculous.

Mostly it’s about the changing relationships between the islanders as they age, and as events occur to change them.

One of my favourite things about this translation was the conversations between islanders. They have a broad, obviously Norwegian, dialect… except that in my mind it is broad Lancashire. I just can’t help it, it’s all dropped ts!

“By Jove, A can see th’ rectory too” Hans Barrøy walks past him and says: “And from hier tha can see th’ church”

It’s not often this difficult to understand:

“So hva’s wrong?” “It’s nothin’. Hva’s tha babblen’ about?” “A see hva A ca’ see.” “An’ hva ca’ tha see?”

This is how these Norwegians sound in my head:

I enjoyed The Unseen and it’s look at like on a Norwegian Island. I don’t read many translations and think I should try some more.

p.s I was definitely drawn to the book initially because I love a punk band called The Unseen. This got me to read the book description, and *this* is why I actually read it 😀

Here’s there cover of Paint It Black. Don’t listen if you’re of a delicate disposition 😉

p.p.s. I received this review copy of The Unseen from NetGalley.

The ‘How I Choose My Books’ Tag

Thanks to Stephanie’s Novel Fiction for tagging me in The ‘How I Choose My Books’ Tag. I’ve never done one of these before but like the questions here and well, I’m done for the summer at work now so I have time! Let’s go!

  1. Find a book on your shelves or ereader with a blue cover. What made you want to pick up this book? 

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The Golden Compass (aka Northern Lights) by Philip Pullman. Book 1 of the His Dark Materials trilogy. The box set I have of this trilogy is goorrrgeeeooouueess. It’s been a long time since I read these (over 10 years) and I’m thinking a re-read should happen soon.

2. Think of a book you didn’t expect to enjoy, but did. Why did you read it in the first place? 

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This is quite difficult because I’m quite a good judge of if I’m going to like a book or not. That’s maybe quite weird?! I’ve really struggled to find one I thought I wouldn’t like, but really did. The best example I can think of is Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn. I read this because lots of people in my book club raved about it. I had somehow remained spoiler free even though I read it after the film came out! Because of all the hype I expected it to be a bit rubbish (sorry!) but I loved it. AND I loved the film.

3. Stand in front of your bookshelf with your eyes closed and pick up a book at random. How did you discover this book? 

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I read a lot of popular science books as a teenager. This would have been new when I bought it so I probably picked it up in a bookshop deal. It’s about how great science is. It’s about how understanding science can increase your sense of imagination and wonder, rather than destroying them.

4. Pick a book that someone personally recommended to you. What did you think of it?

The Game of Thrones series. This was recommended to me and I hadn’t even heard of it! (It was way pre-TV show becoming a huge thing). I started reading and then read the whole series in six weeks. I just couldn’t stop reading them. Then I discovered the rest of the series hasn’t been written yet.

 

I now basically try to read anything this friend recommends!

5. Pick a book that you discovered through YouTube / book blogs. Did it live up to the hype? 

This one’s a little bit tricky because I don’t use youtube for book reviews. I get most of my recommendations from twitter or articles on books. So I’m going for The Good Immigrant ed. by Nikesh Shukla.

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I became aware of this book when it started popping up on loads of Xmas book recommendation lists last year. I finally got round to reading it earlier this year and I loved it.  It also introduced me to some poets and writers I didn’t know about. One of the best books I’ve read this year.

6. Find a book on your shelves or ereader with a one-word title. What drew you to this book?

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Emma – Jane Austen. I read quite a few Jane Austen books all in a row once. I see the BBC Big Read sticker on this so I must have read them in 2003 in an attempt to read more of the novels I felt I *should* have read. I loved Emma, more than Pride and Prejudice. I really liked Persuasion too. I can’t actually remember which one I like most out of Emma and Persuasion.

Looking at the top 200 in the Big Read I have now read 44 of them and loads of the books I have sat around waiting to read are in there too. Not made too much progress since 2003! Oh dear!

7. What book did you discover through a film / TV adaptation?

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Girl with a Pearl Earring – Tracy Chevalier. I watched and really enjoyed the film. So I read the book and it is fantastic. The only other example I could find where I’ve watched a film or TV programme then read the book is the entire Sharpe series. 😀

8. Think of your all-time favourite book/s. When did you read these and why did you pick them up in the first place?

For me, this means books I read a long time ago and they have stayed with me for various reasons. I have recently read lots of books that I have utterly loved, but I feel like ‘all-time favourites have added longevity! I’ll pick my top five.

Making New Friends – Jane Carruth

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I loved this book as a child. I still have it! The main squirrel is new in town and scared. He gets sent on a playdate and is terrified, but is basically forced to play with the other squirrels, then he has fun. All is well.

In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat – John Gribbin.

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The book that got me really hooked on physics. This book blew my mind when I read it during my A levels. It’s the story of quantum mechanics. What it is, it’s historical development, and what experiments have been carried out to verify it. The original is from 1985 and I must have read it in 1997. At the time I read a lot of popular science physics books and they cemented for me that I wanted to study physics at university. I could easily have put A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking, in here.

The Demon Haunted World – Carl Sagan.

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I have so much love for this book. When I was younger, early to mid teens, I toyed with pseudo-science. I wondered if aliens had really visited us and considered conspiracy theories. I didn’t really know what homeopathy was. This book was exactly what I needed to clear all this up! It’s a love letter to the scientific method and argues for people to use more skeptical and critical thinking.

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis de Bernieres.

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I didn’t really realise until this book that you can be emotionally moved so much by a book. I cried through the last few pages and a whole new level of books was opened up to me. I even used the (cheesey) love extract as a reading at my wedding!

V for Vendetta – Alan Moore.

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Another whole genre opened up to me reading this. This fits into the ‘recommended by a friend’ category and the ‘what book did you think you wouldn’t like and actually loved’ category. I didn’t realise before reading this that a graphic novel could build up the same type of world that you get from a novel.

I’m not going to tag anyone here. If you fancy having a go at this tag, please consider yourself tagged and if you decide to make a post, make sure to pingback your answers to me, so I can see them! 😀

Thanks for reading 😀

 

Book Review: Holidays On Ice – David Sedaris

All the stories in this collection have a Xmas, Halloween, or Easter connection in them somewhere. There are some real gems, especially where Sedaris is writing as himself. The stories where he is writing pure fiction often fall a little flat, though I enjoyed Front Row Center with Thaddeus Bristol, where school Xmas plays are reviewed as serious theatre. All the stories are veerrrrryyyyy dark, which you’d hopefully expect if you know David Sedaris at all. His fiction stories are ultra dark. We’re talking vantablack

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I listened to this audiobook and it’s the perfect way to experience  David Sedaris because you get so much from the way he tells a story. There were parts of it where I was cackling like a witch on my commute to work. This was mostly during 6-8 Black Men, a tale about the Dutch Xmas story. It’s one of the final few stories and these last few seem to have been added to the audio book at a later date because they aren’t listed as being in the original, and I think I’ve heard them on the radio before too. Jesus Shaves (also in Me Talk Pretty One Day) is similarly about trying to explain the Easter story during a beginners french class.

Originally published in 1997, re-released in 2008, there’s been plenty of time to add them. It feels like they have been added because the original stories are not that great. Dinah, the Christmas Whore is the stand out from the original stories, and unsurprisingly, is written from his point of view. It’s about his sister Lisa taking him out on a late night mission to rescue a prostitute from her abusive boyfriend. With hilarious consequences!!!!

I have neglected to talk about the main story that the book opens with SantaLand Diaries. An account of a 33 year old David’s stint as a Christmas Elf at Macy’s. So good. We all know that these stories of David’s life are not all 100% factual, and hopefully you all don’t care either!

This is my second Sedaris of the year. I read Me Talk Pretty One Day earlier in the year. I’m quite sure I’m going to read all his books, and I have kindle versions of the others already. The only question now is, do I read them, or find the audiobooks?!?

Family Film Time June 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.

Wow! First real failure month. We have had a birthday filled weekend and missed a week! Shameful!

 

Tinkerbell and Secret of the Wings

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ZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz………

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief

 

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We all really enjoyed this. I thought it would be a bit scary for the littlest one, but she seemed fine 🙂

The Game Plan

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The Rock + cute ballet loving daughter he never knew he had = family film perfection