Tag Archives: book review

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.

seedcollectors2.JPG

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.

seedcollectors.JPG

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?

 

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.

angerenergy.JPG

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.

00002tmp

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.

gallery-1430259693-teddyboy-cred-adrian-boot

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.

sex-pistols-5041ff2ab1b3c

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!

john-lydon202

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!

angerenergyintro.JPG

‘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.

27973757

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!?

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.

30971707

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!

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.

41aalgyb8hl-_sx317_bo1204203200_

 

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.

-Ren Aldridge

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.

423b16d800000578-4686946-image-a-30_1499807267278

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.

51otzgw-pol-_sx324_bo1204203200_

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.

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

.

4136

 

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?!?