Review: The Scarlett Letters by Jenny Nordbak

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Photo credit: http://www.netgalley.com

First off, I have to warn you that this book is not for everyone. It tells the (seemingly true) story of Jenny Nordbak, a young woman looking to explore her kinky side. Jenny gets a job in an LA Dungeon working as a “switch” – someone who either acts as a dominatrix or a submissive for paying clients in order to fulfil their wildest fantasies. Although there is no penetration and no exchange of bodily fluids the scenarios that Mistress Scarlett (Jenny’s alter ego) acts out are still pretty extreme. This is not a novel for the easily offended.

There will be an obvious comparison between this book and Fifty Shades of Grey. Having read both, the major differences are:

1. The Scarlett Letters features scenarios where both individuals involved are fulfilling their fantasies
2. The Scarlett Letters contains fully consensual sexual scenes
3. The Scarlett Letters is realistic
4. The Scarlett Letters shows how the submissive participant is actually in control
5. The Scarlett Letters is about a woman exploring her sexuality on her own terms, laying down her own ground rules and having fun
6. The Scarlett Letters is about an entire community of people
7. The Scarlett Letters is about trust, honesty, caring for others, communication and respect
8. Both books feature a kinky relationship between the main character and a man who takes advantage of her but in the Scarlett Letters this is minimal, addressed by the main character and results in an amicable break up.

I found the stories that Mistress Scarlett had were absolutely fascinating. Some of the fetishes in the book were just bizzare but what came across was the genuine willingness from everyone working at the Dungeon not to judge and to work as hard as they possibly could to act out the fantasies of the clients. Mistress Scarlett also mentioned that she had played with an A list celebrity with a Prince Albert piercing but didn’t divulge any more information. I’d love to know who it was! I learnt so much about the role of a dominant, including how much effort is needed and how hugely intuitive they need to be in order to ascertain whether the client is enjoying what they’re doing to them – even though they may be screaming in pain and telling them to stop, or providing no feedback whatsoever.

I really enjoyed finding out how Jenny became Mistress Scarlett and laughed out loud at some of the mistakes that she made along the way. It was really interesting to see how she grew as a person and how becoming Mistress Scarlett gave her far more confidence – as well as some excellent techniques for dealing with rude, annoying co-workers in her “vanilla” job! It was also really heartwarming to read about Jenny’s family difficulties and see how her new found confidence allowed her to deal with some terrible family circumstances. I really believe that having the Mistress Scarlett alter ego helped Jenny to confront her father and have a really honest conversation with him, which will hopefully be the start of mending the rift between them.

It’s very easy make assumptions about people who work in these types of professions so it was great to see some of those stereotypes being shattered – Jenny is a professional who wasn’t desperate for cash, didn’t have issues with drugs or alcohol and really enjoyed her work. Personally, I found it amazing that she fitted working at the Dungeon around her day job and (almost always) kept the two worlds entirely separate.

If you’re interested in the fetish scene or just enjoy reading about other people’s bizzare sex lives I’d definitely recommend this book. It was really refreshing to read a kinky novel that was also about female empowerment and had a really positive outcome. The writing was great and the subject matter endlessly fascinating. As long as you’re not easily grossed out (and you’re old enough to read an explicit book) then you should give it a go!

Rating 9/10

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley!

I Wish I Loved My Local Library, But I Don’t.

Confession time – I hate going to my City Centre’s library. I wish I didn’t, but it really is a horrible place.

I have wonderful memories of going to our village hall as a child where there was a small but well stocked library, with a lovely librarian, children’s corner, seating area etc. It could only have been the size of a small storeroom but it had everything I needed as a precocious four year old. As I got older, I obviously had access to my school’s libraries (I read every single book at least twice) which although larger were pretty much static in terms of getting new books in. Our local library was replaced by a mobile one (basically a van full of books) which felt incredibly precarious as you climbed into it up some rickety steps and shook as you walked along it. Again, it wasn’t exactly well stocked (YA hadn’t really been invented so there was just a handful of Judy Blooms and Paula Danzigers in the “teens” section). Luckily, my parents always encouraged me to read and I would pester them to buy me books, so I could continue to be a bookworm throughout my teenage years. Then Amazon happened and books got super cheap, then the Kindle, then Netgalley – so I stopped using the library altogether. It’s only recently that I realised I could download ebooks from them for free that I decided to renew my membership.

That’s when I found that wave after wave of funding cuts have made the library, well, pretty dreadful.

When you walk into our main library (previously a nightclub), you’re presented with a subterranean tunnel which leads to some public toilets. Being pretty much the only public toilets in the city centre, the smell is horrific and they look disgusting (more public services cuts). You can then either take the lift or walk up two flights of stairs to the one main room (the smell permeates all the way to the top of the building). Once there, it’s not immediately obvious where to go. There’s an NHS quit smoking advice centre, a cancer helpdesk, a benefits/asylum area (I think)… but no books. I walked through the security turnstiles and found a small desk at the side of the room. There were people wandering around with lanyards on but it wasn’t immediately obvious if they were librarians, volunteer helpers or people working in the myriad of other services that the library now offers. I assume I’d arrived at the helpdesk (there was no sign) so I picked a lanyard wearer at random and asked if she could renew my membership. I’d previously tried to do this online and it seems that someone had messed it all up, so it took her some time to unpick what they’d done and set me up properly. I made the mistake of leaning on the counter during this process and realised that it was sticky with an unidentified substance (ewwwwwww). I grabbed my new card and got out as fast as I could (but not before two drunk men tried to chat me up).

I’ve used the online services that the library offers – free ebooks and audio books – but I won’t be going back there in a hurry.

So guys, make me jealous – do you have a fabulous local library? Or is yours just as horrible as mine? Do you feel bad for not using it more? Comment below!

I Wish I Loved My Local Library, But I Don’t.

Confession time – I hate going to my City Centre’s library. I wish I didn’t, but it really is a horrible place.

I have wonderful memories of going to our village hall as a child where there was a small but well stocked library, with a lovely librarian, children’s corner, seating area etc. It could only have been the size of a small storeroom but it had everything I needed as a precocious four year old. As I got older, I obviously had access to my school’s libraries (I read every single book at least twice) which although larger were pretty much static in terms of getting new books in. Our local library was replaced by a mobile one (basically a van full of books) which felt incredibly precarious as you climbed into it up some rickety steps and shook as you walked along it. Again, it wasn’t exactly well stocked (YA hadn’t really been invented so there was just a handful of Judy Blooms and Paula Danzigers in the “teens” section). Luckily, my parents always encouraged me to read and I would pester them to buy me books, so I could continue to be a bookworm throughout my teenage years. Then Amazon happened and books got super cheap, then the Kindle, then Netgalley – so I stopped using the library altogether. It’s only recently that I realised I could download ebooks from them for free that I decided to renew my membership.

That’s when I found that wave after wave of funding cuts have made the library, well, pretty dreadful.

When you walk into our main library (previously a nightclub), you’re presented with a subterranean tunnel which leads to some public toilets. Being pretty much the only public toilets in the city centre, the smell is horrific and they look disgusting (more public services cuts). You can then either take the lift or walk up two flights of stairs to the one main room (the smell permeates all the way to the top of the building). Once there, it’s not immediately obvious where to go. There’s an NHS quit smoking advice centre, a cancer helpdesk, a benefits/asylum area (I think)… but no books. I walked through the security turnstiles and found a small desk at the side of the room. There were people wandering around with lanyards on but it wasn’t immediately obvious if they were librarians, volunteer helpers or people working in the myriad of other services that the library now offers. I assume I’d arrived at the helpdesk (there was no sign) so I picked a lanyard wearer at random and asked if she could renew my membership. I’d previously tried to do this online and it seems that someone had messed it all up, so it took her some time to unpick what they’d done and set me up properly. I made the mistake of leaning on the counter during this process and realised that it was sticky with an unidentified substance (ewwwwwww). I grabbed my new card and got out as fast as I could (but not before two drunk men tried to chat me up).

I’ve used the online services that the library offers – free ebooks and audio books – but I won’t be going back there in a hurry.

So guys, make me jealous – do you have a fabulous local library? Or is yours just as horrible as mine? Do you feel bad for not using it more? Comment below!

Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd

A beautifully written tale of loss and letting go, A Monster Calls is the story of Connor, a young boy with a terminally ill mother. Connor begins to have terrifying nightmares and so is unsurprised when a monster appears in one of his dreams in the form of a Yew tree. Because Connor is used to being so frightened he doesn’t find the Yew tree monster all that scary, so they begin to converse…except the next day, Connor isn’t so sure that it was a dream after all.

Beware – this novel is a real tear-jerker. I never cry at books but I cried at the ending to this one. It’s just so sad and touching, with beautiful imagery and really emotive characters. What makes it especially poignant is the introduction where you discover the book was only part written by Patrick Ness because the original author died before she finished writing it. I wonder if she had children and wrote it to help them to deal with the loss of their mother? If so, that’s just too sad for words – but what an incredibly brave thing to do, and what a gift to give them.

The characters in the book are fantastic. I thought it was really important that Connor is shown to have a “normal” life despite what he’s going through with his mum’s illness. This is also a book about friendship, bullying, divorce, loneliness and dealing with difficult relatives. It shows how love can take many forms and can be found where you least expect it. It deals with all of these issues in a very realistic way and (without giving away too much) it uses a fabulous allegorical scene to show that sometimes, you just have to let go of the people that you love in order to set them free.

The book itself is quite short so I was able to read it in a couple of installments. Despite having two authors, it doesn’t feel like two stories mashed together and flows coherently from beginning to end. It features a young main character and is written in simple English, so it would appeal to older children/teens and up. I think it would definitely help a child going through the loss of a loved one (or an adult for that matter) because key concepts about life, death and illness are explained using beautiful stories-within-the-story that are basic enough for everyone to understand.

I hope this book is used in schools and that many children suffering from grief find that it helps them to express their emotions. I think the film will be amazing too and will hopefully be able to touch even more lives.

Rating: 8.5/10

I read this book for the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #37 Read a book that’s becoming a movie in 2017.

Review: Interworld by Michael Reaves and Neil Gaiman

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Interworld seems to be the “forgotten” story written by Neil Gaiman – but I loved it. Fun, chaotic and wildly imaginative it’s a real Boys Own adventure of a novel.

Joey Harker is an ordinary young boy living a perfectly normal life, until one day he walks (not walks, walks) into an entirely different dimension – and chaos ensues.

I was a little concerned that there may be an issue with having two main authors, but unlike the other Gaiman collaboration that I’ve read (Good Omens – where you can literally attribute different characters to either Neil or Terry Pratchett) the book flows seamlessly. There’s lots of action and a few unpredictable moments and unexpected events that amp the pace up and kept me interested until the end.

The characters could have been a little better defined – as they are all variants of anti-hero Joey from different dimensions it was very easy to confuse them. However, the other characters (in particular the baddies) were described in such terrifying detail that I had a very clear imagine of what they looked like.

I can imagine this book would appeal to tween or teenage boys – although I am neither and enjoyed it too.

I thought that Interworld was a madcap adventure that was a hugely imaginative and fun read. As it’s aimed at younger people there wasn’t really enough of a story to get my teeth into but I would still like to find out what happens in the rest of the series.

Rating 7/10

I read this book as part of the Popsugar reading challenge 2017 #8 Read a book with multiple authors.

The Sunshine Blogger Award

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I’ve been nominated for my very first award! Yay! Thank you so much to Icebreaker694 who put me forward for this! They have a fantastic blog that you should totally go and look at right now. Go on, off you go! Then come back and finish reading my post 🙂

Rules:
Thank the person who nominated you.
Answer 11 questions set by the person who nominated you.
Nominate 11 bloggers to receive the award and write them 11 new questions to answer.

Questions set by Icebreaker 694:

1. What type of YouTube videos do you usually watch?
Usually music videos, or how to guides. The last one was to mend my dishwasher, yawn! Being an adult is boring.

2. If you could undo one thing that happened in the history of the Earth, what would it be?
I’m not sure. There’s obvious stuff like wars – I live in what would have been a medieval city if it hadn’t been completely flattened in WW2 so it would be great to see what that would have looked like (plus, you know, saving the lives of millions of people). On a personal note though, I would like to have stopped my friend from dying from a brain tumor when she was only 20. We all still miss her very much.

3. What is your most anticipated book on your TBR?
There’s two – The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M Auel and Assassins Apprentice by Robin Hobb. I feel like I missed the boat with both of these books so I’m looking forwards to them – especially as I’ve heard only good things about them. 
4. Do you have a favorite book publisher? If so then who?
Yes, Virago. In particular l love their VMC collection, which is 20th century classic books written by women in beautiful special edition covers:

I’ve been collecting them for a few years (I even wrote a blog post last year on how much I love them).

5. What is the most random picture you found on the internet?
A picture of my cat’s boyfriend (Jasper) popped up on my Facebook feed because my friend found him in her garden and wanted to keep him! I had to let her know that he belonged to my neighbours and that she had to give him back! Either that or my hard-as-nails, macho friend dressed as a teenage goth with full on eyeliner and nail polish. We were all teenage goths but I just couldn’t picture him being like that.

6. What’s your opinions on graphic novel remakes of an original series?
I haven’t read any graphic novel remakes but I really enjoy graphic novels in general and I think they can only add to the fandom.

7. What do you like to do in your free time?
Gardening! I’ve just got an allotment. I’m growing:
– apples
– pears
– plums
– hazelnuts
– rhubarb
– strawberries
– redcurrants
– blueberries
– tomatoes
– potatoes
– carrots
– onions
– peas
– beans
– parsnips
– sweetcorn
– salad leaves
Plus herbs in a few pots in the garden.

I’m so excited!

8. If you could bring a book/TV show character to life, who would it be?
Severus Snape, always (lol). Mostly so I could look after him. And he could teach my magic.

9. If you could choose your last words, what would they be?
Don’t look in my knicker drawer after I’ve gone! The less said about that the better.

10. What type of animal would you be if you could turn into one?
Chow chow dogs are my spirit animals. They’re big and fluffy, look like bears and don’t like exercise. I’d like to be a pampered pet that just lies around all day eating and sleeping.

11. If you had to choose one book that you could read forever, what book would it be?
If I could only ever read one book for the rest of my life? It would have to be something big and difficult so that it would keep me entertained. Maybe Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon? 

My questions:
1. Have you ever read a book that’s changed your life? If so, how?
2. What book did you hate as a child? Why?
3. If you could spend 24 hours living someone else’s life, who would you choose and why?
4. What would the title of your autobiography be?
5. How do you imagine yourself 10 years from now?
6. What big, obvious, hugely popular books have you not read?
7. What are your thoughts on audiobooks?
8. Have you ever been to a festival or convention?
9. If you could go back in time and re-do one experience or event, what would it be?
10. Can you estimate how many books you’ve read in your lifetime?
11. What three things have you done in your life that you think have improved you as a person?

I nominate:
Lisa@Creativemisfit
The orangutan librarian
Zuky the book bum
By Hook or by Book
Ana@anaslair
Alex@whimsypages
Lara, the book heathen
Veronica
Megan
Melanie Noell Bernard
Keeper of Pages

 

Review: Toast by Nigel Slater

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I’ve always disliked Nigel Slater. I’m not sure exactly why but I thought he was a bit, well, patronising. I think it’s partly the way he speaks and partly his terrible TV show. For those of you who haven’t seen it, Slater presents “Simple Suppers”, a televisual concept so pretentious that when I first saw it I thought it was satire. Imagine the most middle class show kitchen ever. All the flour is decanted into mason jars, the butter is wrapped in brown paper and string, everything is painted in Farrow and Ball’s Elephants Breath. In between VT of Slater making balsamic reductions and char grilling asparagus are graphics of a little handwritten notebook with cute drawings of leaves and things with fake post it notes saying “don’t forget to cook a bit extra for tomorrow’s supper – even better the next day!” There’s something about this that really grates on me. No one lives like that. It’s all so fake but he presents with such seriousness – then you realise all he’s done is made an omelette with a few extra herbs that you could knock up in your sleep. Blaargh.

So you could say I had pretty low expectations of Toast – Slaters memoirs of his childhood to the age of 18. But boy, was I wrong.

Unlike other life stories, Toast is written in very short chapters which each centre around a memory of a specific item of food. I know that Slater is a food writer for the Observer so when I began reading this I did wonder if he’d just recycled his newspaper columns. Was I being ripped off?

All I can say is – I very much doubt that the content of Toast would be printed in a national newspaper. I couldn’t believe how candid Slater was. He was so honest about his feelings towards his own family, his early sexual encounters, his loneliness and struggle to make his father proud. He had almost nothing nice to say about his stepmother and didn’t seem to care that (presumably) members of his family would read it it and quite probably be upset.

To say I was shocked by this novel was an understatement. Not only to find out that Slater is from Wolverhampton (I seem to be reading a lot by people from Wolves, but he’s from the posh bit so I can’t relate as much) but to discover that he’s actually really rather sweet and comes across as witty, geeky and utterly oppressed by his family (he must be a therapists dream, there’s literally years worth of issues to work through). I couldn’t believe it – I actually found myself liking Nigel Slater. Weird.

Throughout the book there’s more than a hint of Slater’s bisexual/gay proclivities although he never confirms his sexuality. However, this seems almost irrelevant as its clear that Slater has one great love – food. This book is a love letter to all the cooking he had consumed throughout his formative years and is nowhere near as fancy as you might expect from someone who I always thought was a bit, well, up his own arse. Although towards the end Slater starts to discover decent restaurant food, throughout his childhood he devours his way through the whole repertoire of Marguerite Pattern 70’s style cooking and devotes as much love to a humble slice of toast as to home made lemon meringue pie. I have to add here that I also grew up on Marguerite Pattern’s Perfect Cooking and the Hamlyn All Colour Cookbook (written by Bake Off’s finest Mary Berry, no less) and found myself reminiscing right along with him. I inherited Perfect Cooking from my partners mother and still maintain that it’s the best book to use for basic home cooking, although if you try out any of the variations of the blueprint recipes then you’re heading into uncharted territory.

Anyway.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s compelling reading and by linking his memories to specific types of food Slater creates an immediate bond between reader and author – I guess food is a great leveller. I love a bit of nostalgia and Slater’s memories of certain chocolate bars (Cadbury’s Aztec anyone?), dinner party food (I have vivid memories of my mother’s coq au vin and dauphinoise potatoes) and booze (when was the last time anyone had a babycham?) were really evocative of my childhood, despite it taking place almost two decades after his. The short chapters allow Slater to skip all the boring and-then-I-went-to-school-where-nothing-happened bits and just tell anecdote after anecdote, which makes the whole thing far more interesting.

Altogether I thought that Toast was a really interesting read and despite some desperately sad parts a lovely trip down memory lane. I have a new found respect for Nigel Slater – who’d have thought it?

Rating: 8/10

I read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge #19 Read a book about food and the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 #10 Read a book that’s set within 100 miles of your location.