I have an Amazon voucher – book recs please!

Hello Bookworms!

Just a quick request – I signed to some online pension management thing (my life is trΓ©s exciting) and I’ve apparently qualified for a Β£10 Amazon voucher! Yay!

This voucher is yet to materialise in my inbox but when if it does I’ll need something to spend it on…hmmm…

That’s where you lovely lot come in. Obviously I’ll be buying books with it…but which ones? There’s too many to choose from!!!

So, if you’ve read anything amazing recently that you really recommend, could you let me know in the comments? I don’t care what genre it is, if you think it’s good, let me know!

Thank you lovelies!

Lucinda xxx

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Review: The Night Listener by Armistead Maupin

“All you have to do is believe and let go, and you’ll have all the proof you need”. 

Genre: General adult fiction, mystery, LGBTQ+, #ownvoices

Similar to: No one writes like Armistead Maupin

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of Tales of the City

Publication date: 14th September 2000


How much do I love Armistead Maupin as an author? *Stretches arms apart until something pops in my shoulder* thiiiiis much!πŸ’™πŸ’šπŸ’›πŸ’œ 

I’ve mentioned a few times about his excellent Tales of the City series, which were the first books I ever read with gay/trans characters living essentially normal lives (well, as much as you can when you all live together in an amazing old house with an incredible landlady who gives a free joint to all her new tenants). The books are absolutely years ahead of their time and have a special place in my heart. So when I learnt that Armistead Maupin had written other books outside of the series I was intrigued – especially when I learnt that The Night Listener had been made into a film with none other than Robin Williams! Plus it fitted a #ReadHarder category so I decided to give it a whirl.

In a similar way to Tales of The City, The Night Listener is weirdly prescient for a book written in the 90’s. It’s a Roman Γ  clef (oooh, fancy! It means novel with a key, where a book is about real life but there’s a fictional element and the key is the link between the two) based around a writer, Gabriel Noone. Noone has his own late-night slot on the radio where he recites his stories. He receives the draft autobiography of one of his young fans, Peter, who claims to have suffered horrendous sexual abuse as a child and has now developed AIDS. Noone contacts Peter and they begin a paternalistic, touching long distance telephone relationship but as time goes on Noone begins to suspect that Peter might not be who he says he is…

I really loved reading this book. The “mystery” element is woven into such a touching and elegant storyline that it ceases to be the main thrust of the narrative – this book is far more about relationships (particularly father/son), family, the secrets we keep to protect others and love in all it’s many forms. 

For a book with so many layers (and some pretty dark subject matter) I didn’t expect humour – but there’s a lightness to his writing that Maupin seamlessly weaves into the narrative. The inclusion of the minutiae of everyday life, the petty worries, the awkward family meals – even the pun in the name Noone (he’s suffering from writer’s block – he thinks he’s no-one in the literary world anymore) all give some light relief and a sense of normality to what could be a very depressing book. It helps that this is an #ownvoices novel – I don’t think anyone else could write about the jealousy they felt when they realised their terminally ill partner might not die imminently and could possibly live without him with such honesty and emotion.

I found The Night Listener was hugely compelling. I loved all of the characters and the way that they related to each other was just so sweet and funny and touching that it gave me all the feels. It was nice to see some Tales of the City characters pop up too – like greeting old friends. I like to know that they’re all ok (I’m aware of how mad this sounds). 

As the story progressed, elements of doubt started to seep in about Peter and the veracity of his story. For much of the novel I really wasn’t sure of what to think – it helped that early on Gabriel announced that he was liable to embellish stories about his own life, so was somewhat of an unreliable narrator. This kept me engaged, especially as the book got darker as it went on. For the most part though it remained fairly light – like a cozy mystery but with huge emotional depth that dealt with difficult, scary themes. 

For a book released in the year 2000 the topics it deals with still feel extremely relevant today. Remember, this was a time before social media, the internet was in it’s infancy and photoshop involved snipping your ex out of a photo with a pair of scissors. So to write about having an honest persona in a digital relationship makes the book incredibly relevant today. Thankfully, the thing that does date it is the treatment available to AIDS sufferers – obviously this has improved dramatically in recent years ☺.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Night Listener. I loved the emotion of the writing, the topics that it covered, the humour and the sadness and everything in between. The mystery element was intriguing and related well to the overarching themes of love in all it’s many forms, paternity, and the preparation for a death that might not be so imminent. 

Rating: Four “Roberta blows” out of five.

Beautifully written, cleverly constructed and relatable in a way that a book written 18 years ago really shouldn’t be, this is a brilliant story about human emotion – with a mystery thrown in for good measure. 

Please note that I read this novel as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2018 #21 Read a mystery by a person of colour or an LGBTQ+ author

 

Review: After the Party by Cressida Connolly

“Had it not been for my weakness, someone who is now dead could still be alive. That is what I believed and consequently lived with every day in prison”

Genre: General adult fiction

Similar to: A cross between Beryl Bainbridge and Mein Kampf – like Lolita but with fascism instead of paedophilia

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of mid-century historical fiction

Publication date: 7th June 2018

No, dearest reader – I haven’t entirely lost the plot by describing this book as a cross between Beryl Bainbridge and Hitler. It is not my fault that the tagline for After the Party is so utterly misleading that it makes it sound like a murder mystery, when in actual fact it’s about Nazi sympathisers during the war. 

No, really. 

The book focuses on Phyllis, the dull as ditchwater wife-and-mother who just does what everyone else tells her to, never questions anything and bobs along merrily into the fun little world of Nazi sympathisers. She is introduced to the British Union of Fascists by her sisters after returning to the UK from abroad and is soon an active member. As the book progresses, we learn how the government dealt with British Union members during the war and what this means for Phyllis and her family. 

I have to say that I had a number of issues with the book but let’s start with the positive. After the Party is very cleverly written. At first, it reads like a Virago Modern Classic, all complaints about the char-woman and getting out the best crockery for high tea. Personally, I’m a huge fan of mid-century “women’s literature” (I super-duper HATE that term) so I was cozily ensconced in the middle class, middle England world. I even quite liked the sound of volunteering to help out with organising the annual family camp – I assumed it was some kind of Scouting endeavour that focused on healthy sea air and bracing walks, with a jolly good sing-song round the campfire and lights out by 10pm sharp. How very jam and Jerusalem, I thought. Lovely. 

HOWEVER…

I’m not sure exactly what gave it away (I think perhaps when the children were given badges with a “distinctive logo” of a lightening flash) that something stirred in my memory. “Hmmm, this almost sounds a bit Hitler Youth” I thought absently. 

And then they started talking about The Leader.

And his name was Oswald Mosley.

And then I got what was going on.

But – infuriatingly – Phyllis didn’t seem to have any idea of the sinister nature of what she was getting herself into. And this is where my biggest problem arose.

Cressida Connolly made the British Union of Fascists sound like Butlins for people who simply didn’t want another war. There was absolutely no discussion of what it’s members were being lectured to about, what it’s policies were; even it’s views on Hitler (who is barely mentioned). Now, I understand that women were not expected to engage with politics so having Phyllis as a main character who appeared to not have a clue about what was going on was possibly realistic HOWEVER the fact that she continued to cling to these opinions into the 1970’s suggested that she was more aware than she let on. This made me really uncomfortable as a reader – almost like Connolly was presenting an excuse for fascism without really getting into the politics of it – presumably to continue to make Phyllis a sympathetic character. I hated this omission of details as I felt like I couldn’t make my mind up about the BUF members – how much did they really know? Were they brainwashed? What did they actually stand for? I NEED ANSWERS!

In saying that, I thought that the way that Connolly dragged the reader into the world of the BUF was pretty skillful. I thought that the writing was excellent and although Phyllis was frustrating as a character I did enjoy reading about her. Later on in the book we learn about the treatment by the British government of BUF members which is something I wasn’t aware of previously and was really interesting to learn about. 

Overall, I found After the Party an uncomfortable read but one that will definitely stay with me. 

Rating: Three and a half “Adolf who?” out of five.

A frustrating main character, an insidious inclusion of fascism and the expectation that I will feel sorry for a Nazi sympathizer – but well written and definitely thought provoking. 

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

 

Review: Beartown by Fredrik Backman

(Originally published as The Scandal in hardback)

Genre: General fiction

Similar to: All of Backman’s other work like A Man Called Ove. 

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of ice hockey or overly wordy fiction

Publication date: 3rd May 2018

I’ve been putting off writing this review for a really long time because I thought I’d love this book but I just couldn’t get into it. It took me ages to read and because I didn’t fully connect with the storyline I really wasn’t sure how to review it. So apologies in advance if my review makes no sense – I’m still trying to process my thoughts. 

Beartown or The Scandal (christ, even the name is confusing) is set in a small town in a Sweedish forest. The town is in decline – industry is waning, people are leaving but those who are left all have one thing in common – a fierce love for their ice hockey team. But when their star player commits a terrible crime the town is divided – did he really do it? Is it really his fault? And should his alleged actions go unpunished for the greater good of the team and the town? What follows is an examination of the issue from about 35 different perspectives, all from characters with similar sounding names.

I found this book incredibly confusing. I really struggled to keep track of who was who and what their relationships were with each other, let alone how they felt after the incident. There seems to be something about the way that Fredrik Backman writes that I just don’t like (I also struggled to get into A Man Called Ove). I think it’s his scant character descriptions that initially throw me, plus the rate at which he cycles through each of them that kept drawing me out of the story to check who was who. 

I also found the pacing of the storyline incredibly slow. There’s very little action until a shocking event half way through, then a forensic examination of how the townspeople react. And that’s it. When you’re not sure what the difference between Bobo and Benji is, or where the fuck Lyt came from it’s kind of hard to care about what they think, especially when you’ve got no context for understanding why they might feel that way. 

I have to admire the way that “the issue” was explored. I liked how Backman presented different topics – class, race, privilege, power, money, the success of your children and blended them together to essentially explain the reactions of the town’s residents. Ultimately though, I found the novel really depressing. There’s no doubt that an incident took place (a horrible, illegal incident) but I didn’t feel like there was any kind of satisfactory resolution. It made me feel powerless, as I couldn’t see what the answer should (or even could) have been. I’m sure that’s what the author intended but urgh, it made me want to weep for humanity. Also, I’m not sure that threatening someone with a shotgun is a particularly responsible portrayal of the only way to get revenge on a criminal. What was it trying to say – the law doesn’t work so you need to take matters into your own hands? I can only hope that it doesn’t put anyone off from reporting a crime of this nature. 

Ultimately, I’m aware that everyone loved this book – and you probably will too – so please don’t be put off by my review. It just wasn’t for me.
You can all go ahead and tell me how wrong I am in the comments now πŸ˜‚ 

Rating: Two and a half not-so-jolly-hockey-sticks out of five. 

Confusing and depressing, I really wasn’t a fan.


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

 

TL;DR June Review

Hello Bookworms!

My God June has been HOT. We haven’t had any rain in about a month and the temperature in my greenhouse is currently 115Β°C so I’m spending an awful lot of time watering plants.We don’t have access to running water at our allotment and our harvested rainwater is all used up so we’re having to take big plastic drums of tap water up there in the car. Carrying those things in this heat is not fun, believe me. 

So, now I’ve done my obligatory grumble about the glorious weather (I am British, it’s our national pastime) on to the rest of my life. For the first time ever I’m starting a monthly wrap up WITHOUT an excuse as to why I haven’t been blogging very much – something I said last month that I didn’t think I’d ever do. Gold star for me! 🌟

There’s no more news about the potential closure of our allotment. The non-hubs has been incredibly useful this month by casually suggesting that he knows someone who does contract work for the Environment Agency who could do an Environmental Impact Assessment for the site. It’s so big and overgrown that I’m confident it’ll be a significant wildlife habitat so hopefully that’ll put a spanner in the works of any planning applications. I regularly spot everything from foxes to birds of prey to unusual looking bees and butterflies up there so fingers crossed.

The house renovation has kicked up another gear – the bathroom and kitchen are fitted, the bathroom tiling is almost done, the plumbing for the shower is complete, the drainpipes and soffets have been replaced, we’ve bought new windowsills and edging strips (all the finishing bits you don’t think of) as well as some new light fittings. There’ll be a lag now where we’ll be waiting for a new boiler to be fitted (after the bathroom has been grouted) so I’m not expecting much progress next month. It’s too hot to be doing manual labour anyway!

It was my Dad’s birthday and Father’s Day all in the same week so we went out for a family meal to celebrate. We went to a lovely Italian restaurant and ate far too much (shortly before my mother telling me I’d put on a lot of weight recently) so I’m trying to be good and incorporate more exercise into my life. I’ve started a free 30 day yoga plan on doyouyoga.com which is actually a really nice way to stretch out in the morning or before bed and I’ve already noticed a difference. I also seem to have more energy which is a nice added bonus although that could be from the sugar in the FOUR THOUSAND TONNES of soft fruit that I’ve harvested from my allotment. I’ve given away boxes of strawberries and frozen loads but I’m running out of space to store everything! Now the blackcurrants have gone mad so I’ll definitely be making a summer pudding one day this week. What was that about me being good?

In terms of my blog, I made eight blog posts which is right on target. I also did a fun“Books I’ll Probably Never Read” tag which was a great change from recommending books!

I’ve caught up with my Les Mis read along, yay! I’m a bit behind in my Read Harder challenge but I’ve still got six months left so I’m not stressing. My ARC’s are pretty much up to date except for one book that I just can’t get into. Also, I finally managed to hit 80% feedback on NetGalley, hurrah! I didn’t get a badge though? Does that only happen when you’re 81%+ or have they just given up awarding them?

I wrote seven book reviews this month and they were pretty evenly split between great and terrible. So a weird reading month really but I’ve got some exciting books up for review in July so looking forwards to that. 

The TL;DR overview for June is:

Tetris by Box Brown: A fantastic graphic novel about the origins of the game Tetris. An unbelievable story that really suited being told in a simple cartoon format. Amazing! Four and a half out of five.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata: A super cute story about fitting in with society. It reminded me of a Japanese Eleanor Oliphant…A great short read. Four out of five.

Bottled Goods by Sophie Van Llewyn: An odd little novella which provides an evocative look into life in 1970’s communist Romania. Fascinating, gothic and slightly sinister – I really enjoyed it. Four out of five.

Elefant by Martin Suter: A slightly confusing, overly graphic story of how to genetically engineer a tiny pink elephant. A weird mix of science and magical realism with waaay too much detail about elephant ejaculation. Disappointing. Three out of five.

Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny: A book that seemed to lack the fundamentals of both a plot and a structure. A meandering nonsense of a novel, I found it incredibly slow going. Two and a half out of five.

I Still Dream by James Smythe: Another slow going dirge of a book. I was so disappointed – I loved the first few chapters but then the plot fell off a cliff face. Two and a half out of five.

Girl With Dove by Sally Bayley: A confusing as hell memoir with too many unfamiliar characters, a lack of action and super slow pacing which ruined my enjoyment of this novel. A great idea poorly executed. Two out of five.

So that’s June wrapped up – where is the time going? Happy summer heatwave everyone!

How was your June? Have you read any of the books I read last month? Let me know in the comments!

Much love,

Lucinda xxx

Read Harder 2018 Mid Year Progress

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The Read Harder 2018 challenge from Book Riot is a fantastic way of expanding your reading tastes. It’s a list of twenty-four categories and the idea is to find a book that fits within each, then read it at some point during the year. Sounds simple? It isn’t! 

I love this challenge and this will be the third year that I’ve attempted it. The first year I tried it I started in about September and last year I left it all to the last minute so I’m quite used to panicking about both Christmas and the huge reading list that I still have to get through. So this year I promised myself that I would PACE MYSELF and do what you’re meant to do by reading two books a month. 

Let’s check out the 2018 challenge categories and my progress:

1. A book published posthumously

β˜‘ Identified: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

– Status: Unread

2. A book of true crime

 Unidentified

– Status: Unread

3. A classic of genre fiction (i.e. mystery, sci fi/fantasy, romance) 

β˜‘ Identified: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

β˜‘ Status: Read 

4. A comic written and illustrated by the same person

β˜‘ Identified: Tetris by Box Brown

β˜‘ Status: Read

5. A book set in or about one of the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, or South Africa)

– Unidentified

– Status: Unread

6. A book about nature

β˜‘ Identified: Fingers in the Sparkle Jar by Chris Peckham

β˜‘ Status: Read

7. A western

β˜‘ Identified: The Waste Lands (Dark Tower 3) by Stephen King 

– Status: Started (8%)

8. A comic written or illustrated by a person of color

– Unidentified

– Status: Unread

9. A book of colonial or postcolonial literature

β˜‘ Identified: Brick Lane by Monica Ali

– Status: Unread

10. A romance novel by or about a person of color

β˜‘ Identified: Love, Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

β˜‘ Status: Read

11. A children’s classic published before 1980

– Unidentified

– Status: Unread

12. A celebrity memoir

β˜‘ Identified: My Life and Other Business by Dolly Parton

– Status: Started: (66%)

13. An Oprah Book Club selection

– Unidentified

– Status: Unread

14. A book of social science

β˜‘ Identified: A Good Time to be a Girl by Helen Morissey

β˜‘ Status: Read

15. A one-sitting book

β˜‘ Identified: Women by Chloe Caldwell

β˜‘ Status: Read

16. The first book in a new-to-you YA or middle grade series

β˜‘ Identified: Everless by Sara Holland

β˜‘ Status: Read

17. A sci fi novel with a female protagonist by a female author

β˜‘ Identified: The Power by Naomi Alderman

– Status: Started (50%)

18. A comic that isn’t published by Marvel, DC, or Image

β˜‘ Identified: Giant Days by Allison + Treman + Cogar

– Status: Unread

19. A book of genre fiction in translation

β˜‘ Identified: 1Q84 Book Three by Haruki Murakami

– Status: Unread

20. A book with a cover you hate

β˜‘ Identified: The Woman in the Window by A.J.Flynn

β˜‘ Status: Read

21. A mystery by a person of color or LGBTQ+ authoras

β˜‘ Identified: The Night Listener by Armistead Maupin

β˜‘ Status: Read

22. An essay anthology

– Unidentified

– Status: Unread

23. A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60

β˜‘ Identified: The Lido by Libby Page

β˜‘ Status: Read

24. An assigned book you hated (or never finished)

– Unidentified

– Status: Unread

Ok, so that’s seventeen books identified and ten books read with three further books started. Not bad! Not quite on target but not too far off. For me, this is a minor miracle.

So, can anyone recommend any books for these outstanding categories?

2. A book of true crime

5. A book set in or about one of the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, or South Africa)

8. A comic written or illustrated by a person of color

11. A children’s classic published before 1980

13. An Oprah Book Club selection

22. An essay anthology

24. An assigned book you hated (or never finished)

HEEEEELLLLLLP MEEEEEEEE!


Review: Tetris by Box Brown

“The games people play”

Genre: Graphic Novel

Similar to: Persepolis? I don’t read that many graphic novels.

Could be enjoyed by: Nerds πŸ˜œ

Publication date: 7th November 2016

Now, if I were more artistically gifted and technologically adept I would draw you a little cartoon of how much I loved this graphic novel. Sadly I have neither skill so you’ll just have to put up with text 😜.

Tetris is the story of, well…Tetris. You may (like me) have fond memories of trying to get the oddly shaped puzzle pieces to tesselate on your Nintendo Game Boy, Game Girl, Game Boy Colour or knock off “Bricks!” walkman with LCD front display that your Mum bought you off the market (that one’s probably just me). However, you might not be aware that the creation and marketing of Tetris is an incredible story of politics, collusion, deceipt, theft, murder and bizarrely – Robert Maxwell. 

Tetris the book explains the complicated story with gorgeously simple illustrations (not easy to depict considering many of the issues had to do with dodgy licensing rights). It goes right the way back to when Alexey Pajitnov, a Russian engineer, invented the game in his spare time using the primitive computer technology in his workplace. It goes on to explain how the game escaped from behind the Iron Curtain to take over the world despite illegal business deals, communist state ownership and international scandals. Honestly, I couldn’t believe how much shit had gone down.

I loved the way that such a complicated story was told in such an unfussy, easy to understand manner. I loved the two tone simplistic line drawings and the easy to follow dialogue. I thought that the way that the novel was written belied the complicated nature of the story, mirroring Tetris itself as it’s deceptively simple style can require huge amounts of skill and concentration. 

I found the world that Tetris was created in utterly fascinating. I don’t know a huge amount about communist Russia in the 1970’s and 80’s so I was surprised to learn that the Soviets had absolutely no idea of how popular Tetris had become or how it was being marketed and sold without their permission. Ironically, if Russia hasn’t been so cut off the game would probably have been worthless as it was freely copied and shared throughout the country without license (I guess like the equivalent of a free download). 

It saddened me to learn that even though he was the creator, Alexey Pajitnov was cut out of business negotiations pretty quickly and didn’t initially receive any money from the games worldwide success – it all went to the state (obviously, that’s how communism works Lucinda) – although I was pleased to learn that he eventually worked out a way to get some recompense. I loved how laid back Pajitnov was about the whole debacle and how he went back to his ordinary job even after the game had gone global. It did make me wonder how aware he was of the success of his product, although his primary aim did seem to be making people happy.

I was amazed that such a simplistic game could cause so many problems and have such a bizzare story. I found it incredible that it came into being at all considering the technology it was created on and the fact that Tetris made any money at all when the creator himself gave away free copies that were easy to save and pass on is astounding. I really enjoyed learning about the complicated history of the game and I loved the way in which the story was told. 
Altogether now…

“Dum dum dumdum DUMDUMDUM dum dumdum DUMDUMDUM dum dumdum dum dum DUUUUUM DUUUUUM”
(That was the themetune, in case you hadn’t guessed)

Rating: Four and a half helpful cries of “put the line ones to the edges!” out of five.

Please note that I read this novel as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2018 #4 Read a comic written and illustrated by the same person.