Review – Confessions of a Sociopath by M.E.Thomas

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I read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2016 #24 Read a Book Where the Main Character Has a Mental Illness.

First off, I’d like to explain that, not knowing what sociopathy is, I chose this book because I believed that it fit into the category of ‘mental illness’. Since reading the novel, I’ve discovered that sociopathy is actually not a treatable ‘illness’ as such but a mental condition that is surprisingly common within the general populace. However, as I still read the book as part of the read harder challenge I’ve decided to review it as part of the mental illness category.

Before I read this book, I knew that I had certain personality traits which made me different to other people. I am very much a loner and really enjoy my own company. I get annoyed by people trying to arrange activities (even just meeting up for a coffee) with me. I have lost countless friends simply because I can’t be bothered to reply to their messages/phone calls. I don’t understand why people think that they “deserve” to have a good life/nice partner/great job etc. and I have no sympathy for them if their life doesn’t play out that way. I was aware that this made me a pretty horrible person sometimes so I learnt to modify my verbal opinions and forced myself to attend social gatherings that I really didn’t want to be at (although once there I could be the life and soul of the party). I would flirt with everyone to amuse myself and found it really easy to get a partner, but once I had them I would quickly get bored and dump them on a whim (then not understand why they would be upset).However, I was also aware that my “cold” personality could be a benefit – I could think clearly in a crisis, I’m extremely low maintenance as a friend/partner, I’m very resilient, I have a massively high pain threshold so even if I’m ill I can just get on with things. I don’t rely on anyone and if someone manages to hold my interest I can be a really loyal friend.

After reading this book, I was convinced that my quirky personality traits made me a sociopath. For that reason alone I think this may be one of the most important books that I’ve ever read. It has quite literally changed the way that I think about my life. It has explained so many things that I always knew were a bit different about me but never really had an explanation for. I’d previously suspected that I might be a ‘bit autistic’ but I was always quite good at talking to strangers, making eye contact, could deal well with large groups of people etc. (I’m aware that I’ve massively stereotyped a couple of autistic traits here but you get the general picture). I’ve also started looking for sociopathic traits in my friends and family (my mum is a definite) which has helped me to assess and understand my relationship with them in a new light. I’m a lot more settled now with my life and in particular my relationship, as I understand that I just don’t have the emotional capacity to fall hopelessly in love. I was always searching for someone to sweep me off my feet but now I know that won’t happen I can stop constantly looking for it. I found that really liberating.

If, unlike me, you are thinking of reading this book despite the fact that you don’t personally identify with the subject matter, I need to point out a few issues. I found it a little hard to follow because it is not written in a linear fashion (I seem to be saying this a lot. Is it just me?) and I was hoping for some shocking or juicy stories about how the author had, I don’t know, destroyed someone’s life but unfortunately I felt they (understandably) were trying to protect their identity too much to get specific details. I also found that the mix of theory in with the personal account was a little bit clumsy at times and could be a bit dry.

Overall, I found this book really hard to review because I found it gave me such an insight into my own life, but on the other hand it wasn’t the most engaging read. For anyone specifically looking to further their knowledge of socipopathy from a personal perspective I would recommend it but for anyone with less than a passing interest I don’t think there is enough to keep the average reader engaged.

Overall rating:
as a general interest novel 6/10.
as a book that may change your life if you think you’re a bit weird 10/10.

Review: Pretty Good Number One – An American Family Eats Tokyo by Matthew Amster-Burton

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I read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2016. This is #22 – Read a Food Memoir.

Reading this book made me realise why the reader harder challenge is so great. I have never read a food memoir before and it is unlikely that I would have chosen this novel over many others on my TBR list. However, I really, really enjoyed it.

I think it’s fair to say that Matthew Amster Burton is obsessed with Japanese food. He actually moved to Japan with his wife and young daughter in order to write the book, which reads partly like a Lonely Planet guide to Tokyo and partly like a love letter to ramen noodles. It is as much about Japanese culture and traditions as it is about food, which made it really interesting to read. It definitely made me want to visit Tokyo.

As an English person, I didn’t expect to learn anything about my own culture. However, the biggest lesson that I took from the book was actually how similar the Japanese and British cultures are (tea drinking, eating offal, etiquette, living in tiny accommodation etc.) and how different we are from Americans. This was totally unexpected and made me really curious to learn more about Japan.

One part of the book that didn’t work was the odd paragraphs at the end of chapters where the author described a Japanese comic book strip (which was also about food). I felt that these parts of the narrative were sometimes shoehorned in and because the characters (naturally) had Japanese names it was quite hard to remember which character was which. I also think that it would have been good to have recipes included, although there is a fairly extensive list of references which provide some excellent resources for further reading.  

Apart from those two point I think this book is a great way to begin learning about Japanese food and culture and to inspire you to be a little more adventurous in your eating habits – which in my book is always a good thing.

Overall rating: 8.5/10

Review: Thinner by Stephen King

I’m reviewing this book as part of the 2016 Book Riot Reader Challenge – #1 Read a Horror Story.

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I’m really not sure how Stephen King does it. Thinner is about a man who is cursed by a gypsy and has to find out how to get the curse lifted before he dies. That’s the entire plot of the book. There are a few little asides and a couple of other characters but essentially, that’s it. Just a man trying to find another man. So how did the story keep me gripped until the end?

I think this is why King is known as the master of suspense (or at least he should be – I may have made that title up).

Unusually for a Stephen King book (particularly a horror), there was a great ending that I didn’t see coming. Yes, there’s the obligatory supernatural thing-at-the-end-that-could-kill-everyone but in this case it’s creepy and weird, not all out terrifying. Personally, I think that this is where King really excels – finding an ordinary situation and making it just a little bit off kilter (like the terrifying cat in Pet Cemetery, which confirmed my lifelong mistrust of felines). I usually find that when he goes for all out terror (i.e. the ridiculous ending of IT) he falls short of the mark. Luckily, creepiness reigns in this story.

On the downside, I often find Stephen King books a little formulaic and unfortunately this novel was no exception. I think the very straightforward storyline makes the book compelling, but ultimately unsatisfying. You basically know after the first couple of chapters where the story is going and although the journey is good, there’s no surprises or interesting detours.

Also, I found the descriptions of female characters a little…uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s the age of the novel but it would be nice to have a well developed female role, not just token women who only get described in terms of their looks/anatomies/effect on the main character’s penis.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book but I don’t think it’s one of King’s best. The story was too predictable and the main character (as usual) wasn’t entirely likeable, which made me a little bit apathetic with regards to the outcome of his quest. This book would make an easy beach read (although if there’s a local carnival you may want to steer clear) but it’s not something I would recommend to friends.

Overall rating – 7/10.

Review – If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

I’m reviewing this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2016. This book is what I read for #12 read a book by or about a person who identifies as transgender.

I was really excited about reading this book. I love YA fiction (if there is such a thing) and I thought that making the main character trans would add a new dimension that I hadn’t encountered before. I have a few trans friends so I’m broadly familiar (from an outsider perspective at least) with some of the issues that they face, not just from a transphobia perspective but also on a practical level (which bathroom do I use? Where do I buy clothes that will fit? What if I don’t want to wear makeup?) etc. I was expecting this book to touch on some of those areas – but it didn’t. Instead, it glossed over the entire transition process, assumed the young trans female ‘had won the genetic lottery in terms of passing’ (as female), took for granted that she would want (and indeed, could afford) all of the surgery and medical procedures to transition and that she would be a straight female who would move to a new town where no one would be able to tell.

In fairness, I read a note from the author at the back of the book, and she explained that she was terrified that cisgender readers would take the story as gospel, but that she wanted her readers to have no barriers to understanding the main character ‘as a teenage girl with a different medical history from most other girls’. I get that. I also understand that as this book is aimed at a younger audience that it may be a lot of readers first experience of a transgender person (real or imaginary) and that this is just a story about a girl meeting a boy. However, to me this came across as a little too simplistic. I think the character could have been much more interesting (and perhaps believable) if they had discussed some deeper issues. I don’t think that readers would have had any trouble understanding that the main character is just a teenage girl if, say, they were bisexual or hadn’t undergone all of the surgical procedures. Perhaps I’m just viewing the book from my liberal UK viewpoint though.

Having said that, I did enjoy the book. I liked that what could have been quite a formulaic story was given such a twist and that the overwhelming message was one of positivity and acceptance. I liked that the characters had flaws and the story was fast paced, sweet and thought provoking. I think this book is definitely worth a read – providing you accept that it is a work of fiction.

Overall rating: 7.5/10.

Footnote: I would also like to add that I’m well aware that as a cisgender reader I’m viewing this book from an outsider perspective with no real experience of the subject matter. I hope that I’ve conveyed my thoughts clearly and I’m always happy to discuss/learn more!

Review: The Wicked and the Divine – The Faust Act by Gillian McKelvie and Wilson Cowles

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This comic was #17 on my Book Riot Read Harder Challenge list: read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years.

Discaimer –  I love a good comic/graphic novel, so I was expecting to like the Wicked and the Divine. It looked exciting. I had high hopes.

I wasn’t disappointed.

I thought that the concept of Gods reincarnating in a ‘normal’ person really interesting. There is a murder mystery element to the storyline which I thought was quite original and worked really well.

But can we talk about the drawings. Ohhh, the artwork is, well, divine. Every page is beautiful. There are characters who look like David Bowie. Characters who look like Florence Welch. Characters who look like Rhianna. They’re all incredible. Super pretty. Glamorous. Slick. Gorgeous.

Loved it.

Overall score: 8/10

Review: Yes Please! by Amy Poehler

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This book was #9 on my Book Riot Read Harder Challenge list: listen to an Audiobook that’s won an Audie award.

I really struggled to like Amy Poehler’s book. I found myself amazed that it had won an Audie Award. Like, really?

I think I may have liked the book more if I had been American and a) understood the humour (the last chapter was read in front of an American audience and it took until then to realise where the jokes were) and b) understood her references to what I assume are big tv programmes (SNL) and other actors/commedians.

As an autobiography I felt that Amy put in as little information about herself as possible (I’m getting a divorce but ehhhh, I don’t want to talk about it). I found her rambling fashion hard to follow – I think it would have worked better if the book was organised in chronological order. A lot of the content felt like filler to me – in one part Amy names every cast member of Parks and Rec and states ‘I laughed the most when (name)…’ ‘I cried when (name)…’ like she was answering a feedback form for a particularly self indulgent therapy session.

Amy constantly reminds us how hard it was to write the  book. Am I supposed to empathise? I know that she’s busy with other projects and being a mum but it’s not like she has to make a story up!

Thankfully I listened to this book rather than read it so I could have Amy on in the background while I was doing other stuff and not feel like I’d wasted a few hours of my life that I’d never get back.

Oh, and it contains Parks and Rec spoilers with no notice beforehand. Unforgivable!!!!

I have nothing against Amy Poehler, I love Parks and Recreation and she comes across as a warm, lovely person but I found this audiobook really boring. Sorry Amy, no thanks!

Overall score: 4/10.

 

Review: Animal by Sara Pascoe

This book was #19 on my Book Riot Read Harder Challenge list: read a non-fiction book about feminism or dealing with feminist themes.

If you’re ever feeling a bit depressed about your body, you should read this book and rejoice in your fat thighs, persistent unwanted body hair or cellulite. Sara Pascoe is here to help.

With an almost painful honesty about her own body insecurities, Sara examines the female body from a genetic and evolutionary perspective to explain that IT’S NOT JUST YOU and that WE’RE ALL MEANT TO LOOK LIKE THAT. Sara shouts many important concepts at the reader but the book never feels preachy or judgemental.

The overall tone of the book remains fairly light throughout despite touching on really emotive subjects such as rape and abortion without trivialising them. Sara adds some very personal annecdotes which makes the whole thing really engaging, despite the fact that the book uses scientific explanations for many of the concepts discussed. Funny and entertaining whilst also being informative and educational, Animal is one of those books that you encourage all of your female friends to read. I wish I had had a copy as a teenager, I genuinely can’t recommend it enough.

Sara Pascoe for PM! (or failing that, my new BFF).

Overall rating: 8.5/10.

Review: Shakespeare by Bill Bryson

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This book was #6 on my Book Riot Read Harder Challenge list: read a biography.

I just want to put this out there before I begin – I absolutely love Bill Bryson. I started reading his books when I got into my latter teens and his funny, observant travel documentaries allowed me to see the minutiae of the world from the comfort of my own home. Bryson has an innate talent for making the mundane seem endlessly fascinating. His attention to detail is second to none and it makes his writing on the most ordinary topics (see At Home – a history of the everyday items in your house) thoroughly enjoyable and accessible.

He doesn’t disappoint in this biography of William Shakespeare.

I am not what you would call a fan of Shakespeare. I chose to study Romeo and Juliet as my mandatory Shakespeare module at school because A) it was the shortest of his plays and B) there was a film version that I could refer to to understand what the hell was going on. Suffice to say, if anyone other than Bill Bryson had written this book, I wouldn’t have read it.

But thankfully, he did. And I loved it.

The thing with Bryson is that his research is utterly meticulous (or at least, it comes across that way). I trust him more than any other non-fiction writer to actually say what is fact, what is unproven rumour and what is nonsense. I get the sense that Bryson LOVES to find a well known ‘fact’ to debunk because this book refers more to what we don’t know about Shakespeare than what we do. It may be the only biography in the world where the reader knows less about the subject than they did before they started reading it.

The book is typical Bryson fare – we learn all about the life of Shakespeare with a focus on the quirky and unusual aspects of his life. Funny and informative, I thought it was a great read.

Overall rating: 8.5/10.

Review: Spot the Difference by Juno Dawson

This book was #5 on my Book Riot Read Harder Challenge list: read a middle-grade book.

I downloaded this super cheap little novella as it was one of the World Book Day offerings. Having already read Rainbow Rowell’s contribution and finding it ok-but-not-great I wasn’t expecting too much from Dawson but I was pleasantly surprised. I actually preferred this story to Rowell’s as I thought it was more coherant and had more exciting characters.
The story involves a young girl with bad skin who undertakes a miraculous transformation and is suddenly accepted into the ‘A team’ friendship group. It looks at themes of bullying, disability, entitlement and overcoming adversity and builds up to a great cliffhanger ending.

For such a short book it manages to raise some really interesting points and I think it would resonate with younger readers. If I had any criticisms I would say it was a little formulaic but it was still a great story.

Overall rating: 8/10

Review – Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I’ve just finished reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. This book was #7 on my Book Riot Read Harder Challenge list: read a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel.

It was I N C R E D I B L E.

I had a nerdgasm.

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You know a book is going to be good when it name checks everything that was good about your childhood. As a fully paid up member of the fantasy book geek club you know you’ve connected with the author when they mention Pratchett, Gaiman and Zelazney in the same sentence. At this point (about 25% in) I would have been prepared to cut Ernest Cline a fair bit of slack when it came to the storytelling. However, the book was as magical, exciting, clever, nostalgic and utterly thrilling as I could ever have hoped for.

I read the book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge (#7 read a dystopian or post apocalyptic novel). Set in 2044, Cline details a future where poverty, war and famine have lead the general populace to despair. To deal with the horrors of everyday life, most people plug in to the ‘OASIS’, a computer generated virtual reality world where they can live out their virtual lives through their self generated avatars. The main character Wade (avatar name Parzival) joins a quest invented by the author and owner of the OASIS – a geeky recluse called James Halliday with a passion for all things 80’s – to win control of the entire world. The genius mind of James Halliday is explored as Parzival battles against an evil corporation planning to win the competition so they can use the OASIS for corporate gain.

The book name checks a wealth of early computer games, fantasy and sci fi films and books, 80’s films and music, role playing games and all round general geeky general knowledge to build a futuristic world which is uncannily retro and familiar. There’s a host of in jokes as well as fiendish riddles to solve. However, central to the story are the relationships between the players and their loyalty to each other, despite only knowing each other virtually.

If I had one criticism of the book I would say that the story is a little simplistic – I was waiting for a plot twist that never came. Apart from that, the book is a must read for anyone who has fond memories of the 80’s or any of the technological advances made during the decade.

I loved it.

Overall rating: 9.5/10.