Review: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

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Well, I’m stumped. It’s not often that I read a book and still have no idea how I feel about it by the end. However, Lolita has made me feel…well…I don’t know. Confused. Sickened. But I still read it, and on some level enjoyed it. Am I a terrible person?

Before I start the review proper, I have to say that there are huge trigger warnings for child abuse and paedophilia. Lolita is a graphic account of the grooming and rape of a minor and is not for the faint hearted. I’m morally opposed to banning books but even I can see why this novel caused such uproar and was removed from sale shortly after its release.

There are a lot of things to hate about this book. There are some incredibly uncomfortable parts regarding the main character’s feelings and actions towards young girls which genuinely made me feel a bit sick. His descriptions and what appear to be justifications for his behaviour are utterly abhorrent. He refers to girls that he finds attractive (and I mean girls literally – he specifies that they should be around age 12-13) as ‘nymphettes’ – a disgusting term which seemed to suggest a deliberate coquettishness by the girls which some men were unable to resist. Apart from this inference that on some level the girls were teasing the men on purpose, there were also mentions of how the age of consent is far lower in some cultures, that Lolita was fairly happy with the situation as she had a crush on him, that she willingly initiated some physical acts, that she had done it before…bleurgh. No. Just no.

Added to this is the fact that all of the characters in the book are absolutely horrible. Lolita is vapid and annoying. Her mother is even worse. Mr Humbert is a predatory paedophile. Therefore, it’s difficult sometimes to garner sympathy for Lolita, despite the awful circumstances that she finds herself in. She’s clearly been groomed but instead of being damaged by the abuse she seems almost indifferent to it. I’m not sure how realistic that is and for me this was one of the worst parts – the inference that she was getting something out of the relationship.

Despite this, Lolita is a classic for a reason and despite the content it is, without doubt, brilliantly well written. The dense, flowery language makes it seem almost Shakesperian in places and adds to the air of poetic tragedy which permeates the text.

Challenging to read, sickening in places but weirdly compelling, this is the kind of book that you’re glad to have read, even if most of the satisfaction comes from the knowledge that you’ve finished it.

Overall rating: 2.5/5

Please note that I read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 #16 Read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country.

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Review: All Day by Liza Jessie Peterson

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

Bugger me, America is messed up. I’m sure the UK has some pretty shocking practices when it comes to children awaiting trial for criminal offenses but as far as I’m aware we don’t lock them all up together and stick them on an island, like some kind of Lord of the Flies for black kids. However, that’s exactly what happens in this true-life account of incarcerated children – children! – who are awaiting trial for seemingly minor misdemeanors on Rikers Island, New York.

The book is the account of one teacher’s perspective on what it’s like to work with these kids. Locked up, far from their families, with just the clothes they were wearing when they were arrested, the full extent of what happens to these poor (in both senses) young men is portrayed with brutal honesty. From gang fights to mental health issues everything is recounted with no sugar coating. It’s a morbidly fascinating glimpse into a world very few of us (hopefully) will ever get to see first hand.

*At this point, I am going to have a little bit of a rant. This is tenuously linked to my review but only because of my involvement in the UK justice system. You have been warned*

As someone who spent a few years working in the UK police force at a time when they had just been branded “institutionally racist” I have a little bit of experience of the ways that we worked to change the organisational culture. We aimed to include diversity in everything we did, not just with training (a full two day session that was actually really fun) but by embedding it into everything we did, from appraisal and job interview questions to marketing and branding. We had area Diversity Action Groups with targeted action plans. We attended events like the Caribbean Carnival and Pride. We targeted recruitment adverts to specific interest publications to increase the number of female, LGBTQIA+, disabled and minority ethnic applicants. We had support groups for all the different diversity strands that reviewed all of our policies and procedures to ensure fairness and transparency. We monitored the ethnicity of anyone stopped and searched and published the figures on a monthly basis (if anyone is interested, they were always overwhelmingly white men). Of course there were still problems, but I witnessed myself the amount of work and the dedication of many, many officers and staff to really engage with the idea. And things changed. Slowly, teeny tiny bit by bit, things got slightly better. We recruited record numbers of females and minority ethnic staff. We had awareness days for religious and cultural celebrations where staff and officers brought in food and talked about what the day meant to them. It was really fun (and the free food was a huge, yummy bonus). Everyone seemed really positive about the changes that were being made. I believe (obviously I can’t prove this) that as a result, Drtection rates for hate crimes increased as more emphasis was put on outreach work within communities that were previously very hostile towards the police. I really felt like the actions that we took were having an effect on the community that the police force served.

So I was horrified to read that almost every single inhabitant at Rikers Island was black or Latino – and that it was just accepted that if they had been white they would have been let off with a slap on the wrist. I literally can’t believe how blatantly racist the system is -and that no-one is doing anything about it.

*Ok, rant over. Back to the book review…*

It was really interesting to see how working in such a place was incredibly difficult for the staff – something that often gets neglected in such stories. Peterson is understandably frightened at being left in charge of a class of potential criminals who are disinterested in learning – what’s the point when your life will forever be tarnished with a criminal record? The way that she engages with the kids, enlightens them about their options and inspires their creativity is really impressive. However, the anxiety that she has about taking the job, the sheer effort of designing interesting ways to teach the curriculum and the massively long hours (not to mention the incredibly low pay) all take their toll and I really felt for her when she had to make tough decisions about continuing in the role.

It’s a shame that, as a reader, you don’t get to understand more of the back story about the inhabitants of Rikers Island. Understandably, Peterson has to maintain a professional distance but it would have been fascinating to understand what the young men had been through in order to end up where they were. There are certain issues that get alluded to (violence, drug abuse, sexual abuse etc.) but you never get to find out a full back story.

Despite the fascinating subject matter, I also found the storytelling a little clunky. There were parts that went into massive detail and parts which were skimmed over. I thought that with better editing the book could have been really great, but as it was I gave it…

Rating: 3/5
Could have been more engaging with emphasis on the background of the inhabitants and needed editing – but worth a read for a glimpse into the murky world of reform for minors.

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 #19 Read a book in which a character of colour goes on a spiritual journey and the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #32 Read a book about an interesting woman.

Review: We Are Data by John Cheney Lippold

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

Well, it’s not often that I hate and love a book in equal measure – but that’s what happened with We Are Data. On the one hand, it’s a completely fascinating, sometimes scary and often unbelievable text but on the other it’s super dry, technical and complicated. I suspect it was conceived from the embers of a Ph.D thesis – and as someone who was forced to review their partners Ph.D write up let me tell you, those things are no fun to read.

The book looks at data in the modern world – how it is created, stored, captured by third parties, analysed and ultimately put to use. That sounds quite abstract, but when you realise that the data we’re talking about is the stuff you create yourself by searching the web, using social media, reading a blog…yeah, the fact that you’re reading this right now means that you’ve left a data trail that someone, somewhere is recording. Now you’re interested, right? Maybe a little creeped out? That’s how I felt for pretty much the entirety of the book.

Because We Are Data focuses on the information created at an individual level, it suddenly makes it much more relevant to real life. For example, did you know that just by owning a mobile phone (even one that’s turned off), you create data through it’s inbuilt GPS? And that not only will your movements be tracked by your phone company, they will also know who you spend time with in real life (through your proximity to other mobile phones)? If you use a smartphone or computer, your data will also include who you talk to (via calls and texts), who you’re friends with (via social media like Facebook), what your interests are (via your web searches), where you work (via phone GPS co-ordinates and logging on to certain sites from your unique IP address during working hours) etc. Basically, everything we do digitally is monitored at some level, and is used to infer all kinds of things about us as individuals. If you don’t believe me, or think this sounds a bit far-fetched (and you have a Google/Gmail account) you can read who Google think you are by going to http://www.google.com/ads/preferences. This information hasn’t been volunteered by you – it’s been discerned by algorithms using the data the company has logged about you from your online activity. Pretty scary stuff, right?

We Are Data explores how analysis of the metadata of daily life can be algorithmically interpreted to deduce “facts” about us (gender, age, socio-economic background, income, education level etc.) and how that impacts on us. This can be seemingly innocuous, such as Facebook placing adverts in our news feeds targeted to what it believes our interests are to the utterly terrifying actions of the US military sending drone strikes to kill individuals based purely on the data they have created. I know this is all starting to sound like a dystopian fantasy novel or a crackpot conspiracy theory, but We Are Data is meticulously researched and referenced. Big Brother really is watching.

Personally, I found the information contained within We Are Data to be completely fascinating BUT it does read like a textbook. There are so many technical phrases and bits of theory used that I can easily see the book being used as a core text for a number of degree programmes, in everything from Sociology to Technology. It’s not light reading, it definitely would only appeal to a small number of people and if you’re not used to reading scholarly articles then you’ll find it a total slog to get through – but there was just enough mind blowing research contained within the pages to keep me reading to the end (well, not quite the end, as the last 15% is references). If dataveillance is your thing then you’ll love it. It’s not really my cup of tea so I gave it…

Rating: 3/5.

Technical, complicated, scholarly text with just enough gems hidden within it to keep me interested – but I did struggle to read it all.

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 #13 Read a nonfiction book about technology.

Priorities, Plans and New Pencils

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Hey guys,

Well, it’s September (how did that happen?), so new stationery at the ready – it’s time to plan ahead for the remainder of the year. I’ve had some time off from my blog recently but I’m back now and raring to go. I always feel like this time of year means coloured pens, new shoes and timetables, with the promise of starting something new and exciting – so it’s definitely time for me to get back into writing. Do any of you feel the same? I think the academic year has been hard wired into me, like how a lunar cycle makes people go crazy on a full moon (or is that just a myth?)  

Anyway, my colour coded, bullet journalled, super organised plans are:

1. New blogging timetable
I’ve had a look at my blog stats and I can see that anything posted on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday gets far more attention than anything posted in the week. I’ve always said that I don’t care how many followers I have or who reads my stuff, but it seems silly not to take advantage and post when most of you are likely to see it. So, from now on I’ll be posting on Fridays and Sundays, with the option of a Wednesday discussion type post.

2. Complete my reading challenges
I’m doing both the Popsugar reading challenge 2017 and the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 and to be honest I’ve lost my mojo a little bit. There’s just so much good stuff coming out at the minute and Netgalley seems to be getting all of my attention. My current stats are:

Book Riot: 12/24 books read (3 books currently being read)
Popsugar: 23/40 books read (3 books currently being read)

*blinks in surprise* that’s actually better than I thought and although I’m a little behind I think I can complete both by the end of the year.

3. Work on making my blog prettier
I’ve always thought that I’m quite creative but other than sticking up a picture of the book cover I don’t bother with graphics. It actually annoys me when other bloggers put a million gifs into their blogs because I think it interrupts the narrative and my crappy old kindle fire struggles to play them. Does anyone else have this problem/bugbear? I’ve got a vague idea of what I want to do but sometimes I just find it so time consuming and tedious – I’ll have to see how this one goes *reads this back and immediately knows this isn’t something I’ll pursue for long*. Does anyone with a super adorable, graphics heavy blog have any tips?

4. Engage more with the blogging community
I’ve neglected you guys lately so I need to show you some love! I’m sorry and I missed you all, but I have been pretty busy (see previous post).

I think that’s all for now, I can’t focus on much more than that without getting overwhelmed.

Are you all making plans and prioritising specific tasks that you’d like to achieve with your blogs, or in your lives in general? Does everyone have that back-to-school feeling? Do you find it a positive motivator or do you get a mild sense of panic? Let me know in the comments!

Super big love,

Lucinda xxx

Review: The Revenant by Michael Punke

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The year is 1823.
Location: the Rocky Mountains, USA.
The task – go with the men of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, find as many wild animals as possible, kill them, bring back their pelts. Oh, and don’t die.

One man takes these instructions far too seriously.

Hugh Glass is one of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company’s most experienced trappers. However, a surprise encounter with a mama bear leaves him seriously injured and fighting for his life. Out in the wilderness, with no medical provisions and only a rudimentary knowledge of first aid, Glass’ fellow trappers do what they can, but they’re fairly sure that he’s a dead man. The only problem is, Glass refuses to die quickly and waiting for him is putting the rest of the team in danger of being found by hostile Indians, as well as putting them behind schedule. Therefore, they decide that the only practical solution is to leave him behind. However, they don’t want Glass to die alone, so two of his colleagues agree to stay with him until the end.

Except they don’t.

The two men wait with Glass for a couple of days, but concerns for their own safety lead them to decide to abandon him. They reason that he won’t need his kit anymore and raid his stash of weapons and personal items before leaving Glass for dead.

Except that Glass STILL refuses to die.

And now he wants revenge.

And his weapons back.

But mostly revenge.

Glass then drags, crawls and limps his way back to the men who wronged him, almost dying on a daily (sometime hourly) basis. Apart from his injuries, Glass has to deal with surviving in a hostile wilderness, alone; having no food; being surrounded by enemy Indian tribes and wild animals completely unarmed, unable to walk, bleeding, with infected wounds and with no definite idea where he’s going. I would have said that the story was completely unbelievable if it hadn’t been based on true events.

The book is a complete Boy’s Own survival adventure – it’s a very literal account with almost no discussion of interpersonal relationships. It seems that every man (and it is all men, the only time women are referred to are in passing references to whores) is out for themselves, as life is so tough and death is just around every corner. This held my attention for a while, but I did begin to get a little bit bored of the endless hardship. The book became a series of descriptions of dangerous situations, near misses and bloody deaths and their frequency meant that their impact began to wane.

I got a bit annoyed by the occasional different points of view that the text was written from, especially as some short chapters were set in different time periods. Most of the characters had kind of merged into one by this point so I kept having to refer back to see what was going on.

Don’t you just hate it when that happens?

I know a lot of people didn’t like the ending, but I didn’t really have a problem with it. I won’t give away too much but things don’t turn out exactly as planned – but fine, whatever, more dangerous situations, blood and guts, blah blah blah. It was a bit of an anti climax but I’d kind of lost interest by that point.

Overall, this book was definitely not the kind of thing I’d usually read. I have very, very little interest in historical novels (fact or fiction) and the relentless struggle for every meal, every mile travelled and every search for a shelter to sleep in became quite tiresome. I did enjoy learning about various survival techniques and some of the characters that Glass encountered were quite interesting but overall it just wasn’t my cup of tea. If 19th Century American history is your thing then I’m sure you’ll get more out of the book than I did. Oh, and it’s apparently quite different to the film (which I haven’t seen) so don’t let Leonardo DiCaprio put you off.

Rating: 3/5

Neither hated nor loved it, found some enjoyable parts but didn’t really engage with the subject matter.

Please note that I read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 #11 Read a book that’s set more than 5000 miles away from your current location and the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #24 Read a book that’s set in the wilderness.

Review: Assassins Apprentice by Robin Hobb

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I don’t really know how this  series of books passed me by, but I was surprised to see that they’ve been around since the 90’s (ahhh, the 90’s, my favourite decade…). Having read that they’re similar to Game of Thrones but without the tits and dragons (surely this should be the quote on the front cover) I was quite excited to get stuck in. I love a big heavy fantasy series and I was initially impressed by the heft of the novel, but surprisingly it took me a little while to get into. I found that it was quite slow going at first, and being written all from the main characters perspective it did grind along detailing every single thing that happened every day, which got quite boring quite quickly. However, the pace improved and I found myself getting sucked in to the magical world that Robin Hobb has created. Eventually. This is one of those books where patience really is a virtue.

Being aimed at a slightly younger audience, and with a young main character, there is very little in the way of romance. There is a bit of a love interest but nothing really happens and I felt that if this element of the story had been beefed up it would have made the more mundane sections of the book more interesting. Similarly, certain events occur which would usually be quite upsetting, but because the characters aren’t fleshed out enough beforehand Hobb failed to create any emotional response from me as a reader. I really missed this engagement with the story, and although it did get better later on I felt it added to a fairly flat tone throughout the initial third of the narrative.

I had mixed feelings about the way that the main royal characters were named after their personality traits (i.e. Shrewd, Verity, Chivalry etc.) On the one hand, it made it very easy to remember who was who and to mark out who needed to be second guessed (King Shrewd, for example, would always make a seemingly wrong decision that you knew would turn out to be correct later on). However, this also took away a layer of intrigue – the individuals always acted completely “in character” so their personalities turned out to be a bit one dimensional. There’s also the very real question of what the characters were called before these personality traits developed – were there just nameless children running around for the first ten years of their lives? Or did they change names? And did their name mean that they couldn’t grow and change as people? These little queries really got to me as the story progressed and I never found a satisfactory answer. Grrr.

Overall, I did enjoy this book once it got going although not as much as I had hoped. I found some parts were quite dull and I would have liked more emotive writing, with a greater emphasis on the magical elements. As the main character grew throughout the novel (literally and figuratively) I came to be more involved in the storyline so I would be interested to see what the next book is like – but I wouldn’t go out of my way to read it. There’s so much great fantasy out there that I wouldn’t really recommend this book to anyone unless they specifically wanted “something like GoT, but for an older child”. Even then it would have to be someone with exceptional patience – I imagine most kids would get bored.

For older readers – yeah, it’s missing tits and dragons. That’s all you need to know, really.

Rating: 7/10
Disappointing, but the second book should be better.

Please note that I read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 #12 Read a fantasy novel.

Reading Challenge Update

Hello lovely readers!

Now that we are over a third of the way through the year (where did THAT go) I thought I’d review the two reading challenges that I’m taking part in to check my progress and also to look at my Netgalley account to see what percentage my feedback ratio is.

Incidentally, does anyone else get a bit obsessed by their reading stats or is it just me? I digresss…

Ok, so first up I had a look at the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. This challenge compromises 24 categories, so 2 books a month to be identified and read.

Current progress:

23/24 books identified (with an idea for the remaining novel).
9 books completed.
3 further books started but currently incomplete.

Verdict – winning!

I then looked at the Popsugar Reading Challenge – 40 categories so just under 4 books per month to be identified and read.

Current progress:

35/40 books identified. Struggling to think of a book with career advice and a book from a non-human perspective. Can anyone help?
16 books completed.
1 further book started but currently incomplete.

Verdict – on track.

Finally I had a look at my Netgalley account. Netgalley recommend that you have a feedback ratio of 80% or above. I have 11 books which have already been published that I haven’t reviewed – basically that I’m behind on. I have a further 5 books that are due to be published from June onwards that I’m not worrying about yet but that drags my overall feedback ratio to 54% which is quite frankly rubbish.

Verdict – must try harder. 

So overall I think I’m doing ok, I’ll be concentrating on getting my Netgalley score up which will also mean reigning myself in when requesting new titles *sad face*. On a positive note I’m not going to worry about the reading challenges because I seem to be doing quite well in those *happy face*.

How are you getting on with your reading challenges, Netgalley scores or TBR lists? Do you have any suggestions for the two Popsugar categories that I’m struggling with?

Lucinda xxx