One Lovely Blog Award Tag

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Hello Lovelies!

Thank you so much to Holly for nominating me for the One Lovely Blog Award! Yay! Holly is an awesome blogger and you should all definitely be following her. If you’re not, you really need to. Like, now.

Go on!

Seriously, it’s a hyperlink, you only need to click on her name.

Well done!

Ok, the rules…

1. Each nominee must THANK the person who nominated them and link their blog in the post.
2. They should include the rules and add the blog award badge as an image.
3. They must add seven facts about themselves and then nominate fifteen people.

Ok, seven things about me…

1. I went to full time university twice – once to Aston Business School (home of almost every annoying Apprentice candidate) and once to Coventry Uni for my MA. I’m also a chartered member of the Institute for Personnel Development, which I think means I can sign off passport applications. So I get to write BSc. MA (CIPD) after my name. Fancy!

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2. I bake almost every day. I’ve just made two Christmas cakes and I’m in the middle of soaking the fruit for my Christmas pudding. Plus I’m making a cake for my friends birthday at the weekend (batter is currently chilling in the fridge).

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3. I listen to “Slade’s Xmas Party Bangers” on vinyl every year when I’m decorating my tree, then Elvis Presley singing Xmas songs. Then I usually have a fight with my partner about “making the house look like an explosion in Poundland” and moodily put the Smiths and/or Deftones on.

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4. I hate pretty much all Disney (CONTROVERSIAL!!!)

5. It took me four years to learn to drive. This was more through laziness about booking my test than actual ability to drive. I even negotiated a discount with my driving instructor.

6. I broke my leg in four places playing Roller Derby, which was a great way to find out that I had a high pain threshold (I put a bag of frozen peas on it and went to bed).

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7. I wish I could play a musical instrument, but I have absolutely no natural ability. I can’t even sing, I sound like a Ramone. I make up for it in enthusiasm and volume though.

I’m breaking the rules here but I tag all of you – GO!

Kisses,

Lucinda xxx

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Review: 1Q84 Book Two by Haruki Murakami

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The world of Haruki Murakami is a very, very weird one. Literally no-one writes like he does. All of his books are set in quiet towns in Japan where people with ordinary lives have extraordinary, strange and bizzare things happen to them. His work defies categorisation – weird Japanese realistic fantasy is about as close as I can get. However, the stories are so brilliantly written and beautifully detailed that the fantasy elements feel totally natural to the overall narrative – to the point where you can describe an entire book and forget to mention that the main character can converse with cats.

This is quote from my review of 1Q84 Book One and I honestly can’t think of a better way of describing Murakami,  so I’m shamelessly plagiarizing myself. You see, his books really are weird. They’re incredibly intricate, delicate, beautiful little works of art, but there’s a surreal sheen over his portrayal of the mundanity of everyday life that kind of defies explanation. It’s like the difference between seeing a fish in an aquarium and going snorkelling in the ocean – you’re still just watching fish, but when immersed in an underwater world where anything could happen the two experiences are poles apart.

Book Two of 1Q84 has taken me a whole year to get round to  reading, but seriously, wow. This trilogy just gets better and better! The novel is a direct continuation of Book One, where the lives of Tengo and Ayomami are drawing closer together. We find out more about their histories and start to learn who the Little People are, where they come from and who the mysterious Leader is. This information is drip-fed throughout the narrative, so there’s still a huge level of detail about the minutiae of everyday life, but in a world where everything is just a little bit off it’s fascinating to spot the clues to the mystery of the Air Chrysalis.

Despite the fact that we’re learning more about the main characters, I still feel emotionally distant from them. Murakami has created two very controlled individuals who seem to act either completely rationally or without any sort of ethical conflict. There’s a sexual element to the storyline that the author has just about managed to make morally ambiguous, but it’s an odd one and I’m not sure how I feel about it yet. I suspect that was his intention, though.

Book Two has a slightly more menacing tone than Book One. The tension is definitely building and the pace is picking up. At the moment I still have more questions than answers and I’m optimistically hoping these will be resolved in Book Three (even though I very much doubt it).

The storyline is still completely bonkers, and I have no idea where it’s going next but that’s the best thing about these books. Murakami has created his own brand of logic within the story and so far he’s stuck rigidly to it – so whilst I feel like literally anything could happen I have faith that it will all ultimately make complete sense.

I understand that the 1Q84 books won’t be for everyone, but if you do want to read outside of your comfort zone then I’d definitely recommend them. You just need to put aside large chunks of time to get through them all – and be prepared, because once you’re into them, you won’t be able to put them down.

Rating: 4.5/5
Trying to explain it is pointless – just go with “brilliant”.

I read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #31 Read a book where the main character is a different ethnicity to you.

Review: The Tent, the Bucket and Me by Emma Kennedy

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—————PUBLIC HEALTH WARNING—————

Do not attempt to read “The Tent, the Bucket and Me – My Family’s Disastrous Attempts to go Camping in the 70’s” by the ever lovely and oh-so talented Emma Kennedy in public. Doing so can and will resort in displays of mirth (including snorting, giggling helplessly and the occasional full laughing fit) the likes of which the British public will not take kindly to. Please be aware that other vocal outbursts such as gasps of “oh no!”, cries of disgust and shouts of “oooh, I remember that!” may also take place.

In particular, the following segments have been identified as dangerously hazardous to health:

– The part where the entire family nearly die in a hurricane
– The part where Emma steps down a “hole in the ground” toilet and finds herself thigh deep in other people’s excrement
– The part where Emma’s Dad has to eat raw seafood
– The part where Emma has a rectal thermometer inserted into her anus in front of a crowd of nosy holidaymakers
– All parts where Emma shits herself (frequent mentions, specifically in relation to holidays in France)

In controlled experiments, responses to these anecdotes have created violent outburst of hilarity from the reader, which may cause alarm, concern or severe shock to members of the general public. Persons of a nervous disposition or fitted with a pacemaker may wish to avoid this novel in it’s entirety to avoid the risk of serious injury to health.

Please do not eat or drink whilst reading this book. Many of the stories contained within it’s pages present a significant choking hazard. The wearing of eye make and restrictive clothing is similarly inadvisable. Items such as mascara and liquid eyeliner can cause pain and irritation when silent tears of laughter course down your face when reading, for example, how Emma becomes coated in another child’s vomit on a ferry. If this occurs, rinse with water and consult a doctor if symptoms persist for more than 24 hours.

Please be aware that “The Tent, the Bucket and Me – My Family’s Disastrous Attempts to go Camping in the 70’s” by Emma Kennedy is recommended to treat symptoms of mild to moderate depression, sadness and melancholy. Readers may experience a return of their symptoms when they learn of the family’s decision to scrap Bessie, the faithful Land Rover but these should desist by the end of the chapter.

The usage of photographs within this book has been prohibited by Public Health England (PHE) due to the significant risk of death by dangerous amusement. Complaints arising from their removal may be directed to PHE directly; however it should be noted that any letters stating “this book would have been so much better with a few photos” will be immediately recycled in accordance with current environmental legislation and green scheme targets. A response may therefore not be provided. 

Individuals who wish to re-read this novel must do so at their own risk. Dangerously elevated levels of amusement may occur as a result of remembering what happens next. Symptoms can include shortness of breath, dizziness and/or premature ejaculation of laughter. If you are concerned about these issues or any other side effects please consult your doctor or other healthcare professional immediately.

Please remember that the 1970’s were DIFFERENT TIMES and as such none of the stories told within this book should be recreated.

Do not under any circumstances try this at home.

PHE Rating: 4.5/5
Emma Kennedy is not liable for any injuries sustained from the perusal, purchase or consumption of The Tent, the Bucket and Me – My Family’s Disastrous Attempts to go Camping in the 70’s. Readers must proceed with caution and do so at their own risk. Usage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is advised.

Please note that this book has been read in accordance with Book Riot Read Harder guideline #9 (Read a book you’ve read before) and Popsugar guideline #18 (Read a book you’ve read before that never fails to make you smile).

Review – All The Little Animals by Walker Hamilton

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Rating: 4/5
The only story of murder and abuse that will make you feel warm and fuzzy inside.

As I’ve previously mentioned, I do love a good short novel – the kind that you can read in one sitting. I picked up All the Little Animals way back in February after my visit to Astley Book Farm for my birthday. Three things attracted me to it; 1. It sounded incredibly interesting and quirky, 2. It had been made into a film (so must be quite a good story), and 3. It only cost £1. Bargain!

The novella was described as a “frightening tale of human depravity and violence” but also “a little masterpiece of compassion and simplicity” so it’s safe to say that I really didn’t know what to expect. Would it be a horror story? Maybe a twisted thriller or murder mystery? I’m not usually a fan of any of these genres so I wasn’t entirely sure that I’d enjoy the story, but as I said, it only cost £1, so I thought I’d give it a go.

Out of all my guesses about the storyline, the one thing that I really didn’t expect it to be was a beautifully detailed tale of friendship between two men. Yes, there’s violence, betrayal and abuse but this was all balanced out by the relationship between Bobby (an abused 31 year old man with what I guess you would class as a learning disorder) and Mr. Summers, a man so broken by his past that he’s left it all behind to live in a tiny, basic “house” (shed) in the backwaters of the Cornish countryside.

As Bobby runs away from his abuser, he encounters Mr. Summers and assists him with his primary task – burying all the animals that have died on the country roads. The descriptions of the animals, the scenery and Mr. Summers himself are so fantastical, and come from such an unreliable narrator that I wasn’t quite sure if there were elements of fantasy in the storyline. At first, I thought that Bobby might be having some kind of breakdown and that Mr. Summers was a figment of his imagination, or an allegorical reference to his own father. However, as the novel progressed I realised that Bobby just has a very vivid imagination – and this made the storytelling even more engaging and magical. I was actually surprised at how rich all of the scenes were – the detail, the emotions, the colours and smells – all were perfectly described with a remarkable economy of language to create such an emotive story. When I think back, it feels like I’ve read a 300 page novel so to condense the plot to just over 100 pages is incredibly impressive.

Utterly charming, horrifying, emotive and yet amazingly brief, All the Little Animals really is a must read book. Highly recommended.

Please note that I read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #40 Read a book that you read on a trip.

Review: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Wow. You know when you read something that’s really hard hitting and epic and ambitious and feels completely authentic even though you know the characters aren’t real? That’s this book. It’s so powerful I’m not even sure where to begin.

Half of a Yellow Sun is the story of two sisters, Olanna and Kainene and their lives during the civil war in Nigeria. The fighting over land and political rule results in the short lived founding of a new nation – Biafra – and the women are caught up in the chaos that ensues. Told from both of their perspectives, plus Olanna’s servant Ugwu and Richard, Kainene’s British partner, we get to see the horrors of the war from very different perspectives.

At first, the novel is a fascinating portrayal of life in 1960’s Nigeria. Olanna and Kainene are from a privileged upper middle class family and it was really interesting to see how indigenous people with power and money were living in a post colonial society that still seemed very British. Juxtaposed to this was the extended family, who lived in villages with a far more traditional way of life. Being able to see both the lives of both the rich and the poor was really interesting, especially as I’ve read very few books about Africa in general and certainly not any from this time period. What struck me most was how oddly modern life seemed to be – Olanna and Kainene are both unmarried and living with partners, they attend university and have good jobs. That’s certainly not something that I expected to be happening in the 1960’s anywhere in the world, but especially not somewhere that I would think of today as being quite profoundly Christian.

Just as my interest in the story started to wane, civil war breaks out and suddenly, everything is thrown up in the air. What amazed me was how, for a good portion of the book, most of the characters tried to continue as normal with their daily lives. I’d never thought about war from as something that slowly creeps up on people but this book illustrates perfectly how it slowly affected little things, like your ability to travel or access to imported foods, until, one issue at a time, your life is subtly changed until it is almost unrecognizable.

As the book progresses, the horrors of war become more apparent and as the violence increases, so does the suffering of the people. Adichie doesn’t shy away from the impact of things like starvation and malnutrition on children and, although we don’t see any first hand account of front line fighting, the novel is quite graphic and shockingly sad. It is this insidiousness, the mundanity and powerlessness of the general population that is so well captured and gives the novel such extraordinary weight.

Half of a Yellow Sun also contains a book within a book – I won’t say too much but at the end I was really pleased to find out who the author was. I liked that the book ended sometime after the civil war had finished so that I got to find out what had happened to all of the characters (almost). I’d become very attached to each of the four narrative voices, despite all of them being in some way flawed so it was nice to not be left with too many questions at the end. 

I don’t think that I could honestly say that I enjoyed Half of a Yellow Sun, but it is an amazing book and one that I would thoroughly recommend. I loved that the dominant characters were women and it was so interesting to not only learn about a completely different culture but to see it from a privileged female perspective. Yes, some parts were quite harrowing and bloody but then this is fundamentally a book set within a war zone so I think the violence is completely justified. The nearest novel that I could compare it to is Empire of the Sun – and in my book that’s high praise indeed.

Rating: 4/5
Epic, ambitious, utterly absorbing and completely unique. A great history lesson about an often overlooked war.

Please note that I read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 #14 Read a book about war and the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #5 Read a book by a person of colour.

Review: The Princess Bride by William Goldman

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Oh, how I love this book. Love, love, LOVE it.

LOOOOOOOOVVVVVVE ITTTTTTTTTTT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ahem.

My apologies, that wasn’t very British of me.

Anyway….

I’ve seen The Princess Bride pop up on “top 100 books” compilations for years but I’ve always been frightened that it  would be a sugary Disney fairytale – and I am not a Disney fan – so I basically avoided it. Then, as part of a reading challenge I had to find a book that was about books and up it popped. How weird, I thought to myself. What can a story about princesses getting married have to do with books?

As it turns out, not a lot – but there’s a whole story within a story that elevates the novel to a whole new level. It’s slightly confusing, but I’ll try to explain.

The Princess Bride is, basically, a big lie. The title is essentially rubbish as there are no princesses and no-one gets married. In the book, Buttercup is a beautiful farm girl who is spotted by the evil Count Rugen and is subsequently betrothed to the dastardly Prince Humperdink. However, Buttercup is in love with Westley (the farm hand) and ends up getting kidnapped before her wedding day – but despite this she’s often referred to as “Princess”. Even though she isn’t.

With me so far? Because it gets more complicated.

If we look back at the original title, we can see that there’s more to it than just a misleading inflation of Buttercup’s status. The novel is actually called:

“The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure; The ‘Good Parts’ Version, Abridged by William Goldman.”

This is also a lie.

There is no S. Morgenstern. There is no unabridged version of the book.

I know, it shocked me too.

Through a diary-like series of “interruptions” throughout the text, the reader is led to believe that William Goldman (who is real, and who has actually done all of the things that he says he has) gives a copy of his favourite childhood novel to his son, but to his dismay he finds that his son hates it. Upon re-reading the book, Goldman discovers that his father must have skipped some parts of the book as he read it out loud because there’s suddenly an awful lot of boring bits in the text that he didn’t know about. So, as a reader, you’re told that you’re reading the abridged Goldman version of the story, with frequent interruptions from Goldman himself explaining situations like how he’s deleted the next 30 pages for being too dull but they basically explain that everyone walked from point a to point b but nothing eventful happened.
Initially, I found this whole idea bizzare. I’d steeled myself for a saccharine love story but instead found myself reading about a middle aged man failing to connect with his wife and child. Then, when I was told I was reading an abridged novel, I immediately thought I’d bought the wrong copy of the book. Then I found out it was all a big cunning plot device and I didn’t know what to think. But then the story of Westley and Buttercup properly started, and I just fell in love with the whole thing.

I was worried that I’d find the “interruptions” from Goldman a bit offputting, but actually they were a brilliant way of speeding up the action and adding bits to the storyline that you might not otherwise have picked up on. I’m hopeless at finding hidden meanings or allegorical references in books so, for me, I really enjoyed this direct method of author/reader interaction. I also loved the way that Goldman frequently referred to bits of the story that were further on in the text, which made me pay more attention and acted a bit like a trailer for the next episode. Oooh!

I’ve heard people criticise the character of Buttercup (not a princess) by saying that she has no agency and just goes along with whatever people ask her to do. I beg to differ. When we first meet Buttercup, she’s filthy, smelly, and only interested in riding horses. She escapes dangerous situations (at least, she tries to). She’s also responsible for one of the best lines in a book ever;

“Enough about my beauty,” Buttercup said. “Everybody always talks about how beautiful I am. I’ve got a mind, Westley. Talk about that.”

Buttercup is basically my feminist hero.

Apart from Buttercup, all the other characters are so brilliantly written that you either completely love them or utterly despise them. I could go on for hours about how adorable Fezzick is, or how I loved how he worked with Inigo and Vizzini to create some of the best parts of the book. The Cliffs of Insanity! The Zoo of Death! Not just brilliantly named, but brilliantly written scenes with great characters and dialogue.

The ending (although it does go on a bit) is just amazing and ties everything up in a neat bow. I love books that do that.

If I had one criticism of The Princess Bride, it would be that occasionally, the mixture of fantasy and reality becomes a bit incongruous. There’s a very odd cameo by Stephen King and in parts it’s quite hard to tell what’s real and what isn’t. However, when it works, it really does work and turns what would be a lovely story into a truly fantastic novel.

Rating: 5/5
Part magical fairy tale, part grown up book – an utterly unique mixture of fantasy and reality.

If you’re in the UK, selected cinemas are currently showing The Princess Bride for it’s thirty year(!) anniversary. I’ve never seen it, but if it’s half as good as the book then I think you’ll enjoy yourself.

Please note that I read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 #3 Read a book about books.

Review: George’s Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl

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As I sit here on a rainy Tuesday afternoon, munching my way through a free box of chocolates (thanks Ocado – free chocolates or champagne with your fifth shop – genius) I noticed the quote;

“‘I also adore so-called truffles… as Prestat makes them.’ So wrote Roald Dahl, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

“Awww” I thought to myself, chomping away. “I love Roald Dahl.”

Immediately, there was a smile on my face as I thought back to my childhood, when I would badger my Mum to buy me another of his books from WHSmiths as she dragged me round town on a Saturday. I would then trail after her, trying to read and walk as she browsed yet another department store looking for who-knows-what. Sometimes, she would dump all the shopping bags down, tell me to stay where I was and go off on her own while I happily sat on the floor and devoured my newest paperback. Nowadays, this would probably be seen as neglect but I was perfectly happy in my own little world.

Back to rainy Tuesday…

As I looked out of the window at the endless grey drizzle, I decided that my afternoon needed a little bit of sparkle, just like my boring Saturdays used to. I got straight on to my online library resource (which would have blown my tiny mind) and downloaded my favourite book as a six year old – George’s Marvellous Medicine. 

I’ve always been a fan of shorter books – those you can read in one sitting, that have a small cast of characters and an easy to follow linear progression. Don’t get me wrong, I also adore getting stuck into a magnum opus of a text (high five, Wheel of Time saga) but nothing beats the satisfaction of adding a book to your TBR and ticking it off on the same day. Done! And yes, there are arguably better novels of Dahl’s like Matilda, the BFG or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory but for me, there was a unique pleasure in his shorter books.

But would it stand up to the text of time?

In case you had a deprived childhood, George’s Marvellous Medicine is the story of a young boy left with his Grandmother while his parents go out for the day. George is tasked with giving his Grandmother her prescribed medication, but instead decides to invent a potion of his own. You see, the thing that I love most of all about this book is that instead of being a sweet old lady, the Grandmother character is truly terrifying, miserable, horrible and downright evil. I absolutely adore the way that she is depicted, with no redeeming features whatsoever – the total opposite of 99% of all other literary Grandmothers. Brilliant. So, after being bullied by her, George decides to literally give her a taste of her own medicine.

The story is a fabulous, magical adventure for kids. I’m not going to gender stereotype the book, but I bet the danger and naughtiness would appeal just as much to little boys as little girls. It’s tons of fun, with very easy language and a fast pace. As always, there are brilliant illustrations from Quentin Blake that really add another dimension to the story.

Although I was worried that George’s Marvellous Medicine would have lost some of it’s magic when reading it as an adult, I was pleasantly surprised that it had retained all of its original charm and sparkle. I’m not sure that you could still write a book about feeding your Grandmother a concoction of every hazardous substance in your house mixed up in a saucepan (just like you probably can’t dump your child on the floor in the co-op and leave them to entertain themselves) so modern parents may want to issue their kids with a health warning before letting them read it – but please don’t deprive them of such an exciting adventure. 

Rating: 4/5
Magical, thrilling, sparkly storytelling at it’s finest. Just don’t try this at home.

P.S. Realised I’ve used quite a few brands in this review – just wanted to clarify that I’m not in any way sponsored or making money by doing this!

Please note that I read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #25 read a book you loved as a child.