Saturday, 12 December 2015

Book #55

Woman Much Missed by Thomas Hardy

After the death of his wife Emma, a grief-stricken Hardy wrote some of the best verse of his career. Moving and evocative, it ranks among the greatest elegiac poetry in the language. 

I have never been able to fault Hardy. Having spent immeasurable hours since my teenage years reading his masterpieces and coming away mesmerised every single time, I've always meant to immerse myself in his poetry. After realising my serious lack of capability in grasping poetry, I worried I wouldn't be able to appreciate the verse of my hero. Luckily, Hardy has astounded me yet again.

He writes this selection as a grief-ridden husband who has lost his wife. This struck a chord with me for personal reasons, and probably has added to my appreciation. His words are beautiful, mournful, and haunting, with his remorse resounding through each of them like a strike to the heart.

For the first time, I found myself understanding rhythm, symbolism, and meaning in poetry. I'm unsure whether this is due to my deep knowledge of Hardy's prose, the way I could relate to the verse, or simply the poet's skill. Nevertheless, this is the first poetic installment of the Little Black Classics range that I have absolutely adored.

Thank you, Mr Hardy.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Book #54

Rape: a Love Story by Joyce Carol Oates

Teena Maguire should not have tried to shortcut her way home that Fourth of July. Not after midnight, not through Rocky Point Park. Not the way she was dressed in a tank top, denim cutoffs, and high-heeled sandals. Not with her twelve-year-old daughter Bethie. Not with packs of local guys running loose on hormones, rage, and alcohol. A victim of gang rape, left for dead in the park boathouse, the once vivacious Teena can now only regret that she has survived. 

A crippling disappointment. I expected this book to be so much more than what it was; I expected to be disgusted, up in arms, uncomfortable, and enthralled. Instead, the detached narration and underdeveloped characters gave me a complete lack of passion for the unfolding events and plunged me into utter boredom. 

Oates gives us an incomprehensible crime, patronised with stereotypical characters, predictable plotlines, and a failure to justify the title of the novel by underplaying the entire thread. Although there truly were some disturbing and painful scenes, these were dulled by the rest of the novel. 

I was particularly disappointed in the way Oates portrayed her female characters; each of them inept, bland, and with no other person in the world to turn to. Even her female prosecutor was given to us as totally useless, with Teena herself being shown as nothing but a victim. I'd like to think there was method in this madness, but I certainly couldn't see it, and I was left feeling completely infuriated. A touch of back-story and development here would have worked wonders.

Yes, it's incredibly open to interpretation, but my interpretation of this novel leaves it lacking power. We need to write about female suffering the same way it's experienced in reality: hard-hitting, life-changing, impactful grit. There's so much education to be done in understanding these types of crime, and what their survivors experience. This piece of piss does nothing for us.  

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Book #53

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Hopelessly crossed in love, a boy of half-fairy parentage leaves his mundane Victorian-English village on a quest for a fallen star in the magical realm. The star proves to be an attractive woman with a hot temper, who plunges with our hero into adventures featuring witches, the lion and the unicorn, plotting elf-lords, ships that sail the sky, magical transformations, curses whose effects rebound, binding conditions with hidden loopholes and all the rest.

I was really looking forward to this having previously read Coraline and The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and thoroughly enjoying them. I enjoyed Stardust, just not with the same magical fervour I experienced with the other two

Gaiman writes his prose with his usual eloquent simplicity, creating the world of Faerie on our protagonist's back door step, as though each of us, if we knew where to look, could step into fantastic lands and have the same other-worldly experiences as Tristran. He's a magical storyteller, and his skill doesn't falter here in creating a world of wonder.

I had issues with the characters, most of all Tristran. He seemed to traverse his way through Faerie as though on a high dose of diazepam, with nothing impacting him greatly, nor affecting his feelings in any way. He was calm until the last, and this irked me. I wanted to know far more about him; he was only half-mortal, and I wanted to see him have some Matilda-style discovering of how he differed from the bland children of Wall. Nothing. When his father broke the news to him of his parentage (and Daddy's pre-marital accident with the lady of violet eyes and cat-like ears), we didn't get to witness the exchange, nor were we treated to Tristran's reaction, or his father's choice of words. It was little things such as this that I missed, and desperately needed; some sort of human side to the oddities I was shown.

The other characters were incredibly interesting, but also lacked backstory and development. Little hairy man, what are you and what's the story with the bag? Witches, I love you, I am in awe of you, but please tell me about that place beyond the mirror. If this book were 600 pages long with all these details, it would be far, far better. Maybe I'm greedy.

I was also really disappointed in the finale, but I feel I may have already gone to far into spoiler territory to comment fully on this. The decisions made, and reasonings behind them were weak, I felt disappointed at the lack of danger which had been repeatedly implied, and maybe happy ever after just isn't my thing at all.

Nevertheless, I liked it, despite being entirely prepared to love it. It's very Gaiman, and it's very magical. I'd absolutely recommend, but please try The Ocean at the End of the Lane if you're looking for something spectacular.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Book #52

The Eve of St Agnes by John Keats

This volume contains a selection of Keats's greatest verse - including his gothic story in verse, 'The Eve of St Agnes', and the mysterious 'Lamia' - exploring themes of love, enchantment, myth and magic.

This little volume taught me that even poetry of the greats will fail to enthral me. A real it's not you, it's me relationship with verse, the whole time I had my heart closed, praying for prose. It's a real shame there's no Little Black Classic on Spike Milligan, as it seems his poems are the only ones my tiny little mind can enjoy. I don't know what's wrong with me.

I was really excited about the gothic and mythical feel this choice of poetry promised, and I did get the gist of it, I promise. The Eve of St Agnes itself was pretty enjoyable, imbued with superstition and forbidden romance. Highly descriptive, I found myself lost in stained glass windows, and although the pace was slow, it felt like an intended drunkenness. Lamia was also interesting, sheer mythical elegance hinting at love being merely a consuming enchantment. Both longer narrative poems, this was as close to prose as I was going to get. While the shorter poems flowed beautifully, they didn't have any real impact on me.

Perhaps I'm too rash in my poetry readings. I do think certain poems, particularly the longer ones in this Keats collection, take more than one reading to truly enjoy and understand. I just didn't have the patience.

Yours always,

The Poetry Dunce

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Book #51

Sentence of Marriage by Shayne Parkinson

In nineteenth century New Zealand, there are few choices for a farm girl like Amy. Her life seems mapped out for her by the time she is twelve. Amy dreams of an exciting life in the world beyond her narrow boundaries. But it is the two people who come to the farm from outside the valley who change her life forever, and Amy learns the high cost of making the wrong choice.

I stumbled upon this book during the crazed "must find free books" spree I'm sure every new Kindle user goes through. I told myself I was being silly, and that they'd be free for a reason, scoffing at some of the titles, and rolling my eyes at the covers emblazoned with semi-clad lovers in a tight embrace. I chose Sentence of Marriage for its historical context, and I'm glad I did.

Parkinson weaves a heavy tale set against a backdrop of 1800s rural New Zealand. The way she describes her country is so gorgeous that you can almost feel the fresh air on your face and smell the farm, the bread baking, and taste the thousands of cups of tea the family must've gone through in just under 400 pages.

The story is captivating, albeit very predictable. It's pretty long, and although the plot is slow-paced, particularly when you know what's coming, the detail does it more than enough justice. I enjoyed most of all Parkinson's commentary on family ties, and how these can either bind us together, or make life incredibly difficult.

It wasn't the historical romance I expected it to be, and I spent most of the time filled with anger or trepidation. The characters are so intricately developed. Although our protagonist was painted slightly too saintly for my liking, Parkinson's ability to make me loathe many of the characters has to be commended. The worst of them being our Angel Clare wannabe, a nineteenth century fuckboy who should've been thrown to the pigs. I think I'll be hating that little bitch for a long time yet. His capability for emotional blackmail was so real to me that it turned my eyes black. The author excelled in describing this one; how awful to realise we still have men like him centuries later. If I wasn't such a lady, I'd spit.

A very sad, very revealing tale on life in the colonial 1800s. I'd recommend it to historical romance lovers (especially if it's still free in the Kindle store), but don't expect a happy journey. 

Friday, 13 November 2015

Book #50

How to Use Your Enemies by Baltasar Gracián

A seventeenth-century Spanish priest's shrewd maxims on using guile and pragmatism to succeed in a dangerous world.

This little collection of aphorisms really does reflect its title. How to Use Your Enemies gives us advice on how to go far in life by manipulating and using others, whether superior to you or otherwise. Interestingly, Gracián explains how not only to use your enemies, but also your friends. It's incredibly calculating, and surprising in places, particularly for being written by a man of the cloth.

I found it both easy and difficult to relate to all at once. Having spent the last few years of my life as an emotional recluse, and also a total bitch, I'm now trying hard (and succeeding) in opening up,  connecting with people, and appreciating them for everything they are. I remember when the opposite was true, and this behaviour is what Gracián supports. I don't agree with sizing people up and using them for my own gain, nor do I believe in maintaining a persona at all times; some of his maxims, however, would certainly be helpful in the area of work I'm in, and are ones which I'm bound to unconsciously take on board.

An interesting read, with some notable points, but absolutely outdated and quite chilling in places. I'll leave you with my favourite of his comments:

In heaven, everything is good; in hell, everything bad. In the world, since it lies between the two, you find both. We are placed between two extremes, and so participate in both. Good and bad luck alternate; not all is happy, nor all hostile. This world is a zero: on its own, it's worth nothing; joined to heaven, a great deal. Indifference to its variety constitutes good sense - the wise are never surprised. Our life is arranged like a play, everything will be sorted out in the end. Take care, then, to end it well.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Book #49

Look Who It Is! My Story by Alan Carr

The brilliantly funny and inimitable Alan Carr tells his life story in his own words, from growing up in a football-mad family in Northampton to his rise to become one of Britain's best-loved comedians.

I don't tend to enjoy non-fiction much, and in particular find autobiographies somewhat stale. I'd bought this one years ago, due to a real love for Alan Carr and his comedy. Being the only comedian who can make me cry real tears of laughter was the motivation for buying it, and my utter lack of enthusiasm for autobiographies was my excuse for putting it off until now.

Alan remains unforgivably himself throughout the pages. Autobiographies I've read in the past paint an entirely unrealistic picture of a celebrity's struggles to get where they are today. There's tears, there's woe, there's self-deprecation. Although Alan successfully describes his struggles, he illuminates them with his relatable wit, not making me cry real tears of laughter, but provoking a giggle nonetheless.

With any other story, I'd be irritated by the author going off on a tangent. Alan does this here, but it's so endearing and true to life that I loved it. He'd be in full flow one minute, before veering off to talk about something else that reminded him of that situation. It was like hearing a story from a friend, and I embraced it. His memories are incredibly personal, and I was pleased to share these with him, much preferring his stories from childhood and his hilarious call centre tales to reading about the ins and outs of the comedy circuit. I must admit, however, he didn't go into heavy detail about what happens behind the scenes; I've read comedy autobiographies before which have totally over-cranked this.

I'm of the opinion now, after reading this and also the autobiography of Scottish national treasure Kevin Bridges, that perhaps books by comedians are best absorbed as audio books. Timing is everything, after all, and with both of these comedians, it's their voice, personality, and sarcasm I love most of all; difficult to convey through the printed word.

I laughed, I liked it, but it's an autobiography. A nice lighthearted read for fans of Alan, or fans of autobiographies. I love you, Alan, it's been great, but I'm diving back into fiction now.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Book #48

A Cup of Sake Beneath the Cherry Trees by Yoshida Kenkō

Moonlight, sake, spring blossom, idle moments, a woman's hair - these exquisite reflections on life's fleeting pleasures by a thirteenth-century Japanese monk are delicately attuned to nature and the senses. 

Due to my complete inability to appreciate poetry, I was cautiously hoping for one of the Little Black Classics to enthral me again; that's exactly what happened with Kenkō's installment, and for the first time since starting this series, I'm moved to purchase the complete edition. It's incredible to understand and relate to the feelings of a Buddhist monk, but for these thoughts to still have meaning after being recorded seven centuries ago is nothing short of breathtaking.

Kenkō's musings range from choosing a soulmate to the merits of a disorganised room. Each passage leaves you considering your own perceptions and whether you agree with him or not, you will completely understand the merits of his argument. He writes beautifully, and his wisdom set against the blossoms of mediaeval Japan is absolutely gorgeous.

One of my favourite passages was this:

As soon as I hear someone's name, I feel I can picture their face, but when I actually meet them no one ever looks as I had been imagining all that time.
Also, I wonder if everyone, on hearing some old tale, imagines it as taking place in a certain part of some house he knows, and identifies the characters with people he sees in life, as I do.
And is it just I who sometimes feels a conviction that what someone is saying, or what you're seeing or thinking just then, has already happened before, though you cannot remember when?

We gain snippets of understanding of his culture, and this learning feels in tune with his teachings. There are some mildly misogynist comments (how dare a drunk woman throw her head back and laugh so boldly!), but these are few, a clear mark of the way things were, and also set against some really lovely passages describing the elegance and delectability of women.

Whoever picked the quote to be used for this one should be commended. I'm still blown away by this Japanese monk's words transcending time, culture, and language to allow me, an unintelligent twenty-eight year old woman with no particular religious leanings, to feel and agree with his wise thoughts.

It is a most wonderful comfort to sit alone beneath a lamp, book spread before you, and commune with someone from the past whom you have never met.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Book #47

Wherewolves by John Vamvas and Olga Montes

WHEREWOLVES is the story of a group of high school seniors, most “military brats”, who are headed for an army-type survival weekend. The underdogs, Jeffrey and Doris, do not want to go as they fear for their safety among the disdain and cruelty of the popular students. In the background, a news report cautions of a wanted couple with alleged super-human strength supposedly brought on by a new drug on the streets. When the kids start disappearing one after the other, the remaining begin to unwittingly “act like the natives” carving spears, ready to face whatever is out there. What has gotten into them? What is out there? Can it really be werewolves? 

When the authors first sent me this novel, I wasn't too excited about it. The title immediately suggests it to be a paranormal horror, and I imagined characters cowering in the dark as a fluffy thing with teeth prowled outside their walls, trying to claw its way in. Wherewolves surprised me, as it's so much more than that, and the fluffy thing with teeth was only a small part of the horrific jigsaw I tried desperately to piece together.

The first 10% of the novel starts off as we'd expect, with a woman running for her life from (you guessed it) two fluffy things with teeth. The suspense here is unreal, and the atmosphere created is one of sheer confusion and panic. We're thrown in at the deep end, and we think we're on a chronological line with some idea of what we're dealing with. We are incorrect.

The narrative then abruptly removes us from the forest, and throws into more familiar, yet similarly terrifying, surroundings - a high school. It's here we are treated to an in-depth characterisation of each of the students, and this does wonders to help us understand their fears and motivations. It's true to life high school, with bullying, shallow relationships, and the power struggle of popularity. The knowledge we gain of the students helps make the carnage, when it comes, much more interesting as we see how humanity differs when faced with a fight or flight situation.

It takes a while to get to the violence, but the build-up makes this rewarding. The students are taken on a trip to the forest as part of their soldier training. Rather than a study of supernatural monsters, it's more of a study on the human condition, and how we treat other. The characters react to emotional abuse, each of them battling with their own inner demons carved from traumatic past experience.

The suspense, gore, and violence involved is worthy of a B-movie. I particularly liked the monsters remaining ever so slightly out of sight, adding to the tension, saving us from an overdone focus, and keeping the unknown behind the veil until the last moment. There are a good few twists thrown our way which make us question everything we've already learned; I love being kept guessing until the last gasp and being forced to change my perception, so this was a welcome device. Seeing everything come together at the end, and basking in the horror of it all was wonderful.

Vamvas and Montes had originally written this story as a screenplay, which I'm pleased to hear is currently in production. At times, it really does feel like reading a screenplay; details seem to have been added as an after thought, and dialogue takes precedence over description. This doesn't actually impact the enjoyment of the story too heavily, instead adding to the fast paced character development, which is an important factor. I do feel some more descriptive elements could have helped the novel flow more smoothly.

A true social commentary where we come to understand monsters are human, and can be made that way by other humans. An incredibly worthwhile read, which I'm glad I was asked to review - thank you.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Book #46

Eleven Minutes by Paulo Coelho

The story of Maria, a young girl from a Brazilian village, whose first innocent brushes with love leave her heartbroken. At a tender age, she becomes convinced that she will never find true love, instead believing that "love is a terrible thing that will make you suffer. . . ." A chance meeting in Rio takes her to Geneva, where she dreams of finding fame and fortune. Maria's despairing view of love is put to the test when she meets a handsome young painter.

For the first time ever, I have finished a Coelho novel with an immense feeling of pleasure. This has nothing to do with his wise words, his quotable passages, nor his life advice. I'm pleased due to the fact that I have now finished every Coelho book I have ever purchased as a young, foolish, literature fan, hellbent on the idea of experiencing every highly recommended author. If I'm ever asked what advice I'd give to my younger self, it would be "don't buy those fucking Coelho books."

Once again, he drones on in a grandiose fashion, basking in his glowing opinion of his own pretentious spiritual perceptions. Once again, he believes himself to be on a far higher intellectual plane than his readers, making metaphorical points and then placing metaphorical neon signs around them just to make sure we understood.

Maria leaves Brazil and travels to Switzerland to be a dancer, after meeting a persuasive agent in Rio de Janeiro. She becomes a prostitute purely on a whim, and Coelho's justification of this is completely dire and unbelievable. This is not real life. Maria is the dullest, weakest character yet in the Coelho novels I've read (this really is saying something); her boldly highlighted lack of education and sense of purpose hardly support her 'clever' philosophical musings given to us in her utterly boring diary entries at the end of each chapter. I came to dread coming to those italic passages, filled with apathy over what pathetic conclusions she was going to come to next. It could not have been clearer these were simply Coelho's thoughts, not Maria's.

His thoughts on sex are laughable. He describes the female form and how pleasure can be given to it as though he were a woman himself. Then he has Maria standing in the middle of the street and experiencing orgasm through simply being overwhelmed by life, and her surroundings. If that ever happened outwith the stupid world of Coelho, I'm sure women would have told you all about it before now.

Again, one of my main arguments against Coelho is his portrayal of women. Yes, Maria was a weak character, but he also characterised her as submissive, and typically only looking for one thing from life - a husband. From practically the beginning of the novel, Maria is desperately seeking the love of her life, and Coelho also insinuates frequently that all women are doing the very same thing. I unfortunately, couldn't relate; the only thing I want from life is a puppy. Luckily, as with all Coelho novels, the sensitive worldly dude comes and saves her from herself. How poetic, how fairytale, how utterly disgusting. The final scene was so diabolically sickening that I don't feel I want to comment on it.

Similar to Veronika Decides to Die, where Coelho simply could not help but make a cameo appearance, he makes blatant reference to The Alchemist here, displaying a plaque in Geneva which points out the Road to Santiago. When Maria questions what this plaque refers to, we're treated to the meagre story of the dull little shepherd. The reason for this isn't clear, and I can only assume the reference was included as some sort of act of pride. Pathetic.

The good news is, it's now over for me. No more Coelho. If any of my enemies would like to read these novels, I threw them out of the car window halfway down Millheugh Brae; you'll find them. Friends need only walk a wee bit further and I'll let you borrow something more intellectual and stimulating, such as Enid Blyton.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Book #45

Mad Max: Fury Road by George Miller

Four prelude stories that follow leading characters Nux, Immortan Joe, Furiosa, and a two-part story about Mad Max.

After basking in the cinematic explosion that was Mad Max: Fury Road, I was utterly compelled to see it again. My second viewing did little to quell my hunger, and I soon realised I had questions that were never answered by the script. I needed far more Furiosa than a normal woman's daily dose. Trawling through forums discussing theories of what happened to that arm was mildly satisfying, but I wanted something official, something concrete. Enter this graphic novel, duly pre-ordered months ago, and now finally in my wolfish little hands.

Miller and his collection of artists treat us to the back stories of characters in the lead up to Fury Road. This is an exciting concept, which fell on its face for me. Every single prequel here is crying out for more depth and detail. We find out how Nux made it into the Citadel as a child, by what was it about his strange laughter that made them reel him in? It took only a few pages to show us his acceptance, but this posed more questions than it answered. Immortan Joe's discovery of the Citadel, and the appointments of The People Eater and The Bullet Farmer were enjoyable, but I needed a lot more than I was given. Max's story came in two parts, which were particularly bleak, but very typical of the wasted setting.

My favourite section was the compilation of tales building up to the creation of the War Rig. I can't say this beast of a vehicle was something I needed to hear the story of, but I hadn't considered the parts coming from different places, and belonging to different people, each with their own stories. Leanne and her dolls are an incredible part of this curiosity which I won't forget in a hurry. The artwork in War Rig was noticeably different to the other issues; far more raw, with jarring colours and lines. This bolted me out of my comfort zone immediately, and did wonders for my attention. A truly incredible addition to the novel, the history of a vehicle is surprisingly macabre.

Furiosa. My Furiosa. How disappointed I was in you. I came out of that cinema brimming with utter glee that this film had treated its female characters in such an amazing way. Furiosa's gender was never questioned; her strength and determination said it all for her. The film shows her empathy for the brides, and her unrelenting desire to remove them from their abuser. We're subtly made aware of the brides sufferings, although this itself is never depicted on screen. The comic veers off in the opposite direction, with gratuitous rape scenes that seemed to be the only focus. With the film hinting at rape, and viewers simply understanding the connotations, there's something uncomfortable about the need to render so incessantly something we should simply accept as fact. The brides are shown to be weak and unable to help themselves, with Furiosa given to us as a rape apologist and a pro-lifer. We see her stopping the amateur abortion of one of Joe's children, and telling the brides they lead a comfortable life with food and water, and to be grateful for that. It's also implied that Furiosa was once a bride, which leads into other areas of analysis in relation to trauma. Despite this possibility, I was utterly disgusted. This was not my Furiosa.

Despite the need to find out more, I almost wish I hadn't picked this up. Of course, there's going to be another film, so I imagine secrets are being kept for that. I just hope some of my expectations are met there, as this wasn't nearly as good as I'd hoped it to be. What a lovely day.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Book #44

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman’s severed leg. Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible – and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality. With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them.

Here I am, Rowling's crazed disciple, here to tell you how she's managed to smash it out the fucking park yet again.

I am of the opinion this is her best Strike novel yet. It wasn't like Cuckoo's Calling where we're getting to know Strike and Robin, exploring the Lula Landry case and being welcomed into the world of the detective. It wasn't like Silkworm, which felt like a masquerade of Rowling's feelings on the publishing industry (and where I guessed the culprit, and was gutted about it). This time, the mystery is far more personal, with a woman's leg being sent to Robin, and Strike knowing it was sent by one of three men from his past.

The leg is a perfect tool to finally nail down the fact that Robin is the renegade I had always suspected her to be. We get so much more Robin than in previous books, we read her backstory, and we understand her a thousand times more. I am in love with this woman; I'm in love with her ambition, her constant appetite for growth; I'm in love with her strength, her commitment, and her massive heart. In a novel centred around misogyny and violence against women, Robin Ellacott stands out like a beacon; restless, relentless Robin. What a woman.

With Robin's confidence and determination peaking, Strike is forced to recognise how valuable she is to him as a colleague. His slow realisation of her worth, and his attachment to her, is beautiful, and seeing him really feel for once is glorious. Unfortunately, we have to contend with the pain in the arse that is MATTHEW. I have hated him throughout the series, however he does himself no favours here. Robin's backstory explains why she's been with him for so long, but circumstances reveal him to be a BIG SHIT. I was so angry with him; my aforementioned love for Robin had me screaming DUMP HIM into the pages. If only the killer had targeted Matthew to get to Robin, that would've solved everything. Total arsehole.

One notable difference here is information being drip-fed to us by chapters written from the killer's perspective. This is a new style for the Strike novels, and I felt it was done well. Nothing was given away to confirm the killer's identity; one of the main things he conveyed was his absolute rage, sadism and bloodlust. This really added to the sense of danger brewing, and the suspense created was unreal.

So, no criticisms here, as though there would be. I'm excited to read the next one; although we didn't end on typical type of cliffhanger, it was frustrating and impactful in so many ways. Bring it on, JK.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Book #43

Persona non Grata with Diabetes by Paul Cathcart

A self-portrait of the diabetic condition, understood as a state-of-being rather than its medical definition. A comedy of frustration! High blood sugar and mood swings? Confirming diabetic emotions.

I bought this book in a new attempt to better understand and take control of my disease. I was looking for confirmation of there being others out there who go what I go through, who experience the same kinds of set backs and lows as I do. I found this in PNGWD; I just wasn't expecting it to be so hilarious.

Fifty-three million diabetics in Europe alone and all we are offered in public is Diet Coke. They will know when the diabetic uprising occurs, when the cake shops burn and Fanta Zero pours from every tap.

I fully expected this to be a non-fiction work of statistics and fact, and was delighted to see it was more of a life story. More importantly, it was filled with colloquialisms and places I know from Glasgow; this made it even more comfortable to relate to since we've both spewed in the same places with blood sugar above the 19 mark.

Cathcart's memoirs of his life and condition are written with honesty and exasperation. We see his diagnosis at a young age, wander through his early twenties with him as he tries to make sense of insulin versus alcohol, and later sit uncomfortably as his disease impacts his career. This was all too familiar to me as I remembered sitting back at eleven years old as my friends all scoffed Haribo at sleepovers, getting sick of it at nineteen and necking raspberry vodka slushies in the ABC (later waking up paralysed and dealing with a 45 minute panic before I could move just enough to reach a Toffee Crisp), and finally dealing with the ignorant and myopic "just try harder" lecturers of my adulthood. It's both a relief and an irritant to see this happening to someone else.

I really enjoyed reading of Cathcart's helpless conversations with medical professionals who know better. I'm sure we've all had days where we realise these people are not diabetic, and they're giving advice based on scripted methods and teachings, rather than considering us as people with different, varying lifestyles.

We've simply got the numpties who think they know about diabetes in the same way that all big sisters think they know how to cut their little brother's hair.

His comments on the industry of diabetes, however, are ones I have never taken the time to think of. He's right, of course, that it's a profitable business; of course companies make money from the thousand of test strips we go through a day. I'm probably keeping Lucozade afloat single-handedly, never mind the rest of our hypo army. No wonder we haven't been cured yet.

This is an excellent read for a type one diabetic, whether recently diagnosed, or an old veteran like myself. I look forward to the next one.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Book #42

On the Beach at Night Alone by Walt Whitman

A selection taken from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass.

I'm a self-confessed poetry dunce. I'll keep this short and sweet.

This is a good introduction to Whitman, and I enjoyed reading through his poems, albeit with the lack of knowledge and confusion akin to a child having poetry thrust upon them in school. There's a lot of emotion here, particularly love and devotion, and Whitman comes across as a pure individual describing relationships and nature with lyrical serenity.

I wish I were more intelligent to become at one with poetry; Whitman's collection particularly made me want to make this happen. Sitting, however, reading lines over and over again in a hapless attempt to understand, is frustrating; I adopted my usual coping mechanism with poetry and let the words wash over me, oblivious of their meaning. I'm definitely missing out.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Book #41

Boldly Going Nowhere by Steven McKinnon

Shy, geeky, lonely and running full-speed in the fast lane to nowhere, Steven McKinnon is stuck in a rut. He hates getting out of bed in the morning. He hates being a burden on his friends and family. And he hates himself for letting life slip through his fingers.
‘Sounds like you need a girlfriend,’ says one of his mates one night down the pub. It proves to be the call to action Steven needs to get him into gear on the path towards happiness. But what happens when you embark on a journey of self-discovery and don’t like what you find? What happens when you beat the odds and actually make things worse? And even more terrifying – what do you do when you manage to convince someone to like you?

It's strange how books sometimes come along at exactly the right moment. As I sit here struggling with various aspects of life, I have to thank Steven (note: I can't do my usual 'refer to author by surname' here as I feel I now know Steven in depth, and calling him McKinnon would be too strange) for asking me to read his book. Despite his struggles and low points, it's great to see him deal with these logically, and come out the other end, albeit slightly scathed.

We follow Steven through a few years of his life, experiencing some of the best and worst moments a man in his early twenties can go through. Failed relationships, a career slump, and seeing friends get married as he tries to coast through life was all too familiar for me, as I'm sure it'll be for many readers.

A warm and endearing voice, Steven really had me as invested in his success, and as devastated at his setbacks as he was. It doesn't read as a moany diatribe on how the world's unfair; he's understanding of others, caring, and most importantly, sincere. I particularly liked his analysis of 'Nice Guys' - those who blame women, and only women, for their lack of a romantic partner. We all know one.

The story is littered with hilarious little anecdotes, and witty remarks; these avoid the doom and gloom corners of anxiety, and make Steven's journey so relatable, you'll feel he's an old friend by the final page.

Steven sums up his novel with the most gorgeous message of positivity; if there's something you want to do, no matter how frightening this may seem to you, go out and do it. He tells you that even the smallest of steps will make you feel better, that working towards your goals can create the best feelings of achievement you can experience. His steps to success began simply by forcing himself to take them; this is inspiring to me, and something I plan to start as soon as I can.

This is a very brave account of a man's battle with life alongside mental health. He's very open and honest about his feelings and the roots of them, and I feel more of this courage from all of us could only be beneficial to the stigma attached to these types of feelings.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Book #40

The Devil and Miss Prym by Paulo Coelho

A community devoured by greed, cowardice and fear. A man persecuted by the ghosts of his painful past. A young woman searching for happiness. In one eventful week, each of them will face questions of life, death and power. Each of them will have to choose their own path. Will they choose good or evil?

You're surely all now aware of my disdain for Coelho and his lacklustre attempts at philosophy. If it weren't for my stubbornness and commitment to read every book I buy, you wouldn't be reading this. Yet here I am, reviewing another waste of my time, and here you are, reading up on why it doesn't deserve a chance.

In this volume, Coelho takes it upon himself to pontificate on the essence of good and evil, morality, and the human condition. Are humans inherently good or bad? Do we have good and evil battling inside us at all times? Does it have the potential to be great? Yes. Does it deliver? Shit, no.

With one-dimensional, boring characters you'll struggle to care about, a predictable plot, and too many pretentious paragraphs I'm sure are quoted in thousands of Twitter bios, it's a sad little musing that could have had a real impact. No passion, no blast of emotion to the chest, only a longing to make it to the last page.

I was disappointed, but not surprised, at seeing Coelho again patronise and discredit his female characters. Where Chantal Prym should have been written as a strong character, he continued to write her as weak-willed and lacking in ambition, with her only way out boldy highlighted as finding a husband. She slept around and was vilified for this; she really should be finding a husband. We're introduced to an older woman who was lucky enough to find a husband in the black and white days, but he's dead and that means she's so worthless that she might as well die.

Another static Coelho element here was his tendency to treat his readers as though they are utterly stupid. We aren't allowed to interpret things for ourselves; he spells everything out clearly for us as though he's the only man in the world who can understand a bit of basic philosophy. He's exasperating.

We go round in circles exploring the idea of morality, with contradictions, repetitions, and a complete air of tedium. With such an interesting and important theme, I'd expect some sort of impression to be made on me. A terrible book, and I still have one more to go. 

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Book #39

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good? 

One of my favourite things to do in life is people watch. I love sneaking covert glances at complete strangers and wondering what their lives are made up of. More often than not, this happens on public transport, so this book has struck a chord.

Rachel is going through an incredibly difficult time. On her way to and from work each day, her train stops behind a row of houses. She looks in the garden of a particular one and sees a couple she believes to be the epitome of happiness. Constructing a life for them in her head, seeing them each day helps her cope with her failed marriage, her loneliness, and her turbulent alcoholism. One day she sees something that doesn't quite fit into the fantasy, and things spiral out of control as she becomes involved in a police investigation. We soon find Rachel is more closely connected to the couple than we think, however to give anything else away here would be entirely unfair to future readers.

Every character in this novel was overly loathsome in their own way. Hawkins really explores the darkness of the human character by using multiple-voice with three narrators as unreliable as each other. Although it doesn't take a Holmes intellect to solve the mystery, getting there is the real pleasure. Hawkins writing style is unsettling, we can't trust any of the characters, and we have no idea where we're going. Rachel's alcoholic blackouts make us distrust her, but her sorrow and regret strike up rhythms of sympathy

The most terrifying thing about the story is the implication that you never truly know a person. We all know people lie, people hide things, but to what degree? It's disturbing to think that those closest to you could have secrets that could question your whole perception of them.

It's a pretty standard mystery-crime-thriller-suspense novel, and although I can understand why some dislike it, I found it gripping and fascinating. Despite the twist being predictable, and the plot starting and stopping as much as the symbolic train, I enjoyed it as a study of character, of flaw, and of the illusion of trust.


Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Book #38

Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy

Meet the Female Chauvinist Pig—the new brand of “empowered woman” who wears the Playboy bunny as a talisman, bares all for Girls Gone Wild, pursues casual sex as if it were a sport, and embraces “raunch culture” wherever she finds it. If male chauvinist pigs of years past thought of women as pieces of meat, Female Chauvinist Pigs of today are doing them one better, making sex objects of other women—and of themselves. They think they’re being brave, they think they’re being funny, but in Female Chauvinist Pigs, Ariel Levy asks if the joke is on them. 

I thoroughly hated this book.

Levy is a journalist who has an issue with raunch; think sex industry, strippers, tits, porn. She's written this book to explain her stance on it, and the reasons why it's having a detrimental effect on women. At no point does she come across as a supporter of women, instead spending the entire essay sounding like a prudish dowager.

The only part of the book I truly engaged with was the conclusion, although it left me totally confused. Levy concludes that there's nothing wrong with a certain type of sexuality, we can strip if we want, we can watch porn if we want; the only issue is when we think of those things as normal, and stop exploring other parts of our sexuality. Slightly patronising, but a valid point. She goes on to describe sex as a status, as a commodity, and comments on the issues with it being more performance than pleasure-led. Perfect, Levy, but you left this until the end, and my problem is that the rest of your book didn't agree with the conclusion.

Comprised of interviews, it becomes quickly obvious that Levy has chosen her subjects simply to reinforce her point. Selectively cutting and pasting quotes, she effectively embarrasses and patronises her interviewees in order to wave her archaic ideals in our face. Positioning herself as some sort of prototype of perfection; never yielding to the patriarchy, and never falling foul to sexual temptation. What she fails to do is make any sort of suggestion on how we, as a female community, can overcome the idea that we should bend to all men's rules of sex. Other than slag other women off, I failed to see what it was she was really trying to do.

Levy spends an introduction and six chapters completely dragging women for their choices. Whether this is the decision to pursue stripping or pornography for a career, the decision to be sexually promiscuous, the decision to be lesbian, the decision to be transsexual, the decision to work in a male-dominated environment and conform to their cultural norms, or even just the decision to paint your nails or buy an expensive pair of shoes, Levy has something to say about it.

Women who have boob jobs and paint their nails are bimbos. Strippers are uneducated airheads who are incapable of obtaining any other job. High-flying career-driven women who produce television shows involving the naked female form are male wannabes. There is no appetite for supporting women in her words, and not once does she suggest any hint of respect or empathy for any woman.

She's particularly ignorant and abusive in the chapter where she explores the LGBT communities views on sex. Her opinion is that being lesbian or trans is simply a woman hoping to become more male. She fails to use male pronouns for those who would clearly prefer this, and she turns her nose up at the idea of women having top surgery to better match their bodies to who they are. This is blatant transphobia, and I was truly sickened.

I could go on; there were many more points here which angered and offended me, but I'd like to close off my relationship with this book by making a final point. Levy is not a feminist and has spent 200 pages slut-shaming women for conforming to society's standards simply because they don't conform to hers.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Book #37

Three Tang Dynasty Poets

Pastoral, lyrical verse evoking the rural landscapes and peoples of eight-century China, from three of its finest poets.
I've never been a lover of poetry, and its meanings often escape me. This will be a short and uneducated review.

The collection is comprised of works from three of China's finest poets of the eighth-century Tang Dynasty era. The first, Wang Wei, beautifully describes nature in his poetry, and shows us blue mountains, green streams, and the peacefulness of fishermen taking sanctuary in the living world. The second, Li Po, tells us of his sorrows in being away from his wife and children for a long period of time. The third, Tu Fu, speaks of war, violence, and coming home to see his family broken by the conflict.

I liked the poems, found them beautiful, and was intrigued by the entirely different culture of eighth-century China. Despite this, I couldn't help but feel, as an ignorant Westerner, that I was missing something. Whether this is down my own lack of knowledge, or something lost in translation, I'm unsure. 

Book #36

Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho

Veronika has everythng she could wish for - young and pretty, with plenty of attractive boyfriends, a steady job, a loving family. Yet Veronika is not happy and one winter's morning she takes an overdose of sleeping pills, only to wake up some time later in the local hospital. There she is told that her heart is now irreparably damaged and she has only a few days to live.

Having read two Coelho novels in the past (The Witch of Portobello and The Alchemist), and having loathed both of them, I moved on to this one with trepidation and a slight contempt. Unfortunately some years ago, having heard lots of good things about Coelho, I bought five of his novels, of which this is only number three, so we have a lot of trepidation and contempt to go through yet. Don't listen to other people, kids.

Veronika Decides to Die has been my favourite so far, although favourite is perhaps a strong word to use for a novel that's only slightly more palatable than the other two I've experienced.

Our wonderful narrator decides life isn't worth living because one day she'll grow old (and lose her looks - bear this in mind, we'll come to it later) and also because there are a number of problems in the world which she can't be bothered with. She swallows a load of sleeping pills, and whilst waiting for them to work, strokes her cat, waves at men out of her window, and writes a letter to a Slovenian newspaper to make them aware her suicide is because no one knows anything about Slovenia. Truly poetic. She wakes up in hospital to be advised she's caused irreparable damage to her heart, and she'll die in the next few days. So begins her journey of enlightenment as she learns (you guessed it) to love life and regret her decision to die.

The only idea I truly connected with in the novel was that within the walls of the mental hospital, the inmates could express their true desires, and behave however they felt they should. Coelho explains that the idea of normality is a social construct, so behaving in a way which is deemed to be outwith the norm (madly) is, in fact, the norm within the realms of an institution.

I had a real issue with Coelho's use of Veronika's good looks as a reason for her not to commit suicide. He almost made it sound as though living and being any less than beautiful were mutually exclusive. Characters would comment, "Oh but you're beautiful! Why would you want to die?" as though having a gorgeous face and being able to get any gormless male into bed is truly worth living for (it isn't). Even the blurb on the back of the book begins by saying, Veronika has everything she could wish for - young and pretty, with plenty of attractive boyfriends.. I'm sorry, this is absolute shit. Gee whiz, I'm pretty, better not take those sleeping pills so I can bestow my beauty on the world? Fuck off, Coelho.

My other real irritant here was Coelho writing himself into the beginning of the novel as a cameo appearance in order to make us aware he used to work in a mental institution so he really knows what he's talking about. This was nothing more than superfluous and completely unnecessary. I don't remember Ken Kesey ever doing that.

Preachy, plotless and patronising, it's philosophy for gullible idiots.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Book #35

A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift

Swift's ferocious, landmark eighteenth-century political satire on how to solve a famine in Ireland.

This is a collection of Swift's political works, with the titular essay being the most prominent and satirical commentary of all. I struggled to connect with any of the others, and so will mention only A Modest Proposal below.

Swift describes the desolation and poverty of his own eighteenth-century Ireland, and clearly places the blame on to the English. He describes the unhelpful policies bestowed upon the country, and suggests one of his own in the most ridiculous and overblown manner. The satirical sting to the English is wildly direct, and boldly questions the morals of wealth.

The reader will quickly realise many of the points Swift raises in these essays are still prevalent today. I wonder if our current government have already discussed his economically-pleasing proposal.

Savage and shameless, this is an enjoyable political commentary. 

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Book #34

Danger at Thatcham Hall by Frances Eavesham

Ambitious lawyer Nelson Roberts, embittered by war, jilted by his fiancée, and trusting no one, aims to make his name solving the mysterious thefts and violence at Thatcham Hall, a country house in Victorian England. 

Olivia Martin, headstrong and talented, will stop at nothing to overcome the conventions of the day, avoid a miserable fate as a governess and fulfill dreams of a musical future. 
The pair stumble on a body. Is the farmhand’s death a simple accident, or something more sinister? Who attacked the livestock at the Hall and why are the villagers so reluctant to talk? Can Nelson and Olivia overcome their differences and join forces to unravel the web of evil that imperils the Hall? 

Having only just read (and loved) An Independent Woman by Frances Evesham, I found myself immediately buying Danger at Thatcham Hall. Although following the stories of entirely different characters, we're still treated with Lord Thatcham and Philomena as minor characters in the tale. This helps to welcome us into the fold of Thatcham Hall again, and reassures us that our much-loved characters from the previous novel are doing well, and still very much in love. Despite this, Danger at Thatcham Hall would work well as a standalone novel, however I'd absolutely recommend reading An Independent Woman first.

We're given again a strong heroine, a tortured hero, and a series of mysteries. This time, instead of unravelling the characters' past, we focus on events happening in the present. Nelson Roberts is shipped in from London to solve the crimes, and Olivia Martin, also from London, is visiting as a friend and cousin of the family. Both of these characters struggle against the social expectations of their situation, and this is something I'm always interested to read in Victorian fiction. Olivia in particular is facing a life as a spinster governess due to her lack of wealth; men generally wanted to marry women from a prosperous family, as both a means of income and also for social status.

Evesham flips the narrative from chapter to chapter to allow us an insight into both Nelson and Olivia's mindset. Where they both feel the other is untrustworthy, it's entertaining to see their feelings and ideals are far similar than both of them imagine. Their attraction to each other takes them by surprise, and we're taken along with them as they try to hide their desire for each other.

The cast of characters is delightful, as expected. Evesham weaves their backgrounds intricately into the story, and we feel close to them, regardless of hero or villain. The mysteries are baffling to all, and are solved at a perfect, delectable pace, with no strikingly obvious motives or perpetrators.

Once again, Evesham's research into the age and setting is flawless. I particularly enjoyed more of a peek into the lives of the villagers close to Thatcham Hall. Their customs and colloquialisms were strikingly different to the residents of the hall, and although they seemed socially closer to the servants, it was clear to see working in a respected establishment such as the Hall houses the servants a level above the villagers. Evesham's hints to the politics, etiquette, and even fashion of the day are so subtle, yet fascinating. I really cannot fault her attention to detail.

It's been a long time since I've been so wrapped up in a story, and I'd like to thank the author for inviting me into her world. Both An Independent Woman and Danger at Thatcham Hall have helped me escape from my own world, and have brought me hours of suspense, fun, and awe. These are an absolute imperative read for fans of Victorian fiction; I look forward to (hopefully) a third.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Book #33

An Independent Woman by Frances Eavesham

With nothing left from her childhood except a tiny portrait of a beautiful woman, some skill with a needle, and the knowledge of a dreadful secret, Philomena escapes her tormentor, Joseph, and the dank fogs of Victorian London, only for a train crash to interrupt her quest for independence and freedom.

Trapped between the upstairs and downstairs occupants of a great country house, Philomena hears whispers of the mysteries and lies that lurk in empty corridors and behind closed doors. Her rescuer, the dangerous, enigmatic Hugh, Lord Thatcham, wrestles with his own demons and makes Philomena’s heart race, but she must fight her passion for she can never marry.
Haunted by her past, Philomena’s only hope of happiness is to confront the evil forces that threaten to destroy her. 

I'm always dubious when authors send me their books in exchange for a review. I value my reading time, and absolutely loathe wasting it on books I don't enjoy. I began An Independent Woman with the same trepidation I would with any unknown author, and I have come away absolutely enchanted.

The story begins with our protagonist, Philomena, fleeing her life in London. Brought up by a guardian, she experiences an awful time, after his death, at the hands of his son. She decides to run away and start her own living, dresses as a boy, and boards a train for Bristol. The train derails and Philomena is found by Lord Thatcham, brought into his home, and discovered to be female shortly afterwards. To give any more of the plot away at this juncture would be an unkindness.

My above summary is even an unkindness to Eavesham. The plot is intricately weaved, and peppered with mysteries. We learn of a terrible part of Philomena's past which we know will come back to haunt her before the story is over. We're slowly drip-fed the tale of Lord Thatcham's late wife, and the strange circumstances surrounding her death. The clever way Eavesham weaves both the mysteries and the clues into the plot is effortless, and I was utterly gripped. The pace was excellent; no excess detail, no confusion, and everything happened at exactly the right time to keep the plot moving and the reader engaged.

Philomena is a wonderful character; far removed from the simpering Victorian heroines we often come across. She falls, without immediate explanation, somewhere in between the working class and the aristocracy. She's intelligent, educated, and will resolutely disagree with men should she feel inclined to. She runs from London to making a living: to start her own business. She's resourceful and a survivor; although we see her make poor decisions, we also see her repenting these and understanding her own reasoning. She's wonderful.

Each of the characters were perfectly characterised, from Lord Thatcham's feelings of duty in contrast to his feelings of desire, John's mischievous way of widening his eyes and coaxing some bread and honey from the servants, to even Joseph's disgusting lecherous winking and gag-inducing long greasy hair. I particularly loved Selena, Lord Thatcham's sister, who, although, materialistic and giggly on the surface, revealed herself to be more forward thinking than I ever could have imagined.

As always with novels set in Victorian times, it's interesting to read of the social connotations of the day. Eavesham has clearly done her research (or perhaps read one too many Austens) and focuses on the idea of a woman being her husband's property. I was also interested to read of the workings of the house (servants downstairs and masters upstairs), the differences in clothing and colloquialisms between the rich and the poor, and most of all the strict expectations that fell on women in that era.

I want to thank Ms Eavesham for sending this to me; it was exactly what I needed, and I loved every single moment. I have now bought the second novel and will begin this immediately as I can't bring myself to leave Thatcham Hall just yet, although I understand there will be no Philomena in this one. I can't wait. Thank you.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Book #32

Wailing Ghosts by Pu Songling

Some of the most macabre and wonderful of all Chinese stories, including 'The Golden Goblet', 'Scorched Moth the Daoist' and 'The Black Beast' 

These little Chinese stories of the supernatural are quaint, yet incredibly abrupt. They are nothing like Western tales of the supernatural; there's no suspense, no psychological twists, and no tales of the unknown as we've come to understand them. Instead, the stories are laid bare before us in a flash, and before we can come to terms with what we've just been exposed to, the next story comes along to hurry its wonder at us.

Each of them had what I assumed to be a moral message, however it was difficult to understand what the message was in some of them.

I'm slightly disappointed in these, purely because I felt they lacked any real impact. They were nonsense tales, with each one being more head-pickling than the last. I wonder if this is down to the translation, the affect time has on the way we find ourselves entertained, or both.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Book #31

The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things by JT Leroy

These are the stories of a young boy on the run, away from his past, hellbent towards an unknown future. Connected, they form a sometimes harrowing, sometimes bleakly funny, and often tender portrait of a complicated life.

I read Sarah back in 2009 and absolutely hated it. I felt it was underdeveloped, and was totally scandalised by the JT Leroy hoax. I picked up The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things expecting to experience the same kind of apathy, but actually I was surprised at how compelling, disturbing, and utterly heartbreaking this novel really is. I don't aim to comment on the Leroy hoax, as I don't find it interesting enough to look into the details. Read as a work of fiction, this novel exudes a punk cult mist which will cloud your head and leave you entirely messed up.

Narrated by a young boy, the scenes Leroy depicts for us are nothing but base. Born to an extremely young mother, he's placed into foster care until his mother now decides to claim him back. Her questionable life choices, means of making money, and ideas on how to raise a child, turn his life into the stuff of nightmares. The use of Jeremiah as narrator presents these situations to us in a naive, dream-like manner, making the reality seem far worse than it would if described by an adult.

The novel is comprised of disjointed chapters, jumping through time and back again, to confuse the sequence of our understanding. Each chapter tells a different story, and relates to a separate ordeal in the protagonist's life. They don't link well, and the result is choppy and jagged; this creates an uneasy sense of panic and chaos in the reader, and reflects our narrator's feelings of upheaval.

What sickened me most was the severe contrast between the first and final chapters. To see the boy's innocent beginnings with a foster family, and then see what he had become as a result of his own flesh and blood, was excruciating.

It's been a while since I've read something that truly tested my mettle, but this one uncomfortable read. It's a solace to be aware of the hoax, and to know this isn't the true story it was made out to be. It's a gripping, fascinating story, but if you don't hate every single moment, there's something wrong with you.

"The heart is deceitful above all things and it is exceedingly corrupt: Who can know it?"
-- Jeremiah 17:9