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Wednesday 15 April 2015

Recently Read: February & March

I've been away from the blog for a little while due to personal reasons and so I've accumulated quite the collection of books to be reviewed. Here's what I read throughout February and March:

Only Ever Yours by Louise O' Neill
Set in a not-too-distant future where women are genetically engineered to be as close to perfection as possible (not quite perfect as there is "always room for improvement"), girls are raised as "Eves" and are there for one purpose only; to please men. They live in a school where they learn how to be a "Companion" to the males who will one day be in charge when they too are old enough. Not everyone can be a Companion however, some will be Concubines (prostitutes, basically) while others will be Chastities and confined to educating Eves for the rest of their lives. Women are designed to produce sons and once they are over the age of thirty five are removed from circulation as they can no longer procreate and therefore, are no longer useful to society. For the Eves, especially the two main characters, freida and isabel (female names all appear with a lower case in the book, highlighting their insignificance), they face all of the pressures you'd imagine including body dysmorphia, eating disorders, jealousy, self hate and a constant desire to be the best. The entire book is geared around the idea that women are not just the lesser sex, they are inferior to men in every possible way and are of importance only for the few ways men can use them. This is some bleak stuff right here and like the best comedy, I think that's because of how close to reality it is. Sure, our society isn't at the stage it is in this book (yet) but there's huge similarities in how our media views women and in turn, how men and women then view and treat women also. It's a disturbing plot which at times seems to have taken inspiration from the similarly terrifying Handmaids Tale. I feel like this is an important read for both women and men as it introduces feminist concepts in a subtle way- you could be forgiven for thinking this is fiction only but at its heart is a chilling message for the future.

The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins
Billed as this years big thriller and touted by many to be the new "Gone Girl" (it's not), the girl in the title is Rachel, a rather pitiful character with a drinking problem that gets the same train every day to work, which passes the same house and a couple therein that Rachel has built a mental fantasy about. She's decided their names are Jess and Jason and that they lead perfect lives, far removed from her own sad, solitary existence. Of course, reality can be very different to what we see on the outside and when "Jess" goes missing (real name Megan), Rachel has to piece together what happened to her from what she's seen and work out what her own involvement was from her hazy, drunken memories. Told from the perspective of three fairly unreliable narrators; Rachel, Megan/Jess and Rachel's ex-husband's new wife, this is a decent thriller that kept me captivated until the disappointing Scooby-Doo style ending. It is very bleak- Rachel is a full on alcoholic with bouts of amnesia following blackouts and I spent most of the book going "ah no, don't do that!". If you're looking for something light and fluffy, this isn't it but it's not a bad thriller if that's your thing.

Goose by Dawn O' Porter
Goose is the sequel to Dawn O' Porter's first novel, Paper Aeroplanes and follows the two main characters, Flo and Renee into their final year of school where they are faced with making plans for the future. The girls live on Guernsey, are best friends and have enough emotional problems between the two of them to keep Dr Phil busy for quite some time. These are YA books but the first in the series was well written and quite captivating. I didn't feel like that when I read Goose though. It lacked something and overall fell a bit flat for me. I would be interested in reading more form Dawn in the future but I may leave this series after this one. 

Revival by Stephen King
Ah, Stephen. You lured me with this one, that's for sure. Billed as a "supernatural thriller", I was expecting to be thrilled, supernaturally, rather than horrified. Oh how wrong I was. This is the story of two men that meet when one is a boy (Jamie Morton) and one is a minister of a small American town (Charles Jacobs). Jacobs has an unhealthy interest in the power of electricity and uses it to apparently cure Jamie's brothers mutism. Jamie grows to love Jacobs and his wife until a terrible accident causes the minister to renounce God and disappear out of his life. We then follow Jamie as he grows up- this is some real Stephen King stuff right here; the man loves an epic struggle worthy of song. Long story short, he grows up, goes off the rails and incredibly, meets Jacobs again who is now a travelling "healer", using his "secret electricity" to cure illnesses, both physical and mental with mostly positive results. Unfortunately, those who Jacobs has "cured" start acting very strangely and Jamie is forced to try and derail his old friend from causing any further harm. I won't say anymore because I don't want to give away the TERRIFYINGLY HORRIFIC ENDING but I will say it involves the grimmest vision of the afterlife ever, GIANT ANT LEGS COMING OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF CORPSES and me retching in my sitting room as I read it. So yeah. Good luck with that.

Blue Eyeshadow by Paul WS Bowler
I had previously read and loved Irish author Paul WS Bowler's short story The Bucket (review HERE) and so I was really looking forward to his first (and self published) novel, Blue Eyeshadow. The story unfolds over the space of a week but is told in a non-linear, non-chronological fashion so if you're the sort of person that's normally desperate to get to the end of a book and find out what happens, this will be a challenge for you! The prologue is a brief look at the life and death of a teenage boy, forced to commit suicide after a campaign of abuse by school bullies. The body of the book occurs after his tragic death and follows Aaron, an American teenager who has been attending the same school as his bullied predecessor since his family moved to a religious and highly judgemental small town. Aaron expresses himself through his hairstyle, piercings and make up, something that is not tolerated by his homophobic tormentors and their abuse is in turn, ignored by the school guardians. I have to say, I was desperate to find out what would become of Aaron and I felt the author did an excellent job of building that suspense. I also really appreciated the way Aaron's sister's character was written; multi-faceted, non-stereotypical female characters are a genuine joy to behold in a book for me so I was really interested in her too. With primary themes of homophobia, religious intolerance, bullying and suicide, this isn't a light read but it's sensitively written with well developed characters and a gripping plot. 

Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming
I love actor Alan Cumming and was intrigued by the premise of his memoir. After being approached by the BBC to appear on "Who do you think you are" in 2010, Alan (I can call him that, we're friends in my head) readily agreed, hoping it would shed some light on a family mystery regarding his maternal grandfather's death in the far East before he was even born. Little did he know it would reveal upsetting secrets about not just his grandfather but also his own dad, destroying relationships in the process. I bought this on Audible as I do with any autobiography read by the author as I think it adds something extra to the telling of the story. I was particularly pleased I did so with this book as Alan has a wonderfully rich voice that added warmth, humour, emotion and greater insight to the story. As a warning; his brutal childhood at the hands of his father is discussed in detail so if you'd rather avoid reading about the physical and emotional abuse of a child, you should probably leave this one. If you can get through that though, this is well worth a read. I actually found the different stories that were woven together in the one book to be fascinating and overall this is very different from your average celebrity memoir- there's proper substance here that will keep you captivated until the end. 

Pretty Honest by Sali Hughes
Sali Hughes is a beauty columnist with a lifetime of experience in all things cosmetics, skincare and beauty. She's now compiled that knowledge in her first book, Pretty Honest, a "straight talking beauty companion". 
I've previously read pieces from Sali in The Guardian and enjoy her own particular brand of no-nonsense beauty talk with a feminist leaning, which is exactly what you'll get in this book. I would've loved this when I was a teenager and again when I was a bride and also when I was unwell (there's a section for everything!) and I know I'll go back to it again as get older. Lots of great advice in there for all ages and skin types. 

Not That Kind Of Girl by Lena Dunham
I'm still not sure how to feel about this book. I quite like the TV show Girls (which Dunham writes and stars in) and find her to be an intriguing person so I wanted to find out just what exactly she has "learned". To that, I think, not a huge amount. At times, I found myself completely agreeing with some of her words of wisdom and she's certainly experienced plenty of unpleasant situations but…she almost seems to relish those experiences, as if she's aware of how they make her more interesting by proxy and they give her a story to tell, rather than honestly wanting to impart what she's learned from them. She is without a doubt, one of a kind. However, with that, at several times throughout the book I found myself rolling my eyes at how obnoxiously pretentious she is but then, immediately smiling because of how self aware she is! It's a pickle really. If you are going to read it, skip the entire chapter about her calorie counting. It is literally just this:
cherries 30 calories
crackers 100 calories
I thought she was trolling us all for that chapter but then realised that in her mind it was probably the book equivalent of an art installation piece. 
This book was on one hand, exactly what I expected and on another, completely different. I don't think I'd recommend it to anyone but at the same time, I don't actively dislike her after finishing, that's kind of breaking even I guess?

Unbearable Lightness by Portia De Rossi
This is the story of Australian actress Portia De Rossi's journey from ambitious schoolgirl to Hollywood star via Ally Mc Beal, her hidden homosexuality and an eating disorder. She's brutally honest in this memoir about her experiences, including the depths she plummeted to maintain her tiny 82 lb weight. This was at times a difficult read as Portia details the extremes her illness drove her to, which ironically left me feeling somewhat nauseated. While it was without doubt an interesting read, I found it slightly odd that so much of the book was devoted to the illness itself, with only about the last 10% of the book discussing her recovery. It almost read like a "how-to", which could be dangerous in the wrong hands.

That's my lot! I'm on to a whole new slew of books now but let me know in the comments what you're currently reading and what I should pick up next!


  1. Some great picks, Chloe. I loved 'Only Ever Yours' and 'Unbearable Lightness', although I understand what you mean about it reading like a how-to in the wrong hands. I imagine it could be triggering to people who have been through eating disorders too. (And obviously I'm a little bit biased when it comes to 'Blue Eyeshadow'! :) )

    'The Girl on the Train' and 'Not My Father's Son' are both in my to-read pile.

    I'm currently reading 'The Book of You' by Claire Kendal based on Sharon's review and 'Dare to Dream' by Carys Jones.

    1. Oh I've heard The book of you is good, looking forward to your review! x

  2. Read The Girl on the Train and was very underwhelmed, was too light and fluffy and I found all the characters very annoying!

    1. Oh yeah, ALL of the characters were annoying in that book. not one of them were likeable.

  3. Im always looking forward to your book choices, such helpful inspiration on what to buy. I seem to get overwhelmed in the Amazon world.

    1. Andreea thanks so much for saying that!! Really appreciate it. xx

  4. I flew through Girl on the Train, so disappointed with the ending too. Also could see it coming a mile away which I don't like. Also agree with Lena Dunham's book-nothing groundbreaking in it-funny in parts, pretentious as you say in others. I feel like I'd write something better myself! Here goes....

    1. So glad it's not just me re: the girl on the train! Few people here saying that they found the ending disappointing. You could definitely do a better job than LD! I'd read your book! x

  5. I've been trying to finish Lena Dunham's book since November, finding it an absolute slog and I haven't even gotten to the calories yet! Liked Girl on a Train, ending was meh (love that you called it Scooby Doo, it was very Scooby Doo!!) loved Only Ever Yours. Still have Revival to read, and Not My Father's Son has been waiting on my kindle for ages with Unbearable Lightness! Thanks for the heads up about the ant legs... *voms*

    1. I'm so sorry if I've given the ending away for you but I really don't think I have- it's way worse than what I've mentioned there!! Sure you know King, think you're doing fine and then he hits you with something horrifying! I think the only reason why I could get through Lena Dunham was purely that I got it on audible, otherwise I'd probably have given up. Read Not my father's son next! It's excellent! xx

  6. Great choices as always. I would love to give the Alan Cummings book ago along with Only Ever Yours and Girl on the train. I'll probably go for the later when I have finished harry potter for a bit of a light reading come down (I'm emotionally drained after Half Blood Prince) The Portia one seems interesting. I suppose her strongest feelings are relating to the actual illness as opposed to the recovery and that's why she focused on it. The relationship with an eating disorder never really ends unfortunately. And Lena Dunham... yeah. Odd one. I enjoyed it for the most part as some of it made me think "Oh god, I'm not alone in the world!" but other parts, like the lists of her food for example, I had to skip over. I don't hold her in such high regard as I did after reading the book and getting quickly bored of the most recent season of Girls.

  7. i really wish i had the patience to read novels like you! all these books really do sound amazing. The Sali Hughes one sounds good, probably a more "grown up" version of the likes of tanya burr's book!

  8. I really liked "The girl on the train" and "Pretty honest" sounds like something I want to read too.