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Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Book Review: Normal People by Sally Rooney

Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in rural Ireland, but the similarities end there as they are from two very different worlds.

“Most people go through their whole lives, without ever really feeling that close with anyone.”

I’ve seriously been putting off writing this review because I just don’t know what to say!! I feel like I can’t put into words why I loved this book - I just did. As someone who went through very similar experiences to the characters, in terms of both school and university, I felt like I was reading about the intertwined lives of two of my close friends.

There is something incredibly beautiful in its simplicity. It’s about normal people, people who you feel like you may know, living relatively normal lives. And yet it’s written in a really impactful way. When I wasn’t reading the book, I was thinking about Marianne and Connell and wondering how they were getting on... are they okay?!! *weeps*

Without giving anything anyway, I have to come to like the ending after initially being annoyed by it. I feel like it is yet another reflection of how real life just is sometimes - we don’t always grow or progress or move past our issues. More often than not, life isn’t wrapped up in a neat little bow.

Normal People is one of those books that I LOVED and yet wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to everyone. If you like the sound of a book that covers topics like mental health, socioeconomic status, and the relationship dynamics between two people who are just destined to be in each other’s lives...then yes, pick this one up!

I’m so thrilled that I enjoyed this book so much and that I can really shout about, and support, an Irish author as talented as Rooney. 5 stars!

Johann
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Monday, 25 February 2019

Book Review: Carter and Lovecraft by Jonathan L. Howard

Daniel Carter is an ex-homicide detective, now a private investigator, who inherits a bookstore in Providence from someone he’s never heard of. Then people start dying in mysterious ways, and while Carter doesn’t want to be involved, he’s beginning to suspect that someone else wants him to be.

“He couldn’t see how you could share the shit out of somebody with math, but it seemed you could.”

Holy moly! This was the exact kind of read that I needed after finishing The Alchemist. Going back to my horror roots and my love for Lovecraftian fiction (although I guess I wouldn’t specifically categorise this as horror, more weird fiction with some creepy parts)

But anyway... this was a hell of a lot of fun! I feel like Howard handles a lot of the Lovecraft’s mythology and themes and tropes very well. You can tell he knows his shit! And he gives us a kickass character in the form of Lovecraft’s descendant - his great-great (I don’t know how many greats and frankly don’t care) granddaughter, Emily Lovecraft. The relationship and interactions between her and our main character are really entertaining and full of witty banter!

It’s surprisingly funny at times and there are lots of pop culture references, which I always enjoy. AND there’s a bookstore that features a lot in the story! Although I’m not quite sure how a non-Lovecraft fan would find this one? A lot of the plot relies on references or tie-ins to Lovecraft’s work and although it is explained I can’t really say how confusing it might be for someone who hasn’t read his work. And I do believe a lot of my enjoyment was tied to me nerding out over the Lovecraft connections.

The ending in particular had me SHOOK and I’ll certainly be ordering the second book in the series. Overall, really well-written and a lot of fun! I would highly recommend to all Lovecraft fans! 4 stars.

Johann
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Saturday, 23 February 2019

Book Review: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy, yearns to travel in search of a worldly treasure. His quest will lead him to riches far different than he ever imagined.


“And, when you can’t go back, you have to worry only about the best way of moving forward.”

Let me preface this review by saying that although I did not like this book, I totally appreciate the meaning behind the fable and the message being put forward here (well... part of it). It was just done so in the most tedious and boring way possible.

Even now, just typing the words “Personal Legend” makes me want to scratch out my eyeballs. Maybe that’s to do with the manner in which “legend” is used in present day... but I found it cringe-worthy. Throughout the entire novel you are just bludgeoned to death with the concept of your Personal Legend. I hate the notion that if you REALLY want something and you try hard enough that the universe will help guide you to your Personal Legend. I just don’t believe life works like that!

I am all about pursuing your dreams and not being afraid to do so. And that’s the message I can get behind - but the rest was just utter nonsense to me. Perhaps I am not spiritual enough to fully embrace The Alchemist. I was rolling my eyes so often that I almost detached my retinas...

I’m really trying to think of something positive to say - it was short? And there were some nice illustrations... but that’s all I got. I guess the writing wasn’t bad, it was more the story that I found very boring. I also found it to be quite preachy and condescending at times. And now I’m back to being negative... I TRIED!

If you are a big fan of this book (and I know there are many), I hope I don’t come across as mean or insulting. I’m truly happy that this book enlightened you in some way or that it resonated with you, but ultimately, it just wasn’t for me.

One and a half stars.

Johann
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Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Book Review: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love as teenagers, but Ifemelu departs for the United States to study as a result of Nigeria being under a military dictatorship. Obinze had hoped to join her, but is denied a visa after 9/11, and so heads to London instead, where he eventually becomes an undocumented immigrant.

“Why did people ask “What is it about?” as if a novel had to be about only one thing.”

What appears to be a love story on the surface is really about immigration, ethnicity, racism and belonging. It takes place across a few locations - Nigeria, the UK and the USA, and Adichie effortlessly glides between all three, whilst moving back and forth between the past and the present, as the story is told from the perspective of both Ifemelu and Obinze. It sounds like a lot is going on, but Adichie expertly juggles it all!

The plot flows seamlessly whilst Adichie creates well-developed and interesting characters, and is truly quite difficult to put down once you pick it up! Ifemelu is not the most likeable character, she’s bold and speaks her mind, yet I was fully invested in her own personal story, as well as her relationship with Obinze. This is my first foray into Adichie’s fiction and yet I can already tell she is fantastic at writing characters.

This book was really eye-opening for me. A lot of the perspectives and discussions between characters, and in particular Ifemelu’s blog posts, which I adored, made me more aware of the struggles that people of colour can face on a daily basis. Americanah is one of those books that is incredibly thought-provoking, and would probably lead to lots of insightful discussions and analysis if read as part of a book club. So if you happen to run a book club... I suggest this one!

I feel like I just want to be Adichie’s friend and listen to her talk about her thoughts on lots of different topics - her intelligence intimidates me, yet makes me want to read every word she’s ever written! Which I fully intend to do.

Already one of my favourite books of the year! ALL THE STARS.

Johann
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Sunday, 10 February 2019

Book Review: First, We Make the Beast Beautiful by Sarah Wilson

I feel like books covering mental health topics are quite personal - what works for you may not work for another. Luckily this one really worked for me! Wilson is funny and relatable, and she describes anxiety in a way that I truly understood. It’s unapologetically raw and personal, and I was sad to finish it.

“Purposeful, creative, bold, rich, deep things are always beautiful.”

It’s written in a very conversational style, the structure is a tad chaotic and repeatedly jumps around to different things but that does appeal to me - as my brain is very much like this! It means that I never got bored. She covers triggers and treatments, as well as her own personal anecdotes and little quotes and tidbits from fellow anxiety sufferers.

However, what I loved most about this book were the parts where Wilson tried to approach anxiety in a positive way, in other words - make the beast beautiful. And she’s right! For all the negativity that anxiety can bring to our lives, it also makes us the people we are. If you simply removed my anxiety from my personality, I would be a very different person. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t receive treatment or counselling if it is impacting your life in a hugely negative way, but there’s something to be said for how anxiety can be beneficial in some ways. For me, it means that I am extremely efficient and organised; time management is my jam, even if it also turns me into a little bit of a control freak.

Near the beginning of the book, Wilson states that this isn’t a self-help book, it’s more an account of her experiences with anxiety. But I would disagree. I found so many tips in here and just being able to relate and agree with her about so many things provided some help in itself.

It’s an awkward one to recommend because reviews seem to be quite mixed. Like a lot of things targeted towards mental health, I think it’s really down to personal preference. And hey, even if you hated it, the book itself is GORGEOUS. 4 stars!

Johann
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Saturday, 2 February 2019

Book Review: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

In a dystopian world set in the future, where criminals take over the dark, Alex is a juvenile delinquent who talks using an invented slang called Nadsat.


”What’s it going to be then, eh?”

A Clockwork Orange might just the biggest turnaround I’ve ever had in terms of initially hating a book... and then becoming a fan of it by the end. After buying a copy and flicking through it, and seeing some of the writing, I messaged @ab_reads to say “why the hell am I putting myself through this? I should have picked another book for my list” and even as I trudged through the first 30 pages or so I just wanted it to be over... but I’m glad to say that once I got a hold of the slang I found a really outstanding story!

The events and acts of brutality carried out by Alex and his friends are surprisingly violent, but this is masked by the initial confusion surrounding the Nadsat and trying to decipher what is actually happening. A rather interesting technique employed by Burgess that I really appreciated!

After reading I found out that originally the book was released without the final chapter (Chapter 21) in order to give the book a darker tone and a less hopeful ending. However, Kubrick insisted that the chapter be added in as he had intended - and I believe this final part is also excluded from the movie - but I’m not entirely sure which ending I prefer. It’s something I’ll ponder for a while!

I absolutely loved the central themes of choice and free will. Is it better to be conditioned to be good, or is it better to choose to be bad? The story is well-constructed in terms of its structure and I love how everything kind of comes full circle. Really fascinating story-telling.

It’s difficult to recommend, but if you are intrigued do push past the first 30-40 pages because it WILL get easier and the pay-off is worth it. A Clockwork Orange is one of those books that would really benefit from a reread once you’ve nailed the language. Perhaps one day in the future!

3.5 stars.

Johann
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