Sunday, 21 August 2016

Book Review: Moonstone

Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was

By Sjón
Translated by Victoria Cribb
Publishing by Sceptre
Available in hardback and ebook
Paperback is forthcoming

Sometimes you request a book for review based on the author's reputation (Sjón in big business) or even the front cover (and this book has a very atmospheric cover) but for me, I picked this book because of the location as one of my many plans in life is to head to Iceland - the geoogy of the place makes it feel mythical and mysterious which also adds to this novel.

Set in 1918 in Reykjavik, Sjón's incredible novel, Moonstone tells the story of 16 year old Máni who seeks to find his place in society on an island which is on the brink of change. The Spanish flu rages war through the city, changing the heart of the community. He is rebellious, unable to find common ground with the people around him as he hides in the shadows out of sight, and is at odds with society's expectations.

Máni is an outsider who prefers to enjoy going to the cinema rather than interact with reality, with a passion for surrealist films like Les Vampires. He has lost his parents and lives with a distant aunt who doesn't pay him much interest and spends all of his money at the cinema. His film addicition is paid for by sleeping with men, down dark alleys, out on the barren landscape, trying to escape the watchful eyes of society. While sleeping he dreams about the films, threading these into his own life.

For me, Iceland is the main character with ash bellowing from the volcano, changing the landscape into a dream like place, the dramatic cliffs and an ash cloud plunging the island into darkness, tucked away from the Great War but threatened by the flu. Iceland is going through a major change internally and also trying to find its place after independence. Like Máni, Iceland is like an outsider, watching events as a spectator. Moonstone sees both characters become part of the action, with Máni helping at the hospital was the flu spreads around the city, and Island become a more key player.

This short novel tells of clash of life and death, reality and imagination battle for dominance and where personal isolation comes up against the island’s isolation, both struggling to find a place in the world. Moonstone packs a big punch. 

I was sent a copy via Bookbridgr.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Book Review: Martini Henry

Martini Henry
By Sara Crowe
Published by Transworld
Available in hardback and ebook
Paperback is forthcoming

Cross between Adrian Mole and a younger version of Bridget Jones's diary, Martini Henry, Sara Crowe's witty second novel, tells the story of Sue Bowl as she tries to find her place in the world.

Sue is only 18 years old but thinks she has life sussed and knows exactly what will happen in her life - she will inherit her aunt's house, she has a boyfriend and she wants to be an epic writer. Yet reality seems to get in her way...

Having been on a writing course in Crete, she is called back to England as her stepmother is having a baby. Leaving behind her fellow students and an idyllic spot on the beach, she rushes back to be with her family. Back at home, living in a crumbling stately home with her aunt and lodgers, Sue is waiting around for her life to begin.

Yet, she soon discovers that for her life to begin she must take the first step. The glitzy life she imagines is just out of reach so she must embark on an adventure to get to her imagined life. She is determined to get an internship at the local newspaper and while on this quest ends up working as a waitress, complicating her love life and also becomes tangled up with finding out about the history of her aunt's home. The reader follows Sue on her mishaps as she forges a path through life's wobbles as she soon realises that reality is much harder than she first thought. Yet at no point in the novel does she become cynical and jaded - she is still optimist and positive as she deals with whatever life throws at her.

Written in the form of a diary and letters, there are also extracts from a biography of London Taylor who in the Victorian age worked in the home that Sue shares with her aunt. Both characters are trying to find a place in society and both are finding that the things they are doing doesn't necessarily fit with society's expectations.

This is a charming coming of age novel, full of funny antics and also times where you just want to shout at Sue to grow up and to face reality.

You can buy Martini Henry from your favourite bookshop.

I was sent a copy by the publisher.

Monday, 8 August 2016

10 Years Since I Had My Neck Sliced

Happy anniversary to me or at least the scar on my neck! Ten years ago my left Thyroid was whipped out by a surgeon who looked like Dick Van-Dyke along with a lump the size of a tennis ball.

Over the period of six months from around the time of my 21st birthday in February to August, the lump had grown from being several small lumps (I got to see them in an ultrascan - shame I couldn't get a picture and name them all) into one big lump. The surgeon was great (even when he used a massive neddle in my neck to get a sample) as he arranged for the operation to happen during my summer holidays from uni. I was glad to be having the operation as I was finding it harder to breathe and I had lost all of my lovely curves - I could actually fit into clothes from Topshop!

Apparently I was down on the operating table for many hours but I can't remember anything only that I woke up feeling really really cold and it was the hottest day of the year. The operation was performed by the NHS, and the care I had from the nurses and doctors was amazing even though I might have scared them with my low blood pressure ( I like to buck the trend in my family with the whole high blood pressure fan club). The surgeon even came and visited me in my part time job at the bookshop to make sure I wasn't doing any heavy lifting so I didn't undo any of the healing around my neck.

The recovery time was long* - I didn't realise how much you use your neck even when you're not turning around so I spent much of the time in a druggy haze with some sweet painkillers. Not only did my operation rid me of my left side of my thyroid but it also made me a bit queasy around blood (it was seeing the drain for my blood next to me that did it) which means that if you need medical attention then I'll perform it with my eyes closed. Three months after my operation, I served a woman in the bookshop who pointed at me (yes, really) and said that she had had the same operation and she revealed a horrendous scar - that lunchtime I went and bought some scarves and my collection grew very quickly but nowadays the scar is neat and tidy, and it only makes an appearance when either I'm stressed or I've squirted perfume on it by accident.

I still have to take my medication daily (which I'm not that great at doing) - if I don't then I feel like a toy who needs winding up as I've lost all of my energy and if I forget to take it for a few days (because I might be a bit crap at picking up my prescription) then I start to feel like I have a cold and feel like there could be an inner hulk waiting to burst out (has never made an appearance...yet). I can burn the candle at both ends but my candle is smaller than everyone else. The only other thing is my weight - it's harder for me to shift those pounds even though I go to the gym several times a week. Nothing makes me feel more useless than people body shaming with 'but you should be thinner because you go to the gym' but then, in my opinion, those sorts of people body shame others because they have their own body issues. Nobody is perfect and I like my scar - it tells an interesting story.

If anything my operation has made me more determined and full of energy to do the things I want in life. Having a long recovery period meant I could think about what I wanted to do and one of those was to take my writing serious (even though I was already doing my uni course on writing) and to continue to improve even though it was going to be a long slog. Plus I knew that I wanted to do a Masters degree too plus there were a few other things I wanted to achieve (which I did then promptly lose, so erm, lets move on with the story). So fast forward 10 years and I have my Masters degree and I'm currently redrafting my second novel. Recently I've been dragging my feet but remembering today and how I felt back then has made me more determined to get this thing finished so I can have another novel sitting on my hard drive.

*and when I say long I mean enough time for me to watch endless episodes of Stargate while under the influence of strong painkillers.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

So I Didn't Read That Much in July...

Only three books read in July but you know that's better than two or even zero if you want to look on the bright side of things. I would like to say that the excuse is that I've been working like mad on my novel but, well, I have only finished redrafting one chapter this month - still have ten left to redraft.

July has been full of birthdays, enjoying the summer, seeing the sea and treating myself to seeing the play version of George Orwell's 1984. The visual effects for this play were amazing, so was the set design and acting. Haven't been to the theatre for over a year so it was good to be seeing something.

Anyway, back to the books...

Life Moves Pretty Fast - Hadley Freeman
I borrowed this from a friend months ago, and have only just got round to reading it. This is a book about 80s films so there's nothing to hate about it. I gobbled this book up as I love anything to do with the 80s. Since the 80s films coming out of Hollywood have become more conservative and that many films that we think are 'tame' compared to today's films would not be made today as they tackle things like abortion e.g. Dirty Dancing as nowadays women in films are expected to have the baby e.g. Knocked Up and Juno. Very interesting book.

Things We Need - Jennifer Close
The thing about this book is that the hardback and paperback versions have a different title. I read the hardback version, Things We Need but the paperback is called The Smart One. I think Things We Need suits the book and its themes. The Coffey siblings have left home to become adults but things are not working out - Claire has split from her fiance and has mountains of debt so moves back, her sister, Martha is having a career crisis and needs some stability in her life, and their brother Max is on the verge finishing college but his girlfriend has a big secret. This is a book about finding second chances, dealing with life, and taking control of your own decisions. Smart, flawed characters making real life mistakes but finding a way out. I really enjoyed this book.

Martini Henry - Sara Crowe
Here's the female version of Adrain Mole. Sue Bowl wants to be a journalistic, and lives in a mansion with her aunt. At 17, she thinks she's all grown up with nothing else to learn but it looks like life has a few things planned for Sue. This is a funny book, and I'll be reviewing this soon.