Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Book Review: Guest by SJ Bradley

By SJ Bradley
Published by Dead Ink Books
Available in paperback & ebook

SJ Bradley's novel, Guest, follows Samhain, just as he is breaking into a hotel with his friend, to squat there to escape the horrendous squat they were previously living. This is what Samhain is good at - running away, escaping the truth, turning his back. This is the story of Samhain realising that only he can improve his life and also find out about his past.

Living in an abandoned hotel in the north of England with his bandmate, Samhain is young, angry and bewildered with life. Bradley has created a character and world where the details are authentic as she delves into the conditions that the characters live with dead mice in towels, nosey neighbours, the paranoia of being found by the authorities.

Samhain is free from responsibilities, living off grid and on the outskirts of society. Most days his only contact with the real world is his trip to the library to check his emails, and update his band's Myspace page and arrange the European tour. He is detached from his emotions, from his mother, moving on regularly, discarding or forgetting possessions. This is a character who is selfish, and stuck in his own bubble but Bradley has a way of keeping the reader intriguing in this character and the way he stumbles through life. The reader hopes that sooner rather than later he will see that he is the one who can change his life.

Finding out his father - left before Samhain could remember, abandoning him and his mother in a camp - was an undercover policeman who had infiltrated the Green Movement of the 80s. This secret if revealed would make him an outcast - noone wants to be associated with the cops.

Bradley explores the push and pull on our beliefs - Samhain wants to be free from social norms and have his voice heard against society but when he finds out he is also a father then his life is turned upside down. Trying to escape responsibilities, he runs off with his band to Europe but the guilt follows him and consumes his trip. This character seeks redemption, and does not want to become an absent father and let history repeat itself. The echoes of the past finally push a character into becoming active in his own life.

Guest is a intriguing story of disillusionment with society and with ourselves. You can buy Guest from your favourite bookshop.

I was kindly sent a copy from the author.

Monday, 8 January 2018

See You Later Alligator...

2017… you were another difficult year… politically, socially, for the people around me, at work. Honestly, 2018 you need to be better because we’re all counting on you.

So writing a best of blog post for 2017 has been proven to be more difficult than I first thought. Having gone through the list of books read, and I’m struggling to pick my favourite books because I read some fantastic books… not because I read some dreadful books, oh no, the opposite – so many great books…

 Describing a book as life changing always seems over the top but Little Black Book by Otegha Uwagba is one of those books. With tips on how to overcome creative blocks, career advice, and mostly importantly finance advice. Reading this book made me finally take notice of what happens to my money every money – I’ve changed my bank account, consolidated a couple of debts (which were small and annoying) into one smart payment, negotiated a better deal for my broadband, insurances and mortgage and also tackle the money thing draining my bank account – my car. I was able to get a brilliant deal on a newer car. This book is pocket sized, and not very long and I really think it should be handed to everybody as the advice in this book is amazing.

Shrill by Lindy West is another one of those books which should be handed out at school. I really wish there was a book like this when I was younger. Lindy tackles feminism, body image, body shaming and dealing with real trolls. This book is full of humour and charm. Go and buy it right now.

Normally long books are a no-go zone for me. I don’t like to admit this but I know that other people feel the same (I hope) but I find it hard to maintain interest in a very long story and concentrate on all of the character progresses – I normally end up flip back to remember what happened. BUT, I think I’ve been cured of this aversion. The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker (translated by Sam Taylor) follows Marcus as he tries to prove his old professor is innocent of murder as well struggle with writer's block and the demands of fame. There are so many twists and turns in this story, and the writing is sharp and addictive. I really liked the way writing is compared to boxing and it wasn't something I considered before (I thought boxing was punch, punch, punch and then the opponent falls over - don't roll your eyes - I know differently now - we all have wrong impressions about professions - how many of us think writers just write, write, write and then get published).

Winner of the 2017 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction, The Power by Naomi Alderman has captured the way feminism is fighting back. Women across the global realise they have an electric power within that comes alive when attacked or angry. They can inflict pain or even death. The power struggle between men and women starts to tip the other way, and men are finding they no longer have control. This is a fantastic novel - go and buy this one and read it!

A book about loneliness, living on a remote island and writing sounds like a dream situation to me, and so I feel like Bleaker House was written for me to warn me of ever becoming a recluse. Nell Stevens has been given a writing grant to spend three months to write a novel in a location of her choice. She picks Bleaker Island, Falklands. But this book is not that novel. Instead this is a book about a woman realizing a novel doesn’t lie in total solitude and a clear plan. Nell wants to teach herself the art of loneliness and then she’ll know if she is a proper author. This is a great book, full of great details and funny insights.

One of my favourite quotes from The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair was "Writing a book is like loving someone. It can be very painful,” and I found it very true of my writing in 2017. One of my stories, LostConnection, was published over at Dear Damsels but other than that I finally managed to finish redrafting and editing my novel, and now begins the wait from hearing back from agents.

You can read all of my monthly catch ups from 2017 here.

Monday, 1 January 2018

December Reading

Best month yet - six books read - thank you holidays!

So lets do a whistle-stop tour of the books I read in December...

BUT STOP PRESS before that, here's a little writing update...

My story, Lost Connection, about losing connection to the internet, is now live at Dear Damsels and you can read it via this link > Lost Connection

The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion
A few people have recommended this book over the past year, and I saw it whilst browsing in a bookshop so I decided to give it a chance. Don, a scientist, has never been on a second date, and that's a big problem because he wants a wife. He comes up with a long and complicated questionnaire to try and find the perfect woman but along comes Rosie who doesn't match any of Don's criteria. She causes chaos in his ordered world and Don doesn't know what to do. This was a quirky, quick read, and if you're looking for a twist on a romantic comedy then this would be the ideal book.

Nevada Days - Bernardo Atxaga (translated from Spanish by Margaret Jill Costa)
A writer and his family move to Nevada to research the Basque culture. This is a fictionalised account of Atxaga's writer in residence where there were strange encounters, mixed with dreams of the past. This book explores the way the way our experiences can shape our present and future. This book didn't pull me into the story but I did like the themes behind this book.

How to Build a Girl - Caitlin Moran
I've had this on my bookshelf for a while. So I'm definitely kicking myself for not reading this sooner as it is hilarious. This is a coming of age tale from a council estate in Wolverhampton all the way to working as a music journalist in London. Fuelled by 90s music, shouty parents and trying to live off dole money.

How to Stop Time - Matt Haig
So I originally purchased this as Christmas present for someone else but started reading it while wrapping up Christmas presents and erm, well, the person got a different present. Tom has been alive for centuries, having to change identity every 8 years so people don't notice that he isn't aging. He just wants to have a normal life but he can't seem to let go of the past. This is a bittersweet story about trying to find your purpose and letting yourself love, again.

A Field Guide to the North American Family - Garth Risk Hallberg
Told through photographs and interconnecting flash fictions, two families are put under the spotlight as they struggle to find the American dream. Affairs, deaths, wayward children - these families want to be seen as being the perfect family but events behind closed doors are starting to seep out into their public persona. I love the way the stories connected, and the way the reader could choose to read the stories in the order laid out by the author or by reading them via theme.

Scrappy Little Nobody - Anna Kendrick
I don't read ebooks as much as I used too but it was cold, I didn't fancy going to a book shop or waiting for a book to be delivered and I had nothing to read (a bit like when you look into your wardrobe and decide you have nothing to wear even though it's jammed pack with clothes) and this was plucked my interest. Nothing like ending the year with a book to make you snort out loud. Anna's mishaps in her life are really funny. You've been warned about the snorting!

Right, I'm off to pick out my top reads for 2017.