Monday, 31 March 2014

March Wish List

Ooosh! I'm cutting it close with this one, leaving it 'til the last day of the month to post my wish list...but as they say, better (very nearly) late, than never!
Here are some of the books that have caught my eye over the past four weeks, and that I hope to be able to read soon (dissertation-permitting!)

March Wish List:

 1. Americanah - Chimamanda Adichie (Fourth Estate): following her wonderful chat with Zadie Smith. If you haven't seen it, you can check it out here:
2. A Hundred Pieces of Me - Lucy Dillon (Hodder)
3. Her - Harriet Lane (W&N). I'm a huge fan of book recommendations so my monthly wish list usually includes The Bookseller's 'Book of the Month'. Her is a psychological thriller I'm told not to miss I won't!

Also: I'm so intrigued by James Patterson's children's series - of which the fourth instalment has recently hit the UK Bestseller Chart. I'm going to try and get my hands on Middle School: My Brother is a Big, Fat Liar to see just how an author with whom I associate gritty, hard-hitting thrillers adapts his style for children!

Friday, 28 March 2014

The Fault in Our Stars - John Green

"My thoughts are stars I can't fathom into constellations"

It's been a while since I've found a book that I devoured in a matter of hours purely for the pleasure of reading. I could not put The Fault in Our Stars down, and would recommend it to anybody looking for a novel that is raw, insightful, funny and memorable. (Warning: Tears may ensue)

The Fault in Our Stars reminds me of Picoult's My Sister's Keeper - Isaac, Hazel Grace, and Augustus (Gus) Waters meet at cancer support group. Each one of them suffer from cancer in a different way, but the novel isn't a sob story about dying of cancer, rather, its a story of love and friendship - of teenagers who refuse to be defined by their disease. From playing Gus's video games, to venturing to Amsterdam (under adult supervision) to meet Hazel's favourite author, the two share an undeniable bond that creates mesmerising reading . Through the simple, unembellished yet profound prose, through the quick, witty, smart dialogue, and through the hard-hitting honesty with which the characters express themselves, this novel captures the very best of living.

In 300 poignant, romantic, heart-breaking pages, what Hazel and Augustus give each other is something beyond their human lives - an infinity.

People sometimes criticise novels of such themes as being perverse - where fictional stories fall into the trap of romanticising serious, tragic issues. In my mind, The Fault in Our Stars certainly deserves the top spot it's held in various bestseller charts since its publication in 2012. If anything, Green writes with respect. The prose self-consciously questions the very notion of why having cancerous cells should make one any different. He even draws attention to the fictional nature of the work in his author's note. And what is he to do, as a writer, other than tell you a story and make you feel something for it?

Monday, 24 March 2014

Making it Big - Lyndsay Russell

I may be a bit late to the party when it comes to this novel, which was published in 2011 by Oldcastle Books. A huge holiday success, the rights for a Hollywood film production of Lyndsay Russell's Making It Big have already been sold - its popularity unsurprising considering its plot and style:

Making it Big is a wonderful, funny, smart satire of the very topical social issue of body consciousness; haunted by the notion of "size zero", young girls and grown women alike are comparing themselves to the unreasonable body expectations perpetuated by the fashion, modelling and media industries.

In Making It Big, Russell gives her 21 year old, size 16, body-conscious protagonist, Sharon, the chance to 'change her life' with Dr Marvel's magic pill. Without wanting to give too much of the plot away, this pill literally turns Sharon's world upside down/inside out/back to front. In an ulterior universe, Russell wittily captures the falsity of mass-media celebrity culture where worth is determined by looks rather than personality - an outward trend that has been internalised into body-anxiety and self-loathing by Sharon.

Hilarious, frivolous and girly, Making it Big asks serious questions in a light-hearted way about the retouched, elongated, image-obsessed world we're living in. Three years post-publication, it feels like it could've been written yesterday!

Friday, 21 March 2014

A Day at the Office - Matt Dunn

When someone offers you the combination of a bar of smooth, luxurious chocolate, and a new e-book, just how can you say no?

Galaxy chocolate are offering exactly that - a marketing strategy that is right up my street.

So, as I indulged in my Galaxy Smooth and downloaded A Day at the Office by Matt Dunn, I really was in heaven (I'll leave you to guess which one took me longer to get through!)

It's been a while since I've been able to read some really cheeky commercial fiction. A Day at the Office, telling the tale of the love lives of colleagues in one office, on one day - Valentine's day - did not let me down. A typical romantic comedy, Dunn's novel was fun and witty, with just the right amount of predictability - a perfect bedtime read, especially after the intensity of Wave!

Dunn taps into the all-too-common Valentine's Day hysteria which, for the happily in love, means all things sweet and sexy, whereas for the single, means a huge slap-in-the-face reminder of being just that. Office flirtations, gifts and secret romances create a muddled web of anxious feelings, as you as a reader find yourself hoping for the characters to succeed in their various V-Day quests.

To find out more, I suppose you'll have to read it!

P.S The ease with which Amazon were able to catch my attention and offer me something to read instantly shows why they are posing such a huge threat to traditional booksellers and publishers - watch out for a post soon with my thoughts on this!

Wave - Sonali Deraniyagala

As a student of literature, I've been trained to analyse and critique everything I come across - an occupational hazard that can be difficult to turn off. So when I came to read Wave, a memoir by Sonali Deraniyagala about the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, I was thrown from the outset.

Knowing from the blurb that this memoir was written by a woman who lost all of her family when the wave hit the coast of Sri Lanka, and having been told in my previous seminar that I would be "crying by page 17", I opened the book cautiously, actively making an attempt to do away with the analytic tendencies I've become so accustomed to.

The intensity of the memoir begins from the outset, as the wave surges over the land, a moment which is brutal in its telling. Yet the rawest, most poignant passages in the memoir are in the chapters that follow, spanning numerous years, as Deraniyagala describes haunting memories of her boys playing in the playroom in their London flat, or her husband's cooking, or visits to her family home in Colombo...memories of what was once her ordinary life.

Wave was certainly one of the most powerful books I've ever read - for the very reason that when I got carried away with what was actually incredibly beautifully written prose, I had to stop myself to realise that this a real-life account, this isn't someone's imagination anymore. The narrative is unfathomable, and where fiction would offer some distance, this memoir does not.

Last Tuesday, I sat in a class where we discussed the portrayal of ghosts, post-apocalypse and survival in Wave. It's what we're there for, and we have our reasons, but a certain respect for the situation meant no one was really prepared to talk about language or syntax or imagery. How can you, when the author lays bare her grief in such a raw, uncloaked way?

As she writes, Deraniyagala seems to comprehend, if not necessarily come to terms with, what has happened to her family, as she moves through stages of grief - her anger and sorrow palpable. Indeed, this narrative seems like it was one that needed to be written, more than it needed to be read.