Monday, 28 August 2017

Book reviews by Amy

I know, I know, I promised more house updates but you know when you’re just itching to talk about something? Well, as is often the case with me, it’s a book. Specifically it’s The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North. 

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Now I was already a fan of hers after Harry August so I was expecting to like this, but what I wasn’t expecting, alongside a gripping story with an unusual twist, was a powerful subplot that really hit home.

Most of the reviews of this book focus on the premise of Hope herself – she is forgettable, people can’t remember seeing her. Initially this causes her loneliness, homelessness and poverty, when no one remembers her no one can help her, something that hits home akin to the plights of many people, particularly refugees. As she ages we learn that she has used her forgetability (I know that’s not a word but I’m keeping it) to her advantage, scamming casinos and stealing jewels. It is in this way that we meet her, she’s planning an elaborate theft, but in so doing encounters a woman called Reina she grows to like, who is funny and clever, and who notices her, even though she too forgets her. Then Reina commits suicide, seemingly driven by a new app called Perfection. 

Perfection is an all too plausible reality. It’s a lifestyle app where users score points for striving towards being ‘perfect’. It sends push messages reminding them ‘Careful what you buy today – that last shop took you over your recommended saturated fat levels for the day! Do you know that saturated fat is a leading cause of cardiac problems?‘, it suggests diet tips and exercise regimes, it rewards users who follow their instructions with vouchers to spend at specially selected retailers. It’s like a facebook/Instagram/fitbit hybrid monster. Those who score the highest get invited to exclusive events and get more benefits. To access higher levels you have to give the app access to your bank account, your messages, your life. As you progress higher and higher the suggestions and benefits the app selects include careers, surgery and even life partners. Users extoll it’s benefits, ‘it’s changed my life’ they cry. Before they were ordinary. Now they’re ‘perfect’, just look at their score!

This book has genuinely made me edit my Instagram follow list! I’m as guilty as anyone at monitoring my likes, caring what people think. I’m blogging about my house for goodness sake, my wedding was featured on one of the big blogs, I curate my feeds to give across certain messages to the world (I’m busy, I’m funny, I like a drink, by the way have you seen my house?). I think ‘wellness’ is a total pile of steaming-eating-disorder-dressed-up-as-body-positivity-crap but who can’t help but be influenced by the constant relentlessness of the messaging that we can all be perfect if only we try harder, train longer, cut out ‘bad’ food, buy this dress, visit that place. It’s funny how loudly we all decried the ‘get beach body ready’ advert on the tube as offensive, whilst we slavishly followed hundreds of perfect size 6, rich, blonde, ‘grammers eating their kale chips, drinking their protein shakes and frolicking on their exotic holidays #ad #blessed.

Eventually you, and Hope, realise that it’s all gone a bit Stepford.

I’m not going to give away any more, but if you like engaging writing, a thrilling plot, and a bit of a sci-fi edge, then get it bought/downloaded/reserved at your local library pronto!

On a similar magic/beauty/conformity theme was The Regulars by Georgia Clark

The premise is that three 'regular' girls are given a magic potion that makes them 'pretty' and opens up new doors - and what then ensues is the inevitable fall out/addiction/unravelling via a plot that explores careers, friendships, relationships, betrayal and second chances.

I really liked that the characters' flaws seemed real. There was an honesty to the writing and I felt that she wrote a lot from experience and observation (not the magic though I'm assuming, and I really really hope not the scene with the award!!!). I also loved the way one of the characters bisexuality wasn't laboured or shoehorned, again it was just like 'duh'.

Whilst we’re on the subject of books I’m going to do something I don’t usually do and tell you a couple to steer well clear of!

Firstly, A Vintage Wedding by Katie Fford. I thought this would be a light, fluffy summer read for the commute. What I didn’t expect, once I got past the god awful dialogue, lazy characterisation and fact that 3 people with zero experience or knowledge can somehow find overnight success with their wedding business despite massively cocking up at both weddings they plan in the book, is to be really, really offended. But, alas, the author was playing OCD bingo, throwing about lazy stereotype after lazy stereotype, framing it as a character flaw, and then having it suddenly disappear for apparently no reason other than she magically got over it. If you follow me on twitter you may have seen my rage about this at the time. As someone with OCD, that hates cleaning incidentally, I cannot repeat how harmful and damaging this kind of thoughtless writing is to understanding of the disease. The author had clearly done zero research and just thrown it in as a character quirk to be overcome.

Another supposedly light, fluffy read I downloaded because it was on offer for 99p on kindle was The Chocolate Lovers Wedding by Carole Matthews. This one I couldn’t even finish because after a few chapters the way the author wrote was irritating me SO MUCH that I had to stop. It was utterly unreadable. Apparently it’s a sequel, so clearly there are enough people out there that disagree with me, but oh my goodness it was bad.

This isn’t an attack on chick lit or women authors at all. I LOVE good chick lit (JoJo Moyes, Jenny Colgan, Marian Keyes, Erica James to name a few) and 99% of the books I read are by women (the only male writers I really like are the Davids Nicholls and Mitchell), it’s just that these 2 were simply terrible!

As an antidote I can HIGHLY recommend Hot Mess by Lucy Vine. It was brilliant – funny, engagingly written, and felt very current. And it had one of the best chick lit endings in ages.

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I'm currently reading The Cows by Dawn O'Porter - it's the first of hers I've read as I never loved her writing style as a columnist even though I do like her as a personality. The Cows is about women and their choices, particularly with regards relationships and family, and the judgements they face from society. I'm only 100 pages in as I only started it this morning but I am enjoying it so far. There's a good mix of characters and the pace is spot on. I'm a bit nervous about where one of the storylines is going though so I'll report back on that in the comments when I'm done.

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Oh and finally, a shout out to Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (who I ridiculously only discovered recently but then read as much as I could of hers). That book took a little piece of my heart and will stay with me for a long time. Technically it's a teen read, but since when has that stopped any of us? I defy anyone to read this without sobbing.

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amy said...

Update on The Cows. Well that did not go the way I was expecting! I really enjoyed it all right up until the end which I was disappointed by. Interested to hear views from anyone else who has read it.

Anita said...

I do love a book post! The Claire North one sounds really interesting- I must admit I didn't love Harry August (was OK, but didn't grab me) but I am definitely going to give this a try! I'm very excited about the new Marian Keyes which I think is coming out in a couple of weeks...

amy said...

Ooh Anita I didn't know that. Going to check library to reserve!

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