Friday 19 December 2014

If I Knew You Were Going To Be This Beautiful I Never Would Have Let You Go*: Judy Chicurel

Title: If I Knew You Were Going To Be This Beautiful I Never Would Have Let You Go
Author: Judy Chicurel
Publisher: Headline/Tinder Press
Release date: October 30th 2014
Order here: Waterstones Amazon

This book follows the ins and outs of 1970s Long Island as told through the eyes of Katie, an 18 year old girl who is witnessing teen pregnancy, drug abuse, racism amongst other things. She tells of an everyday life in a working class seaside town.

Right, so lets start with the glaringly obvious issue first, the title. I am all for a long title, don't get me wrong, I don't want anything to do with this one word business, but there is long, and then there is this. A title has to roll off the tongue, it has to be memorable, you have to be able to pass it along in recommendation. This does not tick off any of that criteria and whats more, I am reluctant to type it again in this post because it breaks up a sentence so clumsily. Many a time I stumbled over my words as I tried to tell friends what I was currently reading: 'wait was it "if I had known" "if I knew you were going to be..." gahhhh' (you catch my drift). But, regardless, I do actually like the meaning behind the title, I think it would have been brilliant as a little sub title, a follow up to a catchier, shorter title, or even as a part of the blurb. But, alas, it wasn't to be. How it got through the publishers, I do not know.

But anyway, I went in with an open mind, 'don't judge a book by its cover' and all that. I had high hopes, the blurb created a brilliant picture of 1970s America, war veterans, drug abuse, teenage pregnancy amongst other things. It painted an exciting, dirty image of Long Island which would be told through the eyes of teenager Katie, as the world around her changes, as she falls in love, as she dreams of a life unlike the one all of her friends are falling into. It was all very promising. But, sadly, I found it to be somewhat lacking. There was a lot of description and not a lot of action. A lot of time was spent describing people and places, which is fine, in fact I often find that many books are lacking in quality description. But, in this book, the description was so excessive that I would forget where the story was heading. When the plot did move it was so slow and without purpose that I couldn't quite figure out where it was heading or if in fact it was heading anywhere. It was beautifully written but for the life of me I couldn't stay interested. A tragic case of style over content. You can be a good writer but not a good storyteller.

It deals with homophobia, sexism, racism, drugs, teen pregnancy, being a war veteran. All very important issues and I do feel that they were dealt with beautifully in a raw and realistic fashion. But they were almost told in mini stories, in little tangents from the main story line. This only added to my confusion as to where the story was heading. Too many issues were dealt with and really the author should have focused on one or two aspects and told them in a beautiful cohesive story. What the author was able to do was create an amazing image of 1970s America, but a story isn't simply about painting a beautiful picture, it has to give more than that. The blurb I read before picking it up suggested that there was going to be some sort of focus on this elusive boy that Katie was in love with, sadly this wasn't the case and he only appeared sporadically, with most of his story being told in the last couple of chapters.

I felt very distant from the characters and I felt as though they were merely a medium to deal with other issues. I didn't feel as though they were really present in the story which is sad because the glimpses I did get of some really quality character development was brilliant and I just wish that the author had paid more attention to making a few characters a bit more three dimensional, rather than bombarding the reader with an endless supply of minor characters.

It reminded me of one of my GCSE english language exams where we were told to describe a view from a window, the descriptions were over drawn, excessive and a teeny bit pretentious. It may win all the awards for fancy writing and good use of vocabulary, but as far as I was concerned, it wasn't a story my brain was willing to stay connected with.

There was a brief mention of Katie 'reading a book about growing up in the 1950s when life was simpler with happier endings' I liked this touch, the author putting the main protagonist in our position, reading a book about a not so distant past, but it being distant enough to be rose tinted. For me it was almost inceptionesque, and although simple, it made a powerful point about how the bad gets forgotten and people look to the past with a fondness. There were a couple of other lines in the book that really stood out to me: 'I was tired to renting other peoples dreams' and 'I never liked the look of a retreating back'. In reality they are portraying very simple actions or feelings but the author has said them in a more interesting and obscure manner.

The problem with reviewing this book lies in the fact that I thought the writing of it was absolutely beautiful, in fact I wish I could write like that. The issue however still lies, that the story to me was just not strong enough, you cannot imagine the times I had to reread pages just to make sure I understood it. Sadly I won't be passing it on, nor will I be rereading. But I can see huge amounts of potential, and I will be definitely looking out for any future novels in the hope I can be proved wrong!
Please let me know what you thought of this book in the comments!

*I was given the opportunity to read and honestly review this by Negalley and all opinions are my own.


Thursday 11 December 2014

It's Not Me, It's You*: Mhairi McFarlane

Title: It's Not Me, It's You
Author: Mhairi McFarlane
Publisher: HarperCollins UK
Release date: November 6th 2014
Order here: Waterstones Amazon

Having never read any of Mhairi's books, I was drawn to request it on Netgalley simply because of the name and cover art. I thought the cover was a step above your average rom com cover, I liked the pop of colour and the simplicity of it. So, the name...maybe not the most inventive name, but coincidentally the same title of the book written by Jon Richardson, my all time favourite comedian, so it's fair to say that it called out to me, I couldn't resist. Also, Mhairi and I seem to have one thing in common and that is an impossibly spelt Scottish name. I was blessed with the name Eilidh (Ay-lee) and have since spent my life correcting peoples pronunciation, and if thats not reason enough to read a book, then what is? Regardless of the reasons I decided to read it, I can tell you now, that I am glad I did because I loved it!

Delia is 30 something, living a comfortable life with boyfriend Paul and dog Parsnip, whilst spending her days working for the council. It's not exactly full of passion or adventure, but it's comfortable, and Delia is ready to settle down. But as she takes it upon herself to propose to boyfriend, Paul, a secret comes to the surface. It seems that Paul hasn't remained entirely faithful to her and Delia has to decide whether to forgive him or leave. Delia runs off to London, moving in with best friend Emma, taking up a job with the sleazy Kurt Spicer and she begins to create a new but somewhat temporary life for herself. The book follows Delia as she finds her feet in London. We see her friendship with internet troll and computer whizz 'Peshawari Naan' grow and witness her come to blows with enigmatic journalist Adam West. But, will she come to forgive Paul or will she find something in London that is worth letting go of such a large chunk of her past.

It's Not Me, It's You has a plot reminiscent of many chick lit or rom com's; girl is content with life, boy cheats on girl, girl runs off to london, boy tries to win girl back, girl falls in love. In the basic plot there is nothing that seems to stand out. Yet as I finished the last page, I found that the story had stuck with me in a way that many chick lits fail to. Where Mhairi's strengths lie are in her creation of characters, Delia is funny, strong, creative and exactly the type of girl you can imagine having a good chat with. Her characters were so normal and relatable as well as being quirky and witty and because of that brilliant combination, they were perfect. Delia was most definitely my kind of character, she had a dress sense I could relate to, none of this thigh skimming silk dress nonsense, she is a female character written for women. In fact, I can imagine her now, dressed in a colourful, patterned tea dress, with a beautiful pair of heels, razor sharp winged eyeliner and a mass of fire red hair. The description was vivid and tasteful, making Delia the sort of girl you come easily bump into in the street, the sort of girl you want to be friends with.

I felt that there were some brilliant relationships in the story. I really enjoyed the relationship between Delia and her brother Ralph, who spent his days working in the local chip shop or gaming. There was a lovely understanding between the two of them, Delia was sensitive to his needs and equally Ralph was incredibly supportive of her creative ventures. Another relationship I particularly enjoyed was that of Delia and 'Peshwari Naan', it was somewhat refreshing to have a platonic relationship between a boy and girl which is sadly so rare in this genre of writing. And, of course, I can't not mention Adam West, I really enjoyed his development as a character and his relationship with Delia. Adam West, the handsome journalist who is snooping around for the dirt on Kirk Spicer, he has all the girls swooning, but not Delia, she is sure not going to fall her him. But as she starts to become aware of Spicer's dirty ways, she can't help but find herself siding with sworn enemy, Adam.

The book was littered with humour and it had me biting my cheeks so that I didn't burst into bouts of giggles on the bus as I read it. But, it wasn't forced humour, it was natural and authentic and I enjoyed it all the more for it. Occasionally I would come across a sentence that would catch of off guard, Mhairi evidently has a very strong and distinctive sense of humour that she has managed to channel through Delia so well. There was a reference to Tenacious D, which I found myself having to reread, having had my eyes opened to the world of Jack Black and his...interesting music by my brother, I was somewhat surprised to find it being mentioned in what I had assumed to be no more than a cushy rom com.

Now that I have come to the end of my first foray into the world of Mhairi McFarlane, I have only been left wanting more and I will most definitely be exploring her other offerings. So, if you have not already picked this book up, then I urge you to. It reads easily and you will devour it in no time at all!

*I was given the opportunity to read and honestly review this by Netgalley and all opinions are my own.


Thursday 4 December 2014

Richard vs Nick: Character Combat


I really enjoy writing book reviews and other such bookish posts but I thought that I would give something a bit different a go. The premise is really to just put up two of my favourite or not so favourite characters to fight it out for the top spot. This week I am looking at narrators...

Two of my all time favourite books are The Secret History and The Great Gatsby, narrated by Richard and Nick respectively. Recently I was giving it a think about why those two books struck a chord with me and although the story's are seemingly very different the narrators of the stories are alarmingly similar and there are also many themes that the books share. There are themes of obsession, belonging and excess among other things. One story is told with the help of 1920s New York, jazz music, flapper girls and lots and lots of *illegal* alcohol. The other is set in Vermont but looks back to Ancient Greece and its mythology for inspiration. They couldn't be any more different in their premise, but they are surprisingly similar.

First of all we have Richard, a newbie to a college, desperate to fit in with an 'elite' group who hold a mystery, he is infatuated by them and desperate to be allowed into their aloof, faraway world. On the other hand we have Nick who arrives in West Egg to be faced with the mysterious "Gatsby", he becomes obsessed, desperate to be accepted into this new and exciting world. What both stories hold is a secret, or in some cases, a not so secret secret. 

First person narrative! Oh how I love a bit of first person narrative. In these two books it creates a sense of belonging, as though you too are a part of the story. The narrators allow you to see the story in a very personal manner, through their own eyes. Although first person narratives can be amazing, it gives a very personal insight on events, it is also extremely limiting. As the reader we can only ever know as much as our narrator does and our views are hugely altered by the views of the narrator. Nick and Richard are both guilty of this, narrative gaps are common in both The Great Gatsby and The Secret History. The most interesting part is that as a reader I found myself justifying the somewhat lack of facts and I somehow found myself agreeing with their choices regardless of how suspect they were.

When I finished The Secret History I found myself unaffected by the events that had taken place. Events that in reality I should have found horrific, but because I had seen them through Richards eyes, I was somewhat oblivious to the reality of the situation. It was actually the first book that really made me sit back and think how much of an effect the narrator had on my reading and understanding of the book. Nick on the other hand is a much more annoying narrator, whilst I somehow justified Richards narrative gaps, I found Nicks to be irritating. Whilst I found myself becoming engrossed in Richards world, I found myself yearning to see more of Gatsby's when Nick was the narrator.

So, who is my favourite? This is a bit of a Sophie's choice scenario, these two books are in a constant fight for the top spot on my list of all time favourite books and I struggle to choose between them. But if I was really pushed to make a decision, I would have to go with Richard. It was his ability to immerse me in a story to the extent that I stopped questioning what he said. Any moral views I had went right out of the window and I found myself nodding along as he revealed the story. Donna Tartt has a way with words that I think is hard to match and she certainly weaved her magic in The Secret History.  

'I was within and without. Simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life'
-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

'I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell'
-Donna Tartt, The Secret History

Let me know in the comments who is your all time favourite character!