Friday 20 February 2015

Chinese Cinderella: Adeline Yen Mah

Chinese Cinderella is an autobiographical telling of Adeline's childhood. As the fifth child of seven but the last of her mothers children she was born to a family who don't want her. She was never able to know her mother due to her untimely death following Adeline's birth. She was hated by her brothers and sisters who look upon her as the reason their mother died. Her father remarried and had two further children who became prized members of the family, pushing Adeline further down the ladder. All Adeline had was her Aunt Baba, her grandparents and her mind. A bright and thoughtful child, she found solace at school and in her home work. This was a tale of an unwanted child and her strength to overcome the obstacles put before her by a family who resented her. 

This is a beautifully written story aimed at children but read by adults alike. Heartbreaking and full of pain and anguish it tugs on the heart strings throughout. I read this for the first time as a child, I took it as a story, almost as the title suggests- a fairy tale. As an adult I found the read much more difficult, the book is autobiographical and the events were at points distressing to read. I have read in some reviews that readers found it to be whiny and self indulgent but I disagree. The allegations of child abuse, both emotional and physical, may have been the focus of the book but I wouldn't say the author was whining about them. I found the book to be an outlet for her to release the torment of her childhood. 

Some readers may struggle to sympathise with Adeline as at parts it is hard to look past the privilidged life she lived, a nice house, a good school, food on the table. But without a doubt she was abused, hated by her stepmother and the rest of her family for a variety of reasons. Look past her good education and see a little girl who wanted nothing more than to be loved but was denied it. 

There was something very precious and vulnerable about Adeline's relationship with her Aunt Baba. For me the best part of the book was Adeline's loyalty to her aunt and her aunts undeniable pride and love for her niece. 

I implore you to read it, it is without question one of my all time favourite reads and I almost want to pick it up and start all over again. 


Sunday 15 February 2015

Attachments: Rainbow Rowell

I found myself picking this up after reading Eleanor & Park. It was my second journey into the Rainbow Rowell world and I had high expectations. 

The book follows 20 something Lincoln who is perpetually incapable of growing up. He has never quite got out of education and nor has he got over childhood sweetheart. Back home, living with his mother, he has taken up a job as part of a security team, working nights for a newspaper. In a pre 2000 world where the internet is still a novelty, he is set to guard the ever abused, e-mail system. It is through this that he learns of Beth and Jennifer, two women whose e-mails are constantly flagged thanks to their weakness for procrastination and off topic conversation. Lincoln finds himself scanning their e-mails more often than he should and he all too quickly becomes a secret third party to their conversations.  But it is more than that, feelings develop and he soon begins to wonder if a relationship could ever be possible. 

To start with I found this to be a very give or take book. I dipped in and out of it whenever the fancy took me but I didn't feel an overwhelming need to read it as quickly as possible. About one third of the way through however, that all changed, and I pretty much inhaled the rest of it. Overall it was easy to follow and a joy to read, it was littered with good wit and snippets of romance. The role of friendship and love was dealt with in an original and unique way and it was a refreshing take on a topic that one may consider to be overdone in the literary world.

The book alternated between e-mail exchanges between Beth and Jennifer and Lincoln's own storyline. I liked the different approaches to telling a story, the half formed images that an e-mail gives, leaving a lot unsaid and open to interpretation. I liked how the reader saw Beth and Jennifer just as Lincoln did and such I was able to form my own opinions of them, untainted by his own. The characters had a god sense of humour and were likeable but also incredibly normal. 

I liked that despite this being a chick lit of sorts, the main character was in fact a man. The genre is one typically dominated by women fawning over men, it was nice to see the tables turned and it worked incredibly well. The loneliness and lack of direction that Lincoln feels is something that most people can relate to in some form. The characters of Beth and Jennifer were equally relatable and each of the three characters represented different aspects of the perils of adult life and responsibility. 

This book is cute and witty, there is a good splash of friendship and romance without it being gushy or overly sweet. It is an easy read and one that I really enjoyed. Would I recommend it? Of course I would! 

Let me know if you have read it or any other Rainbow Rowell books!


Sunday 8 February 2015

Judge a book by its cover

"Don't judge a book by its cover"

I couldn't even begin to tell you how many times I have been told that, but I actually think that in relation to physical books, it is an outdated concept. Of course, a book doesnt have to be beautifully designed with a catchy title for it to be good, and equally an amazing title and beautiful artwork doesn't ensure greatness. But I can't deny that the appearance of a book is playing more of a role than I care to admit.

Books are everywhere, book shops, charity shops, online. There are thousands upon thousands at our disposal and my own collection is a minuscule dent into what is a seemingly never-ending supply. Sometimes I walk into a book shop and I am so overwhelmed with what I see that I really don't know where to start. So, ashamedly, I start with the front cover. Yes, I judge a book by its cover. But unless a book has been recommended to me or has been surrounded by hype, it is hard to decide which book out of the mass of unknown, is worth my money.

A catchy title is important, it should be relatively short and snappy, so that it rolls off the tongue and is memorable. The cover doesn't necessarily have to be bright or colourful but it needs to stand out. Then I always look to the blurb, a short passage which doesn't give too much away but gives a tiny insight into what the book offers, I dislike it when the back cover is just quotes from reviews, I like to know a little bit about what I'm letting myself in for. Equally I do like to see some quotations from good reviews, I know that they will be completely biased but I tend to look at the credibility of the publication they have been taken from.

Lemony Snicket: A Series of Unfortunate Events

What is so brilliant about the design of A Series of Unfortunate Events is that by giving the series itself an all encompassing name, Snicket was able to give each individual book a quirky and brilliant title whilst still keeping them under one umbrella name. Back when I was buying the books they were hard backs with a bound spine and lovely thick paper that was slightly jagged at the edges, it added character to the book and I also liked the uniformity of the series. Each cover has a beautifully drawn image that sums up the story line of the book and it is almost framed in the centre as a glimpse into the world you are about to enter. I really appreciated the time and thought that went into the creation of the physical book and there was something about it that meant I couldn't just stop at one, not only did I want to finish the story but I also wanted to complete my collection.

Susan Cain: Quiet

I don't really know how well known this book is, I don't see it get spoken about a lot and I suppose that is because if has quite a niche market. It discusses the value of introverts and the success they can achieve despite this preconceived view that they are akward and shy. The books brilliance comes from its simplicity. The title is sharp and short and brilliantly sums up the book in a matter of fact way. You almost can't help but whisper it. The cover is all white and has a shine to it, with the title raised slightly from the page. From a distance it seems to be nothing more than a blank page which is actually quite successful in drawing you in. It is a front cover that matches the words within and it is very effective


F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby

As far as I am concerned, The Great Gatsby has always had very successful covers, ranging from the simplicity of the Penguin covers to the iconic blue cover that I have always associated with the book. The title is brilliant and draws you in and because it is so well known the designers have pretty much had creative freedom in regard to the cover as the title speaks volumes. Yes I fell prey to the beauty that is what you see above. I am not ashamed.

Frances Hodgson Burnett: The Secret Garden

This cover really stood out to me, the drawings are lovely and the hard back is a cloth cover which makes it feel a bit more special. The pictures within are also beautiful and it all helps add to the magic of The Secret Garden

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

Right, so my problem here is the length of the title, I don't think that it is necessary and I can't imagine why there was the need for it to be so long. Maybe if the book had been amazing I could have forgiven it, but it wasn't and to this day it still bugs me that the title was allowed through the editing process. For me a shorter title is often more effective as it is easy to remember and simply rolls off the tongue so much better.

Here are another two books which I think have beautiful covers and I would be lying if I said that their covers didn't play a role in my decision to buy them.

Let me know in the comments how much the cover of a book effects your decision to buy it!


Wednesday 4 February 2015

Book Haul

January is over and I thought I would do a quick round up of the books I bought in the last month. I don't know when I will get round to reading them but they are piled high on my bedside table ready for any spare moment I have. 

The Miniaturist 
Jessie Burton

This has a beautiful cover and I managed to pick up the hardcover copy which had been rereleased when it was named Waterstones book of the year.

Do No Harm
Henry Marsh

From what I have heard, this is a book about what it is like to be a brain surgeon, it sounds really interesting and was a Sunday Times Bestseller so I can't wait to pick it up!

Rainbow Rowell

A couple of weeks ago I read Eleanor & Park which led me to ordering a couple of other Rainbow Rowell books. I loved Eleanor & Park so I have high expectations. 

Rainbow Rowell

This was another book I picked up in my post Eleanor & Park binge.

H is for Hawk
Helen Macdonald

This is not at all the sort of book I would usually pick up but I had seen a lot of people talking about it so I thought I would give it a go. 

A Meal in Winter
Hubert Mingarelli

This book is only 138 pages long, I tend to avoid short books because I hate it when a good book ends too soon, but upon reading the blurb, I couldn't stop myself from buying it.

Sunday 1 February 2015

Film Reviews: Olly Alexander

I can't deny it, this is pretty much an ode to Olly Alexander dressed up as a series of film reviews. But what can I say, I'm slightly obsessed.

God Save the Girl:

This film was found after too many hours spent sifting through Netflix. I knew nothing about it and yes I was a bit surprised when Eve, played by the beautiful Emily Browning, started singing. I now know that the film was based on the Belle and Sebastian songs from the God Save The Girl project. The songs were written with the intention of being used in a film and as such they very effectively tell a story.

I suppose I would describe the film as a coming of age musical set in Glasgow, focused on the character of Eve who is battling an eating disorder whilst trying to make music alongside her new found friends, James and Cassie. There is an earthiness to the film that keeps it very down to earth despite the impromptu singing and occasional dance routine. At times it was a bit sickly sweet, but you know what, in my eyes, that only added to the charm of it.

The acting was natural and didn't feel too scripted or forced. The three main characters; Eve, James and Cassie, each added something different to the story and complemented each other beautifully. There seemed to be genuine chemistry between them and I believed their friendship as well as the sparks of romance that appeared every now and then.

The soundtrack is flawless and in danger of being overplayed, a mistake I am going to carry on making until I am sick of it. Emily Browning, Olly Alexander and Hannah Murray all have very different voices but I liked the variety they offered.

I feel as though this is the sort of film that you will either love or hate, but if you love it, you really will LOVE it. 

The Dish and the Spoon:

I'm not going to lie, Olly Alexander may have been the only reason I decided to watch this film but he was one of a number of reasons I enjoyed it. It's a boy meets girl sort of story but with a twist, it is quirky and dirty and there are snippets of friendship and bittersweet love muddled in with misery and anger. It follows Rose who is caught up in rage following the infidelity of her husband, she is out on a mission to find the mistress and in the process stumbles across a teen boy from the UK. This boy who isn't given a name is caught up in Rose's mission and together they embark on an adventure fuelled by revenge.

It took me half an hour to realise that the boy hadn't been given a name. He was elusive, mysterious, and a man of few words. He gave a number of stories from his childhood, were any of them true? We will never know. I liked how as a character he remained an unknown, but despite this he really added to the film, his quiet and quirky personality contrasting with the blind rage of Rose. 

Pain, rejection, anger, mood swings, emotions all dealt with brilliantly by Rose, the emotion was raw and real and the film benefited greatly from the acting of both Greta Gerwig and Olly Alexander. For the majority of the film it was carried alone by these two characters and I never felt as though more were required. I enjoyed the simplicity of it, the plot lacked complexity but rather focused on portraying emotion.

I went into this film blind, I had no expectations or preconceived thoughts. I have since found out that there are very mixed reviews on it, some raving, others, not so much. But you know what, I loved it. Some argue that it has a somewhat lacking storyline but as far as I am concerned it is carried by two amazing characters played by two amazing people so I can forgive any of its minor faults.

The Riot Club:

I have already written a review of The Riot Club which can be found here.

I have a love hate relationship with this film, I hate the premise of it, an elite dining club reminiscent of the Bullingdon club. But the acting is brilliant and each and everyone of the actors and actresses do a brilliant job of portraying the lurid and distasteful side of wealth and status.

Years & Years:

So, there you have my three favourite films featuring Olly Alexander. But his talents don't end there, he is also the lead singer for the band Years & Years which I am all too quickly becoming obsessed with. As I write this, Take Shelter if my favourite of their songs but they also did a brilliant cover of Haim's Don't Save Me which you should all go an listen to! Now!

Please let me know if you have seen any of these films!