Thursday, 19 July 2018

March Reviews

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Jean-Dominique Bauby
Editions Robert Laffont Mar 19917 Hardback
Borrowed from work

It is one of the joys of starting a new job, that is slowly gets around the office that I'm a reader. By my 6th month I had a stack of books on my desk donated from the rest of the office. One of which was this.
I consider this book to be one of those essential reading books it has been on my radar for many years and as communication becomes more and more interesting to me, I was thrilled to have it at my fingertips.
If you haven't heard of it, the story follows  Jean-Dominique Bauby who suffers from locked-in syndrome after a stroke. Unable to speak or move he communicates only with movements of one eye and moans.
I really enjoyed the book it was poignant and not at all the disheartening slog it could have been. The authors voice is so readable and as a modern classic, I would definitely suggest it.

Exit West
Mohsin Hamid
Hamish Hamilton Mar 2017 Hard back
Christmas Present

It is always a delight to get Christmas presents from friends. I opened this well before Christmas because I was ill and dived into the hardback copy.
I can definitely see why it was on the shortlist of the booker prize 2017. I enjoyed the eye opening look at how refugees debate the leave and setting up a whole new life with nothing. It's a very interesting look at life and humanity in crisis and how countries interact.
The writing was very 'novelly' it definitely felt like a Booker book. Perfectly suited for a gift to any reader, however it did not give me the wow factor and is the kind of book I might forget about. A good read but not personally impactful to me.

Thursday, 5 July 2018

My Journey with BSL

One of my most exciting projects in the last year or so has been starting to learn BSL (British Sign Language).

After realising that one of my favourite books has a signing character in it has made me think about when I started to be interested in the language and the culture. I was really surprised to find that I had been learning and reading about it for a long time.

The first time I remember actively learning about BSL was at University. I performed in a Student film as a deaf character. I had to learn a few signs for the role and found it really fun. In fact the whole crew and cast went to a mini BSL session together to get a feel for it.

From there I learnt the alphabet but very little else until I moved to London. One friend knew a lot of makaton from working with children, and many others were volunteers with St John Ambulance. Everyone knew a little bit of sign and used it in loud places or across a room, usually "where is so-and-so?", "Toilet". Both very useful phrases to learn early.

Next stage was going along to a free taster session where we learnt the alphabet, numbers, and a few bits of vocabulary for two hours. It was held with St John, which meant I learnt some interesting medical vocab like 1st aid, ambulance, doctor, hay fever and hurt.

From then I started to use signing more and tried to learn a few more bits and pieces from You tube videos. During a project for a friend's birthday I recorded a sign video. I had to meet up with a friend who knew sign language, who helped me construct a story and taught me the signs. I loved this experience. It was so clear that I loved signing that my sister bought me a basic level BSL course for my birthday!

Suddenly I was in it. Classes were fun and challenging and we raced through the basics in 10 weeks. During the course, I started going to deaf meet ups in pubs and coffee shops, I went to a BSL play, and even a BSL Carol Service for Christmas. I loved meeting people and feeling like I could understand at least some of the conversations and learning new words all the time was fantastic.

I then went on to study BSL Level 1. At the time of writing I am about to do my final exam so we will see how that goes and hopefully I will walk away with the qualification to put on my CV and to go on to Level 2.

I still don't know how BSL will come into my life beyond making some new friends. The dream is to make it part of my career, but I'd have to have a very high level of BSL. Unfortunately, the time and money that I'd need to get to that level is too overwhelming at the moment. Let me know if you have found any deaf characters in books, or books about sign language that aren't too dry?

Thursday, 14 June 2018

February Reviews

The Charmed Life of Alex Moore
Molly Flat
Pan macmillan May 2018 paperback
Uncorrected Proof from work

Unfortunately, I agree with the three reviews on Goodreads - 1 star. The story is complete fantasy but not handled in a way that would make the reader believe it. It's like Inside Out but externalised and for adults. I think the closest description of the genre is magical realism, but to be honest, that's a bit insulting to magical realism as well.
There are too many moments where the characters don't know what is happening and neither does the reader. Those unknown "What the fuck" pages are not really enough to keep the attention of the readers. The confusion is all explained and theorised out in the end, but it is disappointing. The writing is good and readable, it's the story that I'm against.
The romantic story line is seemingly unimportant, until the end when apparently it is the only burning goal of the character. It doesn't make sense. I was not a fan.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

January Reviews

The Travelling Cat Chronicles
Hiro Arikawa
Doubleday Nov 2017 Paperback

This book is exquisite and an absolute joy to read. Anyone who has ever seen a cat and its owner interact is likely to understand the inner monologue that Arikawa describes for our feline hero. There is something of 'The Cat that Walked By Himself' by Kipling in it. It is a very very catlike voice that we discover the story of his owner.
As well as the cat, as well as his owner and friend, this is also a road trip book. The travel across Japan is reflected in the slowly emerging plot. Its a really heart warming story and surprised me with its sophisticated ideas and the tale it follows.
I think its a really special book and is a great gift for the cat lovers in your life. Having read it just after Christmas I immediately gave it away to someone else. It's special enough you kind of need everyone to read it.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Book of the Year Award

As is tradition, every year in May I total up how many books I've read and more importantly how many I've read since the start of this blog page. It makes it a bit weird to count from May to May, but its a tiny piece of nostalgia that I like to do. 22 books since last May!

May - The English Patient, Dirty Great Love Story
June - The Monk, Butter
July - The Handmaids Tale, The Muse
August - Station 11, Chocolat, The Power, Tipping the Velvet
September - The Girl on the Train, Blackberry Wine, The Red Tent
October - Hag-seed, The Woman in Black and other stories
November - New Boy
December - Northanger Abbey, Persuasion

January - The Travelling Cat Chronicles
February - The Charmed Life of Alex Moore
March - The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
April - Lamentation

Book of the Year May 2017- April 2018 is The Power 

The Power
Naomi Alderman
Penguin 2017 Kindle
Amazon Gift Voucher

I read this for a feminist book club at work. But it was also recommended to me by several people. The idea is that one day women discover a power with in them, similar to the electricity of an electric eel. And what they do with that power is explored.
What I found brilliant about this book is that EVERY element of society is explored and with the idea that women hold power rather than men. There is an interesting exploration of sexual power being used for rape or between consenting partners.politics and newly forming nations, rioting and the media. It's incredible.
For anyone who thinks it's too scifi for them, it doesn't feel like science fiction at all. It's a tiny concept. Women have a physical power that they did not have before and everything changes. The world is the same and there it nothing else to suspend your imagination over.
It was an incredible way to get the reader thinking about the structure of society and the arguments that people have regarding the hierarchy of the genders.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

December Reviews

For someone who delayed picking up an actual Jane Austen novel until well after university, people have thought of me as liking that kind of thing. I grew up on VHS tapes of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. As there are only 6 precious novels to devour I am almost glad that I accidentally held off until now to slowly get through them.

I have been gifted many Jane Austen treats over the years. A themed colouring book, a little book of quotes, a quill and ink set, and others. However, last year for my birthday a friend happened to be in a second hand book shop and saw a double edition of Persuasion and Northanger Abbey, the two I am reviewing today. It was a small old fashioned edition that made me feel I ought to be wearing gloves to read it. Not because the book was delicate but because it makes me imagine reading it on a long carriage ride from London to Bath. *dreamy look*

Only negative to reading this gorgeous book was that I crossed two off the list at once. Only Mansfield Park left to go.

Northanger Abbey
Jane Austen
1818 Hardback

It is clear from the first that Catherine Morland is going to be tumbled about on the tide of society, by people who are much better at navigating than she is. Perfectly innocent ready to be outraged and confused by the society world of Bath. And that is exactly what happens. I wonder if Austen wanted us to collectively roll our eyes for Catherine.
The story follows her and her adventure as a companion to Bath where she meets her first men. I think it is key to remember that the heroine is 15 at the time! I enjoyed the story it's definitely a tumble and seems to work itself out in the end, but feels a little less sophisticated than her later books. It's almost too complicated.
Overall though, I did enjoy reading this lovely book but it is definitely an early work and not one of my favorites.

Jane Austen
1818 Hardback

As I creep closer to the spinsterish age of 27 I am relating pretty hard to Anne, also 27 in the story. Known to have missed her chance at love at 19 she is resigned to being the best person she can be for her family and friends. She is generous and caring and a stark contrast to her elder sisters and father who are frivolous and stuck up. When that love interest returns to her world it is almost too awkward to bare.
I loved persuasion more than I thought I would. I think I saw a movie adaptation of it and I found Anne so restrained and difficult to watch. However, in the reading of it, I got much more of an insight into her inner turmoil. The book also handles the past and its events better than the films do. For much of the movie I wasn't sure what the problem was.
Austen's last work is clearly well put together and heartfelt. This one is coming in a solid 3rd place behind Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, with Emma in 4th and Northanger Abbey in 5th.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

November Reviews

We are slowly getting there with the reviews. Luckily it was just a one book month for November 2017. Still a long way to go until I am caught up again!

New Boy
Tracy Chevalier
Hogarth Press May 2007 hardback

As I mentioned in my review for Hag-seed by Margaret Atwood, New Boy is the second book I've read in the Hogarth Shakespere project. New Boy is the retelling of Othello, which I read in January 2017. It was definitely useful having read the original before hand, which I had not done for the Tempest and I must admit at times, Hag-seed lost me on the allegory.
The story of the outsider is a familiar one and the petty playing out of rivalries and bullying tendencies work perfectly in a school setting for Tracy Chevalier. I loved each character and how despite their age they were easily able to take on the original characters. It just goes to show how early we all become who we are.
Chevalier is a fabulous writer and very easy to read, which makes her a great choice to re-write Shakespere, which some find difficult to follow. I look forward to reading a few more in the series, but will take pains to read the original first!