The Caitlin That Got The Cream: How To Build a Girl Review

How to build a girl

A brief synopsis:

It’s 1990. Johanna Morrigan, fourteen, has shamed herself so badly on local TV that she decides that there’s no point in being Johanna anymore and reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde—fast-talking, hard-drinking gothic hero and full-time Lady Sex Adventurer. She will save her poverty-stricken Bohemian family by becoming a writer—like Jo in Little Women, or the Brontës—but without the dying-young bit.

Blah blah blah.

I found this review really hard to write, moaning to Hannah of Hannah Reads Stuff  on Twitter to the same effect. She asked me what my initial reaction was and I can say, truthfully, that when I started to think about my review, I hadn’t even finished the book.

I know, odd to start constructing a verdict when you’re part way through the text, but I’m weird like that. I like to think ahead about blog posts, if not other things in my life, alright?

So I answered honestly (my opinion there and then), in under 140 characters:

I liked it but Johanna annoys me. Bit try hard in the humour stakes and maybe the sex bits.

Which is how I felt.

See how I am alluding to the fact that I’m done reading in my response? (Sorry Han). When I wrote that, I was a couple of chapters from the end but assumed (correctly as it goes) that I would finish it slightly underwhelmed but overall happy to have read it.

And now I am finished, that’s it, more or less. However, I really feel as though the book took a turn that irritated me.

In fact, in the Acknowledgements page, Moran suggests that she struggled to finish the book and had to be talked down from a ledge more than once by a patient and caring (I would imagine) saint of a friend.

I think if I sat down and spoke to her about this, I would be able to correctly pinpoint the moment the tone (and quality) changed, because she was floundering. You know, because I’m the expert at writing and all.

Anyway, I can’t go into the bits that peeved me for fear of ruining it for other readers (and boy, a lot of my friends are all over this book, or about to be).

I can say that fourteen year old Johanna is likeable for a moment but gets old quick. By the time she is a fully fledged ‘Swashfuckler’, I just wanted to scream “Shut up shut up shut up” at the page.

Johanna, or ‘Dolly Wilde’ is too much of a cliché (then weren’t we all back then?) and a bit of a dick. She realises this herself eventually (ooh spoiler) but the lesson she learns as the ending comes into view feels a little tacked on. She’s so pretentious (and I like a bit of that sometimes) that I simply don’t care if she makes it or not. (And of course she does!)

Basically: whatevs.

On a more positive note, I liked her older brother, Krissi (though his dialogue is overwrought with pretension), liked the family and I liked John Kite. I also approve of the sex talk to a point because sex talk is my favourite. It is good to read a book that doesn’t mind talking about masturbation and f**king, had I read this book as a teen I may have been a lot more sexual with myself (and others? Probably not).

But again, as Dolly gains more experience it becomes, somehow, more boring. We get it, you’re shagging. Nice one. Stop saying ‘c*nt’ just to shock me, it doesn’t, it’s just jarring now.

Am I glad I read it? Yes. Does it hold up against How To Be a Woman? Nope, but then can you compare a book of essays on Feminism to a novel about an annoying teenager? This is fiction right?

There lies my issue. I think I fell out of love with Caitlin Moran a while back. She trumpeted into my life like a goddess and made me fist pump with glee when I read HTBAW. Then she got annoying, came off as showoffy and a little bit smug and my problem with Johanna is that I can’t think of her as not Moran.

She is obviously writing about what she knows and I would be doing exactly the same thing if I were to write a novel, I’m sure but my inability to disassociate has obviously tainted my overall experience. I think that says more about the author than me though.

I’m glad I’ve read it and I will probably read more Caitlin Moran, but I might stick to the essays and avoid spending too much time in her company. She’s like the friend we all have who is fun because she’s loud and funny (sometimes) but gets on your wick after ten minutes.

Book details:

  • How To Build a Girl
  • Publisher: Ebury Press (Fiction) (3 July 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0091949009
  • ISBN-13: 978-0091949006
  • Bought hardback (new)

LA by Night: The Informers Review

Bret Easton Eliis book covers

I have read lots of Bret Easton Ellis and enjoyed him. I know what to expect from his detached writing style, his nihilistic characters, his familiar yet alien settings. The Informers is not surprising in any way. The sex and violence are just the little flourishing kiss marks you would expect Ellis to sign off with.

There were elements though of this book that made me feel very tired. The complete lack of hope for one, coursing through most of the stories. The tale of jaded rock star, Bryan Metro particularly. You’ll be horrified by his actions, though not surprised and that’s how the book tends to make you feel. Like you should feel more, that your reactions to the horror unfolding before your eyes should be stronger. But they’re not.theinformers

Set in the eighties, if you were a child growing up in this era like I was, you will love all the references to times gone by. You’ll look upon the lost (and found again) fashions with fondness. You won’t like anybody. You’ll be ready for rehab by the second story and like me, you’ll flip each page and be surprised your fingers don’t come away coated in coke.

It’s a bloody good read but it isn’t for the fainthearted. There’s a story in there about an unspeakably bad act committed to a child which almost halted proceedings for me. Then I remembered that scene in American Psycho and it doesn’t even compare (rats, prostitutes, standard).

The next book I’m going to read is about love. Suffering and sacrifice, sure – but no drugs.

Incidentally, Lunar Park has been my favourite BEE so far. Check it out if you’re after something that will mess with your mind and leave you in pieces behind the sofa!

Book details:

  • The Informers
  • Publisher: Picador (1994)
  • ASIN: B00KQJ7B66
  • Bought paperback (secondhand)

Going Underground: Neverwhere Review

91Zw9iS4sRL._SL1500_A quick review of a book that most people and their dog have already read a long time ago. There’s a reason for me doing one and it’s more for Neil Gaiman himself than for the story.

I’ll explain. I’ve read a fair amount of Gaiman’s novels and, of course, Sandman in up there for me as one for the greatest pieces of literature ever committed to the page.

Apart from Sandman though, I’ve always been a bit meh about his stories. Or not the stories so much as the delivery. He’s a great writer and I love his characterisation but… I feel like I should love him more.

So he’s become a running joke in our household, with Mr Bee trying to force feed me more and more Gaiman until I submit to loving him as much as he does.

It took me a long time to pick this up. American Gods took me about seven years to wade through and ditto for the Ocean at the End of the Lane. Both were okay.

This. Well, this was… brilliant!

I won’t waffle on too much about the Adventures of Richard Mayhew and Friends. Chances are you already know, you may be a long-term cheerleader for Neil Himself, as many of my friends are.

If you don’t already know then I don’t want to ruin it for you. You should read it though.

The brief synopsis is this: something happens one evening while Richard Mayhew is on his way to dinner with his new fiance. This something changes both their lives forever.

Turns out there’s a whole other London below the one we know; London Below. Rat infested, dark and twisted, this London is home to all manner of creatures including the wholly unpleasant Mr Croup and Mr Vandemar. There’s Door the waifish ‘door opener’ and the Marquis de Carabas, a charming but roguish chancer who may or may not be untrustworthy.

Then there’s Hunter and Old Bailey, The Serpentine Sisters, the Velvets and Hammersmith; all of whom may just change the way you view the underground map forever.

So, to Neil I say, thank you for this. It was amazing. It reminded me of Sandman in some ways and made me fall in love with your imagination all over again.

To Mr Bee: you win. This was great.

Book details:

  • Neverwhere
  • Publisher: Headline Review (19 Sep 2005)
  • ISBN-10: 0755322800
  • ISBN-13: 978-0755322800
  • Paperback belonging to my husband

I’m as Fine as the Wine in Summertime

master-class-maya-angelou-2-600x411

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Phenomenal Woman ~ Maya Angelou

Today my Queen quietly passed on from this life, aged 86.

I fell in love with Maya when I was a teen and we were studying I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. I was not what you would call the academic type and I’m still not, but that term as I was falling under the influence of Ms Angelou and her beautiful words, I fell in love with the English language too.

It’s my longest love affair to date.

In addition to what she awakened in me, she was a great poet, an activist and a goddess of the highest order. I’m so glad she got the graceful ending she so deserved and I’m just terribly sorry there will be no more from such a gorgeous wordsmith. She leaves behind an army of women (and men, I’m sure) who have been inspired and moved by the things she did and that isn’t too shabby, is it?

If you’re not aware of her work then I urge you to go searching, you could never regret it.

I’ve included an excerpt from my favourite poem above. You can find the rest of it here. And honestly, what else is there to say about it other than “Yes!”. As far as I’m concerned, it is perfect.

*This blog title is a quote from Maya given in an interview in 2009 about why she was unwilling to retire. How wonderful?

Hirsutes You, Sir: Campari for Breakfast Review

campari-for-breakfast-poster-image

Photograph does not belong to me

I was lucky enough to be sent my copy of this fabulous book by my friend Hannah of Hannah Reads Stuff. (Thanks again, Han!)

I have been in a cycle of devouring thrillers and crime novels for the past four weeks and must admit that I wasn’t sure I wanted to leave it.

However, Campari was sitting by my bed with its gorgeously bold cover and Hannah had said it was good so I knew it would be worth pressing pause on the adventures of Kay Scarpetta for a while, to explore another, more lighthearted, story.

Campari for Breakfast is amazing. Much like Where’d You Go Bernadette, I feel as though the caliber of characters, humorous writing and plucky, likable heroine all lend it potential to become a modern classic. Sue Bowl is seventeen and never been kissed, though she thinks about what it will be like and who it will be with a lot.

Sue has recently lost her mother and cannot get over the fact that her father has moved on with horrible Ivana, who has a penchant for car slippers but does not even wear them in the correct context.

This in mind she flees to live with her Aunt Coral in her ancestral home, Green Place, a sprawling yet crumbling mansion in the country. Here she gets to know her eccentric Aunt and her fellow housemates very well and uncovers a family secret or two along the way. Throw in first love, first kisses and first heartache and you have all the ingredients of a really fantastic story.

As Hannah says in her review, it’s hard to leave Green Place once you have devoured the final page of this lovely book. The bevy of strange characters, including the ‘villians’ are so vivid and so joyful that you sometimes feel part of the group, sitting sandwiched somewhere between one of the Admirals and a Nana (you’ll see).

I don’t want to say too much, as always with my reviews, as my habit of giving too much away is a bad one but this wonderful book and Sue touched me deeply. Not only is Would Be Writer Sue getting to grips with love and caring for her frivolous Aunt and her surroundings at the same time, she is also mourning her mother. The What Ifs and the Whys echo round the West Wing of Green Place and then the East like tiny spectres.

All you want for Sue are the answers she so desperately needs.

I cried, I laughed and I genuinely wanted a lot more of Sue and her friends. I hope there’s a sequel but failing that I will just have to pick up everything that Sara Crowe writes from now on because this book is the nuts.

Book details:

  • Campari for Breakfast
  • Publisher: Doubleday (10 April 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0857522159
  • ISBN-13: 978-0857522153
  • Gifted hardback

Flavia Flav: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie Review

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

My, my, my. What a book. Flavia de Luce might be my new favourite literary heroine of all time.

The Alan Bradley books were recommended to me by my brother some months ago and it seems my entire family had already deeply ensconced themselves in Flavia’s World before even bothering to mention it to me. (The cads!)

I’m sort of glad though because its always nice to stand at the doorway of something wonderful and know that you have a lot to dig into. All those books are there for the taking! I will have to pace myself of course, it wouldn’t do to gorge myself too soon.

The Sweetness is just lovely, conjuring up gorgeous imagery with its language. Set in 1950, it tells the tale of tenacious 11-year-old Chemistry obsessive, Flavia Sabina de Luce, the youngest of three girls and daughter of gruff Colonel de Luce.

Flavia’s main interests are pottering about her inner sanctum (her beloved laboratory), paying special attention to poisons and their effect; and plotting revenge on her sometimes cruel (but always hilarious) older sisters.

I love the to and fro between sisters and in some ways I want more from the domestic set up than I do the mystery since their family history is so rich. Colonel de Luce is a cold fish with minimal input in the girls’ lives other than to teach them to fear ‘the instrument’ (telephone) and to stare them down at meal times.

The girls’ mother has passed on, gone missing during a mountaineering trip in Tibet ten years previously. Despite this she, Harriet, is everywhere and mentioned often, at least she permeates Flavia’s inner monologue.

But to the mystery. One afternoon, the de Luces’ cook finds a dead bird on the door step, it’s beak piercing a postage stamp. Colonel de Luce damn near loses his shiz and withdraws completely, leaving Flavia to ponder why.

She doesn’t have long to mull it over though as the next thing we know she has discovered a body in the garden and all Hell breaks loose. Who was the dying man, as he had been when she found him, and what was he doing in their garden?

Well, this is where I shuffle off and you find out for yourself. All I can say is that Flavia is a fiesty girl with an eye for detail and I’m pretty confident you’ll be falling for her as hard as I did.

One of the reasons I like her so much is because she’s so fiercely feminist. When one of the Police Officers called to the scene dares to suggest she pop off to the kitchen to make tea and leave them to their investigation, she is outraged. Damn right!

Can’t wait for the next in the series, The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag. Did I mention the epic titles? The stuff of book lover’s dreams!

Book details:

*Please note: Photo is not mine