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)

Bridge Over Troubled Water: Mad About The Boy Review

Photograph does not belong to me

Photograph does not belong to me


Monday 11th August 2014
Weight: doesn’t matter. Have decided that worth is not tied to numbers on scale. Fat test is now whether or not I can tie own shoelaces. At the moment can, so v. good. Cigarettes smoked: nil. Haven’t smoked since 1994. Tell people I am allergic to Nicotine but it is because I don’t know how to inhale properly.

Monday. This is not good. Mental boss being particularly mental and clueless as usual. Only ray of light poking into my day is work (and IRL) friend B. Decide the only way to distract myself from shouting at someone is to eat my feelings and sent 37 bitchy emails entitled ‘WTF’. This helps.

18.15 pm Get home and remember I finished my book last night. Hence bags under eyes and less than regulation 8 hours sleep. Hence bad mood. Realise I have Bridget Jones 3: Mad About The Boy on the ‘to read’ pile so feel a bit happier. Hmm, but also have I Capture The Castle which is a classic and will make me look cleverer on the bus.

Realise never take bus and anyway, need a dose of Bridge as she is v. funny. Decide overusing Fielding‘s ‘v.good’ signature phrase makes me look lazy so vow to leave this alone for rest of review.

20.38 pm Must start book but have recently discovered Nurse Jackie on Netflix. Netflix was invented by the devil, wasn’t it?

21.41 pm Laugh out loud for solid minute at Gwyneth Goop pisstaking. Brilliant brilliant brilliant.

Tuesday 12 August 2014
Weight: look I told you, none of your beeswax. Punnets of cherries consumed: 2. Number of times strained eyebrow muscles by rolling eyes too vigorously over the desk divider at B: 12. Number of times considered flipping desk violently and telling Stupid Boss to stick her job: 3.

08.09 am Husband leaves while I am brushing my teeth. Says he will be at the Barbara when I get in having his beard groomed (barber). Makes Night of the Living Dead reference as front door slams. Married right guy.

09.00 am Get to work and talk about Robin Williams who has passed away. Facebook is awash with tribute posts about the man most of us grew up with. Feel sad. Vow to watch Patch Adams this weekend.

09.14 am Boss already cursing behind computer screen. I decide best course of action is to zone out and not give her attention. Think about Mad About The Boy and how touching it is. Imagine what my life would be like if I were in a similar sitch. Decide, like Bridge, not to dwell.

09.15 am Remember line about Gwynnie and chuckle to myself for another minute.

09.24 am Is it home time yet?

09.25 am Have eaten all morning snack supplies already. Will be hula hooping this evening for three hours at this rate.

10.46 am Irrationally angry. Rant over email to B for five minute. Feel better.

11.50 am Can someone pay me to blog inanely with no real focus from home in my pants please?

11.59 am Tweet stuff about Boss then get paranoid. Leaving trail of outrage across social media not very profesh. Decide don’t care. Think about Bridge’s foray into social networking and it cheers me up. Can’t wait to get back home and read my evening away. Vow not to turn on TV at all when get home from work.

20.06 pm Get annoyed with Mr Bee as he wants to watch a Zombie/Vampire hybrid tv show called Strain. Get annoyed about the name of show as it puts me in mind of something disgusting. Agree but tell Mr Bee must be in bed by 9.30 as Bridget is waiting for me.

21.22pm Get to bed with eight minutes to spare. Pre-empt seduction by mentioning tiredness and reading.

21.38pm Am crying. Hard. Mascara did not remove before bed falls into eyes. Bridget grieving is a very powerful thing. Ah, but have also caught up with Daniel Cleaver. Not all doom and gloom.

Wednesday 13th August 2014
Weight: pffffffffffffffffffffffffft. Number of bums shouting “Fuck!” repeatedly outside window at 4.30am this morning: 2. Number of times consider bucket of cold water out of window onto street below: 3 (twice for bums, once for flock of seagulls – not the eighties band).

10.25 am Let’s not talk about work again, shall we?

Continue reading

Bite Me: The Girl With All The Gifts Review

the-girl-with-all-the-gifts

Photograph is not mine

*** Chance of Spoilers! ***

This isn’t the kind of story I would ordinarily be attracted to but something about the introduction appealed and I am so glad that I picked it up.

Pun intended, I devoured this book hungrily.

I don’t want to give too much away, and although it’s not really a twist you won’t see coming, I think the less you know about the plot, the more impact it will have on you.

Described on the back cover as “Kazuo Ishiguro meets The Walking Dead” I knew I was in for a treat. I love a bit of dystopian future and although Science Fiction is a hard one for me to really embrace, the idea of it being clinical and dark, much like Never Let Me Go was what inspired me to part with my pennies.

Ordinarily, for the record, statements that compare new works to existing works (or trumpet something to be ‘the new something’) bug me big time. It seems lazy and although I understand the purpose of doing it, the rebel in me wants to decide for herself. In this case I would say this proclamation is pretty spot on.

I liked the fact that the central character is a young girl. Melanie is Test Subject #1, whose gift of hyper-intellect sets her apart from her young counterparts, or class mates as they really are. This may or may not turn out to be a good thing. She is a great heroine and a well crafted character even at the tender age of ten. Mark my words, she will break your heart.

Again, it’s hard for me to talk about the characters without giving the game away but you’ll meet Ed Parks, hard wired tough guy who is really only interested in leaving no man behind. There’s ruthless Caroline Caldwell, big hearted but secretive Helen Justineau and green behind the ears, Kieran Gallagher.

Photograph is not mine

Photograph is not mine

Central to the plot is a touching reflection on the maternal instinct but also redemption. Can you make up for something really really bad by saving a life? It’s an upsetting theme but I feel for all those involved, in fact I feel something for all the characters, who all have their own demons to deal with. Even mega bitch Caldwell, whose twisted mission to save an all but extinct race is awe-inspiring in itself.

As I was curled up reading this book, which at times is quite gory and also made me a bit jumpy, I kept thinking how much Mr Bee would like it. Then I Wiki’d its author, M.R. Carey who has written a lot of the comics that Mr Bee is into and it made perfect sense.

The language is so vivid that you feel as though you are part of proceedings and it feels like TGWATG would make a compelling movie as well as graphic novel. In some ways I hope it stays under the radar because I love it so much. But in a genre that has been very popular in recent years, particularly on the small screen and in Hollywood, it’s nice to get a different perspective, and although the book is written from multiple points of view, I feel like Carey nails feminine and childlike psyches quite well.

Read it. It’s a bit tense and a lot scary in places. If you’re not into The Walking Dead or 28 Days Later‘s themes, maybe you shouldn’t.

But this would be a good place to start.

Book details:

The Crying Game: By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept Review

Photo does not belong to me

Photo does not belong to me

I will not lie. I bought this book for its cover. Somebody mentioned it on Twitter and I went looking for it on Amazon where I fell in love with the cover for the very first time – well, what can I say? Sometimes I can be a very shallow girl.

I regret nothing.

From the get go this book is charged with longing. It feels almost voyeuristic to be party to such overwhelming emotion that doesn’t belong to you. Nevertheless, it’s gorgeous and honest; and it feels (a lot) like those days as a young ‘un when you wanted someone so badly but couldn’t do anything about it. I’ve been there, you’ve probably been there.

So it’s with that in mind that I plow through this breathtaking book. It’s not an easy read by any measure. The prose-poetry format is hard going and sometimes distracts you from the plot, which if you really think about it, is flimsy to say the least. All you really need to fathom though, from Smart’s beautiful words are the love she feels. And the despair, the regret; she feels it all (thank you Feist for this reference).

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Just look at it!

A bit about the history of this book. BGCSISDAW was first published in 1945 and is generally considered a literary classic. It details (but not much) Canadian author, Elizabeth Smart’s romance with the poet George Barker, whose small book of poetry she is alleged to have one day discovered on the shelf of a bookstore.

When I first started to think about this review I got to thinking a lot about the nature of the love story. Of the ‘Meet Cute’ and the exact circumstances/moment in which a person ‘just knows’.

This is an unusual and tumultuous love story that deserves it’s place on the page, but is it as extraordinary as it’s legend has you believe? Probably. How can one woman spout such unbelievable prose about something that doesn’t? I am awed by the writing.

My pondering also led me to this thought: how many great romantic tales are there out there that nobody will ever know about? There should be a law that if you have an incredible story you have to legally submit it for public record.

I digress, of course. The book begins when Smart flies both Barker and his wife to the USA from Japan to join her. Well, I didn’t say this was going to be easy.

I don’t want to say much more other than it’s worth a read. The writing will blow you away if you love language as much as I do  and I honestly think it’s an experience you should have as a book lover. In some ways, I wish all books were like this because it’s very pretty. I definitely wish all book covers looked like this.

You can currently score a copy on Amazon for around £2.81 (used)  if you don’t mind waiting for it to be shipped from the US.

Book details:

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

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

 

Cupcakes & Dreams: A Piece of Cake Review

tumblr_m1tpzwAFLa1qdbzgno1_400The thing about being in a #onewomanbookclub and reviewing the books you read, is knowing which ones to write about and which ones to let slip by.

I wasn’t sure if it was even worth reviewing this one, but then, when I mentioned I was reading it, lots of people proclaimed it was their favourite book or otherwise was “Amazing!”.

Which interests me, since I didn’t really enjoy it.

Based on the real life events in the life of Cupcake Brown, an eleven year old girl in San Diego, whose life takes a heartbreaking turn for the worse when she finds her beloved mother dead one morning.

A tale of a young child let down in spectacular ways by the system, beaten, sexually abused and ultimately left to fend for herself, it’s no surprise when she turns to drink and drugs to numb the pain.

I get that this is a tale of hope and that in the end Cupcake fights back, which is incredible; a story always worth reading. But, and I understand it’s a memoir written in the authentic voice of a young girl from the Ghetto, it’s terrible.

I can’t get on board this kind of prose at all. All the “then I said, he said this, then I said this and then, little did I know the tragedy to come” is not for me . The writing is horrific and the rambling makes dull, too.

That said, the fact that it’s completely unpolished made it more ‘real’ and says more about the strength of the story than the writing. I finished it because I wanted to know that how Cupcake came to save her own life.IMG_20140423_145125

I will say that for a while, I didn’t even like the main character. Beyond her very young years, Cupcake becomes a hard girl and it’s difficult to recognise the good heart within. This is justifiable of course, and had I experienced even a quarter of what she has in life, I’d be kind of a bitch too.

This all changes when she finally seeks help. The journey from waking up behind a dumpster to a life of total sobriety is not an easy one and she experiences many bumps along the way. But she gets there.

Although I just wasn’t that into Cupcake and her story, I did well up at the end and am glad I finished it. It’s a shame though because I wanted to love it more.

Sadly, I have read better, well-written books of a similar nature in the past and would probably recommend them over this. (I read a great one years ago and can’t for the life of me remember it’s name).

Book details:

  • A Piece of Cake: A Memoir
  • Publisher: Bantam (2 Oct 2006)
  • ISBN-10: 0553818171
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553818178
  • Bought paperback (secondhand)