June Book Reviews

Hello all! I have been reading a fair bit recently as I have really dived into the Library scene. The number of books available there is magical, and I can just search for any book I like and have it in my hands within days or even hours in some cases. As I have been reading a fair bit this month, I decided that this time I would review the four books that I read throughout June within one post. I hope you enjoy it! 

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Book Number 1: The Wolf of Wall Street by Jordan Belfort
Having seen the film back in February, I was keen to read Jordan Belfort’s autobiographical book ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ but delayed this simply because I wasn’t willing to endorse him any further than I had by seeing the film at the cinema. Belfort’s book is about his career as a stock broker filled with millions of dollars, loads of drugs, loads of sex and follows him leading a very immoral existence as he basically just boasts about his rich and extravagant lifestyle. The film was shocking – I would actually go so far as to say it was disturbing, and absolutely definitely not date-night material nor Oscar-Winning material apparently (poor Leo). I was interested to see if the book would have the same effect. To some extent it did, it was more disturbing to understand in detail exactly how he justified his actions to himself. He begins the book by stating that he wrote this book intending to accurately communicate how he used to think, and he states something like “I’m totally different now – I even stay in on Friday nights with my children.” (Brilliant. What a martyr right there. Somebody give this man a gold star). I found the book really, really fascinating; I love delving into the mind of other people and I found it both more and less alarming than the film. If you can read this book without giving this man any more money, then please do. However, I have heard on the grapevine than all the proceeds for this book go to charity – I hope this is true.

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Book 2: Looking for Alaska by John Green
I have been really enjoying reading John Green’s work recently, you may be able to recall I wrote a previous blog post about the Fault in Our Stars. ‘Looking for Alaska’ had a very similar tone; teenagers trying to find their path in life etc. That kind of genre seems to be John Green’s thing. So, this novel is about a boy named Miles who begins attending a boarding school because he believes it will help him venture out into the world. He meets a girl named Alaska who he gets to know and begins to develop feelings for her. The book has some serious undertones but is ultimately one for young adults/teens. I do enjoy his style of writing though and I’ve said before, he does seem to get the ‘teen style’ more accurately than most authors. However, I don’t think this book was as rich or well-written as The Fault in Our Stars. 

 

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Book 3: You’re The One that I Want by Giovanna Fletcher

Yes, OK, another bit of chick lit? So what? This book was great, and I read it within a few days which for me is always a sign of an excellent piece of writing. Well, OK maybe not excellent. A compelling one at least. The story begins with Maddie walking down the aisle towards Robert, the love of her life, but it hasn’t been an easy ride. The best man, Ben, avoids looking at her as she makes her way towards the altar, as they too have a shared history. A love that could have been. It was a different perspective of a love story; a more realistic and I think relatable version of girl-meets-boy. Girl meets boy, and another boy and eventually has to decide which love story she chooses. For this reason, this novel was great, and it was quite fun wondering which guy Maddie would go for in the end. However, I would say for all it’s amazing aspects, the “oh no, which boy should I go for??” aspect got a bit repetitive. However, I did thoroughly enjoy reading this, the second book I’ve read by Giovanna Fletcher and I enjoyed it more than the first. 

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Book 4: A Million Little Pieces by James Frey

Like The Wolf of Wall Street, a Million Little Pieces is a autobiographical book written by James Frey, a recovering alcoholic and cocaine addict. The writing is so wonderfully choreographed to depict his true feelings and state of mind throughout the book. The memoir begins as he enters rehab, beaten, bruised and crushed, his addition controlling him. We are exposed to his world through disjointed speech, a lack of clear punctuation and an unclear course of events as he attempts to narrate his surroundings. In order to write this book, Frey must have really sunk himself back into that period of his life and that must have been a very challenging and emotional task, to re-experience his lowest point from his recovered perspective. As he becomes and remains sober, the style of writing changes slightly, and suddenly events seem more connected. It is really amazing how in the first few chapters his narration really evokes the feeling of him ebbing in and out of consciousness, just from his style of writing, and how everything he speaks of seems distant and somehow clouded. A really fantastic piece of writing. 

 

So there we have it. Four reviews in one. I enjoyed writing shorter reviews, so I may continue to do this and post a summary each month of the books I have read. Let me know what you think!

 

 

Orange is The New Black

First, I’d like to apologise for being a bit absent from this blog again. Sometimes life has a habit of getting in the way, and I have found it difficult to continue reading particularly quickly so that I can update my blog. I have a long list of books I want to read yet no motivation to read them. This is no excuse considering my achievement of a book a week last year. Now, I think I am barely managing a book a fortnight. 

Anyway, the book I have been reading this time is “orange is the new black” by Piper Kerman. This is an autobiographical novel of Piper’s time in a women’s prison. When Piper is in her thirties, living a comfortable, middle-class life with fiance Larry, she discovers that someone from her past has named her for committing a ten year old drug crime. She transported drug money internationally for her then-girlfriend, Nora. Nora, as an international drug dealer, and Piper as a fresh out of college graduate and presumably looking for adventure became an item for a few years. She then realises that she doesn’t want to be involved in drug dealing and removes herself from the situation.

Ten years pass and one day the police turn up and inform Piper that she has been named as part of the drug “team” (are they called teams? Or is there another special word for groups of drug dealers? Genuine question). She turns herself in for a stint in prison for 15 months. The book is really amazingly written with a really powerful message of human kindness and Piper’s incredible ability to adapt. So many of the inmates are so open and kind to Piper and it shows the true nature of humanity against adversity. Although in prison and separated from her loved ones and freedom, Piper does not seem all that badly affected by the ordeal. I’m sure she was, but the main thing I noticed in the book was a definite sense of distance from any serious emotional content. I guess that must be the author protecting herself. It’s probably easier to get emotional openly about something fictional. I think it takes quite a lot of courage to write this book about your own experiences anyway!

Last year, or perhaps earier, Netflix turned this book into a popular television series, which was modified a great deal from the book. I found this very interesting to compare the two. Some of the characters in the tv show are definitely based on the real experiences of Piper, but others are totally fictional. In fact, most of the dramatic scenes in the tv show are entirely imagined. This definitely made the book less engaging but still very interesting to hear a real portrayal of a woman’s experience in prison. The funny thing I found about when watching the TV show is that Piper is portrayed in kind of a negative way at points, and I knew at some point they had to speak to the author of the book and ensure that she knew that it was fictionalised. In fact, thinking about it now, the book surprisingly lacks so much depth and character development in comparison to the series. 

I’d definitely recommend Orange is The New Black anyway though; whether you chose to read the book or watch the TV show, it’s still great. 

The Shock of the Fall

The Shock of the fall

As you may be able to see from the picture of the front cover, this book won the Costa Coffee book award for 2013. Written by mental health nurse, Nathan Filer, I was curious to see what this novel had in store. It didn’t disappoint me, and definitely captured my interest in mental health. At times I found this novel quite disturbing and uncomfortable to read due to it’s occasional lack of clarity in narration. It is written so realistically that I found it occasionally a challenge to follow the plot as thoughts ebb and flow throughout the book as it would if someone were just thinking. It really brought you into the mind of someone with mental illness – and truly is exceptionally well done.

The book begins with Matt. Matt is 9 years old. His brother, Simon, is dead. And the novel follows Matt coming to terms with this and with his reality. Over the years, Matt tells his story through a variety of methods – by hand, on a type writer, and on a computer, and begins to form a scrapbook of pictures, letters and his own written thoughts throughout his life. However, the book is by no means chronological, and this was the aspect of it that I found difficult to follow. There were also a lot of questions left unanswered (that’s the worst, right?!) It’s one of those books I believe you should sit and read within a few hours, rather than a little bit over the course of a few days. You’re a lot more drawn in that way. I would recommend it, but I don’t think I particularly liked it.

Buddhism: Tools for Living Your Life

Buddhism: Tools for Living Your Life

 
Recently, I’ve been introduced to the teachings of Buddhism. Over the past few months, a good friend of mine has taught me how to meditate. At first I thought I would be really distracted and constantly thinking over my to-do list, but actually I found meditation really insightful and calming and I think it has began to alter the way that I perceive things in my daily life. The idea of this mindfulness is that you can apply it to every day life. My friend said that sometimes a negative external or internal factor can “hit” us, like an arrow (as in bow and arrow), and often we “hit” ourselves with another arrow, in the form of worrying, stressing, dwelling. This book teaches methods of meditation, questions you can ask yourself, and ways of being mindful to just accept whatever happens in life, and to acknowledge feelings of dissatisfaction etc, and positive feelings too and just accept them. This is practised through meditation by acknowledging and accepting any thoughts you may have, but not indulging in them. This also works for physical things, if you are uncomfortable or have an itch, you attempt not to shift around, and just accept the feeling and return your attention to your breathing. Although this can be hard to do, I feel like practising meditation has helped me to be less prone to stress. For someone like me who has spent most of their life trying to control every thing to ensure perfection, being able to practise the action of just accepting was quite the revelation!!
 
I really loved this book, although it is the first book on Buddhist teachings that I have read so I don’t have any others to compare it to.  I found it interesting, insightful, clear and concise. I’m particularly interested in meditation and mindfulness at the moment as it is currently being introduced as a therapeutic technique in line with an upcoming aspect of psychology known as positive psychology. This is the idea that changing thought processes in people of all ages can really benefit them in terms of how they perceive events and situations, to in turn help issues such as mental health and education. I would definitely recommend this book, but it also really helps to have someone to teach you meditation in person :) 
 
 

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

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Hello everyone! Apologies for being so absent from my blog in the past month – it’s been pretty busy for me, and I’m still nowhere near to finishing ‘Twelve Years a Slave’ – the book I started back in March (or possibly February…?). As Twelve Years wasn’t keeping my attention, I decided to peruse the Cardiff Central library – a cave of absolute treasures (complete with a grand piano!!) and one of the first treasures I discovered ‘Attachments’ by Rainbow Rowell. 

Ok I just want to say, I seriously loved this book. Although it didn’t *quite* keep my attention at all times, it really was fantastic to read and get immersed in. At several points while reading this, I got completely captured and spent hours reading, only to have that wonderful feeling when you come out and have to remind yourself of what is real in your life and what’s the fiction you’ve just been reading :P

This book was so great because it really emphasised the difference between how one perceives themselves and how one is perceived, although that was definitely not the main theme, it was one I particularly enjoys. ‘Attachments’ follows the story of Lincoln who has a kind of strange job where he has to monitor how the employees of a media company use their work internet, and ends up following some emails that are flagged up by colleagues and friends Jennifer and Beth. Lincoln enjoys reading their emails (not in a creepy way) and we get to know them through a series of emails they send to each other (although they seem to spend more time sharing news over email rather than actually seeing each other – they are in the same building after all – so may be slightly unrealistic. I’m sure some conversations would be best kept to lunch times). Beth begins to discuss ‘her cute guy’ that she sees around the office, and it is only a bit of the way into the book that we find out that she’s talking about Lincoln! I think this was quite a cool way of the difference between the way that Lincoln describes/refers to himself and the way he is perceived by others. It is not expected that he would be considered cute from the way he narrates the story from his side.

I don’t really have much more to say, there’s a lot more to it, but to find out you’ll have to just read it. I would definitely recommend this book – really enjoyable, a bit of a chick lit but with a twist! 

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian

It took me quiiite a while to finish this novel, and at some points I just wasn’t really sure what to make of it. A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka is… different. I sat there for a couple of minutes just thinking “what adjective can I use?”. I was going to say “sweet” but it’s not really sweet given some of the lewd references throughout the story. I also thought of “heartfelt” but then, I thought twice about that one too. So it’s different, but in a good way.

From the perspective of Nadia, the younger sister of two, it portrays her dealing with her elderly father and his nonsensical decisions. Her father is in his eighties, and decides to marry the Valentina, who is from Ukrainian and would like to live in the UK, please. Although Nadia and her big sister, Vera, both see that Valentina is playing their father for a fool, for his money, he is adamant that their love is real.

I found the characters really interesting in this novel. The fact that Nadia and Vera are both middle aged, yet they still treat each other like big sister and little sister was very quite entertaining. I also enjoyed the fact that quite flawlessly the narration dipped in and out of the family history so you gain a further understanding for each character through snippets of the past, and the events of the present.  However, I think this novel was meant to be comedic, and although it wasn’t dark by any means, I didn’t find it particularly amusing. For me, this was one of those books that I kind of enjoyed; I liked it while I read it and then when I put it down it didn’t draw me back in again very easily.

The Fault in Our Stars

‘The Fault in Our Stars’ by John Green is a novel that I was given for my 21st birthday from one of my best friends. At the time, I enjoyed the book but wasn’t overly affected by the characters or the content. For me then, it was one of those books that I enjoyed while reading but then didn’t think much about after I’d put it down.

This time, however, it was a completely different experience.

It follows the story of 16 year-old Hazel who has terminal lung cancer. At support group, she meets the handsome Augustus Waters who turns her world upside down. Often, in my experience anyway, reading a male author’s perspective of a teenage girl is usually a bit cringe (take Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder for instance – a book about philosophy, but because the protagonist is 14 year old, in the midst of all this intense philosophical ramblings, Gaarder feels the need to slip in the fact that Sophie’s on her period. Thank you Mr. Relevant). With The Fault in Our Stars though, John Green is able to realistically talk from the perspective of a teenage girl. The story is beautiful, heart breaking, educational, inspiring and magic, and it really reels you in. I loved the characters, they are so beautifully developed with such rich personalities. The way the characters banter with each other is so realistic of being a teenager, there are running jokes within the book, and so many important things to think about and consider. It opened my eyes to consider a person’s perspective that I hadn’t really considered before – that’s all you can ask of a book really, isn’t it?

I really REALLY enjoyed this book and I really want to read every other novel John Green has written. Please read this, it really is fantastic. The film comes out in March, I have watched the trailer approximately 1 million times.