Oh, 2017. We started off so well, with a whopping 7 books down in 1 month, and high hopes for the rest of the year’s 52 Books Challenge. But now it’s nearly the end of March and I have read 2 books this month. 2. Whoops! They were also a little bit politically charged, with highly controversial topics covering Hitler and anti-Semitism. In fact both books had a heavy influence on both, so this may not be your cup of tea if you’re not after a spot of heavy reading! But if you fancy something intriguing and thought-provoking, then I would recommend checking them out…

Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes

This is a controversial one, make no mistake! So Phil picked this book up in Brighton in February and it really tickled him. He was laughing the whole way through, so I had to give it a read when he was done. Basically, Adolf Hitler wakes up in 2011. (Yeah, I know, but hear me out). He is alive, but the world he wakes up in is barely recognisable to the Germany he left behind in 1945. While struggling to fit into this new world he unwittingly attracts the attention of a television company, his impeccable ‘performance’ as Hitler goes viral, and all of a sudden he has his own TV show, and a whole new platform to broadcast from…

The whole book is written from Hitler’s POV, and it is unflinching in terms of the topics mentioned: from foreigners to the Jews to the problems he finds with modern day Germany. Yet at the same time there is a strange kind of naivete to Hitler (yes, I’m aware of how bonkers that sounds), and I genuinely found myself feeling a little bit sorry for the man caught so out of his time and trying to catch up with 70 years of history which tarnished his name beyond all reckoning. He is portrayed in this book as a man who just sticks unwaveringly to his beliefs, and who doesn’t see anything wrong with his actions, which I think is partly why I feel sorry for him. He’s almost childish in a way, which makes for very conflicting emotions when reading! Anyway, it’s a very complex book to try and explain, but it is so clever and if you like satire and talking point books then definitely give this one a go! ★★★

The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

This book so reminds me of the feeling pervading the international air since the election of Donald Trump. It’s an alternate world story where America never entered the Second World War. In this version of history Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) was defeated by famous aviator Charles A. Lindbergh in 1940. Lindbergh was a national hero for making the first successful solo transatlantic airplane flight in 1927. When he throws his hat in the ring to be President, he (rather like a certain other man who springs to mind) is about the most unlikely politician imagineable. His opponents dismiss him as a wildcard, an impossibility. But he captures the hearts and votes of the American people and wins a landslide victory. And from there America begins its dark metamorphosis…

Part of Lindbergh’s appeal is the isolationist rhetoric and staunch opposition to America taking part in a European war which he felt had nothing to do with the USA. In real life Lindbergh was very anti-war and a little too friendly with Nazi Germany, a little too vocal in his support of Hitler and in his criticism of FDR and the Jews. In reality he was denounced and fell out of favour. In this story, however, America stays out of the war, signing a friendly pact with Germany not to enter into the conflict, and slowly America’s Jews begin to feel the repercussions of his actions. Roth’s main character is named for himself, and is a 9 year old Jewish boy living with his family in Newark. This makes his narration slightly jarring at times, and a couple of times I found myself wondering how reliable a narrator he really was. But I loved that by doing this the story looked at the fallout for everyday, normal Americans, and how they came to terms with feeling like strangers in their own country. This is such an intriguing book, and as with Look Who’s Back, it cannot fail to make you think. ★★★

 

I hope to make a little more progress on my challenge in April – with only 12 books read in total so far I’m going to have to work hard to make some headway towards the 52 marker before the end of the year! If you’ve read these books let me know what you thought of them, and please send your recommendations my way!

Disclosure: not only is this roundup over a week late, but it’s a little thin on the ground. You see what with one thing and another February was SUCH a slow month for reading. As I’ve mentioned, both my boyfriend and I have been ill and injured, and with looking after him I’ve not got through anywhere near as many books as I intended. Whoops…must try harder! However, they are fairly stand out books, not likely to be forgotten in a hurry!

Ctrl, Alt, Delete by Emma Gannon

Social media fiend Emma Gannon (of podcast, blogging and Twitter fame) has released a book charting how she grew up alongside the internet. As someone of the same millenial generation (and only a year younger than Emma), I totally related to this book! From MSN Messenger and Bebo to navigating relationships in the increasingly digital age. I laughed with her, cringed for her and cheered her on in equal measure. As well as part-autobiography, this book is a searing indictment of 21st century culture, and just how obsessed we are with a world which isn’t actually real. As Emma says in her book, “Every time we open the lid of our laptops, we are belting ourselves in for an unknown ride”. It’s so true, and it was phrases like this which made me stop and think about just how sucked in we all get to social media. I am so guilty of getting lost down the rabbit hole of the internet, and I liked the beautifully-written reality check on that kind of lifestyle. It’s very healthy to take a step back and enjoy normal life every now and then, so hats off to Emma for not only realising that, but calling us out on it. ★★★★

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

This book has been popping up a lot on the ‘net lately, and I’ve seen it hailed in reviews as To Kill A Mockingbird for the 21st century. I’ve never read a Jodi Picoult book before, but I was intrigued and thought it might be a little bit of lighter reading. Well, light wasn’t quite the word! But there are plenty of other words to describe this book: it was compelling and gripping and unpredictable and exciting and sad and frustrating and heartbreaking and uplifting.Ruth has been a nurse for 20 years, helping to deliver babies in a busy hospital. But when a white supremacist couple lose their baby after forbidding Ruth, an African-American, from caring for him, she is accused of negligence and murder, and events spiral out of control. A story about love and loss and prejudice and fighting for justice, it’s a powerful and controversial story, but such an important one to tell. I wouldn’t say it was on a level with To Kill A Mockingbird, but I get what the reviewers mean by the comparison and I would thoroughly recommend it. Another book to make you think about the way in which you see the world (and your place in it), and I look forward to reading it again in the years to come. ★★★★

I, Partridge: We Need To Talk About Alan by Alan Partridge

This will appeal only if you’re a Partridge fan, be warned! For those of you who haven’t heard of him, the comedian and impressionist Steve Coogan created the character of Alan Partridge many years ago. He’s a tragic radio presenter with dreams of stardom and a truly offensive personality. It’s cringeworthy comedy at its best, and having watched the TV shows and the film Alpha Papa recently, the boyfriend bought me this to continue my Partridge education. Alan Partridge is hilarious, but he is for the acquired taste. If you’re a fan (and I’d recommend watching some of his stuff first before reading this) then you’ll probably enjoy this. ★★★

So that’s my rather short review of February’s reads. Here’s to a more eventful month’s worth of reading in March!

So, for the fourth year in a row, I am attempting to complete the challenge of reading 52 books in a year. I have always adored reading, and thought that settnig myself the target of reading one book a week would be fairly realistic. My attempts so far have proved that this is not the case (real life does like to get in the way), but I’m pleased with the start I’ve made to 2017, and thought I’d end each month with a little round up post of the books I have managed to tick off my list. I’ve also added a cheeky little star rating for ease. This is what I’ve been reading in January…

Trump: The Graphic Biography

My boyfriend bought me this as a stocking filler-type Christmas present. I was intrigued, as it wasn’t a book I’d have ever bought for myself. Basically it tells the story of Donald Trump, from entitled rich kid to wealthy businessman to Republican nominee (it was published prior to his actually winning the election. And yes, I still feel a bit ill even just writing that sentence…). I liked the fact that a fairly heavy topic (I know only a little about US politics and even less about economics) was broken down into an easier, illustrated format. It was eye-opening to say the least, and only served to heighten my dislike of *deep breath* the new President (urgh, can’t believe I just said that). But it was a great into the American system, and I would highly recommend it for an overview of the sorry state the US finds itself in today. (★★★)

The Sun is Also a Star

I was addicted to this book, and couldn’t put it down. It’s one of my favourite books of the last few months, and it enchanted me throughout. 17 year olds Daniel and Natasha meet one ordinary day in New York City. He is on his way to an interview for Yale, and she is desperately trying to reverse the deportation order hanging over her family. Their meeting sparks a chain of events which span just one day, but which has ripples throughout the lives of all of those they encounter around them.

Heartbreaking, heartwarming, uplifting, addictive. I was hooked on this book from beginning to end. I loved the threads running through it about fate and destiny alongside the practicalities of science, and whether or not the two can have any kind of harmonious relationship. The nods to multiverses, stars and space was a fascinating touch, and I loved Natasha and Daniel’s characters. I was rooting for them throughout, and I urge you to read this book and fall in love with them too! (★★★★★)

The Ladybird Book of the Zombie Apocalypse

This was one of my boyfriend’s stocking fillers, because it reminded me of our first date. We were both so nervous, and we went for a walk along the South Bank from Waterloo to Tower Bridge. On the way we stopped at the Tate Modern, and this book from the gift shop was about the only thing we took in. We read most of it there and laughed throughout, and it was great for diffusing the nervous tension!

But anyway, the actual book. You remember all the old Ladybird books you used to read as a child? Well here is the 2.0 version for adults, complete with adult topics (such as The Hangover or The Bride). I love the tongue in cheek, humorous tone. From the opening of “When there is no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the earth”, I was hooked. There are some brilliant lines in there: “The baddies in video games were often zombies. This is because zombies bought far fewer video games than Russians, Germans, terrorists or robots.” So funny. Keep it to hand for a pick-me-up on grey days when you need a good laugh! (★★★)

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

An examination of race relations in America from the experiences of an African-American writer, in the form of a letter to his teenage son. I’ll be honest, I found this one really hard-going. The way it was written made it difficult for me to relate. I don’t appreciate his references to the “despotic police” and his statement to “forget about intentions…good intention is a hall pass through history, a sleeping pill that ensures the Dream.” He seems to be of the opinion that a person’s good intentions are worthless, and I could not agree less. I think good intentions count for a great deal, but sometimes one person just cannot change the world. He paints the African-American life as a constant uphill struggle, and although I tried my damndest to enjoy this book, it’s a depressing read and not one I would rush to read again. (★★★)

My Dad Wrote a Porno by Jamie Morton, James Cooper, Alice Levine and Rocky Flintstone

This is the funniest thing I’ve read in years. I sniggered like Muttley from Wacky Races and genuinely gave myself hiccups from choking on a glass of squash while reading this. Basically, a few years ago Jamie Morton’s dad (the eponymous Rocky Flintstone) wrote an erotic novel, and showed it to his son, before self-publishing it on Amazon. To cope with this trauma, Jamie shared it with the world in a podcast co-hosted with two of his closest friends, James and Alice. Week by week they read a chapter of the book and dissected all its many flaws: bad grammar, clunky dialogue, cringeworthy sex-scenes, all examined for our listening pleasure. And now they have published the book with all their annotations alongside. This is a graphic story, and probably not suitable for anyone under 18 (though to be fair, the cringe factor is so high that it’s probably not suitable for anyone over 18 either), but it is SO hilarious, as is the equally epic podcast. I cannot recommend this enough for the inevitable LOLs it will give you. (★★★★)

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend

A British classic that I’d never yet got around to reading, and I have to admit that I was a little underwhelmed. Although it captured brilliantly the thoroughly self-absorbed mindset of a teenage boy, the plot felt, to me, a bit depressing. I didn’t warm to many of the characters, and the story itself was dated. I imagine that, had I been a teenager in the 80s reading this when it was first published, it would have resonated far more with me. As it was, unfortunately it just failed to hit the spot. (★★★)

Current Total: 6

Have you read any of these? Can you offer me any reading suggestions for the month ahead?

So…my 52 Books Challenge has racked up yet another spectacular failure this year! Whoops…better luck next year!

Currently I am sitting at 29 with less than a week to go of 2016. It’s an improvement on last year, but still rather a few shy of my total. I’ve also slipped with reviewing the books I have read, so I thought that, rather than try to write up a post for all the books I’ve read since the summer, I thought I’d chuck in a quick summary below – the good, the bad and the ugly – all critiqued for your pleasure…

Our Song by Dani Atkins

Beautiful, sweet, a little bit tragic. Headstrong couple Ally and David were university sweethearts, but now several years have passed and he is married to their mutual friend, the glamorous Charlotte, while Ally is married to loving, dependable Joe. On Christmas Eve their paths cross again in tragic circumstances, forcing them to relive memories they wanted to keep buried, and leading to a heartbreaking decision. I loved this book – the characters were so relatable and the plot had me gripped and compelled me to keep reading. I have to admit, I did shed a few tears while reading, and it was certainly a bittersweet ending, but I loved this book, and it stayed with me long after the final page.

You Had Me At Hello by Mhairi McFarlane

Rachel and Ben should have but never did get together. 10 years later and he is married and she just out of a long-term failing engagement. Will fate grant them a second chance, or will they always just be each other’s ‘one that got away’? Honestly, I was not much of a fan. Harmless enough fun, but not diverting enough to be true escapism or carry any true emotional weight.

City of the Beasts by Isabel Allende

Alex is an American teenager with little experience of the world and only one great talent – the ability to play the flute. But with his mother taken ill, he is shipped off to stay with his fearsome explorer grandmother, Kate, who ropes him in to joining her on an expedition to the Amazon rainforest with National Geographic. Along the way he meets Nadia, daughter of their expedition guide Cesar Santos, and they embark on their own adventure with the People of the Mist tribe. A journey of self-discovery and coming of age, Isabel Allende is always worth a read.

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

This was a slow burner, and this was my second attempt to read it. The unnamed heroine, a lady’s maid to an obnoxious American woman, is whisked off her feet by a sudden proposal from Max De Winter, a young widower and owner of the great estate at Manderley. As new mistress of the estate she finds herself completely unequal to the task of managing the household, and overshadowed by the memory of Max’s first wife, the enigmatic Rebecca. This is not helped by the housekeeper Mrs Danvers, who retains her devotion to Rebecca and haunts the footsteps of her replacement…

If you give this story time, the pace picks up and the action really sets in, and you’re hooked before you know it! It’s an atmospheric and truly creepy read.

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Liane Moriarty is one of those authors whose work I will always read. Having devoured all her books now, I can vouch for how good they are. I’ve reviewed Three Wishes, The Hypnotist’s Love Story, What Alice Forgot and Little Lies previously, and described her genre as ‘chic noir’, a darker shade of chic lit. In this story, the tragic events of a summer BBQ force childhood friends Erika and Clementine to re-evaluate everything they thought they knew about their friendship and their lives. I did find it frustrating waiting so long for the Big Reveal as to what happened on the day of the fated BBQ, but it was still a fun read.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

I’ve never watched anything with Amy Poehler in it beyond snippets of her presenting the Golden Globes with Tina Fey (and Inside Out), but the blurb and her name intrigued me, so I thought I’d give this a go. It was fun and interesting, but would probably have meant much more to me if I’d ever seen Saturday Night Live or Parks and Recreation.

The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty

Another Liane Moriarty, this time based on the fictional island of Scribbly Gum off the coast of Australia. Over 70 years ago, sisters Connie and Rose Doughty found an abandoned baby on the island, and since then the Munro Baby Mystery has captured the imagination of Australians everywhere. But with Connie’s death and the arrival of Sophie Honeywell from the mainland, will the secrets of the past remain buried? Light reading with serious undertones, as always. Not my favourite of hers, but the humour is some of the best.

Spectacles by Sue Perkins

I LOVED this. As an avid Bake Off fan, I have been intrigued by the legendary duo of Mel and Sue for years now. So when I saw that Sue Perkins had an autobiography out (for the princely sum of £3.99 in Sainsburys) I couldn’t not read it. And it was brilliant. I cackled out loud to myself while reading it, and I stopped and re-read passages, bowled over by the emotional punch they packed. It was comic and tragic and fantastic, and I would thoroughly recommend it. Possibly my book of the year.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Attwood

One of the first and best dystopian novels. Offred (not her real name) is a Handmaid to her Commander, living in a nice house in an unnamed part of America on the east coast. What is a Handmaid? Well, their sole job is to produce children for their Commanders – and their wives – in order to further the human population in a way which was acceptable to the religious authorities.

Brilliant story in a fascinating alternative world (which, scarily enough, isn’t beyond the realms of imagination and possibility). A must-read.

The Darcys of Pemberley and Return to Longbourn by Shannon Winslow

I actually managed to write up a separate review of these light and fluffy Jane Austen sequels here.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by JK Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne

It’s been wonderful to re-immerse myself in one of my favourite worlds again, and this script was perfect to add to my understanding of the play, which I was lucky enough to see in November. Read it, see it, love it.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

16 year-old Jacob has always been close to his grandfather Abe, and been enchanted by his stories of magical children in a mysterious island off the coast of Wales, guarded over by the Bird. When Abe is murdered by monsters only Jacob can see, he spirals into depression and decides that the only way he can find closure is to visit the island for himself. Once there, he discovers that his grandfather’s stories weren’t fiction, that the children he mentioned were still living, and worst of all that the monsters are real…

An intriguing, quirky story, woven around a set of old black and white photographs, this caught my imagination and I will definitely be reading the rest of the trilogy!

Five on Brexit Island by Bruno Vincent

I loved the Famous Five series when I was growing up, and have lived in eternal disappointment than none of the places I’ve lived in ever had secret passages in between the walls. This grown-up version pits Julian against George in the aftermath of the EU referendum as George declares Kirrin Island an independent nation, much to her cousin’s disapproval. Very relevant, short enough to hold the interest, and nostalgic enough to make me want to pick up my collection all over again!

What have you been reading lately? Send me some recommendations to keep me going through those long dark winter nights!

Last month I got ridiculously lucky, and was treated to a surprise day out in town to watch Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I have never been so pumped to see anything on stage, and I have seen my fair share of musicals and plays over the last few years I’ve lived in London! Anyone who knows me, even a little bit, will know that I am a massive Harry Potter nerd. Which may sound familiar, because thousands of boys and girls born in the 1990s feel exactly the same way. But I’m talking Mastermind levels of nerdiness here. Midnight collections of the books, reading through the night, two visits to the studio tour (and counting…), Pottermore membership, the works. I was beyond excited for this day in November, and I literally bounced into the theatre.

So, where to start? Obviously I can’t tell you much about the plot itself (#KeepTheSecrets), but anyone can buy the script and read all about it. The most I can tell you is that it picks up where the epilogue at the end of Deathly Hallows left off, and focuses on Harry and Ginny Potter’s youngest son Albus Severus, and Draco Malfoy’s son Scorpius. From there on in you will have to read the script or watch the show for yourself…

As far as the performance went, I was stunned. The actors were fantastic (especially the teenage actors playing Albus and Scorpius, who dominated the stage) and the special effects were out of this world. Watching the magic unfold was just incredible – flames shot across the stage, characters disappeared into thin air and I gaped in awe at every new trick, twist and turn.

The play was divided into part 1 and part 2, and then each part was divided in two. So if you choose to see the whole play in one day, as we did, it will be a day-long experience, and I would find somewhere nearby to eat in the middle (we chose Ember Yard in Soho). This gave us the opportunity to go over what we’d seen in the first half, speculate on what might happen in the second, and pick out our favourite moments so far.

As is JK Rowling’s speciality, the story had me hooked throughout. I laughed, gasped, shed a tear, and experienced joy and triumph, horror and dread. I have never been so gripped by a stage production – and yes, to a degree that is my inner HP nerd enjoying a new story from the magical world after so long. But I genuinely loved the plot – it was cleverly thought out with complex layers (again a JK Rowling speciality), and perfectly structured for the stage.

I made myself wait until I’d seen the show before reading the script, and I’m so glad I did. Not only did it make the stage performance more unexpected and exciting, more of an adventure, but reading it afterwards I was able to relive the show all over again, and I read it all with a smile on my face. The stage directions also added an extra element to the story which I hadn’t appreciated in the watching, which I loved.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is one of the best stage performances I’ve ever seen, and I could not recommend it more. If you can’t see it, read the script. If you can see it, you will be in for such a treat.