Review: The Bad Mother’s Diary by Suzy K. Quinn

The Bad Mother's Diary
The Bad Mother’s Diary by Suzy K. Quinn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A light-hearted read with a few funny moments and an uplifting feel-good factor.

Pros:
– It’s a fun enough book that’s well-suited to when you need a light read to perk you up
– The Duffy family are pretty great albeit swamped with clichés e.g. irresponsible young mother ‘who’s just a baby herself’, studious older sister who’s a bit boring but knows exactly what to do in each situation
– The main character felt believable and utterly relatable

Cons:
– There are no surprises in this book whatsoever, it’s entirely predictable but in a cutesy romance, that’s not necessarily an awful thing.
– The ending is far too rushed and that lets the book down, the book continually references fairytale tropes and happily-ever-afters so you kind of expect this from the very off but the conclusion just wasn’t enough.
– All the male characters in the book are very simply written and are two-dimensional. Their motives are always obvious and their back stories aren’t detailed or particularly interesting.

Extra note: I don’t know how I feel about this as I’m torn between finding it sweet and finding it a bit cringey but in the middle of the book, the author ‘interrupts’ and congratulates you ‘lovely ladies’ on getting that far. At the very end of the book as well, there’s a truck-load of self-promotion promising competition giveaways, an exclusive prequel and, what in my view amounts to emotional blackmail though it did give me a giggle, a note from the author saying, ‘I read ALL my Amazon and Goodreads reviews (and yes, the bad ones do make me cry) and pay special attention to my favourite reviews and sometimes send special gifts as a thank you.’

The last part however, just didn’t sit well with me at all, if an author wants genuine feedback from readers then saying that mean reviews make them cry and that they’ll send gifts to ‘favourite’ reviews just sounds like they’re clutching at straws to make sure they get good publicity and favourable mentions. Okay, so maybe the less cynical person could argue that Quinn is just trying to bond with her readers or something but for me, this just feels unethical and a bit desperate.

Anyway, onto the review.
I picked up this book because it was free on the new Amazon Prime readers programme for Kindle and because I was having a coffee after a stressful presentation and I wanted an easy read to relax with (the last two books I read were super heavy in the religious/murdering/widowhood grief/devil worship department).

As I said above, The Bad Mother’s Diary is an easy read with its predictability, diary format, and humour making it simple to understand – it doesn’t ask the reader to do any hard work whatsoever. This can be a good thing, in my situation it was and I imagine to many readers – particularly those who are busy mums looking for a book to dip in and out of while they’re exhausted and waiting for their child to settle down – it’s part of the book’s main appeal far from it being a drawback.

The plot is cheesy in its obviousness but again, this doesn’t really detract from the book as you keep plodding along with it to see exactly how Jules gets from A to B and the funny struggles she encounters in the meantime. And the struggles are funny – from the perspective of someone who doesn’t have a child, it’s refreshing to see a more realistic view of motherhood away from the Instagram world of avocado smoothie drinkers who jog 5 miles before 6am and have their children enrolled in prep school from the moment they’re born. I’d much rather hear about shitty nappy disasters and a mum’s struggle to do parenting her own way rather than the ways of the people around her. That being said, considering the title – this book doesn’t seem to be centred on motherhood. I’d say the plot was more centred around how a woman copes with hitting rock bottom and then pushing herself to achieve and to find happiness in her life in spite of the critics around her. In that sense, it’s quite an uplifting story, I just wish the focus had been more on that and a bit more attention had been paid to some of the more significant challenges Jules faced – we find out way more about her struggle than we do about her struggles with completing her goals.

The male characters pretty much suck but this is compensated for with how great the female characters are. They’re wholly relatable and though this means they rely on clichés a lot of the time, I guarantee most readers can think of someone in their lives that’s similar to members of the Duffy family, Althea, Clarisse or Helen.

All in all, I probably won’t read this again but if I knew someone who was in a bit of a funk, I’d recommend they pick the book up. Its easiness to read and the diary format meaning you can dip in and out of it without having to pick up lost threads means it’d be a solidly uplifting read for someone having a rough time of things or having problems with concentration.
I plan to keep the sequel in mind for when I next could do with a bit of encouragement and a light-hearted read with a feel-good factor and hope the embarrassing anecdotes of Jules’ struggles with motherhood, weight, and relationships only get funnier.

[MODERATE SPOILER BELOW]

My biggest criticism of the book, though this is a personal one, I’d have much preferred it if it ended with Jules feeling good about herself for one of her biggest achievements rather than it ending really abruptly on a romance story. For me, her overcoming her own personal obstacles was way more interesting and empowering than some guy deciding he does, after all, fancy her. Big whoop – she was awesome all along anyway.

[SPOILER]

View all my reviews

Review: Traumatic Realism: The Demands of Holocaust Representation by Michael Rothberg

Traumatic Realism: The Demands of Holocaust Representation
Traumatic Realism: The Demands of Holocaust Representation by Michael Rothberg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A truly enlightening book for anyone interested in the memory of the Holocaust and how it has been interpreted by survivors, academics and creatives alike in recent years.

Pros:
– Rothberg’s analysis is straightforward to understand and insightful
– Far from expecting his readers to know the in-and-outs of Maus, Schindler’s List, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (which I’m sure, many of them will), Rothberg takes care to provide context

Cons:
– The initial chapters on realism and postmodernism are complex to read as you would expect on those subject matters but the rest of the book is easygoing in comparison – don’t be put off by them!
– This is personal interest but I would’ve enjoyed the book a great deal more and given it that precious 5-star mark had there been more analysis on how the Holocaust is presented in contemporary culture. Rothberg limits the analysis to several things including Maus, Lanzmann’s Shoah documentary, and the ‘year of the Holocaust’ on Saturday Night Live (in the mid-1990s) and though it’s very insightful, analysing a few more sources would’ve been helpful.
– On a similar note to above, this is personal interest rather than a criticism – the chapter on the Americanisation of the Holocaust was fascinating and I wish Rothberg had written more on the subject.

I opened this book looking for some short and sweet analysis to put in an essay I was finishing that needed to pack a little more of a punch before I submitted it two days later. Instead, I spent a good chunk of that essay-writing time poring over the pages completely fascinated by Rothberg’s analysis of Holocaust representation, particularly his analysis of Maus and of the Americanisation of the Holocaust.

This is an insightful book for anyone interested in that field of research and Rothberg’s thoughts on how the memory of the Holocaust is being used to propagate American values is both chilling and intriguing.
For an academic text, this book manages to be both highly comprehensive and very readable which is a hard balance to manage, particularly when it comes to talking about postmodernism and the effects of the memory of historical events in contemporary culture and politics. It’s well worth a read and I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest, whether casual or academic, in how the Holocaust is being represented and why this representation is of vital importance to its memory and the place historical trauma has within modern society when it comes to commercialism, globalisation, identity politics, and the media.

View all my reviews

Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The hype around this book gave me high expectations, instead, I spent the book waiting for something interesting to happen only to be left bored and disappointed.

Pros:

– The idea that everything that happened to women in the book has, in some time and culture, actually happened stuck with me
– Atwood’s way of using the final chapter as a history lesson was a brilliant way to finally get some answers but in my view, even this didn’t go far enough to give more depth into this murky world Atwood created
– This book is a great one to discuss, regardless of your own opinion on it, you can pretty much guarantee it’ll provoke a good debate in one way or another if you bring it up in conversation. Part of this is thanks to its insane popularity at the moment (helped by the Hulu adaptation that’s recently been aired) and partly because the book’s plot points, though presented in an extreme way in the book, are a good vehicle to talk about feminism, politics and religion.

Cons:
– The way the world switched from familiarly liberal to radically misogynist felt wholly unbelievable without any explanations as to what changed
– Similar to the above point, the book relies on constant guesswork to keep up suspense but in my view, it never delivers
– Atwood’s writing style and the use of an unreliable narrator (something that I always find irritating in any book) doesn’t make this easy reading. It’s not that the ideas or language is complex but the book itself is confusing and leaves the reader constantly trying to figure out the rules in this strange world.

First of all let me just say that I’m all too aware of the heated debates on this book, especially when someone doesn’t leave a favourable review. In fact, this initially put me off writing a review at all when the book is clearly not meant to be enjoyable for a general reader but instead is meant to be a social commentary that needs deep analysis before it really becomes interesting. After some thought, I came back to the reason I review books in the first place – if in 10 years time someone asks me about the book, I’ll need some help from past-me to remember the plot and my own thoughts on it straight after reading. And y’know, books are wonderful.

So, the book. My biggest irritation with The Handmaid’s Tale wasn’t actually the book at all but the hype surrounding it. This book is probably the one that’s been recommended to me the most by friends knowing my interests in history, politics and gender. For me though, it just didn’t deliver on any of the expectation and had I read this book without knowing its reception, I probably would’ve been apathetic to the whole thing and it would’ve ended up on its way to a charity shop or shoved in the back of a cupboard to be forgotten about.

Hype aside, the impression that I had after reading this book is that it’s main and best purpose is to be used as a conversation piece – don’t make the mistake of thinking that it’s a good book to read on a lazy afternoon as some light entertainment because it certainly doesn’t fit that category. Atwood’s fictional world isn’t absorbing and isn’t believable, despite the passionate fans constantly reminding reviewers who say this that all of the ways in which women are treated in the book are historically accurate to some culture or another. That may be the case but thrown together in a jumble of dystopian extreme misogyny means that, without the context of the historical elements, they lose a lot of their meaning and become a ‘everyone hates women’ statement rather than an insightful analysis of why/how they occurred, why they were unfair, how they were received, and how similar mistakes can be prevented in the future.

That being said, I found the final chapter a solid conclusion to such an ambiguous storyline and enjoyed Atwood’s commentary on how history is taught. It’s difficult to explain this without spoilers but as a history student, I found it a refreshing reminder of the gap between what is formally taught and the experienced realities of the historical actors.

All in all, I would encourage readers to open this book with a far more open mind than I did and to dismiss the hype surrounding it until you’ve read it for yourself and processed your own thoughts. As I said before, it’s not a book to read for its entertainment value that has a strong political message which is the mistaken impression I had got from friends and reviews, instead it’s a political book aimed at provoking discussion points and it’s the way it’s written makes that quite obvious from the beginning. Personally, I far prefer a book that is both entertaining and political or, at least if it’s political only, to be formally so as the guesswork involved in analysing The Handmaid’s Tale can be incredibly frustrating.

View all my reviews

Review: The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #5) by Rick Riordan

The Last Olympian
The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fittingly brilliant finale to an incredible series.

Pros:
– There was so much action in this book that it felt almost never-ending yet despite this, it didn’t lose its suspense or become repetitive (and this is coming from a gal who isn’t typically a fan of action!)
– It kept well away from the clichés I thought were going to happen
– Riordan manages to bring back characters we haven’t seen for a while with such delicacy that it fits into the storyline seamlessly, not an easy feat in a series finale
– This book (okay, the rest of the series too) made me want to jump headfirst into the library’s section on Greek mythology.

Cons:
– We had to say goodbye to such a magnificent series, it felt bittersweet to reach the end.*

I’m one of those readers who is perpetually disappointed with the final instalment of almost every series I’ve ever read, and watched, come to think of it. There is just something about endings that aggravates me – everything is tied up too neatly or there are gaping problems of things that aren’t tied in the end at all.

This wasn’t the case with The Last Olympian. The whole book was just so satisfying to read that I wanted to smile, cry and clap my hands together like a delirious madwoman all at the same time with how well it managed to do take care of everything.

Let’s start with the pace, it is so absorbing that you barely even notice the pages flick by. The suspense throughout, as built up from the previous novel, keeps you wholly addicted to finding out what’s going to happen in the chapter. The funny chapter headings certainly help with this as the whole reading experience becomes a classic dilemma of, ‘oh, just one more chapter…’.

The character development that has been slowly trudging along in the background of the other novels simply shines in this brilliant finale that manages to showcase what we love and hate about each character and how they’ve been changed by their individual journeys through the series. Though this could easily result in everything being too neat and unrealistic, it certainly doesn’t feel that way thanks to Riordan’s writing that weaves detail, action and humanity altogether in such a way that the reader is sucked into the story’s believability.

And the ending, oh my, the ending. Let’s just say that few fictional characters have battled against such odds that I was willing them to give up and let something/someone else take on all the responsibility. In fact, it brought me winging back to the nostalgia and emotional trauma that was the Last Battle of Hogwarts (but in a good way). Riordan’s writing made the characters so believably human (okay, even the ones that aren’t strictly human) that their decisions and actions made for reading so inspiring that it made me, after the novel was finished of course, sit back and think about the brave and not-so-brave choices I’d made in my own life.

A book that can prompt such self-reflection, particularly a YA fiction book full of non-humans, action and mythology such as this one, is one that I’m wholeheartedly a fan of.

Read this series, there’s a very good chance you will love it.

*I’m aware this isn’t a con but I genuinely felt so sad when I got past the halfway point and realised how little was left of Percy Jackson’s adventures that it seems worth mentioning!

View all my reviews

CogWheel Films: Creating ’27 Pictures’ & the 48hr Sci-Fi Challenge

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to take part in a fantastic competition with the filming company I work with, Cogwheel Films. This competition happens once a year, this time I took part, it was as fun (albeit stressful!) as it was the first year I did it (2015).

27 pictures

 

A still from 27 Pictures

The Challenge:

For those of you who don’t know, the 48hr Sci-Fi Challenge is a national competition open to filmmakers of all backgrounds and abilities. The challenge begins when a brief is sent out to all participant teams with set compulsory elements to include in your film: a title, a line of dialogue, an action/prop, and an optional science prompt.

Your team then has 48 hours to go from the prompts to producing a finished short film. For more details on the competition, visit 2017’s official website.

The Brief:

Title: 27 Pictures
Action/Prop: A USB/SD card is pushed into a slot
The line of Dialogue: ‘The images were sourced randomly if such a concept exists.’

The Finished Film:

27 Pictures
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Di3vkRQUS20&t=1s

Coming Up With a Story:
It’s pretty nerve-wracking stuff waiting to be told what randomised prompts you will have to craft a story around and to know that the longer it takes you to figure something out, the less time can be spent on actually creating the film. With this in mind, this year Cogwheel Films’ directors, Tori and Paul, suggested we gather around Paul’s house to await the brief. Traffic delayed half the team, however, and I got delayed by Molly (doggo) deciding to pee just as our metro was pulling into the station. When the whole team was finally together, we started throwing around some ideas for what the story could be. This challenge was particularly difficult because the compulsory line of dialogue (see above) kept throwing a curveball in all of our ideas. We were far behind schedule at this point as we’d anticipated it’d take an hour to an hour and a half to come up with a basic premise. Almost three hours after receiving the brief, we had all agreed on the storyline that was to become 27 Pictures.

Doing My Bit:
Once the backbone of the story was settled, it was up to me and Paul to add some flesh to it while the others began gathering/creating props, contacting our actors, sorting out location ideas, distracting my dog Molly from giving Paul an allergic reaction that gave his eyes the appearance of chronic alcoholism…the usual stuff. Here, the thing I find most challenging is writing a script that’s feasible with the limited time and resources you have. It’s quite disheartening to write something that you think would add a lot to the story but ultimately realise it just isn’t possible to include. As Paul said himself when editing and having to cut out a short scene from the film that everyone enjoyed, sometimes you have to kill your darlings. And in a 48hr challenge, this can feel incredibly frustrating.

As soon as the practical side of things was sorted, which took a while given that we had to make ‘government’ documents, a picnic, and a life-long scrapbook as props, the whole team headed out to the film’s location. Unfortunately for us, it was a beautifully sunny day in Newcastle meaning the area of the Quayside that we’d expected to be quiet was full of families, joggers, and dog-walkers alike. Knowing that I’d be out for most of the day, I’d brought my dog along with me and she suitably went nuts at a German Shepherd that kept walking by us and caused some problems with the sound when she got too enthusiastic about destroying a crisp packet and chasing clumps of grass (Sorry Cogs!).

While trying to keep a beady eye and a quick hand on the destructive beast that is Molly, I continued to thrash out the script as the team began filming the scenes in sequence. It really was a race as I frantically wrote to keep one step ahead of the shoot and in the end, I had to leave the last few scenes in the safe hands of Paul and Tori as Molly’s patience (and the sunlight) grew thin and we headed home.

17761028_10154566561967525_8553907550633286034_o

Editing
Unlike 2015’s competition where I spent the duration of the 48hr challenge in a rented Scout hut alongside the whole team, this year our schedules didn’t quite allow for that. For me, this meant I missed out on the editing of the film which is something I thoroughly enjoyed learning from during the previous challenge and hope to be more involved in next time round. That being said, it was nice to go back home and sleep easy in my memory-foam bed knowing that the fate of the film was firmly in the hands of Paul and Tori from now on.

The event was great fun though and considering the film was created over the space of a weekend, and with limited resources and without the full team, it’s turned out really well.  It’s refreshing to take on a task that challenges your creativity and problem-solving to such a degree, the added pressure just makes the teamwork needed all the more vital and being part of Cogwheel Films is a brilliant team to be involved with.

You can find out more about Cogwheel Films by visiting the Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/cogwheelfilms/?fref=ts

We’re always on the lookout for a diverse range of talented creative people so please give the page a message if you’re interested in getting involved.

 

Review: Once (Once, #1) by Morris Gleitzman

Once
Once by Morris Gleitzman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are some books that don’t let go of you once you’ve lived through their story. Once is certainly one of them, this haunting, bittersweet story managed to tell so much in a mere 160 pages that it has captivated me as a re-reader for life.

Pros:
– Gleitzman does an astounding service to both the readers of the story, by protecting them from some of the more extreme aspects of the Holocaust, and to the history, by not allowing protection to discredit the historical realities of the trauma suffered during, and as a result of, this time.
– This short book is so powerful it made me weep.
– One of the main characters, Barney, is based on an inspirational person, Janusz Korczak.
– The prose is simple but this can be misleading, this is a book with many layers of meaning making it suitable for all but very young (under 13 or so) readers.

Cons:
– Although the book is short, Felix’s initial naivete can be irritating in the first couple of chapters. Stick with this, it makes much more sense as you see his character develop.
– Though not a criticism of the book itself, its marketing and presentation make it appear as though it’s for young children. I don’t believe it should be read by anyone under the age of 13 without an appropriate adult mediator or learning support to supplement the material and discuss its content.

This book is incredible in what it achieves. I firmly believe everyone should read and discuss this book, particularly people interested in trauma and childhood, and I don’t say that lightly. Gleitzman’s brief novel promotes a great deal of deep thinking about the Holocaust, trauma generally, and children’s responses to trauma.
I’ve read this book twice within six months and after analysing it (alongside other books) for an essay on the representation of the Holocaust in children’s/YA fiction, I can’t emphasise enough what a compelling book it is. Saying too much more could ruin it or dampen it’s effect so I’ll avoid that and instead, ask that you read and reflect on Once. This book that can be read in under two hours will have a lingering, albeit haunting, effect on you.

View all my reviews

Review: The Battle of the Labyrinth (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #4) by Rick Riordan

The Battle of the Labyrinth
The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the most exciting YA fiction books I’ve ever read!

Pros:
– It’s packed with high-quality action scenes
– The whole idea of the labyrinth is executed brilliantly
– There is so much in this book for an adult reader to appreciate
– This left me so excited for the fifth and final book that I finished this one and started the fifth one on the same night, reading until I fell asleep (book in hand!).

Cons:
– Percy isn’t as great as he could be in this book, we see him repeating his mistakes a lot and it feels like it’s done just to jump the plot along at times.
– This isn’t really a con but I’m clutching at straws here – as Riordan uses increasingly obscure creatures and references to mythology, it gets harder to decipher them and appreciate the work he’s putting into it. I’d love it if there was some sort of glossary or mythology accompaniment in the books!

Before delving into this book, clear your schedule in advance. After you get to the mid-point, it’s so gripping it’s almost impossible to put down and it is one of the best build-ups I’ve seen to a series finale. Aside from the plot itself being wholly absorbing, the characters are great too. Whereas many of the recurring characters have been quite two-dimensional up until this point in the series, they are given far more depth in this book which makes their previous dullness completely forgivable in the grand scheme of things. On that note, we also have some wonderful moments in this book that will no doubt make you reminisce about your own teenage years.

The humour in this is noticeably better than the previous books too, although some jokes are clearly more for a younger audience, there’s a lot in this instalment that adults can whole-heartedly enjoy as well. This works hand-in-hand with making the whole novel feel far more well-rounded than its predecessors (and indeed, many other YA fiction series) as it’s as though Riordan is paying attention to what older readers want without compromising any of his appeal to younger readers.

All in all, this is a great fantasy adventure book that I’d recommend to anyone looking for an entertaining read full of suspense.

View all my reviews