After The Fire BOOK REVIEW

“After The Fire” was a great holiday read, as it was a readable and gripping page-turner. It dealt with some pretty heavy themes, but I feel that it was handled in a thought-provoking, yet sensitive manner. Dealing extensively with the themes of religion, power and trauma, the novel tells the story of a cult that exists just outside of Texas. Due to its content, it reminded me of another fantastic novel: The Followers by Rebecca Wait. Both books use a cult organisation to discuss broader themes and I thought both were absolutely fascinating reads.

 

“After The Fire” picks the story up after the cult has been broken up and uses a “before” and “after” approach to discuss the cult and the after effects on the survivors (interestingly enough, all children). Each chapter is either categorised before or after and sees the protagonist, Moonbeam, interact with the “outsiders”, as she tries to process and deal with what she has just experienced. Being a member of the cult from when she was a baby, Moonbeam offers an intricate look at the way the cult worked and the changes that took place when the charismatic but frightening Father John took control.

 

One of the most interesting points for me was the discussion of blind faith versus reason and we see this most through Moonbeam’s later interactions with Honey and the other survivors as they discuss the cult and their faith. Moonbeam is surprised to find that some of the others in the camp were not necessarily true believers, whereas she has fully believed in the words of Father John until a much later point.

 

All in all, the book discusses trauma and the after effects on the victims and we see a host of various characters who represent different aspects of this aftershock: mainly Moonbeam, Honey and Luke. We see how deep these effects can run but also shows how much human beings can handle. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys books dealing with religion, cults, power and psychological effects. Although the themes can be quite heavy, Moonbeam’s attitude and her interactions with Doctor Hernandez and Agent Carlyle lightens the mood slightly and I found her an engaging and likeable protagonist. All in all, a gripping and thought-provoking read.

 

 

PS. My music choice for today is “Fire Under My Feet” by Leona Lewis. It’s one of the singles from her most recent album and a good motivation for Monday morning! Enjoy 🙂

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After Me Comes The Flood BOOK REVIEW

Unsettling, yet oddly captivating, After Me Comes The Flood meanders through the story of John Coles: an unassuming bookseller who stumbles across an unusual house on his way to visit his brother. The house feels almost haunted, as its inhabitants seem ethereal and the house feels like it’s a different world. We begin to question what is reality and what is illusion, as John is worryingly welcomed with open arms, as if he’s been expected.

 

And so begins one of the most unusual novels I have ever read. We begin to learn about the house’s inhabitants. Hester is the matriarch and head of the household and Elijah is a priest who has lost his faith in God. Eve and Alex are both troubled in their own ways, whilst Clare and Walker seem to be along for the ride. We see many subplots and other stories weaved into the main narrative, as John meets and interacts with all the inhabitants of this weird house.

 

Themes of faith, identity, instability, corruption and destruction drive the novel forward and water is unsurprisingly a prevalent theme. Music and prayer are also common images over the course of the novel and the story almost lilts along, as if the narrative has a mind of its own. I loved the dreamlike nature of the book and Sarah Perry’s style of writing is absolutely sublime. It is unsurprising that her debut and follow up, The Essex Serpent, have been so lauded by critics.

 

The novel is undeniably unusual and may not be everyone’s cup of tea. However, I really found the book fascinating. Things were insinuated rather than stated and the dreamlike nature of the narrative was oddly captivating. The novel didn’t actually contain any explicit supernatural elements, but the novel was eerie and unsettling. There was a haunted, otherworldly element to the house, which felt isolated and the unclear end adds to the element of mystique. An unusual yet unique debut from an author who should have an incredibly successful career ahead of her.

Photography: Matthew Jones

My song choice for this post is “Weird People” by Little Mix. Hope you enjoy 🙂

“Diary Of A Bookseller” REVIEW

Just before Christmas, I decided to read Shaun Bythell’s 2017 memoir The Diary Of A Bookseller. This was on a bit of whim, as I don’t often read non-fiction, but the book caught my eye after a customer returned it. This is one of the perks of working in libraries – there is never any shortage of books to read. However, it also means that titles are constantly being added to my already enormous ‘to-be-read’ pile. But that’s a different story…

Shaun Bythell owns ‘The Bookshop’ in Wigtown, Scotland’s biggest second hand book store. The concept of the book is simple: he has set out to detail the day-to-day runnings of the store, in a diary like format that is incredibly readable. Each day starts with a summary of the number of books ordered and found online and ends with the total number of customers and the till total at day’s end. I enjoy figures and statistics, so I found this a fascinating insight into the realities of actually running a bookstore.

His acerbic tone and no-nonsense approach makes for a colourful read, as Bythell holds no punches when he is describing the ridiculous and often downright rude behaviour of customers in the shop. This tone is also prevalent on his Facebook page, which makes for some interesting further reading. I am sure anyone who has worked in retail or customer service roles can relate to his frustrations. However, most of Bythell’s anger is aimed squarely at big business, particularly Amazon. His feelings are made abundantly clear after he shot an Amazon Kindle and mounted it to the wall of the shop. And after reading some of his experiences with Amazon, I can completely understand his frustrations.

I also found it interesting to learn about Wigtown, a small rural town near Galloway that has been revived in recent years by an abundance of bookstores and the creation of the Wigtown Book Festival. Bythell’s store runs a writer’s retreat during the festival, where visiting writers and tourists can rent a room in the flat Bythell owns above the shop. He has also developed a scheme where aspiring bookstore owners can test-run what it is like to run a bookstore.

He details his visits to auctions and old houses, sifting through book collections of the deceased and the stock of closing libraries and museums. This was an aspect I hadn’t fully considered when thinking about the second hand book trade and I found this a fascinating insight. Each month (effectively a chapter) starts with a quote from George Orwell about bookselling back in the 1930s, with Bythell then discussing the differences and similarities between bookselling then and bookselling now.

Between his sarcastic and cynical views on rude customers, odd requests and quirky members of staff, it is clear that Bythell loves what he does and is obviously passionate about physical books and reading, in whatever form this comes. This is refreshing and I really enjoyed reading this memoir. As the book moves on, you find yourself becoming attached to the host of characters who keep cropping up and I found it an incredibly entertaining read.

Photography: Matthew Jones

 

My music choice for the week is ‘Bad Liar’ by Selena Gomez. I really enjoyed the track and am looking forward to her next album (hopefully out this year!). Enjoy. 🙂

 

2018 Reading & Film Challenges

So, here is my reading challenge for 2018. Like last year, I’m not going to read books necessarily just to complete this challenge, but will be interesting to see if I meet these targets anyway. I have included the 3 challenges I missed from 2017, as well as 9 new challenges and I have tried not to duplicate anything from last year.

So by 1st January 2019, I will see if I can read a book in each of the following categories…

1 ~ A Book You’ve Been Meaning To Read For A Long Time

2 ~ A Book You Read A Long Time Ago

3 ~ A Book That’s Over 600 Pages

4 ~ A Collection Of Short Stories

5 ~ A Historical Murder Mystery

6 ~ A Classic Of Children’s Literature You Haven’t Already Read

7 ~ A Book Originally Published In 1968, 1943, 1918, 1868, 1818 or 1768

8 ~ Read At Least 3 Books From A Series You Haven’t Read Before

9 ~ A Book With A Child Or Teen Protagonist

10 ~ A Book That’s Been Made Into A Film

11 ~ A Book That Was Originally Published In A Language Other Than English

12 ~ A Book That You Haven’t Read Before Because You Find It Intimidating

 

As for my 2018 film challenge, this will be slightly different this year. My aim is between 25th December 2017 and 25th December 2018 is to watch every Disney animated film, which is a lot. I am trying to include Pixar and sequels as well, but we’ll see how that pans out. Maybe I should change that to as many as I can.

So, I will set 5 targets for films in 2018 and see how far I get:

1 ~ Watch as many Disney/Pixar films as I can within the year

2 ~ Watch at least 3 Studio Ghibli Films

3 ~ Finally watch all of The Hunger Games films!

4 ~ Watch at least 3 films in the cinemas

5 ~ Watch at least 3 musicals

 

So there we are. Let’s see how 2018 pans out!

For my music choice this week, I’ve opted for JP Cooper’s ‘We Were Raised Under Grey Skies’, which I just think is sublime! Enjoy 🙂

2017 Reading & Film Challenge

Happy New Year Internet!

Hope everyone had a lovely & relaxing holiday period. I certainly did & I’m looking forward to starting 2018 and seeing what the new year has in store.

Unsurprisingly, I got quite a few new books for Christmas, which I will hopefully be reviewing for the blog soon. I’ve already finished one and I’m looking forward to sinking my teeth into the rest of them over the next few weeks/months!

For my first post of the year, I thought I would post a summary of my 2017 reading/film challenges…

2017 Reading Challenge

So way back at the start of 2017, I made myself a reading & film challenge, setting targets of certain types of books that I wanted to read. I managed to justifiably achieve 9 out of these 12 targets. There were some categories where more than one book could have counted, but I have just included one title for each category I completed…

2017 Reading Challenge

1 ~ A Book Published In 2017

into the water

Into The Water by Paula Hawkins
8th July – 18th July

published  2017

2 ~ A Book Published Before 1900

ina glass darkly

In A Glass Darkly by Sheridan le Fanu
29th October – 26th November

published 1872

3 ~ A Book Published During The Decade You Were Born (for me, the 90s)

crowtrap

The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves
19th July – 17th August

published 1999

4 ~ A Book That’s Under 150 Pages

a cup of rage

A Cup Of Rage by Raduan Nassar
14th October

64 pages

5 ~ A Book That’s Over 600 Pages

X

Sadly, I didn’t read a book of this length. I was pretty close with The Magician King by Lev Grossman. At 560 pages, it was the longest book I read in 2017. 

6 ~ A Book Written By An Author Who Isn’t British, Irish, American or Canadian

michelalub

A Poison Apple by Michel Laub
19th August – 29th August

Michel Laub is a Brazilian author. 

7 ~ A Book You’ve Been Meaning To Read For A Long Time

X

There were possibly a few books that I could have included here, but they were books that I had been wanting to read for maybe a year or two, rather than for a longer period of time. Therefore, I felt like it would be cheating to include something for this one.

8 ~ A Book You Read A Long Time Ago

X

I didn’t re-read anything in 2017!

9 ~ A Book By An Author You Like, That You Haven’t Already Read

a monstercalls

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
12th January – 14th January

I’ve been a massive fan of Patrick Ness for ages, having previously read The Chaos Walking Trilogy and More Than This.

10 ~ A Book From A Series You’ve Never Read Before

peregrine

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
2nd January – 10th January

Never read any of the books from this series before. 

11 ~ A Book With A Colour, Season Or Number In The Title

blueexoricst

Blue Exorcist Volume 1 by Kazue Kato
16th December – 17th December

I read three volumes of this manga, as well as three volumes of Black Butler, which could have also been included for this target. 

12 ~ A Book Recommended To You By Somebody Else

magicians

The Magicians by Lev Grossman
15th March – 31st March

The series was recommended by a colleague at the library and I really enjoyed the series!

 

Of course, this isn’t everything that I read last year, and I didn’t read books just to complete the challenge, so it’s cool I managed to meet 9 out of the 12 criteria. For reference here is a list of the books I read in 2017, and the years they were originally published:

1 ~ Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs (2011)
2 ~ A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness (2011)
3 ~ The Wonder – Emma Donoghue (2016)
4 ~ Radio Silence – Alice Oseman (2016)
5 ~ In A Dark, Dark Wood – Ruth Ware (2015)
6 ~ Reached – Ally Condie (2012)
7 ~ We Were Liars – E. Lockhart (2014)
8 ~ Killing Kate – Alex Lake (2016)
9 ~ The Magicians – Lev Grossman (2009)
10 ~ Butter – Erin Lange (2013)
11 ~ Mister Creecher – Chris Priestley (2011)
12 ~ Tinder – Sally Gardner (2012)
13 ~ Modern Romance – Aziz Ansari & Eric Klinenberg (2015)
14 ~ The Magician King – Lev Grossman (2011)
15 ~ The Magician’s Land – Lev Grossman (2012)
16 ~ Into The Water – Paula Hawkins (2017)
17 ~ The Crow Trap – Ann Cleeves (1999)
18 ~ A Poison Apple – Michel Laub (2017)
19 ~ Alberto’s Lost Birthday – Diana Rosie (2015)
20 ~ Darkly Dreaming Dexter – Jeff Lindsay (2004)
21 ~ Elizabeth Is Missing – Emma Healey (2014)
22 ~ A Cup Of Rage – Raduan Nassar (1978)
23 ~ Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King & Richard Chizmar (2017)
24 ~ Black Butler Volume 1 – Yana Toboso (2010)
25 ~ Black Butler Volume 2 – Yana Toboso (2010)
26 ~ Black Butler Volume 3 – Yana Toboso (2010)
27 ~ The Art Of Being Normal – Lisa Williamson (2015)
28 ~ In A Glass Darkly – Sheridan le Fanu (1872)
29 ~ After Me Comes The Flood – Sarah Perry (2014)
30 ~ Blue Exorcist Volume 1 – Kazue Kato (2011)
31 ~ Blue Exorcist Volume 2 – Kazue Kato (2011)
32 ~ Blue Exorcist Volume 3 – Kazue Kato (2011)
33 ~ The Diary Of A Bookseller – Shaun Bythell (2017)
34 ~ Strictly Come Dancing Annual 2018 – Alison Maloney (2017)

Some facts & stats:

~ 18 of these books were borrowed from the library, the other 16 I own
~ 13 of these titles were published between 2015 and 2017
~ Only 3 of these books were published before 2000 (and one of them was published in 1999)
~ I read 3 non fiction books (far more than usual!)
~ 6 of these books were manga volumes from 2 different series
~ I read books by 30 different authors. Of these 30 I had read books by 9 of them before 2017
~ Most of the authors are British, American or Irish as far as I can tell. The 4 exceptions are Yana Toboso & Kazue Kato (both Japanese) and Michel Laub & Raduan Nassar (both Brazilian)
~ As far as I am aware, 29 of these 30 authors are still living.
~ 2 of these books were co-authored (again, unusual for me)
~ The longest book I read was The Magician King and this also took me the longest to read at 35 days. The shortest book was A Cup Of Rage, which I read in 1 day, the quickest of any book last year.

 

2017 Film Challenge

My film challenge was far less successful, as I only managed to watch 3 out of the 12 films I’d aimed to watch.

These 3 were:
Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them
The Emperor’s New Groove
and
Chicago

However, despite only watching 3 from my initial target, I actually watched a lot of films last year – a grand total of 42, which is a lot for me!

Some more facts & stats:

Of these 42 films, there were 20 I had never seen before.
~ I went to see 2 films in the pictures: It and Jumanji – interestingly enough, both of them were remakes and I’d not seen either of the original movies.
~ 7 films were DVDs I borrowed from the library.
~ There was 1 film I watched twice: Descendants 2.
~ The most films I watched in 1 day was 4 (Christmas Day).
~ I watched at least 1 film every month.
~ The month where I watched the most films was December (12) and interestingly enough these 12 films were watched across the last 13 days of the month.
~ There were 2 months where I only watched 1 film: March (Home Alone) & June (The Emperor’s New Groove).
~ 21 of these films were animated and 21 were live-action.

I will hopefully be setting a fresh reading/film challenge for 2018 and will post about this soon. However, I think I shall leave it there for the time being!

All facts are correct, as far as I am aware.

P. S. My song post for this week is from one of the albums I got for Christmas. It’s from   P!nk’s latest album and is a track called ‘Where We Go’. Hope you enjoy it as much as me.

 

 

 

 

 

“Gwendy’s Button Box”

Title: Gwendy’s Button Box
Authors: Stephen King and Richard Chizmar

 

If you had the power to destroy something, would you do it?

If no-one ever found out it was you, would you be able to resist pressing that button?

If someone had a box with unimaginable power, what should be done with it?

If you found out, would you tell anyone?

 

Gwendy’s Button Box is the first book I’ve read by Stephen King, an author I have been meaning to get into for years. I imagine that this short novella would serve as a nice introduction to Stephen King, compared to some of his much longer works. Gwendy’s Button Box is effectively a fable about power and control. With eerie overtones and an interesting concept, it was a quick read that packed a punch.

The story is set in the fictional town of Castle Rock in Maine. A few of King’s novels are set in Castle Rock and I find it interesting that this short story has links with some of his other works, despite the characters and events not necessarily crossing over. I find the fact that so many of his stories are linked in this way fascinating and these towns – the most famous being Derry, Castle Rock and Jerusalem’s Lot – almost seem to act as alternate/fantasy worlds in and of themselves.

But back to the story. Stephen King is perhaps most famous for horror writing and whilst this novel doesn’t necessarily contain any physical monsters, it is still a frightening tale because of its implications. A potential for destruction that is always tucked away but omnipresent. In a theme similar to several other works (think Jekyll and Hyde, The Picture of Dorian Grey, Lord of the Flies) this novel seems to explore the darker side of human nature and uses this as the source of horror. The monstrous element of this story is the hint of the brutality of human nature: human beings’ capacity for a hidden evil streak.

The novella is co-written with Richard Chizmar, an anthology editor and short story writer. Between both King and Chizmar, they have managed to create a short but eerie tale about the implications and consequences of humanity’s quest for power and also the unpredictability of human emotion and humanity’s capacity for making mistakes. Similar to Pandora’s Box, temptation takes the lead and we are left with several “what ifs” as the story reaches its bloody conclusion.

P.S. My music choice for this week is Burnt Norton (Interlude) by Lana Del Rey. This song is only short but I love it – the lyrics are based of a poem by T. S. Eliot. Hope you love it as much as I do!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alberto’s Lost Birthday BOOK REVIEW

Book: Alberto’s Lost Birthday
Author: Diana Rosie

 

This was an uplifting read, detailing the relationship between a young boy called Tino and his grandfather Alberto. Jumping between the settings of Civil War-era Spain and the present day, the novel manages to remain upbeat and positive in spite of some quite horrific scenes.

 

Alberto is an orphan and his grandson his horrified to realise that he has never had a birthday because he doesn’t know when he was born. This sets a quest in Tino’s mind to discover Alberto’s ‘lost’ birthday. The quest coincides with a difficult period of the family’s life and travelling across the country to find the birthday provides a welcome relief from Tino and Alberto’s difficult home situation.

 

Travelling across the Spanish countryside, the narrative switches between Tino and Alberto’s journey and memories of the past. Chapter by chapter, Rosie switches the narrative (and often the narrator) so that eventually a story builds up, where the past and present weave together to form a heartwarming, if bittersweet resolution.

 

I found Rosie’s writing to be both engaging and accessible and I found the concept of the novel incredibly fascinating. With a cast of loveable (and a few not-so-loveable characters) the story fits together beautifully. Touching on the themes of power, mortality, religion, history, conflict, memories and family, the novel is able to cover a great deal of ground in an accessible and enjoyable way. On the whole, it was a novel I enjoyed a great deal!

 

P.S. My song choice for this week is Paloma Faith’s new track, Crybaby. I think it’s got a great message & I also like the video. I feel it’s pretty dystopian and has some Handmaid’s Tale vibes. Enjoy 🙂