What I’ve Read / Beautiful Broken Things, Head Over Heels & The Ballroom

What I've Read / Beautiful Broken Things, Head Over Heels & The Ballroom
Here are three reviews of books I’ve read recently!

Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard

If you’re looking for books about female friendship, Beautiful Broken Things is an excellent place to start. It has one of the most honest accounts of friendship I’ve read so far. It tackles that intense feeling experienced when one of your best friends becomes better friends with someone else and what it’s like to see your friendship falling away – and not knowing what to do about it.
Caddy and Rosie are super close until new girl Suzanne comes along. She’s interesting and fun and beautiful. Caddy is suspicious of her until she finds out something from Suzanne’s past that no one else knows. As Suzanne opens up, Caddy finds herself drawn to this fascinating person who’s so different to herself – more daring, more fun, more exciting.

Beautiful Broken Things is difficult to read at times – Suzanne’s mental health and the things she’s experienced are horrendous. And at times it’s tricky to like Caddy as a character, with her comparably easy life of private school and zero Significant Life Events. And yet there are many people out there who haven’t had something traumatic happen to them but struggle through life all the same; feeling the pressure of society, parental expectation and their own self-criticism. Beautiful Broken Things shows what happens when Caddy and Suzanne are convinced they need each other – and who’s to say they don’t?

Head Over Heels & Sunny Side Up by Holly Smale

Oh, what fun it is to see Harriet Manners again! Every time I pick up a new Geek Girl story, I’m transported to a happy place.

Head Over Heels is the fifth book in the series the perfect mix of modelling and the equally as eventful world of Harriet Manners. Team JINTH (Jasper, India, Nat, Toby and Harriet) have it down: they frequently meet at their favourite coffee shop (and have allocated seats) and have pre-planned sleepovers (Harriet has the schedule written up). Harriet’s had a difficult time making close friends up until now and so it was great to see her in this dynamic, even though it’s not as easy as she might think. And it was lovely to greet the supporting characters we know so well and love, from Wilber (even if he isn’t completely himself lately) and Richard (ever the quirky parent) to Rin (still kawaii) and baby sister Tabitha (and potential future model). I had a brilliant time reading Harriet’s fifth adventure – this time set in beautiful, colourful India – and didn’t want it to end.

But Sunny Side Up helped fill the spot nicely, with Harriet on a trip to Paris Fashion Week. I read it after Head Over Heels, but it actually takes place before the fifth book (a little tip!). It’s a short, sweet and fabulous summer novella, with more stunning outfits and hilarious antics. I also enjoyed the extra short: we get to see the first time Lion Boy meets Harriet, from his point of view. I’m ready for you, book six!

The Ballroom by Anna Hope

I’ve always been slightly fascinated by asylums – how easy it is to get committed, how difficult it is to get out, what defines mental illness and the blurry line between “sane” and “insane”. Asylums are a common appearance in horror stories, but they were a genuine horror for the people who had to stay in them.

The Ballroom is set in Sharston, an asylum located on the edge of the Yorkshire moors in the early 1900s. We hear from John Mulligan and Ella Fay – who meet and dance in the asylum’s elegant ballroom, a privilege provided to well-behaved patients – and Charles Fuller, a doctor who writes and researches the eugenics movement. Charles proposes that music therapy can improve the lives of patients, or the “feeble-minded” – until the reader begins to believe that Charles may be the only one who truly belongs at Sharston.

The Ballroom is incredibly compelling and one of the few adult novels I’ve had the chance to read this year. John and Ella’s developing romance is heartbreaking, as is the life of Clem, a bookish friend that Ella in her dorm. Eerie, bleak historical fiction that somehow still manages to leave you hoping.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (Classic #4)

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (Classic #4)

Shelved: Adult fiction (mystery/crime, classic)
Series: Hercule Poirot (#4)
Published: 1926 by William Collins and Sons
Rating: ★★★
Challenge: Classics – #4
Buy: Foyles
More: Goodreads

This is my fourth post for the 2016 Classics Challenge – sign up and join 450+ other people in reading one classic each month.

Roger Ackroyd was a man who knew too much. He knew the woman he loved had poisoned her first husband. He knew someone was blackmailing her – and now he knew she had taken her own life with a drug overdose.

Soon the evening post would let him know who the mystery blackmailer was. But Ackroyd was dead before he’d finished reading it – stabbed through the neck where he sat in his study…

WHEN I Discovered This Classic
I received it in 2012 for Christmas. I’m not sure why I asked for this one in particular, but it’s likely that I scrolled through Goodreads to see which ones were her most popular (it’s currently her fifth most read book).

“It is completely unimportant. That is why it is so interesting.”

WHY I Chose to Read It
It was time for my annual dose of Agatha Christie! I’ve (mostly) read one a year for the classics challenge: Murder on the Orient Express (2014), Death on the Nile (2013) and And Then There Were None (2012).

WHAT Makes It A Classic
Agatha Christie is one of the most well-known and beloved crime writers. If she’s not a classic of the genre, who is? The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is one of her most popular mysteries, known to have a shocking twist, and apparently had a significant impact on the mystery/crime genre. It was voted by the British Crime Writers’ Association as the best crime novel ever.

“The truth, however ugly in itself, is always curious and beautiful to seekers after it.”

WHAT I Thought of This Classic
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is narrated by Dr James Sheppard, who lives in the fictional village of King’s Abbot. He’s a great narrator: full of wit, light mockery and surprising vivaciousness. He’s shocked when he receives a phone call saying that his friend Roger has been found dead. Dr Sheppard knows it must have occurred shortly after Roger received a letter from someone who blackmailed the woman he adored into committing suicide – but does anyone else? He calls on as many people as he can (even his gossipy sister!) to help solve the murder. As with previous Christie novels, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is full of clever detail, interviews with fishy suspects, and a lot of surprises.

It was my third Hercule Poirot and I enjoyed his character a lot more than I have previously. I’ve not found him to be memorable but, this time, the Belgian detective had more of a Sherlock/Watson dynamic with Dr Sheppard – and they worked well together on solving the mystery. Even so, I can’t say I’m a Poirot fan. I’ve not yet come across a Christie that has gripped me as much as And There Were None. I’ll continue to hope I didn’t read the best one first, and try a Miss Marple next…

I’ll have to agree with Robert Barnard: “Apart — and it is an enormous “apart” — from the sensational solution, this is a fairly conventional Christie. … A classic, but there are some better Christies”. I was enjoying the first half until it all got a bit puzzling, with a lot of red herrings thrown in. Even though the ending was a little bit of a surprise (I did wonder at some point, though!), it’s still not my favourite Christie so far. Sorry, Agatha.

WILL It Stay A Classic
I’m sure Agatha Christie will continue to be loved many for years to come! Even if Poirot isn’t my favourite, I’m looking forward to seeing why Miss Marple is a much-adored detective.

“It is odd how, when you have a secret belief of your own which you do not wish to acknowledge, the voicing of it by someone else will rouse you to a fury of denial.”

WHO I’d Recommend It To
People who love crime/mystery stories. People who love twists. People who are new to classics.

“The things young women read nowadays and profess to enjoy positively frighten me.”

Mini Reviews: Graphic Novels

Mini Reviews: Graphic Novels
I borrowed a bunch of graphic novels from the library (read all about that here) and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting stuck into them. Here are my thoughts!

Coraline by Neil Gaiman & P. Craig Russell
I must confess that I’ve never read Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, but I have seen the adaptation and have been curious about how it’d work as a graphic novel. As it turns out, it’s wonderfully creepy. I expected Coraline to have bright blue hair and the story to be as whimsical as it is in the film, but the graphic novel is more realistic. I don’t think button eyes and the Other Mother will ever stop being creepy. P. Craig Russell’s illustrations capture the weirdness perfectly!

Blankets by Craig Thompson
Blankets had been on my wishlist for years. I knew it was a coming-of-age story, but I wasn’t prepared for how gritty it could be. The story of young Craig Thompson and his little brother was both bleak and poignant. The story becomes more hopeful as Craig grows older and falls in love for the first time. Even though the religious aspect was a little too heavy for me, Blankets is full of lovely cinematic panels and gorgeous illustrations.

El Deafo by Cece Bell
El Deafo is one of the best graphic novels I’ve read, about Cece Bell growing up with a severe hearing impairment in the 80s after becoming ill. El Deafo is beautifully illustrated and the story is fantastic. Cece shows us what it’s like to not only be unable to hear what’s being said but understand what’s being said. From the difficulties of making friends – especially best friends – to discovering the amazing Phonic Ear, this is a remarkable story about growing up. Cece now has superpowers: El Deafo, Listener for All!

Phonogram, Vol 2: The Singles Club by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie
Before I loved books, I loved music. In The Singles Club, each character gets their own comic, telling the story of one night in a dance club, in a world where music is magic – and they are all “phonomancers”. It’s a little odd and I didn’t love all the characters’ stories, but I enjoyed the bubbly Penny B and her love of dancing, The Pipettes, and beautiful boy Marc, who can’t get over his ex. It’s not a favourite, but a fun concept all the same.

The Property by Rutu Modan and translated by Jessica Cohen
I love coming across books I didn’t know about yet end up loving, but it rarely happens. The Property is the tale of Regina Segal and her granddaughter Mica, who return to Warsaw to get back the family home that was lost during the Second World War. The Property is an emotional tale of heritage and family secrets, but with a sense of humour too. I picked it up because I’m intrigued by World War II stories but I got much more: an emotional graphic novel that I continued to think about long after I put it down.

Ghost World by Daniel Clowes
Ghost World is the story of Enid and Becky, two best friends growing up and growing apart. It’s hailed as “a must for any self-respecting comics fan’s library”. Perhaps it’s because I wasn’t a teen in 90s USA, or perhaps I because I just wasn’t like these particular teens, but I found them too pretentious and unpleasant to appreciate what happened to them. Although I enjoyed the occasional panel, the story and artwork didn’t work for me. I welcome graphic novels about what it’s like to be a teenage girl, but Ghost World sadly isn’t one of them.

Have you read any of these graphic novels?

From My Bookshelves / Graphic Novels

El Deafo

From My Bookshelves / Graphic Novels

The Singles Club

From My Bookshelves / Graphic Novels

Coraline

From My Bookshelves / Graphic Novels

Blankets

Frame illustrations designed by Freepik.

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome (Classic #2)

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome (Classic #2)

Shelved: Classic (Humour)
Published: 1889
Rating: ★★★★
Challenge: Classics – #2
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

This is my second post for the 2016 Classics Challenge – sign up and join 400+ other people in reading one classic each month.

“Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need – a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.”

Suffering from every malady in the book except housemaid’s knee, three men and a dog decide to head for a restful vacation on the Thames. Anticipating peace and leisure, they encounter, in fact, the joys of roughing it, of getting their boat stuck in locks, of being towed by amateurs, of having to eat their own cooking and, of course, of coping with the glorious English weather.

WHEN I Discovered This Classic
I can’t quite remember but it might have been when I first got my Kindle back in 2011. I downloaded a whole bunch of out-of-copyright classics for free and this was one of them. But it wasn’t until I started the classics challenges that I actually decided to read it.

“We must not think of the things we could do with, but only of the things that we can’t do without.” 

WHY I Chose to Read It
I wanted a short, light read and this seemed like the perfect classic! I came across the audiobook on Spotify and started listening to it on the way to work.

WHAT Makes It A Classic
It’s one of the oldest books I’ve read –  127 years old! (That’s 100 years older than myself).

“I don’t know why it should be, I am sure; but the sight of another man asleep in bed when I am up, maddens me.” 

WHAT I Thought of This Classic
Three Men in a Boat was a thoroughly enjoyable classic – and I don’t say this lightly. It helped that I was listening to the audiobook narrated by Hugh Laurie, who was perfect for the story. It’s told with the sort of British humour that I forget how much I enjoy until I hear it – witty, hyperbolic one-liners told in a serious tone. I rarely laugh at any book, but this one had me trying not to giggle on the way to work.

Three Men in a Boat is exactly what it says on the tin (or should I say, cover). George, Harris, narrator Jerome, and a fox terrier called Montmorency (a fantastic name!) take a two-week boating holiday from Kingston upon Thames to Oxford and back again. Even though much of the story is about the everyday experiences of the river journey – from washing one’s clothes to making a pot of tea – it’s made much more enjoyable by Jerome K. Jerome’s expert understanding of the things that tie us all together; it’s like a 100-year-old version of Very British Problems.

WILL It Stay A Classic
Yes – even though it’s an older classic, it still feels funny and fresh. I could quite believe that it was only published this year.

WHO I’d Recommend It To
People who enjoy British humour. People who want to read older classics. People who want to give classics audiobooks a try.

“But who wants to be foretold the weather? It is bad enough when it comes, without our having the misery of knowing about it beforehand.”

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (Classic #1)

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (Classic #1)

Shelved: Classic (Gothic)
Published: 1962
Rating: ★★★★
Challenge: Classics – #1
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

This is my first post for the 2016 Classics Challenge (I’m a little late!) – sign up and join 400+ other people in reading one classic each month.

“I remember that I stood on the library steps holding my books and looking for a minute at the soft hinted green in the branches against the sky and wishing, as I always did, that I could walk home across the sky instead of through the village.” 

Living in the Blackwood family home with only her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian for company, Merricat just wants to preserve their delicate way of life. But ever since Constance was acquitted of murdering the rest of the family, the world isn’t leaving the Blackwoods alone. And when Cousin Charles arrives, armed with overtures of friendship and a desperate need to get into the safe, Merricat must do everything in her power to protect the remaining family.

WHEN I Discovered This Classic
I’m not quite sure when I discovered Shirley Jackson. It might have been when I was looking up classic horror stories and came across The Haunting of Hill House. I decided to buy We Have Always Lived in the Castle after it was Waterstones’ Rediscovered Classic.

WHY I Chose to Read It
It was included in my Pick My December Classic poll and came second to The Hundred and One Dalmatians. It received such high praise that I made sure to pick it up in January.

WHAT Makes It A Classic
It’s actually a little struggle to think about why this is a classic, aside from that it’s dark Gothic literature at its best. It feels like a story that will never become dated.

“I would have to find something else to bury here and I wished it could be Charles.

WHAT I Thought of This Classic
I’m not sure what I expected from We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Goodreads describes it as ‘horror’, but that doesn’t feel correct to me. It’s a bit Gothic and dark. It’s a bit dreamy, and a little crazy. It hints at something not quite right. But it’s not scary.

Merricat (Mary Katherine) is the 18-year-old protagonist who tells the story of the Blackwoods. She tells us their history and how they came to be. She tells us about life, living with her uncle Julian, beloved sister Constance, and dutiful cat Jonas. She’s honest about her anger towards the rest of the world after her sister was accused (and then acquitted) of murdering their parents. She’s a fascinating character – with one of the best names I’ve come across. Shirley Jackson’s poetic writing works perfectly with Merricat’s often troubling thoughts.

I really enjoyed Merricat’s commentary on day-to-day life. Going into the village; buying groceries; living in an impressive house; and cooking and baking and eating. It’s all wonderfully described and the twists and turns are revealed as plainly, and without drama, as the rest of their daily routine. It’s a calm, dreamy story contrasted with Merricat’s hostility and frustration. As the reader, we shouldn’t understand. Merricat is, after all, incredibly unreliable But we do. When Charles arrives, we feel what she feels. And she is very, very angry.

WILL It Stay A Classic
Yes – Shirley Jackson’s writing still is enjoyed by many. It feels timeless.

WHO I’d Recommend It To
People who like dark stories with complex and unreliable narrators. People who enjoy beautiful and poetic writing. People who are in the mood for a short classic.

“We were going to the long field which today looked like an ocean, although I had never seen an ocean; the grass was moving in the breeze and the cloud shadows passed back and forth and the trees in the distance moved.”