Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Not That Kind of Girl - Lena Dunham

Publisher: Random House
Pages: 265
Published: 2014


From the acclaimed creator, producer, and star of HBO's Girls comes a hilarious, wise, and fiercely candid collection of personal essays that establishes Lena Dunham as one of the most original young talents writing today.

In Not that Kind of Girl, Dunham illuminates the experiences that are part of making one's way in the world: falling in love, feeling alone, being ten pounds overweight despite eating only health food, having to prove yourself in a room full of men twice your age, finding true love, and, most of all, having the guts to believe that your story is one that deserves to be told.
Exuberant, moving, and keenly observed, Not that Kind of Girl is a series of dispatches from the frontlines of the struggle that is growing up. "I'm already predicting my future shame at thinking I had anything to offer you," Dunham writes. "But if I can take what I've learned and make one menial job easier for you, or prevent you from having the kind of sex where you feel you must keep your sneakers on in case you want to run away during the act, then every misstep of mine will have been worthwhile."


This will not be a very long review, because I don’t feel like a can do the usual slapdash literary breakdown that I usually do on this humorous-yet-serious memoir.

That being said I really enjoyed this book. It was an easy read, Dunham’s writing flows and I flew through the book in two sittings. Her sense of humour really appealed to me, and the tone yoyoed between farcical loonacy and solemnity. The humour in this book is quite similar to GIRLS, Dunham will be making a joke about a funny hat she used to wear and then drop an almighty truth bomb, so if you’re not a fan of the tv show, don’t read this. Dunham does have a really striking voice, and it is unlike any narrator of any novel I’ve ever read.

On a similar note, if you’re one of those people who shouts “Oh my God TMI” when your friend says “Last night I had this weird sex dream”, don’t read this book. However if you are the sort of person who will raise a quizzical eyebrow and say “Go on”, then this book is for you. Maybe there is too much information in this book, or maybe it’s just interesting to step inside someone else’s mind, to live a little bit of someone else’s life.

As far as I’ve heard there are two major criticisms of this book.
  1. Dunham is profoundly narcissistic. Yes, she is , but she is aware of it( she admits to being selfish and self-involved many times throughout the book) and this is a memoir so she’s hardly going to talk about someone other than herself is she?
  2. There are no major revelations, no major lessons taught in this book. Fair point, but you’ll notice that “learned” is in inverted commas in the sub-title, so you should have known that from the get-go.

This is a hilarious yet poignant book. It will not change your life, but it will keep you occupied for around four hours. The only major beef I have with this book is that it is too short to justify spending €16 on a hardback copy, so thank you to my local library for stocking it. May you continue to be a fine establishment.

Four Stars

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Crow Moon - Anna McKerrow

Published: March 2015
Publisher: Quercus
Pages: 384

Blurb: Danny is a fun-loving 16-year-old looking for a father figure and falling in love with a different girl every day. He certainly doesn't want to follow in his mum's witchy footsteps.

Just as his community is being threatened by gangs intent on finding a lucrative power source to sell to the world, Danny discovers he is stunningly powerful. And when he falls for Saba, a gorgeous but capricious girl sorceress, he thinks maybe the witch thing might not be such a bad idea...
But what cost will Danny pay as, with his community on the brink of war, he finds that love and sorcery are more dangerous than he ever imagined?
Wickedness and passion combine in this coming-of-age adventure.


Firstly, thanks a million to Quercus for sending me an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

Although it took me longer to read this book than I would have liked, due to coursework for college, I really enjoyed it. The narrative is fast paced, action packed and really held my attention, the characters are unusual and varied. McKerrow has found a really solid balance between action, magic and romance which works really effectively.

My favourite aspect of this book is the world and magic system that McKerrow has built. As far as I know, the magic system is based on the old witchcraft and pagan practices and beliefs that have existed on Cornwall for hundreds of years. McKerrow blends these practices seamlessly with the idea of living off the land, and surviving in what appears to be a post-apocalyptic type land experiencing a fuel crises that has caused society as we know it to cease. Of course the fuel crises is a hot topic at the moment, and I found it both frightening and fascinating to explore
the idea of how we might live if the worst came to the worst. Danny and his family and friends live in the Greenworld, a place distanced from what is left of the old society , the Redworld, which is filled with violence and chaos. In Crow Moon we explore the Greenworld, it’s villages and no man's lands and it’s isolation from the rest of society in the beautiful Cornish countryside.

The society Danny lives in is definitely a matriarchal one, the witches seem to run the show, they are in charge of protecting and guiding their villages. Most of the characters are strong, well-rounded women, except for the protagonist and the antagonist and I’m not sure how this made me feel. There was so much scope to have a female protagonist or antagonist ( who are in short supply in these sort of books), but McKerrow went the other way. The only reason I can find for her doing this is that both Danny and Roach may feel alienated as male witches in a predominantly female environment, and this may lead them to make different choices that someone who doesn’t feel like part of a minority would make. I loved that McKerrow uses ‘witch’ as an ungendered title, with both male and female witches using it.

Danny is a very different character to any other protagonist I have come in contact with recently. He is a sixteen year old boy in every sense of the word. He is sweary, irreverent and disrespectful, he makes rash, stupid decisions not concerned with consequences, and is well obsessed with sex. For all these reasons I found Danny a little hard to stomach to begin with. He is a well rounded character, he is flawed and makes some serious mistakes, but throughout the novel we see him grow and develop into a strong young man, and I grew to have a respect for him. Parts of the book, especially Danny , his introduction to the work of the witches, and his relationship with Roach, reminded me of Harry Potter. And that is one of the highest compliments I can give a book.

I’m really looking forward to the next book in the series, which I think is out this time next year ( so long to wait …..). This one has a fantastic ending and really left me wanting more! I would really like to see more of the Redworld in the next book, and obviously the whole Danny/Saba will-they-won’t-they……..
Two conflicting aspects of this book make it difficult for me to recommend this book to a specific age group. The language in this book is simple, clear and effective, so I feel like teens as young as twelve would have no problem with this, but some of the subject matter might be a bit tough for young teens. However, if you’re used to reading this sort of thing go on ahead. This is a really promising series and now is the perfect time to dive in!

Four Stars

Here's a link to an interview with Anna McKerrow about the book done by the wonderful Adventures of a Teenage Bookworm!

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Since You've Been Gone - Morgan Matson

Published: 2014
Publisher: Simon and Schuster UK
Pages: 449


It was Sloane who yanked Emily out of her shell and made life 100% interesting. But right before what should have been the most epic summer, Sloane just...disappears. All she leaves behind is a to-do list.

On it, thirteen Sloane-inspired tasks that Emily would normally never try. But what if they could bring her best friend back?

Unfortunately, it has been quite a while since I read this book ( seven weeks…), so this review might be a bit of a trainwreck, but I’ll do my very best. This was an impulse buy I picked up in Hodges Figgus in Dublin because I had a book voucher. I had read Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Matson a few years ago and adored it so I knew I’d like this one.

The most important aspect of the book, and my favourite aspect, are the relationships Matson presents us in it. Now as this is a contemporary romance novel, these relationships aren’t exactly realistic, but they are wonderfully adorable. The main one is obviously Emily and Sloane’s relationship. Though Sloane leaves Emily at the beginning of the narrative, there are plenty of flashbacks as Emily reminisces about their time together to get to know her. The thing that struck me most about the girls friendship was, though there was genuine and equal affection between them, Emily relied far more on Sloane for social interaction and confidence than Sloane did on her. This made me feel kind of uncomfortable, that it gave Sloane a little too much power in the relationship, but it also explained why Sloane leaving a list of tasks for Emily to do without her is such a big deal, because without her best friend to lean on these tasks are actually quite difficult for Emily.

Emily and her love interest ( left unnamed to avoid spoilers ), are undeniably delightful, but a little problematic. Some of the twists and turns that led them together are morally dubious, let’s just say that Emily and her beau don’t really give a good example.Sam and Sloane have the most troubling relationship. Through them Matson deals quite well with emotionally abusive teenage relationships that are normally overlooked. While I was worried about them to begin with but I was happy with how it worked out.

The contrast in the relationships between Emily, Sloane and their parents are fascinating as well. While Emily’s parents are ditsy and detached, they have their children’s best interests at heart, and Sloane’s parents should probably revisit their parenting priorities.

This is without a doubt a coming of age story as throughout the narrative we see Emily growing and gaining confidence and independence. I’ve read reviews that describe the list of tasks Sloane leaves Emily as a bit tame an innocent, but I feel like she wouldn’t have been able to deal with a list any wilder than this.

There are a few gems in this book that I really enjoyed and added a bit of an individualistic spark. The play that Emily’s parents are writing sounds like an absolute farce and if there was any way that I could see it performed, or if there is a script lying around that could be published in the internet Matson should just go for it. I loved the playlists included, and while I didn’t listen to them all, sticking on a few tracks while listening did add to the reading experience. Frank’s favourite quote, “In a well ordered universe….” by a comedian whose name I’ve forgotten to write down is my favourite of these gems. I love the sentiment,and it is used as a sort of running in-joke between Emily and Frank, and it grows and develops with their friendship.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s gorgeous and fluffy, but also has a little bite to it. This is the best of contemporary romance, so if you’re into that you should definitely check this out.

Four Stars ****

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Cinder - Marissa Meyer (Lunar Chronicles #1)

Published: January 2012
Publisher: Puffin
Pages: 387


Cinder, a gifted mechanic in New Beijing, is also a cyborg. She's reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister's sudden illness. But when her life becomes entwined with the handsome Prince Kai's, she finds herself at the centre of a violent struggle between the desires of an evil queen - and a dangerous temptation.


Cinder has intrigued me for a while now, so when I saw a copy of it in the library I snapped it up. Is was equal parts excited and frightened of this book, because it sounded amazing, but there are so many awful Cinderella adaptations that it could have been truly terrible. But it wasn’t, it was fantastic, and I can’t believe I left it so long to read the thing.

Obviously Cinder is a twist on the classic fairy tale, but what a twist! Cinder is a cyborg living in futuristic New Beijing, the capital of the Eastern Commonwealth. With a devastating plague sweeping the globe, and Queen Levana of the moon threatening war on the earth, this is not like the Cinderella we know and love. But I nearly love it more it’s so good. This book is more inspired by, rather than based on the fairy tale, the main plot points remain, but it’s a really refreshing. I suspect there are also nods to Rapunzel and Snow White, which makes me very excited for the sequels. The plot is fantastic, and even though I had a fair idea where the story was going, I was still hooked and couldn’t wait to see where it ended up. As the narrative progresses, it just got more and more bizarre, but in a really good way! However, I did see the twist coming, and you probably will too, but that did not spoil the story at all. I was completely captivated by this book, so much so that I before I was finished I ordered the next two books because I couldn’t bear the idea of too much time passing before I could continue the story. I have this wonderful feeling that it’s just going to get more complex and brilliant as it goes on.

The world building in this book was fantastic. The story is set in New Beijing, and while it is a sci-fi, futuristic setting there is a sense of the current Chinese culture, which I really enjoyed. Meyer presents the technology in a really interesting way and I was never left wondering how any of it worked, and there wasn’t a surplus of technology. The lunar ability (aka glamour) while completely weird, was really clear and understandable, even though I’m pretty sure the science behind it is essentially just magic. My favourite aspect of the world building was the political structure. The earth seems to be divided up into several large countries, composed of the continents, and humans have colonised the moon. Some of the states are monarchies , and some are democracies, and I hope we find out more about the politics of the earth in Meyer’s world in the next  few books. A really interesting cultural aspect is the idea that the cyborgs are second class citizens. We see that Cinder is shunned by her family and wider society because of this, because cyborgs are considered lucky to be alive, and that the owe society their lives. I’m interested to see if this attitude changes as the narrative progresses, or if the cyborgs will continue to be persecuted.

Cinder is a fabulous protagonist. She is equal parts strong and feisty, under confident and scared, kind and compassionate. I know she’s a cyborg, but I really connected with her character.  I couldn’t help but root for Cinder, and she’s probably my favourite Cinderella based heroine ( and there has been a lot). It would be very easy to hate Prince Kai, the mysterious, handsome, privileged royal heir who has had everything handed to him on a plate , but I loved him! He was surprisingly intelligent and cunning, and really did seem to care about politics and his people despite being so young. I feel Kai is a worthy romantic lead for this clever book.

I loved this book, it was perfect and the only complaint I would have is that it is too short! I’d recommend it to anyone who likes sci-fi, fairytale re-tellings, or maybe dystopian fiction.

4.5 Stars