Thursday, 25 April 2013

What I've Been Reading:
'Love, Aubrey' by Suzanne LaFleur

I'm not usually a big reader of Children's fiction but the cover of this book grabbed my attention and I couldn't resist taking it down from the shelf to take a closer look. The premise sucked me in and I found myself heading to the till and paying for the book. And I'm really glad I had a little uncharacteristic browse of the Children's section of a local book store.

'Love, Aubrey' is aimed at children aged 11 and over but it seems to be a world apart from the novels around when I was that age. I remember fluffy books about babysitters and cheesy horror stories that weren't even intended to be scary. I remember casting aside kids books for teenage (Young Adult wasn't even a genre back then lol) novels that had a bit more substance and some grittier story-lines that my teachers and the school librarian didn't approve of. Things have obviously changed a lot since I was 11 (is it really 16 years ago??) and while reading 'Love, Aubrey' I found myself wishing that this novel had been around for my younger self to read. Because I know that geeky little loner would have adored this book.

Eleven year old Aubrey is alone. At first she thought it would be fun living on her own, buying her own groceries and eating whatever she wants for dinner. But then it started to get a little scary. She knows what her Mom did is wrong but all she wants is for people to understand, to not get mad at her mom because it really isn't her fault. A couple of months ago, Aubrey's dad and little sister Savannah died in a family car accident. As the only survivors, Aubrey and her Mom attempted to live their lives, to get up each morning and go on. But Aubrey's mom couldn't handle it. Aubrey's mom began to get more and more distant until one day she just left. And now Aubrey has to face life alone.

And then Gram turns up, certain that something is wrong. It must be if nobody is answering the phone. After a few days of unsuccessful searching for her missing daughter, Gram decides the best thing to do is take her granddaughter back North with her, keep her safe until everything sorts itself out.

Reluctantly, Aubrey is forced to live again, to get up each morning, to talk to people, to go to school, to move beyond the pain of the accident, the loss of her family. And she begins to find happiness in the most unlikely of places. But when her mom finally turns up, Aubrey's going to have a decision to make. Go home or stay with her new extended family?

I read this 256 page novel in one sitting, not even pausing to make myself a drink or eat lunch. From the first page I was sucked into Aubrey's world, her thoughts and her fears. I found myself remembering what it was like to look through the eyes of an eleven year old in an adult world. There were plenty of moments where I had a lump in my throat and a couple where I actually shed a tear. The last book that moved me in such a way was 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower'. As a child, I don't remember a book ever making me cry and I can't help but wonder whether this novel would have the same emotional effect on an eleven year old as it did on this 27 year old reader. Part of me thinks the perspective of adulthood might be what makes this story so poignant, so heart-wrenching. This book has found a special place in my heart and will remain on my bookshelves until my future children are old enough to read it. 'Love, Aubrey' is a classic in the making.


That New Book Smell...

Does anyone out there love 'The Works' as much as I do? It's a great shop for bargain books and despite what you'd think, sometimes it's possible to get some pretty new releases in there. Take the two Oz books in the top photo. They were only published this year (2013) and yet I got them both on a 2 books for £5 deal. I've always loved The Wizard of Oz and have been dying to read the whole series of books for years but it seems pretty impossible to buy them in the UK for some reason. These are the first two volumes of five so I'm currently on the search for the other three.

The books in the second photo are also all from 'The Works'. The hardback on top of the pile 'Love, Aubrey' cost a tiny £1.99, while the other three were on a 3 for £5 offer. I was geekily ecstatic with my bag of bargains and can't wait to get cracking those spines!

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

What I've Been Reading:
'Blood, Sweat and Tea' by Tom Reynolds

I'm a huge fan of blogging (obviously!) and I'm the first to admit just what a nosy person I am and so I think the thing that appeals to me is getting a sneak peak into the life of somebody else. Funnily though, I've never read a blog-to-book publication before. I've wanted to though. And I chose Blood, Sweat and Tea as my first foray into the genre because the idea of getting a glimpse at the world of a paramedic seemed too cool to pass up.

Anyone who knows me will tell you I've been in the back of an ambulance far too many times. I guess I'm what Tom Reynolds might term a 'frequent flyer'. I have a medical condition that causes me to black out, inevitably scaring passers-by or my work colleagues into calling an ambulance (usually when it isn't necessary). It got to the point where last year some of the Liverpool Paramedics were beginning to recognise me and even remembered where I worked etc. 

I've met some really great Paramedics, the kind for who nothing is too much trouble. But I've also met the kind who when turning up to an unconscious 26 year old in a public place are expecting an alcoholic or drug addict and therefore treat you as such until they know your medical history.

Reading Tom Reynolds' book I have a little more understanding of the job these people do and why sometimes they can seem stressed out, pissed off and arrogant (not that that's how Reynolds comes across or how many of the EMT's I've met are. It's just a reflection of select individuals).

This book made me smile, giggle to myself and also tear up, bite my lip and want to weep. There were things I recognised and things I hope I never have to experience. 

Tom Reynolds has done a great job of personalising the face of the Ambulance service and it will definitely make me feel differently about the next Paramedic who treats me.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who has ever been treated by the Ambulance Service. And I may just have to check out the original blog...


Thursday, 18 April 2013

What I've Been Reading:
'Forgotten' by Sarah J Pepper

Okay, so I didn't finish this book. I don't know if it's just that I'm not in the right mood for it or what but I just found that I wasn't as sucked into the story as I'd hoped I'd be.

The premise sounds great and the protagonist Winnie is pretty cool - a foster kid with psychosomatic visual problems, she sees her world in blurry shades of grey. And yet I just couldn't seem to keep track of what was going on. I felt almost as though I'd stepped into the middle of an on-going series and I should already know what Winnie's visions were about and what kind of supernatural being Jace was. I'm guessing all this stuff will become clear as the plot progresses but I'm a need-to-know-now kind of gal and I like things to at least make a little bit of sense to me.

I probably would have been more inspired to keep reading if the book had been more thoroughly edited. As it stands, I'd say that it could probably do with at least another proof-read and redraft. There were multiple grammar and syntax errors and sentences that didn't make sense. I almost began to get a sense of how it must feel to be dyslexic and have the words seemingly re-arrange themselves on the page.

I think my gay-ness may have also got in the way of me enjoying this book more. I'll admit that I kind of got fed up of hearing about how fit Jace is, about his muscles and the fact that he wasn't wearing a shirt. Don't get me wrong, heterosexuality in fiction is not a problem for me but I found it irritating in this case (kind of like the whole topless Jacob thing in the Twilight books...).

Anyway, it's not that this is a bad book. It's just that it's not my kind of book. I'll probably re-visit it in the future with fresh eyes and a clear mind and see how it goes because despite how I feel I really do want to find out what's going on with Jace and the big guy that follows him round.

What I've Been Reading:
'Sing You Home' by Jodi Picoult

This might possibly be my favourite read of this year so far. 'Sing You Home' is the first of Jodi Picoult's novels that I've read, she's just not a writer who is on my radar, you know? But a couple of months ago two of the women I work with were discussing this novel and the subject seemed close to my heart. And so I tracked down a copy and put it straight on my must-read list. I expected to leave it languishing on my bookcase, un-read for months but the subject matter just kept calling to me and I couldn't resist starting it. And I'm so, so glad that I did.

Music therapist, Zoe Baxter is desperate for a baby. It's the one thing she has always known will make her feel complete. And yet she has struggled through fertility problems, failed IVF, miscarriages and stillbirth. When Max, her husband of nine years divorces her, citing irreconcilable differences as the cause for the dissolving of their commitment to each other, Zoe is distraught. Her whole life has been turned upside down and she doesn't know how she is going to start over.

Until she meets Vanessa, a Guidance Counselor at the local High School. First as friends and then as lovers, Zoe and Vanessa can't imagine life without each other. They are the missing parts of each other. And yet there's only one thing missing in their perfect relationship. A child. Three frozen embryos left over from Zoe and Max's last round of IVF could hold the answer to fulfilling Zoe's dream of motherhood. But when your ex-husband has joined a gay-bashing Evangelical church, how do you convince him to let you raise his un-born child with your new lesbian wife?

Jodi Picoult immerses her reader in a world where being who you are means being hated, where falling in love can mean changing your whole perspective on life and your identity. She opens up the hidden world of the lesbian marriage and lets those on the outside see just how difficult it can be when your lifestyle will never be the accepted norm. She paints a tale of two very strong women, fighting for justice, for the family that others would deny them. And she doesn't hold any punches.

This novel had me close to tears at so many points. Not only did I identify with Zoe and Vanessa on such a personal level, but I also had a strong connection with the character of Lucy, a suicidal, depressed teen who Vanessa and Zoe are trying to save, to turn around through guidance and music.

There's something for everyone in this book and I swear you'd have to have a heart of stone if the story didn't resonate on some level, didn't bring a tear to your eye or a gasp to your throat at some point. I'll definitely be checking out more of Jodi Picoult's books in the future.


Wednesday, 17 April 2013

What I've Been Reading:
'Death Didn't Want Me... Now I Have Life' by Hannah Dee

It’s such a dangerous place to be! Inside my mind.   It flips and turns like the waves of the sea.   It is sometimes gentle but other times it’s like the sharpest rocks from the bottom find me and hurt me. They prick at the skin.
~ Hannah Dee

I'll admit that I skimmed over some of the poetry in this book. Not because it wasn't good but simply because poetry wasn't the reason for me reading this book. After being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, I found myself in a strange position. I felt as though nobody could understand the pain I was feeling and the random thoughts that haunted my mind. It was scary.

Discovering this memoir made me realize that I'm not alone, that there are others out there suffering with the same disorder. It made me feel understood. As I read, I found myself highlighting passages that specifically resonated with me. I was nodding along with what I was reading, sure that Hannah Dee had read my mind before writing this book. I felt such a connection with what she said that I could hardly believe it.

This is a must read for any BPD sufferer or indeed their partner, parent or friend. It's a journey into the dark mind of the disorder. It's painful yet passionate and I know I'll be keeping it to hand to re-visit whenever I feel myself slipping.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

What I've Been Reading:
'Salem's Lot' by Stephen King

I love Vampires. I'll read pretty much any novel that features those creepy blood-sucking monsters that sneak around at night and feast on helpless virgins. But, I have to admit I do prefer the traditional Stoker-esque Vampire to the sparkle-in-the-sun Twilight version. Which is probably why ''Salem's Lot' by Stephen King is one of my all-time favourite reads. 

'Salem's Lot has never really been the quiet, peaceful town passers by would think it to be. There is a hint of darkness behind the town's picturesque facade. There is the mother who beats her baby and lies to her husband about how the injuries were sustained, there's the gossips who listen in on other's phone-calls and spy on their neighbours with much-used binoculars. There is the decidedly twisted school bus driver who likes to leave kids stranded four miles from home and the school bully who presides over the school yard like some crazy dictator. But the biggest darkness that hangs over 'Salem's Lot is the Marsten House, the crumbling un-inhabitable Mansion that watches over the town, whose tale is a ghost story to scare children with. The Marsten House was the scene of a murder-suicide that the town has never fully recovered from and that eveyone has a story about.

Ben Mears, disillusioned writer and ex-Salem's Lot inhabitant has his own story about the Marsten House, his own childhood memory that haunts his adult dreams. After the death of his girlfriend, he finds himself returning to the town he lived in as a child, hoping that something there will spark his creativity and help him write his next best-seller. But he finds more than he expected.

Around the same time that Ben arrives in 'Salem's Lot, so do Barlow and Straker, antiques dealers who have taken over an empty store to set up business and also, bizarrely, have bought the old Marsten House. Antique dealers are harmless, right? But it's a strange coincidence that not long after their arrival in town, one young boy goes missing and his brother dies of anaemia. And that's just the start of Salem's Lot's unraveling.

As more and more of 'Salem's Lot's citizens begin to suffer strange flu-like symptoms before dying several days later, Ben bands together with several other unlikely heroes - an aging English teacher, an alcoholic Priest, a doctor and a 12 year old schoolboy - to solve the mystery of the Marsten House's new owners and just what exactly they are doing to their town.

I adore this novel, I really do. The characters are so real, so believable. And it's just creepy enough that it stays in your thoughts when you're no longer reading it. It's typical Stephen King in the sense that it shifts from point of view to point of view (most fascinatingly in this particular novel, the perspective of the town itself). He builds the atmosphere and tension slowly and steadily, creeping to a startling crescendo, giving you time to identify with the characters and really begin to care for them before he puts their lives in peril. And you know, Stephen King takes that whole "kill your darlings" adage seriously, which is probably another reason I love his novels so much - he's not afraid. He does what's necessary. He's a cruel and unjust god to the creatures of his imagination. And it makes him a much better writer than those who aren't.

This book is up there with Dracula as a must-read for anybody who thinks they know the Vampire canon. King taps into the old mythologies and even references Stoker's work in his own. A fantastic, creepy, thrill of a read. I'd recommend it to everyone.


Thursday, 11 April 2013

New Book Haul

I've acquired several new books in the last week. It's pretty bad that I own so many un-read books and yet can't resist buying more. Oh well... Four of them were Birthday presents so that doesn't really count. Right?

'Beautiful Darkness', 'Beautiful Chaos' and 'Beautiful Redemption' were Birthday gifts from my parents. I read the first in the series a little while ago and I'm super excited to read the rest of the series.

'Homonculus' was a Birthday present from my friend Stacey who always knows exactly what books I love. I can't wait to get stuck into this one.

I've been after 'The Panopticon' and 'The Silver Linings Playbook' for a while now and couldn't resist buying them on a Buy One Get One Half Price offer in Waterstones. And while I was there I found 'Intrusion' and 'The Girl on the Stairs' equally irresistible. Plus they were on the same offer. A bargain really. And bought with Birthday money so that doesn't really count either.

'Whit Horse' was a bargain £1.95 in my local Tesco store. And it looks brilliant.

Anyway, that's a little peak at the new additions to my bookcase.
Have you bought any interesting books lately?

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

What I've Been Reading:
'Heart-Shaped Bruise' by Tanya Byrne

Firstly - Oh. My. God! 

I read this novel in what was literally one sitting - several hours curled up on the sofa unable to release the book from my death-grip. When my partner came home from work, I carried on reading, practically ignoring her until I'd turned the last page.

Emily is... well actually there are two Emily's. There is the Emily that the tabloids have declared Evil and there's the Emily who pours out her heart in a diary night after night as she attempts to come to terms with what she has done.

Emily is a resident of the Psychiatric wing of Archway Young Offender's Institute. She is awaiting trial but everybody knows who she is and for Emily there's no doubt that she is guilty. The daughter of infamous London Gangster, Harry Koll, everybody is scared of Emily. And with reason. She was the one who ruined a girl. She is the one who did something 'Evil' and unforgiving purely to destroy 16 year old Juliet, the girl who stabbed her father.

Through a notebook found in one of the rooms after the Institute was closed, we get the chance to see into the crumbling mind of Emily as she pieces together her story, the fragmented reality of how she ended up behind bars.

The tabloids have labelled Emily Evil, the product of a Mobster family. But until the night Juliet stabbed Emily's father in self-defense after he'd murdered her own father, Emily had no idea that her dad was more than a mechanic. The tabloids however, would never print the story of how her whole world tumbled down around her ears that night, how her innocent eyes were opened to her father's murderous ways. The tabloids and the public only want to see what Emily did to hurt Juliet.

Tanya Byrne opens up the world of a Young Offenders Institute and candidly shows us the inside of a mind struggling to grasp the pain she has caused and the pain she is feeling.

We're not supposed to like Emily so much as come to understand her. But as I was reading I grew fond of this tortured teenager and wanted her to find some kind of personal resolution. I wanted her to find hope.

It probably helped that I saw a lot of myself in Emily. I don't mean that I'm capable of the things Emily did. It's just that so much of what she thinks and feels resonated with me. I wish I'd had this book as a teen. It's up there with 'Perks of Being a Wallflower' in terms of gripping, heart-wrenching, compulsive reading. I adored it.


Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Reading Round-Up:

14. 'A Conspiracy of Alchemists' by Liesel Schwarz: [4/5] A fantastic mix of Urban Fantasy and Steampunk. The beginning of what looks set to be a brilliant series.

15. 'Abandon' by Meg Cabot: [4/5] After a brush with death a teenage girl gets mixed up in an underworld she never knew existed.

16. 'Carrie' by Stephen King: [4/5] A tale of High School Horror as a teenage girl gets revenge on the bullies that have made her life hell.

Not a great achievement this month. I kind of got lost with stuff going on in the real world and failed to visit the fictional worlds that I love so much. I'm ploughing myself back into books in April and hopefully I'll have a better reading round-up for you next time.