Trigger Warnings and Sometimes We Just Need to Snort-Laugh in Public

Lately I’ve been feeling like I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump. Looking at my Goodreads Challenge for 2016 (89 out of 100 so far. Not bad muthafu*&ers!), you would think this sentiment is utter bullshite, but I just feel a little bit over it all.

It might be that end of year feeling. It might be my regret at not taking some annual leave during this odd “After-Christmas-Before-New Year” period. Who knows?

I didn’t realise I felt this way until a colleague at work asked me during some down time before Christmas, “So what types of books do you like” and I literally said “Um… all of them?” in my annoying, shaky, high-pitched liar voice.

Even I wasn’t convinced.

Because the honest to Neil Gaiman truth is, I really don’t love any books out there at the moment. But I’m okay with that. Really, I am.

I’ve been going through a lot of random choices lately. In the past I have tried to read a lot more classics and literary fiction, however 2016 has seen my tastes venturing towards a hell of a lot more self-help books (hello, quarter-life crisis!) and what is usually termed “women’s fiction” (by the way, why the hell is that genre called that? These books can be read by men and women. They just happen to have female protagonists. Ugh!).

I’m a big believer in the right books finding you at the right time. After all, there’s no “right” way to approach reading.

So 2016 was a bit of a year about self-discovery and I read a few heavy books. A Little Life was probably the best book of them all. In saying that, I tend to not recommend this one when people ask me for recs, because I don’t want to be responsible for someone’s nervous breakdown triggered by the amount of self-harm and abuse portrayed in that novel. I’m considerate about my fellow man, and all that jazz.

On the other hand (and on a bit of a tangent) how do you feel about trigger warnings for books? Personally, as a psych undergrad, I think it’s responsible but as a reader I don’t think it has a place in art. In my humblest opinion, you’re meant to be open to feeling all of the emotions as part of the experience/consumption of the piece.

ANYWAYS….

After all of the heaviness, I thought I would end the year off with some light-er reading. Preferably something funny, set in England. I am an anglophile, afterall.

So I found out that Kindle Unlimited is now a thing on Amazon Australia and a couple of novels by Nick Spalding were in the Top 20 and recommended to me.

Usually, if I’m in a reading slump, picking something from the “recommended for you” list is not the best thing to do. I’m only going to end up with the same crap I’m trying to avoid, right?

Wrong. Thankfully, oh so wrong.

I read Nick Spalding’s novels Bricking It, Mad Love and Fat Chance (in that order) within the same week. They were such a hoot, I actually snort laughed on the train going into work. His novels gave me a much needed belly-laugh break from the boring books I’ve been borrowing, DNF-ing and returning to the library.

That last sentence was for the kids with alliteration fetishes.

Spalding’s books reminded me that there really is something for everyone and sometimes they are right under your nose. Or perfectly chosen for you by the Amazon recommendations algorithm.

So a few questions for you, my Dear Reader. What’s the funniest book you’ve ever read? Is there something you do in particular to pull yourself out of a reading slump? Have you found some great books from the “Recommended for you” sections in the possibly many book websites you peruse?

Trigger Warning: All caps incoming…

AND HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT TRIGGER WARNINGS IN BOOKS/ART?

Would love to hear your thoughts, so grab a cuppa and let’s have a chat!

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According to Fiction, Swindon is the dullest place on Earth!(?)

I’ve never actually been to Swindon, Wiltshire in England BUT according to two novels I read in the last week, it may actually be the dullest place on Earth.

I’m almost begging readers out there to tell me I’m wrong… but i’m just getting the feeling that it’s a bit of a running joke that nothing really happens in Swindon and it’s just not, well, stimulating.

Here’s how I’ve come to this opinion via the two books I’ve read this week.

The first book I read this week was “The Eyre Affair “by Jasper Fforde:

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First of all, this book was a big hit with me because it was like the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch and the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett  merged together into this awesome book. I’ll definitely be reading the next in the series as I am a bit of a fan of the female protagonist, Thursday Next (yes, such a cool name!).

I really loved the urban fantasy/alternate history/sci-fi mixture that was at the heart of this book. I tried to read Inkheart by Cornelia Funke recently and I feel like Jasper Fforde was able to carry off that awesome concept of “characters coming out of the book” and into real life.

Now, the main character is a Special Ops officer in there LiteraTec department (dealing with crimes to do with literature) and moves from London to her home town of Swindon after a particularly nasty clash with a criminal mastermind.

The fact that this character comes home to Swindon to recuperate after getting injured in a battle and everyone is surprised that she’s “downgrading” from her job in London, to a lower one in Swindon, shows to me that Swindon is probably not the place to be if you want to get places in life. This is just what I’m getting from the book and no offence at all meant to the people who live in Swindon. Again, this is just what I’m getting from the books and I am genuinely curious to see what the real Swindon is like!

On the flip side, I also read “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” by Mark Haddon this week.

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This book reminded me of a lighter version of Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”. Set mostly in Swindon, this book is written by the main character Christopher Boone, a young boy of 15 whom we start to understand is likely on the Autism Spectrum. I thought it was charming and I really felt for Christopher as he uncovered certain things about his family and couldn’t quite understand them and process them as other people not on the Spectrum would.

Christopher actually says at one point in the book that he is happy that he lives in Swindon because it is a place that helps his brain stay quiet. This is directly contrasted with a couple of moments in the second half of the book when he tries to get to London by himself and stays there for some time. Again, that contrast with London and Swindon really makes me think that they are polar opposites! I mean, I acknowledge my own bias since I’ve spent some time in London (and love the place!) and have never been to Swindon, but come on two authors have painted this picture of Swindon as this place that is a haven for people mentally and physically broken and who need a time-out for London. I don’t know if that’s really a selling point. (But seriously, do people take vacations to Swindon or is this just a “i’m just passing through” place? Seriously, I’m really curious about this!)

I chose to read these two books from my To-Be-Read list because my local library happened to have copies of these books and they were also both put on my Goodreads TBR shelf one after the other about 5 years ago. As per my previous blog post, I’m trying to eliminate my TBR in a methodical (probably OCD-ish) way.

I absolutely did not know that both of them were set in London/Swindon but I’m really glad it just happened to be that I read both of these books in the same week.

Now my Dear Reader, let me know what your thoughts are on Swindon, Wiltshire, because I really am so curious about this place. I may even have to plan another trip to the UK for some… um… research.

 

Review: “The Night Watch” by Sarah Waters

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For some reason this book has been on my To-Be-Read list for 5 years (according to the trusty source that is Goodreads). I can’t even remember why I put it on my TBR list to begin with, since it’s more or less a romance novel set in England during World War 2.

I’ve tried to stay away from novels about World War 2 because it’s just too close for my likingMy grandparents were both from different sides of England and were serving respectively in the ATS and Royal Navy when they met and fell in love during World War 2. They just happened to be at the same pub in Liverpool (again, not where either of them were from) and the rest, as they say, is history. So growing up I had always heard things about World War 2 and as a reflex, my eyes would start rolling out of my head.

Now that I’m older and a lot more aware about the pretty shitty things going on in the world, I’ve begun to appreciate just how much the War meant to my grandparents and their generation. Now it makes perfect sense to me that they would constantly bring it up. It was a pretty big deal and “The Night Watch” really gave me a sense of the fear and uncertainty of that time.

I think that my recent trip to the UK (my second one ever) has also renewed my interest in the War. I spent a lot of time walking the streets randomly, just observing the different styles of architecture, and noticed how there were big scars running through sections of the city. I don’t mean that any part of London that I saw was ugly. I just noticed the bits where bombs had clearly dropped and new buildings were built or old buildings were repaired but not quite blended in with the original structure. For an architecture AND archaeological nerd like myself, I found it a great way to immerse myself in the city’s history.

Back to “The Night Watch”… I was actually quite surprised at the homosexual element of the story. I don’t actively look for novels with lesbians as the central characters and I guess it just surprised me because I’m so biased towards World War 2 novels set in England to begin with. When I think “English wartime novels”, I think of very stereotyped gender roles with perhaps some feminist undertones peeking through (but of course nothing to wild because, you know, they’re English) .Quite frankly, I assumed this would be a novel my grandmother would happily sit down and read on a Sunday afternoon… but I’m not too sure I would give this one to her. She may have a heart attack *touch wood*.

I’m glad I was surprised by this novel though. It’s probably the reason why I kept reading it. The only drawback about it was the structure. I didn’t quite understand why the 3 separate parts were in reverse chronological order and I really think the last bit could have been chopped out altogether. Also, I found myself skimming the parts relating to the only central male character named Duncan. I just didn’t find myself caring enough about him.

So Reader, have there been any novels you have found yourself really surprised by recently? Do you have certain topics/periods in history you just can’t bring yourself to read about? Let me know in the comments!

I hope this week has treated you well.

A x

 

 

Review: “84, Charing Cross Road” by Helene Hanff

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From Goodreads:

It all began with a letter inquiring about second-hand books, written by Helene Hanff in New York, and posted to a bookshop at 84, Charing Cross Road in London. As Helene’s sarcastic and witty letters are responded to by the stodgy and proper Frank Doel of 84, Charing Cross Road, a relationship blossoms into a warm and charming long-distance friendship lasting many years.

A book about books, a bookstore, a writer in New York and the lovely city of London. Yes, this one is definitely a book that ticked all of Adrienne the Anglophile’s boxes.

This one had been on my TBR list for a long time. I can’t remember where I heard about it or why I wanted to read it so badly, but I finally checked it out of my local library a couple of weeks ago and read it over the Easter long-weekend.

This book was amazing.

It was very similar to The Potato Peel Pie Guernsey Literary Club, in that it was a collection of letters, but also being oh so English and so lovely all round. The main difference here, of course, is that 84, Charing Cross Road is a non-fiction book and these characters were real people and the events were not fiction. I think this really satisfied my nosy parker self – lately I’ve been craving more stories about “real” people.

I’m going to leave this review as a short and sweet one, just like the book itself. I read this book in one sitting on a comfy Saturday afternoon at home and I strongly recommend that you all do the same!

I would love to find more epistolary novels and non-fiction works of collected letters. Please leave your recommendations below and let me know what you’re reading this week!

Review: “The Lifestyle” by Melissa Giovanna

The Lifestyle is a book that is designed to help you, by shifting your thoughts, words and behaviours through value-based action. Don’t worry, value-based actions aren’t anything scary or overwhelming – it’s as simple as acting on what you value (think kindness, patience and gratitude) and practicing these values consciously in your day-to-day actions until they become habits. We’ve all heard the saying that “Willpower is like a muscle; the more you exercise it, the stronger it becomes” – this is the same principle for action-based values. The Lifestyle will guide you through recommended value-based actions over a four-week cycle and bring you that much closer to developing and achieving full potential, that is, becoming your “actualised-self”.

I know that this book isn’t meant to be read cover to cover in one sitting, since the idea of it is to work through the “Days of Action” and only read ahead for the next couple of days at a time. But let’s just say I took one for the team and read it in one go anyway.

I’m not one for that fluffy, motivational stuff, (so I don’t say this lightly) but this book was inspirational and gave me goosebumps at the thought of all of the amazing ways it could (and will) change my life.

What I found absolutely enchanting and hypnotic was each example of the “admissions from your actualised-self”. These were great, beautifully written examples of how to incorporate the specific value-based action for that particular day into your everyday life. It also helped to highlight how much your life, and the lives of those around you, will benefit in the long run when these value-based actions become habits and you reach self-actualisation.

I’ll be honest – I haven’t yet embarked on my conscious quest for self-actualisation and followed the Days of Action, but from reading through The Lifestyle, I know a couple of things for certain:

  1. I don’t have anything to lose and so much to gain from exercising these value-based actions as outlined in The Lifestyle.
  2. I am absolutely going to rock it.

Overall, The Lifestyle is a book which will help you live a better way of life and become a better human. So if you need a bit of hand-holding to get you through a rough patch, or you’re not quite sure what it is that you need to do to become a better person right now, you need to buy this book (or at the very least, visit the website for more information).

Review: “Sisters and Lies” by Bernice Barrington

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One hot August night, Rachel Power gets the call everyone fears. It’s the police. Her younger sister Evie’s had a car crash, she’s in a coma. Can Rachel fly to London right away? With Evie injured and comatose, Rachel is left to pick up the pieces of her sister’s life. But it’s hard fitting them together, especially when she really doesn’t like what she sees. Why was Evie driving when she doesn’t even own a licence? Who is the man living in her flat and claiming Evie is his girlfriend? How come she has never heard of him? The more mysteries Rachel uncovers the more she starts asking herself how well she ever really knew her sister. And then she begins to wonder if the crash was really the accident everybody says it is. Back in hospital, Evie, trapped inside an unresponsive body, is desperately trying to wake up. Because she’s got an urgent message for Rachel – a warning which could just save both their lives . . .

I really started this year off with a bang, reading-wise. This was the first book I read in the New Year as I trudged from my door to the train to work and repeated the same miserable exercise during peak hour to come home to an empty apartment. My fiancé was away for two weeks, so I had minimal distractions from reading but when it came to bed time and going to sleep – EVERYTHING was a distraction. I’m pretty sure I had convinced myself every single night that someone was breaking into my apartment. Reading a novel so full of suspense like “Sisters and Lies” did NOT help my paranoia either.

Just from reading the blurb, I knew I was going to like this book. Set in London, the two protagonists/narrators are sisters AND there’s a whodunnit element to the novel? You had me from the very start, Ms Barrington. I loved this novel and it kept me guessing until the very end. Usually I’m a bit hesitant to jump into novels where the narrators switch every so often and I think it may be because some writers out there just have difficulty keeping the momentum and pacing right with each turn. From what I can tell, this is Bernice Barrington’s debut novel (if i’m wrong, please feel free to correct me in the comments) but this book is so well written and unputdownable that I definitely would not have guessed it was a debut. I strongly recommend this one and I gave it 4 out of 5 stars.

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review!

Review: “Whispers Through A Megaphone” by Rachel Elliott

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From Goodreads:

Miriam hasn’t left her house in three years, and cannot raise her voice above a whisper. But today she has had enough, and is finally ready to rejoin the outside world.

Meanwhile, Ralph has made the mistake of opening a closet door, only to discover with a shock that his wife Sadie doesn’t love him, and never has. And so he decides to run away.

Miriam and Ralph’s chance meeting in a wood during stormy weather marks the beginning of an amusing, restorative friendship, while Sadie takes a break from Twitter to embark on an intriguing adventure of her own. As their collective story unfolds, each of them seeks to better understand the objects of their affection, and their own hearts, timidly refusing to stand still and accept the chaos life throws at them. Filled with wit and sparkling prose, Whispers Through a Megaphone explores our attempts to meaningfully connect with ourselves and others, in an often deafening world – when sometimes all we need is a bit of silence.

This book kind of reminded me of “A Visit From the Goon Squad” – I can’t put my finger on it, other than the fact that both of them are contemporary fiction, but I make the comparison in the nicest way possible.

The characters are all flawed (some incredibly so) and have their own regrets/crises that they need to deal with throughout the novel. Some are resolved, some are left for the reader to think about, but I suppose this isn’t the type of novel where we need happy, complete endings to each of the characters’ trials and tribulations. The irony is definitely not lost on the psychotherapist that needs to “get lost in the woods” to “find himself”.

Personally, my favourite (and teeny, tiny) character in the novel is Alfie Delaney, who dresses like The Doctor (Matt Smith’s incarnation) and carries a little Amy Pond doll. I may be biased though, since I am myself a freshly recruited Whovian.

I know that this book won’t be for everyone, but if you do like contemporary fiction about people dealing with mid-life crises and some rather disturbing childhood trauma manifesting itself in adulthood agoraphobia, then I say you should definitely give this one a go.

Thanks to Netgalley for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review!