Review: Such Small Hands

With thanks to Portobello Books comes a review of Andés Barba’s chilling ‘Such Small Hands’, his third book to be translated into English. Afterword by Edmund White.

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Such Small HandsTitle: Such Small Hands
Author: Andres Barba
Publisher: Portobello
Available: 3rd August 2017 (ooooh we got an advance copy, thanks Portobello)
Rating: 3/5*


It’s been a long time since I’ve read anything for review, and even longer since I’ve been so challenged by such a short book. Such Small Hands takes us by the hand and leads us into the strange life of Marina as she assimilates into the orphanage following a car accident in which “Her father died instantly, her mother in the hospital”.

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Review: A Man Called Ove

Please just let Ove succeed in the next chapter, I prayed every night as I cracked the spine of my Kindle.

a-man-called-ove-9781476738024_hrTitle: A Man Called Ove
Author: Fredrik Backman
Available: Now (Amazon, BookDepository)
Moz Rating: 3/5


Ove wants to kill himself. That’s pretty apparent from the first page, what was less apparent was how much I would also want Ove to kill himself by halfway through.

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Review: Paulina & Fran

“She wanted to be her, or be with her, or destroy her” – Paulina & Fran

I received a lovely copy of Rachel B. Glaser’s “Paulina & Fran” from Granta Books in exchange for an unbiased review. I was unfamiliar with the book but the cover really drew me in (I’m a sucker for a funky cover) and I was very excited to give it a read. The results were…a bit of a mixed bag.

paulina-and-fran-book-coverThe book centres around the larger than life character of Paulina and her trials and tribulations as she bluffs her way through art school, determined to create as much chaos and adventure as possible to facilitate her dreams of living her glamorous life to its fullest. She feels she is too good for the hipster circles in which she finds herself and longs to realise a greater calling – as soon as she discovers what that is. Along the way she meets Fran, a quiet but intoxicating presence in Paulina’s life and they quickly form a close bond. The book follows the girls as their friendship deepens and struggles through the trials and tribulations graduation and harsh life realities throw their way.

I definitely enjoyed this book overall. Glaser’s breezy yet sardonic prose suits the story and the world these characters inhibit. She takes an environment that can seem so vapid and ridiculous and makes you care for characters that, if you met them in reality (and sadly reader, I absolutely have) you would cross the room, road and potentially state lines to avoid. However the book is far more than a particularly drawn out and tedious episode of “Skins”. I found her depiction of the girls’ lives post-university incredibly affecting. Fran’s floundering in comparison to her friends’ perceived success really rang true and I found myself all-to-easily relating to the panic and confusion of exiting the college bubble. Glaser handles this deftly and I definitely found it novel come into its own in its second half.

All this said it is difficult to get past the irritating character of Paulina. I have, in the past, been criticised by friends for needing my protagonists to be likable but I take umbrage at this accusation. I certainly don’t need to “like” my protagonists; however I do ask that they don’t enrage me and make me roll my eyes so much as to cause self-induced headaches. Perhaps it comes from mingling in college circles that featured individuals like Paulina – individuals that elicited sighs and more eye-rolling from this ever-so-cynical Die. There were moments where Glaser allowed glimpses of Paulina’s uncertainty and vulnerability to shine through and these were highlights for me, however they were not plentiful enough to allow me to reassess her overall. Unfortunately I felt the novel needed you to buy into and root for Paulina to be an out-and-out success and alas, I just could not bring myself to care that much.

Overall “Paulina & Fran” is short but enjoyable with enough glimpses of brilliance and curly hair commentary to look forward to future works by this author

TL;DR: Some lovely human moments with annoying human characters. Lots of hair and dancing – 3.5/5

– Die

Cover Image via favim.com. Novel Image is Die’s own

Grief is the Thing with Feathers

Like the crow of Porter’s novel, I am also often drawn to the pain of my fellow man and so I couldn’t resist plucking this from Die’s outstretched hands.

I will not cry on the tube.
I will not cry on the tube.
I will try to not cry on the tube.
I will not cry often on the tube.

I have cried on the tube.

Max Porter’s tender, true-to-life first novel, Grief is the Thing with Feathers, made me the man in the verse above. Right from the beginning I knew this wasn’t even close to anything on my shelf. The story begins with feathers on the pillow of the Boys and slowly unfurls around them and their Dad in the wake of Mum’s death.

We guessed
and understood that this was a new life
and Dad was a different type of Dad now
and we were different boys, we were brave
new boys without a Mum.

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Review: A Little Life

“Wasn’t friendship its own miracle, the finding of another person who made the entire lonely world seem somehow less lonely?” – A Little Life

a-little-life-via-new-yorker

I started Hanya Yanagihara’s “A Little Life” just over a month ago and finished it within the last few days. I went into this book completely blind. I was aware that it had won many awards and was highly acclaimed, and I knew this must have been enough for me to add it to my Goodreads “To Read” list many months ago. I take my Goodreads “To Read” list incredibly seriously and as one book is cleared I move on to the next one on the list, often forgetting what it was that piqued my interest enough to add it in the first place.

And thus it was with A Little Life. I downloaded it onto my Kindle (so I did not even have the benefit of a blurb for guidance) and just started reading. When I had started it, Moz (of this parish) asked me what I was reading and, upon hearing my answer, took a sharp intake of breath and said “jesus, isn’t that supposed to be awfully grim?” Grim, I asked him? But this just seems to be a lovely coming-of-age story of four college student friends? What could be so grim? But then I read on. And then, the tears came.

The premise of the book is, on the surface, incredibly simple. We follow the lives of Jude, Willem, Malcolm and JB as they navigate college and life beyond it. Their friendship faces much upheaval, so much coming from the childhood trauma of Jude, their mysterious friend about whom they know so little. To say any more than this would do the reader a disservice as, I believe, the less you know the better.

I could imagine there are many reasons why someone could be put off reading this book – the length (another thing I was unaware of when I started – I really need to do more research before starting books!), the heavy subject matter, the cover (more on that later) – but I cannot stress enough how much I would recommend it to anyone. The writing is stunning, both simplistic and gut-wrenching. There are many areas where it would have been so easy for the book to go wrong: the unbelievable success of all of the characters (Jude is not just a lawyer, he’s one of the best in New York! Willem isn’t just an actor, he’s a superstar!), the enormous wealth they go on to enjoy, the upper class, hipster circles of which they are part, the almost overwhelming sadness that pervades the characters’ lives. However Yanagihara is such a skilled author and writes with such beauty that you just believe it and what’s more you want to believe it and get swept up in it and be left utterly broken but completely satisfied by the time you turn the last page.

The book is not without faults. While Yanagihara navigates the above issues deftly they cannot be completely ignored either. The character of Malcolm could have done with a bit more fleshing out as he becomes an increasingly more periphery figure as the novel progresses. And, while it may not have affected me when reading on the Kindle, I cannot stand the cover of the book. For me it does not accurately represent this novel and feeds into the “grim” perception that unfortunately does not do this novel justice – personal preference of course, but irritating nonetheless.

It is difficult to really delve into the many reasons I loved this book without giving away too much of the story which, as I mention above, would be an incredible shame. Suffice to say I loved every page of it. I laughed out loud (albeit infrequently) and wept uncontrollably (sadly, not-so-infrequently) and finished the book truly feeling I had finished something the like of which I had not read in a very long time and would not see again for perhaps longer. Truly a phenomenal book that I simply cannot recommend enough.

 

TL;DR – 5/5: An easy read despite its length that will make you feel emotions and cry many tears. An absolute must-read

What a Trip: ‘Hystopia’ in Review

As I read the book I really, really could not put it down. I know I say this for almost every book I review here but given the fact I’ve had two assignments and an exam in the last two weeks, this statement is far too true.

Title: Hystopia
Author: David Means
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Available: Now
Rating: 5/5
Review-in-Brief: A truly inspired use of form from Means that blew me away. I would almost indulge in the amnesiac drug, Tripizoid, to go on this trip again.


“Did you see what Geraldine Costner wrote?” Erm, no. “Well she said in her latest article that she reckons Teresa May should step down…well she didn’t say it but she meant it…” Controversial political statements aside, we often read into what people “really mean” when they’re writing. Whether it be an article for a respectable publication or a novel of radical ideas, we tend to look for the hidden intentions and political leanings of the writer.

David Means tapped into this perceptive ability of each human being out there and wrote a book in which you do not, in fact, read directly about the main character. Instead, you read the novel,the main character has written, preceded by the editor’s notes and some interviews with other peripheral characters. Therein you have to guess what’s really going on behind this fictitious fiction presented in Hystopia

I must admit, this sounded so far-fetched to me when I read the description but trusting Faber and Faber as a publisher I decided it had to be worth a look. Adding this to the fact that Means has been regarded as one of the best short story writers there is.

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Review: The Peculiarity of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

It’s like x-men in Wales

I’m a sucker for a great title. The more intriguing the title, the more likely I’ll be to read the book. I think that’s why I’ve often been dragged into books filled with utter muck in genres most people know to avoid. That said, there have been some titles which didn’t just grab me, but held me down too. For example, The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared is a curious title that precedes an excellent read (so excellent that I mistakenly read it twice, not realising until I turned to the last chapter). Naturally, therefore, I was instantly attracted by Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.

20160806_1717422
This is my own 1st edition copy I snapped up in a charity shop for 1 pound

Not only is the title of this novel incredibly eye-catching, but so too is the presentation of the novel. The story is accompanied by found photographs of times gone by, which the author has come by throughout his days collecting unusual photographs. These pictures are the inspiration for the titular peculiar children, as they are of camera tricks making the children appear to be levitating or super strong. Riggs has built his story around these pictures in a very novel way. I must say I did find some of the photographs very interesting and they added an extra something to the novel, or rather as the case probably was the story added more to the photographs.

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