Dark Places – Gillian Flynn

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“I assumed everything bad in the world could happen, because everything bad in the world already did happen.”

I bought this book for two reasons. Firstly, when I’d mentioned that I enjoyed American Psycho to a friend, they recommended this to me and secondly, the big red sticker on the front which says ‘from the author of Gone Girl’.

I have not actually read Gone Girl yet (is it good? Let me know!) but I have seen the film and thought it was entertaining.

This book was actually a real slog to read. I was reading a few pages  every evening and not really enjoying it. Whereas American Psycho is a clever slasher novel where you are constantly left questioning what has come before, Dark Places is very different in style. There is plenty of slashing, don’t get me wrong, but the plot is nowhere near as clever. The twists and red herrings were not placed gently, they were shoe horned in with a heavy touch.

I was disappointed. I had such high hopes, but I couldn’t warm to the main character (although I don’t think you are supposed to) and although the story feels real, it also feels grimy in a way.

I realised what the issue was. I had enjoyed the glamour of American Psycho. There is no glamour in Dark Places. Quite the opposite.

Perhaps if you begin the novel with different expectations to the ones I had, you may enjoy it more.

5.5/10

 Dark Places

Better Than Before – Gretchen Rubin

Better than before Gretchen rubin

“There’s a great satisfaction in knowing that we’ve made good use of our days, that we’ve lived up to our expectations of ourselves.”

When I bought this book, struggling with the stresses of full-time work and study, I wanted a magical fix. I thought it would be easier to clean the house if I made a habit of certain aspects of housework (like emptying the dishwasher or hoovering). Everything would take less time, I would have a tidier house and less distraction from working.

As well as this, I wanted to make a habit of exercise – I never feel like I do enough. I was finding it hard to fit it in after work, so I thought I’d get up ten minutes earlier and go for a run then.

So, I was excited to start reading and become a new me. I immediately found Gretchen a little condescending – she comes from the approach of being Very Good at creating habits, so it doesn’t feel as though you are going through the process with the author, rather you are being lectured at.

Nevertheless, the advice was fair and I began the process of building these habits. I would be so cross with myself when I didn’t do them. That’s when I took a step back, and realised that the book had had the opposite effect – these habits weren’t making me happier or better, instead they were making me miserable and cross with myself.

When I looked at it a little deeper, I realised that I already have a lot of good habits – having a smoothie for breakfast every day, doing the food shop every Friday evening, doing a yoga session once a week.

Perhaps many of us need to congratulate ourselves for the things we’re doing well, rather than beat ourselves up for the things we think we’re not doing right. This is why I chose the quote at the top – perhaps our expectations of ourselves are actually the problem all along.

5.5/10

Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits _ to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life

La Bête humaine (The Beast Within) – Zola

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“As if one killed by calculation! A person kills only from an impulse that springs from his blood and sinews, from the vestiges of ancient struggles, from the need to live and the joy of being strong.”

If you haven’t read any Zola, you must! His characters are always flawed, gritty and real, forcing their way through life with the odds against them. Rather than focusing on the privileged and rich, Zola’s lens is on the underbelly of society – the poor, the ones whose struggles are more desperate and difficult.

In La Bete Humaine, Zola offers a character with a hereditary madness – at many points during the book, Lantier heads out with the intention of murdering a woman. Zola perfectly depicts the all consuming desire Lantier feels.

This is not all, though – Lantier, filled with rage and passion, is not the only character with a ‘beast within’; he is far from the only one in the book with murderous intentions. The other characters, rather than being ‘mad’, are selfish, jealous and grasping, trampling over others to achieve their goals.

This is not a cheerful story. None of Zola’s are. But it is a work of art; passionate and brutal.

9/10

 La Bete Humaine (Penguin Classics)

Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

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“It never occurred to me that our lives, until then so closely interwoven, could unravel and separate over a thing like that. But the fact was, I suppose, there were powerful tides tugging us apart by then, and it only needed something like that to finish the task. If we’d understood that back then-who knows?-maybe we’d have kept a tighter hold of one another.”

There are surely not many now who haven’t read this book or seen the film with Keira Knightly. Regardless, I won’t give away the plot because one of the key moments when I truly understood the power of literature was reading this book and discovering the horrific twist.

The film is heartbreaking too, but if you haven’t read the book or seen the film yet, do read the book first – you’ll form a much closer bond with the characters.

The characters are what makes this book. They are straightforward, real; we follow them from childhood, grow up with them, discover the shocking truth with them. They feel like people you know, and that is the power of this book.

We are left with questions about the value of life, the value of love and our own humanity. We are, at heart, selfish beings, but I’m sure we’d all like to believe nothing like the plot in Never Let Me Go could ever happen. I’m not so sure. It is easy to distance ourselves from the things which sicken us.

10/10

 Never Let Me Go

Sputnik Sweetheart – Haruki Murakami

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“We’re both looking at the same moon, in the same world. We’re connected to reality by the same line. All I have to do is quietly draw it towards me.”

I had never heard of Murakami until my leaving party at my first ever proper job. I was moving away, and it was a sad goodbye to a group of people I loved. One man who worked from home (so I had not got to know very well) gave me this book as a gift. I was very touched and began to read with interest.

This is truly one of the most curious books I have ever read. I finished with a multitude of questions which I know will never be answered.

We follow K, a simple man evocative of many other Murakami characters (particularly from Norwegian Wood), who is hopelessly in love with Sumire. The love seems to be unrequited- or certainly, if it is returned, it is not sexual – and the novel perfectly evokes this yearning.

When Sumire disappears under mysterious circumstances, the yearning grows stronger. Of course, it all seems to be a metaphor – perhaps Sumire had just distanced herself from K’s life – but still, I am in love with the way Murakami so effortlessly picks you up and places you in the head of his heros.

A beautiful book.

8.5/10

Sputnik Sweetheart

30 Books To Read Before You’re 30 (part two)

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This is part two of my list of 30 books to read before you’re 30 (the big day is coming around all too quickly for me…). If you haven’t read part one, you can find it here. So, without further delay, here are numbers 16 – 30:

16. The Old Man and The Sea – Ernest Hemingway

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This is a beautiful, calming story which really put my life and petty worries into perspective. A joy of a book.

The Old Man and the Sea

17. Animal Farm – George Orwell

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“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” – need I say any more? Everyone has heard of this novel, and everyone should read it.

Animal Farm: A Fairy Story (Penguin Modern Classics)

18. Dracula – Bram Stoker

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What a story! This book chilled me to the bone and showed me the true power of horror writing.

Dracula: The Original Edition

19. Jane Eyre -Charlotte Bronte

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This book is here – not only because I love everything by the Brontes – but also because it taught me how I didn’t want to behave in a relationship. I saw Jane as a pushover, and knew I could never act that way – though even so the ending makes my knees weak!

Jane Eyre (Wordsworth Classics)

20. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

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I couldn’t include Jane Eyre without the antithesis Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth taught me to be brave and speak my mind, regardless of what friends and family might be saying.

Pride and Prejudice (Wordsworth Classics)

21. The Book Thief – Marcus Zusac

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A stunning but absolutely heartbreaking story. I read it when the book came out and it has stayed with me ever since – although I haven’t been able to bring myself to read it again.

The Book Thief (Definitions Young Adult)

22. Ulysses – James Joyce

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This looks daunting because of its length, but the stream of consciousness made me feel for the first time ever as though I was in someone else’s head. Disquieting!

Ulysses

23. Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks

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Beautiful and moving, this book made me think deeply about love, the futility of war, parenthood and numerous other themes.

Birdsong

24. MacBeth – William Shakespeare

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My favourite of Shakespeare’s plays, this is rife with action, exciting characters (who doesn’t know about Lade Macbeth or the witches?) and plenty of memorable quotes. Everyone should read at least one Shakespeare play, and this is the best.

Macbeth (Wordsworth Classics)

25. American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis

Bret Easton Ellis American Psycho

Oh, what a book. This taught me that a book can be far more entertaining than a horror movie. Review here.

American Psycho

26. The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank

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This book should be part of the National Curriculum. As it’s not, read it before you’re 30.

The Diary of a Young Girl: Definitive Edition

27. The Last Lecture – Randy Pausch

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The last lecture Randy Pausch gave before he died, this will make you rethink everything and realise what you truly value in life.

The Last Lecture

28. Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami

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An honest depiction of mental illnesses and their effect on everyone. Review here.

Norwegian Wood

29. Les Liaisons Dangereuses- Choderlos de Laclos

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This book is not just here for the story – it’s also for the political and social outrage and change words can cause. Banned in many countries, it eventually led the way to a societal shift on how sex and adultery were understood.

Les Liaisons dangereuses (Oxford World’s Classics)

30. The Harry Potter series – J. K. Rowling

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I couldn’t write this list without including Harry Potter, and I couldn’t choose between those books either. They all have to be here. I grew up with these, and they have shaped the person I am today.

Harry Potter Box Set: The Complete Collection (Children’s Paperback)

I hope you’ve enjoyed the list. Let me know if you think there are any I’ve missed!

30 Books To Read Before You’re 30 (part one)

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With my 30th birthday looming soon, I’ve compiled a list of the books I think are important to read before you’re 30. Some are on the list for the intellectual development they provide, some simply for the pure joy of their entertainment. In no particular order, here is part one…(part two here)

1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy – Douglas Adams

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Laugh out loud funny! This is one of those books I finished and went straight back to the beginning. I read it as an angst filled teenage whilst listening to Kashmir by Led Zeppelin – perfection.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

2. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

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Heathcliff 😍 The ultimate anti-hero, but such a real and gritty character. The Story is as bleak as the moors it is set on – truly heartbreaking.

Wuthering Heights (Wordsworth Classics)

3. How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie

How to win friends and influence people

When I got my first job, my boss gave me this book as a gift and it completely changed how I view people, relationships and confidence. Although it’s a bit cheesy now, it’s a must read!

How to Win Friends and Influence People

4. The Beautiful and Damned – F. Scott Fitzgerald

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I spent a lot of time during my poor early twenties wishing for a lottery win. I thought it would solve all of my problems – I wouldn’t believe anyone who said any different. This was the book which made me realise life with money isn’t automatically better.

The Beautiful and the Damned

5. Once – Morris Gleitzman

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This book truly made me understand proper human suffering – witnessing the Holocaust through the eyes of a Jewish child. A must read for anyone. Review here

Once (Once/Now/Then/After)

6. Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

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Thought provoking, heart breaking and truly unforgettable.

Never Let Me Go

7. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

The handmaid's tale - Margaret atwood

A dystopian society which could easily happen. A must read for any feminist. Your vote counts. Review here

The Handmaid’s Tale (Contemporary Classics)

8. Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway – Susan Jeffers

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This book caused a huge shift in my thinking. I saw there was no point in being frozen in place by imagined anxieties and fears. Feel the fear, and do it anyway!

Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway: How to Turn Your Fear and Indecision into Confidence and Action

9. Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison

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I read this book as a privileged white teenager. Although I knew racism was bad, I wasn’t able to consider the effects it could have on a person until I read this book.

Invisible Man (Penguin Modern Classics)

10. The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks

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I never knew books could be so twisted and dangerous until I read this book…it opened my eyes to a whole new world of literature and the vile depths of human imagination.

The Wasp Factory

11. Inferno -Dante

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The beauty of the language in Dante’s Inferno is truly worth a read. Hugely entertaining and twisted.

Inferno

12. Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

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We are sold an image of war which is different to the reality. The fact that soldiers may be scared and trying to escape the front line was frowned upon when this book was published. A must read.

Catch-22: 50th Anniversary Edition

13. The Catcher In The Rye – J. D. Salinger

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A coming of age novel really, this is a quick read and such a good one. Rarely does a character come to life like this.

The Catcher in the Rye

14. Lord of the Rings – J. R. R. Tolkien

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An immersive fantasy tale – recommended for any age.

The Lord of The Rings (Based on the 50th Anniversary Single volume edition 2004)

15. Gormenghast – Mervin Peake

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This series is so often overlooked, it’s a tragedy! One of my mum’s favourites, it always reminds me of her. Important for any fantasy fan.

The Gormenghast Trilogy

Ready for part two? Click here!