Tag Archives: Books

July Book Club

At the beginning of the month Caitlin Moran released her first novel called How to Build a Girl. I felt a bit strange reading it because even if I wanted to change who I was as a teenager it’s a bit too late now, but there was enough to enjoy regardless. I will also admit that I can’t write a better review of the book than John Crace’s digested read in the Guardian which gets to the crux of the problems with the book.

The main character Johanna Morrigan lives with her large family in Wolverhampton doing the usual teenage things, but after winning a poetry competition and embarrassing herself on local TV with an impression of Scooby Doo she decides to reinvent herself. She gets interested in music, goth culture and changes her name. She’s also really interested in boys but there’s no boys willing to help her find out more about sex so Johanna spends a lot of romantic time with herself. A lot of time.

Photo: Published by Ebury Press

She moves on from writing poems to writing music reviews for a national magazine. This career feat gives her the opportunity to become a lady sex adventurer. This is Moran’s rebuttal to the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomena, but I think it works best as a chance to explain to young people what sex is actually about, the precautions needed to make it fun (there’s a chapter about coping with cystitis where every word made me wince) and how it isn’t always romantic.

Eventually Johanna realises she needs to allow herself to actually be a teenager, but by this point I think the rest of her family are more interesting. They all seem to struggle so that Johanna can have what she wants, this includes having their benefits reduced as she’s earning now but continue to lovingly support her.

The strangest thing is Caitlin Moran says the book is not autobiographical, there’s even an opening page to explain that, but there’s a lot of similarities to her career and moments in her life that she’s spoken about in How to be a Woman. All of her stories tend to involve a huge family in Wolverhampton with the main female character doing something different, if that was the case then Caitlin Moran wouldn’t be so different to everyone else. I really enjoyed reading it but it didn’t have the impact I was expecting. This could be that I’m too old for the book, or I grew up agreeing with a lot of these values. Mostly I think it didn’t hit the same stride as How to be a Woman, whether that was because it was fiction or something else, but I would recommend How to be a Woman over this book.

Last month Monty Python performed on stage for the last time at the O2, so as well as watching old shows, documentaries about the group I decided to read Michael Palin’s diaries of The Python Years. This first volume covers 1969 to 1979 which goes from Python getting established to the controversy surrounding the release of the Life of Brian.

It was interesting to see how the team worked together, and there would usually be squabbles and at several points it seems Monty Python was on the verge of splitting up. Then they get together to write something, have a pleasant chat and everything seems happy again. He also writes very honestly about his family, and makes no apologies that his diary entries sometimes miss a momentous piece of Python news for sharing a day out with his family instead.

Personally the best bit in the diaries was when Palin met Brian Winston, who is an instantly recognisable name for anyone who’s been to the Lincoln School of Journalism.


Jeremy Paxman’s Great Britain’s Great War was a fascinating read, after studying history I knew a lot of the main events of the first World War but Paxman has lots of anecdotes from the time. He wanted to challenge the perception that the generals just sat back and got a lot of things wrong which meant a lot of young men died, and show that the approach to war and fighting was changing. However, I think the best parts of the book was dealing with the emotional side effects of war. The chapter detailing how families dealt with missing men after the war was particularly touching, especially how the public reacted to the tomb for the unknown soldier.

While Paxman’s book is a good for those wanting to start finding out more about the war, Mary Beard’s Confronting the Classics is a little bit more advanced than I was anticipating. It deals with the way Ancient Greek and Roman history has been collected, from the sounds of it mostly by people with little understanding of the Greek language or a bit too keen to make places into tourist destinations. For my A levels I studied Classical Civilisation and thought that would help with the book, but I largely studied Ancient Greece, buildings and the prose whereas Mary Beard’s book is mostly about the Romans. This just means it’s more of a challenging read and I hope it gets me reading more about the subject.

August’s reads

After reading about the war, feminism and classical civilisations I fancy some easier reads this month. I’m tempted to read the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy because it’s fantastic and I haven’t read any of the books since I was a teenager. My brother is also very good at finding cheap yet good books for the Kindle and found me Where do comedians go when they die? A journey of stand up by Milton Jones for 99p. Maybe a light-hearted classic as well, we’ll see what I fancy on some of the long train journeys I have this month.

Book club: June

June has been an odd month, I’ve started stockpiling books again and I’m not actually reading them. This is not what my year-long book club is about. I realised in January that I was collecting books and not reading them, the downside of owning a Kindle. I just need to remember that as tempting as new books are, reading them is even better.

One of my favourite books is A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, so I thought I’d try another one of his novels. I wasn’t sure what to expect as A Clockwork Orange is a very violent read filled with a made up language. One Hand Clapping is very gentle in comparison. It follows Janet and Howard who are just a normal working class couple, who enjoy watching television in the evening. They watch a boy win £1000 on a quiz show and Howard decides he will use his photographic memory to win big on the quiz show. Once he has the £1000 it’s not enough and he uses it to win roughly £80,000 by betting on horses. Now with more money than they can imagine Howard and Janet set about having an expensive lifestyle.

Burgess wrote this novel to vent about the slide in Western culture and education, and despite the book being over 50 years old it did feel current. The best bit is the twist ending though when you realise that Janet isn’t as meek as she’s made herself sound.

Dexter’s Final Cut published by Orion Books Limited.

If you thought the Dexter TV series, about a police forensic specialist whose hobby is killing people, could be a bit grim at points, then try the books by Jeff Lindsay. The storylines are different but most of the ‘baddies’ are similar, and it’s much worse reading the chopping and slicing yourself. Having said this I’ve always enjoyed the Dexter books in some way. Dexter’s Final Cut is different, not just because the title isn’t alliterative, as the killer is caught half way through the book by Dexter and not in his police capacity. But the murders continue happening.

I thought the end was a bit predictable and perhaps went a bit too far, not particularly gruesome just a bit too personal. However, it was a really enjoyable read and the ending makes me want to read the next book.

The Midwich Cuckoos is a fantastic read, I read the whole book during one long train journey. Wyndham sci-fi novels are stereotypically British. The village of Midwich experiences a strange ‘Dayout’ event, there’s no consequences until all the women of childbearing age realise they’re pregnant. Nine months later 61 children are born and the village has to deal with raising these extraordinary children and keeping it a secret. Then the villagers realise that the Children are pitting the villagers against one another and something needs to be done.

It was fascinating to follow the children and the impact that it had on the village and the women. The book was written mostly as a factual report with not many mentions of the emotional impact. There were hints to one woman who had moved to Midwich just for work and ended up pregnant as a result of being there on the Dayout and abandoned her baby because she just saw it the same as if she had contracted an illness. That story was just a sentence but I would be interested in finding out more of what the women thought about the invasion. It’s also a very sweet idea from the 1950s that a whole village of women giving birth wouldn’t get in the papers. Nowadays someone would be live tweeting something like that.

July’s reads

When it comes to the summer months people often look for beach reads, romantic novels which can be devoured in a week and left behind in a hotel room for the next person. Instead I’ve picked a few non-fiction books to read. I was enticed by Mary Beard’s Confronting the Classics because I studied Classical Civilisation at A Level so I like to revisit the subject now and again.

Continuing the non-fiction theme I’ve missed Jeremy Paxman since he left Newsnight so this month I’ll be reading his book about the first world war. And for something completely different… I’m hoping to get a copy of Michael Palin’s Monty Python diaries from the library. Monty Python do their final stage show this month and I’m quite interested to see what Python was like at the beginning.

Book club: April

It’s very strange reading a story that you feel you should know more about, yet you don’t. Despite my love of classical literature I’ve hardly read any Charles Dickens novels. I’m trying to change that now starting with Oliver Twist. I know the key parts of the books, if I wanted to I could bluff that I’ve read it already, but I have a weird nagging feeling that I don’t know how the story ends.

One thing I’ve learnt from it is no matter how many times you think of the cheery musical or the comical voices used for, “Please sir, I want some more” is the book is pretty miserable. Oliver seems to sweetly keep going despite all the depressing things happening to him. The writing is fantastic, and brings you into this world, which I think makes it sadder as it feels real.

Kate Mosse’s The Winter Ghosts wasn’t a happy book either, but not as immersive as I found the storyline a little farfetched. The book deals with the idea of loss, the main character Freddie is unable to move on from his brother’s death which leads to him travelling through the French Pyrenees. He finds a small welcoming village and starts talking to a woman who is happy to listen to him talking about the sadness he feels about his brother. Then it turns out that this lady is a ghost and leads Freddie to the undiscovered tomb of her family and friends. I’ve been a bit harsh there but that’s essentially what happened and I thought was a bit odd. It was supposed to be closure but it just seemed a bit unlikely.

Alan Partridge’s autobiography | Photo: Harper

Time for a completely different book now — Alan Partridge’s autobiography I, Partridge we Need To Talk About Alan. It was hilarious, I was sceptical because I was unsure that the ridiculous character of Alan Partridge would work on paper but I was snorting with laughter throughout.

The book stays close to the back story of Partridge from the radio and TV shows, which is funny already, but there’s plenty of new bits written to fill the gaps. A favourite part was Alan’s Toblerone hell, dealing with the pain of losing his television show he turns to the triangular-shaped Swiss chocolate to cope. After reading the book I have now rewatched all the Partridge shows and the recent film. If there was a Partridge pop quiz I would ace it.

Way back in February Suzy recommended Be Awesome by Hadley Freeman which I have now got round to reading. I feel there are a lot of articles and blogs about feminism at the moment that are written purely to get a reaction, not to help, which is frustrating. Whereas Be Awesome is an interesting and measured guide to feminism.

The book is split up into chapters that deal with a different issue, like learning to be fine with being single, how to cope with having friends who have kids and how to read women’s magazines without wanting to grow a penis. Not all the chapters will be relevant to you all the time, but there’s good advice throughout the book. Essentially it all comes down to the idea of be awesome and don’t get hung up on what you should and shouldn’t be doing.

Hadley Freeman predominantly writes for the Guardian and some other magazines, which means there are fun chapters written in different styles to make a point. The chapter about the effect of the Daily Mail is written entirely in the style of their headlines: “Tea for two? No, just one, actually: sad Hadley cuts a lonely figure as she buys just one cup of tea in the office canteen.” It’s a nice and simple way to ridicule that style of writing.

May’s reads

I’m tempted to read some Sue Townsend books this month in memory of the fantastic author who died in April. I’ve read all the Adrian Mole stories but never tried Townsend’s other titles. Apart from that I’m not sure what to read so any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Are there any books you’ve read recently that you loved?

Book club: February

This month’s book that I really should have read by now was To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. The book takes place in 1930s America and follows the court case of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman. Everything the reader sees comes from the perspective of Scout Finch, the young daughter of the lawyer defending Tom Robinson.

Although the topics in the book are hard going and ultimately there’s not a very happy ending there’s a great deal of warmth in the book. A lot of what happens in the book is Atticus’ children learning about the world around them from events happening at school, playing in the town and of course while watching the court case.

They’re also guided as to what’s right and wrong by Atticus who is a strong and silent hero. I also happened to see the film late one evening and Atticus is played perfectly by Gregory Peck. This makes the moment when Atticus makes his speech in the court house defending Tom Robinson so powerful and emotional. It’s also fascinating to see the impact this work of fiction has had on real life and the legal profession.

Other enjoyable reads in February were Hatchet Job by Mark Kermode and The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie. I love the ramblings of film critic Mark Kermode and have learnt many things about the movie industry from his earlier books. The Hatchet Job was about the impact of anyone blogging about films in comparison to proper qualified film critics. It was a bit of a ramble in places but it just made it more like a conversation with Kermode and he has great stories and ways of entertaining the reader.

The Mousetrap is an enjoyable play from Christie, instead of being driven by characters such as Poirot or Miss Marple a lot is left to interpretation. The Mousetrap is a great detective story filled with suspense and plenty of twists. Last month I confessed to just letting detective novels explain what’s happening to me, rather than I try to figure it out. However, The Mousetrap kept making me guess and try to figure out the murderer.

Photo: Hodder & Stoughton

My Madder Fatter Diary by Rae Earl is a book I think everyone should read, especially if you have ever lived in Lincolnshire. It’s Rae Earl’s teenage diaries which accurately document what it is like to be young and dealing with mental health problems. Although it does deal with teen topics it is something all of us can relate to and that helps you to gain a better understanding of mental health. Plus Rae is interesting and funny and came up with this fantastic summary of Lincolnshire: “Shit! Am I a secret racist?! No I live in Lincolnshire which is like living in Britain in 1952.”

March’s reads

I’m in the process of moving so all my books are in boxes, so I’ll be reading on the Kindle for the next few weeks. I have started reading Catch 22 by Joseph Keller and for some light relief, in comparison, the second Sherlock Holmes book The Sign of Four. I’ve also bought 12 Years a Slave and it is on my to read list for this month.