A Year In Review

What a year.

I’m sitting on my sofa wrapped up under our Christmas tree after a few hours too many Christmas shopping in Bristol town centre. While eating my lunch in M&S cafe earlier (gotta treat yo’self when you’re Christmas shopping!), it struck me that the last few months have passed by in a blur. Life also seems somewhat different to my Christmas last year spent predominantly working with some of the most amazing people facing the Christmas shoppers in Foyles.

January was one of the worst mental health months for me since I did my dissertation in 2016. After the blur of the Christmas period, going home for only 2 days for the holidays and coming out of it with what felt like job rejection #96, it all became a little overwhelming. Most nights I cried. Most nights I went through Facebook or Instagram looking at profiles of friends, acquaintances and sometimes complete strangers comparing myself to them. particularly if they had my dream job. It is quite literally the worse thing I could have done really, but once in that mode, you can’t really see past that to realise how ‘ill’ it was making me. I finally got an interview at a social media agency at the end of January – even going to a second interview on the morning of my birthday (only to be rejected once again later that day).

As many graduates will testify, job rejection is simply one of the most soul destroying things on earth. While I was lucky to have a job I liked at Foyles, every application, every covering letter feels like one step closer to your goal – a moment perhaps of hope – which then makes the rejection hurt that much more.

Although the first part of 2017 was filled with hunting for a job, I was incredibly lucky enough to finally get offered my ideal job in April. It was perhaps one of the applications I was initially not expecting too much from, especially as I wasn’t too sure I was fitting for the job description. Despite this, I got an interview, went along worried about my lack of experience and then found out on a voicemail a few days later that I got the job!

The job has taken me from feeling very young and very inexperienced and pissing off a few people with ‘doing the wrong thing’ to going to car launches, taking over my former manager’s job for a month in the busiest part of the automotive year (god that was stressful) and forming some good relationships with clients and colleagues alike. I’m pretty proud of what I’ve done so far in the first 9 months of my first job in the industry and the crying girl wishing she was someone else seems pretty far away from now.

When I look back on the year, the BIG job pretty much takes up most of the moments I think of, but here are a few other moments I think of which bring a smile to my face:

Penguin Launch & IceBar

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My friend and colleague, Lorna, got invited to the launch of The One Memory of Flora Banks (find out my thoughts about the books here) by Penguin and invited me along especially as the launch was at the IceBar in London.

We had a really great time and I got to meet some other bloggers, Booktubers and publishing people, all of us dressed in fur lined ponchos in a bar made of ice…

 

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

Ah, this was quite literally a dream holiday. We had literally the BEST time, doing some things I’ve wanted to do since I was every young – seeing Girl with the Pearl Earring painting (so much smaller than I expected) and visiting Anne Frank’s house. As a bonus, we saw The Goldfinch painting, which one of my favourite books is based on (The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt). We ate well (Bagel & Beans was a winner in the mornings), stayed in a beautiful & posh hotel and walked so much around the city. I really loved Amsterdam!

France

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Pont du Gard (on the 5 Euro note)

We went to France for a week with some really cool people from all over Europe – we listened to “Despacito” with the Spanish translating all the words; played Secret Hitler with Germans, Belgians, Italians, Polish, Hungarians and French and explored the South of France together. Last year we went to Poland and visited a former concentration camp with the same group – it struck me how poignant and important these trips are both for how things have changed in Europe since WWII, but also for the future as Europe changes once again with Brexit.

Exploring Bristol

Bristol
Picture 1: Standing by M Shed one evening looking over the water; Picture 2: Clifton Suspension Bridge (which is as magnificent in real life as it looks); Picture 3: Watching Pretty Woman in Bristol Zoo!

I’ve lived in Bristol a little over a year now and after going through a period of ‘is moving here the right thing?’, I feel so much more settled now. Actually, I’m finding on my visits to London, I’m sometimes driving back content that I’m not living in London – a year ago that was very different. We’ve explored the wonders of Bristol – driven under Clifton Suspension Bridge a number of times, trekked up Park Street, climbed up Cabot Tower, watched Pretty Woman in Bristol Zoo and lived in Stokescroft temporarily amongst many other places.

Looking forward now, there’s a lot to look forward to:

  • Reaching a year in my job
  • Taylor Swift concert in June!
  • Turning 23 in February

Let’s see what 2018 has to hold…

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Filmish: A Graphic Journey Through Film – Edward Ross

61gJiZs1Y1L._SX352_BO1,204,203,200_What I expected to be a fictional story centred around a protagonist’s love for film actually turned out to be 200-odd page visual essay looking at various themes surrounding film. From the way the body is represented in film (anyone who studied Laura Mulvey’s male gaze will have flashbacks in this chapter) to the use of architecture or language in film, this book explores multiple aspects of the world’s favourite and most talked about films as well as a few movies you might not have heard of.

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Film has been a big part of my life for many years, from growing up watching sci-fi films with my Dad at weekends to sharing and expanding my knowledge with my film-mad boyfriend (who still berates me for not wanting to watch The Wrestler nor 10+ hours of Lord of the Rings). As a result, I was a big fan of this graphic novel, desperately pouring over each panel carefully and trying to absorb all the arguments.

I think anyone with some love or knowledge for film would enjoy Filmish, as well as anyone who has studied/studying film or media or just anyone wanting to understand more about how film is constructed. As someone who studied media from GCSE to degree level, myself and my boyfriend (who did a degree in TV Production) really enjoyed the richness and analysis of Ross’ arguments, using theories from our dissertations.

I felt the book is enjoyable for how current it remains to be since its publication in 2015. It discusses both some of the failings of film in recent years (for example, there is a section about Disney’s representation of gender, age, disability and ethnicity) as well as giving some insight into why audiences react in certain ways to gore or death, for example. Combined with clear illustrations depicting well-known scenes in everyone’s most loved and hated films, there is something for everyone’s interests in this book (I loved the amount of analysis on gender representation in film!).

The chapter structure of Filmish does well to break down the analysis without making it becoming too overwhelming, however, I feel one of my main criticisms of this book was that the chapters near the end of Filmish feel far less put together and concrete than the first chapters. The arguments become less complex and at times, the analysis doesn’t feel balanced either looking at films from face value rather than delving deeper, or alternatively, looking a little bit too deeply perhaps and proving a point using a small gesture in a 30 second clip in one film.

Overall, this book does a superb job of giving access to film theory through the form of a graphic novel, providing some interesting, thought-provoking arguments and providing fundamental insight into film. I highly recommend to anyone who has an interest particularly in film and graphic novels – it is a great book to share with fellow film lovers and I especially enjoyed trying to work out which film each panel was depicting with my boyfriend.

Everyone will take away something from this book, whether its a new film recommendation or two, or simply an understanding of how their favourite film is constructed.

I give it a 4 out of 5

 

Dissolution – C.J. Sansom

515Qxg1aeGL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Dissolution is the first book in the Matthew Shardlake series following a lawyer working for the monarchy in the turmoil of Tudor England. I was recommended this book by a customer when I used to work at Waterstones who was after another crime book set in Tudor times (it was actually hard to find one!). I’m a lover of a good old ‘whodunit’ crime novel and I love Tudor history, so this book was a perfect combination for a history and literature lover like myself.

The narrative itself centres around the events that transpire at the monastery of Scarnsea, one of the monasteries that Henry VIII has ordered the closure of. When a commissioner working for the Crown is murdered, Shardlake and his assistant, Mark, are sent there by Cromwell to discover what happened and shut the monastery down for good.

It is the rich historical background of this book that is arguably the best part, set in the aftermath of Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour’s deaths and in the pinnacle of Cromwell’s dissolution of the monasteries after England’s move towards Protestantism. Combined with a setting full of secrets, immoral deeds and more and more questions arising, it made this book readable and rather enjoyable for any history lovers.

However, considering it took me a substantial amount of time to get into this book (to the point where I nearly gave up), I’m glad I continued as this book delved further into the monasteries’ inhabitants secrets and perhaps immoral deeds. With more and more questions arising on every page, it kept me turning the pages – particularly near the end – wondering who the murderer might be.

Matthew Shardlake is not a protagonist that I feel you’re supposed to cheer along – I found him rather dislikeable throughout the majority of the novel, although I found him better towards the end. I had some odds with his assistant, Mark, as a character, as he went from the naive yet cheerful apprentice to moody throughout the novel without much obvious motivation for this change of behaviour.

My main problem with Dissolution was the speed of which the story picked up. It was only until around 150 page mark that I began to read with some interest, everything before seemed unnecessary or just a bit boring really. For anyone picking up this book, I recommend to stick on with it if you do find it a bit dull to begin with. As the story gains momentum and intensity, you’ll find yourself reading it until the early hours wanting to find out the killer!

On the other hand, the writing is excellent throughout, and explained aspects of my Tudor History A level that I had forgotten. Having some prior knowledge of the Tudor period helps in reading this rich historical novel, however, it’s not necessary for your enjoyment I think.

I’m interested in continuing this series, especially as some of the other books centred around King Henry VIII at court (always preferred the scandals at court to the political and religious detail when we studying it!).

A promising start to hopefully a wonderful series!

I give it a 3.5 out of 5

The Power – Naomi Alderman

31195557For anyone who has their ear on the ground about feminist reads or new books by female authors, this is probably pretty well-known, especially since it won Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2017. I thought this would be the perfect book to fill that Handmaid’s Tale shaped gap in my life since the end of the TV series and finishing the book – especially as Margaret Atwood mentored Alderman for this book!

It all begins when teenage girls suddenly start developing this power – this ability to transmit electricity from their fingertips. As it is passed from woman to woman, the power at women’s fingertips suddenly starts to unbalance the power within the world, overthrowing dictatorships, rebelling against patriarchal structures and empowering women to take over from the oppression they’ve always experienced. The book follows four people coping with this new found power dynamic – Allie, a mixed race foster child; Roxy, the daughter of London’s biggest mob boss; Margot, an American middle-class politician stuck in a system full of men and Tunde, a Nigerian teenage boy seizing the opportunity to document the rise of The Power.

This book made me feel a lot of things. At different points throughout, I felt empowered, disgusted, saddened, angered and hopeful in ways I haven’t before in other books (as a side note, I’d be interested to hear whether women and men have different reactions to this book!).

The Power creates a world both so unlike and yet so similar to our own one now – I found myself thinking certain events unimaginable to some extent, but really at face value, any of the events in this book could happen if a group of people was given something extraordinary and powerful. The narrative has moments reminisce of the Arab Springs,  ISIS terror attacks or even protests in recent years both here in the UK and in America. Regardless of motivation and the type of power – sci-fi or reality – Alderman puts a mirror up to our own world barely clothed with its sci-fi element.

The main two elements I loved about this novel was its characters and its complexity. Its characters all felt equally well-developed and rich – their individual narratives all getting equal time to one another. No narrative feels less important than another, which I feel is something had to do when you have a multitude of narratives interlaced with one another.

The word ‘rich’ truly defines what I loved about this book – its characters, its plot, its writing had such a depth to them that allowed the book to explore so many themes and their relationship to one another from gender equality and its unbalances to rape culture, religion and the role of government in a way I didn’t find too preachy.

My only criticism is that, while I took a way a lot from this novel, for me, it was not clear exactly what Alderman wanted to get across as the ending just finishes very suddenly and ambiguously. Maybe that is the point or maybe it is open for your own interpretations based on your own experiences – who knows. However, I think the problem for me here lies in its framing as a history book which felt a little unnecessary by the end – I felt it would have been just as good without.

I don’t think this is a book that everyone would like for its choppy narrative and, at times, its global setting tends to lean on stereotypes potentially in its representation. This was a hard book to review because it was hard to put my finger on why I liked it so much. Ultimately, I have not enjoyed a book like this in a long old while and it was refreshing to read an absorbing, complex and rich narrative without feeling a little overwhelmed.

I give it a 5 out of 5

The One Memory of Flora Banks – Emily Barr

30849412A strange thing happened to me in January. One Wednesday in early 2017, I found myself at a launch for a book I had just about heard of at the Ice Bar in London with my friend Lorna (she has a Book Tube channel called Suddenly Lorna – highly recommend!). We had furry ponchos on and were standing next to an ice sculpture of a gorilla (no joke) talking to other book bloggers, free cocktails in our hands. Considering the day before, I was probably trying to stop a child’s tantrum with a sticker in the children’s area of the bookshop I worked at and cleaning up spilt coffee, it felt a little different. We were there for the launch of The One Memory of Flora Banks published by Penguin and dubbed the best YA book of the year – it was a good nice and it definitely set the scene in my mind for the book.

The book itself is about seventeen year-old, Flora Banks, who has a very short term memory and cannot form any new memories since she was ten years-old. The night before her best friend’s boyfriend leaves town for good, she kisses him and wakes up the next morning remembering the moment over and over in her head – the first time she has been able to form a memory. With only written notes on her hands and a limited memory, she sets off to the Norway to follow him and find out the truth.

I was a bit skeptical whether I’d like this book or not based on the synopsis (the kind of thing that normally makes me roll my eyes), but thought I’d give it a go anyway after hearing good praise for it at the event.

I actually did start getting into this novel for the first half, although the amount of times the narrator repeats THE SAME THING over and over again gets really irritating after a while even if you understand it’s because of her amnesia.

The first part of the book felt very concrete plot wise and introduced the characters well allowing an element of mystery and a feeling that everything doesn’t quite make sense – is that because of the amnesia of our narrator, Flora or something else underlying?

However, the narrative suddenly grew very flat to the point where, in all honesty, I skim read and skipped a big chunk of the middle section. I felt the narrative sort of went off on a tangent and not a very interesting one either. The main story I was most intrigued by was put aside and replaced with a narrative that I didn’t really care about, didn’t understand its relevance and just didn’t find interesting. I tuned back in for the last 80 odd pages and raced through to the end which for me was actually pretty satisfactory and almost empowering in some sense.

This book was predictable (although I did question myself a few times), but sometimes that is the kind of book you want. This book really attempted to take on some great themes near the end and I think that if these had been carried through the whole novel rather than introduced at the end, it would have made for a much more enjoyable read. The characters were unlikeable in my opinion – Flora was plain annoying, native and pathetic at times while I was too suspicious of the other characters to like them in any way.

This book had a lot of potential for me, but its middle section, its lack of continuous topical themes and badly written characters really let this book down for me. The story at the beginning and the end bring this book up a star, however, apart from that, this book disappointed me.

I give it a 1 out of 5 stars

(I was invited to the event as a book blogger, I was not paid to write this review or attend the event and I appreciate being invited entirely. This book has some great reviews on Goodreads – this review is a true reflection of my thoughts on this book that I wanted to share. I believe in the freedom of speech and sharing of opinions on blogs and by no means should this review be seen as a personal attack on the author or publisher in question – it is just my personal opinion of the book I read)

The Girl On The Train – Paula Hawkins

413uEtL4GzL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_I started reading this book mostly to discover what the hype was about after hearing people praising it and finding my colleagues at Foyles talking about the plot in hushed tones.

Those looking for an eloquently written book deserving of maximum high brow literature success, I doubt you’d find that in this book. For me, the writing wasn’t the highlight of this book, but it was made up for in other ways.

However, I zoomed through this book in three days in between working and sleeping. The final hundred pages were utterly compelling and by this point, I was completely absorbed in Hawkins’ narrative. In between reading sessions, I was finding myself constantly thinking about returning to this book because of how thrilling this book was in my opinion.

The role of the unreliable narrator is one that is used a lot (maybe too much you could argue) to add another layer to a plot that is perhaps not all it seems. In The Girl On The Train, it worked perfectly to provide a background of intrigue and surprise throughout its pages. I loved not knowing everything the narrator did to add to the thrilling aspect of this book and start to make you think whether the events recalled are fiction or truth. The plot and this narration is ultimately what keeps you reading.

My only problem was that I found the main female characters quite pathetic and part of me began to think about the sexist implications of the female representation, especially with the wide power difference between the men and women it seems. I found at times the female characters never got quite past their stereotypes, which I found quite problematic.

Despite this, however, the saving grace in terms of female representation is arguably the themes the book explores, such as domestic abuse, marital abuse, pregnancy, miscarriage, alcoholism and emotional turmoil. From multiple perspectives, this book provides a great starter and some awareness for conversations around these important topics, which is in some ways refreshing to see these topics tackled without adding some blame around the female.

In summary, I feel that some people would find some issues with this book, whether its the narrative style or the feminist (or lack thereof) representation. However, for the sheer pleasure of reading and reading something that completely absorbed me, this is a book I would recommend and I thoroughly enjoyed reading, even if it was for just reading something a little different to my usual reading list.

I give it a 4 out of 5

Girlfriend in a Coma – Douglas Coupland

863058While not a great sentence to start a 4* review, it’s true that I’m still not entirely sure why I picked up this book to read in the first place. Maybe it was the cover? Maybe the £2 price tag? Maybe it was my memories of shelving Coupland’s ‘Generation X’ from my previous bookselling job? Whatever the reason, I’m glad I did though for my first experience of the weird and wonderful Coupland.

It’s best to start reading this book, not knowing too much past the basic premise – this book is set around a group of friends in the 1970’s, mainly through Richard’s eyes whose girlfriend, Karen, goes into a coma one evening.

What precedes is one of the most interesting and strangest books I think I’ve read in a while, but there was something incredibly original and so enjoyable about this book. However, like I saw in many Goodreads reviews, this book is quite literally a book of two halves.

As I expressed to my friends, the first half feels like a drama – a coming-of-age story following Richard as he copes with his girlfriend suddenly being in a coma and coping with being in a place where Karen is not quite dead, but also not quite alive either. This part was great, I particularly loved Richard as a character and his narration. I imagine him particularly like a teenage Chief Jim Hopper from Stranger Things.

However, suddenly, this coming-of-age story transforms into a sci-fi and then a supernatural novel without (for me anyway) too much warning. At this point, although I enjoyed the book as a whole, the second half I felt was not as well-crafted as the first half and at times felt like Coupland had two ideas for a novel and just decided to combine them both. In some ways, it works well, but, for me, it was such a change that it left me slightly disengaged from the book latterly.

This book has been described as a moral fable or a post-apocalyptic novel – whatever it is, it’s clear that Coupland is concerned about how the human race is progressing, how people are more lonely than ever, choosing advertising over friends and family, going with the motions of the day rather than doing something productive. These arguments are still relevant now, nearly two decades after this book’s release, and they are arguments that make you think about what we are prioritising in our day-to-day lives. As I saw in a review, Coupland makes you think deeply about the world around you without overwhelming you or feeling too preachy.

This is a novel for people who love multiple genres, particularly if you’re looking for something different. Coupland twists the boundaries of the literary genre to provide a tale that debates the morals in ourselves, our perceptions of the world and particularly, the media. I’m interested to know what Coupland thinks of our world in 2017…

I give this book a 4 out of 5