Books · Reviews

(Audio) Book Review: H Is For Hawk (Helen Macdonald)

MacDonald, Helen - H Is For Hawk

★★★★★★☆

Title: H Is For Hawk
Author/Narrator: Helen Macdonald
Genre: Non-Fiction /Memoir
First published: 2014
Edition: Audio-book/paperback published by Vintage Classics in 2016

When Helen Macdonald’s father died suddenly on a London street, she was devastated. An experienced falconer—Helen had been captivated by hawks since childhood—she’d never before been tempted to train one of the most vicious predators, the goshawk. But in her grief, she saw that the goshawk’s fierce and feral temperament mirrored her own. Resolving to purchase and raise the deadly creature as a means to cope with her loss, she adopted Mabel, and turned to the guidance of The Once and Future King author T.H. White’s chronicle The Goshawk to begin her challenging endeavor. Projecting herself “in the hawk’s wild mind to tame her” tested the limits of Macdonald’s humanity and changed her life.

Listening to this novel was like therapy, as I am sure it was cathartic for the author to write this memoir. The author’s soothing voice added to the experience and I am very glad that I decided to listen to this on audio, whilst I also had the book on my shelves.

The author talks about her journey, both in training her goshawk Mabel and the grief caused by the death of her father. Whilst doing this, she contrasts her own methods of training her hawk and her emotional wellbeing with author T H White’s. I really enjoyed that part of this book. It suddenly was not all about her, but also about his struggle and how they each projected their own problems onto their respective hawks.

From the beginning this book was set up for me to love it and it did not disappoint. Having said that, I don’t think it will be for everyone. It can be a little pretentious in places, but to be honest I did not mind that. It sometimes felt like a stream of consciousness, as if the author used the experience of recounting of what had happened in the aftermath of her father’s death as therapy. It feels deeply personal and intimate.

This is definitely the kind of book I would read again in the future.

6 out of 7 stars

 

Books · Reviews

(Audio) Book Thoughts: Born a Crime (Trevor Noah)

aud3 - Noah Born A Crime

★★★★★★☆

Title: Born A Crime
Author / Narrator: Trevor Noah
Genre: Non-Fiction / Autobiography
First published: 2016
Edition: Audio book

Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.

This was a book that had been on my audio-book wishlist for a while and I am glad I finally listened to it. I really enjoyed hearing Trevor Noah talking about growing up in South Africa. He manages to talk about the hardships of growing up a child of a white father and a black mother during Apartheid and the subsequent economic turbulence without ever sounding like he feels sorry for himself.

Hearing about the situation in South Africa from a unique perspective was incredibly interesting.I knew some of the stories already from his stand-up comedy, but I still enjoyed hearing them again.  The tone of his narrative is playful, even if he does talk about very serious subjects and events.  He is matter-a-fact, but explains the situations he found himself in very well and does not sugarcoat too much.

I would highly recommend this one if you like Trevor Noah or if you enjoy a good autobiography that focuses on growing up and place rather than on celebrity.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Rachel Cohn/David Levithan)

Cohn, Rachel & Levithan, David - Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist

★★★★★★☆

Title: Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist
Author: Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
Genre: Fiction/Contemporary/YA/Romance   Pages: 188
First published: 2006
Edition: Paperback, published by Electric Monkey in 2014

Nick and Norah are both suffering from broken hearts. So when Nick sees the girl who dumped him walk in with a new guy he asks the strange girl next to him to be his girlfriend for the next five minutes. Norah would do anything to avoid conversation with the not-friend girl who dumped Nick, and get over the Evil Ex whom Norah never quite broke up with. And so she agrees.

I had so much fun with this one. Is it a masterpiece? No, but it does what it does very well.

I love both Nick and Norah’s voices. They take themselves a bit seriously sometimes and sometimes everything is a joke. They overthink the world, but hey, that is actually what teenagers do. I know I used to. In that way I think it captured teenagehood (teenagedom?) very well. I definitely saw teenage me in these characters and that warmed my middleaged heart.

I loved how the novel takes place over the span of one night and that it is set in New York. You could really feel the vibrancy of the city at night.

I read some other reviews of this novel a while back and much was made of the swearing. I really do not think it is that bad. Yeah, there are a few f-bombs, but is that so bad? Another concern was the way Norah gets her self-worth from the way others perceive her. Well, I think that is the case for a lot of teenage girls and I just because it is not the ideal, it does not mean that a girl like that cannot be represented in fiction. I am sure a lot of young girls recognise themselves in Norah’s thought processes.

I really enjoyed this one for what it was; a fun romance book written for a YA audience.

6 out of 7 stars

 

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: The Secret Life of Cows (Rosamund Young)

Young, Rosamund - The Secret Life of Cows

★★★★★☆☆

Title: The Secret Life of Cows
Author: Rosamund Young
Genre: Non-Fiction /Zoology   Pages: 139
First published: 2003
Edition: Paperback, published by Faber and Faber in 2018

Cows can love, play games, bond and form strong, life-long friendships. They can sulk, hold grudges, and they have preferences and can be vain. All these characteristics and more have been observed, documented, interpreted and retold by Rosamund Young based on her experiences looking after the family farm’s herd on Kite’s Nest Farm in Worcestershire, England.

I was given this wonderful book by my mother-in-law. At only 139 pages it is a pretty short book that tells about the personalities of a variety of cows on Kite’s Nest Farm.

I really enjoyed meeting the cows and learning about their families and the way they interact with each other. Rosamund Young writes vibrantly and clearly has a lot of love for her subjects here.

The narrative is a bit higgledy piggledy and feels a bit all over the place and somehow I feel it would have been a more satisfactory read if it had been a bit tidier in its structure. Having said that, this little book is a delight and makes me look at our bovine neighbours in a completely different light.

I am sure this is not for everyone, but I really enjoyed it for what it was.

5 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Crashing The A-List (Summer Heacock)

Heacock, Summer - Crashing the A-List

★★★★★☆☆

Title: Crashing The A-List
Author: Summer Heacock
Genre: Fiction/Contemporary/Chicklit   Pages: 400
First published: to be published 9 July 2019 by Mira Books (Harlequin)
Edition: e-ARC courtesy of Netgalley and the publisher

After four months of unemployment, former book editor Clara Montgomery is officially stuck–stuck sleeping on her little brother’s ugly couch in Queens, stuck scrolling through job listings in search of a new editorial position…and just desperate enough to take on a temporary gig clearing out abandoned storage units.

Then Clara comes across a unit that was once owned by an escort service and finds the brothel “résumé” of a younger Caspian Tiddleswich, an astonishingly famous British actor. She has no intention of cashing in on her discovery, but her awkward attempts to reassure Caspian that his secret is safe go awry.

This is a classic hate to love story and I definitely had fun with it.

Our main character Clara is relatable and I loved her sassy friend CiCi. Their friendship really shines throughout the story. The love interest is a Hollywood actor, so if you are not into that type of thing, that might be a problem. I did not mind that. Though he was not my favourite love interest in the world, there definitely was chemistry and that is what counts in novels like these.

The plot was kind of predictable, but I do not think I enjoyed it any less for that. I enjoyed the writing and the dialogue felt pretty natural. It never got too soppy. The ending could have been a bit tighter; there was a bit of a monologue that felt a bit like overkill, but it could not ruin the novel for me.

The perfectly good book to snuggle up with to escape the world. If the synopsis sounds up your street I would definitely recommend it.

5 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Singletini (Amanda Trimble)

Trimble, Amanda - Singletini

★★☆☆☆☆☆

Title: Singletini
Author: Amanda Trimble
Genre: Fiction/Contemporary/Chicklit   Pages: 310
First published: 2006
Edition: Paperback, published in 2007 by Little Black Dress

I don’t often come across truly bad books, but this one really was pretty bad. I probably should have given up after 20 pages, but this was so bad it kind of amused me. I kind of wanted to know where it was heading. It was not romantic, not sexy, not anything, apart from cringeworthy.

I know that is a very negative way to start my thoughts on this novel, but to be honest I do not have that many good things to say about his one. And although I am all for ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all’ I did finish this book and I ought to review it.

The main character Victoria is so dim, you want to shake her sometimes… well… all the time. There is literally not an intelligent character in this book. Everyone is incredibly superficial.

The writing is not great either. Every time the MC said ‘shitty’ I amost laughed aloud in amusement. Apparently she could tell just by looking at a dress or suit that the person was wearing Chanel or Prada or any random designer. Really? Every now and then she would turn to the reader to say something, which was completely unnecessary. The plot was incredibly predictable.

And yet, despite all of that, I did not completely hate it. It was bad, yes, but it was not as bad as I expected it to be after the first 20 pages. The plot itself was fine and it could have been a good book if it had been handled a bit (ok, very) differently.

Will I keep this book? No. Will I recommend this book? No. But I can’t quite bring myself to throw it in the trash either. Maybe someone who is less picky might be ok with it.

2 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Birthday (Meredith Russo)

Russo, Meredith - Birthday

★★★★★★☆

Title: Birthday
Author: Meredith Russo
Genre: Fiction / YA / Contemporary   Pages: 300
First published: 2019
Edition: Paperback, published in 2019 by Usborne

Told on one day every year, over six years, this is a story about how change pulls people apart… and how love brings them back together.

This was such a heartfelt story of two teens growing up and getting to grips with their feelings towards themselves and each other.

Birthday was the first novel I read about a trans person and it made me realise how important it is for books like this to exist and thankfully these days they do. For someone out there this may be the most important read of their lives.

For me, I enjoyed it a lot and the fact that the story is told on one day of the year, Eric and Morgan’s birthday, for six years is an interesting approach. This large works very well. At least, it did for the first four years. I felt for the last couple of years, when so much was happening, it did not feel enough. It meant that the previous years’ events lots a little bit of impact for me.

Although I sped through the story and did really love it, I am left wondering whether it could have done a little more than it did. It could have explored certain aspects, especially mental health, a little bit more in depth. Maybe the ending was a little bit too tidy, but I am not sure I can hold that against it. As it is, Birthday is a really good novel that I know will hit a lot of people right in the feels and one I will be recommending to people for sure.

6 out of 7 stars 

(Also check out my reading diary for Birthday)

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: The Bell Jar (Sylvia Plath)

Plath, Sylvia - The Bell Jar

★★★★★☆☆

Title: The Bell Jar
Author: Sylvia Plath
Genre: Fiction / Modern Classic   Pages: 234
First published: 1963
Edition: Paperback, published in 2005 by Faber & Faber

Working in New York one hot summer, Esther Greenwood is on the brink of her future. Yet she is also on the edge of a darkness that makes her world increasingly unreal.

This book is considered a modern classic and it must have made quite an impact when it was first released in the 1960s. Now, half a century later I think its impact has somewhat lessened. I have read a few books that have done a similar thing, namely talk about depression and suicide ideations in this way. Therefore it is hard to look at it in the way I would have done had it been the first book of this kind that I had read. I kind of regret that, because it takes away from the important tale it tells.

The writing has a beautiful quality to it, but remains distant and disconnected, just like the main character, Esther. I cannot say I like Esther,  but I think many of us will understand her detached emotional state and I think that is why this book can be such a revelation to people.

I cannot say I absolutely loved this novel, but I definitely appreciate it. It shows a glimpse not only into the depressed mind of the author, but also into the treatment of mental illness in the 1960s, which is quite literally shocking.

It saddens me to know that the author did not manage to lift that bell jar and succumbed to her own depression in the end. That definitely puts this novel into perspective.

5 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Comic Book Thoughts: Adulthood is a Myth (Sarah Anderson)

Andersen, Sarah - Adulthood is a Myth

★★★★★★☆

Title: Adulthood is a Myth
Author: Sarah Andersen
Genre: Graphic Novel /Comic  Pages: 108
First published: 2016
Edition: Paperback, published by Andrews McMeel Publishing in 2016

This collection of comics is so much fun and not to mention familiar!

I am not a classic introvert (anymore), but I do tend to be on that side of the fence. There were just so many of these 1-page comics that I went “Yup”, nodding my head quite furiously. I turned 40 recently and no, I still don’t feel like a ‘proper’ adult. I still behave like an idiot in awkward social situations. The only difference is that I am pretty good blagging it these days. And I have a daughter I have to pretend to be responsible for…

The art style is simple, but supercute!

I think most of us adulting folk will enjoy this, especially if you are on the introvert side. So many of these anecdotes will be familiar to you. It is the kind of comic that you will want to gift to all your friends (if you choose to have any!).

Simply a joy!

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Dutch Girl (Robert Matzen)

Matzen, Robert - Dutch Girl

★★★★★★☆

Title: Dutch Girl
Author: Robert Matzen
Genre: Non-Fiction / Biography / History  Pages: 400
First published: 15 April 2019 by GoodKnight Books
Edition: ARC e-book, courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher

According to her son, Luca Dotti, “The war made my mother who she was.” Audrey Hepburn’s war included participation in the Dutch Resistance, working as a doctor’s assistant during the “Bridge Too Far” battle of Arnhem, the brutal execution of her uncle, and the ordeal of the Hunger Winter of 1944. She also had to contend with the fact that her father was a Nazi agent and her mother was pro-Nazi for the first two years of the occupation.  

I started out wanting to read this book because an interest in Audrey Hepburn and her connection to The Netherlands, where I was born and now live again, but this book was so much more than a biography.

Besides finding out more about an icon, this book tells the story of a war, of a small area, in a country I grew up in. Of course much time was spent on WWII in school. I remember being moved and touched by documentaries about the war shown during history lessons, the images of stacks of dead people, the horrors of concentration camps are still burnt into my heart, as they should be. In a way, this was a different kind of WWII story. It still brought the horrors of war home, but from the perspective of a small area and the people that lived there.

Through Audrey’s story and the story of her family, we find out what life was life for everyone living through the war; the suffering, the uncertainty, the fear, the hunger.

It all paints a picture of the girl Audrey was and the woman she was to become. Robert Matzen did a great job piecing the facts together with a bit of artistic licence here and there. I think this book is very well written and very coherently tells of a complicated time in history and the effects it had on people. I particularly found Audrey’s mother Ella fascinating character.

This book reiterates the fact that although I do not like reading WWII based fiction, I do really appreciate a well written non-fiction book on the subject and this one showed a different perspective from any other book I have read on WWII. This is not so much a biography as a historical portrait of Arnhem and Velp during the war.

Highly recommended if you are interested in either Audrey Hepburn or WWII.

6 out of 7 stars