Tag Archives: Book Review

The Passage by Justin Cronin

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It’s not often that I choose to read books more than once. To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee), The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald) and The Catcher in the Rye (JD Salinger) are three of my favourite books of all time. I am a sucker for classic literature, presumably given my academic pursuits and natural adoration of English Literature from being a very young age and each of these books are dog eared and beaten, in some cases there are pages slightly torn and weathered from constant, perpetual use. Modern literature doesn’t grab me in the same way and although I’ve read books more than once it hasn’t been because they’ve gripped me and made me feel the same way the aforementioned have, it’s because they’ve been simple and easy, frothy and lighthearted enough to allow me to while away the day sipping tea, wrapped in a blanket – they soothe the mind, rather than challenge it or excite it. However, The Passage by Justin Cronin contradicts my sensibilities somewhat, in the sense that it too is dog eared, weathered and remains the only modern book that I have ever read more than nine times. This current read through, actually, makes it my tenth. Suffice it to say The Passage is the greatest novel written within my entire lifetime and I don’t use those words lightly.

The novel was handed to me not too long after its original release in 2010 and the person who loaned me the novel said that it was the greatest thing they’d ever read and urged me to start reading immediately. When someone tells me things like this, I usually roll my eyes at the sheer melodrama and shove the book somewhere in my increasing ‘to be read’ pile and get around to it when I can be bothered, but, for some reason, I decided to read this one straight away. At the time, most of my reading was done on the commute to and from work/university, so it was slipped into my bag and I decided it would be read on my next hour long journey… After reading the first page, I was hooked: It was one of those novels that instantly held my attention and filled my sensibilities regarding literature with intense promise. This is going to be good, I remember thinking and it soon became the book that I would spend my evenings reading until my eyes became heavy with sleep and I awoke, book still in hand the next day. In short, it was my favourite book.

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The Passage is a post-apocalyptic-cum-vampire novel that, in my opinion, entirely reinvents the concepts behind a traditional vampire novel. The usual clichés writers use in abundance when writing their version of a vampire story are gone; there are no shimmering romantic heroes, or melodramatic teenagd hormones running rampant throughout the pages of Cronin’s epic. Instead, The Passage takes on an almost clinically scientific approach, giving the original concepts behind the vampire novel an intensely realistic re-imagination, making it far more thrilling and far scarier than the routes writers usually take when tackling the traditional vampire concepts; this is not your run of the mill Transylvanian vampire novel, this is something else entirely. Something better.

I think part of the reason behind why I love this novel so much is that it cannot truly be explained without giving away the entire plot and to give away the entire plot without reading the novel really doesn’t to dthe novel justice. Without reading the simplistic, yet entirely intricate language and imperative detail would be disastrous; this novel needs to be experienced first-hand, word for word. Cronin uses his blatant expertise to create a concept that is, essentially, so brilliantly basic that it stands out as one of the most important novels I’ve ever read; it’s like, everything you’ve wanted to read before, but better in every sense of the word. His characters are written so perfectly, that you feel you could reach into the pages of the novel, take them out and they’d be just as amazing as you’d imagined. It’s a novel of almost cinematic brilliance, which makes no sense until you’ve actually read the novel.

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Admittedly, if I didn’t know that this was going to be a trilogy, I may have felt disappointed; a lot of things were left unanswered and had I not read The Twelve and be highly anticipating the third and final novel, I would have felt cheated and the magic, so to speak, of the novel would have dissipated somewhat. It would not have been the first time that I’d read a novel with so much promise, only to be left bitterly disappointed and sad by the end. However, if you go into the novel knowing  that it’s the first of an epic trilogy, then your mind is put at ease and you can enjoy the not knowing with the promise that eventually all of your assumptions and hopes for the novel’s conclusion be answered, or at least reinvented in a far better manner than you could do yourself.

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In short, I found the novel awe-inspiring and absolutely astounding. I am reading it for the tenth time, but each time it feels like the first. Only better. I really to urge you to read it.

Buy the novel here.

Visit Justin’s Website here.

Buy the second instalment here.

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The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice

editThis book is one of my favourite books of all time and there is not a year goes by where I don’t settle down with a large mug of tea in the most comfortable place in my house and read this novel. It’s by no means the greatest book ever written and probably didn’t win a plethora of awards upon release for being some kind of wonder-book, but it is one of my favourites all the same, so I thought I’d write about it.

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets is one of those rare treats, like a huge furry blanket or a rain dripping on the window pane as you snuggle up toasty warm after a long day. The novel is set in post-war England during the 1950s and centres on our protagonist, a delightfully awkward teenager, Penelope, her wonderfully eccentric best friend Charlotte and her mysteriously sardonic cousin Harry, as well as a host of secondary characters, all so beautifully written that they don’t seem secondary to the plot. Rice writes about her characters in such a way that each individual seems more imperative than the next; each so wonderfully eccentric that their storylines are almost as captivating as the central plot, which is of course, a love story. I’m usually very wary of love stories. I grew up reading a lot of them due to my inherent adoration of romance and my desire to be swept off my feet in some grandiose romantic manner, which says a lot more about me than I’m willing to admit. Eventually, though, after reading so many, I felt I was becoming too immune to the plots, I rolled my eyes at a lot of the same language being perpetuated from novel to novel, author to author and thus stopped reading altogether. I’ve never felt that with The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets and when in need of a pick me up, a cosy love story to warm my cockles, I reach for Penelope and her band of merry friends and family, to soothe the hopeless romantic in me. Rice writes in such a manner that, although her language is relatively the same as the novel progresses, that it doesn’t really matter; instead of feeling that Rice is writing it from the perspective of Penelope, you feel as though the teenager herself was writing the novel, thus repetitive use of the world ‘giggle’ seems all the more acceptable – in honesty, I feel that it is a triumph in Rice’s career to be able to write something so encapsulating, that it doesn’t feel like I’m reading a novel at all, but diary excerpts of a teenager learning about life, friendship, love and rock and roll.

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Rice has a distinctively excellent manner of encapsulating the reader into the 1950s and brings the decade alive on the page; the settings within the novel, such as Penelope’s grand, crumbling ancestral home, her friend Charlotte’s auntie’s full to the brim, jumbled, messy flat, as well as the parties she attends in the capital are all filled with decadent detail that make you feel as though you were there – like I say, the novel doesn’t read as such, it reads like a memoir of a teenage rock and roll fan, on the brink of something huge. It’s a spectacular book.

Of course, the plot is entirely predictable, but Rice manages to hide it in such a manner, that it really doesn’t matter; the dialogue is too captivating, the 1950s setting too entrancing, the characters too enchanting, that you really don’t notice the romance developing until it actually happens and by then you’re so engrossed in the novel that you can’t help but whoop with glee, or shed a tear for the protagonist and her magician. I love this book with a passion and every time I finish, my heart feels full to the brim with longing and a desire to read it again and again. As far as romantic, girly novels go, this one is the cherry on top of the frothy, creamy cake for me.

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Yes Please by Amy Poehler

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Being a life-long fan of making people laugh, I grew up believing that female comedians weren’t a thing; I believed I had developed a man-gland that made it possible for me to not only make people laugh, but make men laugh. I thought myself to be quite individual and relatively unique in this department. My comedy heroes growing up were all men and I didn’t resonate with female comedians at all – the only ones I really knew embodied a repertoire that mostly discussed their sexual activities with their husbands and an underlying element of feminist humour that, unless you are particularly feminist, doesn’t win you any giggles on a grand scale and at the time, being a youngster, I didn’t really feel that this brand of comedy, or indeed feminism represented me or my comedic style (I use the term ‘comedic style’ incredibly loosely). When I first discovered Tina Fey and then her work-wife, Amy Poehler, everything changed. These were women who lived and breathed improv comedy and made it their life’s work. They became heroes of mine and I have followed their careers with an almost obsessive compulsion ever since. So, when I heard that Amy Poehler was releasing a book, I had it pre-ordered for months before it turned up on my doorstep. Having read Bossypants by Tina Fey years beforehand, I had incredibly high hopes.

First, let me make it clear that Yes Please did not disappoint me… at all; I devoured it like a hungry wolf and find myself regularly flicking back and forth through the book to find bits I liked and read them again – but I will admit that I did begin reading it expecting to find an almost page for page likeness to Bossypants and I believe that I was almost certainly wrong in that department. Let’s not be naïve here, whilst Poehler and Fey embody a relatively similar sense of comedy, they are entirely different in their delivery and ownership thereof. Whilst I feel that Fey doesn’t own her comedy and seems like she is constantly conscious of her audience, thus making almost every line in her book a punch line, Poehler is the opposite. Whilst Fey’s novel reads like a comedic series of essays with elements of life, work, love and motherhood interspersed, Poehler’s does not. That’s not to say that Yes Please isn’t a laugh a minute, because it really is, I just feel that it is executed in a more effortless manner than Fey’s. Poehler seems to own her sense of comedy as much as she owns her sense of self and reading through Yes Please really feels like reading through the memoirs of someone who is completely and unabashedly at ease with herself in every sense.

To me, Yes Please didn’t feel like reading through a biography at all and when I got past the fact I expected Poehler to use comedy to embellish her life story, it felt really like an inspirational memoir aimed at women who want to feel more comfortable in their own skin. Poehler’s narration feels like an old friend who is subtly encouraging you to be a better version of yourself by coaxing an element of happiness and comfortableness out of your sub-conscious and making it an active sense of your conscious self and is set out into three categories which all read like inspirational slogans for a well-being poster:DSC_0186

SAY whatever you want

DO whatever you like

BE whoever you are

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Each chapter is thus filled with anecdotes, essays and life lessons Poehler herself has learned throughout her life and career in comedy; it reads with relative ease and flows together so effortlessly that you find yourself becoming endlessly inspired by her candidness and gracefully uncomplicated comedic rhetoric that seems entirely unique to Poehler. Whilst reading about parts of her life that she has been hurt or affected by, she manages to make it seem less upsetting or tragic by piling on the inspiration, or using a quip or slice of comedy to lighten the blow – it seems entirely effortless and not at all a conscious attempt to make her seem less vulnerable; instead it just seems like this is the real Poehler – deflecting sad feelings with humour, thus owning it and making it okay. I do exactly the same thing and I have to admit, it helps.

Whilst I have been a fan of Poehler’s for over a decade now, I still found myself learning a lot about her – she is endlessly supportive to her co-workers and peers and has created an almost tour de force of comedy pals that in turn, not only support her but love her endlessly. The piece Seth Myers wrote about her and how they met is one of the sweetest things I’ve ever read, not only affirming that Myers is an absolute angel, but that Poehler is not only a joy to work with, but a joy to know too. I also enjoyed the part she wrote about Tina Fey, in response to Fey’s own excerpt in BossyPants about Poehler – their work-wifery is inspirational and in a sense such a feminist attitude to have towards one’s co-worker/hero/best friend – they are the epitome of women in the workplace, which is such a stark contrast to the media’s representation of women in work, life and play – we don’t actually all hate each other and are, actually, pretty much our best friends’ cheerleaders every chance we get. I enjoyed the graphics that accompanied the piece and her own admission that she would have Fey re-write it for her to make it better; the supportive nature of their friendship is potentially one of the most important pieces for any woman to take away from the novel.

Poehler also has an incredible manner of taking a mirror up to women in society and showing them their true colours; her piece about motherhood in particular was hilarious because it was, in fact, true. Every woman I know who has reproduced and decided to stay home and raise the child and not go back to work, is met with a sense of trepidation, superiority and smugness by women who either have chosen not to have children or who have gone back to work. I myself was in a situation like this a few years ago when I, shock horror, explained I didn’t want to have children until I’d established myself in a career that I felt comfortable and supported in so that I could take ample time off, but then go back. I was met with looks that wouldn’t be entirely out of place from someone who happened to have grown three heads over night. Poehler writes candidly about that in her novel and the life lesson that anyone can take from that is that we’re all different – there is no set rule for women or for mothers, you do whatever it is that you want to do for yourself and no one else.

In short, I found Poehler’s memoirs hilarious, intellectual, inspirational and brilliant; it read like an old friend greeting you over a cold glass of Pinot Grigio and you find yourself becoming sad as it reaches its conclusion. Poehler inspired me and I found myself wishing that I had the same courage and candour to strive towards my life goals with the same unabashed passion and can do attitude that Poehler seems to embody without even realising it herself. As far as my quest goes into reading novels written by hilariously inspirational, confident, independent, feminist women, I have to say that Poehler trumps even the (in my opinion) queen of awesome, Tina Fey. I loved Yes Please and would urge anyone looking for a literary comfort blanket to pick it up and embrace it like the inspirational piece that I’m not sure it was intended to be. I can guarantee you won’t regret it.

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