I Read the F*@#ing Books | The Help

I read Kathryn Stockett’s The Help a few months ago having received a free Kindle download. I have to say I wasn’t that interested in it. I had heard a lot about the book since the 2011 film adaptation directed by Tate Taylor after it gained a lot of Oscar buzz but I didn’t watch the film and it took me a long time to get round to reading the book. Having rectified this, I want to share my thoughts on both of them.

The Help is set in 1960s Mississippi. The book is told from three women’s perspectives: Aibileen, her good friend Minnie and Skeeter. Aibileen and Minnie are both black maids working in the households of Skeeter’s (a white woman) friends. Aibileen is smart, well-read and respected by her community. She left school at a young age due to the need to earn but keeps up with her writing at which she is quite talented. Minnie is the firecracker of the pair, she has been fired from numerous jobs for talking back to her employers, but the one person she doesn’t stand up to is her abusive husband. Having just returned home from college, Skeeter begins to see the way in which her friends and her community treat their employees and decides to enlist the help of Aibileen and Minnie to publish a collection of their stories, exposing the true experience of ‘the Help’.

The film is very true to the book in events, characterisation and sequence. There are a few minor changes that I do think matter. I read the book first and my main criticism of it was that it seemed very sanitised. Terrible things happened, such as the enforcement of the rule that the maids had to use toilets outside, but there didn’t seem to be a lot of anger about it. Only one of the maids, Gretchen, was angry at Skeeter’s privileged position and this resulted in Aibileen telling Gretchen to leave her house. This was removed from the film. I think that’s a shame because it showed the reality of tension between the communities. For the most part The Help sticks rigidly to the idea that if you’re a ‘good’ person you’ll get along with anyone which to be frank, for the time it was set, seems a bit rose-tinted to say the least.

Another thing that irked me about the film was that I felt like Aibileen’s intelligence was dumbed down. She is a kind, nurturing woman, but she is also shown to be fiercely smart in the novel. One of the most famous lines in the film is the whole “you is kind, you is smart, you is important”, but Aibileen doesn’t say this in the book, she says “you are kind” because she has a strong grasp of language! It’s such a small detail but it seems like they were trying to make her seem less well read, more provincial even for no reason.

I guess the biggest criticism of The Help is that it is attempting to be the true story of black women in America in the 60s, but it is written by a white woman. Incidentally, a white woman who grew up with black maids. Of course she is going to have a certain bias. Even more disappointing is that the film is directed by a white man. The result is a perfectly pleasant book and film, but don’t assume that you’re going to get anything close to a historically accurate representation of black women’s experiences. The cast of the film is terrific but it’s such a shame that their source material was so weak. This was a cast that could has dealt with BIG issues with grace and integrity but instead they’ve produced a film that just pays lip service to the era.

Neither the book nor the film were my cup of tea, plus they’re so similar that I don’t think one is better than the other. If I had to, I’d say the book is superior due to the extra depth it gives Aibileen. I realise this might be quite controversial because it both are very popular, but I’d honestly say just skip both.

What did you think of The Help?

 

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Book Review | The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying

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Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying has become somewhat of an international sensation. She is a professional ‘tidier’ based in Tokyo where she helps all kinds of clients declutter, tidy and organise their homes using her own ‘KonMari’ Method. This book talks you through the KonMari Method, so you too can experience the success that Marie’s clients have.

It has to be said, the title is a little silly (life-changing magic, really?!) and some of the client success stories that she starts with are a bit much so I was pretty cynical when I first began reading it. However, Marie’s genuine personality does start to come through as you continue reading and she just seems to sincere and lovely that I really did change my mind. Marie is so convinced that having a tidy home equates to a tidy mind and her enthusiasm really cuts through all the crap that it is hard not to find yourself agreeing with her.

In a nutshell, the KonMari Method is based around decluttering and organising by category rather than location. For instance, clothes, paperwork, books. Marie sets out the optimal order for doing this so that  you begin by discarding items that are relatively easy to let go of and leave more meaningful or sentimental items for later. You have to do everything in the one go so pull all of your clothes out of the wardrobe, drawers etc. gather them together and look at each item. You have to do this for every item in your house and only keep items that ‘spark joy’. Once you have purged your home completely you have to find a place for everything and then your home will be permanently tidy.

This sounds extreme, but actually there is a lot of sense in it. For example, if you have beauty products in your dresser, plus your bedside cabinet, plus your handbag, plus the bathroom… do you really know how much you have? In terms of asking if something sparks joy… I think this can be taken with a pinch of salt. If you’re not a cleaning junkie it’s unlikely that your collection of household cleaning product will spark joy but you might want to hang on to it. But it is worth asking if you actually like  some of the stuff you’ve been hanging on to. Marie points out that a lot of people hang on to gifts purely out of guilt, but actually the purpose of the gift was to receive it – you understand that the person giving it to you did so out of love, generosity and kindness and you appreciate that, but you shouldn’t hang on to something that now makes you feel bad. Also, Marie is not as harsh as she first seems, if something is silly, weird or even not used regularly but you love it, you should keep it.

I think that some of the more earnest/cheesy phrases are possibly down to too literal a translation from Japanese plus a bit of difference in our two cultures (i.e. literally thanking your handbag?!) but overall this book is not half as ridiculous as I had expected. In fact, I would say that if you’re already thinking about your spring cleaning, definitely give this a read first as I’m sure there will be at least a few tips in there that will really speak to you.

When I start packing for moving house I will 100% be remembering Marie’s words to help me reduce the clutter in my new place. I’ve also just discovered that there are a bunch of YouTube videos where Marie demonstrates her folding technique for clothes so I will for sure be checking those out!

Have you read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying? What did you make of it?

December Reading Wrap Up

December Reading Wrap Up

December was a bit of a flat month for reading for me! At the start of the month I was at 46 books read for the year so I figured I could easily read 4 to bring my total for the year up to a nice round 50. There was no reason I couldn’t, yes I had less commuting time due to the holidays but we had a couple of long drives (a 5-hour round trip to David’s parents and a 13 hour round trip to Scotland). However, from the photo above you can see I only read two books. And sadly, I disliked them both.

December Reading Wrap Up

Naseem Rakha’s The Crying Tree was my first read of the month. This is about a woman trying (and largely failing) to cope after the murder of her beloved 15-year-old son. Irene and her husband Nate, a deputy sheriff move with their children, Nate and Bliss from Illinois to Oregon. They are struggling to settle in when their house is burgled and Shep killed by 19-year-old loner Daniel Robbin. He is apprehended and sentenced to death. Irene and her family leave Oregon behind and move back to Illinois in an attempt to move on. However, Irene battles with the the deep anger the death of Shep has left her with. She decides that all she can do is to forgive Robbin. When she hears 19 years after the trial, that the date of Robbin’s execution has been set, it sends her into a tailspin.

The format of the narrative is quite interesting and an aspect that I liked. It goes between Irene in both the past and present days and Tab Mason, the superintendent of the prison as he prepares to oversee Robbin’s execution. The two viewpoints weave together quite nicely and provide some balance to the story.

However, there was a lot to dislike about it at the same time. Rakha sadly relies largely on stereotypes particularly when it comes to the Southern characters – gun-toting, bigoted, uneducated et al. This made it really difficult to relate to the characters, even Irene who as a grieving mother should be fairly sympathetic.

Rather than being challenging it becomes a bit eye-roll worthy. There are loads of books that tackle this subject matter and unfortunately The Crying Tree just adds to the noise instead of standing out as a fresh voice.

December Reading Wrap Up

The second book of December was A Killing Winter by Tom Callaghan. Set in Kyrgyzstan, DI Borubaev is investigating a particularly brutal murder of a young woman who just happens to be the daughter of a leading government minister. Borubaev is told under no uncertain terms that he is to bring the perpetrator to him, making it seem politically motivated. However, more bodies appear confusing the matter – could it be coincidence, copycat, or a sinister cult killing.

Well, if I thought The Crying Tree was full of stereotypes, I was not prepared for A Killing Winter. It has it all – the hard -boiled cop with the dead wife, the corrupt ministers and superiors, the thug-like Russians, the ‘honourable’ crooks. I should have known from the fact that the cover quote was praise from the Daily Mail to be honest.

So a disappointing end to my year of books. However, this has taught me one thing. If you are hating a book – don’t waste your time trying to finish it. Obvious right? But I can’t be the only one who struggles through a book just to tick it off the list. This is the reason I have only read two book this month – I kept falling asleep on the damn train reading these! I vow to stop this bad habit this year.

Do you struggle with this need to finish a book regardless? Do you give it a certain length or time or page count, or do you toss it staightaway?

Favourite Books of 2015

Favourite books of 2015

Hello everyone, hope you all are having an enjoyable festive season. I intended to do a bunch of Christmassy posts last week, but the actual business of it being Christmas took over and I ran out of time before I went home for the holidays. But I’m back now and I  thought I’d kick of the pre-New Year posts with my favourite books that I read in 2015. I read 48 books this year (a massive amount for me) so it was tricky to narrow it down to five but I’m happy with this selection. The titles are links to my fuller reviews.

In no particular order, they are:

Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

And by extension Asking for It, O’Neill’s second book. Author of the Year for me, for sure. I read Only Ever Yours at the start of the year and the impact has stayed with me. It’s a YA dystopian with a sharp feminist tongue while Asking for It is a contemporary novel. Both are definitely worth a read depending on which genre you prefer.

H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald

This is one of the few non-fiction books I read this year and I loved it. A very lyrical, beautiful book about the author coming to terms with loss and attempting to train a goshawk. The wildness of the bird provides a salve for Helen’s hurt and she begins to lose herself in its world.

The Bees by Laline Paull

This is such an unusual book – it’s a fiction about bees and the story is as dramatic as any dystopian sci-fi I’ve ever read. As sad as it may seem, I kind of really want to learn about bee society from an entomologist point of view so I can re-read this and appreciate all of the elements which Paull has included.

Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow

This is the first free-verse novel I have ever read, poetry is not normally my thing at all but I absolutely adored this book. It helps that it’s super cool and about werewolves in LA of course. I really need to look into more poetry in future, I feel like my eyes have been opened to the possibilities now.

The Good Girl by Fiona Neill

I’ve read quite a few domestic thrillers this year as it’s a genre I generally enjoy and I think this is my favourite. It’s well paced, chock full of drama and very up to date topic-wise. If you like books like Gone Girl, I think you’ll like this.

And so concludes my favourite reads of 2015. I already have a massive TBR pile for 2016 so I’m hoping that there will be a few more favourites hidden in there. Let me know what your favourites have been.

Book Review | The Day We Disappeared

The Day We Disappeared Book ReviewThe Day We Disappeared by Lucy Robinson

I realised that I never included this book in a wrap up post (I think I read it in September) but I really liked it so I wanted to post a quick review on it.

Annie has had a hard life since a childhood trauma instilled a deep-rooted fear of relationships. She gets by with a handful of good friends, following her passion for alternative therapy and avoiding thinking about her secret. Then she meets Stephen, her knight in shining amour who has the potential to save her from her past.

Kate is Annie’s spunky Irish pal from Ireland, Annie’s rock who always looks on the bright side of life. However, she also has a secret, one that have forced her to drop off the radar. While things are looking up for Annie, Kate is hiding out in the last place anyone would look for her as a stable hand for a not-at-all handsome professional rider.

On the face of it, this isn’t at all my type of book. At first it seems like a straight-forward romance based story, albeit with a hint of mystery surrounding the girl’s circumstances. However, I found it to be much more than this. The characters were all very well developed and realistic. Kate’s story is imbued with a lot of humour as her blagger, louder-than-life personality shines, while Annie’s is quite tense as suspicion and mistrust is built.

Overall, I would encourage anyone to give this book a go. It’s not massively challenging, it is quite a quick read but it’s hugely enjoyable. I’m really keen to read more from Lucy Robinson now.

Have you read The Day We Disappeared? Did you enjoy it as much as me? Or do you have any other book recommendations for me?

November Reading Wrap Up

November Reading Wrap Up

This month I have read 5 books, bringing my total for the year up to 46. I felt like this was a slow reading month for me, but the last two books I read were fairly quick reads so that made up for it. Here are mini reviews of each:

November Reading Wrap Up

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore & David Lloyd

I reviewed V for Vendetta as part of my ‘I Read the F*@#ing Books’ series here. It’s a really great book, not to be that person but it is better than the movie. I loved the way the female character held more strings than first thought and how their stories developed. It’s a classic that frequently appears on must-read graphic novel lists and justifiably so.

November Reading Wrap Up

What She Left by T.R. Richmond

A young woman drowns on a night out but people who knew her have a hard time accepting the verdict of accidental death. An anthropology lecturer at her old uni takes a special interest in the case and starts to piece together her last moments using the traces she has left behind – diaries, text messages, emails etc.

The story is formed by all of these documents but also letters written by the professor which puts him in the place of the key narrator. It’s effective in creating an unreliable narrator with doubt placed in the readers mind over every character, but for me there was something disappointing about it. I didn’t click with any of the characters, even the deceased, so overall it was a bit ‘meh’ for me.

November Reading Wrap Up

The Good Girl by Fiona Neill

It’s funny that the tagline for this says ‘one mistake’ – ‘a whole tonne of mistakes’ would be more accurate. The Good Girl follows the story of the Fields when they move from London to rural Norfolk. For Luke, Romy and Ben, it’s all a bit sudden and their parents don’t seem to be being honest about what prompted the move. Harry and Ailsa worry about the impact their decision has had but are convinced they have done the right thing, until Romy, their ‘good girl’ who has never given them a moments worry, suddenly blows apart the whole family.

I really liked this one. It has a lot of plot turns (not quite twists) and there is so much going on with this family than first thought. I thought that the character of Romy was particularly well developed and her motivations seemed clear. The topic is very current – a sex tape going viral, and it’s a well paced, modern tale.

November Reading Wrap Up

The Curvy Girls Club by Michele Gorman

This one is quite a different read for me! I also read it on my phone as I found myslef without a book one day – also a very different experience though not terrible. The Curvy Girls Club follows Katie and three of her friends from Slimming Zone. After getting thoroughly fed up with weekly weigh-ins and calorie guilt, they decide to skip the meetings and instead set up a social club for curvy girls (and guys) like them.

Sounds fluffy (and it is), but it also has moments that are quite dark. Told in first person by Katie, it reveals what it is like for larger people and what they face from subtle put downs to outright discrimination and constant judgement. It also shows that someone’s harshest critic can be themselves with some of the Curvy Girls Club putting their lives at risk in the pursuit of weightloss.

November Reading Wrap Up

The Girl in 6E by A.R. Torre

Deanna Madden is Jessica Reilly, a sex cam operator and shut in. But Deanna is not agoraphobic, she has locked herself in her apartment for the past 3 years as she does not trust herself not to go on a murderous rampage. One day, however, her hand is forced when she hears of the kidnapping of a child that is uncomfortably close to one of the fantasies of a disturbing client. She has to leave the apartment, has to save the little girl, just has to not murder anyone else…

This is an erotic thriller as a lot of the book focuses on Deanna’s sex work. I felt like this was overdone a bit, you were waiting a long time for the real plot (the kidnapping) to kick in, and when it finally did it was quite rushed through. Aside from that, I did like this book. Deanna is an interesting character and I liked the gradual reveal of how she has ended up like she has. I also really loved that she was not the kickass murderess, super-villain with ninja skills that she had kinda believed herself to be. This is actually the first of a three book series, but while I enjoyed it, I’m not sure I’ll be rushing out to pick up the other two.

So that was my November reads. I really want to read some Christmassy books this month that aren’t all romance – do you have any suggestions? Please let me know in the comments.

Christmas Gift Guides 2015 | Bookworms

My second gift guide for this year is for all the bookworms out there. I have definitely become more of a book lover in the last year – I used to be as a kid, then fell out of the habit until my commute has reminded me of the joys. Bookworms are great to buy for as they tend to have an Amazon wishlist the length of their arm. If you can’t get access to this, or want something a bit different, here are some suggestions.

Book Lovers Gift Guide

Top row left to right: Book Lover Literary Print (£24.95); Penguin Clothbound Classics (£11.99) and Rebecca VMC 1973 (£5.99); So Many Books! Bookends (£15.95); Jane Eyre Candle (£9.99)

Your first port of call should be Not On The High Street, they have sooo many bookish themed gifts, you really won’t go wrong. I love this Little Women quote print; Ironically, it’s hard to buy a bookworm an actual book – what if they already have it? My best advice is to go either for a classic such as the lush Penguin Clothbound Classics, or one of their favourite books in a beautiful edition. Even if they already have the book they will appreciate the effort you have gone to to find them a special ‘display’ one; For the person with the giant TBR pile, these bookends are ideal; A book themed candle is a fun option. This Etsy shop has bookish options such as Jane Eyre, The Hobbit and The Chronicles of Narnia.

Bottom row left to right: Paperback perfume (£15.00); Dainty Jewellery (from £4.20); Moleskine Book Journal (£10.75); Shakepeare Insults Mug (£9.99)

For the person who effuses about the glorious smell of new books, you need to get them this perfume from the Library of Fragrance; Or you can go down the more subtle look and pick up a piece of jewellery loosely inspired by their favourite book. I was thinking an arrow for The Hunger Games, a moon for A Song of Ice and Fire (for Khaleesi of course), a star for The Fault in our Stars or an owl for Harry Potter; For the listmakers, this offline version of Goodreads will go down well; And finally a mug covered in insults. At least if they hate it they can tell you in a verbose way.

Again, I hope this has been helpful. Let me know if you’re thinking of picking any of these or similar gifts up.