Tag Archives: Book

Book Review | Techbitch


When Imogen Tate returns to her job as Editor in Chief of Glossy magazine after a leave of absence she is bemused to find herself confronted by her former assistant, Eve Morton. Bemusement soon turns to concern when she discovers that Eve has the backing of the head honchos to turn Imogen’s beloved magazine into an app. Print is dead, long live the internet. The trouble for Imogen is that she is not completely up to date on the whole internet thing (asking assistant’s to print out her emails – what?) so she faces an uphill battle to remain relevant as Editor in Chief of this new look magazine. Coupled with this, Eve is not exactly supportive. The sweet assistant is nowhere to be found and in her place is a business school graduate from a new generation of success hungry entrepreneurs, power-mad, egotistical, and, to be frank, a total tech-bitch.

Techbitch takes the familiar formula of The Devil Wears Prada and flips it on it’s head. Unlike Miranda Priestly *cough – Anna Wintour – cough*, Imogen Tate has got ahead in the industry by being nice. She is well-connected and well-liked. The reader has immediate sympathy for her character – she is returning from work after a period of illness and is faced, unfairly one might say, with dealing with huge decisions made in her absence. And, instead of feeling sorry for herself she just gets on with it.  Eve on the other hand, is very much the baddie. She is jealous, spiteful and mean to her staff. In fact, not mean, cruel.

Some of the situations in Techbitch initially seem quite humorous, until you realise that this is actually happening to people. The forced ‘bonding’ group activities, the working all hours, the sacking of people with no reason and no notice is something that seems to be on the rise in many industries. With the current employment climate still being a bit fraught, people are more willing to accept the unacceptable. For me, Techbitch was particularly nightmare-ish in describing the situation for young writers. Under Eve, Glossy employs an ever rotating roster of bloggers, all of whom are expected to work 24/7, anything less and they are out. This lack of work-life balance is a real problem for many who see no alternative if they want to stay employed.

Overall, Techbitch was an enjoyable read. I liked the main characters, even appreciating the at times, caricature villainry of Eve and it was well paced, if a little predictable. It’s an updated The Devil Wears Prada for the Instagram generation and well worth adding to your summer reading list.

Book Review | Maus

Book Review | Maus

When I was doing my degree, we had a module called Popular Culture and part of this was formed of graphic novels. Maus by Art Spiegelman was not required reading but as it was the first (and only) graphic novel to win a prestigious Pulitzer Prize, it was highly recommended. So it’s a bit embarrassing that it’s only now that I have read it.

Published in 1991, it is the serialisation of Spiegelman’s comic strips dating from 1980 to 1991. The story is of Spiegelman’s father, Vladek’s experience as a Polish Jew during the Second World War. The narrative is split between Spiegelman’s life and Vladek’s story as he is recounting it to his son for his work. This is interesting as it means the book is very meta – it’s referred to constantly, even depicting a conversation Spiegelman has with his wife were they debate what animal she should be depicted as.

The animal depictions are somewhat controversial as Spiegelman re-appropriates propaganda and racial caricatures – Nazi’s as cats chasing the Jewish ‘vermin’ mice, the French as frogs, Poles as pigs etc. In graphic novel form this clearly shows the absurdity of the way people are labelled, categorised and segregated, and how these labels can remain, even out of war-time.

Book Review | Maus

The illustrative style is a stark monochrome. It largely allows the story to be told by text, but the bold visual style allows for flexibility in the storytelling. It can be literal (as much as the animal characterisation will allow) or abstract.

What is quite surprising about the book is the honesty in which Spiegelman depicts his father. He is an elderly man, a holocaust survivor, a widower, transplanted to the US as he could never face returning to Poland, but Spiegelman does not allow sentimentality to cloud the story. At times, he is harsh, getting frustrated, even irritated or bored by his father. However, even in recounting the horrors of Auschwitz, Vladek himself asks for no sympathy – he is telling his story focussing on the practicality and resourcefulness that got him through. It is only when he is transferred to Dachau that we begin to see Vladek’s spirit breaking with the immortal line “And here my troubles began”.

Maus is a devastatingly powerful book. It is a key text in Holocaust literature and a deeply important book. And, it shows what a graphic novel can do. Even if you never read another graphic novel again, Maus should be on your must-read list.


Book Review | Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix

Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix

Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix is one of those books that you’d instantly pick up in a bookshop, but possibly dismiss as being a bit gimmicky. And it is gimmicky. But you should give it a try anyway.

Horrorstor is a modern day haunted house story. ORSK is an IKEA knock-off, identical in every way but surviving by undercutting their prices. Amy is one of the ORSK lackeys – actively avoiding her manager, slacking at every opportunity and rolling her eyes at the ‘living dead’ who work and shop there. If she had a motto, it would be “that’s not my job”. So when she’s asked to work an overnight shift with her uptight manager Basil, and the overly upbeat lifer Ruth Anne, she is torn between really not being arsed, and definitely needing the extra cash. Besides, she knows that the ‘mysterious’ damage and breakages happening overnight is just some random homeless guy they’ll scare off no problem. I mean there’s no way that there could be anything sinister going on in a billion dollar cathedral of consumerism, right?

Despite it’s quirky setting, at times, Horrorstor feels a bit like horror-by-numbers. The cast are the standard line-up – the final girl, the believer, the sceptic, the weak one, the harbinger, the unexpected alliance – but this is perhaps unsurprising given Hendrix’s career as a film critic. I personally don’t mind it, horror conventions work when they’re well (and knowingly) utilised, but genre fans shouldn’t expect anything ground breaking here.

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I love the design of the book which is formatted to look just like an IKEA catalogue with ever increasingly sinister flat-pack illustrations. The pace of the story was rapid, but as the characters were familiar clichés already, character development didn’t suffer and you really felt for them, Amy and Ruth Anne in particular. It’s funny, witty and, yes, scary. Just what you want from a horror.

It has definitely made me realise the inherit creepiness of IKEA for sure!

Book Review | H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald

H is for Hawk  is an unusual choice for me – I’m not usually a great reader of non-fiction or biographys, and I’ll be honest here, I mostly picked it up for the beautiful cover. Yes, I am that shallow. But sometimes, a bit of serendipity works it’s magic and I’ve discovered a new favourite, a classic in the making.

Winner of the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction and the 2014 Costa Book of the Year, H is for Hawk  is the memoir of Helen Macdonald, focusing on the aftermath of losing her beloved father. An avid hawker/falconer all her life, she decides that to help her through her grief, she adopts what many see as the most challenging bird; a goshawk. It’s an intense training regime that require strict discipline and periods of isolation. At first Helen revels in this. Alone with her hawk, Mabel, she can focus all her attention on her and ignore her grief, too painful to deal with head on.

At the same time, Helen revisits a book she read, and hated, as a child – T.H. White’s The Goshawk. As a child she saw it as a ridiculous book, a guide on how not to train your hawk and she detested White for his treatment of his bird. As as adult however, she see’s parallels with her own life – not in the training of Mabel, but in the way that they both hid behind their birds. Helen realises that in taming Mabel, she is becoming wild – avoiding people, ignoring her grief, and thinking only in terms of a hawk.

H is for Hawk is a moving, poetic exploration of grief, the call of the wild and the bonds between man and beast (or woman and bird!). Even as someone with no previous interest in hawking, Helen hooks the reader into this strange world  where soaring triumph can all too quickly turn into crushing despair, which for anyone dealing with bereavement is all too familiar. I found this book endlessly fascinating – I fell for Mabel almost as hard as Helen did and was desperate to follow Helen’s story to a happy(ier) ending. I really highly recommend H is for Hawk for everyone, regardless of your usual tastes.

Book Review | We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Book Review We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves Karen Joy Fowler

Rosemary is an apparently introverted college student, a bit of a loner, reluctant to open herself up and share her life with anyone. She has some heavy baggage from childhood that she will absolutely not discuss. In fact, she won’t even allow herself to think about it, self-censoring her own thoughts. Until one day when a chance encounter with a suitably dramatic drama-major unleashes her deeply buried wild side. Harlow crashes into her life smashing plates and yelling, and in this, reminds Rosemary of her long-lost sister; her twin; her “whirlwind other half”; missing since the age of 5; Fern.

Suddenly Rosemary is unable not to think of Fern. She sees her in her classes, in Harlow and mostly, in herself. Realising that confronting the issue will never get any easier, she finally allows herself to revisit and re-interrogate her childhood memories of life with and without Fern.

From here the story dips in and out of present times and flashbacks. The memories are not always told chronologically and this is extremely effective in showing Rosemary’s state of mind as she races through the past having finally allowed the floodgates to open. The happy memories come first and easily while the more painful memories are eked out, forced through conversations with family members. As Rosemary was so young, the nature of the memories call for a good deal of self-reflection which is a really interesting aspect of the book. Are we capable of being self-critical enough to accurately recall past actions? Guilt and hurt are powerful emotions – do our memories self select in order to protect us from feeling them again? Can we trust our own sense of self?

At it’s core, We Are All Completely Beside Ourself is an exploration of our human selves. Does anything separate us from our ape cousins, or do we just tell ourselves that it does? It’s an emotional ride – I not one who generally wells up at books but in particular the passage where Rosemary discovers what happened to Fern hits hard.

By it’s own admission We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves very much starts in the middle. It’s a slow start but it eventually hits it’s stride a few chapters in. Stick with it, it gets good. It gets really good.

Book Review | Only Ever Yours

Only Ever Yours Louise O'Neill ReviewOnly Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

Choose a girl… to own forever.

In Only Ever Yours, Louise O’Neill creates a future where women are valueless. Baby girls are so unwanted that the body rejects female foetuses, and instead, girls are created in labs. New batches of baby ‘Eves’ are created each year, churned out, named after famous beauties (Cara, Naomi, Agyness) and carted into ‘school’ to learn all they must know. And what they must know is not a lot. How to choose an outfit, how to pose for a flattering picture, how to refuse fat-people food, how to suppress your emotions, how to be placid; these are the lessons taught to the girls. Their purpose is simply to please men.

Everything is building up towards their 16th year when they will finally learn their destiny. In O’Neill’s future, one of three futures lies in wait for the girls: to become a Companion, a coveted role in which you get to become a trophy wife, birthing sons until you hit the ripe age of 40, at which point you will be terminated lest wrinkles start to appear; a Concubine, which is exactly how it sounds; or a Chastity, the unfortunate group of women who are deemed to be undesirable to men so must spend their lives teaching the next generations of Eves to do better. The girls future is in the hands of 16-year-old boys who will judge them and decide their fate in a matter of weeks.

We follow one Eve, Freida as she struggles to cope with the pressure of this. Her best friend, Isobel has always been the highest ranking Eve, until suddenly she withdraws, loses interest in competing with the other Eves and leaves Freida rudderless. Without the support of Isobel she feels unable to cope with the frightening  level of expectation and begins to lose her grip on her sanity.

In short, I loved this book. I would liken it to a cross between Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale  for Millennials. Alongside an engaging storyline, Only Ever Yours provides a cutting look at young women’s places in our current society by intensifying current norms. For example, the Eves are accepting of a reality TV show star beating his companion because she obviously stepped out of line, and besides, he’s hot (Chris Brown fans anyone?). The thought of being made to take a photo for their social media without a full face of make up induces panic and down-voting from the anonymous boys judging them. And the word “feminist” is literally the worst thing you can call someone.

I would really recommend this book to anyone. As it’s YA it’s easily digestible (even if some of the ideas explored in the book are very unpalatable) and is a good introduction to feminist dystopian novels.

Book Review | The Deaths by Mark Lawson

Book Review The Deaths Mark LawsonThe Deaths by Mark Lawson

Nestled in the heart of the English countryside lie four grand houses side by side, the residents who live there, self-titled “The Eight” see themselves as the elite of their village and of Britain. Emily and Tom Rutherford, Libby and Johnny Crossan, Tasha and Simon Lonsdale and Jenno and Max Dunster are a seemingly close knit group – regular dinner parties, holidaying together – until a tragedy reveals that they didn’t really know each other at all.

The Deaths opens with this tragedy. A high end coffee delivery person makes the grisly discovery of a multiple -murder. An entire family (and their dogs) has been wiped out. The question that Lawson poses is two-fold: who, but most importantly, why? From the murder scene Lawson jumps back a few months to explore events in the lead up to the event. The narrative is broken down, jumping between the perspectives of each of The Eight (plus a few of their kids and secondary characters) but maintains a third-person voice so once you learn the families, you are never left lost wondering who is speaking.

Each of the families has their own dynamics and set of problems. As you read, you realise that none of them, spouses included, have honest conversations with each other so they’re swept up in a wave of competition, assumptions and envy. In relation to the ‘whodunnit’ aspect of the novel, well, it could have been any of them.

Often, people want to like or identify with at least one character in a novel, it’s what keeps them interested. The Deaths is a funny one as you can never fully identify with any of the characters and nor are you intended to. One of the families fall on hard times when the husband has to take a pension cut as a PR manager at a disgraced bank and the wife fails to take bookings for her catering company. But to them, this is not being able to afford first class flights or having to switch supermarkets, there’s no chance of them losing their house or not being able to eat. Their perspective on the world seems to come solely from each other, and ultimately, it’s this fear of not being able to keep up with the Joneses that results in the ultimate price being paid by one family.

Strong characterisation and more than a dash of dark humour is what keeps you coming back to this book. Set in 2011/2012, it has a healthy dose of social commentary, exposing how the other half live while they’re pleading that they can’t afford higher tax rates. Yes, the characters are stereotypes, parodies even, but it’s oddly satisfying to read their failing pretence.

Although the mystery aspect is not particularly gripping, it is intriguing enough to add to an already enjoyable book and is a neat way of framing the story. The humour lightens the tone an appropriate amount and softens the bite. A good book to read if you ever have the misfortune to find yourself on a delayed train, surrounded by idiots competing to prove who has been most inconvenienced. Or at any time you fancy a satire on the upper middle classes.