Thursday, 3 December 2015

Not In My Name

Today I want to talk about the outcome of the parliamentary debate on UK airstrikes in Syria. If you are not interested, or politics isn't your thing, feel free to give this one a miss - regularly (ish) scheduled programming will resume shortly. But this is something I feel very strongly about, and I feel that a blog is as good a place as any, even the best place, to air your views. 

Before I start, I want to say one thing - I am not an expert in politics, or the inner workings of government and foreign policy. What I am is a human being, a UK citizen who is utterly ashamed of a decision made last night by a government proclaiming to represent my views and the views of those around me. I can't promise that this will be a very eloquent post, because I am angry.

Last night, 397 MPs voted in favour of UK air strikes in Syria, essentially sanctioned the murder of innocent men, women and children, and I cannot fathom for one second how anyone can think this is the right thing to do. It makes us no better than the terrorists we are supposedly trying to fight. Nowhere have I seen a compelling argument for fighting fire with fire in this way - least of all David Cameron's remark about those opposing military action being terrorist sympathisers. Put your dummy back in, Dave. The MPs who voted against have two things you don't - a conscience, and apparently a firm grasp on what the British public stand for.

Even harder to swallow for me is the news that the outcome of the vote was met with laughter and applause. If deciding to go ahead with the air strikes is such a necessity, I would expect it to be a decision made with nothing less than solemnity, heavy hearts and even guilt. I saw something on Twitter last night which perfectly summed this up - when ISIS use these air strikes to recruit more people, they will show those scenes of clapping and laughing in the Commons. We are playing directly into their hands; this is exactly what they want. The threat of terrorism will always be present - no amount of bombing can eradicate an ideology - and of course we should stand up to terrorists. But we should be doing that by showing them that we are not the same. We stand for compassion, and we are above wishing harm upon innocent people, or people who are not innocent for that matter. Justice, maybe, but not harm. As it is, we now pose the same threat to civilians in Syria that we fear from ISIS.

I'm so scared for the future of our world if things carry on the way they are. Terrified, and so sad. Another quote I came across recently that struck a chord with me is 'we do not inherit the world from our ancestors, but borrow it from our children.' What kind of world are we creating for future generations? I'm ashamed that our government has chosen to carry out these actions that seem to be so widely opposed across the country, if my social media feeds are anything to go by (although I am very aware that these are the same feeds that led me to believe there was little support for a Tory government, yet here we are). This government certainly does not speak for me, and I'm particularly ashamed to learn that the man who received my vote in the election, Labour MP Hilary Benn, so passionately agreed with this course of action. He does not represent me.

Because I strongly believe that for every terrorist and scare-mongering MP there are thousands of people who stand for goodness and compassion, and because the outcome of the vote left me feeling so powerless, below are some suggestions for how we can help:

Use your voice: Sign petitions (I've signed this one tonight), tweet, protest if you want to, write to your MP, anything. Don't stop being angry about this and make it known that you don't feel represented by your government. They need to know.

Donate: Charities such as The British Red Cross and Oxfam need donations to provide essential food, shelter and medical care in Syria. You can even donate if you can't spare much money -the organisation Help Refugees UK has set up this Amazon wishlist of things that will help the refugees in Calais and the rest of Europe, particularly in the cold winter months.

Volunteer: There are lots of things you can actively do if you have time to give. Hand In Hand For Syria have lots of volunteering opportunities available and details of how you can apply to help.

If anyone has any other ideas, please share them here, leave links etc. as I think even if you don't have the means to donate or volunteer, spreading awareness to others is equally as important. I hope one day humanity will learn its lesson but until then, there is something to be said for trying to be the good you want to see, even in the smallest way.


Thursday, 22 October 2015

The Girl on the Train

Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She's even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. 'Jess and Jason', she calls them. Their life - as she sees it - is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy. And then she sees something shocking. It's only a minute until the train moves on, but it's enough. Now everything's changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she's only watched from afar. Now they'll see: she's much more than just the girl on the train.

Rating: ★★★★

I've wanted to read this for ages and I finally borrowed it from my local library a couple of weeks ago. I was quite surprised I moved up the reservation list so quickly because I was quite a way down when I joined the queue, but that was before I read it. Now I can only assume all the previous readers raced through it in the same way I did! In case you're wondering, I didn't buy it only because I don't really like to have hardback books, but the paperback doesn't come out for a while yet...

I'm sometimes a little wary of a book that's had so much hype in case it doesn't live up to my expectations but I can definitely see why The Girl on The Train has been such a hit. It's been a few weeks since I read a book that I wanted to pick up every chance I got! It was an unpredictable story with plenty of twists and turns that kept me guessing all the way through.

None of the characters are remotely likeable, which I think was the real strength of the book. They're all completely horrible and definitely not the sort of people you'd like to know in real life, but as characters they were all so complex and well developed, they were really interesting to read about and I still really wanted to know what happened to them. The story jumps between past and present and the narration is shared by three female characters, none of whom are at all reliable. I didn't know who to believe or trust, which meant it wasn't so easy to spot the red herrings. I liked that - for me, the fun of reading a thriller comes from the guessing, but not necessarily figuring it all out before the end.

One thing I'm unsure about is why The Girl on the Train has been so closely compared to Gone Girl. For me, Gone Girl was a lot darker, more tense and more of a psychological thriller. There are some aspects of psychology involved in TGOTT, particularly memory, but I didn't feel like it was quite on the same level. Having said that, I would definitely recommend this if you're looking for a page turner!

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Leaving Time

The blurb: Jenna Metcalf was with her mother the night she disappeared, but she remembers nothing. In the wake of those tragic events, she has lost not one parent, but two: her father is in an asylum, and now she lives with her grandmother - who finds it too painful to talk about what happened. Ten years on, Jenna is the only one who still seems to care. And she is determined to seek the truth, no matter how shocking and life-changing it might be...

Rating: 3/5 stars

I want to start by saying that Jodi Picoult is one of my favourite authors. Every one of her books I've read in the past has been not only enjoyable, but emotionally gripping as well as educational. I always come away feeling like I've learned a lot, or formed a new opinion, as the majority of Jodi's books involve a moral dilemma or social issue, and are usually centered around a court case. Leaving Time wasn't an exception to this - in this case, I learned a lot about elephants which just happen to be my favourite animal! During her investigations, our main character Jenna looks for clues as to what happened in her mother's academic journals of her research into how elephants grieve. Jodi's books always seem to be impeccably researched and I would say the same about Leaving Time, but I don't think this was woven into the story quite as neatly as usual. Most of this background came in big chunks in the chapters written from the point of view of Alice, Jenna's mother. Large parts of the book read like non-fiction because of this which, if you don't love elephants as much as I do, could be quite tedious.

Another reason I don't think this is Jodi's strongest work is because, put simply, it's a very strange read. From the description you'd be forgiven for thinking it was your average mystery story, but it's also about a number of other things, including psychics and the supernatural. All perfectly good themes, but I'm not sure they really fit together and it was quite difficult to stay interested in places - had it not been for the elephants, I might have given up long before reaching the end. The twist really didn't wow me at all, although I will admit that I didn't see it coming!

I've never had to suspend belief to read any of Jodi's books before, and she's not an author I turn to for a fantasy or supernatural story - the reason she is a favourite of mine is because she can usually make me think, inspire a debate or offer me a different perspective. Unfortunately I can't say the same for Leaving Time, and I think she would be better off sticking to the real world for her next book.

Have you read Leaving Time, or anything else by Jodi Picoult?

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

The Miniaturist

The blurb: On an autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives at a grand house in Amsterdam to begin her new life as the wife of wealthy merchant Johannes Brandt. Though curiously distant, he presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. It is to be furnished by an elusive miniaturist, whose tiny creations ring eerily true. As Nella uncovers the secrets of her new household she realizes the escalating dangers they face. The miniaturist seems to hold their fate in her hands – but does she plan to save or destroy them?

Rating: 4/5

I’ve wanted to read this book for such a long time! I finally picked it up last month and I liked it, despite it taking me a while to get into. I’m glad I persevered as I think it’s definitely one of the most original stories I’ve read and beautifully written. I haven’t read much historical fiction before so it was quite interesting to read something set in 17th century Amsterdam and the social context of the time. Quite a lot of issues are touched upon including women’s rights, homosexuality and racism. I wasn’t necessarily expecting this from the description and I have seen it mentioned by others that Jessie Burton tries to include too much. I think that’s a valid point and fans of historical fiction might look for a lot more detail, but for me it was enough to provide a backdrop for the plot if not a full in-depth social commentary of the time.

There was one aspect of the book that I felt let down by, and that is that the mystery of the miniaturist is never fully explained. The reason the book had appealed to me so much was because of this character and wanting to find out who they were, and why their miniatures behave the way they do; in actual fact, I don’t think the book is really about the miniaturist or Nella’s cabinet. The detailed descriptions of the packages Nella receives from the miniaturist were lovely to read, but the questions posed in the description above are not answered as you might expect - the reader never finds out how the miniaturist is able to know what goes on in Nella’s home or the motives behind their actions. I was left feeling like the mystery of the miniaturist was just a device to add a whimsical feel where otherwise the plot would have been fairly linear. However, I did still enjoy the rest of the story, so I’ve chosen to only take one star from my rating for this.

Are you thinking of reading The Miniaturist?

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

The Shock Of The Fall

The blurb: I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never really the same after that.

Rating: 4/5 stars

This book has been on my radar since it first won the Costa Book of the Year award in 2013. I was intrigued, knowing that it was a story about mental illness which I think is always an interesting topic and especially as the author is a registered mental health nurse, I was really interested to see what kind of insight this would give. I wasn’t disappointed!

The story is narrated by Matthew who attends a day centre for mental health patients. He has decided to write his story down in order to make sense of his illness and past events, in particular the death of his brother Simon. The reader learns very early on that Simon died when both boys were much younger while on holiday, and that the mixture of guilt and grief Matthew is feeling have acted as the trigger for his descent into mental illness, however the exact circumstances are not revealed until the last part of the book. This adds suspense which I loved and I really wanted to keep reading to find out what happened to Simon, but I think Matthew’s own description of his experiences is even more intriguing and really well written. You gain a real insight into schizophrenia as an illness and how it manifests itself, but the story is also a very interesting look at the approach of the health service to mental illness; Matthew writes a lot about the kind of routines imposed on him and his fellow patients, and his feelings towards the staff on the ward.

The story isn’t the easiest to follow at times; a few chapters are written out of chronology and you have to kind of figure out for yourself where certain parts fit into the timeline, but this reflects Matthew’s complex frame of mind, and I think if anything this exhibits Nathan Filer’s skill as a writer. Different fonts and spacings are used at different points in the book which are useful in keeping up with which setting Matthew is writing in at the time – sometimes on an old typewriter given to him by his grandmother at home, other times at the day unit. He is a brilliant protagonist and one that you can easily sympathise with; equally, the supporting characters are all wonderfully realised and all felt very real. Filer describes everything beautifully. Whilst I wouldn’t say that I found this book upsetting, it was definitely moving and often very sad to see how Matthew changes from an innocent little boy to an adult experiencing a great deal of confusion.

I finished this book over the space of a couple of days, and probably would have finished faster if I’d picked it up to read over a weekend! A very compelling book and definitely worth a read. 

Too long, didn't read? Here's my Goodreads review:

The Shock of the FallThe Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very moving book, telling the story of Matthew who is suffering from schizophrenia following the death of his brother some years ago. Brilliant characters and wonderful writing combined to provide a valuable insight into the experience of both mental illness and grief. Definitely recommended.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

The blurb: What if you grew up to realise that your father had used your childhood as an experiment?  
Rosemary doesn’t talk very much and about certain things she’s silent. She had a sister, Fern, her whirlwind other half, who vanished from her life in circumstances she wishes she could forget. And it’s been ten years since she last saw her beloved older brother Lowell. Now at college, Rosemary starts to see that she can’t go forward without going back, back to the time when, aged five, she was sent away from home to her grandparents and returned to find Fern gone.

Rating: 3/5 stars

This is completely different from anything I’ve read before, and that’s all I can really say without giving away the twist! The best way to read this book is to go in knowing as little as possible, so this is going to be a very short review as I really don’t want to give anything away that might spoil it for any new readers.

I will say that this was a very compelling, smart and thought-provoking read with a highly interesting subject matter. The blurb intrigued me right from the start and it went straight on my to-be-read list, and I’m very glad that it did. Rosemary’s father is a psychologist (not technically a spoiler, if you’ve read the description!) and although some of the things discussed were already familiar to me from studying an A-Level in Psychology, I have come away feeling like I’ve learned so much. I didn’t feel like this was forced either; the book was very well paced and easily digested despite dealing with a complex issue.
You might be wondering why I’ve given it only three stars if I liked it so much, and that’s because I felt like most of the last part of the book was quite irrelevant. I’m just one reader so this might be different for everyone, but I felt that I got all the answers I was seeking about Fern, Lowell and what happened in Rosemary’s family about two thirds of the way through, and everything that followed seemed unnecessary and harder to stick with. I think it’s obvious that the author feels very strongly and had more to say about the things discussed throughout the story but I did feel a bit preached to by the end, and I just think it could have ended earlier and still had the same effect on the reader. Other than that, a fantastic read – highly recommended!