Saturday, 30 August 2014

Book Review: The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

The Silver Linings PlaybookThe Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've had this book on my to-read list ever since I saw trailers for the film back in 2012. The film really looked my kind of thing and as I always have a book before film rule I waited.
I wish I'd read this book sooner. The Silver Linings Playbook is simply one of the best books I have read for a long time. I finished it in two nights, last night staying up until half four. It somehow manages to be heart warming and funny despite dealing with difficult subjects.
The main character and narrator is Pat Peoples, who has recently been released from a mental institution into his mother's care. A few things are apparent at this stage, he did something awful to end up in the 'bad place' and it's related to his wife Nikki. Nikki is Pat's world. He will do anything to reconcile with her and end 'apart time' (read, restraining order). He reads the books that she teaches as part of her English syllabus and mostly he tried to be a good person and do what is right. He always looks for the silver lining in everything and believes his life is like a movie and therefore he will get his happy ending, because everybody gets their happy ending.
It's fair to say Pat is an unreliable narrator, but despite this he is likeable and provides the reader with an insight into mental illness, something in this day and age people still seem afraid to talk about.
His family and friends provide a menagerie of characters. His Mum is clearly the person he relies on the most. She is kind and caring and does everything she can to support her son. I like that she becomes more assertive during the story. His father is a mean, rude, grump who only seems to lighten up when his beloved Eagles win a game. His brother Jake and friend Ronnie provide 'manly backup' and his therapist Cliff, an Indian man who is also a fan of the Eagles is a great character helping him come to the right decisions on his own.
Then there is a Tiffany, a woman who is just as troubled as he is. Her husband passed away and she is left a widow, severely depressed and aiming to overcome this by having lots of random sex.
The characters are real and sympathetic and provide a great back up to Pat's story.
One of the thing's I didn't really enjoy about this book was the constant reference to football. I'm British and not a sports fan of any kind so I didn't particularly care about it, although I know it symbolises commitment to something, and for Pat's father and brother it's a family event, a time when they all come together.
There are lots of things within this book that surprised me but I don't want to give anything away as I want every reader to be just as shocked as I was. It really represented what mental illness can do to your life and those around you. That it doesn't simply affect one person. But with the right help things can become better.
I was disappointed at the end that not everything came together neatly, and then I realised that was the whole point. Matthew Quick's book is supposed to show the reader that life is not like a movie, we don't walk off into the sunset and that's okay as long as we appreciate what we've got.

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Thursday, 28 August 2014

Book Review: L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy

L.A. Confidential.L.A. Confidential. by James Ellroy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had read Ellroy's The Black Dahlia as part of my A-Z of authors and I really enjoyed the style of his writing.
I wanted to watch the film of L.A. Confidential but my policy is always to read the book first so I ordered it off Amazon and waited until the time was right.
I enjoy being sucked into Ellroy's noir world, but as it says on the cover 'not for the feint-hearted' and you need to be in the right frame of mind to cope with the bad language and the constant violence.
The story follows three policemen, Bud White, Ed Exley and Jack Vincennes. White to all intents and purposes is a thug, fighting and murdering his way through L.A. Exley is a police poster boy and does whatever he can to get to the top, but he is disliked intensely by his peers. Vincennes is hiding a lot of secrets but is enjoying his fame as a police consultant on TV programme Badge of Honour. All of them are vastly different, and it's their sparring that makes for an interesting read. They're also greatly flawed and I can't say I particularly sympathised with any of them but I wanted to follow their story to it's conclusion.
The reader is plunged into the deep end with a riot in the police cells at Christmas. Several police officers go to town on their prisoners fuelled with drugs and drink. Exley takes the stand against them and they're scattered far and wide working for different divisions. All of them are working on different cases, the massacre of The Nite Owl, books of torture porn, the rape and murder of a prostitute. And as always in Ellroy's world, everything seems to come together.
I love the author's characterisation, the style of his descriptions and the language he uses is excellent. I really felt part of this world he has created. But sometimes, because of that, the facts for me get muddled and I have to reread things to ensure that I have understood what's going on or that I haven't missed a major plot point.
I will definitely read some more of James Ellroy, but I think I'll give my brain some time to recover from the macabre and the language.

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Wednesday, 27 August 2014

End Of An Era

Daily Prompt: As a kid, were you happy or anxious about going back to school? Now that you’re older, how has your attitude toward the end of the summer evolved?
In a few weeks time I will be something I never thought I would be: a student. I will be part of Glyndwr University, learning all there is to know about Education.
When I was younger, although I longed for the summer holidays by the time September came around I was looking forward to using the new stationary I had bought, a diary, folders, pens, notebooks.
As much as I liked having the time off I would also be incredibly... bored. There were only so many books to read, films to watch, things to do. I was never really an outdoorsy kid, so for me playing in the square was never really an option.
By September the 1st I was ready to learn, get stuck back into my subjects and see my friends again, back to some kind of routine.
When I finished my A-Levels I wanted a break from education. I was fed up of coursework and exams and wanted to go out, get a job, live life.
After volunteering at school I realised that working with kids was what I was supposed to do with my life and took the steps to go back to university and qualify to be a teacher. I think it's quite ironic that considering I planned to never return to education, now I will be in education for the rest of my life.
Like when I was at school, or maybe more so, I'm counting down the days until my course starts. I'm a mixture of apprehension and excitement. I'm looking forward to structure and routine but also nervous to meet new people, the people I'm going to spend the next three years with. I also have a bedroom full of new stationary that I'm eager to use, so nothing new there then. 

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Tomorrow's World

Years ago, scientists predicted that by 2014 we would have robots doing all our household chores for us. They would keep our houses clean, cook for us and generally be a welcome companion. According to Back to the Future 2 next year we're to have Jaws 19, self tying shoes and hover-boards.
Today's Daily Prompt asks me what I would get a robot to do for me. Unfortunately for you, I'm quite boring in my response. I would have my robot do the hoovering, walk the dogs and do the dreaded washing up, all of the things I hate doing. Laundry I would happily do myself as I find folding quite therapeutic. When my parents went away I discovered that life is busy enough without housework!
As for other responsibilities I would quite happily continue to do my own homework, stage managing and volunteer work. I do all of those because I want to.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

The Long Run

(Today's Daily Post asks us to call inspiration from the first line of the last song we listened to. I couldn't remember what that was so I hit shuffle on my phone...)

I used to hurry a lot, I used to worry a lot, I used to stay out til the break of day.

Music is such an important part of life. It can bring back a memory in a flash, it can make you smile, make you dance, make you want to sing your heart out.
For me, The Eagles, and this song remind me of a time when I attempted to write a novel based on their hits. I listened to their Greatest Hits album on repeat, despite it being released long before I was born, and I would create characters out of the lyrics, see the stories unfold, see the car speeding past as 'the lights are turning red', envision the 'girl, my lord, in a flat-bed Ford.'
In my bed, the characters sung their songs and all their stories weaved together. It was epic, very complicated and involved several mind maps and lots of scribbling.
Unfortunately it never really got under way, although I still keep the notebook full of ideas and every time I hear a song by the fantastic band I see my characters. This particular line was sung by a teenage werewolf called Tam who had fallen in love with a very married witch.
As for me, I still hurry quite a bit, I worry a hell of a lot, and I've never stayed out til the break of day.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Digging A Tunnel To China

Today's Daily Post asked a question which I knew the answer to immediately. It's an answer I've known ever since 2011.
You have the ability to build a magical tunnel from your home to anywhere in the world. I imagine most people would answer with some far flung exotic place they've always wanted to visit. For me, it's very different, it's my home town.
Friends and family are very important to me and seeing as a fair few of them still leave in East Sussex I would build a magical tunnel to the South, branching off towards Seaford, Barcombe, Bexhill and with a stop in London.
It's hard for my family to travel all this way with various commitments, and unfortunately my Dad isn't well enough to travel at all. For me, it takes five hours to get there, and that's providing there are no delays or any adverse weather. To be able to pop through the tunnel to have dinner with my Nan, visit my Dad would be just wonderful.
Although I don't dislike the journey, travelling to Sussex is such an ordeal. It takes a whole day's worth of travelling, so what starts off as a five day holiday quickly becomes three. The public transport where my Nan lives is absolutely appalling, so once I'm at her house I can't really get anywhere else.
Then there's the luggage, if I'm staying a week I need a wheeled suitcase and taking that on the underground is certainly not fun.
I've realised this is becoming a moan about public transport so I'm going to cut it short. A tunnel to Sussex would just be a dream come true. Or teleportation, I'm not particularly fussy.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Dear Sir or Madam, Will You Read My Book?

Lately, I haven't been particularly inspired by the Daily Prompt suggestions, but today's actually got my brain working.
Ever since I can remember I've wanted to be an author. When I was a kid I wrote stories about squirrels, now I write about murder, mayhem and sex. I love writing, I love disappearing off into a mysterious world, sometimes fantasy, with characters that you love and hate and love to hate. I enjoy reading as much as I enjoy writing, but for me to get a book published would simply be a dream come true.
Today's prompt asks us to choose whether we would like to be revered and studied by a select few in about half a century, or whether we would like to be a popular paperback author, enjoyed by millions.
It didn't take me long to figure this one out. I want my work to be enjoyed by millions. The great thing about reading a book is that it's different for everyone. A character description can be interpreted in so many different ways. The locations mean different things to different people. For me, I love reading Peter James because his books are set in and around my home town, so I can picture where his characters are. For those that have never been to Brighton they can let their imaginations run riot.
I would love for people to read my novel and ask me questions about what or who inspired me. I'd love for readers to be taken away from their struggles in life to a little pocket of my own imagination. Reading is for everyone and should be enjoyed by everyone, which is why I love what World Book Night is doing by encouraging those that do not read.
Also, I do not believe books should be studied. Despite my love of English at school, I hated English Lit. Reading a book and then analysing why a character did something, or why the author decided it would be raining. As an author, my answer would just be 'because it is', but tearing apart and analysing something I would normally enjoy is not my idea of fun.
When I visit Booka, my favourite bookshop in town, I love looking at their displays. There's a large round table just inside the front door and if one day I could walk in and see my book on that table, I would be over the moon.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Book Review: State of Fear by Michael Crichton

State of FearState of Fear by Michael Crichton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have always been a massive fan of Michael Crichton ever since I watched Jurassic Park as a kid. I adore the medical drama series ER, and consume his books in a matter of days.
So, looking for something in the 'action-adventure' vein I picked up State of Fear.
It took an age to actually get going. There were bits of action here and there but most of it was related to global warming, and whether or not this is a real problem in our modern age or we're blowing it out of proportion. Don't get me wrong, part of me loves that Crichton goes into such depth, and doesn't 'dumb it down' for his audience, but when he was referencing genuine scientific journals I got a bit... fed up. I didn't pick this up to be lectured, I picked this up because I wanted a thrill ride.
The actual 'action-adventure' stuff is great. Characters get stuck in the snow, there are lighting storms and all kinds of dangerous weather to contend with. The author really knows how to build tension and keep it going.
The characters are also well thought out and developed. I really liked Evans, a lawyer, who seemed like he'd got all caught up in this accidentally.
So overall, an interesting, pulse pounding piece, but would have been much improved, by more action and less debate.

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