Monthly Archives: January 2014

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

forgive me leonard peacock by Matthew QuickThe P-38 WWII Nazi handgun looks comical lying on the breakfast table next to a bowl of oatmeal. It’s like some weird steampunk utensil anachronism. But if you look very closely just about the handle you can see the tiny stamped swastika and the eagle perched on top, which is as real as hell.

I take a photo of my place setting with my iPhone, thinking it could be both evidence and modern art.

Then I laugh my ass off looking at it on the miniscreen, because modern art is such bullshit.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock– Matthew Quick

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is the kind of young adult fiction that every young adult should want to read, by which I mean it doesn’t feel “aimed” at young adults at all. It doesn’t deal in “themes of teenage angst” and the “friend who changed everything” trope but addresses raw, intense pain without shying away or compromising. It is, in short, a book for anyone who liked Thirteen Reason Why but felt that The Perks of Being A Wallflower was just a little patronising, and more than a little overrated.

Quick’s narrative is brilliant and convincing, and we inhabit Leonard, recognising that, despite his intelligence and self-knowledge which make him seem older than his years, that he is a vulnerable and flawed teenager who has been badly damaged, and emotionally neglected by his parents. The novel opens on Leonard’s eighteenth birthday as he sits alone (his vacuous mother away in New York and has forgotten his birthday) and lays out his plan to kill his former best friend with his grandfather’s WWII trophy before turning the gun on himself. Before he does though, he wants to give you a thank you present to his four friends: his elderly neighbour, a brilliant violinist at his school, an evangelical Christian who looks like Lauren Bacall, and his holocaust studies teacher. Each interaction makes Leonard’s dark secret and tragic plan clearer to the reader, and prompts a gut sinking feeling as Leonard avoids each life line thrown his way, or burns his bridges to avoid deterring himself from the mission he has laid out.

There are moments of the book which you could argue aren’t especially original or subtle. Leonard’s fixation on Hamlet, for example, might be something we would expect from a teenage boy contemplating suicide but I would argue that this too is a strength of the novel. Leonard is in so many ways exceptional and different, that this common touch makes him seem that little more human, even while his theatrical flair makes him seem otherworldly.

I recommend this book to everyone, but a word of warning- it deals with some very difficult themes and issues that some may feel are not the remit of “young adult” fiction and you shouldn’t expect a happy ending.

Quick holds his nerve and doesn’t sell out.  I look forward to reading more of his work.

Secret Message Cupid’s Arrow

The problem with Valentine’s Day is Valentine’s Cards. You know what I mean. If you buy them they’re all, Dave’s turn to do the washing up, Sheila decided to wear fish nets or really bad pay per word verse. So the best option is to renounce love and sentiment forever, but failing that, you can make your own.

I came across these cute date night arrows at Sugar &Cloth and decided to develop the concept using paper straws to allow me to insert a hidden message.

I cut a heart shape from some red card and scored with a peace sign shape from top to tip and across the widest part of the heart to allow me to create a 3D arrowhead shape when the hearts were stuck together either side of my paper straw using quick drying craft glue.

While the arrowhead was drying, I wrote out my message on some paper with gold tones (ten points to your Hogwarts house if you recognise the Snape reference) and inserted it inside the main body of the straw.

I then cut out a feather shape from cardboard and glued it to my straw, wrapping with a natural look twine to give it a realistic arrow look and sealing the message securely inside. And voila, my original Valentine’s card was made.

 

Seville Orange Marmalade (complete with literary influences…)

Seville orange marmaladeOranges are not the only fruit, unless you’re making marmalade in which case, sorry Jeanette, but they pretty much are. I know that you can technically add tangerine, ginger, grapefruit and whatnot, but for me, the Seville orange reigns supreme because of its distinctive, tangy marmalade taste, though not before sugar has been added. I don’t know if you’ve ever accidentally eaten a  bit of Seville orange thinking it was something other than a bitter cooking orange, but if you have you’ll understand the quote from Much Ado About Nothing:

The count is neither sad, nor sick, nor merry, nor
well; but civil count, civil as an orange, and
something of that jealous complexion.

If you want to make your own marmalade, and eat your sandwiches as Paddington Bear, intended, it’s pretty easy following this handy how to make marmalade guide from the BBC. Geeky literary quotes about Seville oranges and marmalade on the label are optional, but great fun.

Quote me on that… the end of the world

that world is ended as if it had never been lewis narnia

Image adapted from an original by Eldar under Creative Commons

On my extensive list (204 pages to date) of this that annoy me, climate change deniers are way up there. Like the environment secretary Owen Paterson, who actually came out and said that global warming would be good for Britain. Sigh.

Anyway, the C.S. Lewis quote above is taken out of context but seemed pertinent.

The White Princess by Philippa Gregory

Philippa Gregory has some fairly outspoken critics, usually historians, who complain about the historical accuracy of her work. I’m not one of those, as I think her novels are usually very well written, fairly well researched, and don’t really see the problem with bringing a little imagination to the realm of history. Lots of archaeology programmes seem to be based around the art of educated guessing, so why shouldn’t fiction get to do the same? It’s not like if people who wanted a historian’s take on history wouldn’t buy an academic book by David Starkey, or a serious academic who spends their time doing proper research rather than shouting down women on TV…

Despite all that, I have to say I was truly disappointed in The White Princess, the final story in her The Cousins’ War series. Firstly, it covers a lot of the material that she’s written about in her previous Tudor and Plantagenet books, somewhat inevitably, but at times it’s a little frustrating. Even more frustrating is that it seems to assume that you’ve read all of her other books, so for someone who hasn’t read The Kingmaker’s Daughter, it was a little odd to leap straight into the story with Princess Elizabeth reminiscing about her sex life with her uncle Richard… it just made me feel like Gregory was being forced to walk a fine line between fitting the series format and not rehashing an excessive amount of content. There was huge potential to make this the story of Perkin Warbeck, and that really was a compelling part of the story, but to do so it really needed to be told from the perspective of another character and I assume that didn’t fit the publisher’s plans for the format of the series.

My biggest problem with the books though (and something of a trigger warning here) is that Elizabeth is raped by Henry VII to ensure that she is fertile before he marries her, leading to Arthur being born eight months into their marriage. I accept that rape happened, happens and, particularly in this time, women were treated like chattel and therefore it would be disingenuous to pretend otherwise, but what I find particularly troubling is the way this assault is followed up in the rest of the novel. Elizabeth ultimately finds herself falling for her rapist, who then forgets about her and turns his attention to someone else because (it is implied) she should have been a more welcoming wife when she had the chance. That is a really worrying presentation of rape, regardless of when a book is set.

The Rapture by Liz Jensen

the rapture liz jensenI saw that the statue of Christ The Redeemer is being repaired because it was hit by lightning last week and it made me think of a book I read before Christmas, The Rapture by Liz Jensen.

Gabrielle Fox, a psychotherapist, returns to work following an accident which has left her wheelchair bound and finds that one of her charges will be Bethany Krall, infamous following the brutal murder of her mother whose previous psychotherapist left under something of a cloud when she began to believe that Bethany was responsible for a string of natural disasters. However, Gabrielle begins to suspect that there is more to Bethany than meets the eye as she successfully predicts the dates of a superstorm which hits Rio de Janerio and an earthquake which reduces Istanbul to rubble.

On the whole I really enjoyed this book as a thriller, which aims barbs at climate change deniers, megacorporations and religious fundamentalists in a manner reminiscent of Margaret Atwood. The characters of Bethany and Gabrielle were both in turns an engaging mix of vulnerability and aggression, lashing out at the world in the few ways left to them.

Something which troubled me about the book were the ways in which Gabrielle referred to herself as no longer being a woman, having lost her unborn child and feeling below the waist in a car accident (and there are a few heavy-handed Frida Kahlo allusions to reinforce this, lest you should forget…). I get that it’s an element of characterisation and doesn’t represent the author’s views and all that, but I found this a troubling way of expressing the characters loss of identity, as though genitals, reproductive ability or sensation in the nether regions are what code you as a woman… especially odd with the way the novel plays out, but this might just be me struggling with this.

It took me a little while to get into the language which for some reason felt very American, which isn’t a criticism of American English, just a surreal feeling when you’re trying to get into a book set in the UK. Ultimately though this transatlantic vibe worked quite well, and allowed the audience to find the spread of Evangelicalism and Evangelical celebrity across the pond all the more convincing.

If iceaggedon and the UK floods have put you in the mood for a novel which is a hybrid of psychological thriller and natural disaster prophecy, then this is a great book for you.

Baby Blanket Boom!

This week I finally got around to finishing my granny square baby blanket for my niece Amelie who was born on January 2nd. I am quite pleased with the crab stitch edging as it’s the first time I’ve used this stitch and like all my crochet knowledge was picked up from Youtube videos.

Amelie's blanket, made using lots of granny squares

Amelie’s blanket, made using lots of granny squares

This wasn’t nearly as late as the baby blanket I made for my nephew Joe who was born in July but got his blanket in October or November… just in time for it to get really cold.The blankets are all based around the idea of the granny square, Amelie’s as 30 granny squares joined and bordered (hint, use a square number to avoid same coloured squares touching) and Joe’s as a giant granny square with little squares around the border.

Joe's blanket, one large granny square with a mini granny square border

Joe’s blanket, one large granny square with a mini granny square border

His mother Laura, who blogs at HelloMisterMagpie kindly got me the Mollie Makes Crochet book for my birthday, so I will hopefully have lots of new ideas for crochet soon, maybe moving onto a more complex pentagon shape!

Life in a Fairytale House

In case you haven’t seen it doing the rounds on Facebook and other social media sites, you should definitely check out Being Somewhere, the website of Simon Dale who built a fairytale house (which they call the Hobbit house) for his family in Wales for around £3,000. Simon believes in building “simple shelters that are in harmony with the natural landscape, ecologically sound and are a pleasure to live in.” I think everyone will agree that it looks incredible.

Image courtesy of http://simondale.net/hobbit.htm under the Creative Commons license.

This man is my current hero. I’m having enough trouble to get my boyfriend to agree to me putting in a small wildflower/meadow lawn in our back garden, let alone getting him to build me a Bilbo Baggins’ burrow in the woods…

New Year Reading Resolutions (you’ve probably broken already…)

Have you made a new year’s resolution? I haven’t yet, partly because I think January is a terrible time to make any kind of life change (way too dark and gloomy) and partly because, as I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been a little bit distracted. But year after year, I see the same reading resolutions cropping up, and I’m pretty sure that they’re never kept.

Here are 5 popular reading resolutions I’ve seen and why, if you’re anything like me, I think they will fail:

Resolution 1- I will read 52 books this year.

A book a week. Perfectly achieveable… if you already read at around that rate and don’t expect to have, you know, life get in the way of your plans if you don’t. You get sick, have a busy week at school or work and the next thing you know you’re behind on your schedule and will start panicking. I hate it when people set numerical reading targets, because for me, reading is meant to be enjoyable, and a pleasurable activity can’t really be quantified in terms of the number of pleasurable items consumed. For example, you might like eating chocolate, but eat too many bars and you’re going to get sick. This doesn’t have to be a book a week either, it’s any arbitrary number that you use as a stick to beat yourself. Just read at your own pace, and love the books you do manage to read.

Resolution 2- I will read War and Peace

Ah, so you’re going to read that fictional classic that you’ve always felt that you should read but didn’t quite get around to despite that fact that you’ve been promising yourself that you will for the past seven years? It’s all well and good, but are you promising yourself that for the right reasons? My feeling is if the book had really called to you, you would have read it already. If you feel you should read a book, you’re probably doing it because it symbolises something to you, an intellectual achievement, a chance to fit in… not necessarily the right reasons to beat yourself around the head with a 1,440 page dusty tome. If you love classics, fine, but if you actually love dodgy sci-fi with giant spaceworms and bigger plot holes? Do yourself a favour and stick to what you love.

Resolution 3- I will read “the greats”

Ever fancied reading the unabridged great books? I tried this when I was in sixth form and thought I should educate myself before going to university. I started with Marx’s Das Kapital because I was studying Nineteen Eighty-Four at the time, and I didn’t get much further than that. The thing is, many of these great political/philosophical works are pretty esoteric or are deeply rooted in their time, with obscure references to people, works and ideas which you may not have heard of or which are very much of their time. Do yourself a favour and if you are going to try this, either go abridged or get a good academic guide which is going to offer you some context.

Resolution 4- I will share my favourite books with my partner…

Ever heard the expression that you can take a horse to water but can’t make it drink? Well in my house, the horse only drinks sports drinks… if you follow the analogy. Best of luck in your own house though!

 

 

What New Year’s resolutions have you seen or made that have struck you as being overly ambitious?