Review | My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

Title: My Salinger Year (2017)
Author: Joanna Rakoff
Read: 23rd – 27th September 2017
Genre: non-fiction; memoir
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

“At twenty-three, after leaving graduate school to pursue her dreams of becoming a poet, Joanna Rakoff moves to New York City and takes a job as assistant to the storied literary agent for J. D. Salinger. She spends her days in the plush, wood-panelled agency, where Dictaphones and typewriters still reign and old-time agents doze at their desks after martini lunches, and at night she goes home to the tiny, threadbare Brooklyn apartment she shares with her socialist boyfriend. Precariously balanced between glamour and poverty, surrounded by titanic personalities and struggling to trust her own artistic sense, Joanna is given the task of answering Salinger’s voluminous fan mail. But as she reads the candid, heart-wrenching letters from his readers around the world, she finds herself unable to type out the agency’s decades-old form response. Instead, drawn inexorably into the emotional world of Salinger’s devotees, she abandons the template and begins writing back… Poignant, keenly observed and irresistibly funny, My Salinger Year is a memoir about literary New York in the late 1990s, a pre-digital world on the cusp of vanishing, where a young woman finds herself swept into one of the last great stories and entangled with one of the last great figures of the century. Above all, it is the coming-of-age story of a talented writer and a testament to the universal power of books to shape our lives.” (Synopsis from publisher)

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Review | The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

Title: The Princess Diarist (2016)
Author: Carrie Fisher
Read: 24th July – 3rd August
Genre: non-fiction; memoir
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

“When Carrie Fisher recently discovered the journals she kept during the filming of the first Star Wars movie, she was astonished to see what they had preserved—plaintive love poems, unbridled musings with youthful naiveté, and a vulnerability that she barely recognized. Today, her fame as an author, actress, and pop-culture icon is indisputable, but in 1977, Carrie Fisher was just a teenager with an all-consuming crush on her costar, Harrison Ford. With these excerpts from her handwritten notebooks, The Princess Diarist is Fisher’s intimate and revealing recollection of what happened on one of the most famous film sets of all time—and what developed behind the scenes. Fisher also ponders the joys and insanity of celebrity, and the absurdity of a life spawned by Hollywood royalty, only to be surpassed by her own outer-space royalty. Laugh-out-loud hilarious and endlessly quotable, The Princess Diarist brims with the candor and introspection of a diary while offering shrewd insight into the type of stardom that few will ever experience.” (Synopsis from publisher)

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Review | Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander

Title: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2001)
Author: “Newt Scamander”/J.K. Rowling
Read: 10th September 2017
Genre: fantasy; children’s
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

“As featured in the first year set texts reading list in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an extensive introduction to the magical beasts that exist in the magical, non-Muggle world. Some of the animals featured in the A-Z you will have already met in the existing Harry Potter books: for example Hippogriff, Flobberworm, Kappa – others you certainly won’t: read on to find out exactly what a Chizpurfle is, or why one should always beware of the sinister Lethifold . . . As Albus Dumbledore says in his introduction, this set text book by Newt Scamander has given the perfect grounding to many a Hogwarts student. It will be helpful to all Muggles out there too . . . On reading the book you will also find that Harry, Ron and (in one instance) Hermione – couldn’t resist graffitiing the book, and adding their own hand-written opinions.” (Synopsis from publisher)

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Review | A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

Title: A Natural History of Dragons (2013) (The Memoirs of Lady Trent, Book One)
Author: Marie Brennan
Read: 23rd – 26th August 2017
Genre: fantasy; historical fiction; adventure
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day. Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever. (Synopsis from publisher)

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Review | The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

Title: The Art of Asking: How I learned to stop worrying and let people help (2014)
Author: Amanda Palmer
Read: 20th – 23rd July 2017
Genre: non-fiction; memoir
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

“Rock star, crowdfunding pioneer, and TED speaker Amanda Palmer knows all about asking. Performing as a living statue in a wedding dress, she wordlessly asked thousands of passersby for their dollars. When she became a singer, songwriter, and musician, she was not afraid to ask her audience to support her as she surfed the crowd (and slept on their couches while touring). And when she left her record label to strike out on her own, she asked her fans to support her in making an album, leading to the world’s most successful music Kickstarter. Even while Amanda is both celebrated and attacked for her fearlessness in asking for help, she finds that there are important things she cannot ask for-as a musician, as a friend, and as a wife. She learns that she isn’t alone in this, that so many people are afraid to ask for help, and it paralyzes their lives and relationships. In this groundbreaking book, she explores these barriers in her own life and in the lives of those around her, and discovers the emotional, philosophical, and practical aspects of THE ART OF ASKING. Part manifesto, part revelation, this is the story of an artist struggling with the new rules of exchange in the twenty-first century, both on and off the Internet. THE ART OF ASKING will inspire readers to rethink their own ideas about asking, giving, art, and love.” (Synopsis taken from the publisher’s website.)

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Review | The End We Start From by Megan Hunter

Title: The End We Start From (2017)
Author: Megan Hunter
Publisher: Picador (UK)/Grove Atlantic (US)
Read: 28th June 2017
Genre: dystopia/post-apocalyptic
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Megan Hunter’s The End We Start From presents a drowned version of a post-apocalyptic London where its inhabitants are forced on a mass exodus from the capital as living conditions become more treacherous and flood waters rise. As a post-apocalyptic novel, it’s more concerned about one mother’s love for her new born child, and raising him during this exodus, rather than the actual dystopian world they find themselves in – unfortunately, as a childless twentysomething, I can’t say this novel particularly spoke to me in quite the same way as it seems to have done so for many other readers.

“As London is submerged below flood waters, a woman gives birth to her first child, Z. Days later, she and her baby are forced to leave their home in search of safety. They head north through a newly dangerous country seeking refuge from place to place, shelter to shelter, to a desolate island and back again. The story traces fear and wonder, as the baby’s small fists grasp at the first colors he sees, as he grows and stretches, thriving and content against all the odds. Written with poise and poeticism, The End We Start From is an indelible and elemental first book—a lyrical vision of the strangeness and beauty of new motherhood, and a portentous tale of endurance in the face of ungovernable change.” (Synopsis from the publisher)

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Review | Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney

Title: Conversations with Friends (2017)
Author: Sally Rooney
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Read: 20th – 22nd June 2017
Genre: contemporary; adult
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Set in modern-day Dublin, Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends ostensibly tells the tale of Frances and Bobbi, ex-girlfriends and spoken word poets who find themselves befriending photographer/journalist Melissa and her actor husband Nick and setting in motion a chain of events as they become embroiled with the couple’s social lives and they with theirs. If you like books that are focused on the complicated relationships people can become entangled in, despite their better judgment, then Conversations with Friends is one for you.

Frances, Bobbi, Nick and Melissa ask each other endless questions. As their relationships unfold, in person and online, they discuss sex and friendship, art and literature, politics and gender, and, of course, one another. Twenty-one-year-old Frances is at the heart of it all, bringing us this tale of a complex ménage-à-quatre and her affair with Nick, an older married man. You can read Conversations with Friends as a romantic comedy, or you can read it as a feminist text. You can read it as a book about infidelity, about the pleasures and difficulties of intimacy, or about how our minds think about our bodies. However you choose to read it, it is an unforgettable novel about the possibility of love. (Synopsis taken from publisher’s website)

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Review | Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge

Welcome, friends. Last night I saw the latest of the Pirates of the Caribbean films – Salazar’s Revenge (terrible title tbh) aka Dead Men Tell No Tales (the much superior US (?) title). And I have some thoughts about it. This is less of a measured and academic “review” and more of a “Emma has a lot of feelings so let her word vomit them here including lots of CAPITAL LETTERS OF ENTHUSIASM and reaction gifs”… buckle in, folks, it may be a bumpy ride!

I went into the latest instalment in the running-out-of-steam Pirates of the Caribbean franchise with low hopes, such low hopes that I’m not even sure the word “hope” should be found within 10 feet of my expectations. I’d heard 2 and 1-star reviews across the board. So, suffice it to say, I expected a hot mess. What did I get? Well, not a hot mess, more a lukewarm mess, if anything. To me, Salazar’s Revenge made more sense and had more potential than the fourth film, On Stranger Tides, which means I didn’t find it nearly as disappointing as a lot of reviewers and critics did. “Potential” is, I think, the key word here, since not all that potential was fulfilled enough for my tastes, but more on that later. If you’re going into this expecting a ground-breaking sequel, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment from the off, but if all you want is a bit of light relief and nautical adventure? This fits the bill.

Let’s start with the premise…

“Johnny Depp returns to the big screen as the iconic, swashbuckling anti-hero Jack Sparrow in the all-new “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.” The rip-roaring adventure finds down-on-his-luck Captain Jack feeling the winds of ill-fortune blowing strongly his way when deadly ghost sailors, led by the terrifying Captain Salazar, escape from the Devil’s Triangle bent on killing every pirate at sea – notably Jack. Jack’s only hope of survival lies in the legendary Trident of Poseidon, but to find it he must forge an uneasy alliance with Carina Smyth, a brilliant and beautiful astronomer, and Henry, a headstrong young sailor in the Royal Navy. At the helm of the Dying Gull, his pitifully small and shabby ship, Captain Jack seeks not only to reverse his recent spate of ill fortune, but to save his very life from the most formidable and malicious foe he has ever faced.” (Summary from IMDB)

From this point in there will be blood spoilers so please, for the love of all that is good and holy, if you intend to see this film and do not want to be spoiled then DO NOT READ ON, GO AWAY AND LIVE YOUR LIFE IN BLISSFUL IGNORANCE, GO NOW.

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Review | A Room with a View by E.M. Forster

Title: A Room with a View (1908)
Author: E.M. Forster
Publisher: Penguin English Library
Read: 19th April – 3rd May 2017
Genre: classic
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

A Room with a View is a 20th-century classic that begins in sun-soaked Florence before retiring to the Edwardian English countryside and proved to be a rather pleasant surprise for yours truly, quite possibly because I had no expectations for this book and did not know a single thing about it until I opened the first page.

“Life is easy to chronicle, but bewildering to practice”

Exploring Italy with her overbearing spinster cousin/chaperone, Charlotte Bartlett, Lucy Honeychurch has her middle-class and thus far limited view of the world challenged by the sights and (yes) the views she sees, not all of them quite so picturesque or pleasant. Whilst staying at the Pension Betolini in Florence, Lucy is thrown into the paths of a cast of comically presented characters: a pair of (frankly annoying) clergyman, Mr Beebe and the interfering Mr Eager; adventurous and outspoken novelist Eleanor Lavish; Mr Emerson who might just be (whisper it in case they hear you) a socialist; and his romantic and free-thinking son George. That is, until a return to England means a return to Lucy’s home in Surrey and a return to the rigid, claustrophobic middle-class country life she knows, complete with pretentious fiancee Cecil Vyse. With Lucy’s world view latterly coloured by all that she has experienced in Italy, Forster’s A Room with a View reads part romance and part satire of the Edwardian England it so shrewdly presents.

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Review | A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin

Title: A Feast for Crows (2005)
Author: George R.R. Martin
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Read: 19th April – 3rd May 2017
Genre: fantasy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

In this fourth book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, the sheer weight of political machinations and the implications of several key deaths in Westeros slowly begin to take their toll on the houses of the kingdom as a more subdued, but nonetheless bloody, war dawns just as it seems the War of the Five Kings is coming to an end.

“History is a wheel, for the nature of man is fundamentally unchanging.
What has happened before will perforce happen again.”

Warning; if you have not read the first three books in the series, probably don’t read this review as the first section synopsis alone will spoil the events of the previous books. You have been warned.

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