The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir

Recently, I went into Big W looking for a specific book. I didn’t find the book I wanted, but I did leave with six other books instead. The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir was one of those six, one purchased on a whim because the blurb just captured my attention. It turned out to be one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

As you can guess from the title, it is about a young woman called Biddy Weir. She is quirky, and misunderstood, and considered by everyone to be a little bit odd. In fact, she is so odd that Alison, the mean girl at her school, nicknames her Bloody Weirdo, and the consequences of that name stay with her all through her school years, and well into her adulthood.

As she suffers daily torment and abuse at the hands of Alison, her self worth slowly vanishes. Every happiness she has gets wrenched away from her, for the cruel entertainment of a bunch of girls. If I’m honest, the book is actually rather reminiscent of Carrie, albeit without the telepathy and the violent ending. But something about Biddy got to me, and stuck.

It is a heartbreaking story, and a familiar one. The one who dances to the beat of her own drum, is always the one left outcast and alone. Because even today, in our supposedly liberated society, to be considered weird is an insult. And Biddy is weird. But that is what makes her so special. Author, Lesley Allen, created a protagonist that I loved instantly, for all the reasons the other characters hated her.

The book is well written, has a steady pace, and is full of heart. It is beautiful in its sadness, and made me cry…and I’m not usually emotional. If you’re a little bit weird, I encourage you to meet Biddy. And I challenge you not to love her.

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The Rest of Us Just Live Here 

It was a slow day at work on Sunday, so I smashed out an entire book. That book was The Rest of Us Just Live Here, by Patrick Ness. After a long run of reading mediocre titles, I’m finally reading more books that are not “just ok”, but rather make me say “holy fuck that was good”, and I’m pleased to say this book fell into the latter category. I read his Chaos Walking trilogy a few years ago, and fell in love with his storytelling and his character development, so I was super excited to finally get my hands on a copy of this book.

The book actually tells two stories; that of the “indie kids” who encounter strange happenings and try to save the world. The kind of story you read when you pick up any urban fantasy series. But the best part about this book – and the cleverly worded title tells you all you need to know straight away – is that the world saving part isn’t even the main focus. Ness tells the story in the chapter titles, and it’s brilliantly presented as second fiddle to the main plot, which centres around a group of friends – very much the opposite of indie kids – who each have their own personal issues, and are just trying to make it to graduation without someone blowing up their high school…again.

Our narrator is Mikey, a soon to be graduate, on the cusp of adulthood, who has anxiety so severe, he can’t stop himself from washing his hands over and over and over and…but as all consuming and frustrating as it is, his anxiety is the least of his problems. He is about to graduate, and his life is about to be turned entirely on its head as a result. He has a drunken father and an overbearing, seemingly unfeeling politician for a mother. His sister Mel, (and a member of his close knit group of friends) is a recovering anorexic, and he isn’t sure whether he is in love with Mel’s best friend, Henna, or his own best friend, Jared. 

This book was so cleverly written, I wanted to read it again straight away. Ness takes the whole “Chosen One” trope, and turns it into background noise. But he does so in such a way as to poke gentle fun at it, without actually paying any insult to the genre. This whole book plays with the notion that not everyone is the Chosen One, and puts the spotlight on the normal ones, who are just trying to make it through their day to day lives. As our narrator says, “…sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.”

The Rest of Us Just Live Here is clever, funny, touching, and to be honest, quite brilliant. Ness effortlessly combines fantasy elements (zombie deer, anyone?) with down to earth, very normal issues and characters. The plot is engaging and entertaining, and the book is well written. I encourage you to give this book a read, I promise you won’t be disappointed. 

How To Build A Girl (review)

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I finally found it. The book I’ve been waiting to review. And let me tell you, How to Build a Girl is hands down the best book I have read in a long, long time.

Written by Caitlin Moran and set in Wolverhampton in the 1990’s, How to Build a Girl follows the life of Johanna Morrigan from the ages of 14-17, as she tries to navigate the tempestuous waters of young adulthood. It is funny, clever, filthy, and raw, and I found myself relating to this awkward, dorky, sassy teenager in more ways than one. There is something about the way Moran captures what it’s like to be a teenage girl that really resonated with me. And she doesn’t shy away from the realities of exploring sexuality either. The book frequently delves into Johanna’s masturbation habits and later, her sexual encounters, with a kind of blunt honesty that I found both refreshing and amusing.

Johanna is an aspiring writer, who leaves school to pursue her dream and turn it into a career. She lands herself a job writing music reviews for a magazine, and it is a move that thrusts her into the music scene, and into the adult lifestyle that she so desperately craves.

Enter Dolly Wilde; a drug taking, alcohol guzzling, top hat wearing cynic, who manages to charm and repel people in equal measure with her razor wit, outlandish tales, and scathing opinions. Dolly Wilde is Johanna’s greatest creation; the very embodiment of sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll. And it is through Dolly, and the fearlessness that she is able to enjoy whilst wearing that mask, that Johanna is able to discover herself, who she truly is and what she wants. Though she manages to get herself into some pretty interesting – and cringeworthy! – situations along the way.

An array of interesting characters are interwoven throughout; a lovable bunch of misfits that add a kind of dark humour to the book. Amongst these are Johanna’s father; a sometime drunkard who has grand plans of making it in music…if only he can get someone to play his tapes on the radio. There is her surly older brother Krissi, who doesn’t seem to reciprocate Johanna’s unfailing feelings of adoration, but who still remains her hero and one of her favourite people. And of course, her first real love, best friend and favourite person; quirky rock star, John Kite. It is this last relationship in particular that really struck a chord with me. There’s something inherently sweet and pure about their easy friendship, and the intensity with which Johanna loves this slightly dishevelled, but truly genuine soul.

This book is honest and funny and heartfelt, and everything I could want in a coming of age story, without any of the saccharine overtones. I laughed out loud, and there were even times when I felt the prickling of tears at the corners of my eyes. I loved it so much I almost want to go back and start it all over again. But, more books are yet to be read and so, for now, I will simply say that How to Build a Girl has definitely made its way into my top ten books of all time.

Wytches Review

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Last night I read the first volume of Wytches, the ongoing graphic novel series from Scott Snyder. I bought it on a recommendation from my best friend who, if I’m honest, is pretty much responsible for all the cool shit I’m into. And, as ever, I wasn’t disappointed.

This captivating horror comic begins in the year 1919, with a woman seemingly trapped in a tree, and quite anxious to be out of it. Her young son appears before her, and asks where she is been. She replies that someone ‘pledged her to them’ and begs him to break her free. There is a sense of urgency here; something big and bad is coming, and it’s coming fast. Yet instead of helping his mother, the boy grabs a rock and unexpectedly uses it to bash her across the head. He looks at her and chillingly says ‘pledged is pledged.’ before something grabs her and drags her into the dark.

Now I don’t know about you, but right away I wanted to read more. Who, or what was our victim referring to when she said them? And how it is possible that a simple word like pledged could carry such menace?

Jump forward to the year 2014, and we are introduced to the Rooks family. Young Sailor is about to begin her first say at a new school, and she is understandably nervous, but not just for the usual reasons – though her anxiety does play a large role in this comic. The thirteen year old protagonist carries the weight of a dark past on her shoulders, and as the story continues, we learn more about her, and why her family made the move to a new town. But things in their new home are not going to be a smooth as they hope, and something is lurking in the nearby woods, something menacing and deeply evil. And that something wants Sailor.

The thing I liked about Wytches is that, aside from being a well written and awesomely illustrated horror comic, there were some great themes as well. Sailor fights a constant battle with her anxiety, and must face up to a particularly nasty bully. Her father, Charlie, struggles with guilt over incidents in the family’s past, and like any father, worries about his daughter, and his ability to be a good parent. The underlying themes in this comic add a cool spin to the plot, because it makes the story easy to relate to and adds a great contrast to the whole notion of evil and the perhaps more fantastic aspects of the series.

Snyder’s simultaneously creepy and engrossing story, coupled with the gritty illustrations by Jock, and Matt Hollingsworth’s dark, moody colours, make Wytches a thoroughly enjoyable read, and worth the time of any person who calls themselves a horror fiction fan. 4.5 stars for me, and the only reason it didn’t get a full five is because I felt the story in parts to be slightly rushed. But otherwise, an excellent beginning to what I hope will be a long running series.

Savage Night Review

I recently finished reading Savage Night, the 2008 crime fiction/noir thriller novel by Allan Guthrie. And sweet baby Satan on a Savoy, what a novel it was. Take two families, add some revenge, toss in a handful of cold blooded violence and a twist of dark humour, and you have a book that asks the question; how much blood would you spill to avenge those you love?

On one side of this bloody feud is Andy Park; ex(?) con, and haemophobic, vaguely psychotic patriarch of a family that considers casual violence to be the norm. On the other side is Tommy Savage, a man made wealthy off years of working shady deals, and with more than a few skeletons in his closet. When the two families clash, violence and bloodshed ensues, and no one is going to walk away unscathed. What begins as a simple case of blackmail – and in Park’s case, a chance to get even with the man responsible for the failing care of his brain damaged wife – soon turns into something infinitely more violent than either family could have imagined. After a money exchange goes wrong, and costs the life of someone Park holds dear, his motivations quickly change from blackmail to revenge.

What follows is a sick, twisted series of events, each one more shocking and – as the title suggests – savage than the last, and soon both families find themselves in increasingly dangerous situations where it’s unclear who will survive, and who will join the ever growing number of bodies piling up in the wake of such brutality. The tables turn more than once in this novel, and I found myself unable to predict anything that was coming next. Guthrie’s penchant for intrigue kept this reader on her toes, and I couldn’t put the book down. His writing style is concise and direct, and the plot, while not overly complex, is written in a way that makes you feel as if this is the first revenge story you’ve ever read.

His characters were cleverly written, certainly believable and mostly all detestable, but in a way that didn’t detract from Guthrie’s writing in the slightest. He is a talented writer, and Savage Night is definitely worth the read. The story is entertaining, the writing is clear and the ending is vaguely ambiguous. This book gets a solid 4 out of 5 for me, and I highly recommend reading it.

The Girl on the Train Review

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I just finished reading The Girl on the Train. I heard about it after a reference was made to it being in a similar vein to Gone Girl, and to be honest, I think that’s where a large part of the book’s popularity stems from. In the same way Fifty Shades of Grey spurned an influx of erotic fiction (as loath as I am to use that tripe as an example), Gone Girl has prompted the popularity of crime thrillers.

The Girl on the Train tells a story from multiple perspectives, in the same way Gone Girl does, only with more characters. And I don’t know if Paula Hawkins intended it to be so, or if it was just me, but there wasn’t a single likeable character in the whole book. That’s not to say that the book was bad. The characters were rather well written, and the plot was intriguing, with a twist I didn’t put together until a chapter or so before it was revealed. But by gosh, did I hate those women.

On one hand, you have Rachael. An obsessive drunk with a penchant for seeking sympathy where it isn’t deserved. On the other hand, you have Anna. A smug, whiny mother who thinks she’s better than everyone else. And then there’s Megan; troubled, petulant, a bored wife, seeking outside thrills to satiate her restlessness. None of these women inspired anything in me besides repulsion, for various reasons. And the male characters weren’t much better.

The story essentially follows Rachael, who catches glimpses of the lives of the people in the houses along the train line as she rides the train every day. When she witnesses something unexpected, she finds herself – largely due to that obsessive nature I mentioned earlier – thrust into the tumultuous, messy lives of these people she knows only by sight. Not satisfied to just sit and speculate, she is soon caught in an insidious web of lies and deceit, with murder right at the heart of it all.

The story unfolds through the major plot and subplots throughout, all intermingling to create a pretty good story. Despite the characters’ unlikeable natures, they were, to Hawkins’ credit, not necessarily overly unreal. It’s not unthinkable that their own personal struggles are real and relatable, if not to me then at least to others. There was a messy, gritty quality to the book and the characters that lends itself to believability. If there’s one thing I hate in books, it’s those perfect characters that have never made a mistake in their lives, and writing flawless characters is certainly one thing the author cannot be accused of.

The story itself actually had me reasonably captivated. There were a lot of variables and it was written in such a way that you didn’t know exactly where it was going to go, as sometimes happens with this particular genre. All in all, I found it to be an enjoyable read and I’d probably give it a 7/10.

Paper Towns Review

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I have been slack this year. I have only read ten books, and aside from Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking, I haven’t read s single one that I actually liked. Just a couple of days ago, I finished reading Paper Towns, by John Green, and I have to say I was rather unimpressed with it. Having read Looking for Alaska not that long ago, I was dismayed to find a slightly more boring version of the same story. Boy loves purposely enigmatic girl, love is unrequited, something happens to the girl that requires the boy to solve some mystery about her, and they don’t end up together. That’s literally it.

I went to see the film adaptation of Paper Towns last night, as part of a charity event raising awareness for mitochondrial disease. After reading the book, (which I hadn’t finished at the time I purchased the ticket) I was less than enthused about the prospect of sitting through the film, but there was pizza and I’m not one to turn down pizza. So I went, and decided to give the film the benefit of the doubt. As it turned out, I liked the film a little more than the book, but it’s still not one I’ll be in any hurry to watch again.

The story revolves around Quentin ‘Q’ Jacobsen (played by Nat Wolff, an actor you might recognise from yet another John Green adaptation, The Fault in our Stars), a young man on the cusp of adulthood, who has a nearly life long obsession with the stereotypical girl next door, Margo Roth Spiegelman (played by Cara Delevingne). There were a lot of parallels between this, and John Green’s other works. Margo, like the title character in Looking for Alaska, is essentially nothing more than a spoiled child who revels in her own mystery. Q, like Miles, is the under appreciated, decidedly convenient, sort-of-but-not-really friend smitten with the girl. Both stories are told from the male perspective, and neither one is particularly entertaining.

Margo is difficult to like. She finds out her boyfriend is cheating on her with her best friend, and yeah, that would suck. But she goes on a huge revenge mission and then leaves Q to deal with the aftermath. Her actions are petty, and only result in making her look more like the child she is so desperate to prove that she’s not. She forces Q into helping her, because she thinks it’s her job to make him more bold, more like the kind of person she would like. I feel like it’s a pretty negative message to be sending people this story is aimed at; do things you’re not necessarily comfortable with, to please people that are only going to use you up and leave. Nice one, John.

The film adaptation of Paper Towns was differed from the book, in that it actually had more of a focus on the friendship between Q and his best friends, Ben and Radar. Though Q’s obsession with the ultimately unlikeable Margo is obviously a major focal point of the film, and I still found myself wanting to slap him upside the head, Ben and Radar (played by Austin Abrams and Justice Smith respectively) are fun enough that they almost single handedly (double handedly?) carry the entire film. Of particular note is the scene in which a drunken Ben, to alleviate his own fear of being in a creepy building, sings the Pokemon song aloud, until the three friends are belting it out together.

Margo’s portrayal in the film is admittedly more likeable than in the book. In the book, when they finally catch up to her at the end, she is rude, nasty and unappreciative. In the film, she at least deigns to apologise to Q for sending him on what was essentially a wild goose chase. But still, I found it difficult to relate to any of the characters in the book/film, and couldn’t understand Q’s infatuation with Margo.

Out of five, the film gets a 2.5 and the book, only a 2. That extra .5 for the film comes entirely from the fact that the plot was fast tracked and the message was more about friendship. If you’re a John Green fan, by all means go to see it, but otherwise I’m not sure I’d bother.