Read, If You Like… Ostrich Boys, by Keith Gray

I could have sworn that I reviewed this way back in the day before I called it Read, If You Like, but I can’t find it so clearly it didn’t get past the idea stage. I’ve had this book lying around for ages, and although it took me a while to get to it, it was one of those that surprised me in the best way. It’s either on the children’s end of YA or on the young adult end of children’s (do we let children read the word ‘tits’? I just saw it when I was flicking through) but I think it’s one of those that, should you be emotionally mature enough for tits, you’ll enjoy it.  Anyway. I meant to blog on Saturday, but I looked up the publication date for Ostrich Boys just now and it was actually published on this exact day nine years ago. So that’s a point for my lack of organisation…

Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray (2008)

Read, if you like…

  • Groups of kids
  • Grieving kids
  • Kids who kidnap
  • Okay, one of the kids is a dead kid. Not in a ghost way, in a ‘present in our thoughts’ way
  • Day trips (as in one trip over multiple days not multiple trips)
  • Ostrich metaphors
  • The hamlet of Ross in Scotland
  • Honestly, the best thing is the kids read it for them

Ostrich Boys Keith Gray

I was going to give this away but now I think about it, I might keep it on and read it again. I think it’s one of those that you can take something from each time you pick it up. Also, it involves teenagers kidnapping an urn of human ash, so it’s worth reading just for the escapism (if you’ve ever actually kidnapped an urn of human ash, hit me up. How’d it go?). I’m rereading The Raven Cycle at the moment but I think I’ll make it on to something new next week. I’m a bit harassed with Village Green until Saturday – I have an internship to attend, hair to dye and several paper bags to stamp before then – so comfort reading is paramount. A stiff drink may be in order on Saturday night. I should probably go and stamp some paper bags. Any ideas for my to-read list?

Read, If You Like… #GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso

If any of you are familiar with Sophia Amoruso, the ‘#Girlboss’ movement/Insta hashtag and/or Nasty Gal, you are probably aware that Nasty Gal is a clothing brand, originally on eBay, that enjoyed one of those meteoric rises to fame that puts its founder on the Forbes front cover and wields legions of loyal fans. Said founder, Sophia Amoruso, amid the meteorism, wrote #GIRLBOSS as a part memoir and part ‘this is how a young woman can become a financial success’ guide book. Last year Nasty Gal went bankrupt, and has since been sold to BooHoo. If I hadn’t read #GIRLBOSS before the bankruptcy, I would look at it and think ‘clearly this woman has no idea what she’s doing, why would I read that?’ But I had – it was recommended to me last year – and when I gave it another whirl a few weeks ago, I found it as inspiring and helpful as I had the first time round. Most businesses fail and most within the first five years; Sophia was at the helm of Nasty Gal for the best part of a decade, and the company is actually still going. So with all that in mind…

#GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso (2014)

Read, if you like…

  • Self help books that don’t require a PhD in Translating Corporate and/or Hippie Bullshit
  • Cute illustrations
  • No-nonsense advice. Sophia does not mince her words and the book’s underlying massage is ‘get off your bum and get to work’
  • Words of financial wisdom that don’t sound like your Careers teacher went off on a rant about Millennials buying avocados
  • A really Instagramable cover and hashtag
  • The occasional slightly annoying almost-cliche. I nearly didn’t include this as a point because I’m aware people have difference levels of tolerance for sage advice wrapped up in snappy, alliterative sentences. My tolerance is very, very low so maybe I picked up on the odd sentence here and there, but the advice itself is solid gold so who cares
  • An entrepreneur who doesn’t tear down the competition or pretend they were born with a company that had already succeeded. Other ‘girlbosses’ have passages in the book, and Sophia is very open about her past lives as a freegan and a petty thief. She started her eBay store as a way to avoid getting a proper job, so she kind of had me at hello
Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso review
That stain? I dropped the book in the sink.

Maybe this is a book too close to home for me not to recommend it. I also run an online shop, swear frequently and dislike being told what to do; I think what I like most about #GIRLBOSS is that Sophia is all of those things and she’s successful. Bankruptcy or no, she’s one of America’s richest self-made women. This isn’t a book about somebody I could never recognise in myself – it’s about somebody I recognise in a tonne of people I know, most of them young women who are usually patronised by people with Sophia’s level of money and influence. So if you’re in the market for something that might improve your bank balance, get this. From the library, obviously.

Read, If You Like… The Midnight Fox, by Betsy Byars

As you read this I’m probably staring at my newly-carpeted bedroom, sighing in happiness and planning the perfect way to display my MCR CDs. Operation Instagramable Bedroom will be in full swing, ladies and gents, and there will be fairy lights. Anyway, this week’s Read, If you Like… is something I’ve had on my shelf for a good decade. The cover wasn’t interesting enough to pull me in, but it’s a Puffin Modern Classic so I thought it was one I should probably read at some point to score literary brownie points. I ended up enjoying it way more than I thought I would, so well done Puffin.

The Midnight Fox, by Betsy Byars (1968)

Read, If You Like…

  • Children’s books
  • Something you can finish in an evening
  • Animal stories
  • Snapshots of Deep Southern ’60s life
  • An author who doesn’t patronise the children she writes for either linguistically or socially
  • Retrospective storytelling (there might be another term for this? The main character is looking back, like To Kill a Mockingbird which I am assuming you have read)
  • Stories about families
The Midnight Fox by Betsy Byars, 1968, Puffin Modern Classics
That white smudge is a price sticker, not a special piece of 3D illustration. The fox looks like she’s gazing at it though haha

The afterword in my edition points out that Betsy Byars has written a male main character whom small boys will ‘tolerate’ because the plot isn’t particularly packed with action; I have a good gut feeling that boys, when left to their own devices, do not give a shit, but I like the notion that Byars decided to write a male hero who doesn’t fit Ye Olde Gender Sterotypes. That could explain why the novel is a Puffin Modern Classic with its own afterword.

I’m not sure what I’ll review next week because I’ve not read anything new lately – my books have been in cupboards behind clothes and handbags and other books, and a bed covered in boxes has been in front of the cupboards, so I’ve been reading an old edition of The Economist… as fascinating as the rise of Bitcoin is, I might have to review something I’ve read loads of times, or pop down the library. Any suggestions?

Introducing Read, If You Like… The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins

Me: [sits down to write a blog that isn’t about Asia or coming home}

Me: [gets up for a jumper, looks at BuzzFeed, brews a coffee]

Me: nope, got nothing

[cont. for three weeks]

In light of my resolution to blog frequently/do interesting things/get my shit together, I’ve been brainstorming blogs I could do regularly, and so far I’ve come up with: the Six O’Clock News (again), book blogging (again), and the 50 blogs challenge I started and joked would take forever… two years ago. The problem is, the news makes me want to go back to a Cambodian island. I read very few blogs. And I can’t stand book reviews.

Whenever someone reviews a book and says they didn’t like, say, a certain character, if I read the book I also don’t like that character. If someone says they loved a plot twist and I read the novel, I feel obliged to like the twist. I’m also always on the lookout for the twist. Often the twist is shite because I knew there would be one. I do not want to inflict anything similar onto other people, so I stopped book blogging. But that’s not the attitude. After several seconds of thought, I’ve come up with a new way to review books that’s quick to read, offers none of my opinions and will let you know if this is the next book you should pick up. So sit down and enjoy the very first instalment of Read, If You Like…

The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins (2015)

Read, if you like…

  • Unreliable, unlikable narrators
  • Domestic dramas
  • The first person
  • Thrillers of any kind
  • Multiple points of view
  • Trains

I’m not being facetious on that last one. There are rather a lot of trains.

The Girl on the Train Paula Hawkins Review
My #bookstagram game needs work – I was going to add my National Rail ticket holder to the photo but I couldn’t be bothered to walk upstairs.

And there you have it. If you haven’t read The Girl on the Train, now you have a reason to if you like any of the above. Geddit? Read, if you like…?!

I’m trawling my way through my to-read shelf, but if you have any recommendations for books, do your own Read, If You Like… in the comments!

Review: ‘About a Boy’, Nick Hornby

This review  is the first that feels a little like cheating because I had actually seen bits of the film on TV, about 10 years ago. All I could remember before starting the novel is that Hugh Grant’s in the film and so’s that guy who went on to be in Skins (I think?). So my memory didn’t spoil it for me and I won’t spoil it for you.

My copy of About a Boy is courtesy of a university I considered attending long enough that they sent me free things. The parcel contained a letter from Nick Hornby advising that every misstep is not, in retrospect, a misstep (coincidentally I have been clinging to this notion since I decided not to go to university). The book itself follows that concept, predominantly through its two protagonists, Will and Marcus. Will has a life most of us live at the weekends. 30-ish and unattached all but the Countdown schedule, he spends days inside cafes and hours in front of the television, and has a work/life balance of pretty much 0% work and 100% chilling out. Marcus, a 12-year-old boy who’s just moved to London with his mum, has a happiness/life balance of about 30/70.

I can’t tell you how Will and Marcus meet, because it’s one of the funniest parts of the story, and I can’t really tell you too much about the supporting characters, because a lot of them hinge around the plot too. I can tell you that the novel contains a dead duck, Kurt Cobain, Christmas songs and some hilarious one liners that made me miss being 12. (Petition to start allowing adults to say exactly what they think just as much as children.)

Review: 'About a Boy' by Nick Hornby

 

The story takes place in the 1990s, and it would be quite different if it were set today (who are the 2010s equivalent of Nirvana?!). It was nice to read something that didn’t mention Facebook, actually, but my favourite thing about the book is that the two protagonists are about as different as two people could get while having quite a lot in common, and it was the alternating of points of view that turned the book into a very gripping story. There are a lot of ironic moments, and a lot of sad moments, because Will is judging Marcus at exactly the same time as Marcus is judging Will. All the characters are quite normal people you would expect to meet out and about, so of course they are actually all bonkers and more fun to read about than most superheroes. So go read.


 

My previous reviews are here; you can support my work by funding me on Patreon every time I review a book here.

Review: ‘Persuasion’, Jane Austen

If you are aware of Jane Austen’s work, you may have noticed a trend of intelligent women, social comedy and weddings. I will not be spoiling this particular novel by saying that Persuasion is no exception.

Turns out I have a reading list, and, weirdly, quite a bit of what I’ve read so far is on it. I thought Persuasion was too, but it turns out that it was actually Sense and Sensibility. I’ll do that one too.

Persuasion starts with the lovely if socially-ambitious Elliot family, whose daughter Anne is the main character. Eight years before the novel starts, Anne was persuaded by well-meaning relatives to abandon her engagement with a lowly (read: neither rich nor titled) gentleman named Frederick Wentworth.

When we meet her, Anne is 27 and basically preparing for life as a spinster. Because who would marry a 27-year old god look at those wrinkles. Within a chapter or two, Anne’s family have been forced to move to Bath and rent out the family home to an Admiral, because they have approached their finances with the air of ‘spend for the person you want to be, not the person you are’. Some things never change, huh.

But wait. Who should be acquainted with the Admiral and his family but Frederick, whom Anne has never really stopped loving despite trampling on his socially-inferior heart… What’s more, has Frederick been bumming around these past eight years claiming benefits? No, he joined the navy and rose to the rank of Captain.

I think that is a big deal.

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Anne spends the next few hundred pages despairing of her hypochondriac sister, her accident-prone in-laws and her mangy cousin, and tries not to freak out about how hot Frederick still is. Which is hot. Plus he knows how to drive boats across the Atlantic wearing a funny hat. (That’s not a direct quote.)

Do they get married? Does the mangy cousin stop being mangy? Will I have to read the novel again, as I did Pride and Prejudice, to fully absorb Austen’s sharp humour? Should you read this novel if you’re a fan of that Colin Firth Mr Darcy scene which isn’t even in that novel?

Oh, the literary questions.


 

My previous reviews are here; you can support my work on Patreon every time I review here.

Review: ‘The Raven Boys’, Maggie Stiefvater

Ye olde disclaimer: this review has no spoilers. Tumblr does though.

To be honest, if I’d come across this novel in the library or a shop, I probably would have ignored it because I judge books by their covers and this one screamed ‘boring YA romance between “quirky” teenage girl and dashing, brooding, teenage male’.

Good thing I found it on Tumblr, then, innit. I was intrigued by edits and posts reblogged by Feistiest, whose account I can’t remember deciding to follow. But I’m glad I did because she’s hilarious and The Raven Boys is absolutely brilliant. I was unsure what to expect just from Tumblr; I assumed it was hella queer and full of socially subversive characters or themes because Tumblr is a good testing ground for whether a novel is full of boring (read: straight, white, brooding) photocopy characters. So when I saw the tagline – ‘if you kiss your true love, he will die’ – I thought ‘Christ, this true love is of course a guy and probably a photocopy of all white straight young adult dude characters’. On the back, I saw that the novel has won a Glamour award for ‘Best Book to Curl Up With’. Had Tumblr been hoodwinked by a toilet paper YA masquerading as a hella queer/socially subversive character-rich YA? Or, holy shit, could the novel be both high  in quality and content and incredibly easy to read?

Yes, yes it could. I don’t read enough YA to know if it’s blowing the doors off the genre (thanks for that, Twilight) but it’s the sort of book I wish I’d known when I was 15 or 16. If I had, I might’ve been a bit more interested in boys and/or world history and/or brilliant storytelling. The plot centres around Blue, a girl whose family is psychic, and a group of guys broadly known as raven boys. They have nothing in common until it turns out that psychics, dead(ish) people, Welsh kings and Blue’s guarantee to kill her true love do in fact have things in common.

TRB

I’m only on the first novel of three at time of writing, and it’s too early to tell if the characters grow or if it gradually increases in queerness. At the moment my money’s on massive character development at the very least, and I hope I’m right… Tumblr edits aren’t always that accurate, you know? Maybe I misread the pretty pictures, and I can’t check until I’ve read the rest of the series. Which, by the time you read this, I may well have done.

Update, at time of publishing: I have finished the series with a fervour normally reserved for MCR. Tumblr was right and I am in love. Please do not look up the book online – there are spoilers everywhere – just reserve it from your library ASAP. Please. Oh and follow Maggie Stiefvater online because she is hilarious and eloquent with that really-good-author style that makes me want to take creative writing classes. She also took the piss out of me so in my head we are friends for life.

Oh, you can support my mission to become a writer of decent YA and various other genres on Patreon here.

Review: ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’, Judith Kerr

Polite notice/potential spoiler alert: this one might make you sniffle. And, um, it’s about a Jewish family in the 1930s. But not quite like how you’d think.

In 2013 I was lucky enough to go to the Hay Festival and attend an interview – which was more of a conversation – between two of the most prominent writers my childhood, Judith Kerr and Michael Morpurgo. I learnt that Michael Morpurgo failed his 11+, that Prince Philip read Mog and that Judith Kerr is not, as I’d assumed, born-and-bred English. She was born in Berlin, where her father, Alfred Kerr, was a big deal in literary circles. He saw the writing on the wall and spoke out against Hitler before a lot of people did… He was also Jewish, so his name was on the top of a list the Nazi party published stating who they would shoot should they come to power. He moved his family to Switzerland in 1933, just before the Nazis were elected.

I wouldn’t normally add so much background to a fiction novel – and you certainly don’t need to know it to read When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit because the novel is, technically, a children’s book. It’s funny, it’s easy to read and its main character, Anna, is a little bit like every seven-year-old who lives with her brother and their parents. The whole story takes place before 1939 – war isn’t really mentioned – and the plot concentrates on Anna’s experience leaving Berlin for Switzerland. Then her experience leaving Switzerland for Paris, then Paris for London. First and foremost it’s a children’s book, about children and aimed at them. But it’s also an autobiography; Judith Kerr writes in the notes that she wrote it to help her own children learn about her childhood.

Course, reading When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit as an adult, in the same week Syrian children were drowning in the Mediterranean, it was surreal to realise that Anna and her family were some of the first refugees of the Second World War. It also made me want to cry my eyes out, because Anna is almost completely unaware of what’s going on outside of her little world; anti-Semitism, the probability of war and the realities of seeking refuge in a foreign country aren’t such bold themes as they would be in an ‘adult’ novel. That’s what makes it so poignant (and a little bit ironic). Finishing the book made me want to find anyone who opposes helping the current refugee crisis and throw them into a dingy off the coast of Greece. This novel is historical, but it also couldn’t be more current.

WHSPR

I got to meet Judith Kerr at Hay, and at the time I didn’t realise how lucky I was to meet her and to see her interviewed. Mog the Forgetful Cat and The Tiger Who Came to Tea are classic children’s stories, but it’s When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit that you should make your children read as soon as they’re old enough to get through a prose novel. Then you should borrow it off them. (If you buy it, try to get hold of the Essential Modern Classics edition; there are notes from Morpurgo and Kerr plus a bit of historical background.)

I’m off to read the next book in the series. There are two more, obviously… there’s the war to get to yet. I’m just glad I know Anna has a happy ending.

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