Book Review: The Character of Rain by Amélie Nothomb

“At three, you’re like an alien, equally fascinated and terrified by what you find. Everything is opaque and new. You must invent new laws based upon your own observation. You have to be little Aristotle twenty-four hours a day, and this is particularly exhausting because you’ve never even heard of Aristotle.”

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The Character of Rain is a semi-autobiographical coming of age tale with a twist. Instead of exploring the well-trodden transition from childhood to adulthood, Amélie Nothomb focuses on the even more turbulent transition from unconsciousness to the development of thought and the first seeds of identity during our toddler years. This book was originally published in French and my copy was translated to English by Timothy Bent. It’s a quirky, sometimes funny, sometimes philosophical and always relatable book about those first few years of life and an absolute joy to read.


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Book Review: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

“The Age of Pisces, an age of mirrors, tenacity, instinct, twinship, and hidden things.”

I advise anyone who’s daunted by the size of this book (and the Man Booker Award) to get started, because it’s well worth it. I took it a chapter a day (near enough) and looked forward to it with the same feeling I get for my Advent Calendar in December. It added a bit of luxury to the day.

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Book Review: Restless by William Boyd

“One day someone is going to come and take us away.”

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This month I had a sudden craving to read something about World War II and spies. I needed something to read that would plunge me into that setting of espionage and secret histories. The synopsis of this book claimed it would give me exactly what I needed and it didn’t disappoint.


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Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy, the latest instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has become the most surprising box office hit this month. What made a film about a superhero team from space made up of criminals, aliens, a talking raccoon and a tree (that nobody has really heard of before) so successful?

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Discussion: Double Mumbo Jumbo and Sci-Fi

 

I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy on the 23rd August and I’m still trying to write up my feelings on it over a week later. It did get me thinking about the superhero film genre in general though. So while I try to piece together how I feel about Guardians so that I can write an actual review, I thought I’d post this for now.

 

After completely falling for Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier earlier this year, I thought I’d have the same reaction to every Marvel film that followed it. Since Avengers I’ve felt that the Marvel films have only been getting better and better with each new instalment. I was ridiculously excited about Guardians, being the next big Marvel film to be released and felt it was guaranteed to be one of my favourites. But as entertaining as it was (and it was very entertaining, don’t get me wrong), I didn’t have the same level of borderline obsession as I did for The Winter Soldier. I felt entertained, but at the same time I felt like there was something about it that just wasn’t for me. Let me explain.

 


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Film Review: Gravity

These days I tend to watch films at home on Sky or Netflix. The drawback of watching films at home is that I always wind up checking how long is left and finding, to my horror, that we’re under ten minutes in and nothing has pulled me into the story. And then I start to find myself doing other things – like the internet – and missing most of it. Films shouldn’t feel like flashbacks to my least favourite lessons at high school.

 

Gravity is the first film I’ve seen in a long time that didn’t bore me into having to check the time every ten minutes. It’s kind of weird that a film that doesn’t have a lot going on (at first glance) kept me at the edge of my seat.

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Book Review: A Feast For Crows by George R. R. Martin

A Feast for Crows is the fourth book in the ever popular A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin. As this book hasn’t been adapted into the fifth season of HBO’s Game of Thrones just yet, it’s the first one of the series that hasn’t been spoiled for me which really helped me to focus on just how good it was. 

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Film Review: Catching Fire

Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games sees our protagonist Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) struggling to cope with life after the games. With threats from President Snow looming over her, she has to find a way to keep her family and friends safe. It’s difficult to keep the President happy though, when the other districts have made Katniss into a symbol for rebellion against the Capitol. Katniss finds herself as the unwitting catalyst for a full scale uprising.

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Book Review: The Silver Star by Jeanette Walls

Set in the 1970s, The Silver Star is about two sisters whose mother’s nomadic lifestyle forces them to seek help from their Uncle in a small town called Byler in West Virginia. Somehow the book manages to deal with powerful themes and content while also retaining a quietness to it which might be down to Jeanette Walls’ writing style.

The events of the book are seen through Jean “Bean” Holladay, a twelve year old girl surrounded by adults who are unreliable and who abuse their power. Jeanette Walls has created an incredibly believable viewpoint. Reading this was like seeing through twelve year old eyes again; there is a sense of childlike innocence while also discovering that the world isn’t always good.

“We were living in a place where the guilty were innocent and the innocent were guilty. I didn’t know what to do. How were you supposed to behave in a world like that?”

It’s about discovering the injustice of the world for the first time and the ways in which different people deal with that.

The first half of the book details the girls’ journey to Byler and shows the relationship between the two sisters and their mother which they call “the tribe of three.” From the beginning it’s clear that they’re close but that they have problems – Charlotte Holladay often leaves her two girls, Liz and Bean alone while she chases her dreams of becoming a famous singer, often entertaining unrealistic ideas. Liz and Bean are incredibly close as a result of having to take care of each other from a young age. It made me extremely happy to see such a loving sisterly relationship in which it’s clear that they would both do anything to make the other happy and safe.

Around the halfway mark is when the tension starts to really build. After this point everything becomes very unsettling and disturbing. The sense of foreboding is almost painful. I had to keep taking pauses because I was so anxious for the characters during the events leading up to the climax. One of the most disturbing things about this book was how, even though it is set forty years ago, the many issues raised are still sadly just as relevant today.

In a town where the adults are either too scared to speak up, scared of change, or abusive of their powers, it takes Bean to stand up against the injustices done to her and her sister. She isn’t going to back down without a fight and she definitely isn’t going to turn a blind eye because “what would be crazy would be to pretend nothing happened.” She sets off a sort of chain of events throughout the community with her actions and by the end of the book there’s a sense that things are starting to change for the better. It’s the same idea as the boy who spoke the truth in the classic tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

It’s full of heart wrenching moments counterbalanced with the uplifting and sprinkled with beautiful language (specifically from Bean’s sister, Liz, who has a fixation with words). This story will be one of those that stays with me, always in the back of my mind for months, maybe years to come.

One of the many things I’m taking away from this book:

“Don’t apologize for who you are [...] and don’t ever be afraid to tell the truth.”

Rating: ✰✰✰✰✰

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Jeanette Walls’ memoir The Glass Castle was a best seller and it’s something I’m definitely going to check out. But if reading The Silver Star hadn’t been enough persuasion to read more of Jeanette Walls’ books, The Glass Castle is going to be a film starring Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games film adaptations).

I read this book on pulseit which I recommend to anyone who loves teen/young adult books. It (legally) provides a new book to read after every week or so and also provides excerpts of other books, interviews from the authors and a nice community where you can review the books. There are also giveaways if you live in the US and Canada. (I’m sad because I can’t participate in those!)

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Factory of Tears by Valzhyna Mort

‘Factory of Tears’ by Valzyhna Mort is a collection of poetry related to the language of her homeland; Belarusian. Like with all poetry, I’m starting to understand that I enjoy it a lot more when I hear it read aloud. Valzyhna Mort is well known for her readings of her work and if you have the chance to, you should definitely go to see those readings live (or click here to see her on youtube).

The pieces strongly relate to the death of languages and the rebirth of them. When she reads them aloud it’s obvious how strongly she feels about re-establishing Belarusian. Her slow and steady pace with emphasis on certain words creates a powerfully emotional reading. I have to admit that I didn’t know anything about Belarusian before reading this poetry and all of a sudden I find myself wishing that the language will continue to exist.

I think my favourite poem of hers from this collection has to be ‘Men.’ The rhythm of it is beautiful, the way it builds up, and the emotions are so powerful that even I couldn’t miss them when just reading it quietly to myself. I love the ending of it especially, ‘come back/ rescue me fine me/ in this plane wreck.’ I can just feel the emotion in each word of this poem and I felt that it deserved a special mention.

Although I did love this collection in the end, it did take a little while to get into it. I think it was definitely worth sticking with. My favourite kind of poetry is the kind that strikes with emotion and power and is understandable, so this collection was perfect. If people keep telling me to read this kind of poetry I’ll have to start admitting that I do like poetry after all.

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