Normal People by Sally Rooney

I had no intention of reading Normal People. I really didn’t like Sally Rooney’s debut novel, Conversations With Friends. I found the characters very unlikeable and the story was very average, in opinion, I didn’t find it particularly memorable.

Normal People, on the other hand, is brilliant.

Set between Carricklea, Sligo and Dublin, the book follows the on-off relationship between Connell and Marianne from their teen years and through university. The story itself sounds like nothing particularly special or unique but I was really taken with it and I couldn’t stop reading once I started.

At school, Marianne is quirky, introverted and an outsider. She becomes friends with Connell because his mum is Marianne’s family’s cleaner. Connell is very popular and liked by everyone. The pair have an unspoken rule that neither will show their friendship at school but keep it hidden because Marianne is rather aloof.

At university, the pair have a constant friendship but an on/off relationship. For a reader, it’s really clear the pair should just be together but the pair cannot and practically refuse to have any kind of conversation about their relationship or how they truly feel about each other.

Sally Rooney’s writing is brilliant. She managed to present both Marianne and Connell’s feeling without lapsing into alternative first person chapters – there is an omnipresent narrator who lets the reader know what each person is feeling and thinking.

I just loved the story and writing. I think Sally Rooney captured the complexity of a relationship without becoming soppy and predictable nonsense.

If you disliked Conversations With Friends as much as me or you’ve been avoiding the hype around Sally Rooney, definitely pick up Normal People, you won’t regret it.

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Books Like … Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

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Crazy Rich Asians isn’t a book I thought I would like, I thought it was a YA rom-com, something along the lines of John Green’s novels but I was completely wrong, it’s actually a satire about the eye-watering wealth in China, today.

 

At the heart of the trilogy is Nicholas and Rachel, a young Chinese couple living a relatively normal life in New York. Rachel is an economics professor and mother, Kerry, is a successful real estate agent in California. Kerry is almost living the American Dream – she arrived in the States a relatively poor, single mother but became very successful and raised a bright daughter. The pair are the polar opposite of Nicholas’ family. The Young’s and the rest of the extended family are unbelievably wealthy. In the first novel, the couple head to China for a wedding and from there on, craziness ensues. The two subsequent novels in the series follow the couple and Nick’s crazy rich relatives.

 

If you’ve read the first book, I highly recommend you continue with series, China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems. If you haven’t read any of the novels, I can’t recommend the trilogy enough. The books are great, easy reads, the writing is good and the story is wonderfully far-fetched and ridiculously brilliant.

 

If you’ve finished the series and have withdrawals, I have some similar books to keep you going.

 

First up is The Wangs vs The World by Jade Cheng which is the story of the incredibly wealthy Wang family’s rapid downward financial spiral following the economic crash in 2008. Set in the States, Charles Wang made his fortune in the cosmetic industry but bad decisions have eroded the family money and now he finds himself packing up his family for to a road trip across America to move in with his eldest daughter. The novel is a humourous take on the family’s realisation the wealth they become accustomed to, no longer exists.  If you’re looking for a funny, light read, this one is for you.

 

Next is The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan which was adapted into a film in 1993. Unlike Crazy Rich Asians, this novel isn’t a lighthearted look at wealth and cultural differences. The novel is the story of four women in San Francisco who get together to reminisce over dim sum. The Joy Luck Club is a study of the relationships between mother and daughters and collusion and conflict between eastern and western culture. Wonderfully written and very interesting.

 

Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2013, the Five Star Billionaire by Tash Wu is the story of five-star billionaire, Walter Chao through the eyes of four character determined to get wealthy in Shanghai. Wu’s description of Shanghai is wonderful and really bring each scene to life. If enjoyed the passages in Crazy Rich Asians about China and the cities, this one is for you.

 

Have you read Crazy Rich Asians? What did you think? Do you any other recommendations?

April 2019

Read: My book highlight of the month was The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott. I’m going to upload a full review post on its release date but it’s definitely a book to add to your TBR list.

 

Watched: I’m completely obsessed with Line of Duty. If you’ve never seen the show, series one to four is on Netflix and the final episode of the current series is coming this Friday. It’s properly brilliant and additive.

 

Listened: This month I listened to The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid on Audible and I absolutely adored it. I have to be completely honest and say I was slightly underwhelmed by Reid’s latest novel, Daisy Jones and The Six but I was loved Evelyn Hugo. The novel is the story of fictional Hollywood star Hugo, a glamorous and mysterious retired film star. At the age of 79 and out the media’s gaze for a number of year, Evelyn decides to grant one interview to young journalist, Monique Grant and reveal the secrets of her career. It’s truly brilliant and one of my best novels of the year.

Podcasts | Movie Podcast Recommendations

I absolutely love the cinema and I’m a film geek – I’m the person who interested in crew’s filmography and the type of film used. If I’m not watching films, reading about films then there’s a good chance I’m listening to shows about films. If you’re like and on the hunt for a good film podcast, I have a couple of suggestions for you.
First up, for reviews look no further than the BBC’s flagship film show – Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review. I don’t think I need to say much because it is arguably the most famous film podcast. This is my favourite film review podcast, I really like the banter between Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo and the reoccuring in-jokes.

One of my favourite podcasts is The Rewatchables. Regular hosts, Bill Simmons and Chris Ryan get together, sometimes with other hosts, to discuss and dissect some of their favourite films. The Face/Off and The Departed episodes are particularly brilliant. If you’re a film geek like me, this is a must listen.

A recent discovery for me has been the Inside series by Wondery. Each episode explores the life cycle of iconic films starting the original conception to pitching to the studios through to the impact of the film after its release. If you’re interested in film history, this for you.

What are your favourite film podcasts?

Box Set Binge |You

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Most of the time when everyone is talking about a new series, the buzz will automatically put me off watching it. This was the case with You. I heard everyone raving about it and I didn’t even both to read the synopsis, I assumed I wouldn’t like it and I skipped passed it but the snow hit, it was very, very cold and I needed a show to get hooked on. I’m slightly ashamed to admit I watch ten episodes of You between Friday night and Saturday afternoon. 

Based on Caroline Kepnes’ novel of the same name, it’s a twist on the classic love story – boy meets girl of his dreams but the boy is actually a creepy stalker. Set in New York, Penn Badgley plays book shop manager Joe Goldberg who becomes completely obsessed with Guinevere Beck, played by Elizabeth Lail, after she pops into his book shop. Beck is charmed by Joe, he is everything she’s never had – he is completely devoted to her and he wants to encourage her to follow her dreams and take care of herself but he is obsessively checking her social media and committing all kinds of crimes in his pursuit of creating the perfect relationships.

You is completely addictive but it is utter trash watching. The plot is ridiculously far fetched, the plot holes are massive, the acting is bit hammy, the characters are generally irritating and the dialogue is seriously lacking but it’s brilliant. 

January Reads

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I’m not sure if people like reading one book review posts so I thought I would do monthly reading wrap ups. I like to read a mixture of contemporary fiction, true crime and older novels. I’ve also started an online book club, which I will review and discuss separately.

First up is I read the January Book Club pick, America For Beginners. If you want to read my thoughts on it and leave your own, the post is here.

Next I finished next month’s book club pick, When All Is Said by Anne Griffths. There will be a post at the end of February on my thoughts.

The third book of the month was the Lost Man by Jane Harper. Like most people who read The Dry and Force of Nature, I was completely hooked on both but I think Jane Harper’s latest novel The Lost Man is the best yet. Set the unbearably hot and harsh Australian outback, the novel is the story of an unexpected and peculiar death. Cameron Bright was born and raised in the area and more than wise to the difficult conditions of the environment so when his body is found in the desert having died due to dehydration, his brothers, Nathan and Bub are surprised. The eldest brother, Nathan is convinced Cameron’s death was not an accident, it must have been something more sinister. The Lost Man is far than a murder mystery. It’s a story of family, relationships, loneliness, small town syndrome, secrets, mistakes and forgiveness.  During the course of the novel, the secrets of Bright family are revealed, not just Cameron but Nathan too. It’s a real so burn, there is no rush to reveal what exactly what exactly happened. I think this novel will appeal to both fans of murder mysteries and family dramas, it straddles both genres, wonderfully. I love the how realistic The Man is, it doesn’t seem far-fetched or OTT. Jane Harper is properly brilliant at describing the scene. Her descriptions of the Australian outback are very vivid – the suffocating heat, the dusty desert and a isolation of town is comes to life through Harper’s passages. Considering how much I enjoyed Jane Harper’s first two novels, I even surprised myself with how quickly I raced through The Lost Man. It was genuinely a novel I couldn’t stop, I needed to know the outcome and the ending was incredibly satisfying. I knew she was great writer, her plots were very good and her previous novels were generally brilliant but her third was even better. I really enjoyed how the plot unfolded, and I liked the characters she created.

Next was a book I’ve meant to read for months, Crudo by Olivia Laing. I had heard a lot of good things about Crudo but I was disappointed. Set in the summer of 2017, the novella mentions Trump, Brexit, Grenfell, Korea climate change, the environment and gender equality. We meet Kathy, she is forty years old and about to get married for the third time, the novel is her thoughts and opinions about marriage, her husband, her life and the world today. I found it an odd novel. I generally don’t like stream of consciousness novels, I find the style quite annoying but the style was the main problem for me this time, it was the main character, Kathy Acker. Laing has adapted the persona of real life US author, Kathy Acker who died in 1997. From what I can gather, the novel is written by Laing in the style of Acker. I like the “currentness” of the novel but I wasn’t wowed by Laing’s writing style, I actually found her writing annoying. I don’t think it helps that I don’t particularly like stream of consciousness novels but I found this novel particularly hard going, I felt like I was reading a very long, rambling blog post. While I find the spate of very current novels interesting, the fact all the protagonists are wealthy, privileged and London based – it’s starting to become a little samey.

The fifth book of the month was Still Lives Maria Hummel.

Final book of the month Where The Crawdads Sing by

10 Reasons You Should Read The Secret History by Donna Tartt

“It is is better to know one book intimately than a hundred superficially.”

I’ve loved The Secret History by Donna Tartt since the I read it a few years ago. In January, I decided to re-read the novel for the first time in years and I still love it. I think this novel is one of the best contemporary works of fiction. If you haven’t read it, I wholeheartedly recommend you pick it up, in fact I have ten reasons why you should. 

1.      It’s over six hundred pages. I know long books can be off putting for a lot of people but the length of the novel means Tartt properly develops each character and part of the beauty of the novel is the fact the story is in no way rushed, each plot point is detailed to the point you feel like your witnessing the story.

2.      Its set on a university campus and it’s filled with descriptions of the autumn leaves, dorm rooms and parties. Tartt presented Hampdon College (inspired by Bennington) like party central for some students and a places of deep intellectual thought for others. 

3.      It starts with a murder. Richard Pappin tells us about the murder of Bunny in the prologue so we know exactly what’s coming but it’s not until half through does the event actually occur so we spend around three hundred pages being drip fed information about the events leading up to the murder. It’s not a whodunnit, we know who was killed and by whom but we don’t know why. 

4.      As readers, we end up learning about Ancient Greece. Richard and the rest of elite set are obsessed with Greek myths and philosophy and in a twist of fate, they end living a Greek tragedy. 

5.      The narrator is a lonely outsider. Richard wasn’t supposed to be part of classics course, the course was full but persistence forced Julian, the cult leader-like teacher to relent and he was finally allowed to join. He found himself part of the odd group of friends and while they include him on weekends away and fancy meals, he’s still very much on the periphery of the group and lonely.

6.      Secrets. Tartt lets us, the reader, in on all the secrets. We know exactly what’s going on because our trusty narrator, Richard, takes us through everything in great detail. At the very beginning, we know the secret of the murder and we know everything to follow, will be part of one big lie.

7.      The characters are fundamentally flawed and odd but you can’t help feeling empathetic towards them. The group of outrageously privileged students, Camilla, Charles, Francis and Henry are strange and they committed murder but I felt sorry for them.

8.      It’s an inverted detective story. In the prologue we find out there was a murder and we know how it was committed so there is no suspense in wondering who will be killed or who byy but Tartt created suspense in explaining why the murder was committed.

9.      The writing is beautiful. I loved the long descriptive passages; I loved the discussions of the meaning of beauty and the group’s analysis of ancient Greek.

10. Fate is a major theme in the novel. Richard acknowledges that the events at Hampden University happened purely by chance, if he hadn’t been accepted on the classics course, he would never have meant Julian and the other students and if he hadn’t met them, he wouldn’t have found himself embroiled in a murder. 

Have you read The Secret History? What were your thoughts?