#RandomReads July Discussion

For the final post in July’s Random Reads, I’m going to be chatting about this month’s two Random Reads books in a bit more detail.

Our theme for this month was plays. I’ve read quite a few plays, though I have to say most were for studying reasons rather than pleasure (I studied theatre from GCSEs to my Masters degree). Not that I didn’t enjoy a lot of them, I just think it’s difficult to enjoy something sometimes when you’re being forced to read it!

As usual, Stacie and I picked really different books to read, and this time I did enjoy both of them. I’d read them both before, although Top Girls was such a long time ago I could barely remember it. My pick, The Wonderful World of Dissocia is one I’m really familiar with (as I performed in it a few years ago there were some scenes I read and still knew all the lines to too!)

I loved that both plays talked about issues that are incredibly important and close to my heart. Dissocia deals with mental illness, a topic that still has a lot of stigma surrounding it, which it really shouldn’t in this modern age. Similarly, the feminist issues in Top Girls shouldn’t, but are still an issue today, though things may have taken little baby steps forward since the play was written.

While I enjoyed reading both plays, it was clear to me that they were in that medium for a reason. I think I would have enjoyed both even more if I had watched them on stage, although for different reasons.

In Top Girls, I enjoyed reading it as I was able to take my time and understand all the different stories and conversations that often went on all at the same time. But it was also difficult to read with everyone talking over each other: I kept having to try and remember when someone was interrupting and where the conversation started up again and such. I think those parts would have been easier to understand if they were being spoken by the characters rather than being read by just me.

With Dissocia, I started to think it was as funny as I remembered it, and I think that’s because a lot comes from what the actors bring to the characters. There’s so much scope for development and physical humour, and a lot of the jokes rely on the delivery, which I have to say, isn’t always done right inside my head!

I think it was really good for me to read something this month that wasn’t my usual diet of pure YA!  I look forward to seeing what next month brings us.

See Stacie talk about this month’s #RandomReads over at her blog.

Book Review: Panic (Lauren Oliver)

Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 408
Release Date: March 4th 2014

 

Summary (From Goodreads):

 
Panic began as so many things do in Carp, a dead-end town of 12,000 people in the middle of nowhere: because it was summer, and there was nothing else to do.Heather never thought she would compete in Panic, a legendary game played by graduating seniors, where the stakes are high and the payoff is even higher. She’d never thought of herself as fearless, the kind of person who would fight to stand out. But when she finds something, and someone, to fight for, she will discover that she is braver than she ever thought.

Dodge has never been afraid of Panic. His secret will fuel him, and get him all the way through the game, he’s sure of it. But what he doesn’t know is that he’s not the only one with a secret. Everyone has something to play for.
For Heather and Dodge, the game will bring new alliances, unexpected revelations, and the possibility of first love for each of them—and the knowledge that sometimes the very things we fear are those we need the most.

 

Review:

 

I had kind of mixed hopes for this book: I bought it as a gift for my sister because it sounded really interesting, but I was also worried it would be a less dramatic version of The Hunger Games.I think I was kind of right on both counts.It was an interesting idea, but I think the scope of Panic made it unbelievable. In such a small town, it didn’t feel like such a huge game could really go so undetected by the police. 

Then there were the tigers… As soon as that happened, you just know they’re going to pop up later in the games. And it was just so ridiculous. I think I actually rolled my eyes when they appeared.

The similarities to The Hunger Games are quite apparent – strong sisterly relationship, both girls named after plants, hidden feelings for best friends, a dangerous game played by children, etc – even if they are fairly different books. The difference in Panic is that the stakes just don’t feel as high. Sure, some people have been injured and it would be great to have the money, but it’s not really a cut throat game of life and death.

I also felt that the book wasn’t very subtle in places: whenever there was something that could be a bit of a mystery, it all came out really quickly and obviously, which ruined any tension for me.

I didn’t connect too much with Heather, which is odd as her main motivation – getting a better life for her sister – felt like one I should connect with. I did enjoy their relationship, even though it sometimes felt the sister was just there to keep her in the game.

This was an okay read but not one that I would really bother with again. While the idea was interesting, the scope was too big and the events to unbelievable to really connect with.

My Verdict:
 
 
 3

Book Review: Colour Me Mindful (Anastasia Catris)

 *I have been given a copy of these books in exchange for an honest review*
 Publisher: Orion Books
 Review:

 

 My three sisters received similar adult colouring books for Christmas last year, and I was the only one who didn’t (apparently our mom didn’t think it was my kind of thing – so wrong!) So I jumped at the chance to colour and review the Colour Me Mindful books.
Unfortunately I’m not very good at colouring or matching pretty colours together, but I’m not bad at colouring in between the lines, and I really enjoyed colouring in, so I’ll share with you one that I did.

 

I’ve always loved being underwater (swimming and scuba diving and such) so I dove straight into the Underwater book. It’s such a nice feeling to just sit and colour in whilst watching TV or listening to music. The patterns a really beautiful and intricate: I particularly like the ones with smaller sections, as they’re easier to colour (for me, anyway – I get messy when there’s bigger spaces to colour!)
The Colour Me Mindful books are quite small, unlike a lot of others I’ve seen, which makes them easy to work on and transportable too.
I was so eager to start mine when they arrived but realised I had no pencils or felt tips to colour with, so I just dived straight in with my partner’s Sharpies. I wouldn’t recommend it as the colours will go through the page (I only did it on the first page so I didn’t ruin any other pictures). I’d recommend investing in some good coloured pencils to go with your books.
Adult colouring books are really gaining popularity today and it’s easy to see why. It was always one of my favourite things to do as a kid and I don’t see why I should stop as an adult! These books can provide an escape from the usual daily stress and are a great way to chill out without relying on a TV or computer screen. I’d really recommend these to anyone looking for a new way to relax.

 

Book Review: Top Girls (Caryl Churchill)

This review is part of Stacie and Maia’s Random Reads
#RandomReads

Publisher: Methuen Drama
Pages: 176
Release Date: July 15th 2008
Summary (From Goodreads):
Marlene hosts a dinner party in a London restaurant to celebrate her promotion to managing director of ‘Top Girls’ employment agency. Her guests are five women from the past: Isabella Bird (1831- 1904) – the adventurous traveller; Lady Nijo (b1258) – the mediaeval courtesan who became a Buddhist nun and travelled on foot through Japan; Dull Gret, who as Dulle Griet in a Bruegel painting, led a crowd of women on a charge through hell; Pope Joan – the transvestite early female pope and last but not least Patient Griselda, an obedient wife out of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. As the evening continues we are involved with the stories of all five women and the impending crisis in Marlene’s own life. A classic of contemporary theatre, Churchill’s play is seen as a landmark for a new generation of playwrights. It was premiered by the Royal Court in 1982.

 

Review:


Top Girls is a play that I have read previously (of course, being a drama student) but not for many years, so I was excited when Stacie picked it as her #RandomReads choice. I couldn’t really remember what I thought about it. I do sometimes find Caryl Churchill plays go a little over my head, a lot probably to do with the fact some are quite topical to eras that I know little about. It doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them though, and Vinegar Tom has always been a favourite of mine.This is a tricky one to review because I didn’t find it provoked feelings in me such as liking it, or disliking it, rather, it just made me think. While I read it, I didn’t really think too much of it: I wasn’t exactly bored, but I wasn’t really enjoying it either. But afterwards it stuck with me and I kept returning to it for days afterwards.I think I would have enjoyed watching this play more than reading it. There’s a lot of overlap in the conversations: while this may be truthful to real life, it sometimes made it confusing to read. I imagine it would work better in practice than me trying to do it in my head…

For me, Top Girls captured a lot of what it is to be a woman. In the first scene, all these famous women from history tell stories of their escapades. Some of it is comedic, some incredible and some upsetting. We see a lot of how men try to (and often do) control women in some horrendous stories. In others, women need to imitate men just to be taken seriously. Their children are used as weapons against them.

It’s difficult to pin down the underlying feeling of the play. It could be seen as depressing, how these women are made to suffer in ways men are not. While some is historical, we all know that feminism is an issue and equality is not here yet. It could be seen as hopeful, the way these women do incredible things despite all the odds that are stacked against them.

After reading this, I would really love to watch the play on stage and see how that compares to reading it.

My Verdict:
 
4

Book Review: The Wonderful World of Dissocia (Anthony Neilson)

This review is part of Stacie and Maia’s Random Reads

#RandomReads

Publisher: Methuen Drama

Pages: 120

Release Date: December 19th 2013

Summary (From Goodreads):

Lisa Jones is on a journey. It’s a colourful and exciting off-kilter trip in search of one lost hour that has tipped the balance of her life. The inhabitants of the wonderful world she finds herself in – Dissocia – are a curious blend of the funny, the friendly and the brutal.

Produced originally for the 2004 Edinburgh International Festival, The Wonderful World of Dissocia wowed critics and audiences alike. This Modern Classics edition cements the status of this hugely original play, both magical and moving, that confirmed Anthony Neilson as one of major voices in contemporary British Theatre.

As Neilson himself put it, ‘If you like Alice in Wonderland but there’s not enough sex and violence in it, then Dissocia is the show for you’.

Review:

When our #RandomReads theme this month was picked as plays, I knew almost immediately what I wanted Stacie to read (I had a slight wobble towards something else but it was really only ever this play).My review is going to be pretty positive as this is one of my favourite plays, although I am trying to be balanced/think a little critically. (It also may be a little spoilery, so this is your warning!) I’ve seen a lot of mixed reviews on this one so it’ll be interesting to know Stacie’s take on it.

As the quote above says: ‘If you like Alice in Wonderland but there’s not enough sex and violence in it, then Dissocia is the show for you’.

Dissocia does have some elements that remind me of Alice in Wonderland: there’s a lot of clever word play, a lot of weird logic on things that shouldn’t make sense but somehow do and a whole host of kooky characters. But while Alice can seem a little sinister in places, Dissocia takes this to a whole new level, the most disturbing of which is a ‘scapegoat’ who wants to rape Lisa.

Sitting down and reading this, rather acting it out as I did last time was a really different experience. I felt I appreciated some of the jokes more as I could see them on the page, while others I didn’t find as funny as they needed the delivery to make it work.

The second half of Dissocia is really where the message comes through, and probably because of this, can be the bit people dislike. After having such a wild ride in the first act, it can be very sobering to come back in and find a hospital setting, with poor Lisa feeling ill and not wanting to take her medication.

It’s a bit of an in-your-face message but I think it works. The second half makes me feel uncomfortable, it bores me sometimes. You can understand why Lisa would want to leave off the meds and spend some time in wild and fun Dissocia.

Since I first read this play in school, around 7 years ago, it has been my favourite play, and I think it always will be. It’s incredibly fun to read and watch, makes me laugh out loud, and also has a strong message on mental health behind it, a topic that needs to be talked about more.

4
Check out Stacie’s review here

Book Review: Lorali (Laura Dockrill)

 

 *I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Pages: 208
Release Date: July 2nd 2015

Summary (From Goodreads):

Colourful, raw, brave, rich and fantastical – this mermaid tale is not for the faint-hearted.

 

Looking after a naked girl he found washed up under Hastings pier isn’t exactly how Rory had imagined spending his sixteenth birthday. But more surprising than finding her in the first place is discovering where she has come from.
Lorali is running not just from the sea, not just from her position as princess, but her entire destiny. Lorali has rejected life as a mermaid, and become human.
But along with Lorali’s arrival, and the freak weather suddenly battering the coast, more strange visitors begin appearing in Rory’s bemused Sussex town. With beautifully coiffed hair, sharp-collared shirts and a pirate ship shaped like a Tudor house, the Abelgare boys are a mystery all of their own. What are they really up to? Can Rory protect Lorali? And who from? And where does she really belong, anyway?
Review:
I struggled a little with this book, but I think that’s more to do with a personal reading slump/crazy things going on in real life, so I’m trying not to let that affect my review.
I found the dual narrative of this book really interesting. Sometimes the switches confused me, but I think this was due to the format of the NetGalley copy more than anything else. In the beginning, I enjoyed Rory’s narrative the most, and I kept looking forward to his parts. The narrative from the Sea’s point of view offered a really different take on things, but sometimes, particularly near the beginning, I wasn’t too interested in what was going on, and wanted to get back to Rory.
The Mer lore in the book is rich and well developed and leaked out very slowly rather than being info-dumpy. This did backfire a little with the ‘tapestry’ though – it took me a while to understand what they were talking about (I’m not sure if that was me missing a trick or not).
I loved Lorali’s character and found her whole story fascinating. Again, it came in dribs and drabs so it felt like there was always something to learn. I didn’t really like how quickly the ‘love’ blossomed – and I use quotation marks because I don’t like characters saying they love each other when they’ve known each other for a few days. But Iris’ melancholy love story more that made up for that.
I would love to know more about the public’s reactions to the Mer’s ‘outing’. While the articles and forum pieces were really great to read (although I hate reading things in ‘text speak’ – must be getting old!) I just really wanted to know more all the time.
This was a really fascinating read, rich with myth and folklore, with some beautiful and haunting images. It’ll be a perfect summer book to read by the sea.
4

Book Review: Catwalk Criminal (Sarah Sky)

Publisher: Scholastic
Pages: 320
Release Date: June 4th 2015
Summary (From Goodreads):Models, spies and lipstick gadgets in this fast-paced teen series. Jessica Cole has been recruited to Westwood, MI6’s secret division of supermodel spies. Her first official mission seems simple at first, until it turns into the biggest cyber-attack ever known, threatening the security of the whole country. Then it emerges there is a traitor in the midst at MI6 – and suddenly Jessica herself is being accused. With no one believing her innocence, and the country on the verge of chaos, Jessica has no choice but to take matters of national security into her own hands and catch the culprit – fresh from the catwalk.

Review:
I was lucky enough to win a set of the Jessica Cole books in a competition, so big thanks to Scholastic and Faye Rogers for my set.This is the third book in the Model Spy series. As usual, it plunges straight into the action, this time in the middle of a mission, as Jessica has finally joined Westwood, a secret MI6 division of supermodel spies. It was great to see Jessica on the official team, rather than off on her own one-off kind of mission.

Unfortunately for Jessica this doesn’t last long. My favourite thing about this book was that she didn’t have a lot going for her this time: no Nathan to fall back on, her gadgets mostly confiscated, and limited access to technology. I loved the idea of the cyber attack and being unable to access Oyster cards and money and having to avoid security cameras and such. It really highlighted how much we depend on digital technology, and how stuck we are when that’s suddenly taken away from us.

The mystery was even better this time: I feel like each book is getting more intriguing, which is brilliant. The technology aspect felt very relevant for today’s world, and the way the odds were so stacked against Jessica made it hard to see a way out.

Once again, I wasn’t really a fan of the Jamie parts: he just doesn’t interest me very much, and as such I didn’t feel much sympathy when they hit difficulties. I feel this romance might be better off for the teen audiences, which is obviously great as that’s who the books are aimed at (instead of old/jaded people like me!).

I was, however, a big fan of new guy Zak, and the way he and Jessica interacted with each other was brilliant. You can really see the tension spark there, and I’ll be interested to see him in future books (fingers crossed!). Similarly, I’d love to see Kat make another appearance soon as I did miss her in this book. She’s a great kind of frenemy for Jessica and I’m really interested to see where her character will go.

This is another awesome installment in the Model Spy series. It’s great to see a UKYA spy book with a female lead, and I look forward to joining Jessica on her next mission.

My Verdict:
 
 

Ahaha I love this book, you should totally read it!

Book Review: Fashion Assassin (Sarah Sky)

 

Publisher: Scholastic
Pages: 320
Release Date: January 1st 2015
Summary (From Goodreads):

Models, spies and lipstick gadgets in this fast-paced teen series. Supermodel Jessica Cole has no intention of ever spying again after she was nearly killed by an embittered ex-model and a rogue MI6 agent. That is until she’s blackmailed into posing undercover as bodyguard to a very rich fellow model. What seems like a simple job aboard a luxurious yacht in Monaco soon turns into a deadly mission to stop the most dangerous weapon in the world falling into the wrong hands. Jessica will need every gadget in her make-up bag if she wants to get out of this one alive.
Review:
I was lucky enough to win a set of the Jessica Cole books in a competition, so big thanks to Scholastic and Faye Rogers for my set.This is the second book in the Model Spy series. I found it easier to get into than the first one, as the premise already there: unbelievable as it sounds, Jessica Cole is a school girl and a model and spy, all in one.

The beginning was really captivating, with an expensive necklace being stolen right off someone’s neck in the middle of an awards ceremony, with no sign at all of the culprit. It’s a genuinely intriguing mystery that keeps you guessing the whole way through the novel.

This book Jessica has Kat to contend with, a spoilt brat of a Russian model who is incredibly annoying but does have a softer side (and also a surprisingly conniving one!) There’s also a return of some old favourites, both friendly faces and some old enemies who rear their ugly heads again.

I had some difficulty with some of Jessica’s personal struggles: I didn’t feel like we saw enough of her relationship with Jamie to really understand how she was feeling. I just didn’t feel the connection between them, and found I was more interested in all the awesome spy stuff rather than a boyfriend we don’t get to see much.

This was a great follow up to Code Red Lipstick and I really enjoyed puzzling out the mystery on this one.

My Verdict:
 
 

Ahaha I love this book, you should totally read it!

Book Review: Code Red Lipstick (Sarah Sky)

 

Publisher: Scholastic
Pages: 336
Release Date: June 5th 2014
Summary (From Goodreads):

Models, spies and lipstick gadgets… When Jessica’s father, a former spy, vanishes mysteriously, Jessica takes matters into her own hands. She’s not just a daddy’s girl who’s good at striking a pose; she’s a trained spook who knows how to take on MI6 and beat them at their own game.
Review:
I was lucky enough to win a set of the Jessica Cole books in a competition, so big thanks to Scholastic and Faye Rogers for my set.I’ve heard great things about these books, but I was a little wary: as an older Young Adult reader, I was worried I’d be a little too old for this series. I’m also not really very interested in fashion and modelling and such so I wasn’t sure it would be my cup of tea.

I am, however, a fan of spies and mysteries and kick ass female characters, so there was definitely something there for me to enjoy.

When I was the age this book is targeted at, I read the Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz and really enjoyed the mystery and gadgets and quick wit in the books. These books reminded me a lot of those, only slightly more modern and with a fashion twist. Jessica could give Alex a run for his money – she could be his awesome, distant cousin or something.

The premise of the book required some suspension of disbelief: a fourteen year old schoolgirl/super model/spy does seem a little far-fetched, but once you’ve suspended your disbelief and got your head around that you soon get lost in the action.

The mystery was a good one to ease you into the story and characters, but I found some things a little obvious (but I won’t mention – no spoilers here!). The villain of the story had some really twisted ideas and I found their evil plan really disturbing – it was pretty twisted!

Overall, this is a really fun and easy read that will have you racing through to then end. While the mystery is solved, there’s still plenty left open for the sequel, which I’m looking forward to getting stuck into.

My Verdict:
 
 

Ahaha I love this book, you should totally read it!

 

Book Review: Long Lankin (Lindsey Barraclough)

*I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

Publisher: Bodley Head

Pages: 464

Release Date: April 7th 2011

Summary (From Goodreads):

Beware of Long Lankin, that lives in the moss. . . .

When Cora and her younger sister, Mimi, are sent to stay with their elderly aunt in the isolated village of Byers Guerdon, they receive a less than warm welcome. Auntie Ida is eccentric and rigid, and the girls are desperate to go back to London. But what they don’t know is that their aunt’s life was devastated the last time two young sisters were at Guerdon Hall, and she is determined to protect her nieces from an evil that has lain hidden for years. Along with Roger and Peter, two village boys, Cora must uncover the horrifying truth that has held Bryers Guerdon in its dark grip for centuries — before it’s too late for little Mimi.

Review:

This book intrigued me from the start, with its haunting cover and creepy premise. It sounded just like the kind of horror book I would love to read, a classic kind of monster mystery story with a really eerie setting.Unfortunately I didn’t get into this as much as I hoped. I think the main problem for me was it just felt too long. It is a big book – almost 500 pages – and I think this just made the pace too slow for me. Rather than building tension, I found it a bit irritating and really just wanted to get stuck into the creepy happenings. I felt it could have been a couple of hundred pages shorter and a much more exciting story.

The dual narrative took some getting used to as well. I’m normally fine with this, but I found the quick changes between points of view a little confusing. It happened multiple times within the same scenes, so sometimes I’d forget who was talking and get a bit confused.

The characters were all really great but a favourite was Auntie Ida. I loved how distant and frankly unlikable she was in the beginning, and how, very slowly, your opinion of her starts to change as you learn more about her. It’s almost insidious: I just stopped part way through a realised that at some point I’d started to like her.

The myth of Long Lankin was drip fed really well and the mystery wasn’t too obvious from the start. The nursery rhyme at the beginning was very sinister and Lankin himself made a great monster: equal parts gross and disturbing.

I did enjoy this book, but I felt it lacked a little in pace. For me, it would have worked better as a shorter story, but it was still an intriguing and creepy read.

My Verdict:

3
If you enjoyed this, you might like The Devil’s Footsteps by E. E. Richardson