What I've Been Reading Lately: June Books Roundup

Thursday, 29 June 2017

What I've Been Reading Lately: June Books Roundup
A round-up of the books that I've been reading this month:-

Wildflower by Drew Barrymore
Wildflower by Drew Barrymore

Non-Fiction / Memoirs: "Award-winning actress Drew Barrymore shares funny, insightful, and profound stories from her past and present told from the place of happiness she's achieved today."

Drew Barrymore has been one of those actors who has literally grown up in the spotlight, and I've been a fan of many of her films for a long time. She was one of the infamous 90s girls and always came across as a friendly, confident woman with a real passion for life in interviews, despite her past troubles with alcohol and drugs. I didn't realise that she had a book out until I spotted Wildflower in the library and intrigued to find out more, I picked it up.

Wildflower is what I'd describe as a 'memoir of sorts'. It's not a chronologically ordered autobiography, rather it's a free-flowing, mish-mash of anecdotes and stories recalled in short chapters, and it's the type of book that you can dip in and out of as you please. There are a few sad parts, but Drew's ability to maintain a positive outlook throughout everything that life throws at her, is admirable, to say the least. That said, for someone who has led such an interesting life, this book felt like it only really skimmed the surface but I get the feeling that Drew wanted to keep some things private which I can completely understand. Fans of hers will no doubt love it nonetheless. [3/5]

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Historical Fiction / Romance: "Sue Trinder is an orphan, left as an infant in the care of Mrs. Sucksby. Mrs. Sucksby’s household, with its fussy babies calmed with doses of gin, also hosts a transient family of petty thieves—fingersmiths—for whom this house in the heart of a mean London slum is home."

This book has been recommended to me so many times by close friends and online friends, that it was inevitable that I would have to get my hands on a copy at some point in my life and I've finally read it!

Fingersmith is a novel quite unlike anything that I've ever read before. It's set in Victorian times and the story follows two young teenage girls; Sue, a poor but sly and cunning master pickpocket (often referred to as a 'fingersmith', hence the title of the book) and Maud, a quiet and sheltered girl who is the heiress to a small fortune. Both lead wildly different lives, but the two soon meet when Sue becomes involved in a plot to steal Maud's inheritance. However, things don't exactly go to plan as Sue develops feelings for Maud and the story quickly evolves into a rollercoaster of emotions and dark secrets.

There were a lot of really interesting plot twists throughout which kept me hooked, yet despite the thrilling lesbian romance (and um yes, there are sex scenes too), there was a certain level of Victorian misery and bleakness that kept the story grounded and stopped it from going off into the realms of a romance fantasy. The ending was especially good - unexpected, but one that made a lot of sense the more that I thought about it, long after I'd turned the last page. A Dickensian-style novel with a difference! [4/5]

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

Psychological Horror / Thriller: "Frank - no ordinary sixteen-year-old - lives with his father outside a remote Scottish village. Their life is, to say the least, unconventional. Frank has turned to strange acts of violence to vent his frustrations. In the bizarre daily rituals there is some solace, but how far is too far?"

Iain Banks first novel, The Wasp Factory was released to much controversy back in 1984, with many people calling for it to be banned due to its graphic and violent content. Being a fan of psychological horrors and having a strong stomach, I'm not sure how this book has managed to pass me by for so long and now that I've read it, I'm still not sure how I feel about it.

The Wasp Factory is not a book for the faint-hearted. It's told in the first person by Frank, a deeply troubled 16-year old who has killed three children (all related to him) by the time that he's 10. The story now sees him reflecting upon his actions and pondering on his childhood as he approaches becoming an adult. What follows is a depressingly dark account of an isolated upbringing filled with horrifying sadistic rituals often involving animal abuse; a difficult relationship with his father, and numerous conversations with his older brother Eric, who has recently escaped from a mental institution.

It's clear that both Frank and Eric are psychopaths, and that the mother's absence from their lives and the father's 'odd' behaviour (plus some other life changing events) may have played a central part in all this violent mayhem. It brings about that old debate of nature vs nurture -is it all the parents' fault, or are the boys just naturally twisted and evil? Whilst The Wasp Factory will guarantee to sicken and horrify 99% of people who read it (I can only assume the other 1% are psychopaths themselves), it does make you think about how someone can do such awful things, and whether it's their background/upbringing that makes them how they are. [3/5]

The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier
The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier 

Historical Fiction / WW2: "The silver sword became the symbol of hope and courage which kept four deserted and starving children alive through the years of Nazi occupation, and afterwards on the search to find their parents in the harshest of circumstances."

The Silver Sword is a story featuring the Balicki family that's based on true events during the Nazi occupation of Poland in 1940 during WW2. The family become separated when the father is taken to a prison camp for refusing to put up a portrait of Hitler in the school classroom that he works in, and the mother is taken by the Gestapo in the middle of the night. This terrifying situation leaves behind the three Balicki children (aged 13, 11 and 3), who must now try to survive in a country that is being torn apart by war. The first half of the story focuses on the father's escape from prison after serving a year and his desperation to try and find his family back in Warsaw, and then the rest of the book reverts back to the children's survival story immediately after their mother is taken away. 

It's a YA story, so the prose is simplistic and fast-paced, but it's still an incredibly moving novel and one that really packs an emotional punch into such a short amount of space. [3/5]

The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles
The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles

Historical Fiction / Literature / Romance: "Obsessed with an irresistible fascination for the enigmatic Sarah, Charles is hurtled by a moment of consummated lust to the brink of the existential void. Duty dictates that his engagement must be broken as he goes forth once again to seek the woman who has captured his Victorian soul & gentleman's heart."

Given the scandalous praise that screams at you when you read the blurb on the back of this book, I half expected The French Lieutenant's Woman to be a sordid, bodice-ripping erotica, but thankfully, it's much more intelligent and sincere than a trashy French version of a Mills and Boon yarn. 

Instead, The French Lieutenant's Woman is a deeply romantic and multi-layered story that features the complexity of a classic love triangle with Charles (a confident, self-made gentleman), Ernestina (Charles' fiancée, the beautiful heiress to a vast fortune), and Sarah (the classic 'other woman', with a sense of mystery about her). It's always obvious in these kinds of stories that someone like Charles should dump the pretty wealthy woman and run off into the sunset with someone like Sarah, but the story delves into the emotions and hearts of everyone involved and makes for an interesting holiday read. Fowles' prose is beautiful, with the erotica scenes adding a little naughtiness here and there. My only criticism is that some parts played out longer in the storyline than I wanted them to, but for the most part, I enjoyed it. [3/5]

What have you been reading lately?

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