The Chalkman

CJ Tudor

This Stephen King-esque thriller was a true unexpected gem. I found it in a charity shop about a year ago and finally got around to reading it this year and I wasn’t disappointed.

The novel alternates between Ed as a 12 year old in 1986 and Ed as an adult in 2016 as present day Ed is forced to remember events of his childhood when mysterious drawings of chalk men once again start appearing.

The way in which Tudor balances the separate events and Ed’s reflections of the past is beautifully done, leaving you torn between wanting to find out what happened in 1986 and what’s about to happen in 2016. I particularly enjoy books which alternate chapters between characters or different points in time so this was one of the features which initially drew me to the book.

Although I would say that some of the reveals felt slightly anti-climactic, this certainly doesn’t detract from the constantly building sense of unease you feel as you read the book, particularly with regard to the 2016 narrative. Whilst you are always expecting something to happen in the 1986 chapters, and there are still moments where Tudor is able to surprise you, there is an element of ease about them because of the knowledge you gain from the 2016 chapters, whereas this same sense of ease cannot be found in the present day chapters.

Instead there is very much a sense of finally understanding what happened 30 years prior, whilst still being unable to predict what will happen next, filling the 2016 chapters with far more mystery, with one answer often leading you to another question.

However, I would say that the main drawback of the book for me was Ed’s lack of likeability, which I found to be particularly pronounced in the chapters featuring him as an adult. Unfortunately, after reading a certain amount of the book I started to find his character quite wearing as he predominantly came across as a self-pitying, mildly alcoholic middle-aged man.

Fortunately this in know way took away from the final shock twist of the book and I thoroughly recommend this book based on the ending alone.

Silver Linings Playbook

This particular film adaptation is an interesting one because, not only did I see the film before reading the book, but I also prefer the film to the book, which is very rare for me as I often prefer the added detail that can be found in a novel compared to a film.

However, the film cleverly walks the line of tackling mental health whilst being an upbeat, eccentric comedy. Having recently returned home from a psychiatric hospital, Pat’s struggles with bipolar disorder and Tiffany’s mental health issues in the wake of her husband’s death lead to many emotional ups and downs which are cleverly balanced out by the joys of watching the two fall for each other whilst preparing for a dance competition.

The way in which this film serves to normalise mental health issues is particularly noteworthy because it successfully serves to represent both Pat and Tiffany as normal people simply trying their best to get on with life. This was incredibly refreshing compared to so many other films which represent mental health disorders as something tragic which will always be thwarting successes in life and push others away from you.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post

The Miseducation of Cameron Post was one of the first queer YA books I read as a teenager. It looks at what happens to Cameron Post when she is caught with a girl and sent to a Christian conversion camp.

This plot lends itself to a deeply moving film which provides into the experiences of LGBTQ+ youth who face hostile and oftentimes actively harmful reactions to their identities but are powerless to avoid the dangerous situations they are forced into.

This film adaptation very successfully combines poignant moments that confront the audience with the treatment of queer young people with bittersweet moments of camaraderie between teenagers forced to find what little joy they can in such an abusive situation. The scene which immediately comes to mind at this point is when they are preparing food in the kitchen and start to sing and dance to the radio, which they’ve switched from Christian hymns to a mainstream station, before they are interrupted by Dr Lydia Marsh, the woman running the camp. This moment sums up the film brilliantly as it is one of the few moments of true joy that you witness the teenagers experience but it is abruptly cut short by an interruption that is an instant reminder of where they are.

I would also like to applaud the film for its representation of various minority groups. Although the protagonist, Cameron Post, is a queer white woman, her two closest friends at the camp are an amputee woman of colour and a 2-spirit native american individual, which is very refreshing in comparison to the many LGBTQ+ films which seem to almost exclusively feature individuals who are white, gender-conforming and able-bodied.

I was thrilled when I discovered this adaptation was being made and I was far from disappointed as it more than lives up to the novel, I would thoroughly recommend this film adaptation.

A Year in 120 Recipes

Jack Monroe

Jack Monroe is by far one of by favourite cooks and I absolutely love their recipe books. This particular book was a gift from someone about a year ago, and I’ll be honest in saying that I was somewhat sceptical about how much I’d use it as it wasn’t filled with standard student recipes I was used to cooking.

However, the choice to organise the recipes seasonally makes a book which provides great inspiration for when you want to try something new but don’t know what to cook. This gives us a classic Monroe recipe book of delicious meals that can be made on a budget, with plenty of helpful tips on how to alter the recipe for simplification purposes.

Personal favourites of mine were the recipes for beetroot pasta and sweet and sour chicken, both of which were far more simple than anticipated but just as delicious as hoped.

So Lucky

Dawn O’Porter

I came across this particular book whilst looking for something to read on the train home and was intrigued by the premise of this book, which follows the lives of three very different women; Ruby, Beth and Lauren.

Ruby is a single mother struggling to bond with her 3 year old whilst battling body image issues stemming from a hormone issue. Beth is a married wedding planner who is running her business full time despite having a 3 month old and trying to cope her husband’s increasing disinterest in having a sex life. Finally, Lauren is an Instagram influencer planning her upcoming wedding to a famous business owner/TV star. The book primarily alternates between Beth and Ruby’s perspectives with occasional insights into Lauren’s life through descriptions of her Instagram posts and several comments people have left on them.

This then proves to be a very effective way of tackling the issues surrounding body image and social media that women face in their day to day life because we are able to see Beth and Ruby’s personal feelings about their own bodies and how this directly impacts the response to and opinion of Lauren.

Although the writing at points feels simplistic and some of the points O’Porter is attempting to make about the way society treats women and the illusions social media creates about them can feel a bit on the nose or heavy handed I would sum up this book as being a thoroughly enjoyable read that tackles the various issues women who are ‘attempting to have it all’ are forced to grapple with.

Hunger

Roxane Gay

Hunger is a deeply moving memoir by Roxane Gay focusing on her personal relationship to food, weight and body image and how this has been heavily influenced by experiences within the world and how the world treats her as a fat woman of colour.

Roxane Gay is by far one of my favourite authors, having previously read her essay collection Bad Feminist and her short story collection Difficult Women, both of which proved to be fascinating reads and Hunger by no means breaks her streak.

The way in which Gay navigates writing about deeply personal experiences from her past and more recent treatment she faces is beautifully done and the way in which she handles the intersections of being queer, black and fat within the book ought to be applauded. This gives us a memoir which subtly questions how society treats fat people whilst confronting any internal, and potentially unknown, judgements you as the reader may have.

Furthermore, Gay’s exploration of the complex relationship that almost always exists between an individual’s mental or emotional health and their weight is demonstrated in the most personal way possible through the author recounting personal trauma and how it has impacted her relationship with her body over the course of her life.

The brutal reality of what it is to not only be a fat person, but a fat queer woman of colour in the USA could not be better conveyed than in Roxane Gay’s Hunger.

My Year in Books: 2019

Since it’s December and the year is coming to a close I thought the perfect way to start this blog would be with a list of my top ten books of the year.

10: So Lucky

Author: Dawn O’Porter

Publisher: HarperCollins, 2019

Review: I enjoyed the structure and format of this book which focused on the lives of 3 women, all of whom are facing various challenges in their lives which from the outside at times seem perfect. However, I did find the outcome to be fairly predictable and less insightful than the premise could have allowed for.

9: Women and Power: A Manifesto

Author: Mary Beard

Publisher: Profile Books, 2017

Review: This essay is ideal to read in one sitting if you are someone who is interested in the how women with power are currently perceived intertwined with various literary and historical representations of powerful women.

8: Trumpet

Author: Jackie Kay

Publisher: Picador, 1998

Review: This book is a true unknown gem, telling the story of the outfall of the death of a famous trumpet player; Joss Moody. The book follows the grief of Joss’ widow and son, the latter of whom was unaware of his father being trans until after his death.

7: Conversations with Friends

Author: Sally Rooney

Publisher: Faber and Faber, 2017

Review: This contemporary fiction novel focuses on two Irish college students who connect with a married couple and how this subsequently affects their relationship with one another. This book is an intelligent and witty but easy to read look at the trials and tribulations of being young.

6: In you Defence

Author: Sarah Langford

Publisher: Random House, 2018

Review: This autobiographical account of Langford’s experience working as a criminal barrister in England is a fascinating look at the criminal justice within this country. If you’re considering a any kind of legal career you absolutely should read this as not only does she discuss how she became a barrister, starting from a working class household and being the first in here family to enter into higher education, but she also provides insights into the current state of our legal system and how our conception of justice ought to change.

5: Asking for it

Author: Louise O’Neill

Publisher: Quercus, 2016

Review: O’Neill’s novel, Asking for It, details a teenage girl’s experience of being sexually assaulted and everything that happens after in a small town in Ireland. Whilst it is a points both harsh and graphic in its descriptions, making it very difficult to read, it is a true masterpiece of a YA novel with a carefully considered look at rape culture in Ireland today.

4: The Girl on the Train

Author: Paula Hawkins

Publisher: Doubleday, 2015

Review: This mystery thriller immediately pulls you in by alternating between the perspective of Rachel in the present day and Megan, starting a year prior and leading up to the crime. If you enjoy a good thriller then this is must read.

3: The Colour Purple

Author: Alice Walker

Publisher: Harcourt, 1982

Review: This classic novel follows the life of an African American woman in the early 20th century, dealing with abuse, segregation and poverty. It is the style of the book that is one of the main successes of the book which is written in the form of letters Celie, the protagonist, is writing either to God or to her sister, who she is separate from early on. The use of colloquial language and non-standard grammar is crucial in transporting you to the world in which Celie lives.

2: Hunger

Author: Roxane Gay

Publisher: HarperCollins, 2017

Review: This essay by one of my favourite authors is an enlightening insight into Gay’s personal experiences with food, weight and body image as well as what it is like to move through the world as a fat woman of colour (a perspective which is rarely considered). It is at points incredibly moving whilst also confronting the reader with harsh truths of how fat people are treated within our society.

And finally, my number one book of the year is…

1: Educated

Author: Tara Westover

Publisher: HarperCollins, 2018

Review: Westover’s memoir, Educated, is definitely my favourite book of the year as it transported me to an entirely unknown world, looking at Westover’s upbringing in rural Idaho with no birth certificate, no schooling but constant preparation for the end of days. Westover grew up in a strict Mormon, and at times abusive, household and the book looks at changing perspectives on this and how her journey into education irrevocably changed her life.

My First Blog Post

Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.

— Oscar Wilde.

Hi I’m a final year university student who loves books and is hoping to start a career within the publishing industry. I thought this blog would be the perfect way for me to keep track of what I’m reading and what I thought of it as well as sharing my journey into the publishing industry .