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Book Reviews

Sp’Booktober: The Travelling Bag and other ghostly stories

Welcome to Sp’booktober! The first spooky book I’ve decided to read this Autumn, is Susan Hill’s ‘The Travelling Bag and other ghostly stories’. This is a small collection of haunting short stories which immediately reel you in with intrigue and then completely throw you off guard with the ridiculous, yet terrifying conclusions.

First of all, @My university lecturers- how have you not got this collection of stories on your reading lists? I literally studied a unit called ‘Crime and Terror’ and why Susan Hill wasn’t even mentioned during this module, completely baffles me now that I’ve read her work. Her writing is almost hypnotic and it’s so easy to picture what she’s describing without putting in much effort in, and she dredges up some truly horrific images. If you’re looking for some spooky stories this October, I definitely recommend Hill’s writing, especially because you can get through these short stories so quickly if you’re on the go a lot. Whilst reading this collection, I forgot how much I liked short stories- especially the ones that stick with you and haunt your dreams for ages afterwards.

** SPOILER’S AHEAD**

 

The Travelling Bag

My personal social circumstances under reading The Travelling Bag, unfortunately seriously undermined the terror I should have been feeling. Why? Well, two words: moth memes. Yes. Moth memes. The general gist of TTB is about a scientist man called Walter Craig who is very close to completing some super important research and is taken ill. When he finally returns back to work, he finds gaps in his research and that his apprentice, Silas Webb is suddenly famous because of his original research! SCANDAL! The story is told by a psychic private investigator that eventually uses the apprentice’s travelling bag to get a vision of how he died. It was death by moths in his lodging room. Death. By. Moths. Well, rather the shock of many moths suddenly sprouting out of his travelling bag. Either way, the idea of it is slightly ridiculous, but I actually love it. I’m not particularly terrified of moths, but the idea of MANY OF THEM SPROUTING OUT OF A BAG WHEN I LEAST EXPECT IT….oooh boy would that probably kill me off too. The best part of the story is the man who put the moths in the bag, is then haunted by moths for the rest of his life and is terrified of the night because that’s when the moths come and nuzzle their little fuzzy faces against his skin and stare at him with their menacing little eyes. Obviously, if you’re not one to find moth meme humour funny, then this is something that I assume you’ll probably find more terrifying than amusing. Hill’s style of writing is simple and easy to understand and her stories are easy to follow. It’s the content of said stories themselves which are low-key terrifying, yet verge just enough into reality to make you think to yourself ‘yeah, I guess that could happen, I suppose?’ Keeping her stories relatively grounded, yet having little sparks of crazy infiltrating the plot, is what makes such great ghost stories. I only have one question regarding the logistics of the fiction – how on earth did Walter Craig get the moths into the travelling bag in the first place without them flying in and out everywhere???

The Travelling Bag gets a 3/5 from me! Great story, just couldn’t take it seriously because I kept trying to imagining Craig trying to wrangle a load of moths into a bag and it was too funny of a mental image to be freaked out by the story.

Boy Number Twenty-One

This is the second short story in the collection.

The story begins with a newspaper article of Cloten Hall burning down and being totally destroyed and our main man, Toby reads about it and then dreams of a boy offering his hand whilst surrounded by flames. This was definitely the weakest short story of the lot as I found it kind of confusing and slightly boring. I was waiting for a major plot twist at the end, but it just turned out that Toby’s friend, Andreas from school was a ghost who had died? I think? I was quite confused about this whole thing. The ending was trying to make the whole thing seem deep and dramatic, when really it felt like a slight cop out because Hill couldn’t think of anything actually interesting to say about this story. It’s almost as if she had the vague idea of some boys going on a school trip and an extra one coming back with them, hence boy twenty one, but it just wasn’t followed through properly and she didn’t know what to do with it. It wasn’t as gripping as The Travelling Bag and I personally think she could’ve worked on this story a bit more, so that it didn’t feel like it was half heartedly written. 1/5 it wasn’t a good ghost story – it was boring and didn’t really make sense. Poorly thought out.

Alice Baker

This is the third story in the collection.

I really enjoyed this one! It was well thought out and well written. I couldn’t stop reading Alice Baker; I was so intrigued as to why things were happening and what the conclusion was going to be. As I was nearing the end, I did guess what the outcome would be – that Alice Baker’s body was buried in the construction site by the offices she was ‘haunting’. I think the thing that gave it away was when the construction crew were getting closer to finding her, she was looking more and more like a corpse, which I thought was a really nice touch of symbolism, on Hill’s part. The plot itself also touches lightly on the trauma that comes from mental illness and breakdown, which felt completely relatable and realistic. 3/5 A very well written short story! It was thought through properly, and though slightly predictable, the writing itself was haunting and begs the reader to genuinely care about Alice’s character and who she could quite possibly be!

The Front Room

This is the final story in the collection.

I was wrong about ‘Boy number twenty one’ this is the worst story of the lot. It’s almost as if Hill has alternated between good and bad stories in this collection? This was so boring and all over the place. The story just doesn’t seem to draw you in like the others and I felt myself forcing myself to finish it because I HAD to, rather than WANTING to. The story is about a couple who, upon hearing a sermon on generosity from their priest, decide to invite the husband’s elderly stepmother to live with them in… yep, you guessed it, their front room. The old woman apparently stinks of evil and torments their children, which the wife absolutely despises – which is fair enough, to be honest. And then one day the step mother dies in the room and her ghost ends up haunting the family. The older two children get skinny and don’t sleep well, but the ghost of the stepmother ends up taking the youngest child with her when she leaves. This is one of the parts of the story where I was kind of just left thinking ‘what the actual fudge?’ Like where is the ghost going? If she’s not a tangible form, how is she carting around a 2 year old?? I know, far be it from me to think about the logistics of the supernatural, but the over pacing of the story itself just begs you to want to think about other things because it’s so slow and dull. Then all of a sudden it ends and there’s a vague paragraph of explanation of what happens to the rest of the characters in the story: the priest has some sort of mental break and the family move to a different house which is newly built and doesn’t have a history. I personally would have been happy with it ending with us not really knowing about anyone’s life after Solange the ghost had left, mainly because I just didn’t care about the characters enough to be invested in their lives.

I reckon Hill’s mistake here was trying to have too many characters in this short story, as I often found myself having to flit backwards and forwards to keep track of who’s who and who’s said what etc. which was tedious in itself, but also didn’t allow me to immerse myself into the story because the experience with this one felt so jarring. 1/5- not a good ghost story, just a story about a mean old lady who smelled.

Overall I’ll give this collection a 2/5 as the stories fluctuated between being well written, understandable and interesting to boring, confusing and poorly executed. Beautiful cover art though.

crazy rich asians
Book Reviews

Crazy Rich Asians Book Review

As you may have seen, like, literally EVERYWHERE, the film adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians has received some crazy rich attention. The New York Times bestselling novel, Crazy Rich Asians has taken the summer (or, rather if you’re in the UK, the early Autumn) by storm. With gripping storylines, relatable characters, Asian representation and, of course, one particular delicious Young money heir – oh yes, Nicholas, you absolute treasure, CRA is a hilarious insight to the world of Singapore’s wildest and wealthiest.

 

My journey with CRA began like most book journeys of mine do – with a ‘quick browse’ in Waterstones. As soon as I saw CRA on the ‘buy one, get one half price’ table, I practically LUNGED at it. I had heard of the film, and knew it was a book, but up until that moment, I hadn’t particularly thought of pursuing the novel until I saw it. You know those typical romance stories? When their eyes meet across the room and their hearts beat super fast and their hands involuntarily reach out to each other before their brains can even comprehend what it’s doing before they can stop it and they’re totally caught off-guard by this sudden sweep of indescribable emotions? Yeah, that was me when I saw the book and I’m not even joking.

 

*** SPOILERS *** (sorry- can’t help myself with this one)

 

The story begins with a prologue with the cousins, Eddie, Nick and Astrid in the 80’s as children, visiting London and their mothers checking into the Calthorpe hotel. Though this section is only a few pages long, it instantly gripped me, as it was just so relatable. The family get turned away from the hotel, due to literally their slightly dishevelled appearance from the rain, and of course, the fact that they are Chinese. As an Indian, I’ve also felt the wrath of snobby customer service attendants, who have noticeably given me poorer service compared to my white friends, and the only difference between us is… yes, you’ve guessed it, my skin colour. This opening is so important to not just people of colour, but to anyone who’s faced any kind of discrimination, because you rarely see it reflected in the media so blatantly. The best part about this opening section, is that when turned away from the hotel, the Youngs buy the Calthorpe and fire the racist manager, using his own words against him: “I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave the premises.” The sass and satire Kwan shows here, is rippled in sections throughout the book and is done in such a graceful manner.

 

The Asian humour is something I loved about the book as well. The little phrases in Malay slang and Cantonese have their own little footnotes at the bottom of the pages makes the cultural context of the story accessible to literally anyone who wants to read this book –aka I don’t care if you’re not Asian, READ IT. YOU CAN!! IT’S SO GOOD!! And the humour doesn’t just stop at the cultural satire, oh no. MY favourite couple lines were “And then he felt a strange daft from behind. His pants had split open at the ass.” I shit you not, this had me in stitches for a solid 10, because I have the sense of humour of a 10 year old. Obviously.

 

The entire story in CRA happens within the span of about a week and SO MUCH HAPPENS it’s crazy. Rachel Chu, Nick Young’s ABC girlfriend is one of the best written female characters I’ve come across, she’s strong, smart and funny, yet still shows vulnerable human emotions and realistic reactions to most things. Her down to earth personality makes her so likeable and I have a sneaky feeling that in the next book of the series she actually comes from money… potentially? I haven’t heard a thing about China Rich Girlfriend yet, so I could be really wrong! But it would be nice to see her reaction to be entitled to sudden gross wealth that she hasn’t married into.

 

Speaking of amazing women, let’s talk about Peik Lin who is like the best friend ever? She’s so giving to Rachel: buying her COUTURE, giving her rides with her driver so Rachel doesn’t have to take taxis and genuinely caring about Rachel without a shred of jealousy or spite when she finds out that Nick is a Young and how much money he posesses. Peik Lin is the underrated amazing human being who is the epitome of selfless and her family, though blessed with wealth are so welcoming to Rachel and help her with dealing with Nick’s family. Like this is the genuine dream, no? Kwan could have easily decided to add some drama to create an easy villain in Peik Lin, but chooses instead to have women support their fellow women, which is something I’d like to see more of in the books I read from now on!

 

Now, the story like I said was captivating and had me thinking about this world all day, every day. It was one of those books I was constantly looking forward to reading after I’d finished my work for the day. Kwan’s writing is a delightful hybrid of sass and moving emotion, because yes, I did sob happy tears at Colin and Araminta’s wedding scene. Kwan manages to make the explanation of his scenes interesting and ornate in their description, and as someone who instantly loses interest when scenes are being described, this was refreshing and artfully done. And Kwan, you little bitch, constantly teasing us with the ‘thing’ about Rachel’s family for the half the book? I was jumping up and down in my seat when I thought I’d find out, and would have eagerly paid a load of money to find out this juicy tidbit of Rachel’s family. Very well done there! Also- loved every scene with Nick’s mother, she’s like a villain you want to hate but can’t because you know all of her actions are born out of love and concern for her son. She very much reminded me of some nosey aunties I have myself!

 

I found the majority of this book wonderful and easy to read. The story was gripping; I cared about the characters, loved the style of writing and insight into Singaporean culture and had the biggest craving for satay after finishing it. The only thing I wasn’t too keen on was the scene with Rachel and her mother at the end of the book. The explanation felt rushed and unlike other major plot points, wasn’t delicately woven in with the rest of the story. It just felt like it was there at the end of the book, as if Kwan felt like he owed it to the reader to give them some sort of closure with this poor attempt at another twist. It felt like it had just been dumped there and little thought had been put into other ways it could’ve been told. But, I understand that endings are also difficult to write and it’s hard to wrap things up whilst tying up loose ends. I just feel like this ending explanation could have been done in a more creative manner. But other than that, it was an exciting read and an excellent segue out of my YA Fiction habit!

 

A solid 4/5 stars. (I guess I’m doing star ratings now, how about that?)

Book Reviews

My Top 5 Favourite Books – Part 2 – To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

Hello! So, we’re onto number 2 of my top 5 books reviews, and with the latest Netflix adaptation of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, the fanbase for Lara Jean’s story has become more and more popular on the Twitter-sphere. With many lusting after the most perfect human being in the world, Peter Kavinsky and others loving the representation of Asian-American’s in modern media, it’s no wonder that TATBILB has easily become everyone’s favourite new love teenage love story (byeeeeeee Twilight!)

Look at Peter K, saving the snacks. He is beyond perfection.

So how did I come across this book? Well, not to sound like a hipster or anything buuuutttt I read the book last year, well before the film came out (because I am SUCH a literary trend setter obvs.) I was actually given the book series as a thank you for my work experience at Scholastic Children’s Publishing UK last Summer and I distinctly remember a co-worker tipsily telling me, during the Summer office party I ended up crashing teehee, that she’d recommend anything Jenny Han – and she was so right! Thank you for the somewhat life-changing recommendation, Hattie!

 

For anyone who doesn’t know much about TATBILB, the story follows teenager Lara Jean, a half Caucasian, half Korean romantic middle child. Her two sisters and father are the most important people in her life, and the book gives us little casual peeks into her family life like their annual Christmas Cookie Bonanza. Lara Jean writes a love letter to her crushes AKA to all the boys she’s loved (before), and stores them in a hat box, gifted to her by her mother. She seals the letters in envelopes and addresses them and stows them away – now if I were a teenager again, this is totally something I would do. The idea of writing a letter to someone who you loved, but never ended up with seems cathartic and actually quite healthy to be honest, just don’t send th- oh actually, this is what happens to Lara Jean. The 5 letters get sent out. One of which goes to her older sister’s current boyfriend. Yikes. So without trying to spoil a lot of the book, Lara Jean ends up starting a fake relationship with high school hunk, Peter Kavinsky in order to convince her older sister Margot’s boyfriend, Josh that she doesn’t actually like him, even though she does still secretly fancy the forbidden literal boy next door.

I think the reason I fell for this story so much is 1. Because it was one of the first books I picked up during my placement year that didn’t make me feel guilty for not using my reading time to study. It made me fall back in love with reading and sparked my recent obsession with YA fiction (which I am currently trying to branch out of now). 2. I found the story relatable. It’s rare enough to get Asian representation in stories, but to get a story where the main female lead was Asian AND was the main love interest? AMAZING! While Lara Jean wasn’t Indian, I’ll take any form of representation I’ll get, to be honest, although I am keeping my eye out for a book that features a female Indian teen as the main character. But the small descriptions of Korean lifestyles and background were a great way to learn about a new culture and it was really nicely interweaved into the storyline. I especially found Lara Jean’s Halloween costume predicament to be soooooo relatable! I’ve got a running joke with my friends, saying ‘I’ll go as the ethnic character’ whenever we were discussing group costume ideas. It’s these little slices of insight to the minor problems of ethnic minorities that makes this story so great.

I’m a sucker for a good teenage love story and having a book series on it, has fed my monster obsession! I’ve read the series over and over again, since last Summer and it’s a great story to be able to get lost in. When you’re following someone else’s life and getting so absorbed into someone else’s story, it’s easy to feel like you’re a part of the Song-Covey clan and that you are a part of the warm home life, baking cupcakes and pretending to enjoy the burnt bosaam with the family. TATBILB is the perfect teenage love story that you wish you had, even though I highly doubt boys like Peter Kavinsky exist in high/secondary school (I will eat the burnt bossam if you can prove me wrong). It’s just a sweet and lovely love story and if you haven’t read it, go and read it now!

 

 

 

[gifs/images used are not mine]

Holes by Louis Sachar
Book Reviews

My Top 5 Favourite Books – Part 1 – Holes

Hooray! First ever blog post!

I was inspired to write about my top 5 favourite books when filling in an internship application recently.* The employer asked me to list my top 5 books, which was actually quite refreshing to come across in a job application, as most just ask for a CV and cover letter, which gives you minimum scope to really get your amazing personality across to them. However, the application didn’t ask me to specifically talk about why I liked them, so I thought I’d do that here. So, without further ado, these are my top 5 favourite books (part 1), in no particular order, as of September 2018… (also don’t judge me for my slight obsession with YA fiction haha)

* Update! I’ve actually got an interview for this internship position and am super excited for it! And in case you’re wondering, yes, I will be asking the interviewer for their top 5 books too.

 

  1. Holes
  2. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
  3. Tuesdays With Morrie
  4. Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters
  5. Ink by Alice Broadway

Holes by Louis Sachar

Okay, so if you haven’t heard of the modern masterpiece that is Holes, you must be living under a rock (or in a hole..ayyyyyyy). But for those of you who aren’t so much in the loop, the story is about Stanley Yelnats who’s family is apparently cursed with terrible luck and is sent to an all boy’s reformation camp, Camp Greenlake, for ‘stealing’ a pair of shoes, despite being innocent. When he gets to the camp he is made to dig a hole every day that’s 5 meters wide and deep and while he’s there he meets fellow camp mate Zero and this is where things get interesting. The book is great because it flits between three…or is it four different story lines? As well as Stanley’s journey, we also get an insight to what his family at home are up to – his dad is trying to create a spray that eliminates foot odour, we also get a peek into what Camp Greenlake was like back in the day before it became a boys camp. We see the lives of the townspeople who used to live there and are introduced to Miss Katherine and Sam who share a forbidden love, due to Sam being black and Katherine being white, its here where we get an insight into what the land was like before the lake dries up, and see the origins of Wild West outlaw, Kissin’ Kate Barlow. The third? Fourth? Story line we see, is about Madam Zeroni and Elya Yelnats, Stanley’s no good dirty rotten pig stealing great great grandfather (try saying that super fast five times in a row), who makes a deal with Madam Zeroni and breaks it, enacting the Yelnats family curse.

 

So, so far, without spoiling anything, we have Stanley’s story, Sam and Katherine’s romance and inevitable break up, Elya and Zeroni’s journey and the Yelnat’s shoe-odour-eliminator plotline.

So while this story may appear to be confusing, Sachar crafts the storyline with care so the plot doesn’t feel like he’s trying to be over-ambitious with his writing or that he’s trying to cram in so many characters, individual stories and attempting to tackle themes such as racism into one book. Bearing in mind, he does indeed, do all of these things, but he does them tactfully so that even a child can understand the plotline pretty clearly. I first read ‘Holes’ when I was about ten years old, and then ended up studying it in English 2 years later at school, and have read it many times since then, and each time I read it I always come across something that I’ve forgotten about in the storyline and honestly, I kind of love that.

 

The separate storylines all do tie in with each other in a clever and marvellous way that gives the reader all the closure they need by the end of the novel. It’s smart writing and was probably one of the first instances of good writing and a well planned plot I had come across whilst growing up and would always come back to ‘Holes’. I feel like ‘Holes’ will always hold a special place in my heart, as it was one of the first books I had ever read and was left thinking ‘Daaaaayyyyuummmmmmmmm!’ and that’s rarely happened since.

 

There is also a film adaptation, and I’ve got to say – it’s sticks pretty well to the original story, and I tend to be fussy about that sort of thing. The soundtrack has actually become one of my favourites, although that may be due to nostalgia rather than my actual liking of Shia Labeouf’s attempt at rapping…

 

Read part 2 of my top 5 favourite books: To All the Boy’s I’ve Loved Before.