Category Archives: Reviews

Book Review: Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? By Alyssa Mastromonaco [Audiobook]

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Twelve (Hachette Book Group) 2017

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?: And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House by Alyssa Mastromonaco with Lauren Oyler (Twelve, 2017).

Brilliantly narrated by the author, this political memoir come ‘help guide’ was perfect to listen to when walking to work each morning. At only five hours and 53 minutes this audiobook is shorter than most biographies I have listened to before (I tend to prefer listening to autobiographies, particularly when they are author narrated) but nevertheless it was packed with anecdotes and lessons from Mastromonaco’s life and political career. As someone who is only vaguely familiar with the US political system it also helped to answer some questions which, no matter how many times I re-watch The West Wing, still remained unanswered.

Alyssa Mastromonaco is currently the Chief Operating Officer of Vice Media, but the book focuses on her position as the former deputy chief of staff to President Barack Obama and how she came to into that role, becoming the youngest women to do so in the process. The narrative is not chronological but anecdotal, jumping from working for Obama, to her time at college and her first experience of politics interning for Bernie Sanders, and campaign scheduling for John Kerry. Nothing is off limits, but Mastromonaco’s aim is not to cement her legacy of her time in the White House (apart from the tampon machine in the ladies toilet – she’s taking credit for that) but to be the wiser and more experienced older sister of the reader, offering advice and guidance to women who want to be successful in their chosen field. This is evident in the subjects covered in the book, or rather what it doesn’t shy away from – periods, IBS are just two topics that spring to mind. The more glamorous side of politics is covered (dinner parties with high profile guests), as is the less glamorous side of a sector that is still predominantly male (bleeding through your trousers at said dinner party, because of the lack of tampon dispensers).

The anecdotes are hilarious and sometimes cringe inducing, but these asides give Mastromonaco a solid grounding as someone you should probably listen to. The relaxed narrating style makes the book easy to listen to, and adds to the big sister/best friend feel that at many times had me smiling to myself as I was listening. What comes across most often however, was just how ‘normal’ Mastromonaco appears in this book. She didn’t have a route to politics mapped out for her from birth, but threw herself into anything and everything she was required to do, learning from her mistakes along the way. The honesty and humanity included in each story and anecdote makes it stand out from any other political memoir I have read, and in my opinion is where the book really comes into its own.

As a (fairly) recent university graduate, listening to this audiobook made me feel like I can take on anything and be ready for any professional situation, political or otherwise. I’m compiling a small talk list of fail safe t.v shows and films, working towards a ‘fuck you fund’ for those times when I just have to get out or move on, and keeping in mind that forward motion is better than standing still – even if it’s not immediately obvious that I’m going in the right direction.

 

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Review: Make Gentle the Life of this World: The vision of Robert F. Kennedy

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Throughout the 1960s, Robert F. Kennedy kept a private journal of favourite quotations, recording the philosophies of great leaders and thinkers throughout history. Thirty years after his father’s tragic death, Maxwell Taylor Kennedy has culled the highlights of this journal, along with inspiring portions of Robert Kennedy’s most memorable speeches, to create a passionate, immortal voice for his father’s vision. With passages on freedom, democracy, civil rights, education, justice, tragedy, and peace, Make Gentle the Life of this World speaks powerfully to America’s unstoppable drive for a better world. Complemented by poignant photographs of Robert Kennedy, this is a moving tribute to an extraordinary hero, whose dreams for America has never been extinguished.

Published in 1998 and compiled from Robert Kennedy’s day book by his son Maxwell Taylor Kennedy, this book is a great addition to any collection. Thoughts and speeches from R.F.K himself have been collated and interspersed with passages from Abraham Lincoln, Aeschylus, Edith Hamilton, and many others whose words inspired the late Senator and Attorney General. The book is divided into sections covering broad themes such as ‘America Spirit’, ‘A Citizen in a Civil Society’ and ‘Personal Knowledge’. These sections each cover more specific topics such as civil rights, education, poverty, and courage, and also contain images of R.F.K throughout his life and career. The passages are inspiring and thought provoking, and could be considered even more poignant considering today’s political climate in both the US and the UK.

The book offers a unique insight to R.F.K., and his personal and political thinking, and therefore is a must read for anyone who has an interest in American political history or the Kennedy family. For readers less familiar with Robert Kennedy’s political career the introduction by Maxwell Taylor Kennedy, and handy time line of events, brings everyone up to speed with a brief overview of the man who was the US attorney general at a very turbulent time in American politics. Maxwell Taylor’s introduction explains his motives for publishing the book, and offers a more personal window into the life of his father.

Outside of the introduction, the main bulk of the book is simply a curated selection of quotes categorised thematically. There is little information surrounding the quotes (apart from the author’s name) which doesn’t allow for full understanding of the quote in its original context. However the lack of context does create a smoother reading experience, which could have otherwise been hindered by chunks of bulky factual information. Furthermore, as the purpose of this book is to gain a glimpse into the life and mind of R.F.K, allows the reader to situate the words into their vision and interpretation of the public political figure.

At only 188 pages long, Make Gentle the Life of this World is a perfect book to carry with you for the opportune minutes of reading. There is no plot or narrative, so I do not know how well it would read cover to cover, but as a dip-in-and-out or a quick ‘I’ve got five minutes before work/school’ it is ideal. Get your pencils and sticky notes ready, as this book practically begs you to highlight and annotate. Full with inspiring and meaningful text, to readers will come back to its pages again and again, to find their favourite lines and passages, and to interpret them in relation to their own lives.

Favourite R.F.K passage
His speech on the death of the reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Favourite non-R.F.K passage
‘Civilizaton is a race between education and catastrophe.’ – H. G. Wells

 

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

I had a an absolutely amazing time at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter last summer. Universal Orlando Resort was a great holiday destination before the addition of the two Potter Parks, but now it has become the prime destination of many Potterheads around the globe!

I went on the holiday with my mum, and we enjoyed the sites, sounds, and incredibly oppressive heat of Orlando for just over a week at the end of May/beginning of June 2016. Below are some of the pictures that I feel best represent the Harry Potter part of my time there (which lets face it, was pretty much the main bulk of the holiday). You might say it’s a review in photos…

 

There are so many memories that I will take from this trip and not all of them are captured on camera. Encounters with other lovers of Harry, talking to the people working there about living in the UK and using my interactive wand. These are just some of the things that I will hold on to forever. I am particularly thankful to have shared this experience with my mum, who first read Philosophers Stone to my brother and I all those years ago.

Book Review: Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth

 

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Call the Midwife is the first book in a series of memoirs by Jennifer Worth, a midwife working in London’s East End in the 1950s. The book has been adapted into a T.V programme by Heidi Thomas (currently filming its sixth season) which airs on the BBC.

 

Jennifer Worth was in her early twenties when she began working with Nonnatus House, a convent in Poplar, East London, to complete her training as a midwife. In her memoirs Jennifer details the stories of the people worked with and treated in her early career, covering tales of breeched births, eclampsia, prostitution, big families and language barriers (both Cockney and Spanish!)

I love the T.V series and thought it was finally time to give the source material a read. The book itself is well paced and easy to read, and although there is not much of a focus on ‘developing characters’, there are glimpses into the personality of each midwife, Nun, and patient. I’m unable to account for how much of my enjoyment of the book came from my engagement with the T.V programme, and the world and characters developed by the cast and the excellent writing of Heidi Thomas. However I can say that prior knowledge of the series did not detract from the book in anyway. The stories in the book mirror season one of the programme, which allowed me to feel some familiarity with the characters, and may have also contributed to the how quickly I was able to read the book.

By far the best thing about Call the Midwife is its insight into an infant NHS and the female perspective of poverty and social conditions of the 1950s. The National Health Service was rolled out in 1948, giving people access to aspects of health care that they previously were unable to afford. The women of Nonnatus House were at the forefront of caring for the community by working hard to treat everyone through both midwifery and district nursing. In particular, some of the more intrinsic challenges which the nurses face can be summed up in Jennifer’s encounter with an elderly patient who fears medical practitioners due to their pre-war experience of the workhouse and New Poor Law system.

The memoirs of Jennifer Worth show the merging of a new medical frontier with the practicalities of slum conditions and poverty through personal stories. Her writing portrays the anxieties and fears that I suspect are not so distance from those of expecting mothers today, and yet her descriptions of squalor, bomb sites, and condemned tenement buildings creates a world that is strikingly different to our own. The use of personal stories with elements that transcend history make this memoir an excellent read not only for those who love the T.V series, but also for those interested in the post-war period, the beginnings of the NHS, or the power of female relationships.

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Favourite Character: Sister Evangelina
This was difficult, because not only are the characters in Worth’s memoir depictions of real people, I also had to distance myself from the characters in the T.V series. Sister Evangelina is a perfect example of the ‘people are complex’ mantra. She has many sides to her personality, and we learn that although the midwives feel that she has no sense of humour, that doesn’t mean that her patients don’t find her hilarious. She is the character that represents class differences, a working class Nun contrasted against her middle class Sisters, but allied with the hardships of those in the community she cares for.

Favourite Line: ‘Like most women of her generation, Flo was an experienced amateur midwife.’

Anything else?
The Cockney Dialect appendix is a great insight into the mechanics of 1950s cockney slang and speech patterns, as well as the origins of the speech. According to this appendix, certain elements of cockney syntax and grammar can be traced back to the Tudors!

Book Review: blindsighted – Karin Slaughter

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Title: blindsighted.
Author: Karin Slaughter.
Edition: Arrow Books, 2011.

 

‘The sleepy town of Heartsdale, Georgia, is jolted into panic when Sara Linton, paediatrician and medical examiner, finds Sibyl Adams dead in the local diner. As well as being viciously raped, Sibyl has been cut: two deep knife wounds form a lethal cross over her stomach. When a second victim is found, crucified, only a few days later, it becomes clear that Sibyl’s brutal murder wasn’t a one-off attack. What Sarah and police chief Jeffrey Tolliver are dealing with is a seasonal sexual predator. A violent serial killer…’

Blindsighted is a gripping tale of murder focusing on the relationship and dynamics between medical examiner Sara and her ex-husband police chief Jeffrey Tolliver as they try and solve the case. The book portrays the image of a small town really well, and introduces various characters in a way that suggests you are part of the town and are already aware of them, which is a great quality.  A feature of the character development that I found very interesting is the slow revelation of each characters background as the story develops. It allows the reader to discover why a particular character is acting a certain way whilst further strengthening the relationship between the characters.

The development of the investigation is also treated in a similar way with a few side plots which act as red herrings, which as a reader I greatly enjoyed. The story never felt like it was dragging its feet or tailing off at any point, and the gripping plotline made it easily readable in a day. The story has such pull that it is almost impossible to put it down.
The only downside to the book was the hint of religion and religious symbols in the murder investigation which were not developed to become a bigger part of plot, however that is just my own personal opinion and the book is still absolutely brilliant without that element.

Blidsighted was Slaughter’s debut novel in 2001, and although it wasn’t the first book of hers that I have read, I can definitely say that it is a great debut novel and has left me wanting to read more of her books.

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars – John Green

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I’m going to start this review by admitting that The Fault in Our Stars was my first John Green book, but I can safely tell you that it will not be my last.

So, a quick synopsis. Hazel has terminal cancer, but is being kept alive by a medical miracle drug. She watches America’s Next Top Model with her mum, rereads the book An Imperial Affliction by Peter Van Houten and attends a Cancer Kids support group. At the support group she meets Augustus Waters, a boy who takes her out of her monotonous life and changes it for the better.

Now I’m aware that most of the internet has read the book, but I’m still going to keep this a spoiler free review.

I have been a fan of the vlogbrothers for a very long time and I’d heard a lot about John’s books and his writing ability from fellow Nerdfighters, however until this week I had not read one of his books. I cannot offer you an explanation as to why, but I can only an apology that I was so late to this amazing word of literature.

First of all John Green is a writing genius. From using Hazel’s name to symbolise that she is between life and death, to the descriptions of Amsterdam, to the plot twists which make you laugh then cry. This book has been superbly crafted and I plan not only to recommend this book to everyone, but to also give it as a gift to my friends and family as I feel everyone needs this book as it reminds you of the beauty and tragedy in life.

Now on to the thing that John Green does so extraordinarily well that it made me cry: capturing the voice of a young teenage girl with cancer. While reading tfios I had to stop several times to take deep breathes and to stop the tears, and I wish I was being over dramatic. I found Hazel’s voice to be exactly like mine when I was being treated for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2010, even some of the things she said felt like they had been taken from my 16 year old self. The idea of people thinking that you are strong and brave, when really you’re doing what you have to, or keeping your distance from your friends because you don’t want to hurt them.
In no way was my condition similar to Hazel’s, I was lucky to get away with a relatively ‘easy’ cancer, but her voice was so similar to my own that it not only proves the John Green is an extremely talented writer, but it also proved to me how far I had come. Comparing my perspective on life now, to the one I had in 2010 which was similar to Hazel’s, showed me that I had made progress which was contrary to what I thought every day.

I realise that this has become less like a review and more like a John Green appreciation post, but this is me telling you exactly how this book made me feel.

So thank you John Green for being such a talented writer. You created characters that pulled on my heartstrings and submerged into their world. But on a personal note, thank you for helping me perceive my past as something I can move on from, but that can still be a part of me.

DFTBA.

Book Review: The Casual Vacancy – J.K. Rowling

The one thing I wanted to do before reading this book was to delete Harry Potter from my mind (which is in fact very difficult). I didn’t want to judge The Casual Vacancy against Harry Potter, the books are not of the same genre, directed at the same audience or similar in any way, and comparing one against the other would be unfair to the stories themselves.

The Casual Vacancy tells of the life of the inhabitants of a small village named Pagford. The centre point which connects all the characters is the parish council election for the vacated seat left by Barry Fairbrother, whose death starts the book. The story  is essential an ‘us’ against ‘them’ novel however there are several different sides to this, and the reader gets a snippet into each character’s life and their stance on the election.

The characters intertwined plot lines are worthy of a Quentin Tarantino film, and although it takes some time to get going, the story and characters are worth persevering for. The number of different characters means that none of them really have any significant character development, but they remain strong in their identity none the less. The teenagers of the village portray the many different sides of society and provide the elements of sanity that their politically driven parents lack. The Mollisons are the characters that are so repulsive in their small town ‘the world revolves around us’ ways, yet that is the brilliance of Rowling’s ability.

The book for me was harder to read than some other adult fiction I have read. I was unable to sit and just read cover to cover, I had to give the sections I had read time to become clearer in my mind. This is one of the reasons why this review has taken so long, as I couldn’t simply couldn’t read through it as quickly as other books. Although I should point out that once I got to the halfway point of the book, I found it easier to read and my mind had become more accustomed to the writing and the characters.

But overall I found The Casual Vacancy to be a very interesting read.  I enjoyed being part of the many characters’ lives, and although there was less character development than I’m used to, I feel the writing was perfect and delivered the story and its message clearly. I feel that this book is a must read purely because it shows a different side to J.K. Rowling. The characters are the strongest element in the book, and I praise Jo Rowling for having such a talent that allows her to portray real life relationships on a page.