Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Book Review: When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman

Hey everyone! I recently finished When God Was a Rabbit and I really enjoyed it. It was a pretty unusual read so I thought you guys would like to know my thoughts about it. Here we go!


Cover and description from Goodreads

This is a book about a brother and a sister. It's a book about secrets and starting over, friendship and family, triumph and tragedy, and everything in between. More than anything, it's a book about love in all its forms.

In a remarkably honest and confident voice, Sarah Winman has written the story of a memorable young heroine, Elly, and her loss of innocence- a magical portrait of growing up and the pull and power of family ties. From Essex and Cornwall to the streets of New York, from 1968 to the events of 9/11, When God Was a Rabbit follows the evolving bond of love and secrets between Elly and her brother Joe, and her increasing concern for an unusual best friend, Jenny Penny, who has secrets of her own. With its wit and humor, engaging characters whose eccentricities are adroitly and sometimes darkly drawn, and its themes of memory and identity, When God Was a Rabbit is a love letter to true friendship and fraternal love.

What's the deal?

When God Was a Rabbit is a complex, thought-provoking book about friendship and family, and especially the relationship between Elly and her elder brother Joe. The book begins in 1968 at Elly's birth. Almost immediately, Joe is seen as a protector and comforter, the most important and constant thing in Elly's life. We then follow the siblings through the years - Elly gets a rabbit, whom Joe names God, she makes a new friend (Jenny Penny), she learns a shocking secret about Joe that must not be told. But through thick and thin Elly and Joe stick together. Even other friendships, illicit relationships and scandalous secrets don't get between them. The book also follows them both through adolescence in a tranquil, idyllic, house right next to the sea, and into adulthood, when Elly is cooped up in a tiny flat and Joe has fled to New York to escape himself. In spirit at least, Elly manages to escape with him. Life continues to throw them curve-balls however, and one of the most terrible tragedies of the modern world threatens their bond, happiness, and even existence.

How does it work?

When God Was a Rabbit is written in first person narrative - the narrator is the main protagonist, Elly. At times, the narrative can be very disjointed, but it's fast paced and interesting throughout. There's a pretty heady mix of angst, joy and passion from beginning to end, as well as mystery and suspense. Although Elly (and Joe) are the main characters, the supporting characters all have their own problems and joys too, most notably Aunt Nancy, Jenny Penny, Charlie, Arthur and Ginger. The entire book is from Elly's point of view, but manages to do a pretty good job of telling the other characters' stories too.

Completely Loved:
  • This book has such an interesting concept. I don't think I've read anything that travels to such depths of philosophy and mind without being too heavy or academic. It was funny, heart warming and interesting all the way through.
  • The themes running through this book were beautifully interwoven. As well as the obvious relationship/family/friendship thing going on, there was amazing thoughts of religion and belonging, loss and sacrifice, hope and joy threading through each chapter and scene in a way that is obvious and yet not unbearably so.
Not so much:
  • I felt like some of the themes running through the book were not tied up neatly. A lot was left to speculation, some of it felt too "fantasy" to belong in the real world setting of the book, and in some parts (and I don't know about you but) I just wished things had been explained, or at least tied up a little more thoroughly.
  • Also, in some parts, what was actually happening was quite unclear. This sort of fits in with the style of narration and all that, so didn't feel completely amiss, but at some points I had to go back a few pages, reread some passages and then go "oh right, that's what happened there". 

"I divide my life into two parts. Not really a before and after, more as if they are bookends, holding together flaccid years of empty musings, years of the late adolescence or the twentysomething whose coat of adulthood simply does not fit" - Elly, at the first part of the book.

"My feet felt the earth as fragile as eggshells"

"I stared at her, both attracted and repulsed by the suddenness of her violence, by the calm now sweeping across her face" - Elly, on Jenny Penny.

"It was an exaggerated energy born of the dangerous, an energy that could unexpectedly turn play into war"

"It is the source of art, of beauty, of love, and proffers the ultimate goodness to mankind. That to me is God. That to me is life"

Final Thoughts

I give When God Was a Rabbit 3.5 out of 5. It was a haunting, complex novel that resonates and stays with you long after you finish it. It was, all at once, easy to read and yet full of philosophical meaning. I would definitely recommend this to young adults, teenagers trying to find their way, or anyone who wants their faith in the world to be reaffirmed.

Have you read When God Was a Rabbit? If so, leave a comment telling me if you enjoyed it or not, and why. Maybe this book isn't for everyone, but I definitely think you should give it a chance! I'm sorry I've got a little behind schedule this week, and so my next My Mad Fat Diary re-watch post will be up a little later than planned (probably Friday). See you then!

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

My Mad Fat Diary Rewatch Project: S1 Ep1

Hey everyone! So, I watched the first few episodes of My Mad Fat Diary when it first came out last year, but I got behind on the episodes and then the season ended and I just never caught up. However, now season 2 has started I thought that, since I did actually enjoy what I watched of season 1, I would start the whole thing again so I can watch season 2 (which a few friends have DEMANDED I watch so I can discuss it with them). I'm one of those people who just has to watch every episode of a series in order from the beginning and I thought it would be fun to do a feature post here of each episode. This will be a regular feature (once a week) and I will describe and summarise each episode along with my musings and general thoughts. This means that, unlike most of my reviews, there will be SPOILERS! In case you were wondering, I'm watching these episodes on 4od (online) and the site advises that those aged 18+ only watch it; however, be aware that the DVD is cert 15. My Mad Fat Diary is a true (albeit maybe somewhat exaggerated for the sake of the TV show) story based on the memoirs of Rae Earl - which, incidentally, I also really want to read. So let's begin!

Season 1, Episode 1

In the opening episode, Rae is discharged from psychiatric hospital. Back in the real world, all she wants is to be a normal teenager, but when you're secretly mad it's not that simple.

The episode starts with Rae meeting Kester, her new therapist/counsellor person. Kester encourages Rae to keep a diary, and asked her how her week had been. We then flashback to (presumably) the start of the week, which is when most of the episode takes place.

It's the day Rae is due for release from psychiatric hospital and she's hiding in the toilets comforting her best friend and fellow patient Tix. After assuring Tix that she'll visit often, Rae leaves the hospital and stands outside the front doors where her journey forward into the future is hampered somewhat by a "freak-out" (as Rae likes to say). After barricading herself in a phone box, receiving the wise advice "count to 10" from Tix and waiting 40 minutes for her lift, Rae is finally on her way home with her mum, who is on day W of the Alphabet Diet (but she can eat Blue Ribbons because, as Rae so helpfully points out, they have wafer in). On the way home, Rae spots Chloe, an old friend, on the back of a hot guy's motorbike. Wowzers. Mum told Chloe that Rae was in France for a while (instead of, you know, in the psych. hospital), and so Chloe invites Rae to the pub with the gang. Rae says yes. Because this will go well.

When they finally get home, Mum opens the boot of the car and lo and behold out pops Karim, her illegal immigrant lover. Yeah. Rae stresses the difference between snacking and binging (while looking at the glowing food cupboard), and then goes to her room, which she calls the "scene of the crime". This, and the suspicious stain on the carpet that someone has tried desperately to bleach out, suggests that Rae was in psych. hospital for self harm or a suicide attempt.

Rae and Chloe then go to the pub and meet up with the gang to drink (most probably underage). All seems to be going well so far, and Rae is in love (lust?) with Archie who, as well as being cute, can sing AND play guitar. We all like a guy who's good with his hands after all. Afterwards at the chippie, Rae discovers the rest of the gang which consists of Chloe, Izzy, Chop, Finn (whoa...) and Archie (as I say, lust at first sight for Rae). A food fight ensues and they all get kicked out. You know, typical cool kid stuff (yeah, me neither). The atmosphere is dampened slightly for viewers when Rae reaches out for the camera to take a photo and has to quickly zip her jacket sleeve up to cover her scars. More evidence for self harm?

Back home, Rae plays the old "if this crumpled ball of paper goes in that bin over there, Archie will have sex with me" game. She misses. Repeatedly. Then she has a VERY erotic dream of Archie and her (complete with condom - good girl). The noise turns out to be Mum and her lover, which is a bit of a downer. When confronting Mum about it, Rae gives us a countdown of the 3 worst things she's ever said to her Mum. Number 1 is calling Mum a screwup and blaming her for all Rae's mental health problems, which is way harsh.

Rae gains membership of the gang with her awesome music taste (despite initial apprehension from Finn) and gets invited to Chloe's pool party and in her panic drinks a pint in one go. Not a good idea. Later, while swimwear shopping, Chloe sets the smoke alarms in the shop off (smoking) and the shop gets evacuated. Rae must stand outside, on a busy street, in her bra and with just a blow up crocodile to preserve her modesty. OMG. Mortifying. There is a difference between snacking and binging. Unfortunately, this experience led Rae to binge. Big time. And run back to the psych. hospital toilet in tears.

She pours her heart out to Tix before realising that Tix isn't in her usual cubical. When Tix comes in, she shows Rae no sympathy when Rae says she wants to go back to the hospital. Good. I think Tix's berating is just what Rae needed. She returns home and decides that she won't swim at the pool party, but will take a ton of her mum's booze over so no one will notice (why do teenagers on TV always think this?). She tries to sneak out of her bedroom window (why do they always do this too?) and falls on flowerpots, cutting her arm and back. In the end, she needn't have bothered sneaking out because her mum patched her up and gave her more booze anyway.

When she gets to the party, Archie makes a big deal out of his "backne" and makes a deal with Rae that he'll go swimming if she does. I strongly suspect that there wasn't actually anything wrong with his back (or if there was, he wasn't self conscious about it) but he just said it for Rae's benefit and I love him for that. Chloe calls Rae boring for not joining in and getting involved in the fun so Rae DOES get involved and ends up stuck in the pool slide. Awkward...

It fades to black and goes back to the present, and Rae's session with Kester. Rae is not saying much so Kester complains about his life instead (kinda nontraditional but hey ho) which gets Rae to relax and feel a bit better. Kester then throws the artwork from the walls out of the widow because Rae doesn't like it, and says he'll just blame Rae if anyone asks. I feel like Kester is the kind of therapist that, if you saw him in action, you would NEVER allow to counsel people, but his method really does work.

Flashback to slide and Rae is stuck and panicking. Everyone can see the scars on her legs. Everyone - all the people she so desperately wants to impress and fit in with. However, she manages to laugh it off (good for her!) and Chop frees her from the slide. Everyone is laughing in the pool, then the sauna (seriously, how rich is Chloe?), then the pool again except for Chloe who finds Rae's psych. hospital bracelet. Uh oh.

Random Observations:

Finn is so hot in that "grrr I'm sexy and mysterious" way. So hot!
I can't decide so far if Chloe is a slut or just an attention seeker, a snob or an actually nice person. Hmm...
Also, did anyone else notice that Kester has kinda sticky-out ears? Just me?

Best line:

"Everyone in here is holding onto their lives by their fingertips, Rae, and you've been given the chance to start again and you don't want it?" - Tix, when she's telling Rae off for trying to go back to the psych. hospital.

So that concludes the first episode! This post ended up being a lot longer than I thought it would be, but hopefully not too long for you guys. I'll post the same for the second episode next week. My next post will probably be a book review so see you then!

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Film Review: The Book Thief

Hey everyone! Recently I went to see The Book Thief at the cinema for my birthday. I have the book and have read it, like, 4 times but it was a while ago so, while I remembered the main events, I can't remember the book in detail. This is good (for me) because it means I can watch the film as a film, not compare it ruthlessly to the book. This post is a review of the film, and will NOT mention the book in length. However, watching the film has really made me want to read the book again, so look out for a review of the book, AND possibly a comparison post in the future. But, back to the film!

This is the UK film poster, and I saw it on the 28th February (it came out on the 26th in England.)

What's going on?

The Book Thief is narrated by Death, and follows a young girl named Liesel Meminger who is sent to live with Rosa and Hans Hubermann alone after her brother dies as they are traveling across the country. Liesel makes friends with Rudy, a young boy who lives next door to the Hubermanns. Liesel starts to settle into life with the Hubermanns,; however, more chaos arrives in the form of Max, a young Jew who escaped the Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) with a set of false documents and not a lot more and seeks refuge with Hans Hubermann, who knew Max's father. Max hides in the Hubermanns basement for a while as Germany becomes more and more unstable and dangerous. Men go off to fight and return from the front-line but, as the Third Reich gets stronger and the War nears its end, ultimately no one can completely escape the horrors of war or the devastation of the bombs.

So how was it?

I don't know whether I'm just a complete, emotional sap when it comes to, well anything really, but the tears were pouring pretty much every second from when Liesel's brother died - and that was the very first thing to happen! But it wasn't just me. There were plenty of times when the rest of the audience was in tears too. I thought the film was actually pretty good. There was a nice balance between the lighthearted, "child" moments that Liesel and Rudy share, and the adult themes that neither of them quite understand but both know are bad.

One thing I wasn't so impressed by was Death as a narrator/commentator. I understand it must be very hard to use Death exactly as it is in the book - an observer, narrating and commenting on events in an ironic sort of manner - but in the film Death seemed to just be a simple narrator to take the audience into each new setting or event. Also, although the film was emotional enough (did I mention I was severely dehydrated because of the amount of tears shed?) it lacked the depth of the book. The whole film was, not childish, but certainly not descriptive and I can't help but feel that it didn't do important events in history (such as the Kristallnacht) justice.

Final thoughts

The Book Thief was a good film, one I very much enjoyed. Although I was slightly disappointed by the lack of depth in it, I still felt attached enough to the characters and plot to be completely distraught at several parts. Also, the acting was so impressive, especially Sophie Nelisse (Liesel), and I found I could really connect with the characters. Every actor/actress made their character seem so real, and they all had great screen chemistry which made watching them a joy to watch. I definitely want to see this film again, and am already looking forward to the DVD! I would give The Book Thief 3.7 out of 5, and have already recommended it to all of my friends.

I hope you enjoyed this review! If you've seen The Book Thief, please comment and tell me what you thought. Is it as good as the book? What did you think of the casting? See you again soon!

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

February Wrap Up and March Goals

Hey everyone. As promised, this post is a February wrap up and March goals type thing - basically all the books I've read in the month of February and the books I plan on reading in March. This will be a monthly feature, I think, to help me keep up with myself. So, let's crack on!

February Wrap Up

  • The first book I read in February was Gypsy Wedding Dreams by Thelma Madine. I quite enjoyed this book, and it only took a few days to read in those little boring moments of the day. I did a review of this, which you can find here.
  • The second book was Flour Babies by Anne Fine. This was a shortish one that I never actually did a review on. I've read it a few times before and, although it's far from a favourite of mine, I read it just to pass a lunchtime at college. It was okay, but I would only read it if I was needed something quick to fill some time, and I wouldn't necessarily recommend it eagerly to people.
  • The third book of February was Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd. As you might remember from my review of this one (which can be found here), I really enjoyed this book. It was pretty fast paced, and so quick to get through, but you didn't feel like you were rushing it. I would definitely recommend this one, so pick it up and read if you ever see it around. I'd never heard of it before I spotted it in the library and borrowed it for one of my reading challenges, but I'm so glad I picked it up.
  • The final book I read in February is Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce. Although I put my review for this (here) up in March, I finished it on the last day of February. I really did enjoy this book; it put an interesting spin on classic themes, and I'd like to read the rest of Pearce's fairytale retelling series. I would also highly recommend this one.

March Goals

My goal for March is really just to finish all the books I'm currently reading before I start anymore. I'm halfway through several and I think I need to finish them (or at least most of them) before I try to start any others. I did a post on my ongoing reads in February here and, although I've finished one of them by now, I've also added two to the list. I know, I know. I'm more than 3/4 way through three of them though, so look out for reviews of those soon.

Reading Challenges

My reading challenge sign up post is here. The goals I set myself are: Explorer Level (6-10 books) for the Nonfiction Challenge; 15 books for the Fur & Fangs Challenge; and Shamrock level (4 books) for the Ireland Challenge.
So far, I've read 1 book for the Nonfiction Challenge (here), 1 book for the Ireland Challenge (here) and 1 book for the Fur & Fangs Challenge (here). Pretty good going, I think, for 2 months into the year. 

So that's my wrap up and goals for this month. Hope you all had a good February - if you do a February Wrap Up and March Goals post too then put a comment on this post and I'll check it out. I think my next post will be a review of The Book Thief film (which I saw for my birthday), and I also have some more book reviews and another regular feature project that I'm really excited about. See you soon!

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Book Review: Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce

Hey everyone! I just finished Sisters Red and thought I'd do a review - I loved this book! I read this book for the 2014 Fur and Fangs Challenge hosted by Novel Heartbeat (also check out my challenge sign up post here). You can find the cover and Goodreads description on my Library Haul post, so I'll just jump straight in with the review. Enjoy!

What's the deal?

Sisters Red is about 2 sisters (Scarlett, the oldest, and Rosie, the youngest) who were victims of a terrible attack by a vicious Fenris (werewolf). Although Scarlett fought the Fenris off to save herself and her sister, she was left with terrible scars and an appetite for revenge. Rosie, forever indebted to Scarlett, helps her sister hunt down other Fenris to save young girls from suffering the same (or worse) fate. They also hunt with Silas (cute boy and lethal with an axe), the son of a woodsman who is estranged from his family. Although they live (reasonably happily) in a small town, the three travel to Atlanta to suss out why the Fenris packs are joining forces, and what they're looking for. This is where the action goes down (in more ways than one).

How does it work?

The book is told in first person narrative, and is split between Rosie and Scarlett's perspectives. The exception to this is the prologue and epilogue, which are both told in the third person. The main section of the book happens in a very short period of time, and because of this the action seems more urgent, the atmosphere tense. The story is quite fast paced (in that a lot happens in short bursts), but it also has enough passages about mundane everyday stuff (like shopping and taking classes) to make it more realistic, in the sense that you can imagine this type of thing happening in the city you live in. And of course, fighting werewolves isn't the only action (but if you want to know more, you'll have to read the book).

The tone of the book is quite, well, there's a lot of angst, put it that way. There's palpable tension, first between Silas and Rosie, then between Silas and Rosie AND Scarlett, and then there's less tension and more action. There's quite a few twists and turns too. I guessed a few things at the beginning of the book, then it turned out I was wrong as new info was uncovered, THEN even more happened and it turned out nothing was as you thought at all. I tell you what! I was welling up towards the end as well and then ANOTHER twist happened. You never knew what was going down with this one (in a good way though). The prologue and epilogue were good as well, with the prologue setting the scene and helping you to understand the characters motivations, and the epilogue providing what I thought was a very bittersweet ending. It was also interesting to see both sisters points of view, as it showed just how much they differed, but also how similar they were. Two halves of the same heart and all that (seriously, read it).

Completely Loved:
  • Werewolves. The Fenris in this book are different to the "normal" variety found in most werewolf books. They kind of seem like a cross between werewolves and shape-shifters (evil monsters who can turn any time of day or night). Pearce's wolves are edgy and dangerous, and seem more thrilling than traditional ones. It's a new and exciting concept.
  • Silas. Who doesn't love a bit of eye candy who can hold his own in a fight against supernatural creatures? I imagine him to be the mysterious, smouldering, sexy type. And the boy can wield an axe too...
  • The whole plot of this book was fun and interesting, with the darker bits and uplifting bits balancing each other out. I was totally gripped from start to finish.
  • I also liked the concept of the cover. I thought how all the bits melt into each other was a really cool idea.
Not so much:
  • Silas and Scarlett are hunting partners. Best Friends. I loved that relationship, which makes a few pages (and one particular part of the backstory which is revealed there) about 3/4 of the way through not so good for me. I'd hoped Silas WOULDN'T be the sort of guy to jump from his crush to the "next-best-thing" type scenario.
  • In the same area of the book, Rosie seems to become whiny and clingy again. She has some great character development throughout the course of the book and I get why she's upset in this particular part, but she's spent 3/4 of the book trying to prove that she's strong, confident and independent and, for me, her character was sort of undermined in those few chapters.


"I am confident, I am capable, and I will not wait to be rescued by a woodsman or a hunter" - Rosie. I like this quote because I think it's here that I as a reader realised that Rosie is just as strong as Scarlett, and she's not just the little sister anymore.

"My sister has the heart of an artist with a hatchet and an eye patch. And I, we both now know, have a heart that is undeniably, irreparably different" - Rosie.

"I follow, always, because it's the only time when I'm certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we are one person broken in two" - Rosie.

Final Thoughts

I give Sisters Red 4 out of 5. It was an enjoyable and well paced read, and kept me hooked throughout. There was a brilliant mix of action and romance that meant I was never bored waiting for something to happen. I very much enjoyed the rather unique spin on the "tried-and-tested" themes of werewolves and fairytales, and I now really want to read Pearce's other books.

Thanks for reading guys and I hope you enjoyed it! Next post will be a February wrap up/March goals type thing. See you next time!

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