Double feature: political biographies

Hello there, been a while since I either had enough thoughts to warrant opening this window or felt obliged to, so you’ll have to forgive me for being a little out of practice. I am about to do a thing I’ve seen other bloggers do, but not something I’ve ever done myself. Apart from refer to myself as a blogger of course. Do people actually do that or is that like a thing that grown ups say? Anyway, I see on my subs that people like to take two similar books and do mini reviews in one, so I’m going to do that. Because originality.

*edit* mini review? lol.

Anyway, if you’ve been here before (hello! thanks for sticking around) you’ll know that I kind of set myself a goal to read more non fiction because I was in a bit of a fiction rut and well, the most accessible form of non fiction is biographies, so I’ve decided to start with those. And then I thought I’d make it difficult for myself by reading biographies of a political nature and, if you’ve been keeping up with my goodreads, I read two recently from two politicians that belong to the same party, but had very different political ideologies, so I thought I’d do a little discussion. Because why not.

Firstly, for any non Brits who might be reading or just anyone with a social life, who are these people?

In the Red corner we have Tony Benn, aka Anthony Neil Wedgeworth Benn, a titled gentleman who joined the Labour party as a socialist and was one of the countries longest serving MPs who tried to renounce his title so he could continue to fight for worker’s rights. He became a bit problematic for the Labour party at times because he was very sceptical about the direction of New Labour and wanted the party to continue to work with unions and stay firmly on the left. He also claimed the basement of the House of Commons as his own and would hang dedications to some of his favourite people there. As you do. He was an influential public figure who, while never making it to the front benches, did an awful lot of work during his time in parliament and wrote a number of books, one of which, Free At Last, a collection of his diaries from ’91 to ’01, I read recently.

In the slightly less Red corner, we have Ed Balls. Aka… erm… Ed Balls. Though not aristocratic, he was a fairly middle class, left leaning chap who came from a Labour supporting family and after going to Oxford and Harvard, joined the Labour party and worked in the civil service before working alongside Gordon Brown in the Treasury and then head of the Children’s Department and Shadow Chancellor. I also recently read a book by him, the newer version of his autobiography, which has added bits about his time on a reality TV show. He is also one half of the countries first ever MP marriage, his wife is also a prominent Labour politician. Unlike Benn, who survived many a general election, Balls served two terms and lost his seat in 2015  and has since become more famous for his rendition of Gangnam Style on Strictly Come Dancing and for the creation of Ed Balls Day, where we in Britain spend a day celebrating the fact that he once accidentally tweeted his own name.

Yes. If you’d ever gotten the notion that Brits are a bit daft, you’re absolutely right, we are.

It is also worth noting that Ed Balls served as part of the New Labour government that Tony Benn disliked so much and was around for much more of the modern stuff that was going on. His political career was working alongside Ed Milliband (yes he of bacon sandwich and then radio 2 fame), Gordon Brown (Scottish prime minister with a glass eye)  and Tony Blair (the long serving prime minister who kicked off the Iraq war), whereas Tony Benn’s dealings with Ed Milliband was because he was friendly with his dad and had Ed come in and do some work experience with him. (He refers to him as one of his original TEABAGS which is an acronym for the kids who would come in and work in the Benn archive, not whatever you were thinking.)

So, two very different people, but members of the same party and books of a similar subject. Let the discussions commence.

Out of the two people, Ed Balls is the one I remember most in parliament, as I was actually old enough to do politics when he was hanging around the commons, but Benn is the one that I knew (prior to reading these)  the most about because my grandad was also doing stuff with the unions, so it was a name that I’d heard a lot, but this is the first book of his I’ve read.

Both political memoirs were interesting, Benn’s historically as there was also mention of the Irish troubles and the Iraq war and a whole manner of other things that I am too young to remember and Balls’ because of the amount of anecdotes set during his time in the civil service or just generally while working in the Treasury or as an adviser to higher party members. To me being a massive nerd, both were fascinating glimpses at life in the House of Commons. Though we all know that the civil servants are the ones really running the country, I had no idea just how much is going on in those offices, I would say though, somewhere that Balls’ book slipped for me was the fact that I am not particularly numerically fluent and he spends a lot of time in the Treasury and talking about working for the Financial Times and other such stuff that went right over my head. Tony Benn’s book I found to be more warm and chatty and a more intimate picture of his day to day life, though it is worth mentioning that the book was a collection of his diary entries, he eventually published about sixty years worth of diary entries. Ed Balls’ book was more like structured essays around the themes of lessons he’d learned during his time in the public eye, so although anecdotal and revealing, the chapters didn’t feel as open as they did reading Tony Benn’s book, though certainly if you wanted to read something without having any prior knowledge, Ed Balls’ book would be a better place to start because stuff is actually explained as part of the text.

What is particularly interesting was learning about other political figures from these two men’s perspectives.
From Tony Benn you see Ed Milliband painted as the son of his friend who did a bit of work experience for him and was always seen as a nice young chap, who had ever so slightly disappointed him by choosing to work for someone Benn had little time for. From Ed Balls, you see him first as a close friend and then at very best, a work colleague. From Tony Benn, you see Jeremy Corbyn as being a upstanding member of the community, from Ed Balls you see him as the destroyer of the Labour Party. Both of them had similar complex thoughts about Tony Blair. But then Benn hated the idea of New Labour and Balls worked with Gordon Brown, so not much surprise there. What was surprising and quite nice to see was that while in PMQs and on TV, Labour and Tory were at each other’s throats, when it came to working for the country and generally getting stuff done, there as a bit of camaraderie. Benn had a civil, bordering on friendly relationship with both John Major and Ted Heath, whereas Balls actually entrusted George Osborne to look after his children. I doubt this is interesting to anyone but me, but the level of differences in opinion between these two people who have given their lives to one political party is just super fascinating to me. The idea that one party can hold so many different factions of people who, although having fundamentally opposing views, can still commit to the same ends. Both of them want the party to succeed, both of them care about the people who put them in that position, both of them care about the continuation of the health service and education, Benn wants these things achieved by socialist means and Balls by centralist. SO INTERESTING.

It was also interesting to see how much politics has changed over the course of these two people’s lives and how things like social media have influenced both voters and politicians. Twitter didn’t even really exist through most of Tony Benn’s time in parliament, yet Ed Balls is arguably more well known for being viral on social media than he was for his time in politics. I certainly knew of him more for Ed Balls Day and being on TV than for his work in government. Sorry about that Ed, but I feel more informed now I’ve read your book!

So there we are, some rambly thoughts about two different political biographies in an overlapping time frame, but by members of the same party. I think I’d like to read about more political figures, I did spot Ken Clarke’s book when I was at the library, so maybe I’ll venture into the Blue Corner next time I’m perusing the shelf and of course, I am always open to recommendations from you guys!

Like I was going to leave this post without linking you to an actual man that actually served in government doing a rendition of Gangnam Style on live TV.

Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty

It feels like everyone and their mum has read this book, like to the point where it has even spawned a super popular television show! I’d been debating buying it for some time after failing to locate a copy at the library and then as if Penguin had heard my prayers, they sent me a copy! How wonderfully kind of them! So here we go, my thoughts!

A murder . . . a tragic accident . . . or just parents behaving badly?
What’s indisputable is that someone is dead.
But who did what?
Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads:
Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?).
Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.
New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.
Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.

Right, first things first, I haven’t seen the TV show yet, so I don’t know how to two compare, is it any good? Let me know!
Secondly, I have waaaaaay too many thoughts for this review to be in anyway coherent, so you know. Brace yourself.

One of the first reviews you find on Goodreads for this book starts with: Probably the funniest book about murder and domestic abuse I’ll ever read and honestly, I think that’s the best way to describe this book… Though with a slight amend, I didn’t think this book was funny, not in the laugh out loud sense anyway, there were a few moments of smirking into the pages, but overall, I found it kinda flippant and shallow in its approach to the core subjects, kind of like the characters within I guess, but it certainly isn’t a serious book about domestic abuse, murder, bullying and the other issues this story. The other thing this book manages to do is be subtle and obvious all at the same time. How is that possible? Does it translate well onto screen? You’re so distracted by the Renata vs Madeline is my kid a bully story that the big issues seem to come flying at you when they’re presented, even though on closer inspection, they were there the entire time.

So here’s the thing, when this book starts, we have what is essentially a lot of tedious playground related nonsense. A group of yummy mummy types bunching together and ganging up on each other, being bitchy and using their children to get at each other and I found myself wondering what exactly everyone was raving about with this book. Like I usually don’t have any time for women tearing each other down, but there was something about the interview extracts littered throughout and the count down to trivia night that made me stick with it. What we have is several stories of differing seriousness being interwoven with a few more trivial life moments. Like on the one hand, Madeline’s vendetta against Renata and her grudge holding against her ex after everyone else has moved on is a bit distracting when you have Celeste and everything going on in her life and the trauma that Jane is unsuccessfully dealing with and come the end when the truth is out and the full story revealed you’re struck by its brilliance, it’s ‘why didn’t I see that coming?’ even though it is there from the very beginning.

Basically, there are many things about this book that annoyed me, but there are also many things that surprised me and captivated me and I think I’ll be hard pressed to find anything else like it.

The idea of you

The Idea of You – Amanda Prowse

I know all I seem to be doing is posting reviews of things I’ve gotten from NetGalley recently. Oh well. Sorry not sorry. I really wanted to enjoy this more than I did, I picked it because I wanted to read more out of my comfort zone and experience stuff that isn’t primarily YA, but there was just something about this that didn’t gel with me.

With her fortieth birthday approaching, Lucy Carpenter thinks she finally has it all: a wonderful new husband, Jonah, a successful career and the chance of a precious baby of her own. Life couldn’t be more perfect.
But becoming parents proves much harder to achieve than Lucy and Jonah imagined, and when Jonah’s teenage daughter Camille comes to stay with them, she becomes a constant reminder of what Lucy doesn’t have. Jonah’s love and support are unquestioning, but Lucy’s struggles with work and her own failing dreams begin to take their toll. With Camille’s presence straining the bonds of Lucy’s marriage even further, Lucy suddenly feels herself close to losing everything…
This heart-wrenchingly poignant family drama from bestselling author Amanda Prowse asks the question: in today’s hectic world, what does it mean to be a mother?

 In very basic terms, this is a book about a woman who desperately wants children.

Now, I said at the start of this that I wanted to enjoy this. I really did, but it just didn’t gel with me. Here’s the thing, I have known for a long time now that my reading habits tend towards YA novels and while this is fine and I love YA novels, I am not the intended audience for those books. I am in my late twenties, I should not spend so much time reading about high school drama. So, when I spotted this in the women’s fiction section on NetGalley I thought hmmm, family drama, with adults, yes, good. And it is good. I just found that I couldn’t relate to it at all, turns out I’m not the intended audience for this book either and I think this is entirely down to the fact that our protagonist Lucy is in desperate want of children and I’m not.
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against children, I used to be one after all and I love spending time with my brother’s children, they’re hilarious. My nephew told me I was his best friend and then played a game where his Power Ranger repeatedly pooped on my head. Children are great! But, I never have had the inclination to have any of my own, so I found it difficult to understand some of Lucy’s motivations and expectations because it was all so alien to me, I can’t even imagine wanting children so to read an entire book about someone made it hard to really gel with her. While I do think  that people can do whatever they want with their lives, I am a little concerned that Lucy literally pinned her entire worth on whether or not she could have a baby and like… Is that not a bit worrying to anyone else?
That being said, I enjoyed the characters in this book and their various motivations, though Lucy was a bit one track minded and I found it difficult to relate to her, I did really enjoy her relationship with her step daughter and I loved Jonah. Well, most of the time anyway (like where do I get one of those IRL, can you get them online?) and the family drama was so well done, there were times where I felt like I was gossiping with a friend about this group of people.

I think this is exactly the sort of thing I would recommend to my mum and definitely the sort of thing that ought to be thrown in a suitcase and jetted away to a beach somewhere to be enjoyed in the sun, I’m just disappointed in myself that I didn’t manage to gel with it as well as I’d like.

Things I Should have known

Things I should have known – Claire LaZebnik

I feel like I inhaled this! It helped that I was left alone on a sunny Saturday and had nothing to do but sit in the breeze and read this! So what we have here, is a fun, engaging, easy read about teenagers and high school romances with a difference, because it also has characters on the autism spectrum and idk about you, but I haven’t come across many books about kids on the autism spectrum.

Things Chloe knew: Her sister, Ivy, was lonely. Ethan was a perfect match. Ethan’s brother, David, was an arrogant jerk.
Things Chloe should have known: Setups are complicated. Ivy can make her own decisions. David may be the only person who really gets Chloe.
Meet Chloe Mitchell, a popular Los Angeles girl who’s decided that her older sister, Ivy, who’s on the autism spectrum, could use a boyfriend. Chloe already has someone in mind: Ethan Fields, a sweet, movie-obsessed boy from Ivy’s special needs class.
Chloe would like to ignore Ethan’s brother, David, but she can’t—Ivy and Ethan aren’t comfortable going out on their own, so Chloe and David have to tag along. Soon Chloe, Ivy, David, and Ethan form a quirky and wholly lovable circle. And as the group bonds over frozen-yogurt dates and movie nights, Chloe is forced to confront her own romantic choices—and the realization that it’s okay to be a different kind of normal.

So the thing is, the bare bones of this is about kids dealing with stuff, and what is a YA novel if not a book about kids dealing with stuff. I’ll start with our narrator, Chloe. Chloe’s older sister Ivy, is autistic, so she kind of has to parent her a bit, add to this mix the fact that her dad died of cancer and her mum has remarried someone that although means well, Chloe isn’t all that keen on. Despite this, Chloe is sociable and fairly happy with her high school life, she has lots of friends, gets good grades and has a super cute athletic boyfriend, all the standard teen drama stuff. The story really kicks off when Ivy sees Chloe with her boyfriend and comments that she’ll never have a boyfriend which makes Chloe decide to play matchmaker by sizing up the other kids in Ivy’s class at a school for teens with special needs and picking one at random, who just happens to be the younger brother of one of her classmates. Who she doesn’t like. Do you see where I’m going with this?
David and Ethan’s story is equally as interesting even without the added dimension of Ethan and Ivy seeing the world differently. They live in a world where their parents are living separate lives which barely involve either of them and their new step mother in particular has difficulty accepting Ethan.
While there are some aspects of this story that are a tad predictable, of course Chloe is going to form a special bond with the guy she’s hated this whole time, of course there is going to be bumps in the road of her match making, there is a lot to like about this book, namely the fact that it deals with autism and it deals with LGBTQA+ aspects of autism.

The only other book I’ve read with a similar character to that of Ivy and Ethan is the Curious Case of the Dog in the Nighttime, which is a great book, if you’ve not read it before, but this is the first one I’ve come across featuring autistic teenagers trying to navigate dating and socialising. Slight disclaimer – I don’t know many people with autism, so I don’t know if they would have a different opinion on how well Ivy and Ethan are portrayed and I would love to hear their thoughts on this book, but for me, I thought it was well done and about time that characters like Ivy and Ethan were featured in books and on TV. It was also great seeing Chloe and watching how protective and caring she is and how she reconciles how frustrated she gets with Ivy and the situation and the guilt that follows. I just feel that now having finished it, that this book was so heartwarming and well presented and I want to see more stories like this.

Windfall

Windfall – Jennifer E Smith

If you’ve stumbled across this blog before and any other reviews I’ve done for books by Jennifer E Smith there may be a touch of repetition involved here, sorry not sorry. The thing is, I LOVE Jennifer E Smith’s writing style, I love her stories, they are cute, fluffy balls of YA goodness and lets be honest, everyone loves a comforting romance story now and again and she is the queen of comforting, cute, fluffy, YA romances.

Alice doesn’t believe in luck—at least, not the good kind. But she does believe in love, and for some time now, she’s been pining for her best friend, Teddy. On his eighteenth birthday—just when it seems they might be on the brink of something—she buys him a lottery ticket on a lark. To their astonishment, he wins $140 million, and in an instant, everything changes.
At first, it seems like a dream come true, especially since the two of them are no strangers to misfortune. As a kid, Alice won the worst kind of lottery possible when her parents died just over a year apart from each other. And Teddy’s father abandoned his family not long after that, leaving them to grapple with his gambling debts. Through it all, Teddy and Alice have leaned on each other. But now, as they negotiate the ripple effects of Teddy’s newfound wealth, a gulf opens between them. And soon, the money starts to feel like more of a curse than a windfall.
As they try to find their way back to each other, Alice learns more about herself than she ever could have imagined… and about the unexpected ways in which luck and love sometimes intersect.

Much like I said before and in literally every other review of Smith’s books I’ve done before, (she isn’t a relative. At least I don’t think so… Anyway, the point is that there is no bias here.) I might have to reel in the fangirling and much like her other books, this is similarly a romance between two teenagers facing a bit of adversity with some fluff thrown in for good measure.
This time around, we have troubled teens Alice and Teddy. Alice, an orphan who has been living with her aunt and uncle and cousin, Leo, for the past nine years during which time, she has befriended and subsequently fallen for her best friend, Teddy. Who, in typical Smith fashion, has his own baggage. He is currently living in a cramped one bed apartment with his mum following his dad abandoning the pair of them with huge gambling debts.
The story begins on Teddy’s eighteenth birthday, Leo and Alice both buy him gifts that can only be legally used by eighteen year olds, a pack of cigarettes and a lottery ticket and that lottery ticket, well. That’s when the excitement begins.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I am attempting to keep the inner fangirl under wraps. I don’t know how much I am able to express how much I love this woman’s books BUT as much as I enjoyed this, I have to be honest, it isn’t my favourite of hers (I think This is What Happy Looks Like will always hold that title), but don’t let that put you off, this had so much going for it. The teen romance and angst is there and the connection between Alice and Teddy is slow building and then there is the added drama of being a high school kid with nothing suddenly getting a ridiculous amount of money and how they handle that situation. Storywise, there is a lot going on here and in some ways, Windfall has a bit more substance than some of her previous stories, because of the different elements being presented, I guess, there just isn’t as much fluff as usual and I do love me some Jennifer E Smith fluff. So if like me, you love the cute romances of This is What Happy Looks Like or The Geography of Me and You, then be warned that Windfall isn’t on the same level.

Windfall had a lot of serious issues that were dealt with well, survivor’s guilt, death, coming into money and trying to process what to do with it, plus there was the whole unrequited love with your best friend thing…. These three main characters had a really wonderfully written friendship, I love stories about friendship and watching relationships blossom and Jennifer E Smith does these so well!

Basically, I love this woman, I love her books, this wasn’t what I thought it was going to be but I enjoyed it anyway, so check it out! Windfall is published at the start of May, so keep a look out!

Film reviews in 10 tweets or less – The Take, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Doctor Strange

This feature appears on this blog much less than I would like, but I feel like I don’t tweet as much anymore… Anyway, here’s the last few movies that I decided to live tweet! I promise that I’m usually much funnier on Twitter, so you should totes follow me!

The Take

A young con artist and former CIA agent embark on an anti-terrorist mission in France.

While most people were out on New Year’s Eve partying or whatever it is that people do on New Year’s Eve, I went to my parents house where I set up and then lost custody of my Netflix account and my brother lent us his Amazon Prime account, we watched a few episodes of the Crown then turned to Amazon Prime and well, my mother and I are big fans of Idris Elba, so much so she ended up kicking over her wine in excitement, so we thought we’d give this a go. And so began the live tweeting!

If you don’t know the story of this movie, it was initially called Bastille Day and was due for release a few days after Bastille Day last year… Only then the Bastille Day attack happened and as this is a film about French terrorists, the name was changed to The Take. It’s not the greatest movie ever made and why all the English actors had to be American I’m not entirely sure, but it was fun and it meant I got to spend New Year with Idris Elba, so…

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

 Five sisters in 19th century England must cope with the pressures to marry while protecting themselves from a growing population of zombies.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that most things are made better with the addition of zombies, this however, I’m not so sure! I read the book several years ago and had been waiting for the movie to come to Netflix, now finally it is here and well… what better thing to do on a Saturday than to watch some zombies attack Lizzie Bennett.

Doctor Strange

While on a journey of physical and spiritual healing, a brilliant neurosurgeon is drawn into the world of the mystic arts.

Considering I am usually a big fan Marvel studios, I was initially put off watching this because of the minor white washing. I have a problem with that. Anyway, one of my colleagues had the blu ray and lent it to me, so here are some thoughts tweeted during the watching.

The after credits scene got me a bit excited ngl.
If any of ya’ll have seen these and want to discuss further – to the comment section we go!

The Cows

The Cows – Dawn O’Porter

For serious though, did anyone expect me to just ignore the opportunity to read Dawn O’Porter’s new book? I loved Paper Aeroplanes SO MUCH and just look at this, just look at the blurb and tell me you aren’t excited? Honestly, the first paragraph was pretty much enough to have me flicking through pages joyously.

COW n.
/ka?/
A piece of meat; born to breed; past its sell-by-date; one of the herd.
Women don’t have to fall into a stereotypes
THE COWS is a powerful novel about three women. In all the noise of modern life, each needs to find their own voice.
It’s about friendship and being female.
It’s bold and brilliant.
It’s searingly perceptive.
It’s about never following the herd.

Have you, like me, been endlessly searching for some good old women’s fiction with feminist undertones? Yes? Well, hold on to your hats cos I think this might be it. I mean, there are moments in this that are a bit… Over the top, but overall this was a well written, topical novel that has feminist themes and enforces the idea that all women are worthy and equal, not just to men, but to each other, in a way that isn’t hard going or text book like.

The Cows presents us with three very different women (one of whom is a blogger, like a super successful one, not someone needlessly shouting into the void like myself) all of whom are struggling with society’s ideas of what their lives should be like based on their gender. We have Tara, the working single mum, who has to deal with being in a male dominated work environment constantly being made to feel guilty about the fact that she has a child to look after and then there’s her daughter, who also makes her feel guilty about wanting to have and enjoying her career, who has an unconsensual video taking of her and how that affects her life. We have Cam, the aforementioned blogger, who has to deal with disdain from her sisters and her mother because her life dream isn’t to settle down and have children but to have experiences and relationships with lots of different people on her own terms and then we have Stella mourning the loss of her sister, desperately wanting to retain her femininity and settle down with a child.

At its core, this is a story about women fighting for things they want and along the way our three main characters have to deal with viral videos, online trolls, relationships with friends, family and lovers and the need for people to be individual and accepting of everyone. It questions feminism and equality by showing deep rooted prejudices, Tara regularly finds herself being put down by the men she works with and then realises that she does this to other women, feeling herself above them without knowing anything about their lives. Cam similarly likes to talk a good game about being a feminist, but inadvertently offends those with different views to her.

The Cows is an addictive, fast paced read that doesn’t hold back on its message. There are a lot of subjects people might find taboo, abortions, sex, periods, that sort of thing and if you are one of those people, probably one to avoid, but if not – you need to grab yourself a copy of this asap.

The Cows is out on 6th April, so get yourself to a book shop!