A few of my favourite things: book gift ideas for Christmas

2 Dec

Christmas Book Gifts

December is upon us, which means a heightened risk of death-by-elbow in every shopping centre in the world. I have officially started Christmas shopping and without sounding too Scroogey about it, it is stressssssful (bah humbug). But thankfully, online shopping for books is ridiculously easy (um as is going to your local bookstore and supporting independent trade, aherm). Anyway, here a few of the booky presents I’m dishing out this year.

For my book club… The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

We’re doing a Secret Santa style pressie sesh this year, with each of us bringing along a book we’ve enjoyed over the last year. I thought this would make a great present for one of my fellow book clubbers – we loved the glamour of 1930s Rules of Civility and this taps into a similar vein.  A fictional recollection of Ernest Hemingway’s marriage to first wife Hadley, it’s set in the absinthe-fuelled realms of Jazz Age Paris – a time where you couldn’t step out of your studio apartment without bumping into the Fitzgeralds or being dragged off for a gin with Ezra Pound. Don’t be fooled by the slightly naff cover – it’s brilliantly bohemian and totally heartbreaking.

For my Nan… The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

My mum recently lent my nan her copy of 50 Shades. Needless to say, this has disturbed me on so many levels that I’ve been desperate to give my nan other books – ANY books – that will distract her from veering into questionable erotic fiction. Step forward then The Snow Child. Set in the Alaskan wilderness and following a couple who discover a mysterious young girl in the forest, it ticks every box for essential winter reading – snowy scenes, a touch of magic, and a vivid world you can really lose yourself in. And not a hint of a whip in sight.

For my soon to be Sister-in-Law… Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann

Vogue absolutely loved this one and it’s easy to see why. Told through 5 very different narrators and spanning from post WW2 to the late 60s, it’s a dark, sparkling tale of a glamorous East Coast family plagued by secrets. Think glamour, betrayal, murder…and a hell of a lot of gin and tonics along the way. Deliciously sun drenched bitterness that will have you captivated from the very first page – making it the coolest must-read of the year and a perfect present for my beeyootiful soon to be sis-in-law.

Are you giving any book gifts this year? Would love to hear your recommendations…


Dare Me by Megan Abbott: and you thought Mean Girls were..mean…

26 Nov

I  have always thought there was something absolutely terrifying about cheerleaders. The offensive mini skirts, slicked back hap-hap-happy pony tails, the scarily slutty dance moves (yes, I was in band camp), the blinding smatter of sequins they leave in their Nike Air pounding wake. No girl in a two-piece mini skirt combo should EVER be trusted – as all teen movies have confirmed.

But even my estimations were pretty favourable compared to Megan Abbott’s kind of cheerleaders in Dare Me. These shiny beeyotches are like the koi carps of the school pond, ready to carnivorously gobble up their weaker counterparts to rise above the spawn. Allow me to set the scene:

Beth and Addy are bestest buds. Their lives are a whirl of pompoms, vanilla spritz and cherry lipgloss. But when a new team coach arrives, they and their team mates find themselves pushed to a whole new level of intense. Coach is young, she’s beautiful, and she’s relentless – whether it means diets of puffed air or punishment by push-ups, she’s determined to get the girls to the ‘tourneys’ and beyond. Addy is instantly enthralled, developing a girl crush to rival all girl crushes. But Team Captain Beth suddenly becomes aware that she’s no longer top dog – for the team or for Addy. And this is a position that Beth is not happy with.

Totes scary

A crushingly intense story of adolescent obsession, Dare Me is ridiculously addictive. I read the whole thing in a day (admittedly a slightly hungover one). Between the dizzying high kicks, a suspicious death and a crazy amount of sexually charged pant flashing (oh god there goes the SEO), Dare Me paints a pretty grim picture of female relationships – the ones we have with others and ourselves. Addy flips through Thinspiration websites in dull moments, feels high from “Adderall and the pro clinical hydroxy-hot with green tea extract and the eating-nothing-but-hoodia-lollipops-all-day”, kicks a team mate in the gut so she can chuck up the cookie dough polluting her insides. These girls are lithe-limbed, gorgeous, young- but you get the feeling that perfection will never be enough.

That’s not to say they’re all delicate flowers. On the contrary, they’re kick-ass scary, abs of steel strong. They love a good bruise, a busted lip is a war wound of which to be proud. What really comes through is the physical strength and freedom the cheerleaders get from pushing their bodies to the limits. It’s a side to the stereotypical cheerleader that I hadn’t properly considered. Abbott herself has said that in Dare Me she strove “to offer not just her beaming smile and fit body, but her teeth gritted in concentration, sweat on her glittered brow. Her tanned legs embossed with yesterday’s bruise, a mark of pride. Gaze fixed hard on us, she says not just “Look at me,” but “Look at what I can do.”

And if that isn’t just a little bit scary, it damn well should be.

If you like your stories glossy with a bit of underlying grit, this is a great read. Abbott handles a familiar context in a really fresh way, which I think has to be mostly down to Addy’s narrative voice – part fearful, part hopeful, part arrogant, it encapsulates a wavering naive swagger that feels spot on. Plus Beth has to be one of my favourite teen psycho bitches, ‘like, ever’.

Final verdict?

Totally fetch.

All hail Oliver Tate, antihero of Joe Dunthorne’s Submarine

13 Nov

You know what sucks? When one of your favourite books is made into a film and it doesn’t live up to your expectations. By logical thought processes you can therefore probably deduce what does not suck – an amazing film adaptation that almost matches the wonderment that was conjured up in your head when you first read the book. That’s the feeling I get when I watch Richard Ayoade’s adaptation of Joe Dunthorne’s Submarine.

Joe Dunthorne Submarine Richard Ayoade

If you’ve yet to read it (WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOURSELF!!), it’s the story of anti-hero Oliver Tate, a 15-year-old lad you will sometimes want to applaud and other times smack across the face. Like most boys his age, he’s desperate to lose his V plates. But he’s also determined to keep his family together, help his Dad get over depression and keep his mother out of the arms of an over-friendly old flame.

“Well, you know, I thought it would be nice to get some mutual interests… now that we’ve had sex… other than spitting and setting things on fire…” – Oliver Tate

The film adaptation doesn’t stick religiously to the book’s plot  (if, like me, you were gutted that Zoe’s revenge and other big storyline moments didn’t make it into the film, click here to read what Dunthorne has to say about it). But this time I’ll turn a blind eye, since everything else about the film is just awesome. The way it depicts Oliver’s coming-of-age story set in rainy Wales, through a semi-surreal instagram-esque series of dreamlike sequences, is just genius. And uber stylish (is it wrong to want Jordana’s heart sunglasses?!). It’s also bloody funny in that weirdy British way we do best (even with Ben Stiller as the film’s exec producer, amazingly enough). OH and did I mention that Arctic Monkey Alex Turner did the gloomy, odd-beat romantic soundtrack?! Yeaaaah.

So yes. In a mini-celebration of Submarine (and due to the fact it was on Film4 last night), here’s one of my favourite quotes from the most irritating and endlessly endearing character to cross my path since Holden Caulfield. If you haven’t read the book, do it now.

Oliver Tate, you charming nut-job. I salute you.

Dear Jordana,
Thank you for letting me explore your perfect body. I could drink your blood. You’re the only person I’ve allowed to be shrunk down to a microscopic size and swim inside me in a tiny submersible machine. We’ve lost our virginity but it wasn’t like losing anything. You’re too good for me. You’re too good for anyone. 
Sincerely, Oliver

Have you seen any credible film adaptations recently? Or are there any coming up soon that you’re looking forward to? Let me know.

Write good stuff, win sparkly stuff: Tatty Devine teams up with The Ministry of Stories

7 Nov

Tatty Devine Ministry of Stories

How’s this for a killer combination: quirky jewellery company Tatty Devine has teamed up with Hoxton Street Monster Supplies to create a new line of spooky necklaces, with all proceeds going to the Ministry of Stories.


I keep meaning to trek down to Monster Supplies (I’m desperate to get my hands on David Nicholl’s Heebie Jeebies and I’ve heard the Cubed Earwax is simply divine). Lurking behind the store front is the Ministry of Stories, a creative writing centre for kids founded by Nick Hornby and supported by the likes of Zadie Smith and Dominic Cooper. The centre focuses on mentoring youngsters to help foster their creative writing skills with the aim of building confidence and self-respect. It’s an amazing concept and so bloody cool – if only I could pass for 18 I’d be in there like a shot (sadly there’s not enough Creme de Mer in the world…).

The good news is that you don’t have to be under 18 to win your own piece of wonderful weirdness. Enter Tatty Devine’s Monster Flashfiction Competition by tweeting a mini-story inspired by one of the words from the collection and you could be in luck (check out the rules here). Don’t forget to add the hashtag #monster140. Literary cool dude (and writer of Submarine, one of my favourite books of all time) Joe Dunthorne will be judging the entries.

Here’s my entry… 

The little furball smiled adoringly, revealing its 1st white fang: “Twinkle twinkle little star, how I wonder what you AARGHHH” #monster140

Let me know your favourite flashfiction tweets! 

Howard Jacobson takes on Zadie Smith in Stylist magazine’s BOOK WARS

14 Oct

So I recently reviewed two books as part of Stylist magazine’s BOOK WARS feature. For the uninitiated, Book Wars pits two reviewers against each other as they argue why their chosen novel is that week’s must-read. In September, Howard Jacobson (he of Man Booker Prize winning-ness) and Zadie Smith (she of White Teeth and On Beauty) both released new novels. I was a newbie to both authors, which is probably a bit embarrassing, but I guess it also meant that I approached both books with very little preconceptions. That said, I was surprised by my reaction… Here’s my side of the review (and when I can get the Stylist website to work properly I’ll post a link to the full feature so you can read the other review)…

                       Zadie Smith NW

I have a confession to make – I’m a bit scared of literary fiction. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not just into the fluffy stuff; my copy of Twilight sits along side Fitzgerald, Nicole Krauss and Jennifer Egan. But whilst I love books that make you think, I can’t stand it if a book makes you do too much work. Which is why Zadie Smith’s NW just didn’t do it for me. The urban tragicomedy is brilliantly executed, but I felt like I could have done with a SparkNotes guide to help me really understand it.

Zoo Time, on the other hand, hit the spot for me – because it’s just as sharp and intelligent as it is enjoyable to read. Which is ironic given that it’s protagonist – pretentious author and literature purist Guy Ableman – believes that good literature has nothing to do with readability. Suffering from dwindling book sales and writer’s block, he contemplates whether an affair with his long-lusted-after mother-in-law could provide the inspiration (and gratification) he’s looking for. But Ableman’s up against more than just a moral dilemma- he’s also trying to survive in a dying industry (quite literally – his publisher has just shot himself). Libraries are closing, bookshops have shut, agents and authors are locked in bloody brawls. In the words of Ableman: “fiction is f***ed”.

Is it a pessimistic look at the future of books, then? Partly. But the apocalyptic setting is an excellent backdrop for biting humour. In comparison, NW’s arguably weightier subject matter feels a lot more tragic, its comedic moments much more fleeting. I’ll admit that I was unsure whether I could warm to Zoo Time’s sex-crazed, self-obsessed protagonist with a bizarre interest in gorilla’s penises (not for the faint-hearted). But Ableman’s witty repartee keeps it surprisingly jolly, and Jacobson describes it as the most purely comic novel he’s ever written. I also loved Ableman’s wife Vanessa, a feisty, flame-haired temptress with putdowns as spiky as her six-inch stilettos.

In many ways, Zoo Time is an offbeat ode to literature and the art of writing, and bookworms will lap up the literary references. Ableman says he knows a writer’s in trouble when he resorts to writing about writing. But Zoo Time proves that Jacobson has nothing to worry about.

WIN A COPY OF ZOO TIME: Post a comment below and/ or tweet @frillseeking for your chance to win! 

Books are hot.

25 Sep

Reading is sexy

Book club GOLD: The Guilty One by Lisa Ballantyne

24 Sep

Firstly – apologies! I had a take a bit of a blog hiatus to settle into a new job and generally enjoy the summer. But I’m back with a good’un…

The Guilty One by Lisa Ballantyne review
The Guilty One is a much-hyped psychological thriller from debut author Lisa Ballantyne, and it is total book club gold. Not only is it every bit as gripping as SJ Watson’s Before I Go To Sleep, but it also throws up some hard-hitting questions sure to provoke plenty of juicy debate over your pinot.

Set in London, it follows criminal solicitor Daniel Hunter as he defends enigmatic Sebastian, an eleven-year-old accused of brutally murdering his eight-year-old neighbour. Haunted by the recent conviction of a bright but underprivileged juvenile delinquent, Daniel is desperate to ensure that another youngster doesn’t have his life ruined by a childhood incident – whether guilty or not. As the case progresses, we learn that Daniel’s own childhood could have easily lead him on a much darker path were it not for Minnie, the woman who adopted him. But Minnie is no stranger to secrets herself.

Told in chapters that alternate between the current courtroom drama and flashbacks of Daniel’s violent past, the book throws up the gritty argument of nature vs nurture and wags an accusatory finger at the UK criminal justice system.  Are murderers born, or do we make them?

The book went down a storm at last year’s Frankfurt Book Fair and has since been sold in over 20 territories, ringing up six figure sums. I thought it was a great read – brilliant characters, plenty of intrigue and a big old wallop of sentimentality.

That said, I do kind of agree with the Independent when they say the novel could do with some conflicting opinions – the main characters share the same opinion on child crime and punishment and it starts to teeter on the edge of preachy towards the end.

But I don’t agree with the comments about ‘padding’. I got completely absorbed in Daniel’s story and the outcome of the trial and raced through it. The ending is perhaps a bit of a non-shocker, but I’d still recommend keeping a tissue handy – I was a total wreck by the end.

Intrigued? Check out this interview with Lisa Ballantyne to hear about the haunting characters who compelled her to write her debut novel.

Get in touch if you’ve read it, would love to hear your thoughts…