Book review: Adulthood is a Myth by Sarah Andersen

I will still be talking about all the books I read in April once Show Us Your Books rolls around, but I wanted to dedicate a whole post to this book.

Adulthood is a Myth is a collection of Sarah’s Scribbles comic strips. If you don’t know what Sarah’s Scribbles is, you may have been living under a rock 😉 Her cartoons seem to be everywhere! I really like them and find many of them relatable, so I decided to buy one of her books. It arrived last week and I promptly devoured it. Not all the comic strips apply to me – for instance, she has one about not wanting children and how that won’t change just because people go on at her about it. I do want children, so that’s obviously not me. And the parts about procrastinating to avoid study may have applied in the past, but alas no longer. But I wanted to show you a few of the ones I did relate to.

Adulthood is a myth

But first of all, can we just talk about how the writing and the red stripes on the cover are soft? YAY! Touchy-feely elements aren’t just for five year olds you know! (Or I am actually five years old, one of the two).

One of my favourite panels in the book was this one, at the end of a section on cleaning up:

old stuffed toys

My little buddies whole-heartedly agree!

stuffed toys

We all know I’m slightly addicted to reading. Sarah has a scribble for that, too:

reading in bed

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve not wanted to get up for work in the morning because I was tired from reading too late the night before…

And how about this on the joys of long hair:

long hair

Of course, she forget to mention the part where it regularly ends up in your mouth or trailing in bowls of soup…

And finally, I want to share with you the titular comic strip, on adulthood:

adulthood

I am currently at the mid-30s stage and still find myself looking around for an “adult” to make decisions… before realising I am the adult and have to do everything for myself. *Sigh*

There is so much more I could have shared with you… roughly every other page I found myself thinking “YES, that’s me!”. But I don’t want to give away everything… if any of what I’ve shared speaks to you, if you feel awkward in clouds and feel insecure about people liking you, if you’re pretty sure this whole “adulthood” thing is a myth, then you should really check out Sarah Andersen’s comics for yourself.

I think it goes without saying that I gave this book five out of five stars.

Book Challenge by Erin 5.0 – month 2

I briefly mentioned it yesterday, but I thought this deserved it’s own check-in post, even though I only managed to read one measly little book for Erin’s book challenge! It as at least on the BBC Big Read though, so another book down for that.

NobodyFor the category “Read a book with five words in the title” I read The Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith (did you count the words? There really were 5!).

This book isn’t about anything in particular, but it’s strangely compelling. It’s the diary of Charles Pooter, a senior bank clerk who works in The City of London (for non-Brits, that doesn’t just mean London… the City of London is a separate entity within London where all the financial institutions are, including the London Stock Exchange). The book is supposed to be hilarious, although I disagree. It has a few funny moments, but hilarious is a bit strong! It does give an interesting (if satirised) insight into everyday life in a middle-calls Victorian family. I gave it four stars.

This category is worth 10 points, so combined with last month’s 25 that gives me a total of 35! It’s a good job Erin is generous with her challenges and has given us until the end of October to finish reading!

Lesson learned: if you’re going to do two challenges at once, try to find books that overlap!

Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley

No Friday letters today because I haven’t done enough this week to be able to think of any…

This month I am taking part in two reading challenges. One is Megan’s Summer Book Challenge, the second is the #Readmybooks challenge with TexErin, which is exactly what it says on the tin: during the month of June, Erin is challenging people to read only books they already own – no buying new ones or borrowing books from the library or friends. So that’s why I started my summer challenge reading with Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley. It actually moved to Basel with us, so it’s been in my possession for at least a year! Part of the reason I hadn’t read it was because it was on the bottom shelf where my eye tends not to wander as much, but mostly it’s because I kept buying new books that I was so excited about I just had to read them the minute I had them in my hot little hand. I read this book for the category “Read one book with a good word in the title, and one with a bad word”, which will be worth 30 points once I’ve read my good-word book (this one was the bad word – sorrow – although it could also have been a good word, since amity means friendly relations).

Amity-SorrowThe plot: Following a suspicious fire, Amaranth gathers her children and flees from the fundamentalist cult in which her children were born and raised. Now she is on the run with her two daughters, Amity and Sorrow, neither of whom have seen the world outside the cult. After four days of driving Amaranth crashes the car, leaving the family stranded at a gas station.

Rescue comes in the unlikely form of a downtrodden farmer, a man who offers sanctuary when the women need it most. However while Amity blossoms in this new world, free from her father’s tyranny, Sorrow will do anything to get back home…

My review: This could have been a good book. The plot sounded really interesting and I actually really liked the character of Amity. She was the only one who actually seemed to develop throughout the book! However, the actual execution of the plot was really confusing. The present day parts were mainly told from Amity’s point of view, and they were mostly pretty good, but then there were flashbacks – either to Amaranth’s time in the cult or to her life before – and a lot of those didn’t make much sense. One particular flashback was presumably supposed to explain why Amaranth got married/joined the cult in the first place, but it really didn’t. (Well, I suppose she didn’t know it was a cult at first? Or she helped found the cult? I never figured that part out). Also, the synopsis on the back of the book says “Amaranth herself is beginning to understand the nature of the man she has left“, well I’m glad she did because I certainly didn’t – other than that he was obviously bad and liked sex a lot? Trigger warning for anyone planning to read it: there is child sex abuse! I gave this one two stars.

Zelah Green by Vanessa Curtis

I changed things around a bit for the winter book challenge, and ended up reading Zelah Green for the category “Read a book with a person’s first and last name in the title”. Some editions are called Zelah Green: Queen of Clean). This category is worth 20 points.

The plot: Zelah Green is a cleanaholic. She spends most of her time running away from germs. And dirt. And people (who tend to be covered in both of those things). She thinks she’s doing just about okay at coping with her “little problem”, as she refers to it, but then her stepmother packs her off to some kind of hospital in the middle of nowhere with a load of strangers who all have issues of their own…

My review: In case you hadn’t guessed from the description, this book is about a girl with OCD. Except she doesn’t like to call it that, because giving things a name makes them real. The reading age is listed as 11+, which would explain why it’s a little simplistic in places and Zelah makes progress incredibly quickly once at the hospital, but I thought the author did an excellent job of showing how OCD can make normal life almost impossible for sufferers – it’s not just being obsessive about living in a clean house or getting annoyed if things aren’t arranged perfectly, as so many people seem to think (those who like to use the phrase “I’m sooo OCD about X”). I also really liked the character of Zelah Green. At 246 pages, it’s a quick read (I got through it in my lunch break!), but a nice one. I must have liked it – I’ve order the next Zelah Green book (One More Little Problem) to find out what happens next! I gave this one 4 stars.

I’ve actually already read a few other books for the challenge, which I haven’t reviewed all of here, so I’m at 65 points now.

Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris

When I saw the category “Read a food-themed book” on the list for the Semi-Charmed Winter Book Challenge, my thoughts immediately turned to Joanne Harris. I am convinced that nobody can describe food the way Joanne Harris does! It must be her French ancestry. Not all of her books involve food (she also does Norse mythology, among other things), but luckily I still had a food-themed one on my list that I hadn’t read.This was the first book I read for this year’s winter challenge and the category is worth 20 points.

The plot: This is a book of two stories. The first is about a secretive widow, Framboise Dartigen (Françoise Simon) who returns to the village of her childhood from which her family was expelled during the Second World War. Framboise opens a small restaurant, cooking the recipes left to her by her mother, whilst concealing her identity, lest she be recognized as the daughter of the woman who once brought shame and tragedy upon the village. When her nephew finds out the recipes, he attempts to exploit her success, threatening to expose the past she’s so determined to keep hidden in the process. The second storyline is the tale of the tragic events of the past, when Framboise and her siblings were just children and befriended a young, German officer never guessing the ripple effect that this friendship would have…

My review: I was a latecomer to Joanne Harris’s books, only reading Chocolat years after everyone else. I enjoyed that one, liked the characters (especially Pantoufle the rabbit) and the descriptions of chocolate made my mouth water, but I didn’t think I would read it again. It was only after I read the sequel, The Lollipop Shoes, that I fell in love with her writing and promptly read Blackberry Wine and Coastliners in quick succession. With Three Quarters of the Orange, the best part again was the descriptions of food (I wouldn’t recommend reading this while hungry!). Some reviewers on GoodReads have criticised the fact that Framboise’s mother was apparently able to produce such good food during wartime, but I just put it down to good cooks being able to make delicious food out of basically anything. The story itself starts off slow, dropping hints here and there but not really getting to the heart of the matter for a while. In fact, the final piece of the puzzle isn’t revealed until the very end. With some books that would annoy me, but in this case I felt like it just added to the atmosphere. The book is well written and held my interest all the way through, despite the slow start to the story. However, it wasn’t one that had me so enthralled that I stayed up late reading it and I didn’t particularly like most of the characters, so I’m giving it 4 stars.

Ghost Girl by Lesley Thomson

I am on a roll now with my summer challenge reading – six books down already! I bought this one on a whim from Amazon – even though it’s a sequel and I haven’t read the first book – because it was actually quite difficult to find a book with an alliterative title, especially since Megan had specified that all words had to start with the same letter, so Pride and Prejudice, for example, wouldn’t count. I discovered a few books that would fit – Rob Roy, Everything’s Eventual, Ella Enchanted and Nicholas Nickleby being a few – but could find none of them in my local bookshop, and while Amazon obviously had all four, Ghost Girl won simply because it was available ridiculously cheaply from somebody who was willing to deliver to Switzerland. This category is worth 30 points.

Ghost GirlThe plot: Terry Darnell was a detective with the Hammersmith police. Now, one year after his death, his daughter Stella is clearing out his house when she finds a folder of photographs hidden in his cellar. Why did he take so many pictures of deserted London streets? Stella is determined to find out, and enlists her friend/employee Jack to help her.

One particular photo dates from 1966, to a day when a little girl, just ten years old, witnessed something that would haunt her forever. The two stories, of the present-day investigation and the events surrounding the little girl back in the 60s, are told in parallel.

My review: I had a hard time relating to the main characters in this book at first, possible because I hadn’t read the previous book. Because of that, at first I enjoyed the parts that took part in the past more at first. Thomson did a good job of getting inside the mind of a lonely child and at times my heart ached for her. Gradually, I was drawn into the present-day story as well and found myself eager to know just what was going on. And unlike some of the reviews I’ve read, I definitely didn’t guess whodunnit (well, maybe who did one thing, but not who Stella and Jack were looking for) and was very surprised to find out who one of the characters was. This is an enjoyable crime novel, but I’ve taken one star off because I didn’t really like the main character (Stella) very much until near the end and also some parts seemed a bit boring and unnecessary. I liked it overall though, so 4 stars. I would probably recommend reading The Detective’s Daughter first though to get a bit of background! (Note: I have not read it so I can’t tell you whether it’s any good.)

So with this and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, that’s 55 points so far from books I’ve reviewed. Add to that the 45 points from the books I haven’t written up here yet and you get a total of 100 points. Halfway there!

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I finished reading this book the other day and I loved it so, so, so much that I couldn’t be content with just writing a review on Good Reads… my blog needs one too!

The plot:
Essentially, this is a book about a circus – Le Cirque des Reves (which means “Circus of Dreams”). Except… it’s not really a circus. Not that kind of circus anyway. There are tents and some of them even have acrobats in them, but that’s as far as the similarities with a normal circus go. Plus, this circus is only open at night, closing its gates again at dawn. And anyway, the story isn’t really about the circus. Actually, it’s about two magicians competing against each other in a kind of game (that’s actually more of a… test? Battle of wits? Experiment?). Oh, I give up… summarising the plot is just too difficult!

My review:
In case you hadn’t gathered yet, I loved this book! It started off fairly slowly and I was torn between finding it interesting and being a bit put off by the pages and pages of description but not a lot of actual action. But gradually it sucked me in, until I got to the stage where I wished my commute to work was longer so I wouldn’t have to stop reading. I am aware that a lot of people won’t like The Night Circus – it’s like the Marmite of books, I think. Either you love it or you hate. Looking back, there isn’t really much of a plot and takes ages to figure out what’s actually going on (both for the reader and the magicians themselves!), but somehow, despite these failings, I fell in love with the characters and – more importantly – with the circus itslef. I desperately want there to be a real Cirque des Reves so I can go and visit it over and over again. I had to give it five stars on Good Reads because that’s all I’m allowed, but I want to give it a million stars.

What I learned from “Swiss Watching” by Diccon Bewes

Swiss flag

With our move rapidly approaching, I thought it might be a good idea to learn a little more about Swiss culture (even if we end up on the other side of the border, I have a feeling we’ll be spending a lot of time in Basel…). I knew a traditional history book, filled with dates and facts, would just send me to sleep, so instead I picked up a copy of Swiss Watching: Inside Europe’s Landlocked Island by Diccon Bewes. What I mostly learned is that the Swiss (at least in the area we’ll be moving to) are basically German… except even more so. A few examples:

  • The trains are (almost) always on time… and in Switzerland it’s not just a stereotype!
  • If you ask people to go out for a meal, say for your birthday, be careful how you word things! If the Swiss get the impression that it’s an invitation, they will also expect you to pay for their meals! (I am aware that this is a thing in some circles in Germany, but luckily nobody I know enforces this “rule”)
  • The little red man must be obeyed at all costs! Mostly to set a good example to children (and even if you don’t see any children for miles around, one could be watching you from a nearby window). But are the Swiss as good at the death glare as little old German ladies, I wonder?
  • Swiss people like to spend their weekends hiking! (And just to prove my point about them basically being German, only yesterday Jan said to me “Once we move we can go hiking in the Swiss mountains!”. Uhh, okay dear…)
  • All the shops are closed on Sundays (except those that happen to be in train stations), and anything that might make the slightest bit of noise is verboten!

Other than that, I learned that people apparently think cuckoo clocks are Swiss (they’re actually from the Black Forest), velcro and toilet duck were both invented in Switzerland, the Swiss are (rightly!) extremely proud of their chocolate, nobody actually knows who the president of Switzerland is at any given time because it changes every year – and who can possibly keep track of that?! And finally, there’s a Röstigraben (literally rösti ditch) between the German-speaking and French/Italian-speaking regions of Switzerland. On the French/Italian side, they look down on their German-speaking countrypeople’s love of rösti (but why? How could anybody resist fried grated potatoes?) – so it’s a bit like the Weißwurstäquator (white sausage equator) in Germany.

Overall, I enjoyed the book – although the attempts at humour (sarcasm?) fell flat at times and felt a bit condescending. It certainly wasn’t a book of dry facts though, so I got what I was looking for and now feel as though I know a lot more about what to expect from Switzerland.

Die Nacht des Zorns by Fred Vargas

I kind of feel like I’m showing off by using this book for the challenge, but I was trying to use books I already had as much as possible and this was the only one I hadn’t already read that fit the category “Read a book that was first released in a language that is not your native language”. It was originally written in French under the title L’armée furieuse, and I read it in German (the German version of the title translates to “the night of wrath” by the way). It was a birthday gift from my boss, which is why it was in German. If I buy translations myself it’s usually into English! The title of the English translation is The Ghost Riders of Ordebec, in case anyone is interested.

The plot:
As the chief of police in Paris’s seventh arrondissement, Commissaire Adamsberg has no jurisdiction in Ordebec. Yet, he cannot ignore a widow’s plea. Her daughter Lina has seen a vision: ghostly horsemen who target the most nefarious characters in Normandy. With them were four men. According to the thousand-year-old legend, the vision means that the men will soon die a grisly death, and now one of them is missing. Despite initial scepticism, Adamsberg heads to Ordebec to see what’s happening. When the missing man turns up dead, he agrees to investigate and is soon embroiled in the mysteries of the village.

My review:
Apparently, this is the ninth book in the Commissaire Adamsberg series. So far, it’s the only one I’ve read, and I have to say straight off that one of the things that annoyed me about this book was all the footnotes pointing out in which previous novel I could read all about an event that was briefly mentioned. I checked the footnote every time in case it had something to say that was relevant to the plot, but nope… just another book title. Grr!

However, that said, I did really enjoy the book. I guessed the “twist” ending about halfway through, but it didn’t matter because by that time I’d fallen in love with the characters and wanted to read to the end. The plot was sometimes a bit far-fetched and, as I’ve mentioned, I guessed whodunnit before it was revealed, but it was a fun book to while away my commute with. One negative point is that I felt Fred Vargas tried to cram too much into the book – Adamsberg’s team was also investigating another murder alongside the Ordebec mystery and the two storylines together felt like a bit much for one book (although I’m sure it happens in real life). I’m now considering buying the first book in the series for some more background on Adamsberg and his quirky group of colleagues. 4 stars for this one.

Since I read this book in German, it also counts towards the German reading category of my 35 before 35 challenge.

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley

Somehow I managed to miss this book when it was first published. It was only when Amazon recommended the next book in the series (due for publication in January 2015) to me that I realised there had been one in between, and despite the fact that I’m only supposed to be spending money on Christmas gifts this month, I had to purchase a copy immediately. And of course I was unable to resist reading it the minute it arrived, which is how it ended up being my free book for the Semi-Charmed Winter Reading Challenge (worth 5 points).

The plot:
On a spring morning in 1951, almost twelve-year-old chemist and aspiring detective Flavia de Luce gathers with her family at the railway station, awaiting the return of her long-lost mother, Harriet. Yet upon the train’s arrival in the English village of Bishop’s Lacey, Flavia is approached by a tall stranger who whispers a cryptic message into her ear. Moments later he is dead, apparently pushed in front of the departing train by someone on the platform. Who was this man? What did his words mean? And were they meant for Flavia? Back at Buckshaw, Flavia once again puts her sleuthing skills to the test, and in the process finds out more about the history – and secrets – of the de Luce clan, and in particular her mother…

My review:

In some ways this book felt like a filler. Not much really happens in the way of ameteru detecting compared to the earlier books in the series – yes, there is another murder, but Flavia manages to refrain from doing much investigating. Instead, she confines her sleuthing to the secrets within Buckley Hall, which means we out more about the how and why of Harriet’s disappearance… and Flavia gets to ride in a plane! At the end of the book, we learn that Flavia will be going away, and I’m quite interested to see where the series takes us once she’s out in the big, wide world. There are only so many times someone can happen to stumble across a dead body in one small village before it starts seeming ridiculous, so I’m glad Bradley has decided to take things in a new direction. In a way, this is the least interesting book in the series so far – it feels like it was only there to make the transition between ameteur detecting at home and being away slightly less sudden, but Flavia is just as incorrigible as ever and I love her so it still gets all 5 stars from me (mostly because you can’t give 4.5 stars on Good Reads). It seemed like Flavia was maturing a lot in this book and I’m excited to read the seventh book in the series and see where life takes her next. This is a must-read for fans of the series. Everyone else should start at the beginning (with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie) and decide for yourselves.