7 Reasons To Pick Up A Book Right Now

This post may contain some affiliate links, which means if you purchase an item through the link, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps me cover the costs of running my blog.

Whether you are new to reading, or just in a bit of a slump, I’ve come up with a few reasons why you should pick up that next book. I’ve just come out of a reading slump myself, I was feeling a bit uninspired and not sure what to read next, so I’ve decided to compile a list of the best reasons to pick up a book in the first place.

You might learn something new

Even if, like me, you predominantly read fiction, there is always something to learn. Authors have to get their ideas from somewhere and will often research the intricate details of their plot to make the story as real as possible. A good example of this is Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver (and the rest of the books in the series). Paver travels the world, spends months studying wolves and traditional survival skills to write her books, and it shows. Despite these being aimed at a middle grade audience, I learnt an awful lot about wolf communication from them. There is always something to learn from a book.

Expand your vocabulary


There is no question that reading introduces you to new words. There have been may times in my reading that I have had to stop and look up a word I haven’t read before. Sometimes you can infer meaning from context , but I am the sort of person who likes to know for sure what something means, before I adopt it into everyday use

Reading influences your Intelligence

First things first, I am not a scientist and my evidence of this is purely anecdotal. However a quick google search takes me to this article on Bookriot which explains the link between intelligence and reading far more eloquently than I can here. In my experience though, it helps with empathy, problem solving and even memory. We use books to teach children about the world around them, so it must have some impact on brain connectivity and function. While reading may not make your IQ score higher, it certainly wont make it lower.

You can learn about other cultures

This one is particularly relevant today, as we all try to better ourselves and understand the plight of our fellow humans. I personally love to read about other cultures, sub-cultures, ethnicities, genders, orientations and identities. The world is a rich and colourful place, why limit yourself only to what you know? In reading about the people who differ to you, you can begin to understand them better. You gain a profound look at the world through someone else’s eyes when you read. It truly is a gift and only serves to expand your mind.

You can learn about yourself

While we are busy learning about other people, it might help us learn about ourselves too. Aside from all the self help books that are available, reading in general can really help you to understand why you are the way you are. When you connect with a character, its because you see a little bit of yourself in them. Relating to what motivates a character can help you understand what motivates you.

You can mind read!

As I touched on above, a book is really a look into the mind of its author. When you read, you are reading in their voice and tone. You can learn an awful lot about someone from their writing and it is a privilege to be allowed that deep into someones mind. to quote George RR Martin, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”

Escapism

This is my favourite reason for picking up a book. You can escape into another universe completely different from your own. It’s so relaxing to put your life and problems on hold for a while and escape into a captivating book. You can be transported to mystical lands on the back of a dragon, or fall in love, or go to a school of magic, or save a kingdom from a tyrant, anything is possible, and all from the comfort of your sofa! If you are sick of the humdrum, then pick up a book. You’ll feel refreshed and ready for life when you emerge from behind the cover.

What makes you pick up a book? Leave a comment and let me know!

Book Review: The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

This post may contain some affiliate links, which means if you purchase an item through the link, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps me cover the costs of running my blog.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I have been thinking of this book all day, having finished it this morning, and wondering how I will go about reviewing it. The issues tackled in the book are delicate and complex and I am not yet sure how I feel about what I have read. What is clear to me is that this book is indeed noteworthy. It deals with a subject most of us go out of our way not to think about, and forces the reader to confront some of their most primal and basic fears.

The book was first published in 2002 by Little, Brown and Company in the USA, and Picador in the UK. It is 323 pages long making it a nice, digestible length. My edition also contained an Afterword from Alice Sebold, which served to give more context to the story in direct relation to the author and her experiences.

As I have mentioned, the book deals with some dark and uncomfortable topics. It is written in the first person, from the perspective of a young girl, Susie, who is murdered at the age of 14. She observes her family, friends and community, dealing with her loss and growing up, from her heaven. It is a story of love, loss, grief and acceptance.

“We both listened together to the rain pour down and smelled the earth rising to greet us.

‘You look invincible,’ my mother said one night.

I loved these times, when we seemed to feel the same thing. I turned to her, wrapped in my thin gown and said:

‘I am.'”

Alice Sebold – The Lovely Bones (page 206/207)

As I sit here cradling a hot cup of tea, I am struggling to define how this book made me feel. It did not effect me in the way I thought it would. I expected it to be a tear-jerker for me. By all accounts it has had that effect on many people. I thought I would have my heart broken by this book, but I did not. I found it a profound and moving read, but this was more because of the honest and raw characters rather than the death of a child. It has left me questioning the unthinkable. How would I react if this happened to me? What would I do? Even the hypothetical thought of something like this happening to my child fills me with emotions too strong to describe, to powerful to examine closely when I don’t need to.

I think part of the reason I felt a little distant while I was reading the book, however, is that my theories on life after death differ greatly to those Sebold describes. I personally do not believe in a Heaven as such, and so I did find it a little difficult to connect with this aspect of the book. While religion is not an open theme in the novel, it is obvious that her depiction of heaven is drawn from the christian viewpoint. As I do not identify with this, I found it a little harder to connect with the book. Theological differences aside though, I did approve of how her heaven worked, and how each heaven was personal to each individual.

To stray briefly from the theological and philosophical elements of the book, I enjoyed the writing style. I was easy to read and ever so slightly poetic. She manages to convey the tone of a young teenager without the text sounding immature or simplistic. Despite the story playing out over many years, it doesn’t feel as though you miss anything. This is quite a skill, given the book is only just over 300 pages long.

The portrayal of grief is what makes this book both moving and profound. Sebold does not sugar coat anything. Each of her characters reacts to Susie’s death in their own way, and it changes each person gradually, and shapes who they become. It is the raw honesty of this book that, I think, makes it special. It is difficult to discuss this element of the book without revealing spoilers, but I imagine each person who reads it will be affected differently by it based of their own life experience.

“You don’t notice the dead leaving when they really choose to leave you. you’re not meant to.”

Alice Sebold – The Lovely Bones (Page 319)

Frankly, I’m amazed I made it 26 years into my life without reading this book. Perhaps that is down to it not being my usual genre, but, if there is one thing I have learnt since I have started reviewing my reads, its that I should not limit myself. Good books are to be found in all genres. This book is fast become one of those you should read, if you call yourself a reader. It has sold over 10 million copies and seems to divide opinion amongst those who have taken it up. I have certainly come across a host of scathing and glowing reviews since picking it up. I would argue that any book that prompts that sort of passionate response is worth a read.

If you would like a copy, you can pick one up here.

eBook vs Print, Which is Better?

I was adamant e-readers were a creation of evil for the longest time. Why on Earth would I want a computer to read off when I can have a beautiful book with its weight and aroma and magic? Where is the soul? Where is the beauty? Nothing beats the feeling of a new book in your hands waiting to be read. I’m sure we can all agree that books are wonderful. I have amassed hundreds of them over the years and my collection is always increasing.

Enter, the e-reader. It was a cold and snowy February day when I received my 16th birthday present from my parents. I think they had grown tired of tripping over the piles of books all over the house. I was presented with a Kindle. Despite my prior concerns about the soullessness of ereader, I was secretly thrilled with this gift. Thanks to the magic of the internet I now had my own portable bookshop and library! It was the perfect gift for a bookish introvert such as myself. That particular kindle lasted me about 8 years, and I was devastated when it finally expired. So much so, that my husband quickly bought me a new one to shut up my lamenting.

Reasons to love e-readers:
  • You can buy almost any book you like instantly and store it on the device for instant access anywhere in the world (as long as you have battery!)
  • You can purchase books while you are out and about if you are ever stuck for something to read. No more nicking newspapers out of bins or re-reading the back of a shampoo bottle over and over again!
  • The new ones are back lit so you can read at night with minimal disruption to your snoring partner.
  • You can ditch your book-suitcase for holiday and just slip the e-reader into your hand luggage. This was a HUGE bonus for me personally.
  • You can highlight meaningful passages and quotes without defacing the book, and save them for future reference. I am one of those people who simply CANNOT write in a book, so saving quotes on an e-reader is much easier.

I think it is clear I am a convert when it comes to e-readers, but there are some cons in my opinion too.

Cons of e-Readers:
  • As handy as they are, it just isn’t the same reading experience as a good old fashioned book. They don’t have the smell, or the weight, or dare I say it, the magic.
  • Its nearly impossible to lend out an e-book. You can’t just give it to your friend to read, or even pass it on to a charity shop to be loved again. The ability of books to become gifts and heirlooms is part of the magic I think.
  • I personally miss the tangibility of physical books on my shelf when it comes to my Kindle. I often forget what I’ve got on there because its just not as visible. I will usually end up buying a print copy in addition to the e-book if I really loved it.
  • You don’t need to charge a book.
  • You don’t get the full experience of being drawn in by the cover of a book.

On the whole, I do love my e-reader. It’s convenient and portable and I always have it with me if I am travelling or going on holiday. Its perfect at the moment for if I need a book fast, and don’t want to wait for the post or venture out into the post-apocalyptic wasteland to the bookshop. I’d recommend any avid reader invest in one.

That being said, nothing beats the beauty of settling down to lose yourself in a book. The way they smell and feel in your hands. The sound the pages make as you turn them. The thought of sharing it with the people you love once you are finished, so they can enjoy it too. The pride you feel adding it to your book shelf once you are finished, knowing you lived the life contained within, and gained a unique glimpse into the mind of another.

Book Review: This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay

This post may contain some affiliate links, which means if you purchase an item through the link, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps me cover the costs of running my blog.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was a bit of a wild card for me. I’m not usually drawn to non fiction books but I had heard good things about this and I was not disappointed. The book was published in 2017 by Picador. It is a collection of diary entries made by Adam Kay during his time as a junior doctor in the NHS. He worked for the NHS for six years as a junior doctor, working his way up the ranks in the gynaecology and obstetrics department before finally giving up his career due to the pressures he faced.

I would pair this book with a very strong cup of English breakfast tea. The strong but bright flavour matches perfect with the light but intense tone of the book. There are some heavy themes discussed during the book, so a good strong cup of English breakfast will steel the reader for some eye opening truths and intimate discussions of a medical nature.

Much like most of the population of the UK, I am extremely proud of our National Health Service. They have always been there for me, through childhood illnesses to the birth of my son. I can visit the doctor and not have to worry about bankrupting myself, and that is a freedom we should never take for granted. We must protect our NHS with everything we have because free healthcare, along with free education, should be a basic human right. It was partly my experience of the NHS, particularly my recent pregnancy, which prompted me to pursue this book. I know what it is like to be a patient, so now I wanted to know what it is like to be a doctor.

The book itself is hilarious. I found myself laughing out loud at multiple points while I was reading. The text is witty and darkly humorous, and quite grim in places. Doctors seem to deal with an awful lot of bodily fluid, I shuddered at some of the horrors Kay describes during his time as a doctor. He keeps the tone of the book light for the most part, but there is a clear undercurrent of anger. It is obvious that Kay went into the NHS with all the right intentions. He wanted to help people and was excited at the prospect of working for the NHS. However as the book goes on, it becomes evident the toll working as a doctor takes on your personal life. Not only are you responsible for people’s lives at work, you are expected to work so hard there is no time left for yourself.

This book was a huge eye opener for me. I think most non-medics are guilty of not really seeing doctors as the people they are, myself included. To be fair, its much easier to get your bits out in front of someone if you just think of them as some sort of medical android, but this thought does doctors an injustice. It shocked me just how tough the working conditions are in hospitals. Shifts are too long and the pay is too low, and yet these people still show up to work and try to help you as best they can. The book does not disparage the NHS however, its more a cry for help to protect and improve what we have.

Behind the humour and the heartbreak, the overall message of the book is clear. Protect the NHS at all costs, and don’t forget that doctors are people with feelings too. Ask them how they are every now and again.

You can get a copy of the book here.

Book Review: The Binding by Bridget Collins

This post may contain some affiliate links, which means if you purchase an item through the link, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps me cover the costs of running my blog.

The Binding by Bridget Collins, best enjoyed with a hot cup of English rose tea.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Published in 2019 by Borough Press this gothic fantasy novel is 438 pages in length. It follows the story of Emmett Farmer who is sent to become a book binders apprentice when he can no longer work on his fathers farm due to illness. Books in this world are not mere stories, but captured memories entombed in beautifully handcrafted books. Emmett is learning the trade, helping people to forget their secrets and keep them hidden in a vault below his masters workshop, when one day he happens upon a book with his name on it.

I adored this book. It is beautifully written and a sheer joy to read. The language is descriptive and rich with imagery and emotion. I found myself lost in this book and unable to put it down for even a second. This past weekend all I have done is wander around my house with my nose in this book bumping into things. It took me a few pages to get into the flow of the story, but once I was absorbed I couldn’t draw myself back out. I had to know what happened. I found myself heavily invested in the characters and the outcome of their journey.

“Well, knowledge is always a kind of magic, I suppose.”

Bridget Collins – The Binding (Page 89)

The book is set in a world similar to that of 19th century Britain. Emmett is a hand on his fathers farm but it is clear right at the start of the book that his illness has prevented him from fulfilling his duties. After a discussion with is family, he is sent to the book binder to learn the trade. There he meets his new master and begins his tutelage.

The characters are wonderfully written. They are deep, three dimensional people governed by their own motives and secrets. I found Emmett to be deeply relatable and enjoyed watching him grow into himself throughout the novel. His journey of self discovery is something I think we can all relate to in some way.

If you intend to read this book (and I highly recommend that you do), I suggest you do not read any further in this review. Below I will talk in more detail about how the book affected me, but there will be spoilers and I think it will ruin your experience of the book if you know them before you read it. I truly loved this book and I hope anyone planning to read it finds as much joy in it as I did.

Grab a copy here before you read on!

SPOILERS BELOW

This was not the story I was expecting from the synopsis. I am a huge lover of fantasy and magic, and it was that which tempted me to pick up this novel. I was pleasantly surprised then, when about half way through I discovered it was a romance! I was expecting a tale of hardship in learning the magical binding craft, when really that is an aside in a story that is predominantly a tale of forbidden love and self discovery.

I am not usually the romance type. I often find it all a bit contrived and sickly, but this book has prompted me to reconsider my stance. Perhaps I am denying myself an enjoyable reading experience. I certainly enjoyed every second of this love story. It was believable and captivating. It was forbidden and heartbreaking. I was fully invested in it and felt everything the characters were feeling. This is mostly down to the fantastic writing. The way Collins describes her world thought the eyes of her infatuated characters is beautiful. Colours are brighter and the world a more vibrant place when they are together, and their love for each other is conveyed beautifully throughout, even before they realise it.

“We stare at each other. The sun flares behind him, spilling red through a gap between the tenements. It glitters in his hair. His temple and jaw and the tip of one ear glow scarlet. Unexpectedly, as sudden as the flood if sunlight, he smiles at me. It changed his face completely. I cant remember anyone looking at me like that, ever. It makes the sunset redder, the scent of soot and paraffin sharper, the cold ache in my fingers more intense. The wind sings in a chimney somewhere above us. A crumple of paper whispers and swoops across the cobbles. The horn of a distant factory blares.”

Bridget Collins – The Binding (Page 363)

I love Collins ability to convey emotion in her prose without outwardly stating how everyone is feeling all the time. She uses description and imagery to demonstrate the passion and feeling in a situation, leaving it up to the reader to interpret it how they will. It is this technique that gives the writing its extra edge and really allows the reader to fully immerse themselves in the novel.

The book has rocketed to one of my all time favourites and I cant wait to read it again. It is one of those books that is so well written, there will still be new things to discover the second time round.

You can grab a copy here.

Book Review: The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

This post may contain some affiliate links, which means if you purchase an item through the link, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps me cover the costs of running my blog.

`

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is a beautifully written story of a young girl, Isabella, and her best friend, Lupe. When Lupe goes missing, Isabella does everything she can to be part of the search party. She is in possession of an ancient map and uses this and her knowledge of the stars to navigate the forgotten territories of her island home. The land is dangerous and shrouded in myth. Isabella must find Lupe before these myths become more than just stories.

The book was first published in 2016 by Chicken House. The story is told in 228 pages, making it a relatively short read, but the setting, characters and plot are developed beautifully. The cover alone was enough to entice me into this book, and I was not disappointed. On the inside cover is a map of the island and each page is bordered with small illustrations, which only adds to the beauty and magic conjured up by the story.

The story is simply written, and aimed at older children and young adults. This does not detract from the expert writing style and difficult issues tackled however, and it can certainly be enjoyed by people of all ages. Overall it is a story of friendship and love, both for ones home, and the people who make it a home. Isabella just wants to protect the land she comes from, and the people she loves, something I think we can all relate to.

Isabella is a deep and well developed character. She is relatable and reminded me how I felt as a child. Everything down to the choices she makes, and the way she acts makes her seem real. I think it is remarkable that in such a short book, the author is able to conjure up such tangible characters and settings. When I was reading, I felt as if I could almost smell the sea air and taste the dust from the roads.

“India is a place where colour is doubly bright. Pinks that could scald your eyes, blues you could drown in.”

Kiran Millwood Hargrave – The Girl of Ink and Stars (Page 107)

Personally, I cannot name a single thing I didn’t love about this book. Everything from the beautifully written prose, to the underlying messages about the value of friendship and not making assumptions about people, was expertly done. The story was captivating and fast paced, but without feeling that there were any holes in the plot, or parts missing.

This book reminded me something I think all adults could do with thinking about. Children are their own people, capable of making their own choices separate to those of their parents. They are resilient and feel things deeply. Although the adults in their lives may make poor choices and let them down, it does not mean they will make those same mistakes. I think it can be easy to forget what it was like to be a child, and so reading books like this as an adult (and a parent) is important. They reconnect you with your inner child.

“We are all of us products of our surroundings. Each of us carries the map of our lives on our skin, in the way we walk even in the way we grow.”

Kiran Millwood Hargrave – The Girl of Ink and Stars ( page 109)

I read this entire book in one morning, and I would recommend it to anybody who just loves a magical story. I think a particular strong point for me is that it is a story of friendship, not romance. It is two young girls who love each other and just want to look after one another.

You can pick up a copy here.

Top Five Poems

I am definitely guilty of not reading enough poetry. I’ve got my favourites, but this list has not been added to for quite a while. Poetry is so expressive and can be truly beautiful both in the message, and the structure. The written word alone is an art form, but poetry really brings the beauty and intricacies of language to life.

The Raven – Edgar Allan Poe

“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;”

Edgar Allan Poe – The Raven

First published in 1845, this is one of Poe’s more famous poems. It has been a favourite of mine since I first came across it. It conjures a dark and chilling atmosphere in the mind as the flow and rhythm of the words draw the reader in, trapping them in the melody. Despite the chilling atmosphere, it is a poem about loss and grief. The narrator is clearly mourning for his lost love Lenore and is trapped between wanting to remember her, and wanting to forget his pain.

“Quoth the Raven ‘Nevermore.'”

Edgar Allan Poe – The Raven
The Tyger – William Blake

“Tyger Tyger, burning bright, 
In the forests of the night; 
What immortal hand or eye, 
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”

The Tyger – William Blake

I actually had to study this poem in school and that is where I fell in love with it. Published in 1794, it is possibly his most popular work. The poem has a fantastic rhythm and uses imagery, alliteration and rhyming to showcase the beauty of language. He is wondering what sort of god could create such a fearsome creature as the tiger. The god that creates the tiger must be even more fearsome than the tiger itself.

Still I Rise – Maya Angelou

“You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.”

Still I Rise – Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou remains an inspiration to us all. This is a wonderfully written poem about the struggle of being black in America, and her pride in her heritage. It was first published in 1978 and it still highly relevant today.

Remember – Christina Rossetti

Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

Remember – Christina Rossetti

Published in 1849, when Rossetti was just 19 years old, this is a beautiful poem about grief. Although it is sad, it is also uplifting. In a few short lines you are taken on a journey of your grief to the end point of acceptance. This was read at my Grandfathers funeral years ago and it stays with me still.

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat – Edward Lear

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
   In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
   Wrapped up in a five-pound note.

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat – Edward Lear

This is a nonsense poem by Edward Lear, first published in 1871. It tells the story of an owl and a cat who fall in love, and are married by a turkey with a ring they bought off a pig. Whats not to love about that? I enjoyed this poem as a child and I enjoy it still.

There are many more poems I love, but these few are the ones I often find myself reciting in my head, or out loud, at random points in my life. If you have any poetry you hold dear to your heart, let me know in the comments below.

Book Review: Haze by Rebecca Crunden

Haze by Rebecca Crunden

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I was kindly gifted a copy of this book by the author in exchange for my honest review. At 267 pages, its a relatively short read. The story follows the life of Eliza, who has recently become engaged to her fiance, Erik. They are very much in love, but she is disturbed when she receives a phone call from a girl called Paige, suggesting her fiance is not all he seems. She is ready to dismiss this information, until her sister tells her she met with Paige a few weeks earlier, which seems impossible as Paige has been dead for years. Accusations fly from all corners, and the ensuing fight has devastating consequences. Erik disappears and life is forever changed for Eliza.

Following his fathers death, Erik returns five years later to find himself confronted with some seemingly unanswerable questions. The crux of the issue being, who called Eliza if Paige is dead?

This was an enjoyable read. Paranormal romance is not a genre I am overly familiar with, however I thought the story was interesting and original. Paranormal fiction is a very popular genre at the moment, and you can often find overused tropes in stories, however the plot of this book is unlike any I have previously read. There was quite a twist towards the end of the book that I was not expecting which certainly kept the story fresh and interesting.

The love between the two main characters, Eliza and Erik was obvious throughout the story. Crunden conveyed it well, including the hurt and betrayal Eliza felt when Erik disappeared, conflicting with the love she had clearly still felt for him upon his return. Erik’s guilt was also conveyed well through his indecision and his own hurt.

“Five years of questions and bereavements, of loneliness and longing, of guilt and rage, bound them together in the cold, rainy night.”

Rebecca Crunden – Haze

Although the story was very enjoyable, I did find the writing style not completely to my taste. I feel the story could have benefited from a little more suspense building, and perhaps some deeper explanation of the paranormal events. I do feel that the paranormal elements of the story went from the background, to the foreground quite quickly and required some adjustment as the focus switched from romance to paranormal events.

Spoilers Below

Overall I enjoyed the story and found the characters relatable. Eliza struggles with addiction throughout the book, understandable given she is dealing not only with the loss of Erik, but with the death of her sister and the subsequent instability within her family. There are several real world issues tackled in the book and Crunden addresses them in a realistic way. Eliza is not just magically cured of her addiction and self destructive behaviour upon Erik’s return. She continues to struggle with it until the end of the book.

“Where she panicked continuously about losing the ones she loved, Erik was forever angry about all he that he had lost already.”

Rebecca Crunden – Haze

The paranormal aspects of the story are hinted at to begin with; the phone calls from a dead girl, glimpses of dead people in mirrors and displays of inhuman strength. Towards the end of the story the paranormal occurrences became the main focus, ultimately culminating with the arrival of ‘Death’. This is where I felt the suspense could have been built a little more. It seemed the story switched gears all of a sudden towards the end, taking the focus away from the romance and grief, and focusing it on the paranormal. While I still found the story enjoyable, it did take a little adjustment to the change of pace.

At heart, this is a love story conveying the message that if it is meant to be, it will, no matter what happens. Love finds a way.

Book Review: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

This post may contain some affiliate links, which means if you purchase an item through the link, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps me cover the costs of running my blog.

The Testaments is the follow on novel to The Handmaids Tale and was released last year (2019). It is set 15 years after the events of the previous book and follows the stories of three very different women. Their paths are destined to converge, but to what end? This novel reveals much more about the inner workings of Gilead and its origins.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I realise I may very well be in the minority with this rating, and I wanted so desperately to love this book, but I didn’t. To be perfectly blunt, I feel it is a book that did not need to be written. The Handmaids Tale was fantastic. It was chilling, gripping and eyeopening. Everything down to the way the book was written makes The Handmaids Tale live up to its reputation of a modern classic. I love that book, and think it is a relevant and important read today.

It was not so with The Testaments. I found this book tough going to be honest, which is why it has taken me a while to read it to completion. I struggled with the constant changes of perspective between the women, and it would take me a while to remember what was going on and with whom. I also found the timeline of events confusing, as not all of the stories were told during the same time frame. The timeline does become clearer towards the end of the book however, which allowed me to understand more of what I had previously read.

“Still, I wanted to believe; indeed I longed to; and, in the end, how much of belief comes from longing?”

Margaret Atwood – The Testaments (Chapter 50)

Having said all of the above, the book definitely had its merits. As with its predecessor, it tackles the heavy issues of totalitarianism and religious mania. I think it highlights how easy it is to indoctrinate the masses into your belief system if you have the right tools at your disposal. This is particularly relevant today as we are, rightly, choosing to TEMPORARILY sacrifice some of our hard won freedoms in the name of the greater good. I wholeheartedly support this by the way. STAY HOME and SAVE LIVES, but it serves to show that fear makes people easy to control, a point well made in this book. We are trusting the powerful not to abuse their position and so far, the majority prove worthy of the trust, but this is not so in Gilead. The book certainly highlights the danger of a society formed this way.

The book also highlights the importance of being able to read and write in understanding the world around you. Having this form of communication is paramount to acquiring knowledge. By not allowing the majority of the population the ability to read and write, you severely limit their freedom, without having to use up many resources. It limits communication, the sharing of ideas and indeed the ability to fact check the rhetoric of those in power. As an avid reader myself, I would argue that to remove a persons ability to read and write, is to remove their ability to think for themselves.

“Once a story you’ve regarded as true has turned false, you begin suspecting all stories.”

Margaret Atwood – The Testaments (Chapter 51)

Spoilers Below

There are a couple of things I would like to talk about in more detail, including the ending of the book, so this section will contain spoilers. I have also referenced the ending of The Handmaids Tale.

Having read The Handmaids Tale previously, it was fairly easy for me to guess who each of the three women narrating were. I do not think this would be the case, however, if you had not read the previous book. My favourite of the three by far was Aunt Lydia. She was certainly the most complex character. I found the other two to be lacking in substance and I struggled to differentiate between them at points.

The book improved towards the end, but I felt it was a little rushed. It was such a slog to get to the exciting parts, only to have them over in a few pages. We spent the whole book hearing about how dangerous Gilead was and how no one really meant what they said and the Eyes were all knowing and always watching. It seemed remarkable to me then, that the two girls just breezed though the length of the country all the way to the Canadian border with zero problems.

I also had a bit of a problem with how Daisy (or Nicole) reacted to the death of her parents. She was adopted, yes, but she didn’t know that at the time. I mean, they got blown up by agents from another country on her birthday, then she was told she was adopted and her birthday wasn’t her birthday, then she was told she was Baby Nicole, the mascot of Gilead, then they asked her to infiltrate Gilead all in the same breath. She just accepted it and never seemed to grieve at all. Maybe shes a stronger person than me, but that would mess me up, she seemed to hardly react at all. I just didn’t find her character believable I’m afraid.

I understand why this book was written. People asked for closure after The Handmaids Tale, and they got it. I just think it was not necessary. Part of the beauty of that book is the ambiguity of the ending. It is satisfying to know that most of them lived happily ever after, but I really think it detracts from the impact of the previous book. The reason it made such an impression on me was because I didn’t know what happened. Much like in Gilead, its easy to be told what to think, its harder to come to your own conclusions.

You can pick up a copy of The Testaments here if you are interested in reading it.

Book Review: The Stand by Stephen King

This post may contain some affiliate links, which means if you purchase an item through the link, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps me cover the costs of running my blog.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Given the current climate, this may seem like an odd choice of book to read, but I like a challenge! I read the extended version on kindle so it was roughly 1325 pages long, but a print edition may be different. I believe the first version of the book was published in 1979 in the UK, with the version I have read first being published in 1990 in the UK.

A strong cup of builders tea is the best brew for this book!

I’ll try and keep the first portion of this post spoiler free, in case you want to read the book and not be coloured by my judgement of the intricacies of it. I personally went into this book with only a vague notion of what it was about and found it a thrilling read. This is a long read, there’s no doubt about that. King explains in the preface the reason there are two versions in the first place is solely down to the length of the book and the cost to produce it versus the sale cost at the time of production. I’m glad they went on to produce this longer version, as the added detail really gives a depth to the story and characters you rarely see in novels. I would say it is well worth springing for the uncut version.

The book has been hailed as a masterpiece by many. As a King fan already, it was this that tempted me to pursue it. He states in his preface that he personally does not see it as such, but I have to disagree with him. I certainly think it is one of his best works based off the few other books of his I have so far read. I found it rich and engaging, and was not bored at any point. A proverbial page turner. I was eager to catch up with each characters journey and felt I could relate to all of them in some way.

Having said all of the above, I have only rated it four out of five stars. This is because, and I have found this as a consistent theme throughout Kings books, I don’t think he writes female characters very well. This could be because I am reading his books as a woman, and he is writing them as a man. It is difficult to write from a perspective you have never had. I find he tends to make his female characters needy and weak. Perhaps not always obviously, but I find in this book even the strong female characters end up being carried in some way by the male characters. I actually find it harder to relate to his female characters than I do to his male ones.

This is not a book for the faint hearted. It is brutal in places and graphic. King does not shy away from describing the very worst in us, and it is that which makes this book a chilling, but believable read. I found it even prompted me to question myself. Who would I be in this situation? How would I act? What path would I take? A good novel should always make us take a look at ourselves and the world around us and wonder. Are we doing/being the best we can?

You can pick up a copy of the book here.

SPOILERS BELOW

And now, onto the spoilers. Below there will be more in depth discussion about the characters and themes of the book, if you are interested in how I interpreted it.

The book is split into thirds. In the first, we see the spread of the plague, and are introduced to our main characters. This is where King goes into real detail on the spread of the disease and the way it decimates the country, even as the government are trying to cover it up. He sets the tone for the book with the first few chapters, and after Stuart and his friends discover the deformed corpses of a mother and her toddler daughter, and the dying father, we can clearly see this book is taking no prisoners. It chills me to my core to know that that one man, just trying to flee and save his family, caused the destruction of the entire world as we know it. You ask yourself, would you do the same?

“In the course of the meal he infected Babe, the dishwasher, two truckers in a corner booth, the man who came in to deliver bread, and the man who came in to change the records on the juke. He left the sweet thang that waited his table a dollar tip that was crawling with death.”

Stephen King The Stand – Chapter 8

King, very aptly in my opinion, describes the spread of the disease across America. This was a bit of an eye opener for me given the current situation. This part of the book is useful in understanding how the corona virus managed to get from a market in Wuhan to your local hospital in a matter of a few months. It caused me to look at the world a little differently and pay attention to my interactions, even in lockdown. Kings virus is much more contagious and deadly than the corona virus, thankfully, but they spread in much the same way. There are also some parallels in Kings book between the governments handling of the virus and the early handling of our pandemic. Fortunately for us, our world leaders seem to be much more open with the information these days, but no one can deny that this pandemic was downplayed by all governments in the early stages, much like it is in Kings book. It leads you to ask the question, what would have happened if the disease was worse?

During the destruction of the world, we are introduced to the main characters, of which there are quite a few. I think the characters are what make this book live up to is masterpiece status. King takes real time to develop and instil in them qualities (both good and bad) we find in ourselves. He takes them from their mundane lives pre-plague, through the horror and loss to the empty and dangerous world beyond. Each character reacts and adapts differently and its easy to see elements of yourself in all of them.

This post will be longer than the book its self if I go into all my thought and feelings on each character. There are many and it not until quite late in the book that their paths all converge. The reader gets to know them so well it is almost as if they are real people to me. I sometimes find myself wondering about them as if I knew them. The journeys they take are fraught with twists and turns. In my opinion, none more so than those of Harold and Larry.

“And when the end comes, and when it is as horrible as good men knew it would be, there is only one thing to say as all those good men approach the Throne of Judgement : I was misled.”

Stephen King The Stand – Chapter 64 (Harold’s last note)

I actually found myself grieving for Harold. I sympathised with his character an awful lot. He represented a lot of the traits we often find undesirable in ourselves and others, but he seemed aware of this. He wanted to change. I found his descent into “evil” quite profound. I understood why he ended up doing the things he did. It made me wonder if we really do know ourselves. I think of myself and an inherently good person. Doesn’t everybody? But that does not mean I always do good things, or react to situations in a ‘good’ way. It doesn’t mean others think I am good. There is no question that Harold commits evil acts, but there is a question over whether he, himself, is evil. I think not, personally. He is a product of his environment and his past, as we all are. He struggles with the hated in his heart right until the very end, and he almost changes his mind. Almost. I think King really tackles some huge issues in this book and leaves me pondering some deep philosophical questions.

“No one can tell what goes on in between the person you were and the person you become. No one can chart that blue and lonely section of hell. There are no maps of the change. You just… come out the other side.

Or you don’t.”

Stephen King The Stand – Chapter 44

I dislike Larry to start with too. He is selfish and arrogant and struggles with this throughout the book. This is once again something I think we can all relate too. As difficult to admit as it can be, we all behave like this sometimes. I know I can be very selfish at times. Larry seems to me like the ideal character to join the ‘evil’ side. I spend quite a bit of the book waiting for that to happen, but it doesn’t. He turns himself around, but he still does ‘bad things’. Just as with Harold, he struggles with himself right up to the bitter end, but unlike Harold, his demise comes of altruism rather than hatred. His struggles are not really any different to Harold’s, just he just makes one choice that saves him, by denying Nadine, where Harold “succumbs to his destiny” with her.

King grapples with the idea of good and evil throughout the book, in fact the plague at the beginning seems almost unimportant to the story other than to create the field upon which this great battle between good and evil will take place. I read this book as someone without religion, and it has clearly been written from a christian standpoint, but I don’t think that matters. Despite the fact I do not believe in a god or a devil per se, (both of which feature quite heavily throughout the narrative) the concept of good versus evil is a recurrent theme thought most schools of thought.

There are stark similarities between both of the new civilisations, I personally think. To someone on the ground, they probably wouldn’t seem very different at all. In fact, Las Vegas would seem better run and better organised. Most of the people there are just that, people. What makes them so evil compared to everyone in Boulder? What makes the children in Las Vegas evil, and the ones in boulder good? I would argue that the only difference is which place they felt could offer them the best chance at survival.

Saying that, once you delve into the intricacies of their societies, you begin to see where the differences are. Those in Las Vegas are controlled by fear, and are living in a dictatorship. Whereas those in Boulder are (given the illusion of) democracy. I would argue that it isn’t a complete democracy as they attempt to engineer the situation to elect those they think will be best suited to the rolls of leadership. There is a question over the morality of this I think. Of course, everyone in Boulder thinks they are doing what is best for the colony, but surely everyone in Las Vegas believes that too. There are certainly good things about the Las Vegas society, and bad things about the Boulder society, so how can one be wholly good, and the other wholly evil?

Harold clearly thinks he is justified in blowing up the newly formed government albeit for somewhat selfish reasons. Is what “God” did to the people in Las Vegas any different? Did all those people, some of them children, deserve the fate they got, even as they were beginning to revolt against their totalitarian leader? Did God even do anything? Could they not have brought about their own destruction in some way. There is deliberate irony, I think in the fact it was Trashcan Man, who was the most devoted of all ‘The Dark Man’s” followers, who brought about the demise of the “bad guys”.

“The Beauty of religious mania that it has the power to explain everything. Once God (or Satan) is accepted as the first cause if everything which happens in the mortal world, nothing is left to chance… or change”

Stephen King The Stand – Chapter 48

I will draw this post to a close here, although I have much to say on the concepts of good or evil. I feel I have only scratched the surface of the intricacies of this book and the philosophical questions it has raised for me. If you have made it this far, I would be really interested to hear what you think of the book, and my somewhat rambling conclusions of it. Especially if you disagree with me.

You can pick up a copy of the book here.