June reads

I begin this post with an apology and an explanation. Reading wise, June has been another piss poor month. I’m hoping that this is due to the fact that I am pregnant and not because I have somehow lost the ability to read. Excuses, excuses but I have been sick as a dog and working every night. This seems to have been combined with books that are doing nowt for me so I am basically a reading void. I can’t tell you how depressed this makes me. Reading is basically my only hobby and I can’t do it. Am I going to spend the next 6 months trudging through books???? I used to look forward to getting into bed with a good book. Now I think I have some idea of what impotence feels like. I know I am going to lie there and within 10 minutes want to chuck my current read across the room and shout “WANKETY WANK WANK.” Every night I know I am going to fail. So to people who read this blog, I apologise. June is yet another month of me writing reviews of books that were either a bit ‘meh’ or irritated the absolute tits off me!

1. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn. 3*

Description: murder, mystery, satanic.

Your brother murdered your family. Your evidence put him away . . . the gripping second novel from the author of the mega-bestselling GONE GIRL.

Libby Day was just seven years old when her older brother massacred her family while she hid in a cupboard. Her evidence helped put him away. Ever since then she has been drifting, surviving for over 20 years on the proceeds of the ‘Libby Day fund’. But now the money is running out and Libby is desperate. When she is offered $500 to do a guest appearance, she feels she has to accept. But this is no ordinary gathering. The Kill Club is a group of true-crime obsessives who share information on notorious murders, and they think her brother Ben is innocent.

Ben was a social misfit, ground down by the small-town farming community in which he lived. But he did have a girlfriend – a brooding heavy metal fan called Diondra. Through her, Ben became involved with drugs and the dark arts. When the town suddenly turned against him, his thoughts turned black. But was he capable of murder? Libby must delve into her family’s past to uncover the truth – no matter how painful…

When struggling through a reading slump, the cure is to pick up a book by and author that you know is going to be an easy and satisfying read. This book definitely fitted the bill for me. Although the subject matter wasn’t particularly ‘easy’ this book was a page turner. I wasn’t bombarded with tons of characters and complicated syntax. It wasn’t a game changer, it isn’t my top read of the year but I did finish and enjoy it and at the moment that seems to be as good as it’s going to get.

2. My Holiday in North Korea by Wendy E. Simmons. Narrated by Jeena Yee. 1*

Description: travelogue, cynical, disrespectful.

Most people want out of North Korea. Wendy Simmons wanted in.

In My Holiday in North Korea: The Funniest/Worst Place on Earth, Wendy shares a glimpse of North Korea as it’s never been seen before. Even though it’s the scariest place on Earth, somehow Wendy forgot to check her sense of humor at the border. But Wendy’s initial amusement and bewilderment soon turned to frustration and growing paranoia. Before long she learned the essential conundrum of “tourism” in North Korea: Travel is truly a love affair. But, just like love, it’s a two-way street. And North Korea deprives you of all this. They want you to fall in love with the singular vision of the country they’re willing to show you and nothing more.

Through poignant, laugh-out-loud essays, Wendy chronicles one of the strangest vacations ever. Along the way she bares all while undergoing an inner journey as convoluted as the country itself.

My plan for July is to read Pachinko by Min Jin Lee so I thought it would be a good idea to immerse myself in Korea. This month I have read two books about North Korea. One has been incredibly informative and the other has irritated me more and more as I listened. My Holiday in North Korea is interesting in that the author comes off worse than the country she spends the whole book ridiculing. If the North Korean regime is something you are keen to learn about, this book is highly frustrating . Simmons writes like a petulant, cynical and condescending teenager with no respect for the country or the people . Every single aspect of this country is fair game for Simmons to mock….even how fried eggs are cooked in her hotel. There is absolutely no detail about the country, the regime, how people live their day to day lives. It seems that she has written this book not to educate but to lampoon. Listening to it on audiobook was akin to listening to an over privileged teenager who has just returned from a gap year having learnt nothing at all. If you want to learn nothing about North Korea’s culture, history and politics pick this book up and you won’t be disappointed. Having finished the book I would like to give the author a smack and tell her to go to her room until she has learnt some respect.

3. Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick. 4*.

Description: history, culture, family life.

WINNER OF THE BBC SAMUEL JOHNSON PRIZE FOR NON-FICTION 2010

A spectacularly revealing and harrowing portrait of ordinary lives in the world’s least ordinary country, North Korea

Updated in 2014 with a new epilogue. North Korea is Orwell’s 1984 made reality: it is the only country in the world not connected to the internet; Gone with the Wind is a dangerous, banned book; during political rallies, spies study your expression to check your sincerity. After the death of the country’s great leader Kim Il Sung in 1994, famine descended: people stumbled over dead bodies in the street and ate tree bark to survive. Nothing to Envy weaves together the stories of adversity and resilience of six residents of Chongin, North Korea’s third largest city. From extensive interviews and with tenacious investigative work, Barbara Demick has recreated the concerns, culture and lifestyles of North Korean citizens in a gripping narrative, and vividly reconstructed the inner workings of this extraordinary and secretive country.

What a stark contrast to the previous book about North Korea. This was exactly what I had been looking for and it’s easy to see why it is so highly regarded. Demick has really done her research. An American journalist who became the LA Times first bureau chief in Korea in 2001 she is more than qualified to write this book. During her time at the LA Times she focused on writing about social and economic change in North Korea.

This book tells the real stories of people who defected from North to South Korea. Stories of six people :their day to day lives. This is such an important book and helps us to remember that in such a secretive country, with such a strict regime, people are trying to get on with life, doing their jobs, falling in love etc.

In sharp contrast to Simmons’s novel, I really learnt about North Korea. Demick’s tone was respectful and educated throughout. At the back of the book each chapter has a notes section which explains certain aspects in greater detail and also lists further reading. If you like learning about a country through its social history this is a brilliant book.

4. The Night Dragon by Naomi Howarth. 5*.

Description: self belief, friendship, being yourself.

This month’s children’s book is a real corker. Naomi Howarth is based in London and is a designer, illustrator and author. She has a brill website (www.naomihowarth.com) and a beautiful Instagram account. She also designs wedding invites, wallpaper and fabric. She is one talented lady.

The Night Dragon is about Maud the dragon. She is a bit different from the other dragons who live on the mountain. She is unable to fly, breathe fire or cast grey clouds all over the land. Maud really wants to be a night dragon like the others but she just hasn’t got the confidence. One day, after a party, the night dragons all fall asleep and forget to bring on the nightfall. Maud’s friend Mouse gives her the confidence to make her feel brave enough to fly, breathe fire and create her very own colourful clouds. This book teaches children that they should embrace eachother’s differences because there is beauty in them.

My daughters (5 and 2.5) loved Mouse. Edie (5) even said that Mouse was the kind of friend she wanted to be….and that is this book in a nutshell. Result Howarth! If every child who reads this book is inspired by Mouse all will be well with the world. Ceci (2.5) loved spotting Mouse on all the pages.

The illustrations are just beautiful. Particularly the double pages when Maud is flying over the countryside, rivers and city. There is tons of little details in the pictures which kept us occupied. Gorgeous book and highly recommended .

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