READ THE WORLD: Norway – One of Us: The Story of a Massacre and its Aftermath by Åsne Seierstad

On 22 July 2011, Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 of his fellow Norwegians in a terrorist attack that shocked the world. Many of his victims were teenagers. Following this atrocity, questions began to appear; how and why could this happen? And who was Anders Breivik? One of Us does it’s best to answer these questions and more with extensive witness testimonies and interviews.

One of Us is a very tough read, but it’s a compelling and emotional one too. The book follows Breivik’s life, from growing up with his single mother and half-sister, to being an adult where his grand plans don’t always work out for him. This way you get an insight into his mind. It is often unsettling as you begin to almost understand why he is the way he is, but it’s still difficult to comprehend how someone can have such a hatred for those with differing political views, religion, and social ideals.

Something that I wasn’t expecting was the book to follow a few of Breivik’s young victims; Bano Rashid, Simon Sæbø, Anders Kristiansen and Viljar Hanssen. By following these teenagers from childhood, Rashid and Sæbø especially, you get to see how their lives and beliefs are the complete opposite to Breivik’s, it makes some uncomfortable and upsetting reading sometimes as all these young people had bright futures in front of them.

One of Us is made from Breivik’s own accounts that he published online, as well as interviews from friends, family and any officials that came into contact with Breivik at any point in his life. This gives you a comprehensive picture of Breivik’s mind when he set out to attack the government quarter of Oslo and the AUF-run summer camp on the island of Utøya.

There’s a sense of foreboding as time passes and the account gets closer to the day of the attack. The way the attack is described is both distressing and gripping. It’s a proper page-turner and you need a breather afterwards because of the tension and how graphic the violence is, though there’s an air of distance that allows you some breathing space, however small. There’s also a feeling of frustration as you learn about how the emergency and security services reacted on the day and the failings they had, you get the sense that there could have been less casualties if there’d been better communication between the various services.

One of Us not only covers the lead up to the attacks and that day, but the subsequent trial and how families of those who died and the survivors are, or aren’t, coping with what happened. It allows for a feeling of closure, even if those grieving may never get it themselves. One of Us is an emotional rollercoaster that offers an insight to an event and all those involved that I knew very little about. It’s a tough read but I feel it’s an important one.

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November’s Illumicrate Box

This months Illumicrate box arrived this weekend and I when I opened it I was so pumped! But first things first, let me do the usual spiel at the start of a subscription box unboxing. Illumicrate is a quarterly UK based YA subscription box that unlike some subscription boxes doesn’t have a theme each time so you can get a real eclectic mix of goodies in the box each time. It costs £29.99 per box, with free shipping to the UK, it ships internationally but it does have a shipping cost that varies depending where in the world it’s travelling to. There’s always at least one book (though the last few boxes have included an ARC) and 4-6 goodies.

Now onto the box! I loved everything in this box – the goodies and the books(s) are all great and just the sort of thing I will actually use/appreciate.

First the goodies – and all but two of these things were Illumicrate exclusives. The first thing I saw was a bookish tea towel designed by Evannave Illustration which is lovely, and I will be taking it with me when I move to a new place in a couple of weeks. Then there was a print with a quote from J.K. Rowling from Nutmeg and Arlo and a moon and stars necklace from Oh Panda Eyes, which I’ve given to a friend because I knew she’d love it. There was a candle from Meraki Candles called Reading in Bed and it smells of hot chocolate and is a pale yellow with pink glitter on it and it smells divine. There was a 2018 Unicorn Journal from Prism Of Starlings which I will definitely be using. It’s a week per page (just how I like my diaries) and what’s really cool is it not only has the usual holidays already printed on the right day, but it also has various authors birthdays printed in it which is a nice touch for a book lover. There were also two samplers on for This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada and one for Iron Gold by Pierce Brown.

Now onto the books. The first book I saw was an advanced reader copy of The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty. I’d seen this book a bit over Twitter recently and I like how it’s set in eighteenth century Cairo and has magic and spirits. I’m looking forward to reading it even if it’s a big chunk of a book! Now the other book got me seriously excited! It’s Artemis by Andy Weir! I adored The Martian so much and I’ve been looking forward to Artemis a lot but because I don’t pre-order books I hadn’t realised it was now out. This copy is an exclusive Illumicrate edition with black sprayed edges and it also came with a bookmark and a travel brochure which I thought was a very nice touch. I honestly can’t wait to read Artemis and it’ll probably be my next read.

I really love everything in this quarters Illumicrate box and I definitely think it’s worth the price tag. I may have to cancel my subscription as I’m moving to a flat and while I know there’s post boxes for each flat, I’m not sure what happens to parcels – but I have three months to figure that out.

REVIEW: Battle of the Sexes (2017)

The true story of the 1973 tennis match between World Number One Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and ex-champ Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell).

What’s really interesting about Battle of the Sexes is that it’s main focus isn’t just the tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs but how society was in the 1970’s in relation to the women’s movement and how King and Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman) set up their own women’s tennis tournament. This allows you to really see where King was coming from, what obstacles she and other female tennis players were facing, and how hard she fought for respect from her male peers. This helps you realise how difficult a decision it was for King to take up Riggs on his offer, as the weight of people’s expectations were on her shoulders. This build up to the big match also gives time to Riggs side of the story, showing his more human-side and how he may not believe all the chauvinist stuff he says but rather says it for a reaction.

Everyone gives compelling performances in Battle of the Sexes. Emma Stone does a great job in portraying the inner conflict in King as she finds herself attracted to hairdresser Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) while still caring for her husband Larry (Austin Stowell). Carell is hilarious as Riggs, but you also get to see his vulnerabilities that comes with being a gambling addict.

Battle of the Sexes has snappy dialogue, compelling characters and is a lot of fun. It balances the drama with the comedy and when you finally see the match between King and Riggs, it’s a thrilling showdown between two larger than life people.

Battle of the Sexes is a great film with an important message and themes and it’s so unfortunate that those themes of equal rights and opportunities between the sexes is still so prevalent over 40 years later. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Bulgaria: Street Without a Name by Kapka Kassabova

Kapka Kassabova grew up on the outskirts of Sofia during the last years of Cold War Communism in the 1980s until she left as soon as she could. As Bulgaria gets ready to join the EU (the country joined 1 January 2007) Kapka Kassabova returns to her home country, to retrace her childhood steps and discover what’s become of the country, and discovers how much both it – and she – has changed.

Street Without a Name is a mixture of a personal memoir and a study of country’s history. As Kassabova states with a disclaimer at the start of the book, while it is a work of non-fiction and depicts real historic and political events, they are her take on them and how events affected her and her family. The book is split into two parts, the first is Kassabova’s childhood growing up in Sofia, and the second half is when she returns after 15 years away from Bulgaria, living in various countries including New Zealand, exploring both places from her childhood and parts of the country she’d never been to before.

I really enjoyed Street Without a Name. The way Kassabova writes about the effects of growing up in Eastern Europe with Communism being such an overbearing force in their lives is sometimes both uncomfortable and farcical. It is honest in the difficulties her parents faced, the lack of food and clothes available, and the tough examinations she had to go through in school and the dilemma of being so good you get noticed and not doing well enough.

I knew nothing about Bulgaria before I read this book. It was a country I knew the name of, probably because of the Eurovision Song Contest to be honest, but that was it. Street Without a Name is a really great insight into Bulgaria’s history, not only is time as a Cold War Communist country but it’s history in the First and Second World War and conflicts with countries in the region spanning hundreds of years. It’s interesting to see what nationalities and religions make up Bulgaria, the way different people see others and how being way from a country for so long can – or cannot – change your perception of it.

I feel I have learnt a lot from Street Without a Name. It’s an interesting insight into the complexities of nationality, belonging and understanding. Kassabova is a good storyteller, weaving mini history lessons into the places she’s visiting whether that’s a town or a church or any place of historical significance so well that they seldom feel out of place or jarring. I really enjoy this type of non-fiction book, it offers a personal take on a country and its history that makes it more engaging than perhaps reading a proper history book on the same subject.

If you know very little about Bulgaria and the effects of Cold War Communism that are still prevalent today but want to know more, I’d definitely recommend Street Without a Name.

Bluestocking Books London Tour

On Saturday I went on a bookshop tour in Central London after being invited by the brilliant Lauren at Bluestocking Books. There are rarely tours on weekends, instead the tours are mostly during the week – as that’s when bookstores really need people coming into them – so this was a bit special as it featured five very different bookshops.

We started off in Cecil Court – home to many unique bookshops with rare and antiquarian books, maps, prints, and lots of other book/printing related items. I’ve been to Cecil Court before, but I’ve always been intimidated by the shops. The antique ones look super expensive and I always felt there’d be a Pretty Woman moment, with shopkeepers thinking I didn’t fit in – but I was pleasantly surprised that that was not the case. Lauren had arranged for us to have a talk with Tim Bryars at Bryars & Bryars and it was great to hear the history of both the shop and Cecil Court. He also talked about antique books, how they’re valued and how there are books that are hundreds of years old for sale for £30 so antique books don’t have to be as intimidating as we (or I) might think. There was a book of Persian poetry that looked gorgeous and I was tempted by it, but its price was closer to £350 which was just a bit out of my price range but it showed there’s definitely a wide range of books and prices to be found.

Also in Cecil Court we visited Watkins Books, a shop that focuses on the mind, body and soul with books on religion, spirituality and the occult. I had my Tarot read which was different. A friend of mine has done Tarot readings before but (no offence to her) the guy in the shop seemed much more knowledgeable about the whole thing. I’m not sure if I believe in Tarot readings and that sort of thing, though some of the cards I picked definitely had relevance to my life right now, but it was an interesting experience and I like to keep an open mind.

After Cecil Court we went across to the few bookshops still on Charring Cross into Any Amount of Books, a brilliant second-hand bookshop that I’d been to before. This is a really great value shop. All the books are in really good condition, and there’s such a wide range of genres and release dates. I went in the basement for the first time and this was the one and only place I bought a book – I was very restrained. The book I bought was Augustown by Kei Miller which will be my Jamaica read for my Read the World Project.

Then we had a short walk to Soho and to Gosh Comics. Now my personal favourite comic shop in London is Orbital Comics (because the staff are super friendly, and it feels like what you think a comic shop should be like in terms of its layout and atmosphere) but Gosh is a great shop. It’s much brighter with a more open-plan layout so it’s easy to find different comics and graphic novels with the single issues and all the Marvel and DC comics in the basement, and the staff are still awesome and friendly. I enjoyed talking to other people on the tour about comics and giving recommendations and finding new comics that I want to check out in the future.

The final stop on this tour was the most glamourous bookshop I have ever been to – Masion Assouline. It’s a bookshop with a bar and its focus is bespoke coffee table books (some of which are huge and all of them are beautiful) and vintage books and objects. There we had a tour from a woman who works there as she took around the three floors of the store, and explained what Maison Assouline was all about and showed us the different collections and what they print. It was a shop that I’d never normally go into, but I’m really pleased I did. I like the idea of a book being a focal point in a room so if I ever have the money I will one day buy a bookstand and a huge beautiful book from Maison Assouline and put it pride of place in my future house!

The best thing about this Bluestocking Books Tour was Lauren. She was really well-informed about the bookshops and the areas of London we were in and had clearly put in the time in to make connections with booksellers so both they and those of us on the tour got the most out of the experience.

The tour lasted about two and a half hours and that time flew by thanks to the company, interesting bookshops and a great tour guide. I’d recommend wearing trainers, or at least comfy shoes, as you’re on your feet for the whole tour, and maybe an umbrella because this is London and I was the one person on the tour who forgot you could never trust British weather! Still, a little rain never hurt anyone. It was a fun and informative few hours, visiting an eclectic mix of bookshops with a wonderful and friendly guide. I love going into bookshops but there’s something more special about visiting them with fellow booklovers, and going to bookshops I wouldn’t normally think of visiting. I will definitely be more confident and visit shops in Cecil Court more often.

I really do highly recommend Bluestocking Books and if I was free during the week I’d definitely be going on the themed tours – I really like the sound of the Comics and Illustrated Books tour. You can find out more about Bluestocking Books and book your place on tours here and you can follow Bluestocking Books on Twitter.

REVIEW: Justice League (2017)

Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) team up to bring together a group of heroes to stand against a threat like none of them have seen before.

There are many things that are not great in Justice League, but the characters and their interactions are what makes this film a lot more fun and enjoyable that Batman v Superman.

The main problem with Justice League is it spends the first third of the film having to set up three new heroes we’ve not met before, Cyborg/Victor Stone (Ray Fisher), The Flash/Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) and Aquaman/Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), along with a villain in Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) who has a whole backstory as well. There’s a lot of exposition to get through, some of which is heavy-handed, and it slows down the pace of the film as it makes you to wait for any of the action scenes and the main plot to start proper.

When the heroes are together it’s nice to see them getting to know one another as they work together, but unless you know these characters from comics or TV shows, you don’t know enough about them to really care about them or become attached. Still, there’s some funny moments between the team of heroes as you start to see their personalities come through.

Justice League features an end-of-the-world-plot, but you don’t really feel those stakes due to this world seemingly not be populated by anyone but the heroes and people they know. Even when clashes between heroes and villains happen in a major city, there’s no one but the heroes around – it’s quite jarring and makes the threat not feel threatening.

Justice League is watchable, the characters are fun and the action (when it happens) is mostly exciting and engaging. However, the editing in fight scenes don’t always make everything clear and the plot itself has neither high stakes nor is always coherent. It’s the step in the right direction for the DCEU but it is a step down from Wonder Woman. 3/5.

REVIEW: Revenge for Jolly! (2012)

When Harry’s (Brian Petsos) beloved dog is killed, he recruits his cousin Cecil (Oscar Isaac) to help him track down the guy who did it and he won’t stop till he has his revenge.

Oh boy. This is not a good film, and it’s not even a so-bad-it’s-good kind of film. There’s nothing enjoyable to be found here. Harry and Cecil head off on a violent road trip, shooting anyone who gets in their way. This seems to be played for laughs, and with a better script the dark humour might have worked, but generally any attempt at humour falls flat.

There are some talented actors in here, such as Elijah Wood as bartender Thomas and Kristen Wiig as bride Angela, but they are only around for a scene and they don’t offer much to the film. You can say that with a lot of the named actors in this, and Petsos (who is also the films writer) just isn’t a good lead nor a good actor full stop.

Revenge for Jolly! tries to be outrageous but it mostly ends up being dull. The senseless killing becomes repetitive and it started to bother me as the film went on as those who were dying had nothing to do with the dog’s death in the first place. Oscar Isaac is the one bright spot in an otherwise dreary film, he tries his best with what he’s given, and a couple of his lines are what managed to get chuckle out of me. 1/5.