What If It’s Us. Book Review #51

Hey everyone.

I picked up What If It’s Us after attending the Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera signing in Manchester this autumn with Beth. You can read her lovely review here!

I went into this book looking for something fun and fluffy and I was certainly not disappointed. Albertalli and Silvera do an excellent job at creating a story that is simultaneously a piece of easy comfort reading, full of broadway references and cute moments, and a book that deals with more serious challenges that we all find ourselves facing in our own relationships in real life.

Ben and Arthur’s love felt special to me, special enough that I could suspend my disbelief that they could have fallen in love in a matter of weeks, special because it was orchestrated and blessed by the cosmic randomness of the universe. It was heartwarming and I found that after a while I was standing on the sidelines of the romance pitch cheering Arthur’s name as well as Ben’s. I say ‘after a while’ because initially I found Arthur too ridiculous to actually like him. I can imagine getting on with Ben in real life but Arthur was too cringey to the point that I actually felt embarrassed for him. Still, I did learn to love Arthur because I realised that he is the inner freak out geek that all of us slightly obsessed bookworms are inside.

In terms of diversity this story was right on point. Silvera and Albertalli recognise their responsibility as widely read YA authors and don’t just do enough to be deemed hip and liberal – they create realities that genuinely empower and celebrate ever reader hailing from every race and sexuality reading.

Perhaps the only thing that let me down, and it was a little bit of a big let down, was the writing style. I had never read Silvera prior to What If Its Us but I found that the constant use of cultural symbols and random misplaced young people jargon was jarring and distasteful as someone who is actually a young person. WIIU felt like a glass half full in terms of language compared to Simon Vs. the Homosapien Agenda. It was clunky and unnecessarily colloquial. It is not a criticism of Silvera or Albertalli – they are both excellent writers – I simply feel in this case that this was a matter of personal taste and teenagers who sound like adults pretending to be teenagers is not a taste I like very much. It was artificial and in some places it really did stop me from enjoying this epic story.

I would certainly recommend this book, just go in knowing that it sounds a bit like it was written for you by a computer programme designed to be cool.

I give this book a 3.5 out of 5 stars!
Keep on reading!

And thanks again Beth.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. Book Review #50

Hey everyone!

I hope you all had an amazing Christmas and a happy New Year!

This week I’m going to be talking about The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers which I picked up whilst visiting Astley Book Farm with Beth!

TLWTASAP is a Sci-Fi, new adult story that follows the Wayfarer, a wormhole tunnelling ship that hurtles through the galaxy, boarded by an eccentric and eclectic crew of ‘spacers’. Set in the distant future, this book asks the big questions about gender, sex, humanity, science and the environment.

TLWTASAP was brilliant because it was story-less. Going into this, reading the blurb, you might think thats its going to be about Rosemary, the new clerk onboard the Wayfarer and her new life in space. And yeah, it is about that but it is also about every other crew member and all of their other pasts and loves and lives. I think its important to tell you now that TLWTASAP does not have a plot per se, but is more like a Tv show in that you will watch lots of episodes that all cleverly tie together before a satisfactory but equally independent season finale. This style of writing was like nothing I have ever encountered before and thats why it was even more refreshing; One chapter I might be reading about interspecies relations and the history of the Galactic Commons (This was extremely interesting) and the next I might be pouring my soul out over the tragic past of a crew members life on their homeplanet. Between each page, the possibilities and the size of the universe feels endless.

I want to shed light on my favourite part of the book which wasn’t a moment in the narrative or an aspect of a single character but instead a focus within the writing itself. TLWTASAP impressively makes you think about who you are as a human by spending over a third of the book, intermittently, describing, discussing and enlightening you on the mannerisms, cultures and belief systems of entirely made up species. The multi-species crew has all of the flare that you would expect from aliens in Sci-Fi but it also allows us to question what we value as modern 21st century citizens when the institution of marriage for an Aandriskk is so completely different to ours or the concept of happiness to the Grum is but a trivial endeavour. Chambers is especially good at being specific about the histories and worlds behind her aliens. These are not UFO-riding green men, these are sapient beings with rich backgrounds – they are, paradoxically, real people.

The only limitation for me was the fluffiness of the crew and how perfectly ‘troupey’ they all felt at times. Sometimes this read more like a fan fiction than a piece of fiction – which isn’t always a bad thing. Perhaps, in my dream novel, everyone would be a bit more cynical and gritty, but in space its fair enough that they wouldn’t all have there feet on the ground.

I recommend this book, not if you are looking for an epic space opera, but if you are wanting to read a story about people.

I give this book a 4 out of 5 stars.

Keep on reading!

And thanks again Beth.

Exit West. Book Review #49

Hi everyone.

This week I want to talk about Exit West by Mohsin Hamid.

This story follows Saeed and Nadia, two lovers trapped in a city where bombs begin to fall. They smoke and talk about the stars but the world outside Nadia’s apartment window is becoming increasingly divided. When mysterious doors begin to open up in their dangerous city, doors that can take you somewhere else in the world in an instant, the divide between east and west, rich and poor, becomes less clear. This is a story about love, home, migration and what it means to be a modern human.

I thoroughly enjoyed Exit West and read it extremely quickly, in part because of how short it is, but also because of how addictive it is. Hamid’s construction of this migration story makes us empathise with Nadia and Saeed so that when their home is taken away from them we understand that refugees are not nuisances – they are people, with lives and jokes and jobs and families. The doors that allow them to leap through space and time are the perfect amount of sci-fi mixed with magical realism – they feel, within the context of the narrative, plausible.

Hamid’s writing is comfortable and readerly but also poetic when it needs to be. Saeed and Nadia feel very real which is important I feel, to the message of this book. The hostility from the political right towards the ‘Migrant crisis’ that the world is facing is explained, fairly considered and intelligently challenged in Exit West. Hamid, through the variety of subplots that run throughout, examines and sheds light on every perspective within the discussion. For me this book was an opportunity to learn about what it means to have your home and life taken away from you – what it really means, not what news outlets tell privileged westerners it means.

I highly recommend this book.

I give this book a 4 out of 5 stars.

Keep on reading

And thanks again Beth!

 

Currently reading: Vile Bodies. #48

Hey everyone!

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh is a historical contemporary novel set in 1920s post WW1 London.

This book follows a gang of ‘Bright Young People’ into a world of parties, money and gossip in a London that is still trying to make sense of itself following the ‘Great War’.

I am very nearly finished with this book and so I feel at liberty to give my opinion on it at this point.

Vile Bodies is exactly what I have needed in a book for a long time. It is refreshingly hilarious and addictive. Maybe this is because of its rich and glamorous back drop in the private mansions and opulent hotels of Mayfair. More than likely it is because of its dazzling cast of eccentric and ridiculous twenty-somethings who have no jobs, no commitments and no morals. They are both admirable and repulsive people and Waugh is very keen to constantly remind his reader of this. Stephen Fry describes this books as Britain’s ‘Great Gatsby’ and I would say that perfectly encapsulates the violently outrageous and excessive nature of this story.

Aside from the unique focus of the narrative I found that this book, unlike many books from the early 20th century was very readable and accessible. I would recommend it wholeheartedly as a read that bounces through a series of seemingly frivolous sub plots whilst all the while maintaining a political and historical commentary. This book, although not written with the genre in mind, is very much the kind of thing that a reader of YA would enjoy. Let me know how you like it!

Keep on reading!

And thanks again Beth.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Book Review #47

Hi everyone!

Finally I can say I have read the Harry Potter series! – This is an achievement that after having achieved, feels much more like a loss.

I think I am not alone when I say that reading Harry Potter is a commitment. We all love Hogwarts and Dumbledore but we also, as bookworms, love to read a variety of books. Whilst I was reading HP I did sometimes wish I could just throw it aside and pick up something standalone, a world I could read and then say goodbye to. But now, after having said goodbye to Harry, I’ve ended up feeling a bit of book shame – how could I have ever wanted this to not last forever?

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was something entirely different and yet at the same time the familiar story we had all been reading for six books already. The wizarding world, in a way in which it had not previously, seemed to swell and grow so that Rowling left us with a fuller picture of what it meant to be a wizard who had left Hogwarts in England. 

Meanwhile, the authoress comfortably stitches together past characters like Dobby with more unfamiliar ones like Bellatrix and in doing so creates confrontations that feel shockingly fresh but also inevitable. In Order of the Phoenix Rowling showed us that she was not afraid of axing important characters but in the Deathly Hallows she is a woman on a mission, slashing lives with her pen left right and centre. The thing is, these deaths felt like they were always going to happen; as though people we loved had to die in order for their to be a happy heroical ending. This is true within the narrative literally but also I feel it is a comment that can be understood in our own lives. What Rowling is suggesting through Deathly Hallows is that sacrifice is essential if we want to cultivate a better life. This is why I do not resent Rowling for the deaths of characters in her novel. The later books are meant to be mature and death is as much a part of life as love, friendship and magic are.

I think in taking the task of defeating Voldemort up to a more mystical level through the Hallows and the Horcruxes Rowling stayed true to her whimsical and refined magical theory. She did not give in to a simple life for life spell which would easily have made sense and would have still brought in the tears. She made things difficult, she made things really difficult and although the deus ex machina might have felt vaguely random (you’re telling me a horcrux was conveniently in the room of requirement this whole time?) this challenge made this final instalment all the better for it.  

Reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was like hugging an old friend, like stepping onto the train home at the end of the night and waving goodbye through the glass.  Of course almost everyone reading this has already read and then reread and then reread this series – I am aware that I am abysmally late to the party – but I will still, for the sake of this review, recommend this book to all of you.

Keep on reading!

And thanks again Beth.

Currently reading: Black Skin, White Masks #46

Hey everyone!

This week I want to briefly discuss what i’m currently reading!

Black Skin, White Masks by Frantz Fanon is a non fiction post colonial essay considering the psychology of the black man in a white dominated world.

I am about halfway through this book and so far I am really enjoying it. I think what’s most significant about this essay is that it remains important to everyone, no matter what gender, race or nationality years on from its publication. Fanon is interested in discovering why we, as humans, marginalise certain groups of people – and I believe we can all learn empathy from this. 

This book is unique in that it discusses the dynamic between interracial relationships in a way that I have previously not seen in post colonial writing.

I am yet to finish Black Skin, White Masks but so far I certainly recommend it to all of you! The writing style is almost a poetic kind of prose so even if you don’t enjoy non fiction I still think you would find it interesting!

Keep on reading!

And thanks again Beth

Audiobooks. #45

Hey everyone

Finding time to read can be one of the most frustrating tasks, even more so if you are a bibliophile. If you are a book lover you might feel a pressure to read mountains but with everything going on in your life you just might not have the time.

After a few months of using Audiobooks as a way of reading I think its fair to say I have mastered them. In this post I will share my secrets.

Certainly services like Audible are really great ways to access Audiobooks and read while you are commuting, drawing or working out. But not everyone can afford to pay a subscription fee each month and so I thought I would explain to you how I listen to audiobooks on the cheap.

Youtube. Youtube has millions of free audiobooks that are in the public domain and are waiting for you to listen to them.  These aren’t just weird unknown books as well, many of the Audiobooks I have listened to from Youtube have been classics that I have wanted to read for ages but didn’t have the time to sit and spend hours with.

This point is a significant reason why Audiobooks are so great; they allow you to access books that you otherwise, as an active reader, would not have been able to enjoy because you keep dozing off every five minutes when you are trying to read them. As a listener, you are observing the story through a narrator as opposed to actively engaging with the book. Although this might put some people off, I think that it can be a really positive way of reading stuff you might never have felt brave enough to pick up before.

So after you have chosen the book you want to read from Youtube you might be at the stage where every time you close the app on your phone to flick through snapchat your audiobook cuts out. Well luckily we have Dolphin X! This is a mobile browser that allows you to listen to videos that are playing within the app. It is the perfect way to listen to audiobooks from Youtube whilst having free access to the other apps on your phone while you are on the go (No this is not sponsored haha).

As well as Youtube, I love the app Audiobooks.com which has loads of free classics and more modern stuff if you want to pay.

I hope this post has got you excited about listening to Audiobooks! It is how I manage to read as much as I do and as widely as I do.

Keep on reading!

And thanks again Beth.