Sunday, 14 January 2018

Review: On The Bright Side


'On the Bright Side' is the wonderful new 'secret diary of Hendrik Groen.' I received an ARC from NetGalley, although it was published a couple of days ago and you can grab a copy from Amazon here, or (preferably) your local book shop. (For a list of more ethical places to buy books, try here.)

'On the Bright Side' is the sequel to Hendrik Groen's first diary, which I read in 2016, also courtesy of NetGalley (you can find my review here if you're interested!) For those new to Groen's story, I'll give a brief introduction: Hendrik is an octogenarian living in an old people's home in the Netherlands. In the first book, he set out to write in his diary daily to keep his mind active - and it certainly did! A group of friends set up the 'Old-But-Not-Dead-Club' who aim to have as much fun as they can, while they still can - which they certainly did! "Stop spending so much time studying life’s instruction manual. Just do it!! Yes, you may fall down a few times, but so long as you get up again, you’ll be ahead of where you were!"

The first book isn't a complete barrel of laughs though, and it ends with the demise of two members of their club: one lost to dementia, one lost to the world. As I said in my first review, this book deals with the three big Ds: Dementia, Death and Disability. There's no shying away from it.
I remember thinking that the first book felt a very fitting place to end, and was slightly surprised to see a sequel but requested it all the same. It was a joy to be reunited with Hendrik and the Old-But-Not-Dead-Club. This book has many of the same elements there are a lot of laughs, a great deal of interesting voyeuristic people-watching, and even some up-to-date social commentary. 

They continue to get up to their amusing antics as in the first book, with some added extras: trying cuisine from a new culture every month, and even spending three nights away on holiday! As you can imagine, chaos ensues at regular intervals. Many of the residents spend their time going to various acquaintances' funerals - but not Hendrik and best friend Evert. They'll be at their own soon enough, won't they?

But this book is a shade darker than the first; perhaps this is unexpected. There's a lot about the possible closure of old people's homes in the Netherlands, and what to do with the growing age of our populations. This book is written/set in 2016, and covers the major world events that went on n that year, many of them grave. Groen has decided opinions on asylum seekers that most of his more conservative neighbours do not share. But it is a reminder that not all old people are racist (covertly rather than overtly), and sometimes it is okay to challenge people, not giving them a 'get out of gaol free card' because of age. I certainly know and have known elderly people who are accepting and inclusive. Groen is one of these, making him instantly likeable. It is also a great way of switching perspective: one minute global, the next minute the saga of fruit appearing in strange places around the home that is a major source of excitement for the residents...

The other darker shades to this book are what inevitably comes with ageing. Hendrik himself continues to ponder the advantages of euthanasia, and his best friend falls further into ill health as does he himself. It's a very real book, not shying away from any subject. Written in diary format makes it very intimate and the reader can feel very much inside Hendrik's head, whether he is pondering where to go on their next club outing, what his current feeling on wearing nappies is, or whether they should invite asylum seekers into the spare rooms at the home.

Although the optimism of the first book is diluted, this is still a very easy read with a good few laughs. And if it hadn't been a touch more melancholy, it wouldn't have felt true. It can also be read as a standalone without the first, although I would recommend both.

I would urge people to read this book; having worked with elderly people, I feel they are often misunderstood, and this book is very good at correcting misconceptions. Apart from that, it is a darn good read: funny, sometimes meandering, touching, and sad.

Some words Hendrik says that I think we all, 85 years old or not, can muse on:

 'I should count my blessings even if it's only because I can still experience summer, autumn and winter by sight, sense and smell.'

Thank you to NetGalley and Penguin for the opportunity to read this wonderful book. Four stars.



Bout of Books 21: Day 7



So, here we are at the end of the readathon! In terms of reading, this is probably my worst Bout of Books thus far 😒 So, I finished listening to an Audiobook ('Fahrenheit 451'), read 'On the Bright Side' by Hendrik Groen, and then... well, I couldn't really commit to a book after that. I read 'Here Lies Arthur' by Philip Reeve, started a number of other books along the way without getting very far.
I went to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition yesterday and bought the book that went with that, which I also read - if that counts! There's not much text, just some information about the photographers and then information about the species/place they are photographing, as well as information about the award, the charities it supports, and general information about endangered species. The exhibition was fantastic!



I managed to commit to a book finally last night, and have read just under 120 pages of 'Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race' by Reni Eddo-Lodge, which is a good read so far, although I am looking forward to getting into reading some more fiction. Non fiction can be brilliant, but I'm a fiction gal at heart!

Despite having only read 2 1/2 books (plus the end of an audiobook, and a coffee-table book), it hasn't felt like a complete failure of the readathon. I know that most people tot up their page counts and lots of people were aiming for 1000 pages or so, but I'm trying to be sanguine about it. Because... I've managed to do some writing instead! So, as a reader I haven't done too well, but I've made movements forwards with writing. 

I'm not sure whether to take part in Bout of Books next time round; it'll depend on when the week falls I suppose. Reading other people's page counts is quite intimidating, so I just need to remember that I read what I can. And what I want to read: I'm finding it hard to enjoy reading so much when my TBR pile is so big. I'm a non-book-buying ban, but I have been for ages and it doesn't seem to be helping! I'm drowning in books still! (#firstworldproblems)

But, I'm a writer too. 

(Practising hand lettering!)

I don't make new year's resolutions, but this one could pretty much sum it up. It's all about balance - but who seriously has that??

Hope everyone enjoyed Bout of Books - and happy reading!

(credit:itsthehappypage)


UPDATE: Review of 'On the Bright Side' is here! Good reading :)



Saturday, 13 January 2018

Bout of Books 21: Day 6

So, I missed signing up to the linky for yesterday - boo. I wrote the post and then forgot to link up. Here's my post for yesterday - thanks to Liz for the great challenge, I loved the headlines!

I thought I'd get in early today and update with my reading progress later in the day. I did the challenge for today yesterday and posted it on Instagram a day early (days get very muddled in my head!) so at least I'm ahead! Here is my Book Spine Poetry:

March out of the ashes into the beautiful North, rebel girls

Really enjoyed this challenge! Will update later with reading progress, but I'm out most of today, so I'm not sure how much reading I'll get done...

Have a go at Book Spine Poetry - it's really fun! I thought it would be impossible, but I actually had more ideas than I realised when I started looking through my books. If you have a go, let me know in the comments, even if you don't take a photo.

Happy reading!

UPDATE: so, finished 'Here Lies Arthur' by Philip Reeve (author of Mortal Instruments books) which was... I'm not really sure. I didn't enjoy it quite a lot of the way through it, but looking back it
seemed quite good. Do you ever find that with a book? Have one feeling whilst reading it, and then another when looking back in hindsight? I will have to ponder it awhile...

Friday, 12 January 2018

Bout of Books 21: Days 4 and 5


So, another day ran away from me and here I am at the end of day 5! I've totally failed at the readathon aspect of this - I've got to be honest. I tend to read 2-4 books a week on a normal week, and this week (a week where the aim is to read MORE!) I've only finished one book! And an audio book. Really not doing well. I'm managing to be quite sanguine about it, instead of beating myself up as usual - so that's a bonus! And the other bonus is that I've got quite a lot of writing done, so I'm not that disappointed. Feel I've sort of let the challenge down, but there we go.

So.

Challenge, the fourth: ALL THE FAVOURITES

This is fairly open to interpretation, but I'm assuming it's famous book-related things at least! Personally, I hate making favourite lists, but here goes (using their suggestions):

Favourite audio book reader: Stephen Fry. Why? Because he's read the only audio books that I actually can't count the number of times I've listened to them. HARRY POTTER!

Favourite illustrator: Shaun Tan who did the most wonderful book 'The Red Tree' among others.
Exquisite illustration, really amazing and intricate. Other classic favourites include: Quentin Blake
(Roald Dahl), Arthur Rackham (Goblin Market, among others), and Eric Carle (The Very Hungry Caterpillar).

Favourite series: how is this a question?? I think I may have to refuse to answer. Series I love include: Harry Potter (obviously), Lord of the Rings, The Dark is Rising, Across the Nightingale Floor, Swallows and Amazons, The Moomintrolls... and that's just the classic ones! An impossible question, I'm afraid.

Favourite bookish blog: I really like The Broke and Bookish and The Midnight Garden, but there are so many good blogs out there that I don't want to miss out some awesome people. Those are just two - and The Broke and Bookish is no more! Very sad times. I also miss the Midnight Garden's Middle Grade readalong, which was lovely. But there are plenty more fab bloggers out there doing their stuff!(A lot better than I do...)

Favourite vlogger: I don't watch vlogs, so not really one for me.

Favourite librarian: my darling friend who is living far too far away in Canada. But she is an awesome librarian (and writer too!)

And there was day four!

Challenge, the fifth: Newspaper Headline (create a headline for a favourite story/book)

Ooh, this could be fun!

STONEHENGE SLAUGHTER ENDS COUNTRY GIRL'S METEORIC RISE
(Tess of the D'Urbervilles)

MAN OBSESSED BY WHALE: MORE INFORMATION FORTHCOMING
(Moby Dick)

DUSTINESS IN NEXT TO GODLINESS
(His Dark Materials)

PIG TAKEOVER AT LOCAL FARM
(Animal Farm)

FOUR FOREIGN CHILDREN RECLAIM MONARCHY
(The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe)


That was a great challenge - thanks to Liz!

Anyone think of any good book headlines? It's good fun!

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Bout of Books 21: Day 3

Challenge, the third: Take a selection of your favourite book spines to make a rainbow. 

This one, unbeknownst to me, was set by my Secret Santa Liz Whitehouse! I am an awful blogger and didn't do an unboxing post but she was beyond generous. Go and check out her blog!

So, here is my rainbow spine - and they're all brilliant books, which is the important thing. (Although the whole rainbow part is pretty darn cool too,)

(PS My review for The Power by Naomi Alderman is up on the blog!)

As for reading, I haven't done so much today - because I've been writing! I know - how did that happen? I haven't been writing for ages, and now suddenly I've been writing this week. It means I won't reach any sort of 'target' for Bout of Books this time round but - to be honest - I don't care, I'm just happy that I've got some kind of writing mojo going on! I can read anytime!

So, my review of 'On The Bright Side' hasn't quite got written yet either... Well, it's a great book - and is out tomorrow, and I'll definitely have a review up soon.

Started reading Philip Reeve's 'Here Lies Arthur' - I wanted something light and easy while I am on a (potential) writing kick.

Happy reading friends. What books are you reading right now?


Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Bout of Books 21: Days 1 and 2

So, Monday flew away from me and I tried to post the first challenge (introduce yourself in six words) as a comment to Bout of Books, but it didn't work for some reason...

So, here is Monday's Challenge: introduce yourself in six words.

(Someday, I'll be on your bookshelves)

Tuesday's Challenge: Share your 2018 Reading Goal (s).

Well... I don't really have specific goals. Sorry, I know that's boring but it's the truth. Or - more accurately - they're the same as every year. To read some more classics, to write some decent reviews, to stop starting series and not finishing them, to read the books that I actually own rather than getting new ones from NetGalley... Nothing exciting, I'm afraid.

Finished one book so far this week, review to come! (Spoiler: it's great.) On the Bright Side comes out on January 11th, so I'll probably post the review before Sunday (Bout of Books day for review-writing).


Hope everyone else is having a good week so far!


Thursday, 4 January 2018

Bout of Books 21

So, it's come to that time of year again (several times a year) when Bout of Books is a-happening, and I'm going to give it a go. I think this is only my second time doing it officially - for those who don't know about Bout of Books, go along here and read all about it!

Basically, there's a challenge for each day of the week and a whole load of book bloggers join in! I'm not sure I'll manage all the prompts, but I will hold myself accountable with the number of books/pages I read - that's the other part.

Here are the challenges for this time round:

Monday 8th January: Introduce Yourself #insixwords
Tuesday 9th January: Share Your 2018 Reading Goal (s)
Wednesday 10th January: Book Spine Rainbow (yay! I like this one! Although I'm not sure
whether I can do as good a one as I did last time without just using the same books... which wouldn't be the point. Hmm.)
Thursday 11th January: ALL THE FAVOURITES (not sure what this means...)
Friday 12th January: Newspaper Headlines (nor this one...)
Saturday 13th January: Book Spine Poetry (I'm not too sure about this either - oh dear...)
Sunday 14th January: Leave a Book Review (at least I can understand this!)

Anyway, I'll see how I get on - wish me luck! (if anyone's reading this...)



Sunday, 31 December 2017

Review: The Power

The Power by Naomi Alderman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Last review of 2017! One that goes out with a bang! Or does it...?

The Power. Winner of Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction. 'Electrifying,' says Margaret Atwood. 'A stone-cold genius,' says Sarah Perry. '… it's as thought-provoking as that Atwood great, The Handmaid's Tale', says a reviewer from The Pool. This is one book that has a lot to live up to: to the reading world in general, and to me personally because I've been meaning to read it all year! I missed out on ARC copy a long while back, but finally had it gifted to me by my incredibly generous Secret Santa, Liz - go check out her blog - arranged through The Broke and The Bookish, that brings us wonderful Top Ten Tuesdays.

So. The big question. Does it live up to the hype?

I've got very mixed feelings about The Power and it bears looking at in more detail. The premise is, without a doubt, fascinating. Basically, it's speculative/dystopic fiction about a world where the physical power struggle between the sexes is reversed: women are more physically powerful than men. This 'power' comes as an electrical charge emitting from a woman's skein – an organ found on top of the collarbone. Now, Alderman has made some concerted effort to create a scientific basis for this, but falls rather short. In the acknowledgements, she thanks a scientist who helped her look at marine biology (electric eels) and the BBC science unit; yet even me, someone with just A levels in science, can see ways it could have been dealt with realistically. Realising this won't be a problem for a lot of readers – it's fiction, damnit! – I'll move on, and I did actually manage to put it behind me and get swept up by the story.

Alderman has a shifting focus between four central characters, all in third person; however, each voice is distinct. There's Roxy from England: possibly the most powerful woman in the world, from a shady and influential family. Then there's Allie, rechristened Eve, a mixed race girl from the US who's been pushed from one unsuccessful foster placement to another for all of her childhood. There's Tunde from Lagos, a young man with an entrepreneurial mind, climbing his way through life from lounging beside a pool to being one of the world's most famous photojournalists. And Margot: a US politician with grand aspirations and a disturbed teenage daughter.

Initially unconnected, their lives become inextricably intertwined from 'The Day of the Girls' onwards, when teenage girls worldwide acquire 'The Power' this pseudo scientific, more supernatural, devastating ability.


This electricity within them can hurt people, can torment people, torture, even kill. The world as we know it is turned on its head as women, as opposed to men, become the symbol – more than that: the actual embodiment – of strength. Patriarchy dissolves. Now men are afraid to walk alone, always feel safer in pairs and would rather stay inside during the hours of dark.

So, Alderman speculates what the world would be like if women, rather than men had to fear for their physical safety. As I said – a very exciting promise.

But.

It just falls short of all the accolades it's been given. The four perspectives are uneven; this is something that many fiction writers struggle with, but it's particularly grating here. In, for example, Lord of the Rings, you're willing to invest in watching Frodo and Sam's painfully slow journey despite Isengard falling, or The Battle of Helm's Deep being much more pacy. Here, it feels irksome and almost lazy. All of the storylines should be as interesting as each other, but they aren't.

Another issue I had was the concept of a women ruled state, called Bessapara, in what is now mostly Saudi Arabia. I think this could have worked, but not in this kind of timescale. Alderman seems to be projecting a very Western viewpoint here; very quickly women who have been wearing the veil and answering to men for centuries quickly turn to violence against their former 'captors.' It just isn't plausible for me; some women may feel captive in such patriarchal societies, but not everyone. As a Westerner, it's easy to say: 'that's terrible', but for some it is a way of life. Physical strength may be what made the states as they are, but culture is deeply, deeply ingrained. There's a fine line between empowerment of women and simply disregarding others' cultures, and Alderman may be on the wrong side of the line here. Women having power means lots of casual sex, raping men and the creation of a matriarchal state that is, in fact, much more violent than we currently see. This seems a dangerous line of speculation.

Finally, the novel uses a book proposal as a framing device – a man called Neil is writing to Naomi Alderman with the first draft of his work attached (which is the novel itself). This is interesting, but I don't feel it added anything particularly.

Credit:literature.britishcouncil.org
Very mixed feelings. It had such a brilliant premise – but it just didn't go far enough. There were lots of other ideas and subplots thrown in – The Power is not a one trick pony – but when it boils down to it, there is a brilliant central arc that isn't done justice. More exploration of the main theme without oversimplifying the power dynamic of the sexes would have been better, as opposed to a slightly messy unfocused abundance of ideas.

I wanted to like this book more than I did. Full marks for the original idea – but the execution let it down; it's not a bad book, just overhyped.




View all my reviews

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Review: Return of the Magi: A heartwarming Christmas story

Return of the Magi: A heartwarming Christmas story Return of the Magi: A heartwarming Christmas story by P.J. Tracy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Emil Rice is a good guy. Really. The fact that he's been arrested for felony twenty two times and was just caught rooting through the nativity scene outside the church... well, that's just a few bad choices, right? He can be a good guy.

Emil certainly behaves as though he believes so: a silver-tongued spindoctor whose eloquence doesn't exactly land him up where he wants, but at least it's not jail. That's got to be better. Right? Right??

To his parole officer's surprise, Emil Rice ends up being posted to do voluntary work at a mental institution. The people seem... sort of normal. Well, maybe not. They have the quirks. None more than Gloria and Edith, who are fascinated by Emil's black skin colour - and he's not really sure they're being racist. They're just plain weird. When he discovers they've been in this institution for the majority of their lives, waiting for a third wiseman to complete their trio, Emil's life takes a turn for the decidedly surreal.

Look, it's not the most brilliant of books written, and not usually a genre I would go for (a little too
'fluffy'), but actually this was a really enjoyable, pacy, non-taxing, festive read. Maybe a little saccharine - but we can let that go, can't we? It's Christmas, after all! The gradual development of Emil's character is fairly believable, surprising as the action takes place over a very short period, and the twist at the end - you knew there was going to be one, just couldn't work out what it was - was lovely.

Not a literary great, but lots of feel-good factor for the Christmas period.

I was given a copy of 'Return of the Magi' from NetGalley and the publisher; all thoughts and opinions are my own.

View all my reviews

P J Tracy tends to write in a very different style actually - I checked out her website and discovered that P J Tracy is actually two people (a mother and daughter team) who write collaboratively, which is always interesting. Apparently PJ passed away recently, and I'm unsure whether she was involved in writing this book or not. Most of the her author books are thrillers - go and check out her website if that is more of your thing.

http://pjtracy.com



Review: Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter?

Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter? Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter? by Heath Fogg Davis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Beyond Trans by Heath Fogg Davis, a transgender man, pushes the 'gender question' to its very limits. Who decides whether we get labelled with an 'M' or 'F' on our birth certificates. And why is this not mutable, like other aspects of our characters our. Why someone else gets to label us as male or female - and the very key difference between sex and gender. Calling us to reclaim our identities, Davis explores these topics in detail throughout the book, starting with the very essence of what sex and gender actually mean, as opposed to what people think they mean (many people believe them to be one and the same).

There are four key case studies: sex-marked ID (birth certificates, passports, driving licenses); single-sex bathrooms; single-sex colleges; and sexually segregated sports. Through each, there are very personal case studies identifying trans people, gay people, and sometimes cis people who have fallen prey to the world's assumptions. Some are quite shocking to read; particularly the case of Charlene Arcila, an African American transgender woman living in Philadelphia. She was refused entry onto the bus because the bus driver simply did not believe that the sex marker on her identification matched what he was seeing. She purchased a female-marked pass and was similarly rejected: there was no way that she was going to be able to settle this without a battle in court. Davis deals with each case sensitively, not so that you feel sorry for the people, but that you feel righteous anger and indignation on their behalf. This, I think is much more valuable in moving times forwards.

There was a similarly humiliating case in the chapter on sex-segregated rest-rooms where Khadijah Farmer, her girlfriend and a friend decided to go for a meal in New York City after spending the day at the city's LGBT Pride celebration. Farmer, an African-American out-Lesbian, went to use the restroom where she was told that she was in the wrong place. After assuring the other woman that she was in the right restroom, she went into the stall to do her business, only to have a male bouncer enter
the room having heard there was 'a man in the woman's restroom.' Farmer showed the bouncer her ID but (exact quotation), his reply was: 'Your ID is neither here nor there.' She was forced to leave the premises.

As well as these awful individual stories (also touching on the well-published female athlete Caster Semenya who became so used to being asked to 'prove' to her fellow racers that she was female, would willingly go into a restroom and show them; and the Williams sisters being described as 'apes' and 'man-like), Heath, offers clear thoughts on each of these problems. The chapters are structured to start with a case study, then some delving into history and legal things, as well as some philosophy, before offering a 'Conclusion' to each chapter, proffering some sort of solution. These solutions aren't perfect, as Davis recognises; in some ways they are more idealistic thinking that is unlikely to come to fruition. The idea of non sex-segragated sports, for example, I think will be incredibly contentious. And I'm not sure that Davis really offers a solution that will work for the majority of people. Although I recognise his points - woman with higher tester one levels can be banned from women's sports and occasionally allowed entry to men's sports, whereas men with low testosterone levels are not allowed to compete against women - this is something that I think people will fight about more than the others - even sex-segregated bathrooms. I don't know for certain, but it's a feeling I have.

As a book to read, it was interesting, but quite hard going. The heavy referencing was quite cumbersome at times, and although I was interested in what Davis had to say, I have read better books on the subject.

'Beyond Trans' is a good book - it gets people asking questions, it gets people thinking - but, ultimately, it wasn't brilliantly written, and I found it very slow. If you are interested in reading about transgender rights or LGBTQ ideas for a more inclusive future, I think there are other books that are more accessible. Still, Davis has produced an extremely well-researched book, and I give him all credit for that.

View all my reviews

Friday, 1 December 2017

Review: No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters

No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

'No Time To Spare' is a compilation of blog posts written from Le Guin's blog between 2010 and 2016. I am not much of a non-fiction writer myself, but Le Guin is a particular favourite of mine, and I haven't read any non-fiction before so was eager to snap this up. I received a free copy from NetGalley; all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Perhaps if I had known that these were originally published on Le Guin's blog, I would have been less enthusiastic about reading this; however, not knowing I immediately wanted to read her words, and I'm glad I did. Reading these in a book format (albeit a ebook format - I would much rather have a physical copy) is very different to a blog. Le Guin herself touches on this in one her short writings ('A Note at the Beginning') where she was inspired by Jose Saramango's blogs (which, of course, I will now have to find some time to read.) I like her idea of a blog, borrowed from Saramango, where she doesn't have to constantly have a conversation below the post with readers. She can write something and that been the entirety of it. As someone who writes myself, I can understand the frightening nature of blogs - and I've grown up with them! (Maybe it's not a good thing that I can relate more to an octogenarian than someone like me in their twenties...)

Many of the extracts focus on ageing: what it feels like to be old, and the titular writing: 'In Your 'never had a job to retire from.' Writing is a calling, a thing of love, to be nurtured. What is this spare time? All her time is spent in doing something - whether it be writing a blog post, playing with her cat Pard, replying to her fan-mail (there's an enjoyable piece of writing on that; my advice is - don't really bother unless you're a small child and you aren't using a spell checker. That's the kind of fan-mail she enjoys the most), or staring into space. All her time is full. This way of looking at life is very kind; that is one thing that springs from these pages - Le Guin is kind. Not just in a grandmotherly, let's-look-out-for-the-children or even a Democrat we-need-to-do-something-to-sort-out-this-planet-and-this-gargantuam-mess-we've-got-into way. No, a simple pure kindness. It's something that can only be felt; in these very personal writings, Le Guin bears a little of her soul for us to see, and I am eternally enchanted.
Spare Time.' With wit, but with astonishing grace and humbleness, Le Guin explains that for her in her ninetieth years, there is no such thing as 'spare time.' And there never has been. She says she

Her writing about ageing is very moving. That's a very simple word - moving - but I cannot find a more suitable one, and perhaps should stop trying. In a writing of 2013 called 'The Diminished Thing' she addresses the American bent towards positive thinking. 'What's wrong with positive thinking?' you may ask. Well, Le Guin puts it very succinctly, very aptly. 'Encouragement by denial, however well-meaning, backfires... To tell me my old age doesn't exist is to tell me I don't exist. Erase my age, you erase my life - me.' What a way with words she has. She wishes to be respected as an 'elder' but she also encourages the respect of young people; both of which we appear to losing in modern day society.

Although some of her topics are vast, the way Le Guin writes is deeply personal. I feel like I 'know' her through these writings. This is, of course, nonsense, as Le Guin herself says when talking about receiving fan-mail. But she offers up her writings in a generous, unassuming way for us to take and do with what we will. Of course, I don't know Le Guin. I know some more about her life as it is now, I know quite a lot more about her cat, Pard (there's a lovely section dedicated to him called 'The Annals of Pard' and a very true-feeling writing about choosing a cat), but I do not know her. She is not my friend. Yet, the way she has written it is to make one feel as though you would like to be.

Other topics she covers include: the liberal use of two particular swear words that seem to have become a shortcut, but Le Guin unpicks them, their origins and their use - finding them to have more meaning than I think of when I read them in a novel. I will certainly think twice the next time I across either (which is most likely to be the next modern novel I read.) There's an interesting section 'debunking' narrative gift and its connection, or not, to literary quality, and its connection, or not, to good storytelling. I loved her piece about fantasy writing and the fear of unknown in 'It Doesn't Have to Be the Way It Is.' ('There really is nothing to fear in fantasy unless you are afraid of the freedom of uncertainty.'); her thoughts on utopia and dystopia ('Utopiyin, Utopiyang'); the way the President talks to the American people, about their worth and whether they were worthy of being asked difficult things ('Lying It All Away'), involving the first televised broadcast from the White House; the nature of growing up, muddled up with misquotations ('The Inner Child and the Nude Politician')... I could go on and on. I don't think there was a single writing here that didn't sing to me in some way. I want to go away and reread these short pieces and let them sit in my soul and speak to me.

One interesting thing I noticed was how surprised I was by how American Le Guin is; of course I shouldn't have been, but when we read the fiction of a fantasy/sci-fi writer it can transcend boundaries. So, rather stupidly, I was caught off guard by how American her 'natural' writing style is. She writes of 'The Great American Novel' and an author's quest for it (not something she has time for), and it isn't something I was really aware of; however, during reading this, I heard a programme on Radio 4 ('Open Book') which spoke to an American about that very subject. Eerie stuff. Le Guin's opinion on 'TGAN and TGOW' has changed over the last year (this piece was written in 2011) - from Huckleberry Finn (for all its faults) to The Grapes of Wrath (for all its faults) (Although she still dismisses the general idea: 'Art is not a horse race. Literature is not the Olympics.') And I, an ignorant English girl, have read neither (although works by the same authors). There were many occasions where I stopped and scribbled down a book I would like to read by way of her roundabout recommendation.


Most of all, I wanted to reread Le Guin's own books; the books where it all started, in my mind at
least (I'm not sure of the publication dates). The Wizard of Earthsea. Tehanu. All my well-loved
characters from childhood that deserve another visit. And they will get one. (Once I've finished the deluge of books I have to read to review...)

Despite knowing that fan-mail from adults that has correct punctuation and none of the charm that children's misspellings and mistakes, I do feel drawn to write to Le Guin now - hand-written, pen on paper writing. She has, for me, opened up her soul, and I crave to receive a tiny acknowledgement back. But - as she rightly says - this is not the job of the author; the author writes and the reader takes whatever meaning they want from it. 'Tell me what it means... That's not my job, honey. That's your job.' But I don't want to write and ask her what anything means. I want to write to her and feel that spark of human connection; the resonance that one feels with someone although I know it can never be reciprocal. (Although in my head, I can imagine discussing Hopkins' 'The Windhover' which she mentions in 'Readers' Questions', the sheer absurdity of proverbs mentioned in 'Having My Cake' (which also provided some information on Charles Darwin I didn't know), talking about Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey...)

Still, 'No Time To Spare' has made me want to connect to Le Guin while - how do I say this delicately - while I still can. She has touched me in a way that non-fiction writers generally do not. I cannot rate this book more highly. For this small insight into such a great mind, we are truly blessed.

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Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Review: The Boy With One Name

Jones is the boy with one name, snatched as an infant from his loving parents by a Badlander called Maitland, he only longs to be a normal boy and have his family back. One night, he and Maitland are on patrol and come across an ogre 'moon-bathing.' Things don't go quite to plan; enter: Ruby, a foster child on the run, who is desperate to be part of the Badlander's world, despite its dangers and terrors. Along with a talking gun, a miniature fire breathing black dog, an old camper van, and a hefty sprinkling of magic - you're sure to be taken on one hell of a ride!





The Badlands are all around us. All the things that you've heard about in stories - witches, ghosts, ogres, giants, spells, curses - they're all real. It's just that most people don't see them. If you're a Badlander, however, it's all you see.

Jones is tired of the Badlands. He's tired of hunting down enemies for his master, constantly checking out every place he goes to in case of dangerous creatures, tired of living without a family. But he was rescued as a baby by his master, Maitland, who picked him up as a bundle left behind on some steps. He wasn't wanted. All Maitland wants him to do is to commence - the act that will make him a true Badlander, and be able to perform magic and spells that we can only dream of. But Jones? Jones wants to be normal. He's seen snippets of real life on the televisions of shop windows as they pass by; he's seen families strolling with their children; children going to school to learn maths and English, not about the Ordnung (the Badlander law) and what specific types of metal kill or repel different monsters. 

Wallis starts with what should be the biggest night of an apprentice's life: the night where they commence, and can perform proper magic. Maitland thinks he's ready (although his talking gun isn't too sure...) And Jones just doesn't know what to do. They've discovered an ogre moon-bathing, and Jones must make his first kill. Only, Jones knows this person as a man during daylight hours: he runs the sweet shop, and is perfectly kind. And, besides, he doesn't want anything to do with all this. But with Maitland being all he has, what can he do?

Enter Ruby, with a loud scream as she crashes her bike. This evening is really not going to plan. On the run from her foster parents, she's remarkably accepting of the situation when she gets past the 'thatsabloomingtrollogremonsterthingy!' When Ruby gets the measure of what's going on, all she can see is excitement. Being a Badlander sounds like the most awesome thing in the world. So what if the stupid Ordnung says that only boys can do magic. Girls can do everything boys can do, even better than boys in fact. Her mind's made up: Ruby Jenkins is going to be a Badlander.

The Badlands is a fantastic world that Wallis has created, hidden within our every day world. One could accuse it of being akin to Harry Potter (a magical world coexisting with the normal; some of the magical items are very similar e.g. 'Slap Dust' which has similar effects to 'Floo Powder' in Harry Potter), but they are in fact very different. This is pitched at a younger age group to Harry Potter and, as such, is a bit less serious and a lot of fun. Both the central characters, Ruby and Jones, are thoroughly likeable, and the other characters, even ones who play a minimal role, are well-rounded and thought out. There are no 'Mary Sues' here! 

I enjoyed Wallis' 'The Boy with One Name.' I could see it becoming a series; there's definitely potential, although I'm not sure what the plans are. I certainly hope to read more about Jones and Ruby and their 'new circumstances!' (I won't give anything away - no spoilers!)

A really good and fun urban fantasy novel for middle grade readers; I would definitely recommend it.

Further reading suggestions: The Magesterium Series by Cassandra Claire and Holly Black; Coraline by Neil Gaiman

I received this free copy from The Book Bag in return for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Review: Everything We Keep

Everything We Keep Everything We Keep by Kerry Lonsdale
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Aimee's life is falling apart at the seams. Her wedding day has turned into the day she buries her fiancee. Her parents are selling their pub that she has worked as a chef at for years, leaving without a job, money or a lover. And her friends think she should move on? What do they know? On top of everything, a man called Ian is desperately trying to make a move on her, and her brother in law is acting suspiciously.

And then there's the note. A note from a psychic. That James - her fiancee - is still alive. Is Aimee clutching at straws, or is there some truth behind all this? As she gradually moves on with her life, can she really let this mystery remain unsolved?

Although I didn't think this was a brilliant novel, as a debut this has a surprisingly compelling storyline. Without giving anything away, something occurs that seemed too far-fetched to be even used as poetic license, but I looked it up and found that Lonsdale had indeed kept within the realms of things that we recognise. (Hard to say much without using spoilers!) Despite this, I did find the plot frustrating in a number of ways. Grief affects everyone in different ways, but Aimee's depression following the death of her fiancee did not feel real. It's hard to pinpoint exactly why, but I was left with a clinical list of grieving behaviours as opposed to a character actually grieving. Furthermore, although the one thing I thought was impossible turned out to occur, the plot was still very far-fetched. Various characters didn't act in keeping with their personalities; others' personalities weren't solid enough to really know - they would do something, and I was left wondering if this was 'in' or 'out' of character, before realising that I didn't actually know the character.

The writing style is fairly proficient, but can become a little confusing during scenes with much action in them; it's easy to lose track of what's happening. This doesn't happen very much though; to be fair, the majority of the book was very easy to read. Overall, the writing style isn't remarkable because this is a book based more on plot.

Finally, the very last two chapters felt clumsy to me, particularly the last chapter. I realise now that is there to leave room for a sequel, but this works fine as a stand-alone novel. It wasn't needed, and detracted from the previous writing.

It may seem that I hated this book; I didn't. It was fine, it just didn't thrill me, and had some key things that could be improved upon. It's billed as mystery and romance; the mystery was frustrating, but the romance was fine, if that is your kind of book. I'm not a great lover of romance (I often find myself internally rolling my eyes), but it was fairly typical of the genre.

A fairly well executed debut novel. I would read more by Kerry Lonsdale, but I wouldn't read a sequel to this.

Two and a half stars.

Thank you to NetGalley for the chance to read and review this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Saturday, 4 November 2017

Review: Neanderthal Opens The Door To The Universe

Neanderthal Opens The Door To The Universe Neanderthal Opens The Door To The Universe by Preston Norton
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Here's the premise: Cliff Hubbard is a bit of a social retard. (Okay, that's probably not PC, but it's what kids would say). He's over six foot and, at 250 pounds is, hugely obese. His brother, also his best friend, has recently committed suicide; he lives in a trailer park; his father is an alcoholic; and he is teased constantly.

Basically, life's not very good.

Then, something strange happens. Aaron Zimmerman, massively cool jock who is one of Cliff's key tormentors - perhaps even the originator of his nickname 'Neanderthal' - has a boating accident. Everyone assumes he's going to die. Cliff has sort of mixed feelings about this: it's great he's no longer around, but he had been really determined to kick his butt, and if Aaron dies this sort of mucks up that plan.

But Aaron mucks up Cliff's plan further: he comes out of his coma, and talks to Cliff. An actual conversation, using his name, and being polite and everything. What is going on with the universe? Aaron claims he saw God and God gave him a list of things to do make Happy Valley High School suck less. Where does Cliff come in? God said that Aaron had to have Cliff as his side-kick. Cliff does get on board, suspiciously, but it seems like this magic list is doing more damage than good. Is Aaron just suffering from concussion? A logical conclusion, but, as the pair spend more time together, it's not something Cliff wants to believe. Surely, one person, just one, could like him for who he is without having sustained a massive brain injury.

Things sure get complicated...

I wanted to like this book; I really did. It sounded like fun - a quick read, a quick laugh, with the
Preston Norton
obligatory message that all YA books have these days. But... I just... didn't.

It's sort of hard to pinpoint why. One problem is it has a very slow start and I was getting pretty bored. But that wasn't all of it, obviously. The plot just didn't work. And I think the main problem was the characterisation, specifically, of Cliff. He's six foot and weighs 250 pounds. That's kind of the limit to his character. Okay, so there was a bit more character development than that, but really - for being such a ginormous size - he was a pretty flat character. And there's a relationship with a girl that really really doesn't work. It's unbelievable, out of character, unlikely, cringeworthy... just wrong.

I liked the references to '2001: A Space Odyssey.' That gets some points from me. But when the book tries to be all philosophical, I just got that squirmy feeling when someone's misjudged a situation and everyone feels all awkward. For example, Cliff's older brother said: "Life isn't just existing... It's a door. Don't you want to know what's on the other side? It just... well, it doesn't work. Not in this book.

I suppose I should give Norton some credit for the 'nod' to the LGBTQ community, but that's all it was: a nod. It didn't feel real. It felt like it was inserted into the book because that's what's 'in' in modern YA fiction at the moment, not because it meant anything to the author.

Like I said, I wanted to like it, and I persevered, but it was really disatisfying. By all means, go ahead and read it - I'd love to hear some positive reviews and maybe find out what I've missed, but - for me - this is a no.

Sorry Norton. Maybe I'll like your next book?

Thank you to NetGalley and Disney/Hyperion for the ARC copy to read. All thoughts and opinions are mine. This book will be released on May 22nd 2018.

Now this is definitely cooler. Crazy, but great. If you haven't watched it, you really should.


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Sunday, 29 October 2017

Review: 147 Things: My User's Guide to the Universe, from Black Holes to Bellybuttons

147 Things: My User's Guide to the Universe, from Black Holes to Bellybuttons 147 Things: My User's Guide to the Universe, from Black Holes to Bellybuttons by Jim Chapman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Back to dusting off this blog with a recent review. Here goes.

'147 Things: My User's Guide to the Universe, from Black Holes to Bellybuttons.' Sounds pretty wacky and out there, right? Pick up some interesting facts in a very easy read style book, or at the very least get some random and interesting trivia. Right? Right??

Well, I'm sorry, Jim, but your book just didn't do it for me. The balance of seriousness with sheer stupidity (the amount of times your penis was mentioned just wasn't funny, particularly when juxtaposed beside the story of how a major father figure in your life died) doesn't gel. And as for the amazing facts and stuff? Well... meh. There wasn't even anything that new there. I mean: there were a few things that I didn't know specifically, but nothing to make me get too excited about. Apart from that, they were facts that, well, everyone knows. Apparently not Chapman because he presents them as though he's the bringer of some amazing new piece of science that will really shock you. But it's mostly GCSE level type stuff, it's not ground-breaking.

I only finished this book, to be honest, because I wanted to give it a fair review. And I have. Unfortunately, slogging through every single one of the 147 facts didn't change my mind.

Two stars, purely for the fact that I did go and watch about half of one of Chapman's YouTube videos (I switched it off because it was boring), so I must have been a little more intrigued than I realised. Now, I'm even more confused. Why do people find him so interesting on YouTube? I could walk around with a camera all day too, y'know...

Nothing personal about Jim Chapman; he seems like a really nice bloke. I imagine if you follow his YouTube channel, you'll enjoy this book because it appears to be along the same style. Not one for me, but (this sounds weird) I wouldn't mind meeting Jim Chapman. I think he'd be an interesting conversationalist.

Just - unfortunately for us - not an author.

Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC copy to read and review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

(If anyone's interested - after my, er half-hearted, endorsement - below is the video I checked out. I didn't manage to watch the whole thing.)



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