Show Stopper, Hayley Barker

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Set in a near-future England where the poorest people in the land are forced to sell their children to a travelling circus – to perform at the mercy of hungry lions, sabotaged high wires and a demonic ringmaster. The ruling class visit the circus as an escape from their structured, high-achieving lives – pure entertainment with a bloodthirsty edge. Ben, the teenage son of a draconian government minister, visits the circus for the first time and falls instantly in love with Hoshiko, a young performer. They come from harshly different worlds – but must join together to escape the circus and put an end to its brutal sport.

Have I ever said how much I hate insta-love?

Okay okay so this book had a really interesting premise and a kinda interesting plot but it just… wasn’t pulled off well? Maybe I was expecting too much from it and that let me down. All I know is that it took me three weeks to actually read because I just kept putting it off.

The idea was good – it’s taken a world we seem to be heading towards and put it to the extreme, where ‘pure’ british people are the only people seen as human and everyone else is there to be abused and for entertainment and to starve. And it was interesting to see that world through both the eyes of a dreg and a pure.

And the circus, the chapters in Hoshiko POV were brilliant. Dark and dangerous and interesting, I was instantly swept up into her world and wanted to know more about it.

But then it failed.

See, this book is set over like, two days. And it’s narrated by both main characters. It’s rare I say this, but wow I would have happily cut out all of Ben’s chapters and not bothered with them. His story was dull, uninteresting and nothing happened in them compared to Hoshiko’s own.

And literally within the first few chapters, with nothing, Ben just decides that he’s completely and utterly in love with this girl who he has never spoken to (and when he finally does speak to, she just shouts at him?). He literally… becomes a stalker. Seriously, he knows nothing about her yet goes and searches her name, breaks into this circus and upturns his life just to talk to her and then they fall in love like NO.

This would have been such a better story if you took away that awful romance element that didn’t work and just had it as Hoshiko trying to survive in this awful place, maybe trying to break free or something.

Because Ben’s whole storyline just seemed unrealistic? Like he lived around dregs his whole life and didn’t seem to notice that he was part of the people hurting them and how bad the pures were until he magically fell in love with one?

Hoshiko’s chapters were brilliant and full of action – action I mostly was interested in. I loved her relationships with the others in the circus and loved seeing them battle against their rage and anger every day. She is the reason I’m giving it three stars – because her on her own made an excellent story.

three stars

Friday Thoughts: The Great Bookmark Debate

Apparently, there is a phrase which automatically makes me a fake book lover. That phrase is ‘You know, I dogear my books.’ The looks of horror on peoples faces can often be hilarious, and for some reason, it’s classed as a worse offence than highlighting inside books.

I don’t do it often, and I don’t do it while actually bookmarking a page I’m on, but I still do it. Mostly its when there is a part I love, or the start of a favourite chapter so I can go back and reference it easily.

I don’t understand why it’s seen as bad – as long as you don’t do it to other people’s books, I think this is fine to do.

Plus, it is far far easier to dogear than hunt around to find something to actually use as a bookmark… since, despite the fact I make bookmarks, I can never ever find one easily!

Weird things I’m currently using as bookmarks; a half price voucher for a restaurant. An old receipt, a piece of string and a ds game. Thank goodness kindles don’t need bookmarks.

Normal things I am currently not using as a bookmark; a bookmark.

Which is really amusing, when I get at least one nice bookmark for christmas each year. I always feel bad about never using it, but it never seems to be where I need. Part of me doesnt get why we even assign the title of bookmark to a particular strip of card when we much more often use limbs to hold books open anyway.

Whats the strangest thing you’ve used as a bookmark? Whats your view on folding down pages?

The Handmaids Tale, Margaret Atwood

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now…

I read an adult novel. Not only that, I read an adult novel that’s technically a classic and I liked it. (that’s two adults in a row. This is a rare and strange thing)

I don’t know if like is the right word though. Because it’s an uneasy and occasionally hard read, and not exactly enjoyable. But it was interesting and fascinating and I read it in two days.

I mean, I find it hard to believe we could ever make the leap between what we are now to that type of world – but then, the characters in the book didn’t think that either. I actually loved this way of looking at it; in most dystopian books, its years after society starts to change and no one knows any different. In this, it’s still in those first few years – every character knows of before even if they can’t talk about it. And it gave an extra part of horror to the whole thing – because things can change that quickly. Really, hopefully not that much but like… you could kinda see someone like Trump going yeah you know what lets stop women accessing their money without their husbands there. 

Talking of husbands – I often say the reason’s I dont like adult fiction is because in every book I’ve read there’s been cheating and alcoholics. That… doesn’t technically stop in this book (I mean, the whole idea of a handmaid is so they have sex with other peoples husbands to have children…) and the men still like to drink… but the actual story and way it was written made me not-as-annoyed as normal.

It is, overall, one of the best and most chilling dystopias I have ever read and I think I will be reading more Atwood at some point.

five stars

Friday Thoughts: On Book Covers

We all know that famous phrase don’t judge a book by its cover. Normally, we use it to talk about not books, but nowadays it’s a phrase that really should go back to its literal sense.

After all, there are books we see covers for and avoid even without knowing what is inside them. There are also covers which are so beautiful that you buy them without thought (often only to find out it has the worst writing inside it.

You would have thought we would have learnt by now. However most book lovers… we just have a complete love for our shelves looking just as pretty as our stories.

Books I avoid:

Books with girls on the cover wearing puffy dresses:

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I’ve seen three or four different series with covers EXACTLY like this. Girl posing uncomfortably in a dress you know she can’t walk in. And I just… I cant never remember what book is what. And in all of them, the plots are so similar? (I have actually read the above. It was good, but not amazing same can be said for a few others so I no longer bother)

this:

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I just…. this is a MG/YA book yet it looks really really dodgy.

I also tend to avoid any film adaptations covers – I prefer to imagine characters as I read rather than having actors face in my head beforehand.

Books I always go for:

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… I have such expensive taste.

Basically for me, its bright colours and pretty illustrations (added bonus if the inside is just as pretty)

This is the stupid thing though; book covers are vain. We all know they make no difference to what is inside- the words we are meant to be buying- but we care all the same. And publishers cater to that vanity.

Look at the Hunger Games:

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These are the covers that I own. Simple and effective, and apparently ‘adult’ covers? Because apparently, adults get ashamed when they read ya books without more mature covers?  Even when I bought them, there were already a few other cover designs out there, and then these ones came out:

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These bright, graffiti style covers, which, to this day, I still hate. If these had been the first ones that came out and I had seen them knowing nothing about the books, I would never have picked them up. nd if by some miracle I had, I would be highly annoyed; what on this cover screams children killing children for tv entertainment on it?

AND DON’T GET ME STARTED ON THE ENDLESS AMOUNTS OF COVERS THERE ARE FOR HARRY POTTER.

unless its these ones:

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(I’m buying all of them and I have no regrets)

So, what covers do you go for? What covers do you avoid?

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, Becky Chambers

When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The Wayfarer, a patched-up ship that’s seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled past.
But Rosemary gets more than she bargained for with the Wayfarer. The crew is a mishmash of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptilian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the constantly sparring engineers who keep the ship running. Life on board is chaotic, but more or less peaceful – exactly what Rosemary wants.
Until the crew are offered the job of a lifetime: the chance to build a hyperspace tunnel to a distant planet. They’ll earn enough money to live comfortably for years… if they survive the long trip through war-torn interstellar space without endangering any of the fragile alliances that keep the galaxy peaceful.
But Rosemary isn’t the only person on board with secrets to hide, and the crew will soon discover that space may be vast, but spaceships are very small indeed.

I don’t actually think I have enough words to explain how much I adore this book.  I love everything about it.

From the cast of main characters, each of them wonderfully unique and strong enough that you can always tell who is talking. And each of the characters has motive (no really, how many books have you read where all the characters seem to revolve around Mainy and every secret they have is actually about that one character?) and secrets, relationships and backgrounds that make them jump off the page.

Linked to that is the diversity. Oh my god, no sci-fi or fantasy can ever say that their worlds cant be diverse… or whatever excuse it is they use.  There are so many different beings in this book. Every alien species has a different language, set of myths, way of living, and you know the even nicer thing? No one is hated because of it. It’s a far less judgemental place than our own world seems to be.

There are aliens that upset the gender binary – finally, theres an author who says that, you know what, just because we use ‘female’ and ‘male’ doesnt mean every other planet would. (also, not every character is straight. YAY)

Its not just the aliens though; despite the fact that there are human characters in the cast, some were born and raised in spaceships, others on Mars, others around Earth, and each of them is vastly different too.

Seriously everything about this book was perfect.

I don’t often read sci-fi. I find that many books are all the same; spaceship, evil aliens, fighting. (Don’t get me wrong, I do like that some times, Star Trek is one of my favourite film franchises after all) so this is an amazing breath of fresh air in the genre. Because its not all about fighting and war (though there are a few conflicts within) its more about the day to day life of a long voyage through space, and a mismatch of characters that count each other as family.

It’s honestly brilliant, and I cannot wait to read the authors other book A Close and Common Orbit.

five stars

Friday Thoughts: To annotate or not to annotate

There always seems to be a debate about this – whether or not you should highlight or annotate books as you read. I’ve heard phrases such as but the writing still belongs to the author and you are damaging that or you should treat books with respect before when people have seen me do it.

I was at an author event in London the other month. When people all stood in the endless queue to get their books signed, I didn’t. I’ve been to enough events to know that standing up doesnt make the line move any quicker! Instead, I sat down, pulled out my current read (at that point, it was Cursed Child), pulled out a pen, a highlighter and started reading. And when I went to write something in it, I heard a scandalized gasp from the queue.

…That didn’t stop me.

I’ve highlighted in books for years. I have a rule, though – I only highlight on second reads, because if I’m reading it a second time, chances are I’ll never get rid of it. Books I know I’ll give away don’t get things in them, because I know others don’t always like it.

I like going back over things years later and finding little highlighted snippets that meant something to me before. I’ve always said you can understand a lot about a person on what they would highlight in a book, because it shows a side to them that isn’t always seen.

I only started annotating this year though, and I started with the Harry Potter books (the 2014 editions, even I wouldnt write or highlight in my very original copies!) and Cursed Child. I find annotating interesting. You can mark down anything, from sarcastic responses, to angrily shouting at characters, to your own thoughts on what is happening. All of which can be found in one of the four snippets of my notes here … or even my really over the top thoughts about characters, of which are here (I’m actually writing an entire post for the Malfoy family, I am obsessed)

I’ve realised that I really enjoy annotating books. Writing in the margins doesn’t mean you look after the book as much, or you don’t love it as much. It’s just another layer of reading; a review of the words that you don’t always show to other people. And I like the idea of one day, someone stumbling across an old, annotated book and reading it and piecing together the person behind them. And it’s funny, going back and reading over what you’ve written before to find something you’ve completely forgotten.

So, I’m all for highlighting and annotating (your own) copies of books – are you?

Who Runs the World, Virginia Bergin

Welcome to the Matriarchy.

Sixty years after a virus has wiped out almost all the men on the planet, things are pretty much just as you would imagine a world run by women might be: war has ended; greed is not tolerated; the ecological needs of the planet are always put first. In two generations, the female population has grieved, pulled together and moved on, and life really is pretty good – if you’re a girl. It’s not so great if you’re a boy, but fourteen-year-old River wouldn’t know that. Until she met Mason, she thought they were extinct.

Publication Date: 1st June 2017

I don’t… I don’t know how to talk about this book without getting really pissed off.

I don’t even know where to start.

I get what the author was trying to do. Problem is, I feel like she attempted something that she had no idea where to start, and she just added onto that and kept going without really thinking about what she ended up saying in it.

Heres the thing. We are a very ‘gender-structured’ world. We all know the ridiculousness of the whole pink is girls blue is boys thing. And the stereotypes of girls should wear dresses and make up boys should never cry. But gender- it’s not all black and white. It never has been, even if in history we were shoved into boxes and told to shut up if we thought it was wrong. And while we are not perfect, and no where near being so, the world is slowly opening its eyes to realise that gender- it’s a word that really, that means nothing. 

But in this book, though the blurb reads like it is set in a ‘genderless’ world, it is completely the opposite. Sure, it makes comments about how free they are to wear hair whatever length they want, to wear what they want, thats… that’s about 1% of everything that ‘matters’.
In the book, no one could work out why Main Character River wanted a running machine. No one knows why Mason likes to play video games- They dont even have video games, and the women are horrified to see what he plays? (Like, really? GUYS ARE NOT THE ONLY GAMERS?)
My personal favourite, though, was a comment about when women took over, all wars stopped. It turned out, none of us really wanted to fight anyway. Like…I just. I can’t. Okay, firstly, women aren’t all these, peace seeking people? Not every women in the world doesn’t fight, just as not every man does? Peace, war, all this crap, it’s a non gendered thing. (Like jesus christ I have one of the worst tempers out of everyone I know. I can argue for England when I want to. Most women I know can. If all men suddenly disappeared, war wouldn’t stop all of a sudden, and everything wouldn’t suddenly be quiet.)
Added to that, despite that line, when Mainy first comes across Mason, shes all ready to stab him with a knife? Like isn’t that the opposite of what the above statement is about?!

A lot about this book annoyed me, but I think my main issue with it was the attempted- yet failed- thought of diversity. Like, at the start when you start to learn about the world, its mentioned that it’s only male-born people that suffer and die because of the virus. And that though everyone in the world is female-born. There is a passing comment about those who don’t identify as a women- yet no one knows the ‘He/him’ pronouns (or even ‘they/them?’). They constantly misgender Mason when he first appears, because it confuses them- yet it shouldn’t do, if there are transgender people around.

(Of course, theres no actual trans characters in the book. Which, you know, would have made it more interesting- because what would this world be like to live in for a guy?)

Secondly… in a world where women are the majority, it would be much more accepting for them to be falling in love, getting together etc. And I’m pretty sure this happens- Main character keeps telling another girl that she loves her and they kiss, but on the next sentence it will be talking just about their friendship. Seriously? In the future where there are no men and lesbians are still being ‘gal pal’ed?

I just… I can’t with this book. I’m actually too angry at it to form real thoughts on anything but the fact it is horrifically ‘straight’. It had so much promise but like… why do all men have to die so women lead? Why is there so much fuss about only friends or anything else and just WHY.

I read this book in March. I wrote this review between March and April, having to come back to it every few days because I just couldn’t form words in the beginning, and I still cant.

I just… cant.

one star