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

Friday Thoughts: On the Power of Words

I’m reading a book at the moment (*gasp*), called Letters to the Lost – which, in all honestly, will most likely have a review on here far sooner than this post does (since I write Friday posts weeks in advance) – all about a girl who has lost her mother and a boy who lost his sister years ago and has pretty much lost himself.

The book, to me, is pretty hard hitting. I didn’t think, when starting it, that it would be so bad. After all, I’ve read a lot of books about mental health and self harm and even the terrifying Only Ever Yours, which to this day, creeps me out. And compared to many of them, this book is easy. 

Except this; grief is not an easy thing. Its often pushed away, ignored and underestimated, as shown by the main characters friends, who six months after her mothers death, don’t understand why she still struggles.

And while you know the characters in the book are not real, when you’ve struggled through your own grief and the characters coping mechanism mirror your own… its extraordinarily hard to read. Only a few chapters in, I had to pause and put the book down, because it made me feel like I could barely breath.

And just like the power of grief, the power of words is also often underestimated. Every piece of writing ever read has the power to change us. Look at Harry Potter, for example. A series that shaped an entire generation, and changed the way people look at childrens books forever.

In 1996 – a year before the first Potter book came out – the average childrens book was around 140 pages long. Ten years later, it had increased to 170, and ten years after that (2016) it had gone up to an amazing 290 pages. (information from here)

The theory is that well before Harry Potter, people believed that children would never be able to sit down for that long and just read. So they never bothered publishing long childrens books – since they were apparently less likely to sell. Then along came Harry Potter (whose first few books were relatively  short, but still far longer than the average for the time. The first book was 223 pages- about 75000 words), and suddenly they were seeing that children were sitting down and reading it, and enjoying it! And of course, the series got longer and longer- the height of it being book 5 with a whopping 257,045 words (or 766 pages). And guess what? Children were still reading it. 

Publishers suddenly saw that if the story was good and engaging, then any child would read it, without being too intimidated by the size of it.

Of course, not every long childrens book is good. Its still about quality rather than quantity, but it gave longer stories a way to finally shine.

Staying on Harry Potter for a bit longer (I mean, I am of the Potter generation, can you blame me), there was also research done that showed by reading books such as Harry Potter, it helped you become a ‘better person’ more open minded to things, less judgmental… (here) Because Potter is a story of friendship, love, good VS evil and a whole lot more. Sure, there are the the downright despicable characters (I’ve never seen a fandom like Potter, where you say Umbridge’s name and everyone hates her), but they teach you how not to be, and the lesson learnt is that if you act like Umbridge, you too could be carted off by magical creatures into a giant forest. There are the characters that bring out the arguments. Draco Malfoy, the bully of the story. We all know he was a terrible child, but, as seen in Cursed Child, forgiveness is always important. Snape – who I won’t stay on because I refuse to accept he was ever a good character, because really, a teacher should never ever bully a child. But then there are the characters we all adore. The Weasleys, who show that you should always help others and have your arms wide no matter who you are. Hermione, who for a while was seen as awful, who turned out to be loyal and smart. And Harry – a boy who had lost everything, grew up in an abusive home and still became a wonderful, lovely person.

And talking about characters – did you know that you pick up the traits of characters you identify with? (That explains so much about me, since the Weasley twins and Lila Bard are my bookish siblings…) So next time someone judges you for reading something, find them a book with a really lovely, non judgmental character and it might change their minds! (read stuff about it here)

The thing is… so many people assume that books and words are just that; pieces of dead tree inked with symbols we somehow perceive as letters.

But books well and truly shape us. Think back to your childhood favourites; to this day, I can name many of them, and I still have a whole bookshelf dedicated to most of them. And books more recent; I have another bookcase where I store all my favourites, ones I go back to time and time again, or just the ones I read that caught my heart so much I knew I would never let them go.

Sometimes we read books at the right time; Celaena, from Throne of Glass, came into my life at a time I needed her. I was tired and frightened and lost, and I remember thinking, as I read it, if she can survive then so can I. Books, and their characters and their meanings can make more of a difference to someone than most people will ever imagine.

And then there are the words that maybe the world do not see. Your own words. People say that every person has a book inside them. I disagree. I think people have their own universes inside them, ever expanding and creating and dreaming, and with every book read or written, that universe grows more and more.

But we are taught to push those worlds away. Our childhoods and teenage years are all about education. It’s reading for the sake of dissecting, rather than reading for the sake of enjoyment. Its writing for essays rather than writing for joy.

At school, many of my books would have real school work in the front, then plots and mini stories in the back. I remember having countless arguments with my English teachers, because according to them, I didn’t write correctly. Even at 14, I knew for a fact there wasn’t a correct way. Writing is personal, even fiction, and every one of us has our own style. School batters that out of you. They tell you that even creative writing has it’s own form. That your characters must be identical and your writing all the same, and they grade you on how near to their own you can write. How- how can you grade something like imagination and voice?!

My English teacher from year 10 actually told me never to bother being a writer because I couldnt write. I mean, I dont know if I can, but you can look for yourself if you want. But because I refused to conform to what school taught as ‘creative’ (eg, fitting into the box and not being creative) I was punished and put down.

Her words could have had power over me. If I wasn’t stubborn, I might have believed her and stopped writing. But while education tried to box my universe down to size, I wouldn’t let them, and I let it flourish.

It’s why you should always be careful with those words you wield; often, they have more power and punch than, well, a real punch does, because words – spoken or written – can burrow under the skin and stay there and shape people long long after they were said or the book was closed.

In Letters to the Lost, the main character writes letters to her mother even after she had died. By chance, someone else read a letter and was effected by the words. They resonated in them and he understood the pain the girl felt, even without knowing her.

Sometimes, that is why we write. Even a published author can write for themselves, not knowing who would read their words and who would understand them. Sometimes we don’t write to be heard or seen; we write because our own words can change us too. Everything we read, everything we write, it shapes all of us more than we will never know.

Noah Can’t Even, Simon James Green

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Poor Noah Grimes! His father disappeared years ago, his mother’s Beyonce tribute act is an unacceptable embarrassment, and his beloved gran is no longer herself. He only has one friend, Harry, and school is…Well, it’s pure HELL. Why can’t Noah be normal, like everyone else at school? Maybe if he struck up a romantic relationship with someone – maybe Sophie, who is perfect and lovely – he’d be seen in a different light? But Noah’s plans are derailed when Harry kisses him at a party. That’s when things go from bad to utter chaos

This book is hilarious.

And before I write a review, I want to convince you to read it in two pictures:

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and

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And if that didn’t make you cackle and cringe, there’s plenty more (of both) in this book that will make you.

It’s awkward. Oh my god, this book is full of awkward teenagers and even more awkward moments that honestly makes me feel like my own teenage years were almost normal.

I mean, the book is ridiculous. It jumps from one ridiculous thing to another, but the best thing is that the main character and his wonderful mess of a life makes it believable. From his panicking talking to anyone else to his attempts to be cool to the numerous plot twists that make everything worse, this book is a masterpiece of bumbling through the awkwardness of teenage years and sexuality and school and embarrassing mothers.

I was laughing (out loud) so much through sections of this book that my colleague ended up grabbing a copy off the shelf and reading it too – half an hour later she bought it.

This book is just a wonderful friesh of breath air. It’s funny and clever and over the top, but it’s also light hearted and good… and an lgbt book where all the lgbt characters survive (wow the fact that my bar is so low for gay characters says a lot). And its also a book with more than one gay character – I’m sure you all know what I mean. In 90% of  books there is just the one lgbt character… which is so not true to real life.

Basically, you should go out now and buy this book and you will not be disappointed. I would talk about this book for ages but I don’t want to spoil anything for people, so please, please, go and read it.

five stars