The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

Please don’t hate me but I didn’t like this book. Confession: I DNFed it around half way after realizing that it wasn’t the Narrator of Death that was towering over me, but the literal one, holding up my hourglass with a glint in his eye as he watched me waste hours reading something I was bored of. (Literal Death seems very much like Discworld Death)

Okay let me get this out of the way first – Zusak can write. He is a good writer, actually. The story was wayyyy too slow for my taste, but it was well written.

But.

It was so… cliche? One thing that made me interested in reading it was the fact that Death narrated it, and Death had an interesting voice. But it couldn’t hold up for that long without getting boring, and repetitive. There were too many times when Death broke in with facts that were then repeated in the narrative on the next page. And the fact that Death ‘spoilt’ certain things ages before they happened (I’m guessing its meant to make you go AHH WHEN IS THAT), when it did happen, I just didn’t care (that was when I gave up. When he revealed something that would happen and my reaction was ‘meh’)

Added to all of that is the fact that while Zusak is a good writer, the writing in this is so overdone it was often… painful. Seriously, I  normally like that kind of writing, where it dances off your tongue when you speak it aloud. Hell, its my main style when writing short stories. But there comes a point where you just want to hit your head against the page because you cannot take it anymore.

There were many other things I didn’t enjoy about it – but I actually read the book last year and have been sitting on this review for months but everything added together just meant I didn’t care about the characters, didn’t care what happened, and just… couldn’t finish it.

two-stars

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?

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

The Bookshop Girl, Sylvia Bishop

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This story is about a little girl named Property Jones, so-called because she was left in the lost property cupboard of a bookshop when she was five years old. Property loves living in the bookshop, but she has a whopper of a secret… she can’t actually read! So Property doesn’t see the newspaper article announcing the chance to win the Montgomery Book Emporium, the biggest and most magnificent bookshop in the world! When her family win the competition, Property finds herself moving to the Emporium, a magical place filled with floor upon floor of books and a very bad-tempered cat. But all is not at it seems at the Emporium and soon Property Jones finds herself in a whole heap of trouble.

Honestly, its books like this that makes me believe that childrens books are often the best and most creative books in existence. And the funniest.

I mean, here you have a girl called Property who lives at a bookshop but cant read because she never admitted the fact that when her mother gave her a book (assuming she could read) she thought they were just staring at the pages and not actually doing anything. And also here you have a bookshop where each room is a different theme and is mechanical and I really want to live there? It sounds like the best bookshop ever. Oh, and a creature that might be a cat but might also be a demon.

And a whole lot of other stuff that just makes it a brilliant book.

I feel as if the whole book was a love letter to bookshops. Everyone (well, mostly) in the book loved books and the shops. Both shops in the book were intriguing and lovely and fun, and strangely convincing enough that even the Emporium sounded as if it was real.

But more than that, the book had a gentle message in it that reading isn’t everything. Property can’t read, yet she’s the one that notices things and saves the day. It’s a nice message for anyone – but especially for the 7+ that the book is aimed for, because it’s telling them that they don’t have to be good readers, or good at anything, to be wonderful.

It is a quick read, but it’s a book that will make you snigger and give children and adults alike joy, so I really recommend it, no matter your age.

five stars

Letters to the Lost, Brigid Kemmerer

 

Juliet Young has always written letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother’s death, she leaves letters at her grave. It’s the only way Juliet can cope.
Declan Murphy isn’t the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he’s trying to escape the demons of his past.
When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can’t resist writing back. Soon, he’s opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither of them knows that they’re not actually strangers. When real life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart. This emotional, compulsively-readable romance will sweep everyone off their feet.

Taken at face value, this book might look like your average YA high school book. You know the ones; friends to enemies, Bad Boy with a Rep meets Gentle Loving Girl. With just a bit more angst than maybe normal. (I say maybe. High School/College Romance style YA/NA books seem to compete with each other for most amount of angst possible in one page)

But take that face value and… I dont know. Throw it out the window, or something just as fun. Because this book is more than that – and hell, while most people would count it as a romance (since the main characters are a boy and a girl talking to each other. That all it seems to take nowadays) I don’t.

This is a book about two people, who have both lost someone in their family, and that one thing has shaped each of them every day of their lives. Its a book about anger and friendship and love- not just romantic love – and mainly, grief.

Grief being the main thing the whole plot centres around.

I know grief. It and I have shaken hands on more than one occasion, and sometimes it likes to pop up again, just to remind me that now we are acquaintance, it will never truly leave. And reading this book – it was hard, at times. Because I understood how both characters felt. Their helplessness and anger and denial – not necessarily that the person is dead, but that you’ve lost them.

There was a part about a quarter through the book when Juliet’s dad pulls out all her mums stuff and starts talking about selling them, and Juliet screams at him and just starts crying. That bit, strangely, was one of the hardest parts for me to read, because it still happens.

People don’t understand grief. Not even those that have been through it. Because everyone copes (or doesnt cope) differently, and I think this book was amazing and putting that across. Not even six months after her mother dies and all her teachers and friends don’t understand why Juliet isn’t back to ‘normal’. They keep making comments about it, trying to stop her from going to the cemetery or hoarding her mothers things. Because people don’t get over things like that so quickly.  And this book – the grienf doesn’t just disappear to make way for a romance and oh mt god the fact that is so rare is wrong. It was wonderful to read and see how both characters struggled with emotions, both positive and negative, and watching their journey through the chapters to see how each changed the other.

The only thing I didn’t like was the formatting – in most double narratives, the chapters start by being headed by the character name. In this one, that doesnt happen, so the first few chapters can be hard to navigate through, especially as each chapter starts with a letter from the opposite character. But you do get used to it after a while so its not that bad.

five stars