Monday, 27 February 2017

On the Other Side by Carrie Hope Fletcher

Note: There will be a few spoilers in this review. Not major ones, I don't think, but it's hard to explain my thoughts properly without them (but you can skip over those and get my general opinion of the book without the specifics -- the spoilers are in between the "Timelessness" header and stop after the "END OF NEGATIVES" one).


On the Other Side
by Carrie Hope Fletcher


Summary: Evie Snow is eighty-two when she quietly passes away in her sleep, surrounded by her children and grandchildren. It's the way most people wish to leave the world but when Evie reaches the door of her own private heaven, she finds that she's become her twenty-seven-year-old self and the door won't open.

Evie's soul must be light enough to pass through so she needs to get rid of whatever is making her soul heavy. For Evie, this means unburdening herself of the three secrets that have weighed her down for over fifty years, so she must find a way to reveal them before it's too late. As Evie begins the journey of a lifetime, she learns more about life and love than she ever thought possible, and somehow , some way, she may also find her way back to her long lost love . . .
I am very conflicted about this book. It's one of those marmite books that people will either love or hate depending on their tolerance for sweetness in a story -- some love it, some will find it sweet to the point of being sickly. I think I fall somewhere in the middle, and I read the book on a good day so it worked for me.

Overall, I would say I liked it and I really enjoyed reading it (or rather, listening to it)...but I had some issues too (surprisingly not with it being sweet and twee to a fault).

I actually started reading the book last year and just could not get into it, then I had the chance to review the audiobook so I decided to give it another go. I don't know if it was the timing of it, or the change of format, but I actually really enjoyed listening to the book. The narration is excellent and I highly recommend the audible version.

Now...onto the issues (and I want to make it clear that, in spite of these issues, I don't think it was a bad book--and I'll get to the positives after the negatives are out the way--these were just the things that prevented me from loving it). I'll break this down into sections:

"Timelessness"

First of all, the time period of the book. Carrie has said that she didn't set it in a specific time period because she wanted Evie to be timeless, for people to relate to her story even years from now... The problem is, that didn't quite work.

The conflict of the story, the catalyst that sets everything else in motion, is a very dated issue and it's one that does not work in a contemporary setting and is way harder to relate to now. The gist of it:
Evie's mother doesn't want Evie to get a job as an artist (or any job at all, she's to be a wealthy stay at home wife and mother). She wants to arrange her marriage to a rich family friend whom she knows Evie doesn't love. And Evie eventually caves to this pressure...because her brother is gay and she wants to marry a rich guy so she can support him financially because she assumes their parents cut him out of their lives when he comes out (more on that ridiculousness soon).
If the story were set maybe 50-60+ years ago, an adult woman allowing her rich mother to dictate her life the way she does in the story would be believable and understandable and easy to sympathise with. Even the gay element would make sense because back then being an openly gay man was a criminal offence, and their rich parents would have had the power to have her brother sent to a psychiatric hospital to undergo awful "treatments" for being gay.

But that plot line does not work in a modern day setting. Evie and her brother could very easily move out and find jobs (she didn't even for one second consider compromising temporarily on her dream of being an artist and just getting a regular job to pay the bills). It might not be the comfortable lifestyle they're used to, but they would've been happy and free to live the lives they wanted.

A timeless story does not mean a story that isn't anchored to a certain point in time. There are books written or set hundreds of years ago that are timeless...not because the time period was left vague, but because at the heart of the stories are emotions and moral conflicts that are part of being human. They're timeless because in spite of all the differences between Then and Now, people still connect to the humanity in the stories. Deliberate removal of time period doesn't make a story timeless.

By refusing to choose a definitive time period for the story, it vastly altered the way the characters and their motivations and circumstances are interpreted.

Basically, I get what she was aiming for with the timelessness, but the execution of it doesn't quite work. The whole conflict in the story was really, really contrived and weak.

Her Brother

Now...the next issue. I really, really, really didn't like the weird straight saviour thing it had going on. Like I said above, it was so contrived and didn't sit well with me at all (but perhaps I'm just being over sensitive).

Evie gives up the man she loves because her brother is gay, and we're supposed to view it as this big noble sacrifice but it was just...eugh. She doesn't even give him a say in the matter, she just decides that because he's gay she has to support him financially which is so obliviously condescending. It didn't make sense and it really bothered me.

Had it been set in a time when someone could be locked up (in prison or in an institution) for being gay then that would've made sense. Then, her need to "protect" her brother would've been totally valid because she would have something she was actually trying to protect him from other than...well, not being rich anymore (and even that was just something she assumed would happen, not something certain).

Again, it just felt really condescending that she thought he wasn't capable of taking care of himself without her "sacrifice" -- he was a 20 year old man. He needed her love and her support, he did not need her to be his straight white night swooping in to save the day by sacrificing her own happiness so he could continue remain wealthy when he came out.

The implication that, had she not made her big sacrifice, he would've ended up on the streets or had to remain in the closet, unhappily marry a woman and live a miserable lie was just ridiculous. His safety wasn't in question, he would not have ended up on the streets if he came out. There was no reason, beyond financial gain, for her to do what she did to "protect" him.

Basically, him being gay was just used as a plot device in her story and I hated that. Vincent was a character who just happened to be bisexual, while Eddie was a Gay Character -- and a Gay Character whose whole story revolves around his gayness...and worse, it wasn't even about him, it was just used to create conflict in Evie's story.

So...That bugged me. A lot. It's not even that it was outright offensive representation, just kind of ignorant, but it bothered me a lot (even more so after reading the novella and having her "selflessness" perpetuated even further).

END OF NEGATIVES

Beyond those things, there was a lot I really liked about the story.

The characters were sweet and easy to care about, and I absolutely loved that Jim's character was just a genuinely good guy who got along with Vincent because I hate when characters are vilified for no other reason than they're seen as competition to the love interest (or main character) of the story -- life, and people, are more complex than that and I like that the story showed those complexities.

I loved that LGBTQ+ characters were included, especially the fact that the love interest of the story was a bisexual guy which doesn't happen often in fiction (although the gay representation was kind of problematic, as mentioned above).

And the magical realism...for the most part, I loved it (some bits were a little unoriginal, like there's a scene that is really similar to a thing that happens in Once Upon a Time). It's not the type I'd usually read -- most magical realism I've read (and adored) has been thoroughly set in our world, just with magical elements casually woven into it... This one, it felt like it kind of straddled the line between fantasy and magical realism, but I liked it.

Overall, the book is really cute. I'd rate it 3.5 stars out of 5 (if I'm rating the audiobook specifically, I'd rate it 4 stars out of 5 purely for how much I enjoyed the performance -- I'd definitely listen to any audiobooks Carrie narrates in future). I do look forward to seeing more of Carrie's books in future, in spite of the issues I had with this one.

Later.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Buffering by Hannah Hart

Buffering
by Hannah Hart


Summary: The wildly popular YouTube personality and author of the New York Times bestseller My Drunk Kitchen is back! This time, she’s stirring up memories and tales from her past.

By combing through the journals that Hannah has kept for much of her life, this collection of narrative essays deliver a fuller picture of her life, her experiences, and the things she’s figured out about family, faith, love, sexuality, self-worth, friendship and fame.

Revealing what makes Hannah tick, this sometimes cringe-worthy, poignant collection of stories is sure to deliver plenty of Hannah’s wit and wisdom, and hopefully encourage you to try your hand at her patented brand of reckless optimism.
So... I loved this book way more than I thought I was going to. Not that I expected it to be bad, I didn't, but I'm not a major follower of Hannah's online. I watch some of her videos (and saw Camp Takota) but I don't follow religiously so I wasn't sure how interested I would be listening to her life story (and I guess I had a bit of an unfair preconceived opinion of "Youtube Books" -- which was one of the reasons I wanted to try one really).

Basically, I just got this one on a whim and I'm really glad I did.

She is an excellent storyteller -- both her writing and her narration (I listened to it on audio, which I highly recommend). And it wasn't anything like I thought it would be. Given that she's a Youtuber and a lesbian, I figured those would be the biggest aspects of the book, but they weren't.

I mean, they played a part (and were really interesting to hear about), but most of the story was about her life growing up and it provides good insight into what it's like to grow up with a parent who has a mental illness and the impact it can have on a child and the adult they become.

The book was ultimately more about family than anything else, and it really drives home the message that you can never really know what someone else is going through or what they've gone through.

Even if you're not familiar with Hannah Harts online presence, I still highly recommend this book. I'd rate it 5 stars out of 5.

Later.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Let's Talk: Awesome Women in Non-Fiction

I seem to have this new obsession with reading/listening to non-fiction books by/about awesome women.

With the memoirs... It's so easy to measure yourself against the glittering, photoshopped, edited versions of celebrities and feel inadequate. But they're just people. Their anxieties and insecurities and struggles are just like ours. They have issues with mental illness and body image and self doubt, just like us. And they manage to be great in spite of those, so we can be too.

And with the biographies/historical non-fic... it's inspiring to read about the extraordinary lives so many women have lived, to read about the things they've endured and extraordinary things they've done and see the spaces they've carved out for themselves in history. To see all the ways things have changed for women...and the ways that they haven't.

And that's my rambling introduction to the list of biographies/memoirs of awesome women that are in my TBR (or on my wishlist). The ones in italics are the ones I've already read:


Yes Please by Amy Poehler
Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick
The Princess Diarist, Shockaholic, and Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher
Buffering by Hannah Hart
If This is a Woman: Inside Ravensbruk by Sarah Helm (currently reading)
You Can't Touch My Hair by Jessica Williams
Bloom by Estee Lalonde
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson
Forever Liesl by Charmian Carr
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
You're Never Weird on the Internet by Felicia Day
In the Country We Love: by Diane Guerrero
Unsinkable by Debbie Reynolds
Debbie: My Life by Debbie Reynolds
Nujeen by Nujeen Mustafa
Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan by Shrabani Basu
Spectacles by Sue Perkins
Seriously...I'm Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres
Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham
Unfilered by Lily Collins
Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth
The Places at the End of the World, Ghosts by Daylight Janine di Giovanni

Basically, women are fabulous and we can learn a lot from the ones who lived and grew before us, both  ourselves and about things outwith our realm of experience (e.g. I'm a white woman, I've never had to deal with the racism women of colour face but that doesn't mean I should be ignorant to it).

If you have any recommendations of other books that should be on my radar, let me know? (Especially if you have any recs of non-fiction books by transwomen because they're vastly underrepresented in my tbr).


Later.

p.s. anyone else notice a bit of a theme going on with the covers of memoirs?


Wednesday, 22 February 2017

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

The Bear and the Nightingale
by Katherine Arden

Summary: At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.
This is one of those books that reminds me why I love reading -- it got all under my skin and hooked its nails into my emotions and I loved every second of it. Before I was even half way through I knew it had earned a spot on my favourites shelf.

Basically...I adored it.

The world was a mix of old Russia and intricate folklore woven together beautifully and the writing was lovely. And the characters... I loved them, especially Vasya -- she was an excellent character, I loved that she was complex and strong but her strength was in her compassion and fearlessness and the lengths she'd go to to protect the people she cares about rather than physical strength. And I loved the way the relationships developed and that family was such a big role in the story.

I loved all of it pretty much. The only thing I didn't love was that there was spousal rape and assault mentioned kind of casually in the story and not really acknowledged as wrong...which is fitting with the time period and it isn't written graphically, but I thought I'd mention that here in case that was a deal breaker for someone or something that would bother them if they weren't expecting it.

I don't have much else to say about the book really...I just really, really loved it and it left me pining for the sequels. I'd rate it 5 stars out of 5.


Later.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Ten Books That Surprised or Disappointed Me

So the theme for this weeks Top Ten Tuesday is "Ten Books I Loved Less/More Than I Thought I Would (recently or all time) -- or you could do something like books I liked more/less than everyone else" -- I'm not sure I could come up with 10 for either, so I'm going to do a mix of both.

Let's start with the five books that I loved way more than I thought I was going to...

The Pleasant Surprises:

1. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini - This book...I'd seen so many people talk about it that eventually I caved and read it. I didn't expect to read it in one sitting, I didn't expect to fall so thoroughly in love with the characters or the book...but I did exactly that.

2. Red Leaves by Paullina Simons - I saw a lot of bad reviews of this book before I read it. Most of them were from people who read her other book, The Bronze Horseman, and went into it expecting it to be just as great so it failed by comparison. But me? I loved it. It was completely different to The Bronze Horseman -- different tone, different genre, very different characters. I can't explain why I loved it, because so much of it was just not my kind of thing or something I'd normally go for...but for some inexplicable reason, I love this book.

3. Obsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout - This book sounded super cheesy and there is many a Twilight comparison to be made...it sounded like it could've been kind of awful. Except it wasn't. It was just one of those really fun, cute, addictive stories that reminded me of the good parts of Twilight and I loved it. Is it cheesy? Oh, absolutely. And I love it for that reason,

4. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein - Everyone seemed to be raving about this book when it came out. The hype was literally the only reason I picked it up...I didn't think I'd like it, I just wanted to know what the fuss was about. And for more than half the book, I could not figure out why everyone loved the book so damn much. Then the last third of the book happened. And the book now lives on my favourites shelf (except when it payed a visit to my best friend whom I harassed into reading it and she loved it just as much).

5. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel - This book was completely different to anything I'd ever read before. I didn't think I'd love it, I read it purely on recommendation and I don't know what I expected from it (maybe for it to be dull and stuffy and boring), but what I got from it was a new addition to my favourites shelf and a new found love of the magical realism genre. I've been pining for more books just like this one since I finished it.

What I've learned from (most of) these books is that I should go out of my comfort zone more...many of my favourite books have been ones I took a chance on, ones that were outside of my usual genres or styles.

And now onto the negatives... These books, they're not necessarily bad books, it was usually just that they weren't really my cup of tea or that they were so hyped up by everyone that they were kind of a let down to me. So...

The Disappointments:

1. Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge - This one was...well, disappointing. There was so much hype and it was retelling a fairy tale I'd usually love. But I didn't click with the characters, and the world that other people found beautiful was just a bit of a hot mess to me really. I had other issues with the book, but it really just comes down to this: was not my cup of tea, at all. But it should have been, which was the biggest disappointment. I really should take another chance on her books though, because she is far from being a bad author.

2. An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir - I thought I'd love this book. Everyone else seemed to...but it was actually kind of a let down. Mostly because the alternating POV's were irritating to me and it didn't begin to hook me until the book was nearly over. It wasn't a bad book at all, it just didn't deliver the amazing I was expecting from it or that other people found in it. I still plan to read the sequel(s?) though.

3. If I Stay by Gayle Forman - Well then. Yes. Again...everyone loved this. Do I think it's a bad book? No. But it was very bland. And forgettable. It's one of those rare cases where the movie is actually better (perhaps because music plays a part in the story, and we actually get to hear it in the movie while the book is just words on a page so that musical spark doesn't translate).

4. Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare - I don't think I hated this book at the time. I haven't looked up my review of it, but I don't remember loving it. It honestly just felt like a slightly altered retelling of the original series only in a steampunk-ish setting. The second book was better, but I wasn't into the first and I really disagree with the people who think it's better than the original TMI trilogy.

5. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer - ...Okay, so I couldn't think of a fifth disappointment off of the top of my head so I'm going way back with this one. The series has its issues, but I do still have a genuine soft spot and love for the first three books. This one? Will forever be a disappointment. I still remember the spoilers leaking and everyone laughing thinking it was a joke, that the excerpts leaked were fanfictions...but no, that was the actual story. *sigh* :P

And I guess that's it. Do you agree/disagree with any of my choices? Are there any books everyone else seems to love but you hate?

Later.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Review/Discussion: Blue is the Warmest Colour by Julie Maroh

Blue is the Warmest Colour
by Julie Maroh
Summary: Blue is the Warmest Color is a graphic novel about growing up, falling in love, and coming out. Clementine is a junior in high school who seems average enough: she has friends, family, and the romantic attention of the boys in her school. When her openly gay best friend takes her out on the town, she wanders into a lesbian bar where she encounters Emma: a punkish, confident girl with blue hair. Their attraction is instant and electric, and Clementine find herself in a relationship that will test her friends, parents, and her own ideas about herself and her identity.
This graphic novel has been on my radar for a really long time, and I'm not sure why it took me so long to pick it up...but I finally did. And I sort of loved it, but I also had a couple of issues with it.

Let's start with the easy stuff: the artwork. The artwork in this is absolutely stunning. I loved that aspect of it -- the drawings, the colour palette...all of it.

I loved the characters so much. When it comes to graphic novels, I usually don't feel like the characters have gotten under my skin the way they do when I read a good novel, but the characters in this...they burrowed right under my skin and made themselves at home. They felt realist and I felt for them -- I was happy for their happiness and sad right along with their sadness.

And the story... The story started out so well. The majority of it was done beautifully, especially Clementine coming to terms with her sexuality, her struggle with it, then acceptance of it... I loved that. And I loved her relationship with Emma and the fact it showed the ups and the downs, instead of
just the good parts.

It went downhill a bit towards the end though. The thing is, we know what's going to happen right from the start, just not the specifics of it...and when it got to the specifics, the execution of it felt rushed (in spite of us knowing it would happen) and contrived and like the way it was told didn't measure up to the high standards set by the earlier parts of the book.

Now, onto the complicated bit (and there will be some spoilers), the bit that makes me feel the need to say "I loved it, but" rather than just saying I loved it...

There was a kind of biphobic tone to the book. Maybe I misjudged that, but it's just how it came across to me while reading. The reason it bothered me was that it felt like the author didn't even realise she was doing it... like it wasn't this thing deliberately written into the story and acknowledged.

For example: there's a scene with Emma and Clementine, and Emma basically says the reason she's been holding back with Emma is because she thinks that Clem would eventually leave her for a guy, kind of implying that her feelings were just a phase or something. And then later in the story, it reinforces the stereotype that bisexual women cheat on their girlfriends with men and it doesn't really go into why she did it...so instead of giving some other reason for that to have happened, it literally just is a stereotype with nothing more to it.

Also, it's never really confirmed whether Clem actually is bisexual or not...there are things that imply it (the inclusion of biphobic stereotypes in relation to her character adds to that) but the word isn't really used. But even if she isn't, it doesn't change the biphobia that actually is present in the story (if anything, it adds to it because bi erasure is a thing, so implying that she's bi in the story without actually using the word, well...).

Did that make me hate the book? No. But it did bother me a bit.

And then there's the Dead Lesbians/Bury Your Gays trope. Now, the fact that it was written by a lesbian makes it bother me slightly less...but still, it was poorly executed and the story doesn't exist in a vacuum and the fact that the story contains that trope makes it just another of many stories where the lesbian couple is torn apart by death. It didn't make me angry, the way it would had a straight person written it, but it did disappoint me.

I guess that's all I have to say about it. I'd rate it 4 stars out of 5. I still really recommend it, for all the stuff it gets right. If anyone has any thoughts re: biphobia in the story/on the Dead Lesbians trope, let me know?

Later.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

Stalking Jack the Ripper
by Kerri Maniscalco
Summary: Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord's daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life.

Against her stern father's wishes and society's expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle's laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.
I am one of the many people who has a morbid fascination with the Jack the Ripper case. I also have a morbid fascination with mortuary work. And I love historical romance, especially ones with feminist heroines who fight against societal pressures.

I was expecting to love this book, is what I'm getting at.

In theory, it ticked so many boxes that interest me...but in execution, it fell kind of flat. I literally fell asleep trying to read this at least 4 times within the first 100 pages, and after that I could only tolerate reading a chapter or two at a time before my mind would start to wander.

Basically, I was bored. The Jack the Ripper stuff wasn't as interesting as it should have been...but that was my mistake for having high expectations there, I didn't factor in that my familiarity with the case would snuff out any suspense there would be in that part of the story. But the fictional aspects of the case original to the book were a bit too predictable -- it's obvious from very early in the book who the bad guy is and who the red herrings are.

And the mortuary stuff, that's something I was most excited to read about in this context but it was minimal (or at least it felt minimal).

The romance was really bland too. I liked the characters enough as individuals, but I was indifferent to them together, there was no spark or build up, no tension or anything and anytime Thomas would say a supposed-to-be-flirty line, it felt off...like it didn't fit in the time period and the line would be more at home in a contemporary novel or something (which isn't a bad thing exactly, it's just that when I'm reading a historical romance, I want it to have that historical vibe to it).

The book got better in the last quarter as far as pace went, although there were still little things that bugged me (the reveal felt kind of sloppy and cliche, the scene with the medium was annoying even if the character was inspired by a real life person -- maybe because I was looking forward to read a story rooted in science, where the protagonist is a forensic scientist... the hints at the paranormal didn't feel necessary).

This review is coming across as pretty negative, but I actually didn't hate the book, I just had high expectations for it and it didn't come close to meeting them. It was an okay book and I can see why other people would love it, but it was just average to me. I'd rate it 3 stars out of 5. I would recommend checking it out if it sounds appealing to you, but it just wasn't the book for me.

Later.

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