Friday, 28 April 2017

Mini-Review Round Up: Comics, Plays, Poetry & Other Stuff

Does what it says on the tin really... There's quite a few short books I've read the past few months that I just don't have much to say about, so I wanted to just write a few short reviews for them.

Plays, Poetry & Other Stuff

Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth by Warsan Shire:
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Review: As I've said before, poetry is very hit or miss with me. This particular collection was a hit. There are parts of it that won't resonate with me in quite the same way because I'm a white woman in Scotland but even the parts that revolve around things completely outside of my realm of experience are written so beautifully and with such a raw honesty that I still felt it.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
Review: I don't know why it took me so long to read this one. Maybe because it felt like I already knew the story because of the countless adaptations I've read/watched. But I digress... I really like this play, I think on some level I even love it. The writing is beautiful, there are little passages in it that are absolutely stunning. I can get why a lot of people hate it, but I'm just not one of them (although, it irritates me to see people talk of it as a love story rather than a wasn't a story about love, and people talking about it like it is really warps peoples expectations of the play).

Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Review: I liked this one, it wasn't great. Plays are meant to be performed, but some can be enjoyed just as much by simply reading them...this isn't really one of those ones. It's not awful, but it's so obvious when reading that there's a spark of life missing from it on the page, something that can only be appreciated seeing it performed.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimimanda Ngozie Adichie
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Review: I really, really loved this one. It's an essay based on her 2013 TEDx talk and it's excellent. She writes real life stories as examples of her points and it's so poignant and beautifully done. I really recommend the audiobook version too -- the narration is fantastic.


I actually got the first three at a comic convention, the first two were free comics in the little goody bag things, the third was one I bought from one of the booths.

Karnak #1 by Warren Ellis
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Review: This one is set in the SHIELD world, and while I am familiar with some of that world, I don't think I was familiar enough with it to really appreciate this comic. I did like it and I was interested enough to consider continuing on to the next issues but it didn't wow me Time will tell if I continue the series.

Star Wars: Vader Down #1 by Jason Aaron
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Review: Kind of disappointing, I think I just expected too much considering it's a Star Wars story. The art work is excellent and there was a few really good bits, but it didn't really leave me wanting to pick up the next issue.

How to Be a Ghost by Neil Slorance and Campbell Miller
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Review: This one isn't really a comic, it's more of a short picture book/zine type thing. But anyway, I really loved it, it was so cute. I've linked to the etsy store if you want to check it out/buy one.

Vader's Little Princess by Jeffrey Brown
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Review: I read Darth Vader and Son last year and loved that one too, they're just really cute and funny. They're basically just little comic strips about what Darth Vader could've been like raising Luke and Leia (this one focuses on Leia).

Picture/Kids Books:

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Review: I don't have much to say about this one really, except I wanted to see what all the fuss was about and it didn't disappoint me. It's really cute...and now I kind of want to see the movie, I had no desire to before reading this.

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams Bianco
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Review: Again, wanted to know what the fuss was about and I really loved it. It's one of those stories that I've heard so many people mention but it was never one I encountered when I was young, it wasn't what I expected it to be but it was really good.

Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole
Rating: 1.5 stars out of 5
Review: I stumbled across this one while trying to find feminist picture books when someone asked for recs and it sounded great. In theory, I should've loved it. The overall message was good but the execution of it was kind of terrible. It was more feminist stereotype than feminist. It was supposed to be about how she doesn't need to get married to be happy...but rather than just using her words, she is really cruel to people who have done nothing to deserve it and she "outsmarts" her parents rather than just having an actual conversation with them. It's just...eugh. And I wasn't really fond of the artwork either.

So...those are all of the short books I've been reading. Mostly because, due to my major reading slump, short books seem to be all I can finish recently. Although, there will probably be more picture books in my TBR because my best friend is having a baby, so I want to find some good ones for the new little human in my life.


Thursday, 27 April 2017

Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil by Melina Marchetta

Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil
by Melina Marchetta

Summary: Chief Inspector Bish Ortley of the London Met, divorced and still grieving the death of his son, has been drowning his anger in Scotch. Something has to give, and he’s no sooner suspended from the force than a busload of British students is subject to a deadly bomb attack across the Channel. Bish’s daughter is one of those on board.

Also on the bus is Violette LeBrac. Raised in Australia, Violette has a troubled background. Thirteen years ago her grandfather bombed a London supermarket, killing dozens of people. Her mother, Noor, is serving a life sentence in connection with the incident. But before Violette’s part in the French tragedy can be established, she disappears.

Bish, who was involved in Noor LeBrac’s arrest, is now compelled to question everything that happened back then. And the more he delves into the lives of the family he helped put away, the more he realises that truth wears many colours. 
My thoughts on this book are complicated. So let's start with my final rating before getting to the rest of it: I'd rate it 4 stars out of 5.

Melina Marchetta is one of my favourite authors, I've read all 8 of her other books and loved them all (6 of them I'd consider all time favourites). This one was the 9th and it was very different from any of her others -- different genre, different setting, different type of main character. I didn't love it as much as her previous books, but by the end I did love it.

In the beginning, I was hooked. That breathless kind of hooked where it felt like there was this weight on my chest because the subject matter was so heavy and I needed to see where it was heading. That feeling steadily lessened the deeper into the story I got until it left me with that same feeling I always get after reading a Melina Marchetta book -- like these characters had wormed their way under my skin bit by bit until I couldn't help but care about them and feel thoroughly invested in their happiness -- like they had carved out a little piece of my heart and made themselves at home there.

The wasn't her best. Her writing is consistently lovely and she always excels at characters, she makes them feel so real and the way she writes relationships, evolving them and tangling lives together so beautifully...those are always her strongest points and this one was no exception.

But, usually the plot is still really good even if it's not on the same level as her characterization. Unfortunately, in this one the plot felt quite average. It wasn't bad, far from it, but it dragged a lot and got quite repetitive in the middle, and it required a lot of suspension of disbelief. Given the genre of this one (mystery/crime), it felt like it should've been a bit more plot driven than her other novels (which are either contemporary or high fantasy and can still work really well when they're more character driven).

Also, it should be noted: the plot does revolve around a terror attack. Or rather, two terror attacks set years apart. Meaning there's a lot of focus on racial profiling and the negative treatment of Muslims whenever attacks like that happen, from the public, law enforcement, and the press.

The book is not own voices. It didn't come across as disrespectful or offensive* to me, quite the opposite really (aside from maybe one little comment in the beginning about a character name), but as I'm a white person from Scotland and I'm not Muslim, there could be things that just don't register with me because I've never had to live it. I'm not an authority on whether it's good representation or not, is what I'm getting at.

So...I guess that's all. Great characters, kind of weak plot but still good in spite of that. It's not her best book but still very good. I'd rate it 4 stars out of 5. I'm not sure it's one I would recommend to people because, as I said, I don't know if it's good representation and I wouldn't want to recommend something to someone that could be perpetuating harmful stereotypes about Muslims.

*although, the very fact that it's a story with Muslim characters that had terrorism be a big part of the plot may be a bit of a problem, especially as it's not own voices? I don't know. But, while the plot does hinge on terrorism, I think the heart of the story is family (as I said above, it's more character driven) and the Muslim characters are more victims of terrorism (in multiple ways) in the story than perpetrators and come across most sympathetically.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

A Catch Up: What I'm Reading

Well then. Hello. It's been a while, hasn't it?

Honestly, I've just been struggling with the whole reading thing recently. I think I've only completed 9 books since March...and only two of those were actual novels (two were comics, two were really short picture books, one was a short audiobook, one poetry collection and also a short Shakespeare play). I just can't seem to focus. That, or the books I'm reading just aren't wowing me.

But yes. I'm in a reading slump. The most drawn out, frustrating reading slump. So I figured I'd just go over the books I'm currently (trying) to read and give my thoughts on them so far.

All pictures are from my bookstagram (that's where I post all of my new books too, if you're interested).

The Hate U Give 

I'm not very far into this one. I do like it so far, but I've not found that spark in it yet -- maybe it's just a case of there being too much hype so my expectations were through the roof. But, regardless of that, I do think it's such an important book and one everyone should read.

The Book of Bera 

This one... I had such high hopes for this one but I'm so disappointed so far. The story is very original, I haven't read any like it, there's something so distinctive about it. The problems are 1) the pacing is way off and 2) there's something about the writing I just really don't like. It reads almost like it's a translation that hasn't been done very well, if that makes sense (the dialogue in particular is clumsy and awkward). I'm going to give the book another 75-ish pages to sway my opinion before I give up on it.

See How They Run

This one isn't bad. It's fast paced, I still like the characters...the problem is, I've forgotten so much about the story (including minor characters) and I really don't want to go back and reread the first book to refresh my memory. Also, I'm not too keen on the direction this one is going in.

If This Is A Woman

This book is a bit different from the others, because I didn't intend to finish it any time soon. It's a non-fiction book about the all female concentration camp, Ravensbruck. It's very long and very thorough, going from how the camp came to exist and the Nazi officers that ended up working there, right through its entire history. I've just been reading bits of it whenever I'm up to reading about such heavy subject matter. It's excellent so far (excellent in the sense that it's well written, it's not boring as some historical non-fiction can be, given what it's about, the topic isn't what I'd call excellent).

My True Love Gave to Me

Short stories aren't my thing. I picked this one up because I figured short fiction could help with the reading slump, plus it has a lot of authors I adore in it... So far, I love it. But when it comes to short stories, they're either not long enough for me to feel invested in the story and characters or they do manage to hook me and make me care but then they're over too soon. With the majority of this book so far, most of the stories have been the latter...really good, but leaving me wanting more in that annoying, unsatisfied kind of way.

The Roanoke Girls

This one is actually an audiobook I was sent to review and I like it so far, the narration is really good, but I'm not hooked on the story yet and don't really feel anything for the characters so I'm kind of dragging my heels about finishing it. That's all I have to say on that one really.

Perfect Shot

I thought this one would definitely break my reading slump. Regency romance or short romcoms are usually my go-to books for reading slumps but this one is letting me down. It's just so bland/dry, the first chapters nearly bored me to tears. I'd give up on the book if it wasn't so short (hopefully it'll get better if I stick with it).

So...yeah. Those are the books I'm reading right now. I'm really hoping one of them snaps me out of this reading slump.


Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Top Ten Things On my Bookish NOPE List

The topic for this weeks Top Ten Tuesday was "top ten things that will make me instantly not want to read a book"/bookish turn offs. And to be honest, I'm not sure if I even have ten (I'm not a fussy reader) but we'll see.

With most of these, you can't always tell from the summary if a book is guilty of these things BUT I get most of my recommendations from friends or other readers whose judgements I trust, so the issues are usually highlighted before I even pick up the book. And with some of these, there will be exceptions.

1. If the author is an horrible online

I'm one of those people that finds it very hard to separate the artist from their creation. If I think negatively of the creator, it will cast a shadow over their work. Plus, I just don't want to support people that are awful. There aren't many authors who make this list, and someone has to be really awful to even make the list but yeah... If an author says something really shitty online and doesn't care that they hurt people, or if they're arrogant and rude to their fans -- nope. Nope nope nope. Don't want their book.

2. If the book is harmful/offensive (and not own voices)

Now, I'm not just talking mildly offensive like those ridiculous people who try to get books banned for containing a sex scene or curse word. I mean if it has a racist premise, or it revolves around an anti-LGBTQIA+ stereotype (e.g. bisexuals are cheaters, lesbians will turn straight for the right guy, etc.) or contains a harmful trope (e.g. Bury Your Gays/Dead Lesbians, or portraying mentally ill people as dangerous) or it's just generally really hurtful (e.g. WW2 stories that have Jewish people falling in love with Nazis, or black people in historical novels falling in love with slave owners).

3. Alternating POV's

This is one of the ones that definitely has exceptions. If the book sounds absolutely fantastic, if I've only seen glowing reviews, if it's by an author whose books I generally love -- then I'd make an exception. But in general, I bloody hate alternating POV's so much and there's been many, many books I've decided not to read for no other reason than I didn't want to deal with multiple POV's.

4. Boring books

If someone I trust, or multiple reviews, accuse a book of being boring, I'm very unlikely to pick it up. In general, I'm not a fussy reader and there is a lot I can forgive while reading...but being bored while reading is not one of those things. I can read books that anger me, books that upset me, and maybe I'll be furious and rant about them and toss them across the room when I'm done but I can still get through them, the same can't be said for boring books.

5. Bad writing

I can tolerate mediocre writing. I can overlook annoying stylistic choices. I can't read a book if the writing is really bad, it could have the most amazing story line but I find it really difficult to see past bad writing.

6. Insta-love

This one didn't always turn me completely off a book, but it does now. There was such a flood of insta-love books back in the height of Twilight's popularity that I just - can't. I want complex romances, I want slow burning ones, I want romances built from strong friendships...basically, I want well developed romances rather than the lazy love/obsession-at-first-sight stuff these days.

7. Insensitive Plot Devices

By this I mean subjects that should be written with care and consideration for the actual people who have experienced it, being written insensitively. Like rape being used as a plot device to give the female character a tragic back story, or as a way for the male love interest to "save" her. Or suicide being used as a shocking plot twist. Or mental illness being used to make the character "quirky" or interesting (like a manic pixie dreamgirl/boy). Basically, if it's sensitive subject matter and the author thinks of a content warning as a "spoiler" then they're writing it as if it's just a plot twist they can use for shock value, rather than something they intended to write respectfully...and if I know the book is written that way before reading it, I probably won't ever pick it up.

8. More than a trilogy

If, going into a series, I know it's going to be more than a trilogy then I probably won't bother. For an author I really love, I might make an exception. But with one book being released a year (usually) who wants to spend more than three years on the same series? I've seen series dragged out for more than a decade which is just ridiculous. I have the attention span of a flea at times, and I'm expected to stay invested in the same world and characters for almost/more than a decade? Sorry, but no.

9. Cliffhanger endings

If someone tells me before I read a book that it ends on a cliffhanger, I'm way less likely to read it. Cliffhangers are annoying and I hate when authors use them, even authors I like (and with them, I only tolerate them if it feels like the story arc of that book has been wrapped up and there's not too many loose ends).

10. Books set in Scotland

To clarify, I will read books set in Scotland if the author is Scottish or if they've lived here for a really long time. But authors who aren't Scottish write my country and my people so terribly most of the time (particularly in fantasy)...and don't even get me started on when they try to write our accents phonetically. Just - no. So much no.

Oh, hey, look -- I did have 10! I didn't think I had many. And I could have kept going (angel books? Not my thing. Dystopian YA? So done with that. BDSM? Nope. Riding on the coattails of Fifty Shades of Grey? FSoG was bad enough as it is...).


Friday, 7 April 2017

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

The Upside of Unrequited
by Becky Albertalli

Summary: Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love. No matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly's totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie's new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. If Molly can win him over, she'll get her first kiss and she'll get her twin back.

There's only one problem: Molly's coworker, Reid. He's a chubby Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there's absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?
This is the first Becky Albertalli book I've read, and I'm surprised by how much I enjoyed it. There was so much hype surrounding Becky's books that to begin with I didn't see what all the fuss was about...but then I got totally pulled in by all the cuteness and pretty much loved it by the end.

I loved that it included such a diverse cast of characters. Her parents? An interracial female couple, one lesbian and the other bisexual, and one of them is Jewish so the MC and her siblings are also Jewish (and the love interest too). Her sister is a lesbian who dates a Korean-American pansexual. The main character is fat and has anxiety, so it has body and neuro diversity too. I can't say whether or not all of it is good representation, because not all of those identities represent me, but nothing stood out to me as being badly done.

Basically, I loved the diversity part of it, and I loved that it wasn't made into a huge thing... first and foremost, the book felt like it was a cute coming of age romance, it didn't stray into Issue Book territory (those have their place, but they should not be the only representation of diversity) even when it was calling out ignorant comments or stereotypes.

Her anxiety bothered me a little bit...but not because it was done poorly. I think it was well done and I love that her taking her meds was just casually mentioned and not made into a big thing, and I love that it showed that you don't have to be defined by that. But, I'm one of those people that's pretty susceptible to second-hand anxiety so her anxious thought process wasn't always fun to read about (although, because she's taking her meds, she her anxiety doesn't flare up too bad in the book).

I hope some people read it and understand a bit better how anxiety can mess with your thought process though, because I've seen anxious characters dismissed as annoying/clingy before in reviews of other books because it's never acknowledged that it's anxiety, so it was nice to see that represented in the book.

The romance in the book was predictable but cute. It's one of those stories where the reader knows from very early on how it's all going to play out (literally nothing surprised me) but it takes the character most of the book to catch on. I kind of hated the Will stuff for that reason, but Reid was great, he was such a little ball of adorable and I loved his relationship with Molly (and I really appreciated the fact that the romance wasn't used to "fix" her).

And I really really loved that family was such a focus of the story. Especially that it showed cousins who were also friends -- growing up, one of my cousins was also one of my best friends and it was an interesting dynamic and it's one I don't see explored often but I wish it was.

Overall, I really liked the book. I'd rate it 3.5 stars out of 5 (or 4, because I'd round up).



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