Graffiti (and other poems) by Savannah Brown | Review

One day a few weeks ago I was scrolling through Twitter when I saw that Savannah Brown, whose YouTube videos I’ve dipped in and out of over the past few years, was re-releasing her self-published poetry collection ‘Graffiti (and other poems)’. It’s the same as the edition she released last year, but with a few extra poems and a brand new cover design. Savannah described it in a recent video as the deluxe version of an album. Although I don’t know a lot about Savannah Brown, I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve heard of her poetry, so, because I can’t resist a pretty book or a brand new poetry collection, I bought it.

Always a sucker for a good poetry collection, I devoured this book. It arrived around midday one fairly quiet Friday and an hour later I was finished. Usually, with poetry collections, I pick them up, read a couple and put it back down again. I couldn’t do that this time. When I finished reading, I had to set the book down again and sit in silence while I thought about what I’d just read. I knew instantly it was one of those books that will stay with me for a long time.

Much of the poetry I’ve in the past has been love poetry. There’s nothing wrong with that – in fact, Savannah has written some beautiful poems about love – but what was nice about reading this collection was the wide range of poems about growing up, mental illness, insecurities and moles (yes, you read that correctly).

There’s not much I can say which will explain how much I love Savannah’s poetry. You know that gut punching feeling when you listen to a song, watch a TV show or read a book/poem and you just think “Yes, that’s everything I’ve been feeling but haven’t known how to explain.”? That’s how I felt after reading almost every single poem. Generally, when it comes to poetry collections, I turn down page corners of the poems I really like. If I carried on doing that this time around, I probably would have folded down every single page corner – twice!

I struggle to critique because there are no rules. I can say whether I like or dislike a poem but I find it very difficult to declare poetry as good or bad. Reading poetry can often be a very personal thing so a poem could change one person’s life whilst having no effect on somebody else  With that being said ‘Graffiti’ is a wonderful collection and many of the poems will stay with me for years to come.

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All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr | Review

It has been a long time since I read a book that had such an impact on me as ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ by Anthony Doerr*. As ironic as it is for me to say as a book blogger, I’m not sure I will be able to do justice to the impact this book has had on me. If you take notice of any recommendations that I post on this blog, let it be this one. It won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for VERY good reason!

What stood out most to me was the respectful portrayal of blindness. If you have read many of my previous posts, you will know I am very passionate about the accurate and positive representation of people with disabilities. Marie-Laure has been blind since the age of six, whilst many characters in the novel offer her sympathy, the reader is never made to feel that way towards her. Doerr never gives detailed visual descriptions when writing from her perspective so the reader is also dependent on sound, touch, taste and smell to build our understanding of the world. I particularly appreciated the way Doerr illustrated the changes and adaptations Marie-Laure and her father had to make in order to make the world as accessible as possible for her. From the books in braille, which became increasingly difficult to find as the war went on, to the scale models of Paris and Saint Malo that her father built in order for Marie-Laure to learn her way around the neighbourhood, this also helped to illustrate the way disability can affect a person’s relationships as they become more dependent on those around them. Marie-Laure’s father also reminded me, at times, of Belle’s father in Beauty and the Beast.

Historical fiction was one of my favourite genres for years and I had a special interest in World War Two novels. however, I very quickly moved on from this as I realised that every novel I was reading was set in England. This book, however, offers different perspectives, from Werner, a young German man who is signed up to the Hitler Youth and later the German army and a young French girl and her father who are forced to flee from their home in Paris. Werner’s perspective was especially interesting as it subtly showed the internal conflict he faced in doing his duty as a German boy who was presented with only one option and the increasing discomfort he felt at what he was being made to do.

I must admit, the timeline of events is somewhat confusing. The book is split into eleven parts, each one taking place in a different period of time. Perhaps I was reading too quickly so I didn’t take in the time changes but I found that I was having to flick back to the beginning of each part to reacquaint myself with where the book was in the timeline of the Second World War.

Finally, I have to take a moment to appreciate the beauty of Doerr’s narrative voice. As I was reading, I kept wishing I could bottle his writing style and use it on all of my own work. You could feel the shift in tension as the book switched from Werner’s point of view to Marie-Laure’s. Werner’s chapters felt darker and heavier whilst Marie-Laure’s were tinged with hope. As a reader, I was completely immersed in the world, an experience I have not had with a book in a very long time.

Have you read ‘All the Light We Cannot See’? Let me know what you thought in the comments!

Hermione Granger: My First Feminist Hero

Anyone who knows me will know that I am a huge fan of Harry Potter. Last week marked the 20th anniversary of the publication of ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, so to honour this milestone, I wanted to write about one of my favourite fictional characters of all time. Hermione Jean Granger. It seems almost cliched to say now but when I was at school, I was a self-confessed bookworm and something of a know it all. When I first started reading Harry Potter, at the age of seven, Hermione was the first character I felt such a strong connection to. Her attitude and appearance make her stick out like a sore thumb, yet she is completely unapologetic about who she is. It was as if J. K. Rowling was telling me personally that it was ok to be all of the things which set me apart from my classmates.

For me, Hermione Granger is the true hero of the Harry Potter series – especially considering the fact that Harry and Ron would definitely not have made it out of Hogwarts alive – she embodies everything the Harry Potter books represent. She is thrown into an entirely new world and despite all the challenges and torment she is met with, remains unabashedly true to herself. This is made even more poignant when you consider the popular reading of Hermione as a woman of colour. Tumblr first made me aware of this reading and the more I’ve read about it, the more effective this reading becomes. From Hermione’s physical appearance – the only time her skin colour is mentioned, it is described as “very brown” – and the continued prejudice that she faces throughout the books from her fellow students. She is mocked and excluded for her love of learning but also for being a ‘muggle-born’. When you consider the reading that Hermione is a person of colour, the term “mudblood” suddenly seems racialised and carries so much more power as a slur used, famously, by Malfoy.

Whether you see Hermione as a woman of colour whilst reading the books or not (I have to admit, the possibility of that reading hadn’t even occurred to me until it was pointed out by somebody else), it is hard to deny that even without the big bushy hair, wonky teeth, and the intense enthusiasm for school, she is an outsider. Not only because she is a muggle-born but also because of her love and excitement for school. Particularly in the first novel, Harry is very judgemental of the fact that Hermione has read every book on her reading list and is actually prepared for the school year. As a young, enthusiastic learner myself, Harry’s judgement of Hermione was strange to me. If you have just discovered an entire world of magic, wouldn’t you be desperate to learn as much as you possibly could? Why would you not read every book about this new life that you could lay your hands on? Whilst she does everything she can to fit into this new world, it becomes apparent that, in the eyes of many, she is not welcome. She is a “Mudblood”.

Intelligence is not Hermione’s only trait. Throughout the books, her character presents a resounding message that, yes, education, books and intelligence are important but they do not have to be your defining traits and they definitely are not the only worthwhile things in life (“Books! And cleverness! There are more important things – friendship and bravery”), a lesson, I certainly needed to be taught when I first started reading the series. Hermione is kind, brave and fiercely loyal to her friends (not to mention how forgiving she is of Harry and Ron). She consistently stands up for what she believes in and is not afraid to speak her mind, whether that be talking back professors with too much power or her own friends. She is never too scared to tell people that what they are saying or doing is wrong. Yet along with all that fire and fierceness, she is gentle, compassionate and above all, she is brave.

Hermione Jean Granger really was my first feminist hero. After all she is the brightest witch of her age.

(And if all that isn’t enough, she punched Draco Malfoy in the face!)

Do you love Hermione as much as I do, or who was your first favourite character? Let me know in the comments!

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz | Review

As I write this post I have only moments ago finished reading ‘Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe’ by Benjamin Alire Saenz. Usually, I wait until the day after completing a book to start writing a review but I was so excited about this one, just couldn’t wait! With that in mind, I apologise if this review is a little all over the place, I’ll do my best to keep it professional but I have A LOT of feelings! This is the heartwarming coming of age story of two Mexican-American boys finding out about themselves, their sexuality and all the secrets of the universe.

Finding myself in book characters is one of the reasons I love reading so much. In Ari, I feel like I’ve found a character I can really relate to, from the way he has a lot of feelings that he wants to talk about but also hates talking about, to the way he becomes aware of his sexuality so gradually without realising for a long time. There were so many quotes from Ari that really connected to me because I was reading about someone who was articulating things that I have felt for a long time.

My favourite thing about this book is that it was a very typical YA romance story, but with an LGBT+ couple. So often, books about same-sex couples are made and marketed completely differently to books about straight couples. This book, however, was very much a typical coming of age story about two teenage boys, it just so happens that those two boys realise they are in love with each other. That feels like really effective representation when the story could include any couple but is specifically about a gay couple. What was particularly interesting to me was that neither of the boys ever used the word ‘gay’ to describe themselves or each other. Dante says he likes kissing boys but he never labels that. This to me, was a really accurate portrayal of what it’s like to question and realise your sexuality at a really young age. One of my favourite things about this book was they Ari and Dante’s parents realised they were in love with each other before they did! It’s so nice to read about accepting, loving families for a change.

Although this book is classified as a YA novel, it didn’t feel like typical YA to me. Often, I feel that YA authors use many stereotypes when writing teenage characters which can lead to some very cringeworthy reading. All of the characters in this novel felt believable and real. They were flawed but likeable. It was particularly refreshing to read about healthy family relationships and children who respect their parents. When Ari discovers an envelope in one of his mother’s draws, he knows it’s being hidden from him for a reason so he waits for his mother to bring it up in her own time rather than tearing it open herself. Even though Ari and his father don’t have an easy relationship, they both work hard to understand each other.This is an incredibly cinematic book and would make an absolutely beautiful film. Please, please, PLEASE, can somebody adapt this story into a beautiful, coming of age, indie film. The book itself is very dialogue heavy as it is, it almost reads like a screenplay already!

This is an incredibly cinematic book and would make an absolutely beautiful film. Please, please, PLEASE, can somebody adapt this story into a beautiful, coming of age, indie film. The book itself is very dialogue heavy as it is, it almost reads like a screenplay already!

I’m not at all hesitant to say that this is my favourite YA book, and definitely, my favourite read of the year so far! Have you read ‘Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe’? Let me know what you thought in the comments, and I’d love to hear recommendations of similar books!

Hamlet: Globe to Globe by Dominic Dromgoole | Review

It is very rare for me to get excited about a non-fiction book but I have been itching to write this review since I first started reading Dominic Dromgoole’s ‘Hamlet: Globe to Globe’.* It was one of those magical moments when you see a book in a bookshop and you know you will not be able to leave the shop without buying that book.

After many years of studying English Literature and Drama, I have become something of a Shakespeare nerd. I could write a whole separate post on why I love Shakespeare so much and, spoiler alert, I probably will at some point. Whilst browsing through my local bookshop, I saw this book on the New Releases shelf and knew that I would not be able to leave the shop without buying that book.

2016 was the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death so as part of the ‘celebrations’ (it seems a weird word to use to describe the anniversary of someone’s death) Dominic Dromgoole, artistic director at The Globe set about organising a tour of Hamlet which in which the company performed in every country of the world. This book tells the story of that journey whilst exploring one of Shakespeare’s best-known plays and the effect it has had on the world since it was first written. Dromgoole shares some of the funniest, scariest and most moving moments of the tour interspersed with analysis of the play and the reception the company received in each country. It really is a fascinating read for any fan of Shakespeare or even theatre in general. My only criticism is that, at times, Dromgoole’s praise for Hamlet and Shakespeare felt, to me at least, as though Dromgoole thought Shakespeare is immune from all critique just because he is The Bard, but I suppose that is quite common if you are a big fan of somebody.

My only regret about this book was that I didn’t have it when I was studying Hamlet for my English A-level. Dromgoole offers a fascinating insight into the play as well as different ways it has been portrayed over the years. I often highlight passages I enjoy or turn down page corners as I’m reading but this book took that to a whole new level.  I was particularly intrigued to read about Charlotte Cushman, who was among one of the first women to play Hamlet. Seriously, Google that woman, she is brilliant.

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If you’re reading this and you enjoy or are studying Shakespeare, I strongly recommend you pick this book up!

Have you read Hamlet: Globe to Globe? Let me know what you thought in the comments!

 

The End We Start From by Megan Hunter | Review

Dystopian fiction is a genre I’ve really been enjoying over the last couple of years, so when I read the blurb of ‘The End We Start From’ by Megan Hunter*, I was really excited to get my hands on it. The story follows a woman and her newborn baby, named Z, who are forced to flee London after the city is submerged in flood waters. Often dystopian novels are founded on the concept of a corrupt government so to read an apocalyptic style story focused on a natural disaster was a nice change.

The juxtaposition of a dystopian story being focused on a newborn was an interesting one. Birth and new life are usually used to represent hope and a fresh start and in this instance, we have the opposite effect. Throughout the novel, we see Z grow and develop despite London and the lives of all the characters slowly deteriorating. The woman (whose name is never mentioned) tracks her journey of new motherhood and highlights the worry that now her life has changed in such a drastic way, motherhood is all she has, “It is all I have”.

Each character is referred to by an initial rather than a name. It was unclear whether this was an element of their world or whether it was the narrator’s personal way of referring to everyone. As a technique, it was really effective in showing the anonymity and uniformity of each character in the story. Since fleeing their homes, all the characters have been stripped of their individuality. It was also reflective of the way we view and speak of people who are in similar situations in real life. When we see similar scenes on the TV, of people fleeing their homes due to war, or natural disaster, we reduce them to numbers and fail to see them as individual people. When the baby is born, there is a discussion about what they should be called, a few more traditional names are suggested before the characters settle on Z, as if they know the looming disaster will rob them of any personal identity they have.

What struck me the most about this novella was the paratactic writing style. At times it felt more like reading a poem than a piece of prose. There was very little detail about the characters and their lives before the disaster. However, this is not detrimental to the development of the story in any way apart from feeling a little detached from some of the characters. It allows the story to move along at a good pace without having to dwell on details, the story begins instantly rather than spending half the book on world building and character development.

 

Throughout the book, I kept thinking how interesting it would be to see the story adapted into a play so I was really excited to hear that Benedict Cumberbatch’s company are adapting it into a film!

Have you read The End We Start From? Let me know what you thought in the comments!

*An early copy of this book was sent to me by the publisher via NetGalley, however, all opinions are my own and I am not being paid for this review*

 

My Favourite Fictional Females

Happy International Women’s day! To celebrate this day, I wanted to share with you some of my literary heroines. The world is always in need of some strong leading ladies, here are just a few of mine.


1. Hermione Granger, ‘Harry Potter’ series by J. K. Rowling

We can’t talk about female characters without mentioning, the modern-day feminist icon that is Hermione Granger. She is smart, loyal, passionate and – most importantly, completely unapologetic in herself. There’s so much I could say about why Hermione is a brilliant character, and I’m particularly interested in the popular reading of Hermione as a woman of colour. I’m actually going to write a separate post about why I love Hermione, I can’t sum it all up in a couple of sentences. After all, she is the brightest witch of her age.

Lucy was one of the first female characters that I felt a real connection to. She has a quiet strength and self-confidence about her. The youngest and smallest of her family she could have been easily overlooked but she was the heroine of these books. Time and time again, Lucy’s family doubted her, about the existence of Narnia in ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ and about her sighting of Aslan in ‘Prince Caspian’. Lucy held her own throughout the books. Her faith in Aslan, Narnia and most importantly, herself never wavered. She may not be physically strong but she is a heroine none the less. Strength comes in many forms.

I’ve mentioned ‘Sofia Khan is Not Obliged’ on this blog before. Muslim women are incredibly under-represented in literature so it was refreshing to read a realistic depiction of Muslim life in the 21st century. Sofia is hilarious, brutally honest and not afraid to stand up for herself (see: London Underground scene). It was also nice to read a book with a female character who did not have to change a single aspect of herself in order to find love. In fact, that was a very important element of the story, throughout the novel, Sofia remained fiercely determined to find a relationship on her own terms.

Hear me out! Believe me, I KNOW Shakespeare’s reputation falters when it comes to his writing of female characters but personally, I think Hermia is his best-written woman please correct me if you think I’m wrong). She openly defies her parents, yes, she runs away with a man but in those times, that would have been scandalous. She is summed up perfectly with the quote, “Though she be but little, she is fierce.” Ever since I first saw the play performed live (at The Globe Theatre no less), I’ve made that line my life’s mantra. 

Who else would I wrap up this list with other than the Girl on Fire herself? She is fierce and strong yet kind and gentle in her own way. Katniss Everdeen is an all round badass. She risks her life to protect her younger sister and makes it her duty to protect Rue during the games. Not to mention the fact that she leads the resistance against a dystopian government, what else could you want in a woman?

Who are your favourite fictional women? Let me know in the comments!

I hope you all had a good International Women’s Day 2017 and remember… Who run the world? Girls!