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.

The Handmaid’s Tale | Page to Screen

A few weeks ago I reread Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ in preparation for the new serialisation on Channel 4. I say “in preparation for” but, truthfully, nothing can prepare you for such a harrowing viewing experience. The book is written in such a way that many of the more graphic details are left to the reader’s imagination but the ten part drama forces viewers to take in every single detail. It is an uncomfortable watch – far removed from the rose tinted nostalgia fests of Call the Midwife that I’m used to on a Sunday evening – it certainly wasn’t enjoyable, yet every Sunday night, there I was, glued to my television screen.

What makes ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ so disturbing is how little imagination is required for audiences to piece together how a society like Gilead came to be. It starts small, women can no longer use their credit cards, and somehow it ends in fertile women being sold and traded. This is not the latest sci-fi blockbuster nor is a rejected plot line from the newest season of Game of Thrones, the events of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ are a result of the actions of humans, on Earth. In both the book and the series, the most striking thing was how everybody seemed to accept what was happening, nothing was shocking or upsetting to any of the characters, they had all become immune to the horrors they were facing.

A ten episode drama was always going to deviate from a three hundred and eleven page book. In the first two or episodes I found the deviations from the plot to be distracting but as the series continued these additions to the story became more prominent and yet at the same time felt more like a natural progression of the story. Most of the book’s content was covered in the first two episodes, with a few minor plot lines being reserved for the finale. I know Margaret Atwood herself was involved in the making of the series, making sure everything was true to her vision of the story. Book and adaptation meet again at the end when Offred is taken out of the house and put in a van, to be saved or punished, it is not known. For readers, it never will be, but the show has been commissioned for a second series and we will discover Offred’s fate next year. Personally, I don’t know how to feel about the prospect of a second series. I have no doubt in my mind that it would be just as brilliant as the first but, what stayed with me about the ending of the novel was that we never learn Offred’s fate. She becomes a story of one person in the dystopian society, one nameless member of the revolution.

I’m always sceptical of TV/film adaptations of books I really enjoyed, particularly this time around. The events of the book were so disturbing and shocking, I didn’t want them to ruin that atmosphere or to change the story too much. It was handled with the up most respect for Atwood’s writing and any scenes written for the series were fitting additions to the story. The final episode was by far one of the most harrowing pieces of drama I have ever watched. Despite that, there was, at times, a stronger sense of unity and triumph amongst the Handmaid’s which does not come across in the book. One scene shows all the Handmaid’s walking, in their assigned pairs, in a line down the street staring straight down the camera, it is in this moment that you feel an almost undetectable shift in Gilead, the scene concludes with the standout line of the series, “They should never have given us uniforms if they didn’t want us to be an army.”.

If you haven’t watched ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, I urge you to. It’s not an enjoyable watch in any way but, I promise, it’s a necessary one.

Learning to Love Non-Fiction

Non-fiction is a genre I’ve always struggled to get on with. When I was younger I used reading as a way of escaping from the real world, visiting places that didn’t exist and making friends I didn’t have at school. Up until relatively recently, I had no interest in reading non-fiction books – with the exception of Horrible Histories, of course! As I’ve grown older and (hopefully) a little wiser, I’ve realised that some of my reservations about non-fiction was just stubbornness left over from those early reading years.  Som over the last couple of years I’ve been making a real effort to expand my range of genres that I read. Since then, I have discovered some brilliant non-fiction books and now have an ever growing TBR full of non-fiction books!

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Non-Fiction Favourites

  1. Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

Although this book is about women in business, I’d definitely recommend it to anyone. Just reading it made me feel more confident in myself and my abilities as a woman. It’s all about knowing your own worth and being confident enough to speak up for yourself and demand at the seat of the table. In business or any other aspect of life.

2. Yes Please by Amy Poehler

I’ve mentioned this book a few times before on my blog. It was one of the first none fiction books I ‘read’ last year and I absolutely loved it. Describing this book is difficult, it’s not quite a memoir, not quite a self-help book but it is brilliant. What made it even more special was that I listened to the audiobook which is narrated by Amy Poehler herself. It felt very much like I was listening to advice from a friend.

3. Hamlet: Globe to Globe by Dominic Dromgoole

Yep, I’m still talking about this one. I wrote a review of it a few weeks ago. As a self-confessed Shakespeare fangirl, this book was perfect for me. It offers insight into the behind the scenes life of a touring play as well as analysing some of Hamlet’s most famous lines.

4. I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

This book was featured in my first ever blog post as one of my favourite books of all time. When I first heard Malala’s story, I was so moved by her bravery and strength, I picked up this book as soon as it came out. Her passion for education is incredible and it is one of those books that really changed the way I think about the world.

TBR

After reading so many great non-fiction books over the past year, I now have an extensive TBR list!

  1. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

This is one of those books that everybody raved about a few years ago and I completely missed the boat. Nevertheless, it remains on my ‘to be read’ list. I’ll get round to it one of these days…

2. How to be a Person by Lindy West, Dan Savage, Christopher Frizelle & Bethany Jean Clement

Somebody recommended this book to me months ago and I still haven’t managed to get my hands on a copy. This book includes anecdotes and advice about starting college and university and just how to be a functioning adult. Hopefully, I’ll be able ]to read it before I leave for university in September.

 3. Secrets for the Mad: Obsessions, Confessions and Life Lessons by Dodie Clark

This book isn’t actually out yet but I am such a huge fan of Dodie’s music and YouTube channel that I know I’m going to love it. She has been very vocal and honest about her struggles with mental health, which has been so comforting to me, so I’m particularly interested to read a whole book of her stories, advice and experiences.

I’ll be sure to keep you all updated on my non-fiction journey!

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!

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!

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman | Review

I should preface this review by saying I’m finding it very difficult to write about this book without spoiling the plot completely so this may not be the most engaging review I’ve written for this blog but I really do encourage you all to read it!

What struck me about ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman* was the character of Eleanor. I found her to be complex, intriguing, relatable and completely unlikeable for most of the book. As someone who has often struggled to fit in, I instantly connected to Eleanor’s loneliness and the comfort she took in her rigid routine. A boring, mindless job followed by an evening of drinking alone and eating oven cooked pizzas from Tesco is a routine I’m sure many readers will have experienced have experienced at some point in their lives. However, as we learn later in the novel, what sets Eleanor apart is that his routine is a coping mechanism and her way of dealing with some truly awful experiences.

Honesty, I found it difficult to get into the story at first. The opening felt as though it was dragging on.  I appreciate this being a plot device to highlight the monotony of Eleanor’s life, however, I feel it may put many people off and make them give up on the book early meaning they miss out on some really interesting character development. I also found Eleanor’s arrogance and judgemental nature to be very frustrating at times, although I forgive her for the things she says about her colleagues -they don’t seem like nice people at all.

When I first read the synopsis of this book I was intrigued but I also had some slight trepidation. It sounded as though it was going to be one of these stories where a woman falls in love with a man and is suddenly a better person because of it. Whilst there is definitely an element of that in the novel it is not the focus and it is dealt with well. Eleanor has an obsession with Raymond, an average (at best) musician, she seems willing to look past all his so called flaws because she is so infatuated with him. In actual fact, Eleanor’s feelings for him and the relationship that builds throughout the novel is only a fraction of the plot. The standout theme of the story is trauma, how it affects people and the lengths people will go to in order to cope with some awful experiences and just how difficult it can be to live a ‘normal’ life when someone has lived through said trauma.

In the simplest terms, this story says a lot about the judgments we pass on others and assumptions we make about people who don’t behave to our standard of normal. This is shown through Eleanor’s own prejudices and those of her co-workers who make very snap judgements about her. It is also reflected in the reviews of this book, with many people admitting they assumed Eleanor had Asperger’s Syndrome or Autism when they first started reading. This book challenges our assumptions about Eleanor and other people who we have deemed to be ‘odd’ or different.

Please don’t let a slightly slow start deter you from a fascinating, hilarious, surprising and heartbreaking read.

Have you read ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’? 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*

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood | Review

Rereading books I love is something I do quite often. However, I very rarely reread books that I didn’t like, simply because I’m of the strong opinion that life is too short to read books you don’t like. During my first year of my English A level, I read ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood* as part of my required reading and I did not like it one bit. When I saw the trailer for the new TV adaptation which has just come out in the UK, I thought I should give the book another try, and, for some reason, I absolutely loved it.

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is a dystopian novel set in America, now called Gilead. The country faces a fertility crisis so all fertile women, like the protagonist Offred (‘Of Fred’) are trained to be handmaids to infertile couples. Now, their only purpose in life is to have a baby for their commander and his wife.

So many of the themes in The Handmaid’s Tale have started to feel less like the stuff of dystopian fiction and more like things that are starting to emerge in society right now. Perhaps that new sense of relevance is what changed my mind about the novel. As I was reading, I was constantly highlighting lines that sounded as though they had come straight out of a recent news article. It’s terrifying that a book written in the 1980s which was supposed to be a very extreme example of what may happen if we do not protect women’s rights now feels so familiar to readers. What was so terrifying about this society was Atwood’s portrayal of the division between all the women. We see Offred’s inner conflict with her own beliefs and those of the Gileadian society which seemed to have been drilled into all the handmaid’s. So much so that it begins to permeate her own consciousness. Atwood shows this through Offred’s jealousy and hatred of Janine.

Dystopian fiction is one of my favourite genres, what sets ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ apart from most dystopian novels is that Atwood gives us a view of what life was like in “the time before”. Something I found particularly fascinating was the way so many of the characters were rebelling against the new society. Of course, this is the case in dystopian fiction but in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, almost every character we meet is rebelling in some way, even those in positions of power and privilege rebel as we see with The Commander and his wife.

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is the kind of book one could read multiple times and find something new each time. I feel like my new found love for this book will only increase the more I read it.

Have you read ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’? Let me know what you thought in the comments, but no spoilers for the TV series, please!