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.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith | Review

For the past year, it’s seemed almost impossible to have a bookish discussion without somebody mentioning ‘Swing Time’ by Zadie Smith.  Once again, I’m the last person to arrive at this party!

Every review I have read or heard of this novel has been nothing short of glowing, it was just recently announced as being on the long list for the 2017 Man Booker Prize. With that in mind, forgive me if my review seems a little subdued. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the book, I just don’t seem to have had the same life changing experience as everybody else who read it. Perhaps, I’m just naive, this is a book that’s bursting at the seams with a lifetime of experiences, some of which I can relate to, others that I have yet to experience. If I were to read this book again in a few years, or maybe even one, I have no doubt that I would take something completely different away from it. Already, after only one reading, it’s clear that this is the kind of novel that you can read again and again, each time finding something new.

It is also important to note, at this point, that the story follows the lives of two women of colour, their friendship at a young age and their bond changes, bends and breaks as they grow up. As a white woman, I will never understand the experiences of people of colour, so this book wasn’t written for me.

Zadie Smith’s writing is like nothing I’ve ever read before. Somehow, her writing is simple yet so vivid. She captures the atmosphere of earlier childhood beautifully and the excitement, apprehension and delicacy that comes with new friendships. Swing Time takes place in London, New York and West Africa and Smith captures each place in a way that makes the distinct and separate from one another but when weaved together form a rich and vibrant narrative.

The thing I will take away from this book is the portrayal of friendship as a non-linear thing. As young children, we seem to expect that the friends we make in primary school will stay with us for life when for many people this isn’t the case. Many friendships are not constant, just like everything in life, they ebb and flow. The dynamic between two people changes as their lives do. Sometimes, life events bring them closer, others, it breaks all ties they have for good. Only last week, I realised that I am no longer in contact with anyone I considered a friend before the age of fifteen. In the beginning of the novel, Smith captures that sometimes uneasy relationship that comes from the friendship between young children, the constant impluse to lie to one another and the desperate need to be liked by the other person. Smith really hones in on the role that lying and dishonesty have to play in young friendships and how that can travel through life.

There are aspects of this book that have really stayed with me and inspired me. In a year’s time, I will reread it and hopefully, I will take something new from it.

Have you read ‘Swing Time’? Let me know what you thought in the comments.

 

 

Wilde Like Me by Louise Pentland | Review

YouTuber books have become the topic of heated debate over the past few years. It’s an argument that I have found myself agreeing with both sides of so I don’t want to open *THAT* can of worms. Instead, this is my honest review of Louise Pentland’s ‘Wilde Like Me’.

A friend lent me their copy of this book and I read it out of curiosity more than anything else. Over the past year, I’ve grown rather tired of ‘chick-lit’ as they are starting to feel all the same to me. Ever since I read Bridget Jones’ Diary last year, all the other chick lit books I’ve read have felt like they were trying to emulate that story but not quite managing to achieve that level of relatability and humour. Unfortunately, ‘Wilde Like Me’ was the same in this sense. Whilst there were moments that genuinely made me laugh, a lot of the ‘relatable’ traits of Robin’s personality felt very cliched.

Louise has been very open and honest about how much help she has had in regards to developing her story and editing the novel so I was surprised by how clunky the writing was. It gave me the impression that the editing process had been rushed in order to get the book out by a certain deadline, I can appreciate the difficulty of writing to a deadline but when reading a book it’s nice when you can tell just how much time and care has gone into making sure it is as good as it can be, that every ‘i’ is dotted and every ‘t’ crossed.

I’ve watched Louise’s videos and followed her blog for a few years now so was interested to see how her writing style differed from her blogging style but, unfortunately, it doesn’t. Of course, this is a fairly lighthearted book so it’s understandable that the writing style would be more informal than most books, however, the use of words such as ‘bants’ made me cringe. Louise has insisted that this is not an autobiographical book but I found it very hard to separate ‘Robin Wilde’ from Louise Pentland – perhaps if I wasn’t aware of her before hand this wouldn’t be a problem. Obviously, this is all just personal taste, and if you like books that feel like you are reading a friend’s thoughts, you’ll probably love Louise’s style of writing.

Unfortunately, the story itself didn’t do much for me either. I found it to be rather boring at times, or perhaps that was just due to my reservations about the writing style. Nonetheless, there were some very interesting topics such as domestic abuse and depression that were hinted at very briefly but ignored for most of the novel. It would have been really interesting to see how those themes were explored in an otherwise lighthearted novel. I was disappointed that Louise portrayed Robin’s depression (or ‘The Emptiness’, as she referred to it) as being purely down to her lack of romantic relationships with men. Yes, that could well be an aggravating factor but falling in love with a man is unlikely to solve all of Robin’s problems and it was upsetting that Louise would write such a story line for a book that is, due to the large numbers of young people in her audience, going to be read by young girls. Personally, I think it sends the wrong message but perhaps I am being unduly critical.

It has been announced that Louise is writing a second novel about Robin Wilde so I will be intrigued to see what the book is like, I just hope, this time, more care and time is taken over the editing process (and that she doesn’t use brackets on every page).

 

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!