My Reading Week | #2

Read This Week

I am extremely happy to report that, after the pretty slow reading week I had last week, the past seven days have been far better. For the first time this year I’m not behind with my Goodreads goal, which I’m feeling pretty proud of, and I feel like I’m ready to pick up the pace a little and attempt to get a good chunk of my TBR list read in the coming weeks. Tomorrow is my birthday (eeeek!) and to celebrate my boyfriend and I are heading off for a few days in the Lake District for plenty of relaxing and, hopefully, reading! It will be great to have some time to switch off and read to my heart’s content, without feeling guilty that I should be doing other things. That being said, I managed to read three books this week and get part way through a fourth, which isn’t too bad at all.

The first book I read this week was Chance Developments: Unexpected Love Stories by Alexander McCall Smith (☆☆☆☆). I purchased this beautiful little collection of short stories, each one inspired by an old photograph, last year, but it was soon forgot and hidden away on my bookcase. While organising my shelves last week, I rediscovered it, and picked it up this week as I thought it would make a sweet little read for Valentines Day. I’m not usually the biggest fan of short story collections, as inevitably there’s some that you’ll enjoy more than others, but I can honestly say that I loved each and every one included in this volume. Given the length, McCall Smith did a fantastic job of making the characters feel so very really, and his writing style is beautiful. I’m so glad I decided to give this a go, and I’ll definitely be picking up more of Alexander McCall Smith’s work in the future.

I also finally got around to reading The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown, the second in the Baby Ganesh Agency Investigation series by Vaseem Khan (☆☆☆☆). I read the first instalment in this fun, Mumbai-based mystery series last year and really enjoyed it, so I was pretty certain I was going to love this one. The books follow the adventures of Private Detective Chopra and his baby elephant Ganesha as they find themselves in all sorts of trouble! This volume sees Chopra attempting to track down Koh-i-Noor diamond, which has been stolen from a Mumbai exhibition of the crown jewels, with a little help from Dairy Milk-loving Ganesha. This was a really light, quick story that I devoured in just a couple of sittings, and was exactly what I was in the mood for. I’m already looking forward to the next installment, which, luckily, isn’t too far away.

Finally, yesterday I took part in the #GettingGraphic readathon, hosted by BookTubers Kitty G and Elena Reads Books. The aim of the one-day readathon was to read solely graphic novels and comics, so I thought that it would be a great time to read Agatha: The Real Life of Agatha Christie by Anne Martinetti, Guillaume Lebeau and Alexandre Franc (☆☆☆☆). This graphic biography offers a very insightful glimpse into the world of the best-selling crime novelist, right from her childhood until her later years. The art style was charming, and I particularly enjoyed the imagined conversations that Agatha had with her famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot! If you enjoy Agatha Christie’s novels and want to learn a little more about the woman behind the pen, this graphic novel is a great place to begin.

I’m currently around a third of the way into Not Forgetting the Whale by John Ironmonger, a literary-dystopian novel set in Cornwall. I stumbled upon this while shelving books in the charity shop that I volunteer in, and was instantly sucked in by both the beautiful cover and the premise. I managed to read a good 100 pages while on the till (it was a slow afternoon…) and couldn’t put it down, so of course it had to come home with me. I love this so far – it’s both witty, clever and deeply moving all at the same time, and I’ve already grown very attached to the characters. I’ll be continuing on with this over the next few days, and while I don’t want to speak too soon, I think Not Forgetting the Whale has the potential to be a 5 star read for me!

Quote of the Week

“She sent him away. She closed her eyes. Such happiness, she thought; such happiness came from knowing who you were and where you came from. And from knowing, too, that you did not have to go back unless you really wanted to, and sometimes you did.” 

– Chance Developments: Unexpected Love Stories by Alexander McCall Smith 

To DNF, Or not to DNF?

As I mentioned last week, I’m currently reading The Dark Days Club, a YA historical fiction/fantasy by Alison Goodman. Well, I say currently reading – I haven’t picked it up, or had any inclination to do so, in over a week. Now, I don’t usually like to DNF books, as I feel that I should give them a proper go and persevere in the hope that the book will become better or more enjoyable. To put it simply, I don’t want to give up. Yet despite hearing many good things about this book, I haven’t found myself in the mood to read it, and I’m contemplating just putting it back on the shelf for now. I can’t really say that I’m currently reading it if it’s not being read at all, and I don’t want to force myself to read it incase it puts me in a slump. So, to DNF or not to DNF? That’s proving to be a tougher question that I first anticipated.

Another (Not-So-Little!) Kindle Splurge

Yes, I know that I bought quite a few Kindle books last week, but what can I say – cheap books are my weakness, and I am powerless to resist a good Kindle deal! I managed to find a good mix of genres all reduced this week, and many of the titles have been on my wishlist for quite some time. I’m planning on taking my Kindle when we go away this week, as it’s far easier than travelling with a stack of paperbacks, and having an eBook-reading binge, but now I have so many Kindle books I’m excited for that I don’t know where to begin!

Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor, The Killing at Badger’s Drift by Caroline Graham, The Mirror World of Melody Black by Gavin Extence, The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood

The J.M. Barrie Ladies’ Swimming Society by Barbara J. Zitwer, Lobsters by Tom Ellen & Lucy Ivison, The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan, In Love and War by Alex Preston

How was your reading week? What are you currently reading?

Review: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

Review: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn HamiltonRebel of the Sands Published by Faber & Faber on 4th February 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 358
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Goodreads
Dustwalk is an unforgiving, dead-end town. It's not the place to be poor or orphaned or female. And yet Amani Al'Hiza must call it 'home'.
Amani wants to escape and see the world she's heard about in campfire stories. Then a foreigner with no name turns up, and with him she has the chance to run.
But the desert plains are full of dangerous magic. The Sultan's army is on the rise and Amani is soon caught at the heart of a fearless rebellion...
An epic story of swirling desert sands, love, magic and revolution.

My Thoughts

It’s been a while since I read a good Young Adult fantasy, but that’s exactly what I found myself in the mood for one grey and miserable afternoon last month. Set in a world that’s a strange mash-up between the Wild West and Arabian Nights, Rebel of the Sands completely swept me away into a world of sun, sand and rebellion, and I simply could not put it down. A fast-paced adventure with just the right amount of romance, this first instalment in Hamilton’s YA fantasy trilogy was everything that I was looking for and more, besides.

Rebel of the Sands tells the story of a young gunslinger named Amani, who has lived her whole life in a small town that has too many of two things: guns, and sand. In Amani’s land, everything a woman possess is owned by a male, whether that be husband, father, brother or uncle. Fearful of being trapped in a life as simply a man’s possession, Amani decides to take her fate into her own hands and forge a better future for herself, far way from the greedy eyes of her Aunt and Uncle. Disguised as a boy, Amani enters the local gun shooting contest, determined to win the prize money that will buy her the train ticket out of her mundane life. But she quickly finds herself on the run with a mysterious stranger, in an adventure that will soon place her at the very heart of a rising rebellion against the Sultan.

Right from the first chapter I was completely and utterly enthralled by the world that Hamilton had created; a far cry from the typical medieval setting most commonly found within the fantasy genre, Rebel of the Sands felt completely unique and a nice, refreshing change. There was a very real sense throughout the book of the dry, desert land in which Amani lives, which could not have been further from my own reality, and the history of the world was also brilliantly thought out and explained. I enjoyed reading of Amani’s struggles as a woman, which felt somewhat relatable to the world and society that we live in today, and I loved the way in which she refused to accept her lot in life and was completely and utterly determined to change it for the better. The way in which people treated Amani when she was disguised as a boy really worked to emphasis this gender divide, and it was an interesting element that gave the reader a lot to think about in addition to being captivated by the exciting plot.

Not only did I adore Amani, but I also really enjoyed the blossoming romance between her and Jin. I thought that this was really well handled, and didn’t fall into that (often overused) YA trope of insta-love. I can’t wait to see how their relationship develops in the later books in the series, especially as Jin’s secrets begin to come to light.

Overall, Rebel of the Sands is an exceptionally strong start to what promises to be a stand-out fantasy series within YA fiction. Fast paced, beautifully written and full of characters you’ll fall in love with, this was certainly one of the most fun and enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time. I can’t wait for the next book in the series, as I have a feeling that it’s going to be just as wonderful as the first.

 Rating

Review: The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon

Review: The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola YoonThe Sun Is Also A Star Published by Corgi Childrens on 3rd November 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Pages: 348
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
Goodreads
Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.
Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.
The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

My Thoughts

Set during the span of one Autumnal day in New York City, The Sun Is Also A Star is a love story about the Universe, fate, destiny, and what it means to fall in love with the idea of falling in love. Having previously ready and enjoyed Nicola Yoon’s debut YA novel, Everything, Everything, last year, I was very much looking forward to reading her most recent offering, and while at first I was a little sceptical given the huge amounts of hype that I had heard, I certainly was not disappointed. In fact, I loved this even more than her debut – anything that leaves you a sobbing mess upon reading the final chapter deserves nothing less than a full 5-star rating!

The novel follows the story of Natasha, our headstrong heroine who believes greatly in science and facts and most definitely not on love and fate. As the book begins, Natasha and her family are just hours away from being deported back to Jamaica, having come to the United States illegally while she was a child in order for her father to pursue his dreams of making it big in the acting profession. Natasha loves her life in New York, and plans to head off to college in less than a year, and so, on this particular day, she has taken it upon herself to fight for one last appeal to remain in the US. Daniel, on the other hand, has his own dreams of becoming a poet, but as the son of Korean immigrant parents he is expected to study hard and follow the path that they have set out for him – the path to Yale and medical school. Daniel is in the city for an admission interview for Yale when, under the strict instructions of his mother to head to the hairdresser beforehand, he stumbles upon Natasha. And the rest, as they say, is history.

While this is, at it’s heart, a YA love story, Nicola Yoon also deals with a plethora of heavy subjects not too often found within YA contemporary fiction; from loneliness, heartbreak, race and suicide to the perils of falling in love, both with a person and a place, this book truly does have substance. Don’t be put off by the one-day love story element, as The Sun Is Also A Star is so much more than that. It is a clever, thoughtful and emotive book about fate, humanity, and the ways in which we are all connected, and the impact that our actions can have on others. Natasha and Daniel’s story was skilfully interwoven with that of numerous side characters who, when mentioned in one chapter, were given their own short history in the next. I really loved this element, as it so wonderfully explored the idea of the interconnectedness of humanity and fate.

In short, I absolutely adored this. Beautiful yet bittersweet, every page of The Sun Is Also A Star was a complete joy to read, and I have no doubt that I will be returning to it many, many times in the future. Instantly captivating and wonderfully written, this is one that you’re going to have trouble putting down!

Rating

My Jane Austen Project

One of my reading goals for this year was to read more classics, at least one each month if we’re being specific. Well, we’re into February now and I’m still yet to read one, so in a bid to push and motivate myself a little further I’ve decided to embark upon a Jane Austen project. Austen is an author beloved my many, and while I have read a handful of her novels I feel that I should attempt to read them all.

Over the coming months I will be reading her all of her novels, in addition to a selection of retellings/other fiction and non-fiction works about Austen and her characters, as well as attempting to watch as many of the film and television adaptations as I can. I really can’t wait to get started with this project; Austen is such an influential and iconic writer, and I have adored everything that I have previously read by her. I’ll be posting updates every now and then, letting you know my thoughts on everything that I have read and watch, but for now let’s get onto the books!

Sense and Sensibility (1811)

I’m sorry to admit that Sense and Sensibility is a novel that I have neither read nor watch an adaptation of, and as such I am completely unfamiliar with the story. I know that this one is loved my many, so I’m very much looking forward to getting around to it.

I’ll also be reading Sense & Sensibility by Joanna Trollope, the first in the Austen Project series, which sees a number of best-selling modern day authors retelling the original classic. I’ve heard mixed things about Trollope’s instalment, but I think it will be interesting to compare the original to a modern-day take on the story.

Pride and Prejudice (1813)

The very first classic that I read, and one of the first books that I fell head-over-heels in love with, Pride and Prejudice has long been my favourite Austen. While I read the adventures of Elizabeth and Darcey countless times when I was a teenager, I haven’t re-read the book in a good few years, so I’d definitely like revisit it this year. I think I’ll be reading this alongside listening to the audiobook, narrated by Rosamund Pike, to fully immerse myself in what is, undoubtedly, one of the greatest love stories of all time!

There are quite a number of Pride and Prejudice inspired books on my shelves that, once again, I am still yet to read. Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld is another instalment in the Austen Project series, and as I love Sittenfeld’s other novels I can’t wait to see her take on this classic. I’d also like to read Longbourn by Jo Baker, which sounds very Downton Abbey inspired, and Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James, the mystery that inspired the 2013 BBC adaptation. There’s also Lizzy Bennet’s Diary by Marcia WilliamsLady Catherine’s Necklace by Joan Aiken, and, finally, The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick, the companion to the Emmy Award–winning YouTube series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.

Mansfield Park (1814)

This is another Austen that I, sadly, have not yet read or watched an adaptation of. I have heard mixed things about Austen’s third novel, but I’m looking forward to giving it a go, particularly as I don’t have too much of an idea about the plot or the characters. I’d also like to read Mansfield Revisited by Joan Aiken. 

Emma (1815)

While I have not yet read the original novel, the 2009 BBC adaptation starring Romola Garai as our heroine is something that I am greatly familiar with! Given my love of the television series, I think that it’s about time I read Austen’s classic, and I hope that I enjoy it as much as it’s on-screen counterpart.

I’ve very much looking forward to reading Emma by Alexander McCall Smith, a further instalment in the Austen Project series, as McCall Smith is fast becoming one of my favourite contemporary writers. I’d also like to watch the Emma Approved web series, which promises to be a lot of fun!

Northanger Abbey (1817)

Yes, you guessed it, another that I haven’t read! I’m really looking forward to this one, as it sounds like a bit of a departure from Austen’s other work, so I’m definitely intrigued. I’m also very much looking forward to getting to Val McDermid’s retelling of Northanger Abbeywhich sounds like a bit of a gothic mystery perfect for a cold, dark night.

Persuasion (1818)

Finally, we’re onto Persuasion, yet another that I have not read. See, I told you that I wasn’t the most well-read when it comes to Jane Austen! I’ve got a lot of catching up to do…

And everything else…

In addition to Austen’s novels and their numerous retellings, there are also a number of Austen-inspired fiction and non-fiction titles I’d also like to read as part of this ongoing project. Austenland by Shannon Hale promises to be a fun, Austen-inspired chick-lit, and has it’s own 2013 film adaptation that I’d like to try to watch, too. As for non-fiction, I’m really looking forward to Jane Austen at Home by Lucy WorsleyWhat Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel PoolJane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin and, finally, Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen by Sarah Jane Downing.

Clearly, I have rather a lot of reading to do! I’m not going to set myself a time limit for this Jane Austen project, but I’ll be sure to keep you updated with my progress along the way.

What is your favourite Jane Austen novel? Are there any retellings or non-fiction titles about her work that you’d recommend?

Review: The River at Night by Erica Ferencik

Review: The River at Night by Erica FerencikThe River at Night Published by Bloomsbury on 12th January 2017
Genres: Adult Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 304
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
Goodreads
'A thought came to me that I couldn't force away: What we are wearing is how we'll be identified out in the wilderness.'
Win Allen doesn't want an adventure. After a miserable divorce and the death of her beloved brother, she just wants to spend some time with her three best friends, far away from her soul-crushing job. But athletic, energetic Pia has other plans.
Plans for an adrenaline-raising, breath-taking, white-water rafting trip in the Maine wilderness. Five thousand square miles of remote countryside. Just mountains, rivers and fresh air.
No phone coverage. No people. No help

My Thoughts

This book is, at it’s heart, exactly what it says on the tin. Wini, Rachel, Pia and Sandra plan on spending the weekend together, catching up and escaping the drudgery of their day-to-day lives, white water rafting in the Maine wilderness. What starts off as a fun girls break away quickly turns into something deadly, when disaster strikes and the women are left to fend for themselves in the wilderness. A thrilling, fast-paced tale of survival, The River at Night is a fun (while also being slightly disturbing) tale of female friendship and adventure.

All in all I found this to be a really refreshing read. I enjoyed how our central characters were women in their late thirties, who struggled a little with the physical demands of white water rafting in the wilderness! Typically, survival or adventure tales such as these tend to focus on groups of men, or young women that are a little more kick-ass than normal, so I enjoyed that we were able to experience this sort of tale with a more relatable and real cast of characters. The book is told through the eyes of Wini, and as the book progresses we get to see more about her background, and those of Rachel, Pia, and Sandra, too. I will admit, I did find the first half a little slow paced for my liking, as it was more character development and setting the scene for the later survival aspects of the story, but from the halfway point onwards I was hooked.

The book gradually builds into a fast-paced, pretty frightening thriller, following the introduction of two characters the girls encounter while trying to find their way out of the woods. I wasn’t too keen on this element of the book, as I found the new characters to be a little unrealistic, and I didn’t enjoy the dynamic that existed between them. However, it was extremely action-packed, and I feared for Wini and her friends as they battled with not only survival in the wilderness, but also the very real threat posed by the new characters.

Overall, this was a fun, thrilling read that I think would make a fantastic movie, and is certainly one to try if you’re looking for something you can get through in a day or two. While it wasn’t my favourite book that I’ve read within the genre, it was certainly atmospheric, given the wilderness setting, with a great cast of characters. I’ll definitely be looking out for more of Erica Ferencik’s work in the future; her writing is unique, fast-paced, and not to be missed by fans of Ruth Ware and Hollie Overton.

Rating

My Reading Week | #1

Read this week

Despite my intentions at the beginning of the week to participate in the  readathon, my reading this week was a little slower than I would have liked. I didn’t seem to have much time to sit and read for great chunks in one go, but rather just a handful of pages here and there, and consequently I didn’t manage to get to as many books as I would have liked given my (admittedly pretty poor!) attempts to participate in a readathon. That being said, I loved everything that I read this week, which I think is perhaps more important than the number of pages or books I managed to complete, so I certainly can’t complain.

The first book I completed was the YA dystopian Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill (☆☆☆☆). This was every bit as brilliant as I thought it would be, but in a rather chilling and frightening way. It definitely made me think a lot about the way society treats women, and the importance that is often placed on beauty and body image. I’ll definitely be reading more of O’Neill’s books in the future, she is a fantastically skilled writer that isn’t afraid to handle more controversial issues that need to be discussed more openly by both adults and teens alike.

I also read one of my most anticipated reads of the year, Wing Jones by Katherine Webber (☆☆☆☆☆). I devoured this YA contemporary in less than 24 hours; it was everything I hoped that it would be and more. Beautifully written with a fantastic cast of characters and the unique setting of 90s Atlanta, this was unlike anything I’ve read within the YA genre, and it made an extremely refreshing change. Katherine Webber is another author that really should be on your radar, in the unlikely event that she isn’t already, and I can’t wait to see what she releases next.

Finally, I’m currently around 200 pages into The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman, a YA historical fantasy set in Regency London. I am enjoying this so far, but I’m not quite hooked just yet; it’s one of those books that I like while I’m reading it, but when I put it down I feel no real pull to pick it back up again. The majority of what I read so far was, I think, just setting up the scene and the characters, and so I hope that the plot begins to pick up soon. I have heard great things about this series so I will definitely be continuing with it this week, and hope to finish up The Dark Days Club in the next few days.

Quote of the week

“And it’s like kissing and running belong in the same alternate dimension where time slows down and speeds up all at the same time, because our kiss lasts and instant and for ever.”

Wing Jones by Katherine Webber

Guys, I have a library!

Well, a library is perhaps a bit of a stretch – it’s probably more of an office, if I’m being honest – but the point is I finally have new bookcases and I couldn’t be more excited! When we moved out of our little flat and into a much bigger house back in December, I was determined to turn one of the spare bedrooms into my own little reading haven. After months of waiting, everything started to come together this week – the walls were painted, the furniture built, light fittings installed and, finally, my books were released from the boxes that they had lived in for three long months (not going to lie, that was painful)! It feels so good to have all of my books in one place, and to be able to see them all without having to move a teetering pile, something that I became quite accustomed to in the old flat. I won’t show too much here, as I’ll be doing a full post once everything is a little better organised, but I’m over the moon with it. It’s not quite Belle’s library, but it’s pretty close!

A little Kindle splurge

In an attempt to slow down on the book buying and reduce my physical TBR pile, which is getting a little out of hand, I’ve been trying to use my Kindle a little more lately. It’s amazing for travelling – it’s like having your own personal library right at your fingertips wherever you are – and while I do still love my physical copies I also enjoy reading eBooks, too. I noticed that there were some fantastic Kindle deals on this week, so I managed to pick up four books on my wishlist for just 99p each:

Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, The Wrath & The Dawn by Renée Ahdieh, The Hawkweed Prophecy by Irena Brignull, Gilded Cage by Vic James

I’ve heard only good things about Passenger and The Wrath & The Dawn, but I know very little about the other two, but the premise sounded intriguing and the covers are beautiful! And for 99p, you can’t really go wrong – I mean, books are hard to resist at the best of times, but it’s pretty much impossible when they are that cheap!

How was your reading week? What are you currently reading?

Review: It’s Not Me, It’s You by Mhairi McFarlane

Review: It’s Not Me, It’s You by Mhairi McFarlaneIt's Not Me, It's You Published by Harper on November 6th 2014
Genres: Adult Fiction, Chick Lit, Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 544
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Goodreads
Delia Moss isn’t quite sure where she went wrong. When she proposed and discovered her boyfriend was sleeping with someone else – she thought it was her fault. When she realised life would never be the same again – she thought it was her fault.
And when he wanted her back life nothing had changed – Delia started to wonder if perhaps she was not to blame…
From Newcastle to London and back again, with dodgy jobs, eccentric bosses and annoyingly handsome journalists thrown in, Delia must find out where her old self went – and if she can ever get her back.

My Thoughts

This was my first read from Mhairi McFarlane, an author who I have heard nothing but good things about from fellow book bloggers and BookTubers. Known for her hilarious characters and witty dialogue, McFarlane is a well-loved author within the Women’s Fiction genre, and given the wonderful things that I’d heard about her books I was eagerly anticipating It’s Not Me, It’s You. It’s safe to say I was not disappointed; despite the book’s 500+ pages, the time just flew by, and I was so engrossed in the world and story that McFarlane created I just couldn’t put it down.

I loved our protagonist Delia from the very first page. She sounded so unique and warm, and I could definitely relate to her love of vintage fashion; she really felt like a character that I’d love to be friends with! As the book begins, Delia’s happy and easy life in Newcastle is, unfortunately, about to take a turn for the worse. Having received a rather lukewarm response from her boyfriend Paul after she proposes, Delia soon receives a text from Paul, clearly not intended for her. As the truth of Paul’s affair comes out, and Delia’s life collapsing around her, she’s forced to re-evaluate what it is she wants from life, and how she can make it on her own without Paul. The break-up scenes felt so realistic – in a way that made you cringe with the awkwardness at times! – and I really enjoyed following Delia’s journey as she learnt to be her own person again following the breakdown of a long-term relationship, and the very real problems and concerns that come with being a single woman in her thirties.

Delia is such a treat to read about, but there are also many other  fantastic characters in It’s Not Me, It’s You that I completely fell for. Peshwari Naan, also known as The Naan, is perhaps one of the most comedic of the bunch; an Internet troll with a rather baffling name who, at the start of the novel, Delia is attempting to track down due to their involvement in falsifying quotes from members of the council. The Naan and Delia soon strike up a friendship, and I really enjoyed reading the messages that passed between the two of them and the focus that was placed on online friendships and how they can be just as important and genuine as those that we have in real life. Delia’s best friend and, later, flatmate Emma was another great character to read about, and the relationship that existed between the two friends was extremely lovely and supportive. Mhairi McFarlane has a wonderful way of making even secondary characters feel real, relatable and fully fleshed out, with their own history and stories to tell outside of Delia’s. I’d love to see more of them in Mhairi’s future novels, either as the stars of their own book or even cameos in another – I just want more time with them, please!

Equal parts hilarious and heartwarming, It’s Not Me, It’s You is one of those books that you’ll stay up all night reading. Delia was such a joy, and I loved following her story, from the first page to the last. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this to anyone that enjoys a good old fashioned chick lit, or loves their characters to feel just as real as your own friends. I can’t wait to read more of Mhairi’s work in the future, I have a feeling that they will be just as fun as this one.

Rating

Banging Book Club | Fifty Shades of Grey

Banging Book Club, the January Edition

If you haven’t heard of the Banging Book Club, then girl, where have you been?! Hosted by YouTubers Hannah Witton, Leena Norms and Lucy Moon, the book club reads a different title focusing on the topics of sex and gender each month, which are discussed in the official book club fortnightly podcast. After listening to – and completely adoring – the podcast for a good few months, I decided that 2017 would be the year that I get involved and start reading the books too, and to participate in the discussion.

January’s pick was the rather controversial Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James, a book that I’m sure everyone and their mother has read by now (luckily not mine, because that would be a bit awkward…). I was raring to go at the start of the month, opting for an eBook rather than a paperback copy to avoid the embarrassment/strange looks I felt sure to receive on public transport, and even purchased a copy of the DVD to watch after I’d finish reading. I was fully invested in making my first month of the Banging Book Club a success, but after just 80 pages, I ground to a halt. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t finish the book. 

I’m not usually one for DNF’ing book; usually I’ll power through and complete it, whether I like it or not. But with Fifty Shades of  Grey, I just couldn’t bring myself to. I was putting off picking it up, and only managing a few pages at a time when I did, and to be honest it was putting me in a bit of a reading slump. I originally wanted to read the book to see what all the hype was about; selling over 125 million copies worldwide, this is a book that clearly has a lot of fans and appeal. I’m sure you’ll all have heard about the controversy surrounding it, but I didn’t feel like I could comment, or really have an opinion at all, without reading it for myself. Before I (attempted) to read the book, my opinion generally was, if it’s getting people to read who perhaps wouldn’t normally, what’s the harm? How bad can it be? But now, after reading a little for myself and listening to the book club podcast, my opinion has changed somewhat.

Now, I don’t mean to offend anyone who has read and enjoyed these books, as I know there are many people out there who very much do. We all have different opinions, and that’s fine, but what works for one person may not necessarily work for another. Fifty Shades of Grey really didn’t work for me, and I think that was largely due to the writing style and the characters. I knew going into the book that it wasn’t going to be a literary masterpiece, but I didn’t really anticipate just how simplistic the writing style would be. It literally made me cringe in parts, and I can’t quite believe that an editor would put this forward for publication without making some serious changes. Similarly, the characters felt like exaggerated caricatures, and their behaviour was not realistic or believable in the slightest. Anastasia was extremely flat, and I really didn’t understand the chemistry between her and Christian. I wasn’t sold. As I didn’t get too far into the book, I can’t really comment on the plot/themes too much, but the podcast raised some interesting points that really got me thinking.

Like Hannah, Leena and Lucy, I initially thought that Fifty Shades would be a light, funny read, something quite unputdownable in a love-to-hate sort of way. But I think, after listening to the podcast, what it actually is is quite a sad reflection of abusive relationships, and a woman not standing up for herself. Now I don’t mean abusive in a sexual sort of way, although Hannah did discuss rape implications and consent within the podcast, but I think the focus of the book is more on mentally abusive partners and relationships. Anastasia and Christian’s relationship is often romanticised, but essentially it is abusive at it’s core, and consequently I find this bandwagon one very difficult to get on board with.

As Leena pointed out, it’s interesting how Fifty Shades became such a cultural phenomenon, complete with a movie series and a range of merchandise, and in one way it’s a progressive and positive thing that a book essentially about sex has become so well-read and popular. Finally, people are reading books and having discussions about sex! But on the other hand, does this mean that the abusive elements of the books are glamorised and dismissed, and as such proving the public with an unhealthy view of relationships? It’s like we’re taking one step forward and two steps back, placing the importance of discussion about sex over that of abusive relationships, when in reality they are both equally important.

Overall, Fifty Shades of Grey just wasn’t for me, and although I ended up not completing the book I’m glad that, through listening to the book club podcast, it got me thinking about some important topics and issues. It’s certainly a book that divides opinion, that’s for sure! In February we’ll be reading Nina is Not OK by Shappi Khorsandi, which I hope to get on with a little better.

Have you read Fifty Shades of Grey? What are your thoughts on the book, and the Banging Book Club?

Review: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Review: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul KalanithiWhen Breath Becomes Air Published by Vintage on January 5th 2017
Genres: Autobiography, Memoir, Non Fiction
Pages: 225
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Goodreads
At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, the next he was a patient struggling to live.

When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a medical student asking what makes a virtuous and meaningful life into a neurosurgeon working in the core of human identity – the brain – and finally into a patient and a new father. What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when when life is catastrophically interrupted? What does it mean to have a child as your own life fades away?

My Thoughts

It’s not easy to review a book that made you cry while reading, or makes you tear up a little when thinking about, but I’ll try my best to get my thoughts down in a coherent manner anyway. When Breath Becomes Air is perhaps one of the most challenging and heartbreaking books that I’ve read in a long time, but also one of the most inspiring and uplifting, too. There’s no way that I could have rated this any less than the full 5 stars; to put it simply, it’s one of the best non-fiction books that I’ve ever come across, and Paul Kalanithi’s words will stay with me for a long time.

Abraham Verghese’s foreword to the book is extremely fitting, and sums up the underlying message of Kalanithi’s work far better than I ever could: “Be ready. Be seated. See what courage sounds like. See how brave it is to reveal yourself in this way. But above all, see what it is to still live, to profoundly influence the lives of other after you are gone, by your words.” It’s not hard to tell that Kalanithi was an incredibly brave and admirable man, who dedicated his life to his career in neurosurgery. This memoir, written towards the end of his life, chronicles his battle with terminal lung cancer, and his musings on life and what it means to truly live were extremely moving.

Despite it’s relatively short length, Kalanithi touches on many topics, including neurosurgery, his childhood, his training and relationships with patients, morality, ethics, and his relationship with his wife Lucy, who provides a deeply moving afterward to the book. Lucy’s words on Kalanithi’s final days, and the struggles that she and the family faced following Paul’s death, were heartbreaking, and provided a perfect ending to the sadly unfinished memoir.

When Breath Becomes Air is a remarkable, inspirational and heartfelt piece of non-fiction that serves as a beautiful reminder not only to live, but to live well. It really is something special, and should be read by all.

“Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete.”

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