What I’ve learnt from a year without books

Back in March, when I declared this blog on hiatus, I ended with a quote from the fabulously outrageous, Oscar Wilde, who once said:

“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.”

At the time, I quoted this because somewhere along the way I felt like I had stopped reading what I wanted to read, and instead was reading what I felt I should read. I loved blogging and being part of the blogging community, but I felt that if I didn’t read the new releases, and keep up with what everyone else was reading, that I’d somehow fall out of that circle.

Now, however, that quote has a whole new meaning for me, because over the past year, during the moments when I would’ve previously been forcing myself through a book I knew wasn’t my cup of tea, I’ve found myself with the desire to read things I never thought I’d want to read.

Most notably, non-fiction, I used to never read non-fiction, it just didn’t interest me; why read something about this world, when this world is a total mess?!

But whilst not reading this year, I’ve discovered a whole new desire for knowledge. I’m 28, I’ve been out of mainstream education for nearly six years, and yet I’ve never been more desperate to learn. Learn about the world beyond what the news tells us. Learn about how people live, and how people have lived, in places I can’t even point to on a map.

We live in a time when our world is closer than ever, yet sometimes it feels like we’ve never been farther apart. How did we get here? And where do we go next? I want to know these things and it was only in not spending my time reading the books I thought I was supposed to read, that I discovered this new found yearning to learn.

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I’ve also realised something else, something which makes me sad, but also excited at the same time.

I think, maybe, I’m growing out of YA. Actually, “growing out of” is the wrong phrase, maybe “growing into” other genres is a better way of putting it, because I still love the variety and nuance of YA, I still believe it’s the most unpredictable genre out there, and that other genres need to embrace that if they’re going to keep up with the seemingly boundless imaginations of YA authors, but I also find myself wanting to read about people my age.

I came to YA late, I was in my early-20s before the genre really became the behemoth we’re now used to, but I embraced it because I’d never had those stories when I was in my teens, and had always yearned for them. I clung on to that, perhaps for too long, because I was struggling with my own stuff, and didn’t feel ready to let go of the child in me. Now, though, I need stories that someone closer to 30 can resonate with, and whilst I will inevitably still dip in and out of YA, I want to find out what else is out there.

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So what does this mean for this blog?

Essentially, nothing. It’s still going to be here, and yes, I’m actually going to be writing it again, because that desire has come back as well, but it’s going to be different. It’s probably going to be more varied in content; it’ll still be primarily book-related, but I often find myself wanting to talk about other stuff as well – the real life stuff that isn’t always pretty – so expect some of that from time to time. Most of all, I want to write stuff that I would want to read; I’m tired of writing pieces that have no heart, that feel like anyone could’ve written them. We all have our own voice, and I think I finally understand where mine is coming through, so I’m going to embrace it.

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

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5 books I really, really NEED to read!

My TBR* is currently over 400 books long, and one day I will get around to reading every single one of them, but until that day, there will always be some of them that manage to creep their way up the list, on the basis of being made of awesome. These are five books that have pushed their way up so far that I cannot wait to read them!

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I’ve never been a loud woman. Even when I manage to get a handle of my social anxiety, I doubt very much I will be a loud woman, but this book isn’t so much about being an extrovert, as it is about finding your own voice: the one that’s buried beneath decades of ‘that’s not very ladylike’, and your endless apologies; the one that’s convinced you you’re not worth anything because of how you look, and the one that’s taught you how ‘we don’t talk about that’.
Shrill is about women, regardless of shape, size, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender, binary or non-binary, finding their voices from buried below the ones that have kept us quiet for centuries.

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One of my favourite things as a reader is unexpectedly falling in love with a book. Last year, that happened to me with Max Wirestone’s The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss, an unashamedly geeky and hilarious murder mystery, which celebrated the eccentricities of fandoms, with a fish-out-of-water tale of a woman who unexpectedly finds herself embroiled in the weird wonderful world of MMORPGs. I gave it four stars, and ended my review with the phrase ‘[I] really, really hope we see more of Dahlia Moss in the future!’ Thus why I’m so excited for this follow up, The Astonishing Mistakes of Dahlia Moss. I cannot wait to read more of the ridiculous but wonderful circumstances Dahlia ends up in.

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Another sequel to one of my favourites of 2016, Now I Rise is the second in The Conqueror’s Saga by Kiersten White, which started last Summer with the wonderful, And I Darken. This is an AU story about what would have happened if Vlad the Impaler had actually been a woman. The result is the effortlessly vicious, Lada Dracul, who is the kind of leading lady protagonist I worship. She’s such a dark and complex character, which you simply cannot predict, and who never betrays her own morals and beliefs. We need more ladies like her in the realms of fantasy fiction!

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This is one of those books I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t read yet. Me, who laps up epic fantasy like a cat drinking milk.
If you, like me, have failed at life, because have so far not read this book, The Name of the Wind is the story of Kvothe, an all-powerful wizard, told in the style of a coming-of-age story, through the eyes of the character himself.
I’ve heard nothing but great things and five-starred reviews about this book, and the glorious style in which Patrick Rothfuss writes.
The question is: do I read it or listen to the audiobook?
As always, thoughts always welcomed!

 

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Every once in a while you hear about a book you just know you’re going to be willing to do anything to get your hands on. This year, for me, that book is Lisa Lueddecke’s debut novel A Shiver of Snow and Sky. Everything I have seen and heard about this sounds amazing, and also, incredibly beautiful. The first page preview Lisa shared back in October only confirms that. I love it when authors write with that lyrically poetic style, there’s something magical about it that only helps to further immerse you into the world they’ve crafted. The writing, the cover, EVERYTHING about this book is beautiful, and I cannot wait to read it!

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*My Goodreads TBR, at least. My actual list of every book I want to read doesn’t exist as it would make me cry every time I looked at it and realised that I’ll never reach the end of it!

You Will Not Have My Hate

There’s a lot of hate in the world right now; anger seems to fuel the news on a daily basis, and where once the world seemed to be growing closer, now, the divide feels stronger than ever before. At times likes this, it’s difficult to remember that hate only fuels hate, yet, last year, one man with more reason to hate than most, reminded us just why we shouldn’t.

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There are only two of us – my son and myself – but we are stronger than all the armies of the world.

On November 13th 2015, Helene Muyal-Leiris attended a concert at the Bataclan Theatre in Paris, France, along with 1500 people. By the end of the night, 89 of those people were dead, Helene included, along with 41 others killed at other attacks across the city, in what was the deadliest attack on France since World War II.

Three days later, Helene’s husband, Antoine, wrote an open letter to his wife’s attacker in which he wrote, ‘You stole the life of an exceptional being, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hate.’ That letter has since been shared over two hundred thousand times, and produced the title of his short memoir, detailing the days following the attack as he and his seventeen-month-old son, Melvil, tried to come to terms with their loss.

You Will Not Have My Hate is a heartbreaking read, but one which should be required reading for all of us, at a time when it’s difficult not to feel anger towards those who try to hurt us. As a result of the world we now live in, too many of us now know what it’s like to worry about whether a loved one is safe, those horrible moments of not knowing, the waiting that feels like it stretches on for years.

‘Waiting is a feeling without a name.’

It’s impossible to understand what it’s like when that waiting ends in bad news, yet Leiris’ writing opens a window into that horrific time, and allows us in. At times, it feels as if we are intruding on something we shouldn’t be allowed to see; moments which should remain private to only Antoine and his family, but in opening up about these moments, he teaches us that empathy comes not in anger at those who hurt others, but in being there for those who are hurt.

5/5

I received a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Hello Me, it’s You

Last year, I was diagnosed with Depression and Anxiety, after five years of battling it in silence. Since then, I’ve tried to be as open as possible about my mental health, because seeking help was the best thing I’ve ever done, and I know that if more of us talk about their struggles openly, the more those struggling in silence will see that it is okay to ask for help. In fact, it’s not just okay, it’s a lifesaver. My diagnosis is something I am totally unashamed of, because there is not a reason in the world to be ashamed of an illness you have no control over. And yet, we live in a world where mental illness, and everything associated with it, is still stigmatised and hidden away. In the UK, it’s led to a massive mental health crisis, with 1 in 4 people suffering with Depression at some point in their lifetime, and so the more exposure and the more understanding there is for mental illness, the better it is for all of us.

That is why I’m so excited to share with you a wonderful new book, Hello Me, it’s You.

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This project, started by student Hannah Todd, for her graduating assessment, is a collection of letters from mental health sufferers, written to their 16-year-old selves.

It is moving, emotional and heartbreaking, but perhaps most importantly of all, it is incredibly touching to read when you yourself can relate to everything that has been written.

You can almost sense the catharsis each writer got from penning their letter, and it has already inspired me to start writing similar letters to my former self, in an effort to tackle some of the issues I most struggle with.

I feel rating a book like this is almost unimportant, because it is just one of those incredibly important books. It’s something I would recommend everyone read, regardless of whether you are suffering or not, because, sadly, there is a very high chance that at some point in your life, you, or someone you know, will be diagnosed with a mental health disorder, and it is through reading books like Hello Me, it’s You, that we can all be better prepared for that eventuality.

(That all said, I’m still giving this 5 stars, because it deserves nothing less. I’d give it 10 if I could!)

5/5

Hello Me, it’s You is published October 10th.

I received a copy of this via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

“Make ambition a female trait”

Just last week, there were articles all over the internet talking about ‘shine theory’ and ‘amplification’; the idea that if you are a working women, it’s in your best interests and the interests of the other women working alongside you, to support each other, and get your voices heard, by repeating what your fellow female employers say, until it’s taken seriously by the whole room. It’s a clever idea, and it’s just one of the ideas mentioned in Jessica Bennett’s new ‘Office Survival Manual For a Sexist Workplace’, Feminist Fight Club.

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Jam-packed full of tips and inspiring anecdotes from America’s top working women, this book helps you to overcome the ingrained sexism that most women will experience regularly, throughout their working life.

“Make ambition a female trait. Chip away at that glass ceiling and don’t apologize for it. And when you’ve trail-blazed your way to the top, remember your Feminist Fight Club duty: to bring other women with you.”

It’s a nice idea, and most women will be able to relate to many of the sexist situations that frequently take place in workplaces, even today.

And yet, after a while it does start to get quite repetitive. To be fair, it is exactly what it says on the tin: a survival manual. However, it would still be nice if Bennett changed things up every now and again.

By halfway through, I had had quite enough of the – this is what the situation is, and this is how you overcome it – structure, and would’ve liked more of the anecdotal parts which are arguably the highlight of the book.

By the sounds of it, Bennett has more than enough examples of sexism that she has experienced, or her friends have experienced, from working in the world of journalism, and yet we only really get a glimpse of that.

With more personal experiences, this could’ve been a really motivational, interesting, girl-power-esque book, which I think is what Bennett was trying to achieve, and yet, even with all the good intentions in the world, this book falls into the same vein as other ‘the world is sexist, this is how you can overcome it’ books.

The occasional illustrations are humorous, and the more personal moments are interesting, but overall, this is a repetitive and sadly disappointing read.

3/5

I was sent a copy of this via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Featured image by Cliff Chiang.

To Learn to Read is to Light a Fire

As someone who’s grown up on fantasy, reading has always been a form of escapism for me. When I read about Harry’s adventures at Hogwarts, The Fellowship’s journey to destroy The Ring, every citizen of Westeros’ vain attempt to live a long life, I do so to escape the worries of the real world, if only for a little while.

Sometimes, however, books are about more than escapism. Sometimes, books make real the parts of our own world that we really wish were fictional.

As someone who’s grown up in a middle-class family in England, my life is a world away from the life of someone growing up in North Korea, and until recently, I was entirely oblivious to the goings on in a country so secretive that it’s known colloquially as the Hermit Kingdom.

Enter three eye-opening books so heartbreaking I wish they were fictional.

The first two I have reviewed before: Blaine Harden’s Escape From Camp 14, the account of a young man who grew up in the North Korean state-run prison camps, and In Order To Live by Yeonmi Park, an autobiographical story of the length humans can go to when they are forced to fight for their lives, are both eye-opening and emotionally-charged stories that continuously had me wondering how we can stand by and let these horrors just happen.

This third book is no different.

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Due for release this September, Every Falling Star is a non-fiction story of life in North Korea, for the YA generation.

Co-written with journalist Susan McClelland, this is the autobiographical tale of Sungju Lee, who went from being an impressive youngster, with sights on becoming a general in the North Korean army, to the leader of a child street gang, forced into thievery in order to survive.

Having read other books about the lives of North Koreans, I expected this to be a harrowing read, but what I didn’t expect was how well this book understands its audience.

Every Falling Star succeeds because it understands how difficult it will be for most of us to relate to Sungju; it doesn’t try and overdo the emotion or shock us into connecting with him, instead it relies on something we can all know: childish wonderment.

We’ve all been that age where every new piece of information was greeted by the question, ‘Why?’, we’ve all struggled to understand the world around us as we stare up at it from our viewpoint, at three foot small. At that age we share something with one another, regardless of where we live, who are parents are, how much money we have, and in reminding us of what it was like to be that age, Every Falling Star builds a connection between us and Shungju, that does not go away until well beyond the final page.

A lot of people shy away from reading non-fiction, because they don’t feel they will be able to get into it as easily as fiction, but this book has overcome that, to present a story that is full of emotion and heartbreak.

This isn’t an easy read, and it shouldn’t be, because it’s the best way of introducing a younger generation to the true horrors of the real world, so that they can be part of the future that changes things.

4/5

Every Falling Star is published on September 13th 2016.

I was sent a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

REVIEW: Escape From Camp 14 – Blaine Harden

Something a little different this week…

Escape From Camp 14 tells the true story of Shin Dong-hyuk, the only person to have ever been born in, and escape from, the North Korean political prison camp known as Camp 14. It details his life from an early age living in the camp, through his escape, and right up to his acclimatization to a society outside of the world’s most secretive country.

I went into reading this book with very knowledge about North Korea. All I saw was all anyone sees these days; the constant political tensions between South Korea, the occasional rocket launch threatening war, but I knew very little about the actual country, about the actual people that live there. This book doesn’t reveal all that, but it certainly portrays a way of life that you can’t quite believe is still a part of our modern world.

I’m not going to lie to you, this is a hard read. Not just because it details events and atrocities of the most horrifying nature, but also because you see it all through the eyes of a person who seems almost inhuman. Because of his upbringing (if you can call it that), Shin does not share the same ideas of family and loyalty as others do; having been brought up in a world where it is very much a case of survival of the fittest, he is ruthless, heartless, and does not think twice about dobbing in other family members, knowing full well the fatal consequences of doing so.

If you want to have your eyes opened to a world unimagineable, read this book. It will change your perceptions, not just of North Korea, but of the world and of life in general.