Review: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Genre: Autobiography, monologic epistolary work

Similar to: Pretty much a one-off

Could be enjoyed by: Everyone – it’s such an important book

Publication date: 25th June 1947

This book broke me. Literally – ugly crying. Mascara everywhere. Don’t read the last two pages with makeup on. 

I’m sure you’re all aware of Anne Frank and her famous diary but just in case you’re not, I’ll briefly summarise it for you. Anne and her family were German Jews who had moved to Amsterdam to escape Nazi persecution during the Second World War. Unfortunately, as the war progressed and The Netherlands became occupied by Germany, the family went into hiding. They lived with another family and one single man in what Anne called ‘The Annex’ – the top three floors of a factory with an entrance concealed by a bookshelf. Anne’s letters to her fictional friend Kitty form the contents of her diary, where she recorded her life in The Annex. 

I’d never read this book before and had always assumed that it would be a bleak, harrowing tale of starvation, worry and appalling living conditions. But that’s not what it’s like at all. Firstly, the Frank family seemed to be relatively well off before they went into hiding so were able to afford enough basics on the black market to ensure they didn’t starve. Secondly, The Annex was much bigger than I imagined – far from being a cramped, damp cellar I was surprised to see that they had access to number of different rooms, beds, a toilet, an area for cooking etc. Thirdly, I had forgotten that the diary is written by a teenage girl. No offense to teenage girls – after all, I did used to be one myself – but I’d simply forgotten that your world view at fourteen is almost exclusively centered around yourself. As such, there are far fewer mentions of concern about the War, worries about food/money/health and much more teenage angst than I’d bargained for. 

That’s not to say that the diary isn’t harrowing in places, or that Anne is completely unaware of the danger that she’s in. She’s simply your average teenager; slightly self obsessed, slightly delusional, outspoken and melancholy and full of hormones. Basically, she was exactly like I was when I was her age. 

This made me empathise with Anne in a way that I hadn’t expected. I completely understood her bold claims, her introspection, her life-is-so-unfair-and-I-hate-you attitude to her Mum (let’s be honest, her life was pretty unfair although I don’t think her Mum had much to do with it). Anne’s obsession with the boy upstairs (Peter) took me right back to my teenage crushes and I had to laugh at her attitude towards making him fall in love with her.

All of this meant that I really, really liked her. Anne had a real gung-ho, make the most of it attitude towards life that I really respected. I loved how she stood up for herself, how clever she was, even her continual attempts to make herself a better person and her ability to see how much she’d changed during her time in hiding. I loved her characterisation of the people that she lived with and her scathing assessment of their flaws – Mrs. Van Daan was a personal favourite. I think that if I’d met Anne at fourteen, I would have liked to have been her friend.  

As I got closer to the end of the book, the sense of foreboding which had been with me throught my reading increased. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Anne, her family and the other people that were living in The Annex were discovered by the Nazis and sent to concentration camps. There were just no words when I read the horrific way that each invidual had been treated and the subsequent manner of death for all of them except for Otto Frank, Anne’s Dad. To learn that they had all perished mere weeks before the liberation of the camps was especially upsetting. 

In an era when White Supremacy, Neo-Nazis and Holocaust denial is on the rise, it would be lovely to think that a long-dead teenage girl might be able to change the mindset of some seriously misinformed people.

Rating: 🌟Five “Dear Kitty”s out of five🌟

Poignant, deeply affecting but amazingly lighthearted – an incredibly important book to read. 

Please note that I read this novel as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2018 #1 Read a book published posthumously.

 

Review: Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business by Dolly Parton

​Genre: Memoir, Autobiography.

Similar to: Well, it’s a celebrity memoir so…all the other celebrity memoirs?

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of Dolly Parton, obvs.

Publication date: 22nd September 1994

Now, I’m sure you’re all aware of Dolly Parton the country music singer, businesswoman and all around amazing person. I’ve previously blogged about Dolly’s Imagination Library here and talked about how wonderful I think she is. So when I found the inexplicably out-of-print autobiography Dolly: My Life and Other unfinished Business I was immediately excited to read it. 

The first thing to say about this book is hooo-boy, Dolly has led a pretty amazing life. From growing up in the Smokey Mountains to her metoric rise to fame, hers is your quintessential rags to riches story – and when I say rags to riches, I literally mean growing up in rags to becoming a multi-millionaire.

It’s genuinely hard to comprehend the level of poverty that Dolly grew up in. Her home was hand built by her family, it was papered with newspapers to keep the drafts out and the family’s chickens lived underneath it (and used to poke their beaks up between the gaps in the floorboards). I really enjoyed reading about her early life because despite having pretty much nothing, the Parton’s were a resourceful lot and in having to make their own entertainment, Dolly began to hone the singer-songwriter skills that she built her career upon. 

The other thing that growing up poor seemed to do for Dolly was to keep her humble. The book is peppered with her self-deprecating humour and jokes about her trashy apperance, her plastic surgery, the fact that her dad assumed that when she went home with her newly bleached hair and disposable income that she’d become a prostitute. She alludes to having had affairs (although she denies the lesbian ones as just good friends) but is hilariously honest about literally everything else – from not having children to her medical problems to her favourite cosmetic surgeons (there is genuinely a list of recommendations and contact details in the back). Dollly is fabulously un-classy in a way that most people would try to hide but she just doesn’t care – and that makes her life even more fun to read about. I loved her refreshing honesty and how her writing oozed with her warmth and intelligence.

I was slightly concerned that as a Christian, Dolly would stray into the realms of being preachy or judgemental but this never happened. She seems to live her life caring about and helping everyone – regardless of their background, sexuality or religion. There is a lot of talk about God but it’s always positive  – almost her own blend of Dolly wisdom and spirituality. I loved how her faith in God translated to her belief in charity, her championing of various causes and her attitude to helping out all of the members of her absolutely massive family. 

I will say that the autiobiography rambles a bit – it’s not exactly chronological and not being a country music fan I wasn’t always aware of the people that she was talking about but it was still hugely enjoyable. 

Overall, I loved reading about Dolly and her super-inspirational take on life. She’s had such a lot happen to her that it’s almost too much to fit in to a novel. Case in point? She gets abducted by aliens and writes about the experience for all of ONE PAGE. Amazing. Dolly Parton, I will always love you (oooh wahhhh).

Rating: Four ‘It’s a good thing I was born a girl, otherwise I’d be a drag queen’ out of five.

Please note that I read this novel as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2018 #12 Read a celebrity memoir.

 

Review: The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson

“Beauty, obsession and the natural history heist of the century”

Genre: Non-fiction (Adult), True Crime

Similar to: Fly Fishing by J.R.Hartley

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of books featured on BT adverts

Publication date: 26th April 2018

I’ll be honest – If it wasn’t for the #Read Harder Challenge by Book Riot I would never ever have picked this book up. It’s such a weird topic to write about, a completely bizzare story and features lots of different topics, none of which I’m particularly interested in.

You see, The Feather Thief is the true life story of Edwin Rist, a salmon fly tier who becomes so obsessed with the hobby that he ends up stealing a huge number of rare bird skins from the British Museum of Natural History in Tring in order to use their feathers to make salmon flies (and also makes pretty hefty profit selling the feathers on to other salmon fly tiers – Edwin is also a prodigal flautist and wants a new professional grade flute). 

Sorry, did I lose you there for a second? You don’t know what a salmon fly is? Or how it relates to dead museum birds? Or what this book is even about?

Yeah, that was pretty much my response when I read the blurb but I needed to read a book of true crime, sooooooo….yeah. I chose to read it.

And guess what?

It was INCREDIBLE!

I genuinely can’t believe how interesting this book was – especially for someone like me who knew literally nothing about salmon fishing, Victorian bird hunting or the esoteric (good word) world of modern day salmon fly tying. And now – now I know LOADS about all of these things and they are FASCINATING.

Let me explain…

The Feather Thief begins with an introduction into the world of the fishing fly. These are the things that you attach to your fishing hook (like a lure) to make the fish think that your hook is food or something to be attacked. Either way, the fish ends up with the hook in it’s mouth and you end up with a charming photo of you holding it by the tail before hopefully putting it back in the river. So, fishing flies are generally functional objects that help you to catch fish. People either buy them or make them using bits of feathers, tinsel, coloured plastic etc. – anything to grab the fish’s attention.

Except…

Except there is a bizzare, kinda underground world of people who create massively intricate, hugely expensive salmon fishing flies purely for fun – not fishing. They often follow Victorian instructions for such creations and as such need to get hold of the kinds of materials that would have been used at the time. This is where it gets interesting. You see, the Victorians loved feathers – especially from rare and/or exotic birds. Also, they didn’t give a tuppeny fig about ideals such as animal welfare, conservation or protecting vulnerable species – to be fair, none of these things had been invented yet. To the Victorians, if it moved then you should shoot it then either eat it, stuff it, preserve it or wear it. And if it came from a far flung country and looked fabulously exotic, so much the better for showing off your wealth and excellent taste. 

A huge market arose for the importation of feathers from the tropics and Asia (primarily for fashion) and so it was only natural that a gentleman interested in country pursuits should show off with a display of the finest, most highly decorative salmon flies that money could buy, whilst his wife paraded around with a dead bird on her hat. 

Cut to the present day…

For some bizzare reason, people are still interested in creating Victorian salmon flies (I guess everyone has to have a hobby). However, many of the materials required are now protected by law – the Victorians pretty much decimated much of the natural populations of thousands of animal species, particularly exotic birds. So, demand for rare feathers in the world of salmon fly tiers is particularly high – especially as their availability is so scarce.

Still with me?

Ok, so this is where Edwin Rist comes in. He’s a young American teenager with meagre funds but an all-consuming obsession with fly tying. Studying in the UK, he hears about the collection of bird skins that were collected by Alfred Russel Wallace (a contemporary of Darwin) who painstakingly caught, labelled and preserved exotic birds in the wild and had them shipped back to the UK for scientific research. Edwin views some of the collection (now housed at the British Museum of Natural History in Tring), scopes the place out then returns at a later date and steals hundreds of the specimins, specifically to create salmon flies (or to sell on to other tiers).

No, really. He absolutely decimates the collection of irreplaceable scientific specimens so that he can create salmon flies – display purposes only. 

The Feather Thief investigates everything from Wallace’s voyages to the tropics and the Victorian fascination with feathers to Edwin Rist himself, what happened when he raided the museum, how he was eventually caught (tiny spoiler – the museum didn’t even notice that the birds were missing for MONTHS) and also tries to trace the missing birds. It features interviews with some of the main players in the fly tying world and eventually the author even manages to talk to Rist himself. The whole thing is utterly fascinating and far more interesting than I’ve made it sound.

I loved learning all about the history of collecting bird specimens (for scientific research, private collections and for profit) and the huge industry that this created. Although this could have been a pretty dry info-dump the conversational tone of the author brought the subject matter to life. Johnson’s overall style reminded me of Bill Bryson (who as far as I’m concerned could make any subject captivating) and I could really feel how personally invested he was in the story. Although I’m pretty ignorant about the history of feather trading, The Feather Thief seemed to be very well researched and was heavily referenced throughout.

As the book progressed and Johnson focused more on the psychology of why Rist would risk everything to commit such a crime (and the arguments that his defence lawyer used to mitigate his sentencing) the manuscript becomes more of a psychological thriller. Who really is Edwin Rist? Was his sentencing fair? Where are the birds that he stole? How many members of the fly tying community knew about the heist or suspected they were buying stolen birds/feathers but didn’t say anything? Johnson investigates all of these questions and whilst he doesn’t necessarily come up with the answers, he objectively presents all of the evidence available and allows the reader to draw their own conclusions.

Cleverly constructed, impeccably researched and utterly fascinating, The Feather Thief is an incredible book. I was completely sucked into the murkey world of salmon fly tying and the story of how a teenager could pull off such a high stakes, valuable, devastating heist with little more than some wire cutters, a rock he found on the ground and a wheelie suitcase. Seriously – just go and read it for yourself.

Rating:🌟Five felonious feather filching foreign flautists out of five🌟

Bonkers, esoteric psychological crime drama that could easily have been the plot of a of Jonathan Creek episode. Brilliantly engaging, a great pick for a true crime book that doesn’t feature a murder or violence of any kind. Weird and truly wonderful.

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks Netgalley! I also read this novel as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2018 #2 Read a book of true crime.

 

Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

​​”Nolite te bastardes carborundorum”

Genre: Dystopian fiction, feminist fiction

Similar to: Obviously this is the original but Naomi Alderman’s The Power.

Could be enjoyed by: Everyone. This is a really important book to read.

Publication date: Unbelievably, way back in 1985

I’ve kind-of-unintentionally been reading a lot of feminist dystopian fiction recently so I thought it was only right that I should go back and read the original novel that kick-started the who sub-genre; The Handmaid’s Tale. Plus it pops up on literally every top 100 books ever and I felt really bad that as someone who identifies as a feminist I hadn’t actually read it. I’ll have to think of a new “I’m a feminist but ..”

The novel depicts a terrifying future where the world has been plagued by disaster. The rise of ultra-conservative far-right politics has attempted to provide salvation and increase the dangerously low birth rate by introducing a new world order. Women beyond child bearing age are employed as “Marthas”, domestic servants for the political leaders.”Handmaids” are women who can, in theory, have children (having already given birth – although their children have been taken away) and are used to breed with the powerful men – like a one-woman harem living under their roof. The wives of the powerful men have been left to be housewives, banned from having their own jobs or income. Anyone disagreeing with the ultra strict rules is either hung, tortured or sent to the colonies; the radioactive wastelands where they will work, suffer and die. In that order.

It is truly frightening how prescient this novel is. I see wacko Trump supporters with their misogynistic rhetoric, their thirst for power and the slow erosion of women’s rights and I think – is this where we’re headed? Is the Handmaid’s Tale a vision of the future? For that reason alone, I think this is an incredibly important book.

I loved the unnamed narrator (her name is only June in the TV series) and I was really rooting for her to fight back. I liked that she wasn’t some kind of mastermind freedom fighter but a terrified ordinary person who sometimes made mistakes and bad choices – it made her far more authentic and I could see myself making those same errors of judgement if I was in her shoes. 

I loved the examples of female friendship, both in the time before and during her resistance to the regime and how it was a network of women who were working to free themselves from the situation they found themselves in. There were so many examples of bravery and defiance from various different female characters and I enjoyed reading them all – from the subtle to the overt to the downright suicidal. 

Throughout the novel, questions of morality, religion and the role of women were repeatedly asked. I thought it was so clever that Atwood made extreme situations almost plausible and I loved how it seemed like none of the characters were fully bought in to the ideology – they certainly weren’t happy – and yet there was no collective challenge to the regime. She showed how utterly effective fear can be in controlling a population – even if they then have to do the most unthinkable things and a brilliant illustration of power and privilege – the more power you had, the less you had to play by the rules. I thoroughly enjoyed the way that Atwood presented these ideas without seeming judgemental or forcing her own perspective on the reader. Needless to say, the writing was brilliant throughout and I whizzed through the book in a couple of days.

I know a lot of people have criticised the ending of the novel but I liked that it finished on a cliffhanger, with the ambiguous outcome suggestend through someone piecing together historical fragments years later. In that way, Atwood kind of let you choose your own ending and I felt like there was a moral in this too – as if she was pointing out that this extreme situation could absolutely happen (and in certain parts of the world, already has) so we have a choice, right now, whether to ignore the slippery slope of casual misogyny, homophobia, racism, ableism etc. or fight against it. 

Overall, I loved The Handmaid’s Tale and I’d urge everyone to read it. It’s a gripping read, very well written and a chilling reminder that we must stand up for what we believe in before it’s too late. 

Rating: 🌟Five “Under his eye” out of five 🌟

Prescient, important and morally terrifying, this is an incredible novel and a horrifying example of what probably started as “locker room talk”. 

Please note that I read this novel as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge #3 Read a classic of genre fiction.

 

Review: The Power by Naomi Alderman

​​“Electrifying!”

Genre: Science fiction, speculative fiction

Similar to: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of dystopian fiction or readers wanting to explore gendered oppression from another angle

Publication date: 27th October 2016

Imagine a world where, on the basis of your gender, you’re expected to act demurely and not come across as angry or aggressive. A world where you’re patronised, belittled and afraid of physical and sexual violence because you’re not physically strong enough to fight back. A world where society is structured to silence you, dismiss your ideas and treat you as a maid/sex slave. Where you can only leave the house with a chaperone, aren’t allowed to drive, can’t go out at night, can’t run a business or own property, can’t vote and have to dress in an appropriate manner. 

That’s not too hard to imagine, right? Because I bet you related those ideas to the treatment of women in places like the Middle East (or maybe even the UK or US). 

Ok, so now imagine that I wasn’t talking about the treatment of women – I was talking about the treatment of men.

Oooh.

That’s exactly what Naomi Alderman did in her prize-winning novel “The Power”. In it, women have developed a “skein”, a body organ that produces an electrical charge at will. Some women have a stronger charge than others but almost all are able to produce a bolt of electricity so strong that it can kill whoever they aim it at. Only women are affected and the book follows four individuals (three women and one man) to see how the world changes. 

The novel is also a book within a book, where a fictional male character  (Ben) writes to Alderman from some point in the future, daring to challenge the assumption that men have always been the weaker sex. The subtlety in the writing of these letters is incredible – the way that Ben defers to Alderman, her arguments that biologically women have to be strong and dominant to protect their children, her patronising tone and the final killer line to help Ben’s research to gain credibility “have you considered publishing it under a woman’s name?” all absolutely slayed me. It also highlighted some important points about our own long held beliefs about inherent gender differences – are they really as factual as we think or are they based on lazy stereotypes?

The main thrust of the novel showed how, as always, absolute power corrupts absolutely. It actually shocked me how there was a part of me genuinely cheering on the women who used their newfound strength to oppress the men. One of the best illustrations of this is the inclusion of two news anchors (one male, one female) and the shifting power dynamic between them as women across the globe caused riots, overthrew governments and created wars to exercise their dominance. Again, the subtlety of the writing was excellent but it really made me question the bit of myself that was thinking “ha! Now you know what it’s like!” which kind of suggests that as much as I would have hoped that the discovery of The Power would have created an equal society, the chances are that things would probably play out exactly as described. And – and this is a terrible transgression and one that I’m not proud of – you know who annoyed me the most? The men’s rights activists. I’m a terrible person and a very guilty feminist. 😈

I read that Naomi Alderman doesn’t like people referring to her work as dystopian fiction because for a lot of women this is simply their lived reality. It was amazing how, by simply flipping the genders, the treatment of men felt so abhorrent – and yet we know that women around the globe are treated like this every day. The Power made me confront my own internalised misogyny in a way that completely took me by surprise (I genuinely didn’t think I had any) and made me think about gender issues from an entirely different perspective. If anything, it’s actually given me a tiny bit of empathy towards men who think that feminists are just miserable women trying to take over the world – we’re obviously not but I can see why, from their lofty privileged perches, some men might see feminism as a threat to their way of life – which I guess it might be. (That’s about the point that my empathy dissipates and I think “why do you think you’re entitled to this? It’s not fair!” and I’m back to bring angry.)

The only issue that I had with The Power was the characters. In The Great Female Power Grab most of them behave horribly and there wasn’t really anyone that I connected with. I think this lack of engagement was the missing cherry from the top of the cake – if just one character had been a bit nicer then this really would have been a five star review πŸ˜₯

Overall, The Power is a dazzling, electrifying book (see what I did there? Ok I stole the pun from Margaret Atwood but still).  The premise is incredibly ambitious and it made me think about power and gender dynamics from an entirely different perspective. If only the characters had been more likeable I would have been fangirling left right and centre but as it stands…

Rating: Four “Not all women!” out of five

Clever, unique, thought proving but not quite attention grabbing enough – the best chips you’ve ever had but without salt and vinegar .

Please note that I read this novel as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2018 #17 Read a sci-fi novel with a female protagonist by a female author. 

 

Review: The Night Listener by Armistead Maupin

“All you have to do is believe and let go, and you’ll have all the proof you need”. 

Genre: General adult fiction, mystery, LGBTQ+, #ownvoices

Similar to: No one writes like Armistead Maupin

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of Tales of the City

Publication date: 14th September 2000


How much do I love Armistead Maupin as an author? *Stretches arms apart until something pops in my shoulder* thiiiiis much!πŸ’™πŸ’šπŸ’›πŸ’œ 

I’ve mentioned a few times about his excellent Tales of the City series, which were the first books I ever read with gay/trans characters living essentially normal lives (well, as much as you can when you all live together in an amazing old house with an incredible landlady who gives a free joint to all her new tenants). The books are absolutely years ahead of their time and have a special place in my heart. So when I learnt that Armistead Maupin had written other books outside of the series I was intrigued – especially when I learnt that The Night Listener had been made into a film with none other than Robin Williams! Plus it fitted a #ReadHarder category so I decided to give it a whirl.

In a similar way to Tales of The City, The Night Listener is weirdly prescient for a book written in the 90’s. It’s a Roman Γ  clef (oooh, fancy! It means novel with a key, where a book is about real life but there’s a fictional element and the key is the link between the two) based around a writer, Gabriel Noone. Noone has his own late-night slot on the radio where he recites his stories. He receives the draft autobiography of one of his young fans, Peter, who claims to have suffered horrendous sexual abuse as a child and has now developed AIDS. Noone contacts Peter and they begin a paternalistic, touching long distance telephone relationship but as time goes on Noone begins to suspect that Peter might not be who he says he is…

I really loved reading this book. The “mystery” element is woven into such a touching and elegant storyline that it ceases to be the main thrust of the narrative – this book is far more about relationships (particularly father/son), family, the secrets we keep to protect others and love in all it’s many forms. 

For a book with so many layers (and some pretty dark subject matter) I didn’t expect humour – but there’s a lightness to his writing that Maupin seamlessly weaves into the narrative. The inclusion of the minutiae of everyday life, the petty worries, the awkward family meals – even the pun in the name Noone (he’s suffering from writer’s block – he thinks he’s no-one in the literary world anymore) all give some light relief and a sense of normality to what could be a very depressing book. It helps that this is an #ownvoices novel – I don’t think anyone else could write about the jealousy they felt when they realised their terminally ill partner might not die imminently and could possibly live without him with such honesty and emotion.

I found The Night Listener was hugely compelling. I loved all of the characters and the way that they related to each other was just so sweet and funny and touching that it gave me all the feels. It was nice to see some Tales of the City characters pop up too – like greeting old friends. I like to know that they’re all ok (I’m aware of how mad this sounds). 

As the story progressed, elements of doubt started to seep in about Peter and the veracity of his story. For much of the novel I really wasn’t sure of what to think – it helped that early on Gabriel announced that he was liable to embellish stories about his own life, so was somewhat of an unreliable narrator. This kept me engaged, especially as the book got darker as it went on. For the most part though it remained fairly light – like a cozy mystery but with huge emotional depth that dealt with difficult, scary themes. 

For a book released in the year 2000 the topics it deals with still feel extremely relevant today. Remember, this was a time before social media, the internet was in it’s infancy and photoshop involved snipping your ex out of a photo with a pair of scissors. So to write about having an honest persona in a digital relationship makes the book incredibly relevant today. Thankfully, the thing that does date it is the treatment available to AIDS sufferers – obviously this has improved dramatically in recent years ☺.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Night Listener. I loved the emotion of the writing, the topics that it covered, the humour and the sadness and everything in between. The mystery element was intriguing and related well to the overarching themes of love in all it’s many forms, paternity, and the preparation for a death that might not be so imminent. 

Rating: Four “Roberta blows” out of five.

Beautifully written, cleverly constructed and relatable in a way that a book written 18 years ago really shouldn’t be, this is a brilliant story about human emotion – with a mystery thrown in for good measure. 

Please note that I read this novel as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2018 #21 Read a mystery by a person of colour or an LGBTQ+ author

 

Read Harder 2018 Mid Year Progress

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The Read Harder 2018 challenge from Book Riot is a fantastic way of expanding your reading tastes. It’s a list of twenty-four categories and the idea is to find a book that fits within each, then read it at some point during the year. Sounds simple? It isn’t! 

I love this challenge and this will be the third year that I’ve attempted it. The first year I tried it I started in about September and last year I left it all to the last minute so I’m quite used to panicking about both Christmas and the huge reading list that I still have to get through. So this year I promised myself that I would PACE MYSELF and do what you’re meant to do by reading two books a month. 

Let’s check out the 2018 challenge categories and my progress:

1. A book published posthumously

β˜‘ Identified: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

– Status: Unread

2. A book of true crime

 Unidentified

– Status: Unread

3. A classic of genre fiction (i.e. mystery, sci fi/fantasy, romance) 

β˜‘ Identified: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

β˜‘ Status: Read 

4. A comic written and illustrated by the same person

β˜‘ Identified: Tetris by Box Brown

β˜‘ Status: Read

5. A book set in or about one of the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, or South Africa)

– Unidentified

– Status: Unread

6. A book about nature

β˜‘ Identified: Fingers in the Sparkle Jar by Chris Peckham

β˜‘ Status: Read

7. A western

β˜‘ Identified: The Waste Lands (Dark Tower 3) by Stephen King 

– Status: Started (8%)

8. A comic written or illustrated by a person of color

– Unidentified

– Status: Unread

9. A book of colonial or postcolonial literature

β˜‘ Identified: Brick Lane by Monica Ali

– Status: Unread

10. A romance novel by or about a person of color

β˜‘ Identified: Love, Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

β˜‘ Status: Read

11. A children’s classic published before 1980

– Unidentified

– Status: Unread

12. A celebrity memoir

β˜‘ Identified: My Life and Other Business by Dolly Parton

– Status: Started: (66%)

13. An Oprah Book Club selection

– Unidentified

– Status: Unread

14. A book of social science

β˜‘ Identified: A Good Time to be a Girl by Helen Morissey

β˜‘ Status: Read

15. A one-sitting book

β˜‘ Identified: Women by Chloe Caldwell

β˜‘ Status: Read

16. The first book in a new-to-you YA or middle grade series

β˜‘ Identified: Everless by Sara Holland

β˜‘ Status: Read

17. A sci fi novel with a female protagonist by a female author

β˜‘ Identified: The Power by Naomi Alderman

– Status: Started (50%)

18. A comic that isn’t published by Marvel, DC, or Image

β˜‘ Identified: Giant Days by Allison + Treman + Cogar

– Status: Unread

19. A book of genre fiction in translation

β˜‘ Identified: 1Q84 Book Three by Haruki Murakami

– Status: Unread

20. A book with a cover you hate

β˜‘ Identified: The Woman in the Window by A.J.Flynn

β˜‘ Status: Read

21. A mystery by a person of color or LGBTQ+ authoras

β˜‘ Identified: The Night Listener by Armistead Maupin

β˜‘ Status: Read

22. An essay anthology

– Unidentified

– Status: Unread

23. A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60

β˜‘ Identified: The Lido by Libby Page

β˜‘ Status: Read

24. An assigned book you hated (or never finished)

– Unidentified

– Status: Unread

Ok, so that’s seventeen books identified and ten books read with three further books started. Not bad! Not quite on target but not too far off. For me, this is a minor miracle.

So, can anyone recommend any books for these outstanding categories?

2. A book of true crime

5. A book set in or about one of the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, or South Africa)

8. A comic written or illustrated by a person of color

11. A children’s classic published before 1980

13. An Oprah Book Club selection

22. An essay anthology

24. An assigned book you hated (or never finished)

HEEEEELLLLLLP MEEEEEEEE!


Review: Tetris by Box Brown

“The games people play”

Genre: Graphic Novel

Similar to: Persepolis? I don’t read that many graphic novels.

Could be enjoyed by: Nerds πŸ˜œ

Publication date: 7th November 2016

Now, if I were more artistically gifted and technologically adept I would draw you a little cartoon of how much I loved this graphic novel. Sadly I have neither skill so you’ll just have to put up with text 😜.

Tetris is the story of, well…Tetris. You may (like me) have fond memories of trying to get the oddly shaped puzzle pieces to tesselate on your Nintendo Game Boy, Game Girl, Game Boy Colour or knock off “Bricks!” walkman with LCD front display that your Mum bought you off the market (that one’s probably just me). However, you might not be aware that the creation and marketing of Tetris is an incredible story of politics, collusion, deceipt, theft, murder and bizarrely – Robert Maxwell. 

Tetris the book explains the complicated story with gorgeously simple illustrations (not easy to depict considering many of the issues had to do with dodgy licensing rights). It goes right the way back to when Alexey Pajitnov, a Russian engineer, invented the game in his spare time using the primitive computer technology in his workplace. It goes on to explain how the game escaped from behind the Iron Curtain to take over the world despite illegal business deals, communist state ownership and international scandals. Honestly, I couldn’t believe how much shit had gone down.

I loved the way that such a complicated story was told in such an unfussy, easy to understand manner. I loved the two tone simplistic line drawings and the easy to follow dialogue. I thought that the way that the novel was written belied the complicated nature of the story, mirroring Tetris itself as it’s deceptively simple style can require huge amounts of skill and concentration. 

I found the world that Tetris was created in utterly fascinating. I don’t know a huge amount about communist Russia in the 1970’s and 80’s so I was surprised to learn that the Soviets had absolutely no idea of how popular Tetris had become or how it was being marketed and sold without their permission. Ironically, if Russia hasn’t been so cut off the game would probably have been worthless as it was freely copied and shared throughout the country without license (I guess like the equivalent of a free download). 

It saddened me to learn that even though he was the creator, Alexey Pajitnov was cut out of business negotiations pretty quickly and didn’t initially receive any money from the games worldwide success – it all went to the state (obviously, that’s how communism works Lucinda) – although I was pleased to learn that he eventually worked out a way to get some recompense. I loved how laid back Pajitnov was about the whole debacle and how he went back to his ordinary job even after the game had gone global. It did make me wonder how aware he was of the success of his product, although his primary aim did seem to be making people happy.

I was amazed that such a simplistic game could cause so many problems and have such a bizzare story. I found it incredible that it came into being at all considering the technology it was created on and the fact that Tetris made any money at all when the creator himself gave away free copies that were easy to save and pass on is astounding. I really enjoyed learning about the complicated history of the game and I loved the way in which the story was told. 
Altogether now…

“Dum dum dumdum DUMDUMDUM dum dumdum DUMDUMDUM dum dumdum dum dum DUUUUUM DUUUUUM”
(That was the themetune, in case you hadn’t guessed)

Rating: Four and a half helpful cries of “put the line ones to the edges!” out of five.

Please note that I read this novel as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2018 #4 Read a comic written and illustrated by the same person.

 

Review: 12 Years A Slave by Solomon Northup

Where do I even begin with this book? Harrowing, inhumane, terrifying, unjust…a true story that shows both the cruelty of mankind and the perseverance of the human spirit.

Twelve Years a Slave is the incredibly shocking autobiographical story of Solomon Northup, an American black man from the “free” Northern States in the mid 19th Century. Solomon has a wife and family and appears to live a totally normal, happy life – until he’s illegally captured and sold into slavery in the Southern States (where slavery is both legal and commonplace). He then spends the next twelve years working on cotton plantations, being sold like a commodity and worked almost to the point of collapse before Solomon’s ingenuity and intelligence finally allow him to connive his way back to freedom. It’s an incredible education into the daily life of a slave plantation and one that I think everyone should be aware of.

However…

Having recently read “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Written by Herself” by Harriet Ann Jacobs it’s hard not to compare the two books – both are own voices novels of life as a slave, both are incredibly sad, difficult reads and neither book holds back on the sheer brutality of slavery. Unfortunately, I found Twelve Years a Slave is just not as engaging as IITLOASGWBH. There seems to be a distance between the narrator and what is going on around him and unlike IITLOASGWBH, there is far less emotion and connection to what is happening. Twelve Years a Slave maintains this distance of perspective throughout – at times where there were detailed descriptions of methods of cotton picking or rationing food it felt more like an anthropological study than an autobiography. As such, I found it harder to connect with Northup. Perhaps this is because he wasn’t born into slavery, or because he knew that he wasn’t actually a slave but his calm observations belied what must have been an incredibly painful and stressful period of time. I can’t say that I didn’t empathise with him – of course I did – but Harriet Ann Jacobs wrote from her heart and it was her selflessness and the sacrifices that she made for her children that touched me on a much deeper level. 

Despite being a little on the clinical side, Northup really does manage to depict the unbelievable treatment that he and his fellow slaves were subjected to without anny sense of self pity. I simply could not get over the sheer difficulty and pace of the physical work that the slaves were expected to perform day after day, even whilst ill or injured. I found it completely terrifying that people were treated in such a way only a relatively short period of time ago.

Unbelieveably, there was a sense of hope in Twelve Years A Slave that I found really compelling. Despite the continuous setbacks, Northup never stops believing that one day he will be freed and will see his family again – perhaps because he already knows that this life exists. I was rooting for him at every turn and found his determination not to give up really inspirational.

Sadly, I think it’s important to remember that slavery continues to this day and that the abuse of people is happening in our own countries – probably not far from where we’re living – right now. This is a terrible injustice and I can only hope that by continuing to talk about the errors of our past we can build a better future.

Rating: 3.5 harrowing details out of five.

Shocking, upsetting but ultimately an inspirational story of faith in not giving up. An important book to read.

Please note that I read this novel as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 #24 Read a book where all the POV characters are people of colour. 

 

Review: Love, Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed


Or…the YA novel that made me realise I AM TOO OLD FOR THIS SHIT.

Maya Aziz is a typical teenager. She hangs out with her friends, goes to school and dreams of moving to New York to study film making at college. The only problem is her Indian Muslim super conservative parents are more interested in Maya meeting A Suitable Boy and getting married. Maya, however, is too busy giggling, blushing and hair twiddling at boys (Suitable and Unsuitable) to pay much attention to what anyone else wants for her and blindly follows her own path, regardless of the consequences. 

You see, this book is all about the cute. It is a magical sparkle pony of adorable rainbow puppies on a candy floss cloud of glitter. It is super cute boys meeting a super cute girl and falling in love with blushes and nose scrunches and flippy shiny flip hair. It is so saccharine it could give you diabetes. Luckily, the sugar coated lipgloss gloop is tempered with a storyline about – you guessed it – terrorism. 

Yeah, no – really.

And actually – it kind of worked. Had the book continued in the “he’s so cute! I want to stroke his hair!” vein, then it would have been a definite DNF. I hate fluffy romances and the main character Maya seemed to fall in insta love at the drop of a hat. However, because she’s Muslim (ish – more on that later) she’s subjected to horrible abuse. It’s awful to say, but it was the violence and borderline psychopathic hatred from some of her fellow students that kept me reading. This is an #ownvoices novel and I really got the impression that the Islamophobia represented in the book came from previous experience. Some of the scenes where Maya is targeted were upsetting but brilliantly written and gave the novel some depth.

As a character, Maya seemed quite two dimensional when it came to her emotions. She really fancied someone – then she didn’t. Then she decided it was because she liked another boy that the first one had to go. Then she became insta-friends with the first boy. Urgh. Who can turn their emotions on and off like that? Maya’s relationship with her parents was basically pretty uncaring – she spent an awful lot of time sneaking around behind their backs with absolutely NO GUILT whatsoever. Now, I can remember what it was like to be seventeen (just) and “staying with friends” when I was actually going to parties with boys and getting drunk but I always felt guilty about it, especially if I had to lie to their faces (in fact, there was no point because my mum would know instantly that I was up to something). Maya, however, gives no fucks. Bikini on, off to secluded swimming ponds with a boy from school, staying out overnight regardless of her parents getting crazy worried. Surely even the most self-centered teen would feel some kind of remorse? Even to my liberal western values she was way out of line.

This leads me to the cultural and religious representation depicted in the novel. Now, I am neither Indian nor Muslim so I can’t really say if the representation was realistic or not but as someone looking in the depiction of many of the characters, including Maya’s parents felt somewhat stereotypical. They literally only seemed to care about her getting married – I get that that’s still a big cultural issue but it’s not the only thing that Indian parents are about. Oh, and they liked to eat samosa and pakora and roti and why were these foods italicised like they were some exotic new thing that no-one has ever heard of? Is it because I’m British and Indian food is so widely available here, but not in the US? Answers on a postcard…

The other thing I found weird about the MayaBot is that if she hadn’t explicitly mentioned being a Muslim, you’d never know. Religion just isn’t part of her life – but then she’s shocked when a fellow Muslim drinks wine. It felt utterly incongruous to be so judgemental towards others but also completely guilt free about some of the things she’d been up to. It would have been nice to see a little bit more about religion within the book, especially to see how second generation immigrants blend their beliefs and cultural heritage with a more western lifestyle. 

Overall, I thought that Love, Hate and Other Filters was a pretty trashy quick read saved by the more hard hitting elements about Islamophobia and terrorism. Parts of the book were terrible, whole swathes of text were average-forgettable with just a few bits that were brilliant. 

Rating: An average two and a half lovestruck dumbass teens out of five.

Saccharine cute fluffy nonsense underpinned with tales of hatred and terrorism made this novel just about palatable. 

Please note that I read this book for free in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks Netgalley! I also read this novel as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2018 #10 Read a romance novel by or about a person of colour.