Love in all its Forms…

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Photo by Rahul Pandit on Pexels.com

Happy Valentines Day, Bookworms!

Now, I know today isn’t for everyone (me included) so I’ve put together a little list of books that take a more alternative approach to love – everything from queer interest to to platonic friendships – so hopefully there’s something for everyone. Forget going on a date and snuggle up with a novel instead!

For people who think they’re too gay for all this boy-meets-girl rubbish

There is SO MUCH excellent stuff being published about queer romance at the moment. A lot of it is YA based (which is not my thing) so if you’re looking for something featuring slightly older protagonists, I’ve got a couple of recommendations. For m/m romance I love anything by Nick Alexander, especially his earlier books like Fifty Reasons to Say Goodbye. They’re funny, sweet and often eye-opening and I loved the entire series. For f/f relationships I really liked Women by Chloe Caldwell which is less romance and more breakup driven but still an excellent piece of writing. Plus, you can’t go wrong with Oranges are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson, which I have spent the last twenty minutes trying to describe; it’s a love story, it’s a coming of age novel, it’s a terrifying and sad exploration of the intersection between faith and homosexuality, it’s hilarious and charming and warm and yet completely disturbing.

For people who think they’re too nerdily awkward for relationships

The Secret Loves of Geek Girls ed. by Hope Nicholson is a really interesting compendium of the niche loves of women who self -identify as geeks – everything from random fandoms to cosplay relationships. The content is really varied, champions the whole of the LGBTQ+ spectrum and celebrates alternative love stories in a really cool and creative way.

For people who prefer Galentines to Valentines

I love reading about female friendships and there are some fantastic books out there that represent women getting stuff done with the help of other women. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is a personal favourite of mine – I love the different personality types of the the four March sisters and the fact that they’re all so different and yet they all pull together when needed. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty is a more modern take on the theme (and is a cracking good mystery at the same time) and The Lido by Libby Page is a brilliant example of women from different age groups finding commonality and friendship across the generations.

…or who just want to see platonic friendships

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman is a fantastic book featuring neurodiverse representation, as well as a lovely platonic m/f friendship. It has some difficult themes but they’re handled really well and there’s a good dose of humour to stop things from getting too dark. If you want to read something with more of a sci-fi/fantasy feel, Skyward by Brandon Sanderson has a really strong m/f friendship at it’s core, features a number of young male and female characters but crucially contains ABSOLUTELY NO SNOGGING – hallelujah!

For people who love their pets more than anything or anyone

There’s loads of really heartwarming tales of people who love their animals – think A Cat Called Norton by Peter Gethers, A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen or Marley and Me by John Grogan. For a broader take on one woman’s love for her dog, Spectacles by Sue Perkins is an autobiography that hits every theme I’ve just mentioned above but it’s her love for her dog Pickle that really stands out. I defy anyone to read the letter that she wrote to her without bursting into uncontrollable tears.

I hope you’ve had a good Valentines Day! Do you have any suggestions for alternative takes on love/romance? Let me know in the comments!

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Review: Good Samaritans by Will Carver

“One crossed wire. Three dead bodies. Six bottles of bleach”

Genre: Thriller

Similar to: Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of dark and twisted thrillers

Publication date: 27th September 2018

Seth is an insomniac. Sure, he calls people late at night whilst his wife Maeve is asleep upstairs but apart from that he’s Fine. Maeve drinks a bit too much (it’s the stress of the job) but she’s basically Fine. Their marriage is Fine. They’re pretty average, really.

Ant is Fine too. He has OCD but has plenty of established coping mechanisms. He volunteers for the Samaritans, helping the people who are Not Fine. Ant isn’t one of those people.

Hadley is though.

Hadley needs help.

But when she reaches out to the Samaritans, she gets a crossed telephone wire and ends up talking to Seth instead of Ant. Hadley doesn’t know that though. Hadley thinks that she’s getting professional help. That everything is going to be Fine.

Spoiler alert: everything is most decidedly Not Fine. At all.

What follows is a complex, tangled plot full of lies, sex and death – all of the good stuff. The characters are all messed up in their own unique ways which makes four somewhat unreliable narrators. There’s only one trustworthy voice – Detective Sergeant Pace – but he’s so woefully behind the action that he serves more as an anchor point than anything else. Good job too, because without him you’d be forgiven for assuming that the plot was some kind of fever dream.

The storyline is utterly addictive. There were red herrings and plot twists left, right and centre and although the book is graphic, violent and dark it never felt gratuitous – even the sex felt authentic. There’s an odd sense of humour running through the narrative that kept even the murder-y bits light and meant that I got wrapped up in the plot without getting bogged down by the difficult content. This is definitely the kind of book that you try to read under your desk at work – just as you think you’ve worked things out, along comes another curveball!

The characterisation in the book really was excellent. Again, having four flawed narrators could have become very confusing but each had such a distinct voice that it was easy to follow what was going on. I loved how the female characters had their own agency and thought that they were both very well written. All of the characters were complex individuals with their own good and bad points – and it’s testament to the author that I ended up rooting for the bad guy, even though they were horribly psychopathic.

The only thing I can criticise Good Samaritans for is one tiny little word that kept popping up – Warwickshire. You see, I’m from Coventry – which coincidentally is where one of the characters lives. From several references throughout the text, Coventry and Warwickshire were used to denote broadly the same location which would have been fine if Coventry was in Warwickshire – but it isn’t. So every time there was a reference to location, it grated on me a bit. (Sorry Will).

Minor issues aside though, Good Samaritans is a fantastic book that really keeps you on your toes. I loved the overall tone, the pace, the dark humour and the sheer complexity of the plot. Highly recommended!

Rating: Four “Lock the door, we live near some weird people” out of five

A chilling, clever thriller that’s deliciously dark and twisted. 

Review: The Map of Us by Jules Preston

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Genre: Fiction

Similar to: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Could be enjoyed by: Quirky fiction lovers

Publication date: 4th May 2018

In keeping with my highly focused and organised lifestyle, I’ve FINALLY got round to reading and reviewing The Map of Us which I requested one whole year ago on Netgalley. Better late than never!

You see, the reason that I delayed…and delayed…and delayed reading the book was that I simply had no idea why I requested it. I think I got sucked in by all of the “next Eleanor Oliphant” hype but in reality it’s nothing like that.

The Map of Us is a complicated story of one family across the generations. There’s Violet, physically disabled and seemingly disowned by her family, growing up at a time when that kind of treatment was somewhat socially acceptable; Tilly, her granddaughter who likes statistics, analyses her relationships with quantitative data and creates a Compatibility Index to prove where her and her ex went wrong; her father who is a professional sand sculptor; her sister who is addicted to buying designer handbags she can’t afford and her brother who is leading world authority on the colour blue. There’s also a whole host of other odd people who crop up along the way, adding to the narrative of the numerous main characters. And – hahaha – they’re all super quirky too! Hahahaha…ha. Oh.

To me, it felt like the characters were all a bit, well, weird purely for the sake of it. Don’t get me wrong, I love an oddball but when literally everyone in the book has their own thing going on that is nothing whatsoever to do with the main narrative then it gets a bit tedious. It’s even harder when the novel is character driven and the plot is wafer thin. For example, Tilly’s Dad refuses to sculpt dolphins, even though they always win the competitions that he enters. Fine – that’s a nicely observed bit of humour but the point was repeated so many times it felt utterly laboured.

My other issue was with the structure of the book. The chapters are written from a first person perspective but it takes a while for you to work out who is actually speaking and that there’s more than one narrator. This stops being a problem once you’ve got to know the family a bit – the chapters are short so it doesn’t take too long – but it is quite hard to get into at first. I don’t know why you’d deliberately make it awkward for the reader?

Overall, I think my main issue was that I just couldn’t engage with the characters and as such, wasn’t really bothered about what happened to them. The book was described as being charming and quirky and I can see why but for me it needed more action and a stronger narrative thread. I didn’t hate the book – it was a nice enough read but unfortunately I got bored with it all.

Two and a half “Oh, do grow up”s out of five.

Cute and quirky but kinda dull. Not for me!

 

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Please note that I read this book for free in exchange for an honest review courtesy of NetGalley. Thanks NetGalley!

 

 

Review: The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

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“I will ride the world, in between times, through the farthest countries of night and day”

Genre: Fantasy/YA

Similar to: Grimm’s Fairytales mixed with classic high fantasy

Could be enjoyed by: Those who like their YA fantasy with a darker edge

Publication date: 10th January 2019

 

I am starting 2019 with a bang!

The Winter of the Witch was my most anticipated reads of this year and I’ve already earmarked it as one of the best books of 2019.

Yes, during the second week of January.

It is that good.

I have ADORED the previous two instalments of the Winternight Trilogy and I was super-duper lucky to receive this book as a physical ARC (my first!) directly from the publishers. So, thank you to Tess Henderson at Penguin Random House for sending it to me. It holds a treasured place on my book blogging trolley.

I can’t quite put into words how gorgeous this book is – it is BEAUTIFUL and MAGICAL and ATMOSPHERIC and HISTORIC and ETHEREAL and I have made a Pinterest board to try to get across a little bit of the flavour of the novel because shouting at you in capitals simply won’t achieve it. If you’re so inclined, you can check it out here:

The Winter of the Witch follows on from The Girl in the Tower, with Vasya getting caught up, as usual, in the action and having to flee for her life. Moscow is burning and the people are in turmoil; a small, scruffy witch girl makes for an easy scapegoat. Vasya is tested to the extreme but like a phoenix rising from the ashes, what doesn’t kill her makes her stronger. Helped by the most unlikely of characters she travels through Midnight – a magical realm beyond mortal boundaries to explore her family legacy and realise her true potential. As she returns to the city she foolishly focuses on the battle but not the war and – drumroll – this is where the true scope of her quest is finally revealed.

If you’re expecting a classic tale of good vs evil, that’s not what happens next. Instead, The Winter of the Witch is far more complicated, more nuanced and has far greater scope than the usual trek-through-a-forest-and-one-final-battle fare that is so often recycled in fantasy novels. Tropes are turned on their heads – the princess not only has to save herself but everyone else (twice), the demons don’t get slain, and one of the starring characters…well, no spoilers but OH MY HEART!!!!

Of the three books in the series, I think this one is my favourite. It’s more similar in tone to The Girl in the Tower but less straightforward, more multi-layered, more grown-up. Vasya learns far more about herself and it’s wonderful to see her really coming into her own, mastering her true power and potential. The other characters are further developed too, with each of them showing both the light and shade of their true selves. New characters join the story (with one that could almost be described as cute – but don’t worry, he totally fits in) and there’s a welcome return of the Chyerti, who have a much bigger role than in The Girl in the Tower. Thank goodness there’s a family tree in the back of the book because there’s a lot of people, they’re all related and what with the Russian patronymic system varying by gender (not to mention the nicknames)… yeah, it gets complicated.

The writing, as always, is utterly spellbinding and I was completely drawn in to the mythical world of medieval Russia. The atmosphere is similar to The Bear and the Nightingale but it also holds a more ethereal air – Vasya wandering through Midnight is like the forest from the first book but seen through a veil: real but also not-real, cold and dangerous but also mystic and enchanted. There’s also more violence in this book: more bloodshed, more destruction, more tragedy. The sense of loss and despair is strong and quite visceral at times – I had huge empathy for Vasya and the difficult choices that she was forced to make.

The ending really is the endgame to end all endgames. It was just everything that I’d hoped for, with everything that had been hinted at in the previous two books coming to fruition – and so much more. The twists and turns that lead to the final conclusion were hard to spot in advance and I genuinely didn’t know how things were going to turn out – I was completely mesmerised up until the final page.

Overall – I just loved everything about The Winter of the Witch. The atmosphere, the characters, the plot – all were captivating and I literally devoured the novel in a couple of days. I was worried that the book wouldn’t live up to my expectations but it utterly surpassed them all.

Rating: Five “how can it be over?”s out of five stars.

One word: spellbinding. This is a beautiful, cleverly crafted novel that turns many tropes on their heads whilst retaining a sense of traditional classic storytelling.

A future classic. 

 

 

 

Calendar Girls January: Most Anticipated 2019 Release

Hello friends!

Welcome to another edition of the Calendar Girls!

Calendar Girls was a monthly blog event created by Melanie at MNBernard Books and Flavia the Bibliophile and will now be hosted by Katie at Never Not Reading and Adrienne at Darque Dreamer Reads.  It is designed to ignite bookish discussions among readers and was inspired by the 1961 Neil Sedaka song Calendar Girl.

Just like the song, each month has a different theme. Each blogger picks their favourite book from the theme and on the first Monday of the month reveals their pick in a Calendar Girls post. 

So without further ado, this month’s theme is…

calendar girls january

…and my response is…

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

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So even though I’ve already read this book as an ARC, it’s not released until 10th January and I am SUPER excited to see what everyone else thinks about it!!! I even made a Pinterest board to show off how how gorgeous it is:

The novel follows on from The Girl in the Tower, after Vasya has travelled to Moscow from her village where she has been cast out as a witch. There will be thrills, spills – and an explosive conclusion to the series!

I love the Winternight trilogy for many reasons – Vasya is a fearless heroine, defiant about the rules governing her as a woman and strong in a way that isn’t purely based on macho “I’ll fight them at their own game” tactics. The stories are wonderfully written, combining folklore and history to create an utterly immersive world. They don’t shy away from the harsh realities of fourteenth century life but the grittiness lends itself to the starkly beautiful setting. I also adored how dark the books are – just the right side of creepy – giving a deeply atmospheric air to an utterly spellbinding fairytale.

So, what’s your most anticipated release of 2019? Have you read The Winter of the Witch? Let me know in the comments! 

What Lucinda Did…in 2018

Hello Bookworms!

Gosh, I’ve just been flicking through my blog posts from this year and I can’t believe how fast 2018 has gone! I started the year not being particularly serious about blogging, with about 150 followers and no other social media presence. I’m ending the year with over 350 followers, 240 Twitter followers and a far more regular blogging schedule, plus more varied content and participation in the wider blogging community. Oh, and I’m finally writing my posts on a laptop instead of tapping everything out with one finger on my Kindle Fire! I can actually resize images!

I also bought myself this nifty little trolley from Ikea and turned it into a Book Blogging trolley (which the good people of Twitter seemed to really like). I love it so much!

In terms of reading, I’ve read and reviewed 62 books on my blog this year and had several rated five out of five. I was actually surprised at how many poorly rated books I read – something that I’m planning to change in 2019. No more Foxhole Court! I was also surprised at how few books I’d read – I think reading Les Miserables took up quite a lot of time and should count for at least five!

I’ve already talked about my favourite books that I read as part of the Read Harder challenge but I’ve got a few other honourable mentions from my reading total:

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman was a wonderful novella with layers of symbolism that I found completely enthralling.

Bitter by Francesca Jakobi was a fantastic, twisted book about what happens when a mother’s love becomes obsessive. I was totally engrossed from start to finish by this clever, atmospheric novel.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata was wonderful. I loved the sheer weirdness of this short book – again, the novella was completely multi-layered, packing a huge amount into what initially appears to be a simple story about a woman happy to work in a simple job in a convenience store.

The Lido by Libby Page was a lovely book that feature a rare appearance from a main character who was actually older than sixty! I loved the relationship between the characters and seeing how the community all came together was lovely. It also made me want to take up swimming again!

However, there was one other book that really stood out for me this year that I’m officially naming as my favourite…

Drum roll…

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It was Skyward by Brandon Sanderson!

I loved everything about this amazing novel, from the female representation to the complex characters, the world building and the TOTAL LACK OF TEENAGE SNOGGING! Amazing!

I hope you all had a great 2018 too! What were your favourite reads? Let me know in the comments!

TL;DR December Review

Hello Bookworms!

I can’t believe that’s Christmas over for another year.  As usual, we ate a lot, drank a lot, saw family and friends and even squeezed in a bit of reading (although not as much as I would have liked. We were at my Mum’s this year, which meant the usual Xmas eve crisis (no butter) and as always, one item of food being forgotten about on the big day itself. This year it was the pigs in blankets:

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We had some fun days out over the festive period, including a trip to the magic lantern festival at Birmingham Botanical Gardens:

…as well as a lovely Boxing Day walk round Kenilworth Castle (which was basically me saying LOOK AT THE DOGGIES!)

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We also had a family party and a get together for my friend’s sons birthday, which was nice – he’s three and him and his friends were very cute. We’re out at my friend’s brewery for New Years Eve so that should be fun too!

We’ve done almost nothing to the house this month – Christmas got in the way and it’s no fun doing DIY in an empty house with no central heating! We’ll start again in the New Year. It feels like the jobs will never end but when you consider that this time last year it looked like this:


And now it looks like this:


We’ve not done too badly! (No idea why the non-hubs is always bending over in my pictures, no wonder he has a bad back).

I completed the Read Harder Challenge in early December (which is unheard of – I’m usually finishing off the final few books over Christmas) so I can start afresh next year with the 2019 challenge. You can read my wrap up post here. The 2019 challenge has already been announced and I can’t wait to get started!

As usual, I also took part in the Calendar Girls meme where I chose Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist  as my favourite book that’s set in Winter. I also did a fun Bookish Naughty or Nice tag where I found out that I’d been naughty – oops!

I was so busy with Christmas that I didn’t post many reviews on my blog but I did finally finish Les Miserables which had taken me all year to read (!) I was so pleased that I’d stuck with the novel (even through the boring bits) and I’m looking forwards to a new four-book challenge – more news to come shortly!

The reviews I managed to post were:

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo: An epic, sprawling novel that sometimes drifted off into existential waffle but was nonetheless brilliant. Four-and-a-half out of five.

Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton: A fun, fast paced adventure that he somehow published from beyond the grave. Not his finest work but still a good book. Four out of five. 

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie: I didn’t understand the hype around this book at all. It felt disconnected, unrealistic and many of the characters felt underwritten. Not terrible by any means, just not for me! Three out of five.

Of Women by Shami Chakrabharti: A fantastic overview of all the issues facing women but written in a dry, textbook style that loses the impact of the data in the way that it’s presented. A good overview but a thoroughly dull read.

So that’s December wrapped up! Have you had a good Christmas? Have you read any of the books I read last month? Follow the links or let me know in the comments!

 

Review: Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Genre: Fiction

Similar to: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Could be enjoyed by: Everyone apart from me

Publication date: 15th August 2017

After seeing the rave reviews of this book aaaand having it personally recommended to me aaaand seeing it win the Wome’s Prize for Fiction I knew I just had to read this book. 

After reading the first few chapters I was thinking “hmmm, slow start but ok…” . Then after a few more chapters I was thinking “woah, majorly disjointed storyline but ok…” . Then after reading a bit more I seriously began to doubt whether I’d picked up the right book. Was this really the new novel that everyone’s talking about? 

Home Fire is the story of a British Muslim family struggling to come to terms with the legacy of their Jihadist father. The son, Parvaiz, becomes a member of ISIS and it’s left to his two sisters to pick up the pieces and get him home. The story is a reimagining of Sophocles’s Antigone which frankly went way over my head so please bear in mind that there might be lots of clever references used that I simply didn’t pick up on. 

Anyway…

The story felt extremely clunky to me. The novel was set in five different locations and frankly the first location (and character) seemed entirely superfluous to the rest of the book. It felt like the author was trying to be faithful to the original Greek Tragedy and in doing so had to shoehorn in bits of text that would otherwise have been cut. This made the book meander about to the extent that it felt like a good short story surrounded with a lot of filler. 

The other problem that I had was that not a lot happened – especially in the first half of the novel. Let’s not forget, this book won the Women’s Prize for Fiction and yet weirdly, the two main female characters in it felt woefully underwritten. Isma was the stereotypical ” dutiful daughter”, taking care of the family finances by working abroad.I didn’t get a feel for any personality beyond that. Aneeka felt like an utter missed opportunity of a character. Her behaviour in the first half of the book was entirely based around having sex and yet I was never sure of her motivations. Was she in love? Lust? Or was she using her lover to get to his influential father? There didn’t seem to be any scheming, plotting or tactics employed except for the occasional bit of acting distant and again I had no idea why. In contrast, their brother, Parvaiz, was far more well rounded and had a much more interesting storyline. I definitely enjoyed the parts of the novel that focused on him the most.

There are a number of different ideas explored within the text about identity, belonging and sacrifice and in fairness, this is done rather well. The clash between what you feel you should be doing, what you want to do and what it would benefit you to do is replicated numerous times throughout the narrative, often so subtly that you almost don’t notice it. For example, one of the characters who we meet later on (called Karamat Lone) is a British Muslim politician trying to balance his public persona with his private beliefs. This manifests itself in big, obvious ways (he talks about his tough stance on immigration and the prosecution of individuals who go to fight for ISIS – to the extent that the Muslim community have openly criticised him) but also almost invisibly – his son is called Eamonn spelled the traditional Irish way rather than the Pakistani Ayman.I loved the way that these complexities were woven so deftly throughout the text without feeling obvious or unnatural.

I’m going to guess that the ending of the book is somewhat faithful to the original Antigone text but let’s think about that for a second. I’m woefully under-educated when it comes to classic literature but I’d stick a fiver on my guess that the Greek Tragedies are all about the high drama. Now imagine that being played out by an ordinary girl from suburban London. It doesn’t quite fit, does it? And using the good old she’s gone crazy trope didn’t work for me at all.

Overall, I have completely mixed feeling about this book. The Antigone reference went over my head, the storyline felt clunky and I felt like the female characters in particular needed fleshing out. However, the writing in parts was brilliant, the depiction of a radicalized young British man was really interesting and the overall narrative was, on the whole, compelling. That ending was a step too far for me though.

Rating: Three out of five stars

Great writing but trying to fit the modern storyline around an ancient Greek Tragedy didn’t work for me. I’m clearly in the minority though

Please note that I read this novel as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2018 #9 Read a book of colonial or post-colonial literature.

Viewpoint: I Don’t Like YA, Please Don’t Hurt Me


I’m going to come right out and say it – I’m not a fan of Young Adult (YA) literature. That’s not to say that I don’t read it at all – I do; or that I hate every YA book ever written – I don’t. However, I find that overall, YA isn’t my bag. Am I just too old to relate? 
You see, I view all novels through my world weary, cynical adult eyes and I find that a lot of YA books are too perfect, too cute, too schmaltzy for my tastes (looking at you, John Green). From what I remember, teenagers do not talk like that. There’s far more swearing, boasting, lewd references and aggression than is ever portrayed. A lot of the YA books that I’ve read have teenagers talking like characters from Dawson’s Creek whereas I remember boys only being able to communicate in grunts, mumbles and the occasional “my mate wants to go out with you, yeah?”. 

Maybe it’s because I’m British and a lot of the YA I’ve read is written by Americans. My senior (high) school was all girls and was light years away from anything I’ve ever read about. We were all rolled up skirts, smoking on the school bus, mascara clad brats who obsessed over our weight, our favourite boy band member and who might be a lesbian (which was total social suicide). I’d like to think that the morals of teenagers (not to mention societal attitudes) have improved somewhat but that still leaves me with a feeling of disconnect. Where are the boys driving their girlfriends round too fast in shit cars with terrible music blasting out? Where’s the terrible snogging and awkward groping? Why isn’t anyone drunk? 

It seems like I’m in the minority. A five minute bit of “research” (googling) brought me to a survey which found that the largest age range of YA readers (28%) was between 30-44 years old. I’m 35. So what is it I’m not getting?

I tend to find that many YA stories lack the complexities of adult fiction. Sure, lots of the characters have issues -sometimes huge, life changing issues – but often they’re dealt with in a very black and white fashion. Many characters tend to be stereotypes (One of Us is Lying) and are either good, bad or misunderstood with little scope for moral ambiguity. And oh God, the morals. Just for once, I want to see a character do something ethically questionable and get away with it – without the author shoving their political/ideological viewpoint forwards to explain why THIS IS WRONG (Beartown anyone?) Isn’t it better to allow teenagers – not to mention all the other readers – the space to make their own minds up?

In defense of the genre, I will say that I enjoy the diversity that many YA authors include in their stories. The sheer scope of experiences covered – everything from disability to gender expression to racism – is often talked about in a way that you just don’t get in adult fiction books. Many of the novels are own voices, meaning that the author has personal experience of the topic that they’re writing about which again is great. However, as much as I’ve seen complex issues done well (Juno Dawson with Clean) there are some topics that get oversimplified to the point of being totally unrealistic or even end up becoming glamorized (Thirteen Reasons Why) which I think is frankly dangerous. 

I’m not claiming to be an expert on YA and I’m sure there’s lots of good examples within the genre of well written, interesting, thoughtful novels (The Hate U Give looks pretty good, as does Dumplin’) but so far I’ve really struggled to find them. I find it hard to relate to a high school experience that was so different to my own, I don’t like the trope-heavy writing (oh look, more insta-love) and I can make my own mind up about right and wrong without having it spelled out to me. If you like YA – whatever age you are – then that’s great for you but it’s just not for me. 

So, what do you think? Am I bring overly critical? Have I missed any nuanced, brilliantly written YA novels? Let me know in the comments!


Review: The Cows by Dawn O’Porter


“Don’t follow the herd”

Genre: Fiction *refuses to say chick lit*

Similar to: Marian Keyes? (she says having never read any Marian Keyes)

Could be enjoyed by: People who think feminism is the Spice Girls shouting “Girl Power!”

Publication date: 6th April 2017

I really like Dawn O’Porter so I was expecting great things from her novel The Cows, but oh my goodness what a letdown. The characters were horrible, the scenarios they found themselves in were utterly ridiculous, no research had been done and the sentences all went on and on, forever, like this, with far too many, commas. Urgh.

The Cows is the story of three women: Camilla, a blogger; Tara, a TV producer of investigative documentaries and Stella, a PA. Now, the whole premise of the book is that women shouldn’t be defined by whether they have kids or not. We’re far more complicated and nuanced than that. OK? Because what you also need to know is that:

Camilla is option A: Does not want kids. 

Tara is option B: Has kids.

Stella is option C: Doesn’t have kids but wants them.

These choices define absolutely every action that the characters take. The entire book is about the very thing it purports to be against.

AARGH!

The book tries to be funny, irreverent and lighthearted so features all of the usual tropes: death, living with the BRCA gene, the desperation of wanting a baby before it’s too late, mental health issues, abortion, isolation…what? You don’t think these themes are funny? That’s probably because they’re not. At all. You’d need to be a fairly skilled writer to include any of them in a humorous novel without being eye-strainingly jarring. And after reading The Cows – I have eye strain.

There’s a lot that I could rant about but I’ll give you a little example of how farfetched this book is. Camilla the blogger has eleventy billion followers that she found by printing off flyers and posting them to her neighbours. She blogs every day by thinking “hmmmmm” then brain dumps whatever’s on her mind, uploads it to her site then swanks off for some casual sex with her twentysomething hunk boyfriend. Approx. time blogging: half an hour. This makes her a millionaire. 

I laughed SO HARD.

The characters are all basically horrible people. Camilla -no-kids writes awful blog posts about not wanting children, shaming those who do because she had to be “controversial” (at one point she sees her sister (three kids) naked and describes in detail how the little darlings have ravaged her body, leaving her sounding like an incontinent old crone). Tara-one-kid gets caught masturbating on the tube (don’t ask – also an empty tube in central London on a Friday night – as if) and goes into woe-is-me meltdown, losing her job and being publicly shamed because she’s a woman (which, while I understand the double standard around sex for men and women, I actually think worked in her favour since she wasn’t arrested for public indecency). And Stella-wants-kids is a woman losing her grip on reality, facing her own terrifying demons, dealing with the death of both her Mum and twin sister plus the knowledge that she carries the BRCA gene. So she tries to seduce her boss purely so she can get pregnant by telling him she has cancer and hoping for a calculated sympathy shag. I don’t even know what to say about that if I’m honest. 

It was this sheer lack of subtlety in the writing which astounded me. When one of the characters makes a dubious moral choice (has a baby without telling the father), Dawn O’Porter clearly thought “I’d better clear this mess up!” so *spoiler alert* has her find him (takes five minutes of tracking down, how fortuitous), tells him but then “from the look in his eyes she could tell he wasn’t interested and she’d made the right choice in not saying anything”. Erm sorry but that’s bullshit. He might need, oooh I don’t know…ten minutes to absorb the information that he has an eight year old with a woman he can’t remember? 

In the end, I was thoroughly bored of this book. I give it plus points for showing a bit of female solidarity and a couple of chapters of female friendship but overall I found it jarring, clumsy and horribly stereotypical. Lots of people seem to think it’s hilarious but it really wasn’t for me. 

Rating: Two “don’t follow the herd who are reading this book” out of five.

Please note that I read this book for free via NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks NetGalley!