Friday, 29 December 2017

December Book Haul!

I seem to collect more new books during the festive season than at any other time of the year. Between asking for a few for Christmas, and getting vouchers to Waterstones and Amazon, I get enough to last me until... oh, about February. It's one of the only times of year that it feels worth me doing a book haul, since most months I either don't really get enough, or don't remember what I bought. I'm going from the top to bottom, and talk about why I bought these particular books.

The first five were bought from Waterstones on the 28th of December, with my Christmas vouchers.

Love, Hate & Other Filters: I've heard a lot about this book. Contemporaries with a social justice slant are pretty much my perfect books. One of the reasons I love to read is so that I can appreciate the experiences of people who's lives are different from mine. I have finished this one already and I loved it, it's one that everyone should buy.
Orangeboy: This was an impulse buy, in the buy one get one half price offer. I am hoping this will be a good book to read.
Chasing the Stars: I used to love Mallory Blackman when I was younger (we're talking +10 years ago, here) so I thought it would be good to read her again. Hacker was the book of hers I still remember coming back to often.
Do Not Say We Have Nothing: I read the first chapter or so of this book in the library, and I can't quite remember why I didn't take it out, as I did enjoy it. Plus, it was nominated for the Man Booker prize, and I know that doesn't always mean it was good, but it does look good.
Artemis: I loved Andy Weir's The Martian, so this was an easy choice. I was impressed with how his female characters were handled in his previous book, but I just wished they had more page-time. I am happy that his main character is a woman, and I trust him to write her well.

These next five I bought from Amazon with a Christmas voucher. I tend to use Amazon to buy books that I haven't been able to find in the shops. Either they haven't been published in the UK yet, or I just haven't seen them.

The Dazzling Heights: I did enjoy The Thousandth Floor, so I wanted to give the sequel a try.
Orange is the New Black: As a fan of the Netflix series, I'm also hoping this book gives me an insight into a place I'll (hopefully) never experience myself - women's prison.
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making: I've had this book on my list since I first read it's way too long title. I mean, who doesn't want to read about fairyland and girls who can build their own ships? Boring people, that's who.
Lady Renegades: I've enjoyed the other two books in the Rebel Belle series, so I'm hoping this on lives up to them.
This Shattered World: Another sequel buy. I really really liked These Broken Stars, so this one has a lot to live up to.

The next three were my Christmas Day books. Essentially, they were the ones I pointed out to Dad, and he bought them and wrapped them up. I'm doing them as a trio, because it's a similar reason for all three.

Minalima editions of Peter Pan, The Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast: Every year, I say I'm going to read more classics, and children's classics are as legit as any other sort of classic. Minalima editions are beautiful, with amazing covers, illustrations and interactive elements. The only one of these I've finished is Peter Pan, and I didn't appreciate what a racist and sexist mess this book was.

The last four I got a few days before Christmas with a Waterstones voucher.

Carve the Mark: I'm not quite sure why I bought Carve the Mark. It was another buy one get one half price follow-up. I have liked it from the cover for a while, so we'll see.
A Quiet Kind of Thunder: I loved Sara Barnard's Beautiful Broken Things, and I've had a few people I really respect say good things about this book.
What Light: It was a very Christmassy themed book, and it seemed like the perfect time of year to buy it. I was struggling to get into the Christmas spirit, so I needed it. I have read this one, and I found it to be an enjoyable cosy Christmas read.
Dorothy Must Die: I love retellings, have I ever mentioned that? I also really like The Wizard of Oz, so I'm looking forward to reading this one.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

London 22/12/17 - Christmas Markets, SUSHISAMBA and Aladdin: The Musical

On the 22nd of December, I went to London to meet up with a friend of mine. Our plans for the day were to look around the Christmas Markets and stroll down the South Bank, lunch at SUSHISAMBA and Aladdin: The Musical in the evening. As normal with us, we ended up finding many other things just while walking around! Pictures under the cut.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

A Review of What Light

...I prefer the other cover.
What Light is a novel by Jay Asher, the author of Thirteen Reasons Why. Sierra's family grow and sell Christmas trees. For as long as she can remember, her family have moved down to California for December to sell them to local people. However, because of finances, this might be their last year of doing this. She always looks forward these trips, but she also misses her friends, Elizabeth and Rachel, and Christmas events back home. Still, she has Heather, her best friend over there and others she knows. When she meets Caleb, it looks like this might be the most interesting year yet...

If you've read my review, you'll remember that I wasn't overly struck on Thirteen Reasons Why. This opinion will probably be unpopular, but I liked What Light more.

I loved how Sierra's family business really allowed us to get into the season. Her life seems odd to everyone else, but to her, it's normal. It's comfortable, familiar and what she's used to. The idea of doing something different would throw her, from something that has been so constant in her life, and so tied to it.

I remember going down each year to pick my tree, from a Christmas tree lot. It was much smaller than the one described in the book, but popular, and people from neighbouring villages would come to this one. We'd go on clear days (not much fun when it's raining) so it was always a bit colder and crisper than normal. It was one of those where you could choose your tree, and they'd chop it down for you. It was part of Christmas, and we'd bring it home and decorate it.

Another point that I especially liked was more supportive female friendships. I know that Hannah not having supportive friendships was a huge part of Thirteen Reasons Why, but I love to see girls just being friends, sometimes making mistakes but always coming back together.

Most of my complaints relate to characterisation. I don't feel I know all that much about Sierra, even after reading. Apart from her use of words that teenagers don't normally use, or at least, that Asher thinks teenagers don't normally use, and her thing with peppermint mochas. She's going to take over the family business, but is that what she really wants to do? Does she ever feel conflicted about her role, or want to do something else? Annoying enough, the book sometimes gets close to bringing up these questions, but always veers away from them. What does she do for fun? Does she read, draw, does she listen to music, what music, what movies are her special favourites? You can tell a lot about a character from their favourite media. Does she have any quirks? Does the chainsaw sound set her teeth on edge or does she feel like the pine needles will prick her eyes if she gets too close?

Caleb would be Mr Too-Perfect, if it wasn't for his backstory. He gets more character development and backstory than Sierra by far. He buys trees for people who can't afford them with the tips he makes. I am glad that him attacking his sister with a knife wasn't just something he did when he was five in play, which wouldn't be too big of a deal. It is still recent enough and was major enough that I can see why it became a rumour that would spread in that type of town.

Also, there's something about Asher's writing style that just feels off. Very matter-of-fact, almost telling. It doesn't feel right. There's still a good and cosy Christmas story contained within these pages, however, so I didn't let it bother me too much.

Best read at this time of year with a peppermint hot chocolate, perfect for fans of cosy Christmas reads.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

A Review of The Start of Me and You

The Start of Me and You is a book by Emery Lord. Paige's first boyfriend Aaron died about a year ago. With the start of Junior year, she makes a plan to get herself back into the world. Dating again seems ideal, and who better than her long-time crush, Ryan Chase? But when Paige starts talking more to Ryan's cousin Max, will he be the one to pull her out of her slump? Or is that something Paige has to accomplish by herself, with a little help from others along the way?

Lord is rapidly catapulting herself to the top of my list of favourite authors. I loved The Names They Gave Us, and I loved this one.

Max is dismissed by Paige in the narrative as a 'nerd' but if you ask me, Max is the cool one here. He can't fake interest in a party and would rather sneak off to read a book and raises his hands to answer teacher's questions. But Max shouldn't have to modify his behaviour in order to fit into school social groups. I have been Max, bullied for liking things too enthusiastically, and I have been Paige, trying to hide them so I fitted in better. There is nothing cool about playing down your interests so people will like you more. To it's credit, the narrative does imply how ridiculous this attitude is, but it does so in a way that still feels natural from Paige's POV, as a teenager who still, on some level, believes this. And Max wears a Firefly T-shirt at one point, and he and Paige bond over the show. My precious children. Oh, and Max and I also think the exact same way about airplanes. That just being on one can make a nine hour flight 'fly' by because you are literally in the air and it's the coolest thing ever.

Paige in fact, has rather a few nerdy traits herself. She corrects her friends grammar and loves reading. An early chapter when she and Max find themselves debating Jane Austen loudly in class is a gem. In fact, every conversation between them makes it so you can feel their relationship developing. And extra bonus points to Paige having a goal, which she is actively trying to make a reality already, despite still being in high school. She wants to be a scriptwriter, so she reads books on scriptwriting to improve and has a script that she works on. She also is applying to a summer program in New York, for screenwriting.

Supportive female friendships give me life, and writing them seems to be a particular talent of Lord's. It's not just one supportive best friend, either. All three of the girls in Paige's circle come together to help each other in a crisis. It's not just everyone gathering around Paige, either - there's a good few times when she needs to help someone else in her group.

If the blurb didn't give away the fact that Max would be the love interest, I feel like most people would expect Ryan to have the role, based on conventions of the genre. It is still refreshing in YA to see someone not end up with their long time crush, because how often does that happen in real life? Max and Paige have a chemistry which seems to be take them out of the pages of the book from even their earliest conversations, and you can see Paige's feelings start to develop gradually, avoiding instalove. And their third-act misunderstanding actually makes sense, too. She also writes teenagers having positive relationships with parents, with realistic issues, who solve their problems together, as equals.

Lord writes about loss and grief so well that she could actually write the pamphlet on it. At one point, Max says "I was pissed at cancer after my Grandpa died. It was Cancer, with a capital C. Like it was a person who I could punch in the face, if only I could find him." And that's exactly it. I want to take revenge on Stroke. I was raised on good-vs-evil, good guys win stories. But here, I can't pick up a gun or sword and strike it down. It's not a battle I can win, it's just a series of circumstances which were the worst possible chain of events for Stroke. Also, could quite happily take that chapter where Paige's Grandmother has a Stroke, and rip it up. If I never read another chapter about Stroke, I'd be happy.

While Lord's books are romance-orientated YA, they are also a fantastic study of humanity at it's best and a coming-of-age journey, in which her characters really grow and develop. Recommended for anyone with even a passing interest in YA fiction.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

A Review of Some Kind of Wonderful

Some Kind of Wonderful is a book by Giovanna Fletcher. Lizzy Richardson has been dating Ian Hall for ten years, since she was 18. When he gets cold feet during a proposal in Dubai and chickens out, Lizzy, while obviously sad, decides to look back over who she is and who she was supposed to be without Ian's influence.

I am not picky. I've read a lot of chick-lit, I like a good deal of the chick-lit I've read. Good chick-lit is fun, sweet escapism, and this was good.

Lizzy had been with Ian since the first week of university. That's a long time, and I don't think she was unreasonable in expecting a proposal. I dare say people change more in their three years at university than they do between the ages of 13-18. You are not a perfectly mature adult at 18. As Lizzy says, she still doesn't know who she is. Her personality was so affected by him during some, shall we say, adult formative years? Ten years together is a long time, and it would be ridiculous not to expect him to influence her a little bit. Much of her stuff is left with memories of him, except for the things he had no interest in. However, she would have naturally grown up and changed over those years, with or without him. One of the best parts is Lizzy modifying Ian's interest in exercise into something which works for her, and redeveloping a healthy relationship with food.

I love that, even though Lizzy is understandably upset, her first reaction is not to fall apart or concentrate on finding a new man, but to use being single as a positive to find out who she is. A lot of this book does show how good it can be to be single, whether that's just eating what you want without judgement or being able to enjoy yourself independently at a party. As someone who has found that single > relationships, I loved this. And there is a lot of girls supporting girls in this book, too! And there is also a lot of girls messing up, making insensitive mistakes, and not thinking things through.

I also don't think Ian is completely to blame. He's been trapped almost by expectations, everyone wanting him to propose and holding on to a relationship that doesn't make him happy any more, mainly because of how long it's been. Just, maybe you could have found a better way to tell her than during what she thought would be a proposal? Also, he's the sort of pretentious that makes me want to shake someone and ask if they've ever had any fun.

This book also makes a point about how the concept of defining your entire life around one person isn't healthy. Don't even get me started on the term other/better half. You are not less of a person because you are not in a relationship, and being in one shouldn't complete you. You are whole without someone else, and while a relationship can enhance your life, it shouldn't become the only thing in it.

The romance is hugely rushed, and that disappointed me because I was hoping for Lizzy and Natalia. Still, it's a refreshing change in chick-lit to have the protagonist realise she's okay by herself. Also, if I could never again see Ross and Rachel or Bella and Edward held up as ideals of perfect couples, I'd be happy.

Recommended for any chick-lit fan, and as quite a lot of it takes place in December and as it's so pretty, it would make a great present!

Monday, 4 December 2017

Movie Review: Battle of the Sexes

Battle of the Sexes is a 2017 biopic about the famous tennis match of the same name between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. It stars Emma Stone and Steve Carell, and was directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. King (Stone) is one of the top players in Women's tennis, but the ageing Riggs (Carell) claims he could beat any women at the sport. With the upcoming match looking to be one of the most important in the sport, the pressure is on for both of them.

With a movie like this, the characters are it's heart. Stone plays King with charm and vigour - she's really started to show her range in her last few films, and why she is known as one of the greatest actresses of her generation. Carell plays Riggs as someone who you might almost feel sorry for, so comedic that you can't take him seriously and with a surprising depth in how he interacts with his wife and youngest son. It's hinted - almost outright stated - in the film that the male chauvinist pig thing is an act for the cameras. The other female tennis players featured in the film are well-cast and work together well as an ensemble. It is pointed out in the film that even though they compete on the pitch, off the pitch they are supportive of one another. Honestly, I wish they could have had more screentime.

I have to dedicate some portion of this review to talk about King's relationship with who was in the film her hairdresser, Marilyn, since it is almost as important as the match itself. I am not the person to comment on whether it was good representation, however. I didn't know that King liked the same sex, and her work for LGBT rights. From what I understand, they largely embellished the relationship.

I can't quite put my finger on it - maybe it's just the technology and fashions of the time giving it this style - but the movie feels like a film from the 70's. Not just one that was set then, one that was made and shot then. Also, the staging of the tennis match makes it feel like a epic real-life tennis match with the boring bits cut out, where you don't know the outcome. I found myself wanting to jump up in my seat and cheer.

In fact, if this movie has a fault, it is the fact that the result of the match is both known to history and so obvious in the film that it can take some of the tension out of watching. But it still works as a "how we got here," to the point where the movie could have opened with news of King's victory.

I've talked before about how the circumstances in which you watch a movie can influence your perception of it, and this was the first movie I ever watched on my own at a cinema. I found that I could really get lost in the movie, and I wasn't worried about whether the person next to me was enjoying it.

I would recommend this movie to professional sports players, and aspiring professional sports players and tennis fans. However, I am not particularly a fan of any sport myself, so this is by no means the only groups this film might appeal to.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

A Review of Moxie

Moxie is a young adult novel by Jennifer Mathieu. Sick of the way her high school's football team treats girls, Vivian Carter starts a small "zine" that she calls Moxie, inspired by Riot Grrls. As more problems in her school become apparent, Vivian creates more issues of her zine, asking the girls to do small things to protest. As it catches on with more girls and starts handling tougher issues, Vivian realises this thing might be bigger than she ever imagined.

I've always thought that the best sort of books are ones that can teach us things, and I knew next-to-nothing about Riot Grrrl culture until reading this book. For many people, it could serve as an introduction to modern feminism, or a reminder that other people feel the same.

Vivian is no expert in feminism and feminist issues. She learns about them and develops as the book goes on. She's also delightfully awkward around people she doesn't know. And I don't mean just cute-awkward, actual awkward. Claudia is unconvinced by the whole idea of Moxie at first, but certain events bring her round. Her friend Lucy is more confident, a big-city fish out of water in small-town Texas. It's easy for Lucy to step in and take charge, but she often has to be careful that she doesn't take over. One of the things that I liked was the diversity in the types of girls who responded to Moxie's message. From every different clique in the school, some of the girls did something. I will admit that when cheerleaders were first brought up, my reaction was "oh, no." But the biggest theme here is girls supporting girls, so my initial thoughts were off. I can't finish off my round up of characters in this book without bringing up Seth. He asks if he can kiss Vivian, and is genuinely willing to learn from her about what her life in East Rockport is like as a girl. He's not perfect, however, trotting out "not all guys" pretty often.

Sometimes, parts of American culture in books are hard for me to understand. Through books and other media, I often think I've picked up a lot of information about the American high school system, but something often throws me. Here, it was the way the entire town shuts down for high school football games. I know high school sports are a huge deal, but that would seem ridiculous in the UK. I don't even know of any secondary schools with a dedicated sports team.

I actually went to two different secondary schools. My first one had a clique system that isn't far off the one I see depicted in US media, with the popular crowd, but my second one was really too big for such a system to develop. Vivian's school experience doesn't line up exactly with anything I went through, but the thing is that no two schools are the same. School is a bubble, and if something catches on, it can spread through the school like wildfire.

Dress codes are another thing I don't get, seeing as I had to wear uniforms. My schools were on the "No jewellery! Hair up! Black shoes! No nail varnish no individuality no fun" end of the spectrum, too. But I think being called out for wearing a strappy top is ridiculous, especially seeing as it's Texas. It would be better if the rules were consistent, but calling a girl out of class to measure the length of her skirt has it's own level of problems. What someone is wearing is not more important than their education. Personally, I'm starting to think that a uniform might be the best solution, but allow students to wear a little jewellery and accessories to personalise it. High and secondary school is where people really start to figure out who they are, so give students the freedom to experiment.

Moxie's (the zine) influence is small. It's not going to change the world, even as it does obtain a wider influence towards the end of the book. But then Vivian isn't trying to change the world, just her small Texas high school. It's distribution is also a learning curve for Vivian. Things that worked on a national level for the Riot Grrrls in the 90's may not have the same effect in a single small town. She and her friends also learn about feminism and feminist issues from the chain of events Vivian starts. It's a lovely way to show that something small can turn into something big.

The editing in this book could have used some extra work. Page 67 in my copy contains the line "I guessed I shouldn't any questions." Some sentences have way too many commas in them and could have done with being rewritten. And there is this event: "I spot Lucy Hernandez in the front row with a copy of Moxie in her hands ... I almost don't notice that Lucy has a copy of Moxie sitting out on her desk." I would have made that second sentence "I almost don't notice that Lucy has left her copy of Moxie sitting out on her desk."

Recommended for fans of Holly Bourne, Moxie is a book about the effect that something small can have over a wider community.