Day and Night Book Tag

So this is the Day and Night tag! Amanda over at Chocolate Pages did this tag a little while ago and challenged anyone who felt like doing it to complete the questions. Her answers were all great, and I’d love to read yours, so get involved!

D: Do you read more in the morning or at night?

Erm, it depends. Probably at the moment during the day because at night I really do need to just go straight to sleep as soon as I can, but I read mostly when I’m commuting – which is first thing in the morning, at then in the evening after work.

A: Are there any books that changed the way you thought about things?
Oh definitely, lots. Most books change the way I think I about things to be honest, and if they didn’t they’d not be worth reading. Most recently, Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey, and All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven.

Y: YA or not?
Yeah. YA all the way. To be honest, I feel at times that I read too much YA and when I spend time reading it I am missing out on great fiction that isn’t geared towards young adults but would be appropriate all the same. I enjoy all genres though, so I think I need to remind myself at times to get out of the YA world. I find YA quite easy to pick up, easy to read, and easy to review. So I need to do some things that aren’t so easy.

A: Are there any characters you honestly believe to be real?
Erm. I think once I close a book, even just to take a breath, I’m reminded that it’s fiction (well, when I’m reading fiction, which is most of the time). But when I’m actually in the moment reading a book, yeah, they’re always real to me. If they’re not, I don’t tend to finish the book.

N: Nobody borrows my books or I don’t mind lending them out?
I love to lend out books! Unfortunately I don’t always get them back, but I love to share books. I know what it’s like to be limited by funds when it comes to what and how much I can read, so I like to recommend books to friends by offering to lend them to them – that means they’re more likely to read them and I get to share that experience with them.

D: Do you ever smell your books?

Yes! New, old, in between. Books just smell lush.

N: Not everyone likes books, is this a positive or a negative?
Erm. I don’t know. I don’t think I could say for definite either way. I don’t understand people who don’t read (haha) at all, but I do understand that people are as passionate about other interests and hobbies as I am about books, and that’s okay! As long as you’re doing what you love and not forcing yourself because it’s something you think you should do. I’d never push someone to read who doesn’t want to. You want to play video games instead? Cool. Go for it. But give books a try if you get the chance.

I: I keep my books in the best condition or maybe not? Which are you?
Erm. I used to be super anal about it, I wouldn’t break the spine, I wouldn’t eat while reading. Now my books get battered and bent and bruised and I see it as a sign of them being loved and being read. Of course I’d like to look at my bookshelves and see pristine copies of all of my favourite books but to me it’s unrealistic. They get messy in my bag when I’m running to catch a train. They get hot chocolate stains on them. Trying to read a book without breaking the spine is stressful! I stopped worrying about keeping my books looking pretty and more about enjoying them that I can’t imagine spending so much time trying to keep them clean again. After all, it’s what’s inside that counts (if you can see the words under all that hot chocolate).

G: Gosh I have too many books! True or False?

Some days I feel this way. Some days I feel the opposite. I do need to have a bit of a cull and give some to charity, I think. But most of the time, even though loads of the ones I own I haven’t yet read, I am stuck feeling like I’ll never have enough books. I think overall it’s not about owning them but reading and loving them, so maybe soon I’ll transition to donating my read books, and borrowing from the library/friends.

H: Have you ever spilled or stained your books before with something, and if so how?

Yeah, all the time. Not a ridiculous amount. But I’m clumsy and accidents happen. Pasta stain? Totes happened. Hot drinks? Inevitable. Chocolate smudges? I would be lying if I said no.

T: Toned or untoned while reading? . . or in other words. . .Do you read and workout at the same time?
Erm, I have worked out and read at the same time. I general don’t. I like to do quite active work outs rather than just treadmill or elliptical and that makes it quite hard. And I run outside so reading a book is difficult on a jog. However, I’m starting to listen to audiobooks more so this may be something that could be combined!

I’d love to see what other people would respond to these questions, so if you’ve not done this tag and are reading this, and are interested, please do it! And link down below in the comments and I’ll pop over and read your responses!

Advertisements

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham – Book Review

20588698

This is another book that I picked up a while ago and then put down and had to convince myself to read. My best friend knew I’d like it and lent it to me on New Year’s Eve. I started it on the train home from her flat the next day… and then life happened, and other books happened, and I picked it up again last week.

Not That Kind of Girl (A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned”) by Lena Dunham

From the acclaimed creator, producer, and star of HBO’s Girls comes a hilarious, wise, and fiercely candid collection of personal essays that establishes Lena Dunham as one of the most original young talents writing today.

In Not that Kind of Girl, Dunham illuminates the experiences that are part of making one’s way in the world: falling in love, feeling alone, being ten pounds overweight despite eating only health food, having to prove yourself in a room full of men twice your age, finding true love, and, most of all, having the guts to believe that your story is one that deserves to be told.

Exuberant, moving, and keenly observed, Not that Kind of Girl is a series of dispatches from the frontlines of the struggle that is growing up. “I’m already predicting my future shame at thinking I had anything to offer you,” Dunham writes. “But if I can take what I’ve learned and make one menial job easier for you, or prevent you from having the kind of sex where you feel you must keep your sneakers on in case you want to run away during the act, then every misstep of mine will have been worthwhile.”

I am the kind of feminist who will absolutely adore other feminists, famous feminists, famous successful feminists who can show me how it’s done. I love them. And so Lena Dunham was a woman whose book I was bound to be reading eventually. I watched the first season of Girls and enjoyed it in a round-about way, but it also bugged me. It sort of pointed out to me that these successful feminists, the ones I adore, can be actually quite problematic. Lena Dunham’s feminism isn’t always something I can get behind, her take on female empowerment and showcasing what is like to be a woman it’s something I likely will not agree with whenever she pops up on my radar. There’s no “all or nothing” with feminism, and I think what I want to point out before really delving into a review of this book is that Lena Dunham is not perfect, but (thankfully) none of us are.

I’m not going to get into a big debate about her feminism, my feminism, Caitlin Moran’s feminism, and how nobody’s views are the same despite the same umbrella term linking us. That’s a blog post for another day, I think. What I can get behind, however, is a woman telling her story, telling many stories about herself, making the conversation about herself as a woman, and talking about her experiences. No matter how weird or alien they are to me or you, no matter how they’re not particularly representative of every woman. When a woman’s writing a memoir, an autobiography, a collection of personal essays, you can’t turn around and say “yeah but what about me?” or “what about people who have a different background to you?” Because while all of our voices are valid and deserve a platform – this is her book about herself.

When she writes a book about other women or women in general feel free to raise your hand, and raise your voice. When she has a show on HBO called Girls that is full of middle-to-upper-class white women and no diversity at all then yeah, call her out on that shit. Right now? If you’re picking up this book, it’s time to listen, and your criticisms can be based on other things. If you don’t want to read about Lena Dunham’s super white, privileged life, do not read this book – it will make you angry and you kind of only have yourself to blame – you know what is coming. For the most part, I think feminism is about other women and not necessarily talking about yourself but letting others speak. However at this point, I’m ready to let Lena Dunham speak if it means that other women are going to follow her lead and talk about themselves, and talk about how much they dislike Lena Dunham, and how she’s wrong, and how the world treats them as women, as women of colour, as trans women, as lesbian women, as bi-sexual women, and women who identify in any way, as women no matter what. For now though, I have made the choice to pick up Not That Kind of Girl and as that was my choice, I’m going to review it as I would any other book.

So now that that is out of the way… how did I feel about Not That Kind of Girl? I felt pretty good about it, actually. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it that much, but I did. Lena Dunham’s world is so far from mine: she grew up, and continues to be, extremely privileged (albeit she had her own difficulties which are illuminating to read about). I have my own privileges that I am appreciative of, but reading this book was a bit of a reminder of all the things I do not have. Though reading about them didn’t really make me miss them, or feel resentful, it was sort of just an eye-opener to a different kind of existence that (to me) seems quite fictional until it’s written down in a non-fiction book.

There’s little I can write about this book in regards to plot, it literally is just a collection of essays about Lena’s life, her struggles with mental health, her time at university and her family. There are enjoyable short chapters that are basically lists of things she’s learned, emails she has sent, emails she would like to send, everything she eats over a period of time. She has a very brazen and straight-forward writing style that doesn’t leave you questioning whether this really happened the way she says it did, which is ridiculous because there’s no way that it’s all true – she has a confidence that her writing clearly depicts events accurately and it rubs off when you’re reading it. Of course there’s going to be a bias there, and of course she’s an unreliable narrator, but from the way she writes, you really can’t tell.

Lena Dunham is weird, and her memories are weird, and she’s a woman. And with this book she’s, at least a little bit, breaking down the barriers of how perfect girls and women are supposed to be. Because we’re all weird. We all have weird experiences that most of us are scared to write down in a private journal let alone in a book that’s going to sell thousands of copies worldwide. She’s a public figure and she just laid out all of her weirdness for us to pick through and criticise and write about without actually knowing her as a person, just knowing the bits of her she’s willing to share, which seems to be all of it, though I imagine it is not. She says that sharing herself is not brave because it does not scare her. Nonetheless, I found it quite inspiring.

I think this is the kind of book you can speed through really easily, or have it sitting around and dive in and out to enjoy a little bit at a time. That kind of reading experience may suit those who aren’t going to find it easy with Lena Dunham’s voice in your head a few hours at a time. I read the first couple of chapters sporadically so that I didn’t wear myself out on her, but then read the rest all in one go and didn’t enjoy it any less.

Sure, her feminism is one-sided. Sure, I do find the whole ‘feel sorry for me and my problems’ thing coming from a very privileged person very boring and over-done and completely irrelevant. But if you expect anything else from this book, you’re going to be sorely disappointed, and why are you even thinking about reading it? Just to annoy yourself? Don’t waste your time if you’ll know you’ll hate it, just so that you can give it a one star review on Goodreads! Read something you’ll like instead. Come on. As far as expectations, and context go, this book was more than I imagined it would be, and for this reason I’m giving it a respectable four stars. 

My personal rating: 4/5. Amazon average: 3.9/5. Goodreads average: 3.36/5.

Buy from: Amazon/Book Depository/Your Local Indie Book Store ♥

Pages: 365 (Hardcover)

Publishers: Fourth Estate

Publication Date: 30th September 2014

Follow the author on Twitter: @LenaDunham

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey – Book Review

24179216

I’ve never read a novel quite like this. It’s intriguing, mysterious, and its slow pace is less boring than realistic – it reminds you painfully of the memory loss its main character is struggling with. I read this novel a month ago, and when recommending it in a bookstore today, I realised that I actually hadn’t written my review yet. Thankfully, it’s still pretty fresh in my mind, so read on for the review!

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

Maud, an aging grandmother, is slowly losing her memory—and her grip on everyday life. Yet she refuses to forget her best friend Elizabeth, whom she is convinced is missing and in terrible danger.

But no one will listen to Maud—not her frustrated daughter, Helen, not her caretakers, not the police, and especially not Elizabeth’s mercurial son, Peter. Armed with handwritten notes she leaves for herself and an overwhelming feeling that Elizabeth needs her help, Maud resolves to discover the truth and save her beloved friend.

This singular obsession forms a cornerstone of Maud’s rapidly dissolving present. But the clues she discovers seem only to lead her deeper into her past, to another unsolved disappearance: her sister, Sukey, who vanished shortly after World War II.

As vivid memories of a tragedy that occurred more fifty years ago come flooding back, Maud discovers new momentum in her search for her friend. Could the mystery of Sukey’s disappearance hold the key to finding Elizabeth?

This novel is about an elderly woman and her struggle to find answers to a question that nobody will seem to listen to. Her friend, Elizabeth, is missing. She can’t find her anywhere, and she knows something is wrong, but can’t remember what it is. Her search is made a little bit more difficult by the fact that she is losing her memory, but some things are coming back to her – over fifty years after they happened. They may not help her find Elizabeth, but her search for her best friend may help her understand a mystery that should have been solved decades ago.

Maud is a lovely bundle of a character. I want to hug her, I want to sit and drink tea with her, and most of all I want to help her. When you’re picking up things that she observes but later doesn’t remember it takes a little less time to figure out what happened to Elizabeth than it does for Maud herself. At times this can be a little bit annoying, but I think in quite an intentional way. The frustration you feel really does emulate the frustrations you can feel when in this situation in real life – when your brain forms connections between memories that a loved one simply cannot, you do have to be patient and try and understand, no matter how hard this is. On top of this all is a really charming sense of humour that had me laughing, Maud is hilarious.

I can’t lie, as well as laugh this novel made me cry, it really struck a chord with me. From a young age I watched my grandma struggle with Alzheimer’s for years until the day she died, and my nan is currently beginning to show signs of having to live with dementia. Not only did it remind me of all of the horrible things my grandma went through, it also highlighted what my nan might currently be feeling. It gives an insight into the way the minds of people with dementia may actually work, in a painful but illuminating way. 

I think what’s important is that this really important message doesn’t have to make up for any terrible story-line or lack of plot. There is plenty to find interesting and compelling in this book. There are, essentially, two mysteries that are solved by the end of Elizabeth Is Missing. They just take a while to come about, and it’s more the journey towards those realisations that is the most enjoyable part. It’s one of the slowest-paced mystery novels I’ve ever encountered, yet it’s written in such an endearing way that it does not take away from how thrilling it can be. What I can tell you is how fast I read it (very) because I was dying to find out what happened next on every single page.  

All the feels. That’s pretty much what happened with this novel. It has had really great commercial success and quite rightly – Emma Healey really knows how to make you feel something. I would recommend this book to anybody who wants a quick but meaningful read. I’m currently in two minds about whether or not to suggest my mum reads it, because I think the personal issues may hit her even harder than they did me. Has anyone else read this book? How did it make you feel?

My personal rating: 4/5. Amazon average: 4.3/5. Goodreads average: 3.75/5.

Buy from: Amazon / Book Depository / Hive / Your Local Indie Book Store ♥

Publishers: Penguin.

Publication Date: January 1st 2015.

Follow the author on Twitter: @ECHealey

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – Book Review

15745753 This is a bit of an old one! And by that I mean it’s two years old, which is old for YA. Seemingly though, everyone has read it. At least that may make for some interesting discussion. So… read on for the review and then let me know whether you agree or disagree.

Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell

Two misfits. One extraordinary love. Eleanor… Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough…Eleanor. Park… He knows she’ll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There’s a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises…Park. Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.

I started this book a month ago, and really should have finished it a month ago too. It’s a quick easy read – for some reason I just got a bit distracted and picked up something else. I liked this book. I didn’t love it, which is a bit disappointing because everyone seems to love it. I can see why, but it just didn’t appeal to me on that level. It didn’t capture me the way Fangirl did (click for my review!), and that might be because of the age of the characters. I couldn’t really relate to it because at that time in my life I didn’t have this burning desire, this stereotypically all-consuming young love that Eleanor and Park have for each other. It’s charming, but to me it seems unrealistic, simply because that stuff wasn’t important to me at the tender (and painful) age of sixteen.

I understand that to other teenagers relationships and sex (and everything in between) are rather prominent, and that may be why they love this book – or perhaps they didn’t experience it either and want to, or wish they had. Don’t get me wrong, Eleanor & Park isn’t just about a relationship, it’s not just about sex (or the things in between). And I suppose that fact feeds into the things I did appreciate about this speedy read.

It addresses domestic violence, albeit in a singular and simplistic way. The effects of domestic abuse, both physical and emotional, are shown on the children and it highlights (just one side of) what a ‘broken family’ can be, and the often unwritten consequences (at least within contemporary literature) of poverty on a young person. I also really did like the dynamic of Park’s family – the identity questions that Park’s dual heritage brings about in him as a teenage boy, and how his parents’ different upbringings informed his character, their’s, and their interactions. It was also quite nice to experience this story of teenage love in a decade in which I wasn’t around. I found it easy to picture this all rolling out on a big screen like a John Hughes movie.

Overall, Eleanor & Park is a pleasant enough novel, but I found it lacking in too many ways for me to ever imagine wanting to read it again. While there were plenty of interesting plot points I felt as though nothing really happened and Rainbow Rowell didn’t utilise the story’s potential to make it feel like something was really happening, or that any of it really mattered, because to me, as an adult (sort of) I know that what Eleanor was obsessing about the whole time is less pressing than she makes it out to be. After a while, it got a bit tiring. You know, the whole ‘touching’ thing, the ‘his lips’ thing, the ‘he’s so cute’ thing. Maybe because at seventeen, I remember life being about a lot more than a cute boy touching my waist and thinking my quirks were cool (to be honest, they weren’t, they were just… quirks). I do intend to read Rainbow’s Landline and Attachments. They’re supposed to be about adults right? Maybe I’ll like them, because I’m totally an adult now… I think.

My personal rating: 3/5. Amazon average: 4.5/5. Goodreads average: 4.16/5.

Buy from: Amazon/Book Depository/Your Local Indie Book Store ♥

Pages: 328

Publishers: Orion

Publication Date: February 26th 2013

Follow the author on Twitter: @RainbowRowell

Have you read this book? You probably have. I know this may be an unpopular opinion (or a grouping of unpopular opinions) about this book that already seems to be considered a YA romance classic. Let me know what you think!

Only Ever Yours – Louise O’Neill

21805717

Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

In a world in which baby girls are no longer born naturally, women are bred in schools, trained in the arts of pleasing men until they are ready for the outside world. At graduation, the most highly rated girls become “companions”, permitted to live with their husbands and breed sons until they are no longer useful.

For the girls left behind, the future – as a concubine or a teacher – is grim.

Best friends Freida and Isabel are sure they’ll be chosen as companions – they are among the most highly rated girls in their year.

But as the intensity of final year takes hold, Isabel does the unthinkable and starts to put on weight. ..
And then, into this sealed female environment, the boys arrive, eager to choose a bride.

Freida must fight for her future – even if it means betraying the only friend, the only love, she has ever known. . .

I wanted to love this book, and in fact there are many parts of it that I enjoyed, appreciated, and thought were very important. However, there were also things that didn’t sit right with me as I was reading it, as I finished, and those doubts continued on after I closed the book and tried to carry on with my day.

The future of our world does not look good. Girls (eves) are no longer born naturally, but genetically engineered. They are then trained in ‘school’ from the age of four to be the perfect woman – when they leave they will become one of three things, because of course women only have three uses. Companion, concubine, or chastity. Wife and mother, prostitute and pleasurer, or celibate schoolteacher. Frieda (or frieda, because women’s names are not capitalised at all) is one of the prettiest, most compliant eves in her year. So is her best friend Isabel. But the closer it gets to the ‘ceremony’, to meeting their future husbands (The Inheritants), or clients (I suppose), the more things change. The status quo is challenged, and everything starts to go wrong.

What O’Neill has done with Only Ever Yours is open up a conversation within the YA sphere, about society’s expectations of young girls, of beauty and vanity, and the sexualisation of women from a very young age. However, I feel that it doesn’t do this all in a particularly smart or interesting way. By laying it all out the way it has been, I feel O’Neill has taken the easy route. I’d have been much more interested in a critique of our society that is actually set in a familiar environment. What I’d also have liked to see more of is how the world got this way. There is little explanation of how a society that is slowly but surely working towards gender equality collapsed completely and allowed this to happen. I have seen reviews that say “it’s scary because it COULD happen”, and I disagree completely. One of the big things about this novel is that it’s supposed to be ‘eye-opening’ but these are all issues that exist in our society already, just multiplied by a thousand times. I found Only Ever Yours unrealistic and impossible. That doesn’t make it any less important as a cautionary tale, but let’s be realistic – it’s not going to happen. Yes these things happen on a smaller scale every day, should we not be criticising them in within a relevant context?

I actually didn’t really think the world building was very good. O’Neill gave herself a completely blank slate to work with and did little with it. I can see this being a stylistic choice to make the story most important and not waste words on description, but no matter the intention I found the nondescript surroundings and setting quite bland and uninspiring. Even if the school itself is supposed to be unremarkable, effort could have been made to show how that affects the eves and why it is so featureless.

Often, the criticism of vanity and society’s focus on aesthetics didn’t come through very well, and instead I got the feeling that the girls themselves were being demonised for the results of their upbringing on their personalities, as if there was any alternative. I felt myself disliking megan and co., and fought hard to keep in mind that she is a product of her surroundings. With little focus on the Father, there was no other place for reader resentment to manifest other than the less-amiable girls. I know that it was not O’Neill’s intention to blame the girls, but they came across as more accountable for their failures when it comes to friendship and solidarity amongst women than the creators of the system. I am okay with unlikable and flawed characters, but I felt that how unlikable they are contributes to what O’Neill is trying to combat – the judgement of women by those of any gender. 

The ending is disappointing. I know the point of this particular ending is that there is no happy ending in this scenario, but just because it’s making a point doesn’t mean it’s a good conclusion for a novel. A reader requires closure, it doesn’t necessarily have to be happy but I’d at least have preferred the possibility that perhaps there was a point to any of it or that progress had been made in some way. I felt as though the whole novel could have been more affecting if something had come of frieda’s self-awareness, if her rule-breaking choices had come from a place of rebellion and dissent than of supposed hysteria. There was no feminist character in this book, nor any self-sacrifice that would usually make you root for a person. Having read of O’Neill’s own feminism I would have expected a more demanding main character.

All of that said, I felt myself connecting with the different characters in many ways, and I really couldn’t put it down while I was reading it. I like what this book represents, and the fact that it’s getting the conversation started, at least in the YA community. However, I just don’t think it achieved what it meant to, and didn’t live up to its potential.

I am really looking forward to see what Louise O’Neill does next, with her next novel Asking For It being published in September. I think she’s brave, and definitely my favourite kind of person, a feminist. And whatever she’ll do with her new-found YA-shaped platform is surely going to be great.

Despite my rating being only 3/5, I do think in some ways this book was important, and would recommend it to any one, if only to show the kind of issues that can be challenged in a very head-on way if a writer and publisher is willing to dare. It is clearly important to young women who read YA, openly criticising the tendencies of our society that make them feel uncomfortable and undervalued, and for that I am grateful. I’m just hoping it invites more authors to do the same, and that Asking For It is written somewhat better.

I would really like to hear what you thought of this book, please comment if you agree or disagree with me! The best part of reviewing books is that we get to talk about these things, especially the important themes.

My personal rating: 3/5. Amazon average: 4.5/5. Goodreads average: 4.03/5.

Buy from: Amazon / Book Depository / Hive / Your Local Indie Book Store ♥

Publishers: Quercus.

Publication Date: July 3rd 2014.

Follow the author on Twitter: @oneilllo

Liebster Award

So, last week, although I’ve been completely AWOL lately, the lovely Kath from The Last Reader nominated me for the Liebster Award, which is an award created by bloggers to help newish blogs make friends. It’s actually my first blog award, so I’m quite excited about it!

Here are the rules

  • Link back to the person that nominated you.
  • Answer the questions given by the nominator.
  • Nominate 11 other bloggers (with less than 200 followers).
  • Come up with 11 questions for them to answer.
  • Notify your nominees.

11 Questions from Kath

1. If you are a teacher, which book would you recommend to your students to read?

I suppose it would depend on what age I was teaching. If it was primary school age it’d be anything by Enid Blyton, timeless classic children’s fiction! 12-14? The Catcher In The Rye. Older? I’d say 1984, but if I was a teacher I’d probably just be recommending that children and teenagers read as much as they can, whenever they can, it’d not be up to me to make them read anything specific as long as they were enjoying it.

2. What is your favorite picture book?

Each Peach Pear Plum! It was my first favourite book, the first thing I bought when I found out my sister was pregnant, and now my niece loves it (even though she can’t read yet).

3. Any favorite theater play?

Regretfully I don’t really watch much theatre, mainly because I’m always broke or busy. The last stage production I saw was Once and I would really love to see Wicked.

4. What do you look for when choosing a book?

A lot of things really, everything from the cover (yes, the cover), the blurb, any review quotes on the cover. I find most of the books I read through reviews, Goodreads and social media in general. If it gets good reviews or catches my eye I’ll generally give it a go at some point in the future.

5. If you will give your best friend a book, what would it be?

I give my friends a lot of books, generally when I’m finished with them but would like to talk about them with someone. I recently gave Martin (among other titles) The Long Earth series, I’m going to give Vic Elizabeth Is Missing when I see her soon, my sister’s reading my copy of A Darker Shade of Magic at the moment, and I’m going to be sending an old friend Bri my copy of Only Ever Yours. Usually when I give books to people it’s because I read them recently.

6. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read?

Erm, oh I’m not sure 😦 I’m sure there were a lot of classics that look terrifying that I was scared to start while I was at uni. I suppose the A Song of Ice and Fire series is quite intimidating too, because of its length. I’ve read the first two and I just didn’t enjoy the writing style, so I keep putting off reading the rest, knowing it’ll likely bore me.

7. Any books you’ve been avoiding?

Not really. I found it hard to get into a couple of books I’ve been trying to read so I’m sort of not trying those at the moment and plan to work my way back to them.

8. The longest time you’ve gone without reading?

I’m not sure, but in terms of reading for pleasure it will have been during uni. I just didn’t have time. Weeks, months maybe.

9. Any policy in comes of book lending?

I’ll lend to anyone who’s interested, as long as they don’t let me forget they have my books. I’ve lost a good few favourites over the years and I’m too awkward to ask for them back.

10. Do you have any book bad habits?

I will start books and then forget about them by getting excited about another one, to be honest!

11. What’s your favorite food/snack when you’re reading?

Ummm, I don’t know. Just whatever I have around. Pretzels are good though!

I’m nominating…

  1. Lori
  2. Alina
  3. Fiona
  4. Taylor
  5. Mari
  6. Mallory
  7. Tasmin
  8. Kimberly
  9. Aimal
  10. Amber

My 11 Questions

  1. Where is your favourite reading spot?
  2. How long does it tend to take you to read an average length novel?
  3. Ebooks or hard copies?
  4. Where is your favourite book store in the world?
  5. What is your favourite book to (film/TV/stage/game) adaptation?
  6. What was the last book you found yourself not able to finish?
  7. Have you ever met any of your favourite authors?
  8. If you weren’t a book blogger (or bookish at all), what would you spend your spare time doing?
  9. What was your favourite book of 2014?
  10. What are you most looking forward to reading in the rest of 2015?
  11. If you were (or are) a writer, which genre of books would you write?

Thanks Kath for the nomination. Looking forward to reading those answers!

The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah

cover54969-mediumI received a copy of The A to Z of You and Me from Transworld via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. Though I’m grateful for the opportunity to read this book it does not affect my review in any way.

I do feel another disclaimer is needed this time around. I’m currently undertaking two weeks of work experience at Transworld with the publicity team. I received and read a galley of this book before I’d even considered applying for the work experience, but got too distracted by life to manage to review it. After coming across a beautiful hardback copy of the book today I felt inspired to get my opinions down before I forgot them all, and thankfully I had made a few notes on WordPress already which was quite helpful.

I promise my opinion of this book has not been altered by my work experience, I’d probably just not mention it at all if I didn’t like it. Jus’ sayin’. Even if I do feel like my blog is over-heavy with four & five star reviews and needs some balancing out. Don’t worry, I’ve read a few three star books lately that will be reviewed soon. And I suppose the ones I couldn’t finish don’t merit three…

The A-Z of You and Me – James Hannah

Ivo was once a young man living a carefree life. Now he is middle-aged with a failing body and a head full of regrets, resident in St Leonard’s Hospice.

Ivo’s dedicated nurse Sheila suggests a game, the ‘A to Z’, to occupy and encourage him. Eager for distraction, Ivo begins listing his body parts alphabetically, associating a memory with each. The results are a kaleidoscopic chain of recollections, which together unravel the story of Ivo’s life; of the girl who tried to help him, and the friend who wouldn’t let her.

Ivo is in hospice, he’s only forty years old, and he’s waiting to die. He doesn’t want any visitors. Sheila, his nurse, suggests he plays a game to keep his mind occupied. Why doesn’t he go through the alphabet, picking out a body part for each letter, and then remember something about each one? This game serves as a device that lends a great structure to the novel and an easy confidence to the reader, it is not a technical challenge to finish this book, but an emotional one, and a personal one.

A is for Adam’s apple, anus, and ankle. G for gut. U for urethra uvula.

Ivo has a past chequered with addiction, with a reckless habit of not looking after his diabetic health, and choices that he regrets. He narrates this story with an unapologetic, honest voice that I can’t imagine suiting any character that isn’t facing forthcoming death. James Hannah captured this in such a way that for a while I truly wondered if he had written this on his death bad (he didn’t). Then I realised that this is fiction, that people are this talented, and James Hannah’s debut was exceptional. His characters are superbly written, each and every one of them, and my only grievance is that I don’t know what happened to everyone else after Ivo’s death.

The thing about this book is the resignation with which you begin, the knowledge of Ivo’s inevitable fate, and the strange hope that can’t help but blossom anyway. I’m not sure what that optimism I felt was for exactly, perhaps that he finds the peace he needs, perhaps that the relationship he talks about in past-tense isn’t really as doomed as it sounds. All I know is that, despite how final the ending is, I didn’t have a heavy heart when I finished The A to Z of You and Me. Knowing how the story has to end makes the journey all the more sweet.

When I reached the part where we find out what happened to the relationship, and what caused it to be past tense rather than present, I was shocked. This book with such a predictable structure and a foretold ending still has a twist. Horrifyingly, as well as heartbroken of course, I was also a little relieved. Because I’m a hopeless romantic, I suppose. I hope those who have read The A to Z of You and Me (or will be reading it soon) understand where I’m coming from and don’t think I’m a bit sick. If you do, please get in touch so I can talk about it without spoiling it for everyone!

I was amazed by how invested I became in a fictional relationship that was clearly over and un-salvageable. It reminded me that real, burning, true love does not have to last forever, it just has to be important at the time.

Due to personal circumstance and family history, I understand a bit about this kind of loss, organ failure. Though thankfully not to diabetes (sidebar: my sister’s boyfriend’s dad is really awesome and raised a bunch of money for Diabetes UK last year by cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats which is 935 miles. He lost his mum to type 2 diabetes, and his brother has had type 1 diabetes since he was 7. He’s going to be doing another bike ride for Diabetes UK later this year, after donating his kidney to his brother Tim in two weeks’ time, and you should definitely donate if you can!). My dad passed away because of liver failure when I was fourteen and though the cause was not the same as Ivo’s, this definitely felt like a bit of a kick in the teeth. A lot of books do, for some reason or another. I kept reading though, and I’m glad I did. Sometimes the things that hurt the most are the ones that are worth sticking with, and that goes for books too. If it doesn’t affect you, it’s probably not important.  

This is the kind of book that makes you kick yourself, makes you change your perspective of things, makes you wonder what you could be doing better, how you could be spending your time more productively, and with more love, and more appreciation of what you have. I both love and hate those books, don’t you? Anything that reminds me I’m being ungrateful or taking what I have for granted feels like it’s judging me (even though it’s a book and it doesn’t have conscious thought – though you could fool me with that first person narrative). At the end of the day, like with All The Bright Places, I’m better off for reading this.

The A to Z of You and Me tugged on my heart-strings consistently throughout, except for the moments I was laughing out loud (in public) and then worrying that I may have developed too dark a sense of humour. 

My personal rating: 5/5. Amazon average: 4.3/5. Goodreads average: 4.14/5.

Buy from: Amazon / Book Depository / Hive / Random House / Your Local Indie Book Store ♥

Publishers: Doubleday. @DoubledayUK @TransworldBooks

Publication Date: March 12th 2015.

Follow the author on Twitter: @JamesHannah