Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Top Ten Tuesday | 2017 Summer TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week you compile a list of ten books which coincide with that week's theme. You can find everything you need to know about joining in here!

Every year I find myself making seasonal TBRs, usually made up of books that suit the season (floral books for spring, ghost stories for autumn etc.), but this year my summer TBR consists of two kinds of books: books I'm just in the mood to read right now, and books that have been on my TBR for far too long.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood: I'm ashamed to admit I still haven't read this and I definitely should have by now. I've been hearing amazing things about the new adaptation, but I want to read the book first and I'm determined to cross it off my TBR this year.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller: Greece always makes me think of the summer, probably because I was lucky enough to go to Crete with my parents several times during my childhood early teens, and yet I don't think I've ever actually read any fiction set in Greece. I've been in an Ancient mood recently - the warmer weather makes me want to watch films like Troy and Pompeii - and I've heard so many brilliant things about this book that I think it's about time I read it.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón: This has been on my TBR for years. Years. Every year I say I'm going to read it and then I never get around to it, but I've been lucky enough to have several city breaks over the past couple of years so I'm definitely in the mood to read a book set in Barcelona now that the weather's warming up. One of my colleagues read this recently and loved it, so I'm hoping I love it too!

The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng: This is another book that's been on my TBR for at least a year or so, and this past year I've been trying to make more of an effort to read books set in Asia written by Asian authors. I know so little about Asia thanks to my history lessons at school being so Britain-centric but there's nothing stopping me from doing my own research, and I learn as much from fiction as I do non-fiction. This book, in particular, sounds really interesting to me and I'm looking forward to getting to it.

The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant: So I went to Florence last year and it's become my favourite European city. It's the first time I've come home and felt homesick for the place I've left, and now I want to revisit it as much as I can in fiction. I picked up my copy of The Birth of Venus in the Uffizi Gallery giftshop after having just seen the real Birth of Venus painting - how could I not? - and I'm looking forward to reading it soon.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi: This book has been everywhere and I still haven't read it, but I want to get to it this year. I love the idea of exploring how a family's history, of being enslaved or of being involved in the slave trade, can impact a family throughout the generations, and I think this is going to be a very eye-opening and important book.

Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi: I read my first Oyeyemi last year, White is for Witching, and unfortunately I didn't like it, but I want to give her another chance because I think she writes beautifully. This book follows a male writer who keeps killing off his female characters, only for one such character to turn up at his door. I'm looking forward to it!

Florence in Ecstasy by Jessie Chaffee: More Florence! This is a very recent release and I'm looking forward to sinking my teeth into it.

Stay With Me by Aọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀: I've heard brilliant things about this debut novel and it's another one I'm hoping to get to fairly soon, especially as I think there's a good chance it's going to be the winner of the Bailey's Prize this year.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini: Like The Shadow of the Wind, this book has been on my TBR for far too long and I've had countless people recommending it to me, so it's about time I bloody read it. I've heard amazing things and I'm sure it's going to make me cry, but I'm looking forward to reading it.

What did you talk about this week?

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Top Ten Tuesday | Things I Want My (Hypothetical) Daughter to Read

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week you compile a list of ten books which coincide with that week's theme. You can find everything you need to know about joining in here!

This week's theme is a Mother's Day freebie, which is weird for me as Mother's Day's in March in the UK. I remember doing something along the lines of my favourite mothers in fiction some time last year, it doesn't feel like long ago anyway, so today I'm going to talk about the books I'd want my daughter to read.

I don't have any children, and I don't know if I'll ever have any, but if I ever have a daughter I hope she reads these books:

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: If I ever have a daughter, I want her to know there's nothing wrong with the word 'feminist' and there's certainly nothing wrong with identifying as one. Feminism means equality, not misandry, and I want her to grow up fighting for the equal rights of everyone, in whichever way she feels most comfortable doing it. This little book is an ideal introduction to feminism, and I hope, if I ever have a daughter, she doesn't have to fight as much as I've had to, and her daughters after her have to fight even less.

How To Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis: I really, really enjoyed this memoir about Samantha Ellis's relationship with her favourite heroines throughout her life; she thinks about the effect these heroines had on her growing up, and returns to them to see if they still make her feel the way they once made her feel now. It got me thinking about the heroines in my life, and I'd love to share that with my hypothetical daughter, too.

Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman: This is the first novel I can remember reading that made me bawl. Noughts & Crosses is something of a British children's classic now, I'm not sure how well-known it is outside the UK but I think it's fairly well-known, and it's the first book that really made me think about race and terrorism and how to see something from both sides. It's still one of my favourites.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier: There are some books in the world that are perfect books, and Rebecca is one such book. Daphne du Maurier has quickly become one of my favourite authors after I started reading her work a few years ago. You can only read Rebecca for the first time once and it's an experience I think every reader should try.

The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister: The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a classic, but the picture book I remember loving most when I was little is The Rainbow Fish. It's a lovely story with a lovelier message and I adored it.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling: Does this warrant an explanation? I was lucky enough to grow up as part of the Potter generation, it'd be great to share that with my children.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent: This novelisation of the story of the last woman to be executed in Iceland is fiction, there's no way of knowing if Agnes Magnúsdóttir was simply a murderess or a woman who wound up in the wrong place at the wrong time, but this book is a brilliant reminder that there are two sides to every story, and sometimes people are forced into criminality by situations they can't help and are then punished for it. I want any children I might have to be able to consider both sides of a story.

The Good Immigrant ed. by Nikesh Shukla: I'm proud to live in a multi-cultural country and recent political events have frightened me a lot. I don't want to live in a country built on ignorance, discrimination and prejudice and if I ever have children I want them to be open-minded, kind and aware of the struggles other people might face simply because they're viewed as 'other'.

The Illustrated Mum by Jacqueline Wilson: Jacqueline Wilson was my favourite writer growing up, she was never afraid to tackle issues like bullying, foster care, mental health, terminal illness and many others. The Illustrated Mum was always my favourite.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng: The relationships between mothers and daughters are fairly toxic in this novel, which was my favourite read of last year, and if I ever have a daughter I'd want her to read this so she'd know that sometimes parents make mistakes, sometimes they make terrible mistakes, and it's okay for her to tell me how she feels and to pursue the things in life that will make her happy. It's her life to live, not mine.

What did you talk about this week?

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

This Week in Books | 10/05/17

This week I'm joining in with Lipsy @ Lipsyy Lost & Found to talk about the books I've been reading recently!

Now: I've returned to one of my favourite authors, Daphne du Maurier, to read My Cousin Rachel ahead of the film adaptation starring Rachel Weisz and Sam Claflin which is due to be released next month. I'm enjoying it so far, but that's no surprise - du Maurier's work is always a treat.

Then: I picked up The Doll's Alphabet after receiving it from Moth Box, and after recently reading Diving Belles (reviewed here) I was in the mood to read more short story collections. I read a little bit from this to get the feel for what it was like and then couldn't put it down, but I can't say I loved it. Camilla Grudova writes beautifully, her stories read like weird, grotesque dreams and there were some stories I don't think I quite 'got'. I did like it, though - look out for my review soon!

Next: Natalie @ A Sea Change and I are taking part in our own version of Elena @ Elena Read Books' BookBuddyAthon - check out my TBR here! - and this is the book Nat chose for me out of three options I gave her, all of which I've received to review from NetGalley. See What I Have Done is a novelisation of the story of Lizzie Borden, and as I recently watched a documentary about murder in the 19th century I'm definitely in the mood to pick this up. However, The Doll's Alphabet was very dark and My Cousin Rachel is quite gloomy so far, so I might opt for something more cheerful once I've finished My Cousin Rachel.

What are you reading?

Sunday, 7 May 2017

BookBuddyAthon TBR!

The BookBuddyAthon is back! Hosted by Elena @ Elena Reads Books over on Book Tube, this is a week-long readathon that encourages you to read with a friend and, luckily, I've managed to rope the lovely Natalie @ A Sea Change into doing this with me.

Unfortunately Nat and I are both a tad too busy to try and complete five reading challenges in a week, so we're bending the rules a little; we're going to take on the BookBuddyAthon challenges and try to complete them by the end of the year. We like taking things at our own pace, as right now I have a busy job and Nat's in the midst of a PhD, so deadlines make us twitch.

Essentially the five books we pick for this challenge we need to try and finish by the end of the year. Will it be the end of the world if we don't? No, but I hope we can!

Read a book with your buddy

Nat and I have chosen The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, which has been absolutely everywhere lately. We both love historical fiction and we both love ladies pursuing science when everyone else is telling them they shouldn't be. I've heard quite mixed reviews so far, so I'm keen to see what I think of it and I'm hoping Nat likes it - I got her copy for her for Christmas, so I hope I didn't choose a rubbish book for her!

Read a book that's your buddy's favourite colour

Nat's favourite colours are blue and red, so I decided to go with my edition of The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood because I'm ashamed to admit I still haven't read it. I've heard fantastic things about the recent adaptation but I'm determined to read the book first. I do want to read it, I just know it's going to make me angry and upset.

Read a book that begins with your buddy's first initial

I was quite surprised by how few books I own that begin with 'n', but I'm going to listen to the audio book of A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan (NATural - I get bonus points!) which is a book Nat actually recommended to me very recently, so it feels fitting to go with this one and read about more ladies who love science.

Choose 3 books on your TBR and read the book your buddy picks for you

I decided to give Nat three of my NetGalley reads to choose from because, as always, I'm behind with my reviews: Gone by Min Kym, New Boy by Tracy Chevalier or See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt. Nat chose See What I Have Done, a novelisation of the story of Lizzie Borden, which also happens to be the book I was leaning towards most, too, so I'm very happy with that choice! I'm hoping it'll give me Burial Rites vibes.

Read something you feel like reading

A nice and simple challenge! For this one I'm choosing The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman because Nat very kindly bought it for me a couple of Christmases ago and I still haven't read it which is ridiculous because I'm sure I'm going to enjoy it.

Are you taking part in the BookBuddyAthon?

Friday, 5 May 2017

Review | Diving Belles by Lucy Wood

by Lucy Wood

My Rating: 

Straying husbands lured into the sea by mermaids can be fetched back, for a fee. Trees can make wishes come true. Houses creak and keep a fretful watch on their inhabitants, straightening shower curtains and worrying about frayed carpets. A mother, who seems alone and lonely, may be rubbing sore muscles or holding the hands of her invisible lover as he touches her neck. Phantom hounds roam the moors and, on a windy beach, a boy and his grandmother beat back despair with an old white door.

In these stories, the line between the real and the imagined is blurred as Lucy Wood takes us to Cornwall’s ancient coast, building on its rich storytelling history and recasting its myths in thoroughly contemporary ways. Calling forth the fantastic and fantastical, she mines these legends for that bit of magic remaining in all our lives—if only we can let ourselves see it.

Short story collections are something I've been trying to read more and more of in recent years, because if a writer gets short stories right they can be exquisite. That there are so many collections out there based on fairy tales, myths, legends and folklore is brilliant for someone like me who absolutely loves retellings and old, local stories. This collection, the author's debut, promised a collection of stories inspired by Cornish folklore, so I knew I had to get my hands on a copy the minute I first heard about it.

I'm from the UK and I'm lucky enough to have been to Cornwall a couple of times; it's one of my favourite places in the UK because it feels like its own little world, like the hidden corner of England, and it's bursting with fascinating history and folklore galore. When I think of Cornwall, I think of smugglers, mermaids, giants, piskies and King Arthur, so I couldn't wait to dive into this collection when I visited St. Ives last year.

That I only finished Diving Belles recently probably tells you what I thought about it. Sadly, I was very disappointed.

Now in fairness to this book last year was a rubbish reading year for me, which definitely contributed to me putting it down, but the main reason was that this collection left me with very similar feelings to how I felt when I finished Karen Russell's St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (reviewed here). Most of the stories didn't really seem to go anywhere, and while I understand short stories aren't necessarily plot-driven in the same way novels are, I still would have liked some sort of plot, some sort of reason for the story to be there other than that Wood got an idea that she didn't quite know what to do with.

The sad thing is I can't fault Wood's writing. This woman can really write, some of her descriptions in this collection are exquisite, but personally I like story; when I read a collection of short stories, I want a collection of short stories - not a character study or something that feels like an extract from something longer, which so many of these stories did to me. Like Russell's debut collection, I felt as though Wood wasn't sure how to end most of the stories in this collection so, instead of coming up with an ending, she simply stopped writing and it left me feeling cold.

I also had an issue with the inspiration behind these stories. If it weren't for the fact that it's mentioned in the blurb, I never would have guessed these stories were inspired by Cornish folklore. Sure, I associate giants, mermaids and little people with Cornish folklore more than any other - though my favourite story in the collection, 'Blue Moon', set in a retirement home for witches, featured folklore I associate more with Wales than Cornwall - but these stories could have been set in any coastal UK town. I currently live in one myself, and her descriptions of the coast felt so generic to me that these stories could have taken place down the road from my house.

This is a real shame considering Wood grew up in Cornwall herself, so I was expecting Cornwall to seep through the pages. The folklore was certainly Cornish enough for me, but I would have loved to have seen Wood play around with Cornish dialect, to mention specific place names that really centre the reader in a time and place. I wanted to see mentions of St. Ives and Bodmin and Zennor and Lizard, not description after description of the sea. Her descriptions were beautiful, they just didn't sing Cornwall to me in the way I was expecting them to.

I was also frustrated to see this collection being compared to Angela Carter. Now that is neither the book's fault or the author's, so I'm not actually holding this point against my rating, but I wanted to mention it all the same because it seems like every fairy tale or folklore-based collection I pick up is being compared to Carter. Just because something is a retelling or is inspired by an older story doesn't mean it's The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories. It's unfair to new and emerging authors, who are constantly being compared to someone who is considered a literary great, and it's unfair to Carter - The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories is probably her most famous work, but that's not all she was. She played around with Shakespeare and her commentary on gender and its fluidity is fascinating, so let's stop narrowing her down to one body of work, shall we?

Also, this collection isn't like The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories at all. Wood's stories are quiet, creeping stories that use the fantastical to highlight just how mundane normality is, Carter, on the other hand, wrote about mothers riding on horseback to save their daughters from homicidal husbands, women who can be licked into tigers and maids who are robots. I really don't think there's much comparison to be had.

So, if you like slow stories that aren't plot-driven, this book is for you. I wish I was sophisticated enough to love a book like this but I love a plot and there wasn't enough of it here for me. Having said that, I'd still recommend picking this up if it sounds interesting to you because Wood's writing is lovely and she's definitely an author I'm going to keep my eye on - she has the potential to be fantastic.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Top Ten Tuesday | Cover Lover

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week you compile a list of ten books which coincide with that week's theme. You can find everything you need to know about joining in here!

This week's theme is a cover theme freebie, so I thought I'd share my ten favourite historical fiction covers!

Viper Wine by Hermione Eyre: I still haven't read this, I haven't heard the best reviews, but I will always love that cover. It reminds me of Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette with that juxtaposition of the historic and the modern.

Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier: Daphne du Maurier's books have many pretty covers, and rightly so, but I love how nautical this edition of Jamaica Inn is. I didn't love Jamaica Inn a huge amount when I read it, though all of du Maurier's novels pale in comparison to Rebecca, but it's a fun book and a great one to read if you happen to be visiting Cornwall.

Witch Child by Celia Rees: The cover of Witch Child is what convinced me to pick up a copy in my early teens, and it's thanks to this book that I love historical fiction so much now. This cover is haunting and I can't help but be drawn in to those eyes.

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge: I will love anything that has some of Chris Riddell's art on it. I haven't read this one yet, but I'm glad to have this edition on my shelves.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton: This cover has so much character, and I think it's certainly one of the many reasons this book did so well when it was released. If you haven't read this one yet I recommend giving it a try - it's a very good book!

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters: My favourite covers are simplistic ones, and that's why I love these editions of Waters' novels. This edition of Fingersmith, in particular, I like a lot; I don't own many books with grey covers at all, but this book uses the colour well.

The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown: This book is even more beautiful in person because it's textured. I haven't this one yet either, but it's a recent release and I'm planning to pick it up soon.

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood: I really like these editions of Margaret Atwood's books too, with bold colours and a black and white image in the centre, and this edition of Alias Grace always catches my eye.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry: I own the normal hardback edition, which I think is beautiful, but I love the colours on this special edition, too.

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon: Again, I love a simplistic cover and this one's as simple as they come.

What did you talk about this week?

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Fandom Mashup | Material Girl

Fandom Mashup is an original featured created and hosted by the lovely Micheline @ Lunar Rainbows Reviews. Each week she proposes a unique fictional scenario and then invites you to build a dream team of five fictional characters from five different fandoms to help you to complete the task. Make sure you check out Micheline's blog for more info!

This week we've gained the means to acquire any magical items you desire! YES!  Pick 5 magical items from 5 different magical worlds as your top picks.

It actually took me a while to think of a list of five, and Micheline's list is great, but thankfully I managed to get there in the end...

I have to still one of Micheline's answers first, there's no way I couldn't have my very own wand. On Pottermore my wand's core is unicorn hair, which I think is especially fitting for me!

I currently live near the coast, so being able to control the whole sea? Yes please. Gimme that trident. Also being a mermaid sounds like it could be fun; I'd love to go searching for some sunken treasure.

I was always more of a Bedknobs and Broomsticks fan than a Mary Poppins fan, and I'd love to have Eglantine Price's bed. It's basically a more comfortable broomstick that will take you literally anywhere you want to go, even inside a book. Being able to travel anywhere, and on a bed too, is basically my dream.

So if you've been following my blog for a while you'll know Silvia Moreno-Garcia's Signal to Noise is one of my favourite novels. It's set in Mexico City in the '80s, where 15 year old Meche learns to cast spells using her vinyl records - I want a magic vinyl record, too!

Swords and whatnot are cool and all, but I always loved Susan Pevensie's horn in The Chronicles of Narnia. Just give it a blow and aid will come - sounds pretty useful!

Which items would you choose?

Friday, 28 April 2017

Should Disney's First Openly Gay Character Be Celebrated?

Disclaimer: Some mild spoilers for the Beauty and the Beast remake. Yes I do take Disney movies too seriously, no I’m not sorry for it. These are my own thoughts, views and opinions etc. – in no way am I presuming to speak for the LGBT+ community and I apologise in advance if I come across that way at any point in this discussion, it’s not my intention. This post was first posted on my other blog, which I'm considering moving over to permanently in future.

As Disney goes through its remake phase, just like it went through its sequel phase, it was only a matter of time before 1991’s Beauty and the Beast was given a fresh lick of live action paint.

News stories started asking if the fairy tale promotes bestiality or Stockholm syndrome as though this were the first time those questions had been asked – seriously, do they not realise how often fairy tales have been studied over the years? This isn’t a shock revelation – until it was revealed that LeFou, played by Josh Gad of Frozen fame, was going to be reimagined and portrayed as an LGBT+ character. Naturally, that was all the press could focus on and, in some ways, I can’t really blame them. LeFou’s hardly the hero of Beauty and the Beast, but that Disney were actually going to acknowledge someone as openly gay in one of their movies was a big deal – especially to the LGBT+ community who have been waiting for this kind of representation for years.

Now that I’ve seen the film (and I won’t talk about my thoughts on it here, because this  blog post would turn into a book) I can say that, yes, I certainly got the impression that LeFou is a member of the LGBT+ community, but at no point did he use the all important sentence: I’m gay (or however else he might choose to identify himself). This is a real shame considering the director of the remake, Bill Condon, is an openly gay man himself. If LeFou being gay was the director’s intention then why not just come out and say it? Would including a piece of dialogue like that take too much attention away from the main storyline?

Well, it shouldn’t. We need to start getting to a point where it’s not a shock for someone to reveal they aren’t heterosexual, if they’re comfortable enough to discuss their sexuality. If attention can be taken away from the main storyline by something like that then that’s the fault of the creators and of the audience, because people talking openly and safely about their sexuality in the media, whatever their sexuality is, isn’t going to seem normal until we make it normal, and we need more creators who are willing to take that risk – especially with media that is largely consumed by children. What better way to make children realise, from a young age, that people are deserving of respect regardless of who they choose to take to bed (or choose not to, in some cases).

So, should Disney be praised for their decision to make LeFou an LGBT+ character?

Honestly, I don’t think so. We don’t really know for certain that he is gay because he never tells us that he is. Sure, at the end of the movie there’s about two seconds of screen time when we see him dancing with another man and we’re led to believe his adoration of Gaston is more along the lines of wanting to be with him than like him, but this feels a little like the Dumbledore fiasco all over again. When Rowling revealed Dumbledore was gay there was an outcry from the LGBT+ community because it wasn’t blatantly said outright. At the time I wasn’t sure what people were expecting – was Dumbledore’s sexuality really revelant to Harry’s story? – but I don’t think we can ignore so many voices, from the very community Dumbledore is supposed to be a part of, telling us they weren’t satisfied with the years of only hinting at non-heterosexuality.

Whenever we watch a film or read a book, we’re programmed to automatically assume that everyone is heterosexual, and that’s why it’s important for creators to just come out and say when someone is gay or bisexual or pansexual or demisexual or asexual – sexuality is fluid and all members of every sexuality deserve to see themselves reflected in the stories they immerse themselves in. That’s why it was so important for LeFou to come out and say: ‘I’m gay.’

I can already hear people’s counter-arguments: ‘The story’s set in 18th century France, LeFou would have been executed for sodomy if he’d come out as gay’. Hm. Yeah, but I don’t remember many stories of 18th century French villages having their own royal families who they’ve forgotten about because an enchantress has turned their prince into a beast. It’s a bit like saying the sexual violence in Game of Thrones is historically accurate even though Westeros is entirely fictional and its own rules could apply. There are dragons in Game of Thrones, too, but no one argues that they’re historically inaccurate. This is exactly the same for our nameless French village; there’s no reason why this one village, with its own royal family they clearly decided not to send to the guillotine, couldn’t be a far more liberal place than the rest of the country.

Also, LeFou doesn’t necessarily have to come out to the people who could potentially cause him harm. Belle is portrayed as forward-thinking and you can guarantee the Beast knew someone in his circle of aristocratic friends who wasn’t straight, what’s important is that LeFou comes out to people who accept him in front of the audience. What’s important is that children see him not being used as comic relief, but as someone who questions the constraints of traditional masculinity and is rewarded for it.

On the one hand, I want to praise Disney for taking another step closer to one day having openly non-heterosexual protagonists, to encourage them to take further steps like this one, but on the other I find it difficult to praise a movie for having Disney’s first ‘openly gay character’ when we don’t know for certain that he is gay, and it’s certainly not openly if he is, and when we remember that Disney was founded in 1923. This is far too long a wait for representation that has come in the form of a side character who still isn’t really given the kind of voice that the LGBT+ community deserves.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Top Ten Tuesday | Bookish Turn-Offs

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week you compile a list of ten books which coincide with that week's theme. You can find everything you need to know about joining in here!

This week's theme is all about the things that make us NOT want to read a book. I did struggle with this theme a bit at first, but the more I thought about it the more I remembered just how many bookish tropes get on my nerves. So, without further ado, here are my top ten eight!

A city girl starts a new life in the country... This has been done to death in contemporary - looking at you, Jenny Colgan - and while some stories can be charming, the more I see it the more it bugs me. I'm a country girl myself, I've always lived in the countryside and I love the countryside, and there's something a tad patronising about the way the country is often portrayed as this quaint, idyllic, backward place with no wifi. The countryside is just as varied as the big cities, and it'd be nice to see this reflected more in fiction.

It's hard being a white, middle-aged, middle class, able-bodied, cisgendered man, I think I'll have an affair... NOPE. Sorry fellas, but I don't care about your problems that aren't really problems. By all means give me a protagonist who fits all the afore-mentioned criteria but who is also a unique and real voice, but don't give me a man chasing a manic pixie dream girl.

Dude, where's the blurb..? I hate it when I want to know what a book is about, but all I get is a blurb so vague it might as well not be there or nothing at all. Some people like no blurb, and that's fine, but personally I want to have an idea of what a book's about before I give it my time.

Waaay too much blurb... On the other end of the scale, I'm immediately put off by a blurb that starts to feel like I'm reading an essay. I want to know what the book's about, I don't want to know the plot twist or the protagonist's love interest's grandmother's budgie's maiden name.

The Dead Girl Test... I've mentioned this before. The Dead Girl Test is a test I give every crime/thriller novel I pick up which involves the murder of women. If, at any point, the detective sees the corpse of a murdered woman and describes her as beautiful, I'm outta here. Why? Firstly, I hate the way that it implies that her death would be any less tragic if she were ugly. Secondly, I think corpses are too grim to be thought of as beautiful, especially if a person's been murdered and their body has just been found.

Three's a Crowd... Love triangles are done badly 99.9% of the time. I have no interest in them, especially after living through the dark years of YA brimming with the damn things.

Strike a Pose... This is purely personal taste, but I'm very, very rarely drawn to books that have the photograph of a person on the front. I like to imagine the characters for myself and I'm a big lover of simple, eye-catching, typographic covers.

Not Like Other Girls... In historical fiction in particular, I'm really bored of reading about heroines who are ahead of their time and are somehow better than the other women they know because they want to do something other than get married and have children. Can we stop the girl hate please?

What turns you off a book?

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Top Ten Tuesday | Unique, just like everyone else

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week you compile a list of ten books which coincide with that week's theme. You can find everything you need to know about joining in here!

This week's theme is 'Top Ten Of The Most Unique Books I've Read', which is a topic with a whole lot o' scope. How do we judge what's unique when every single one of us reads different books and even reads the same books in a different way? But there's no need for me to get all philosophical.

Here are ten of the most unique books I've read, all for different reasons, and if you haven't read them yourself I recommend them! Or at least most of them...

Holes by Louis Sachar: I was lucky enough to read Holes in school, and when I was first told I was going to read it I wasn't impressed. It's essentially described as a story about boys digging holes but it turned out to be so much more than that and I have such fond memories of it now.

Blood Red Road by Moira Young: This one was a unique read for me because of the way it's written. Usually I find it hard to get into books written in dialect, but this book pulled me through it and I ended up loving it. I still haven't read the sequels because it turns out I'm rubbish at reading series, but I do still love this one.

Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: As always, I refuse to miss a chance to mention this book. I love witches and I love stories about witchcraft, but there are a lot of samey ones out there. Signal to Noise, however, is such a fresh witchcraft story; it's set in Mexico in the 1980s, where fifteen year old Meche learns to cast spells with her vinyl records. It's so good and you need to read it immediately.

The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig: I don't read many time travel books, but I think the way time travel happens in Heilig's debut is such an exciting, new way. The characters in The Girl From Everywhere don't find secret portals or build time machines, instead there are certain people who can sail to places on a map - but there's a catch, if they find a map to 17th century France then they'll travel to 17th century France. It's just so cool, and a really fun novel, too!

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli: My favourite book of 2017 so far, it's still gives me the warm fuzzies just thinking about it. The protagonist, Molly, is overweight, but something about this book is truly miraculous: the story isn't about Molly wanting or trying to lose weight. I know, it's astounding, isn't it? Read this if you haven't already, it'll make you feel better about the world.

Wise Children by Angela Carter: Sadly I'm not the biggest Carter fan, aside from The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, because her work is just a little too weird for my tastes - Wise Children is no exception. I had to read this during sixth form and it's just bizarre. I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't read it yet, but any book that ends with a seventy-five woman sleeping with a one hundred year old man who she knows is either her uncle or her father is definitely unique in my book. And bloody weird.

Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix: Sadly, this story about a haunted store rather than a haunted house turned out not to be as different as I was hoping, but the way it's been published is definitely unique. Horrorstör has been published to look and feel like a department store catalogue and I love it for that alone.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin: Probably the most unique high fantasy book I've read, which doesn't really say much because I haven't read much high fantasy since I was a teenager and have only started getting back into it in the past year. The way this book is written is unique, the characters are unique, the relationships are unique, the ways magic and science intersect are unique. It's a brilliant book and you should read it.

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson: I've yet to come across any other books in which the narrator is a nameless pornographer recovering from severe burns. That's pretty unique to me!

The Meat Tree by Gwyneth Lewis: This is a retelling of one of the stories in The Mabinogion. Now The Mabinogion is already weird in and of itself, and this sci-fi retelling took it to a whole other level that, to be honest, I didn't really enjoy. I haven't read anything else like it, though!

Which books made your list this week?

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Top Ten Tuesday | Tonight, Matthew, I'm going to be...

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week you compile a list of ten books which coincide with that week's theme. You can find everything you need to know about joining in here!

This week's theme is a fandom freebie, so I'm going to talk about some of the characters I'd love to cosplay as. I love a good Comic Con, though I've never been able to go to the biggest one in the UK which is, of course, in London, but I haven't cosplayed since my teens. These are the characters I'd love to be for the day if I ever have the confidence to cosplay again!

(Sorry, I think only people who can remember Stars in Their Eyes will get the reference in my title...)

Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas: This is one of my favourite films from my childhood and every Halloween I try to dress up as Sally before I go out for cocktails, but unless I want to try making her dress myself (which would be a terrible idea) her outfit is either too expensive or the cheap ones aren't made of very nice (or flattering) material. One day!

Katrina Van Tassel from Sleepy Hollow: Another much-loved film of mine, and to be honest the main reason I'd love to cosplay as Katrina is down to the dress she wears right at the end of the film - I call it her Beetlejuice dress.

Belle from Beauty and the Beast: My favourite film of all time, I love it so much. I actually had a fancy dress party for my 18th and dressed up as Belle in her ball dress, but I'd love to cosplay her in her blue dress; she looks most like herself in that dress.

Violet from Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Various Artists: This is probably my favourite graphic novel series and I just adore Violet, plus I think one of my friends would be a fantastic Hannah - I'll have to try and convince her to cosplay with me.

Alexia Tarabotti from the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger: I've only read Soulless (reviewed here) so far, but I still think Alexia is such a fun character and I could have a lot of fun putting together a 19th century outfit.

Evy Carnahan from The Mummy: If Beauty and the Beast is my favourite film, The Mummy is a very close second and most of that is down to Evy. As you can see, I have a thing for nerds and bookworms in films - I think The Mummy is the first time I saw a person a bit like me in an action movie, and that was quite a big deal.

Clarice Starling from The Silence of the Lambs: Another cinematic heroine of mine, though I enjoyed the book, too. I like Clarice because she's not perfect; so many women in thrillers are unrealistic because filmmakers feel the need to make a woman flawless to make her likeable, but they didn't do that to Clarice. She's still learning and she can make mistakes, but that doesn't take anything away from her successes.

Éowyn from The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien: This lady is the mother of the Warrior Princess trope, and she's fantastic. She's one of my favourite characters from The Lord of the Rings and I'd love to swish around in one of her dresses while also feeling bad-ass.

Alice from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll: This is another one of my favourite classic stories, and I think so much fun could be had with an Alice cosplay; you can be as innocent, as mad or as dark as you like, that's why the story's constantly being retold.

Rowena Ravenclaw from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling: All I'd need is a medieval blue dress and the Ravenclaw diadem and I'd be set! I'm still waiting for Rowling to write me a book about the Founders to be honest...

What did you talk about this week?