April Roundup – Hop-hop-hop.

Right. April has been plenty exciting – both on the personal, publishing and reading front. Don’t want to spoil or jinx anything on the personal and work front so will stick to reading and travelling this month. I rarely write up written reviews, which is a pity, because I often have a lot to say about the books I am reading while I read them.

I recently got back into “reading” more audiobooks. There is a lot of dishwashing, and general chores, including commuting that can be filled with interesting listening. I also discovered NetGalley – an awesome resource full of ARC’s and review copies for a geek like me. A book for a review swap? No problem. *cheesy grin* Whatever gets me writing properly about the books I read.

Hamster’s Den

April’s book haul:

  • the 4 Edinburgh Review Journals were bought on sale at Word Power Books (£1 per issue !!!) which has recently been brought under new management and will open it’s doors (officially) on May 9th, it’s looking fabulous @WordPowerBooks
  • O’Connor, Nin and Dasgupta are all short-story collections – finds from Barnardo’s Bookshop where I used to volunteer; it was an emotional reunion, the space has been seriously upgraded (I still don’t understand how they made so much space on the shop floor) and is now under new management. Funnily enough, my ‘bag of books’ is still stuck tight in the corner.
  • The Vorrh, which I have been wanting and meaning to read for ages, is finally in my possession. It was purchased at Alnwick’s own Barter Books – EU’s biggest 2nd hand book store, apparently. I was swept away by this store. I legit had to sit down for awhile to take it all in. Impressionable as I am, it took me awhile to not feel overwhelmed navigating the awesomeness that is that enormous bookstore. I may have been somewhat affected by the sun, we spent at least three hours beforehand roaming and exploring the castle (the original destination of our technically first Honeymoon trip).17917517_1903572169920418_4087581163560819907_o.jpg

eBooks

I find it quite funny that, as someone who wrote a master’s dissertation and painstakingly researched the topic of eBooks and digital spaces – I still read most of my books on paper; the hoarding, anachronistic hamster that I am. Another reason for this is that I have quite an old, pre-Kindle, ebook reader which I rarely use due to cue piles and piles of physical books. However, I now have a smartphone with a large enough screen to enable me to read from it without much fuss, a library account and the OverDrive app. So, from now on I am striving to read more from my device. The majority of these titles will be new releases. Also good news for me trying to keep up to date with publishers.

There are a few titles awaiting to be read and reviewed from NetGalley at the moment:

  • Blood Stained Tea by Amy Tasukada
  • Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera
  • Being a Witch and Other Things I didn’t Ask For by Sara Pascoe
  • The Whitby Witches by Robin Jarvis
  • Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny
  • The Jungle by Pooja Puri
  • Beyond Trans by Heath Fogg Davis

This month I’ve listened to:

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Story: 3.5/5 Narration: 5/5

– not my usual cup of tea but was intrigued by the Pulitzer Prize win for Fiction. I am a firm believer that reading outside of one’s own interests is necessary and quite healthy for the mind and imagination. This book is about a preacher living out his last days in a in-the-middle-of-nowhere part of USA, the novel takes shape as a long narrative letter to his young son about himself, how he came to be (both he and his son) and about his family’s and town’s history. It is generous, truly compassionate, questioning, very human and filled with doubt and, at the same time, a strong sense of love and hope for the world and for God. Something which, as someone who did not grow up with fait,h I can never understand. But I do enjoy reading stories that approach the subject in a non-judgemental manner. If anything, this book about a preacher is very non-preachy. I also loved the voice of the narrator – I believe this can add and take away a lot from an audiobook. Well done Picador.

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli
Story: 4/5 Narration: 3/5

I am a sucker for learning more about physics and the Universe. This was a great, albeit rather brief, series of lectures. Lots of things to reference back to and research in my own time. I’d actually like to read a paper copy of this work some time. The only down side for me was the narration. Although the narrator was candid, enthusiastic and in love with his subject – you could easily tell he wasn’t ready for the task of reading out his entire oeuvre over three hours. He got tired (or overly excited), and because of this some words and sentence structures were jumbled and pronounced in an unfamiliar way (all were eventually deciphered) but alongside the complex nature of the subject this took away from my being able to understand everything he read, which is a pity.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka 
Story: 4/5 Narration: 3/5

I have been longing to read this story for a long time, just as well that I listened instead. As I understand many of my English Literature 6th form colleagues had the chance to read this. I am glad I got to it just now. What a peculiar story. Not sure I am buzzing to get to read the words on paper just yet, even though I do have a copy of Kafka’s stories. Funnily enough I don’t have much to say, the story is still fresh in my mind, peculiar and absurd (in the best possible interpretation of these words).

When I was done, my main preoccupation was the burning question: “But WHY?!” Why did he turn into a cockroach, why?! Good thing I didn’t study English Lit., at Undergraduate level.

The Witches by Roald Dahl
Story: 5/5 Narration: 5/5

Delightful. And properly spooky too. Some things in this book would definitely have gone over my head when I was a child.

Firewall by Henning Mankell
Story: 3/5 Narration: 3/5

A good distraction of a book. I wanted to know what all that Scandi noir hype was about. Still not fully convinced but getting there. Kurt Wallander is an interesting character (very atypical for my repertoire) – it felt like sitting through a story told by your grumpy, bad tempered but still rather cool and intelligent uncle that rarely comes to visit (once a year if you’re lucky).

Selected Stories Vol.1 by Philip K. Dick
Story: 4/5 Narration: 3/5

A bit on the fence with this collection. I was not a huge fan of the changing narrators. Some did well, others less so.

I wanted more Philip Dick in my life because, back in my UG days, I really enjoyed Do Androids dream of electric sheep? And although I still revel in some of the premises and concepts behind his stories, this outburst on my Facebook page pretty much sums up my attitude towards his work:

I’m sure there is a saying for this, something along the lines of “as you name a ship so it shall sail”.
Although Philip K. Dick has some savvy stories he really can be a Dick sometimes.
Some notable examples include evil First Ladies that control the world and create dude’s Oedipal complexes, token female characters, cardboard cut out female characters, “look, there’s that one single negro” moments.

 

All of the stories in this collection have outstanding philosophical and futuristic ideas behind them, these left me more awed than others:
Progeny
The Exit Door Leads In
The Last of the Masters
The Preserving Machine 
The Electric Ant

This month I’ve read: 

Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay – 4/5

This month I finished off Kay’s autobiography. Thinking back I believe this is my first, fully finished biography and I am struggling to comment on it. There is no doubt I enjoyed it. But how does one comment on someone else’s interpretation and record of their life’s experience? It is a very candid, open-hearted account of meeting one’s biological parents. Of reconciling one’s biological heritage and cultural heritage (how do you separate these when, growing up, you stand out so plainly from your peers). About the true meaning of family and love. And, above all, about the capacity of another human being’s heart for love and compassion. Jackie’s is a gem – she approaches he life’s story with humour and heart, even at the tragic and clearly painful moment. You can’t help but love her.

(IP) Human Acts by Han Kang – 5/5 

The Vegetarian, the author’s first book translated into English by Deborah Smith, really struck me hard. The prose, as always, is well paced and carefully thought through. Not simplified, it retains and supports the sophistication of it’s subject. I’d like to imagine that it honours the native Korean (I wouldn’t know, I don’t speak the language).

I’m currently only 1/4 of the way through. And despite the ‘easy’ prose, I’m finding the subject matter so harrowing that making it through a page is a struggle. The intensity of human suffering, the carnage of it, the physicality of it all is soul shattering. Now, I am not one to cringe away from body-horror or gore; this is a whole new deal. The visceral minutae with which the author/translator describe the way the bodies decompose, the casualness with which people are murdered etc. is all too much – the immersion power of the text and narrative together with the injustice of it all makes me recoil.

With every page I feel like I am developing as and, at the same time, distancing myself from humanbeing .

I can’t recommend this book enough. But be warned that this is no light reading. Hats off to whomever can power through it in one long read. [to be continued in May] 

[eBook | Netgalley] Flesh of the Peach by Helen McClory – 4/5
The review.

[eBook | Netgalley] Blood Stained Tea by Amy Tasukada – 2/5

I was intrigued by the title, premise and cover. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t to my liking. I really wanted to like it but found myself guessing the characters’ next steps with ease. The violence of the book seemed gratuitous, the characters’ inner apparatus opaque – despite the introspective narrative one doesn’t really get a good grasp of their motivations. And the Japanese setting, which I was so looking forward to – fell short, it doesn’t really feel truly lived in. I’ve read and seen my fair share of Japanese literature and film. This work, I could tell as I progressed, was heavily inspired by anime and manga. And although I appreciated the nod of acknowledgement to the issue of Japanese racism towards Korean immigrants, it just didn’t pull through in depth. The book passed my 3 chapter test – so there is definitely skill there (despite my critique) but it did not pass the 1/4 test. I let it go at 27%. Not a book for me, but I am sure others, not as embroiled in Japanese culture, will enjoy it.

CURRENTLY READING | RTF

[eBook | Netgalley] Juliet Takes a Breath by Gaby Rivera | 5/5
We, the Children of Cats by Tomoyuki Hoshino | 4/5
The Good Immigrant collected essays ed. by Nikesh Shukla | 5/5
[Audiobook] The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Flesh of the Peach: A dense and intricate dessert by Helen McClory

I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This review is spoiler free.

Flesh of the Peach by Helen McClory

@HelenMcClory | Author’s Blog

Published by Freight Books, Glasgow

9781911332251
RD: 20th April 2017

I first discovered McClory’s writing through her debut collection of flash fiction, On the Edges of Vision – which won Saltire’s Debut Award. A prize well-deserved.

This, on the other hand, is the author’s first novel. I approached it rather tentatively. McClory’s writing is dense, detailed and evocative – a natural fit for short stories, snapshots and poetry. I wasn’t sure if I could handle such intensity in a novel-sized narrative. But I gave it a try.

To be frank, even after having awarded the book 4/5 on Goodreads (it’s more of a 3.5/5 for me), I still have mixed feelings about it. Most of these feelings are positive.

The prose is dense and poetic, it conjures up a myriad of feelings and landscapes (both physical and mental), that at times you really want to swat away in order to get to the meat of the plot and character. The barrage of language and imagery is so intense, in fact, that it took me a month to read. There are no fly-away sentences. Every. Single. One. Is. Packed. To. Maximum. Capacity. This is definitely not a ‘light’ book, not a so called ‘beach read’ (whatever that means). Whilst the language and imagery are the strongest aspects of this novel – they are also, often, it’s shortcoming. The language sometimes desensitizes the reader from the leading characters and from the plot, to a point where it becomes difficult to understand not only Sarah (the main character) but the story as a whole.

To draw a comparison: Flesh of the Peach is like an indulgent, rich and complex dessert – a dark chocolate melt in the middle with a ganache center spiced with smoke. You can only eat so much before the taste overwhelms you to the point of becoming bland in its intensity. It is a work to be chipped away, bit by bit, made to be savoured – each and every chapter, paragraph, sentence, phrase, word, syllable…not to be hoovered down in one go.

The characters in this novel are earthy (at times they ground together like sand on your back teeth), the sketches we see of them through Sarah’s eyes are brief but full of texture – there is no single flat surface in this book. Everything and everyone is brimming with detail, colour, depth. Nobody is likeable but you will find yourself slowly but surely relating to their imperfections, they are broken (in familiar ways) and human – just as we all are. “Hell is other people” – the name of a contemporary horror film, but also a fitting description of Sarah’s world. I would go as far as to change that to: “Hell is me, you, us.” Sarah is complex, I was often perplexed by her behaviour (even though, looking back, I feel like we have finally found an understanding). I kept dipping in and out, often losing my connection with her character. She did make a comeback (for me, personally) at the very end, where she felt more lucid and grounded (and so did the prose) because, it seems to me, she connected with her body (and the present tense) – almost like she decided to finally occupy it, for real. Unlike the beginning of the novel, where much of our time was spent in her memories and reminiscences. It felt claustrophobic. Sarah is no simpleton. There is no solution for her kind of trouble and there doesn’t need to be.

I will need to return to this book a second time to understand Sarah’s character better. It will be easier then, since I will not have to deal with the initial shock that the prose had caused me. As I read I kept pulling the novel apart for quotes, at times bookmarking entire chapters. Chipping away – bit by bit.

Good to know that, before making my mind up, I will have to re-read Flesh of the Peach again. The wait for McClory’s next book will be that much less painful when I have a re-read to look forward to!

 

A wee life update.

2016

A lot has happened in the last year.

A dissertation on Digital Spaces and Translated Fiction was written.

A graduation. I am now a proud bearer of an MSc in Publishing from the Edinburgh Napier University.

An engagement.

Moving houses. Moving towns.

First Christmas and New Year away from family.

2017

IMG_2623
Just look at that diffused sunshine…

Then I went and got married to my incredible partner on the most cheesiest, corniest day of the year – 14th of February. We will struggle to book a table at a nice place to celebrate our anniversary but we will always remember the date!

Then I went and launched a publishing press – Knight Errant Press. We are currently busy putting together our first project: F, M or Other: Quarrels with the Gender Binary. I even managed to rope in a talented Editor and a fellow ENU colleague (Rhiannon Tate) to join my wee team. All in all it is going quite well. There is a lot of learning-on-the-go but, so far,  I am enjoying it. Watch this space, or even better – the Press’ website, for more news and updates.

 


I’ve set myself a more realistic reading target this year – 36 books. I’ve read 5 so far, these:

collage

I’m an avid library user and most of my reviews are on Goodreads.

Currently juggling: 

Jackie Kay’s Red Dust Road

J.M Coetzee The Lives of Animals 

Helen McClory’s Flesh of the Peach [eBook received via Netgalley, due for a review in this blog once I am done with it!]

 

2016 YA

 

Here goes my list of  YA titles to be read this year. I will try to make reviews spoiler free, but don’t read them if you plan to read the book (!), I can’t promise safety. All opinions expressed are my own. These are personal reflections, sometimes they are harsh but mostly critical – nothing more.

I’ve never done this before. I am likely to ramble as I work my way through.

TBR: Cinder by Marissa Meyer (The Lunar Chronicles #1);Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas (Throne of Glass #1); The Fault in our Stars by John Green; Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard (Red Queen #1); Carry On by Rainbow Rowell; Made You Up by Francesca Zappia; Mosquitoland by David Arnold; All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven; Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli; Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon; Hollow Pike by Juno Dawson

progress Read

  1. Half Bad by Sally Green (01/02-10/02)

    18079804
    Cover Design by Tim Green, Faceout Studio

Half Bad was published in 2014 by Puffin Books and is Sally Green’s debut work. On March 2014 it set a world record for being the most translated debut book by a first time author pre publication – 45 different translations were made.

Half Bad is set in modern-day Europe, where witches and humans (fains) live side by side. There are the Black Witches and there are the White Witches. The young protagonist, Nathan, is half White and half Black. His mother is dead, and his father is the most powerful and the most feared Black Witch in the world. We follow Nathan as he grows up and is eventually trapped, tortured and abused by the Council of White Witches. Nathan has to escape before his seventeenth birthday, when he should receive three gifts and his magical ability. There are rumours that if a Black Witch does not receive their gifts they will quickly waste away.

First things first: the book cover is beautiful. Simple and smart.

Initially I was attracted to the idea of someone growing up in a completely hostile environment, where everything works against him – including his heritage. The mention of witches definitely tipped the scale, but I believe sharing a name with the main character had a lot to do with it…

The thing that surprised me about Half Bad was the ‘experimental’ writing style. The narrative shifts from second to first person and the text is physically altered to reflect the timing of the narration – this works well at the beginning, but the exoticism tapers off quickly and the language transforms from ‘blunt’ to overly simple. There are a number of occasions when this works well alongside Nathan’s unreliable narration. The boy hasn’t had much of an education in the traditional sense, he loathes reading and can barely write (I suspect dyslexia) – he is observant and action focused – not the verbose type. This simple, single minded point of view can also explain the lack of depth in other characters.

When it came to action scenes the writing felt weak, a flourish of details and non-sequential movements that often left me puzzled as to what exactly happened. Towards the end, where the action gets tough, there were a number of decisions and situations that defied common sense and logic… The “massive cliffhanger” that ends this book, the first installation of a trilogy, felt rather soggy and cliche and left me neither hot nor cold. To be fair the malaise that was growing in me from page 50 would have been very difficult to displace.

The Black vs White dichotomy is trodden thin with wear, but to Green’s credit she tries her best to show us that goodness and good actions have nothing to do with being on the ‘right’ side (or being a White witch). In fact, the opposite is true – subservience, thoughtless obedience to a cause, achieving a  goal “no matter the costs”, separating the world into us and them – are the causes of worldly evil and what the White witch council is all about. The Black witches, bound by their genetics, are always a bit off and are the ones being persecuted. This book definitely had the whiff of ethnic and religious persecution about it, as well as giving coverage to the nature vs nurture debate.

“This grim and thrilling tale, first in a planned trilogy, features understated prose that lets readers’ imaginations fill in the blanks, as well as a well-developed sense of Witch culture. Nathan, the damaged survivor of horrific abuse, is an unforgettable protagonist, and Green expertly captures his torment at being caught between the mutually hostile sides of his heritage.”Publishers Weekly

On the one hand the narrow, polar point of view which slowly changes as Nathan evolves and begins to see “different shades of grey”, the lack of depth and empathy  – fit snugly into the adolescent psyche and can easily draw in a young reader. I felt myself struggle against this pull as I tried to glimpse more of the other characters, as I judged Nathan’s rash actions and unmediated responses –  this critical eye is what prevented me from being ‘ensnared’ by the fast paced narration, what made me pause and notice the potholes or the times when the story was running out of steam.

Feeling ostracised from your family and community, feeling lost, hating school, the us vs them mentality, the desire to belong to a group, standing out (reluctantly)  from your peers, to have scars (both physical and mental) – a young person (or anyone, really) experiences some of them, sooner or later. Nathan, however, experiences them all. If we strip away the magic, what remains is unspeakable child abuse. This brings me to another aspect of Half Bad – the violence and cruelty. I admit to enjoying some muck and gore here and there, but Half Bad is filled with emotional and psychological torture that tugged at my comfort zone and made me profoundly uncomfortable. My younger self would have surely been mortified. Which is appropriate, considering the context. One too many TV series and movies revel in gratuitous violence and torture, portraying toxic relationship as desirable – often numbing the audience to both fictional and real life danger. Half Bad makes a point of highlighting true horror, that is: the silence and isolation that surrounds everyday injustices that go by unnoticed everyday. A chilling reminder that there is no one to hear you scream. 

I admit that I am spoiled when it comes to reading. Half Bad was a compulsive but difficult read, at the end I had to force my way through and was glad to be done. The subject matter and the protagonist are complex and deserve attention; but the story, narrative structure and language felt underdeveloped. I am not certain how purposeful the “understated prose that lets the reader’s minds fill in the blanks” really is – it could be that the reviewer, like myself, was simply filling in the hollows. Overall I feel that Half Bad has promise, but it is not complete.


	

Review: Grief is the thing with Feathers by Max Porter

Grief. Obsession. Time.

 25334576

A book of madness, of talking symbols and imaginary animals.

One of the more peculiar reads in my TBR pile which I finished this evening.

I picked it up on a book tube recommendation and am very grateful that I did so. It’s very difficult to describe.

A polyphony of voices that interlope swinging back, forwards, sideways, all ways – it reads like being stuck in a flurry of black feathers and suddenly finding yourself in a dream much alike Agent Cooper’s Red Room. You are an outsider, patiently observing a very personal crisis. You can see inside other’s minds and hearts but you have no control of where you’re going; you ache, who is Ted Hughes?. you chuckle, you feel your heart sink and your face grimace. It’s a play, it’s a poem, it’s lore all shaken – not stirred – into 114 pages. Also, the cover designer is Emily CROW.

 

Jupiter Ascending Review

I’m aware I’m kind of behind on this review, what with it coming out in February. But I’ve only just got the chance to rewatch the beauty that is Jupiter Ascending, and confirm that yes, all my initial impressions were right.

What is there to be said about Jupiter Ascending? It’s not a movie; it is An Experience. I daresay in the future it will become a religion. It’s Flash Gordon but somehow sillier; it’s The Great Gatsby drunk in space in the eighties as imagined by the sixties as imagined by Michael Bay; it’s every novel I tried to write when I was fourteen transposed verbatim to the screen.

Mila Kunis is sinfully pretty as toilet cleaner Jupiter Jones. We are treated to a fifteen-minute opening sequence showing her parents meeting, her father dying, her being born etc., which is good because I wouldn’t have understood the rest of the movie if this hadn’t been included. She hates her life and is exhausted by her huge Russian family, but her dream is to buy a $2,000 telescope from eBay. Having no money, she goes to sell her eggs for cash; unfortunately the clinic is staffed by aliens who try to kidnap her. But then Channing Tatum, as a wolf-hybrid albino spaceman, shows up in his hover boots and takes her to Sean Bean, who is a were-bee. Turns out bees can smell princesses, and Jupiter is really a space princess who owns the earth.

There is too much plot to fit into a short review, but rest assured that is but the tip of the iceberg. The highlight of the film is undoubtedly Eddie Redmayne as Balem Abrasax, the villain of the piece. He’s… well, where do you start? He’s an angular Cumberbatchian creature, wrapped in an Oedipal complex wrapped in a glittery cape. He not only has no indoor voice; he has no “within the same mile radius of me” voice. Actually that’s not quite true; his voice has two modes. “Brian Blessed at a foghorn convention”, and “Giles Brandreth the day after the foghorn convention, trying to recover his strained voice as he tells a mouse a bedtime story.” I love Abrasax. I could write entire theses on him. I’m going to name my firstborn after him. Redmayne invokes what I like to call “ the reverse-Oscar-retraction effect.” To demonstrate: after seeing House at the End of the Street, I grouchily demanded Jennifer Lawrence’s Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook be returned. Same with everyone involved with Seventh Son. After seeing Jupiter Ascending, I demand Redmayne be presented with as many Oscars as his pale, bony hands can carry. Reward the boy. He may save us yet.

There is sincere credit due; the Wachowskis have created a stunningly gorgeous world of Art Deco spaceships, human-animal hybrids and glittery blue life-sustaining liquids. Even if I had not been entertained by the film I would grudgingly admit it was beautifully rendered. Design buffs will have a great time with the sets, costumes and makeup, and a few knowing nods to other sci-fi greats. After a ten-minute sequence that seems to be an homage to the bureaucratic gymnastics of Brazil, Terry Fucking Gilliam himself shows up in a cameo as the Seal and Signet minister because of course he fucking does. (Incidentally, I just tried to imagine Jupiter Ascending as directed by Terry Gilliam, and it may well be the only narrative in history that would be made less crazy by Gilliam’s directorial input)

Is it a good movie? “No” is the short answer. Did I like it? It’s going to be near the top of my “favourite movies of 2k15” list. And by Jupiter, did I have a good time. In a fantasy/sci-fi market saturated by anaemic Hunger Games rip-offs, Jupiter Ascending was a breath of fresh (glittery, camp and very silly) air. So gather some friends and have a home viewing. Make sure you’re sober; you’ll need to retain your full faculties to fully appreciate everything. And maybe have a group discussion afterwards. With slides. Doors are locked on the outside.