Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Review: Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

*Trigger Warning: This book explores themes of rape, violence and abuse*

'Milk and Honey' by Rupi Kaur was the poetry collection everyone on the internet was talking about towards the end of last year but, as is usually the case, I was pretty late to this party.

This collection was so popular online it brought poetry to the attention of so many people who might normally shy away from the genre and as a poetry fan, I have to recognise the significance of that. However, on the whole, I thought the praise 'Milk and Honey received was exaggerated to an extent. 

It's important to note, at this point that poetry, like all art forms, is completely subjective. What one person sees as mediocre at best another may consider to be life changing. With that in mind, I have to say Rupi Kaur's collection was just not my cup of tea. Don't get me wrong, her way with words is undeniable and several of her poems left me lost for words, such as:

“you tell me to quiet down cause
my opinions make me less beautiful
but i was not made with a fire in my belly
so i could be put out
i was not made with a lightness on my tongue
so i could be easy to swallow
i was made heavy
half blade and half silk
difficult to forget and not easy
for the mind to follow”

Many of her poems, to me, did not feel like poems at all. Rather they were merely simple sentences that had been separated by line breaks. Of course, poetry is subjective but that to me did not feel like poetry. Many poems have line breaks in the middle of a sentence or phrase but they are often used to bring deeper meaning to the poem whereas Rupi Kaur seemed to be using them at random points in her poems. Or maybe she did and I'm just not very good at poetry! One review I read described it as "Tumblr poetry" which I feel is very fitting, especially as Rupi Kaur garnered a lot of online attention for her poetry before the collection was published.

Despite being somewhat disappointed by this collection I have to commend Rupi Kaur. She self-published 'Milk and Honey' in 2014 and has since sold half a million copies worldwide. This collection brought poetry to the forefront of people's minds, people who may never have wanted to read poetry before now. She also explores themes which are often absent from poetry such as violence, abuse and the less glamorous side of femininity. These topics are very hard to find in poetry and people are often discouraged from talking about them so if this collection helps somebody who is struggling with these issues, that can only be a good thing.

Have you read 'Milk and Honey'? Let me know what you thought of it!

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

My Favourite Fictional Females

Happy International Women's day! To celebrate this day, I wanted to share with you some of my literary heroines. The world is always in need of some strong leading ladies, here are just a few of mine.

1. Hermione Granger, 'Harry Potter' series by J. K. Rowling

We can't talk about female characters without mentioning, the modern-day feminist icon that is Hermione Granger. She is smart, loyal, passionate and - most importantly, completely unapologetic in herself. There's so much I could say about why Hermione is a brilliant character, and I'm particularly interested in the popular reading of Hermione as a woman of colour. I'm actually going to write a separate post about why I love Hermione, I can't sum it all up in a couple of sentences. After all, she is the brightest witch of her age.

Lucy was one of the first female characters that I felt a real connection to. She has a quiet strength and self-confidence about her. The youngest and smallest of her family she could have been easily overlooked but she was the heroine of these books. Time and time again, Lucy's family doubted her, about the existence of Narnia in 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' and about her sighting of Aslan in 'Prince Caspian'. Lucy held her own throughout the books. Her faith in Aslan, Narnia and most importantly, herself never wavered. She may not be physically strong but she is a heroine none the less. Strength comes in many forms.

I've mentioned 'Sofia Khan is Not Obliged' on this blog before. Muslim women are incredibly under-represented in literature so it was refreshing to read a realistic depiction of Muslim life in the 21st century. Sofia is hilarious, brutally honest and not afraid to stand up for herself (see: London Underground scene). It was also nice to read a book with a female character who did not have to change a single aspect of herself in order to find love. In fact, that was a very important element of the story, throughout the novel, Sofia remained fiercely determined to find a relationship on her own terms.

Hear me out! Believe me, I KNOW Shakespeare's reputation falters when it comes to his writing of female characters but personally, I think Hermia is his best-written woman please correct me if you think I'm wrong). She openly defies her parents, yes, she runs away with a man but in those times, that would have been scandalous. She is summed up perfectly with the quote, "Though she be but little, she is fierce." Ever since I first saw the play performed live (at The Globe Theatre no less), I've made that line my life's mantra. 

Who else would I wrap up this list with other than the Girl on Fire herself? She is fierce and strong yet kind and gentle in her own way. Katniss Everdeen is an all round badass. She risks her life to protect her younger sister and makes it her duty to protect Rue during the games. Not to mention the fact that she leads the resistance against a dystopian government, what else could you want in a woman?

Who are your favourite fictional women? Let me know in the comments!
I hope you all had a good International Women's Day 2017 and remember... Who run the world? Girls!

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

February Wrap - Up

Despite being the shortest month, February always seems to drag on. I've only read a total of three and a half books this over the past twenty-eight days. I wish I could tell you it's because February is such a short month and I've been really busy but, truth be told, I've just not been reading all that much. Hopefully, March will be different!

1. The Manifesto on How to be Interesting by Holly Bourne

I've already written a review for this book so if you want to know what I thought, you can read that here.
Rating: 3/5

2. Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers

(This is the 'and a half' I mentioned earlier - I didn't finish this book) This was given to me a long time ago and I've only just got around to reading it. It was a very stereotypical self help book and didn't really give any practical advice for overcoming fear and anxiety.
Rating: 1.5/5

3. Selected Poems by e. e. cummings

I love poetry but never seem to read much of it. E. E. Cummings is fast becoming one of my favourite poets so I was really excited when I saw thise little collection whilst browsing through Waterstones. It's a lovely little collection, I reach for it if I'm ever feeling stressed and need to unwind.
Rating: 5/5 

4. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

 - 4/5 I must be one of the last people to hop on board this bandwagon but I really enjoyed this book. It was quietly gripping, in such a way that you don't realise you've been reading for almost an hour and have barely moved. There's nothing like a thriller to bring you out of a reading slump!

What was your favourite book that you read in February? Do you have any books you're excited to read in March? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Review: Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

"She was nobody here. It was not just that she had no friends and family; it was rather that she was a ghost in this room, in the streets on the way to work, on the shop floor. Nothing meant anything."

*WARNING: This review contains spoilers, read at your own risk*

Finding a character and story that seem to summarise exactly how you are feeling is one of the things that I love about reading. Meeting Elis Lacey in Colm Toibin's Brooklyn was like greeting an old friend. She is a young girl in a small Irish town, her whole life is planned, she will work, get married and have children. It's mundane but comfortable. When her sister, Rose, arranges for her to move to Brooklyn, Elis is thrown from her comfort zone and forced to make a whole new life for herself, on her own. As a self-confessed home bird preparing to move to university in a few months, Elis' story really resonated with me. 

What I appreciated most about this book was the lack of hyperbole and romanticisation of immigration. For Elis, it wasn't an exciting opportunity or the start of a new life. It was terrifying, strange and uncomfortable yet as the story progresses, hope begins to appear. She didn't find her perfect career but buried herself in her job and school work to distract herself from the almost debilitating homesickness. 
My only grievance with the plot was the way the love story was portrayed. Elis only seems to grow to love her life in Brooklyn once she meets Tony. When Elis returns to Ireland after her sister's death, Tony is reluctant to let her go because he's worried she won't come back so he persuades her to marry him. This made me uncomfortable as it felt like the marriage was a way for Tony to exert his control over Elis rather than a mutual act of love. 

With that being said, however, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Toibin's writing is gentle and soothing, he guides you on this journey that Elis embarks on and when reading, you feel safe in the knowledge that no matter how painful things may be, everything will be ok in the end. 

I recently watched the film adaptation of Brooklyn and have to say, I have mixed feelings. It captured the uncertain yet hopeful atmosphere of Elis' move to the U.S. However, in the film it appears as if Elis has made the decision to move to Brooklyn herself. Whilst it could be argued that this change makes Elis seem like a stronger and more independent character, I felt the fact that Rose made the decision on Elis' behalf was key to the narrative. This huge life change being out of the main character's control made everything feel more unfamiliar and scary and allowed Elis room to grow into the independent and strong willed woman she becomes.

Have you read Brooklyn? If you have, let me know what you thought of it in the comments!

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Review: The Manifesto on How to be Interesting by Holly Bourne

*Trigger Warning: This book deals with issues of mental health and self harm*

In my experience, YA books tend to be very hit or miss. Most, if not all, Young Adult books deal with some very difficult subject matter that, when done well, can change the conversations we have. However, I’ve often found that characters are very stereotypical, and some important issues are treated carelessly and can negatively affect the way we view those topics.

The Manifesto on How to be Interesting by Holly Bourne falls somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. It is the story of wealthy yet unpopular, Bree. A young, so far unsuccessful writer who sets up a blog detailing her attempts to be popular and the somewhat catastrophic side effects of her quest.
I was immediately surprised by how real Bree was. She was pretentious, unlikeable and repeatedly made bad decisions but she is also young, learning and trying her best to get through a difficult time in her life. Bourne never portrayed Bree as a perfect hero but a very typical, relatable teen girl. So often in Young Adult literature (and a lot of adult literature too), the protagonist is portrayed as a perfect one-dimensional character. Despite this very real portrayal of the main character, I can’t say the same for the other characters in the novel. As the story progresses, Bree becomes closer to a group of the most popular girls in her school. Whilst these characters were well rounded, I felt they were portrayed as very stereotypical high school girls. All the girls were obsessed with makeup and boys, not very clever and only cared about being popular. They felt more like stereotypical characters from 'Mean Girls' rather than the kind of people I recognised from my high school days. Perhaps, I had a very different school experience!

The issues this book deals with such as self-harm, teen depression and popularity are not new or revolutionary, they reoccur in almost every YA book I have read. However, Bourne’s approach to these issues, in particular, mental health was refreshing. At no point was Bree’s self-harm romanticised or portrayed to be strange quirk as is far too often the case in YA novels. Instead, Bourne showed the very damaging effect it can have, whilst managing to avoid falling into the trap of suggesting that the person battling these issues is a burden to their family and friends. Bourne also explores the pressures young girls face from their family, friends and themselves. Bree feels she has to create a facade in order to be accepted at her school, she has to be anyone but herself just so people will notice her. Whether we are able to admit it or not, everybody has a desire to be liked. By telling this story through the eyes of somebody who would like us to believe she doesn't care about popularity, Bourne has brilliantly executed her portrayal of that inner conflict that we have all had at some point in our lives.

Holly Bourne has recently been heralded as one of the best YA writers of the time. From reading this book, I can certainly see why such high praise has been awarded to her. Whilst there were some aspects of this books I was unsure of, I would recommend this book as an example of excellent YA. Everyone has felt the pressure to be popular at school, I just wish I had a book like this when I was at school to remind me there are far more important things in life than being popular.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Love is in the Air

Valentine’s day is less than a week away so it seems only right that I should recommend some of my favourite romantic reads. If, like me, you are not big fan of valentine’s day and plan to spend the day eating junk food and binge watching Friends, don’t worry, I’ve purposely chosen books which are not all about love. All of these books feature well-rounded characters with interesting lives and stories. Hopefully, there’s something for everyone!

I can hardly talk about love stories without mentioning Bridget Jones! This book is a modern classic and makes me laugh each time I read it or watch the film. As well as having all the makings of a brilliant rom com, this book is also very real, which is often not the case in fictional love stories. It was one of the first books I read with a very real, imperfect female character and that was something I really appreciated.

I mentioned this book in my January wrap up but it is the perfect addition to this list. Whilst the main plot of this novel is focused on attitudes to literature and stories, there are also a couple of very sweet love stories thrown in. If, like me, you are a fan of slow burning romances, you will love this book! My only criticism would be that although there is an LGBT couple, they do not get as much attention as the straight couples.

This is one of my favourite YA books. This book is predominantly about Cath, aspiring writer who has just moved to college and is trying to navigate the world on her own for the first time, with a lovely romance that blooms along the way. It’s a story about family, friendship, growing up and fanfiction. If you enjoyed this book, I’d also recommend ‘Carry On’ by Rainbow Rowell, which is the full-length story of the fanfiction Cath writes which we get snippets of throughout Fangirl.

This book has been described as ‘a Muslim Bridget Jones’. Whilst I agree with that comparison I would even go as far to say I liked it better than Bridget Jones! Before this book, I had never come across a book that featured a Muslim woman as it’s protagonist. Whilst the story of this book is largely centred around dating and relationships, it is also a story about religion, friendship and balancing all of these things with a successful career.

Do you have any recommendations for romantic books that aren’t just about romance?

Let me know in the comments if you’ve read any of these books and what you thought of them!

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

January Wrap-Up

My reading year has got off to a pretty good start. I read a total of four books this month. It may not seem like very many to some people but for me that's pretty good, although reading is about quality not quantity of course!

This book was a lovely way to kick off the reading year. A nice, relaxing story, perfect for those times you need to escape from the stresses of reality! It's about trying to leap outside of your comfort zone, a story that's perfect to start the year with. If you're a fan of Gilmore Girls, you'll enjoy this, the town this book is set in, Broken Whee,l reminds me of Stars Hollow! The story was a little slow at times but overall, a really enjoyable read.
Rating: 4/5

This book was a Christmas present from my Dad. It's part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series and is a retelling of The Winter's Tale. Besides a little background information and that infamous stage direction, I knew very little about the story. It was a really interesting concept to bring to a more modern, at times futuristic setting. I got a little lost at times but Jeanette Winterson writes in an almost lyrical way, I enjoyed the challenge!
Rating: 3/5

I have to be honest, I didn't read this book but listened to it on Audible instead (that still counts though, right?). Apart from being a little bit obsessed with Parks and Recreation, I wasn't really aware of what kind of person Amy Poehler was. I'd heard good things about this book and thought it would be something easy and light hearted to listen to whilst I was getting ready each morning. It ended up being my favourite book of the month! Amy is hilarious, that's not news to anyone, but what took me by surprise was the insight she gave into life, love and work. Her beautiful way with words took me completely by surprise and I loved hearing the words in her own voice (and the voices of her special guests!). To fully appreciate Amy's wisdom and comic brilliance, you should listen to the audiobook.
Rating: 5/5

Lorelai Gilmore is one of my favourite female characters, so when I was given this book for Christmas I couldn't wait to get my teeth into it! I sped through this book, it's witty and heartfelt and full of behind the scenes tales from the set of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood. Graham's writing style reminded me of Miranda Hart's, so if you enjoyed her autobiography, I'm sure you'll love this too!
Rating: 4/5

5. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
I don't want to say too much about this book because I'm planning to post a more in-depth review in a couple of weeks time. All I will say for now is that I thoroughly enjoyed this book!
Rating: 4/5

What have you been reading in January? Did you have a favourite book this month?

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Reading Resolutions

Halfway through January seems like a strange time to upload a resolutions post but better late than never I suppose! I’ve set these reading resolutions to help widen my reading experience and make it more enjoyable, reading is a joy rather than a chore.

Last year, I set myself a goal of reading 20 books. I ended up reading 25. I was so impressed with myself for reading so many books, especially since I’d started the year in a bit of a reading slump, but then I realised I couldn’t really remember any of the books I’d read. I’d been so focused on hitting that target that I hadn’t taken the time to reflect on the stories and books I was consuming. I was completely focused on a number rather than the experience, which is not what reading is about at all. With that in mind, I want to really appreciate every book I read. If that means taking more time over each one, so be it.

One of my goals for last year was to explore new and unfamiliar genres. In 2016, I started reading non-fiction books and I really enjoyed all of them, I particularly recommend Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. This year I’m going to try and read more biographies and memoirs as well as factual books. What I love about non-fiction books is the way you can dip in and out of them. I tend to keep a fiction book on the go at the same time for long journeys or when I need to switch off, but if I find myself with a spare five minutes, I love picking up a non-fiction book. This year, I’m looking forward to reading Girl Up by Laura Bates and Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. I’m always looking for more non-fiction books to add to my list so please leave any recommendations you have!

I really want to diversify my reading list this year both in terms of authors, characters and subject matter. For me, the whole point of reading is to open yourself to other people’s stories and experiences. With that in mind, I’m going to make an extra effort to read books by or about people of colour and members of the LGBTQ community. I’ve heard brilliant things about Swing Time by Zadie Smith and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. Again, if you have any recommendations, please let me know!

These are my three main reading goals for 2017, I haven’t set many because I don’t want to turn reading into work. I would also like to read 30 books this year but, if I find myself reading only to reach a target number, I’m going to slow down.

Do you have any reading resolutions for this year? How are they going so far?

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

My Favourite Books

It makes sense that my first post on this blog is a list of some of my favourite books. I read so much, it’s impossible to list all of my favourite books so here are five that I’ve read over the years. Some of these are childhood favourites, others are more recent discoveries. I should point out, Harry Potter is not included in this list, because it should go without saying, that is my favourite book series. I've included links to buy all of these books so be sure to have a look at the ones you don't have!

Like so many people, I loved Roald Dahl’s books as a child. The story that really stood out to me was Matilda. When I was younger, I was very quiet and constantly had my nose in a book, which wasn’t necessarily considered ‘cool’. When I first read Matilda, it was like I had finally met a friend who loved books and stories as much as I did. I wasn’t as good at Maths as Matilda was and I definitely didn’t have the power of telekinesis, but she made my younger self feel less weird and alone. Exactly as a good children’s book should. I'm so annoyed at my younger self for losing my copy of this book!

Favourite quote: “So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.” 

This book is actually a rather recent discovery for me. It was part of my suggested reading list for my English Literature A level and had been on my personal TBR for a long time. I have a bit of a love, hate relationship with the classics, but Jane Eyre very quickly became one of my favourite books. Jane is seen as very plain by the people around her and yet she behind that exterior she is strong and fierce. Of course, this book isn’t perfect, the treatment of Bertha Mason is troubling, and I do wish the ending had been different but Jane is a wonderful protagonist and the imagery in Bronte’s writing is beautiful.
I loved it so much, I have two copies!

Favourite quote: “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” 

I can remember watching the news in October 2012 and hearing that Malala Yousafzai had been shot for campaigning for girl’s education. In my very na├»ve and ignorant head, this was a shocking event that seemed to belong far better in a dystopian story. The reality is, thousands of women and girls around the world are banned from attending school and anyone who tries to speak out against this, is putting their life at risk. Malala’s book is about her childhood and life before the Taliban came to her home town. Her passion for her cause spills from every word. Her courage, determination and refusal to give in is remarkable. Reading this book was so inspiring and Malala’s story has stayed with me ever since.
I highlighted so many passages whilst reading this book. 

Favourite quote: “If one man can destroy everything, why can't one girl change it?” 

This book was one of the first books I considered my favourite. I was six years old when I first read it and having recently reread it, I am still just as in love with the story now as I was back then. I’m just as attached to the physical book as I am the story inside. My friend bought me this beautiful anniversary addition for my sixth birthday, as you can see, it’s been well loved!
How beautiful is this book?!

Favourite quote: Once a King and Queen in Narnia, always a King and Queen in Narnia

The final book on my list is one that I stumbled across accidently after browsing through a bookshop. I’d realised that I had fallen out of love with books and had found myself in the middle of a reading slump from which I seemed unable to escape. This book found me at exactly the right time. Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres, The Book Thief is set during the Second World War but is told from the perspective of a young girl living in Germany – a point of view we don’t get to see very often. This book reminded me of the power and importance books have. The film is just as beautiful, in fact, I think it’s one of the best book to film adaptations I’ve ever seen.

A much loved copy of The Book Thief
Favourite quote: “I am haunted by humans.”

Let me know what your favourite books are!