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?