Sunday Post #2 Wild adventures

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted at @ Caffeinated Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news ~ A post to recap the past week on your blog and showcase books and things we have received. Share news about what is coming up on our blog for the week ahead. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.


I’ve been fairly absent from writing this week, as I took a long needed trip away to Dartmoor National Park with my partner. We usually take a camping trip every year, but due to the situation, we decided to try wild camping for the first time, which was exciting!

Dartmoor is the only place in England where you can pitch up your tent without having any kind of permission. After a week of solid rain we approached the trip with tepidity, but remarkably, we barely got any rain and had a successful trip. It was so nice to spend time outdoors and enjoying the simple things in life – finding and filtering our own water, letting our sleep patterns correspond to the sun, eating outside, and just being away from the same four walls. Everything just felt more special than it usually does. Plus, Dartmoor is pretty beautiful – especially the ponies.

I had gotten into a pretty solid routine of writing before going away and I’m now trying to ease myself back into it – which is hard. Because there’s no urgency and I have to inflict deadlines for myself and keep myself motivated, which isn’t usually a problem but when I take time off it can be.

The nights are slowly drawing in and it already feels like the beginning of Autumn – I can’t believe its been half a year of this dreaded virus. I’m worried about the next few months and feel like we haven’t had the worst of it yet.

In terms of blog updates – you may have noticed I have a new theme. I am very indecisive when it comes to themes, but I decided to go for something more simplistic. I think it works, let me know if you have any thoughts! I have redesigned my portfolio page so that it looks a bit more presentable in the hope some commissioning editor may see it and be impressed…. I will always be wishing.

I have set up a MailChimp account with the intentions of starting a newsletter to keen readers who wish to hear more from me. I’m thinking of doing a weekly newsletter that includes my reading thoughts, any recommendations I have and generally what’s happening in my life. You can sign up for that here. When I get enough subscribers I’ll brave it and write the first one.


This Week on the Blog

Book Review: How I Learned to Hate in Ohio

What I read in August ~ 2020


This Week – Elsewhere

OPINION: Post-Covid-19, We All Need to be Intersectional Feminists Empoword Journalism

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris Don’t Need to Be Radical, Just Electable Backbench UK

Signs You Need to Practice Self Care — and Why It’s Important The Innovation, Medium

How to Achieve Mental Clarity by Journaling Medium


Currently Reading

Expected: September 1, 2020. Edited by Jennifer Haupt

This is kindly provided to me from NetGalley. I’m not sure how I feel about producing books about Covid yet, seeing as it’s far from over. But if it’s going to be a long journey, I guess we have to document the beginning.

I love the idea of this – a collection of essays, poems and interviews written by writers across the board. I have only read about 20% but I am already enjoying it. It’s so interesting to read about all the different (but sometimes harrowing) experiences of the pandemic.

I am currently on the grief section which is of course, a paramount aspect of the pandemic but is is an incredibly emotional and raw read. I look forward to reading the rest of this in small, regulated doses.

Expected: 29th October, 2020. Mark Watson.

TW: Suicide, depression

This is another one from NetGalley which I was drawn to because of the cover art! It starts with the character of James, who decides to send a text to everyone in his inbox, telling them that he is going to take his own life. Each chapter is told through a different person who received the text and goes through their response to his message, and then the book with lurch back to James.

Again, I haven’t read too much of it yet but it’s a hard going read for sure, mainly due to the context and how close to home it is. It’s quite hard to follow because of the sheer number of characters, but I definitely like the idea of this and hope Mark Watson manages to pull it off.

Salvation Station, Kathryn Schleich.

It’s been a while since I have read a good crime novel and I am looking forward to reading more of this one. This was kindly provided to me by Kelsey Butts at Book Publicity Services.

The lead character is a female police captain called Linda Turner, which I immediately approve of because so many crime novels/thrillers usually have male leads. Chapters alternate between different people potentially involved in the crime and they’re short and choppy which gives a nice pace to the book.

I’m enjoying it so far but just hope it doesn’t get too scary!


Favourite Articles of the Week

7 Lessons Learned by Writing Over Three Thousand Blog Posts ~ Cristian Mihai @ The Art of Blogging

How I Write 20,000 Words in a Single Day ~ Tim Denning @ Better Marketing, Medium

Why I Don’t Wear Bikinis ~ Addie Page @ P.S I Love You, Medium

The Government’s Obesity Strategy Neglects Those in Poverty and Perpetuates Dangerous Stigmas ~ Holly Barrow @ Backbench UK

I hope you all have a brilliant week and keep staying safe!


Please note – this post does contain Amazon affiliate links and if you choose to use them, I will earn a small fee but this doesn’t impact my review in anyway.

What I read in August ~ 2020

August was a good reading month. On the whole, I was very impressed with most of the things I read, including feeling a warm wave of nostalgia, having read the long-awaited latest instalment in the Twilight series. Although I haven’t read as many books, as usual, two of them were over 700 pages! I hope you all managed to have a good reading month too! What were your favourite reads? 

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race Reni Eddo-Lodge, Non-fiction

This is an essential read for everyone. Reni Eddo-Lodge reveals in her emotionally charged long-from essay the deep, systemic racism at the heart of British society. With chapters on feminism, class and the criminal justice system it is a thematic demonstration of how racism is embedded within every level. Eddo-Lodge challenges readers to recognise their own bias and learn to listen – and it is evocative and completely compelling. It explains complicated concepts in a broad and uncomplicated manner, making it fully accessible, acting as a great starting point for learning about race.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Midnight Sun Stephanie Meyer, Fiction

For die-hard fans of Twilight, this is a must-read. Written as an addition to the Twilight series, readers finally get to see Edward’s version of events. Reading this gave me a greater appreciation for the Twilight world and I was interested to see things through Edward’s perspective, as he has long been branded as the creepy boyfriend. Granted, this won’t make sense unless you are familiar with the series but it offers more of an in-depth background to the Cullen’s and the Vampire world. Reading this filled me with the nostalgia of my teenage years. The over 700 page novel of mostly Edward’s inner thoughts and feelings won’t be for everyone – but for die hard fans it is bliss.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Little Friend Donna Tartt, Fiction

Donna Tartt’s first novel is full of initial intrigue as the story follows Harriet, a young girl, who tries to uncover the murderer behind Robin, her younger brother who was found dead in the family yard many years ago. The premise offers an initial hook and Tartt delivers a dreamy and evocative description of Alexandria, Mississippi in the 1970s, but fails to deliver a coherent plot and ending to what would have been, a fascinating novel. As a dedicated Tartt fan, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed and was left wanting more of an explanation. Nonetheless, it is still a beautifully written book, but with no definitive ending. Literary fiction by nature focuses on character development, but this does not mean the plot should have to suffer. This is brilliantly demonstrated with Tartt’s latest novel, The Goldfinch.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

How I Learned to Hate in Ohio David Stuart MacLean, Fiction

This book is a portrayal of hate in multiple forms, demonstrated within one community in Ohio in the 1980s. Told through the perspective of Barry Nadler, and the small community he is a part of, the novel explores racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia and white, middle-class discontent which shines a light on the division that can encapsulate small communities. It’s not a plot-driven novel but an in-depth social commentary told through one person’s inner monologue. The book only really gets ‘exciting’ at the end but keeps the pace through short, snappy chapters. I think this book is important and necessary, but I was constantly waiting for something to happen and when it did, felt unfulfilled.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

This takes me up to 45 books completed out of my 50 to read for this year. I am ahead of my Goodreads challenge for the first time in years which makes me really happy. For once, I won’t be ending the year wishing I had read more, but smiling because I have. And, because I have documented it all!

Happy reading everyone.


Please note – this post does contain Amazon affiliate links and if you choose to use them, I will earn a small fee but this doesn’t impact my review in anyway.


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Book Review: How I learned to hate in Ohio

Many thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a e-ARC copy of this book, I am slowly but surely getting through my shelf! How I Learned to Hate in Ohio is due to be published in January, 2021. You can pre-order your copies via Amazon, if you wish to do so.

How I Learned to Hate in Ohio

David Stuart MacLean

The Overlook Press, January 2021

Coming of Age, Fiction, Literary Fiction

3.5/5 stars

Synopsis (Goodreads)

A brilliant, hilarious, and ultimately devastating debut novel about how racial discord grows in America
 
In late-1980s rural Ohio, bright but mostly friendless Barry Nadler begins his freshman year of high school with the goal of going unnoticed as much as possible. But his world is upended by the arrival of Gurbaksh, Gary for short, a Sikh teenager who moves to his small town and instantly befriends Barry and, in Gatsby-esque fashion, pulls him into a series of increasingly unlikely adventures. As their friendship deepens, Barry’s world begins to unravel, and his classmates and neighbors react to the presence of a family so different from theirs. Through darkly comic and bitingly intelligent asides and wry observations, Barry reveals how the seeds of xenophobia and racism find fertile soil in this insular community, and in an easy, graceless, unintentional slide, tragedy unfolds.

Review ~ 3.5/5

I would describe this book in a nutshell as a dark, seemingly poignant demonstration of the hate that inflicts many communities across America.

Through the exploration of racism, Xenophobia, Islamophobia and white, middle-class discontent, this novel shines a light onto the forms of hatred and division which remain at the heart of many American communities.

Barry Nadler lives in Rutherford, Ohio, and is beginning his freshman year of high school in the 1980s. It’s a time in American history that was fraught with divisions and rising race wars, amidst the backdrop to the Iraq war and the War on Terror to follow. Barry is very much alone and likes it that way, but soon meets Gurbaksh who quickly becomes his one and only friend. Gurbaksh is a Sikh and frequently gets belittled at school and within the neighborhood due to his beliefs, which allows the book to illuminate the extent of Islamophobia present in the community.

I enjoyed this book and the themes it aimed to explore – however, it only really starts to take shape at the end of the book and has no real structure to it. The chapters are remarkably short and snappy which creates a nice pace to it but without this, I fear I would have struggled to get through it. I naturally finished it quickly due to the structure of the book.

The narrator, Barry, was likable enough, but I didn’t like the way he didn’t do a whole lot to challenge some of the racist rhetoric that was thrown around within his community. Maybe he was just too young?

This is the second book I have read that has centred on Ohio and portraying a social commentary through its main character, Ducks, Newburyport offers a similar feel but narrates observations from the present day, rather than the past. I think this book is important and has a place but I was constantly waiting for something to happen and when it did, it was pretty short-lived and left more questions than answers.

The feel of it, mainly executed through its young, teenage narrator, reminded me of The Catcher in the Rye – a novel I didn’t particularly enjoy. I would argue this is better as it is far more poignant and ambitious, and I was quite struck by the penultimate ending.

Fundamentally, this is a novel about multiple forms of hate and how it can divide communities.

“Hate is safe. Hate is urgent. Hate is unkind. Hate is ubiquitous. Hate singes the hated out and provides anonymity for the hater.”

Aside from the rampant exploration of racism, the novel also deals with dysfunctional families and relationships. Barry’s father and mother have a complex relationship which unfolds throughout the novel, eventually resulting in disastrous consequences and I can’t help but think this has some kind of effect on Barry – possibly quelling his ambition.

I enjoyed this book and appreciated what it was trying to do and think it is incredibly relevant to the current climate. I would probably recommend it to others who are fans of books that issue a type of social commentary placed within a distinct community.

Thank you for reading!

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Please note – this post does contain Amazon affiliate links and if you choose to use them, I will earn a small fee but this doesn’t impact my review in anyway.


 

8 Thoughts From Reading The Little Friend, by Donna Tartt

As a committed Donna Tartt fan, I was very much looking forward to this. The Little Friend was Tartt’s first novel and has mixed reviews. Having read and loved The Goldfinch, I had high expectations, but I was definitely not blown away. These are 10 thoughts I had whilst, during, and after reading, The Little Friend.

*Caution* ~ may contain spoilers.

The Little Friend

Donna Tartt

Novel, fiction, bildungsroman

Bloomsbury Edition, 2017 / 2002

Rating: 3 out of 5.

What is going on?

I found the book incredibly hard to follow, despite its simple premise. The novel is told mainly through the perspective of Harriet, a young girl growing up in Alexandria, Mississippi. Harriet spends the book trying to find out what happened to her brother, Robin, who was found hanging from a tree in the family’s front yard, many years ago. The novel jumps about from person to person, which I don’t usually mind, however in this case I found it hard to see how the different perspectives linked together, to aid the overall story.

There are so many characters and I’m struggling to keep up with them

Although the narration is mainly told through Harriet, it is alternated with the perspective of Danny Ratcliff, who Harriet thinks has murdered her brother. His life, and daily activities are paralleled with Harriet’s attempt to track him down, but this is also executed with no real structure. Ratcliff also introduces many other characters into the story – including Farish, his accomplice, Eugene (another accomplice), Curtis and Gum – who I never quite worked out.

And of course, there’s all the characters in Harriet’s family – her sister, Allison, Ida, the family’s maid, her mother and all her aunts and grandparents. And of course, Helly, her best friend. It really is a mind field and I struggled to keep track of them all and work out who was who.

Image: Jp Valery for Uplash

I’m really near the end and I still haven’t found out what happened to Robin

As I kept getting nearer towards the end, I was waiting for something to happen and it never came. Although the events towards the end of the story are quite exciting, we never find out who murdered Robin which I found so frustrating as this is what the novel is set up to do. It was just so unsatisfying that the whole premise of the book just wasn’t fulfilled.

I love Tartt’s writing but this novel feels jumbled and like it doesn’t have a structure

You cannot fault the writing stylistically, as Tartt undeniably has the ability to write and create a sense of atmosphere, which is executed well in this novel. However, there was just no structure to the story and I found it hard to want to keep reading. The only thing that kept me going was that I thought I was going to find out what happened to Robin. It was a pleasurable reading experience because the writing was good, but there was just so little substance to it.

I’m sad as I thought I would love this as much as her other books

I’d be lying If I said I didn’t finish this book feeling endlessly disappointed. Maybe I’m judging it too harshly as it was her first book and I have the benefit of having fallen in love with her more recent books but I did really want to like this. Part of me is also sad because I’ve now read all of her books and I know she takes a while to write.

Everything changes when Ida leaves

About 3/4 of the way through the book Ida, the household maid leaves as Harriet’s mother decides she no longer needs her services. Tartt portrays this noticeable break in the novel through incredible symbolism. The character of Ida is symbolized as being the carrier of normality in the household and Harriet’s life more widely, “Time was broken. Harriet’s way of measuring it was gone. Ida was the planet whose round marked the hours…” The story noticeably shifts to something more sinister when Ida leaves, and this crafting of the novel is the most sophisticated part.

I love Donna Tartt’s writing, but this novel was really redundant for me

The more I read, the more I was getting frustrated. There didn’t seem to be any climax to the story, yes there are a few exciting events, but the overall crux of the novel is never executed, which is such a shame because the writing as usual is spot on. Tartt has this unique ability to craft in depth character studies that drive the story forward, but unfortunately, in this case there was a lack of story in the first place and a plot that was unfulfilled.

The feeling of the book and the setting is infallible

Tartt’s characteristic attention to detail and use of sensory language portrays the feeling of growing up in Mississippi in in the 1970s from the perspective of a young girl. It is a fascinating character study – but I can’t help but feel it is nothing more than that. Her language creates an atmospheric feel to the book, my only wish was that it had a definitive story arc with a penultimate ending.

I’m currently trying out a few different formats for book reviews, let me know what you think of this one!

A fascinating Edition to a Nostalgic Series: Midnight Sun

Just a quick preface I was obsessed with Twilight throughout my teenage years and remember walking to school whilst reading Eclipse, completely hooked. Although I have revisited the films in recent years, I haven’t been tempted to re-read the saga, but I was unashamedly excited at the start of the year when Midnight Sun was announced. I really tried to savor the pages, but I only lasted a few days! This will be gushy, as it’s reviewed by a dedicated Twilight fan, but I couldn’t help myself.

Midnight Sun

Stephanie Meyer

Young Adult, fantasy, romance

Little Brown and Company, August 2020

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Pros

  • The background to the Cullen world ~ seeing things through Edward’s perspective is different in many ways. Being over a hundred years old, Edward naturally has a more complex way of viewing the world, the language is different and heavier than that used with Bella’s perspective throughout the previous saga. It is dense and heavy, but offers a perspective on the human world that is unique and interesting. Through Edward’s perspective, we gain a greater insight into the history of the Cullen family which is fascinating to read. A lot of the book features the thoughts of the Cullen’s and other human’s in Bella’s circle, including Mike Newton and Jessica Stanley – as Edward recalls reading their minds.
  • The chance to see things through Edward’s perspective ~ Edward has faced a lot of backlash in recent years for his controlling nature. Although there is certainly some truth to this, one has to realise he is a Vampire and Meyer isn’t trying to portray a normal human relationship here… he is an animal after all. The animalistic nature of his very being is self evident, as Edward describes the pain of his thirst and the complications this brings. In reading this I think I actually left feeling more sympathetic toward Edward and more understanding of why he is the way he is. Ultimately, I found reading things through Edward’s perspective so much less annoying than Bella’s….
  • It adds greater complexity to the overall story ~ Seeing things through an alternative lens, having read the entire story multiple times over, is bound to give more complexity to the saga. Through reading this I actually gained a greater appreciation for the world Meyer had created, as all the back story’s were revealed. Meyer has always faced backlash for being a poor writer (which I never believed) but this edition really highlights her skill as a writer, expressed with her attention to detail.
  • It adds another dimension to their relationship ~ Bella for me was always a problematic narrator and not a very likable character. The Cullen’s were always the most fascinating, so seeing everything through Edward’s perspective was definitely better from a reading point of view. Seeing Edward’s perspective on human relationships is certainly interesting, but he also manages to convey the beautiful simplicity of being human. He notices things we probably don’t – like the subtle changes in Bella’s skin-tone, and the alterations in someones voice. Although some of the criticisms over Edward’s possessiveness are valid, I think seeing the relationship through his lens is incredibly valuable. Bella is not pushed into his arms, rather, she pushes herself, and Edward is always on the side of hesitancy throughout their relationship.

Cons

  • It is long winded at times ~ Being stuck inside Edward’s head is fascinating when there’s lots going on, but in scenes when he is on a hunt or just by himself, it can be quite boring. There is a constant re-laying of other people’s thoughts as he reads their minds, which could have done with a bit of toning down, but on the whole I found his perspective fascinating.
  • The discovery that Edward knew he was going to leave Bella far earlier on ~ From reading the saga multiple times in the past, I never got the impression that Edward knew that he was going to leave Bella so early on. In this book, he realises he needs to leave her just after the incident with James, when Bella is still in the hospital, but never lets on. I think this is one of the sides to him I don’t like – he is a very good liar and can easily manipulate Bella into a false sense of security. Obviously, with everything that happens in New Moon and after, we know they get back together but still, it was something I was shocked to discover and kind of annoyed at Edward for.
  • This won’t make sense unless you’ve read the other 4 books ~ Not necessarily a negative but I think it’s worth pointing out that this isn’t another Twilight story, but an addition to the series which definitely would not be as valuable unless you had read the other books. Knowing the entirety of the story didn’t hinder me as a reader, but I found I actually benefited from it as I could fully get into Edward’s own perspective.

Favourite Quotes

Image: USA today

“My life was an unending, unchanging midnight It must, by necessity, always be midnight for me. So how was it possible that the sun was rising now, in the middle of my midnight?”

The dedication nearly had me bawling, “This book is dedicated to all the readers who have been such a happy part of my life for the last fifteen years. When we first met, many of you were young teenagers with bright, beautiful eyes full of dreams for the future. I hope that in the years that have passed, you’ve all found your dreams and that the reality of them was even better than you’d hoped.”

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