Books

Talking about books (when I have time to read for fun)

READ THE WORLD – Iceland: The Blue Fox by Sjón

The Blue Fox follows two storylines; one follows a hunter, Reverend Baldur Skuggason, who’s tracking a rare blue fox, and the other follows Fridrik, a man who cares for Abba, a young woman with Down syndrome who he rescued from a shipwreck. It’s not obvious to begin with how they are all connected but as the story progresses, everything becomes clearer in this snowy landscape.

The Blue Fox is set in 1983 in Iceland and the writing is quite beautiful, though sometimes it’s just as harsh as the Icelandic winter the story takes place in. One such harsh moment is how it talks about people with Downs syndrome. Yes, it may be period-typical but it was still a shock, especially when there was writings from a medical journal, theorising how and why someone is born with Down syndrome.

The snowy mountains of Iceland where Skuggason hunts the fox are just as much a character as any of the humans. The atmosphere is chilling, and the writing puts you right there next to the hunter in the snow. The fox is a character as well, as there are some pages devoted to its point of view, making it not just this prize to be won, but a creature that you manage to care about in a few short pages.

The Blue Fox is a short book at just over 100 pages long. I enjoyed the portion about the hunter and the fox more, especially when things go a bit weird and you’re not sure what’s real and what’s not, but when you finally see what the connection is between Fridrik, Abba and Skuggason it makes Fridrik and Abba’s story more interesting. 3/5.

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TOP TEN TUESDAY: Top Ten Favourite Books of 2017

Top Ten Tuesday is a feature run by BrokeAndBookish each week. It’s coming up to that time of year where we reflect on what we’ve read and decide which books have been our favourites. Now there is a couple of weeks left of 2017 so something could sneak in here but here’s how it stands at the moment.

In no particular order, here are my ten favourite books of 2017 – links go to my review.

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu
This book is a great feminist read. I sped though this book because I related to the characters so much and as I read I’d get this pain in my chest because it felt so real and was equal parts inspiring and frustrating.

Frangipani by Celestine Hitiura Vaite
This book surprised me by how much I loved it. It’s a family drama with a compelling mother/daughter relationship at its heart and it’s such a nice read. I know “nice” isn’t really seen as a positive word but that’s what it is, there’s no major drama or sudden plot twists, it’s just a comforting read.

Power Man and Iron Fist Vol. 1: The Boys are Back in Town by David Walker, Sanford Greene and Flaviano
This was such a fun comic! The art style is really cool and vibrant, and I loved the relationship between Danny and Luke. If you like the Marvel Netflix shows featuring these two, then I’d definitely recommend this comic. (more…)

Reading Challenges in 2018

It’s that time of year again where I start finding some interesting challenges and I decide to sign up for a bunch of them. To save space I’m going to put all the challenges I maybe somewhat foolishly sign up for here.

Over on Twitter I saw the hashtag #BeatTheBacklist doing the rounds and after checking it out I knew I had to sign up for the challenge.

Beat The Backlist is hosted by Novel Knight and the challenge is to read books during 2018 that were published before 2018 – thus not letting us forget about the potentially awesome books that are sitting on our shelves just because a shiny new release has come out.

My target is to read 30 books published before 2018 – a target I should meet as I the majority of my reading is “older books” and my physical TBR is close to 100 hundred books so I’ll have plenty to choose from.

There’s Instagram challenges as well as the chance to win points for your team (I’m a Novel Knight!) if you post reviews of your Backlist Books on your blog/Goodreads as well as on retail websites like Amazon.

Another challenge I’m signing up for is the A to Z Reading Challenge hosted by Ginger Mom Reads. The aim is to read books that start with every letter of the alphabet during 2018. Words like “The”, “A” and “An” don’t count as a title, instead it’s the following word that counts towards a letter, and you don’t have to read books in alphabetical order.

Having a quick look at my physical TBR, I have books for every letter but Q, X and Y at the moment, so this challenge is doable. Plus, you have one “Freebie” you can use for a letter that you can’t find a book for. So for example, if I couldn’t find a book I wanted to read that began with X, I could choose any other book beginning with any letter and put it as my X read. A Freebie can only be used once so I better make it count.

The final challenge I’m signing up for (at the moment anyway) is the Monthly Motif Reading Challenge hosted by Girlxoxo. This challenge is to read a book that fits the assigned motif or theme for each month. I like how each theme is pretty broad so there’s a lot of choice when it comes to deciding what books to read while still making it a challenge.

READ THE WORLD – Samoa: Freelove by Sia Figiel

It is 1985 in Western Samoa and Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” rules the airwaves. Seventeen and a half-year-old Star Trek fanatic Inosia Alofafua Afatasi is sent to the capital, Apia, to buy three giant white threads. As she waits at the bus stop, Mr Ioane Viliamu, her science and maths teacher and the son of the pastor, and in turn, her spiritual brother, stops to offer her a ride in his red pickup truck. Inosia is faced with choice, does she take the ride or wait for the bus?

Freelove is a story of forbidden romance and a young woman who is smart and capable but still has a lot to learn. Inosia is very academically smart and loves science and space, in part thanks to her obsession with Star Trek. I think having a character who is repeatedly told to be beautiful, also be smart and has a nerdy obsession is quite different.

It took a little while to get used to how Freelove is written. There’s no speech marks when characters talk, instead there’s a new paragraph when someone is speaking and there’s no real signifier when it’s back to being Inosia’s thoughts. You definitely have to pay attention and when there are conversations they flow very quickly. I liked how the book features Samoan though. Sometimes when characters talked it would first be in Samoan and then have the English translation next to it.

There is sexual content in Freelove and I appreciated that any sex was consensual, and the characters were constantly talking about how they were feeling, if anything hurt or they wanted to stop, and they listened to one another. The romance between Inosia and Ioane was interesting because both of them knew what they were doing was “wrong” or wouldn’t be accepted in their village. This was because of the age difference, the fact they are spiritually related to one another and the fact that they weren’t traditionally married. They go into things with their eyes open but as you read you can’t help but wonder when or how everything is going to go wrong for them. It gives you a sense of foreboding that’s never really satisfied.

Freelove is a quick and relatively easy read once you get used to the writing style. The descriptions of Idosia’s day to day life and her family are vivid and while the romance felt a bit rushed to begin with, it’s clear that these two care about one another deeply. 3/5.

READ THE WORLD: Norway – One of Us: The Story of a Massacre and its Aftermath by Åsne Seierstad

On 22 July 2011, Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 of his fellow Norwegians in a terrorist attack that shocked the world. Many of his victims were teenagers. Following this atrocity, questions began to appear; how and why could this happen? And who was Anders Breivik? One of Us does it’s best to answer these questions and more with extensive witness testimonies and interviews.

One of Us is a very tough read, but it’s a compelling and emotional one too. The book follows Breivik’s life, from growing up with his single mother and half-sister, to being an adult where his grand plans don’t always work out for him. This way you get an insight into his mind. It is often unsettling as you begin to almost understand why he is the way he is, but it’s still difficult to comprehend how someone can have such a hatred for those with differing political views, religion, and social ideals.

Something that I wasn’t expecting was the book to follow a few of Breivik’s young victims; Bano Rashid, Simon Sæbø, Anders Kristiansen and Viljar Hanssen. By following these teenagers from childhood, Rashid and Sæbø especially, you get to see how their lives and beliefs are the complete opposite to Breivik’s, it makes some uncomfortable and upsetting reading sometimes as all these young people had bright futures in front of them.

One of Us is made from Breivik’s own accounts that he published online, as well as interviews from friends, family and any officials that came into contact with Breivik at any point in his life. This gives you a comprehensive picture of Breivik’s mind when he set out to attack the government quarter of Oslo and the AUF-run summer camp on the island of Utøya.

There’s a sense of foreboding as time passes and the account gets closer to the day of the attack. The way the attack is described is both distressing and gripping. It’s a proper page-turner and you need a breather afterwards because of the tension and how graphic the violence is, though there’s an air of distance that allows you some breathing space, however small. There’s also a feeling of frustration as you learn about how the emergency and security services reacted on the day and the failings they had, you get the sense that there could have been less casualties if there’d been better communication between the various services.

One of Us not only covers the lead up to the attacks and that day, but the subsequent trial and how families of those who died and the survivors are, or aren’t, coping with what happened. It allows for a feeling of closure, even if those grieving may never get it themselves. One of Us is an emotional rollercoaster that offers an insight to an event and all those involved that I knew very little about. It’s a tough read but I feel it’s an important one.

November’s Illumicrate Box

This months Illumicrate box arrived this weekend and I when I opened it I was so pumped! But first things first, let me do the usual spiel at the start of a subscription box unboxing. Illumicrate is a quarterly UK based YA subscription box that unlike some subscription boxes doesn’t have a theme each time so you can get a real eclectic mix of goodies in the box each time. It costs £29.99 per box, with free shipping to the UK, it ships internationally but it does have a shipping cost that varies depending where in the world it’s travelling to. There’s always at least one book (though the last few boxes have included an ARC) and 4-6 goodies.

Now onto the box! I loved everything in this box – the goodies and the books(s) are all great and just the sort of thing I will actually use/appreciate.

First the goodies – and all but two of these things were Illumicrate exclusives. The first thing I saw was a bookish tea towel designed by Evannave Illustration which is lovely, and I will be taking it with me when I move to a new place in a couple of weeks. Then there was a print with a quote from J.K. Rowling from Nutmeg and Arlo and a moon and stars necklace from Oh Panda Eyes, which I’ve given to a friend because I knew she’d love it. There was a candle from Meraki Candles called Reading in Bed and it smells of hot chocolate and is a pale yellow with pink glitter on it and it smells divine. There was a 2018 Unicorn Journal from Prism Of Starlings which I will definitely be using. It’s a week per page (just how I like my diaries) and what’s really cool is it not only has the usual holidays already printed on the right day, but it also has various authors birthdays printed in it which is a nice touch for a book lover. There were also two samplers on for This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada and one for Iron Gold by Pierce Brown.

Now onto the books. The first book I saw was an advanced reader copy of The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty. I’d seen this book a bit over Twitter recently and I like how it’s set in eighteenth century Cairo and has magic and spirits. I’m looking forward to reading it even if it’s a big chunk of a book! Now the other book got me seriously excited! It’s Artemis by Andy Weir! I adored The Martian so much and I’ve been looking forward to Artemis a lot but because I don’t pre-order books I hadn’t realised it was now out. This copy is an exclusive Illumicrate edition with black sprayed edges and it also came with a bookmark and a travel brochure which I thought was a very nice touch. I honestly can’t wait to read Artemis and it’ll probably be my next read.

I really love everything in this quarters Illumicrate box and I definitely think it’s worth the price tag. I may have to cancel my subscription as I’m moving to a flat and while I know there’s post boxes for each flat, I’m not sure what happens to parcels – but I have three months to figure that out.

READ THE WORLD – Bulgaria: Street Without a Name by Kapka Kassabova

Kapka Kassabova grew up on the outskirts of Sofia during the last years of Cold War Communism in the 1980s until she left as soon as she could. As Bulgaria gets ready to join the EU (the country joined 1 January 2007) Kapka Kassabova returns to her home country, to retrace her childhood steps and discover what’s become of the country, and discovers how much both it – and she – has changed.

Street Without a Name is a mixture of a personal memoir and a study of country’s history. As Kassabova states with a disclaimer at the start of the book, while it is a work of non-fiction and depicts real historic and political events, they are her take on them and how events affected her and her family. The book is split into two parts, the first is Kassabova’s childhood growing up in Sofia, and the second half is when she returns after 15 years away from Bulgaria, living in various countries including New Zealand, exploring both places from her childhood and parts of the country she’d never been to before.

I really enjoyed Street Without a Name. The way Kassabova writes about the effects of growing up in Eastern Europe with Communism being such an overbearing force in their lives is sometimes both uncomfortable and farcical. It is honest in the difficulties her parents faced, the lack of food and clothes available, and the tough examinations she had to go through in school and the dilemma of being so good you get noticed and not doing well enough.

I knew nothing about Bulgaria before I read this book. It was a country I knew the name of, probably because of the Eurovision Song Contest to be honest, but that was it. Street Without a Name is a really great insight into Bulgaria’s history, not only is time as a Cold War Communist country but it’s history in the First and Second World War and conflicts with countries in the region spanning hundreds of years. It’s interesting to see what nationalities and religions make up Bulgaria, the way different people see others and how being way from a country for so long can – or cannot – change your perception of it.

I feel I have learnt a lot from Street Without a Name. It’s an interesting insight into the complexities of nationality, belonging and understanding. Kassabova is a good storyteller, weaving mini history lessons into the places she’s visiting whether that’s a town or a church or any place of historical significance so well that they seldom feel out of place or jarring. I really enjoy this type of non-fiction book, it offers a personal take on a country and its history that makes it more engaging than perhaps reading a proper history book on the same subject.

If you know very little about Bulgaria and the effects of Cold War Communism that are still prevalent today but want to know more, I’d definitely recommend Street Without a Name.