The Raqqa Diaries - Samer* Published by Cornerstone
- I was kindly sent a copy by the publishers -
I think it's fair to say that I'm not alone when I say I know little to nothing about Syria. I know it's bad, I know people are dying and I know ISIS is involved. That's about the extent of it. And because like me, most people don't really know what's happening it's very hard to actually form an opinion more nuanced than 'this is shit and we should help', or in some cases 'this is shit, and not our problem.'
The Raqqa Diaries is the testimony of Samer, not his real name, a 24 year old man living in the city of Raqqa, territory that is completely occupied and controlled by ISIS. We watch as he attempts to make a life for himself in a city where the economy has been destroyed by heavy and seemingly arbitrary taxes, people are publicly beaten and executed for crimes such as 'wearing trousers that are too long', and all contact with the outside world is cut off under threat of death. From all that, Samer and his fellow activists have managed to smuggle out his account of life under the rule of ISIS.
If the idea of struggling through a dry and heavy piece of non-fiction is daunting, please don't be put off. The Raqqa Diaries is actually incredibly engaging and accessible. The narrative is broken up into short fragments describing a few scenes from his life, and it is presented with these sparse but powerful illustrations that really add texture to his words.
It is such a critical piece of media, because it adds a sense of humanity to the glimpses of war torn streets that we see on the news. It is so easy to allow ourselves to see something so alien and so far away, and forget that the people involved are human beings. Judith Butler (social humanities scholar and general hot bitch in charge) wrote a book called Frames of War in which she argues against the way in which we show war and strife in the media, how we encourage this dehumanising and othering of the people involved. The Raqqa diaries rails against this overarching scope of complex blame-gaming and political tip-toeing and shows, through the eyes of a single person, the horrors that make up the day to day lives of the people living through it all.
It's also incredibly important to understand this when we talk about 'dealing with Syria', I genuinely once had a conversation with a man on twitter who said that bombing Syria was a no brainer, because there was nobody left down there but ISIS. This seemed like a ridiculous thing to say to me, but in reality the coverage of Syria and the people living there is so sparse and so vague that maybe someone really could think that.(Partly because, as Samer says, foreign journalists have no access to these places and contacting them from the inside is incredibly dangerous) I hope this book falls into that man's hands and he has a chance to see that the innocent people of Raqqa and places like it have quite enough to deal with without us dropping shit on them from the sky (which the Russians are already doing constantly and which, as Samer shows, actually forces the people of Raqqa to endure heavier oppression. Big help guys.)
I think the biggest shock for me is that this is what many of the refugees who come to our country have had to face, this is what they have escaped, and what we, as a country, have said is "No, you can't come here, we won't give you somewhere safe to live." I think this should be on our required reading, it is engaging and accessible enough to absolutely keep the attention of a GCSE student, far more so than bloody 'Of Mice and Men.' Reading this and discussing what it must be like to live in Raqqa, talking about how things got to this point, and asking why we and countries like us aren't doing anything about it would be an excellent way to spend a few PSHE lessons. Rather than the usual 'Read this sheet on what BMI is, then do whatever for forty minutes while I catch up with my marking'.
So in short: Please read this, it's not very long and it's very very interesting and if we all knew more about what people were facing in ISIS occupied cities then maybe we could have a more educated and conscious discussion about it which might lead to change. Samer has escaped and is now in a miserable refugee camp along with hundreds of others stuck in limbo, with little food or shelter and next to nothing in the way of medical aid or prospects of getting to safety. And there are thousands upon thousands of men, women and children who are not so lucky.
Thanks for reading
* Drinking Game: Take a drink every time I use the world 'goal/s or 'year/s'. Take a shot for every run-on sentence.
Ignore the Goodreads Challenge.
I've been setting Goodreads goals for about five years, and every year I have set that challenge somewhere between 40-60 books, depending on the kind of place I was in with my reading, and what the next year was likely to bring.This year I've done something a little different. I've set my goal to...one book, and have already surpassed that. I've been reading with a number at the back of my mind for so long now that it feels strange to be planning, and thinking about, a year of reading without that goal to aim for.
The reason I made this decision is because I feel that reading to a quota is definitely something that has shaped me as a reader and influences my decisions when choosing a book, and I've noticed a quantity over quality mindset creeping in. If I'm falling behind, I pick up a few graphic novels to get myself back up to speed, and fly through them without really paying attention. I've been put off bigger books because they take a long time, or denser classics and nonfiction because they require a slower, more thoughtful approach and it's a lot of investment for just one more book towards my goal. This really isn't how I want to read.
I want to choose books purely because I'm excited about or interested in them, regardless of page count or content. I've put off reading the second and third in Robin Hobb's 'The Liveship Trader's' series because the first took me so long to read and I didn't want to waste time when I could be racking up the 'books read' count with graphic novels and novellas. I've also noticed that every year, I more or less meet my goal. Perhaps a few over or just missing it by one or two but the number I set is always close to the number I read, and I feel that this just shows how far my reading habits rely on having that goal. If I'm far ahead I see it as a reason not to read, and if I fall behind I force myself to read just so I can get back on track. I'm not saying the Goodreads Challenge is the devil, far from it, I just want to have a more organic reading experience this year, and read for the sake of it, not because I've got a schedule to keep.
Maybe this is just wanky navel gazing and no1 curr, but I'm looking forward to a year of reading without feeling like I'm working to a quota. A year in which I can read at my own pace and rediscover what that pace actually is, and of reading just to be entertained, or informed. Just because I enjoy reading.
Read it or Give it away
This one is fairly straightforward. I own a shit tonne of unread books, (in the seventies at last count) and for me, that's bordering on madness. This year I want to get my bookshelves boiled down to 'I've read this' and 'I just bought this and will get to it in a week or so'. Anything I own now that I know I won't read, or have read but don't feel has value to me any more I'm going to donate. I've already cleansed my shelves of about twenty books, and the local Blue Cross have some nice new additions to their books section which will hopefully be perfect for someone else and do a little good in the world if they buy it.
This particular resolution ties in nicely with some personal goals I have this year regarding ethical living and minimalist values. I have prided myself for so many years on having this big sprawling personal library full of books, but as my views are shifting I feel like it's just silly to hold onto things I've either read but didn't enjoy/find valuable, or books that I bought on a whim and am not really that interested in reading. So I've giving myself an ultimatum. If I really want to read it that badly, I'll read it by the end of the year, and if I haven't it's going where it can make someone else happy. Which ties in nicely to my last goal
Read new books within six weeks of buying them
I've always hoarded books a little bit, but the biggest turn in my book buying habits came when I started at Waterstones. I suddenly found myself exposed to new releases the second they entered the store, access to proofs and constant micro browses while walking out for lunch or tidying the shelves, all the while having access to the very dangerous staff discount card. The volume of books that I bought in the first few months working there is actually beyond comprehension. Since then I've become a lot more savvy with my spending, but I still want to improve and make sure I'm only spending money on things that I want and will get use from. When I buy books they will be books that I've been thinking about for a while, rather than just passing fancies and impulse buys like before. Hopefully this new approach will mean that I not only save money, but that I'm more likely to buy and read books that I love, because I've really considered them.
The only exception to this is the books I get from Mothbox. I'm going to do a full post about Mothbox but, in a nutshell, it's a new book postal service put together by Mercedes over at Mercy' Bookish Musings championing books published by smaller and independent presses. Each box comes with two books and I've decided that during the months that I purchase a Mothbox, I will leave room for one more book to be bought. Mothbox is fairly new and it's definitely something I want to support next year. It's a way to support indie presses, a new business venture and someone that I really admire and respect all in one go! Plus it means I'm going to discover books I never would have found otherwise.
This is a long-ass post. Have a cat.
So those are my reading goals for 2017. I'm hoping I will get to 2018 with a smaller, more curated bookshelf, a slightly less depressing savings account and knowing I've done a bit of good in the world at the same time.
Let me know if you've made any reading resolutions this year!
Well everyone we liked as kids is dead, Europe thinks we're the worst and an evil butternut squash is president. But despite it being the most depressing year ever, I discovered some absolutely amazing books! I also read some actual shite. Where I have done a full review of a book mentioned, it will be linked in the title.
Let's start with the things I loved this year.
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet* and A Closed and Common Orbit* by Becky Chambers
Long Way was the very first book I read this year and it still gives me butterflies when I think of it. The world that Becky Chambers created and the way she folded you in the arms of her lovely cast of characters and made you feel a part of the team made this book truly special and it's sequel is no different. Her book are all about humanity and confronting difference in a positive way and facing your fears with the people you love by your side. The sci-fi novel incarnation of a group hug and a set of BFF necklaces. There's going to be a third and I'm actually incapable of being more excited about it.
Cut by Hibo Wadere
A very different topic. Cut explores the devastating truth of FGM and Hibo's experiences as a victim, both in her native Africa and here in the west, where she thought she had escaped the culture. Hibo's testimony is vivid and terrifying and was a real wake up call for me in terms of clarifying my own thoughts about feminism, and what it is we are actually trying to achieve. Women's rights are often dismissed as women getting offended when they're offered help with manual work, but Cut shows the reader just what the stakes really are and how much suffering goes on directly due to gender inequality. FGM is happening and little girls are being viciously mutilated right under our noses and we are ignoring it. This book needs to be read by everyone.
The Girls*by Emma Cline
This novel is the one I wish I'd written. A compelling, claustrophobic novel about coming of age and how easy it is to be drawn into things you don't understand when you're looking for somewhere to belong. Screw you Emma Cline, with your effortless, dreamy writing style and your poignant thoughts expressed so intelligently and your compulsive interesting plot and your ability to express the goddamn truth about what it is to be a teenage girl all in your debut novel. Like how dare you. Who gave you the right??
Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb.
My first foray into Hobb's world. If you've tried the Assassin's books as an 'in' with Hobb but found yourself stalling, I'd definitely recommend trying these instead. They were recommended to me by a seasoned Robin Hobb reader as an alternative starting point from the Fitz and the Fool series and I got along with this so much better. All of the characters were completely infuriating in a thoroughly understandable and human way. The human drama would have been enough to sustain my interest but the incredible and original fantasy elements woven throughout cemented this as a favourite. Despite being a bajillion pages long and taking nearly a month to read (plus reading a few things in between,) there was never a point in Hobb's plot where I wasn't interested and invested in the story. It's chunky but it's worth the effort, and the other two books in the series are some of the first things I'm reading come the New Year.
My Best Friend's Exorcism by Grady Hendrix.
Some of my friends at work absolutely love this book, and I put it off for a while because it was labelled as a horror novel, but eventually I decided to give it a try and I'm so glad I did. This is a horror book... in that it has some scary, creepy moments in it and is kind of about demon possession, but it's also way more about friendship, and girls growing up together and about what it means to really really love someone, and how far you'll go to help that person. This book is an utter delight, rich and fun and so incredibly satisfying.
Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Before this year my graphic novel collection had been 70% Batman and pals, with the other 30% being essentially 'other superheroes n' shit'. Over 2016 I've really branched out and found some amazing graphic novels that have captured my heart. The one I've probably enjoyed the most is Saga. A wacky, oddball space adventure following two star crossed lovers from opposing sides of a war. The story and world are so creative and interesting, the characters, despite being some of the weirdest creatures imaginable are so human and real, and every issue ends with you wanting to keep reading to find out where the hell things are going next.
Positivity over with, let's get on to what sucked ass:
All That Man Is * by David Szalay
Apparently all that man is, is a boring horny narcissist with zero depth or human interest. Szalay can write with the best of them but the pretty words are wasted on a jumble of dull pointless snippets about people who want nothing but to bang the nearest thing to them.
Harry Potter and The Cursed Child by Jack Thorne, John Tiffany and JK.
I understand that this probably worked well as a play, but it feels like the printing of the screenplay was a bit of a cash grab and it led to a lot of people being very dissapointed. The result was a shrug worthy plot, a big fuck-you to previously established rules within the universe, some really oddly thought out characters (Christ Rose how did Hermione and Ron raise you to be such a shitbag?) and the possibility for the first openly queer couple in the Potter canon being thrown away like an old chocolate frog wrapper. Uncool J.K.
The Wicked + The Divine by some people my bookshelves are far away and I'm not walking over to see.
So the art in this is absolutely gorgeous. The premise is incredibly promising. The storyline is erratic and makes literally zero narrative sense and whoever did the dialogue between the characters appears to have been copying from a transcript in which there was a printing error and half the lines got lost. The sequence of events that we follow feel like they get picked out of a hat, which is a shame because the premise is so cool and the art is fucking amazing. I'm sure the storyline is building up to a big conclusion where all the gaps will be filled in and everything will fall into place but graphic novels take a long time to come out between volumes and there's no way I can stay interested in something that seems so badly thought out for that long. I finished volume three and what was supposed to be a big plot twist felt completely bizarre and gimmicky and I really don't want to put myself through volume four.
The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkowski
This years foray into the Young Adult genre. Still can't get on with it. Thought the characters were flat and unconvincing, the writing was perfectly nice but lacked any real personality, the romance made me do an Office style fourth wall stare several times and STOP USING RESCUE FROM AN ATTEMPTED RAPE AS A WAY FOR THE ROMANTIC LEAD TO BE THE HERO WE'RE SO MUCH BETTER THAN THAT. Also this book completely undermines the idea of the slave narrative and how harrowing life as a slave is and given that I was reading 'The Underground Railroad' at the same time I just really couldn't be doing with it. I attempted to start the second book but got fifteen pages in before realising I didn't give a fuck. Next year is Patrick Ness! Hopefully he'll do better.
What did you love and hate this year?
All books provided by publishers are marked with a *. All opinions are my own :)
Hey guess what? I watch anime! I'm sure I've mentioned it before on here at some stage, but as this is primarily a book blog, my various other methods of putting off doing important things tend to go unmentioned. But I'd like to branch out a little, so I thought I'd occasionally share some anime shows that I've enjoyed watching.
This is one of my favourite animes, although that might have something to do with the fact that I marathoned the whole show with one of my best friends, and housemate at the time, Tom. This reminds me of chilling on the sofa in our pyjamas, trying in vain to sing along to the Japanese lyrics in the opening titles. Soul Eater is about another world, in which the grim reaper is a slightly Dumbledore-esque character, who runs a school teaching 'Meisters' and 'Weapons': Teams of (usually) two in which one person can turn into a weapon, and the other can wield them.
The plot follows three teams, Maka and her weapon Soul, who becomes a scythe, Black Star and Tsubaki who has various forms but generally appears as a katana, and Death the Kid (The headmasters own son) who partners with sisters Patty and Liz who form into twin pistols. The very vague plot involves witches, and raising evil spirits from the dead and collecting souls and an inexplicable giant tadpole called Tadpole Jackson and honestly I can't really explain it in any coherent way, but I did really really enjoy it. It has the perfect balance of fun and humour, paired with 'No really the world will end if we don't get our shit together' that makes for something engaging and entertaining. It's also really heartfelt and explores a lot about friendship, family and kindness, even to people who might not deserve it. And, if nothing else, the title songs are dope af.
Gekkan Shojou Nozaki Kun
Next on the list is some fluff. Chiyo is a sweet cinnamon bun harbouring a secret affection for the big quiet guy in class. One day she confesses her feelings to him and, due to her poor choice of words and his misunderstanding, ends up with an autograph and a job offer. Nozaki, the object of her affections is actually a manga artist and, under a pseudonym, writes popular romance novels. Unfortunately despite his heartfelt artwork, hes fairly clueless about romance in the real world and Chiyo ends up joining his team and helping him work, in the hopes that she can figure out a way to get him to realise how she feels.
This is actually hilarious, particularly if you've watched a lot of fluffy romance animes, as the plot and the characters poke fun at a lot of the tropes we see in typical shows and even if you haven't, the heartwarming story and ridiculous loveable characters make this show something you can watch again and again. They're not making a second season of this and it gives me the sads.
Psycho Pass is a really strange anime. It takes place in the not too distant future, in which Tokyo's justice system has been completely overhauled, and is now headed by Sybil, an AI that can sense someone's likelihood to commit crimes. This allows the law enforcers of the city to prevent crimes from happening and to stem flows of anxiety and trauma in the city, leading to a seemingly pleasant utopia. However a new recruit ... enters the force with fresh eyes, and her diligence and determination to uphold morality, as opposed to a black and white judgement from Sybil, means that the cracks in the system begin to show.
This show is pretty brutal, in every sense of the word. There are really hard hitting ideas about humanity and what we are capable of when we see others as things to be kept in order. It reminded me a lot of the hideous situation in America with cops shooting young black men, where the mindset is almost akin to a purging of people with the (assumed) potential to commit crime, rather than waiting for it to happen. In this new Tokyo, you are declared dangerous by a force without compassion or subjectivity and the law enforcement officials have their weapons automatically set to kill. It also gets very gory and upsetting so not one for a more delicate disposition. AT ALL.
Also do yourself a favour and resist watching the second season. It was the most shrug-worthy follow up I've ever watched and took all the interesting premises and ideas laid out by the first season and just ran around naked, waving them in the air and screaming. It was just bad.
Death Parade is another show that I watched with my friend Tom. It's a really unique premise and such an enjoyable show. The series takes place in a place similar to purgatory. When two people die at the same time, they are sent to one of a series of bars run by bartenders who act as arbiters. They must participate in a game, a different one for each pair, and during the process of these games the true nature of each person in revealed, as well as the truth of the circumstances of their deaths. The arbiter uses these games to decide whether each of the dead people are sent for their souls to be reincarnated, or banished to the void. The show focuses mostly on Decim, one of the arbiters, and a mysterious woman who finds herself there with no knowledge of who she is or how she came to be in purgatory, and assists Decim overseeing the Death Games as the mystery of her identity is unravelled.
Like Psycho Pass this show really explores ideas of human nature, how we all wear a facade of 'civility', and what we are capable of when truly pushed to the limits. There's also a greater mystery surrounding Purgatory and the people who live there, and the reason the young woman is there. It's a very intricate and involved series with a lot to think about.
Let me know if there are any animes I'm missing out on!
This is the first of the Man Booker shortlist that I've read and honestly, I'm pretty disappointed. While it was a fairly enjoyable reading experience I really don't understand what it's doing on the shortlist, I don't know what exactly anyone sees in it... I'm actually kind of baffled.
This book is sold as a compelling, honest account of modern masculinity. A raw and complex exploration of manhood in the twenty first century. It is split into nine short segments, each focusing on a few days in a different man's life, with the men getting older as the narrative progresses, and dealing with the different situations that life brings.
I assumed this would explore concepts of toxic masculinity, gender identity, emotional intelligence, sexuality, race, body image, the changing dynamic between men and women, and potentially look at the horrifying suicide rates of young men. All of the things we know structure and guide a man's life whether he's conscious of them or not, but I was really let down.
Honestly, if this is 'All That Man Is', then man is unethical, constantly horny, and unbelievably boring. Although there were some differences in background and life outlook each story could probably have been about the same person, just getting steadily older and more lame and miserable.
Not a single one of the characters that this book focuses on has anything interesting in their lives. I couldn't really see why any of these stories were worth telling. There didn't seem to be any real stakes in most of the segments and there was no real journey or development in the characters either. One of the stories literally went something like this:
"Ah shit my casual girlfriend is pregnant, I'll try to convince her not to keep it. Well that's made her really upset. We'll walk around some name-drop sights in the city we're in at the moment and I'll say some smart sounding stuff about my profession. Ah ok she's agreed to terminate the pregnancy, oh wait no she hasn't. I feel conflicted. Also I pranged her dad's car. The end."
So why bother? Am I just missing something?
I will say that it is beautifully written. Szalay's prose is effortless and accomplished, never over flowery with metaphor or 'look how deep I am' prattle, but always very smart and confident. Whatever I think of his novel, his writing is incredibly capable and I'm definitely interested to see what else he's written.
I think the novel as a whole was mainly disappointing because I know that men aren't that shallow. They aren't led solely by their penis and they aren't flat boring dickholes. I have men in my life, friends and relatives and romantic partners who actually had other shit going on in their lives. They have families they care about, causes they want to fight for and struggle with their core nature conflicting with societal expectations. I actually feel slightly offended on their behalf, that this is meant to be the literature that represents them, when novels like Girls by Emma Cline or My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout have such rich and intricate characterisation of women that the narrative has to admit that the are ultimately unknowable. All of the characters we follow here are flat and unmemorable and have minimal development. The structure of the stories means that we only ever really follow each of the nine men there in the moment, we know very little about who they are and where they came from and, while in some cases the author did a really good job of summing up an archetype in just a few scenes (the shark-journalist workaholic whose wife has to hide his phone, or the twenty something loser who still lives with his parents and plays video games and ambles after girls who don't care about him.) That's all they are, archetypes. Stereotypes of men that we see in cheap media. The whole point of truly good literature is to challenge that and to give those stereotypes their own depths and truths and this just doesn't. I don't know what it really means to be a man, and I was excited to have my own assumptions challenged and really empathise with men and get a glimpse into their own rich complex inner lives. But no, apparently they're just shitty people who want boobs all the time. Cool.
If anyone has read this and did enjoy it please let me know because I would love to see what someone saw in it enough to get it published, let alone short listed for the Man Booker!
Thank you for reading.
* Review copy provided by the publisher... to someone else who kindly let me have it
Published 20th October 2016
I'm reluctant to call it a sequel, because although it is set in the same universe, it follows characters at whom we only got a passing glance during the first book. I thought this would be a problem, I thought that the characters and their relationships in Long Way were the strongest point of the book, and I wanted to see more of them so I started the novel very aware that I wasn't going to see my favourite characters again.
But honestly it didn't matter. After ten pages I was back in the lovely, rich universe Chambers has created and rather than following on from the last book, it takes us in a different direction and allows us to explore her reality from a whole new perspective.
It's hard to explain the premise of the book without hugely spoiling the first one, but I will say that it has the same warmth and joy to the story, and explores the same themes of making your own family, the complexities of gender, diversity and considering other people as people, even if you don't really understand or relate to them. It has such modern values and steers away from cliche and trope at every turn and it's a joy to see where a narrative can be taken when it isn't just pushed lazily along the usual paths. There is also some serious social commentary, including something I read as an unapologetic side eye at the way in which we all know our clothes and luxuries are made by slave children in the developing world, and yet we do nothing about it... because we don't see those people as 'real' people with 'real' lives. Chamber's really has her finger on the social pulse and knows what the more 'modern' reader wants in a book.
One of my workmates described this book as being like 'a literary group hug', and she's totally right. Chambers shows how you can create characters with compassion rather than just to be put through hell for cheap entertainment, and how you can show characters facing difficulties and overcoming obstacles, however awful, and growing as people, rather than spinning into turmoil just so that we as readers can watch the train crash.
I really hope that we get to see the crew from the first book again, but I really think that this book holds it's own with a cast of new characters and very different surroundings, as well as expanding on the world we only got a glimpse of in Long Way.
I can't wait until this comes out, because I can't wait to introduce more Waterstones shoppers to the joys of the Wayfarer universe. If you haven't read Long Way, read it. Then buy and read this when it comes out. You won't regret it. If in doubt come to Waterstones in Newbury and talk to any member of staff who will tell you how much we all love it.
Ok I'll go now. READ IT.
Despite having been published in 2014, and receiving fairly modest attention at the time, The Winner's series has started doing the rounds on Booktube. I've seen two or three people review it and it's been garnering fairly positive reactions from readers who, like myself, aren't generally YA readers and wouldn't normally look twice at this book.
I've been getting through some pretty heavy reads in the last few weeks and felt like I needed a break and to get lost in some gratuitous, brainless entertainment. But I can't just pick up anything, I'm too fussy about tropes and stereotypes and shitty writing. So given that this seemed like a good balance between the two and I bit the bullet and ordered all three books.
The Winner's Curse took me two days to finish and is a fast easy read. It follows the stupidly named Kestrel, the daughter of a General of the Valorian Army. The Valorian people are in the midst of expanding a vast empire across their world and Kestrel and her father live in the recently occupied Herrani territory. Ten years prior to the start of the book the Valorians conquered the Herrani people, enslaved them and now live in houses that used to be theirs.
At the start of the book Kestrel and her friend Jess find themselves accidentally at the slave market and watch the auctions. A young man with blacksmith skills and who, supposedly, sings beautifully is put up for auction and, despite never buying a slave before, Kestrel bids for him and wins.
The story then follows the two of them navigating the world of high society and gossip that Kestrel lives in, as well as their relationship with each other and the conflict between their two people.
I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It had some really interesting ideas in it and the characters were multi-faceted and complex, particularly Kestrel. She was a 'strong female character' in that she was flawed, made mistakes but also had admirable qualities. She's a completely shit fighter (which I enjoyed because far too many YA heroines are kickass for no obvious reason) but is able to best people with her sly and perceptive nature. She is kind and fair to the slaves in her household but, as the narrative points out, how kind can you be to someone while you keep them as a slave.
This book did slip into some cheesy eye-roll YA moments. There are plot points that are stupidly convenient. Several times she is privy to important meetings between people who regard her as their enemy. Why is she allowed to sit in on these meetings when her knowing this information could be their downfall? There is also an awful lot of 'What is this feeling? Why did I do this? "She felt something in her chest that she refused to name" bullshit hand-wringing which is just annoying, woman just admit you fancy him it's cool. Also there is an 'attempted sexual assault' scene that is just stupid and predictable and something out of a bad fanfiction.
That said there was a lot going on in this book and some really interesting concepts and ideas were explored. I would love to know more about other parts of the Valorian empire and the military which is not gender specific. There are hints of an interesting mythology and spirituality in the Herrani people but it's never more than hinted at. Unfortunately because the book is preoccupied with the plot moving forward we don't get much in the way of world building, or exploration of the moral ambiguities of some of the characters and the choices they make. That was a shame, as even a little more discussion about this would have added some richness to the book. This is the first in a trilogy so perhaps I will find the world expands later.
I don't know the extent to which I'd recommend this book. It was good fun, I did enjoy it and it seems to be one of the better YA fantasy romances out there. However it does still suffer from the family traditions of love triangles, dropping the bulk of the story for angsty love and bland side characters. I also feel the last third of the novel let down the rest of it. The ending is good but the way we travelled to get there was a strange decision to make and felt like the author was trying to make a literary point and failing terribly. I think it's still worth a read if you enjoy the genre, or if you're looking to zone out for a bit and think about pretty dresses and cute boys.
Let me know if you've read this book and what you thought!
Milk and Honey is split into four sections, each dealing with an aspect of love and relationships, there's the hurting, the loving, the breaking and the healing and each has a number of different poems exploring aspects of life and love connected with these titles.
I read this pretty sporadically so I'm not sure that I have actually read every single poem in there but I've definitely gone through the majority at least once. My work mates have been raving about this collection so I felt I had to check it out.
I always say that I don't like poetry but actually this gave me really lovely nostalgic feelings of being back in A Levels and University where we'd analyse poetry and it made me realise how much I'd missed it! And as a return to academia is currently in the works, this reaffirmed just how much I miss being in that setting.
I found the collection to be a mixed bag. There were some that amounted to little more than a fake deep Tumblr post, which I suppose makes sense given that these garnered attention on social media. I would read them over pen in hand and find nothing of any merit there. A few vaguely emotional sounding lines with nothing more to it is not poetry Rupi, I'm sorry it just isn't. Line breaks that seemed pointless, imagery that was sporadic and didn't mesh with the tone of the poem, and some pages were little more than two lines saying something cringey like
"I flinch when you touch me, I fear it is him." ... wut? Did nobody take Rupi's work and sort it into piles labelled 'dope' and 'um no'? It seems like everything she's done ended up in here regardless of it's individual quality.
But then there was just as many poems that I absolutely loved. I filled the space around them with analysis and fawned over how much depth and richness there were to her words.
There's one in particular titled Solo Performance in which she explores the idea of female masturbation for the pleasure of a man watching and I found it so interesting and clever. The idea that female masturbation has become, or perhaps it always was, something that men often see as for them, and their benefit, rather than the woman who is engaging in it.
An aside to any men, if you've ever watched porn of a woman masturbating, know that irl it doesn't look much like that. That sexy lip-bitey half lidded eye thing? Nope. That's called acting. Women's 'nobody's watching' orgasm faces aren't much different from men's. Just letting you know. Oh? Your girlfriend does it though? Is that when she knows you're watching? Cool.
There are a lot of poems about relationships and gender and I felt that, while a few times she missed the boat and came off sounding like a fifteen year old sat in the rain, her overall approach to these topics and the ideas she explored were very profound, especially for someone so young. The healing section has some poetry that is so uplifting and passionate, full of pride and hope for the future of young women, particularly women of colour, and our ability to appreciate and look after one another.
There's also one that cut me to the quick. So much so that the only annotation I could write beside it was the name of the person who made me feel exactly like that. I've never had a poem sit in my heart the way that one did.
I did enjoy this and it's definitely made me want to go and read more poetry, but I feel like quite a lot of this book was just junk. Perfectly good for a teenagers diary, but not something to be published. Doubtless Rupi has some serious talent and will go on to be a very important voice, but I feel like a lot of this is going to be reconciled to her juvenilia and, when she is older and more established, she's going to look back at this first collection and wish she'd cut a lot of it.
Regardless definitely worth a read :)
Let me know if you've read this and what you thought!
Am I blogging twice in a week? What is this??
* It's been quite a long time since I've blogged and a lot has happened. I've moved to a new town and am officially a grown-ass adult living by herself in her own little place! It's a teeny tiny studio flat and the blinds don't quite reach the bottom of the window and one of the hobs doesn't work but it's mine! I pay to live there all by myself and everything in it is mine and put there and organised by me, which really is quite a feeling! The best part of the flat is my bookshelves, (3.) they actually came with the flat and were part of the reason I took it. I've never had somewhere that could house all of my books in one place before. I'll always have fun memories of my uni rooms where all my books sat in stacks on my desk and on the carpet and lined up on the head of my bed, but having a proper, organised bookshelf? It's glorious.
* I've really loved having my own space to organise and the flat is now an adorable little pink paradise full of plants and Polaroids and fairy lights and all the general disgustingly girly shit I'm into. (4.) The only downside of living alone is that I'm no longer living with my best friends. It's been quite hard suddenly not having conversation and cuddles on tap and, though I really like my work friends, there's nobody in the area that I'm close enough with to automatically go to when I just need some human contact. But fortunately me and my friends have done plenty on the days we've been able to be together.
* Before we all moved out we had a big outing to Brighton and had the best day ever. (5) We didn't do much more than wander round, go on a few rides and eat junk food but when you're with your best friends and surrogate family you don't really need to do anything specific to have a great time.
* More recently I met up with Tom and my old Waterstones buddy Kieran and spent the day in Bristol. (1) We had lunch at Ironworks, a little independent bar and restaurant that has become a cult classic, does amazing food and drink AND has a little pet dog called Tinka that lives there! We also shamelessly Pokemon Go'd (Pokemon Went?) and accidentally wandered into a lure party and reaped the benefits (and scoped out really cute guys in cargo shorts... I disgust myself.)
* The other trip I took recently was to Ireland, where I met up with a lot of my relatives for a big family reunion. (6) My family comes from Roscommon, a really rural place in ROI with very little in it other than farms, some family houses and the surrounding land and big-ass Churches. We only stayed for two days but it was great to catch up with family that I hadn't seen in years... even if that did involve them asking about the boyfriend I split up with over three years ago. Awks.
* The last update I need to give is about my writing! I'm currently working on a manuscript given the working title 'The Maiden and The Muses', I've been tinkering with it since the start of the year but have recently found myself really getting into the swing of writing it. (2) I think much of my inspiration came from the fact that large chunks of the book deal with the female protagonist giving zero fucks about boys and in the last month my love life has involved events that, to give just an idea, led to a group chat explaining the situation, in which 'Jesus what a dick' and similar sentiments were expressed by everyone involved, several times throughout. So at least boys being stupid has led to me being really spurred on with writing, and while I don't care too much about the events that sparked it anymore, the motivation to write has stuck around which is awesome. I have just broken the ten thousand word milestone, which is more than I've ever written of one single thing before. I'm really proud of myself for working so hard and getting this far. There's a long way to go and lot of work to be done, but hitting this milestone makes it feel like the reality of being an author is that bit more believable.
So that's a quick update, that's where I've been and what I've been up to. I'm hoping to be blogging regularly again and rejoining this awesome little community.
So Bee, of Vivatramp fame, creative blogging goals and all round cutie pie, created a Writer tag. I haven't blogged in a little while but this really caught my attention and got me thinking about my writing process. It was a lot of fun and definitely gave me a kick to work on my routine as a writer. Definitely give it a go if you're interested!
1. WHAT DO YOU WRITE? WHAT GENRE? ANY REOCCURRING THEMES?
I generally just write prose, usually in novel form. I've tried poetry in the past but it just isn't something that happens for me. I'm interested in writing screenplays and graphic novels but for now my novels are what I'm investing my time and energy into. I tend to deal with quite dark themes but I'm also a fan of writing funny stuff with great female characters.
2. WHAT OR WHO INSPIRES YOU TO WRITE?
Inspiration comes from a lot of places, but for me it's mostly internal. What makes me angry or upset? What messages do I want to send out into the world? Who deserves to have their story told? Also, it's never conscious, but I do find that when I look back on my writing, you can often tell what I was reading at the time, as the tone or style shifts slightly when I'm reading something I love and want to emulate it.
3. WHERE DO YOU WRITE, WHEN AND WITH WHAT?
When I was at Uni I would sometimes go to the library early in the morning and sit on the Humanities floor surrounded by bookshelves. I loved it and found that the quiet and seclusion of the early morning coupled with the feel of being surrounded by books was the perfect combination to get my creativity going and my motivation high. Now I tend to write on my laptop in bed or occasionally in a coffee shop if I can find a secluded little spot. I would love to try and find another library to work in.
In terms of tools, I write with ZenWriter on my laptop. It's really minimal and fills the screen so I can work without being distracted. It also has a few nice features that just makes writing a better experience. I also like to have softcover moleskines and coloured pens to work with, and usually have one for each project I want to work on. I have been known to write in the notes in my phone, white spaces on receipts and my own arms before too! I generally think if you create too much ritual around writing you'll just never get it done.
4. SOUND OR SILENCE WHEN WRITING?
SOUND. 100%. I like it to be sounds that I've chosen though, I will occasionally make my own playlists for projects on Spotify, or alternatively I go on YouTube and put on ASMR videos. There's just something pleasant about having a sweet lady talking softly about her plant collection, or a man repeating positive affirmations in the background, and it gives my ears something to do without distracting me.
5. HAVE YOU STUDIED WRITING? IF SO, WHAT WAS THAT LIKE? IF NOT, WHERE DO YOU FEEL YOU LEARNT YOUR CRAFT?
I did an English degree with Creative Writing, and honestly, it was the best time of my life. I've always been a reader, and I've always loved writing and had a vague fancy that I'd like to write books someday, but it was during those three years that I realised that it's really what I want to do with my life, and that I'm actually pretty good at it! I loved discussing people's work and talking to each other about ideas and improving together, and the support I got from my friends as fellow writers was just incredible. I spent every day excited about my future as a writer. I don't think you need to do a degree to 'learn' creative writing, to be honest I probably couldn't tell you much that I was 'taught'. But what I found was that being immersed in that experience constantly, and surrounded by people who take writing seriously, gives you the space and confidence to grow as a writer and come into your own. It was awesome.
6. WHAT DO YOUR FAMILY / FRIENDS THINK?
My friends are all incredibly supportive, and very active and vocal in spurring me on which is amazing, a few of them have the same goals which is amazing. My mother is the same and, although both of my parents do worry that writing is not usually a lucrative endeavor, I'm financially independent as I am so they're not panicking about me and are happy for me to pursue writing on the side. My father was very wary until he read some things that I'd written. I'm very lucky to have people that believe in me, and I really do believe that positive voices go a long way to helping someone achieve their ambitions
7. WHAT DO YOU FIND CHALLENGING?
I do find it quite difficult to settle into a routine where I write every day. And I annoy myself because every day that I write is a day closer to where I want to be. I can't send off a manuscript that doesn't exist! I'm getting better and creating a regular writing practice but it's still something I need to work on.
8. WHAT'S YOUR FAVOURITE THING ABOUT WRITING?
It sounds shallow as balls but I love it when people like what I've written, and find it really resonates with them. I love the sense of achievement when something I've worked really hard on something and someone says it's good... which I suppose makes sense.
9. ANY TIPS FOR WRITERS BLOCK?
Honestly my main tip is not to be a baby about it. Writer's block is something you just have to power through. Sometimes it's better to write something stupid and terrible to kick start you moving through your story again. You can always go back and change and improve things. Also I tend to write things out of order, in scenes and sections, so if I find myself in a rut in one scene I'll just go and work on another, and once I come back to the bit where I got stuck, the block is gone and I can just keep going.
If the writer's block is just getting started, wanting to write but not knowing what, consume as much media as possible. What ideas really resonate with you? Which characters do you not feel got a fair deal? Are there any worlds, themes or even phrases that start the cogs turning in your head? All writing is influenced by what came before it, it's part of the beauty of literature, that it is this running story building upon itself. Consuming content that you love and want to emulate will help you formulate your own ideas.
10. WHAT ARE YOUR LIFE-LONG WRITING GOALS? WHAT ARE YOUR WRITING GOALS FOR THE REST OF THE YEAR?
Eventually I would like to live off my writing. Maybe not forever, but I would like to be able to say one day that I supported myself completely as a writer. I want to be a published novelist and perhaps work on graphic novels and screenplays. For the rest of the year I want to work on my two current projects, and would like to have at least one of them ready for final touches and to be sent out early next year
alternative title: Think Before You Speak... That Goes for Everyone
alternative alternative title: Blimey BookTube, Calm Your Tits
Here in the Book Blogging Community we're a fairly chill bunch, so when drama happens over on BookTube, it's usually a good opportunity for us to sit back and enjoy the shit storm from a place of relative safety, maybe rolling out a sarcastic tweet with that gif of Sarah Michelle Gellar eating popcorn.
However the most recent clusterfuck actually touched on something worth talking about, and something I have a lot of experience with; That is young women having the validity of their interests questioned... again.
Personally I think that the incident that sparked this discussion was RIDICULOUS. For those who aren't aware a Booktuber made a video in which he derided Bookcon and similar events as shallow and facile, and the (mostly young and female) attendees as stupid for giving time to authors who don't appreciate them. When commenters expressed their disagreement with the things he said he posted the following reply.
Personally I think that the incident that sparked this discussion was RIDICULOUS. For those who aren't aware a Booktuber made a video in which he derided Bookcon and similar events as shallow and facile, and the (mostly young and female) attendees as stupid for giving time to authors who don't appreciate them. When commenters expressed their disagreement with the things he said he posted the following reply.
and holy balls did all hell break loose.
Now I'd like to state here that I watch Steve's videos and I really like him. He's got good opinions on the books he reads and he acts as excellent writing inspiration, with his unapologetic irritation with people who call themselves writers... who then don't write. So I'm coming from a place of actually being familiar with this guy as opposed to just jumping on the indignation train.
I'm in the position of having an understanding with both parties. I, like Steve, hold reading and books very dear to my heart and I can totally empathise with feeling frustrated if you see something you love being used or experienced in a way that you perceive as being shallow. I think we all can, especially as readers with favourite stories/characters.
I love DC comic books and batman, and always get frustrated with people who say they love Batman... who have only ever seen the Nolan films. I don't think they're stupid or wrong, but it upsets me that they believe that Christian Bale talking like he's on his deathbed encompasses the enormous, complex rich world of Batman and his surrounding characters that you experience in the comics, or the pure joy that is The Animated Series, and that they think they have an understanding of that world when there's so much missing. I can totally see that Steve might feel that there is a gap between 'real readership' and what he saw on the BEA videos.
However, we are not gatekeepers of our interests. We don't get to tell others that they aren't qualified to share them. Some people only read YA, there are others who only read non fiction, or books considered 'classics', how does anybody have the right to separate out who is a 'real reader' and who isn't? if you belong to the latter two groups you may be told that you're missing out, or are limiting yourself, but nobody is questioning your readership.Yet there is this constant reinforcement that if you read YA, which is the major focus of BEA and Bookcon, you are not a real reader. I firmly believe that reason people dismiss this area of reading culture is because the majority of people engaging with it are young women. And that's just not on. This is coming from someone who does not read YA, who has nigh on zero interest in it. I don't get to tell someone that they are less of a reader because their tastes differ from mine.
The reaction following this comment was melodramatic, silly and poorly thought out, but I think it was one borne of frustration. Young women get very sick of having their interests invalidated because of who they are. It happens all the time: We like bands that are just corporate machines built to take our money, we like fashion and beauty but that's shallow and frivolous. We like video games and sports but we're just doing it for male attention, and we have interest in politics and social issues but of course we don't really understand them so we just get an 'aww bless' and a head pat. The outrage sparked by this situation is because books are one thing we just get to have, more or less, without that judgement and dismissal.
Having said that, the booktube community did itself a great disservice with it's behavior. I am willing to give Steve space for the benefit of the doubt, and consider that his reference to 'blush', which many took to mean women wearing makeup, was meant to mean 'stage makeup', in that many Booktubers care more about the aesthetic of their channel (though how putting effort into your videos diminishes your validity as a reader I'm not sure) but a whole lot of people flung themselves into a twitter based witch hunt and crucified this guy for a single, poorly worded comment. I followed one twitter conversation as it took place and it went from justified indignation to personal insults, and questions amounting to "why is he even watching all these videos with teenage girls in anyway?". That sort of thing is just utterly unacceptable and, in my mind, made the whole conversation redundant.
If we're calling for one person to be more considered in the way they speak, we MUST exercise that ourselves. To be so immature and vindictive does nothing to resolve the issue, or further the conversation. I am very glad that some major Booktubers have spoken out against this mob mentality, and that some who contributed have since admitted their fault. What should have occurred were polite comments disagreeing with his opinion and explaining the issue with his choice of words, which I imagine would have led to an apology, perhaps some further discussion into the topic and us all getting on with our lives. Instead we got a very angry circle jerk and increasingly ridiculous accusations and anger which, of course, resulted in defensiveness and dismissal. I'm glad that this topic of discussion has been put on the table because one thing Booktube does right is it's ability to address it's own issues, but I wish we had done it without deciding that one man's ambiguous word choices made him the next Daniel Tosh. We're better than that chaps.
Well that's my two cents. It's coherent if you squint. Let me know your thoughts.
Thanks for reading,
That was our mistake, I think. One of many mistakes. To believe that boys were acting with a logic that we could someday understand To believe that their actions had any meaning beyond thoughtless impulse. We were like conspiracy theorists, seeing portent and intention in every detail, wishing desperately that we mattered enough to be the object of planning and speculation. But they were just boys. Silly and young and straightforward. They weren't hiding anything.
Cline's debt novel follows a teenage girl named Evie, living in the summer of 1969 in California, she sees a group of dirty, tough but strangely enigmatic girls in the park, stealing food from bins and learns that they are part of a group following Russell, the charming musician, living on a ranch together getting high and practicing 'free love' while he vies for a record deal from his famous friend Mitch.
If you feel like this rings any bells that sound like 'Charles Manson', you'd be right. This is essentially a fictionalised retelling of the the events surrounding the Manson 'Family' who formed an infamous cult-like group in the late 1960's. When I learned this I was worried this would read like a strange 60's style Phillipa Gregory novel*, but I needn't have feared. Cline simply uses the events of the time as a tool through which to explore a multitude of issues and ideas and it works beautifully. The Girls is an incredibly compelling novel and would make an excellent summer read for people looking for something with more substance and power than the usual Marian Keyes.
I also worried that the book would entail me watching a young girl fall for and fawn over the Manson stand-in Russell, and that the novel would be a 'love story', but it isn't. Well it is, but Russell isn't in it. This is a love story between the girls, and then mostly between Evie and Suzanne, one of Russell's major followers. The energy between them crackles and burns throughout the novel, they get jealous of each other, they pine for each other's company and sleep in the same bed together. Russell is barely in this, the overarching cause and effect of the plot but in no way the story's focus. I love that in some ways Cline shines a light on the lives of the woman who became lumped as 'Manson's girls', but were never given attention as humans with stories beyond brainless followers and I loved that.
Evie is an excellent protagonist. Both unlikeable and incredibly relatable, she is that sullen shrugging teenage girl who can;t stand in a way that she feels she looks natural and searches desperately for any glimmer of what might look like affection from the boys around her. Cline does an unbelievable job of capturing the depth and complexity of the inner lives of teenage girls, which are often dismissed as shallow and shrill. For me personally it actually became uncomfortable to read in parts, just because the exploration of the ways in which teenage girls, just like me and my friends were, allow themselves to be manipulated and used and treated like shit, because finding a boy who looks like he loves you is the absolute priority.
I have become so tired of teenage girls reduced to the lyrics of '#Selfie' when in fact the every day of a girl that age is so much more raw and fraught than that. I have only seen this reviewed by other women, and I would be absolutely intrigued to know how this felt to male readers, whether it gave a different perspective on the girls they knew in their teens.
Evie exists in two times, as a middle aged woman in the books 'present', and as the young girl she looks back on. Both feel very tangible and real and although some reviews I read argue that present day Evie intruded on the main story, I found that narrative to be a wonderful contrast of the impetuous teen, with her older and wiser self. The present day story also acts as a horribly accurate commentary on how teenage girls haven't changed, and how they still allow themselves to be humiliated and mistreated in the name of male validation. Some of the scenes in the present narrative were truly upsetting, because they take place in modern times and ring so much closer to home.
The writing in this is sublime. Emma Cline knows just how to turn a phrase without sounding smug. The writing doesn't sound like it was written, which is the ultimate compliment to an author. The entire book is written with confidence and skill without ever feeling that the 'crafting' of the words impeded the flow of the storytelling... looking at you Anthony Doerr. I truly felt the starchy heat of 1969 California, and the crippling embarrassment of being caught in a lie as a teenager. Cline really is a fantastic writer... bitch.
I mean it's not perfect... I'm sure it isn't, but I really can't think of anything I didn't enjoy about this book. If you do have a sensitive disposition, particularly regarding younger teenagers and sex then maybe approach with caution but I feel that even that aspect was handled beautifully.
So yeah... Maybe read this one. I was tempted to just reread this the other day, but I have far too many unread books on my shelf to do that just yet. It comes out 16th of June in hardback and I think I may even purchase it, just so I can actually give Emma Cline some money, for this I think she deserves it.
If you made it this far, well done! My next review might be less gushy... maybe.
Thanks for reading
This review copy was kindly sent by the publishers in exchange for an honest review.