Thursday, 12 May 2016

Book Review- This Is Not a Love Story by Keren David

Title: This Is Not A Love Story
Author: Keren David
Series:  N/A
Published:  7 May 2015 by Atom
Length: 352 pages
Source: library
Other info: Keren David has also written the When I Was Joe series (When I Was Joe, Almost True, and Another Life), Salvage, Lisa's Guide to Winning the Lottery, and Cuckoo. 
Summary : Kitty dreams of a beautiful life, but that's impossible in suburban London where her family is haunted by her father's unexpected death. So when her mum suggests moving to Amsterdam to try a new life, Kitty doesn't take much persuading. Will this be her opportunity to make her life picture perfect?
In Amsterdam she meets moody, unpredictable Ethan, and clever, troubled Theo. Two enigmatic boys, who each harbour their own secrets. In a beautiful city and far from home, Kitty finds herself falling in love for the first time.
But will love be everything she expected? And will anyone's heart survive?
Review: Kitty and Theo have recently moved to Amsterdam. Kitty's mother's boyfriend's son is Ethan. The three of them must deal with falling in love, keeping secrets from each other, and getting through life.
I wanted to read this because it kept getting flagged up in chats for featuring bisecusl boys, and I'd been meaning to read things by Keren for a long time. Keren reading short story from Ethan's viewpoint made me want to know more about him and therefore I started on this.
It did seem a bit wandering regarding Kitty and Ethan's story, to start with (probably because I'm generally less interested in people working out who they like until there's bigger conflicts involved). I did like seeing the development of Theo's relationship with Sophie, which is told partially by flashback partially in the present too. I also liked seeing all the relationship strands between Kitty, Theo and Ethan converge and how that all panned out. The building and breakdown of relationships in this book are tumultuous, but good to read about.
I really enjoyed reading about different cultures - Jewish and Dutch. I especially liked that Keren provided characters with different attitudes to aspects of their culture, offering a range of characters within such an under-represented group.
The side characters made a good group. My favourite was Rachel, Kitty's sister, who was funny, and a good support for Kitty.
There's a lot of things our main trio have to deal with. Family relationships, working out friendships, health issues, fitting in when moving abroad... A lot is happening here, and I quite liked seeing how Theo and Kitty fit in after the move.
Part one is the climatic event, part two is before, part three is after. I liked this structure, as it catches your attention immediately, and establishes characters.
I loved the ending. Kitty's discussion with her friends is good for reminding all of us of some lessons in life. Characters' justifications for the way they wanted things were realistic, especially Ethan's (last paragraphs of chapter 44) and while the strands unpacked within the novel are tied up, there's still an openendedness for the future.
Overall:  
Strength 4 tea to a story that is not about love, but is about relationships, romantic, familial, and friendshippy, and overall about life.


Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Theatre Review-A Midsummer Night's Dream, performed by the Arcola Queer Collective

Title: A Midsummer Night's Dream
Writer: William Shakespeare and Patrick Cash and company
Director: Nick Connaughton
Performed by: Arcola Queer Directive
Cast:  Sheena Anyanwu, Diego Benzoni, Miss Cairo, Daniel Correia, Anthony Cranfield, Vickie Dillon, Rudi Douglas, Camilla Harding, James Hartley, Stuart Honey, Damien Hughes, Krishna Istha, Rubyyy Jones, Damien Kileen, Bex Large, Phil Rhys Thomas.
Seen at: Arcola Theatre

Review: Hermia and Lysander are a happy couple, much to the protests of Hermia's homophobic mother Egeus. Helena is a young man in love with Demetrius, who pushes him away. The couples all get mixed up at a nightclub, La Forêt, when the owner Oberon uses Puck to matchmake. Meanwhile, Oberon's relationship to his wife Titania is breaking down over the care of an abducted Irish musician, while the backstage team of La Forêt prepare for their turn in the spotlight. Through Shakespearean verse and contemporary additions, A Midsummer Night's Dream is a tale of love, relationships, and how that all works out.

I was very excited for this. Midsummer is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, and the fact that they were making it to include queer characters and modernised made me even more interested.
I'm glad I knew it had added monologues before going in. I wouldn't have hated it if I hadn't, I would just have been puzzled to start with. The monologues are good additions, and I'll come to them later.
We're introduced to the last night of La Forêt. Introducing Puck as the in house drug dealer sets the tone. Then for the rest of the play, which happens mostly as Shakespeare intended, with some flashback scenes and speeches added in. 

I like most of the new characterisations. The Mechanicals have a weird love triangle/pining thing going on (Flute loves Quince, Snug makes physical moves on Quince, I'm not sure whether Quince reciprocates either of them. It's not really explored, or maybe I didn't notice it ) but they do produce a good play by the end of it. Theseus and Hippolyta were...bizarre. Were they high? Their comments are amusing ("Hermia can go to a convent or die" "That's a bit much." And "I will kiss the wall's hole" "Shakespeare is a pervert") but I'm not sure where their characters were going.
Other characters get better development. Puck is a cabaret, Doctor Frankenfurter like figure, introduced by a monologue of how he ran away then got into this culture. Hermia talks about her relationship with her mother. Helena's speech about porn and falling for Demetrius is funny and makes you love him. Bottom comes out of character and delivers a passionate speech, including poetry, about their identity and society, which I thought was a brilliant performance. 

There are four characters that this production of Midsummer changed my views on. First, Demetrius, who from the Shakespeare is normally one of my lesser favourites due to him being a bit of an asshole. Here, his speech about HIV gives him a reason for pushing Helena away, despite his feelings for him, and does not make him seem heartless.I also liked it because Oberon, listening to this speech, now has a more valid reason to work to get Helena and Demetrius together and finally yay bisexual visibility. Then there's Oberon and Titania, who are again a warring couple, but there's a confrontation scene at the start of the second half between them that is distinctly modern and pulls up the issues in their lives as they discuss the family and identity they left behind and how to go forwards. We see more flaws in both their characters than from the Shakespeare, and added new levels of manipulativeness, and I liked the new take on the relationship. Finally, there's the kidnapped boy they're fighting over-Irish here, as opposed to Indian, and given a chance to talk about his new life and chemsex, as opposed to being namedropped and maybe brought on with the fairies. He also provides really good keyboard and singing. 

The staging of this is good. They stay mostly on the main stage but sometimes use the upper level, where the Irish Boy and keyboard is stationed, and an aisle, for the flashbacks.I also enjoyed the little bits of audience interaction which made it more inclusive, but not so much to intrude on the main action.

They make full use of innuendo in the Pyramus and Thisbe scene, and the Titania and Bottom seduction scene, providing adult physical comedy that differs to the comedy I'm used to seeing from Midsummer (and the comedy that others are used to too-the performance I was at saw a group of old people leave for the interval and not come back).

The comedy is less present in the lover's fight scene, when Lysander and Demetrius are both artifically in love with Helena, while Hermia looks on. I think it might be because it takes the bad situation for Hermia (having both her suitors completely change tack and court her best friend Hermia) and makes it worse because there's something a little more heartwrenching as her girlfriend Lysander (who I think might have been a lesbian?) starts wooing a gay boy, and the friendship and romance falls apart. 

I think the strength of this performance is that they take the issues surrounding courtship and marriage that are present in the Shakespeare, and look at the issues surrounding courtship and marriage today, particularly within the queer community.


Overall:  Strength 4.5 tea to a play that easily weaves together Shakespearean and modern stories to create a play that is both funny and serious, but entirely powerful.
Arcola Queer Collective is currently performing Le Petit Prince, between 8 -13 February. More information here.


Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Book Review- Because You'll Never Meet Me by Leah Thomas

First post of 2016! I'm starting as I hope to go on, with a review. Enjoy!
Title: Because You'll Never Meet Me
Author: Leah Thomas
Series: N/A
Published: Bloomsbury Children's Books
Length: 344 pages
Source: Publisher
Other info: This is Leah Thomas's debut. A sequel,  currently Nowhere Near You, should come in 2017.

Summary: Ollie and Moritz are best friends, but they can never meet. Ollie is allergic to electricity. Contact with it causes debilitating seizures. Moritz’s weak heart is kept pumping by an electronic pacemaker. If they ever did meet, Ollie would seize. But Moritz would die without his pacemaker. Both hermits from society, the boys develop a fierce bond through letters that become a lifeline during dark times—as Ollie loses his only friend, Liz, to the normalcy of high school and Moritz deals with a bully set on destroying him.
A story of impossible friendship and hope under strange circumstances, this debut is powerful, dark and humorous in equal measure. These extraordinary voices bring readers into the hearts and minds of two special boys who, like many teens, are just waiting for their moment to shine.

Review: Ollie is allergic to electricity-contact with devices means he'll have a seizure, or it will short out. Moritz was born without eyeballs and he has a pacemaker. And they live on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Still, they form a friendship, writing letters to each other, talking about their present and past.

I got sent this by the publishers. I didn't know what to expect, but the blurb looked good.
The story is told through the letters between Moritz and Ollie. Both write totally differently, reflecting their contrasting personalities. I think Ollie's style was more engaging, it is, for the most part, more enthusiastic, while Moritz is more controlled. However they're both styles that make you want to read on to learn about the characters, as they tell you about their struggles to interact with society, and their attempts to make it work.

Most of the book is telling us about the lives of the boys, separate from society for different reasons, but trying to interact. We meet friends like Liz, Fieke, and Owen, who help our main characters develop. I really liked watching Moritz and Ollie change, especially Ollie, as they both become more confident to do things on their own. Favourite moment- Moritz being taught how to read ink on paper.

When we do learn about their history, which seems quite late considering its focus in the blurb, for me, it's very out of the blue. I liked that we got a lot of coming of age and different stories, and this ending... I didn't see it coming, and it's a bit of a genre shift. Then again, I guess all the references to Daredevil does bring in some elements of it early...  I still prefer the friendship/growing up differently element of this story.  However, I did like the very ending, and the fact that you wonder about the stories of the other people who would be involved. I didn't see it coming, and There's a lot that could be written, in fanfic or by Thomas, or can be left open to your imagination.



Overall: Strength 4 tea to a story about an unusual friendship between two characters you love to watch.

Links: Amazon | Goodreads |  Foyles

Thursday, 31 December 2015

2015 Round Up and Bookish Survey

The amount I have blogged this year has been shockingly low.... I do aim to have time to rectify that, because I love the community, but school and doing everything is difficult. *sigh*
Anyway, like last year, I'll fill this out as best as I can! Thank you, Jamie (The Perpetual Page Turner) for making and hosting this!

2015 Reading Stats

Number Of Books You Read: 93
Number of Re-Reads: 4, I think: The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Lightning Thief, The Sea of Monsters, and Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
Genre You Read The Most From:
...not sure. A bit of many things. Not much historical. A fair bit of contemporary.


Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Book Review- The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

Title: The Penelopiad
Author: Margaret Atwood
Series: Canongate Myths
Published:  October 2005
Length:  198 pages
Source: library
Other info: Atwood has written many things, such as The Blind Assassin, The Handmaid's Tale, and The Heart Goes Last. The Penelopiad was written as part of the Canongate Myths series.
Summary : For Penelope, wife of Odysseus, maintaining a kingdom while her husband was off fighting the Trojan war was not a simple business. Already aggrieved that he had been lured away due to the shocking behaviour of her beautiful cousin Helen, Penelope must bring up her wayward son, face down scandalous rumours and keep over a hundred lustful, greedy and bloodthirsty suitors at bay...And then, when Odysseus finally returns and slaughters the murderous suitors, he brutally hangs Penelope's twelve beloved maids. What were his motives? And what was Penelope really up to? 

Review: Since her husband Odysseus left to fight in the Trojan War, and then gets caught up for ten years on the way back, Penelope has been left running her household, and fighting off suitors who want to marry her, and eat her out of house and home. Now that she's dead, she's ready to tell her side of the tale, as are the twelve maids who were hanged.
According to Goodreads, I read this a few years ago and gave it three stars, but I don't remember doing that. Now I know the Odyssey a bit more, and we're doing a feminist-orientated piece of English coursework, I decided to pick this up, and now I understand things better, I loved it.
There's reinterpretations and challenges to the characters and stories. Obviously, there's those against Odysseus, where there's the question of whether the Cyclops he fought was a monster or a one-eyed barkeeper, and whether his years with Circe and Calypso were spent in brothels or nymphs and witches. But there's also a conversation with Antinous, one of the suitors, explaining why they wanted to marry Penelope so much, and the presentation of Helen as vain, proud, and wanting to conquer men just because she can. Atwood has taken inspiration from multiple sources, not just Homer's epic, but also theories from Robert Graves (who used many writers to inform his work) and Homeric hymns. I like the possibilities this gave Atwood to work with, and the ways she used them.
Penelope's voice often dryly comments on various parts of the stories, and I enjoyed her different insights. What I liked most was the use of the chorus, the twelve maids, whose chapters mostly alternate with Penelope's and change styles each time. Poems, songs, plays, and a transcript of a modern-day murder trial are some of the ways the maids pass their story on in many ways. The writing is well crafted, allowing each of the styles as well as Penelope's main narration to work together to make a story that is intriguing and easy to read.

Overall: Strength 5 tea to a book that makes you think about the different interpretations a myth can have, and provides a new one.



Friday, 23 October 2015

YA Shot Tour- Interview with Lisa Williamson

Today, I’m very excited to welcome Lisa Williamson on the YA Shot tour!
YA Shot is an event that will take place  in Uxbridge on 28 October, organised by Alexia Casale and many other people. Over 71  will be there, tickets are up-to £20, and there’s a full day of panels and booky –MG and YA- things happening!

 Lisa Williamson is the author of The Art of Being Normal, which I reviewed here and really enjoyed. I got the chance to interview her, and I loved her answers, and couldn’t wait to share!

Do you think reading is important for teens today, and why?

I do! I'm convinced those who read fiction make for kinder, more sensitive and empathetic people. Having said that, not every teen is going to be reader and I think it's important we don't ever make anyone feel bad or inadequate about not reading for pleasure. What we should really be doing is finding a way of exposing reluctant readers to the range and breadth of books out there in such a way that doesn't feel enforced. I often meet young people who adore the Hunger Games films but would never think of reading the books. Changing that mindset without being preachy is hard! I often describe my personal experience of reading the Hunger Games for the first time and try to communicate just how intense that was, because instead of sitting in a cinema full of people watching Katniss fight to the death, I was actually there with her, in her head, just the two of us! For me growing up, books represented escape and relaxation. I loved how private and personal my relationship with a book felt, regardless of how many other people I knew had also read it. Reading also helped me figure out who I was, or rather who I wanted to be, and how to make sense of my place in the world. 

Has reading ever done anything for you that you wouldn't mind sharing?

As I mentioned, as a teenager, reading was an escape. When I was thirteen, I was bullied for a short but intense period. Reading made me feel safe and a bit less lonely. I've grown up with the feeling that books are my friend. 

Do you have any stories of people saying how TAOBN has helped them?

I do, and it's probably been the best part of being a published author. TOABN is told from the point of view of a young transgender person, and although I'd done masses of research and endeavoured to be as authentic and sensitive as possible, I was mindful of my responsibility as an author and, pre-publication, very fearful of 'getting it wrong'. Since the book has been out, I've been overwhelmed by the tweets and emails I've received. One young person said the book gave him the courage to come out to his parents. Another said she'd given it to her friends to help them understand what she's going through. Another said how happy she'd been to see the book displayed proudly in a high street bookshop and how it made her feel like she was no longer 'a freak'. All these messages have moved me deeply and demonstrate just how vital diverse books are! 

Do you think books can help people in ways that other media can't?

Books are an amazing tool for sparking discussion. It can be daunting to have a conversation with your family about, for example, gender identity, but if you use a fictional story as a stimulus, it can be a much easier and safer way in. My boyfriend's mother died recently having suffered from Alzheimer's for a number of years. There is a lot of literature on the subject available online. However, I found the most useful material for helping me understand the disease were fictional titles (namely Still Alice, Elizabeth is Missing and Unbecoming). By inviting me to step into the shoes of a dementia sufferer, my perceptions and understanding were turned upside down and I feel I became more compassionate and patient as a result. Emotions are so powerful and I think stories that tap into this part of our brain have the power to change hearts and minds in a way I just don't think a pamphlet or online article can. 

What's your favourite way of promoting books to teens?

Talking to them! I love talking to teenagers, not just about books but pretty much anything that excites them. I did an event recently where I ended up talking a lot about my personal experiences as a teenager. I was really open about being bullied and being in an emotionally abusive relationship and feeling scared about my future and afterwards several teens came forward and opened up to me in return. I think there's a real expectation that adults have their shit together and I wonder if we're doing teenagers a disservice by not being more open about our thoughts and feelings, even if they're in retrospect. I think it would have made a massive difference to me growing up. 
I also love speaking at literary festivals. A whole festival devoted to books? What's not to love? 

How important do you think compulsory reading eg for GCSEs is?

I think it's very important, even if those young people never go on to read a single book ever again. However, I definitely feel it's time to shake up the reading list. Teenagers are reading the same books I read at school twenty years ago and that's not right. For one, the teachers need to feel passionate about what they're teaching and how can they feel energised and motivated to teach a book when it's the tenth, twentieth, maybe even thirtieth time they've shared it with a class? The books I remember from school are often the ones I got the sense my teacher really got a kick out of teaching us.

I wonder if it's at all practical to introduce weekly or even daily 'story time' in schools? Every time I read aloud in a school, the kids seem to really chill out and actually listen. It made me think of how there's something really relaxing and uniting about listening to a story in a big group. Being read to at school would also mean young people who don't usually read off their own backs would be exposed to stories they would wouldn't be otherwise, and might, just might, be motivated enough by the experience to seek out a book of their own. 

If you could give one book to every teenager, what would it be and why?

Yikes, that's tough! This is perhaps a more female-focussed title (although I think boys should most definitely seek it out too!) but 'Am I Normal Yet?' by Holly Bourne is an utter joy, celebrating female friendship in a way that's not often seen in YA fiction. It's also funny and moving and explores mental health in a way that's really accessible and real. I also recently read 'Goodbye Stranger' by Rebecca Stead. It's for slightly younger readers (the protagonist is twelve) and absolutely nails the nature of adolescent friendships in a very beautiful and understated way. I'm all about the friendship at the moment! 



Reminder: you can find Lisa on Twitter here, TAOBN on Goodreads here, and you can buy it in hardback from Hive or from David Fickling. If you’d like to wait for the paperback, it’ll be here on 7th January 2016.