The New Moon’s Arms

The New Moon’s Arms by Nalo Hopkinson was the most unique book I had read in a while. We were approaching the mid-point in my first semester of second year and I was told that next book I would have to read was fantasy. Perfect! Finally I get to study a book from my favourite genre! Yet, I quickly realised this book was very different from the usual ‘Lord of the Rings’-style fantasy I have grown to love.

To put it simply, this book is about the magic of menopause, oh and mermaids too. Our main character Calamity, formally known as Chastity, is getting old, and she’s having none of it. It’s bad enough that the menopause is striking hard and fast, but then she finds a strange boy washed up on the shore.

Fellow classmates in my seminars had mixed feelings about this book, and in particular our protagonist Calamity. There are several scenes in the novel where she expresses some pretty homophobic and downright offence opinions. The thing that started to frustrate me though, is that some took this as meaning that Hopkinson aligned herself with these views.

In my opinion, I think the author wanted us to dislike Calamity, to feel uneasy with her thoughts and actions. There are plenty of other moments (which I won’t spoil) that certainly don’t paint our Calamity is a good light. If anything, I think the complex construction of Calamity shows that Hopkinson isn’t afraid to shy away from these issues.

The story itself captivated me. The way Hopkinson seamlessly blended fantasy with reality was so powerful I was starting to believe the mermaids could actually exist. Now I say that lightly. I don’t think Hopkinson conjured this narrative to get us to believe that there are merpeople in our oceans or that the menopause makes you find lost things. Instead, I believe her story become a commentary on both technology and ideas on colonialism.

Technology is heavily featured in the novel in the form of Evelyn, Calamity’s school bully turned doctor. Evelyn and the other doctors are constantly looking to correct the sea boy Agway, to remove the markings on his legs that help him swim and so on. It turns out this doesn’t fair out for Agway in the long run, but let’s just say he ends up where he belongs.

The colonial narrative runs pretty clear through the novel. Calamity and the other humans see Agway as something to be tamed and transformed to look and behave more human. What I found most significant, something which Calamity’s grandson Stanley of all people points out, is that at no moment does Calamity go to great efforts to learn Agway’s language. Instead, she perseveres to teach him English language and culture, much to her eventual failure. This may be reflective of the dominance of the Western culture and how assertive the West are in imposing their culture onto the rest of the world.

All in all, I am certainly considering giving this book a second read. I am pretty sure there were a million and one things I missed the first time round, purely from the richness of Hopkinson’s writing and ability to craft a truly compelling story. 4/5 stars.

 

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Rapid Reading

As someone who currently studies English Literature with Creative Writing at university, you could say I know something about reading under pressure. Now I’m moving into my second year, I’m pretty much required to read about 4 books a week. I know other English students, and avid readers alike, would find that easy, but for someone who can famously be a slow reader at times, this is a challenge. To make matters worse, not only do I have to read these books, but read them actively, which for me translates into having a pencil ready to underline anything and everything.

I’d like to think, from my experience in my first year, that I can still mildly cope with reading at this speed, partly because I know I have to, otherwise I’d be spending 9 hours a week in lectures with constantly glazed eyes. However, what this past long summer has taught be is that it’s okay to slow down when you’re reading for pleasure. Even now I have to remind myself when I’m reading my ‘pleasure book’ to put down the pencil and just read. I don’t have to start thinking of themes that I could use to connect this book with another, or consider the symbolism the author uses to foreshadow a big moment or revelation. I can simply snuggle up in my bed, light my trusty scented candle, and read.

Therefore, going into my second year, I’d like to set myself a goal: to take time to read a ‘pleasure book’. By this I mean taking a break from reading a book for my course and, even if it’s only for 30 minutes, read a book I’ve actually been excited to pick up!

Wolf by Wolf

I picked this book up after a I spent a good few months not reading at all. I had entered a reading slump and my typical contemporary young adult books just didn’t seem to tick all the boxes for me anymore. I came across Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin when it was recommended by a you-tuber I watched and for a while it was simply gathering dust on my bookshelf. Historical fiction, like crime, is a genre I had never really delved into, with the exception of The Book Thief.

Like many books I have read, what drew me into picking up this book were two things: a kick-ass female protagonist and a resistance. As a huge fan of franchises like Star Wars, the idea of the novels story being surrounded by the hope of a resistance was exciting to me. Having the limited education of the Second World War of a few lessons in secondary school, Wolf by Wolf delved into a different area that I knew little about: the experiments that German doctors would perform on the prisoners. I felt like Wolf by Wolf was a natural transition into the historical fiction for me because Yael, the protagonist, was a shape-shifter, bringing in that beloved fantasy element into the story.

Wolf by Wolf was utterly and indubitably engaging. For a novel where the protagonist spends the majority of the time driving, Graudin was completely successful in sustaining my interest in Yael’s fate and if she actually manages to kill Hitler! Another thing that impressed me about this book was how the romantic subplot was not overpowering, something that other young adult books – for me – have fallen victim too. This does not mean there was no romance in the novel (the rocky relationship between Yael and fellow rider Luka was curious as well as stimulating), but Yael’s impulsive attraction towards the boy did not cause her to deviate from her original mission. Hooray for strong women! 🙂

Without spoiling too much, when I finished this book I was initially disappointed. It ended on those kind of cliff-hangers where the goal was achieved, but not in the way that it was planned… Then I thankfully discovered that there is a sequel!! I have many other books that have been sitting on my shelf for too long, but I will definitely be revisiting Graudin’s work again!

I give Wolf by Wolf a solid 5/5 stars!!

Plague

I’m a firm believer that if you’re not interested in the book you’re reading anymore, then it doesn’t seem much use in finishing it. This is exactly what I found with Plague by Michael Grant, the 4th installment in his Gone series.

The previous book, Lies, was mediocre for me, but I finished it, and therefore felt obliged to continue with the series. I had got to about halfway through Plague when I started asking myself if I really cared enough about these characters and story-lines to finish the book. Obviously, the answer was no.

I began to find Grant’s writing in this series a bit basic, losing my engagement several times. It was still as action packed as the other books, but there as just something about reading this one that was enough for me. Maybe it’s because recently I’ve been buying quite a few books that I’m excited about, diminishing the excitement about Plague. I began to fall out of love with the story and the characters. The protagonist I once found endearing, I now just found irritating and brooding and the supposed villain was so far away from the main conflict of the plot it made me question if he was much of a threat in the first place.

Overall, it’s very likely I may never return to this series again. But I’m feeling optimistic and maybe I won’t give away those books just yet…

You Know Me Well

You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan is a novel about love, friendship and finding yourself. Kate and Mark had been in the same class for years, but on the night where Kate found the boy dancing on a bar, everything changed.

This book was inspiring. I had read a few LGBT novels in my time and most seem to have the cliché of a boy/girl falling in love with their same sex best friend, the end of the book resulting in the two being a couple. However, whilst this was party true for ‘You Know Me Well’, there were definitely some fresh perspectives.

Mark has been in love with his best friend Ryan for years and, having read books with this similar premise, I imagined a scene where Mark would realise Ryan had the exact same repressed feelings and that they were going to live happily ever after would happen. But this was not the case. Instead, the authors focused more on Mark coming to grips with his confidence, but not the type when a gay man struggles to come out; Mark was already openly gay from the get go. Mark goes through a journey in this novel of accepting that life isn’t going to be perfect and that’s okay. The fairy-tale scenario where Ryan loves him back doesn’t happen (in fact, Ryan ends up with another boy in the end) and at first this is the main turmoil in Mark’s story and, as readers we are yelling at the pages asking why the hell Ryan doesn’t love him back. However, the main theme of this novel is friendship and I think no reader could deny that Mark and Ryan’s friendship is invincible. Despite initially being heartbroken by rejection, Mark realises there is light at the other end of the tunnel and it seems that the light bulb is Kate.

Kate falls in love with Violet, a girl her best friend Lenha has talked to her about for years. But when the two lovebirds finally meet, Kate is terrified. At first, I didn’t understand her anxiety: Kate was about to meet the girl of her dreams, and she likes her back, but she runs away? Then, like a light bulb switched on above my head, it was obvious that Kate too struggled with confidence and identity. Her fear about starting college is something that strays from the typical teenager who can’t wait to leave home. For me, the authors created one of the most realistic teenagers I’ve seen. Someone who’s not so certain on who she is yet or what the future holds, but she is willing to find out.

One of my favourite quotes from this book is from Mark. When asked who he is, he replies “I am becoming” and I think that rings true for a lot of people, especially teenagers. This book showed me the importance and value of friendship and hpw it can really change people’s lives. Unlike most YA novels, love was a subplot and the spotlight shone on the ever-strengthening friendship between two people. Two people who help each other and therefore send the message of how important it is to have someone beside you, to have a “partner in crime”.

I will happily give this book a 5/5 stars for it’s refreshing themes and relatable characters. The writing was comical, but also had that sophistication of a published novel, something that is usually difficult to find.

Lies

After reading the third installment of the Gone series by Michael Grant, I started to feel slightly confused about the direction of the series…

Lies was an average book for me. Judging by the title, you could probably guess that everyone went wrong in this plot because of people not telling the truth. One thing that I have realised reading this book is how many characters are actually involved in this series. It seems that Grant keeps adding new charaters, instead of perhaps building and expanding upon the ones he has already established. However, most of the main cast (excluding our protagonist Sam) have been explored to an extent, but the focus does still seem to be on adding more characters.

In particular, I wasn’t overly excited about the introduction of the kids from the island: Sanjit, Virtue, Peace, Bowie and Pixie. To be honest, what Grant achieved with this story line could have probably had the same effect if it were just Sanjit and Virtue. Perhaps it was to make it seem that Sanjit had more responsibility, but on the other hand, I saw it as more empty space been filled up with names. However, once Sanjit’s situation was given more background, I did start to find the character interesting, especially since they have been completely oblivious to what has been going on on the mainland.

Another aspect of the book I would like to focus on is Sam and Astrid’s relationship, which seemed to be all over the place. I understand that for a fictional relationship to be interesting to readers it can’t be a walk in the sun all the time, but it seems that through the entirety of the book Sam and Astrid were arguing in some form or another. This therefore started to make me care less and less whether they actually worked things out in the end, but maybe that is what Grant was after…

Perhaps Grant drove this wedge between Sam and Astrid to explore Sam’s own mental issues, something about the book which I did find quite enlightening. Grant gave us the reality (well as much reality as you can in fiction) about being a hero and how isn’t always fun being in charge. It offered a fresh perspective and made Sam a much more realistic and relatable character which is something I can get behind.

Overall, I would give Lies by Michael Grant a 3/5 stars. Whilst some fight scenes and new character stories were entertaining, there were point whether I felt over loaded with character names that seem to not serve a significant purpose.

Ode To Writing

As an exercise to help us understand analysing poetry better, my English Literature class was set the task of writing a sonnet in iambic pentameter. Even though this isn’t a book review, I thought I’d share what I wrote for my sonnet:

 

 

Ode to Writing
Shuffling scribbled papers as the hands
Tick closer to midnight, scolding drink
Warming my mind, my words. Perfecting plans
Until sound. Love is being on the brink

Of an idea, realising tales can be
Your own. When their craft becomes your own craft
It’s magic. A special power to see
That a word can change into first draft.

I am a sorcerer, my love’s magic
To turn this novel into a classic.