You win some, you lose some

I made a post earlier about shaming, in particular classics shaming – for those of you who haven’t read it, I’m essentially talking about those few individuals who feel it’s their duty to ‘shame’ other people for not having read certain books. For example, what are considered ‘classics’, or the canon etc etc. We’re talking Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice, Great Expectations, and so on.

As a Classical Studies with English student, I feel ridiculously guilty for not having read some books. Which is stupid, because there are millions of books and who the hell can read every single one? Anyway, I decided that I’d gradually make my way through (and by gradually, I mean gradually) a few certain books deemed ‘classic’. I started with Wuthering Heights and, thanks to a well-timed university module, I’ve just finished Frankenstein. Neither were what I expected.

I’m a sucker for a good romance. Don’t you deny it, a little mush is good for the soul (and the heart, surprise, surprise). So I chose to start with Wuthering Heights, knowing very little other than the fact that Heathcliff is a hunk and there is a fantastic Kate Bush song (and let’s not forget the dance).

What I read was not this. I did not read about a gallant male lead who was wonderful, attractive and who incites me to say ‘Oh, I love you, Heathcliff‘. No. I read about an abusive arse of a man who is shown to actually beat a girl. Beat. And he also beats a boy. Beats. He locks Cathy’s daughter in a room and refuses to let her leave until she does what he wants. He is horrible, abusive and, I’m sorry, but just plain awful. WHY DO PEOPLE LIKE THIS GUY? This isn’t romantic! This is barely friendship! When is a man who beats people romantic? No, I’m sorry, but this is one classic that I just couldn’t enjoy for that sole reason. I went in expecting a love story, and left with a tale of abuse. The writing is beautiful, I can’t deny that, but Heathcliff is not.

I approached the next classic with trepidation. Frankenstein. Oh boy. I know the stereotype images of a square headed monster coloured green all stitched together. Once again, I had no clue what to expect. Once again, how I felt at the end was the exact opposite of my expectations. Wuthering Heights wasn’t a good time for me. Frankenstein was one of the best. I adored every page. The writing, the story, the later analysis I did in class on the relation to the myth of Prometheus. It was pure class and I wish I had read it sooner so I could have gushed about it sooner. Frankenstein and his monster, his creature, were so complex and interesting and just so different. They had motives that I could understand; the wish to create, to discover, to find love, to find a place to belong (cue music from the Disney Hercules soundtrack). It was just perfect.

So, you win some and you lose some with classics. You might feel like you’re obligated to like them, but I’ve discovered first hand that this isn’t the case. Wuthering Heights wasn’t really up my street, so what? Frankenstein is one of my favourite reads of this year – and not just because it meant that when I read Vicious by V.E Schwab I understood references to it.

Moral of the story (/stories), try something different and you might find that you like it – or hate it, but then you can write a blog about it and get out all those pesky feelings.

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Vicious by V.E Schwab

I’ve been meaning to review this ever since I finished it, but was sidetracked by my university reading – the first book of which is Frankenstein that I finished about three minutes ago. And I’m very glad I chose to read it, one of the reasons being that I realised how V.E Schwab uses the story of Frankenstein in her book.

Victor and Eli started out as college roommates brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same ambition in each other. A shared interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong.

Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl with a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the arch-nemeses have set a course for revenge but who will be left alive at the end?

I will just say now, that I will have a short spoiler section at the end of this review, but there will be plenty of warning before you see it. I’ll also be talking about Frankenstein in this section.

Are we surprised this is yet another fantasy novel? No. Probably should rename this blog ‘alwayslovetoreadalotoffantasy’. Back to the book, Vicious is the superhero book I’ve always wanted to read (and write). I’ve always loved the concept of superheroes, ever since watching The Incredibles when I was a child up until recently reading All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman. Vicious is a book about superheroes for adults – and the term ‘superheroes’ is one I use loosely, particularly the ‘heroes’ part.

This book turns every idea you have about superheroes on its head. It turns the concept of who is ‘good’ and who is ‘bad’, who the ‘hero’ is and who the ‘villain’ is, completely upside down. The book follows Eli and Victor, who start off as friends and become enemies. The layout of the novel is gripping, jumping back and forth between the past and present to slowly unravel what the hell is actually going on and how it got to this point. You see Eli and Victor as teenagers, full of curiosity and ambition, then the next page you see them as adults, entirely vengeful.

Not only do you have such complex main characters, but the ‘sidekicks’ all have their intricate backgrounds and even more interesting abilities. I loved seeing the different relationships, especially that of the sisters and how their abilities affected their relationship. I don’t want to say so much more on this, because I’m pretty sure I’m going to spoil it.

Which means, it’s time for some spoilers. Along with some Frankenstein context. For those of you stopping here though, if you enjoy anything fantasy, with action, revenge, and fantastic characters – this is the book for you.

Continue reading “Vicious by V.E Schwab”

Book Shaming

I love reading. I think we’ve established that. I love books, I love talking about them to the point I’ve set up a blog about it and I want to one day write them. When other people talk about loving books, I love that even more. Sharing your love for a book with someone is so wonderful it’s hard to describe, but it fills me with joy – it’s one of the reasons why I love working in a bookshop. Books to me mean happiness and lots of good, positive vibes. This is why I absolutely hate it when people create a negative out of them.

Book shaming. You’ve probably done it without thinking about it, but the two most common sorts of book shaming are classics and Harry Potter. I’ll start with Harry Potter – a fantastic series, no one can argue against that, but not everyone has read the books for reasons of their own. However, this series has a following of millions of passionate people and, unfortunately, when they meet someone who hasn’t read the books, they start an argument. It can be lighthearted teasing or full out scolding. ‘You haven’t read them? What the hell are you doing with your life? You need to read them!’

You can probably guess what I mean by book shaming now.

Shaming someone for not reading a certain book just isn’t right, to me. And, hell, I’ve had this happen to me more times than I care for. I read all kinds of books, and it started with horse books and Judy Moody, then went into teenage and contemporary, and now I find myself reading more fantasy than ever. For university, I read ancient Greek and roman plays, poems and history books along with a few selected books for English. Harry Potter is a series that I just never read. My brother read them all, and I remember a time when I wanted to be so independent that I refused to read them just for that fact – the amount of times people asked me whether I was always trying to be like him had me very sensitive. Then I remember trying to read the first one towards the end of primary school, and I just couldn’t get into it past the first chapter. So I put that book down and tried something else – I just never picked it up again. When they came out, I went to see the films and enjoyed them. I liked the world, the fantasy, the references to classical mythology – but I just didn’t read the books. I also don’t have any plans to read them, but that doesn’t mean I deserve abuse from peers, friends, colleagues or strangers just because of it.

Ok, enough about Potter shaming and on to classics shaming. You probably have an idea of what counts as the classical book ‘canon’ as such. It’s books like Pride and PrejudiceJane Eyre, The Great Gatsby, Little Women, Of Mice and Men etc, etc. You get the idea. Now people absolutely love to shame those who haven’t read these books termed as ‘the classics’. Reading these books have become a chore for some people just so they can say they’ve read them, rather than out of enjoyment. I am desperately trying to read as many classics as I can, because reading them before has never interested me. In secondary school I was more interested in books like the Hunger Games and, sadly, Twilight in my earlier years. Yet, now that I actually want to read these particular books, all I get is grief. ‘You call yourself an English student? What do you mean you haven’t read them?’ blah, blah, blah-de-bloody-blah. Everyone seems to have an opinion, and if they’ve read the books then they feel automatically superior. I read Wuthering Heights all the way through for the first time a few months ago, after many failed attempts to finish it when I was younger, yet when I happily told someone they immediately started the shaming spiel.

It’s a shame, excuse the pun, that these particular books have been so much adored by some people that those who haven’t read them are deemed failures immediately. Or even if people do love them – say someone saw an adaptation of Jane Eyre and now idols her, or if they’ve watched the Potter films and consider themselves a fan – that people still tell them off for not reading the books. Tell them that they don’t truly appreciate them because they haven’t read the books, so automatically their love for them should be revoked.

It’s not good, people. Not good.

The Girl With All the Gifts

Blind Reading is something that’s new to me – and I don’t even know if that’s the official name for it, or if there is an official name for it, but by a ‘Blind Read’ I define it as starting a book with no idea what it’s about. The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R Carey was one of the few Blind Reads that I’ve done, and quite unintentionally.

I picked up The Girl With All the Gifts because I was in Waterstones (a typical occurrence) and I needed one more book for the ‘3 for 2’ deal. It was placed on a table surrounded by books with darker covers, so it stood out with it’s bright yellow cover. The blurb was a small extract from the book and that was it. I picked up this book at the beginning of the year and it sat patiently on my shelf up until a few weeks ago. I needed something to read on the tube to work, so I picked up my ‘To Be Read’ jar and picked out a piece of paper, which had The Girl With All the Gifts on it. Not one to challenge the jar, I took this books with me and started it – this was the first time that the journey felt painfully short.

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class.

When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite. But they don’t laugh.

My goodness. Goodness golly gumdrops. I mean, bloody hell. I was not expecting this book. I had definitely entered a reading slump when this book came bursting out with a baseball bat, swinging like there was no tomorrow. This book consumed me (which I want to make a pun about, so if you do read the book please come back to read this review again and tell me how you appreciate the inside joke so I don’t feel inadequate). I don’t know what I expected exactly, but it certainly wasn’t this. I thought, from the cover, that maybe this girl had superpowers, then from the blurb I thought she had some sort of disability and this was a pointed tale about discrimination against the disabled. I just can’t deal with it. If there was ever a book to get me back into the reading game, this is the one.

I want to start a proper review now about the fantastic language and the process of thought for different characters and the clever use of perspectives and pointed messages about what we take for granted and ugh just everything goddammit. But I can’t, because I don’t want to ruin this book because I think everyone just needs to pick this book up, read it, love it, and pass it on. When I understood what was actually happening, there was that wonderful ‘Ohh, it’s that kind of book‘ but up to that point there was this brilliant confusion that had you guessing at every page. It was like being in a hall of mirrors with no clue what was going on or where you were going, but you knew that something was going to happen. Maybe someone would jump out at you, maybe you’d reach the end and find candyfloss, maybe you’ll walk straight into a wall. Who the hell knows. It’s brilliant, it’s stupefying, and it will have you unable to deal with anything else. I spent most of my shift itching to get back to this bloody book so I could find out what was going on so I could get back to living my life.

If this doesn’t make you want to read the book, then I can’t force you, but seriously you need to go read this book. I need someone to read it so I can just vent about everything and discuss and whatnot SO if you do read it, leave a comment down below (but of course signpost for spoilers). This book turned me into a hungry reader.

My recent favourite reads on Kindle

A lot has already been said on the subject of ‘ebooks vs print’, a topic which I even briefly discussed in 2013 – two years ago, for those who are extraordinarily bad at maths, and it’s safe to say that technology has come very far since then. What I do mention in a few of my blogs on alwayslovetowrite is that I always consider myself to have very different book-buying habits on Kindle than I do in print. I’ve recently got back into buying ‘proper books’ that I can display on my shelves, and I usually veer towards fantasy or big, chunky, ‘thought provoking’ reads. However, on Kindle, I usually stray towards contemporaries, and more often than not smutty romances that I can finish in a day. So, for today, I’m going to mention five of my favourite recent reads on Kindle – although, warning, in my opinion I’d say the main audience for these reads are majority female.

1. Every Last Breath by Jennifer L Armentrout

Jennifer L Armentrout was one of my first Kindle purchases, and I’ve bought every book she’s written since. I first found her when she wrote Obsidian, a new (you guessed it) fantasy/sci-fi book about aliens – a series that I devoured. When she released her novella Bitter Sweet Love I expected a very smutty romance, and what I discovered was a something completely different. Her Dark Elements series is about gargoyles, yes, you read that right, gargoyles, and demons. I’ve not encountered a book about gargoyles before, which was the same about aliens with Obsidian, and man did I love it. Every Last Breath is the third and final book in this series and it did not disappoint. I don’t care what people say about love triangles being ‘done’ – Ms Armentrout makes a good one. I mean…GARGOYLES people, how cool is that?

2. Moonlight on Nightingale Way by Samantha Young

A book that can be read as a standalone, but I’d advise to read all of the books in this series by Samantha Young. All contemporary, romance novels set in Scotland, Ms Young just knocks out one after the other with characters you can’t help but love. If you want a bit of love and drama (and some fantastic heroines) then definitely check these out.

3. Ride Steady by Kristen Ashley

Kristin Ashley has a formula for her writing, and it works. You know what to expect, when to expect it, and know you’re still going to read a great, fun book. Ride Steady is part of a spin-off series that focuses on the members of a Motorcycle Club. If you’re a fan of Sons of Anarchy, you might just find yourself loving this series by Ashley. I think you could get away with reading this as a standalone, but I’d again recommend going to the start and working your way through.

4. Rock Chick series by Kristen Ashley

For some reason, I never picked up this series by Kristen Ashley until recently and I just don’t know why. Once again, as I said above, these books follow a formula that works. You have a sassy heroine who you’re always rooting for, hilarious dialogue, action, a great love interest, and just a lot of fun. I think that’s how I’d sum up all of her books. When you read them, you just have fun – which is something that is completely underrated these days.

5. When You’re Back by Abbi Glines

Abbi Glines is another go-to buy, as her reads are just so sweet and heartwarming. I don’t think I’ve ever not finished one of her books in one sitting, or at least within a day. When You’re Back is the sequel to When I’m Gone so I don’t want to give spoilers, but I did not expect to happen what did happen (how vague can I be?), which is surprising as I always expect to be able to anticipate where the story is going. This book was a surprise for me, and I loved it.

Bloody hell, there is seriously a gif for everything, huh?

Ready Player One

I’ve never considered myself ‘geeky’. The only video games I’ve ever played are Pokemon (I was a real poke-fan as a kid), Mario, various DS games (most about horses), and Sims. Again, I’m not really geeky in that sense.

But oh my goody gumdrops, did I feel geeky reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Packed with ’80s pop culture references and based around an online immersive video game, this book is something I never expected to love.

It’s the year 2044, and the real world has become an ugly place. We’re out of oil. We’ve wrecked the climate. Famine, poverty, and disease are widespread.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes this depressing reality by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia where you can be anything you want to be, where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. And like most of humanity, Wade is obsessed by the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this alternate reality: OASIS founder James Halliday, who dies with no heir, has promised that control of the OASIS – and his massive fortune – will go to the person who can solve the riddles he has left scattered throughout his creation.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that the riddles are based in the culture of the late twentieth century. And then Wade stumbles onto the key to the first puzzle.

Suddenly, he finds himself pitted against thousands of competitors in a desperate race to claim the ultimate prize, a chase that soon takes on terrifying real-world dimensions – and that will leave both Wade and his world profoundly changed.

I actually first heard of this book via Youtube from a vlogger called Kristina Horner, whose videos I’ve watched for years. I decided to give this book a go even though I thought it wasn’t a book I’d particularly like, but oh man was I wrong. The world Cline creates just has these very imaginative pieces, my favourite being the concept he calls ‘The Stacks’ which is the future shanty town of caravans stacked up on top of one another. His writing style draws you into the story and the characters are just fantastic.

Wade, the protagonist, is a character I didn’t really want to like at times, but still rooted for all the way. You see him change so much through just a few pages, from a shy boy into something much more. His relationship with video games is something that I think will relate to people wordwide – even me, Miss Sims, found some of his mentality familiar. Except instead of throwing myself into a video game to hide from the world, I normally turn to books. #

I’ve been recommending this book to all my friends and family I’ve seen since I finished reading it – and, yes, I did finish it within 24 hours. Once you read through the first few chapters that set up the scene and you finally reach the action, things seem to take off at full speed.

Another thing that I loved about this book was that I couldn’t predict what was going to happen. Of course, you always think ‘oh, it’s going to work out in the end, surely’ but with this book you had no clue. Every moment you thought all was well, BAM, it changes. There are different plot twists thrown in, a few explosions here and there, and so many fantastic references that you can’t help but grin at when you understand them.

A book that you’d assume is just about a game, but so much more. It’s about our relationship with technology, and our dependency on it, as well as friendship and love – and where they fit in. Discussion of an online platform, worries about catfishing and other internet issues. It’s nostalgic, it’s geeky, it’s fun, and it’s exciting. If you want a guaranteed good read, then pick up Ready Player One.

The Final Empire: Mistborn Book 1

One thing that I adore about going on holiday is the complete isolation from technology – which, I’ll admit, I sometimes love but sometimes don’t. For the past 10 days I’ve been lucky enough to be in France with my parents sunbathing and, more importantly, reading. 5 books later, I’m here to tell you about one of them that stood out and I don’t feel has had enough recognition.

It’s not often that I come across a book which reminds me why I love reading so much and also makes me want to write something in the hopes that it will be as great as this one. Ladies and Gentlemen, I introduce The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson.

Brandon Sanderson’s epic fantasy trilogy overturns the expectations of readers and then goes on to tell the epic story of evil overturned in a richly imagined world.

A thousand years ago evil came to the land and has ruled with an iron hand ever since. The sun shines fitfully under clouds of ash that float down endlessly from the constant eruption of volcanoes. A dark lord rules through the aristocratic families and ordinary folk are condemned to lives in servitude, sold as goods, labouring in the ash fields.

But now a troublemaker has arrived and there is rumour of revolt. A revolt that depends on criminal that no-one can trust and a young girl who must master Allomancy – the magic that lies in all metals.

I know, I know, yet another fantasy but bear with me, you won’t regret it. At least, I hope you won’t.

The blurb on the back of the book gives away a lot less than the one above does – which I found on Amazon for those of you who are curious, though I don’t see why you would be – and the main message is ‘What if the dark lord won?’. That was the line that got my attention.

Sanderson creates this world that feels almost apocalyptic in nature, with ash constantly falling from the sky and the thought of a blue sky being ridiculous. You’re introduced to a clear divide between the noblemen, who are said to have sided with this novel’s own dark lord, the Lord Ruler, and the Skaa, the people who have essentially been forced into slavery and poverty.

However, there are whispers of rebellion by a particularly charming troublemaker who enlists the help of a mismatched group of friends and a Skaa thief, who is worth a lot more than you might first think.

Upon starting this book, I basically knew nothing. It came up as a recommendation for me and a particular book reviewer I like mentioned it as one of her favourite fantasy reads. How could I resist? I’ll have to admit, though, that I read this as quickly as I anticipated. The first part of the novel focuses on introducing you to the setting, characters and several story lines (along with some seriously fantastical elements). As I had no clue where it was all going, I could appreciate that it was well written and imaginative but it didn’t grip me.

I was so unprepared for part two.

Oh my goody gumdrops did that take off. The book is separated into several different parts, and I think it’s just so you can take a breather. The action scenes are so fast paced and exciting that I was literally on the edge of my seat, biting my fingernails, desperate to see what would happen. So many twists and turns, surprises around every corner, to the point that if someone tried to talk to me I had to shoo them away because I seriously did not have time for any interruptions. Part One may have taken me a while to get through, but once I hit that first action scene? Jeez, I read as fast as I could turn pages.

I’m forcing myself to stay away from spoilers, but I still want to give you some ideas as to what you might find within this fantastic book. First of all there’s a great development within a young female character, and as you read on you feel some serious awesome vibes from her.

The ‘magic’ within the novel, called Allomancy, had me confused at it’s first demonstration but, once it was explained later on all I could think was wow, that’s clever. Serious respect for Brandon Sanderson at this point, and I’m ordering the sequels as I write. I’ve always been curious as to what would happen if the ‘bad side’ won, and to see this idea as to what could happen was just brilliant to read.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I absolutely recommend this book without hesitation to anyone interested in fantasy whatsoever. It’s just so clever and good and the twists had me screaming, crying, or just holding up my hands to scream ‘WHY?!’. Basically, you should go read it.

Seriously though.

Go.

READ IT.