Summer Reading Challenge – August Part 1

I’ve finally reached my August Reading! Yay! I’m still a bit behind and am not even sure if I’ll get to finish it before the end of August, ten days left and nine books still to read.

I’m also behind on my writing, but I’ve been productive recently and mostly just need to edit what I’ve already written. I don’t often have the motivation to edit, I think this challenge has been good for me.

Red, White, and Blue: Read a book that has the words red, white, or blue in the title

I’ve been reading a lot of books that have been made into films recently, I think because they’ve been jumping out at me from bus stop adverts, and also because it means I get to speak about them to my partner – a definite non-reader. These next two I’ve read have been very recently released in cinema: Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews and Ready Player One by Irvine Cline. One I have seen the film of and the other I haven’t, one I enjoyed immensely and the other I didn’t.

Red Sparrow was a struggle. I mainly did not enjoy it because of the way the female characters were written. I’m actually surprised because I can’t think of any other author who has annoyed me in this very specific way that you often hear about (or I do at least) from the usual social media outpourings about how horrible the world actually is, the extreme feminist rants with countless examples of male directed sexism. I’ve mostly brushed it off as I’ve never encountered much of this in my intake of literature (very ignorant of me I know) which is why I think this riled me up so much.

This is also the one which I haven’t seen the film and can only guess that the film is much much better since it stars the great Jennifer Lawrence. The book, however, had constant references to Dominika’s (the sparrow) ‘secret self’, which I interpreted as her sex or her desire (it was all fairly unclear) and the repeated phrase just made me want to roll my eyes every time. I think it was this that made me super aware of the unnecessary nudity and almost lurid descriptions of the female characters. I know the book is about a ‘sexpionage’ spy, but is it necessary to hear about the sexual lives of every female character, even those not included in the sparrow school? I especially noted that pretty much all of the male characters bar one (the love interest obviously) seemed to have no sex life at all or at least it wasn’t deemed important enough, they were impervious to any sort of sexual or romantic distraction, they couldn’t possibly implicate their jobs by doing something as pitiful as fall in love or succumb to desire.

Looking back, Red Sparrow was a strange novel. I’m a bit of a newbie when it comes to these spy thrillers and there was definitely not enough interesting conversations or thrilling action sequences to keep me hooked through the massive size of this novel. What was also weirdly bizarre was the obsession with food which seemed to have no relevance to the novel at all but instead provided some sort of decoration within the chapters. The characters were always eating something – a traditional home-made delicacy, an extravagant restaurant meal, a must-try quick cafe grab – and at the end of each chapter was a little recipe box describing how to make one of the meals mentioned. At first I found this absurd and kept reading thinking that maybe the food had some importance to the story, but by the end it turned out to just be a little detail that I actually found myself enjoying, despite it’s irrelevance.

I don’t know, maybe it was important in comparing the consumptive pleasures of eating to that of sexual espionage or sexual desire, but I feel like I’m reaching for a more interesting theme.

Embrace Your Inner Geek: Read a book about geek culture

For this prompt I did a little research looking for the perfect book but wasn’t really sure about any of the suggestions I found, especially as after 547 pages of Red Sparrow I was in the definitely in the mood for something short. I was struggling though so I decided to ask my partner. Even though he’s not a big reader he is a big geek. He literally couldn’t wait until I’d finished my question before blurting out Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, one I had dismissed for being too long, but one that he was so insistent on that I eventually gave in and borrowed the ebook from my library.

Once I had decided to read it, however, he then seemed to change his mind and want me to watch the film first (which was not out on DVD yet). He obviously knew of the book from watching the film in cinema (I greatly offended him by not wanting to go with him back then) and had heard that people who had read the book first didn’t like the film and he really wanted me to like the film. Well good news: I read the book first and absolutely loved it, and watched the film second and also really liked it (maybe if I had reversed the order I would have loved both, but liking it is enough for my partner).

Ready Player One (the book) is chock-a-block filled with 80s and all manner of gaming, tv, film and anime references. It seems that Ernest Cline packed as much as he was humanly possible to cram into this book. I maybe understood about 7% of all the tidbits and trivia, although this was much better than my understanding of the films references which was perhaps only about 55%. Reading it was a proper all-out geek-fest, and was a lot of fun! And I just have to boast about the fact that I got the answer to the first clue before any of the characters in the book even had an inkling! But I won’t post the answer here for spoilers, you’ll just have to trust me.

I would say that my enjoyment of both the book and the film is because they are very different from each other. There are different clues, different tasks, very different references used (probably because of the permissions the film could get), so altogether the book and the film are very different pieces. There was a lot more substance in the book and the clues were of a more problem solving, research-based variety, whereas in the film they were mostly physical (as much as the game could be physical). There was also a greater chance for the reader to challenge themselves at solving the clues from the book since there was also the opportunity to provide the reader with a large backstory for James Halliday, the creator of the Oasis. While watching the film you have to trust that the characters are actually right when they suddenly jump up saying ‘I’ve solved it!’

See you next time with August Part 2!

Isla

xx

Summer Reading Challenge – July Part 5

Finally, we’ve reached my last July post. I’ve already read two books in August so there will be another post very shortly after this one.

In the meantime…

Get Your Grill On: Read a book that features summer recipes or outdoor summer activities

For this I read Blackberry Wine by Joanne Harris, who also wrote Chocolat. I actually picked this book up from a box of books left backstage by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra so it was a nice little freebie from work. And it fits the reading prompt so well: definitely the act of making and drinking wine can be considered a summer recipe and a summer activity.

I really loved this book. It was dreamy and reminiscent and all the sorts of things an absent-minded reader like me enjoys. The main character was a writer, the narrator was a bottle of wine, there was romance and heroism (of sorts). Just a really good read.

I like Harris’ writing: right from the very start it’s full of this delicious descriptions which made me feel like I needed to sit with the sun shining on my face and a glass of wine to sip between paragraphs. I swear I could smell the fruits in the wines, in the gardens, just from reading them. I might just have to re-read it with an actual bottle of bramble wine. I think my usual cup of tea broke the bubble a wee bit.

Backyard BBQ: Read a book that features a family reuniting or hanging out for the summer

I cannot remember where I found this book, it was probably on a list of books to read somewhere online, but I read that it was about two generations in a family trying to come to terms with their own beliefs and the generational differences between them and thought, that sounds like the right sort of book. The characters weren’t really hanging out for the summer, but the younger brother did turn up after a 3 year absence to his sisters wedding, so it definitely counts as a reunion. For this prompt I read A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza.

I found this book okay, it certainly wasn’t as thrilling as I was led to believe. I also made the mistake (as I usually do) of reading the reviews afterwards and being almost magnetically drawn to the most negative ones. Unfortunately, there was one review that kinda swayed me towards not liking it as much as I thought I did, although I did have some problems with some things the reviewer complained about. Throughout the novel there were a few words and phrases in Urdu, which makes sense as the family were Indian and that was their primary language at home which they used when speaking to each other. I loved hearing (reading) these words, and often they were accompanied by a little definition or emphasis on the meaning (of both the words and the intent behind speaking in Urdu), but this reviewer seemed to think that it detracted from the story since she couldn’t understand Urdu herself. There was not one word that I can remember not having some sort of contextual or explicit detail behind it to explain it’s meaning. Sorry, but out of all her complaints, this was the one that I personally found the most annoying. I’ve actually just finished another novel which had many words and phrases in Russian and barely any were translated for the reader. But even then, we have the whole internet to look up phrases if we’re that curious.

Anyway, I think this reviewer had a personal vendetta against this book: something along the lines of the most boring thing she’s ever read. From my experience, I was interested in what was going to happen, I enjoyed hearing about the lives of the characters, but I can admit that it was a fairly flat read. The drama that was included in the novel was barely drama at all but was that really frustrating thing of people just not talking to each other in the first place. All the characters were good people, there was no real antagonism between the older, perhaps more traditional and religious parents, and the children, just what they made up themselves in their heads. It was even revealed later on that the most rigid figure of the family, the father, was exceptionally proud of the progress his daughter had made.

So, to summarize, it was one of those books that made you want to yell out loud ‘just talk to each other!’

Ttfn

Isla

xx

Summer Reading Challenge – Progress

I thought I’d just type up my progress here in a single post instead of linking back to the Goodreads page (which I haven’t been doing, oops).

The Expert challenge is divided into the three months of summer, June, July and August, and there are 31 books in total. So far I have read 8 books, 7 of which are part of the challenge. I’ve mostly planned books out for June and July, but not yet for August because I want short, quick books to read as I will also be working a lot in the Fringe festival here in Edinburgh which, if you’ve ever been, you will know how crazy it is. The only reason I’ve been able to read so many books thus far in such a short space of time is because I work in a music venue and it is dead in July, the few shifts I do have are so quiet I’m able to read during that time.

So here’s the list:

June
Take Pride: Read a book written by an LGBTQIA author or that features an LGBTQIA character       Casey Plett, Little Fish 
Into the Great Wide Open: Read a book that takes place out in the great wide open        Bill Bryson, Notes From A Small Island
It’s the End of the World: Read a book about the end of the world as we know it        Emily St John Mandel, Station 11
School’s Out for Summer: Reread a book you were forced to read in school                China Miéville, The City & the City
Sick Day: Read a book you were supposed to read in school but didn’t
Hook ‘Em: Read a book that features fishing or fishermen        Chigozie Obioma, The Fisherman  
Sports-a-holic: Read a book that features a popular summer sport
Dear Pen Pal: Read a book that features letters or journal entries
Father Knows Best: Read a book that features a father        Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give
Campfire Story: Read a book that scares the bejesus out of you
Ocean Blue: Read a book that takes place on the water        Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and The Sea
July
Get Your Grill On: Read a book that features summer recipes or outdoor summer activities
Backyard BBQ: Read a book that features a family reuniting or hanging out for the summer
Forefathers: Read a book about your country’s independence
The Colours of Summer: Read a book that features a yellow, green, or sandy cover
Red, White, and Blue: Read a book that has the words red, white, or blue in the title
Funny Bone: Read a humourous book
Embrace Your Inner Geek: Read a book about geek culture
Sun, Moon, and Stars: Read a book that takes place in outer space
I Feel a Breeze: Read a book that takes place at a nudist colony or features nudists
Beach Bum: Read a book that could be considered a ‘beach read’
Sand Between My Toes: Read a book that takes place in or around a beach/ocean
August
Let’s Get It On: Read a book that features falling in or out of love
It’s 12 o’clock Somewhere: Read a book that takes place in a bar or heavily features drinks/drinking
Stranded: read a book that takes place on an island or in which the characters find themselves stranded
One and Done: Read a book that you can finish in one day
Lucky to Have You: Read a book that you picked up at a library sale or thrift store
Girl Power: Read a book about feminism or written by a feminist
Life is a Highway: Read a book that features a road trip
Time of Our Lives: Read a book in which the characters go on an adventure
Memories: Read a book that you bought while on vacation

Summer Reading Challenge – June 2018

I didn’t spend the whole month of June sitting around and doing nothing: I managed to get four books read whilst I was very importantly sitting around and doing nothing.

Father Knows Best: Read a book that features a father

The first I decided to read not because of the reading challenge, or because of any reason actually other than I had heard of the book – and the film coming out – and was browsing the titles available as ebooks in the Edinburgh Library when I saw it: The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas. Only after I had read it did I decide to put it into my reading challenge as the ‘Father Knows Best’ one, because I thought the dad was such a sweet and strong father figure, and the main character clearly had a very close relationship with him (and with her mum too, but I just enjoyed the interactions she had with her dad). Maybe I was feeling sentimental because Fathers Day is in June, as well as my dads birthday and my stepdads birthday.

Anyway. I thought this was a great book, clearly a teen novel, and obviously dealing with a serious and relevant topic which I think it did very well. It had the typical things you’d look for in a young adult novel, like the relationships part and the ‘finding your own identity and trying to fit in’ sort of thing, as well as the heavier subjects of dealing with racism and police in America. As a white girl living in Scotland, it was eye-opening to read from the perspective of a black american teenager. Not that I haven’t read from that perspective before, but it’s one of those things where you’re suddenly reminded that this is happening now! Not years and years ago, but actually right now there are these attitudes and behaviours which are just not on.

The next paragraph may contain small spoilers.

After reading The Hate You Give (that last bit made me cry horribly) I went on to Goodreads and read through the reviews, which unfortunately resulted in me being pretty pissed off. I couldn’t believe how many people there were who had given the book awful ratings because of awful reasons. I had to stop after reading one which started with ‘FIRST of all, lets look at the actual definition of racism…’ and ended with calling the main character racist herself because she flinches away from her white boyfriend like 2 days(!) after she saw her friend get shot right in front of her. Um… no.

Into the Great Wide Open: Read a book that takes place out in the great wide open

My next book was also an ebook find: Notes From A Small Island, by Bill Bryson. I enjoyed this book, as I usually do with these sorts of travel/wandering around the countryside type books. I did notice it is now very out of date; I found it very funny when he was complaining about the cost of the bus to Stonehenge, then the price of admittance into Stonehenge, then the price of the guidebook someone attempted to sell to him, all of which adds up to maybe half the price of just the admittance into Stonehenge nowadays.

Often these books make me want to wander along the same paths, but this time I was torn between that desire and the fact that he was mostly in England. As he quite often says, each town in Britain is much the same as the other. I did get very defensive about my home city once he got to Edinburgh, but I agreed with him totally about John O’Groats – there is nothing there. He should have gone down the West Coast of Scotland, but I think probably public transport is too sparse.

My friend is reading a book at the moment which I feel would have been much more interesting: Moonwalker: Adventures of a midnight mountaineer by Alan Rowan (Not to be confused with Michael Jackson’s autobiography). I think I’ll borrow it after she’s done (but not read it til September).

Ocean Blue: Read a book that takes place on the water

For this I read The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway, a classic. I could have put this in the fishing category of the reading challenge, but I have a special book in mind for that one.

I read this very quickly, as it’s very short, and also very sporadically towards the end (basically whenever my boyfriend went off to order food or get cutlery or go to the loo in the restaurant). I don’t really know what to think about this book. Every so often I would find myself riveted to a particular moment, but most of the time I felt like it was unnecessarily long. I gave it three stars on goodreads because I didn’t hate it, but I feel like I missed out on the underlying message and I can’t quite wrap my head around what it might be. Think I need to either read it again more slowly or read a three page article which can explain it all to me.

?

The last book I read in June I have no idea which category to put in, and that is The Materese Circle by Robert Ludlum. I read this book because my coworker is a big fan and I said to him that I’d never really read those sorts of books before other than Charlie Higson’s Young Bond books, which I did enjoy but the scene with the sea anenome totally freaked me out (am I thinking of the right book? With the octopus building? And the eels?). So he brought a few in for me to borrow.

This was a hefty book to read, which is why it really sucks that I can’t find a category to put it in. Would it be a beach read? What exactly is a ‘beach read’?

It was great though, totally different from what I normally read, but full of action and intrigue and lots of murdery twists. I did tell my coworker I was a fan of the Jason Bourne films, and this book was just a readable (and much longer) version of them.

Funnily enough, when I told one of my other coworkers what I was reading she also said she was a huge fan and has read almost all of Ludlum’s books. She did say they are all much the same though. I’ll probably read another one someday, but not until I have a spare month to do so!

In conclusion…

So that was all my June reading. Be prepared for many more posts in the future, I’m hoping to catch up on my reading list in July (18 books!) and I’ll probably write a blog post for every two that I read.

Isla

xx

What I learned at XpoNorth

My dream of being a fiction writer is a quiet one. Although authors nowadays are expected to have a personality, a media presence, a charismatic skill at promoting ones own work, it is still largely a quiet profession. There are long hours of reading and researching and sitting in secluded corners of cafes frantically scribbling in a notebook or typing in a netbook (at least that’s what I do).

My dream of being a writer has developed from my love of stories, and of course stories can come from multiple different mediums. So for almost as long as I have wanted to write, I have wanted to work for television. A far more active and social way to express stories.Read More »

A Poetic Finish

Wow! I am done with university! Handed in my last essay ten days ago, actually, just been sending off applications and browsing through jobs and generally having a bit of a holiday. The day after I handed my last essay in I got one of those facebook memory notifications telling me that four years ago I had just heard that I’d been accepted into Edinburgh University! That’s a pretty poetic round-up, doncha think?Read More »

Almost finished Uni…

Been riding a low-but-constant stream of stress and panic the past few weeks whilst getting my dissertation and philosophy essay done. I began to feel, in the middle of writing my philosophy essay, that I perhaps shouldn’t have taken it as a subject. My worst marks are in philosophy and although I enjoy the classes I am always struggling with the essays. With philosophy I also get that thing where when I work really hard at an essay I get a really terrible mark and when I throw something together last minute I end up getting a much (slightly) better mark. So yeah, every other sentence I would stop and think ‘what is the point?’

Handed my dissertation in a couple weeks ago, printed on normal university paper and stapled together by the EngLit Office Secretary because I was that last minute. Handed in my philosophy essay a couple days ago with a few minutes spare so also last minute (although to be fair I had taken a two hour break before finishing up my references). Now I have just one more essay which we have all been given an extension for and it’s the essay which I have actually been looking forward to (nerd) so hopefully the next week will be somewhat relaxing.

… except I’ve gone and challenged myself to the NaNoWriMo 5k 1 week challenge. Where you write 5k in one week, if that wasn’t clear. Starts tomorrow, I better get an idea quick!