Summer Reading Challenge – July Part 2

Take Pride: Read a book written by an LGBTQIA author or that features an LGBTQIA character

I was really excited to read this next book because while I’ve read countless LGB books there have been none with transgender characters (I think), and I’m always keen to read about people who I struggle so hard to understand and yet desperately want to understand. It also had great reviews and a very enticing, gripping blurb.

Damn.

Litte Fish by Casey Plett is about a transgender woman in her thirties who finds out her grandfather may have also been transgender. From this blurb it sounds like this is the main driving force behind the novel but this mystery barely plays a part in the story, her grandfathers life comes up only a handful of times throughout the book.

I was really disappointed with this book and I could be really harsh about it, but at the same time I understand how important it is. I’ve read so many reviews about how this book spoke to them and how they are finally seeing themselves represented on the page, that was actually the best part about reading this book for me. Sure, I may have not liked the writing style, struggled to connect to the characters and found the main character particularly annoying, but I’m glad I read it.

I’m glad I read it, and I hope more transgender literature comes out, something with really beautiful writing, and a truly great story.

School’s Out for Summer: Reread a book you were forced to read in school

For this ‘reading prompt’ (as I’m calling them) I bent the rules a bit because I can’t remember any books I was forced to read in school apart from Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon and, while I did enjoy it, it took me about four months to read which is not conducive to a reading challenge where I am already about ten books behind schedule. So I branched out and chose a book I was ‘forced’ to read at uni. That counts, right?

I chose to re-read The City and The City by China Miéville. I really love this book because it’s just such an amazing idea – two cities cohabiting in the same physical space but completely separate from each other – and because it’s a detective/crime novel and I love anything to do with puzzles needing to be solved. My first time reading it I gave it five stars and added it to my favourites on goodreads, but this second time I lowered it to four stars. I would still list it as one of my favourites, largely just because of the idea and the description and the sheer creativity of the two cities. It was the crime part that I was quickly losing interest in, waking up again when there was more description of the seeing of one city and the unseeing of the other city, but that may be just because I have read it before and while I had forgotten part of the mystery, I knew which bits were important and which were not instinctively. My favourite part is definitely the final section, where everything is unveiled, in a sense, to Inspector Borlú as well as to the reader. But I won’t tell you anymore than that, you’ll have to read it to make any sense of it!

The BBC made a tv series out of The City and The City which I couldn’t get to see because we don’t have a tv license, but I’m hoping I can still find some way of watching it maybe when I visit my mum soon… Miéville could write a whole series of stories about the two cities, Besźel and Ul Qoma, and I’d never get bored of them.

Til next time,

Isla

xx

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Summer Reading Challenge – July Part 1

Hook ‘Em: Read a book that features fishing or fishermen

The first book I read this month was The Fisherman by Chigozie Obioma and it was staggering. I gave it 5 stars on goodreads and even left a tiny one-sentence review: I feel emotionally shredded.

This was basically the first book that popped up when I googled ‘books with fisherman’, and it immediately grabbed my attention because I love reading books from different places in the world and I have a special connection to Africa because of various reasons. Also, shortly after I’d added it to my ‘to-read’ pile, I was browsing Fringe festival events and stumbled upon a spoken word adaption being performed this year. I immediately became super excited because I love spoken word as well, and it was even more meant to be that I should read it.

I did have some expectations as I began reading, as I always do, and unfortunately I felt a bit uninspired by the beginning. But that is because I have read so many novels about boys and their friends or their brothers getting into all sorts of mischief and The Fisherman was just another version but set in Nigeria. I suddenly realised that I could not think of anything I’d read with a troop of little girls roaming around and finding adventures in their own neighbourhood. But that was just the beginning. As the story progressed and got progressively more shocking, my heart went out to the narrator, the youngest of the four main brothers. I was totally invested in the story and in their lives, it was heartbreaking and heart-wrenching and just powerful.

I loved this novel, and I would definitely recommend it. I get that other people might not enjoy a read like this (I told the entire story to my two friends and it is definitely not their thing), but I found it beautiful and horrible and I can’t wait to see how it’s being adapted on stage.

Here are some lines that really jumped out at me:

‘The sparkling white shirt and trousers he wore gave him the appearance of an angel who – caught unawares during a physical manifestation on earth – had his bones broken to prevent him from returning back to heaven.’

‘He spoke in spurts as if his words were tropical grasshoppers that flew out of his mouth and paused, the way a grasshopper perches and hops off, again and again and again until he completed his speech’

I also loved the description of the mother and father as the two ventricles of the home.

It’s the End of the World: Read a book about the end of the world as we know it

After I’d picked up the pieces of my shredded heart I picked up a copy of Station 11 by Emily St. John Mandel from the library. Unfortunately my heart had only a few hours of recovery before it was ripping itself to pieces again. This book was beautiful! I absolutely loved it; the characters, the storytelling, the creativity.

After reading it you could suppose that the way the narration jumps from character to character and from the past to the present to even further in the past is unnecessarily complicated, but it’s really not. Each chapter, each section, each sentence even, is perfectly in tune with the others. This is one of those novels where only what’s necessary to the story, the telling of these characters, is revealed, and is revealed in a perfectly paced narrative that drops these pearls of knowledge to the reader. There is a lot unsaid, but I felt satisfied at the end, and I love these books that come to a natural end like that. I mean, I hate it because it’s beautiful and wonderful and I want to keep reading it forever and I’m angry and sad that it’s over…

Anyway. I loved this book so much I’m going to recommend it to everyone. I’m planning on buying my own personal copy after returning this one to the library and basically force my dad to read it because I know he’d love it too.

Til next time,

Isla

xx

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

Summer Reading Challenge

Greetings!

I have a new series of blog post ideas to work with, the first one being the Goodreads Summer Reading Challenge. After reading about it and seeing the sheer number of books on the expert list (a total of 31 to read in 3 months/92 days) I thought ‘I must complete this!’ I first thought I’d try the easier, beginner challenge because I do have other things to do you know… but the Beginner challenge features things like ‘read a book by an lgbtqia author’ or ‘read a book by a person of colour’, which I already do pretty often, especially in my most recent reading. So instead I thought I’d try the Expert challenge.

As you can probably deduce yourself, I am starting late since we June has already been and gone and we’re already on the 3rd day of July (Aaaah!), but I will persevere with my reading list. I have already drawn up a plan which may or may not change in the next couple months but has given me a sufficient timeline for my challenge, as in I need to read this many pages each day to stay on track. The only problems I’ve encountered have been the nudist book, for which I have zero ideas and the ones that come up when I google ‘nudist books’ or ‘books with nudists’ do not interest me in the slightest. I might do some branching out with the topics given, some of my already chosen book choices are only loosely connected with the reading challenge prompt, but I’ll argue my case once I get to them.

Lets get started!

Usher Reviews – Old Blind Dogs

My first impression of this group was that they played cooler, more upbeat versions of Dougie Maclean’s acoustic tracks. The sort of music that seems to resonate through the ages, incorporating a celtic past and present of the rugged beauty in the highlands (cliche).

My second impression was that, while they are all clearly excellent, experienced musicians, and have a natural stage presence, they aren’t the most wonderful of singers. I mean, Aaron Jones on bouzouki and guitar was quite good, but Jonny Hardie, co-founder of the band back in 1929 (or thereabouts), should maybe stick with the fiddle. His voice wasn’t that bad, more the type of thing you hear round a beach campfire in October.

There was also the sense that the gig was rather hurried: the piper, Ali Hutton, appeared to me like he was doing too much. Playing multiple instruments is impressive, and the different sounds definitely add to the feel for a lot of the music, but when the musician on stage is switching between instruments for every track, or even several times per track, it just looks hurried and unrelated. The three others on stage looked much more relaxed compared to Hutton rushing around, preparing his pipes and flutes. Their ‘between-song-banter’ also had an unpractised, awkward feel about it.

Donald Hay is the fourth and final member of the band, the percussionist. I found the drums a strange mix of interesting (in a positive way) and annoying (in a negative way), but I’m unsure if it wasn’t a fault with the sound system. I find that traditional Scots music has such a natural rhythm and beat to it that drums are often not needed, perhaps also because of the need to bang your feet on the ground and twirl around in a circle, and for Old Blind Dogs I felt this also rang true. The drums were too loud, too invasive with the other layers of sound. I can definitely see what all the other descriptions and reviews mean by ‘dynamic percussion’, and I can see where they were going with the almost modern beats, but for me it was too jarring and heavy, it wasn’t needed.

I do believe that there must have been a issue with the sound, however, as after the interval  found the drums much softer and complimentary. My only complaints during the second half was Ali Hutton’s constant switching around on stage, and the use of a tambourine, which I can’t not associate with primary school sing-a-longs.

I’ve ended up writing a rather negative review, but I really did enjoy Old Blind Dogs. They were lively and talented, and had some deeply beautiful songs amongst the jiving foot-tapping ones. I definitely recommend them if you’re a fan of this type of music: they definitely give that something extra to the traditional, celtic, fiddle and pipe music. The only thing me and the other ushers were questioning, was why are they called Old Blind Dogs?

Usher Reviews – Liane Carroll & Brian Kellock

I’ve been meaning to do this for a long time now, since I got a job as an Usher last October, as I am now getting to see lots of free shows and I wanted to share some of the truly wonderful ones (as well as some of the truly terrible ones).

Unfortunately, most recently they have either been truly truly terrible, or I have been on an ‘out’ position and I can’t write a review of the tiny sound coming out of the speaker in the hallway.

So my first review as an Usher is a of a gig where I wasn’t even working, in a venue which I don’t even work at, but which was so utterly amazing it feels like the right thing to write for my very first published Usher Review.

Last night, I went with my mum and my friend to see the jazz singer, Liane Carroll and jazz pianist, Brian Kellock. Words cannot describe.

It was an immense treat to see these two great artists perform together, especially as it was a free performance in the most friendly and social Jazz Venue, Whighams Wine Cellar, and my mums friend had the foresight to book a table and had spare seats right at the very front for us. It was one of the most crowded times I had been in Whighams, and included a great mix of regulars, old fans, and young people (including myself, I guess).

And wow! Again, I cannot think of the right words to describe these two. Both outstanding on their own, they worked together like the moon and stars, shining ever brighter. That’s a terrible description, but I was blown away by the very first song and am still feeling starstruck over fifteen hours later.

I beg of you, if you are a jazz fan and are ever presented with the opportunity to see Liane Carroll live, then do so. And with Brian Kellock. And if they’re performing together, then you’d better drop everything or else I don’t know what I’m going to have to do.

Liane is such a lovely character, absolutely adorable and completely hilarious, and she seemed like the biggest fan of Brian in the room.

Their last two numbers have stuck with me the most; first was a version of Tom Waits’ Take It With Me, which had everyone tearing up, and lastly was Bye Bye Blackbird, fitting for Whighams as I have heard someone sing it almost every time I visit.

This was yet another moment in my life for which I feel immensely privileged and grateful to have lived through. I know this is a short and not-very-detailed review, but all I can really say in response to last night is: Wow!

Quick Writing Snippets – ‘Shoes’

Her feet were bare.

At first they thought she hadn’t any shoes; she was dressed in a tiny slip of a thing that could have been a dress, could have been a nightgown, with bare legs and no underwear, and had clearly been dragged across the wet grass. Their first thought had been a fight turned ugly at home. There were too many cases like those – hospitalisations and much worse just because some guy couldn’t keep his temper under control. So it would make sense if there were no shoes.

A search was ordered anyway. I circled the area round the trees, glancing my torch off of roots and unopened flower heads. My heart sank as I heard the calls from behind me; someone had found a pair of tights, almost disintegrated in the wet grass; then a pair of bloodied knickers, a scattering of objects obviously from a spilled handbag. And then I saw them: a pale blue to match the silvery fabric she wore, heels almost two inches high, both unbroken, sitting innocently in the grass as if someone had placed them deliberately.

 

(Another quick passage written before our food arrived in Nando’s. I spent two minutes staring at my boyfriend as he scribbled away while I was totally stuck for ideas, and then wrote this in another two minutes and it ended up being twice as long as his even though we ended at the same time)