8 August 2017

July Wrap Up | 2017

I read eight books this month. That’s right. EIGHT WHOLE BOOKS. Granted some of them were really short BUT STILL. This was 98% due to the 2017 Booktubeathon, an annual readathon I took part in for the first time this year (and SMASHED), which forced me to read those last seven books in just one week! I’m going to stop revelling in my own glory now and tell you how I like them:

10. The Ocean at the End of The Lane by Neil Gaiman.

Dive into a magical novel of memory and the adventure of childhood, from one of the brightest, most brilliant writers of our generation. It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond the world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive. There is primal horror here, and menace unleashed - within his family and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it. His only defense is three women, on a farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is an ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a fable that reshapes modern fantasy: moving, terrifying and elegiac - as pure as a dream, as delicate as a butterfly's wing, as dangerous as a knife in the dark.. – Synopsis from Goodreads

This was my first ever Neil Gaiman book, and I have to say I was a little disappointined. I definitely liked it, the story was much scarier than I anticipated and I genuinely didn’t see any of the twists and turns coming, but it just wasn’t at the amazing high level of perfection that I had been lead to believe all Neil Gaiman books reach. My favourite part was how effortlessly he was able to capture the feeling of being a young child who’s eternally curious, brave, and adaptive to any situation, but is also essentially helpless in the face of the adults who think they know better. I didn’t particularly like the monsters in the story, I think I would’ve preferred them to be a bit more elegant and better explained, but I’m hoping I’ll enjoy my next Neil Gaiman read (probably Neverwhere) much more.

My rating: ★★★

11. Very British Problems Abroad by Rob Temple

Do you carry emergency teabags in your backpack? Quietly tut at badly formed 'queues'? Cleverly avoid blisters by wearing socks with your sandals? Then you may be suffering from (more) VERY BRITISH PROBLEMS.

In this sequel to the original and quite-funny-if-you-like-that-sort-of-thing Very British Problems book, Rob Temple is taking us out of our comfort zone. We're going to that worrying place where crisps don't taste quite the same - and where ordering chips gets you . . . well, crisps. We're going abroad. Whether you're in Magaluf or the Maldives, indulging in apres ski or Aperol, no one is immune to the raging superbug that is Very British Problems. – Synopsis from Goodreads

This was my first read of the Booktubeathon, and was my pick for the challenge to read a book in just one day. I managed to read this in just over an hour, because despite having 275 pages, there were at most about 50 words to a page. It’s based on the very popular Twitter account of the same name, so the entries are mostly very short. This meant that the book flew by, but also left me quite annoyed at how it was formatted. So much paper could’ve been saved with a different layout. The content itself was quite funny, but only a few elicited an actual laugh from me. For instance:

Sorry, is someone sitting here?” Translation: Unless this is a person who looks remarkably like a bag, I suggest you move it.

The quiet shame of being unable to close the hand luggage compartment as the whole plane stares at you and your stupid giant fat bag.

Spending so long attempting to manually blow up a crcoodile-shaped lilo that you begin to hallucinate that you’re having a nice time.

"I’m not too sure about that.” Translation: It’s possibly the worst thing I’ve ever tasted." 

My rating: ★★

12. The Paper Magician by Charlie N Holmberg

Ceony Twill arrives at the cottage of Magician Emery Thane with a broken heart. Having graduated at the top of her class from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony is assigned an apprenticeship in paper magic despite her dreams of bespelling metal. And once she’s bonded to paper, that will be her only magic… forever.

Yet the spells Ceony learns under the strange yet kind Thane turn out to be more marvelous than she could have ever imagined — animating paper creatures, bringing stories to life via ghostly images, even reading fortunes. But as she discovers these wonders, Ceony also learns of the extraordinary dangers of forbidden magic.

An Excisioner — a practitioner of dark, flesh magic — invades the cottage and rips Thane’s heart from his chest. To save her teacher’s life, Ceony must face the evil magician and embark on an unbelievable adventure that will take her into the chambers of Thane’s still-beating heart—and reveal the very soul of the man.. – Synopsis from Goodreads

I used this book for the challenge to read a book you bought because of the cover. The cover is admittedly very pretty, but is really all the book has going for it. I did not like this book at all. It was well and truly a dud, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who enjoys books with a plot. I’m going to quickly spoil the whole book for you now (if you can still call it “spoilers” when about 1 and a half things happen in the entire novel). Our slightly wet nineteen year old protagonist Ceony goes to learn how to paper magic from Magician Thane, a paper magician (hence the title). She knows him for about six days before an evil magician appears and rips his heart out (using evil blood magic). Our protagonist decides to go after this infinitely more powerful magician to fetch back the heart of the man she’s decided she loves, and please note that all these events (the only mildly interesting bits in the book) are all already spoiled for you on the blurb? The last two-thirds of the book are her being magically trapped inside the heart of Thane, and witnessing his memories. That’s literally it. There’s pages and pages and pages of her walking around and watching his memories until she eventually escapes, randomly gets his heart back and then it’s all over. NOTHING ELSE HAPPENS. IT’S SO RIDICULOUS. I DID NOT LIKE THIS BOOK.

My rating: 

13. Adulting: How to Become a Grown-Up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps by Kelly Williams Brown

If you graduated from college but still feel like a student . . . if you wear a business suit to job interviews but pajamas to the grocery store . . . if you have your own apartment but no idea how to cook or clean . . . it's OK. But it doesn't have to be this way. Just because you don't feel like an adult doesn't mean you can't act like one. And it all begins with this funny, wise, and useful book. 

Based on Kelly Williams Brown's popular blog, ADULTING makes the scary, confusing "real world" approachable, manageable-and even conquerable.

Another pretty disappointing read, I feel that I would’ve benefitted from this book a lot more if a) a lot of the advice wasn’t so vague, and b) the few times there was concrete and specific information, it wasn’t only useful for people living in the US. There were a few interesting and useful bits, and moments where I thought Oh wow, that’s actually some true advice, but most of it I already knew, or could’ve guessed. That’s not to say that other people won’t find it useful and informative, it just wasn’t the best fit for me. But I did think it was pretty well-written; everything was clear and concise, and it was an easy, quick read.

My rating: ★★

14. East O’ the Sun and West O’ the Moon by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen

A beloved Norwegian folktale, East O’ the Sun and West O’ the Moon is the romantic story of a bewitched prince and the determined lassie who loves him. It has everything a classic epic tale should have: rags and riches, hags and heroism, magic and mystery, a curse and a quest, wicked trolls, a shape-shifting bear, and finally, a happy ending. Kate Greenaway medalist P.J. Lynch has created a luminous backdrop worthy of this grand adventure, transporting readers to a world of fantasy and imagination. – Synopsis from Goodreads

This picture book is a beautiful retelling of an old Norse myth, and while the story itself is obviously important, it’s the beautiful illustrations by PJ Lynch that make this book so wonderful. It’s been years since I last read this, but the moment I opened it realised that the reason I had so many fond memories of this story is because of the pictures. Each page is beautiful, and I couldn’t pick a favourite illustration if I tried. I own quite a few other fairy tale books or anthologies, and I’ve never come across this tale in any other place, so I would highly recommend it to any fans of fairy tales or folklore in general.

My rating: ★★★★

15. Hold Your Own by Kate Tempest

Based on the myth of the blind prophet Tiresias, Hold Your Own is a riveting tale of youth and experience, sex and love, wealth and poverty, community and alienation. Walking in the forest one morning, a young man disturbs two copulating snakes - and is punished by the goddess Hera, who turns him into a woman. This is only the beginning of his journey ... Weaving elements of classical myth, autobiography and social commentary, Tempest uses the story of the gender-switching, clairvoyant Tiresias to create four sequences of poems: 'childhood', 'manhood', 'womanhood' and 'blind profit'. The result is a rhythmically hypnotic tour de force - and a hugely ambitious leap forward for one of the UK's most talented and compelling young writers... – Synopsis from Goodreads

Unlike her other poetry book Let Them Eat Chaos (which I read and LOVED earlier this year) this one is actually divided up into lots of shorter poems, which, again, I was mostly a fan off. There were a couple I didn’t really click with, unfortunately, unlike Let Them Eat Chaos, where I was basically eating up every single word. Some of the poems I found a little too abstract to really understand how they related to the overwhelming themes of gender and love, but there were also several poems that I adored. My favourite parts were the sections in which Kate Tempest unleashes a flood of rhyming and half-rhyming words that have an almost overwhelming effect that I just love. There were two passages in particular that really stood out; the first is when she writes about the comfort and joy in realising that other people and other writers have felt exactly how she feels:

“And I laughed out loud. Because it’s always the way – when you’re alone and feeling like you could jump off the edge of the world,
that’s when they find you and tell you they all went through the same thing.
And it makes you feel special because you feel like of all the people in all the world, these yearsdead writers wrote whatever it was that made the blood run in your veins again, just for you.
And you say their names out loud when you walk the city in the middle of the night, and you feel close to something timeless;
you feel like someone just lay you down on your back and showed you the sky.”

The second part I loved more than anything else in the book was when she writes about the nature of language itself, and how it demands to be used:

“Language lives when you speak it. Let it be heard.
The worst thing that can happen to words is that they go unsaid.

Let them sing in your ears and dance in your mouth and ache in your guts. Let them make everything tighten and shine.

Poetry trembles alone, only picked up to be taken apart.

Instead of an elephant, roaring and shaking its ears,
it’s one of those handbag dogs, yapping and scared of the rain.

The clever folk talk in endless circles and congratulate themselves on being so untouched by passion.
But since when did the clever folk ever know anything?

Sometimes things are as simple as they seem.

It’s as much about instinct as it is about intellect
And if you feel it, it’s alive.

Let it be magic.
These are not engines we’re making.”

I love that passage, and especially those last two sentences so much I’m seriously considering having it printed on my wall somewhere. Here are some more of my favourite quotes:

“Snakes. Two snakes!
Coiling, uncoiling
Boiling and cooling
Oil in a cauldron
Foil in a river
Soil on a mood ring” – p3

“The hillside beneath her is crumbling,
The sky frowns.
The land wants to return to the sea.
She is food for the gulls and it’s humbling.
But this is not all
That she was born to be.” – p46-7

 “Slow and soft, you spread yourself across me
your lips lead mine like needles leading thread.” – p61

My rating: ★★★★

16. Destination Moon by Hergé and 17. Explorers on the Moon by Hergé

These were such fun little reads! It’s been absolute years since I read any Tintin, but these two books have definitely inspired me to revisit all the other books my family owns! In these two books Tintin and the team (including Captain Haddock, Professor Calculus, Thomson and Thomsson and Snowy) embark on a mission to the moon, and I chose this set of books because Destination Moon was the first Tintin I ever read, and Explorers on the Moon is the direct sequel. They’re by no means my favourite Tintin books but were such lovely nostalgic reads anyway – even though they’re pretty outdated now!

 My rating (for both): ★★★

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