Want

Jason Zhou survives in a divided society where the elite use their wealth to buy longer lives. The rich wear special suits that protect them from pollution and viruses that plague the city, while those without suffer illness and early deaths. Frustrated by this city’s corruption and still grieving the loss of his mother, who died as a result of it, Zhou is determined to change things, no matter the cost.

With the help of his friends, Zhou infiltrates the lives of the wealthy in hopes of destroying the international Jin Corporation from within. Jin Corp not only manufactures the special suits the rich rely on, but they may also be manufacturing the pollution that makes them necessary.

Yet the deeper Zhou delves into this new world of excess and wealth, the more muddled his plans become. And against his better judgement, Zhou finds himself falling for Daiyu, the daughter of Jin Corp’s CEO. Can Zhou save his city without compromising who he is or destroying his own heart?

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Like any kind of fantasy, I’ve always had something of a rocky relationship with dystopia. I read The Hunger Games back when I was 17 and I liked it, but not as much as everybody else did. I got through the first couple books of the Divergent series, but never bothered finishing the trilogy, realising in the gap between the second and third books that the only reason I had read the first two was because of a romance I didn’t really care about any more.

This pretty much sums up my relationship with YA dystopia:

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I felt like most of what I read was a melodramatic vehicle to deliver a lacklustre love triangle in which neither of the men the girl was torn over (and they always were men) were interesting. So when I read Aila @ One Way or an Author’s review of Want by Cindy Pon and, contrary to my experience of YA dystopia so far, it sounded super relevant and interesting, I was intrigued.

Want did not disappoint. One of my favourite bloggers, CW @ Read Think Ponder once wrote a fantastic blog post about the role of dystopic fiction – which I totally recommend that you read – and the part that most stuck in my mind was her definition of what the genre actually is. She wrote. “…dystopia should contain some social or political commentary, such as discourse on government, social institutions, or have societal implications.”  Back when I first read that, the reason behind my general antipathy toward dystopia – that I had never really bothered analysing before – hit me: the reason I didn’t like most dystopia is that it’s an important genre that had become watered down into something completely irrelevant. Divergent just doesn’t stand up well against A Handmaid’s Tale, I guess.

This is why Want is a breath of fresh air wrapped in a story that is depressingly familiar and anxiety-inducing in its prescience. Set in a futuristic Taipei, it tells of a society in which the majority (known as meis, meaning ‘have nots’) die at young ages due to air poisoned by pollution, while the richest 1% (known as yous, meaning those who have) are safely encased in breathing apparatus that costs millions to obtain – so is completely out of reach of the normal person. After a successful kidnapping and ransom venture, Jason Zhou and his fellow 99%-er rebel gang infiltrate the world of the yous in order to take them down.

Pon looks at current issues with climate change and takes them to the farthest reaches of disaster. In her Taipei – much like in current times – cleaning the air is a difficult, but by no means impossible task. It’s made impossible by those with the ability to help – the yous – refusing to do so because 1) the situation doesn’t affect them and 2) they financially benefit from it. The rich are protected from the noxious air by the suits made by the Jin Corporation,  so they continue to buy from other rich companies that are in turn run by people with their own Jin Corporation suits… and on and on and on with one result: nothing changes and meis continue to die.

Watching people die isn’t enough of a motivation for the yous to make changes – in part because they don’t often actually see it. The yous and the meis live lives so utterly separate it’s as if the yous have lost the ability to recognise the humanity of the meis and their suffering at all, let alone to see it as their problem. It is, ultimately, ignorable. It would be nice to think we non-fictional people would never be capable of this kind of passive cruelty, but the fact is we’re doing it all the time. Children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo mine cobalt which is then used to make our smart phone batteries, while countless rivers in Asia are completely destroyed by the textile industry, just one aspect of the destruction caused by demand for fast fashion. So much of our day to day, from clothes to technology to food, comes at the expense of people in countries far away from our own, people living below the poverty line who don’t have a platform or the resources to make themselves heard, and therefore are not seen. Just like with the yous and the meis in Pon’s world.

Pon however, takes it a step further and complicates the story by demonstrating that this lack of empathy indeed goes both ways. When Zhou joins the you community and meets Daiyu, an heiress, he is thrown off when he finds she is a nice person, albeit one complicit with the status quo through being born into a privileged you family. What had previously seemed like an easy task, bring down Jin Corp and the yous with it was harder when, rather than a nameless, faceless hoard he could easily hate, the yous turned out to include people like Daiyu, a decent and smart human being. Through Zhou’s relationship with Daiyu, Pon explores the polarities we live in and how when communities actually mix with one another, so many of them prove to be false.

In Want, Pon weaves a rich world that is compelling and painfully relevant, but cautiously optimistic in its approach to some of society’s greatest problems.

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Reading slump solutions

Today I want to talk about the biggest enemy of the book blogger. It’s not Netflix, an active social life, demanding job or insecurity about your place in a community that you’re increasingly uncomfortable with.

No, it’s that most dreaded of non-physical ailments: the book slump.

Characters who would have usually lit up your life for a week lie dead and limp on the pages, plot twists that would have you reaching for your phone to tweet a GIF in reaction seem pedestrian at best. Worst of all you might find yourself reading the blurb of a YA contemporary in which two young people (her ‘too skinny’ and him possessing a surprising amount of sexual prowess for a 17-year-old*) fall in love under adverse circumstances (recently traumatically deceased parent/best friend/ acquaintance from school they just can’t forget)and think it seems… stupid.

*just me?

Obviously such a situation can’t be allowed to fester. So pop the kettle on, light up a pumpkin spice candle, ease your feet into your slippers and relax. I got you.

Bookstagram

Book + coffee + sunshine = happy place #bookstagram #belletristbabe #summer #sundayfunday

A post shared by Lydia Tewkesbury (@lydiat21) on

Bookstagram is without a doubt one of the dumbest things we do in the book community. It’s all aesthetics and no substance, which is pretty much the opposite of what reading is about. But I love it. Looking at aesthetically pleasing, highly stylised book pictures makes me imagine the aesthetically pleasing, highly stylised life I might have if I were only reading more.

Booktube

If there’s one thing that gets me more pumped than pretty pictures of books, it’s videos of smart people being excited about books. Kayley Hyde is my favourite, if you’re in need of recommendations.

Newsletters

If you’re getting lost in a novel, maybe you need something a little shorter. Everyone and their mother has a newsletter these days. Newsletters can take the form of something like Lenny, a feminist e-zine that hits your inbox once a week with a treasure trove of original writing by women ranging from personal essays to interviews to the most poetic horoscopes you’ll ever read; to something more like The Bleed, the newsletter of the Call Your Girlfriend podcast*, which is a summary of news items, articles and pictures Aminatou and Anne wanted to talk about over the month but didn’t have time for.

*Have you listened to Aminatou’s interview with Hillary Clinton yet? Omg.

Read poetry

A reading slump is often indicative of our emotional state. If you’re feeling crappy and looking to see that reflected somewhere, read poetry. Poetry is raw emotion with all the exposition of a novel removed. Sometimes cutting to the heart of the matter will snap you out of that slump and reinvigorate more than just your reading life.

Shake things up

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One of my biggest ‘post-grad realisations’ is the importance of shaking up your routine. When you don’t have the beginning and ending of school terms doing it for you, you have to do it for yourself. This applies in all areas of your life, including reading. If all you’re reading is YA contemporaries and you’re feeling bored, pick up a novel that is completely outside of your wheelhouse. Try some non-fiction, or a classic, or look up the Belletrist pick for the month because it’s bound to be beautiful, clever and personally and politically relevant.

You’re not growing if you’re not changing, or however the saying goes.

S’later, slump!

Release

It’s Saturday, it’s summer and, although he doesn’t know it yet, everything in Adam Thorne’s life is going to fall apart. Relationships will change, he’ll change, but maybe, just maybe, he’ll find freedom in the release.

Time is running out though, because way across town a ghost has risen from the lake. Searching, yearning, she leaves a trail of destruction in her wake…

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Release by Patrick Ness is a sucker punch of a novel; (as per usual for Patrick. Why do I pay him to do this to me every two years?) a story that navigates coming out, bad boyfriends, worse families and drastic change. Though I am not (spoiler alert) a gay teenage boy on the cusp of coming out to my conservative Christian family, I connected deeply with the feelings expressed in this book, which is very much concerned with the wounds inflicted on us in our childhood and how they impact the person we grow up to be.

Release, if you didn’t know, is kind of an homage to Mrs Dalloway, so takes place over a 24 hour period with a narrative that is heavy on the flashbacks. Adam is dealing not only with the fact of his family – his father is the preacher at their local church and his whole family very conservative and homophobic – but also with a recent break up. His ex, Enzo, decided he was straight over the summer and treats Adam as if nothing ever happened between them while dating a girl that looks exactly like him.

Enzo is the worst. I kind of wanted to feel bad for him because his actions are obviously the result of an intolerant and heteronormative society… but he was just too much of an a-hole.

As in Mrs Dalloway, the novel has a split narrative, with Adam’s story interspersed with another separate but interconnected sequence of events. While Adam struggles, a girl in the community recently murdered by her drug addict boyfriend is possessed by a spirit from another world, and wanders the town seeking to avenge her own murder. It’s reminiscent of The Rest of us Just Live Here, but with a much more developed (and much sadder) plot.

While all of Patrick Ness’ books are emotional (the death of Manchee will haunt me forever THANKS PATRICK), with his past few novels it’s as if he’s moved from these grand, dramatic narratives (Chaos Walking, A Monster Calls) to smaller stories filled with emotional truths. Rather than deal with death and destruction (which, don’t get me wrong, he does exceptionally well), these days he writes novels filled with more ‘mundane’ concerns. The Rest of Us Just Live Here, for example, was the book about insecurity I wish existed when I was 17 (that whole I’m the only unnecessary member of the friend group thing? I got to the age of 22 thinking I was the only one who’d ever felt that way). Release is about the difficulty of recognising the good in your life – and accepting it, which in Adam’s case came in the form of Linus, probably my favourite love interest of the year so far (any real life Linuses out there who are into women… call me?) – when your whole life the people who are supposed to have loved and supported you have instead torn you down, bullied you, and made you feel like you’re all wrong.

Ness artfully uses the supernatural narrative – in which the world might end – to emphasise the importance of living your truth now. The day Adam decides to be himself no matter the consequences – certain rejection by his family – is a day when, unbeknownst to him, the world might end. The idea of now or never takes on an urgent significance without Adam even knowing it. Yes, it’s kind of a cheesy idea, but as Adam says, “sometimes you just got to eat the corn and enjoy it.”

Release is a beautiful and heart-rending novel from an author who never fails to surprise and challenge me. I hope everybody reads it.

Post-holiday inspo reads

Hey! I’m back from holiday a week ago.

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Though I know the month is now at its end, according to the fashion magazines I read while I was away (the one and only time of year I ever read a fashion magazine) September is the new January, so I arrived home feeling all inspired to make over my life. This was helped by the fact that in addition to the magazine, I also almost always buy some sort of self help guide while I’m on holiday, in the hope the feelings of relaxation and excitement that come from being in a new place, going for fun days out with people I like tends to produce in me might somehow be transferrable to my life every day.

If it hasn’t happened yet, I figure it’s because I haven’t read the right book.

(Or because I never really work to implement the advice within any of the books because taking practical steps to actually fundamentally change yourself is very difficult, and I keep hoping that with age and change of situation I’ll just transform into the person I wish I was without really trying, and remain more disappointed than I have a right to be when every change that occurs in my life doesn’t seem to instigate a similar one in myself. Also, therapy is expensive.)

Today I thought I’d list three ‘post-holiday inspo reads’ that I enjoyed the most.

The Book of Hygge: The Danish Art of Living Well by Louisa Thomsen Brits

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Through various lifestyle articles and the Happy documentary, I have come to the realisation that the Danes are doing life better than the rest of us. Since Denmark is consistently rated as one of the happiest countries in the world it seems the Danes have cracked the code to the good life most of us find so elusive.

I’ve learned from this book that the secret has a name: hygge (pronounced  hue-gah) a word with a broad definition that Thomsen Brits has broken down into six concepts: belonging, shelter, comfort, wellbeing, simplicity and observance.

I haven’t finished reading this one yet, but since starting I have begun to burn scented candles more regularly and get back the enthusiasm for cooking I recently lost to busyness and the overwhelming desire to watch countless episodes of Bojack Horseman.

How to be a Parisian Wherever You Are by Sophie Mas, Audrey Diwan, Caroline de Maigret and Anne Berest,

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We are all deeply concerned about the potential effects of Brexit on the lifestyle book sector. Though, as with most potential effects of Brexit, the majority of us have no idea what they are.

This is probably my most regularly thumbed lifestyle tome. It sits next to my bed under my collection of American Poetry and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which I have never got around to finishing.

This book is an absolutely delightful guide on how to live the life of no fucks given – with style. It’s a book encouraging women to be demanding, contradictory messes with great shoes.

Yeah, it’s not self-help as such, but it’s a good reminder not to take everything so seriously.

How to be Bored by Eva Hoffman

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I consume media obsessively. If I’m not watching Netflix, I’m reading and if I’m not doing that then I’m listening to a podcast (have you heard I Only Listen to The Mountain Goats yet??). When I stand in line, or I’m waiting for a friend, or I’m forced to watch a particularly long Youtube ad, I get my phone out and check Twitter or Instagram. Sometimes when I’m watching a show and I don’t know how I feel about it, I get out my phone and read think pieces about how other people feel about it while I’m still watching it.

After a while, this behaviour results in a kind of emotional numbness.

To an extent this was the aim. I use avoidance as a coping mechanism (don’t we all?). Even as I’ve grown up and it’s stopped for working me – in the literal sense that there are certain things that can no longer be avoided, and in the sense that I can see it having a negative impact on my relationships – I’ve clung to that coping mechanism like a dirty, ill-fitting comfort blanket.

So I’m trying not to do that anymore. Hoffman’s ruminations on boredom, presence and the 21st century problem of over stimulation provide some good tools for moving through life in a way that allows you to actually experience it – like Domhnall Gleeson does at the end of About Time.

And aren’t we all aiming to lead a life as good as Rachel McAdams’ outfits in that movie?

Do you have any quick inspo-reads you return to a lot? What are they and why? Do you understand Brexit? I sure don’t!

 

 

 

 

I finished #TheReadingQuest

…Just.

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Apologies for the vanishing act. I am now on holiday (yay!), and the couple weeks before I went were made up of work deadlines on top of taking on extra work on top of feeling tired and not much like blogging. But I finished! My final two picks were:

A book with a one word title: Want by Cindy Pon and,

A book based on mythology: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. Thank you Glaiza @ Paper Wanderer  who recommended I read this. I really loved this book. It totally took me off guard by being not so much a book of magic as a book of ideas.

And so finishes my first ever reading challenge!

Thanks to Aentee @ Read at Midnight for starting the thing and CW @ Read Think Ponder for the beautiful pictures.

Would I do it again? Yes, I think I would.

But for now, as I said, I am on holiday. So I’ll see you (along with reviews of the above) in a couple weeks.

xxx

#TheReadingQuest: The Bone Witch

I read this for #TheReadingQuest. Book 3, a Book That Contains Magic DONE. I am at this point pretty confident that I will finish my quest. Given that I have deadlines coming out of my ears and that The Buried Giant threw me into a bit of a slump, I’m feeling good about how I’ve done.

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Tea is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy makes her a bone witch, who are feared and ostracised in the kingdom. For theirs is a powerful, elemental magic that can reach beyond the boundaries of the living – and of the human.

Great power comes at a price, forcing Tea to leave her homeland to train under the guidance of an older, wider bone witch. There, Tea puts all her energy into becoming an asha, learning to control her elemental magic and those beasts who will submit by no other force. And Tea must be strong – stronger than she even believes possible. Because war is brewing in the eight kingdoms, war that will threaten the sovereignty of her homeland… and threaten the very survival of those she loves.

Lyrical and action packed, this new fantasy series by acclaimed author Rin Chupeco will leave you breathless.

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The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco is a villain’s origin story unafraid to take its time. Told between the past and the present, we get to know 14-year-old Tea, enthused to become an asha and serve her kingdom, at the same time as seeing 17-year-old Tea, hell bent on destroying that very same place.

Why? We don’t know yet.

As I’ve mentioned, the narrative of The Bone Witch is pretty slow. Though I have to admit there were times when it failed to hold my attention, overall I think this technique was effective. As the plot currently stands, it’s very hard to see the events that would lead Tea to become the person we know that she does, and if Chupeco were to rush that process the story would be weak and unsatisfying as a result. A good villain story builds itself up to its highest point before the fall, and this building was the business of book 1.Chupeco even goes so far as to reference deaths that don’t even take place during the first book’s narrative, which is an interesting choice that really builds the tension.

As much as I love Tea and I’m sad to see what has become of her, I’m oddly curious to see exactly how it all goes to hell.

The Bone Witch is a strong first book that absolutely makes me want to continue with the series. My main complaint was with the three guys in the royal family, Kance, Khalad and Kalan. Reading that while extremely tired, which I almost always am, was no joke. It was like being back in the mid-00s before we all knew which Kardashian was which.

That complaint aside, characterisation in this novel was strong. Although Chupeco set the groundwork for a potential love triangle featuring the uninteresting Kance (or, as I like to think of him, the Stefan Salvatore of the story), overall she majored on Tea’s relationship with her brother/familiar Tea raised from the dead, Fox (LOVE HIM. Fox, you can be my dead boyfriend any day of the week.) and her dynamic with the other witches she lives and trains with. Watching Tea find her place in this group of strong, loyal and close women was wonderful. I particularly enjoyed the ‘mother’ of the witch school, Mistress Parmina, cast in the role of withholding mentor so often given to a man (think: Dr Cox in Scrubs, Cal Lightman in Lie To Me and Sam Sylvia in GLOW) and Tea’s evolving friendship with Zoya, the mean girl. Main girl becoming besties with mean girl is my favourite female friendship trope. I just love the mean girl in general (think: Blair Waldorf from Gossip Girl and Coco Connors from Dear White People. BE BESTIES WITH ME PLEASE.).

This magical tale of necromancy, coming-of-age and mysterious betrayal is a compelling start to a story I definitely want to know the ending of.

 

 

 

#TheReadingQuest: The Buried Giant

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I read this for #TheReadingQuest, started by Aentee @ Read At Midnight with artwork by CW @ Read Think Ponder.

The Romans have long since departed, and Britain is steadily declining into ruin. The Buried Giant begins as a couple, Axl and Beatrice, set off across a troubled land of mist and rain in the hope of finding a son they have not seen for years. They expect to face many hazards – some strange and other-worldly – but they cannot yet foresee how their journey will reveal to them dark and forgotten corners of their love for each other.

Book number two of #TheReadingQuest, A Book Set in a Different World DONE. I finished this on Tuesday and am now progressing through book 3, A Book That Contains Magic, for which I’m reading The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco. Full disclosure were it not for #TheReadingQuest it’s unlikely I would have finished The Buried Giant because 1. it was very boring, more on that in a minute and 2. I am not having the best week. My current mood cycles give me a couple weeks of fine followed by days of feeling like a total GARBAGE HUMAN but I signed up to this challenge and goddamnit I will finish no matter how much I want to watch Crazy Ex-Girlfriend while pondering whether I’m doomed to spend my entire life consumed with situations that are long since finished while also trawling through the Facebook pages of the people I disliked at university to see if I might be doing better than they are which OBVIOUSLY I’m not because as I already mentioned, I’m doomed.

Anyway. Ashley C Ford says it’s all going to be fine and I am choosing to believe her.

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So, The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro is one of those literary novels that I tried to persuade myself that I liked while being bored out of my mind. The front pages are filled with snippets of reviews calling this story a masterpiece and I regret to say that as much as I kept waiting for it to suddenly hit me as such, it never did.

I have a weird relationship with Ishiguro’s work. Though I did think Never Let Me Go was a good book, it lacks – and I have also found this in his short stories though that is the extent of my knowledge of his work – the emotional payoff that I like to experience (instead of my own feelings HA) in my reading. While in Never Let Me Go that lack is kind of the point – after all you are supposed to spend the novel waiting for a moment that never arrives – in The Buried Giant, after wading through pages of exposition I felt somewhat cheated that even in the ending I didn’t get the moment of catharsis I had been waiting for.

The Buried Giant is set in a fictitious Ye Olde England in a state of tenuous peace after a bitter war between the Britons and the Saxons. Britons and Saxons live separately in settlements that they rarely venture out of for fear of the monsters roaming their lands. Ogre and dragon attacks are fairly regular occurrences. Life has been weird for an unspecified amount of time since something our MC, Axl and his wife Beatrice refer to as ‘the mist’ settled over the land and everyone lost their memories. Aside from occasional (and, if I’m being honest, narratively convenient) moments of scattered clarity, nobody has any memory of their lives outside of the present moment. One day Axl and Beatrice, who are both very elderly, remember that they have a son and become determined to find him and so set out on a journey to a distant village they know neither the name or location of, sure that is where he is living and that he is eagerly awaiting their arrival. Because of the mist, Axl and Beatrice seem unable to dwell on why they might have been separate from him for so long and we learn in bits and pieces the nature of Axl and Beatrice’s relationship with their son and receive hints as to why it ended in estrangement.

As the story unfolds and Axl and Beatrice eventually discover the source of the mist and how to rid their world of it and get back their memories, we learn more and more of what they have forgotten about their lives together. And yet, even as most of the truths that are revealed to them are tragic ones, particularly with regards to their son, these revelations come with none of the emotional payoff that you would expect. I felt nothing about this story despite my best efforts. I understood that it was about the problem of ‘amnesia’ on a personal and political level. The Britons and Saxons could only achieve peace if they denied their history of violence, and Axl and Beatrice’s relationship could only withstand if they refused to address the pain they had inflicted on one another during their long relationship. I got that. But I didn’t care about it.

The Buried Giant was not for me, and the adulation it has received leaves me with that bitter feeling in my stomach like I get when I feel as if I somehow missed something important.