Who’s That Girl?

Life through a phone is a lie.
It always feels a bit like betrayal, when I call chick lit/romance smart because it so easily implies that all books in this genre are dumb, drab or both. I don’t like the term chick lit for starters anyway, why is it called ‘slice of life’ or ‘coming of age’ for men but for us again cut down to ‘chick’ and ‘lit’? I’ve never met a woman that called herself (unironically) chick. But this is a side note.
Who’s That Girl? has a premise that made groan a bit; the main character allows the groom to kiss her on his wedding day and she flees the absolute mayhem that follows. All that, and it needs almost 500 pages? Honestly, I can’t even remember why I took this book from the library, but I’m glad I did. Because Mhairi McFarlane shows oh so realistically how the victim is blamed, how bullying isn’t just something for (high) school and that it’s easy to outrace yourself and your needs without really noticing it. So Who’s That Girl? is definitely a coming of age, lessons learned book for the thirty-something woman.
Besides all that, it’s fun. It’s heartfelt, whatever Edie does and tries, especially when she starts adjusting to being back in Nottingham (having fled there), connecting with her family and neighbours (in a way), and finding satisfaction from work (ghostwriting the biography of an actor). She tries and she stumbles but it never looks like it happens For The Plot or as filler. Okay, of course there’s some stuff that will make you harumpf in (embarrassed) disbelief, but none of it feels quirky because it has to be quirky. Honestly, if this can happen when you’re half way into your thirties, I’m looking forward to it.
Who’s That Girl?, Mhairi McFarlane, Harper Collins 2016

Of Things Gone Astray

Mrs Featherby had been having pleasant dreams until she woke to discover the front of her house had vanished overnight.

For a few months, I’ve only read books from my To Read list. It’s satisfying to see the number go down, but now there’s mostly nonfiction and yet unavailable books, I gave myself the freedom of going to the library without a list. Yes, wild, I know (I still managed to find two books of my To Read list, but it’s not about that right now).

Of Things Gone Astray got my attention with its cover, and the description was appealing enough for me to ignore it being a collection of stories (pro: there have to be at least a few that are nice. con: the nice ones will never last long enough).

Even though it’s a collection of different characters, some of them slowly move into each other’s orbit, making it feel more like a world building from different angles than completely stand-alone stories. I feel like this made me like the story more, making it a bit more eerie than playing connect-the-dots.

Still, it’s not a novel that will stay with me forever, it was different and random enough to be something weird and quirky in my reading. A bit like a pause, maybe.

Of Things Gone Astray, Janina Matthewson, HarperCollins Publishers 2014

The Hate U Give

I shouldn’t have come to this party.

This one is probably going to be relevant for a long time coming, and that’s why I’m unsure how to go about this. As one of the blurbs on the back of the book says, everyone should read it, maybe especially if it makes you uncomfortable, but how do I put into words why you should read it?

Maybe because it gives a face to Ferguson, to Black Lives Matter, to Flint and all the other cases in which it’s easy to think of an entity, instead of a collection of individuals. Starr is one of the few black people on a very fancy school, which makes her feel like she’s living two versions of herself. When she witnesses a shooting, it’s harder to keep those two apart.

But it’s not just Starr’s story. It’s her family, her community and the endless attempts of being heard and seen as people, instead of thugs, low-lives, useless. Angie Thomas balances that impressively, and even though there are rough patches to get through, you’ll be so attached to the people you’re reading about, that you just take it.

And again, definitely a book I would have rather seen in my YA Literature class than another white boy story.

The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas, HarperCollins 2017

Acceptance

Just out of reach, just beyond you: the rush and froth of the surf, the sharp smell of the sea, the criscrossing shape of the gulls, their sudden, jarring cries.

And the Southern Reach Trilogy is done. As it looks like I haven’t reviewed the previous novels, I’ll just judge the entire trilogy in one go. It’ll be easier than just Acceptance, the last (and biggest) novel.

The Southern Reach Trilogy is an eerie set of books you’d best ignore if you like your conclusions clear and your clues obvious. In these three books, especially the first one, a lot of uncomfortable weirdness builds up, but Jeff VanderMeer doesn’t give you a breather.

There’s an unfamiliar place where life functions along different rules. It infects, it controls, it changes the research teams that enter, and no-one seems to be able to understand if it’s aliens, the planet itself, or something they can’t even think of.

The first two books are small ones, just enough to give the reader the creeps without feeling like you’re being brought along for a ride to nowhere. Acceptance might mean that the people involved are accepting, but the reader will have to do without a clear answer. The creeps stay though, just in a lesser amount.

Acceptance, Jeff VanderMeer, HarperCollins 2014

Clariel

Old Marral the fisherman lived in one of the oddest parts of Belisaere, the ancient capital of the Old Kingdom.

I’m pretty sure that Garth Nix is my favourite male fantasy author. Even when I’m a bit ‘hmm’ about some of his stories (for a younger audience), I’ll always appreciate his style and world building. This time it wasn’t any different.

Clariel is part of the The Old Kingdom series, but doesn’t fit into it chronologically. Not having read any of the series for a long while, this was kind of convenient for me. Just remember the necromancy, anything else can be new knowledge.

It being a (kind of) prequel also means that there’s not complete freedom to move and develop. Because of this the reader gets the slice-of-life option, things ending up before the (more) exciting and terrifying.

But I am a Garth Nix fan. I’ll read all of it.

Clariel, Garth Nix, Harper Collins 2014

Influence

I can admit it freely now.

The author admits that he’s been a patsy for his entire life. Luckily he doesn’t just knows that, but also knows how to get out of situations that try to use that weak spot of his for someone else’s profit.

There’s many ways to persuade, and many varieties of persuasion. Cialdini is a writing professor, making the set up of the book traditionally school book-ish. There’s an anecdote, data, a conclusion. That doesn’t mean that the material is dull, just a bit dense from time to time. A lot of what’s mentioned is recognisable (to me), but the addition of extra layers provide new information.

It took a few chapters before I really had an epiphany, but I guess that completely depends on what knowledge you start with. It’s an accessible insight to the human mind and action, and maybe one day – when buying a car for example – you can use it to get out of situations you’d otherwise be the patsy in.

Influence: the psychology of persuasion, Robert B. Cialdini, HarperCollins 1984

Nevernight

People often shit themselves when they die.

Ah nice, just some ordinary, entertaining sword and dagger (and dagger, and dagger) fantasy. Is it a stand alone? I don’t think so. Can it be read as one? Definitely.

Preteen girl goes through a traumatic experience, uses it to get into Superb Killer’s School to become one and punish those that put her through it. Along the ride there’s a lot of high school tropes (cliques, hateful teachers, romances) with some fantasy ones (surely there’s never been one as good as her).

It’s fun and satisfying, with some nice (with some gruesome details) world building along the way. Did it blow my mind and will stay with me forever? No. Was there anything annoyingly wrong with it? Not that I can remember.

Nevernight, Jay Kristoff, Harper Collins 2016