Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

The Last Namsara – Kristen Ciccarelli

“Once there was a girl who was drawn to wicked thing. Things like forbidden, ancient stories.”

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Blurb: “In the beginning, there was the Namsara: the child of sky and spirit, who carried love and laughter wherever he went. But where there is light, there must be darkness—and so there was also the Iskari. The child of blood and moonlight. The destroyer. The death-bringer. These are the legends that Asha, daughter of the king of Firgaard, has grown up learning in hushed whispers, drawn to the forbidden figures of the past. But it isn’t until she becomes the fiercest, most feared dragon slayer in the land that she takes on the role of the next Iskari—a lonely destiny that leaves her feeling more like a weapon than a girl.”

The story follows a dragon slayer called Asha who is an Iskari; a child of destruction. This fact doesn’t stop her facing a betrothal she doesn’t want, but when the King offers her a deal – kill the oldest dragon and rid the world of the dragon age forever – she is all too quick to accept.

The Last Namsara was another book that I decided to pick up on audiobook and I am so glad that I did. Pearl Mackie just added a whole new level of pure magic to the tale – it felt like I was listening to someone sitting around a roaring fire while telling a story from long ago in our history. She just had the perfect voice and she had me waiting on every single word and pause as the story progressed.

The story is broken up by current events and history which helps build up the world but also manages to avoid info-dumping which is too common in fantasy stories. The transitions between the action and historical elements did well to contextualise the universe and I felt that this aspect was really well done.

I am a sucker for political intrigue and adored how things unfolded throughout the plot as Asha’s main focus became doing everything she could to avoid her betrothal.  She had some hard choices to make but inevitably did what she felt was better for the bigger picture, not just herself.

My absolute favourite part was the use of stories which have a paramount importance in this world. When someone speaks an old story aloud, it lures a dragon out of hiding but also makes them stronger; makes them able to breathe fire. I just loved the connotations it gave of stories having power and the importance of our words.

I will admit, my attention did waver for the last quarter of this book. Partly because it felt like it was setting up for the sequel and partly because I was listening to it more sporadically due to my life getting busier so I don’t feel it’s fair to entirely judge it on that.

The Last Namsara is a fantastical story sure to fill the dragon shaped hole in your life.

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Posted in contemporary, discussion, review

Hamilton: The Revolution – Lin Manuel Miranda & Jeremy McCarter

“For all its variety of style and subject, rap is, at the bottom, the music of ambition, the soundtrack of defiance.”

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Blurb: “Lin-Manuel Miranda’s groundbreaking musical Hamilton is as revolutionary as its subject, the poor kid from the Caribbean who fought the British, defended the Constitution, and helped to found the United States. Fusing hip-hop, pop, R&B, and the best traditions of theater, this once-in-a-generation show broadens the sound of Broadway, reveals the storytelling power of rap, and claims our country’s origins for a diverse new generation.”

Hamilton was something that initially passed me by. I was very much aware that it was a hip-hop musical about an American Founding Father and on both counts it was something I just wasn’t interested in. That changed when I found out that Jonathan Groff (known for his TV role in Glee) had a part in the original broadway cast. Shortly after that I passed my driving test and needed some new CDs to blast out on drives. It was in this moment that I came across the Hamilton soundtrack and figured I’d give it a go.

There are not enough words in the English language to describe this musical. Words like “masterpiece” and “genius” just seem to fall far too short of conveying just how spectacular the songs in this show are (sadly, I am yet to see it actually performed on stage).

Hamilton: The Revolution is an absolute must for fans of this show, or musical theatre fans in general. It goes into enormous depth about the origins of Lin-Manuel Mirandra’s interests in this particular historical figure and how he originally intended for the project to be a hip hop album, not a musical. Everything you can possibly imagine from historical context, the original cast, production, costume design, to the initial reaction when it hit broadway is covered in these pages with focused chapters on each.

Every song performed in the show acts as the transition onto the next aspect of the show and are all linked. For example, a chapter about Jonathan Groff getting his part as King George is followed by page spreads of the lyrics to “You’ll Be Back” with footnotes on certain lines where Lin explains what he was trying to convey in the beats, timings and actual words themselves. I feel that the use of spreads dedicated to the shows was one of my favourite parts of this whole book. In a musical where the songs carry so much weight and meaning to them, it was fascinating to see the clever tricks Lin used to make certain phrases as catchy as they are along with historical context along with some facts that he tweaked a bit to fit the songs better.

Did you know that the track “My Shot” actually took Lin a year to write?

There are many more secrets unveiled in this book that left me dumbfounded. It is mind-blowing the amount of work that, not only he but the rest of the team poured into this show.

I truly believe that Hamilton is a show that will stand the test of time. After all, history has its eyes on you.

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Posted in discussion

Support The Stories, Not The Author

[Brief Note: trigger warnings for sexual assualt and I also want to make it clear that these are my views and you are free to disagree.]

[Edit: Since writing this post the author I focused on for this piece has been dropped by both UK & US Publishers and their agent.]

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Over the past few days, I’ve been in two minds as whether to write this blog post or not. But I feel that it’s something I need to talk about and to dismiss it lessens the importance of what is happening within the book community.

Sexual harassment is a big talking point at the moment and I am glad that it is finally being brought to the forefront of many discussions. But with those very discusssions comes people on opposing sides and I’ve found it increasingly difficult to  partake in these conversations based on what I’ve been through myself. Things like #TimesUp and #MeToo are empowering, important movements if you’re brave enough to stand up and talk about your experiences… but not everyone is and we need to remember that.

I don’t want to sensationalise victims coming forward, but when authors started indirecting about certain unnamed authors involved in sexual harrassment, I, like many tried to guess who it could be. Rather naively I thought the book industry would be different and then the bookseller survey came out.

A few days ago, these particular authors posted their cyptic tweets, and the article came out more recently and I felt my stomach drop at one of the names that came to the forefront shortly after.

I’m not going to name them here, not to protect them or anything but mainly to cover my own back. Maybe a little bit of it is that I’m still processing too. For transparency’s sake: I did wait until more information came out before making this post. I.e: a statement. But if you know you know, and if you don’t you don’t. As the news has started to extend beyond the community, you don’t have to look far to find out who they are.

One of the names in particular hit me hard because it was someone I really looked up to and admired; someone who had inspired some of my own creative work and someone I hoped I would meet one day. Like many, I felt a connection to this individual’s work as we all tend to do as readers. I found myself wanting to step up and say “no, let’s wait to hear what they have to say.” That was when I knew I needed to step back.

You may be shaking your head at me while reading this, disagreeing with me for “blindly believing the victims” or saying “it’s only real if they went to the police.” But as one who was once not believed herself, and terrified of going to the police because of the repercussions I might face, it’s difficult for me to disconnect. Anyway, I found myself not reacting in the same way I would if it was someone that I didn’t look up to and with the anger bursting online, I had to take a break from my main source of social media to try to process everything, make sure that I was alright (self care is super important), and also reconstruct my view of this particular author.

I’m incredibly close to the series and didn’t want to give that up. Their books formed the initial framework of both my blog and my channel; they were what I used when trialing new content and I especially don’t want to be seen, in the future, of endorsing this author and their actions if I chose to make a video or do another post about their stories. I want to make it clear that I won’t be buying anymore of their books, but I am tired of feeling like I have to give up the things that I love because of their creators: see Fantastic Beasts regarding Rowling/Depp.

I looked to the fandom for this particular author and saw that they have simply cast the author aside, proclaiming that the books belong to them and only them; that they are the new creators and refuse to give up the stories. While obviously it’s impossible to ignore the proverbial elephant in the room, I appreciate the sentiment.

I still don’t know what I am going to do in the future when I want to delve back into their stories soon and update my Goodreads to show what page I’m on, or post excited tweets about seeing my favourite characters again. But I do know that I will not be supporting this author. Though, I am not going to give up these stories.

I’m not letting that be taken away from me.

Posted in discussion

Should Good Things End?

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It’s natural to not want books to end; to wish we could get endless information about our favourite characters, to know they’re alright after the story ends.

A few year ago, John Green addressed questions about The Fault In Our Stars by saying he had no right to dictate what happened after the end of the book because, after all, the characters’ lives end when the story does; something that he actually explored in the author character of the very same book.

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An obvious one to consider is Harry Potter. With a new movie franchise breathing life into this magical universe again, along came new illustrated versions of the books (published on a yearly basis, an exhibit at the British Library, cover redesigns for the minor spin-off books and, more recently, the announcement of 20th anniversary house editions for Chamber of Secrets. My love for this world is no secret, but sometimes it can feel overwhelming and it leads me to wonder: when does you run out of things to produce? When does it all stop?

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Another example is the Miss Peregrine trilogy, written by Ransom Riggs. To me, this series was the perfect length and the ending left me with a heart set to burst; it was the right goodbye for these characters and their world. But with the movie adaptation bringing along the Tales of The Peculiar companion and the announcement of a brand new trilogy… following the same characters.

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Someone I cannot help but mention is Cassandra Clare, who is very much known for creating series after series set within the Shadowhunters universe. The Bane Chronicles started off as a bi-monthly Ebook series but became so popular that it was produced in a physical form with an added story. Now some of the stories have started coming out in small, compact, beautiful editions.

I want to make it clear that this is not an attack on anniversary editions: I don’t mind new books to mark the milestone, to give us an excuse to revisit a well loved story.

But maybe there’s a beauty to the fact that things do end. It makes us appreciate them a lot more when there’s nothing else to be said, to know that we may never get answers to some of those lingering questions over the year.

Or maybe it’s just me.
Let me know what you think.

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Posted in Audiobook Of The Month, contemporary, review

Audiobook(s) Of The Month | Ready Player One & Killing Floor

So I finished my previous audiobook with a few days to go before my Audible credit renewed. Therefore, I did what any other sensible person would do in my position… I bought another audiobook. For that reason, I have two to talk about this month. So let’s get into it:

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A man called Halliday has created a virtual reality universe called The Oasis which is so popular world-wide to the point where people spent most of their lives within it; some even get married to other avatars not knowing where they are in the real world, or what they really look like, and others even go to school. At the start of the story, Halliday dies and leaves his vast fortune to whoever can find the hidden easter egg in the game. The reader follows the protagonist, Wade, on his quest to find it.

I’ve been on the fence for a while about delving into this one but quite a few people recommended the audiobook because Will Wheaton is the narrator. I’m going through phases with it because I can’t work out if Wade is coming across obnoxious because of the writing itself or the dramatisation from Wheaton. I’m really enjoying learning how the world is made up and the tresure hunt element is fun but it just has so many periods where the story seems to really lag.

At the time of writing this, I am 67% into the book.

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Then my audible credit renewed, so I decided to give a new genre a try and picked up Killing Floor which is the first book in the Jack Reacher series. My dad is not a big fiction reader but he really enjoys all of Lee Child’s books to the point where when we’ve seen the films, he’s the one sat there saying “that’s not how it happened in the books!” So I figured I’d find out why he likes them so much. Apparently you don’t have to read  them in publication order because each book is a standalone, but I decided it would be best for to start at the beginning.

Jack Reacher is an ex-military officer who rocks up in a new town only to be arrested as a suspect in a homocide case. There’s just one small detail: he only just got in and the crime happened the previous night.

The narrator for this, Jeff Harding, is awful. He’s so robotic in the way he’s telling the story that it’s difficult to listen to but the story is interesting enough for me to keep going. If I do end up liking it overall and want to read his other works, I’ll probably pick up the physical books.

At the time of writing this, I am 8% into this book because I’ve been focusing more of my time on Ready Player One.

So that’s what I’ve been listening to this month! Do you have any audiobooks you think I need to listen to? What are your personal favourites?

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Posted in adult fiction, contemporary, review

The Beginning Of The World In The Middle Of The Night – Jen Campbell

“The stopping is important. You have to wait for the heart to become desperate; wait for it to think you’ve forgotten all about it. Then – and only then – do you smother it again with love and affection.”

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Blurb: “Spirits in jam jars, mini-apocalypses, animal hearts and side shows.
A girl runs a coffin hotel on a remote island.
A boy is worried his sister has two souls.
A couple are rewriting the history of the world.
And mermaids are on display at the local aquarium.”

 *This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

I have followed Jen Campbell for a while through her youtube channel where she discusses books and, while I’m not necessarily a reader of the same things as she is, her passion for fairytale, folklore and magical realism is impossible to ignore. It’s almost contagious. However, in terms of her writing I have only delved into Weird Things Customers Say In Bookshops which is a small non-fiction piece.  Then I was given the opportunity to get an early copy of her new book, a collection of short stories, called The Beginning Of The World In The Middle Of The Night.

I always feel that I can never fairly judge short story collections as a whole because I’ve never come across one where I have loved every single story equally; often there are a few stories where I didn’t really understand the point being made. For that reason, I’m going to highlight the few tales that jumped out at me:

The first is a story called “Animals” which is coincidently the first in the collection and really did knock me over. I was completely hooked from the first sentence, transported into this world where the characters can buy new hearts at the click of a button. Is your heart broken?  That’s no problem. Just simply get a new one. One character gets a replacement after being unfaithful. It’s no big deal in this world. It was a very strong start to the book and hit home the important of love.

The second story that grabbed hold of me and didn’t let go was “Jacob” in which a boy writes a letter to his beloved weather lady about his life and how he isn’t coping too well with the changes in his sister. It was a heart-warming, but also sad, read about identity and wanting to reach out to others.

The third story to stay with me was “Margaret And Mary And The End Of The World” which focused on religion and the importance of how you are perceived to the outside world.

The final story to stick in my mind was “Little Death” in which spirits roam the lands and are captured to be sold or kept in labs to be used in experiments to create immortality. It was beautifully haunting.

Every part of this collection was thought-provoking in its own way and each layer reveals another truth we avoid admitting to ourselves as well as others. Jen’s outside interests really shine through and cement her as a truly wonderful talent.

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Posted in children's fiction, contemporary, review

Wonder – R. J. Palacio

“My name is August. I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.”

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Blurb: “August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?”

Wonder is another one of those books that I’ve heard about on and off over the past few years but never really had any desire to delve into it… until I saw the trailer for the film adaptation.

The story follows ten year old August Pullman who has been living with a facial disfigurement from the day he was born. He’s been home-schooled but his mother can only teach him so much and decides to enrol him in fifth grade as August will not be the only new kid starting. August battles through stares, whispers and outright abuse while gaining true friends along the way.

I expected Wonder to be a really sad read – and in a lot of ways it is – but overall it’s a touching, uplifting book. Seeing August’s best friend Jack Will stand up for him reminded me about the importance of good friendships, and a girl called Summer actively sitting with August in the cafeteria highlights the effect that just being kind can have on someone’s day.

The book is told through different narratives: August, Jack Will, Viv (August’s sister), Miranda (Viv’s friend) and Julian (Viv’s boyfriend). Each perspective allows a different insight into what it means to be August or associated with August and really works well in showing the overall bigger picture as well as the scale of August’s influence. However, I did often find these jarring and that they disrupted the flow of the story. I also felt that Julian’s perspective wasn’t needed as he hadn’t been with Viv for that long.

Jack Will was the stand out character for him. He is a symbol of a true good kid and, while he made mistakes, his heart was really in the right place and I would love to read more about him.

If you’re looking for a book to lift your spirits and remind you of the good things in this world, make sure you pick up Wonder.

Wonder is…well… a wonder.

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Posted in adaptations, discussion

Are The Harry Potter Films Good Adaptations?

Recently I made a post discussing adaptations along with sharing some of my favourite adaptations along with others that are better left forgotten about. I didn’t talk about the Harry Potter films because I felt they warranted their own spotlight.

Everyone I know has experienced Harry Potter in their own way and as someone who grew up in the “potter generation”, I was able to grow up with both the books and films coming out each year. But little me, who is the first to jump up and down while screaming “that didn’t happen in the books” hasn’t really considered the films for what they are: adaptations.

I wondered if other people had thought about this too and naturally I took to twitter.

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As you can see, the majority believe they are but I was intrigued by the people who said no. I dug a little further. Those who said no felt that too much had been cut out in order to streamline the story into its main “good vs evil” plotline. Many felt that things that could have added extra substance to the films had been stripped away; which I understand and agree with. (I’ve said many times that Order Of The Phoenix is the longest book but shortest film.) Those who said yes felt that they are good because the most important part of an adaptation to them isn’t accuracy to the source material, it’s the feel of it and whether the purpose is still clear. If the message of Harry Potter has been transferred to the screen, can it really be considered a bad adaptation? If changes made still feel like thoughts and actions characters would make, is there anything to complain about?

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What I found interesting was that I got a lot of responses saying that they actually view the films entirely separate to their counterparts.

This made me realise I think in very much the same way. Of course I find myself rereading the books, baffled at some bits that never made it past the pages. Of course I have bits that infuriate me (do not mention the Half Blood Prince film in my presence). But it’s not often I find myself pulling the films to pieces while watching them. I just enjoy the ride.

As I’ve said before, adaptations are subjective. So what do you think?

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