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The Reset of the New Year

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Whilst social media has been busy promising itself to be healthier, fitter, more hydrated and less in debt this week, I’ve decided to use the coming of the new year as more of a reset rather than a reinvent. I lost my way a bit towards the end of 2017 – I didn’t sleep enough, read enough or write enough. I just drooped, a bit down but definitely not out!

Now that’s not to say 2017 was a bad year at all. It saw my sister marry my lovely brother-in-law and my best friend marry her best friend. It saw more of my books entering bookshops. I visited new and old places on holiday and swapped living alone for living with the boy… just (he moved in at 5pm on New Years Eve!).

That being said, I want 2018 to be a place that sees me heading back towards to bookshelves and this blog again. I only managed 36/50 books in my Goodreads challenge last year, what with wedmin and other things taking precedence over reading, so now, with the new year I am resetting. I’m aiming for what I hope to be a manageable (if not underestimated) 40 books this year and in the spirit of easing me back in, I’m in the middle of rereading one of my favourite series – The Hunger Games (reviews here, here and here).

I also want to read more new releases and actually read them not just have them languishing on the bookshelves until they’re no longer new. So to help me stay on top of new releases (and to give future me little treats to look forward to!) I’ve got four books on pre-order, one to arrive every month between now and April:

2018 TBR

At the end of this month I’m finally getting my hands on Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. I’ve been desperately waiting for it to come out in paperback and now it has, the wait is (almost) over!

I saw a lot of bloggers raving about The Hazel Wood over the Christmas period – lucky devils getting proof copies! – so that’s going to be my February read.

On 1st March the new Louise O’Neill is landing in my letterbox – Almost Love. I’ve loved everything she’s written thus far so fingers crossed it continues! It sounds like it will be another amazing read from the blurb though.

And to see me into April is The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson. Again, this has been popping up all over my social media of late and with a title like that, it was too intriguing not to purchase.

I want 2018 to be a bookish new year, a happy new year and an explorative new year. I want to read those books that have been waiting to be read. I wish to clear the shelves a little and, most importantly, to enjoy words again.

So to paraphrase one of my favourite literary redheads this is a new year, fresh with no mistakes in it yet! So let’s enjoy it!

anneofgreengables

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Hopefulness in Homelessness

No and Me

‘Miss Bertignac, I don’t see your name on the list of presentations.’

Christmas is a time for love, forgiveness and giving. It is a time for putting aside any selfishness and a time for thinking of others as well as thinking of those less fortunate than ourselves. Delphine de Vigan’s novel No and Me is a perfect book to mirror the sentiment of the season as it focuses on the developing relationship between a teenage girl and a young homeless woman.

When a school project brings 13 year-old Lou and No, a teenage girl living on the Parisian streets, together they come to realise that they can get more from each other than just information. As their unlikely friendship grows, their lives become intertwined and the feeling of longing starts to turn into belonging.

A subtle and tender tale, No and Me explores how circumstance determines who we are and how we behave. Through Lou, a highly intelligent but naïve girl, we see No as a person rather than a faceless statistic of the streets. In Lou de Vigan expertly depicts the indestructible confidence that young teens have. Lou has the beautiful confidence that she can change No’s world, that kindness truly is the cure and that happiness, once lost, can eventually be found.

For a translated text (No and Me was originally published in French), it reads incredibly well. The narrative voice is perfectly pitched and there aren’t any of the awkward phrasings that usually occur in translated texts. It’s a straightforward voice and whilst it could easily have been more graphic or more emotive in places, it doesn’t need or try to be and that space allows the audience to connect and cheer for the characters wholeheartedly.

Quiet and understated, No and Me may not a fast-paced drama but is still a powerful and an affective read. There are no simple solutions or tied-up loose ends and de Vigan embraces that in her finale. It’s raw and imperfect and wonderfully fitting to the story of these two characters.

4 star

The amazing UK charity Crisis is a charity my family like to support, particularly around Christmas time. They campaign to end homelessness in the UK and over the Christmas period they host Christmas dinner for those in need. If can spare the money and you would like to help someone over the Christmas period, please do donate to Crisis ­– it really does make a difference.

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The Joy of Giving (Secretly…)

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This is the second year I have taken part in The Broke and The Bookish Secret Santa and the second year I have absolutely loved it! For people who are unfamiliar with #TBTBSanta let me explain…

In November, the amazing Jamie from The Broke and The Bookish (of Top Ten Tuesday fame) announces the dates for that year’s #TBTBSanta (this years post is here). You then send her an email outlining what type of reader you are, what your Christmas wishlist would be and what level of Secret Santa you want to take part in (1 book and a small gift, 1–2 books and a couple of goodies* or 2+ books and goodies).

You then wait with baited breath whilst she works UNBELIEVABLY hard to pair everyone up so you get someone with a similar level to you and, ideally, from the same country. There are usually over 400 Secret Santas to match ­– I don’t know how she does it! A few weeks later, you’ll get an email with your Santee’s details and off you go!

I’ve absolutely loved taking part in #TBTBSanta but I know some of you are wondering why would anyone volunteer to buy a present for a perfect stranger and how do you even start?!

Secret Santa 2017

Well firstly, I love a challenge. Buying bookish presents for a bookish stranger is really fun! You’re given a shortlist of book they’d like to receive, so you’re not blindly scouring the shelves, but once you’ve ticked off the major parts of the Secret Santa it’s time to get creative!

My Santee has already received her present so I’m ok to share the below to give you an insight to what I bought and how I shopped for the lovely Elena

Secret Santa 2017 2

  1. The Hobbit graphic novel –­ Elena is a HUGE graphic novel and LOTR fan and, as I bought this last year in French for my boyfriend, I thought it was the perfect curveball title to add to her list.
  2. Elijah’s Mermaid – Elena sent me a wish list link from Amazon so I got her a copy of this book (it’s also on my wish list so I hope it’s a good read!)
  3. Rosie Riveter / Stranger Things stickers – through some good ol’ fashioned Twitter stalking, I found out that Elena is a ST fan and a bit of a feminist so I thought these stickers from Punky Pins were perfect for jazzing up some notebooks
  4. Whittards Hot Chocolate stick – festive tea is a tried and tested fave amongst Secret Santa packages but Elena let me know in her email that she’s more of a hot choc girl so I picked up this fancier version for her to enjoy.
  5. Pen and pencil set – again, Twitter informed me that Elena has just started her new job and who doesn’t love fancy stationery?!
  6. Icicles Yankee Candle votive – I absolutely LOVE Yankee candles and this festive scent is one of my faves.
  7. Christmas socks – it’s just a must-have, surely?
  8. Black Panther Funko Pop keyring – I love a Pop Funko but I know the full-sized ones are not to everyone’s taste so a keyring is the perfect compromise. Twitter informed me that Black Panther is one of Elena’s favourite Marvel characters so the Black Panther Funko it had to be!
  9. The Suffragettes (Penguin Little Black Classics) – as I said above, Elena is a bit of feminist (girl after my own heart!) so this little extra was a must-buy for her!
  10. Candy canes – it’s Christmas!

I love making Christmas that little bit special for someone and the #TBTBSANTA allows me to spread the festive cheer to a complete stranger. You never fully know anyone’s motives for doing an online Secret Santa but it’s so lovely that Jamie garners together the book-blogging community to share the love and spread the goodwill.

Watch this space for the reveal of what my Secret Santa sent me…

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The Return!

Hello!! It’s been a while hasn’t it? Where is this year going?!

Why the hiatus I hear you cry? Well, it’s been a hectic summer for me as wedding season hit – both my sister and best friend decided to get married (not to each other you understand!) and so I’ve been bridesmaiding it up all over the shop!

It’s been manic, lovely, stressful, enjoyable and emotional but as a result books haven’t been my main priority over the last few months. My reading levels have dramatically dropped as I’ve been replacing commuter reading on the train with podcasts and walking in the sunshine. But, just like the dark mornings and cold winter chill, I can assure you that I am back!

I’m trying to find a way back to blogging so bear with me this month – a girl needs to find the words again! – but I am planning a few festive posts so keep your eyes peeled…

In the meantime, as regular TTWers know, I absolutely love the graphic novels by Lucy Knisley and so, to ease me back into this reviewing malarkey, I thought I’d try Knisley’s latest offering – a perfect fit given my recent escapades into the world of “I dos”, wedding cakes and white dresses…

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Knisley’s narrative and artwork style is light-hearted, funny and so accessible that I read the entire 304-page book in two days. It’s a memoir, a momento and a memory box of one specific, hectic time in a relationship and Knisley doesn’t hide the experience behind rose-tinted glasses. There are dramas, arguments and frustrations as much as there are heart-warming, romantic and genuinely lovely moments.

For curious singletons and unmarrieds (of which I am one!), this is an amazing insight to the journey down the aisle from the perspective of someone in the thick of it. It feels so personal and yet universal, a balance Knisley is always adept in creating. Her narrative voice is relatable and fun, and the personality injected through both art and voice allows the other to sing.

Something New is more than a play-by-play of a single wedding day. Knisley goes back to describe how her new husband both broke and mended her heart, how he proposed and why they decided to have the wedding they did. It’s a story and a journey and I love that Knisley and her husband allowed their tale to be told. I can’t wait for the next instalment!

4 star

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Everyone was looking for Jennifer Jones.

Alice Tully is trying to live a normal life. She has a boyfriend, a job at a coffee shop and a loving home and yet the news that Jennifer Jones – JJ, the infamous child killer – is about to be released from prison is preoccupying her thoughts. The media are desperate to find out everything they can about when and where Jennifer Jones is going to return to society. Only a handful of people know the truth and Alice Tully is one of them.

Narrated in the past and present tense, Looking for JJ, tells the story of murder from a different perspective. Told with incredible sensitivity, Cassidy explores the age-old question of nature vs. nurture and the role it plays in the actions of a child-killer.

As readers know the consequence of the action before it is explored in detail, tension and uncertainty run throughout the story. You are made to draw a connection and a conclusion to characters before you know the truth of what happened and, at times, it feels very uncomfortable feeling sympathetic towards what should be an unsympathetic character.

Cassidy’s narrative is compelling and complex as it challenges preconceived ideas and explores if people who commit the worst crimes can ever have the right to a second chance.

4 star

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Across Worlds

On the Other Side

Steady lights flickered across her closed eyelids, and in her ears she could hear the rhythmic hum and rattle of a train on its tracks.

They say you should never meet your heroes and as a huge admirer of Carrie Hope Fletcher, the quintessential role model for tweens, teens and this 20-something, I had been putting off reading her first foray into fiction for this very reason. And yet I bought a copy, a gorgeous purple-edged copy, and I eventually dared to read beyond the blurb in the hope that I would love On the Other Side as much as I love the author. There are some spoilers in this review so please be warned.

Evie Snow has lived a long and complicated life. At the age of 82, she passes away surrounded by her loving family but when she reaches the other side, she realises that in order to move forward, she has to look back and face what she has been desperately trying to forget…

Now this is a difficult review for me to write because whilst I did enjoy the unique magical realism of the story and the immersive feel of Carrie’s writing, I was immediately distracted by the choice of the author to write herself as the lead Evie Snow and her boyfriend-at-the-time, Pete Bucknall, as the romantic lead Vincent Winters. I know you should write what you know and that art imitates life but this obvious mirroring seemed unimaginative and a little narcissistic – two qualities I would never associate with Carrie Hope Fletcher, I hasten to add. I loved the little nod to her fan base that she includes within the story and didn’t even mind the obvious declaration of love to Pete in the lift graffiti (“CB luvs PF”) but having the two leads directly correlate to real life – from personality to physical characteristics – was just too much, even for this fangirl.

The lack of setting or time period is also where this book feels very confused. Fletcher creates a 1940s-style world where parents control their children with the threat of disinheritance and male bosses can freely sexually harass female employees without consequence and yet it is also a world modern enough to have skinny jeans, mobile phones and to openly accept all sexual preferences within society. There is the feeling that if On the Other Side is progressive enough to have openly bi-, pan- or homosexual characters, why is it still a world where parents can dictate who you marry and why isn’t Evie Snow strong enough to stand up for her own rights as much as she stands up for her brothers?

On the Other Side is riddled with wholesomeness and a continued feel of good-bad, right-wrong throughout, with characters being placed deliberately on one side of this stringent fence. This not only felt a little unrealistic but it also meant that by the end, I just couldn’t champion or support Evie. As someone who initially appears to be making choices to support a strong and independent woman, I couldn’t understand some of her later decisions and the fact she was making all these amends to her family by travelling back to the other side before raising the ultimate two fingers up at Jim was heart-breaking – I loved Jim!

To end on a positive, there are promising hints of authorship within On the Other Side. Fletcher’s style and tone of writing is engaging and she creates some really interesting ideas, balancing the fantastical with the ordinary with ease. It just needed a bit more time to develop and a historical context, along with a stronger editorial direction, would have lifted this book considerably. Even just a little more research would have given On the Other Side more authority and provided the well-written magical realism a springboard from which to jump. As it stands, it falls a little flat.

3 star