Month in Books: May 2017

I hope you’ve all had lovely Mays! Here’s a little book summary of how mine went:

The Arrival – Shaun Tan – 5 stars If you saw last month’s wrap-up, you’ll know that I only recently discovered Shaun Tan’s work, and that I am completely in love with it.

The Heart Goes Last – Margaret Atwood – 3 stars I was actually really disappointed about this. 3 stars is by no means a bad rating, but I usually really love Atwood’s books! This is a Dystopian, but I felt like it didn’t ring true. Of course The Handmaid’s Tale must be horrifically difficult to try and match, but I did think this one fell a little flat.

The Communist Manifesto – Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels Just out of curiosity! I found this a lot more readable (in terms of accessibility, this isn’t a comment on the politics!) than I thought it would be.

Citizen of the Galaxy – Robert A. Heinlein – 4 stars I heard that this was a childhood scifi classic, so I decided to give it a try. I thoroughly enjoyed it! I don’t really have a scifi-reading background, but although it was very ‘genre-d’, I found it accessible, and still very human. I was actually really surprised to find that it had been written in the 50’s; it still stands as futuristic – and just really cool – today.

The Abolition of Work – Bob Black – 2 stars A little essay pertaining to the idea that all work is slavery and therefore no one should do it. Very readable and mildly humorous, but also a little too silly to really take seriously. I found the perspective interesting though!

Vicious – V.E. Schwab – 4 stars A Young Adult novel that takes the superhero trope and refreshes it. This was a re-read for me, and you can see my latest review for it here!

By Searching – Isobel Kuhn – 5 stars This is an autobiography of Isobel Kuhn, who was a Canadian missionary in China during the 1920’s. She writes fluently and I love her tone! She’s such a cool woman, and I just loved hearing her story from such a personal level; she’s very open and vulnerable. This is the first of what I believe to be three books detailing her life story – I’m really looking forward to getting to the other two!

The Glories of God’s Love – Milton Vincent – 3 stars A little Christian book to remind people of what the gospel message means day to day. Although I love the concept, I have to admit to getting a little bored with the writing style – maybe that’s me being a terrible person? Either way, its very short and very accessible. Three stars!

And that’s all for May! Recognise any of the titles, or have any recommendations for me to tackle in June? I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading this month!

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

Dani

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Review: Vicious – V.E. Schwab

Vicious – V.E. Schwab – 4 stars

Vicious

I originally read this in 2012, and I loved it. It blew my mind: it was gritty and there were superpowers – but not in a cheesy, muscles-and-Lycra kind of way – and it has this snappy, non-linear structure. I picked it up again last week for a re-read, and to be honest, I kind of wish I didn’t. It was the teeny-tiniest bit better in my head.

Don’t get me wrong, I do think this is a really good novel. It’s careful of cliches, and I think it puts a lot of work into being believable. ‘Vicious’ does all the superhero-y things you need it to do – moral conflict, ethical tension, violence at a safe distance – and humanises them. This book sports a cast of really fantastic character ideas. Maybe that was part of the problem, though: the characters never seemed completely realised. They played roles and sported brilliant quirks and motivations, but they never quite made it off the page. It hurts me to say this, because the character concepts are phenomenally imaginative, but a book whose distinction lies in humanity needs to excel in it, and I’m not 100% sure this one did.

The pace was full throttle throughout; this is a very quick and intense book to read. Although it was definitely violent, it wasn’t unnecessary gory – it dealt out its action scenes efficiently, vividly and with real class. Although there are a lot of injuries throughout the story, it’s never sadistic, and that’s something I look for in books (as a slightly sensitive person).

So we have a cool plot, made interesting by non-chronological story-telling and characters that are starting to sneak out of their little stereotype boxes. I gave this four stars, because although there was something that felt a little flat, I powered through right to the end, and found the whole thing thoroughly satisfying.

If you’ve read this too, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Did you know she’s planning on bringing out a sequel?

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

Dani

Can I Change the World?

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.

-Anne Frank

We live in an imperfect world. That’s not really debatable. We can argue over the whys and wherefores another time, but we all look around and know that many things are just not right.

It stands to reason, then, that change is not only necessary but inevitable; humans don’t always make the best decisions, but there’s always someone who burns with justice, and who will stand up and tackle serious and – if we’re honest – intimidating issues.

I don’t know about you, but for me great people like William Wilberforce and Martin Luther King Jr spring to mind when the topic of changing the world crops up. What I love about this Anne Frank quote is that she not only assumes that everyone wants to change the world, but that everyone can.

 I’m going to go ahead and be honest here: I’m bad at public speaking. Big groups of people make me nervous. I’m not great at arguing or debating, I have a quiet voice, and I can barely spell ‘committal’, let alone put it into action. I’m a reader. I like writing, and watching movies, and chats over hot chocolate. I’m not exactly cut out to be a ‘world-changer’.

Cue some wise words from Persian poet Rumi:

Raise your words, not your voice. It is the rain that grows the flowers, and not the thunder.

Words are POWERFUL. Non-fiction books have played a huge part in sharing knowledge and combating ignorance.

My real passion, though, lies in fiction, and I’m a firm believer that novels can have just as much impact on society as purely informative books. 

I could list so many books that are comments on society: ‘Les Miserables’ by Victor Hugo, ‘Oliver Twist’ by Charles Dickens, and ‘Trash’ by Andy Mulligan to name but a few, and don’t get me started on the Dystopians! Literature is practically defined by its power to challenge the way we think and view things.

It’s not just blatant social comments that can be challenging; books like ‘I am the Messenger’ by Markus Zusak and ‘Divergent’ by Veronica Roth offer ethical messages that provoke readers to double check what they stand for and strive for in the realms of personality traits and how they relate to other people.

Writers like V.E. Schwab (Vicious) and Ted Dekker (Showdown, Burn) force us to look carefully at our stances on right and wrong, and inspire us to keep fighting.

All of this is incredibly inspiring (and, I would argue, essential), but where do books like ‘The Rosie Project’ (Graeme Simsion) fit in? How does a sweet, humourous and fun piece of literature in any way contribute to society?

Did you know happiness is really important? “A joyful heart is good medicine”, as Proverbs 17:22 will tell you. As a writer, and in ‘real life’ as well, I can tell you that there is nothing I find more up-lifting than to make someone else smile, especially if they’re going through a hard time. This summer I’m going to be heading to South Africa, where I’ll be partaking in charity work among people affected by AIDs, and I’m being completely honest when I say that if I can make one orphaned kid smile, the entire trip will be worth it.

As a famous (fictional) author once said:

Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. 

(That was John Green as Peter van Houten, by the way)

So no, I don’t think a reader/writer like me is ever going to impact every single individual on this planet, but I don’t think that was ever expected. I genuinely believe that giving a pep talk, buying someone hard on cash coffee, and even just being with someone who’s struggling changes their worlds, and the individuals matter so much.

Part of being human means we are part of what is – for lack of better words – a team. Our stories interlock and twist and you don’t know how that fiver you put in the charity jar could make a difference for someone. You don’t know how that sentence you wrote, or that book you recommended could impact someone’s perspective of life.

After all, the definition of change is this: “to make the form, naturecontent, future course, etc., of (something) different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone.” Personally, I endeavour to be one of those people who don’t leave injustices alone. Yeah, that homeless guy deserves a sandwich today. Yes, that girl who sits alone should be offered company. Yes, I should treasure the people in my life because we’re all temporary and fleeting and brimming with the potential to be meaningful and live meaningfully, and I don’t want to just grow that in myself but in others.

I want to be part of a sharing world; a world that is communicative and connected, and I’d say literature is a fantastic place to start.

So thank you Anne Frank and Rumi: I’m going to add my raindrops to the river, and I’m going to start now. Whose little infinity can you impact today?

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

~Dani

Month in Books: February 2014

Here’s my reading wrap-up for February!

  • Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens – 4 stars This classic follows the story of a little orphan boy struggling to survive in nineteenth century England. A social comment that still holds moral relevance today.
  • Macbeth – William Shakespeare – 5 stars One of Shakespeare’s more famous plays, I kind of want to describe this as 11th century Scotland’s version of Game of Thrones. It gets messy, but the writing’s beautiful so read it anyway.
  • Breakfast with the Nikolides – Rumer Godden – 3 stars In which a family move to India and have to learn to adjust to the vastly different location…with varying degrees of success. I reviewed this here.
  • The Strange Case of Dr Jekkyl and Mr Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson – 5 stars This is a creepy inner battle between good and evil…a fantastic read dealing with moral issues in the form of what could be described as a horror novel.
  • Vicious – V.E. Schwab – 4 stars This is a classic super-hero novel turned on its head. Profoundly twisted and beautifully complex characters flail in the spaces between clear-cut good and evil.
  • The Grace Awakening – Charles R Swindoll – 5 stars A non-fiction work urging Christians to abandon legalism and live with the freedom that grace allows. It’s heavy stuff, but worth a read!
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce – 3 stars An elderly gentleman hears of an old friend’s cancer and determines to cross England on foot in order to reach her and – hopefully – elongate her life.
  • I Am the Messenger – Markus Zusak – 5 stars Zusak’s lesser-known novel is no less stunning than ‘The Book Thief’; nineteen-year-old Ed is led by an unknown person’s somewhat shady messages to…well, help people. It sounds less than exciting but it was my favourite book of the month, and I HIGHLY recommend it!
  • To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee – 5 stars This is another gorgeous classic that you’re probably aware of: a childhood experience of the racism-torn States during the 30’s.
  • Jurassic Park – Michael Crichton – 5 stars Dinosaurs! In this YA Science Fiction, blood found in amber-bound mosquitoes allows the cloning of dinosaurs on a modern South American island. Obviously, this can’t end well. A really exciting book that will also make you think.
  • Ignite Me – Tahereh Mafi – 4 stars The third book in YA Dystopian series ‘Shatter Me’. My favourite book of the trilogy, this book broke the stereotype of disappointing series ends and blew me away with the character and relational developments. Great stuff!

February was a great month for me (especially in the area of classics). Were you inspired to pick up any of these titles? If you’ve read any I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day.

~Dani