Okay, so, admittedly we’ve already reached the very end of the first month of 2019, but is it ever too late for some resolutions? Now, at the end of 2018, and at the start of 2019, my friends and I were contemplating which books we’d like to get around to in the new year, and any challenges we’d like to set ourselves within our reading. Naturally, one of the most consistent issues that came up is that we all agreed we’d like to be a little more diverse in our choices. While I’ve definitely tried to broaden my horizons by way of genre over the past few years, I think that anybody with a little sense can see that all forms of media – be it literature, television, movies, etc – are severely lacking by way of good representation. Last year I was lucky enough to read some really excellent books featuring an array of different LGBT+ characters, as well as some seriously gorgeous pieces like Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, which not only featured a black leading lady, but also tackled some incredibly important issues such as racism, police brutality, and so on.
**full disclaimer** i’m deeply sorry for the length of this blog post. I absolutely had no intention of blathering on for so long, but here we are!
With all of that in mind, this year I’m hoping to further explore stories revolving around characters of colour (and/or written by authors of colour), as well as stories featuring LGBT+ main characters (and, again, perhaps written by authors in the LGBT+ community too). The reason I mention authors, in addition to the subjects of the story, is because there’s such a wide array of poor, misinformed stories revolving around minorities and marginalised groups of people, and all written from the perspectives of white, cisgendered, heterosexual, able-bodied authors looking for brownie points. While I certainly fall into a number of those categories myself, and I don’t think that more privileged authors should avoid such topics, I think it’s important to know that you’re doing it right, and representing people in a way that makes them feel like their voices are truly being heard, and by putting in as much care and research as is necessary.
As well as diving into some of the more diverse stories sitting on my shelves, I’ve also decided to give myself a few other challenges, if only to add a little variety to my TBR, while still managing to explore some of the untouched books that I’ve been hoarding all this time! Below I’ll be listing each challenge, with a selection of books from each one, and perhaps at the end of the year I can take a look back over this post, and see how well I’ve done. Additionally, while I’ll certainly be appointing certain books for each category, no doubt many of the other books I dive into over the year will have some impact on my challenge, so I’m still going to try and not be too strict with myself; after all, reading should be about having fun, not about proving yourself to anybody.
Last year, I read a nice few LGBT+ stories – some happy, some sad, some landing somewhere in the middle – and this year I’m hoping to expand on that, and push myself further to read some of the ones on my shelf. More specifically, I’d love to try and dive into more wlw stories (though I am, of course, still open to any kind of LGBT+ content), having found that far too many LGBT+ revolve around white boys exploring their homosexuality. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with finally exploring more mlm stories, a much needed reprieve from your average hetero love story, the LGBT+ community has such a wide array of stories that need to be told.
- Things a Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls (WLW)
If you’re following this blog at all, you’ll probably have seen that, in fact, my first review was of this book! I had already decided what some of my resolutions this year would be a long while before writing this, just as I had also decided that this was going to be a book to prioritise this year. As luck would have it, both Jenny and I were feeling a little slumpy and confused, and we both happened to pick up the same book, so I’ve already managed to successfully tick one book off of my list already! This story features POVs from three young women, one of which has a heterosexual romance, while the other two explore their own sexualities with one another. It’s a story about feminist, suffragette-centric story, with LGBT+ themes as well as so much more! I won’t blather on for too long, other than to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I’m glad I gave it a shot! If you’d like to check out my review, feel free to give it a read over here.
- Autoboyography by Christina Lauren (MLM)
This book has been on my tbr, as well as my own physical shelf, for what has felt like an eternity. I say that because it’s one book I’ve had high expectations for, yet, for some reason, still haven’t gotten stuck into. That needs to change soon, as I’ve heard nothing but excellent things about it. Autoboyography manages to feature both LGBT+ representation and religion, seemingly without the trauma and angst that is so often involved in stories that tread the line between both topics. There are many stories, The Miseducation of Cameron Post being a prime example (as well as one of my favourite books!), that explore such themes, but often with a different intent. Cameron Post highlights so much of the trauma and anguish that comes with the involvement of LGBT+ people in a religious community. And, while this is certainly a topic that needs to be addressed, and is in dire need of gaining more attention, it certainly doesn’t shy away from the tougher, grittier aspects, perhaps making it a difficult read – especially for young people struggling with their own sexuality. Now, I can’t say for certain, not having read Autoboyography yet myself, but I have heard that it’s a fairly joyous read. I can’t imagine that the romance within these pages is entirely fluffy and angst-free, but I’m certainly going to be jumping in with high expectations. Another positive note that I have picked up on regarding this story is also that it’s one that, indeed, features a bisexual main character who seems to do a great job of informing characters, and the reader, of just what bisexuality means to him – something that is so often glossed over, even in some of the finer LGBT+ reads.
- Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters (WLW)
Unfortunately, i’m a late bloomer as far as Sarah Waters’ writing goes! A shame, and a catastophy, of grand proportions, no doubt. A couple of my friends have read different works of Waters’, only adding to my disappointment in myself for not taking their advice and picking up one of her novels! As I’ve mentioned before, I have been hoping to get my hands on a few more wlw reads, and this certainly seems a good choice. Now, I certainly don’t want to spread any misinformation but, to my understanding, a heavy theme in Waters’ stories – the majority, if not all – is that they happen to be solely based on romances between women, all seemingly fitting themselves into the historical genre rather neatly, too. I’d say it takes a lot to get a five star rating out of Jenny, in particular, so the fact that Tipping the Velvet has gotten such a positive response from her bodes well in its own right, and I can’t wait to see just what’s in store!
- I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson (MLM)
I’m really excited about this one. I managed to pick up a little boxset of both this, and one of Jandy’s other books The Sky is Everywhere in a deal last year, and the gorgeous covers alone were reason enough for me to want to get my hands on them. The story features a brother and sister dynamic – twins – and seems to jump between narratives throughout the story. Some of my favourite LGBT+ stories last year were ones that allowed a character’s identity to be very much regarded in the same way that a heterosexual character’s would be. That is to say, that it wasn’t the core plot point, and instead was just a part of their story. I love stories that incorporate LGBT+ aspects, and allow us to delve further into those relationships, by normalising it. Not to sound like a cliché, but we are all just human, and a person’s right to love shouldn’t be censored or treated any different to the average heterosexual relationship, both in fiction and in reality. To be able to immerse yourself in a character, and a story, and for their sexuality to just be background noise, just one small piece of the whole puzzle, while diving into the complexities and drama of their other interpersonal relationships – whether they’re familial, platonic, romantic, or otherwise – is such a joy, and actually a refreshing break from the stark reminder that the LGBT+ community are still considered something of an anomaly. I’m really excited to be able to learn more about Noah, the brother, and his homosexuality, while still getting some insight into his relationship with Jude, his sister, and their story.
- Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee (WLW)
This was an easy one to add to my list. Lady’s Guide happens to be a sequel to one of my favourite books from last year, in fact. I read The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue last year, after a little of procrastinating, and all I could think about once I had was why on earth didn’t I read this sooner?! It ticked absolutely every single one of my boxes; a historical, LGBT+ tale, featuring pirates (!!) and a badass feminist female getting her own sequel? Absolutely yes. While the first book focused on her brother, Felicity was along for the ride, and was undoubtedly a delight to read about. While Monty and Percy will forever go down as two of my all time favourites – both individually and as a dynamic – I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this book, and get a glimpse into the mind of Felicity herself. Fierce, intelligent, complex, and flawed, I’m so eager to get some more insight into just what makes our girl tick, into the way she views not only her brother, but the misogynistic world around her, and to join her on her own journey of self discovery.
Some of my favourite books from last year were those of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert, and The Color Purple by Alice Walker. All three in question were, of course, not only stories featuring black women as their main character, but were all also written by black women. Not only do I think this an important note when reading such stories, but I also found that a few of the stories I read last year featuring characters of colours, but written by white authors, were a great disappointment.
- Trell: Nothing But The Truth by Dick Lehr
This is a very interesting choice, on my own part. I hadn’t ever heard of this book until the start of the year when I picked it up by chance. I had no idea who Dick Lehr was, nor what this novel would involve. Though I am feeling a little slumpy right now – by no fault of Lehr’s – this is actually the book I’m currently reading, and so far it’s definitely an enjoyable read. Trell follows the story of a young, 14 year old black girl who’s currently seeking justice for her father, who was wrongfully imprisoned for the heartbreaking murder of a young girl when Trell herself was just a baby. It’s an intriguing story, truthfully, and we’ve all heard it time and time again: a horrific crime is committed, and without so much as a second thought, the blame is placed on a young, black man. The difference here, I suppose, is that the events of Trell are, in fact, based on a true story. Dick Lehr, an ex reporter for the Boston Globe, used the story of one Shawn Drumgold to inspire this story – with many details regarding the case, as well as names, switched around and changed for the story. Lehr, having worked on the original case, and having been paramount in getting Drumgold free, has opted for telling the story from the perspective of the daughter of the accused, rather than his own self. So far i’m impressed, even enjoying the way in which Lehr writes his own fictional counterpart – we catch glimpses of Trell judging him internally, her own description of him depicting him as a somewhat scruffy, grumpy old man – and I’m excited to continue on and see just how far Lehr is willing to go to give us not only an accurate retelling of such a devastating case, but an accurate portrayal of a young, black girl – despite being a far older, white man himself.
- Dear Martin by Nic Stone
Every year for my birthday, I jot down a long list of books that i’ve been eager to get my hands on, hand it over to my mum, my brothers, whoever asks, and patiently wait to see what absolute delights they’ll treat me to! Last year, I decided to be a limit myself. Every book listed what one either written by an author of colour, or one featuring a main character of colour. I’m always determined to read more diversely, but especially to explore stories that spread an important message, especially one so painfully relevant in the current state society. Dear Martin had been on my own TBR for quite some time as it is, and having read – and loved – The Hate U Give last year, I wanted to get stuck into some more stories with similar themes. Police Brutality does exist, no matter just how much the media, and some political leaders might try to push their own rather morbid (and white) agenda to twist the truth. Dear Martin opens up a conversation about exactly that; the way that the media attack and tarnish the reputation of the black community, especially when the police are involved. I know fine well that, as a white woman, I can’t even begin to understand the prejudice that any person of colour faces, nor the gut wrenching truth behind these atrocities – because, let’s be real, fiction or no: it does happen – but I am always interested in not only checking my own prejudice, but gaining insight into the minds of those that do have to take on these battles every day of their lives.
- Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman
Okay, I know. Trust me, I’m well aware that it’s considered a cardinal sin to have gone 25 years of my life and to have never picked up Noughts and Crosses, I get it, I do. So many of my friends have read Blackman’s works, and I’ve always heard the absolute rave reviews surrounding this stories. Yet, for some ungodly reason, I never actually knew what this book was about, and I never quite pushed myself to actually find out. Until the last couple of years, of course, when people such as Jenny insisted I’d enjoy her works, and that they were right up my alley: only then did I finally get my bum in gear and add her to my TBR. Then, after the absolute glory that was Blackman’s episode of Doctor Who (if you haven’t seen it: do it. It centred around Rosa Parks, and even with my own bias towards the show aside, it was an hour of both pain and power), I finally knew that I couldn’t put this series off any longer. Another one that made its way onto my birthday list, I told myself that there were no excuses this time, and that I’d have to pick it up in 2019. Noughts and Crosses is a story that puts a spin on racism, and gives us a dystopian future in which ‘Crosses’ – dark skinned people – are considered the ruling class, and ‘Noughts’ – the colourless: namely white – are the lesser race. In these books Blackman gives the reader perspective by turning the story of racism, classism, and prejudice on its head, and putting the privileged in the place of the disadvantaged.
- Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
I’m about to make a confession, one that I know to be something of a big deal to many readers. Now, don’t be mad, but I am one of those horrendous people who has seen this movie, yet have never read the book. I know, terrible, but whatever, right? Listen, reading can be tough! And sometimes there isn’t enough time, nor energy, to pick up the book, especially when the movie is just waiting to be seen. Not to mention, i’m the proud owner of a cineworld card, meaning I have a plethora of new releases at my disposal, free of charge, whenever I have a day off, or evening to myself, so who in their right mind would pass up that opportunity? Certainly not me! Because, in all seriousness, I don’t mind watching a movie without having read the book, or vice versa. I don’t really buy into the pretentious notion (i’m sorry!) that movie-goers are somehow lesser than readers, or vice versa. Do what you love, enjoy yourself, c’est la vie! And I absolutely adored this movie. I always knew I would; the cast alone ticked all my boxes. Still, I knew that the movie could only give me the briefest glimpse into this gorgeous array of characters, and with two more books to follow the first I just knew I had to give the series a go, and really lose myself in this excellent cast of hilarious, deplorable, complex people. Crazy Rich Asians isn’t, despite some misunderstandings, an insult. Kevin Kwan didn’t sit down and decide to insult and generalise various communities of people. Nope, where the title might read crazy, he’s not referencing their attitudes, but instead their abominable wealth. Yep, they’re just filthy rich. And outrageous. And hilarious. And badass. And so much more! And frankly, I can’t wait to immerse myself even further in their world.
- Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America by Ibi Zoboi (LGBT+)
This has been on my TBR for a while now, since ever before its release, catching my eye with its gorgeous cover, intriguing title, and the overall synopsis. And, as luck would have it, Jenny knows me like nobody else, and picked me up a copy for Christmas! Friends are just the bloody best, aren’t they? But, anyway. Black Enough is an anthology, featuring authors such as Nic Stone (as mentioned above!) to Brandy Colbert, and so many other brilliant authors. It presents stories ranging in ethnic diversity, as well as gender, sexuality, and social status. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with anthologies. I don’t actually hate them, but, in fact, am sometimes too easily pleased. While you’re bound to get the few select stories that you don’t enjoy – not every story is for you, and that’s okay! – I always find that, with the ones I do like, I’m always left wanting more and more. Which, of course, is only a testament to the authors themselves, and the worlds that they create, but still. I’m needy, what can I say? I’m really excited to get a start on this one, and to be able to have a good old natter with Jenny when we both get going!
This one isn’t exactly a goal that’s going to inspire or educate me one way or another, certainly not in the way the other two might, but I am a sucker for a retelling. I love fairy tales, and I love seeing the exciting, new spins that an author can put on them. Even watching movie adaptations of the classics is always a joy, because so often there are changes and, while some are certainly not favourable, they can often be exciting and refreshing. Of course, this category is not going to be solely limited to fairy tale retellings, as absolutely anything is free game! Now, this was actually a hard list to compose, considering that I have so many that I want to explore. Sadly, however, if you know me at all, you’ll know I’m a huge sucker for Alice in Wonderland. Not only do I collect special editions of Carroll’s classic tale, but I collect retellings too. And, with this list, I wanted to try and keep it diverse, and hopefully explore only one retelling per world. Tricky as it was, Jenny actually helped me out a bunch with this one too – firstly by gifting me some excellent retellings for Christmas, but also by being the world’s greatest accomplice (and terrible influence) by supporting my own purchases of even more.
- A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney (POC)
Naturally, we’re going to start off with the Alice retelling – listen, I said I didn’t want every single one to be an Alice retelling, not that our lovely lady couldn’t feature at all! A fairly recent release, A Blade So Black puts a spin on the classic fairytale – in more ways than one. In this tale, Alice isn’t the blonde haired, blue eyed girl in her pretty blue and white dress, a flower-crowned kitten at her side, that we all visualise so frequently, as depicted in the Disney adaptation. No, Alice is a black girl, clad in a cool, blood-red leather jacket & hoody combination, with a knife in hand. She’s a fighter, a warrior, yet still a young girl facing the same struggles that we’ve all faced at least once in our life: over protective parents, friendship trouble, and schoolwork. This story manages to dive into the world of an ordinary teen, while also taking us on an adventure through wonderland, with an abundance of twists and turns along the way! I’m a huge lover of Alice retellings anyway, and I was already pretty excited to give this a shot, but having also just learned that there’s a sequel in the works, I can’t wait to plunge into Alice’s world.
- Hunted by Meagan Spooner
Alright, we need to address the elephant in the room. There’s something of a joke between all of my friends that usually I wouldn’t give the time of day, but I know that it’ll just crop up if I don’t say something, so I may as well. All my life, for no discernible reason, whenever I invest myself in scifi and fantasy stories – tv series, movies, books, etc – I always seem to be drawn to archers in particular. No Jenny, it’s not a kink, and no I don’t know WHY it is that I’m so endeared by a badass with a bow and arrow, but I am. And we’re just gonna leave it there and move on, okay? The Allison Argents, Tauriels, and Clint Bartons of the world deserve love too, you know! Now, moving on. Hunted is a Beauty and the Beast retelling, but one like we’ve never seen before. Yeva, i’m sure you’ll all have guessed by now, is equipped with her own trusty bow and arrow – Disney’s Gaston has nothing on her! – and is on a journey to find, and save, her father from the mysterious forest of the beast. A great hunter himself, her father loses his fortune, and his mind, and goes missing one day, and Yeva finds herself – despite her sister’s protests – setting her sights on the very prey that drove her father to the predicament he’s in today: the beast. I can’t WAIT to read this, and with the rave review that Jenny – and many others – gave it, I know it’ll be right up my alley.
- Capt. Hook: The Adventures of a Notorious Youth by J.V. Hart
Heh, another confession. I’m not really a fan of villains, as pretty much everyone knows about me. Not that I don’t think they’re necessary, and not that I don’t believe they add something to the story; obviously you need a villain, and of course they’re often captivating and completely deplorable. Yes, yes, I know all that. However, I’ve never been the kind of person who actually likes and attaches myself to villains. I know that, so often – and especially with characters like Gaston, or The Joker, or even Morgana – that there’s a certain charm to these antagonists. Some of them start out as the heroes we worship and adore, whose downfall we get to witness before our very eyes. Sometimes we’re given glimpses into their backstories, to what makes them tick, and we find ourselves empathising and understanding. Other times we don’t know just why we’re charmed by them, just that we are, and that maybe we deserve a good slap on the wrist for being so blind sided by their maniacal tendencies. For me, though, nine times out of ten, that’s just not the case. I don’t think that makes me bigger or better than anybody, by any means, and in fact is probably a huge flaw on my part, because I do struggle to compartmentalise at times. It just… doesn’t usually interest me all that much. I can see flawed and complex characters, and I certainly find them interesting, but it doesn’t necessarily endear me to them. Hook, however? Now that’s another story. Everyone knows the story of Peter Pan, and no doubt everyone’s seen at least one adaptation of the tale: and there are many. And i’ve seen a lot of them. Peter’s always been a character that’s intrigued me himself, being a character that even I wouldn’t actually consider a hero, as such. To me, the true hero of Peter Pan is actually Wendy, but that’s a discussion for another day. The point is, these characters are so overwhelmingly complex, and over all the years since J.M. Barrie’s novel was published, over 100 years ago, there’s been such an incredible amount of beautiful adaptations of his stories and characters; Hook included. Some portray Peter as the hero, and Hook as the villain, some portray them as friends, and others portray them in the reverse roles. I’ve consumed a variety of different content, in the form of books, television shows, movies, and stage adaptations, that all take on fresh new takes with each character, and over time I’ve always find myself so delighted and awestruck by the angle that each writer decides to take. This novel pursues the tale of James Matthews, who would one day go on to become Captain Hook, and the past of his youth, before the tales of Neverland that we’re all so familiar with. I can’t wait to see where this story takes me, and to decide whether this particular portrayal of Hook is going to be a friend or a foe! Plus, I really bloody love pirates.
- As I Descended by Robin Talley (LGBT+)
Rather shamefully, I have never read a single piece of work by Robin Talley. It’s a huge failure on my own part, considering I’ve never heard a single bad thing about her or her writing. Notorious for writing LGBT+ stories, her work has always caught my eye, yet until now I’ve never actually picked up any of her books. This seemed as good a start as any, though, given that it perfectly caters to many of my interests. A modern day, LGBT+ retelling of Macbeth, with rave reviews to boot, I have high hopes that this will be one of my top reads of 2019! As I Descended is a story featuring both wlw and mlm themes, with equal amounts horror and romance. The synopsis listed on goodreads, as well as the blurb on the back of the book, already leaves me hopeful that it will still manage to be a faithful adaptation, with stellar nods back to the original content, while still being an original piece. The diversity is rife, with LGBT+ and hispanic rep, as well as the inclusion of disabled characters, while also seemingly managing to be a book that even those who haven’t read the original story can lose themselves in.
- Oh My Gods by Alexandra Sheppard (POC)
Until about a week ago, I’d never even heard of this book. And, admittedly, it was a pretty spontaneous purchase! With a beautiful and bright front cover, I knew immediately this would be a fun, cheery read! And, sometimes, that’s exactly what a person needs. I’ve always been intrigued by Greek mythology, even when not completely well educated on all angles, and there’s always going to be a gap in the market for new adaptations. More recently, however, I found myself growing more and more interested in such an abundance of different retellings – whether they be fluffy, romantic, dark, angsty, modern, historical, whatever. No matter what the subject matter, I wanted to get my hands on it, and I was lucky enough to find myself gifted a few different adaptations over Christmas that i’m looking forward to getting a start on some day. Now, not to brush the other books aside, but this one has taken priority and hopped right to the top of my list. I love cheese, I love fluff, and I love books that will make me smile, and I definitely feel like this is going to tick all those boxes. Oh My Gods follows Helen Thomas, a half-mortal teen living in London. She faces a lot of the standard, every day struggles that lots of teens deal with: embarrassing family members, the pressures of society and making new friends, and cute boys. But, y’know, with the added bonus of her family being, uh… Ancient Gods. No biggy, right? Look, I’m not expecting this to be mind blowingly accurate as far as the mythology goes, nor am I expecting a plethora of shocks and turns that leave me reeling for years to come. What I am expecting is a fun, corny book about a teenage half-mortal with cute, gooey content that leaves me grinning ear-to-ear. And boy, am I ready for just that.
Now, this one’s tricky. I actually managed to read 12 classics last year – depending on your definition of a classic – and that was entirely without meaning to. There was no challenge involved, and it was only upon looking back at my 2018 goodreads challenge that it dawned on me that I had. A few here and there were rereads, but quite a few weren’t. As my friends know, I’m not a huge lover of classics, in all honesty. They’re absolutely hit-or-miss for me, personally. I understand the draw, I understand the appeal, and even when I don’t enjoy them myself, I understand their success. Perhaps it’s a cultural thing, perhaps it’s a personal thing, but so often diving into stories that took place, and were published, years ago, I find the heavy – though inevitable – racism, sexism, homophobia, and just general prejudice to be difficult to overlook. Sometimes I’m able to draw comparisons between the ones i’ve loved and ones i’ve hated, and sometimes I find it kind of fun to highlight just why the stories still work in some places, were in others they don’t. All the same, I’d love to push myself to explore more classics, certainly some more of my friends personal favourites, and see if any of them stick with me for the better!
- The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (LGBT+)
Is it fair to categorise this as an LGBT+ read? Truthfully? I know there’s always been a lot of controversy surrounding both Oscar Wilde and this book but, let’s be real, Dorian Gray is not a heterosexual. Sure, i’ve never actually read the original story itself (my biggest regret, truly), but I do love Dorian as a character, based on other adaptations of this classic tale. Censored as this story, and Oscar himself, so often were, it’s incredibly heavy on LGBT+ themes (you’d be daft to think otherwise, come on!), while also being a great showcase of basic human selfishness, vanity, and other such traits. Quite simply, it tells the tale of one Dorian Gray, a young man who wished for something we all find ourselves wishing for at one point or another: to never grow old, and to be eternally beautiful. As anybody can imagine, such a wish is not easy to fulfil, and certainly such hopes don’t come without consequences.
- The Professor by Charlotte Bronte
So I’ve never read a Bronte book, sue me. But, not really. Because i’m poor, and also i’m trying. Plus, if I don’t get my bum in gear then Esme and Jenny will do their work to whisk me into shape themselves! This short novel, Charlotte’s very first, was a lovely Christmas gift from the darling Esme herself! A huge fan of the Bronte sisters works – and both Northeners themselves – Esme and Jenny have spent the duration of our friendships trying to get me to read something, anything, of the Brontes. I own Jane Eyre, I own Wuthering Heights, and both remain untouched on my shelf. Esme, bless her darling heart, decided to gift me The Professor for Christmas, despite all my previous struggles to find motivation. And, y’know what, this just might work? At only 212 pages – tiny in comparison to Wuthering’s 464 and Eyre’s 545 – it’s a much shorter read, and a premise that sounds much more to my tastes than the other two, if i’m being totally honest. Not that i’m not interested in the Bronte sisters’ other works – I absolutely am – but The Professor might just be the book that finally gives me a taster and pushes me that step closer to their worlds. This particular story follows the life of a newfound teacher, told from his own perspective, and focuses on his romance with another young teacher, with the added obstacle of her also being a student. Certainly a story that could result in controversy and horror, or veer closer to romantics and warmth.
- Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Has everybody, bar myself, read Rebecca? Quite possibly. But, I’m eager to change that! Now, dark, gothic novels aren’t usually my go-to, but when it comes to classics, that’s often part and parcel with whatever book you’re picking up. Not to mention, I can’t think of a single bad review i’ve ever encountered ofdu Maurier’s work. I’ve owned this book for a few years now and between upcoming adaptations, and my own friends imploring that I read it, I knew that it was time to take action. Rebecca is the story of a young woman who finds herself living in the shadow of her widower husband’s ex wife. She must face terrible truths that she encounters about her new partner, as well as the home she lives in, and the secrets buried in its past, as well as a jealous housekeeper who refuses to accept her presence in their home.
- Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Hands up if you love Jane Austen! You can’t see me, but my hand is well and truly UP. I love Jane Austen, I’d be absolutely crazy not to, wouldn’t I? Not that i’m here to shame anybody that doesn’t, that’s absolutely okay! But I knew that if I was going to be tackling a few classics this year, that I’d have to have at least one of her novels on here. And so, Sense and Sensibility it is! A story of two sisters – Elinor and Marianne Dashwood – we follow these ladies on their journey to woman-hood. Marianne, who is prone to wearing her heart on her sleeve, ignores all advice and warning and pursues a gentleman most unsuitable. And Elinor, always sensitive and shy, struggles alone with her own romantic endeavours. Both follow the path to discovery; of both their own, personal happiness regarding themselves, as well as a better understanding of their social standing and romantic pursuits.
- To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I have owned this book for years now, and it’s getting a little pathetic that I haven’t actually finished it. It’s not a big book, and i’ve heard nothing but excellent things, and yet here we stand. Yet again, another book I’ve heard nothing but good about, and have failed and failed and failed again to pick up. Admittedly, I did pick it up, just the once, but during a huge reading slump at the time. I didn’t want my own slump and rotten feelings to hinder my enjoyment of such a classic, especially knowing so many people that adored it so, and so I decided to set it aside for a time that felt right. That time, I can only hope, is now. To Kill a Mockingbird is told from the perspective of a young girl named Scout Finch, a tomboyish, rebellious child living in small-town Alabama in the 1930s. Taking just a few years after the Great Depression, this is a story ahead of its time, and still socially relevant, in which we see the struggles of a black man falsely accused of the rape of a young, white woman.
Now, this one wasn’t my idea, all the credit for that goes to the lovely Jenny, but it’s definitely a great suggestion. For this one, I’m hoping to explore some more of the books that I currently have sitting on my shelves at home, but specifically the ones with a lower average rating on goodreads. This might seem like a strange choice – I mean, who wants to read a bad book? – and I might find myself resenting Jenny by the end of the year (just kidding!), but I’m excited to give it a go, at the very least. While the books I’ve selected are certainly some of my lowest rated (admittedly, I found I’ve already read a few of my lowest-rated owned books), that doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t be enjoyed. Everyone’s different, and we all find different pros and cons in the content we consume, so it’s all just a matter of perspective. Besides, quite a few of this are luckily edging more towards an average of 3.5, rather than lower, which doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing.
- After Alice by Gregory Maguire (RETELLING)
- average rating: 2.79 stars
Okay, so 2.79 stars isn’t exactly promising, but i’m still willing to give it a go! In fact, this was actually a book I’d been eager to read before seeing its rating, so I certainly won’t let it stop me. This one, actually, is going to be a fun one, because it also happens to fall into my retellings challenge. I’m a huge Alice in Wonderland fan, and if you don’t already know this about me, I actually collect copies, not only of Alice, but adaptations too! Additionally, Jenny actually bought me this book, so it seems apt that her suggestion should see at least one of her own purchases featured!
- Runaways by Christopher Golden (POC & LGBT+)
- average rating: 3.41 stars
Right, this one I’m really excited for. I actually only purchased this book last year, being a huge Marvel fan, and a massive fan of each of these characters, so this one isn’t even going to be much of a challenge. 3.41 stars, as ratings go, isn’t terrible, either, and i’m excited to see if I get some joy out of this one!
- Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan (LGBT+)
- average rating: 3.44 stars
Truthfully, I have no idea what to expect here. I attended a talk last year featuring David himself, and I was so endeared by him, and eager to have something of his for him to sign. Admittedly, I absolutely could have bought any of his books – being a gay man himself, he’s got a wide variety of LGBT+ content that I’ve heard excellent things, his own work with John Green having been some of my first ever exposure to LGBT+ literature – but the sap in me took over. I’ve seen the movie adaptation of this and, while it’s maybe not a cinematic, award winning masterpiece, I do happen to love Victoria Justice and Matthew Daddario, so my bias took precedence over logic with this one. Another shameless Jenny mention here, but she actually attended this talk with me, not to mention I managed to get all my books on her trusty discount, so again it seems fitting that she’s featuring so heavily in her own challenge.
- The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr
- average rating: 3.50 stars
Finally, we have a book that might, in fact, be a real challenge for me. Not because I have low expectations for it, by any means, but because this was actually something of a spontaneous purchase. This one was a charity shop purchase on one of mine and Esme’s book hauls before a show, quite some time back now, and I remember just thinking that it sounded vaguely interesting at the time. It seems to have a decent premise, it was more than reasonably priced, and the proceeds went to charity, so I was a happy lady. Definitely looking forward to giving it a go.
- Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined by Stephanie Meyer
- average rating: 3.53 stars
For this last one, I’m going to need you all to refrain from laughing. Yes, of the five, this one happens to have the highest rating. And yes, of the five, it just might be the trashiest of the lot. But hear me out. Once again, Jenny’s challenge appears to be featuring another book somewhat connected with her. This one was one we’d laughed and joked about, even poked fun at, while simultaneously, shamefully, wondering whether or not it was actually worth checking out. Listen, we all had a Twilight phase, there’s absolutely no point in denying it. I don’t expect this book to be good, and I certainly didn’t pay full price for it, either, but Jenny and I are hoping to make this the world’s weirdest buddy read this year, so we’ll see how it goes.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS FROM 2018
I thought, to cap it all off, it might be fun to do a recap of 2018, and a couple of books that I read last year that happen to fit into the categories above. The books below aren’t necessary my favourites from the year (and, actually, I didn’t pick the options below), but just ones that I thought could start a discussion, at the very least. I’ll also be including a note of my goodreads rating from when I read it, as well as a revised rating for what I think I would rate it if I reread it today. Sometimes, when you’re reading a book for the first time, it’s hard to really gather your thoughts afterwards and really sum up how it made you feel. That might be because it left you with a lot to think about, for better or for worse, or sometimes because you can’t quite put your finger on just how it made you feel. Either way, I often find myself reconsidering my stance on any story once actually given the time to sit down and think about all aspects. Sometimes I find myself gushing and gushing about a book that I seemingly only found mediocre. Other times, and rather sadly, I find that while I might have thought I enjoyed a story, that once given the opportunity to actually take it apart, piece by piece, and observe all components, that the more I think on the content, the less positive I actually feel towards it.
Leah on the Offbeat by
- my goodreads rating: 5 stars.
- my revised rating: 3 stars.
If you’re familiar at all with Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, then you’ll probably have heard of this book, and of Leah Burke. This follows Leah who, much like Simon was, is trying to figure out how to come out to her friends. Unlike Simon, Leah was always aware of her bisexuality, in spite of never having spoken it into existence for others to hear. It’s her truth, though, and rightfully so she decides to move at her own pace when coming out, wanting it to be on her own terms – a right that was unjustly taken away from her best friend Simon. This was a difficult book to rate for me and, if i’m being perfectly honest, I think I rated it a little too kindly. Giving it a five star rating just… doesn’t feel right. I think a lot of it was the nostalgia for me, as a huge fan of Simon vs, and the whole universe and the characters collectively, too. In fact, there were a lot of aspects of this book that I didn’t enjoy. Becky is an interesting writer, and I find her books extremely easy to breeze through, having read Simon vs during a huge, slumpy part of my life, and having read this in roughly a day. Even The Upside of Unrequited was an easy, light-hearted read, and also happened to feature some of her SimonVerse characters. I think, to be perfectly honest, there are some stories that just need to be put to bed. While certainly a complex character, I think that Leah showed a lot of selfishness, and often unkindness, towards both her friends and her love interest, in this story and in Simon’s, and it often made it difficult to empathise with her struggles. As much as I love a flawed character, when a person isn’t aware that their behaviour is unacceptable, and aren’t willing to apologise and learn from their mistakes, it’s hard to celebrate and cheer them on. And, as much as I once found myself an unexpected shipper of the two characters paired together in this story, it felt a little too much like fanservice, and didn’t always add up, for me. There was so much wrong with this story, by way of character progression – or, in some cases, regression – and certain inconsistencies. Even so, I did enjoy some aspects of it, and I’d be a liar to say I didn’t! While Leah Burke isn’t entirely the leading lady for me – not that I dislike her exactly, not at all, but I don’t personally see the appeal in comparison to some of Albertalli’s other characters – I still have a lot of love for this universe, and this group of friends. Even the insights in Simon and Bram’s relationship, the return of the emails, absolutely everything and anything featuring Nora, Cal, or Abby, and just the simple bliss of two bisexual leads, and high-school/collage-age romance centring around two girls; well, all of that was enough to leave an impression.
Ramona Blue by Julie
- my goodreads rating: 4 stars.
- my revised rating: 4 stars.
Now here’s a book that faced a lot of backlash, and unfairly so, if you ask me. I get it, I suppose, to an extent. A lot of people mistook this book for something that it absolutely is not: a book about a lesbian turned by a man. But, no, that’s not what this is. And, I get it. I do. It’s a very common narrative, and a sickening one, at that. I understand wholeheartedly why the potential of such a story would shock and disgust so many people, but it’s so important for people to understand that that’s absolutely not what this story is. Yes, Ramona identifies as a lesbian to begin with, and yes I can see why any such change in her identity might anger people. The thing is, though, Ramona is just a teenager. Now, by no means do I believe that teenagers can’t know for absolute certain how they identify, I don’t think that at all. Not in the slightest. However, we all know that there is a very deep rooted stigma surrounded the LGBT+ community, and as unfortunate as it is, sometimes such prejudice can come from within the community, too. Not always intentionally, of course, but it does exist. So many people genuinely believe that you are one or the other: gay or straight. Obviously, there’s a larger conversation to be had here, not only pertaining to sexuality, but gender too, but this particular conversation that, I think, Ramona Blue can instigate is one of bisexuality, compulsory heterosexuality, and other such themes. Like so many teenagers, Ramona came to realise her own same sex attraction and, again, like so many teens, concluded that she must be a lesbian. That was it, simple. She liked girls, and so surely that was all there was to it? But then, wait! Only when she actually finds herself reunited with a boy from her past does she realise it’s not that simple. Sexuality isn’t that simple. Attraction isn’t that simple. It’s possible to know and understand yourself, your identity, your own mind, but sometimes we surprise ourselves. Sexuality is fluid, and we don’t always fall for the people that we expect to. And that’s okay, and that’s what Ramona comes to learn. She feels so overcome with confusion, with guilt, for being attracted to a boy, for seemingly betraying her attraction to girls, despite the fact that it’s proven time and time again within these pages that her attraction to girls never goes away. And, now that that’s out of the way, it’s still worth mentioning that Ramona Blue, as a book, is so much more. It’s not just about her sexuality, but her whole life. It’s her discovering who she is in so many other ways; just as much as any teen does, she spends a lot of time contemplating her future, and trying to figure out what it is she wants out of life, what she wants to make of herself. It’s a story of a young girl finding her place in the world, within her family, within herself. Of course it covers romance and sexuality, but the thing that I loved the most about this book was that the familial and friendship dynamics held focus far more often. This story dives deep into her dynamics with her father, sister, and absentee mother, as well as her group of friends, and her place with them, too! Not to mention, Ramona’s love interest is black, and faces backlash and harsh comments regarding his race, and Murphy doesn’t shy away from having them raise the discussion, and having Ramona check her privilege, too. Check out my original review over here!
- The Color Purple by Alice Walker (LGBT+)
- my goodreads rating: 4 stars.
- my revised rating: 5 stars.
I understand that i’m very much in the minority when it comes to people who hadn’t either read this book, watched the movie, or listened to the Broadway soundtrack. Most people have done at least one of these, if not all, and I knew I needed to rectify it. I’m a big fan of Cynthia Erivo, particularly, and having watched back the Tony’s and seen her perform songs from The Color Purple back in 2016, I knew that I needed to hear more. Now, just a few years later, with “I’m here” on repeat semi-constantly, I finally gave myself the push I needed and picked up the book. Now, call me naïve, whatever, but I had no idea going into this story that it was an LGBT+ story. I had listened to a few songs from the musical, but even then, i’d never actually gone to the effort of looking up the plot: I had wanted to go into the book blind. And blind I was, and I couldn’t be more grateful. Truthfully, the only possible explanation that I can come up with for why I gave it 4 stars, instead of 5, was the intensity of Celie’s story. The Color Purple is absolutely not an easy, fun, or cheerful book to read, but it’s absolutely an important one. The style of writing captivated me immediately upon picking it up, with every page told from Celie’s perspective, written in the form of letters to God, to her sister, to the people in her life. Celie is a black woman living in the deep south of America, the story taking place from 1910 to 1940, and she is a woman who has not had an easy life. As can be expected, she had no access to an education, her lack of literacy evident in each sentence. Walker managed to create a clear voice for Celie, right from the off, with each word written exactly how Celie hears it, allowing us to create an incredible visual of this poor, damaged woman, hearing her voice call out to us with each turn of the page. This isn’t a story to go into lightly, with each page following Celie on her heartbreaking journey. She endures years and years of varied kinds of abuse, both physical and emotional, always at the hands of somebody new. It is hard hitting in the way that it talks of domestic violence, emotional manipulation, sexual assault and rape, trauma, PTSD, racism, as well as sexuality; you are never in any doubt as to just how much our leading lady has suffered. And even despite that, her sexuality, and the exploration of this newfound attraction to women, is so intriguing and profound. Walker doesn’t shy away from speaking explicitly of her sexual relationship, despite it being between two women, and indeed injects a real sense of honesty into her story. Each page, each letter written, is one ordeal or another; you never quite know which direction it will take next, and if you are about to be filled with pride or horror. Yet, in spite of that, Celie is strong and empowering, and proves to herself, as well as the reader, that no matter what you endure, you can survive; you can stand tall. It is a story of growth, acceptance, and self love; whether that be regarding the colour of her skin, her sexuality, or even the worth (or lack thereof) that she places upon herself. I absolutely adored this book – and was even lucky enough to have a brief conversation with my favourite author, Patrick Ness, regarding just how powerful it truly is – and while it may have been a hard read, there’s not a single page that I didn’t think was entirely necessary.
You’re Welcome Universe by
- my goodreads rating: 4 stars.
- my revised rating: 4 stars.
This is a tricky book to talk about, to be honest. Not because I didn’t enjoy it (I did!), and not because it was especially complex, or even problematic (it was neither!), but because I have a tendency to second guess myself when I enjoy a book – especially when I enjoy a Young Adult novel. I read other reviews a lot, and tell myself hat if they didn’t like it, then I must be wrong! Or I listen to my friends’ opinions and, though it doesn’t bother me that we all have different views on things (because, c’mon, who cares if your friends like/dislike something that you felt the opposite about?), I have a knack for assuming the worst in myself. Which is to say, I think of myself as being a bit dim or stupid, and so when I really enjoy a book and other people don’t, I immediately jump to the conclusion that i’m ‘too stupid to understand’. A lot of it’s an insecurity thing, for sure, and I think a lot of it is the fact that we have it drilled into us that Young Adult literature is somehow lesser than other genres. Which is absolutely not true! Now, You’re Welcome Universe was by no means perfect. In fact, I had a lot of issues with it! There were parts of the story that I found silly, tacky, and a little bit cheesy, that made me crinkle my nose and shut my book just so i’d have a moment to actually register what had just happened. Not necessarily awful, but just… a bit too cheesy at times, y’know? But, eh, it happens. Julia, our main character, was utterly flawed. As I mentioned above, when speaking of Becky Albertalli’s Leah on the Offbeat, I have a lot of difficulty connecting with characters who are unapologetic in their behaviour, specifically when they’re 100% in the wrong. For that reason, I found Julia to be a little bit irritating from time to time, I won’t lie, yet as the book went on, and my God do I disagree with and absolutely despise some of her decisions and behaviour, I did come to realise that, as flawed and absolutely entitled as she could be, she was still a pretty intriguing character all the same. Julia was absolutely selfish, and often treated her parents with incredible disregard at times, and she wasn’t always the most charming of people even towards her friends and the other people that cared deeply for her. All the same, she’s a teenager, one dealing with an immense amount of pressure (more than just your average teen’s already heavy weight), and one who lashes out from time to time; but is reprimanded justly for it. The absolutely excellent thing about this book, for me, was that there was such a large abundance of representation in a number of different ways. Julia, our main character, was a deaf, Indian-American teenage girl with two mothers. In one simple move, we’ve already got disability rep, a leading woman of colour, and LGBT+ rep. The nice thing about Julia’s mothers in this book, for me, was that their relationship and sexuality was never an obstacle, or called upon for discussion. It didn’t define them. They were her parents, plain and simple. They talk among themselves regarding their troubles when wanting children, absolutely, and it’s no small feat that two women are together and raising a child at all – even in 2019 the LGBT+ community are fighting a perilous battle – but they’re presented to you exactly as they are and should be: a normal family. Regarding Julia, however, I came to realise that some of the factors that set her apart from her peers were, actually, what endeared me to her further, in spite of some of the decisions she made. Now, by no means am I saying her race, her disability, or anything else contributed to me letting her off the hook or having any sort of a blind spot regarding her actions. No matter who you are or where you’re from, you have to face the consequences for your behaviour and learn from your mistakes, absolutely, but I think it’s fairly obvious that Julia faced a lot of obstacles and a lot of harshness in her life, and I certainly think it had a huge say in her attitude, and explained a lot about why she was such an angry and frustrated young girl. I really enjoyed this story and the way that it helped educate me further on both art – Julia is an artist, specifically prone to street art – and the deaf community. We learn so much about how Julia lives with her deafness, why she shouldn’t have to adjust herself to suit others (ie: speaking instead of signing), and why we, the hearing, should be the ones making a change and educating ourselves. Not to mention, to see first hand just how often she is brushed aside and overlooked, how people disregard her, talk over her, and often shut her out of conversations just because she cannot hear – even going so far as to constantly turn their backs on her so she can’t read their lips – filled me with so much frustration, that it really made me take a step back and reassess my own behaviour, as well as be more wary of others around me. Julia is constantly fighting a string of battles throughout this story, some of which are part and parcel with being a teenager – crushes, fractured friendships, broken trust, school work, and family problems – as well as so much more constantly being piled onto her shoulders. I enjoyed this story because I felt as though it wasn’t meant to be a story of romance and just dumb puppy love (and this is coming from someone who can barely sit still for five minutes without some corny romance to keep me going), but instead was Julia’s story, not anybody else’s. It was a story of her own growth and empowerment within herself, much the same as The Color Purple above, yet also in a wildly different way. We see a fun portrayal of friendship and female empowerment between her and her newfound best friend (who, might I add, is references as being a fat girl who is only encouraged and empowered to love herself for exactly who she is), as well as gain an insight into how toxicity within friendships can warp our judgement and morals. Indeed, the book kicks off with Julia spray painting a wall as an act of loyalty to her then best friend, covering up a mean-spirited slur shaming her, only for the very friend she’s defending to be the one to tell on her, thus leading to her expulsion. Though this I was a fine example of Julia’s own loyalty (and girl power, to boot!), we see her own behaviour falter throughout the book with some of her own, far more petty actions, thus showing us the complexities of her character and all of that anger spilling out of her in all the wrong ways. Overall, I really enjoyed this story. I stand by the fact that it wasn’t perfect, and maybe for some it didn’t quite hit the mark, but I felt that it covered a lot of ground and certainly taught me a lot about deafness and living with it, from morning alarm clocks, to lip reading, to ASL! Not to mention, Whitney Gardner is not only an author, but an illustrator too, as is evidenced in the various, gorgeous pieces of artwork littered across the pages.
A Little in Love by Susan
- my goodreads rating: 4 stars.
- my revised rating: 4 stars.
Good Lord, my heart. I mean, if you’re a Les Miserables fan and you don’t love Eponine, then you may as well just leave right now. Rather simply, A Little in Love is an adaptation of one of Victor Hugo’s most popular pieces, all told from the perspective of Eponine. So, well, you know from the off that you’re in for a bit of a cry, really. Shamefully, i’ve never read the original book myself, but I am a fan of both the musical, movie, and the latest BBC adaptation, too. I just enjoy the story, these characters, and I’ll pretty much take any adaptation that I can get my hands on. Maybe one day i’ll get around to reading the original novel, and you guys can hear all about it! I really enjoyed this, despite it tearing me to pieces and leaving me an emotional, blubbering mess Eponine is my favourite character from Les Mis as it is, and this only deepened my affection for her. Despite never having read Hugo’s own work, I’ve heard enough from friends who have, done enough research, and consumed enough content (I’d like to think) to know that Fletcher did a mighty fine job of adapting the young Thernardier. Of course, there will always be blips, and details ever so slightly askew – that’s inevitable in any retelling, but certainly when you take into account that we all take something different from any piece of literature – but Fletcher still managed to tug at the heartstrings in a very authentic, honest, and true-to-character way. We get to follow Eponine on her journey, seeing the more interpersonal details of scenes we all know and love, viewing them from an entirely fresh and new perspective, and getting some insight into her mind. Naturally, it hurts like hell. We all know how this story ends, and it never gets any easier, but it’s certainly worth picking up if you’re a fan!
Olivia Twist by Lorie
- my goodreads rating: 4 stars.
- my revised rating: 4 stars.
So, growing up, Oliver Twist was always one of my absolute, all time favourite stories, and to this day it still is. Whether it’s the original novel, or any of the many adaptations, I love getting to dive into this story, and getting to immerse myself in it. Sometimes it’s insightful, other times painful, and completely and utterly jolly at times, too! The second I heard about Olivia Twist, I knew I had to read it, and i’m just so very glad that I did! Such as I’ve mentioned before, I know there’s a certain level of judgement that comes with reading Young Adult, and especially when the content you’re consuming is a retelling of a classic. But, tell me, what’s not to love about an Oliver Twist retelling with a fierce female lead, instead? Yep, that sure is a whole lot of silence! Now, I get it, there’s going to be a lot of distaste towards Langdon’s novel. That’s inevitable. Not only is it a retelling, but it’s a gender swapped retelling, and with a heterosexual romance. I get it. I hear your cries of ‘make it gay!‘, and I agree, I do. This would have been a phenomenally whopping 5 stars if Oliver had remained a boy, and the romance had remained. All the same, though, none of that could possibly hinder my enjoyment in the slightest, no matter what anybody says. Olivia Twist isn’t a direct retelling; that is to say, it’s not the exact same story, but retold with a female character. No, in fact, this is the story of Olivia, and set years after the events that unfold in the original novel. Olivia is now older, in her late teens, with characters like Jack (Langdon’s take on The Artful Dodger) just a couple years older, and still features throwbacks such as a brief appearance from fan favourite Fagin, Mr Brownlow holding steady as a recurring character, and even Monks – who, though not always present in the screen and stage adaptations, was very much a part of the original novel. Langdon managed to create a fun, fluffy, and endearing retelling of a gritty tale, while still keeping aspects of it dark and unsuspecting. She remained faithful to the original content in many ways, while still putting her own, personal twist on the story, as well as including lots of fun nods to the different variations of the story from over the years (ie: what, fisticuffs?). I loved this story a lot, finding it an easy, fun read, that had me gushing and smiling from ear-to-ear in so many places, while filling me with immense pride at the strong leading lady that Olivia managed to be.
Mary Poppins by PL
- my goodreads rating: 3 stars.
- my revised rating: 3 stars.
Is it fair to assume we’ve all seen Mary Poppins? (And, on that note, have you seen the sequel? It’s bloody brilliant, you really should if you haven’t already.) To my knowledge, growing up with Mary Poppins in the VCR was a staple of pretty much everyone’s childhood. If it wasn’t, then you’ve missed out on a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious time, if I do say so myself. With that in mind, it felt ridiculous to not expand my love of our leading lady and take a leap into the first of a long series of novels, the very books that inspired the classic musical. I mean, how could I not? I had a gorgeous paperback copy that I couldn’t resist from buying, and a hankering for some more of Mary and the Banks children and their own bizarre adventures. Sad as it is to say, I wish I’d given it a pass. Unfortunately, Travers’ original novel seemed a little lacking for me. It didn’t harbour any of the same feelings that the Julie Andrews movie (and, quite frankly, the Emily Blunt sequel, too!) brought out in me, and I think it was severely missing the same magic that really made Mary pop. (I swear that wasn’t meant to be a pun, but I’m having a giggle to myself all the same.) In fact, Travers’ nanny was, well, quite mean. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t misunderstand Andrews’ portrayal, nor Blunt’s. In fact, Mary Poppins is absolutely vain, and deliciously rude, and quite snotty if I do say so myself. That being said, there’s a certain level of humour that comes with the character when portrayed on stage or screen, allowing you to laugh along with her, and scarcely feel offended, when she does happen to be going off on some kind of tangent and talking down to another. The feeling amongst these pages was not the same, unfortunately, and instead Mary just came across as cruel and unkindly, and rather difficult to like. Not all aspects were a complete disappointment, though, as I found myself favouring certain chapters and adventures that Mary, Jane, and Michael found themselves on, enjoying the nostalgia that came with them as it slowly dawned on me just which moments had inspired the classic film. There were certainly some drab or boring aspects to the book for me, but it wasn’t completely devoid of lines and scenes that made me smile, too! I suppose, it makes a lot of sense on hindsight now to learn that P.L. Travers had such a distaste for the movie adaptation, as i’m sure she was just as aware of all the changes to Mary’s character as I was, but it is worth mentioning that sometimes the movie is just better. Sometimes change isn’t so bad.
If Beale Street Could Talk by
James Baldwin (POC)
- my goodreads rating: 3 stars.
- my revised rating: 4 stars.
Right, please do not be fooled by my rating of this book, and do not be discouraged by whatever feelings you think I have towards this classic. I’m a rubbish rater, and sometimes a bit of a rubbish reader, too. My feelings and opinions change daily, and my reaction to a book isn’t always necessarily a result of the content that i’ve consumed, but sometimes in fact just a testament to the mood that i’m in. Sometimes 3 stars for me means: it was good, I enjoyed it. Other times 3 stars means: I hated it, but i’m too much of a coward to admit it, so we’ll keep it neutral. Pathetic, I know, and i’m definitely going to work on getting better at rating books (and honestly) over 2019, but here we are. I’ve always struggled with classics, which is absolutely a me problem, and not a problem with James Baldwin or his writing. It’s inevitable to find in older stories that some of the attitudes and viewpoints are outdated, of course they are, and I think that’s a large part of what blurred the lines for me, and gave me such a false start when picking up this book. Luckily, the book only got better and better as I kept reading on, and I only wish I hadn’t had such a tentative beginning. If Beale Street Could Talk tells the story of a young, black man who has been wrongfully imprisoned for the rape of a young, white woman. Now, let me be clear: he did not do it. That’s plainly stated within these pages, and as the reader you are never in doubt of this fact, we know he didn’t. It’s a tale as old as time itself. In fact, even as I write this, I can’t help but draw parallels from this story, to the book i’m currently reading (as mentioned above), and once again the heinous theme that is: white people, and specifically white officers, placing the blame on a helpless, innocent, black man. Baldwin’s work may be fiction, but such a story is not; this is very much an honest, raw reflection on the treatment of black people in now. It’s a truth that many choose to ignore, but a truth all the same. Fonny’s story might be set in the 1970’s, but it’s a sad truth even today in 2019. Black men – and women too, of course – are still being incarcerated for crimes they didn’t commit, corrupt cops on every corner working to take them down and to vilify them, to turn them into villains, and to destroy their reputations – and, unfortunately, a large majority of the time it works. I hadn’t ever picked up any of Baldwin’s works before this, sadly, which is certainly something i’ll have to make a conscious decision to change now that I’ve finally taken the plunge into his work. He’s an incredible writer, and I was captivated upon researching him after reading this book. Being gay or black in America – or anywhere – is never an easy feat, but to be both is quite the challenge (take a look at the lovely Jussie Smollett, who was the victim of of a heartbreaking racial and homophobic attack just days ago). Yet, Baldwin never shied away from talking about his own experiences, and using his voice, using his writing, and using his status to bring attention to topics that mattered. He spent all of his career writing books and essays that dealt with race in American history, his own experiences with race and religion, as well as exploring topics of gender and sexuality, too. The point is, he took a lot of time to focus on heavy subjects, ones that are hard to read, but necessary. This book is no exception. Don’t get me wrong, I understand some of the backlash it has received – especially since its upcoming movie adaptation. Reading about rape, the repercussions, and the anguish of such a violation, is always something I find immensely difficult. It’s one of my own person sore spots when it comes to reading or consuming any type of media, something that I find quite difficult, but something that we do need to shine a light on. To shine a light on false-accusations is certainly a dangerous game to play, especially in the light of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, I understand that wholeheartedly. However, I do think Baldwin’s story is one that deserves to be told, and the important thing to focus on here is not the idea that it is a story of ‘a girl crying rape’, but instead is a portrayal of the always-evident corruption within the police, and their perception of black people. Police brutality, the violence, both emotional and physical, towards people of colour in America has never simmered, never quieted, but has instead only increased over time, and it needs to stop, and it needs addressing. The wonderful thing about this story, in fact, is that nowhere in this story are we to believe that the victim is lying about her attack. In fact, though we are to believe in Fonny, and to trust in his innocence, we still follow the trauma and struggle of a young girl who has been violated, and we see Fonny’s own loved ones conflicted in their desire to help him, as well as sympathetic towards the victim, never once discrediting her. Overall, I found this to be a really compelling story, and if you’d like to read my review from last year, you can find it over here.
AND THAT’S A WRAP.
Sorry for all the incessant rambling, and if you happened to stick it out until the very end, you’re an absolute trooper. Lord knows i’d have wanted to duck out by now! So here’s to 2019, to resolutions, and to more exciting reads! Will I get through all of the above? Maybe, maybe not. I’m not going to be strict with myself: reading is about enjoyment, not forcing myself to read things for the sake of a few challenges. Maybe i’ll cover every basis above, between all of the sub-categories, and somehow never read any of the once specified on this list! Maybe i’ll read them all. I guess we’ll all just have to stick around to find out!