Inheritance Books: Annmarie McQueen

My guest post on fellow author Rhoda Baxter’s blog 🙂

Rhoda Baxter

This week’s Inheritance Books come from blogger and YA author Annmarie McQueen. Take a seat, Annmarie. While I put the kettle on, why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself. 

H20161013_201557i, I’m Annmarie. I’m a 22 year old writer, blogger and photographer living in London. I enjoy instagramming food, taking selfies with dogs I meet and being that annoying friend who always has a camera to hand. I currently work in event marketing. I’m a graduate of Warwick University with a BA in English/Creative writing and an MA in cultural policy. I also really love tea. I currently have 18 different types of tea in my room and I’m immensely proud of this fact.

Yay, tea! Which book have you inherited from a generation above? Why is it special?

The book that I’ve inherited that I would like to shine a spotlight on today is ‘Northern Lights’ by…

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Book Review: ‘Americanah’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

‘Americanah’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a work of modern art. It’s radical, sophisticated and subversive in all the right ways. And, dammit, there’s just something really sexy about reading an intellectual book and learning new things without it feeling like extra work.

I’ve read ‘Half of a yellow sun’ by Adichie in the past, so I went in with high expectations, which were met and exceeded by this book. It follows two star-crossed lovers, Ifemelu and Obinze, from their upbringing in a middle-class neighbourhood in Nigeria. However their relationship is cut short when Ifemelu emigrates to America to continue her education and Obinze, failing to get a visa, starts a new undocumented life as an illegal immigrant in England instead.

In America, Ifemelu deals with success and failure, finds and ends new relationships and eventually gets a fellowship at Princeton. For the first time, she becomes aware of race as a concept, and how differently she is treated because of her skin. She starts to document her observations in the form of a blog about race, which quickly brings her newfound fame. However despite all the luxuries of her new life, something pulls her back home, back to the Nigeria she grew up in. When she returns she meets Obinze again, who is now a wealthy, married man. As the two former lovers reunite, old sparks are rekindled and the two are faced with some tough decisions about their futures.

I once heard someone on goodreads refer to this book as a ‘500 page commentary on race’ (it was meant as an insult, I think of it as a positive thing). It’s true that ‘Americanah’ is not subtle at all about the issues of racism it tackles, and very much focuses on Ifemelu’s experience of being black in America. However it doesn’t read like a text book, or a preachy rant, it reads like a very smart, very intellectual novel written by a world-renowned race academic. As Ifemelu herself says in the book, racism is not a subtle thing, and should not be dealt with in a subtle way. As it does for all African Americans, race is something that affects every aspect of the protagonist’s life, and therefore seeps into every part of her narrative. The point of the novel is to illuminate the pervasive, omnipresent shadow that race is for those living in the Western world, and also how race is not a fixed category as its definition is tied to shifting social values.

‘Americanah’ is not just another ‘book about race’. It’s brutally honest, heartbreaking and also fiercely hopeful. It analyses the very real, very damaging consequences that race can have, from racial stereotyping, to lack of representation, to alienation and loss of identity. It’s a book about overcoming hardship and succeeding in a country that is against you purely on the basis of your appearance. It’s about miscommunication, a lack of understanding, a lack of willingness to learn. It’s a story about love in many different forms and, ultimately, two people finding each other again.

Book review: ‘We were liars’ by E. Lockhart

“The island is ours. Here, in some way, we are young forever.”

I’ve read a lot of books in the last few months. Spending nearly 3 hours a day on a train commuting to work and back has made reading the highlight of my day. But despite all of the classics I’ve read ‘We were liars’ is the book that has stuck with me. I know that many will claim that it’s not in the same league because it’s ‘YA’ and therefore of lesser value somehow. But frankly I feel like there’s not enough space in the world of literature for newness, that literature is very much a closed off category of the past.

‘We were liars’ is a work of the present. Through her depiction of the Sinclair family, Lockhart paints a surprisingly authentic metaphor of modern day American society, touching on relevant issues such as insidious racism and power struggles within the family dynamic. Though the Sinclairs may be beautiful, rich and powerful on the outside, they are riddled with corruption and tragedy underneath.

Cadence Eastman Sinclair is the American golden girl; she’s rich, pretty, loved, however beneath the facade she is struggling with chronic, debilitating migraines, which doctors believe to be a symptom of a post-traumatic brain injury. She believes this was caused by an accident she had swimming in the sea, while holidaying on her family’s island two summers ago. However she’s not really sure, since the accident also caused amnesia.

From there Cadence takes us on a trip down memory lane, back to when she first went to the island with the rest of her family, including her cousins Johnny and Mirren and Johnny’s best friend Gat.

The four of them quickly become close friends, calling themselves the ‘liars’. Cadence falls in love with Gat and they start a summer fling, one that Cadence’s grandfather, the patriarch of the family, disproves of since Gat is ethnically Indian. While the grandfather never says this outright and speaks more in veiled threats than clear statements, the situation becomes tense and Gat mysteriously breaks off the budding romance.

Heartbroken, Cadence tries to move on, however when she finally returns to the island 2 summers later everything has changed and it’s clear that something isn’t right. What really happened on the night of the accident? To discover the truth, Cadence is forced to dig up old memories that are probably better left buried.

Lockhart’s prose flows effortlessly as she describes lazy days on the beach of a paradise island cut off from reality. Everything about this book has a dreamy, semi-lucid quality to it, evoking emotion and imagery with every paragraph. It’s truly a masterpiece to read, and even better when you find out what the twist is at the end. Though I had my suspicions, it still took me by surprise and I thought it was very masterfully constructed. I was satisfied with the ending and, though I was sad it was over, it felt like the story had come to a natural close.

I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys mysteries, suspense, psychological thrillers and general YA. It really is an excellent read and definitely worth the time investment.

Review: ‘Wonder’ by R.J Palacio (guest post)

Anyone who’s filled with as much self-doubt as I am will surely understand what I mean when I say that every now and then, you come across a book that makes you resolve to be a better person. Wonder by R. J. Palacio is absolutely one of those books. Touching, engaging and uplifting, it offered everything I wanted from a story and then some: a whole host of characters; conflict that felt only too realistic; a conclusion so poignant I’m still drying my eyes and an abundance of youthful, untamed delight.

Trying to summarise a book that’s comparable in style only to Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is not easy, but I’ll give it a go. The premise is simple: August Pullman has a genetic condition that makes him look different to other ten-year-olds. Not just a bit different, like a cleft lip or a weird birthmark, but really, truly, stop-in-the-street-and-stare, makes-small-children-run-away-screaming different. Up until the point where the story starts, he has led a sheltered life. If you can call undergoing surgery every few months, wearing a space helmet every time he goes outside and being home schooled by understandably overprotective parents sheltered, that is. But things are about to change, because Auggie is starting middle school. (Whatever that is. Damn these Americans and their confusing educational systems.) Here, he – and the reader – will meet a variety of his peers and undertake a Bildungsroman-esque journey towards all kinds of acceptance.

I could gush about all the things that are great about Wonder for at least thirty pages. Auggie’s emotions, his dark humour, all the ups and downs…it all feels so real, and that’s what makes the story so gripping. I was rooting for him right from the first page, and I found it surprisingly easy to put myself in his shoes thanks to Palacio’s honest, conversational style. What was even more surprising is that I actually engaged more with Auggie, a ten-year-old boy whose life is dominated by a physical distortion, than I did with, for example, his older sister Olivia.

Via is closer to my age than her brother; her typical-teenage-girl problems are certainly more familiar to me than the issues our protagonist faces. Yet, during Via’s sections of the book, I found myself skimming the text, wondering when it was time to get back to the proper story. Yes, I cared about her, and about Jack, and Summer, and Miranda, and even Justin, but these characters’ musings felt like mere interruptions. It’s only now, on reflection, that I am beginning to question whether the asides about Jack’s poverty, Miranda’s home life and so on had some deeper meaning. Yes, these children look completely normal from the outside, but as the saying goes, everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Auggie’s classmates might not carry their burdens on their faces like he does, but they are all equally scarred in one way or another: by their past; by their family; by their friends. If the multiple narratives aren’t there to move the plot along, then perhaps they are intended to remind us that Mr. Browne’s precepts apply to everyone, whether their problems are visible or not. “When given the choice between being right and being kind,” Palacio is telling us, “always choose kind”.

I’ve seen some reviews that use words like ‘ableist’ in relation to the story’s tear-jerking happy ending. Some readers suggest that Auggie is awarded the Henry Ward Beecher medal simply for being deformed, and is therefore subject to positive discrimination. I disagree. Auggie earns his standing ovation for showing empathy, wisdom and kindness in the face of adversity, just like Via and Justin do when they face their demons in order to play the leads in their high school production. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a physical condition, a broken family, the death of a loved one…we are wonderful not in spite of but because of our struggles, and this deserves recognition. Who knows what these characters would be like had they led seemingly idyllic lives like Julian? Who’s to say that they wouldn’t be the ones putting mean notes in other pupils’ lockers? I think Palacio is telling us to embrace our differences, even the ones that make people point and laugh. Even the ones that provoke attacks from the uninformed. Even the ones that, as in my case, make strangers stop in the street and say, “Gosh, you’re tall!”.

These are the things that shape us into the remarkable human beings that we are.

 

This guest post was written by a good friend of mine, Rosie, who runs her own book blog ‘an improbable truth‘. Check it out for more excellent book reviews! 

My Top Ten Books in 2016

2016 may have been a terrible year for politics, Remain voters, minorities, women and fans  of pop culture celebrities, but at least it’s been a good book year. Here’s a little gallery of my top 10 reads for 2016. If you haven’t read these brilliant books, might be worth putting on your reading list for the new year!

 

And, here’s a little snapshot of the first book I’ll be reading in 2017:

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Book Review: Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

“Hello? I hope somebody is listening.”

‘Radio Silence’ is one of those powerful, powerful novels that sticks with you long after you’ve finished it. It’s striking, rebellious, startlingly funny and incredibly honest at the same time. Most of all though, it’s a beautiful story about two people finding love and solace in each other. And when I say that, I mean in a completely platonic sense. Yes that’s right, the main relationship in this novel is a boy-girl friendship that DOESN’T turn into a romance. And frankly I think that’s what makes this book great.

There’s so much pressure in society nowadays to find a romantic partner – romance is portrayed as being the only way to love and be loved. Anything else is useless and a waste of time. But I really hate that idea, that love is basically worthless unless it’s a certain kind of love. I believe that you can find soulmates in platonic relationships too. And I don’t think a platonic relationship is less strong or less valuable than a romantic one. They’re just different kinds of love. Both good, both beautiful in their own ways.

Anyway, rant aside, I don’t see enough good friendship stories around, and ‘Radio Silence’ satisfies my need for one. It’s quirky, fun and the main character is a nerdy fangirl so I think most of us bookworms out there can probably relate. The story is written in first person from the point of view of Frances who feels alone, misunderstood, and basically pours all of her energy into her studies to distract herself from it. Her secret obsession is a sci-fi podcast called ‘University City’ which she draws fan art for and puts on tumblr. Then the maker of the podcast asks her to become the official artist for the show. Around the same time, she also meets and befriends the maker in real life – Aled Last, a shy boy who’s hiding more than one secret, including a missing sister who Frances used to be friends with.

Frances and Aled quickly bond over the podcast and become best friends, however when Aled’s secret identity as the maker of the podcast is revealed, the trust between them is broken and things start to go downhill.

Alice Oseman’s writing style in ‘Radio Silence’ is very grounded and authentic – she’s only 21 herself which is absolutely incredible, and in my opinion makes her very relatable to this generation of young readers. Tumblr and online culture play a big part in the book, much more so than in any other YA I’ve read, which again is all down to the author drawing from her own personal experiences. Also there’s a lot of diversity – non-white characters, LGBT characters, asexual characters, characters with mental health issues. I think this is an incredibly brave move, as I get the feeling that despite the demand for diversity YA publishers still tend to stick more to ‘conventional’ books as they believe there’s less risk attached.

Anyway, in conclusion, GO AND READ THIS BOOK. It’s a book about so many things – identity, sexuality, goals, friendship. Frances and Aled were more than just main characters, they were people I was rooting for and wanted to be friends with. And I think that’s how you know when a book’s good. When you’re so invested that it stops being fiction and becomes real to you.