Tuesday, 27 October 2015

The Rest of Us Just Live Here - Patrick Ness

Title: The Rest of Us Just Live Here
Author: Patrick Ness
Published: Walker Books, August 2015
Genre: YA, Social Issues, Sci-Fi
My rating: 5/5 

Amazon says Award-winning writer Patrick Ness's bold and irreverent novel powerfully asks what if you weren't the Chosen One? The one who's supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death? What if you were like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again. Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week's end of the world and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life. Even if your best friend might just be the God of mountain lions... 

Look, some more stuff happens that evening...but nothing so important that I have to go on about it. Just remember, please, most of that stuff is in the past. It isn't the story I want to tell. At all.
You needed to know it, but for the rest of this, I'm choosing my own story.
Because if you can't do that, you might as well just give up.



Let me start by saying that the Chaos Walking series firmly positioned Patrick Ness as, without a shadow of a doubt, one of my favourite authors; The Knife of Never Letting Go is the first book I recommend in any conversation about books. The Rest of Us absolutely in no way let me down. 

This book is essentially somewhat of a satire of YA paranormal romance/sci-fi novels. Each chapter begins with a brief, maybe 100 word, update on whats going on with the indie kids” (one of whom is called Satchel, which never stops being funny). These updates tell the kind of story you'd see in a book/film like I Am Number Four or some other paranormal romance novel. The so-called indie kids are the protagonists of those sorts of stories who must figure out a way to save the day; the kids to whom the aliens show themselves, with whom they share a life-altering love, and against whom they wage a war that threatens the world. The protagonists of our story, however, are just the kids who live in the town; who see all of these things happening but have enough to deal with in their day-to-day lives without having to deal with the vampires, the aliens, and the Gods who decide to take a trip down to earth during their senior year. They are us.

I think I'd assumed that this book was for a younger audience; judging by the blurb alone it could be. But these characters are complex and beautiful and tackling some very grown up issues. The book is written in the first person (often risky, but it works here) from the perspective of Mikey; a 17 year old boy battling crippling anxiety and OCD. We meet his best friend Jared, an openly gay demigod who goes by his middle name as he tries to come to terms with everything that comes with being a gay demigod (he is the grandson of the Goddess of Cats!); his older sister Mel, a recovering anorexic; and Henna, mixed race missionaries' daughter and the object of Mikey's somewhat unrequited love (a love that, at times, verges on an ugly kind of obsession and temporarily turns Mikey into a bit of a dick). They have their baggage, both individually and together, but my goodness do they provide each other with an almost enviable support system. 

It's the kind of concept that had the potential to really not work; very few writers could have pulled it off. In its concept there is very little action in this book; it actively chooses to tell the story of the people with somewhat ordinary lives rather than the ones to whom the action happens. If you're waiting for the story to get going, it won't. That is not the point. This is not a Sci-Fi book about an alien invasion; it is a book about friendship, both its ups and its downs and all of the hiccups in between. It's about loyalty, and love, and family, and the kinds of struggles that need to be addressed more often, particularly in books both for and about young people. It all just happens to go on while some creatures from another world decide to visit Earth for some light invasion. You cannot read this book and not see yourself in one of the characters; or see you and your friends in the relationships Patrick Ness so beautifully and delicately portrays. You cannot read this book and not see the comment being made: the adults in this book brush aside the strange goings on among the young people in the town in much the same way that they tend to brush aside the pressures and struggles of young people as inconsequential. It required wit and humour and a heavy dose of sensitivity and I think Patrick Ness just about got that right.

It cannot go unsaid that this is a gorgeous book. I'd had every intention of waiting for it to come out in paperback before I saw it in Waterstones with its yellow spayed edges and artsy cover design and I couldn't risk the paperback copy not being as stunning. It also includes a print version of the cover exclusive to Waterstones which is pretty cool. I absolutely encourage you, if you're going to read this book (which you definitely should) please, please, please don't get the ebook version. I know it's cheaper and less cumbersome but I promise that you will not regret buying a hard copy. It is a book lover's dream!

As you can probably tell, I would absolutely, most definitely recommend this book to everyone of any age. Honestly the only bad thing I could say about it is that he maybe skims over Mel's anorexia a bit too often - it feels like a bigger comment should've been made on it. But our narrator Mikey sets out that this isn't the story he wishes to dwell on so can I really be annoyed? I'm going to go with no. I'm sure there are people who'd disagree but I believe this book deserves my first 5/5!

Thanks for reading,
Naomi Joy x

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Half A King (Shattered Sea #1) - Joe Abercrombie

Title: Half A King
Author: Joe Abercrombie
Publisher: Harper Voyager, paperback January 2015
Genre: YA Fantasy
My Rating: 4/5

The blurb says: Betrayed by his family and left for dead, Prince Yarvi, reluctant heir to a divided kingdom, has vowed to reclaim a throne he never wanted.

But first he must survive cruelty, chains and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea itself - all with only one good hand. Born a weakling in the eyes of a hard, cold world, he cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so has sharpened his mind to a deadly edge.

Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast, he finds they can help him more than any noble could. Even so, Yarvi's path may end as it began - in twists, traps and tragedy..."


The crippled prince Yarvi has forever been the outcast. The youngest son of King Uthrik of Gettland, Yarvi has known he will never be the king his father was; he is, after all, half a man. At the death of his father and brother, Yarvi is forced to turn his back on the life as a minister he had hoped to lead and claim a throne he had never wished to sit upon. To gain some respect from a people who want him no more than he wants to lead them Yarvi swears an oath that will prove to be far harder to keep than anyone could have expected. The young prince finds himself betrayed at every turn. With a handful of loyal allies, Yarvi finds himself fighting for a life he never wanted, all in the name of an oath.

Joe Abercrombie did well for himself (and I suppose Harper Voyager had a lot to do with it) with puff from George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones) on the front, and Robin Hobb (Fool's Assassin, the Farseer trilogy), Patrick Rothfuss (The Name of the Wind), and Derek Landy (Skullduggery Pleasant) on the back. But while this is his first outing into YA fiction, Abercrombie has already established himself as a 'grimdark' fantasy writer with his First Law trilogy.

Despite the fact that it took me an almost embarrassingly long time to read this book, I really enjoyed it. It's dark, but with well-timed light notes (coming from Rulf and Jaud, in particular). The characters all fit well with the world created around them; a familiar world - there are, to me, many similarities to the Viking world - but suitably 'other'. Abercrombie doesn't spend too much time describing the world and the history of it; it is all very much incorporated into the story and inferred by his characters. The religion, like many in fantasy, is polytheistic, a Tall God for the Sea, the Earth, the Sun, the Moon, War, and Peace and four-hundred small gods for everything in between. And, of course, a god of Death, who guards and guides the dead through the Last Door. The fight-scenes cannot go without a mention because, not only were they well-written they actually really intrigued me. WARNING: They are graphic! I found myself pulling all sorts of faces at my book on my morning commute. At one point I'm sure I gagged slightly on the train. But they are graphic in a way that brings to mind the likes of 300 or the Spartacus TV show (although I gave up on the latter quite swiftly because my eyes began to hurt from all of the rolling they were doing) - they are written in a very graphic novel film adaptation kind of style; you can almost imagine the blood sprays and the well-timed slow motion as you read. That may have just been me, though.

The characters are well-formed and follow easily; they never do anything that seems out of character. You get to watch Yarvi really grow during the course of the book after facing setback after setback and betrayal after betrayal. You first meet Nothing you're almost waiting to discover what it is he can do that made everyone on the ship fear him so. Then when you do about half way through the book you think he's surprised you as much as he can. But Abercrombie is not at all finished with Nothing yet (that twist! 5/5 for that twist!). The Golden Queen Laithlin is a queen to rival Cersei Lannister; my only criticism is that we really didn't see enough of her! I can only hope she features more in the next book: Half the World.

From the extract at the back of Half a King the second book in the Shattered Sea series, Half the World doesn't directly pick up from where this one left off. Which is exciting as it introduces new characters but is probably for the best seeing as I have at least 5 other books lined up to be read before I can revisit this series.

Overall I would definitely recommend this book. Abercrombie's decision to try his hand at YA was definitely a good one, and it was tremendously well-executed. Please don't be put off by the fact that this is YA; if you're new to fantasy it is the perfect introduction and if you're looking for something a bit smaller to carry around on the train than Abercrombie's 700+ page adult tomes without leaving the complex world that is fantasy fiction look no further. That said, his adult books have definitely been added to my wish list; they may just have to be in ebook form for ease of transport.

Thanks for reading,
Naomi Joy x

UCLPub2015 - Term 1: Week 3 [19th-23rd Oct]

This week was our first week with all four of our modules with Samantha back from her illness (hooray!).

Tuesday morning was Publishing Skills again and this time we were looking at Adobe InDesign. Marita Fraser, co-creator of Framed Horizons - Norvik Press' first student-led publication - came in to guide us through it. For most of us this was our first time using this programme though, fortunately, a lot of the basics were relatively familiar from the, now horrendously expensive Microsoft Publisher and the various programmes used in school ICT and D&T classes that you thought you'd never need again. Marita made available to us the first few pages of a translation of Nils Holgersson's Wonderful Journey Through Sweden, Vol 1 published by Norvik Press. With this and the cover designed by Norvik Press, in order to test what we had learnt, we were asked to assemble an 8 page "book". It was a very interesting session and a programme that will no doubt come in handy for our Publishing Projects.
Next week: Copyediting and Proofreading with guest speaker Wendy Toole from the Society for Editors and Proofreaders.

We had our second Publishing Project session in the afternoon and we (finally!) had a real opportunity to speak to our group and figure out why we were put in a group together. While, for the most part, I do not suggest placing people in groups based solely on the results of some really very odd online personality tests, it seemed to work this time around. We are still fine-tuning our ideas and I don't know how much I'm allowed to give away but I can tell you this: it involves fairytales and legends and some (hopefully) gorgeous illustrations.

Thursday morning we had our second Author Management lecture with Mal, Rachel and special guest Hannah MacDonald from September Publishing on the role of the editor and how it has changed and continues to change in the digital age and as the channels between author and reader have become so prevalent. We were given an insight into what it is that editors are looking for (a difficult thing to really define) and what is involved in a structural edit. A very interesting lecture for those of us still interested in the editorial side of the industry.
Next week: "Commissioning: Show Me The Money" with guest speakers Francesca Main (Picador fiction) and Ingrid O'Connell (Sidgwick and Jackson non-fiction).

In the afternoon we had our first Theories of the Book lecture; the only properly academic module we have. With Samantha back from her illness she took us on a whistle-stop tour through the history of the book from the Diamond Sutra - the first printed book to present day. Once I got over the fact that I wasn't going to get a chance to rehash my knowledge of Homer and the oral tradition and literature in Ancient Rome I became aware of just how much I didn't know about the history of the book. Sam made what was a hefty load of information really interesting and exciting and has, I think, given us a lot to think about when it comes to ideas for our dissertations. 
Next week: History of Reading/Social Reading with guest speakers Dr Shafquat Towheed (Open University, Director of 'The Reading Experience Database, 1450-1945') and Dr Danielle Fuller (Birmingham University, Reader in Canadian Studies and Cultures of Reading).

Thanks for reading,
Naomi Joy x

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

UCLPub2015 - Term 1: Week 2 [12th-16th Oct]

So begins our first real week; "real week" meaning a 2-day week (joy of joys for those of us who came from Arts and Hums backgrounds and are only used to being in for 12 hours a week!). With Publishing Contexts over and done with, bar the assignment, we start our Publishing Skills, Publishing Project, Author Management and Theories of the Book modules.

We kicked things off Tuesday morning with the Publishing Skills, where we were introduced to the Nielson BookScan; a database that will become a key tool in our futures in the publishing industry. It allows the user to do something as simple as see both the volume and cost of sales of a particular book, and also identify sales patterns in a particular genre, or of a particular author. When it comes to identifying which books will do well at the commissioning stage, Nielson BookScan would allow us to track the trends and sales figures of similar books and help us to figure out how well a manuscript might do.

Tuesday afternoon we had our first Publishing Project and we (finally!) got to find out our groups. But not before a revealing session with the wonderful Anna Faherty of the Wellcome Collection on CREATIVITY. We started the session with a question on how we'd rate ourselves in terms of creativity in a scale of 1 to 10. It was only myself and one other who rated ourselves under 5 on the scale. It was decided that we merely hadn't found our sparring partners; we had not found the ideas creator to our ideas developers. Which is a nice thought.

So the Publishing Project module feels a little familiar to me. In my second year of the Classical Civilisation degree at UoN we had our Independent Second Year Project. Our brief: create anything on anything from the ancient world. Broad, that's for sure. Our brief, essentially, for the Publishing Project: publish something. A physical book, a digital book, whatever! And do this in a group of people you have never worked with before. So on the back of a series of personality tests, our lecturers put us into our Publishing Project groups and it all seemed a little daunting. As someone who rated themselves as below 5 in terms of creativity, I was (and still am) very worried about what I'd be able to bring to the table. Anna gave us little time to dwell on this as she quickly got us breaking down the ideas process and the process of creativity. Particularly at the beginning, the majority of us found ourselves constantly having to reign ourselves in as we got ahead of ourselves trying to figure out the feasibility of our ideas and trying to figure out how they worked. It was actually a surprisingly enjoyable session considering I fear this kind of creativity to my core.

After taking Wednesday as a day to relax, and maybe some of us do the reading for Thursday, we arrived Thursday morning (to yet another basement) for our first Author Management lecture with Rachel Calder and Mal Peachey. This lecture gives an insight into everything at the author level from copyright to what authors feel they do and don't need from publishers. Seeing how authors are (obviously) immensely key in the publishing process it is important for us, as future publishers and particularly for me who is considering the literary agent route, to understand how we can best benefit our authors.

Unfortunately, our lecturer for Theories of the Book came down with the flu so we weren't able to start this module this week so updates on this one to come next week!

Thanks for reading,
Naomi Joy x

Friday, 16 October 2015

UCLPub2015 An Exploration of the Reading Room and Blackwell's at the Wellcome Collection: where curiosity comes to thrive.

“A physical book is like eating a great meal in a beautiful restaurant with a fantastic view; an e-book is like eating that same meal from a takeout box on your lap in the basement”[i]

If this is the case, then reading a physical book in the Wellcome Reading Room is like eating a gorgeous meal in a quirky little teashop at the top of the Eiffel Tower. It is a perfect hybrid of living room, museum, exhibition, and library. You’ll find prints of teeth-pulling beside bookshelves in an alcove boasting straightjackets and the kind of books that require you to wear gloves in order to touch and explore them. All of this in a space that encourages you to feel comfortable on their staircase lined with large cushions, or on one of the sofas, or at one of the reading tables. From sculptures and paintings to a dress that illustrates a stage of early embryonic development; from medical implements and contraptions to a splice of a real human body; this space is so much more than just a Reading Room, it is a place to let your imagination run as wild and uninhibited as it can and an opportunity to delve into the mind of the cat that Curiosity killed.

The reading room at the Wellcome Library succeeds in making those who enter feel both at home and like they’ve entered a place that demands their respect. The Wellcome Collection is ‘the free destination for the incurably curious’[ii]. Their Reading Room is no different; it is not there for people to find a copy of the latest bestseller or the Man Booker Prize winner; it is, in their own words, ‘designed to encourage you to indulge your curiosity and explore more than ever before’[iii]. It is organised by theme rather than genre, and being part of the Wellcome Library, they are all somehow based around medicine. So you’ll find sections on themes such as pain, breath, body, and face. In these sections the books range from medical textbooks to YA fiction; for instance, in the pain section you’ll find a copy of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars on the same shelf as C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain and The Illustrated History of Torture.  You may stumble across a book like Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies and wonder what on earth a YA book like that is doing in this place at all but, in a moment, realise it has just as much right to be there as the 20th century dental station that, honestly, looks like an instrument of torture. It was so painstakingly curated and so thoroughly researched it deserves and demands awe.

It, rather wonderfully, encourages you to interact with your fellow curious souls by asking you to leave a message in the book you’ve picked up for the next reader. Whether that message be a smart quip about the book or simply message support to a fellow book lover, this reflection of community in a group of people renowned for being introvert adds to this feeling of home. It is such a beautiful and unexpected idea for a space like this; a space far more relaxed and welcoming than any library. 

Found in a book on physiognomy. Book readers are punny.

My surprise did not stop there. Having only ever experienced Blackwell’s on my university campus in Nottingham I had assumed that it was an academic book shop, only stocking fiction that was part of a curriculum. So imagine my shock when I walk towards the Blackwell’s in the Wellcome Collection and my eyes immediately fall upon The Superhero Comic Kit – an interactive book designed to help you with your comic drawing skills. I'd wager that that's not a book to be found on many curriculums. But then again, I also wouldn’t expect to find The Encyclopaedia of Unusual Sex Practices on many either. Much like the Reading Room, this Blackwell’s is organised by theme rather than genre. And in a feat of possible genius, you don’t even have to go far before you can start reading your newly purchased books because the Blackwell’s near seamlessly flows into Blackwell’s café. Who could deny themselves the enticing smell of those new books as they mingle with the smell of freshly baked goods and a steaming cup of English Breakfast tea?

So go along to the reading room, pick your theme, and read a book you wouldn’t find anywhere else. Then lounge smugly on the beanbag lined staircase, because Curiosity would not dare take you in a place that feels so much like home.

Ben Gilbert / Welcome Trust
16th October 2015)

[i] Adam Sternbergh “Why the printed book will last another 500 years” available at http://lithub.com/why-the-printed-book-will-last-another-500-years/ (Accessed 15th October 2015)
[ii] The Wellcome Trust (n.d.) Wellcome Collection Available at http://wellcomecollection.org/ (Accessed 14th October 2015)
[iii] The Wellcome Trust (n.d.) Wellcome Collection: Reading Room Available at http://wellcomecollection.org/readingroom (Accessed 14th October 2015)

Monday, 12 October 2015

Warbreaker - Brandon Sanderson

Title: Warbreaker
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Published: Gollancz, Dec 2011
Genre: Fantasy
My rating: 4.5/5

The Blurb says: "WARBREAKER is the story of two sisters, who happen to be princesses, the God King one of them has to marry, a lesser god, and an immortal trying to undo the mistakes he made hundreds of years ago.

Theirs is a world in which those who die in glory return as gods to live confined to a panteon in Hallandren's capital city. A world transformed by BioChromatic magic, a power based on an essence known as breath. Using magic is arduous: breath can only be collected one unit at a time from individual people.

But the rewards are great: by using breath and drawing upon the colour in everyday objects, all manner of miracles and mischief can be performed.

Brandon Sanderson proves again that he is a master of what Tolkien called 'secondary creation,' the invention of whole worlds, complete with magics and myths all their own"


So I went to my best book buddy who is a major massive fantasy fan and asked her for the best books in my introduction to the genre. Her response: anything by Brandon Sanderson; he is the one true king of fantasy. Armed with this knowledge I took a trip to Waterstones. I hadn't read any reviews before choosing WARBREAKER, it was just the only standalone my local Waterstones had in at the time and I wasn't ready to commit myself to a series on my first outing.

This was my first real, proper, grown up fantasy book and I really don't know what I was expecting. I kind of hated the blurb; I wasn't a fan of the tone of it and it didn't at all do the book justice. It was an intricately crafted world, so wonderfully thought through and whole. The idea of a religion with physical gods who can be visited and petitioned is, to me, a novel one and provides an interesting comment on the question of faith in our world. The magic is so different to anything I've read before and a really interesting premise - breath can not only give life to inanimate objects and heighten your senses, it is the very sustenance of their gods. It is a magic so powerful their own God King cannot be trusted to wield it without sanction. It is impeccably well thought through and testament to this is the Ars Arcanum at the back of the book; it is a complex system and rather than detract from the story in order to explain it, there is a breakdown at the back of how it works.

As far as the characters go, they were all wonderfully wrought. Vivenna was, unfortunately, a product of her circumstances and I really wasn't a fan but you cannot fault Sanderson's consistency. She is the consequence of a sheltered upbringing; having been brought up to marry the God King, she was educated in her duties and her religion, she was very much raised in a culture of us vs. them and she struggled to shake these teachings when she travelled to Hallendren. Siri on the other hand was not raised with the burden of this duty and her freedom and naïveté ended up being to her advantage. The mercenaries Denth and Tonk Fah give a stellar performance and I found myself being drawn in by their wit and, what appears to be, their harrowing honesty. Vasher is so beautifully mysterious he is a stark contrast to the apparent openness of the mercenaries. Lightsong as a character was constantly questioning the religion for which he was a deity; an interesting comment on religion in our world. Siri's interactions with the God King are always short lived and I found myself racing through the sections just so I could see more of them. The God King himself shatters all possible expectations of one with that name.

I found myself very much involved in the story. With most books, I feel really smart and crafty when I figure out when someone's not who they think they are before the book does; but with this I really didn't want to (although, if I'd been smart (which I was not), the blurb kind of gives a little of that away). I wanted to be surprised. I didn't want to miss anything.

I've given this book 4.5/5 and that's mostly because I'm always very hesitant to give anything top marks. I have next to nothing bad to say about this book. I can't really even hold it against him that I didn't like Vivenna because everything about her was so necessary to the story and entirely consistent with her character. I also can't begrudge him the brevity and haste of Siri and the God King's arch because the book is already 656 pages long! Perhaps it's because the Amazon reviews suggested that this was not Sanderson's best and if this is true, I should reserve my 5/5 rating. 

WARBREAKER is an expertly crafted story in a world of a very different kind of magic with unexpected twists and captivating characters. I really understand how Sanderson got his reputation. Standalone books feel so rare these days that I actually just really enjoyed having a full story arch in one book. This is definitely one I'd recommend, I can't think of a better way to have introduced myself to the genre.

Next on my Brandon Sanderson list: the MISTBORN series. I'm excited.

Thanks for reading and feel free to comment, I'd love to hear your views :)

Naomi Joy x