Monday 28 November 2016

GUEST POST: What is Your Book About? - Kaitlyn S.C Hatch

Today I bring you a guest post from Kaitlyn S.C Hatch, author of Friends We Haven't Met

I’ve been a writer since I can remember, or, as I like to say, since before I could spell. Writing, to me, is like breathing. It’s necessary, essential, and I do it regardless of what else might be going on.

But going from simply writing a book to actually publishing it and sharing it with the world, is entirely different. When something we’ve written is put out there, it means we’re going to get asked questions. Of course, being asked questions is not a bad thing. Questions are incredibly valuable. They remind us to keep learning, they keep minds open, and an excellent question will lead to more questions.

I get asked questions about my method and how long it took to write my latest published book or where I got the idea for it, and most of them I’m totally prepared to respond to. But one question, the question I get asked most often, continues to stump and baffle me:
What is your book about?

You’d think this would be easy to answer, right? I wrote it. I came up with the characters and the plot, developed the tension, re-wrote chunks, edited it. I know it inside and out. It is my creation. How could I struggle to say what it’s about?

The thing about creativity is it does not happen in a vacuum. I love the way Elizabeth Gilbert describes it:
“… it's a collaboration between a human being's labours and the mysteries of inspiration. And that's the most interesting dance that I think you can be involved in. But you are very much an agent in that story. You're not just a passive receptacle. And also, it's not entirely in your hands.”

Part of being an agent for creativity, of creating anything, is that it changes once it is shared. Art, science, writing, film, performance — so much of what these things are or what they have become is as a result of the audiences, from the way it was experienced and understood by others.

It makes me think back to an experience I had in an English class when I was fourteen. We were studying The Raven and the teacher was going on about what Edgar Allan Poe meant with this line or that word or what he was trying to say. I put up my hand and asked where she was referencing this from. Where was Edgar Allen Poe’s book titled ‘What I Meant When I Wrote the Raven’? I was, admittedly, being a contrary teenager, but I’ve come to see the value in such a question as it reminds us that our interpretation is part of what gives meaning to the things we consume. 

So I could say, and often do, that Friends We Haven't Met is about a group of six people living on the same floor of an apartment building in Wimbledon. I could and do tell people, it’s about learning to relate, about understanding each other. I could and do tell people that it’s an invitation for us to see shared emotional experience, regardless of our very different embodiment's and identities. Or I explain it in the most clinical sense as a character based narrative of contemporary fiction. And it is all those things. But it will also be about something else to each person who reads it. In one of the reviews published about Friends We Haven't Met, the reviewer said they found it confusing because the characters aren’t named for the first few chapters, but once they were named, they found it much easier. Another reader said she absolutely loved how the characters weren’t named in the first few chapters because it forced her to get to know them by their emotional landscape, their internal dialogues and thoughts. It made her love them more because of it, and she found the book difficult to put down, but she didn’t want it to end either. 

I will say that the latter reflects the intention I had in writing it, but that doesn’t make the former less valid as a description. Initially, yes, the book is about unnamed strangers, even to us, the reader. How we take that is up to us. It could be uncomfortable. It could be confusing. It could just fall flat. Or it could inspire curiosity about the people we meet each day and the trials and tribulations they are going through, the things they are fearful of and what they hope and dream for.

The question: What is your book about? Freezes me in my tracks because I worry my response is either inadequate—it’s about people and relationships—or too complicated and wordy. Sometimes I don’t freeze, and my response is clear and leaves both the questioner and me satisfied. Ultimately, though, I am learning that it is a question that does not and never will have a definitive, singular answer, and that is not a problem.

I'd like to say a big thank you to Kaitlyn for stopping by! You can find out more about Kaitlyn through her website

Friends We Haven't Met is now available to purchase!

Tuesday 22 November 2016

Review on All the Light We Cannot See

Shortly after Marie-Laure turns six, she loses her sight, and her father helps her to navigate the city by building a miniature version of it, which she can explore through touch. However, threats of a second war soon approach, and Marie-Laure must leave her home town of Paris and move in with her Agoraphobic uncle. Meanwhile, a young German boy named Werner I recruited into a Hitler Youth school for his talent at fixing radios. As the war continues, Marie-Laure and Werner's lives will collide in unexpected ways.

This book was meant to be one of our book club reads in September, but as we were extremely busy, most of us never got round to it! However, as it has had a lot of hype, I decided I would read it anyway.

The book follows two separate story lines, which eventually interconnect with each other. Half of the book focuses on Marie-Laure, a blind French girl, who is forced to evacuate Paris during the World War II. The other half focuses on Werner, an orphan German boy who has a talent for fixing radios. Their journeys finally interconnect when Werner finds himself on Marie-Laure's street, where he is tracking radio signals from the enemy.

As someone who doesn't often read adult fiction, I was worried this book was going to be quite monotonous with lengthy chapters. At 530 pages, it is by no means a quick read. However, I was surprised that the chapters were so short, which I felt helped me get through the book a lot faster than I would have with long chapters. However, I did feel as if the plot progressed extremely slowly, and nothing much happened to keep my interest for a good portion of the book. Although I was disappointed that the story lacked action, the book is written beautifully, and the imagery is fantastic. It is clear from this book that Anthony Doerr is a brilliant writer, but unfortunately for me, the plot itself just wasn't interesting enough, and at times I found it difficult to get through this book. Although I almost marked this down as a DNF, I'm glad that I managed to see it out until the end, as the last quarter was by far my favourite.

I adored the characters in this book, especially Werner. I felt as if he went through fantastic character development. Werner was initially cowardly, as when his friend, Frederick, was being abused, he did nothing to stop it. However, he eventually risks everything to save the life of Marie-Laure, which was extremely kind and courageous. Although Frederick was only a minor character, he was my favourite, and I felt as if he was extremely important to Werner's character development. Frederick is extremely brave, and refuses to continue torturing a prisoner, despite knowing he will be severely punished. I adored Fredericks bravery, and how he never blamed Werner for not sticking up for him. He is pure of heart, and I loved how he showed his vulnerable side to Werner, such as his love for birds and the fact that his eyesight was not perfect, and needed glasses. I was heartbroken at what eventually happened to Frederick, and it perfectly showed the harsh reality of terrible things happening to the kindest and least selfish people.

Marie-Laure was an interesting character, and I loved that although she is blind, she is extremely independent and never feels sorry for herself, or seeks sympathy. I loved her strong relationship with her father, and how much they cared for each other. I also loved her relationship with her great uncle Etienne, a man who she has been told is crazy. Etienne was an interesting character, and I loved that although is is agoraphobic and hasn't left his house in years, he forces himself to go outside when he believes that Marie-Laure is in danger. It was nice to see such strong family bonds in a novel that is set during a war.

Throughout the majority of the novel, I was looking forward to Marie-Laure and Werner finally meeting each other. Their lives are connected to each other quite early on in the novel, when Werner and his sister come across a French educational radio broadcast of Marie-Laure's grandfather aimed at children their age. However when they did finally meet, it was extremely short lived and felt unsatisfactory. I did love that it fit in with the theme of nothing being fair in times of war, but at the same time, I wish there had been a little more interaction between the two.

The subplot involving the Sea of Flames diamond was an interesting one, and I honestly had no idea where it was going! It initially felt a little trivial, and an excuse to create some drama in Marie-Laure's storyline. Although the diamond was the catalyst for a number of outcomes, the one that stood out to me involved Werner. It is stated early on in the novel that the diamond is practically priceless, and only the strongest would be able to resist the temptation to take it. The fact that Werner retrieved the model house, but left the diamond behind really showed how far he had come as a character, as he went from not helping his friend to avoid being punished himself, to saving the life of a French girl he had only just met, and resisting taking the diamond.

Although this is not a book I would normally choose to read, I do like to occasionally break out of my comfort zone, and I'm glad that I did that with this book. If you decide to read it, my advice would be not to rush through it, as I did find it quite mentally draining, and it is definitely not a happy book. I thought the ending was quite bittersweet, and I felt as if going forward in time to see what the characters lives were like after the war was a good way to end it. If you enjoy war stories and beautifully written prose, then I recommend this book!

Saturday 12 November 2016

Book Club Picks #5 Our Chemical Hearts

When Grace Town walks into class a couple of weeks into senior year, Henry Page is immediately intrigued. However, it is not her beauty that interests him, but the fact that she wears boys clothes and walks with a cane. Henry is determined to find out this girls story. However, he soon discovers his idea of Grace Town is not who she truly is.

 As this book has been compared to John Green and Rainbow Rowell, I was really hoping I was going to enjoy it! It is told from the point of view of Henry Page, a high school senior who is hoping to become the editor of the school newspaper. However, everything changes when the new girl, Grace Town is appointed as co-editor, but refuses the position. Grace Town is a huge mystery, and Henry is determined to solve her.

I found this book to be quite cliché and similar to other contemporary YA novels that I have read. Although the blurb does compare the book to John Green's work, I did not expect that to mean that a large part of the book is almost identical to Paper Towns. I found the ending to be almost exactly the same as John Green's novel, and it gave the same message that it is often dangerous to fall in love with the idea of a person, rather than with the person themselves. Although it is a good message to send out, it is by no means original, and my overall thought on this book was was that it was a slightly worse version of Paper Towns.

As far as plot is concerned, it felt as if the author had a checklist of things she wanted to include to make the book relatable to a teenage audience, and proceeded to add them in a haphazard way. Although I usually enjoy pop culture references, some of the them seemed a little forced in this book, almost as If the author had spent ten minutes on Tumblr and declared herself the “Meme Queen”

Although I was initially amused at Henry's quirky parents, I found them to be extremely over the top and unrealistic when they decided to randomly dress up as Star Trek characters. I did however love how well his parents got along with each other, so I was disappointed when it was revealed that was not the case. Although it is true that a lot of romantic relationships don't work out, I was disappointed that literally all of the characters relationships didn't work out, as I would have loved for the book to have shown that not all relationships end in heartbreak.

I didn't really become emotionally attached to any of the characters with the slight exception of Grace. I felt as if Grace seemed like the only realistic character, and her grief towards the end of the book seemed raw and real, with real emotion behind it. I hated how Henry ruined this, as although Grace had a genuine reason to show grief, Henry locks himself in his room and listens to Taylor Swift songs, which I felt lessened the impact of the previous scene. I found Henry to be quite selfish, as he seemed to care more about the fact that Grace wasn't in love with him than he cared about what Grace was going through.

I loved the diversity that came in the form of Lola, but I did feel that making her both a person of colour and a lesbian made it seem like all the diversity was packed into one character. I also felt as if making her a lesbian was an excuse for her to be able to hang out with the boys without entering a romantic relationship with them, as for some reason it often seems the case that authors feel as if heterosexual males and females can't possibly have a platonic relationship.

Although Murray was there to be the classic “funny friend” I found him to be a little over the top and occasionally annoying. I didn't really see much of a purpose to him, as all he seemed to do was over exaggerate being Australian, get drunk and cry over his ex girlfriend. Although I do usually like funny characters, I just couldn't get myself to like Murray.

I did think that the book redeemed itself a little towards the end, but unfortunately it was not enough to make me enjoy the book overall. It wasn't original enough for me, and the characters seemed like recycled versions of John Green characters. However, as we often do, the book club members had mixed opinions on this one, and we were split almost evenly between who enjoyed it and who didn't. Although this book was unfortunately not for me, I would still recommend it if you love John Green and contemporary YA is your favourite genre.

I don't usually give half ratings but I would probably rate this one a 2.5

Our Chemical Hearts is now available to purchase!