Hebe Reads (in April)

It’s taken me most of May to write about what I read in April. I think because I’ve found it hard to articulate my feelings about a few of the books. You’ll see what I mean.

★★★✰✰

I must be a glutton for punishment. I had never heard of these books until the third and final of Sally Green‘s series, Half Lost came out in early April. When the…not-so-favourable (read: LIVID) reviews came out, I contrarily decided I had to read the whole series to see what everyone was up in arms about. I loved the first and second books, and most of the third. The trilogy is about Nathan, a half black, half white witch, caught up (literally) in the middle of a war. The books have so much that I love. Magic in a modern setting is pretty much my M.O. for my reading list. The ending of the trilogy was, however, lazy and nonsensical and undid a lot of the great work the previous books had done.

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★★★✰✰

I said after reading The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson,that it was four stars for story and three for execution. Important themes and, mostly, handled well. I think the book is aimed at younger audience than me (which usually never stops me enjoying a book, but felt jarring in this one) and relied a little too much on ‘twists’ and shock value. Enjoyable and sweet, otherwise.

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★★★★✰

I loved Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa. I found it on one of my first trips to the library in years and remember vaguely seeing someone recommend it on Goodreads. Focused around the friendship between three teenagers, Jeremy, Mira and Sebastian, the book does a great job of exploring the fragility and intensity of relationships (friendship and romance) amongst young people. It’s a little thin on the plot, but that wasn’t the point and despite being a hardcore plot-lover, I was okay with that.

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★★★★★

Who am I kidding, most April was just me filling time waiting for The Raven King, Maggie Stiefvater’s final book in The Raven Cycle series. This series is, truly, a work of staggering genius, the pinnacle of the YA genre. If I’m honest, some things bothered me. The plot kind of ran away from itself before lurching back on numerous occasions. We met characters who had little to no impact on the story or characters (not including Henry Cheng, the new boy who stole the show a little bit). But what The Raven Cycle does best was all over this book, and I’ve banged on about it enough in previous posts. The relationships, the tangled tumbleweed of connections between the characters is phenomenally written. They are all my favourite characters. The book bumped itself up from four stars to five stars with the fantastic (and potentially spoilery) line ‘Graduated and fancy and driving your boyfriends beemer.’

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Hebe Reads (in March) and Struggles

I wondered when I would reach this point. March was a crazy month for university. I found myself spending a lot of time thinking about The Future and all in all it was quite draining. So, a quarter of the way through 2016, I’ve hit the point where I look back on a month’s reading and feel disappointed with myself because I should be reading more. I should be reading better. 

It’s what can happen when you set yourself a reading ‘challenge’, and the more I feel guilty about not reading more, the less I feel like reading. Even though I have set myself this challenge, and I want to complete it, I would rather it be me climbing the metaphorical mountain, than dragging my uncooperative body up a cliff-side.

Instead of feeling bad for what I didn’t do enough of, here’s to some of the things I did do.

  • Designed, organised and executed two afternoons of writing workshops at a primary school (this was stressful and wonderful)
  • Spent a lot of time walking/training Lola
  • Wrote, wrote, wrote
  • Mostly stuck to a skincare routine
  • Finally edited a video of Las Vegas (from 2014…only a short delay)
  • Baked a nice cake
  • Made a Bold Haircut Decision

Now I feel a little less awful, here’s the little March Reads list.

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★★★✰✰

I’m not sure I can rate Angus, Thongs and Full-frontal Snogging. I re-read this book after hearing the sad news of Louise Rennison’s passing. Thirteen year old me would read each book in these series and talk about them at great, great, length with her friends. We were avid Dave the Laugh supporters. We laughed like loons on loon tablets at these books. I was very pleased to find them as hilarious almost a decade later. Truly a bizarro classic.

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★★★★★

Sometimes you hear such good things about a book you think, I won’t enjoy this nearly as much as everyone says. And then you’re wrong. And it’s wonderful. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz  is lot more reflective than I usually like in a YA novel, but this was stunning and genuinely touching without being over-bearing. I loved the boys, the voice, the setting. It reminded me of Arizona (though not set there, the desert and heat and stars felt like Arizona to me). I’ve found myself drawn to lot of books about family and identity and boy does this tick those boxes plus a billion others. I just found out that Lin-Manuel Miranda is the reader in the audiobook. See you all in seven hours and twenty-nine minutes.

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★★★✰✰

In the last few days of March I realised I had only read two books in the month, panicked, bought more books, and settled on reading How To Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell. While doing research for my writing workshop project at a primary school, I realised just how popular these books are. I absolutely love the films, so gave the book a shot. I was very fond of it. I did a lot of grinning to myself on the bus reading this, like a crazy lady. Toothless the dragon is not much like Toothless the film dragon, but nevertheless an absolute riot. Recommended for kids (even grown up ones like me).

There we go. Only three books. Not the longest, or most challenging. But that’s not what the challenge is about. Reading is for fun, first and foremost!

Hebe Reads (in February)

How is it that January lasted for several months and February only a few days? I’ve been busy with university recently and, honestly, the month went so fast I barely had time to think of a blogpost, so Lord knows how I read seven books.

But read I did. And here they are.

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★★★★✰

This series is a gift upon YA fantasy. The third and penultimate book, Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater, was as joyous and aching as the others and once again my Book of the Month. I give it four stars purely because I try to be restrictive about the five-star books, but this is probably a 4.7 (so specific). Stiefvater has a way of capturing how teenage emotions are somehow intense and deep-running as caves while simultaneously light as water. It’s remarkable. I said this last month, but I am in love with every character in this book and want to protect them from the dangerous supernatural world. The final book comes out in April. I haven’t looked forward to a new release in a series in years.

feb2

★★★★★

What did I say about the exclusive five-star club? I am a sucker for classic children’s books. Who am I to see this as anything other than perfect? The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams was present from my Nana but somehow I forgot it was on my bookshelf until recently. I read it a couple of times over the month. As someone who has always (and will always) project emotions and personalities and little lives onto toys and teddies, it really touched me.

“When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

feb3

★★★✰✰

Haunted Ikea. As bizarre as it sounds, full of dry humour and genuinely spooky. Horrorstor by Grady Henrix was a lot of fun, but I think scary books might not be for me. Although, you never know, I might be brave enough to give Stephen King a chance.

feb4

★★★★✰

I can’t explain why The History Boys by Alan Bennett gets four stars from me. The play is set in an 1980s grammar school and is mostly centered around the boys’ quest to get into an Oxbridge University. It’s witty and wonderful and went BAM in my feelings in the moments I least expected it. I think perhaps I would have enjoyed it more if there were a few less characters to get a grip of (note: this is not a reference to Mr Hector), or perhaps that’s something better translated on stage. I can definitely see a reread in the future.

feb5

★★★★✰

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson is a lovely, sweet story about family, love, grief and regret and the painful process of Putting Things Right. The story alternates between Jude’s voice and her twin brother’s Noah. He meets a boy and paints, Jude wears lipstick and surfs. The story picks up three years later after a devastating loss, and the two aren’t speaking.  I am not a fan of overly ‘flowery’ writing, but Nelson had me sold on every gratuitously-described metaphor. I was disappointed by the emphasis placed on the romantic relationships towards the end of the book, to the point of gooey-ness. Jude and Noah are still young at the end and to me the heart, the core of their story was their family and each other.

feb6

★★★✰✰

I am a self-professed Nerd Who Loves Statistics. However, at times it felt like I was wading through the sheer amount of statistics in Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari. My favourite parts were Ansari’s anecdotes, which were obviously funny and charming. Look out for the ‘snooping’ section, because I almost giggled out loud on a bus every time I read the word.

feb7

★★★★✰

Okay, technically, technically, I finished this in March. However, it was the first day of March and only the last few pages, so… February. Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith is both bonkers and fantastic. The story follows Austin and his friend Robbie and girlfriend Shann (both of whom he loves and his confusion makes up a lot of the narrative), through the end of world by giant-bugs. Needs to be read to be believed.

There ends February. We are already halfway through March as I make up this post, hopefully it will as successful a month of reading!

A Few of My Rey-vourite Things

In the Lego Star Wars mini-series Droid Tales, there’s an exchange between Luke and Yoda about Luke’s mystery twin sister. “It’s Leia!” Luke guesses instantly. An impressed Yoda: “Wise in the force, are you.” Luke: “No. She’s the only girl I’ve ever met.” Which prompts Yoda’s wonderful reply, “Not many women in our adventures, are there. Fix that next time we must.”

So now we have Rey. Bad-ass, sweet as a gummy ewok, Rey. From now on you might encounter little spoilers in this post, so go on with caution.

A few weeks after the film came out, I saw a young girl, about seven or eight years old, dressed up as Rey. She had the full desert-coloured costume, complete with combat boots and three little buns in her hair. When people say that their heart melted, it seems so dramatic, but that’s how it felt. To me, seeing this girl was when it hit home how important it is to have a character like Rey as the protagonist of a huge franchise like Star Wars.

The little girl in me had to try and channel a bit of Rey too.


Despite the effect she’s had on viewers and fans, Rey has not been represented in the Star Wars merchandise in the same respects her male counterparts have. Did you know she wasn’t even in The Force Awakens monopoly game? (Side note: who’s coming round to play TFA monopoly with me?) It’s so important for girls to be represented in all genres – sci-fi, fantasy, action – and not just as the Romantic Interest, or Damsel in Distress. I feel like I’m just repeating things people much smarter and with bigger audiences than me have already said, and it’s hard to believe this is something we still need to discuss. There’s a time and a place for being up in arms about this (something I am very good at) but for now I want to celebrate where we do have brilliant girls and women prominent in pop culture, starting with Rey.

Miraculously, Rey isn’t sexualised or over-romanticised (please, please don’t ruin this, Star Wars Gods). She’s tougher and smarter than a lot of the other characters she meets, solely through her own merit and work. I’ve seen comments saying that Rey is ‘too good’ at things to be plausible. But Rey is an abandoned child who grew up alone, scavenging to survive on a pretty awful planet. As far as I’m concerned, anything anyone can do, Rey can probably do better.

There are a million and two reasons why Rey is such a fab character, but one of the best, to me, is how ‘good’ she is. Not the infallible goodness that we’ve seen in Finn, who, if you cut with a lightsaber, would have ‘good’ written all the way through him. It’s a conscious goodness. There’s a few times in The Force Awakens where Rey is tugged gently towards, not necessarily the Dark Side, but certainly a less-good side, such as the brief moment she considers selling BB-8. In the end, she makes the Good choice. I love an anti-hero, but I think goodness is an underrated and fascinating thing to see.

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Art by Aly: you can find more on artofalyflock.com or givenclarity.tumblr.com

My list of favourite moments from the film is as long as my arm. One of those is Rey’s reaction to Luke’s saber. She represents the kids (in Star Wars-world) who grow up in a galaxy where the Force/Jedi/Luke are myths. She’s a Force-sensitive kid who knows just enough to think, I’m not touching that with a ten-foot spear. Rey is reluctant and disenchanted and there’s definitely something relatable in that. Ultimately, she rises to the occasion, puts down her spear and picks up a lightsaber to save her friend. The progression from shunning power to grasping at it with no other choices that makes me very excited for where her character will go next.

Hebe Reads (in January)

I tried to make the title of this post rhyme with my name. Did it work? Do I look clever and word-savvy? Do I look like someone who couldn’t find an alliteration for ‘Hebe’ that has something to do with books? Hebe…Has a Look At Books?

I set myself the 50-book Reading Challenge this year, so I thought it would be fun to do a monthly round up of what I read. I’m on Goodreads, if you use it, but I’ll be doing a rating and quick review for each book on here and also be picking my Book of the Month. My BOM.

I read six (and 3/4) books this month, which feels promising. Here’s what I read in January.

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★★★✰✰

I started the year by finishing Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. This is a sci-fi YA novel set in 2044, where virtual reality is almost all there is. Wade Watts spends most of his time in the OASIS, a VR world where the creator has hidden a prize worth a bazillion dollars (rough estimate) behind a series of puzzles. It’s a story swimming, nay, drowning, in ’80s pop culture references. I don’t feel like I know enough to have appreciated just how much there was in there. It was a blast to read and I rooted for Wade most of the way. A solid 3/5.

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★★✰✰✰

Honestly, Trouble by Non Pratt was just a book I wanted to get through. About half-way in I wanted to abort ship but I persevered, reading challenge in mind. Something I won’t do again, because I’d like reading to be, you know, fun. It tells the story of teenager Hannah, after she finds herself pregnant and sweetheart Aaron Tyler who pretends to be dad. I liked that the story didn’t shame the characters, in particular Hannah, for having sex and getting knocked up, but mostly I wasn’t invested in the characters. The chat-speak was overdone and cringe-worthy. I don’t think I used that much chat-speak even in the glory days of MSN and myspace. There were some sweet moments, but I finished it with a lot of relief and thinking it was a bit pointless.

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★★★✰✰

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness is a high three-almost-four. I so wanted to love this more than I did. The premise of this story is compelling, the characters getting on with their senior year while the ‘Indie kids’ save the world. Brilliant concept, genuinely funny and full of warm-tummy-feelings. Our protagonist Mikey and his friends are awful and selfish but are sweeties who love each other all the same. Jared – Mikey’s gentle, gay, quarter-God friend – captured my heart in his cat-healing hands. I can’t exactly pinpoint my problem with the book that stops it being a four-star. I think it was how much the Indie kids’ lives overlapped with the main characters. I wanted even more distance between the two. Despite that, very much worth reading.

★★★★★

The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater!!!! I’ve put these books together as my BOMs – Books of the Month. I’d heard about these books a couple of years ago but dismissed them because I thought I was a Serious Reader™ studying Grown Up Books. What a dunce. The series opens with Blue (funny and yearning), who knows that one day she’ll kill her true love by kissing them. I read this summary and though ‘eh’ but they are so much more than that. Blue’s life becomes entwined with the boys from the posh Aglionby schools. These books are a pure joy: supernatural and fantastical; hilarious and endearing. I have at some point during these books, claimed that every character is my favourite. Each and every one is my child who I want to protect and nurture forever. Cinnamon rolls of the highest quality. The Dream Thieves was probably my favourite of the two, and I want to stay as spoiler free as possible but Ronan’s storyline was told achingly well. He starts as a classic angry-teen stereotype, shallow as a puddle, but as the story dips into his characters, you realise he’s more like a well, and it’s not just still waters that run deep. I’m still cheering about this book. I’m yet to read the third, while the fourth and final of the series comes out in April. Don’t accidentally be a book-snob (like I was) and sleep on this series (like I did).

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★★★✰✰

Ah! The novelisation of Star Wars: The Force Awakens by Alan Dean Foster. My heart says 4 stars, my head says 3. This is written like a straight-up screenplay-to-novel, HOWEVER, as you may have noticed, I have accepted my role as Star Wars Trash and loved it anyway. I was mostly in it for any scraps of extra information I could forage, and to stop myself tearing my hair out thinking about it. If, like me, you’re similarly interested in the jacket exchange, Poe’s ‘flight jacket had been with him as long as he’d been in the Resistance, rising through its ranks.’ Make of that what you will. I haven’t read any other Star Wars novels, so I can’t measure this one next to them. I’ve heard great things about Rey’s Survival Guide, so maybe I’ll try that one next month.

So, there’s January. Let me know what you’ve read/loved/loathed/desperately wanted to talk about this month and what you think I should read in February.

Shallow Waters: Beached Whales and Responsibility

Recently, five sperm whales washed up on the East coasts of England.  When I first heard about this, obviously my heart broke. I saw the pictures of these whales, lifeless, but awe-inspiring masses on the sand, somehow still elegant, despite their size. I was transfixed in solemn respect.

In the videos I saw on the news there were people on the beach, taking photos of the whales. I asked my step-dad “Would you go and see them if they were near here, on the beach?” “No,” he said. “Not like that. No.”

I agreed. If I’m ever lucky enough to see a whale, that’s not how I want it to be, with their essence gone.

On these videos, I noticed some people had spray-painted on the fin of one of the whales with the words ‘MANS FAULT’. Confused, but not surprised, by this, I did some research. I found that people were concerned or convinced it was oil drilling causing the whales, who rely on their hearing to navigate, were being sent off-course because of the sound of oil drilling under the water. I went from just to sad to sad and angry.

In my head this made sense, because it follows the trend of humans killing animals for profit – whether intentionally, or through collateral damage no one cares enough about to stop.

So I spent a couple of days fuming, unable to stop imagining the whales, lost in shallow waters, dying hungry and washing up on our beaches. It wasn’t until I was watching BBC’s Winterwatch on Wednesday night that I found out precisely why they were in the shallow waters.

Which is, it turns out, that we can’t know precisely why they’re in the shallow waters.

We know they took a wrong turn when heading South, coming around to the East side of England, where the sea is much shallower and therefore their navigation doesn’t work properly. The reason for this wrong turn isn’t something experts have agreed on. It could be global warming, the sound of ships, illness, a scare. So many things.

Why then do I still feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility? I think it’s because I see how humans have monopolised this world. This isn’t a preach, by any means. I’m not a vegetarian. I’m thankful for medicine and buildings which I know has negative affects on animals in some way or another. But I know if we lose our empathy for animals, ones who are more impressive than us in a lot of ways, our relationship with them can only get worse. More than anything else, I want to be aware and educate myself where I can.

The good thing to come out of this – and trust me, I was surprised there was a good thing to come out of this – is that as the numbers of beached whales are rising, we can assume the number of whales overall is rising too. A whale-filled world is a happy world.

 

You’re either Star Wars Trash, or you’re wrong

A week ago, my life changed forever. I finally – a month late, no longer spoiler-free (curse my weakness for the internet) – saw the new Star Wars film. I am now Post-TFA Hebe.

In the space of time between last Tuesday and now I have torn through the novelization of The Force Awakens, reblogged all of my favourite Star Wars gif sets on tumblr, quoted ‘Kylo Ren is a punk ass bitch’ more times than is strictly necessary for everyday conversation and pestered my friends and family half-to-death by talking about this film franchise and its frankly unacceptable hold over me.

Remarkably, everyone I’ve talked to about Star Wars and my intergalactic space jockey boyf Poe Dameron have been more than willing to listen. Has everybody just started to indulge my insanity, or have I cut all of the right people out of my life? You know who I mean. Those people who ‘don’t like’ Star Wars. Who count the years they’ve lived without Star Wars and wave the number around like a trophy in the Unnecessarily Boring Awards.

Who are these people?

I understand not getting a craze more than anyone. I’ve never seen an episode of Pretty Little Liars and I’ve never tried avocado. But this space. Space ships. Space robotos. Space politics. Okay, that last one doesn’t sound as exciting as it is, but it is. Trust me. Plus, it gave us this five-minute thing of beauty.

Speaking of beauty:

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Pictured above: Oscar Isaac as space bf AKA Poe Dameron. Look at him! Who does he think he’s posing for? Vanity Fair? (Technically, yes.)

What is the point of this post? I hear you asking. I’m thinking of this as the introductory post to what will probably be a series of needlessly in-depth analyses and tangents. Is Kylo Ren a redeemable character? Will Rey inevitably turn out to be some Skywalker or another’s daughter? Will R2-D2 be a bad influence on BB-8’s language? Only hours of thought and wasted time will tell.