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Review: A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins


Mere months ago, it was announced that the highly, highly anticipated prequel to The Hunger Games was to star none other than the prick that (basically) started them: President Snow.

Now.

I had a few feelings about this. Disappointment was one of them. And I wasn’t alone. The internet, in a rare (!) move, turned divisive: some sad they were not going to be in for the treat of revisiting favourite characters and beloved themes; some fuming over the prospect of taking a deep dive into the POV of a despicable baddie; others twirling their pretentious moustaches and claiming to be above it all (“Honestly, am I the only one looking forward to an expertly crafted villain story, especially in a time of such socio-economic unrest in this country – surely we should relish the opportunity to walk a mile in the shoes of a genocidal fascist? You know, to better ourselves or something?”)

Good grief, Barbara, jog the fuck on.

There is nothing wrong with a decent-to-villainy story, but if you’re walking into a pre-established fanbase brandishing a narrative that’s the antithesis of the original trilogy … you’re gonna get some looks.

Yes, I was gutted. The previous books are a classic ‘little guy’ squaring up to ‘the man’; a brilliantly-written story of average people rising up and beating their oppressors. The Hunger Games was a massive inspiration for my generation and others, and in the year of our Lord 2020, God knows I was eager for another slice of that pie. I had less than zero desire to read about the early “heroic” days of the most poisonous villain in modern literature. And did I carry my bias with me as I picked up my kindle on release day? Yes. But did I also remember how much I loved Suzanne Collins as a writer and trusted her to do a good job anyway, as I settled myself down and started live-tweeting my read? Eh, just about.

Then Collins began with five epigraphs. Yes. Five. Another … bold choice.
And my doubt started to grow.
And then I was attacked by an onslaught of filler verbs which I was absolutely not expecting, and I am not ashamed to admit I was a little triggered.
My doubt grew some more.

By the end of chapter one, I was already playing a fun game of Count the Adjectives, while the other side of my brain was begging me not to judge Collins for her continuous infodump of a backstory.
By the end of chapter two, I was cringing so hard I genuinely started to believe this book had been ghostwritten by a less talented author. This couldn’t be the work of my beloved Suzanne Collins – the quality deficit was, quite frankly, shocking.

Let’s unpack.

Coriolanus Snow (another choice) is a young and ambitious student hoping to be picked as a mentor for the upcoming 10th annual Hunger Games. His hope is to shake himself free of the hardships of the past and improve his social status, not to mention earn some damn cash. He and his family have been dirt poor since the war, and goddamn does he like to remind everyone about it. I can’t tell you how many times the guy brought up the war (because I stopped counting) but let me tell you: uncle Albert would be proud of the numbers. By chapter three, I almost had to laugh at the absurdity. All it took was a character so something as mundane as pour a drink and Snow would just fall into a full-on PTSD flashback.

I recognise that this book was likely written to give fans the world-building I do not recall them asking for, and obvious fan-service aside I think it does a decent job of fleshing out the history of Panem and throwing the audience some interesting tidbits. However, there is an art to how both backstory and world-building are carefully spoon-fed to the reader, and Collins’ approach just made me feel like I was being fattened up for my foie gras.

So Snow is chosen as the mentor to – wouldn’t you know it – the district 12 tribute, a young lady called Lucy Gray. Yet another choice, relegating the lead female character and *spoiler!* eventual victor of the 10th Hunger Games into nothing more than a love interest with very little personality other than an annoying habit of singing far too often. Lucy’s potential victory becomes deeply-entwined with Snow’s own, and their relationship is a discomfiting mix of romantic feelings and him using her to achieve his own means.

Now, I’m fully on board with the premise, but for the life of me I could not tell you if the decent-into-villainy was successfully executed because the whole thing was overshadowed by 600 pages of piss-poor writing.

For your pleasure, I shall now list my grievances:

  • Snow never shuts up about how much he hates cabbages. Why does he never shut up about cabbages?
  • On that note, please shut up about the damn war!
  • The fact that basically 100 pages of a 600pp novel are nothing but song lyrics is a shameless display of arrogance.
  • You’re not even that good at poetry, Suzanne.
  • This is how traumatic the war was for Snow, you guys. He was *abused*. No word of a lie: some dickhead stole his cabbage.

    • But it should be fine ‘cuz I don’t know if you know this but Snow hates cabbages. Can’t stand ’em.
    • For the love of God, who was your editor? Why the abundance of filler verbs? “He thought” appears 260 times.
    • “Snow lands on top” is your family fucking mantra? Is that organically-sourced cringe, Suzanne?
    • Call me crazy, but as this is a book that centres around the 10th Hunger Games, I was kinda looking forward to experiencing the 10th Hunger Games.
    • I never would have expected Suzanne Collins of all people to go pro with distancing writing. Snow’s mentee literally wins the Hunger Games and his singular reaction is “Right now, he felt invincible.”

Still somewhat convinced the story was written by someone else, I actually dug up my old copy of The Hunger Games to compare prose. Yes, I was that deep into my conspiracy theory. After a bit of Sherlocking, I did end up feeling less sure in my conviction, but I was reminded that Collins wrote the original trilogy in first person, which worked excellently. For some reason she chose to shrug off a technique she excels at and opted for third person. And she very clearly cannot pull it off. Not in the slightest.

TL;DR: I clocked out. Once one of the most engaging trilogies to grace the YA shelves, this new addition to the Hunger Games saga was utterly disappointing. I couldn’t tell you its positive points or what it was trying to achieve – in the end, anything decent was overshadowed by the horrendous writing and poor narrative choices. Considering we all know what Suzanne Collins is capable of, A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is simply not good enough.



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Review: The Rearranged Life of Oona Lockhart by Margarita Montimore

“There would be bad days, there always would. But she’d collect these good days, each one illuminated, and string them together until they glowed brightly in her memory like Christmas lights in a mirrored room.”

Oona Lockhart is conflicted. It’s New Year’s Eve 1982 and at midnight she will turn 19, with the biggest decision to make: should she move to Europe to study economics, or should she stay in NYC with her boyfriend and her band? And as the countdown to the new year begins, she makes one wish: I wish I didn’t have to chose.

The clock strikes midnight … and she wakes up in 2015. She is 51 years old

This is an absolute gem of a novel, all about a woman living her life out of order. What a premise! So completely my cup of tea, and the story was just as emotional as it promised to be. This one is not a plot-driven novel, and while there were times while reading I felt the bitter sting of missed opportunity, the story does do a very good job of keeping you invested in the characters. I loved the writing style. Very polished and clean, no messing around with purple prose, no focus on imagery. Everything was focused on bringing the characters to life, which Montimore achieved with a clear expertise. All of the characters were enjoyable, likeable, and 100% felt like real people – real people I immediately connected with.

The focus of the story is on Oona’s relationships, and how she learns to navigate them when she is constantly jumping from one year to the next, not knowing how old she’ll be on her next birthday. Dusted in are a few other details, such as how she maintains a cash flow, how she reacts to new technology of the future, learning the future fates of her childhood friends. I do feel the story would have been a lot more well-rounded if there was a bigger focus on Oona herself, her character development, her working life, her hopes and dreams. These elements sort of take a back seat to keep the focus on Oona’s relationships. Sure, we see a lot of character through this, a lot of drama and comedy, turmoil and pathos. But Oona had a lot of potential that was left unexplored. I would have been very interested to see more of her, without anyone else to share the spotlight.

What I loved most is how much this story made me think. I love a novel that gives us a hypothetical. It gets those braincogs turning and churning, gives you that introspective feeling while reading, and long after. Oona Lockhart is a real accomplishment: made me think, made me feel, and most of all, made me excited for what the author is going to bring us next.



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Upcoming 2020 LGBTQIA+ Speculative Fiction I Can’t Wait to Read

It is a less than happy Pride month this year. Not just because of – *gestures at world* – this shit, but because a whole generation’s formerly beloved author chose Pride month to evolve into her final TERF form, spewing her transphobic hatred and breaking millions of hearts worldwide.
This is your friendly reminder to stop supporting J. K. Rowling.
Now, let’s move on and stop giving her any more of our energy.
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Whether you are trans, genderfluid, non-binary, or any identity of the LGBTQIA+ rainbow: you are valid, loved, and you have a place in the world. And LGBTQIA+ authors have a place in the literary world! It is my ultimate pleasure to shout and scream about the fantastic voices in the literary world, and their books I am so excited to read.
Here are my most anticipated 2020 LGBTQIA+ reads in speculative fiction.
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The Dark Tide by Alicia Jasinska
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“A dark fairy-tale fantasy about two girls who must choose between saving themselves, each other, or their sinking island city.”

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Sapphic and dark are two of my favourite words in literature right now. I’m really into stories that take place on an island, too. Something about forcing the plot into such an isolated space raises the stakes and tension. Love that the description is really vague and gives almost nothing away – love to go into a book ready to be surprised.
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Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust
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“A captivating and utterly original fairy tale about a girl cursed to be poisonous to the touch, and who discovers what power might lie in such a curse…”
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This gives me Shatter Me vibes, but with a new direction. It boasts morally-grey characters (ooooh), Persian mythology (oooooh) and the antithesis of a damsel-in-distress MC who may have a decent-into-villainy arc. Yes please.
Early readers have praised this book for its twists and turns and for being a highly original new voice in the genre. Sign me up!
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Into the Real by Z Brewer
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“Three Quinns. Three realities. Three Brumes.”
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This looks like a highly ambitious novel about a genderqueer teen called Quinn who exists as three different people in three different dimensions. In this dark exploration of gender, the Quinns are caught up in three different stories of survival. The teens start to realise that they might in fact be a single, singular “they,” alternating among worlds—and that accepting themself might be the key to defeating the monsters that plague them in all three.
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Sparks by Kit Mallory
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“It’s 2034 and the United Kingdom is no more. Now there is only North and South, and the vast concrete Wall that separates the two.”
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Okay, I may have already read this one. But I’m looking forward to reading the final version when it releases! It’s a stellar dystopian story, with incredibly portrayed characters that I couldn’t help but fall in love with. Highly impressed by the portrayal of mental illness and the themes present in Sparks, and I’m so glad to see queer protagonists being unapologetic and kick-ass heroes. Loved it.
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Beyond the Ruby Veil by Mara Fitzgerald

“After Emanuela Ragno kills the one person in Occhia who can create water, she must find a way to save her city from dying of thirst.”

In the author’s own words, she wrote a weird fantasy book about a tiny chaos lesbian who’s going to save her world — or burn it all down trying. And that is the energy I’m here for. The premise sounds different and compelling, and I 100% support a protagonist who rebels against her destiny to create a new one.
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5 Amazing Books to Help You Teach Your Child About Racism

The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles

Ruby Bridges was the first African-American child to desegregate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana during the New Orleans school desegregation crisis on 14 November 1960. When she entered the school, every other child was removed by parents. Teachers refused to have her in their classrooms. The daily threats and protests persisted. An emotional story illustrated with beautiful watercolours, featuring the brave and strong Ruby, who grew up to become a prominent civil rights activist.
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Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison

A gorgeously illustrated biography of some immensely important figures in black history, each with a thoughtfully written page on their life. Fascinating and easily understood by younger readers, this is a great book to enjoy with your child – both the young and the older have things to learn from a book like this!


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All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold

Follow a group of children through a day in their school, where everyone is welcome. A school where children in patkas, hijabs, baseball caps and yarmulkes play side by side. A school where students grow and learn from each other’s traditions. A school where diversity is a strength. This is a must for any child’s library – an absolute gem of a book.


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Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o

Darkest in her family, Sulwe believes that her skin makes her unattractive and prays to be lighter, but when a shooting star tells her the story of sisters Night and Day, she finally understands that she doesn’t need to change. This is a stunning book about the heartbreaking problem of colourism and an important lesson for all kids (and grownups). Most of all though, it’s a gorgeous celebration of Black girls.


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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

This NYT bestseller is a modern classic. It is heart-wrenching and real and should be required reading for anyone over the age of 13. It follows sixteen-year-old Starr Carter who witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl’s struggle for justice, and is one of the best books to read and to read with your child this year.


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I support the Black Lives Matter movement.
There are so many ways each of us can contribute and do our part to raise awareness, demand justice for the countless victims of racism, and herald in a new and better world. We have been complacent for far too long. This must end.
Please consider supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, any way you can. Click the button for further resources and ways you can help to make a difference.


5 Books I Panic-Bought during the Pandemic

This is your daily reminder to stay home, wash your hands, and don’t vote Conservative. Oh, and if you’re going to panic-buy, don’t hoard the loo roll – there are far superior tree-based products up for grabs. If there was ever a Perfect Time™ to support authors, it’s during a pandemic, a time when their primary income may have dried up. Oh, and bonus – books can be enjoyed for hours upon hour in an indoor setting! So, if you can afford it, treat yourself to a book or two you’ve been meaning to read. You’ve been so brave. You deserve this. Buy the books.

So, what did I buy?

Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill

Was it, in hindsight, a great idea in the current climate to purchase a post-apocalyptic novel where humans are extinct and the robot race who destroyed them are following in the footsteps?

Yes. Yes, it was.

Sea of Rust packed a punch – with a likeable, ballsy robot protag and a very unique setting. I was drawn in by the world and the social commentary. I stayed for the bants. More lighthearted than anticipated. Recommend!


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The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo by Zen Cho

I have not read Zen Cho before, but her upcoming release is my most highly anticipated books of 2020. What better to wet my whistle than delving into an earlier work by Cho? Especially *cough* since it was on Kindle sale. And with it being the season of impulse-buys, well, it would have been rude not to.

This novella was a lovely, lighthearted rom-com romp – bringing a witty heroine and Bridget Jones vibes. Stellar afternoon read, one of those ‘good for taking your mind off the state of the world’ reads. Recommend!


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Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Oldie but goldie, Alice is a strong favourite of mine. What can I say? I vibe with surrealism.
I’m not planning a re-read during this pandemic (though a pandemic would be a great time to crack open some surrealist lit); this was purely a ‘treat yoself’ purchase because I love this collection. It is part of the MinaLima collector’s editions of beloved classics and they are so beautiful. I plan to own them all. They are on the pricer end of things, but well worth it for collectors. Welcome to the family, Alice!


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Among Others by Jo Walton

Jo Walton is a household name (ish). For my first Jo Walton I was drawn to Among Others as it sounded whimsical and more plot-oriented than other books of hers I’d read up on. Boarding school-based fantasy about a girl who talks to fairies and her mother is trying to kill her? Uh, yes please, colour me interested. In the end though, I found it a bit lukewarm. Nothing wrong with the book at all, it just didn’t end up being my cup of tea. After a good 100 pages I still wasn’t feeling that same interest I had felt from the premise, so I had to move on. One for the charity shop pile, I think. If I ever get out of lockdown!


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The Mindfulness Puzzle Book by Dr Gareth Moore

I have missed my puzzles! I used to be the puzzle queen – what happened?! I’m so happy I picked up a new puzzle book – what a time to do so! This puzzle book has an excellent variety of puzzles, some easy and some hard but all designed to not take too long to solve. I like doing a puzzle or two during work hours, like when I’m waiting for a particularly large file to transfer or if I’m sitting quietly in yet another 45 minute Teams conference call that I do not need to be in.
Highly recommend. Great little puzzles. Great for focusing the mind on something else for a short period, helping to refresh!

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The ads below help to pay for this website. If you can see them, thank you for not using an ad-blocker. If you’re a fan of my content and you would like to support a self-employed writer further, please feel free to share the love and buy your girl a coffee. The caffeine jolt may just get me through my final edits!
_____________________________________________________Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com