Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Book Review: The Ship

The Ship
By Antonia Honeywell
Published by
Available in Hardback and ebook
Paperback is forthcoming

Antonia Honeywell's debut novel, The Ship is a powerful, and striking dystopian story which reminded me of The Handmaid's Tale and Children of Men. This book questions the power of wealth, and the power of the past and the way it has a hold over our present lives.

No identity card means you don't exist.
London's streets burn.
The homeless and unregistered citizens live inside the British Museum.
The city's parks have been bombed.

However, our young narrator, Lalla, sixteen, and her family are the lucky ones. Honeywell has created a world which could easily be our own. The divide between rich and poor is expanding at an alarming rate. Lalla is kept wrapped in cotton wool away from the starving families, and riots happening around her. Her father, Michael has made money from supplying the government with tablets to keep track of the citizens by passing out information to people with identity cards to survive. Michael has been using the money for his escape plan - a ship to sail them away.

The riots outside their flat are alarming - time has come for them to move to the ship. Once a pipe-dream is now a reality. Once on board, the lucky applicants, Lalla and her father fall into a calm rhythm with plenty of food and entertainment. The ship is a garden of Eden, floating way from the corruption of the city.

Honeywell builds up the tension and claustrophobic atmosphere so the reader also feels like Lalla. This paradise, floating around the sea has everything she would ever need - a wedding dress packed away in the store cupboard, a cot for a future baby, a young man to be a future husband.

Yet, Lalla's unease grows - there is something wrong under the surface of smiles and politeness. Her life was prescribed for her in London and it's the same on the boat. She can not connect with the other passengers, and even her father seems to have a slight dictator-style to the way he rules the ship. She needs to escape. She needs to save the people trapped in London yet nobody is bothered. The other passengers seem too happy to worry about the past.

Lalla is marmite type of character - some will like her curious, rebellious and strong nature but other readers may find the moaning just a tad irritating. Lalla is an unreliable character, and it is for the reader to decide if they believe her version of the story or the story which lingers between the lines.

The Ship is a smart coming-of-age novel full of tension and twists. You can purchase The Ship from your favourite bookshop.

I am currently a member of the Curtis Brown Book club, and The Ship was the first book. You can read more about the book club here.



I was kindly sent a copy by Curtis Brown.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Book Review: My Heart & Other Black Holes

My Heart & Other Black Holes
by Jasmine Warga
Published by Hodder
Available in paperback and ebook

Aysel, a high school student with a passion for physics, has a slug growing in her stomach. Its taking over her life, overpowering her, and dragging her down.

This slug is depression.

She needs an escape from her life - her call centre job is soulless, living with her Mother and her half-siblings is taking its toll while her Father is in prison for killing a local sporting hero. The only way out is suicide but she worries that she might not be able to go through with her plan. Using the internet, she finds herself a suicide partner. Roman, a high school student from the neighbouring town, once a champion basketball player and popular at school, wants to end his life...he's even more determined than Aysel. Together they come up with a plan so they can escape their problems, and finally end their lives.

Hold on, this isn't going to be tear-jerker actually, yes it might be, but not in the way you're thinking. This is a heartwarming book about conquering overwhelming fears, dealing with guilt but ultimately this book is about hope and finding that there's more to life. My Heart & Other Black Holes is a powerful debut which explores the powerful force of friendships. Aysel, after spending time with Roman starts to realise that maybe life isn't so bad. Yet Roman is still bent on ending his life.

There seem to be quite a few young adult novels which centre around narrators with issues but My Heart & Other Black Holes has a way of pulling the reader into the story with its compelling characters so that it doesn't feel like another generic YA novel. Warga makes sure that she doesn't glamourise suicide by writing a honest, sensitive exploration of mental illness in young adults, as well as exploring the guilt surrounding life-changing events.

Both of the characters are reaching out for help to die but in doing this they are actually finding someone to help with finding a reason to live.

My Heart & Other Black Holes reminded me of Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down especially in the way that both authors try to break through the stereotypes of mental illness. It can affect anyone at any time and the effects are different for each sufferer. This is a fantastic novel, with a compelling storyline and characters. I'm looking forward to reading more from Warga.

My Heart & Other Black Holes is available from your favourite bookshop. Jasmine took part in the Imaginary Bookshop series last week, and you can read the interview here.

A copy was sent via Bookbridgr.com

Monday, 16 February 2015

January

The Strange Library is not pictured
In January, I managed to read seven books. Three were by debut authors, two were short stories - one packaged together with illustrations, and another as a collection. Two books were written by celebrities, one non fiction and another a debut. Plus there was one graphic novel, MrGuire's Here - which is brilliant and everyone should read it.

I managed to finish redrafting chapter 15, and chapter 16 is now my nemesis. As well as working on my editing my novel, I have started to send out flash fiction submissions and I also sent out a non-fiction piece. I really want to finish redrafting my novel this year so I'm going to need to speed up the redrafting process!


Books read in January

Not That Kind Of Girl - Lena Dunham
I like the honesty and energy of Dunham's essays. I know that she's a marmite kind of person but that shouldn't hold you back from reading her essays.

The Stone Thrower - Adam Marek
This is Marek's second short story collection, and this collection explores parenthood and the things we do to protect them. My particular favourite stories were Tamagotchi and Remember The Bride Who Got Stung?

Holy Cow - David Duchovny
You can read my review here.

The Ship - Antonia Honeywell
My review will be appearing soon for The Ship. This was the first Curtis Brown book-club book and there were some great discussions with the other readers.

Alice and the Fly - James Rice
You can read my review here.

The Strange Library - Haruki Murakami
This was an illustrated short story, and it was my first Murakami. I'm keen to read more of his books. So do you have any recommendations?

HereRobert McGuire
A graphic novel showing the same angle of a room through different time periods. This is a really interesting book, and I'll definitely be reading this as I'm sure I'll spot new things with a second read. This is definitely my favourite book for January.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Guest Post: Nadia Hashimi's Imaginary Bookshop



Nadia Hashimi's The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, is out today (I am currently reading it at the moment and its very powerful story) and so she has kindly agreed to pop by and take part in the Imaginary Bookshop series.

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Hi Nadia, congratulations on the publication of your novel, The Pearl that Broke its Shell and thank you for popping over to Writer’s Little Helper and becoming the latest author to take part in the Imaginary Bookshop series.

What would be the name of your imaginary bookshop?
My imaginary bookshop would be called “The Write Read,” as it would be a place where folks can come to read and/or write. For me, writing and reading feed each other. I’ve often taken my laptop to a local bookstore to be inspired by the shelves full of stories. I can picture myself taking a break from writing to stretch and wander through the aisles. Seeing other writers busy at work would also encourage me to get back to my seat and be productive.

Where would your imaginary bookshop be located?
It would be located on a cheerful main street with a yoga studio to the left (for when I finally start doing yoga) and an arts and crafts shop to the right. Across the street there would be a clothing boutique run by a woman who brings in a steady rotation of amazing finds. We would also share our street with Greek, Thai and Indian restaurants. We have great neighbors, don’t we?

Would your bookshop have any special features? E.g. a performing stage, a cocktail bar, etc.
My bookshop would have a cozy room for readings and book club gatherings. That room would have drapes on the windows, framed vintage posters on the walls and a bookshelf lined with the books of authors who had read in the room. Throughout the book shop there would also be tables and comfy chairs. There would be a coffee bar and a small cafĂ© with warm, organic foods and dark chocolate (since that seems to be soul food for the authors I’ve met). For reading, there would be armchairs and a few chaises scattered throughout. Oh, and Yann Tiersen’s melancholy and playful tracks in the background (puts the muse in musical, in my humble opinion).

What would make your bookshop different from all of the other ones?
We would host writers’ workshops once a month and have book clubs for all ages. By all ages, I mean down to three years old, since I’m pretty sure my daughter would love this. We would also offer a Writers Club for our younger aspiring authors to really encourage them to give it a go.

What sections would you have in your bookshop? And what sections would you ditch?
We would have all the usual suspects: Fiction, Biography, Business, Cooking. I would get rid of the Self Help category. If you’re turning to a book for guidance, you’re not really self-helping, are you? If the demand was really high, I’d at least rename it to “Pep Talk” or “I Did And So Can You!”

Every bookshop needs a display table. Which books would you have on your display table? Why?
Our display table would showcase books that are Staff Picks or Readers’ Choices. Marketing plays such a big and skewing role in the book world and so many excellent works are flying under the radar. This table would be like getting reading recommendations from friends. It would be a really cool table, too – like a tiered cupcake display for books.

If you could run only one author event who would you have? You can pick a living or dead writer. What sort of event would they run?
I would invite Dr Seuss and the entire event, from greetings to thanks-for-coming would be in rhyme.

Readers from near and readers from far
You’ve come by mule and you’ve come by car
Tonight’s program is quite the treat
So silence your cell phones and put your rumps in a seat
You, young lady, with your hand in the air
Step up to the mic since you seem to play fair
“I’ll pose the first question for Dr Seuss
Are you really a doc or is it a ruse?
I’m asking because I’m a believer
But also because I’ve got a fever.”
He puts a hand on the forehead and in the throat he looks
And says, “That’s not a fever, you’re just hot for books.
You’ll be okay if you heed my warning
Read two stories and call me in the morning.”
Thanks all for coming to this peculiar event
Now buy a book before you leave and help us pay rent.


A customer comes up to your till with a copy of your novel, The Pearl that Broke its Shell and asks you to give them a reason on why they should buy it. What would you say?
The Pearl that Broke its Shell was a finalist in two categories (Fiction, Debut Author) for the 2014 Goodreads Choice Awards. So you don’t have to take my word for it – the readers have spoken!

What sort of cake would you offer when launching your book in your bookshop?
Carrot cake – because vegetables are healthy.

Author biography:
Nadia Hashimi was born and raised in New York and New Jersey. Both her parents were born in Afghanistan and left in the early 1970s, before the Soviet invasion. Her mother, granddaughter of a notable Afghan poet, went to Europe to obtain a Master’s degree in civil engineering and her father came to the United States, where he worked hard to fulfill his American dream and build a new, brighter life for his immediate and extended family. Nadia was fortunate to be surrounded by a large family of aunts, uncles and cousins, keeping the Afghan culture an important part of their daily lives.

Nadia attended Brandeis University where she obtained degrees in Middle Eastern Studies and Biology. In 2002, she made her first trip to Afghanistan with her parents who had not returned to their homeland since leaving in the 1970s. It was a bittersweet experience for everyone, finding relics of childhood homes and reuniting with loved ones.

Nadia enrolled in medical school in Brooklyn and became active with an Afghan-American community organization that promoted cultural events and awareness, especially in the dark days after 9/11. She graduated from medical school and went on to complete her pediatric training at NYU/Bellevue hospitals in New York City. On completing her training, Nadia moved to Maryland with her husband where she works as a pediatrician. She’s also a part of the “Lady Docs,” a group of local female physicians who exercise, eat and blog together.

With her rigorous medical training completed, Nadia turned to a passion that had been ignored for too long. Her upbringing, experiences and passions came together in the form of stories based in the country of her parents and grandparents (some even make guest appearances in her tales!). Her debut novel, The Pearl That Broke Its Shell was released on May 6, 2014. Her second novel, When The Moon Is Low, follows the perilous journey of an Afghan family as they flee Taliban-controlled Kabul and fall into the dark world of the undocumented living in Europe.

She and her husband are the beaming parents of three curious, rock star children and a territorial African Grey parrot.
Nadia's website: http://nadiahashimi.com

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You can buy The Pearl That Broke Its Shell from your favourite Bookshop. Look out for my review over the next few weeks!

Monday, 9 February 2015

Guest Post: Jasmine Warga's Imaginary Bookshop


Today we have Jasmine Warga answering the Imaginary Bookshop questions, and her answers are really great so I hope you enjoy this installement. Jasmine wants her bookshop to have cocktails and books - so I really need her bookshop to open! 
Her new book, My Heart & Other Black Holes is out this week.

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Hi Jasmine, congratulations on the publication of your novel, My Heart and Other Black Holes and thank you for popping over to Writer’s Little Helper and becoming the latest author to take part in the Imaginary Bookshop series.

Thank you so much for having me! I’m endlessly grateful to bloggers who help spread the word about books. Much love for the entire reading community.

What would be the name of your imaginary bookshop?
Books And Other Magical Objects

Where would your imaginary bookshop be located?
On Boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris, which I think is one of the most magical streets in the whole world.

Would your bookshop have any special features? E.g. a performing stage, a cocktail bar, etc.
I would love to have a cocktail bar! The bookstore would serve literary cocktails ala Tim Federle’s TEQUILLA MOCKINGBIRD. I’d also love to have a stage where local poets and musicians could perform on weekend nights.

What would make your bookshop different from all of the other ones?
We would also sell unique umbrellas and magical wands! I’m envisioning this bookstore to be both super cozy and super quirky. It would have sloping ceilings and every wall would be painted a different color.

What sections would you have in your bookshop? And what sections would you ditch?
Oh, I think I would include all the sections. We would obviously have a very large YA section, but I think all the sections are important. I would want to cater to every reader even though I could personally do without fly-fishing manuals.
Every bookshop needs a display table. Which books would you have on your display table? Why?
Hm, I would have an eclectic display called “Owner Favourites” that featured books by Anne Carson, Stephen Chbosky, Margaret Atwood, Francesca Lia Block, Junot Diaz, Jandy Nelson, JK Rowling, and all of my fellow 2015 YA debuts because I love them fiercely.

If you could run only one author event who would you have? You can pick a living or dead writer. What sort of event would they run?
I would bring Simone du Beauvoir back from the grave. First, St. Germain was her old stomping grounds, and I’d love the opportunity to talk to her about feminism (and also what it was like to date Sartre!).

A customer comes up to your till with a copy of your novel, My Heart and Other Black Holes and asks you to give them a reason on why they should buy it. What would you say?
I would ask them if they enjoy quirky, dark stories with a dash of romance, and if they say yes, I’d tell them that I’d very much appreciate it if they gave my little book a chance.

What sort of cake would you offer when launching your book in your bookshop?
Black raspberry ice cream cake! Peppermint ice cream cake! Basically, all types of ice cream cake. Did I say ice cream cake?

Jasmine live in this part of the internet jasminewarga.com
AND
Tweets here @jasminewarga

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You can buy My Heart & Other Black Holes from this week. I'll be reviewing it over the next week so watch out for that. Spoiler: its really good.