Sunday, January 25, 2015

Book talk: What's your favourite word?

What would stories be if they had no words to form them?

A lovely friend and colleague of mine recently wrote a post about her top 5 favourite words.  I couldn’t help but geek out when I read her article.

You see, as a bibliophile and word nerd, it’s simply not possible for me to love books and ignore the prose within them (yes, yes, I can all hear you saying ‘duh’, but bear with me, I do have a point to make).

Sure, we all read for the characters and the story and the adventures that liberate us from reality for the duration of the book, but what would those stories be if they had no words to form them?

And what would conversations be if we didn’t have them?

Words are beauty and cruelty. They can be used to mock, or be used to seduce. They can cajole, lure and manipulate, and they can move you to tears, evoke a sense of wonder and most importantly, breathe life into your imagination.

There is power and magic in words. And there is a good reason that the old saying about pen being mightier than the sword exists.

We have a pretty formidable weapon we can wield, and often we opt to use it to hurt and silence voices already struggling to be heard. 

In the spirit of all things wordy, I thought I’d share 5 of my favourite words. In no particular order, they are as follows:

 Gossamer
- a fine, filmy cobweb seen on grass or bushes or floating in the air in calm weather, especially in autumn.

Because the word brings to mind fairies flitting about in gauzy little outfits and dragonfly wings.

Miasma
- a dangerous, foreboding, or deathlike influence or atmosphere.

This can also refer to "noxious exhalations from putrescent organic matter; poisonous effluvia or germs polluting the atmosphere,” but I much prefer the above-mentioned definition.

Petrichor
- a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather.

I’ve always associated this with romance and new beginnings, and because every time I see this word, I can immediately conjure the actual scent of the rain, following its downpour.

Mellifluous
- sweetly or smoothly flowing; sweet-sounding:

The definition is exactly what it feels like when you say the word out loud, don’t you think?

Melancholy
- a gloomy state of mind, especially when habitual or prolonged; depression.

I’m a sucker for sad and beautiful words and things, and melancholy pretty much embodies this in every way. I’m all about the angst, yes.

I asked some Women24 book club newsletter readers to tell me about their favourite words; this is how you responded:

Leighanne

Pareidolia - I just love that there's a word for the experience we have all had at sometime or another - seeing or the ability to see a human face in inanimate or abstract objects.

I have often 'seen' beautiful women, feuding lovers, horses in the rust patches of my dad's car, the peeling paint from a wall or water splashes on the bathroom floor after a shower.

Wendy

I love the word Soliloquy – it sounds so mysterious and intriguing.

(I like the fact that few people know what it means *blush* ‘cause I do. How’s that for a 3-year old rationale? LOL!)

Carol


Scintillating – because it conjures up all things bling, bright and beautiful.

Michelle

Superfluous - unnecessary, especially through being more than enough.

I am not exactly sure why this is one of my favourite words but I really like the flow of the word; and the fact that it has too many vowels shows the meaning in my opinion.

Lusanda

Vociferous is my favourite word only because it sounds very forceful - carries a lot of weight without one even having to know what it means. Just pronouncing the word gives me goosebumps. Weird I know.

What's your favourite word and why? Leave a comment and let me know.
 

Disclaimer:
This column originally appeared as part of Women24’s monthly book club newsletter. Keen to receive this as a monthly newsletter in your own inbox? You can subscribe here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Book review: My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories by Stephanie Perkins

A delicious little read that will make you feel all the fizzy and cotton candy feels.

My True Love Gave to Me edited by Stephanie Perkins (Macmillan Children’s Books)
My True Love Gave to Me, edited by Stephanie Perkins (who also contributes to this anthology), is a delightful, adorable and quirky little read.

It's the kind of book that proved to be exactly what I needed to kick start 2015 – and it’s a read that I’d recommend to anyone in search of a feel good, pick-me-up read.

Don’t be fooled though – while these stories can be described as being fluffy, they’re little shorts with plenty of substance and enough heart to soothe any angst-ridden soul.

There’s a little something in here for everyone; from contemporary and magic realism, to urban and paranormal fantasy, this collection of YA novellas is wonderfully diverse and beautifully written. 

Below, I share just a few quick thoughts about each novelette.

Midnights by Rainbow Rowell – Ah, Rainbow Rowell. Can you ever do anything wrong in my eyes? I think not. 

What I loved about this story is how much it just reinforced my love for Fangirl. Rainbow is the queen of eccentrically cute dialogue and as with Fangirl, she absolutely nails the character voices in Midnights. Noel and Mags are made of epic adorableness.

The Lady and the Fox by Kelly Link – Ooh, this one has got to be my favourite. I know, I’m surprised as well, as I was fully expecting to love the Laini Taylor one more.

Given that this is somewhat of a fractured fairy tale, which includes (if you squint) elements of The Snow Queen and (more obvious) a retelling of Tam Lin (one of my favourite Scottish ballads of all time), it hardly comes as a surprise that I’d adore this one.

Strangely enough, I was first put off with the rather stilted, staccato-like sentence structure, but the more I read, the more lyrical and beautiful this story and imagery became. I’ll definitely be revisiting this story over and over again.

Angels in the Snow by Matt de la Peña  - A fabulous interracial romance (male protagonist is half Mexican, female protagonist is white), by an author I haven’t heard of before? Talk about a fabulous new discovery. 

I loved the writing, I adored and felt for the characters (starving Mexican scholarship boy who loves music, meets wealthy girl desperately trying to get out of a relationship that’s going nowhere) and just generally fell in love with the flow of the story.

Polaris is Where You'll Find Me by Jenny Han - Oh what a bittersweet but exquisitely written little read. There’s just something about an awkward misfit pining for a boy she can’t have (in this case an elf, because elves aren’t allowed to be with humans), that makes my soul ache. 

Seriously though, why haven’t I read any of Jenny Han’s books before? I’ve heard loads of fabulous things about her, but have never gotten around to reading any of her other books, something I plan on rectifying as soon as possible.

It's a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown by Stephanie Perkins – Oh my gosh. This little short is made of all the fabulous things. Diverse characters, deep family themes AND  two protagonists that will make your face light up like the Christmas tree that features in this story. 

I’ve only read Anna and the French Kiss so far, but I reckon it’s time that I hurry up and get around to reading the rest of her books. This novella only served to remind me why I was so charmed with her writing first time around.

Your Temporary Santa by David Levithan – A Jewish Santa sneaks into the house of his boyfriend in order to surprise his boyfriend’s younger sister.

This short story is told from the perspective of our would-be Santa and has a rather melancholy touch in the sense that you, like the boyfriend (who remains nameless throughout the tale), feel very much like an outsider looking in. 

I really loved this one and actually wished that this one could have been longer.

Krampuslauf by Holly Black -  It’s Holly Black at her urban fantasy best in this short story about a hooved boy – a satyr if you really want to go into specifics – wished to life by one feisty girl with an extremely vivid and dreamy imagination. 

My favourite kind of character, really.

What the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth? – by Gayle Forman – Now this one was absolutely fabulous. I admit that I struggled with this in the beginning – I wasn’t particularly a fan of the writing – but then, what Gayle did next was awesome.

She flipped roles in every sense of the word. White, Jewish scholarship girl and a wealthy black boy? Not only does this go against every single stereotype about both the Jewish and Black community, but it’s done in an incredibly believable manner.

The chemistry between the two? So palpable.  It filled my heart with all the happy feels.

Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus by Myra McEntire – Ha! All the giggles were had with this one. How could it not when you have a borderline delinquent pining after the local pastor’s daughter? Super cute and filled with all manner of hilarious shenanigans.

Welcome to Christmas, CA by Kiersten White – The magical power of food is at the heart of this novella set in a small town off the beaten path. I loved that this introduced such a variety of colourful characters, and was genuinely moved by the family dynamics and themes of acceptance in Welcome to Christmas, CA.

Star of Bethlehem by Ally Carter – An account of two girls swapping plane tickets should be an improbable notion, but somehow  Ally Carter had me reading this one right until the end. 

The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer  by Laini Taylor – Gorgeous, lyrical and all sorts of dreamy, this magical little tale is exactly the kind of story that one can expect from Laini. Her ability to weave and meld words together is an experience that leads the reader into a shimmering daze that is both dazzling and unsettling.

She juxtaposes images, plays with folk tales and sings it to the tune of her own, melodic voice. 

All in all, this anthology is a collection that is well worth the read, and one that I’ll definitely be rereading again and again.

Don’t wait for the next festive season to come around – get this one now; it’s really one you can and should read at any time.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Book talk: 5 Things I’d like to see more (or less) of in the literature industry this year and beyond (plus an international giveaway)

UPDATE: This giveaway is now closed. Thank you so much to all of you who entered. I enjoyed reading your responses and found myself nodding along to all the points made (I'll be responding over the weekend to everyone's posts)! Congratulations goes to Bo Hi who has won books of her choice from the Book Depo!

I'll be having more giveaways coming your way soon, so look out for that!


So to kick off my blog for 2015, I thought I’d start off with a post about  the things I’d like to see more of in books this year  (along with a much-promised international giveaway). 

As a reader, my taste in books is constantly evolving. The way I read, how I interpret it and the aspects I look for in novels changes regularly. The more aware of societal issues I become, the more it drives me to seek out books that don’t adhere to the traditional tropes we’ve all become so accustomed to.

And the more I adapt, accept and embrace these changes, the more I realise that there is still a lot of headway to be made in the literature industry in terms of offering more than the standard fare (I hugely applaud the publishers who are taking more risks these days and hope that the others will follow suit eventually). 

Don’t get me wrong.

I adore a lot of what’s out on offer at the moment (even some of the clichéd works out there), but there seems to be this precedent that the existing models are satisfactory enough and that we shouldn’t mess with commercial commodities that work.

Frankly, this is not on.

I’m a big believer in change – and for me, it’s really heart-breaking to see some wonderful, off-beat reads being ignored because these works aren’t being as widely promoted.

And often, it’s these books that should be given a chance because they’re breaking barriers in terms of gender and racial diversity, openly tackling topics that are often considered taboo and subverting roles that have been defined by society’s terms.

In light of this, I’ve decided to share a list of things I’d love to see more publishers and readers take more (or less) of a chance on in the bookish trade.

1. More gender and racial diversity please.


Gender and race are not binary concepts. The sooner we can accept this, the better.  We need to have people of colour in books (and not delegated to playing the role of the side-kick/best friend please) and we need to give a voice to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and transgender community (if there’s anyone I missed out, please let me know). 

Some authors refuse to write beyond anything they know (and some readers refuse to read anything that makes them uncomfortable), hence the fact that we often see the beautiful, white and skinny girl always falling for the hot, white male with a bad boy attitude (and that’s just one example).

Again, I’m not against this at all. I just want to see a book world in which the dominant race isn’t white, and one in which all the characters transcend the heteronormative standards everyone expects them to adhere to.

Most of all, I’d love to see publishers taking more chances on reads like these.

2. LGBQT characters that aren’t token characters or stereotyped

This is another one of my bug bears and brings to mind a book I read not too long ago in which the gay character was represented in an incredibly clichéd manner. In this book (I’ll rather not mention any names), the guy was portrayed as a highly and insultingly effeminate boy whose interests were relegated to: clothes, shopping, cross-dressing and being the therapist to his female best friend.

Do you see the problem here? 

I have no problem with the gay community who adore fashion, etc ; my problem is with the notion that gay people should be defined by this – which is what the author essentially did in this book.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and transgender characters are humans, not caricatures.

Their likes, dislikes, beliefs and personalities are more than the sum of society’s assumptions about them. To portray them in a way that stereotypes them is incredibly dehumanising and I’m really tired of this.

Frankly, I know a lot of gay people and wouldn’t you know, some of them are mad about sports, not fashion.  What I’m saying here is that we shouldn’t make assumptions about what the LGBQT community are like – especially if your interactions with them have been very minimal.

Please stop treating them as if they all fit into a singular personality group.

3. More standalone YA novels

I love series, I really do, but it would be really nice to have books that don’t force us to wait years for the second, third or fourth instalment of the series.

It does get a little tiresome and sometimes it feels as if it’s just being dragged out for as long as possible, simply because it’s become an established franchise.

Books that work well as standalones in a series, however, are definitely more than welcome.

4. More female empowering one another stories, less cruel girl clichés please

I don’t know about you, but I’m really tired of the bitchy and mean girl trope. I’m fed up with this idea of girls always having to compete over each other over a boy and no other reason than that. Isn’t it time for us to focus more on stories that solidifies and focuses on strong female friendships?

I find it very insulting that this girl-vs-girl-over-a-boy fight implies that this is what we’re all about. As if we exist for the sake of guys and as if it’s a competition to see who can claw whose eyes out over the hottest boy in existence.

Not only that, but it’s incredibly offensive to guys too –  this trope treats them as if they’re some kind of breeding stock prize to be won.  And frankly, I don’t view guys or girls this way, so why should this trope be used in this way?

I get that bullying is a tactic that is used, but that’s completely different to the mean girl/guy who is awful for the sake of being awful.

If you want to employ the use of a nasty character, why not give him/her a bit of a backstory; tell us what makes the character behave the way he/she does and whether he/she doesn’t want to be mean but can’t help it because of his/her past.  That’s a story that would be worth reading. 

Anything except the “leave-my-guy-alone-or-die” fight.

 5. Kill the love triangle. Please.

Seriously, there is no rule that says a story isn’t a story unless there’s a love triangle involved, so why, oh why, is every second book out there filled with one?

To be fair, I’m all for a well-written or creatively done one, but those are so rare to find, that my general frustration with love triangles actually outweighs my desire to seek out a beautifully drawn out tango for three.

Anyway, that’s just some of the things I’d like to see more of this year. This was originally going to be a ten things post, but my fingers ran away with me and this post ended up being so much longer than I thought it would be!

This is where you come in –

I’m giving one lucky international reader a chance to win 2 books of his/her choice. All you need to do is leave a comment and tell me what you’d like to see more or less of in the literature industry.

I’ll compile your responses and feature it in a follow up discussion post.

Giveaway is open internationally (please do make sure the Book Depository ships to your country before you enter) and runs until Sunday, 11 January.