Book Review: A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston

a thousand nights

Title: A Thousand Nights
Author: E. K. Johnston
Pub Date: 22 October 2015
Publisher: PanMacmillan
Obtained: Review Copy
Rating: 4/5*
Goodreads | BookDepository

Summary: LO-MELKHIIN KILLED THREE HUNDRED GIRLS before he came to her village, looking for a wife. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon, she knows he has arrived. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. She vows she will not let her be next. And so she is taken in her sister’s place, and she believes death will soon follow. Lo-Melkhiin’s court is a dangerous palace filled with pretty things: intricate statues with wretched eyes, exquisite threads to weave the most beautiful garments. She sees everything as if for the last time. But the first sun rises and sets, and she is not dead. Far away, in their village, her sister is mourning. Through her pain, she calls upon the desert winds, conjuring a subtle unseen magic, and something besides death stirs the air. Back at the palace, the words she speaks to Lo-Melkhiin every night are given a strange life of their own. Little things, at first: a dress from home, a vision of her sister. With each tale she spins, her power grows. Soon she dreams of bigger, more terrible magic: power enough to save a king, if she can put an end to the rule of a monster.

A Thousand Nights is a rare book – and a fantastic one at that. The premise alone hooked me in – a retelling of Arabian Nights, a story about stories, a dangerous love story – but I wasn’t expecting this novel to be so powerful and beautiful. Upon reading the first couple of pages, I was struck by the lyrical prose and intricate details of the setting. E. K. Johnston’s turn of phrase in A Thousand Nights is simply stunning, and the writing alone captures your attention. What struck me was that the characters, apart from Lo-Melkhiin, our anti-hero, are nameless. We get detailed descriptions of their personalities, their appearance, their history – but not one character, even our protagonist, has a name apart from the villain. At first, this frustrated me. How was I supposed to write a review about a book where I didn’t even know the main character’s name? Nor the name of her sister, her father, her mother – not one character, except Lo-Melkhiin. Looking back, this was a risky move from the author – but it paid off. This novel, after all, is about the oral tradition of story-telling, which was so prevalent in Arabian Nights – a story made up of lots of other pieces of stories. The characters needed to be nameless to serve this purpose – and even though I feel like I know these characters – our strong and fearless main character, her loyal sister, her clever father – I don’t really know them at all.

This novel is told in a first person narrative from our main character, the desert girl who is Lo-Melkhiin’s latest wife, and her voice was a pure delight to read. She was intelligent, pious and devoted to loving her sister. Interspersed between our main character’s chapters were brief interludes from another first person narrator – the demon that lives within Lo-Melkhiin. Now this voice was uncomfortable to read. Sadistic, calculating and chilling, the demon’s voice provided an unsettling undertone to the novel, giving it an edge that I believe was what helped the novel develop. Not a lot of background detail goes into the nature of this demon, or where it comes from, but it’s powerful nonetheless and I loved this addition to the plot.

Aside from this brilliant plot device, the world building in this novel was fantastic. Our main character’s descriptions of her desert home and her move into the city upon marrying Lo-Melkhiin were absorbing, and you really feel like you can sense the sand underneath our main characters feet, that you can feel the heat of the dry sun on your skin. Another powerful description was the magic. Our main character develops these curious powers, this strange magical ability, which is due to her sister’s pious devotion towards making her a ‘smallgod’ – a local, smaller god with a connection to a family. I completely fell in love with the relationship between magic, power and religion in A Thousand Nights and how this resonates in the sacrifice that our main character made to save her sister.

That brings me on to another thing I loved – the love between these two sisters and the lengths they are willing to go to to save each other. I think that was what made our main character so interesting and readable; she was steadfast in her love for her sister and would do anything to secure her happiness. This love replaced romantic love in the novel – which struck me a bit at first. I presumed that this novel would be a powerful love story between Lo-Melkhiin and our main character, but it really wasn’t. There’s hints of a romantic conclusion towards the end of the novel, but we don’t get to see how this plays out.

The conclusion of this book was unfortunately a bit too brief for me, I think. There was such an incredible build-up, with our main character saving the day and saving the world – but I would have loved to have gotten a glimpse into what happened next. I feel like our main character, her family and Lo-Melkhiin deserved a few pages of a triumphant happy ending after all the hardships they go through in this book!

On the whole, however, this book was unlike anything I’ve ever read. Lyrical, powerful, entrancing and poetic, I adored the storytelling and vivid descriptions of this novel. It was exotic, mysterious and an engrossing read. One novel that you need to read this year!

*Thanks to PanMacmillan for providing me with an early review copy!*

Advertisements

Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

ImageFangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Pan Macmillan
5/5*

Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . . But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere. Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to. Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone. For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

Well – this sure was unexpected! As a YA Contemporary read, I was initially sceptical over picking Fangirl up; contemporary isn’t usually my preferred genre as I’m far too much of an escapist to fall in love with it. However! I’m getting over this aversion pretty quickly, and boy, aren’t I pleased about it. It’s also quite important to note that Fangirl is my first Rainbow Rowell read. Rainbow’s other YA book, Eleanor & Park, is high up on my TBR pile after hearing so, so many glowing reviews and after receiving countless recommendations to read it. I’m surprised I’ve been able to resist reading any of Rainbow’s beautifully written books so far!

Yet, I was drawn to the gorgeous cover of Fangirl and the lighthearted, cute premise. Rainbow Rowell truly comes up with a unique and shockingly relatable plot in this book; the world of fanfiction, especially for many book lovers such as myself, is a world that we’ve all stumbled into and are very aware of. Rowell injects excellently crafted pop culture references and laugh-out-loud humour into what could have been an average college love story.

Our protagonist, Cath, is not immediately a likable character – she’s withdrawn, insular and enclosed – and pretty unrelatable initially. Yet, this soon changed! Rowell’s effortless character development for Cath was one of the highlights of the book for me – to quote the book, I was definitely “rooting” for Cath to come out of her shell and to explore life beyond the realms of fiction. Cath’s humour was a delight to read but as was her strength; Cath is not only our main character, but she is the support system for the rest of the characters in the book. Her constant support of her father and her sister, Wren, truly touched me and I really loved this part of her personality.

However, beneath the humour and the brilliant fanfiction snippets, Fangirl addressed some really interesting topics – divorce, teen drinking and coming of age. Cath and Wren come from a broken family background, raised by a single father after their mother leaves them all. This familial trauma resonates in Wren’s drinking but also rather subtly in Cath’s inability to write her own characters. Cath struggles to step beyond something that she feels comfortable with – the world of Simon Snow – into a world foreign and unknown – her own fiction. What was truly great about this novel was that it was multi-dimensional, a perfect balance between heart-warming romance, refreshingly awesome pop culture and emotional drama.

But, I would be lying if I didn’t mention that it was also Levi that made this book awesome. I love his endearing struggle with reading, his amazing support and love for Cath and most importantly the fact that Rainbow Rowell has constructed his character in such a human manner. He was an unconventional romantic hero in the sense that he was, without the negative connotations the word brings, ordinary – and that’s why I loved him. He was a relatable character with flaws and imperfections, but he was beyond adorable regardless of these.

So, to wrap up this rather gushing review, I’d like to leave you all with one thing. If you’ve heard bad reviews about this book (god knows from where, however!), please ignore them and experience it for yourself. Pick this book up. Seriously.

Sometimes, Loving Books Isn’t Enough

Happy Monday, fellow readers!

Since graduating, my life has consisted of applications, covering letters and many, many books. Graduate life is a weird sort of limbo; you’ve spent three years building up to something altogether unclear, a world where that dissertation just doesn’t matter anymore. Once you graduate, you realise that your lecturing parents and wise careers advisors weren’t telling lies – getting a job is now a task that is almost as arduous as Frodo’s journey to Mount Doom.

Rewind four years: my head was abuzz with UCAS applications, personal statements and open days. Getting into a university was the first battle in the long war of career success. At the time, I couldn’t imagine it getting any harder. Fast forward three years – I’m knee deep in dissertation research, my social life a long forgotten pastime, exams looming on the horizon.

One year later? My dreams of getting into publishing are still set in concrete, unwavering and unchanging but I know now how difficult it is to break into this thrilling and diverse industry. After years of hoping that my passion for books would see me through, now I know that this simply isn’t enough.

Six months down the line from graduation with several job interviews under my belt, I know now how hard it is for graduates in this industry. Proving that you’re not simply a wide-eyed book lover is a task that will become paramount. Experience is key, passion is necessary, industry knowledge is assumed. It was during my experience with HarperCollins that I truly began to grasp what this industry was truly about; for those desperate to get into publishing, experience isn’t only a necessity but it’s something to help you decide if this is really a world that you want to become part of.

Luckily for me, it only sharpened my determination to break into this field. I’m currently working as a Marketing Intern – not in publishing – but even this experience is something that has already helped me to land some interviews at publishing companies that I have admired for years.

For once, I’m no longer unaware and unprepared. My reading tastes have gotten more varied, my knowledge of fiction lists exhaustive and the daily news update from The Bookseller has become the first email I open every morning.

Loving books may not be enough to land a job in this extremely competitive world, but as you’re filing through job advert after job advert, it will become a passion that will fuel you further. Like an ever-present friend, patting you on the back and encouraging you onward, reading, for me, reminds me on a daily basis why I want to pursue a career in publishing.

So for those of you struggling, graduate or not, don’t lose hope. Expand your horizons, know the industry, make contacts and never cease applying – that job is just around the corner.

YA Lit Con – The UK’s first YA convention!

Image

YA Lit Con is coming!

This has been an exciting week for UK YA fans – the first UK Young Adult Literature Convention, hosted by Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman and London Film and Comic Con, will be happening this summer.

Even more exciting? The initial list of attending authors have been announced! The full list of names announced so far:

  • Malorie Blackman
  • James Dawson
  • Matt Haig
  • Derek Landy
  • Sophie McKenzie
  • Patrick Ness
  • Natasha Ngan
  • Darren Shan
  • Ruth Warburton

Already there are some huge UK authors announced; I’m extremely excited to see who else will be attending this summer! Here is some more information on the convention that will be occurring at Earl’s Court, London on Saturday 12 and Sunday 13 July 2014:

 YALC will bring together all the UK’s YA publishers to provide a host of author events in a dedicated Book Zone, with talks, workshops, signings, a book sales area and publisher stands promoting new and upcoming titles. Blackman will act as a curator for the two-day convention, uniting authors and publishers throughout the UK community.

I’m sure more news regarding authors and buying tickets will be announced soon, but keep up to date on YALC by checking the Children’s Laureate website and also the official Twitter account for the convention: @yalc_uk

I’m genuinely so thrilled that the UK is recognising the nation’s love for YA and the power it holds over the publishing industry – I can’t wait to attend!

Will you be attending?

 

Book Review: Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi

Image

Just how beautiful is this cover?!

Ignite Me (Shatter Me #3) by Tahereh Mafi
Published February 4th 2014
HarperCollins
5/5 STARS

*REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS – READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!*

Juliette now knows she may be the only one who can stop the Reestablishment. But to take them down, she’ll need the help of the one person she never thought she could trust: Warner. And as they work together, Juliette will discover that everything she thought she knew – about Warner, her abilities, and even Adam – was wrong.

Well. Tahereh Mafi, you’ve done it again. Am I really surprised that I’m so blown away? Not at all. It was immediately after reading Shatter Me, the first book in the series, that I felt that familiar feeling – a certain rush that you get when you know that you’re falling in love with a book series. After reading Unravel Me, the sequel, it had become obvious that this beautiful series had a top place in my favourites. I posted a rather gushing review of Unravel Me on my YouTube channel; so many exciting and incredible things happened in that book that, honestly, I was terrified to begin reading the third and final book, Ignite Me.

When a book series comes to an end, it can either go two ways – either the author will deliver an ending so brilliant, unique or satisfying that you can’t help but feel a happy, yet bittersweet, resolution, or it can go the other way. Though I’ve only experienced it a couple of times (the Delirium series springs freshly to mind!), an author can deliver an ending so brutal or so anti-climactic that the love you once held for the series begins to fade. This was my main concern for Ignite Me, and I’m so thankful to say that my concerns were squashed by Mafi’s brilliant craftsmanship.

The story begins straight after the shocking events in Unravel Me. Juliette has been shot, Warner saves her and Juliette wakes to find herself in Warner’s room, back at the base of the Reestablishment. The action really does begin from the first page; not even a chapter has gone by when we learn, in a truly shocking revelation from Warner, that Omega Point has been destroyed and everyone is thought to be dead. Now, thinking back, this was a very clever trick that Tahereh Mafi plays; she destroys all hope from the offset, breaking Juliette (and us readers!) down before building the blocks back up again. The rebellion may have lost the battle – but the war is still ongoing.

What we get from this is brilliant, excellently crafted character development. Juliette – who in the past two books had been a weak, scared, insecure and passive character – transforms completely. This, out of any other part of Ignite Me, was the main pleasure to read, for me. Watching Juliette become this fearless, ass-kicking heroine was by far the greatest part of this entire series.

Juliette means business in this book, and what is great is that her journey from vulnerability to capability mirrors the downfall of the Reestablishment. The moment that Juliette – single-handedly – shoots Anderson and announces herself leader is the moment where Juliette completes her transformation.

I loved Juliette in this book, which is surprising considering how she was one of the only things I didn’t like about Unravel Me! However, the highlight of this book series, for me, is Warner. Aaron Warner, you beautiful, annoyingly fictional character. Mafi manages to turn this screwed-up, flawed semi-psychopath into one of my favourite book characters. Warner is opened up in Ignite Me – with Juliette, he transforms also, helping her with every step in order to bring down his father. We learn the despairingly sad truth about his mother and we see Warner finally learn that Adam and James are his brothers. His dedication and love for Juliette is honestly a joy to read; I love their relationship! His love for Juliette is transformative and so is her love for him – they strengthen each other, bringing about their true selves. I’ll stop crying over these two now, they’ve already turned me into an emotional wreck.

On to the other characters, mainly Adam and Kenji. Adam went pretty crazy in this book and didn’t really have a role at all. I do feel bad for readers who loved Adam and Juliette together, as Mafi makes it 100% clear that he is not what Juliette wants at all. However, thinking back, beyond the break up with Juliette and the subsequent outbursts that he had during the book, Adam pretty much retreated into the background – he is not one of the central figures determined to bring down the Reestablishment. As a Warner fan, I didn’t complain whilst reading, but now I realise that this was maybe a flaw; Adam was such an important and central character in the previous two books that it was surprising that he had no position in this book at all. Kenji, as always, was a true highlight for me. As Juliette’s best friend, he made me smile ridiculous amounts and I’m honestly SO PLEASED that he didn’t die – that was a close one, though, Tahereh Mafi!

Now, it only feels right to talk about the ending – the part I was most dreading. I was however, shocked – it was honestly too good to be true. It was a happy ending. Yes – I know, a completely happy ending in a YA dystopian? But, it was! Anderson’s death, we can assume, ends the horrific repression of the Reestablishment and – again, we assume – Juliette’s ascension into leadership will slowly repair the damaged world around them. However, though my poor attached heart was relieved that no one died – at all – and that Warner and Juliette were together, changing society for the better, I was slightly disappointed. The ending was extremely brief – the entire book concluded in about fifty pages. I had a moment towards the end when I panicked as I realised that this book was barely concluding itself despite having so little pages left. I would have honestly appreciated an Epilogue, something that would have maybe jumped forward in time to fill us in on what happens after Anderson’s death. I realise that the government and broken society was not the focus of the series at all, which is perhaps why Mafi decided not to focus on it. It was, in fact, Juliette’s journey that was the main focus of the story, and in those terms, the story ended beautifully.

I loved this book – as you can probably tell. My Warner/Juliette loving heart was extremely happy; this was truly a brilliant conclusion to one of my favourite series. Thank you, Tahereh Mafi, for your brilliant words and for bringing this excellent story to life.

Guilty Pleasures? Not so guilty.

It doesn’t take a genius to decipher that I like reading. You merely need to glance at the book propped in my hands and at my glazed, barely-there look and it’s pretty obvious. People, however, are naturally curious – they see a book in your hands, they see that you most definitely are somewhere else entirely, a world of words – and they want to know one thing.

What are you reading?

Cue, judgement. There is, undoubtedly, a snobbish element to reading. After studying English Literature for three years at university, I am all too familiar with ‘high-brow’ literature; literature that has a value, worthy enough to be studied by eager yet sleep-deprived students. There is canonical literature – classic novels, epic poetry, elegant dramas – and then, at the other side of that spectrum, there is, essentially, ‘trash’.

As a huge fan of the Young Adult genre but also an avid classical reader, I’m faced with a level of criticism. I have studied Shakespeare, Milton, Keats, Dickens, Woolf – the list can go on – yet how can I read books that are aimed at teens? Books that rely on overwhelming hormones, angst, and forbidden, predictable love?

I tell them: I enjoy it. I love this genre. They assume it’s my guilty pleasure.

They couldn’t be more wrong. The term guilty pleasure suggests that there is guilt associated with enjoyment. For me, as a YA reader, there is no shame. There is something undisputedly amazing about this genre, unlike any other genre I read. It manages to encapsulate the full spectrum of human emotion, but instead of presenting it in this serious, adult way, it injects humour and lightness. Yes, I admit to reading books about teen romance, clichéd and heart-wrenching, but ultimately real. I’ve been taken to other worlds with fantastical lands and chilling, dystopian governments. I’ve read books where I’ve hated the main character and loved them – yet the one thing I’ve never been able to do is to stop reading. YA is a genre that will hook you, line and sinker, from the very first word, pulling you in page by page.

I’m not saying that this doesn’t happen with other genres – of course it does. However, there is something liberating about YA, this unrestricted genre that can be read and enjoyed by anyone, of any age.

I’ve watched this genre grow from something to be dismissed, to a genre that has astounding power on the publishing and film industries respectively. You remember that young adult series called The Hunger Games? That incredible book that has produced – so far – two incredible films that have destroyed every other competitor at the box office? I thought so. How about a book – and now a series of films – called The Hobbit? Yes, The Hobbit is a YA book – a children’s book, essentially. One can’t deny Tolkein’s excellence, but there are still some who insist on reducing YA to ‘trash’ even despite this famous addition to the genre.

2014 is the year of YA. With so many film adaptions hitting the big screen this year, you can’t deny it. Vampire Academy, Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars, The Maze Runner, Mockingjay Part 1. Young Adult is without a doubt taking over popular culture, and I will be begging any person who goes to see these films to read the books.

Let’s get rid of the snobbery here, let’s remove the guilt from guilty pleasure reading. Reading is reading – it’s that simple.