New York Public Library Summer Reading Challenge

Many libraries run children’s challenges to get kids reading over their summer holidays, but New York Public Library have gone one step further and made a summer reading challenge for us adults too!

Adults can need the push to read just as much, or sometimes even more so, than kids. And more importantly adults can learn something from these challenges too, which is exactly what the NYPL’s is about, with their theme ‘Build a better world’.

The last year or so has been scary, we’ve seen the rise of far right-wing groups become mainstream and normalised and politics has taken a swing towards conservatism and nationalism. There have been riots and protests, there have been a series of terrorist attacks and there has been a rise of intolerance in the wake of Trump’s election and Brexit.

So ‘building a better world’ is an important idea and the NYPL captures this with the three strands of the challenge. Check these out below with what I’ll be reading for the challenge this summer.


New York Public Library Reading Challenge: Build a Better World

Read a book …

About immigrants or refugees: Do Not Say We Have Nothing

Madeleine Thien - Do Not Say We Have NothingAi-Ming is a refugee, fleeing China after the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. The book explains not only her story but the epic history of China’s revolutions. While the book deals with the horrors of a communist uprising, revolution and rule – it illustrates the dangers of any kind of extremist movement, something we need to keep in mind especially in 2017.

About an unlikely friendship: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
Theboyinthestripedpyjamas

A Jewish boy in a conentration camp is befriended by the son of a Nazi Commandant. The boys are too young and innocent to understand the divide between them. Obviously the Holocaust itself is a testament to the horrors that hate can cause, however this book is poignant reminder of just how terrible the effects can be, but also a heartwarming glimmer of light that humanity can still be good, and we can learn a lesson from these children.

That’s nonfiction, about an issue that’s important to you: Nasty Women33022718._UY2339_SS2339_

When Donald Trump called Hillary Clinton a ‘nasty woman’ he had no idea what he was starting. The words have become a hashtag, a global movement and a call to arms for feminists everywhere. This book collects essays on the issues that affect women today, with different perspectives covering a huge range of intersectional issues.

What are you going to be reading for the Summer Reading Challenge? Let me know in the comments!

Review: Fever Dream

mbi2017-logo Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin (Argentina), and translated by Megan McDowell (US), is a Man Booker International Prize 2017 nominee.

4-stars

Fever Dream is more like a novella than a novel, but for its brief 151 pages it still packs a punch. The writing style is experimental and intriguing and it deals with some pretty big themes.

The novel opens with a women in the Emergency Room talking to a child although this is not immediately clear – the conversation allows their identities and the events that led to this moment. The style is unique, with the ‘child’s’ voice in italics, giving it an ethereal quality – making us question whether it is real.

It is difficult to review without giving away key details that make the novel so important, so here is as few spoilers as possible in looking at what the novel is about. The woman has taken her young daughter on holiday to a rental home where she meets Carla whose son was poisoned. This poisoning sets up a theme of environmental damage and also that of caring for children.

Schweblin evokes exactly the feeling that the title gives – like a feverish dream. The atmosphere is oppressive, with the interview-esque conversation being directed and redirected over small details. The nature of the conversation itself is a dream-like and as readers we constantly question the reality of it – is it a dream, can it really be occuring? Paired with the magical realism so popular in Latin American literature which the book employs, this truly makes the book feel illusive.

The book is uncomfortable and really makes you think and question about what you would do, or would be able to do in a similar situation. My only issue with the book was that it was so brief, I feel like perhaps it could have been fleshed out a little more to add dimension to the story. But it is also possible that the style would have been difficult to sustain over a longer book.

I very much enjoyed this book and I think it could be a real contender for the Man Booker International Prize.


I am reading Fever Dream with Book and Brew as one of the official Reading Groups for Everyone shadowing groups.

Review: Flesh and Bone and Water

3 stars

It is hard to describe the plot of this book without spoilers. The story is told from Andre’s perspective, as an adult, looking back on the events which occurred during the year of his 18th birthday and which completely changed his life, taking him from his home in Rio, to permanently living in London.

By about a third of the way through you begin to develop suspicions of what may have happened to Andre and Luana. Sauma does a good job of toying with the readers expectations and it was entertaining. However, I couldn’t help but feel it fell a bit flat. The eventual revelation is momentous and despite the short length of the book, there is a huge build up to it, however the amount of time exploring the issue itself is so short and is focused far more on continuation of the plot than exploring what it means for those involved.

I loved how the novel was immersed in Brazil and Brazilian culture and the prose was beautiful and really evoked the mood. Unfortunately, I struggled with Andre as a character; he was difficult to relate to and once the primary plot twist become obvious, I felt it lacked anything deeper and more compelling. The strands of the story came together well, however I would have loved it to explore issues like what happened to Andre’s mother, or Luana’s own situation more. I wonder if perhaps chapters from Luana’s perspective might have been more interesting in these respects. I think it was simply because the novel was so short that it didn’t quite reach my expectations.

It was definitely readable and I would be keen to try more from Sauma. I did enjoy her style and thought her plot was very interesting, unfortunately it just didn’t blow me away.


I received this book as an advanced reader copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review; all opinions are my own. 

Review: Stay With Me

baileys-logo5 stars

Stay With Me tells the emotional story of the pressures society places upon women around motherhood and one woman’s desperate struggle to find her identity when all she wants to be is a mother.

Yejide desperately wants a baby, however her and her husband Akin are yet to conceive. Facing the pressures of Nigerian culture which values motherhood and offspring highly, the couple are forced to accept the polygamy which Yejide’s mother-in-law forces them into. Yejide is desperate to conceive, delving into superstition as she begins to clutch at staws.  Either due to unfortunate coincidence or the pressure placed upon her, Yejide develops from a ghost pregnancy, threatening to break her marriage apart.

What ensues is a tale of betrayal, deception, scandal and loss much darker than you would have ever expected. The novel is told from the perspectives of both Yejide and Akin as they fight to form a family and then literally fight to keep their family alive. It is also set against a backdrop of political unrest, which mirrors the tense atmosphere of the novel, up until the parallel climax  of both the context and storyline. Alongside its use as a literary device this also serves to ground the novel in a real sense of time and place.

The story is difficult and heart-wrenching. Seeing both perspectives complicates where your sympathies lie and all of the characters are at fault. Notably Yejide is not always sympathetic and likeable – but this was a good decision, as it made her far more real and relatable, as she struggles to come to terms with her identity and relationship to motherhood in a culture which places mothers on a pedestal and shuns women who cannot meet this standard.

The book was compelling and exquisitely written, making it emotive, frustrating and ultimately heart-breaking. If this is Ayobami Adebayo’s debut, then surely there can only be better to come from such an exciting new author.


I received this book as an advanced reader copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review; all opinions are my own. 

Image from Amazon. 

Review: Three Daughters of Eve

5 stars

The last thing I was expecting from a novel with a blurb introducing a Turkish housewife at a party, was a campus scandal plot worthy of The Secret History.

The novel has multiple narrative strands – almost all focalised around Peri, a bright Turkish woman, at three different points through out her life, as a young girl, as a student at Oxford, and finally as a woman with daughters of her own. Peri constantly battles with her religion, her identity and most crucially to the story, God.

Her parents are both foils and facilitators for the opposing views which tear her apart. If she thought she could escape this at Oxford, she was wrong – the two friends which the reclusive Peri makes serve to replicate this. More importantly however, is Peri’s involvement in the seminars of a Professor Azur – an exclusive club for which she is handpicked, centring on the exploration of ‘God’.

A conflicted Peri takes the opportunity to search for answers, at great costs. We see the incongruity between the different versions of Peri at 18, and in her 30s, only being able to piece together what could have changed her slowly as more and more of the narrative is revealed.

Shafak knows exactly how to get you hooked on a plot without over-egging it, her prose was beautiful, and the extent of literary and philosophical references allowed it to be literary and clever, without ever being inaccessible. You didn’t need to know Rumi to understand what was being referred to as it was always subtly laid out, allowing the reader to simply appreciate the beauty of the references. The novel doesn’t force you to think about the issues it deals with – you could very easily skim these and focus on the plot, but if you want to look deeper the debates it explores are fascinating musings on feminism, ethics, philosophy, politics and religion – not to mention how these all intersect.

A wonderful exploration of what it means to be a Muslim woman – this book absolutely captures the idea that identity politics is just not that simple. It was fascinating and wonderful, and a must-read for 2017.


I received this book as an advanced reader copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review; all opinions are my own. 

Image from Penguin Books