Monday, 27 February 2017

On the Other Side by Carrie Hope Fletcher

Note: There will be a few spoilers in this review. Not major ones, I don't think, but it's hard to explain my thoughts properly without them (but you can skip over those and get my general opinion of the book without the specifics -- the spoilers are in between the "Timelessness" header and stop after the "END OF NEGATIVES" one).

On the Other Side
by Carrie Hope Fletcher

Summary: Evie Snow is eighty-two when she quietly passes away in her sleep, surrounded by her children and grandchildren. It's the way most people wish to leave the world but when Evie reaches the door of her own private heaven, she finds that she's become her twenty-seven-year-old self and the door won't open.

Evie's soul must be light enough to pass through so she needs to get rid of whatever is making her soul heavy. For Evie, this means unburdening herself of the three secrets that have weighed her down for over fifty years, so she must find a way to reveal them before it's too late. As Evie begins the journey of a lifetime, she learns more about life and love than she ever thought possible, and somehow , some way, she may also find her way back to her long lost love . . .
I am very conflicted about this book. It's one of those marmite books that people will either love or hate depending on their tolerance for sweetness in a story -- some love it, some will find it sweet to the point of being sickly. I think I fall somewhere in the middle, and I read the book on a good day so it worked for me.

Overall, I would say I liked it and I really enjoyed reading it (or rather, listening to it)...but I had some issues too (surprisingly not with it being sweet and twee to a fault).

I actually started reading the book last year and just could not get into it, then I had the chance to review the audiobook so I decided to give it another go. I don't know if it was the timing of it, or the change of format, but I actually really enjoyed listening to the book. The narration is excellent and I highly recommend the audible version.

Now...onto the issues (and I want to make it clear that, in spite of these issues, I don't think it was a bad book--and I'll get to the positives after the negatives are out the way--these were just the things that prevented me from loving it). I'll break this down into sections:


First of all, the time period of the book. Carrie has said that she didn't set it in a specific time period because she wanted Evie to be timeless, for people to relate to her story even years from now... The problem is, that didn't quite work.

The conflict of the story, the catalyst that sets everything else in motion, is a very dated issue and it's one that does not work in a contemporary setting and is way harder to relate to now. The gist of it:
Evie's mother doesn't want Evie to get a job as an artist (or any job at all, she's to be a wealthy stay at home wife and mother). She wants to arrange her marriage to a rich family friend whom she knows Evie doesn't love. And Evie eventually caves to this pressure...because her brother is gay and she wants to marry a rich guy so she can support him financially because she assumes their parents cut him out of their lives when he comes out (more on that ridiculousness soon).
If the story were set maybe 50-60+ years ago, an adult woman allowing her rich mother to dictate her life the way she does in the story would be believable and understandable and easy to sympathise with. Even the gay element would make sense because back then being an openly gay man was a criminal offence, and their rich parents would have had the power to have her brother sent to a psychiatric hospital to undergo awful "treatments" for being gay.

But that plot line does not work in a modern day setting. Evie and her brother could very easily move out and find jobs (she didn't even for one second consider compromising temporarily on her dream of being an artist and just getting a regular job to pay the bills). It might not be the comfortable lifestyle they're used to, but they would've been happy and free to live the lives they wanted.

A timeless story does not mean a story that isn't anchored to a certain point in time. There are books written or set hundreds of years ago that are timeless...not because the time period was left vague, but because at the heart of the stories are emotions and moral conflicts that are part of being human. They're timeless because in spite of all the differences between Then and Now, people still connect to the humanity in the stories. Deliberate removal of time period doesn't make a story timeless.

By refusing to choose a definitive time period for the story, it vastly altered the way the characters and their motivations and circumstances are interpreted.

Basically, I get what she was aiming for with the timelessness, but the execution of it doesn't quite work. The whole conflict in the story was really, really contrived and weak.

Her Brother

Now...the next issue. I really, really, really didn't like the weird straight saviour thing it had going on. Like I said above, it was so contrived and didn't sit well with me at all (but perhaps I'm just being over sensitive).

Evie gives up the man she loves because her brother is gay, and we're supposed to view it as this big noble sacrifice but it was just...eugh. She doesn't even give him a say in the matter, she just decides that because he's gay she has to support him financially which is so obliviously condescending. It didn't make sense and it really bothered me.

Had it been set in a time when someone could be locked up (in prison or in an institution) for being gay then that would've made sense. Then, her need to "protect" her brother would've been totally valid because she would have something she was actually trying to protect him from other than...well, not being rich anymore (and even that was just something she assumed would happen, not something certain).

Again, it just felt really condescending that she thought he wasn't capable of taking care of himself without her "sacrifice" -- he was a 20 year old man. He needed her love and her support, he did not need her to be his straight white night swooping in to save the day by sacrificing her own happiness so he could continue remain wealthy when he came out.

The implication that, had she not made her big sacrifice, he would've ended up on the streets or had to remain in the closet, unhappily marry a woman and live a miserable lie was just ridiculous. His safety wasn't in question, he would not have ended up on the streets if he came out. There was no reason, beyond financial gain, for her to do what she did to "protect" him.

Basically, him being gay was just used as a plot device in her story and I hated that. Vincent was a character who just happened to be bisexual, while Eddie was a Gay Character -- and a Gay Character whose whole story revolves around his gayness...and worse, it wasn't even about him, it was just used to create conflict in Evie's story.

So...That bugged me. A lot. It's not even that it was outright offensive representation, just kind of ignorant, but it bothered me a lot (even more so after reading the novella and having her "selflessness" perpetuated even further).


Beyond those things, there was a lot I really liked about the story.

The characters were sweet and easy to care about, and I absolutely loved that Jim's character was just a genuinely good guy who got along with Vincent because I hate when characters are vilified for no other reason than they're seen as competition to the love interest (or main character) of the story -- life, and people, are more complex than that and I like that the story showed those complexities.

I loved that LGBTQ+ characters were included, especially the fact that the love interest of the story was a bisexual guy which doesn't happen often in fiction (although the gay representation was kind of problematic, as mentioned above).

And the magical realism...for the most part, I loved it (some bits were a little unoriginal, like there's a scene that is really similar to a thing that happens in Once Upon a Time). It's not the type I'd usually read -- most magical realism I've read (and adored) has been thoroughly set in our world, just with magical elements casually woven into it... This one, it felt like it kind of straddled the line between fantasy and magical realism, but I liked it.

Overall, the book is really cute. I'd rate it 3.5 stars out of 5 (if I'm rating the audiobook specifically, I'd rate it 4 stars out of 5 purely for how much I enjoyed the performance -- I'd definitely listen to any audiobooks Carrie narrates in future). I do look forward to seeing more of Carrie's books in future, in spite of the issues I had with this one.


Friday, 24 February 2017

Buffering by Hannah Hart

by Hannah Hart

Summary: The wildly popular YouTube personality and author of the New York Times bestseller My Drunk Kitchen is back! This time, she’s stirring up memories and tales from her past.

By combing through the journals that Hannah has kept for much of her life, this collection of narrative essays deliver a fuller picture of her life, her experiences, and the things she’s figured out about family, faith, love, sexuality, self-worth, friendship and fame.

Revealing what makes Hannah tick, this sometimes cringe-worthy, poignant collection of stories is sure to deliver plenty of Hannah’s wit and wisdom, and hopefully encourage you to try your hand at her patented brand of reckless optimism.
So... I loved this book way more than I thought I was going to. Not that I expected it to be bad, I didn't, but I'm not a major follower of Hannah's online. I watch some of her videos (and saw Camp Takota) but I don't follow religiously so I wasn't sure how interested I would be listening to her life story (and I guess I had a bit of an unfair preconceived opinion of "Youtube Books" -- which was one of the reasons I wanted to try one really).

Basically, I just got this one on a whim and I'm really glad I did.

She is an excellent storyteller -- both her writing and her narration (I listened to it on audio, which I highly recommend). And it wasn't anything like I thought it would be. Given that she's a Youtuber and a lesbian, I figured those would be the biggest aspects of the book, but they weren't.

I mean, they played a part (and were really interesting to hear about), but most of the story was about her life growing up and it provides good insight into what it's like to grow up with a parent who has a mental illness and the impact it can have on a child and the adult they become.

The book was ultimately more about family than anything else, and it really drives home the message that you can never really know what someone else is going through or what they've gone through.

Even if you're not familiar with Hannah Harts online presence, I still highly recommend this book. I'd rate it 5 stars out of 5.


Thursday, 23 February 2017

Let's Talk: Awesome Women in Non-Fiction

I seem to have this new obsession with reading/listening to non-fiction books by/about awesome women.

With the memoirs... It's so easy to measure yourself against the glittering, photoshopped, edited versions of celebrities and feel inadequate. But they're just people. Their anxieties and insecurities and struggles are just like ours. They have issues with mental illness and body image and self doubt, just like us. And they manage to be great in spite of those, so we can be too.

And with the biographies/historical non-fic... it's inspiring to read about the extraordinary lives so many women have lived, to read about the things they've endured and extraordinary things they've done and see the spaces they've carved out for themselves in history. To see all the ways things have changed for women...and the ways that they haven't.

And that's my rambling introduction to the list of biographies/memoirs of awesome women that are in my TBR (or on my wishlist). The ones in italics are the ones I've already read:

Yes Please by Amy Poehler
Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick
The Princess Diarist, Shockaholic, and Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher
Buffering by Hannah Hart
If This is a Woman: Inside Ravensbruk by Sarah Helm (currently reading)
You Can't Touch My Hair by Jessica Williams
Bloom by Estee Lalonde
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson
Forever Liesl by Charmian Carr
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
You're Never Weird on the Internet by Felicia Day
In the Country We Love: by Diane Guerrero
Unsinkable by Debbie Reynolds
Debbie: My Life by Debbie Reynolds
Nujeen by Nujeen Mustafa
Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan by Shrabani Basu
Spectacles by Sue Perkins
Seriously...I'm Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres
Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham
Unfilered by Lily Collins
Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth
The Places at the End of the World, Ghosts by Daylight Janine di Giovanni

Basically, women are fabulous and we can learn a lot from the ones who lived and grew before us, both  ourselves and about things outwith our realm of experience (e.g. I'm a white woman, I've never had to deal with the racism women of colour face but that doesn't mean I should be ignorant to it).

If you have any recommendations of other books that should be on my radar, let me know? (Especially if you have any recs of non-fiction books by transwomen because they're vastly underrepresented in my tbr).


p.s. anyone else notice a bit of a theme going on with the covers of memoirs?


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