Review: The Futures by Anna Pitoniak

The Futures cover

The Futures by Anna Pitoniak (Michael Joseph, 2017)

On the surface, everything about this appealed to me: the beautiful cover, the blurb, the themes. I still love of all of these, and the setting was brilliant, but unfortunately I didn’t find the novel quite as compelling as I’d hoped.

Part of the blurb reminded me of 500 Days of Summer, one of my favourite films:

This is Evan and Julia’s story.

This is a love story.

But no one says it ends happily.

This is a good start as far as I’m concerned. Most of my favourite novels have broken my heart!

Evan and Julia meet at Yale and fall in love. The couple move to New York City after graduating, where Evan has lined up a top job at a hedge fund. However, the financial crisis is beginning, Julia isn’t sure what she wants to do with her life, and as Evan dedicates more and more time to his career, we see the strain it puts on their relationship.

The temporal setting really appealed to me, since I also graduated during the recession. It was the first novel I’d read that dealt with the crisis from the perspective of a new graduate. The author did a great job of capturing the feeling of being completely lost after finishing university – at least for those of us who get to the end of however many years of study without knowing what we’d like to do.

There was a blend of the familiar and the fascinating, because although I could relate to this part of the novel, the world of hedge funds and bankers in New York City is a million miles away from what I know. I found this interesting, despite the detrimental affect on the characters. The series of events – and even the everyday niggles – that upset their relationship are carefully orchestrated by the author, so that we understand how the characters are led to the choices they make.

The main problem was that I didn’t connect with the characters as much as I needed to in order to really feel sorry for them when their relationship started to fall apart. There needed to be more build-up of their relationship during university, more evidence that it had once been good, in order to feel the loss when things went wrong.

Another aspect of the structure that added to the feeling of disconnect was that for the first half of the book, it didn’t feel like there was a main narrative holding the story together. It read like a series of vignettes, rather than interspersing flashbacks and anecdotes to illuminate aspects of the present storyline. I would also have been tempted to delete the prologue entirely: although parts of it are beautifully written, it made me question why they ever move in in the first place.

I am sure that there are fans of character-driven fiction that will enjoy The Futures, but, for me, the pacing meant that it didn’t quite have the emotional impact I had expected.

Thank you to NetGalley and Michael Joseph for the proof in exchange for a review.

Review: The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

I had seen the gorgeous cover for The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon everywhere, but I finally picked it up when Liz from Am I Thirty recommended it on my YA books post. And what a brilliant recommendation it was! (Minor spoilers in the form of some excellent quotes.)

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The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, Corgi Children’s (2016)

Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

Natasha has lived in the USA since she was eight years old, but when her dad is caught driving under the influence, the police find out her family are undocumented immigrants. Despite having few memories of Jamaica, the country of her birth, she is to be deported. On her last day in the country, she meets Daniel.

Daniel is on his way to an interview for Yale, where his parents want him to go and study medicine. With some time to pass before the meeting, he decides to go where the day takes him. He could never have predicted what happens next.

There’s a Japanese phrase that I like: koi no yokan. It doesn’t mean love at first sight. It’s closer to love at second sight. It’s the feeling when you meet someone that you’re going to fall in love with them. Maybe you don’t love them right away, but it’s inevitable that you will.

Natasha and Daniel are, on paper, polar opposites: he is a dreamer and a poet, while she believes in science and facts. He is incredibly earnest, while she is reserved. He doesn’t realise their time is short; she knows these are her last few hours in the city.

Over the course of one day they get to know each other, debating science and faith, following your dreams versus practicality, fate, coincidence, and love. We get to know them too, as the narrative switches viewpoints throughout.

I wonder if she realizes how passionate she is about not being passionate.

Natasha doesn’t say what she suspects. That meant to be doesn’t have to mean forever.

There are also chapters dotted throughout that spotlight minor characters, although, in the grand scheme of things, they aren’t quite so minor after all. These were the sections that really got to me, despite them involving characters we hardly know. That was my favourite part of this book. We can never see the ways in which all of our actions, however tiny, affect the lives of others, and this novel explores how we are all connected.

If you’re a bit cynical (like Natasha, in fact) you might not make it through this book, because it is unashamedly joyful, even in the face of a heartbreaking goodbye. Then again, perhaps it will win you over.

Personally, I adored this novel. I laughed and cried reading this, and that’s a characteristic shared by all of my favourite books. The Sun Is Also a Star is now one of them.

Ten Books for People Who Don’t Read

I already put together a gift guide for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, but then I realised this was my perfect topic.

I am always giving books as gifts, even if the recipients don’t always count themselves as readers. (A sort of book lover’s proselytising.) Many books are beautiful objects, which makes them a gorgeous gift to open, then if people revisit the content at a later date, all the better!

For people who love travel

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You Only Live Once from Lonely Planet

This is a bucket list of both big and small things to try, split into hours, days, weeks, months or years, depending on how long the experiences might take. I bought it for my friend because I wanted it, and this is how I try to get over my book cravings. I still want it though.

You could also try Ultimate Travelist, which is about the best sights in the world.

For people who need to practise a skill

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The No Time to Cook Book by Laura Herring, DK

I was a recipient of The No Time to Cook Book, as cooking has never been a priority of mine. (Actually, I have started to, but there will be a post on this later.) The meals certainly do not all take twenty minutes or less to make, but there are some good meal ideas (particularly lunches) and it talks how to create a good basic store cupboard so you can cook more often.

When it comes to cooking, you have thousands of books to choose from. Lean in 15 by Joe Wicks has been one of the major publishing successes of 2016 – in a year where new Harry Potter books were released, and we are still talking about The Girl on the Train

For other skills, you could also try books for language learning or a For Dummies book.

For those who like colouring (or practising mindfulness) 

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Secret Garden by Johanna Basford, Laurence King

I think the adult colouring trend is dying down now, but for those friends who always enjoyed art, who need a creative outlet, or who just blooming like colouring, why not gift them an intricate colouring book? (Confession: I think some of these books would stress me out rather than relax me, but I have obtained a copy of Johanna Basford’s Secret Garden and might have to test the theory.)

See also: other books by Johanna Basford or Millie Marotta.

For those who don’t like fiction

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An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield, Pan Macmillan

You might know Chris Hadfield without realising – he’s the one who went viral after broadcasting a performance of Space Oddity from the International Space Station. In this book, he talks about his path to becoming an astronaut, his training, his missions to space, and how preparation to leave earth can actually teach you very good lessons about how to live when you’re on it.

I am only just starting to appreciate non-fiction, so can’t offer lots of personal recommendations, but I am looking forward to reading more!

For those who like photography (or animals, or art)

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50 Years of Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Natural History Museum

The National History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year is one of the most famous photography competitions in the world, and has produced several beautiful books. This collection marks the 50th anniversary and shows how nature photography has developed (ha) over the years.

For those who like sports

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Watching the Wheels by Damon Hill, Pan Macmillan

There are so many autobiographies out there that you will likely find something by one of their favourite sports stars, or even a famous commentator, that they might find interesting. With Formula 1, for example, there are hundreds of titles to choose from: autobiographies from Murray Walker or Mark Webber, or books about Senna or James Hunt. Just from following his brilliant Twitter account, I can’t wait to read Damon Hill’s Watching the Wheels.

Google: any sport/sports star + book!

For anybody, really

Ladybird Books for Grown Ups from Penguin

In the same format as the old Ladybird books, this is few enough pages for even the most reluctant readers. Using the old illustrations and images alongside text re-written for adults, these brilliant humour books completely took off last Christmas. All publishers are jumping on the bandwagon of course, so you can also find titles like Five on Brexit Island, bringing Enid Blyton’s Famous Five into adulthood.

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Letters of Note by Shaun Usher, Canongate

I’m not trying to trick people into reading, but the ‘commitment’ required to read a book will often put people off, when they’ll accidentally read thousands of words on Buzzfeed. Letters of Note contains over a hundred letters from people like Elvis, Charles Dickens, the Queen, Einstein, Mick Jagger and many more, which will inspire and entertain.

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Humans of New York Stories by Brandon Stanton, Pan Macmillan

We all know the Facebook page, and I think it was just the most brilliant idea. It is the only time when reading the comments on an Internet article that I don’t despair about the human race. Even people who don’t like reading probably like HONY. The stories are short, often bittersweet, illuminating and often beautiful.

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Scrapbook by Paperchase

Now for different types of books altogether: why not buy a scrapbook for your craft-loving friends, a photo album for budding photographers or even just a list book for your friend’s desk or handbag?

Ten Books for the YA Reader in Your Life

For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, I’m picking out ten of my favourite young adult titles or series that I would gift to fellow YA readers. (Of course, if they’re anything like me, they will have read most of these already.)

You can argue over how to categorise this, as some would count Harry Potter and To Kill a Mockingbird, in which case I’d definitely recommend those. For me, though, these were the titles that came to mind:

Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas

This series is one of my favourite bookish finds this year. Scrap that, it’s one of my favourite series ever. I had seen it talked about loads on Twitter, but I judged it by its covers as too young for me. I’m so glad I finally picked it up, because it is compelling, funny and the protagonist, Celaena, is easily one of my new favourite fictional characters. The storyline has progressed in ways I never saw coming, and in some ways I don’t like, but I still cannot wait for the sixth and final title next year.

Am I Normal Yet? and sequels by Holly Bourne

The Spinster Club trilogy was another of my favourites this year. These are brilliant young adult books – dealing with big issues like mental health, love and feminism in a completely accessible way. The trilogy is about a group of three friends, and each book focuses on a different one and a specific ‘big’ issue that they are facing. The voices are all slightly different, but all completely credible. These three remind me of my own friends.

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

This is a must-read. I read it at least ten years ago now and it’s remained one of my favourite novels, even though it completely broke my heart. Callum, a pale-skinned nought, is friends with Sephy, a dark-skinned Cross. Life is going to start taking them in different directions, because Crosses are superior to noughts, and society says they should not be friends – or more.

Delirium trilogy by Lauren Oliver

In this dystopia, love is considered a disease, and it is cured with a brain surgery aged 18. Lena is looking forward to the cure, hoping that it will erase the memories of her mother – until she falls in love a few weeks before her 18th birthday.

Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth

In this dystopian society, everyone is separated into one of five factions as they leave school. Tris discovers she is well suited to three, which makes her Divergent – and dangerous. There are people in power who want to make sure that everybody conforms. I really enjoyed the first two, and while I wasn’t as big a fan of the third, I liked where the story went.

Queen of the Tearling trilogy by Erika Johansen

I am so excited for the final book’s release! This will be next week’s reading material. This fantasy/dystopia is about a young queen-in-training who has to take up her responsibilities in a broken kingdom. There are some brilliant characters and a somewhat mysterious plot. I’m still not sure where it’s going yet.

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Again, the lines between dystopia and fantasy blur in a world set hundreds of years after the human race has all but destroyed itself. Of those who survived, some have developed supernatural abilities and silver blood (Silvers), which leads them into a position of power over ordinary mortals (Reds). However, the power is about to shift once more. This is the first in a trilogy; the second, Glass Sword, is also available.

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

I was really pleased when Zoella picked this title for her book club because more people should read it! Amanda is the new girl in school, with a secret – at her last school, she was called Andrew. I found it a good insight into some of the issues transgender teens can face, and a great coming-of-age story.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I felt the pressure to include something by John Green in this list! There are some beautiful quotations in this book about two teenagers living with cancer.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

I read this a while ago but found it very moving at the time. A teenager with everything going for her – a great family, friends, boyfriend, a future at a top music school – is involved in a car accident. Stuck in limbo, she revisits some of her memories, knowing that if she ‘stays’ her life will be very different.

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Have you read any of these? Most importantly, do you have more recommendations for me?

Ten Books I Read Because of Twitter

Top Ten Tuesday is a feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

My top place for book recommendations is Twitter; I have discovered some of my favourite books through the tweets of other book bloggers, readers, authors, agents and publishers. Working in publishing, I have a slightly better idea of upcoming or current titles than I used to, but when deciding what I would actually like to read it is the number of mentions on Twitter that tends to influence what I choose.

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  1. The Humans by Matt Haig

I adore this book. I list it in almost every Top Ten Tuesday I write. It is hilarious and full of heart, and I raced to buy it when I read the quotations Canongate was tweeting!

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  1. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

You could almost ditto what I just wrote, except it was a blog post by Joanna Cannon that mentioned the book that led me to read it.

  1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I was living abroad when Twitter went crazy for this book – so much so that I asked my mum to bring a copy with her when she visited me, so I could see what all the fuss was about. There are some beautiful quotes in this novel.

  1. Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

I saw the Twitter hype for almost every book in this series, but never thought much of it because the covers made it look too young. (I generally hate illustrations or photos of people facing outwards on front covers.) Nevertheless, it stayed in my mind, and when I was stuck for something to read, I thought a little YA fantasy never goes amiss. And it’s one of the best series I’ve ever read!

Robin Hobb books

  1. The Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

My auntie had been recommending these books for the longest time, but it was during a Twitter chat when I realised that Robin Hobb was a female author, not a male protagonist! Of course, the main character of this book and the subsequent trilogy is a boy, but nevertheless this realisation increased my interest and I finally picked up one of these fantastic books. I should have listened to my auntie years ago!

The Rest of Us Just Live Here

  1. The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

I followed Patrick Ness on Twitter long before I’d ever read one of his books, but when I saw he was doing an event for this at Waterstones Piccadilly I went along – can’t resist a signed book! – and read this not long after. Which led to me reading More Than This, and wanting to read his other books too.

  1. Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne

Holly Bourne is so popular on Twitter that I’d seen talk about The Manifesto on How to Be Interesting a couple of years ago, but only picked up one of her titles this year. (Well, three now!) Am I Normal Yet? was mentioned in a few Twitter chats because of it dealing with mental health issues, specifically OCD, and I thought this would be the one to try. I’ve now read the whole Spinster Club trilogy because these girls are witty and wonderful and remind me of my friends.

  1. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

I think it was a LoveReading tweet where I first heard about this title, and knew immediately I wanted to read it. ‘Old man protagonist? I will probably like this.’ And I did!

  1. Goodhouse by Peyton Marshall

I won this in a Twitter competition and was very pleased – I love dystopian novels. Goodhouse is set in a near future where people are genetically profiled in an attempt to prevent crime before it occurs. The protagonist is one of many young men sent to prison-like schools without having done anything wrong. Definitely worth a read!

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  1. A Hundred Pieces of Me by Lucy Dillon

I also won this book on Twitter, and couldn’t wait to read it because of the suggestion that, following a heartbreak, the character was going to pick one hundred of her possessions to keep and get rid of everything else. This concept sort of falls away, but it was a lovely book. (I reviewed it here.)

Ten books I would buy this second if someone handed me a fully loaded gift card

Top Ten Tuesday is a feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

After a rather expensive weekend, the idea of someone handing me a gift card with a ton of money on it is lovely! These are ten of the books that I would buy right away.

Assassin's Apprentice 20th anniversary edition

Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb (HarperCollins)

I spotted this 20th anniversary edition of Assassin’s Apprentice on Waterstones a while ago, and it was the first thing I added to my wish list. I adored this trilogy, so such a stunning edition of the first book would be an incredible addition to my bookshelves. (Even if I never actually read this edition, look how gorgeous it is!) Many of you will know I’m also a sucker for a signed copy, so that’s an added bonus with this already beautiful book. (I would buy all the Robin Hobb books if this was the most generous gift card ever.)

Yet another Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling (Bloomsbury)

Speaking of fancy books, two of the most expensive I have ever bought were gift editions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. (‘Gift’ editions – gifts for myself, that is.) It would be tempting to add a clothbound or in-a-slipcase Deathly Hallows to my collection of special edition Harry Potters.

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Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne (Egmont)

And one more gift edition! My favourite bear.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

I loved the Throne of Glass series, and would like to read this one, but I can’t spend any more on books for a few weeks! (She says now.)

Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

Lauren Oliver is one of my favourite authors, so if she has a new book out I need to read it. (Except Rooms – I was too scared to read that.)

One by Sarah Crossan

The format (a series of poems) and the subject (conjoined twins) are interesting and unusual, plus it won the Carnegie Medal, so I’d like to try it.

The Place That Didn’t Exist by Mark Watson

It’s been mentioned on Twitter a fair few times, and that is where I get the majority of my book recommendations.

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

­I’m not sure if this might be too literary for my tastes, but I like science fiction and this sounds good!

We Were Liars by E Lockhart

This makes me think of Pretty Little Liars, my new Netflix favourite.

After You by Jojo Moyes

I have been meaning to pick this up for ten months now, so maybe this way I would finally get around to it!

Ten things books have made me want to do or learn about after reading them

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly book feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Ten things books have made me want to do or learn about after reading them

  1. Magic. I started reading the Harry Potter books when I was eleven, and I secretly hoped I’d get a letter from Hogwarts that year. Realistically I was a little too old to truly dream of an owl turning up, but wouldn’t that have been the best day?! Reading fantasy novels, I get jealous of characters’ supernatural abilities, including mind-reading and teleportation (lazy-girl magic).
  1. Get fit. This sounds like the more realistic of the options so far, but I probably have more chance of pulling a rabbit out of a hat than ever being as strong as Tris from Divergent or Celaena from the Throne of Glass series. I know some people hate the word ‘strong’ to describe female characters as there is the idea that this is metaphorical. With these two, they can run miles, scale buildings, and just generally kick ass. When I say I admire their strength, I mean it literally!
  1. Have an adventure. I read all the Famous Five books when I was younger, and I lived vicariously through them. Why wasn’t I out unearthing mysteries and saving the day?
  1. Get a dog. Whether it was Timmy, or any of the hundred and one Dalmatians (I read the books as well as adoring the Disney films), I always wanted a dog.
  1. Mythology. When studying literature there are so often references to Greek and Roman mythology, and I always wished I knew more to understand them. A couple of years ago this was one of my goals. I borrowed a Greek Myths children’s book from the library, read it, but didn’t manage to commit massive amounts to memory. I’ll try again soon!
  1. Go to an American high school. Now I realise that my school experience was far less stressful than those I saw on TV or read about in books, in a good way. However, when I was ten, the life of the Sweet Valley twins seemed so unbelievably glamorous that I wished I went to a school like theirs. (Of course, I know their lives probably aren’t like most people’s either.)
  1. Collect stories. Readers love stories, of course, but this time I’m talking about true ones. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry had an overarching plot that I really enjoyed: he decides to walk from one side of England to the other, in order to deliver a letter to an old friend as a sort of penance. However, some of my favourite bits were all the mini stories within it; the little glimpses into the lives of those Harold meets along the way. Sometimes I’ll see someone on the train and wonder what their story is.
  1. Go to space. After reading The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, it makes me wonder if we’ll be out travelling the universe in 500 years – holiday homes on Jupiter… commuting from the moon, because who can afford to live in London anymore?!
  1. Travel the world. The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants springs to mind, with Bridget going to football camp in Mexico and Lena visiting family in Greece (Santorini is still high on my list). It culminates in a road trip across the United States that made me want to do this. It also made me want to…
  1. Spend quality time with my friends. Reading might seem like an antisocial activity, but some books leave you with that warm, fuzzy feeling that just makes you want to call your family/friends/significant other to check in.