Monday, 23 May 2016

Review: Shaun David Hutchinson’s Incredible ‘We Are The Ants’

We Are The Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson banner

Have you ever read a book that was so beautifully written that you practically drank the words from the pages? A book with such beautiful prose that it stopped you in your tracks, causing you to contemplate the wordplay and taking you on tangents of inspiration as your mind pondered the endless possibilities those words created? A book that chases you to the last page only to leave you incapacitated as you read the final paragraph over and over, revelling in its perfection? I have and without a doubt, Shaun David Hutchinson’s We Are the Ants belongs to this most rare of book categories: the absolute gem.

We Are the Ants is the fourth young adult book by Shaun David Hutchinson, who hails from Florida, USA . I have it on high authority that the author is pretty damn cool and base my opinion entirely on his love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doctor Who and Misfits. If the words ‘young adult’ has your interest fading fast, know that We Are the Ants is not just any young adult book. Tired of generic dystopian books full of stereotypes and repetition, I joined the Mock Printz book club on Goodreads. The book club seeks out those books that are most likely to be nominated for the Printz award, an annual award for a book that exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature. We Are the Ants was the second book I read for the book club and boy, did it deliver.

We Are The Ants by Shaun David HutchinsonWe Are the Ants is about Henry, a boy left behind when his partner committed suicide and currently the victim of alien abductions. ‘Victim’ might not be the right word though; Henry has been given the opportunity to press a button to save the world from certain annihilation and he’s not quite sure if he can be bothered to do so. Revolving around Henry in ever-increasing levels of meaninglessness and insignificance to him are his oldest friends, his single mother, violent brother and a gang of school bullies. What is the point of saving the world if that is all he has left to contend with?

We Are the Ants is such a beautiful, complex book that it seems an impossible task to pass judgement on it. It is rare that an author will juggle so many heavy themes in a book at once – grief, bullying, sexuality, mental illness and teenage pregnancy to name a few – and not have the book collapse under the weight of them but somehow Hutchinson manages it with grace. This book could easily be classed as LGBT fiction but was fascinating in that the main character just is gay, this isn’t a plot device or central to the often dramatic outcomes in the story. What Hutchinson captures perfectly is nihilism and despair, grief and recovery.

If judged on literary worth alone, I’d definitely say the book is Printz worthy. There were entire paragraphs of wonderful prose and quotable quotes that I’ve saved and bookmarked.

On nature, technology and modern living:

God surely meant for humans to live like that. He hadn’t intended for us to wither into desiccated husks in front of brightly lit screen that leeched away our summer days one meme at a time.”

On light, beauty and emptiness:

How ugly we must look to them, spilling into every dark corner to push back the shadows, blinding ourselves to the true beauty of emptiness”.

five out of five stars.

Would I recommend We Are the Ants? Absolutely. I think everybody should read this book and once you’ve picked yourself up from the floor after the devastating last page, I’d recommend that you turn to the front and read it all over again. Shaun David Hutchinson has immediately become an author to look out for and I will be reading his other books now too. Based on this excellence alone, I give We Are the Ants a superb five out of five stars.

5 Stars

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Monday, 16 May 2016

Audiobook: Philip Pullman’s The Subtle Knife

There's something special about the first time you read a book, a moment in time that divides the world into 'before' and 'after'. I remember quite clearly the first time I read Philip Pullman's Northern Lights; I recall reaching the end and thinking, how on earth is he going to top that? Northern Lights was so inventive and so fantastical that I was quite certain nothing else could come close.

In a way, I was right. The Subtle Knife didn't come close because it was something else entirely. Set partly in our own universe and partly in Cittagazze, a city in another universe, The Subtle Knife sees Lyra escaping her own world and meeting up with Will Parry. Together they encounter the children of Cittagazze, left behind by the adults hunted by wraith-like figures called Spectres. Lyra soon learns that she has yet to escape Mrs Coulter's realm of influence as once again their paths cross and Will's search for his father John Parry brings his destiny ever more in line with Lyra's.

The Subtle Knife on Audible

The Subtle Knife - Philip Pullman

I recall quite clearly being fascinated by The Subtle Knife the first time I read it but listening to it again on Audible has been eye opening. This is children's fiction at its best and it seems there are no ends to Philip Pullman's creativity and imagination. The idea of a knife that can slice between worlds is intriguing, as is the placement of the mythical Jopari in both our world and Lyra's.

As with Northern Lights, the production of the Audible dramatisation of The Subtle Knife is superb and once again, Philip Pullman himself narrates. Jo Wyatt returns as Lyra and is joined by Steven Webb who absolutely shines as the brave and determined Will Parry.

If you've ever loved Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series or if you're a fan of quality children's fiction then I would wholeheartedly recommend listening to the series on Audible.

I give The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman five out of five stars (again) and will be rushing to read the final book in the trilogy, The Amber Spyglass.

I give The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman a superb five out of five stars (again) and will be rushing to read the final book in the trilogy, The Amber Spyglass.

5 Stars

The BBC announced last year that they had commissioned a TV adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series and earlier this year it was announced that Jack Thorne would be writing the series and that it would span 40 episodes over 5 seasons. If you’re a fan like me, I’d definitely recommend listening to the Audiobooks to brush up on the story which will likely arrive in 2017.

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Friday, 13 May 2016

New Music Friday: Sonya Kitchell – We Come Apart

Sonia Kitchell

It's never a nice feeling to be the last person in the room to know what everyone else is talking about. There is that sudden, slightly shameful feeling as you realise that everyone else can see the look of utter confusion on your face and somebody is about to "kindly" rush forward and put you in the picture. That was how I felt when I recently heard about Sonya Kitchell for the first time.

It's her first album in seven years! screamed the email in my inbox, a complete cellular regeneration promised her official website. I'd never heard of Sonya before yet somehow, at the back of my mind, was this nagging feeling that maybe I should fix that.

And so I did. I gave her new album We Come Apart a listen and much to my utter surprise, I was truly moved.

About

It’s said that every cell in our bodies regenerates over the course of seven years, making us different people than we were before - Sonya's website

Sonya is earnest about the transformation that she has undergone in the last seven years and she maintains that she is a completely different person now. Sonya grew up in Ashfield, Massachusetts and was just 15 when she was signed to Velour Records and named the second Starbucks Hear Music Artist. She released her debut album Words Came Back To Me in 2006 when she was 17 followed by This Storm in 2008 with Decca Records.

With such success at so young an age, it is not surprising that she needed space to transform and she explains that the next album took a lot longer to make.

“My vision was not clear going into this project so it took me a while to get there,” she says. “I was searching for a sense of space and vulnerability in the songs I couldn’t quite find, like fumbling in the dark for velvet.”

The Album

We Come Apart Album Cover

We Come Apart was twice recorded, once with funds raised through a Pledge Music campaign and the second time with Sonya's own funds. She recorded it in a farmhouse in western Massachusetts, working by herself and with multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily. Once she had a rough draft of the songs, she took them back to New York where friends helped her flesh out the arrangements. It is this process that she credits with producing an album that is honest and true to herself.

The result is an album that draws the listener in from the very first track "Follow Me In" and will only let go at the end of the searing melody "We Come Apart". We Come Apart is one of the most consistently brilliant albums I've listened to in ages and every track is that good. It is almost disappointing to reach the end of the album. If I had to choose, I'd say definitely give the first and last tracks a listen, as well as "Fight or Flight", "Lucifer" and the superb "Hurricane". My favourite track, the one I've been playing over and over again on repeat, is "Swallowing the Rain".

RIYL

Recommended if you like: Norah Jones, Beth Nielsen Chapman

Watch

Sonya Kitchell - "Mexico" from the album We Come Apart

Listen

Buy

iTunes | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com

Links

Twitter | Facebook | Soundcloud | Official Website

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Thursday, 12 May 2016

Upcoming: The 2016 Norfolk & Norwich Festival

The Church of St Peter Mancroft, Norwich

When you live in England with so many opportunities to travel to Europe and the rest of Britain, it is often necessary to adopt a policy of visiting places only once, to make the first visit count. For the most part I keep to this with the notable exception of two cities, Novi Sad and Norwich. I’ve visited Novi Sad twice and will no doubt be visiting there and other Balkan cities again in the future. On the other hand, I’ve only visited Norwich once, in the winter of 2011, and I’ve wanted to visit it again ever since. Coincidentally, Norwich and Novi Sad are twin cities – perhaps that adds to their enduring allure for me?

One of my worst habits as a supposedly frequent traveller is that I don’t plan ahead enough and often miss out on festivals and exhibitions because of it. Case in point, I’d been living in London for 8 years before I managed to catch the Open House weekend. Well, I’m proud to announce that I’ve finally made some plans and next weekend I’m heading over to Norwich for the annual Norfolk & Norwich Festival.

Taking place from 13-29 May 2016, the Norfolk & Norwich Festival is one of the UK’s longest-running and largest international arts festivals featuring film, dance, contemporary music and a host of other events. Norwich is England’s first UNESCO City of Literature and there are over 20 events dedicated to this including appearances by Irvine Welsh, Harry Leslie Smith and Linton Kwesi Johnson.

What To See at Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2016

If I’ve piqued your interest, may I whet your appetite by recommending a handful of events that you should look out for at the festival:

The Story Machine - Writers’ Centre Norwich, Dragon Hall, Sunday 15 May, 12.30pm & 7.30pm

The Story Machine - Writers’ Centre Norwich, Dragon Hall, Sunday 15 May, 12.30pm & 7.30pm
An immersive literary event featuring live performances and choose-your-own-adventure experiences in the garden, cellars, halls and hideaways of the 15th century Dragon Hall.


Tindersticks - The Waiting Room Cine-Concert, Sunday 22 May, 8pm

Tindersticks - The Waiting Room Cine-Concert, Sunday 22 May, 8pm
One of the seminal indie bands of the 1990s is returning with a live performance of their tenth studio album The Waiting Room accompanied by a specially commissioned film.


La Chiva Gantiva - Adnams Spiegeltent, Saturday 28 May,10pm

La Chiva GantivaThe Adnams Spiegeltent, Saturday 28 May,10pm
A musical ensemble founded by Columbian expats, La Chiva Gantiva is a Brussels-based group combining Columbian music, funk and rock to create carnivalesque melodies Definitely recommended for fans of Gogol Bordello.

What I’m Seeing at Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2016

As for me, I’m attending the following events and will be writing about them in much more detail over at Emm in London. Naturally, these are highly recommended because I chose them and I can’t wait to share my coverage of the events with you.

The TempestGreat Yarmouth Hippodrome, Saturday 21 May, 8pm

Walk With Me Felbrigg Hall, Saturday 21 May

Ragroof Tea Dance Tops and Tails - The Adnams Spiegeltent, Sunday 22 May,1pm

Ragroof Tea Dance: Tops and Tails - The Adnams Spiegeltent, Sunday 22 May,1pm

Are you going to the Norfolk & Norwich Festival this year? Which acts are you catching?

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© 2005 - Mandy Southgate | Addicted to Media

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