book review · books · shanti

I Live At the Edge of An Island (like everyone else)

hello Virtually Readers! It has been A WHILE and it will probably continue to be A While between posts. Shar and I have made our peace with this, and for the time being this lovely blog holds years of effort and memories, while we keep reading and finding life in other places. So it goes, and I’m not going to apologise. But I’m currently indoors (because I can’t go outside, because virus), and I’m drinking tea, and it is rainy and I do not have any university work or journalism to do…so I thought I’d review a book I read yesterday.


All Who Live on Islands introduces a bold new voice in New Zealand literature. In these intimate and entertaining essays, Rose Lu takes us through personal history – a shopping trip with her Shanghai-born grandparents, her career in the Wellington tech industry, an epic hike through the Himalayas – to explore friendship, the weight of stories told and not told about diverse cultures, and the reverberations of our parents’ and grandparents’ choices. Frank and compassionate, Rose Lu’s stories illuminate the cultural and linguistic questions that migrants face, as well as what it is to be a young person living in 21st-century Aotearoa New Zealand.


Continue reading “I Live At the Edge of An Island (like everyone else)”

book review · books · features · lists · shanti

Fiction-Non-Fiction, Economics Edition

Hi Virtually Readers! Uni has started again for me properly and I am extremely busy and trying to figure out how to keep fitting Virtually Read into my life. I’m also panicked that I’m going to stop loving reading somehow, but that seems stupid, right? Does anyone else ever feel that way? I wrote an article about how to read and study at the same time and feel like a bit of a hypocrite because I’m not very good at following this advice. Anyway, I’ve been thinking lots about the economy because it matters a lot and also needs a total restructure because capitalism really sucks (this is what you learn at university). I like to read economics books because I feel like that helps me to understand the financial system better. So this edition of Fiction-Non-Fiction recommendations is themed around the economy!


Sacred EconomicsTess of the Road

Okay, full disclosure: I’m not actually done reading Sacred Economics. I’m about a third of the way through. It’s a book about why the economy is broken, and how it is set up in systems which perpetuates injustice and inequality. Beyond that, Sacred Economics is a book about healing the economy, understanding it enough to actually change it. I don’t know enough about policy to understand how these concepts could translate, but I really appreciate this visionary book. Tess of the Road is on the surface a very different book. But like the global economic system, Tess is shattered in hidden and blatant ways. The novel is about her quest for something larger and more mysterious–something underneath–an embodiment of the principles of the world and the way they exist. I reckon it pairs beautifully with Sacred Economics.


Talking to My Daughter About the EconomyThe Islands at the End of the World

Talking With My Daughter About the Economy is an excellent, readable primer on fundamental principles that govern economics. If you’rs a bit intimidated by learning about the economy, I hightly recommend it. To be honest the ‘talking to my daughter’ aspect of the book was somewhat contrived in a ‘now child listen to my wisdom and I will contextualise it by entioning your iPad’ sort of way. Still, it’s a good idea. The Islands At the End of the World is similarly centred on a father daughter relationship, where a father and daughter are navigating a broen world made more frightening by their inadequacies. Together, with resoucefulness and vision, they can understand why they are so lost. Again, it sort of matches on a deepre level.


No LogoTheir Fractured Light

Naomi Klein is a bit of a legend, and references to this tome, which I read ages ago but should probably read again, are all over the place in my reading for an Advertising critique paper I’m doing. In this book and This Changes Everything (also a great economics book!) she details some of the ways that the global economy is injust, particularly in the context of large corporations. Their Fractured Light is also about confronting massive corporations, from within and without, and seeking justice. It uses an astonishing range of characters to examine different responses to inequality. It’s also a fabulous adventure story.


Naked EconomicsSpinning Silver

I read Naked Economics a few years ago when I was just reading non-fiction for Lent (this year I’m mostly vegan). Now I read HEAPS of non-fiction. I don’t really agree with the premise of Naked Economics; it’s very much a status-quo, liberalism-inspired approach to the economy (does anyone else find it confusing that liberal politicians don’t follow policies of economic liberalisation?). Charles Wheelan places far too much faith in the power of the trickle-down effect, for instance. Nevertheless, it’s important and useful to know how people with different economic opinions than me justify that position. Spinning Silver is a stellar book, and has a character who is venal and money focused. But as a compassionate writer, Naomi Novik gives Miriam the context to explain how she became that way, and the book is all about how money matters and how different people understand it.


Doughnut EconomicsStation Eleven

Doughnut Economics, like Sacred Economics, is an invitation to reimagine the economy. It goes beyond identifying problems, and is quite data driven (compared to Sacred Economics, which is heavily philosophical). I really enjoyed it–although I don’t really know what I can do as a non-economics student who does not make policy. The principles of Doughnut Economics is that the systems of the world–social and cultural systems, ecological systems, climate systems, and of course financial systems, are deeply intertwined. Station Eleven demonstrates the same thing, by showing how interconnected different aspects of the world are, and what happens when they’re broken (The World Without Us is a non-fictional approach to the same thing). If you long to understand the world as interconnected in fragile and resilient ways, you’ll love both of these books.

do you understand economics? do you want to? and have you read any of these books?

books · discussions · Uncategorized

LitCrawl Recap!

I went to a literature festival a few weeks ago, and I thought that it would be fun to do a whole recap on Virtually Read! This was the first proper book festival I’ve been to—at school we used to have a writing and mountain festival which was cool but a bit random, and I’ve obviously gone to some bookish events, but this was a proper festival. I was going to do lots of things anyway, but then I won some competition on their facebook page and got four tickets to the paid events which was cool. It was sort of at a terrible time (the weekend before I had two exams) but I was pretty over studying at that point anyway, so it was okay.

Continue reading “LitCrawl Recap!”

book review · books · shanti

Returning to Ingo

Hi Virtually Readers! I really enjoyed writing a post about Emily St. John Mandel’s books the week before last and it made me think that I should do a bit of a series or group reviews, which are more fun and interesting to write in some ways than single reviews. So it’ll be Ingo this week and Naomi Novik next time and maybe Madeliene L’Engle and Zadie Smith after that—a blend of new-to-me authors and rereads. Anyway, the Ingo books are ones which I treasure deeply, so much that I hauled them back to New Zealand from India. I appreciate their whimsy and wisdom just as much now as when I was 8 and 11.

Continue reading “Returning to Ingo”

blogging · books · features · shanti

Interview: Michelle Cooper, Author of Dr. Huxley’s Bequest

Hi Virtually Readers! Remember a few weeks ago when I reviewed Dr. Huxley’s Bequest, a really wonderful exploration of the history of medicine that covers a lot of ground? It’s a fascinating book, and Michelle Cooper, who wrote it, is one of my favourite authors. She is an incredible researcher, and uses her characters and stories to bring history–and now science–to life. She was gracious enough to let me interview her (which I promptly derailed by losing her email in my spam folder). If you want to learn about Tasmanian Devil milk and Michelle’s research process, you’ll definitely want to read the interview below.

Continue reading “Interview: Michelle Cooper, Author of Dr. Huxley’s Bequest”

book review · books · shanti

I Was Born For This

Hi Virtually Readers! I like to escape to other places, though I’m not good at doing it. I like books and cake and essays and blogging. I have never gotten deep into a fandom—I think you need a tumblr account for that—but I would still call myself a fan of many things. And I Was Born for This is a book about fandom. While I don’t see myself in the obsessive fandom that Angel has for The Ark, I still loved how Oseman writes about obsession and immersion in other people’s lives. After all, that’s why I read. (a copy of this book was provided for review by Harper Collins New Zealand, which was nice of them, but it has not impacted my thoughts because I knew I was gonna love it)

Continue reading “I Was Born For This”

book review · books · shanti

Iron Cast’s a Spell

Iron Cast is, quite simply, a glorious novel. I’ve seen it recommended about the place, and knew I should read it, and I really liked it. It’s a story of magic and friendship and just so well woven together. It was a bit of a chore to read, because I was reading a light contemporary romance which was a bit ‘easier’ at the same time. This meant, however, that Iron Cast has time to, well, cast its sticky golden threads over me and pull me down, so I was completely immersed.

Continue reading “Iron Cast’s a Spell”

books · discussions · shanti

Moving on Companionably; on companion novels

Hello Virtually Readers! So in the last few weeks I’ve read several sets of companion novels. The first was the Six Impossiverse series by Fiona Wood, three contemporary stories featuring Australians. The second was Dramatically Ever After, the sequel to Bookishly Ever After, which I liked even more than the first book. I’m also partway through What I Thought Was True, a companion novel to My Life Next Door and the Boy Most Likely To. These are all companion novels, so I thought I’d talk a little more about what companion novels are and are not today. Yay!


So what is a companion novel? Without any research, I can tell you that it’s a book that’s in the same universe as other books by the same author, but usually featuring different characters and different themes. Some series do have changing protagonists, so what makes companion series different from normal series is that a companion novel does not continue the overarching plot of the main series.

The Six Impossiverse and the Ever After books are two examples of how companion series can work. The Six Impossiverse has three books, so far. The first one focuses on themes of family and friendship, the second on ideas of identity and loss, the third on identity, but in a much more specific way, poverty, and belief. Each book has a similar format, though, focusing on one or two characters struggles over about a term in the Australian school system, leading up to some ‘big event’ or ‘realisation’ at the end (which is pretty typical for stories anyway). There is one character who appears in all three books, and quite a few who appear in the second and third book (by publication order). Basically, the themes and characters are different, but the format and content are the same.


In the Ever After books, only two of which are out so far, the themes of identity, new relationships, and confidence in yourself remain between the two books. They have a similar ‘feel’ of coziness and fun, but the characters are different. In Bookishly Ever After, the story is set partially during the term and then during a summer camp, with excerpts from various (fake) YA novels. Dramatically Ever After is set a few months later, focusing on Phoebe’s best friend, and set (mostly) over the course of a week at a conference which Em is attending, with excerpts from emails and social media chats.

These are two ways to write companion novels, and both make quite a lot of sense. One is to keep the themes the same but vary the characters, content, and format. The other is to have similar formats but to make the style and themes quite different. There are probably other ways to do it—for example with companion series like Cassandra Clare or Tamora Pierce’s books, the idea of becoming yourself and conquering a war or evil remains, but in totally different ways.

I like reading companion novels for a lot of reason. For one, it’s really nice to get ‘updates’ on where your characters are. With contemporary novels, authors often feel compelled to create ‘drama’ in sequels, break up friendships and couples for the sake of plot, and that’s kind of irritating if you ask me. So I like the this way, that doesn’t have to happen. In fantasy books, or even contemporary, it’s interesting to see a different perspective on the same events, or a different part or time of the world. Contemporary novels make all the other books in the series richer. But because there are often big shifts in characters, content matter, or themes, and each novel can stand by itself, I don’t feel like I have to read the whole series to know how the story goes.


The lines can get a bit blurred—for example, Morgan Matson’s books contain cameos from her other series but I’m not sure if that is enough to count as companion novels, because those easter eggs don’t necessarily make a story richer. In the same way, with My Life Next Door and The Boy Most Likely To, the two books have basically the same set of characters and are set very closely in time and place, but with different key characters and themes—TBMLT is ultimately a lot grittier. And so far, What I Thought Was True seems to be almost totally separate. Gemina and Illuminae are companions in the sense that the main characters change, but the overarching plot of evil BeiTech remains. So the line can blur quite easily. Companion novels are interesting for this reason, and as such, and integral part of the discussion about series and why they’re good and why they’re irritating (the story just goes on!)

What do you think of companion novels? What are some of your favourite ones? Tell me in the comments.

books · features · shanti

8 Reasons to read The Spinster Club

Hi Virtually Readers! I know that tomorrow is Christmas, but I felt like posting anyway. Now, this isn’t *really* holiday themed, but I figure that the story of Christmas is about equality—God coming to be at the same level of humans. But even if you don’t celebrate, you probably want to read the Spinster trilogy by Holly Bourne. It’s a really intense, wonderful series of books about a group of feminists and their struggles and triumphs in love and life. While definitely not for younger readers, this series (though I have to admit that I haven’t read …And a Happy New Year? Yet—hopefully soon) is empowering and delightful for anybody who believes in feminism. Why should you read it? Here are some reasons.

(Reviews: Am I Normal Yet? | How Hard Can Love Be? | What’s a Girl Gotta Do? )


-Holly Bourne gets it

I know, a lot of authors *get* it. But while I am very different to the girls in these books, I just felt totally understood by Bourne’s portrayal of how it is to be a teenage girl—the mix of emotions, the friendships, the balance of school and fun. One part which felt particularly relevant was where Lottie is harassed by guys on the street. I live in a pretty sexist country, and I totally empathized with the mix of feelings that Lottie had, based on my own experience.

“Do you ever worry you’re being a teenager wrong?” -Am I Normal Yet?

“I didn’t trust me to work it out. I just messed everything up, like I had now.”- How Hard Can Love Be?

-They’re funny

Laughing is important. There are lots of hilarious moments in these stories, which will definitely entertain you.

“Do you think it’s all part of inequality’s plan? To mess us about lovewise so we’re too busy waiting for text messages to burn our bras and run for Prime Minister?”- Am I Normal Yet?

“Children were so ungrateful in real life. In stories, if you do a good deed for a kid, they’re all beamy, covered in chimney smoke, and say stuff like “Why, thank you Mister Scrooge, God bless ya”. But in real life they just whinged and nothing you did was ever enough.”

-They’re British

If you ever get sick of American books, this is for you. The characters use lots of British slang and  Amber actually visits America in How Hard Can Love Be, and basically makes fun of every contemporary YA stereotype ever, and critques the university system and Barack Obama. Also A-Levels and ‘college’ and all that.

-There is so much friendship

Friendship is pretty dang important, and these books are all about friendship. The three girls form a Spinster Club to support each other and talk about feminist issues, and I just love how their relationship was portrayed.

-Feminism is discussed in a realistic, honest way

There are so few explicitly feminist novels, and I really loved that all three of these books, especially What’s a Girl Gotta Do?, talked about women’s rights and inequality and making a change, and how to make a change. But at the same time, the story showed the double standards are inevitable, and judgment will happen, and no one is perfect, and it felt very realistic. I just loved this, because I talk about feminism all the time. Take an example from a few days ago. I was at a party, and talking about the Thinking Out Loud music video. I said something along the lines of “It really annoys me how to be considered attractive the woman has to wear a really revealing dress and jump around dancing while the man just stands there wearing a nice suit.” The guy next to me was like “Gosh Shanti, I think you’re overanalyzing it”—but I wasn’t, because sexism is just that insidious, and Holly Bourne shows how all these tiny things add up and up and up (like a pyramid).

“Fighting any harm is worthy. […] I realized that it takes a great deal more courage to fight for yourself than to fight for others. To confront your own pain, rather than everyone else’s.” -What’s a Girl Gotta Do?

“ ‘Feminism? There’s a test for that?” Would I pass? I quickly scanned my thoughts and feelings to check them for feminismness. The pay gaph makes me cross, and yet I wear make-up.”- Am I Normal Yet?

-The writing is really dialogue based

The writing is really engaging, snappy, and fits in with the characters. The dialogue feels really true to life and that makes these books enjoyable to read.

“ ‘You need to learn that every time you get to speak, doesn’t mean you get to monologue.’

‘But I’m so very good at it,’ I wailed.” -What’s a Girl Gotta Do?

-Nuances and complexities.

With all the issues that The Spinster Club deals with—feminism, mental helath issues, friendship, family, growing up, the media—there are shades and levels of complexity which make them so much richer, and just like real life. Nothing is simple, and these stories reflect that.

-They’re all out now!

You don’t have to wait for the rest of the books to come out.

What’s your favourite feminist book? Are you going to read these ones? Tell me in the comments! Also, have an amazing Christmas, even if the day isn’t a particularly special one for you.

books · shanti · tags

The Bookshelf Tag

The lovely Heather@Sometimes I’m A Story tagged me for the bookshelf tag! I sometimes feel sad that so many other book bloggers have SO MANY books and I have relatively few. But I’m pretty glad to have books at all, so I shouldn’t feel that way. Anyway, lets get to it!

bookshelf tag

A short but powerful book

From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwieler. This is a MG classic about siblings, adventure, New York, art, and taking risks.

A good, long book

Winter by Marissa Meyer. This last tome in the Lunar Chronicles series clocks in at over 800 fabulous pages.

Favourite classic on my shelf


-This is a toss-up between Jane Eyre and Voyage of the Dawn Treader

A relatively obscure book


The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester. This is an awesome MG about a farm girl who is taken to an institute where people with special skills—like her flying—are ‘cared for’.

An underrated book

When We Wake by Karen Healey, a YA dystopia by a NZ author that actually deals with climate change and racism in a future world where everything isn’t closed off—and is in Australia to boot!

An overrated book

Heir of Fire by Sarah J Maas. I did really like this book—seeing Celaena between romantic entanglements was lovely, but it has a LOT of hype.

Most reread book

-Either Lirael by Garth Nix or Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoneix.

How many of the books you own have you not read?


-6. Wicked, Lost and Found, Fire, Like Smoke, The Hunt and The Hidden Oracle. (no, I’m not going to link to all those books #lazy)

A book you haven’t read.

Fire. This is a sequel to the Swedish paranormal book The Circle which my friend gave me. I think I need to reread the first one before reading it though!

A short story collection


-I have two. Welcome to Bordertown, edited by Holly Black and Ellen Kushner, which was really cool, though part of a whole lot of Bordertown books, of which I haven’t read any others; and Like Smoke by Paro Anand, which is signed by the author, but I haven’t read yet.

A Non-Fiction Book

-I only have one non-fiction book (that is totally mine). That’s 1001 Childrens books you should read before you grow up, and it’s basically like goodreads before goodreads was a thing? It has lots of well written, thoughtful reviews, and lots of good ideas for childrens/YA books from around the world.

I don’t really feel like tagging anyone today, because most people I know have done this tag already,  but if you want to do it, go right ahead!

Which of the books on your bookshelf was the hardest to acquire? And how do you organise your bookshelf? Tell me in the comments!