Sometimes in your life, something will happen that will deeply affect you. Maybe it will be an event, somethOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Sometimes in your life, something will happen that will deeply affect you. Maybe it will be an event, something someone said, someone you meet, or a book you happen to pick up and read. I have been deeply affected by All the Bright Places by Jennifer Nevin. And I know there are no words I can say that will get across just how incredible this book is.
With the description above, I don't need to summarise the novel, it does it perfectly. All the Bright Places is undeniably one of the best books I have ever read. The first half to two thirds of the book are wonderful; I was inspired to go places and see things, I was inspired to create my own version of The Wall, where Finch pastes all his song ideas, quotes, or anything else that he likes or affects him in some way. It was fun, it was adventurous, it was funny, it was sweet! I fell in love with Finch right along with Violet. He's eccentric and quirky, and yes, he has a mental illness, but when things are good, he is really good! He's this wonderful, beautiful boy, and I was happy to go along for the ride All the Bright Places was taking me on, because I couldn't get enough of Finch.
But when things are bad, they're really bad. As the story goes on, we discover Finch has bipolar, though he doesn't like labels. He talks about his life as stages, when he's Awake and when he's Asleep. When he's Asleep is when things get bad; weeks of darkness. Even though I've read the book, I couldn't fully describe to you what Asleep is like, all I have is Finch's descriptions, and seeing him as he declines, and it's scary. It's terrifying. Watching this wonderful, beautiful boy fraying, coming undone, unravelling. You just want to hold all of him together before he completely comes apart. As the book is told from both Finch and Violet's points of view, we, the readers, know more about Finch's mental state than Violet does, and it leaves me so torn. She doesn't know, she doesn't know he needs help, but at the same time... the signs. I really struggled with Violet towards the end, I really did. But that's because I knew, and she didn't, and what can she do if she doesn't know just how bad it is? Finch is good at hiding. This brilliant boy is suffering, but does all these wonderful things for the grieving, immobile Violet. He brings her back to life as he fades from his own.
All the Bright Places broke me. It ripped my heart out, but in the best possible way. I am fighting back tears as I write, not only because of how heartbreaking this story is, but also because it's loosely based on Niven's own experiences from several years back. There was a Finch, and Niven was Violet. I don't know how much of the real people are in the characters, how many of the experiences they had actually happened, but you can tell from the Author's Note and the Acknowledgements at the end that there are a few things that are true. A boy who wrote a song for a girl who ran an online magazine. Things may not have happened exactly as they did in the book, but there was a boy. And I can't stop thinking about that boy, that real Finch, and it's just so painful. Niven is an incredibly brave, brave woman for writing their story, even fictionalised. I can't even begin to imagine how hard that must have been. But this boy, whoever he was, he lives in the pages of All the Bright Places, and together, Finch and Violet will touch countless lives.
I first heard about Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills during LGBT+ April, run by CaycOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I first heard about Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills during LGBT+ April, run by Cayce of Niji Feels (then Fighting Dreamer) and Laura Plus Books, and actually won my copy in a giveaway during the event. It received so much praise during the month, I was really interested to read it. There was just one thing that made me wary; although I have a fairly eclectic taste in music, I don't have great knowledge of music in general, or major interest in music outside of the songs themselves. Would I get this book, or would it go on about things I have no clue about? Happily, I had nothing to worry about, and Beautiful Music was a brilliant read!
Gabe is mad about music, it's his whole life. He spends a lot of his time hanging out with his old neighbour, John, listening to music, and hearing John's tales of his time as a DJ. John has managed to get Gabe a slot on the local community radio station, and so starts Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, his own radio show. The only thing is, not many people know him as Gabe - not even John. Gabe only recently came out as a trans male to his family and best friend a few months back. Everyone else knows him as Liz. His family are having trouble coming to terms with it, and, despite not knowing he's trans, he has been bullied for quite a while at school for not dressing like a "regular" girl. But on his show, he can be himself, right? That is until one listener finds out that Gabe was known as Liz before he graduated, and outs him to all his fans on Facebook. And then the threats begin.
Beautiful Music is a really great story! Gabe is such a great character! He is brave and wonderful, but just like any other teenager. He's really into his music, he has girl problems, he gets excited by the awesome opportunities that come his way, and... he's just wonderful! I loved his voice, his humour, his relationship with John. He's just a really nice guy. And despite the fact this book gets quite serious more than once, it's mostly an uplifting, feel good book, and left me smiling.
I don't want to spoil the story, so I'm not going to go too much into the plot, but I will talk about the things I enjoyed. The relationship between John and Gabe is wonderful. John is 71, and a radio legend. For Gabe, who lives right next door to him, he's one of his closest friends; he's his mentor and he's family. John doesn't treat Gabe like a child, and Gabe doesn't treat John like a doddering old man. They learn from each other, they debate and argue about music, and share vinyl, CDs and cassettes. John will captivate Gabe with his stories from him time as a DJ, and Gabe will listen raptly. There's is a beautiful relationship!
I also loved the relationship between Gabe and his best friend Paige. They have been best friends since kindergarten, and despite only finding out a few months before the book starts, Paige stand by her friend. Their relationship is just so brilliant. There are moments where things get rocky for multiple reasons, but you can just tell there is that solid foundation of love that their friendship is built on, and it's wonderful seeing them together. When they're there for each other, when they're joking and laughing together. It's so lovely to see such a strong friendship - despite the issues they deal with in the book.
There's one character I have to mention. Heather Graves. She's wonderful. Her sexual orientation isn't discussed, but she is attracted to Gabe at the start of the book, when to most people Gabe is still Liz, and despite what most people think of him then, she seems to accept him as he is, even though she doesn't know him all that well. And when she knows Liz is now Gabe, she's still interested. It doesn't make a difference to her. It reads like it's not to do with her sexuality, and it's not to do with Gabe's gender, it's simply to do with Heather being attracted to this individual person, to Gabe. Again, I don't want to discuss the plot for spoiler reasons, but I think it's just fantastic that a character like her exists in YA fiction. More characters who see and are attracted to people rather than genders, please!
Beautiful Music is a really wonderful book. There are some really grim and disgusting moments, but there are so many beautiful and wonderful moments, too. Hopeful moments. Beautiful Music is an incredible story, and if you like LGBTQ YA, I implore you to read it!...more
When I first heard about The Name on Your Wrist by Helen Hiorns, it sounded like a really intriguing story,Originally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
When I first heard about The Name on Your Wrist by Helen Hiorns, it sounded like a really intriguing story, but I had no idea just how brilliant it was going to be!
Corin lives in a world where around the age of two or three, a name appears on everyone's wrists, the name of their carpinomen - the person they would have an anima-vinculum, a soul bond. In short, the name on your wrist was your soul mate, and at a certain point in the future, in your late teens/early 20s, you went on a search to find them. However, Corin is against this whole soul mates thing. Why can't she choose who she wants to be with? Why should she have her whole future mapped out in front of her, without a choice, just because of the name on her wrist? And what happens if she starts making decisions for herself?
The Name on Your Wrist is an incredible debut! It's so unbelievably clever, and so well thought out! But it doesn't get overly complicated. There was an answer to every question I had, a quite detailed answer - this a full and realised world, and it's quite obvious that Hiorns has one hell of an imagination. I got completely lost in this story of Corin, who has had quite a few knocks in her life - the death of her father, her mother acting like nothing happened, her sister's mental breakdown, humanity proving her right over and over, being let down over and over. Corin is so cynical of pretty much everything and beyond pessimistic, it's almost like she doesn't know how to be positive. But she's also quite strong, with quite the backbone, meeting all judgements head on with sarcasm and insults of her own. But then she starts getting to know Colton, a boy at the Education Centre, and things change slightly for her.
But this is not a love story, despite capinomen and anima-vinculum, despite Colton. This is anything but. The Name on Your Wrist is actually quite a tragic story in the end. Dystopia generally comes in trilogies or series, with the first book setting up the world, and having the main character start to see the cracks and wanting things to change, before that change starts in the following books. The Name on Your Wrist is a stand alone. There is no follow up book, and its 261 pages. This is not a story of the oppressed fighting back. This is a snapshot of life in a world without choice, a snapshot where Corin discovers the truth, a snapshot of her realising that this is just life.
The main focus of the book is, should humanity have a choice? In Corin's world, the government decides where everyone lives and what career they will have. No-one has more than two children, and wealth is distributed evenly. And, of course, you end up with your soul mate. Of course, I'm sure you, as I did, answer the question with of course humanity should have a choice. But when put up against the state of the world now, where we do have choice, and it throws up all kinds of questions. There are quite a few opinions expressed by Corin in this book, and it seems like they could be Hiorns own opinions. This could be wrong, they could just simply be Corin's - about humanity and how we treat the world - but, either way, they don't come across as preachy. Considering the world Corin lives in, and considering the world, the opinions shared are just really thought-provoking. What is better? Some parts of this dystopia world are thought to better, even by Corin herself... but would they be? It's really, really clever how much this book gets you thinking about the world now, while scaring you with this awful-seeming future. Perhaps we're living in dystopia?
There's one part of this book that I thought was very well done. Hiorns has obviously thought things through when it comes to world building. As I said, all my questions have been answered. One question was, if everyone has a carpinomen on their wrist, what about gay people? This is not an LGBTQ novel, but this question is answered too. Gay people can have soul mates of the opposite gender, an asexual anima-vinculum, and live a very close but platonic life together, and sometimes, people have soul mates of the same gender. Well, what if you have a same-sex anima-vinaculum but you are not gay? This is touched on too. It's awesome to have this kind of area looked at, and also to have a dytopia based on relationships where same-sex relationships are a non-issue (well, just as long as you stick to the name on your wrist - but that is an issue with the world they live in).
The Name on Your Wrist is UKYA, but it doesn't feel like it. I've touched on this in reviews before, that UKYA tends to have a feel to it, a certain kind of style. Although The Name on Your Wrist is most definitely a British book, with our wonderful vocabulary, it feels like an American novel. This works for me, because I tend not to really enjoy the "otherness" that I feel when reading some UKYA. So I'm really quite happy about that.
The Name on Your Wrist is an amazing novel, and I will definitely be keeping an eye out for whatever Hiorns releases next!
Thank you to Corgi Children's Books for the review copy. ...more
With that quote from Matt Haig on the front cover, I was really looking forward to reading In Bloom by MatthOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
With that quote from Matt Haig on the front cover, I was really looking forward to reading In Bloom by Matthew Crow. However, I'm sad to say that I found it a little disappointing.
Francis is a smart boy who has big plans for his future. When he finds out he has leukamia, his whole world turns upside down. Then he meets Amber at the hospital, and his life has a new focus. A romance blossoms between the two, but when you both have cancer, it's a constant shadow hanging over your heads.
It's too easy to compare In Bloom to The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, but it should be judged on it's own merit rather than comparing it to a similar, popular book, so that's what I'm going to do. In Bloom isn't really about cancer, mor about Francis and his relationship with Amber.
Francis has a very individual voice; he's humourous, but he's also quite innocent. He can be a little self-centered and melodramatic. It can be a little irritating sometimes, but most of the time it's endearing. He is quite smart, but he has an elevated opinion of his intelligence. He thinks he's smarter than everyone else, so tries to impress them all with his intelligence. Francis is the highlight of the book, with his funny way of thinking, and how he reacts to things.
Unfortunately, I didn't think much of Amber. This is because we mainly get Francis' opinion of her, rather than get to know her well. We don't see too much of her - it's more tell than show. When we do see her, she seemed a bit course to me, and I didn't really warm to her, despite her being a little funny. Because of this, I didn't really feel invested in the romance, which was the main focus of the story... so it fell a little flat for me.
Not a bad story, but one that didn't really work for me, sadly.
Thank you to Much-in-Little for the review copy. ...more
Originally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase. I have been eagerly awaiting this fourth and final book in Robin Hobb's Rain Wild Chronicles, Blood of DragoOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase. I have been eagerly awaiting this fourth and final book in Robin Hobb's Rain Wild Chronicles, Blood of Dragons. I was expecting an awesome end to the series, but I should know by now that Hobb over delivers. This is a brilliant conclusion to the series!
The dragons have got to learn to fly and make their way over to Kelsingra, so they can reach the hot baths that will help them grow and fully develop into the dragons they always should have been. They also need to find the silver wells, too - desperately. Without it, dragons are likely to become more like animals. And they're not the only ones who need it; the Elderlings won't survive as they should if it's not found. There is an urgent search to find it; the dragons and Elderlings need it soon, but Malta and Reyn's sickly Elderling child needs it now. With Tintaglia out of reach from everyone, the only dragon who can save the baby, Silver in their only hope. What they don't know is Tintaglia is making her way to Kelsingra, badly injured herself, and almost at death's door. And still people hunt for dragon flesh for the Duke of Chalced, who will go to desperate lengths to prolong his life.
Blood of Dragons is such an incredible story! What I've mentioned above covers perhaps half the book, and only scratches the surface. It's one of those books that so much happens in, it's hard to believe it happens just in this one book - a lot is packed in to these 481 pages, and most of it is pretty epic. There are parts of this book that are really quite disturbing. There are those that are so upsetting, and others that are sickening. There's a fair amount of action in this novel, that we haven't seen much of in the others, and it's wonderful! The dragons don't take too kindly to being hunted for their flesh. There are also people who get what's coming to them, and it's brilliant to see!
There are also questions that are answered, questions that arose through this series, and questions that arose from the very first series in the Realm of the Elderlings. We finally understand what we first discovered in The Farseer Trilogy, with Verity creating his Elderling dragon with liquid Skill - the Silver that the dragons need to much are is what flows in what we know as the Skill river from Assassin's Quest. And with discovering this about Silver, we discover more about things we first learnt about in The Farseer Trilogy. We start to fully understand exactly who and what Elderlings were - and who and what the Keeper Elderlings will become. Again, it harks back to the things we learned about how the stone dragons were created - but in this book we realise what we learned in The Farseer Trilogy was just the tip of the iceberg.
Blood of Dragons is an incredible ending to a fantastic series! I finished this book sad at having to say goodbye to these characters, but even more eager to read Fool's Assassin, the first book in the next series in the Realm of the Elderlings, Fitz and the Fool. So looking forward to reading it, and I have a feeling we may not be saying goodbye to these characters for ever....more
I had heard so much praise about Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley, that there was no way I was going tOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I had heard so much praise about Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley, that there was no way I was going to miss out on what sounded like a really amazing story. The praise was well earned; this book is just fantastic!
It's 1959, and black students are integrating into Jefferson High School for the first time. Sarah Dunbar is one of the first to step through the school doors, and, along with the others, is met by the angry white students of the school, hurling abuse. The next several months are hard for the students as they receive abuse and violence every day. But Sarah hopes to change at least one person's mind; Linda Hairston, daughter of one of the leading men against desegregation. Linda believes the black students are ruining the Southern way of life, that black and white people were meant to be segregated, but finds herself horrified by the treatment of the black students at the hands of her fellow white students. The two girls soon realise they're feeling things for each other, something that might be worse than black students at a white school.
Lies We Tell Ourselves is an absolutely incredible story! Reminded me of the movie The Butler, and like The Butler, made me feel sick and ashamed of the things we white people did to black people. Sarah is unbelievable. The things she and the other black students have to deal with on a daily basis is unreal, yet she always walks tall. I seriously don't think I could hackk having things thrown at me, being spat on, and having vicious insults shouted at me all day - especially as the teachers ignore it all. It's absolutely heartbreaking to see all these students fall prey to such abuse, and knowing there's nothing anyone can really do about it, not if they want to survive - because lives are most definitely on the line. Sarah has such courage and strength in the face of it all; even when she's scared and wants to run, she confronts it head on. Her younger sister Ruth is just brilliant too; she can't always keep quiet and will respond to the taunts, which is so dangerous. She has some serious chutzpah!
Linda doesn't hurl insults or spitballs. For her, although she doesn't like the oblack people who have integrated into her school, it's less about racism and more about disrupting their way of life, the way things have always been. She feels they should have had more time to adapt and prepare, rather than have the court rulling on integration forced on them, having the black pupils "forcing" their way into her school. Linda's a smart girl, which makes it worse because of her flawed logic. She's wrong, but her thoughts and opinions go further than, "I don't like you because you're different." Her views made me so angry, it was so frustrating to read her thinking these things and just not getting it. It scared me to think about who I would be if I had lived back then, brought up with those ideals. I don't like to think of it. But it's awesome to see Linda's growth over the course of the story, how her arguments with Sarah get her thinking, really thinking, for herself rather than parroting everything she has been taught.
The LGBTQ aspect of the story was interesting. It's a big part of the story, a huge part, but is secondary to the whole desegregation of Jefferson High. Feelings for members of the same sex is wrong in the eyes of God. It's wrong just to have feelings for other girls, let alone girl who is also a person of colour. Seeing the feelings between the two grow is lovely; it's really sweet and innocent, but not so great to see them doubting themselves. It's less about the two of them and more about Sarah and Linda working out their individual identities at a time when so much is "wrong".
A brave, powerful, and emotional story, Lies We Tell Ourselves is a fantastic debut novel, and Robin Talley is now one of my automatic must-read authors! You must read this book!
Thank you to Mira Ink for the review copy. ...more
Being the huge fan David Levithan that I am, when I heard that Marly's Ghost was being released in the UK, IOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Being the huge fan David Levithan that I am, when I heard that Marly's Ghost was being released in the UK, I had to read it! Sadly, this wasn't really my cup of tea.
Ben is still grieving four months after the death of his girlfriend, Marly. His grief has turned him bitter and resentful; he no longer hangs out with his friends, he snaps at others, and has given up on love. Then on the night before Valentine's Day, Ben is visited by Marly's ghost. His behaviour and loss of faith in love are causing her to struggle in her afterlife, so she has arranged for him to be visited by three spirits; the Spirit of Love Past, the Spirit of Love Present, and the Spirit of Love Future. Will these spirits be able to teach Ben the error of his ways before it's too late?
Despite the Valentine's Day holiday, theme of love and the age of the characters, Marly's Ghost stays pretty true to the original story of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, which it is a remix of. I've not read the original story, but I've seen various movie adaptations, so I know the story pretty well, and I was surprised at how true to the original it was. In some ways, I think it was too true.
Marly's Ghost is set in contemporary times, yet the dialogue harks back to language of Dickens' time - if not exactly, then pretty close. I found this to be really disrupting, and would jolt me out of the story, definitely a style I'm not a fan of. People just don't talk like that these days, and it felt really false to me. Levithan mentioned in his Author Note that he wrote the story with a copy of the original, remixing it line by line, page by page for the first draft, and then changing things during the edit, so the language is understandable in that regard, but it just really didn't work for me.
Saying that, all of the characters we know from the original story make there appearance in one way or another, if not as actual characters - like Fred, who is Ben's best mate - then as merged essences to form new characters - like Tiny and Tim, a young gay couple who stand in for the whole Cratchit family, but also the two men who are collecting for charity. Like this, all the important characters to the original story are there in spirit (excuse the pun) with words or actions of other or merged characters, if not with their own place in this story.
This story wasn't for me, sadly, but if you enjoy The Christmas Carol, you may appreciate this new take on the story with love and life at it's heart, rather than Christmas spirit.
Thank you to Electric Monkey for the review copy. ...more
I decided earlier on in the year, when The Bookseller first announced that it was creating its own YA Book POriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I decided earlier on in the year, when The Bookseller first announced that it was creating its own YA Book Prize for UK and Irish YA, that I would try to read all the 2015 shortlisted books once they were announced. Finding a Voice by Kim Hood is one of the titles nominated, and I was lucky enough to get hold of a reading copy through work. It's such a beautiful story!
Thirteen-year-old Jo has a tough life. Her mother has a mental illness, and Jo's her main carer. Sometimes there are good days, where her mum just seems eccentric and strange, and sometimes there are bad days, when it's all Jo can do to keep her mum from going right over the edge. Sometimes she can't. School is the only place Jo can escape the stress at home, but she doesn't have any friends because of her "crazy" mum. Then she meets Chris, a boy with Cerebral Palsy in the Special Education Unit after volunteering to help him out at lunch. Chris can't speak and has very little control over his limbs. It seems to Jo that most people fail to see the boy inside the disabled body, but Jo is sure Chris is more aware of what's happening than everyone else seems to think. She's determined to help Chris have a better life, but Chris isn't the only one who could do with some help.
I have to say, if it wasn't for the YA Book Prize, I'm pretty sure Finding a Voice wouldn't have crossed my path. It's been out since August, but I hadn't heard of it once. Which is such a shame, because it's such a beautiful debut novel, and really quite thought-provoking.
In a way, Finding a Voice reminds me of Amy & Matthew by Cammie McGovern. Both stories involve mental illness, and both have a teenager volunteering to help out a fellow disabled student. But that's where the similarities end. This is not a romance, this is very much a book about friendship, and it really is beautiful to witness how important Jo and Chris become to each other. Because of Chris' disability, Jo notices that the people who work with him - his carers, his aides and teachers at the school - either talk to him like he's a baby, or talk about him as if he's not there. At first, Jo isn't sure how much Chris is aware, and that's why she finds it so easy to talk to him. While visiting the Special Education Unit at lunch times to feed Chris, she finds it very easy to open up about how she feels looking after her mum, and very quickly, through his behaviour, she becomes aware that Chris seems to be listening to her intently. The fact that she is actually being listened to encourages Jo to talk more, but also to talk to him as if he's an actual, normal teenager. Jo has found someone to talk to, and Chris now has someone who's treating him like a person.
It's only when during one lunch time that Jo realises that Chris is flailing his legs to kick her on purpose rather than through lack of control this time, that Chris is trying to tell her something - he doesn't like the food. From that point on, Jo focuses a lot of her attention on trying to help Chris communicate. She knows Chris has things to say, he just needs a way to say them. Jo puts in so much work in trying to find ways to help him speak, thinking of ideas, in an attempt to make his life better. No-one else asks what Chris thinks, or wants, or likes, because he can't tell them. All decisions are taken away from him. Jo can't sit back and let this continue when she knows Chris wants to be able to tell people what he wants. It's really just incredible to see her try so hard to make things better for her friend. It's so heart-warming.
And it's even more incredible when you put this into context with her own life. Her mum suffers from a non specific psychiatric illness. At first I thought she had bi-polar; she would have very strange, eccentric days most of the time, or she would have terrible, awful days no child should have to witness. But it seems the doctors haven't been able to nail down a specific mental illness to her mum. Jo has to walk on tiptoes most of the time, trying to keep her mum calm and happy, keep the routine, keep things normal. The slightest thing wrong, and they're both in for days of heartache. Jo's mum's episodes are horrific to read about, and to imagine that Jo has had to deal with this her whole young life is so heartbreaking. And she's so scared to tell anyone how bad it can get some days, because she feels she'll be letting her mum down.
Finding a Voice is such an emotional story, and a really powerful one. It's an incredible debut novel, with such a wonderful ending. I implore you all to give Finding a Voice a read; I guarantee you'll find yourself moved.
Thank you to O'Brien Press via Foyles for the reading copy. ...more
I've seen The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey in bookshops for a long while, and that beautiful cover has always caOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I've seen The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey in bookshops for a long while, and that beautiful cover has always caught my eye. More than once I have picked it up to read the blurb, and yearned to buy it. But I was always put off by the fact that it's historical fiction, a genre I don't really get on with, and the literary feel to the story, a style I tend to shy away from. When I saw that The Snow Child was available for review on Bookbridgr, I immediately requested it. A chance to give the book a try, with an incentive to make myself read it - the fact I have to write a review. Now, I so wish I had picked it up the very first time I saw it, because it's ineffably beautiful.
Jack and Mabel, a couple of middle-years, moved to rural Alaska to make a new life. To have their own farm, and leave behind the past, and Mabel's failed pregnancy. But life there isn't what they thought. Work on the farm is hard with very little reward, it's quiet and solitary, and their grief haunts them. When the snow arrives one winter, Mabel is filled with a childish joy, and Jack humouring her, together than build a snowman, and make it a snow child. The very next day, the snow child is gone, and so far the scarf and mittens Mabel put on her. Later, Jack sees a lone child running amongst the trees, wearing Mabel's scarf and mittens. Jack and Mabel are at once over-joyed to have young Faina come into their life, but weary. Where did she come from? Where are her parents? And why is Mabel too quick to remember, and take stock in, a Russian fairy-tale of a child made of snow?
The Snow Child is an absolute wonder. It's a heartbreaking story, but one full of hope and love. It's not a story of explanations, it's one of belief, of putting aside questions and just accepting, one of immense gratitude and joy. Faina comes into the lives of Jack and Mabel when things are at their lowest. The farm doesn't look like it's going to work, and Jack is getting too old to be doing all this hard work on his own. Mabel is in the depths of despair, weighed down by the guilt of being unable to bring her baby to term, and the ineffable sadness that they remain childless. Her depression knows no bounds. But then Faina appears out of the wood, an angel in the snow, and turns their lives around. There is something about Faina, the way she appears and disappears, how nobody else has ever seen her, how there are no speech marks when talking to, or in the presence of her, that makes her feel imaginary, a fairy, a ghost. There is an unreal quality to her, which causes Mabel and Jack to hold on to her even more tightly, in case she disappears. She's their miracle, and brings magic to their home through light, love and laughter; happiness and joy.
There is this enchanting fairy-tale feel about the story, that makes sense as the story is inspired by various versions of the same story; Snegurochka (The Snow Maiden in English), a Russian fairy tale, The Snow Child retold by Freya Littledale, and Arthur Ransome's Little Daughter of the Snow. The Snow Child takes elements from each of these children's stories to create a beautiful retelling. It's a novel to be enjoyed by adults, but has the awe and wonder found in a fairy tale, by weaving in this magic realism.
With fiction, especially fantasy, you can quite easily believe what you're reading, as long as there's a credible back story, despite knowing the stories couldn't happen in reality. With The Snow Child, you're never completely sure whether Faina is a child made from snow or a real child. There are hints throughout the story that could make you think either. The are times when you think she must be human, but other times where her being human makes no sense. As I said above, it's a story of putting aside questions and just accepting - not just for Jack and Mabel, but for the reader, too. We're never given a definitive answer, and in it's way, the story allows you to form your own interpretation - is Faina real or is she not? The title suggests heavily that Faina is, in fact, made of snow, but I think that's more to do with Mabel; when Faina arrives after their snow girl disappears, wearing the scarf and mittens, Mabel remembers the story of Snegurochka that her father told her as a child, and makes a link between the two. A fancy of a woman who so desperately wants a child of her own she believes a fairy tale has come true? Or in fact the impossible made possible?
What's wonderful - and brilliant of Ivey - is that through a letter from Mabel's sister, Ada, which she sends along with the copy of Snegurochka Mabel requested, Arthur Ransome is mentioned. He is a student at the university which their father worked at, and is very interested in the story and had borrowed the book.
I can't review this book without discussing the setting. There is a harsh and brutal quality to the landscape of 1920s rural Alaska. It's not soft, it's not traditionally pretty; it's remote, hard with sharp edges, ferocious, at once scary yet awe-inspiring. It's hard work living there; there is no ready-made farm, Jack has to fell trees of the wood, and then toil frozen earth to get the soil ready for farming in the Springtime. It's back breaking work in the freezing cold. The environment Jack and Mabel live in works, though; we learn in school about pathetic fallacy, where the weather reflects the mood of a character - well, with The Snow Child, the landscape is almost a reflection of the despair and sorrow the couple still feel over the loss of their stillborn child ten years before. They are still grieving, and a distance has grown between them because of their grief. And the mood isn't helped by the fact that life here is tougher than they thought it would be, due to the environment. It's cyclical.
And yet, this isn't a story that could be set in a nice, happy setting; a pretty little snowy village town where everyone is happy and ready for Christmas... Faina couldn't exist there, because her soul, her very essence is at odds with the world she lives in, in Alaska. In a pretty little snow village, her existence, though strange, wouldn't seem as miraculous; something wonderful happening somewhere wonderful is too believable, less fantastic. It's the stark contrast between the ethereal Faina and the savage terrain that allows Faina to be inexplicably enchanting. 1920s rural Alaska is pivotal to the mystery and magic that is Faina. And again with the environment reflecting a character, and also the story, there is a quietness to The Snow Child, like the hush brought by snow, the almost holy, not-quite-silence of a dark wood, that matches the quiet of Faina and her enigmatic temperament.
There is so much more to this story, I've barely scratched the surface. I could go on and talk about how beautiful this book is for several paragraphs more! The story spans years, and there's wonder to discover on every page, but wonder you should discover for yourself. In my edition of The Snow Child, Arthur Ransom's story Little Daughter of the Snow is included. It's a sweet little tale, and I can see how it inspired Ivey, but I have to say I much prefer Ivey's mesmerising and enchanting retelling.I am so, so glad I read The Snow Child, and I can see myself reading it again and again.
Thank you to Headline via Bookbridgr for the review copy. ...more
I was so excited to read City of Dragons that I picked it up as soon as it arrived. So good, I am absolutelyOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I was so excited to read City of Dragons that I picked it up as soon as it arrived. So good, I am absolutely loving this series!
The dragons and their keepers, and the crew on board the Tarman liveship that guided them, have arrived at Kelsingra. However, due to the deadly current of the Rain Wild River, they are on the opposite bank to the city, with no safe way across. Rapskall and Heeby did not die in the flood like everyone believed, and in their time apart, Rapskall has taught Heeby to fly, and have been exploring the city. Until all the other dragons can fly, they're stuck on the other side of the river. Captain Leftrin has returned to Cassarick to pick up supplies, and news of the expedition's success spreads quickly. There are those who are desperate to find out all there is to discover about the journey to Kelsingra so they can pillage it for the rare Elderling artefacts they can sell, and those who want to dragon flesh to sell to the Chalcedeans. The dragons' haven might not be safe for too long.
Not a huge deal happens in this book in comparison to the previous two. Kelsingra has been found, and until the river calms down, or until the dragons can fly, no-one can get across safely. The keepers try in their little boats, but it's not the safest way across, and the keepers find the city a bit eerie. Alise is flown across each and every day by Heeby, so she can explore and take notes about Kelsingra, to keep a record for those in the future - before the Rain Wilders inevitably start coming down the river towards the city and tear it apart.
Things do happen though, it's not a whole book of them all just waiting around. Malta and Reyn Khuprus, and Malta's brother Selden Vestrit, the Elderlings from the Liveship Traders series, get to narrate their own parts in the story, as does Hest, and Captain Leftrin continues to do so in Cassarick. We get to see how things are happening with them, and it's with those that more interesting things happen. They're not things I can talk about though without spoiling the story. Yet it's still pretty awesome seeing the lives of the keepers and the dragons in Kelsingra, seeing the city through their eyes, and the wonders it holds. And how it changes things.
There is a moment in City of Dragons that links right back to something that happened in Assassin's Quest, the third book in the Farseer Trilogy. All of these books are part of the Realm of the Elderlings story, and City of Dragons is the twelfth book, so I think it's so awesome to have a moment in the twelfth book linking back all the way to the third, a memory of good ol' Fitz, and it made me smile so much! I won't spoil it, but it's brilliant!
There really isn't a huge amount more I can say about this book without giving away huge spoilers. It is a fantastic book, though and I am so hugely excited to read the fourth and final book in the series, Blood of Dragons! It's going to be amazing!...more
I first heard about The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson when Jim of YA Yeah Yeah raved about it, but for some reason, it didn't really appeal to me. It's only when I arrived to work one day and was told a reading copy had been left for me that I really took an interest. Being a 2015 YA debut, I saved it to read until this year, and wow. This book is really worth all the buzz you're hearing!
David has wanted to be a girl for as long as he can remember, but he's yet to find the courage to tell anybody other that Essie and Felix, his two best friends. Trapped in the wrong body, he hates the way he looks, and only sometimes lets the real him - her - shine through. Leo starts Eden Park with a history full of secrets and pain. All he wants to do is fly under the radar, get through this final year, then move the hell away for college. But he's come to school with a reputation, and everyone is talking about him. When David is being picked on by the school bully, Leo can't help but defend him, and people start talking even more. So much for going unnoticed. David is so grateful that Leo helped him out, and soon a friendship forms - one that is going to change both their lives.
The Art of Being Normal is such a good book! First of all, I want to explain that I will talk about David and refer to him as a boy; there are very few moments when David allows himself to be the girl inside, everyone calls him David, even those who know, and he outwardly presents himself as male for the majority of the book. Normally, in a book about transgender characters, I would refer to the transgender character as the gender they feel inside, but this time round, it suits the story to refer to David as a boy.
The thing that I loved the most about The Art of Being Normal is it's not about being transgender. It's about two individual characters, and their friendship. Unlike other transgender stories I've read, there isn't a whole lot about what it means to be transgender, how that feels. It's there, it's just not the main focus of the story. David is transgender, not a lot of people know about it, and that's the stage in his life that he's in. The fact that's he's transgender is important to the story, because it's important to his identity, but, for David, it's more about him as an individual person. Everyone's lives, everyone's experiences are different. People who have read the story may disagree with me, but I can't explain myself further here without spoiling the story.
So, David goes to school with his two friends, and tries hard to ignore the comments he always gets. Most people call him "Freak Show", and he gets a lot of grief. He is bullied quite a bit, and it's really bloody awful, the extent to which some of it goes. The incident where Leo defends him, before he steps in, I was just dying inside on David's behalf for the utter humiliation David is put through. It's absolutely disgusting, and that all these people were either just standing around laughing and enjoying it all, or keeping their heads down and not getting involved had me fuming! It's not until Leo steps in and punches Harry, the bully, that anything stops. Nobody else does a thing. And it kills me.
Leo doesn't have a great life. His dad isn't around, and his mother is pretty useless and treats him like crap. He lives in a really rough town, and just wants to escape. Something happened earlier in the year that we don't know about, that has led him to move to Eden Park. Questions and rumours are flying all over the place. Eden Park is a very good school, and it has a zero policy for violence, and simply wouldn't take on a violent student - yet the rumours all say that Leo was expelled for sawing off a teacher's finger. So what's the truth? What is he really doing at Eden Park? I have to say I really didn't see his secret coming. Once I found out, and I looked back on all the little hints, I thought, "Of course!" but I just didn't see it before then.
The friendship between Leo and David is a really sweet one. I kept forgetting throughout the story that David is only 14, that he turned 14 at the very beginning of the book, and he can come across a little young sometimes. There were a few eye-roll inducing moments, but then I would remember his age, and let him off. Leo is 15, but in his final year, so he will be 16 soon, so their friendship is a little unlikely. They're different ages, they live completely different lives and have different interests, and Leo only grudgingly starts being friends with David when he asks him to tutor him in Maths. They slowly get to know each other, and towards the end of the book, they really make a difference to each other's lives. It's a really beautiful friendship!
The Art of Being Normal is such a really awesome book! Such a wonderful debut, and a UKYA novel to be proud of! Will definitely be reading whatever Williamson releases next!
Thank you to David Fickling Books via Foyles for the reading copy....more
I received My True Love Gave to Me, edited by Stephanie Perkins to review last month, but have been saving fOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I received My True Love Gave to Me, edited by Stephanie Perkins to review last month, but have been saving for closer to Christmas. Christmas is likely to be very difficult for me this year, so I decided to read this sooner than planned to help get me into the holiday spirit. I'm really glad to say it has made me a little cheerier about this time of year.
My True Love Gave to Me is a YA anthology of 12 stories set around Christmas. The tag line for the book is "Twelve winter romances", and this is pretty accurate, because they're not all technically Christmas stories. They're set around Christmas, and Christmas is mentioned in all of them, but in some, Christmas is the backdrop to some, or isn't something the characters celebrate due to different religions. But each story was very sweet and made me smile, even if some leave more to be desired. I'm going to review each story individually.
Midnights by Rainbow Rowell - A story set around New Years Eve over four consecutive years, and the relationship between two friends, Mags and Noel. It was a really sweet story, written with Rowell's recognisable style, but it was too short! I wanted it to go on much longer. Story itself is kind of forgettable, I hate to say, but how it made me feel - like how all Rowell's stories make me feel - is familiar and lovely!
The Lady and the Fox by Kelly Link - Miranda discovers a stranger outside at a family friend's Christmas ball, who only appears when it snows and never comes inside. Year after year. I was really hooked by this story, it gripped me fast and kept me turning the pages; the mystery, the magical element... but there were so many questions when it finished! A nice paranormal/fantasy Christmas story, but there were no answers to any of my "why" questions.
Angels in the Snow by Matt de la Peña - Shy is cat sitting for his manager over Christmas, but is left without food. He is fed by the neighbour above, Haley, in exchange for using Shy's shower, as hers has stopped working. I loved this story! It was so sweet, and so there was much chemistry between Shy and Haley! But again, was over too quickly. Ended just as things were beginning.
Polaris is Where You'll Find Me by Jenny Han - Natty, Santa's adopted daughter, is feeling left out during the Snow Ball, as the only human there besides Santa. I was loving this story! Elves that aren't tiny! Santa's has a daughter! A ball! And then it ended all of a sudden. I turned the page thinking there was more to come, but nothing. It really felt like I was only halfway through the story. Wasn't expecting it to end there, it could have been so good if there was just more. So much potential! I wish Han had expanded the story further.
It's a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown by Stephanie Perkins - I don't even know how to summarise this story, so much happens. Marigold requests the help of North, a guy selling Christmas trees, to bring holiday cheer to her home. This is one of the longest stories in the anthology! And it's a full story, people! It has an end, and one that's satisfying! And seriously, so much goes on in this story, with a whole lot of chemistry! A story to sigh happily over.
Your Temporary Santa by David Levithan - Connor asks his boyfriend to dress up as Santa and visit his home in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve to keep his younger sister's believing. Oh my god, this story is so cute! Very Levithan, and just the sweetest, cutest story. I love how the narrator - who isn't given a name - acts as Santa, despite being Jewish, to keep Riley's belief in Santa alive! So cute! But still there's the romance aspect, which has him worrying about his relationship with Connor, feeling like he doesn't fit into his life. Adorable!
Krampuslauf by Holly Black - After taking part in the Krampuslauf charity run, Hanna and her friends Wren and Penny decide to throw a New Year's Eve party at which they'll humiliate Penny's cheating boyfriend. But then some otherworldly creatures turn up. This one started off pretty interesting, with the folklore of the Krampus, and the run where people were doing dressed as Krampuses for charity. Then things got better when things got kind of magical... and then it ended, just as it was getting really good. And skimmed over a lot of the better moments. I wanted more.
What the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth? by Gayle Forman - Sophie has been regretting going to uni in the middle of nowhere, until she meets Russell, who shows her not everything is as it seems. Another sweet story, and a little emotional. It was really good when I was reading it, but now, it's kind of hard to remember much about it.
Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus by Myra McEntire - After accidentally burning down the Church shed, Vaughn has to help get things ready for the Church's Christmas Nativity to make up for it. But when everything starts to go wrong, as chaos is his element, Vaughn is the only one who can fix things. This was a pretty funny story, and I really enjoyed it. Probably the funniest of the lot. It's not laugh out loud, but it's quite amusing. I loved Vaughn's voice!
Welcome to Christmas, CA by Kiersten White - Maria is beyond eager to get out of her deadbeat town, but when Ben, the new cook at the Christmas Café she works at, starts changing everyone's mood with his beautiful food, he shows her that maybe Christmas isn't so awful after all. Slightly different to the previous, and another emotional story, but also kind of cheesy. Ben was just a bit too nice. But I still enjoyed the story.
Star of Bethlehem by Ally Carter - Lydia swaps plane tickets with an Icelandic girl to escape her life, but finds more than she was expecting. I really liked this story! So much! This is the kind of story I'd love to read as a full length novel. It's more about Lydia than it is a romance, but there is that element. I really enjoyed trying to guess what Lydia was running from.
The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer by Laini Taylor - A poor orphan made to work until she's 18, Neve has only one possible future to escape poverty and hard work; marriage. But when marriage is it's own slavery, praying may be the only way out. But Neve prays to an old God, and wakes him, and her life will never be the same again. Oh my god! Laini Taylor is just so incredible! Even this short story moved me like her full length novels! The fantasy, the emotion, the hard life! Fantastic! Most probably my favourite of the lot!
Such a fantastic anthology, despite feeling let down with some of them. And what's brilliant about this anthology is how diverse it is! So many different races, a few religions, and LGBTQ characters in a number of stories. There really is something for everyone here! And I've discovered some new authors I'm going to have to check out. A great book for this time of year!
Thank you to Macmillan Children's Books for the review copy....more
About two weeks or so ago, I was browsing the quotes on Pinterest pinned by those I follow. A few poems kOriginally published on Once Upon a Bookcase.
About two weeks or so ago, I was browsing the quotes on Pinterest pinned by those I follow. A few poems kept coming up by the same person, Lang Leav. I felt so moved by those pins and the emotion in them, I had to research Lang Leav, and discovered she has published two books of poetry. I was desperate to read more, and was soon in possession of Love & Misadventure. And it's absolutely beautiful.
I enjoy poetry, but I don't tend to read too much of it. I find it difficult to get my head around. The kind of poetry I tend to like is the odd poem I've come across while studying English Lit at school, by Shakespeare or William Blake, or poems linked to art, like those by Dante Garbriel Rossetti. These kinds of poems I struggle with, simply because I have a hard time understanding the language, and generally need to look up what the poem is saying, what it means, before I see how amazing it is. So it's difficult for me to sit down with a book of poetry and understand what's being said. Modern poetry has never really spoke, and I have felt bogged down in all the imagery and having it lost on me. This was not at all the case with Love & Misadventure.
As the title suggests, this is a book about love and romantic relationships. The beginnings of relationships, the end. The hope for love, the regret over mistakes made, the pain of having been left. At times, it felt like Love & Misadventure was telling the story of the narrator's love life over time, of maybe two or three different relationships, especially as the book is split into three parts, Misadventure, The Circus of Sorrows and Love. Yet at other times, the poems seem to not be related to the one that came before, or the one after. A poem of the end of a relationship coming between two poems about happiness in a relationship. It feels very much like it's open to the interpretation of the reader whether there is a story here, or individual poems that fit into three themes.
Leav writes with a simplicity that is wonderfully misleading. There is, of course, imagery and metaphors, but they feel almost obvious or every day, so there's no confusion on my part in what Leav is getting at. Most of the poems in Love & Misadventure are quite short; two or three stanzas with three or four lines each. Simple, short. But they each pack a real punch! There is such raw emotion in each poem, it's hard not to feel it. The love, the heartbreak, the sorrow, the regret, the joy, the bliss. I may not personally relate to each poem she wrote, but they spoke to me. It's impossible not to be moved by the honesty that Leav has poured into her words, and the grace with which she writes. They are so powerful, it's a hugely emotional read.
I don't know very much about the composition of poetry. I couldn't tell you what Leav's poetic style is. Saying that, there are obvious patterns to some of her poems; the length, the rhyming words, the rhythm, and even I can tell that Leav has a serious talent to be able to say so much, so honestly, powerfully and beautifully while still sticking to the confines of the poetic style, especially when they're, mostly, so short.
I would like to end my review by sharing a few of my favourite poems from the book with you, but I'm not sure I could format them right, so I will instead link to them on Pinterest: Sea of Strangers, A Stranger, A Way Out, Sad Songs, and Beauty's Curse. Love & Misadventure is a completely beautiful book of poetry, and I am so, so glad I stumbled across Leav's poems. I can't wait to to immerse myself into her second book, Lullabies....more
I stumbled across Just One Night by Gayle Forman accidentally as I was looking for another of her books on GOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I stumbled across Just One Night by Gayle Forman accidentally as I was looking for another of her books on Goodreads. My thoughts on seeing the title were something like, "WHAT?! There's another book?! How did I not know?! Whatisit, whatisit, whatisit?!" So I clicked, and discovered it's a e-novella that finishes off the story from Just One Day and Just One Year. And it's so good!
Just One Night starts right where Just One Day and Just One Year finish off - after Allyson enters Willem's flat after finding him. And there the story continues. They kiss, they talk, and everything comes together. How they've both been looking for each other, the near misses, Allyson's letter to Willem, and all the accidents. It's so ridiculously sweet, and had me wanting to start reading Just One Day again.
It is quite a short novella, so for the most part, we get summaries of the conversations they have, and I would have liked to see a bit more of those conversations, the surprises as the two realise that the other was looking for them as much as they were. But it's great how it's told in third person from both perspectives, with each character's internal reaction following the other. It's awesome to be inside their heads again, to see how much they mean to each other, to see how much love they feel.
And the meeting! Friends of each meet each other at a big meal, and they all talk about what they know of the two's story, of them trying to find each other, and it's just so lovely! Like in Just One Day and Just One Night, there is a lot of emphasis on accidents and fate, if they had done just one little thing different - if Allyson hadn't met Wren, who suggested she go to Parisian hospitals to ask about Willem, if Willem hadn't walked into the bookshop where he found out about auditions for Twelfth Night - they wouldn't have found each other. It's just wonderful.
And the ending is so unbelievably gorgeous! You cannot read that last part of the story without aww-ing because finally! And all the love! It's just beautiful! And the very last two pages are so heartwarming! A really wonderful novella to finish the story off. Loved it!...more
I'm one of those people who likes to read inspirational quotes on Pinterest, it's the kind of thing thatOriginally published on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I'm one of those people who likes to read inspirational quotes on Pinterest, it's the kind of thing that really gets me thinking, and I enjoy how reflective it makes me. Although I wasn't the biggest fan of Wonder, I did love the precept lessons taught by Mr Browne, and the discussions that were had about them. When I discovered that R.J. Palacio had written a book as if written by Mr Browne full of precepts for the whole year, I knew I had to read it. And this book really does give you so much to think about.
The book is set up with an introduction from Mr Browne, before going into the precepts, a whole page for each day in the month. After each month, Mr Browne includes an essay about his thoughts on certain precepts, how he came across them, or correspondence he's had with some of his students - characters from Wonder. These sections update us on some thing that have happened since the end of Wonder, or just give another point of view to the year that Wonder spanned. It's really sweet to get these little glimpses back into the world of Wonder, and see the precepts the characters came up with.
The precepts in this book are just brilliant. There really is something to speak to everyone, I think. What I love is that 74 of the precepts included in the book came from real life youngsters. Palacio asked readers of Wonder to send in their own precepts for the book, and 74 were included. Some are precepts they really like, and some are those they made up themselves. It's really beautiful to see the great things that these young people have thought about and have come up with. It really is wonderful. I could list my favourite precepts, but I'd quote about half the book, probably. instead, here are a few:
Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the moments that take our breath away. - Unknown.
The best things in life are not things. - Ginny Moore.
The beauty of a living thing is not the atoms that go into it, but the way those atoms are put together. - Carl Sagan.
Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves. - J.M. Barrie.
Good friends are like stars. You don't always see them, but you know they're always there. - Unknown.
Most sound really nice at first, but then I'd think a little deeper on how they relate to my own life. There were some I agreed with, there were those where my thoughts went a different direction than from the obvious, and there were even those I disagreed with. But there's something to really think about with each one. The book itself made me think so much, that I have decided that next year, should all go well, I will start a 365 Weeks of Wonder blog project, where I make my way through the book discussing each precept in a blog post, with how it made me think and reflect. I've had permission to do this from RHCP, so I'm looking forward to starting it next year.
There's one thing about 365 Days of Wonder that, after a while, slightly annoyed me a bit. The precepts focus on "kindness, strength of character, overcoming adversity, or simply doing good in the world," (p3), and, reading it from start to finish in a short period of time, they do begin to get kind of samey. Kindness is the main theme of these precepts, and after a while, different precepts come up repeatedly all seeming to say exactly the same thing about kindness. But then again, this book isn't meant to be read in a short period of time, it's meant to be read every day of the year, one precept at a time. Quite a number of days would go by before coming across a precept that was similar to a previous one if read like that, so I suppose it's not so bad. Of course, for reviewing purposes I read it over a few days, and, as a reflective person, coming over such similar precepts caused me to brush past a few because I've already thought about kindness, and the precepts weren't adding or changing what I had already thought about. It would have been nice if there was a bit more of a change in what the precepts focused on, but kindness is the main focus of Wonder, so it would be for 365 Days of Wonder too.
A really fantastic book, one that would make a great gift! I can see parents sitting down and discussing the precepts with their children each day, getting the child to think, and that can only be a good thing. A beautiful book!
When it comes to stories about suicide, I have a strange fascination with them; there's nothing like a tragiOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
When it comes to stories about suicide, I have a strange fascination with them; there's nothing like a tragic story to really get you emotional. So I was really eager to read My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga when I heard about it. It's a great story, but not quite what I was expecting.
Aysel wants to die. She is so deep in her sadness, it's a constant, heavy weight inside her, draining her of all other emotion. Her father is in jail for murder, and his actions have changed her whole life. She has no friends, she is constantly whispered about, even her family look at her with anxiety in their eyes. She is overwhelmed by one fear; what if she turns out like her dad? She can't let that happen. She has to die. So when she sees an advert on a suicide website from FrozenRobot, who is seeking a suicide partner, she responds. FrozenRobot turns out to be Roman, a guy a year older than her, dealing with his own demons. A date is set, 7th April, and Roman is adamant that Aysel simply can't flake out. They're doing this, they have to do this, because Roman can't live any longer. But as the days tick by and 7th April dawns closer, Aysel finds herself developing feelings for Roman. She can't let them distract her though - she has to go.
This book is so good at describing depression. Aysel pictures this giant black slug in her stomach that eats all emotions except her sadness and fear. It's heavy and it weighs her down, and she can't get rid of it, no matter what she does. The black slug is her constant companion. As someone who's had family suffer with depression, the realities of Aysel's mental illness are spot on. She is always sad, always, and she's drowning in it. Being the only teen from a Turkish family (a diverse book!) for miles around, everyone knows who she is when they see her - she lives in a small town, so everyone knows the story, but not everyone knows her, so when people see her, see her colouring, they know she's the daughter of the man who murdered Timothy Jackson. And she sees her fear reflected in her eyes - is whatever caused her father to commit such a heinous crime also part of her genetic code? Then she meets Roman, and she starts feeling things other than sadness. But Roman is even more set on taking his life than Aysel is. His determination is a little scary.
I loved all the science in this book. Aysel is really into Physics, and keeps thinking about potential and kinetic energy. She's learnt in school that energy is never destroyed, only transferred - so what happens to a person's energy when they die? She doesn't know, she doesn't understand, and she can't stop thinking about it. There are various references to Einstein and his theories of relativity, and black holes, and other scientific references, which were really interesting, and really made Aysel stand out as an individual character. She had her quirks, her differences, so she's not your average teenage girl. She felt real.
However, there was something that didn't quite work for me. I wasn't as emotionally hurt by this book as I expected to be. It's a book about suicide, about two teens suffering with depression. I was expecting this book to make me sad, to be emotionally draining and difficult to read because of the deep melancholy that fell off the pages. But it didn't. I was interested in the story, I liked the characters, I wanted to see where they would go, but I wasn't as emotionally invested in it. I didn't even truly feel the romance, sadly. There were some really sweet moments between Aysel and Roman, but nothing that pulled at my heartstrings. Which is really strange, because this book is full of emotion! It just didn't do it for me in that area.
But still, My Heart and Other Black Holes is a really awesome story, and kept me gripped. What was going to happen? Would Aysel and Roman take their lives as planned? Would something happen to stop them? Would something develop between the two of them? Would anyone find out about their pact? The suicide pact element is something I've not read in any other books before, and found it fascinating and disturbing. A great story, and I'd be interested to see what Warga writes in the future.
Thank you to Hodder & Stoughton for the review copy....more
On reading all the buzz about that illustration (which I won't spoil for those who have yet to hear of it),Originally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
On reading all the buzz about that illustration (which I won't spoil for those who have yet to hear of it), The Sleeper and The Spindle by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell was a fairy tale retelling I simply had to read. It wasn't what I expected, but was something so much more. The Sleeper and the Spindle is a mesmerising and beautiful book.
When travelling to a neighbouring Kingdom to buy a wedding present for the Queen, three dwarfs discover that a sleeping enchantment is spreading through the Kingdom, and will soon reach their own home. They inform the young Queen who takes it upon herself to try to travel to where the sleeping Princess slumbers in her castle to break the enchantment, to save the people of both Kingdoms. Having survived a sleeping enchantment herself, she is the only one who stands a chance to save them all. Only when she arrives, things aren't exactly what they seem.
I'm going to start off by talking about the illustrations, because wow. I've seen several novels Chris Riddell has written or illustrated about, but I've never actually read one, just admired the covers. With The Sleeper and the Spindle, my admiration turned to awe. The beautiful illustrations are in black and white throughout, with few details picked out in gold paint. Riddell has a very distinctive and recognisable style; I've seen familiar faces with large eyes and dainty noses on the covers of numerous books, beautiful and very expressive faces, but Riddell's attention to detail is incredible. Within the pages of The Sleeper and the Spindle, there are a few illustrations that cover two whole pages, without text, and they are just gorgeous! There is so much to see; roses and thorns and vines; trees with rough bark; towering castles; long, flowing hair. As well as beautiful faces, with his attention to detail, Riddell is also a genius at the faces of the elderly; old, withered and drooping skin; knotted and spindly bones; sunken, skeletal faces. They are also as beautiful as they are grotesque, and hard to look away from. And I can't talk about the illustrations without mentioning the cover. A young sleeping girl is the focus point of the cover of this hardback, with the transparent jacket featuring the title vines of gold and black roses. I love that dust jacket!
The story itself is a wonderful one, one that seems familiar, and yet is quite different from what we know and expect. The description above calls it "a sort-of Snow White and an almost Sleeping Beauty", and it couldn't be more right. It's not quite a Snow White, and not quite Sleeping Beauty - though the latter is what was first brought to mind by the title - but has elements of both. Sleeping enchantments, a spindle, an evil witch or fairy or enchantress, an evil stepmother, dwarfs, a castle surrounded by rose bushes all make an appearance in this retelling. But what is found in the story is quite surprising, but a complete joy.
Mainly is the presence of the young Queen. A young Queen who decides to take action, who dons armour, who goes on a quest to save lives. A Queen - a woman. There is mention of a Prince - the Queen's fiance - but only in passing as she tells him goodbye to as she leaves to do what must be done. There are those who went before the Queen in an attempt to save the sleeping Princess, who all perished in the rose bushes. This is not a story where women sit by idle, waiting to be rescued by brave and handsome princes or knights in shining armour. This is a book of capable women who are brave and courageous, women who take risks to save the lives of others, resourceful women who learn to rely on themselves for their own survival. Women who know, or who have learnt, that sometimes there is only they, and only they can fight the battles and face the challenges before them - and that they can and will succeed.
I don't really have to put into words how excited this makes me, do I? A feminist fairy tale retelling! I was rooting for the Queen as she set out, I was in complete admiration when I worked out the twist and realised what it meant, and I was whooping with delight at how this story ended! We have Disney Pixar's Brave, we have Ginnifer Goodwin's Snow in Once Upon a Time, and now we have the ladies of The Sleeper and the Spindle. This is a truly magnificent story, and all children should know it's wonders.
Thank you to Bloomsbury for the review copy....more
With it's striking cover and intriguing and unique premise, Noggin by John Corey Whaley was not a book I couOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
With it's striking cover and intriguing and unique premise, Noggin by John Corey Whaley was not a book I could pass up. A full cranial transplant? How can that not spike your interest? I was surprised to find that Noggin was a lot more serious and thought-provoking than I was expecting, and wonderful for it.
Travis Coates contracted terminal leukemia, and fully expected to die. That was until he was approached by Dr. Saranson, who informed experimental procedures were being undertaken, and there was a possibility he could save Travis' life. All it would mean is removing and cryogenically freezing Travis' head, and attaching to a healthy donor body. Travis decides to take the chance, even though he doesn't really believe it will work. However, it does. Travis has a nap, and wakes up five years later. But his new life is not what he expected. Everyone is older, and everyone has changed. How is Travis supposed to find his place in this world that has moved on and left him behind?
Because of how absurd and impossible the premise of this book sounds, and the title of Noggin, I expected this to be a comedy. It's not. There are quite a few funny bits, but Noggin is a much more serious book than I was prepared for. This was such a good thing, because it surprised me how much depth there was to this book, and how it really go me thinking. Travis' new life is far from easy. He wasn't expecting the procedure to work, but if he did, he was expecting to wake up 100 years into the future. Not five, where so much is familiar, and yet other things so different. To him, it literally feels like he's only had a short nap, but now his best friend, Kyle, and his girlfriend, Cate, are 21 and in college, his bedroom is completely bare as his parents threw his stuff out, and there's something strange going on with his Dad.
He find it hard to accept that some things have changed so much. Cate, his girlfriend... is no longer his girlfriend. She mourned for him, then she moved on. And now she's engaged to someone else. But to Travis, she was his girlfriend only a few hours ago - a few weeks ago, as the story goes on. This affects him the most, really; the girl he loves is no longer by his side where she should be. And he doesn't know how to deal with that except by trying to get her back. It is hard for him to accept five years have gone by, but what isn't sinking in for him is that those five years did go by for everyone else. For all intents and purposes, to everyone who cares about him, Travis has been dead and gone for five years, and suddenly he's back. And it's difficult for everyone to deal with. They had to spend five years without him. They had to grow up without him. They had to move on, without him. It hurt them, but it happened, and they can't undo the past five years and all the changes they've been through just because he's back now. They love that he's here, but it's still so difficult to get their head around. But of course Travis is young, and can't help focusing on his own problems.
This book was so thought-provoking. Really. I had a conversation about the whole idea of this book with my own best friend, about what life would like - what we would be like - if this happened to me. How much would be different. How I would feel to be stuck here while everyone else moved forward and left me behind. It actually really upset me, the though of what I would miss out on, how this gap might affect my relationships. Really upset me. So in that sense, I really sympathised with Travis, despite the fact he's a real idiot at times. But I also really understood where everyone else was coming from. What if it was the other way round, and my best friend "died", only to come back five years later, and I had to spend the next five years without him. How much would I change? Would he still really know me then? Could our friendship survive such distance, such a shake up? This book is incredible at getting you to think about what something like this could really mean. It's unbelievably moving.
Saying all this, from about half way/two thirds of the way in, things got a little samey. There was no real change in the plot; time went on, Travis was still having trouble accepting, the people around him were still learning to deal with his return. Travis carried on with his obsession of trying to win back Cate, and even got a little ridiculous with it at some points (though, to be fair, he does love her, and I can't really blame him for trying all he can think of). It kind of plateaued here until the end. The only real change is finding out what was going on with his Dad, but I had worked that out really early on, so that was no real surprise. In any other book, this would have been a major problem for me, this plateauing, but I was so fascinated by the emotions and confusion, that I finished Noggin thinking this part was mildly frustrating rather than a huge let down. I still really enjoyed the book on the whole, still something I would really recommend.
There is a lgbtq subplot that fits in really well with the story. Of what can change - or not - for someone in five years. What it would mean to have a secret literally taken to the grave, and how that would affect you as you go forward. What it would then mean when that person is no longer dead. Coming back and finding secrets are no longer secrets, but something altogether different. It's not a major part of the story, but it's a major part of the relationship between Travis and one other person in this book. I found it really interesting, and not just the lgbtq aspect of it, but the secret aspect, the idea of only one person knowing your secret, and dying with it. No-one knows again, yet you have actually shared that secret. What now? I think that particular person's story would be really interesting as a short story or something. The different ways that would go, and how that's figured out internally.
Noggin is a brilliant story, and so thought-provoking. It's about letting go of the past, and moving on with the future - but how it's not always that easy, on either side, when the past comes back. A really powerful story, a fascinating idea, and one that has me interested to read more by Whaley, to see what else he can get me to think about.
Thank you to Simon and Schuster for the review copy. ...more
Although I'm not generally a fan of young fiction, with it's brilliant eye-catching cover and intriguing bluOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Although I'm not generally a fan of young fiction, with it's brilliant eye-catching cover and intriguing blurb, I just had to give The Baking Life of Amelie Day by Vanessa Curtis a read. And it's such a sweet (pardon the pun!) story!
Amelie lives to bake. It's all she thinks about; constantly trying to come up with new recipes and twists on old ones, and counts down the minutes until she can bake again. When she gets into the quarter finals of Britain's Best Teen Baker of the year, she is absolutely thrilled. If she wins the competition, it could help set her on her way towards the career in baking she wants! There's just one problem; Amelie has Cystic Fibrosis, and seems to be steadily getting worse. She has trouble breathing and is prone to lung infections. Her Mum is adamant she is far too ill to travel to London to take part in the competition. But this is Amelie's dream - she can't not go!
There is obviously a lot of baking in this book as baking is Amelie's whole life. However, the focus is a lot more on Amelie's Cystic Fibrosis. Her CF is what keeps her from baking and going to school sometimes. Her CF is what has her being late for classes because she can't rush or she'll end up out of breath and start a huge coughing fit. Her CF is why she is so small and slim, because it affects her digestive system - meaning Amelie can eat as much as she wants, because she needs to put on the weight. I didn't know too much about CF before reading Amelie Day, and I was shocked by some of the things I discovered about this genetic condition, like sufferers are lucky if they make it to 40, because there's no cure. Despite how terrible the condition is, Curtis doesn't bog the book down with medical terms or make it too depressing, but it is honest about what CF sufferers go through. It talks about how Amelie will eventually need a lung transplant, and that she has to have a feeding tube put in to help her gain weight. It's educational without being scary.
When it comes to baking, Amelie really knows her stuff. There are a lot of various cakes, biscuits and pastries baked in this book, and she talks through each one, explaining techniques like creaming, and discussing various ingredients and which are better to use. It even includes Amelie's own recipes, which are just awesome! They're not just bog-standard recipes, they've been written by Amelie herself, in her own voice, so they're entertaining to read as well as the story, and easy enough to follow for 8-12-year olds to follow. I used to bake a bit when I was younger, and reading Amelie Day brought all the memories back, and got me excited to start baking again! I am actually going to be trying out one of Amelie's recipes later this week!
As well as CF and baking, there are some moral themes to Amelie Day; doing what you want against doing what you're told. About being responsible, and how your actions can affect others. Its a short novel at 171 pages, but there's quite a lot to take from it.
If there was a negative side to Amelie Day, it would be that it's just a little too young for me, but that's just my personal taste, and I'm not technically the target audience. For those 8-12 year olds, The Baking Life of Amelie Day is a really awesome story!
Thank you to Curious Fox for the review copy....more
I read the first three books in the Lux series by Jennifer L. Armentrout earlier in the year, back to back.Originally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I read the first three books in the Lux series by Jennifer L. Armentrout earlier in the year, back to back. I loved them, so different from other urban fantasy/paranormal romances I've read before because it's aliens! And they're abilities and histories are unlike anything else I've ever read. I took a break rather than continuing the series to read other books, but I recently picked up the fourth novel, Origin, to find out what happened after the unbelievable cliffhanger Opal finished on, and woah - this series is far better than I remembered!
After being captured by Daedalus after the rescue attempt to save Beth, Katy is now under their control. Each day she must undergo tests - physical tests, stress tests - shown and told things she never would have thought possible, and has everything she believed about the Luxen turned on her head. But when she's pushed to the edge in what she can take with her awful tests, and the horrendous things they put her through, can she really believe what they tell her, what she sees? Daemon is determined to get Katy back, no matter what it takes. So he willingly allows himself to be caught by Daedalus when no other way to get to Katy seems possible. Katy cannot believe what he's done and the danger he's put himself in, but is so relieved to be able to see him. Daemon is distraught to discover the shape Katy is in, but she won't tell him what has happened to her - only what she's discovered. But Katy has only scratched the surface on what there is to learn, and when the two find out more about what Daedalus is doing, they realise just how far in over their heads they are. Can they escape Daedalus, and if they can, what are they going to do with all they have discovered?
Firstly, what I've said above is not spoilery. All that I've revealed (though it's very vague, as you'll see when you read the book) happens within the first few chapters, and absolutely so much happens in this book. Origin is nuts. Really. It's almost like two books; Daemon and Katy being tested on by Daedalus and all they discover, and what happens later on. I'm not even going to hint at what that is, because woah. You need to discover that for yourself. But kudos to Armentrout, because this is one seriously thought out book. It's the penultimate book in the series (which I have just this second discovered as I write this), which has me thinking that Origin and Opposition, the final book, are what this series is all about.
The first three books were awesome, they introduced the characters, set up the romance, gave us all the info on the Luxen, and led to Katy's capture, from which point things start to get crazy. The story of the Lux series is not the story of a relationship, at least not completely, but a story of this alien race, and only now do things start to involve the world - humans and Luxen - rather than just the group of characters we've come to know. So many things are revealed in the first part of the book, and I have no idea how Armentrout is going to answer all the questions that crop up from Origin in Opposition. So much wow. And Daedalus are truly sick and twisted, and oh my god, I cannot believe the things they're doing! Though, at the same time, I kind of can, from their point of view, with context, it kind of makes sense, but still!
The second half of the book goes to a whole new level. So much action, so many consequences. I have never read anything quite like it, accept maybe in Harry Potter - not that the two are alike in anyway, I'm just talking the scale of the action. With how this book ends, I'm just absolutely flabbergasted. Things just got real. Really, really real. In a big way. Huge! It has me seriously excited, so very anxious - for the characters and what will happen, but also about whether I'll get satisfactory answers my questions - and sad that the series is going to end so soon. It feels soon for me.
I did have a problem with the book though. I got a bit bored with the epicness of Daemon and Katy's love. It's beautiful and it's hot, of course, but it gets a bit wearing after a while. Every move, breath, word, causes a reaction in the other that is described... too often. Yes they're in love, they're crazy about each other and they turn each other on, but not every single detail needs a corresponding reaction that needs to be poetically described. I think I now kind of prefer it when they're not all lusty and are just in danger. Thankfully, because of the situation they're in, this doesn't happen too many times in the book, so doesn't detract too much from the awesome of the whole thing.
An absolutely incredible book, and I am so, so eager to read the next book! Which I now have, but might wait a while to read. Want to keep this series from ending as long as possible. An awesome story, if you loved the first three, you're going to be in awe of Origin!...more
Oh my god, this series! I know I was a little disappointed with The Fiery Heart, but Silver Shadows more thaOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Oh my god, this series! I know I was a little disappointed with The Fiery Heart, but Silver Shadows more than makes up for it. And I've come to realise that we need the romance heavy The Fiery Heart to get Sydney and Adrian's romance and understand it's development, so we can be rooting for them in Silver Shadows. This book is incredible!
There's no way I can really sumarise this book in any way that's better than or equal to the blurb above. So much happens in this book, and it would be incredibly easy to spoil certain things by trying to summarise it, so I'll pass on that this time round. But god, this book is pretty much all tension. Sydney's life in re-education is hell. The extent to which the Alchemists will go to "fix" those who have "sullied their souls" is disgusting. It's practically torture. As long as you're going along with everything they say and do all they tell you to do, things are pretty much ok - but their opinion of what is right is so out of bounds, that you would have to swallow your morals and beliefs, your urge to correct them for their disgusting views, all the time just to get by. And that doesn't always happen. Sydney is so awesome though, because she is so strong. She may play along at times, but she always keeps in mind that she's doing this to get to Adrian sooner. And she does what she can to learn about the facility and how she might escape, and she tries her utmost to help the others there - despite it being encouraged to shun other detainees who have slipped up.
Adrian is at his wits end. He is trying and trying to reach Sydney in his dreams, but it's just not happening, and all other things he's tried have fallen trhough. He doesn't know what else he can do. He's in the deepest, darkest pit of despair, and using Spirit so much is taking it's toll. He goes back to alcohol in a big way, and the voice he hears of his Aunt Tatiana just gets louder. But when a small glimmer of hope, some way to possibly help, is discovered, Adrian's determination is incredible. I'm not sure I've read a book with a male perspective where the guy is more fiercely loyal about doing all that must be done to save the one he loves. Adrian in this book just took my breath away, especially considering all his other issues.
Thinking back over everything that happens in the book, it's hard to believe it's only 380 pages long! Seriously, I've barely touched the surface. I was wound up so tightly the whole way through, desperate to know how things were going to turn out! To say it's action-packed wouldn't be quite true, it's not full of fighting, but there is always something happening. Some plot, some scheme, or some new torture from the Alchemists to discover. There is no let up with this book! Then last 100 pages or so kind of feel completely separate to the rest of the book in that it's so far removed from what happens earlier. As I said, it's surprising how short this book is considering all it fits in! And it's all so terribly exciting! And the ending! Oh my god, oh my god! I have a theory already. But life is not going to be easy for everyone after the events of this book, so I'm pretty sure the next book, The Ruby Circle, which will also be the last in the series (gone by so fast!) is going to be explosive!...more
I knew I had to read this book as soon as I heard about it. As a woman, I knew it would make me rage, I knewOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I knew I had to read this book as soon as I heard about it. As a woman, I knew it would make me rage, I knew it would sicken me. But I was in no-way prepared for how absolutely horrifying it would be.
In a world where woman are genetically engineered, designed to perfection, with the soul purpose to please men, freida and isabel are starting their final year. At the end of the year, it will be decided if they will be a companion to a man, being his wife and baring him sons; a concubine, living out life in a harem, providing sexual gratification for any man who wants them; or a chastity, a nun-like woman who lives a life of quiet selflessness or as a teacher at the School. There are only ten men who can choose from the 30 available girls - only ten will become companions. Everyone is eager to be the most beautiful, and competition and cattiness is encouraged, as is self-hate and the desire to always look better. In this final year, while all are excited and eager to see what the outcome will be, isabel starts putting on weight and neglecting her appearance. frieda cannot believe what her best friend is doing, but if she wants any future for herself, how can she be seen to feel anything but disgust for her friend?
My little summary barely scratches the surface about what you'll find in Only Ever Yours' pages. The first half of this book is dedicated to showing just what nasty and cruel bitches girls can be. The venom that comes out of the girls mouths, disguised as advice to help their peers improve, is disgusting. Beauty is everything. Making others doubt their beauty is paramount. Judging everyone is not only encouraged, it's a class. Two girls will be put against each other, and the rest of the class will discuss their physical strengths and weaknesses in comparison, no holds barred. It's the bitchiness between girls at real schools heightened to unimaginable degrees. And yet... it's not that far away from what happens at schools, from what a group of women will say when flicking through a magazine and judging celebrities. And the self-hatred, oh my god. If someone is prettier than you, then you are not pretty enough. You are ugly. You are failing. Failing is not an option. So you starve yourself. Or you make sure you use the Vomitorium if you're eating too much. Or you take medication to help you sleep, because dark circles are inconceivable. Being beautiful means you're popular. Being beautiful and popular means you'll be liked by men. The lenths these girls will go to to be liked by the Queen Bee megan are attrocious. And that's without touching on how they're supposed to behave. Women don't cry, women don't get angry, women don't get hysterical. Women are agreeable and happy and pleasant and calm. Inappropriate behaviour will be punished.
In this part of the book there is a lot of talk about the purpose of a woman - to please a man, but the main focus is on the competition. This comes out more towards the second half of the book, and it's then when the book gets even more disturbing. You might have noticed none of the girls names start with a capital. Women are subhuman and are not deserving of a capital letter at the beginning of their name. Women having wants? What? Women are not here to want, they are here to please, in any which way a man requires. "Feminist" is a dirty word. frieda. Poor frieda. She tries so god damned hard to do what's right, to be popular, to be beautiful, to become a companion. Her conscience constantly fights with her desire to get the right life. She is brainwashed and manipulated. She is so desperately unhappy, but she has no control.
The last third of this book is where it becomes horrifying. O'Neill does a marvellous job of building it up - just when you thought you couldn't be any more disgusted with this world and it's treatment of women, O'Neill throws something else at you. The ending is absolutely terrifying - not just forwhat happens, but for how the characters feel. I finished this book absolutely numb with shock. I am so far beyond righteous indignation, so far beyond disgusted. I am overcome with anguis for frieda, for isabel. For the women of this world, no matter what they think of the world they live in. I know better.
I did not enjoy this Only Ever Yours, but it's not a book to be enjoyed. It's a book to shine a light on the treatment of women. Of how they are seen in society. Of how they are judged by men and other women. Of what worth is placed on a woman, if a woman has any. It's hard-hitting, it's thought-provoking, and it's absolutely incredible. I don't think I've ever read a book quite like it. No review I could write could ever do it justice. It's a brave book, and it's a triumph.
Having been such a big fan, generally, of Jenny Han's The Summer I Turned Pretty series, as soon as I saw ToOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Having been such a big fan, generally, of Jenny Han's The Summer I Turned Pretty series, as soon as I saw To All the Boys I've Loved Before (TATBILB), I knew I had to read it. Even before I picked up and read the back. I saw the cover, I saw the author, and I saw the title, and my instant reaction was, "I NEED THIS BOOK!" Thanks to my colleague at work, I was able to get a reading copy from Scholastic, but of course I had to review it, too. And wow! This book is amazing!
When Lara Jean's private, secret get-over-you love letters to all the boys she's previously loved are some how mailed out, she is mortified. One of those letters goes to Josh, her next door neighbour and her older sister's very recent ex. Another goes to Peter Kavinsky, a guy she was friends with in middle school. After convincing Peter that she is in no-way interested now, they come up with a plan that will help them both. Peter was recently dumped by his ex, Genevieve, and Lara Jean doesn't know how to act around Josh now. So they decide to be each other's fake-girlfriend and boyfriend, to make Genevive jealous, and so Josh doesn't think Lara Jean is actually interested in him. Though she's not quite entirely sure that she's not any more. But as she gets to know him better, Peter turns out not to be the entirely confident, cocky guy she thought he was. And perhaps this has all got a whole lot more complicated than it needs to be.
This book is so cute and adorable! But not in a sickly sweet way. Lara Jean's relationship with her older sister Margot and younger sister Kitty is wonderful, they are all so close! Margot has always been the sensible one,t he one who's organised their lives since their mother died six years ago, and Lara Jean has always depended on her. But now Margot is going away to college, and Lara needs to step up and fill the role - but she's not sure she can. How can she when she's always needed Margot? How can she look after her family and do as good a job as her older sister? And who's going to look out for her now everything is so, so complicated. Kitty is the sweetest, funniest little girl I've ever read. She is so smart, and she has such a quick mouth on her. Sometimes she seems so grown up, and sometimtes so young. I adored her completely.
Then there's Josh, the quintessential boy-next-door who is as lovely as he should be in that role - but so confusing and complicated too! Oh my gosh, the boy causes trouble all on his own! And Peter... well. He was not what I expected at all. And this story when in a direction I didn't see coming. And wow. Wow, wow, wow. I might actually like that guy? Who'd have thought? He actually is pretty sweet under all of the cockiness and mocking. He actually is really - surprisingly - wonderful.
Han's writing style is so much like having a friend talking to you, I was gripped from the beginning. So much of Lara Jean's life is so ordinary, but yet specifically unique to her little family, that even when nothing specifically interesting plot-wise was happening, I was still interested in the day-to-day of her life. I was interested in her, the way she thinks, who she was. She felt like a friend. And you just care about all the ordinary goings on with a friend. Although the stories are very different, the writing styles of TALBILB and The Summer I Turned Pretty series are very similar, and it's that gripping voice-of-a-friend feel that completely absorbs me about Han's writing.
My only complaint about TATBILB, which isn't really a complaint, is that it is so compelling I couldn't put it down. It's a 400+ page book, and I absolutely flew through it. I so wish I had taken my time reading it, made it last over several days rather than just one and a bit. But there were very few things that kept me from reading this book, and then it was only grudgingly that I put it down. I needed to know what was going to happen.
It is now official: Jenny Han is one of my favourite contemporary/romance YA authors. And I am oh-so-happy to hear there will be a sequel! P.S. I Still Love You, which is set to be released in the US in April, but I have no idea about a UK release. All I know is I will be waiting for it with baited breath. I need more Lara Jean and Peter. And I'm pretty sure I need to get started on Han's Burn for Burn series, written with Siobhan Vivian. I can't wait!
Thank you to Scholastic via work for the review copy....more
Percy the pug loves jumping and rolling in puddles. Any kind of puddle, he loves them all. He has his own maOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Percy the pug loves jumping and rolling in puddles. Any kind of puddle, he loves them all. He has his own map of all the puddles he loves so he can find them again. But one day he find the most perfect muddy puddle - but this puddle is the home to a family of pigs, and Mama Pig doesn't want to share. How can Percy persuade Mama Pig to let him jump in their puddle too?
Puddle Pug might just be one of the most adorable picture books I have ever read! The story is very sweet, but what makes this picture book for me are the gorgeous illustrations! Pugs are very recognisable dogs, with their cute, flat, squished faces, and Keika Yamaguchi gets Percy spot on. Percy's expressions are fantastic, without making him look too cartoonish and unrealistic. He is the cutest wee pug, whether he's grinning with excitement as he splashing about, bringing a smile to your own face, or breaking your heart with his sad puppy-dog eyes when Mama Pig won't let him play in her puddle. I could very much imagine having the illustration on the front cover in a frame on the wall. Percy is such a charming little pug!
But the beautiful illustrations come from the wonderful text. The story itself is a very cute one, teaching children about sharing, that our differences shouldn't prevent friendship and acceptance, and that kindness and help can go a long way.
There is a great sense of movement in Yamaguchi's illustrations, as Percy scampers about in his various puddles, and you can just imagine him yipping excitedly with each spalsh. The illustrations of this darting little dog fit well with the fast pace the story, and you fly through the quick, short paragraphs as fast as Percy dashes about.
A wonderful little story that will delight both adults and children alike!
Thank you to Sterling Children's Books via The GMC Group for the review copy....more
I absolutely love this series, and so was incredibly eager to read Sacrifice,and jumped on NetGalley straightOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase
I absolutely love this series, and so was incredibly eager to read Sacrifice,and jumped on NetGalley straight away once I discovered it was available to review with such excitement! So it's with a heavy heart that I have to say, now I've finished Sacrifice, I have mixed feelings.
With the Guides are still after the Merrick brothers, they're almost sitting ducks, waiting for the next attack. Tensions are running high, and Michael Merrick is feeling the pressure to keep his family safe. When all the houses in their neighbourhood are burnt to a crisp, and Michael is suspected as having a part to play in the fires - by none other than Marshal Faulkner, the father of his girlfriend, Hannah - he knows the Guides are more than serious this time, and he could lose everything...
I'm going to start with the positives. Sacrifice has everything that makes this series; it's the perfect blend of paranormal romance, urban fantasy, and contemporary. Although there is a focus in Sacrifice on the romance between Michael and Hannah, like there is a focus in the others, also like the others, the romance isn't the dominating factor. There's still a real fantasy and danger element (ha!), and set off with real contemporary topics, as in each book. It's fantasy that deals with real life issues in an honest, realistic way. It's something I've always admired about these books; sure, these are stories about guys who have abilities to control the elements, but there's always something very human and relatable in these stories, too. Not only do they make the stories feel more credible, but they also touch on really important subjects without shoving them down your throat and feeling too preachy and/or depressing. In Sacrifice, the issues covered are the responsibilities of protecting and raising a family, and the pressure that comes with it, the effect of teenage pregnancy has on you even when you're an adult, and, as always, family dynamics and the problems of miscommunication. Each of these topics is dealt with so well, you could take all the fanatasy elements out and you would still have a story. Brigid Kemmerer writes with such compassion, too, even when the characters are going through a hard or tough time, it's still beautiful.
Sacrifice is still full of the danger and excitement we have come to expect from the Elemental series. It's really amped up in Sacrifice, though, and I think it might be the most violent of the series! There are so many on-the-edge-of-your-seat moments, and ohmygosh, the tension and the excitment are just through the roof! Also, as this is Michael's book and he's 23, Sacrifice is technically a New Adult novel. Hurrah for a paranormal romance/urban fantasy New Adult novel that's not full of sex! I'd say it's cross over still; the character's age and postion in the family are the only thing that feels all that different from the other novels in the series, but it's not inappropriate for a YA audience or anything. It's what I want to see more of in New Adult! Less sex, more life.
I couldn't help getting a thrill when I read the name of a couple who are neighbours of the Merricks! Quite a while back, Kemmerer was asking for suggestions for surnames to give to people in Sacrifice, and I suggested my own surname - Stapley. She chose it! There are Stapleys in Sacrifice! Their names come up once, but it's so awesome! You would not believe my grin!
And now on to the part I'm not going to enjoy writing so much. This is one of the hardest reviews I have ever had to write. I love this series. I have been pushing the Merrick brothers on whoever would listen to me. I tried a few times to contact publishers to get the books published over here in the UK. I seriously love these books. And I'm such a huge fan of Kemmerer! I genuinely feel terrible for having to write this next part of my review, but for the sake of my blog and my integrity, I have to be honest. And I did have some problems with Sacrifice.
For the end of a series, I feel a little disappointed. I'm still left with questions. Although in some ways it's written in a way to say the story has ended, it's not all wrapped up.Not enough for me. I have questions about events in this book - about the Guide - that just weren't answered. Lots of questions that start with "how". This is an eProof, so perhaps they will be covered before the finished copies are released - at least I hope so. Otherwise... I don't understand why these questions aren't answered when there won't be another book. I really don't think I missed anything in my reading, but I do have so many questions. I can't even begin to hint at what they are without spoiling the story.
Also, there was something big that happened in Sacrifice that I would have expected to have more page time. For one thing, I didn't know it could happen, but then it does, and things move on quite quickly. It's a big deal, and involves a major character, but there's no time to fully process it. It didn't hit me until later. There's a prime opportunity for us readers to process what's happened, but it takes place off page, so we don't get that either. It's a real shock to the system and to have the book end abruptly without us really having the chance to accept what's happened - because I was half convinced it would be a twist, it would turn out everyone else got it wrong - felt really unfair. Really unfair. I really can't get past the fact that this thing happened, and feels brushed over.
Finally, I really didn't think the book was going to finish where it did. It seems to end really suddenly. I didn't realise Sacrifice comes with the three Elemental novellas, so I it looked like there was more to come, and it's what I expected. I reached 66% expecting there to still be 44% to come. I wasn't surprised by how much was left when getting close to 66% - though I now know the end was coming - because of all the questions I had. And then it ended. And really, considering it's the last book, I would have wanted more of the other Merrick brothers too. I think they may have been in this book less than the others.
This series doesn't feel finished to me. Although it's ended, and there was a conclusion of sorts, there are still too many questions, too much that wasn't explained, and it just doesn't feel like the end. If there were more books to come, I wouldn't have a problem with Sacrifice, but knowing it's the last one... I really feel it missed out a lot. Still, I'm a huge fan of Kemmerer's, and will continue to read what she writes. I'll just hope for a better ending.
Thank you to Kensington Books via NetGalley for the review copy....more
Regular readers will know by now how much of a fan of David Levithan's I am. There have been only two booksOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Regular readers will know by now how much of a fan of David Levithan's I am. There have been only two books of his that I've read so far that I haven't enjoyed immensely, so when I was offered the chance to review both Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist and Naomi & Ely's No Kiss List, co-written by Levithan and Rachel Cohn, I jumped at the chance, seeing as I absolutely adored Dash & Lily's Book of Dares! And I am overjoyed to say Nick & Norah is absolutely adorable!
Nick has just finished performing with his band at a gig, when he spots Tris, the girl who broke his heart almost four weeks ago. He's still having trouble getting past their break up, so to avoid talking to her, he asks the random girl next to him at the bar to pretend to be his girlfriend for the next five minutes. Norah, under the impression that as Nick is in a band, he's going to have wheels, and she really needs to get her drunk friend Caroline home, so she agrees by kissing him. But Norah is also getting over a painful break up, and this random meeting might be just what they both need to move on.
Oh my gosh this book is just beautiful! Nick is just the sweetest guy! The sweetest! And ever so slightly clueless, but in the best possible way. Accept for when it leads to misunderstandings and crossed wires. Norah is spunky and cool, but also sensible and sometimes little scared and unsure. Despite not knowing each other for very long, there is a spark between them, but one is never quite sure what the other one thinks about them, and so the night goes from one place to the next, bonding over music, as they stumble and climb through insecurity and mistakes to what's real. Oh my god, they are just so cute!
Levithan and Cohn have both very distinct writing styles, so Nick and Norah's voices are very different. I absolutely love Levithan's style, and his beautiful turn of phrase. He is so damn quotable! I find myself almost always wanting to read his parts out loud, just to hear the awesomeness of his writing, as well as read it. I really enjoy Cohn's writing too. As with Lily in Dash & Lily, her Norah is filled with a quiet bravery, despite her moments of regret, uncertainty and insecurity. She is a taker of small risks, and I love her for that. Cohn seems to write real girls, but also girls to be admired, and I really love that about these books.
The title of the book comes from something said by Nick, and so from Levithan, and it is just beautiful! I don't want to spoil how beautiful it is, but it's so in line with what you expect from Levithan. It's just the perfect title! I love it!
An incredible story! I'm really looking forward to reading Naomi & Ely next, and to watching the movie of Nick & Norah!
Thank you to Electric Monkey for the review copy....more
Originally posted on Pretty Things by Sarra Manning, and although I enjoyed that, I didn't really need another one. However, I fell completely in loveOriginally posted on Pretty Things by Sarra Manning, and although I enjoyed that, I didn't really need another one. However, I fell completely in love with this story, and got so much more from it than I expected. I should have known better, I guess.
Naomi and Ely are best friends. Naomi is also in love with Ely, but Ely is gay. Then Ely kisses - and then steals - Naomi's boyfriend, Bruce. Naomi is beyond hurt. But it's not so much that Ely stole her boyfriend, but rather the fact that because of him stealing her boyfriend, she's finally realised there will never be a Naomi and Ely.
This is a book about friendship. How many YA novels about friendship are there? But of all the one's I've read - and this may be to do with Levithan and his (yes, I will say it again) absolutely beautiful way with words - this is the one that is going to stick out in my mind from this point on as being the one that really gets it. I am an adult that reads YA, and I know from when I was a teenager, you have all these friends and they're amazing, and they mean everything to you at the time, but as you get older, things change, people change, and you may not fall out, but you just don't quite fit anymore. Because of the ages of Naomi and Ely - never strictly said, but around 18/19, believe, as they're at college - this could be considered a new adult novel (though published as YA), yet they're teenagers still, and it has that YA feel. BUT (and this is my point) this is the first friendship I've read in a YA/new adult novel that I feel, at it's heart, is an ageless friendship. A friendship that is, no matter what the friends' ages. I really identified with the importance and depth of their friendship, if not the characters.
It is, of course, also about unrequited love. The general story I didn't relate to, but this element I did. Though I do feel that Naomi was a little naive about it all. I know love makes you hopeful, but she's in a completely hopeless situation, so how she was able to delude herself into thinking there was hope, I don't quite get. She's not a child. It did make me feel sorry for her, though, because when she finally realised, oh my god, so much heartache. I wasn't her biggest fan, I felt she had a bit of an attitude, and she didn't always treat people nicely, but I was intrigued by her and sympathised. It was interesting to see where the story took her.
Bruce was straight until Ely. He has his own little story going on. The focus is mostly on Naomi and Ely, but there are other little stories for the other characters too, and Bruce gets his own. And he's confused and unsure - not about his sexuality, though that has come as quite a bit of a shock - but about Ely. He feels what he feels, but he's not quite sure if he and Ely are right. He feels Ely is out of his league, and they're such different people. Bruce is insecure, and Ely is confident, especially in his sexuality, which just heightens Bruce's insecurity. I did want to give him a hug so many times and tell him to stop thinking, but his worries did make him endearing - which was necessary, because the guy did cheat on his girlfriend, and he wasn't doing so good in my books.
Naomi & Ely is a really melancholic book, but beautiful with it. It makes you hurt, but a good kind of hurt, a hurt that matters, because their friendship matters and it just can't be over! As the book says, 'You can't just erase hope and love and history.' (p219) Right? Seriously. It's brilliant in all it's sadness, and I absolutely loved it. I do so hope Cohn and Levithan write more books together, because their's is a perfect partnership.
Thank you to Electric Monkey for the review copy....more