"You watch the world. I'm not even sure you live in it."
It's so weird how nearly every 2015 YA book that promises fast-paced action and/or fantasy t"You watch the world. I'm not even sure you live in it."
It's so weird how nearly every 2015 YA book that promises fast-paced action and/or fantasy turns into a story about that guy (or guys) with the beautiful eyes, and yet most YA books pitched as cutesy summer romances turn out to be powerful and moving coming-of-age stories. Between Us and the Moon is just that.
This is a story about Sarah - the baby of the family, who everyone calls "Bean". Her older sister, Scarlett, is the beautiful one, the popular one, the one who rebels and goes to parties; their parents don't even ask Sarah where she's going when she leaves the house because they know how sensible she is. They know she only wants to study comets and stars, and apply for a scholarship.
Except there's a different side to Sarah. One that is growing up in her sister's shadow. One that hurts inside when her aunt buys Scarlett beautiful slinky gowns and buys her pink frills instead. Like many teenagers, she's torn between the pull of who she is and the need to be someone likable and desirable. I thought it was an exceptionally honest portrait of a confused, scared, selfish teenage girl, right from the very first chapter.
“I want to be able to care about clothes and boys, but be good at science, too. I want to be both."
The book opens with Sarah being dumped by her boyfriend, Tucker. Following the advice of her amazing, gay, hippie grandmother, Sarah decides that she does not need this stupid boy and will continue applying for her scholarship and being awesome (hell yeah!). But, of course, she's an insecure teenager and things aren't quite so simple. She wants to understand why her sister is this popular goddess and no one looks twice at her. And to understand that, she does what she does best - a science experiment.
“Scarlett does and says specific things that make people want to be around her all the time. Just like Becky. There has to be a direct correlation between Scarlett’s specific behaviour and style to the response of acceptance and popularity.”
I know some readers won't like that Sarah essentially tries to change who she is and wear different clothes because she gets dumped by a guy - I respect that - but I also think there's an important lesson to be learned here, in the end. I remember a little something about trying to become someone else to fit in back in high school, so this book made me a little nostalgic and sad. Sarah was selfish at times but I sympathized with her and felt her sadness and frustration at every turn.
Between Us and the Moon does have a romance that is central to the story, but I think it acts as the stage on which the author plays out the themes of growing up and learning to accept who you are. I personally didn't get as much of a sense of the "forbidden" from Sarah's relationship with Andrew. She's sixteen and he's nineteen (nearly twenty), which might cause issues with maturity but is still completely legal in the U.K. Though while that didn't come across, I enjoyed reading about them together.
My favourite thing about the book was Sarah's growth. Both her personal growth and the development of her relationships with her family members. So many lessons to be learned. Her family has to see her in a new light, as she grows up, and she also has to realize that there's more to them than she first thought. There were some really great family dynamics that left me feeling quite emotional at times.
On the one hand, as with part one, I found this book to be written in an extremely compellingI cannot decide how I want to rate Never Never: Part Two.
On the one hand, as with part one, I found this book to be written in an extremely compelling way. I found it easy to sprint through chapter after chapter, unlocking more questions and mysteries as I went along. Unlike with some of the authors' other work, nothing about the plot or the characters irritated me and I genuinely care and want to find out just what the hell is going on.
HOWEVER, I can see absolutely no reason Never Never has been serialized other than as a money-making ploy by the authors. It is not a series. It is clearly all part of the same story; the same book. The "parts" are just a collection of a few chapters and each one is not particularly long so I know it wasn't serialized for length reasons.
I guess it just bugs me that this "part" isn't anything close to resembling a full book that I can rate accurately. It's like taking a few chapters from a book and trying to decide what rating it deserves based on that small piece. Couldn't the authors have just waited and delivered a full book?...more
As Ashleigh Paige said: "It wasted all of its potential trying to be shocking when it should have tried to be smart."
Those Girls is an attempt to tuAs Ashleigh Paige said: "It wasted all of its potential trying to be shocking when it should have tried to be smart."
Those Girls is an attempt to turn bitchy, horrible, shallow teenage girls into a raw and meaningful book. Other authors have been successful in doing so - Courtney Summers, Leah Raeder and Sara Taylor to name but a few. However, those authors' mean, awful female characters were also interesting and not completely brain dead.
These characters are mindless and annoying; more like Gossip Girl but less entertaining. I don't even understand why they're being bitches half the time. And the author tries to shock us by immediately introducing sexually active teen girls - one of whom is using Plan B as birth control on a regular basis.
Don't get me wrong - I'm not trying to slut-shame anyone. I'm all for honest depictions of teenage girls who want and/or enjoy sex. I'm a feminist and very sex-positive. Female sexuality, ftw! Yay sluts!
Hey! You there! Please listen. On May 19th this book will be released - on that day go to this page or this page or another retailer of your choice anHey! You there! Please listen. On May 19th this book will be released - on that day go to this page or this page or another retailer of your choice and download the free sample of this book. If, by the end of that small sample, you are not convinced that this book is amazing, never think of it again. BUT, I sincerely doubt that will be the case.
Because it took me ONE CHAPTER - well, a few pages really - to make me realize that this book was going to steal every bit of my spare time until I'd devoured it all. And it did. It was magical, surprising, incredibly well-written, and so very funny. And not funny in a Terry Pratchett comedy/fantasy kind of way, but just funny because these characters are so real and charming.
There are those well-drawn, vivid books that have great world-building, beautiful descriptions without being overly descriptive, and get lauded by critics. Then there are those books that are delicious chocolate-ice-cream-with-sprinkles pieces of entertainment that drag you in and just provide so much enjoyment. Uprooted is a rare beast - because it's both.
It's just so goddamn charming. It's exciting and creepy with regards to the plot and world, but it's made especially wonderful because of the character dynamics. Agnieszka and the Dragon are hilarious together - they operate with a kind of love/hate dynamic that makes for some really funny scenes and some heart-warming ones.
What a magical, though strangely honest and thoughtful book. I'm avoiding saying too much about the story because the blurb is deliberately vague for a reason, but I will give you a little something. Uprooted opens in a village where once every ten years, the Dragon (actually a man and wizard who rules over the land) comes and picks a seventeen year-old girl from the village and takes her to his palace. Nobody knows what happens to them, but they are not seen for the next ten years and they always come back changed.
It made me smile because it sounds a little like the premise for Cruel Beauty (which I loved) and A Court of Thorns and Roses (which I didn't love), but it's better and different than either of those. There's a touch of the romantic (and the heart-poundingly sexy), but Novik is both a tease and someone not concerned about being PG - which made the book infinitely better on that front than either of the other two mentioned.
Also, one of my favourite things was the creepy Wood - a literally evil forest that is alive with a dark corruption that will claim you if you ever enter it, or get touched by one of the monstrous beings that come out of the Wood. How weird and creative and scary... I LOVED it.
No one went into the Wood and came out again, at least not whole and themselves. Sometimes they came out blind and screaming, sometimes they came out twisted and so misshapen they couldn’t be recognized; and worst of all sometimes they came out with their own faces but murder behind them, something gone dreadfully wrong within.
I can't praise this book highly enough. I'm desperately trying to string together the right combination of words to make other people pick this up. I just hope I've been successful, because it was truly a magical, entertaining experience.
Holy shit, this was entertaining. Not perfect - there were some issues I had - but seriously, who cares when a book is this unputdownable?
"The UncleaHoly shit, this was entertaining. Not perfect - there were some issues I had - but seriously, who cares when a book is this unputdownable?
"The Unclean were hiding in plain sight, among us. Breeding their own hosts. Existing right under the Church’s nose."
The Stars Never Rise is a fast-paced, gritty blend of dystopia and urban fantasy. Set in a future America that has been ravaged by demons who possess human bodies and some other creepy zombie-like monsters called Degenerates, a new governing body has emerged - The Unified Church.
The Church demands strict obedience, punishes sins and, in return, sends its trained exorcists out to defend civilians from the demonic threat. Nina Kane, however, is a little bit more concerned about making enough money to feed herself and her sister, Melanie. Their mother is a drug addict who stumbles home at dawn and sleeps throughout the day, so Nina must do whatever she can to survive and provide for them. But when Melanie reveals a secret that could have dire consequences for the whole family, it sparks a series of events that will change both their lives forever.
Aside from just being enjoyable as hell, the book has many things I love: sisters looking out for each other, great secondary characters, a touch of humour amid the action and nastiness. Not to mention a heroine I really liked, who was flawed and tough:
"If I was going down, I would go down fighting."
Hell yeah, girl.
I will also talk about some of the minor complaints I had, though it should be noted that even the problems I had with this book have huge BUTs after them.
Firstly, I thought the first and last thirds of the book were really strong but that third in the middle was weaker. I would say the budding romance comes far behind everything else, but it seems to be a necessary component of every YA novel these days, so it did come into play. When the love interest was first introduced, I was a bit bored and couldn't wait to get back to the serious stuff. However - here's the BUT - the author actually really surprised me. There's a romance happening in this series but it's... not what I first thought. To be honest, I've never read one quite like it. So maybe not so much of a negative after all.
My second issue was also kind of "fixed" later on. Basically, the character of Devi is introduced as a typical mean girl who seemed to dislike Nina for no good reason. I hate it when authors create female characters for the sole reason of adding a bit of girl-on-girl hate/jealousy angst. BUT, she's not the throwaway character I worried she might be. In fact, I'd say she's a source of some much-needed bitchy, hilarious cynicism. And she's pretty much the smartest character in the whole book. Looking forward to seeing more of her in the next installment.
I don't think it's difficult to see some of the "reveals" coming, but the characters, the action and the sheer pull of the author's writing are so good that I didn't really care. I also really like that the ending doesn't feel like a cliffhanger but, at the same time, opens up the story and the world of the novel into something bigger and scarier. It made me even more excited for the sequel.
There's potential for a really great series here. Here's hoping for even more action, more surprises and more of these characters being funny and awesome in the next book. Also, I think there's a great opportunity for discussion about what it really means to be human... I hope the author takes advantage of that.
Oh god. Why is it so difficult to find a sexy summer romance that isn't annoying or laden with cliched characters?
I didn't finish Nowhere But Here - aOh god. Why is it so difficult to find a sexy summer romance that isn't annoying or laden with cliched characters?
I didn't finish Nowhere But Here - and feel free to judge me for writing a little review anyway - but I just couldn't make it through all the constant irritations.
The female MC (Emily) is a bland "good girl" from the right side of town and she comes into Oz's "bad boy" life and turns his head away from the slutty, trashy girls he's used to sleeping with and forgetting about. Because Emily is mysterious and classy, not obvious and sexual like all those other girls who show their midriffs, god forbid!
Annoyance #1 : Slut-shaming "Trash bitch woman wears skintight jeans, a tank top that exposes her midriff and, holy mother of God, flip-flops."
Annoyance #2 : Cliches and stereotypes The bikers that Oz hangs out with must be the most cliched, one-dimensional bikers ever. Oz is openly described as a "bad boy". Emily is good and boring and I don't understand why anyone would care about her...
Annoyance #3 : The Collide "She steps back and nearly knocks into me. I sidestep her, but I collided with someone else." This happens in so many romance novels. The author thinks "how can I make Ms Good Girl meet Mr Bad Boy? I know...BAM!" They collide with one another. Because a handshake is so passé (and it's convenient).
“This is the way the series ends: Not with a bang, but a whimper.”
― T.S. Emily
Though World After wasn't bad, I think this series reached a glorious hig“This is the way the series ends: Not with a bang, but a whimper.”
― T.S. Emily
Though World After wasn't bad, I think this series reached a glorious high at the end of Angelfall and never quite reached the same heights again. It's just speculation, but part of me wonders if the author had no idea where she wanted to take it after the first book. Especially given that Angelfall was self-published back at a time when that pretty much guaranteed no one would read it. Everyone was surprised when it became a huge success and perhaps Ms Ee was most surprised of all(?)
This book is just fine - not badly written, but I didn't feel a single emotion while reading it....more
“Well, that’s growing up, isn’t it?” my dad said. “You don’t always have to know. And things aren’t always fair. You just have to keep moving forward“Well, that’s growing up, isn’t it?” my dad said. “You don’t always have to know. And things aren’t always fair. You just have to keep moving forward. A step in one direction.”
Yet another book that has me wondering just what is going on in the book marketing/design world. With a title like Emmy & Oliver and the heart-shaped finger prints on the cover, pretty much everyone will pick this book up thinking they know exactly what they're going to get - a cute romance.
In reality, this book is not a romance. Maybe it's 25% romance at the very most. Rather, Emmy & Oliver is a coming-of-age story about friendships, family, growing up, life in a small town and learning to be something on your own, separate from your friends and family. To call this a romance would grossly oversimplify a quiet, moving and funny story about all these important things.
Emmy and Oliver were childhood best friends until Oliver's father kidnapped him as a kid. The kidnapping shakes their entire small town and we see the lasting effect it has on everyone else - from the friends Oliver left behind to the parents who become extremely overprotective of their own kids. Then, ten years later, Oliver is found and returned home. Emmy is unsure whether she wants to rebuild what they once had, or even if it's possible, but she is curious about the person who has returned and how much of her old friend lingers beneath the surface.
This is such a sensitive and thoughtful story about many different relationships. There's something about the way Benway handles her characterization that makes us care about every individual in this book. Forget Emmy and Oliver for a second, we also see Emmy's relationship with her two other friends - Caroline and Drew - through some of the best-written dialogue I've read in a long time. And we get a glimpse into the complex relationship Emmy has with her overprotective parents; both her love for them and her frustration with them.
Honestly, I loved these characters and the dynamic between them. I think Emmy & Oliver is all the more powerful because it feels so real and honest. The people in this book feel both unique and universal at the same time. It is not cheesy, there are no sex gods or instaromances of any kind, it channels some feminist vibes, and friendship is put before anything else. Very highly recommended.
2 1/2 stars. Maybe my rating comes as a surprise or even - if you care - a disappointment, but let me assure you: no one is more surprised or disappoi2 1/2 stars. Maybe my rating comes as a surprise or even - if you care - a disappointment, but let me assure you: no one is more surprised or disappointed than I am.
I've had this book on my TBR ever since it appeared on Goodreads without a title, cover or description. I started reading it as soon as it became available and the array of positive reviews from my friends and strangers alike made me feel sure I would love it. But I didn't. It is possible I expected all the wrong things from A Court of Thorns and Roses, and maybe my review can prevent others from doing the same.
Here's what I expected: an intricate fantasy world, supernatural politics and alliances, fast-paced action, a sensual romance - perhaps similar to Cruel Beauty and other Beauty and the Beast retellings, and a flawed but likable heroine.
But this book is, if you ask me, nothing more or less than softcore erotica. Which is fine, if that's what you're looking for.
I personally thought that the fantasy aspect felt like trimmings around a story that was all about a romance between Feyre (the narrator) and Tamlin (a High Lord of the Fae). There are some titillating scenes where Tamlin bites Feyre's neck and they have sex - undoubtedly the best bits of the book and I won't pretend I didn't feel a little hot under the collar myself. But the "ancient wicked shadow" promised in the blurb is only really a source of more romantic angst for Feyre and Tamlin.
However, I *do* like a good romance as much as anyone, so there are other reasons this book didn't quite work for me. In order to express what I mean, I'm going to compare A Court of Thorns and Roses to Cruel Beauty, which is, in my opinion, a better book.
In CB, I felt the chemistry between Nyx and Ignifex as soon as their loaded banter started to fill the pages. They were sexy together, Ignifex was an evil ruler (which was a real problem for their relationship) with blood-red eyes, and the supernatural part of the book was creepy, weird and completely unique. Despite enjoying the actual non-PG scenes in A Court of Thorns and Roses, I never felt any real chemistry between Feyre and Tamlin or any realistic challenge to their relationship.
What makes Beauty and the Beast such a compelling romance? One that demands to be told over and over again in so many different ways? I'll tell you what it is: it's the obstacles, the challenges, the improbability... how can a young woman come to love an ugly beast? We ask. I'll prove it's possible! The author replies. That's why readers fall in love with the beast again and again, even when he is furry and has horns like the Disney version. I loved the Disney beast. (view spoiler)[And that badass fox in Robin Hood so it's possible I have issues. (hide spoiler)]
Tamlin is not a beast.
“Even as he bit out the words, I couldn’t ignore the sheer male beauty of that strong jaw, the richness of his golden-tan skin.”
Oh my, how could a poor young woman ever love a pretty-faced, golden-haired, completely not evil Fae prince? How weird.
Maas is a good writer and the beginning - before Feyre is taken to the Fae world - made me believe a great book was on the way. When Maas writes action, she writes action really well. But there was far too little of it in this book. It came in behind the descriptions of beautiful Fae men and the Fae palace.
In short: It just wasn't nasty enough. In truth, this felt more like an extended Cinderella retelling than what it was supposed to be. A girl lives in poverty and looks after her rather annoying sisters until one day she is swept up by a prince who takes her to his beautiful palace (after about three chapters). I just find it hard to recommend this when I think Cruel Beauty is similar and yet so much better.
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Growing up, I believed in miracles. I guess I don’t anymore.
This book seems to have appeared out of nowhere. I haven't heard much hype about it, havGrowing up, I believed in miracles. I guess I don’t anymore.
This book seems to have appeared out of nowhere. I haven't heard much hype about it, haven't seen many advance reviews in my feed and yet, from the very first chapter, I was hooked into this dark, horrifying and atmospheric novel. It gripped me from the start and I couldn't stop reading.
From the very opening line of "I am a blood-soaked girl", I had a feeling that this was going to be one of those books that sucks me in completely. I was right. Not only am I fascinated about the subject matter, but this happens to be one of the most moving, painful and well-written books about a religious cult, existing outside the rules and laws of society as we know it.
I think this novel is so well-balanced by many fantastic things. It offers us a horrifying portrait of life inside the "Community". It's seemingly sensational enough to have us outraged and emotionally affected, but a quick Google search will tell you how closely this resembles the reality of real life cults:
I want to tell him that these are the people who lashed their children with switches thick as forearms when the Prophet commanded, married their daughters off at sixteen to men generations older. These are the people who beat Jude until there was nothing left but a mess of blood and bone. They had to cover him in a sheet because it made the women sick to look at.
But that's not all. Almost all books about religious cults are disturbing, shocking, even gory sometimes, but The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly is much more powerful because of everything else it does.
For one, it is extremely well-written and atmospheric. The author uses a combination of horrific and beautiful imagery to paint each scene in our minds. For another thing, Minnow Bly - having escaped the Community - muses on the notion of religion, freedom of choice, and the reality of justice, in between recounting her tale of the time she spent under the rule of the Prophet. The book raises questions that made me stop and think for a while - I love it when a book can do that.
The story starts in the present where Minnow is being sent to juvenile detention for assault. We know a few things: 1) Her hands have been cut off, 2) She has escaped something horrific, 3) She viciously attacked someone, and 4) The Prophet is dead. Who killed him is a mystery; the details of how she lost her hands are also a mystery. Through flashbacks and her present time in prison, Minnow's story emerges.
It's the kind of book that has you on the edge of your seat, angry and scared for the protagonist. It's a heart-pounding kind of book. But it also contains moments of humour, lightness and friendship between Minnow and the other girls in juvenile detention - especially the hilarious Angel. As I said, it balances so many things and, I personally think, it leaves us with a lingering and unsettling message - not about religious cults, but about the way in which our laws can punish victims.
It really affected me and I hope you read it too. I'm going to leave you with this final quote that I believe to be a lovely little nod towards us book nerds:
When I remember her, I picture that expression, like behind her eyes she had entire rooms that she didn’t let anyone see. And I realize now it was the book in her hands that’d made them.
Does a dead body still have potential energy or does it get transferred into something else? Can potential energy just evaporate into nothingness? ThaDoes a dead body still have potential energy or does it get transferred into something else? Can potential energy just evaporate into nothingness? That’s the question I don’t know the answer to. That’s the question that haunts me.
3 1/2 stars. This book was pretty much perfect until the big thing that made it not so perfect anymore. However, I still think it's a clever, addicting, sensitive, honest and insightful story about depression, especially in the beginning. It follows the pattern of other popular books that I didn't enjoy so much - like The Fault in Our Stars and All the Bright Places - but the characters felt more real and less annoyingly pretentious. Plus, I loved the philosophy/physics angle.
My Heart and Other Black Holes starts very well. Having suffered with depression at times in my life and seen my mother deal with it too, I can completely relate to Aysel's descriptions of her sadness and inner struggle. Warga apparently wrote this book after the death of her close friend, in order to manage her own emotions and I think it's evident that she understands her subject. Like how the worst of it happens inside of you:
What people never understand is that depression isn’t about the outside; it’s about the inside. Something inside me is wrong. Sure, there are things in my life that make me feel alone, but nothing makes me feel more isolated and terrified than my own voice in my head.
And the wish to be invisible that sometimes borders on agoraphobia:
In these moments, it always feels like my skin is too thin, like everyone can see right inside me, can see my empty and dark insides.
When Aysel decides she needs a suicide partner to finally put an end to her misery, she meets up with Rowan. Both of them are very different and very realistic. Aysel might be a really smart physics nerd, but her "voice" feels like that of a real person; a real teenager. And Rowan is proof that not all depression sufferers are nerdy outsiders and emos. I also really enjoyed the conversation between them - both the serious discussions and the darkly comic aspects.
I wondered how the physics theme was going to play into the story and was skeptical about whether I'd like it. As it turns out, I did. I thought the weaving together of philosophy and physics was really interesting. The question about what happens to us when we die is an old one, but I found this take on it refreshing - if energy cannot disappear but can only be transferred, what happens to our energy when we die?
My issue with this book started during the last 25%. Warga had built up a strong novel with strong characters who, though bitter, were extremely likable. She'd brought depression, death, life, philosophy and science to the table in an intriguing blend... and then Aysel, um, recovers.
I don't know how else to explain it. (view spoiler)[Aysel finally admits she has feelings for Rowan and suddenly, overnight, it's like the depression has started to be washed away:
He’s no longer the person I want to die with; he’s the person I want to be alive with.
I find this to be many things - lazy, untruthful, even a damaging message. Depression is not something that can be cured overnight. As Aysel noted earlier, it's far more to do with the inner illness than the outer circumstances. I wouldn't go so far as to portray this as a "love cures all" book - personally, I didn't even think it was very romancey - but it completely misrepresents depression and suicidal thinking by suggesting that someone can flick a switch in their brain and decide to be happy and alive. (hide spoiler)]
I don't like that suggestion and I needed it to be noted. But I still believe this is a good book. Enjoyable, dark, but funny too. Clever and interesting. I just wish the last 25% had been stronger.
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Maybe something terrible had happened, and I was making it worse by covering things up.
Imagine this scenario. Your best friend tells you that they mMaybe something terrible had happened, and I was making it worse by covering things up.
Imagine this scenario. Your best friend tells you that they met someone on the internet and want to go meet up with that person in Vegas. They ask you to cover for them. So you pretend to be camping out and surfing with them. Then, the next day, it turns out that your friend never came home. They've disappeared. And even though you know they're always glued to their phone, they don't answer your call. The cops come to question you. Do you:
a) Come clean and tell them your friend has gone to meet an unknown person in Vegas?
Or b) Tell the cops you were with your friend all night and they left early but you don't know where they are now?
If you answered "b" then you are the worst friend ever. But okay... let's say you were put on the spot and thought your friend might be more pissed if you blew their cover. So you lie to the cops.
After a few days, your friend still hasn't shown up but you have found their phone, covered in blood, in the trunk of your car. Do you:
a) Inform the cops immediately and hand over the phone?
Or b) Clean the blood off the phone, hide it, and launch your own private investigation into your friend's disappearance?
And okay, let's assume you're selfish enough to be more concerned about them suspecting you than the well-being of your missing friend. If you know the cops are becoming more and more suspicious of you and have directly ordered you not to go anywhere, do you:
a) Sit tight, cooperate with them and be as honest as possible?
Or b) Continue to not tell them the full story and travel to Vegas, armed with a Glock?
You can probably tell by now what the idiot narrator of this novel does. I can't stand stupid characters whose actions make no sense. And, to be honest, I didn't find this anywhere near as fast-paced and gripping as everyone else seems to. The characters were all kind of annoying or recklessly stupid.
If you want a more enjoyable and psychological YA thriller, I'd recommend reading I Hunt Killers instead.
The Witch Hunter is a historical fantasy set around the time of witch trials and burnings in England. The main character - Elizabeth Grey - is one ofThe Witch Hunter is a historical fantasy set around the time of witch trials and burnings in England. The main character - Elizabeth Grey - is one of the titular witch hunters, going about murdering and capturing those who practice magic, until she is accused of being a witch herself and needs to be rescued by the kingdom's most-wanted wizard - Nicholas Perevil.
Well... kind of. Except here's what really happens.
As with all mediocre fantasy novels, there's an unexplained ban on magic that leads to hatred of all witches/wizards and their subsequent death sentence. Unlike the historical reality, this ban does not seem to be motivated by religion. None of these witches/wizards appear to be doing anything sinister or evil with the magic, but let's kill them anyway.
Elizabeth's stomach flips on page 4 when the first hot guy in this book kisses her hand. From that moment on, she barely stops talking about Caleb - even when he promises to return and help her but doesn't. We are constantly treated to her little anecdotes about the two of them and how wonderful he is.
Elizabeth Grey is, frankly, really annoying. She is a witch hunter, hates witches/wizards, and believes all magic to be wrong; she also delivers the witches/wizards to Blackwell so they can be burned alive. BUT she is rightly accused of witchcraft - she is found to be using contraceptive magic herbs. What a bloody hypocrite.
Then, when she is rescued by Nicholas Perevil and his group of witches/wizards, instead of being grateful that they rescued her from being burned alive, she bides her time until she can turn them over to the guy who sentenced her to death. Because a) she somehow still believes all wizards and witches must be evil, and b) she's selfish, disloyal and OHMYGOD... Caleb.
But, of course, things are not that simple because - wait for it - there's a hot guy #2 amongst Nicholas' group. Yes... John. Even when Elizabeth is passed out from a fever this becomes an opportunity for John to examine her wounds body. Everything that happens in this book feels orchestrated around either Elizabeth's crush on Caleb or her crush on John.
Also: Do you guys all remember the evil sentence? The "I let out a breath I didn't know I was holding" that appeared in almost every single YA novel? Well, I've found another one. It seems like it's in every YA and NA book with a romance (so 99% of them). It goes like this:
“I feel a mixture of _____, _______ and something else that I can’t put my finger on.”
“I feel a mixture of _____, _______ and another feeling I'm not familiar with.”
Jeez, I'll tell you what it is: you have the hots for that guy! It's lust, it's a crush, it's unbelievable that you've made it to this stage in your life without recognizing what that feeling is! In other words, this is the author's way of trying to subtly allude to romantic feelings, whilst actually making the reader feel like they're being smacked around the head with romantic subtext.
Loose fantasy world-building, irritating heroine and two love interests. This only got two stars because there was some funny and entertaining dialogue.
“That’s the oppressive thing about happiness, the way everything is out on the table like an open book.”
When you look at the "rating details" for e“That’s the oppressive thing about happiness, the way everything is out on the table like an open book.”
When you look at the "rating details" for every widely-read book on Goodreads, you will almost always see most ratings being 5 or 4 stars. Even when it comes to divisive books like Fifty Shades of Grey, 60% of the ratings are for 4 or 5 stars.
Now look at the ratings for The Dinner. There are an overwhelming number of 3 star ratings (more than any other). And I get why. This is the kind of book that you remember as being "clever" and "twisted" but never rush out to recommend. It's a book you find it hard to say isn't "good", but at the same time you weren't blown away. And, though it may be about a dinner, it just isn't that delicious.
The whole story consists of one dinner at one of those overpriced restaurants where you get a tiny morsel of food in the centre of your plate. Two couples are at this meal - the narrator (Paul), his politician brother (Serge Lohman), and their wives (Claire and Babette). Through little flashbacks and side stories, details and vagueness, it becomes clear that there's a dark side to this get together and our narrator might not be so reliable.
It's a book about many things: mental illness, dehumanization, middle class people and the coveted notion of a "happy family". I particularly liked how Koch explored the ways in which subtle language changes can be used to dehumanize someone. Like calling a drunk person an "alcoholic" so that's what they become - defined by their drunken state, no longer human, deserving of everything they get.
It's a book that gets darker and darker. And, despite the scope of the novel being relatively small, it remains compelling. The narrator's disdain for his pretentious brother and the general faff of "posh" restaurants is amusing.
Though I think, most of all, this novel has a severe lack of believability and I found it hard to take seriously. Not because I don't believe people are this morally bankrupt - not that at all - but there's a certain farcical nature to the characters' actions. Would they really go out to eat at a restaurant when having a discussion like this? Would Claire really react the way she did at the end (before leaving the restaurant)?
The Dinner is thought-provoking. It's twisted. It's good. But there are just enough problems with it that I can't rate higher than 3 stars....more
“The eyes of others our prisons; their thoughts our cages.” - Virginia Woolf
This book made me cry. And I really wasn't expecting that.
I think the comp“The eyes of others our prisons; their thoughts our cages.” - Virginia Woolf
This book made me cry. And I really wasn't expecting that.
I think the comparisons between Reconstructing Amelia and Gone Girl have done this book a disservice. I know that every mystery/thriller with some unconventional female antics is now compared to Gone Girl - inevitable, really, in a world so focused on the marketing and selling aspect.
But Gone Girl (and the books that deserve to be grouped with it) left me shocked and intrigued at the dark psychological exploration of what people are capable of. I finish them thinking they are clever, twisted and totally disturbing. They do not make me cry. They do not break my heart like this book did.
I can see why the marketing department at HarperCollins read Reconstructing Amelia and saw an opportunity to market it as the dark, twisty thriller of the Gone Girl variety. It is about the secrets we all keep and hide from those closest to us. It's about discovering that the people we love most aren't all we believed them to be. And it looks closely at some of the most evil, depressed and fucked up creatures in the world: teenage girls.
BUT. There is one reason this book is so good and it's not some huge, mind-boggling, never-saw-that-coming twist... it's the relationship between Kate and Amelia. Kate is a lawyer from a "serious" family that never showed her any affection. After discovering her ability to fall for and/or sleep with all the wrong guys, she became pregnant with Amelia. Though her mother wanted her to have an abortion, Kate finally saw an opportunity to shower another human being with all the love and affection that lay unused inside her.
Despite having to work the long hours of a lawyer, Kate adored her daughter and dedicated every spare minute to her. She was open with her, encouraged Amelia to talk to her about anything, and loved her so unconditionally. And the reader knows that. I could feel Kate's love for Amelia. I mourned Amelia too because Kate did. How do you deal with the death of your child? How do you deal with the death of the person your entire life revolved around?
And, more than that, Kate cannot come to terms with Amelia's supposed suicide. It's hard enough that her daughter is dead, but she has to also accept that Amelia did it to herself. Because... Kate wasn't there enough? She didn't see the signs? She wasn't a good enough mother? So when an anonymous text informs Kate that Amelia didn't jump, she desperately grasps at this possibility.
Finding new information that reopens the case, Kate sparks an investigation deep into the world of private school teenage girls and all the dark horrors that lie inside their minds. Told in alternating perspectives - of Kate in the present and Amelia in the weeks leading up to her death - the mystery unravels to reveal ever more mysteries.
It shouldn't be grouped with Gone Girl, though, because it is not that kind of book. It's about a mother, a daughter, the love between them, and the mistakes we all make - teenagers and adults alike.
“There was something about him. Something worth knowing. That much was certain.”
In life, there are times when you meet someone and realize "there's“There was something about him. Something worth knowing. That much was certain.”
In life, there are times when you meet someone and realize "there's just something about them". Maybe you know what I mean. Those people who may not be the best-looking, not even your usual type, not the smartest, the funniest or the "best" at anything really... but, for some reason, you're drawn towards them. And it's wonderful. You don't have to be a romantic to think there's something incredible about being pulled towards someone by some strange unseen force - God? Fate? The very chemistry of the universe? How wonderful to think your bond with someone goes beyond the physical and the rational.
I understand that. And yet... it doesn't work for me in books. Or, at least, it never has yet. Perhaps it's because this feeling that warrants a "there's just something about him/her" is very personal to the one experiencing it. That's the beauty of it, right? That no one else really gets it. But, as the reader of a romance novel, I kind of need to get it. If I want to fall in love with a couple, I need to feel the chemistry between them. I need to love them too.
And that's why instalove never works for me. "There's just something about him/her" never works for me. For me, ineffable emotions don't work in novels when all I have are the words before me. I appreciate in real life there are times when you can't describe how you feel with words; but, in books, being unable to describe something with words is kind of a big problem. Or, not even describe, but SHOW. No need to tell me how you feel, it's even better if you show me through character experiences, dialogue and the details between them.
This book has an interesting premise. It's historical with a fantasy aspect and in this story "Love" and "Death" are actual beings who select players in a millennia-old game. In the past, Death has always won, but can Love finally prevail when it comes to Henry and Flora?
The best bits about this book are the 1930s setting and the subtle explorations of race and homosexuality going on in the background. Henry is a wealthy white boy with a college scholarship and little to worry about, even though this is Depression-era America. Flora is a black girl who sings in jazz clubs by night, hoping to one day become the next Amelia Earhart. And then there's Ethan, a boy struggling to come to terms with his sexuality in a society that would never accept him. The little subplots were excellent, though sadly overshadowed by the "Game".
When Henry sees Flora, he is immediately mesmerized by everything about her for no real reason except it is their "destiny". What then follows is pages and pages of him being cheesy every time she appears:
“He’d never heard anything like her voice, which made him wish he had his bass in his hands, just so he could return the sounds, a mix of chocolate and cream, something he wanted to drink through his skin.”
Not only that, but people do an awful lot of "sensing" in this book. I've said in the past that I find this kind of storytelling lazy - when the characters either do or don't do something because they "get a feeling" about it. Like not trusting the bad guy because they "have a bad feeling". It's lazy and I don't buy into it.
All this being said, the author writes some beautiful descriptions of 1930s Seattle and the jazz scene. Plus, the subplots about race and sexuality were handled in a sensitive and engaging way. If the author branches off from destiny-inspired romance in her future books, I might come back to her work.
“The sun kept on with its slipping away, and I thought how many small good things in the world might be resting on the shoulders of something terribl“The sun kept on with its slipping away, and I thought how many small good things in the world might be resting on the shoulders of something terrible.”
When I was about seven or eight, I was at my friend's house drawing pictures and playing with dolls or whatever we were doing. I don't remember the exact circumstances leading up to what happened, but on this day my friend put her hand underneath my school skirt and touched me. Being older now, I realize it was just childish exploration and that it isn't uncommon, but at the time I pulled back like I'd been burned. I went home shortly after that.
This event is not that remarkable. What is remarkable is that I worried about that day for the next four years. That's right - four whole years. Then one day when I was twelve, my mum looked at me and asked me what was wrong. Well, I burst into tears and told her what had happened four years previously.
However, my mum just looked relieved and told me: "That's not that strange. Young children are curious about bodies and sexuality." And then I said: "But... she's a girl. Does that mean... am I... do I have AIDs?" My mum was shocked. She explained that I couldn't get AIDs unless the other person already had the disease and that I definitely couldn't get it from touching. Or saliva.
I'm lucky enough to have a mother who a) I can talk to about anything, and b) is intelligent and open-minded enough to correct my mistaken assumptions about AIDs. But sometimes I shudder to think of how ignorant I could have been if my situation had been different. I shudder to think of where I must have picked up that false information in the first place and how many other ignorant kids (later ignorant adults) believe that kind of crap.
This book is so relevant, even today. We're still, as a society, so uneducated about AIDs. Very few schoolchildren are provided with substantial information about where it comes from and what causes it. Still, today, many people believe AIDs is something that gay people created. And many people believe you can catch it by holding hands with someone who has the disease.
Tell the Wolves I'm Home deals with an important subject and I'm glad there are books dealing with the subject. But I also think it has many flaws and some things were not handled successfully. Not least of which is that I'm not sure it does anything to challenge the perceived relationship between homosexuality and the disease. There are two main characters who are gay in this book - one dies of AIDs and the other is really creepy.
Some people disliked the relationship between June and her Uncle Finn because it becomes apparent very early that June has some kind of crush on him. This didn't bother me. I saw June as a kid, one without any real friends, whose closest relationship was between her and her beloved uncle. Kids are all kinds of weird and many young girls say they're going to "marry their dad" - I don't believe it's dangerous or long-lasting. Finn, as the adult, never behaved inappropriately towards June and that's all I really cared about.
As someone who grew up very shy, I also liked the exploration of June's shyness. The author captures the feeling very well:
I'm okay with one or two people, but more than that and I turn into a naked mole rat. That's what being shy feels like. Like my skin is too thin, the light too bright. Like the best place I could possibly be is in a tunnel far under the cool, dark earth. Someone asks me a question and I stare at them, empty-faced, my brain jammed up with how hard I'm trying to find something interesting to say.
But, as well as some of the failures regarding the depiction of homosexuality and AIDs, I thought June was incredibly stupid at times. She receives a note from a man she believes to be a murderer, telling her to meet up with him and not tell any of her family about it. Er... this is about the time that major alarm bells should be going off in your head, June! Instead, she meets with him, goes to his apartment and allows him to lead her into the basement (like the idiots in a good old horror B-movie), pausing at one point to consider that he might be a psycho but brushing it off without good reason. Stupid.
Such an important subject matter. Many steps taken in the right direction, but many problems too....more
"The trouble with dying," she'd told Jeannie once, "is that you don't get to see how everything turns out. You won't know the ending."
This book was"The trouble with dying," she'd told Jeannie once, "is that you don't get to see how everything turns out. You won't know the ending."
This book was lovely. That's how I would describe it. I'm not going to sell it as anything it isn't - fans of fast-paced action and fantasy should look elsewhere - because this is a quiet, moving family drama; nothing more or less. And yet, that was more than enough to make this one of my favourite, beautifully-written character studies.
Sometimes there are those rare books that capture pieces of real life in such a way that you look at the ordinary as you have never looked at it before. Very few authors can successfully turn the mundane into art. There are those who try to mimic the successful few but they almost always fail. Anne Tyler is apparently one of those authors who can take such a simplistic story of family life and breathe so much humanity into her characters that the everyday becomes compelling.
This is a book about the Whitshank family - several generations of it. I lost the exact quote but I recall one point when a character is described as being "like most people - insufferable but likable". And that is how most characters are in this book. We are dragged into their lives, forced to care about them, and yet they are complex, annoying, difficult, selfish and lovable.
Tyler takes just pages - perhaps even just paragraphs - to weave dialogue into a dynamic we can understand. From the beginning, we recognise Abby for the caring and smothering mother she is and we see Red as the more critical and skeptical of the two. Then as their children are introduced into the story, we see that Denny is intelligent, selfish, rebellious and constantly running from his own life. We see the overbearing and strong Amanda taking charge of most situations, the kindly Stem who always puts others first, and Jeannie - a personality often forgotten in the chaos of family drama.
As Abby and Red get older, Abby experiences some mental blackouts and Red's hearing gradually declines, so their sons and daughters must come together and decide how to help their aging parents (who adamantly do not want help). The relationships, the rivalries and the love all intertwine in this story that combines insights into the Whitshank family history and their modern lives.
Books such as this one are often called "slow", but I didn't find it slow at all. I think if you pick this book up knowing what to expect and are ready to read a story about people and family, then you should be swept along by these fascinating characters. I, for one, read it in a single day.
I have only read one other Ishiguro novel and that is Never Let Me Go. Nevertheless, I too was intrigued about what would happen when a highly-acclaimI have only read one other Ishiguro novel and that is Never Let Me Go. Nevertheless, I too was intrigued about what would happen when a highly-acclaimed author of literary fiction transitioned into fantasy. Unfortunately, having read the book, I'm still not even sure.
What happened here? It's one of those novels where I can't help wondering if there's some underlying symbolism or metaphorical brilliance that totally went over my head. It's a simplistic, emotionally-detached and - at times - boring story, so I'm inclined to assume Ishiguro was aiming at smarter people than me who would take something deeper from it.
But I don't think so. I find myself leaning towards Craig's interpretation that Isiguro gives us the information and lets us decide what to do with it. Interpret as you will, I guess. Especially with that ending that Kirkus believes to be "one that will shock you". Well, I would not say I was shocked. I would say I was mildly surprised that Ishiguro had convinced me to keep reading the last 300 pages when all I got was a fizzled out ending and no answers.
Screw subtlety and interpretation! I want answers, dammit.
Credit where it's due: I was very intrigued in the beginning. I'm fascinated by all kinds of stories about memory and memory loss, whether it's a thriller like The Girl on the Train, a sad contemporary like Still Alice or a fantasy like this. My memories define who I am and the thought of losing them is terrifying to me. Considering that this book opens on a premise of an entire village experiencing weird memory loss - forgetting people who have left, sons they haven't seen in a while, or arguments they just had that morning - I was ready to love it.
But the exploration of this memory loss with Axl and Beatrice was unsatisfying and really damn repetitive after a while. I guess people who constantly forget what they have said are likely to keep saying it again but, hell, it makes for a tedious read. I grew tired of hearing about how their son was waiting for them, how Beatrice experienced some pain but, oh, it was nothing really, how maybe they had an argument but neither can remember so let's forget it, and pretty much everything about King Arthur was mind-numbing.
Also, I called this emotionally-detached and I'd like to explain what I mean. I don't think we ever develop an emotional connection with the characters. Axl and Beatrice have no personality (does anyone?) and speak so formally to one another. It's so... strange. This has to be the most polite fantasy I've ever read. I know this is set just after the Roman period in Britain but, come on, I find it difficult to believe an old couple spoke to each other like this. And not just them, there are battles and bloodshed and everything is so weirdly polite.
Person 1: I say, old chap, I'm afraid I'm going to have to slay you! Person 2: Dear me, that is unfortunate. But fight I shall and perhaps I will win!
Yeah, that's not a direct quote, but I swear there are pieces of dialogue like that.
And Axl calls Beatrice "princess" all the time. ALL THE TIME. I know you might be thinking that's sweet, but ALL THE TIME. At the end of every sentence, he addresses her as "princess". When they're afraid for their lives, he manages to find time to slip "princess" into every thing he says.
This book is weird enough that I'm sure it'll inspire many exciting interpretations, but my imagination isn't playing. It's a boring journey with boring characters and a fabulously anticlimactic non-ending.
Seriously, the inside of Ms Kuehn's head must be a scary place to live. Here is yet another completely disturbing and engrossing psychological thrilleSeriously, the inside of Ms Kuehn's head must be a scary place to live. Here is yet another completely disturbing and engrossing psychological thriller.
Kuehn really isn't afraid to "go there". Her characters are twisted, her endings remind me of Courtney Summers books in that she refuses to tie them up neatly, and her exploration of the darkest parts of teenager's minds is both unsettling and addictive. She embraces diversity and she's edgy as fuck... so, when is her next book released again?
If I've not made it clear already: this book is dark. Details are not spared and I know some parts of this book may be upsetting for certain readers. The novel portrays sex, abuse, mental illness and a sociopath (well, maybe) with honesty and sometimes graphic description. I appreciated it; some people may not. There are many sick minds in Delicate Monsters, in both senses of the word.
If you would like an example of the kind of characters we're dealing with, let's meet Sadie:
Hurting other people wasn't all that different, though. That was also a form of taking and she did it all the time. Sometimes she wished she didn't. Sometimes the things she took were unforgivable and she'd give anything to have better control over herself. Then again, sometimes Sadie was bored. And oftentimes, that was more than enough.
While the story revolves around a mystery of sorts, the biggest mysteries are of the psychological kind, as was also true in Kuehn's Charm & Strange. The three main characters are Sadie, Emerson and Miles, and the mystery is mostly a character study that takes you deep inside their minds, memories, and the shared pieces of their pasts that tie them all together.
What dark secrets does Sadie know about Emerson? Where does Emerson's overwhelming sense of guilt stem from? Why does Miles believe he can see the future? Can he?
These three characters are so distinct and well-drawn. For a relatively short book to have three different perspectives, you need an extremely talented author to make all three voices strong and memorable. That was apparently no problem for Kuehn. All of them held my attention and there was none of that usual disappointment you get when a less interesting perspective arrives.
I issued the warning before, but I will reiterate: if you need your endings tied up neatly with everything resolved, this book will likely leave you feeling frustrated. Fortunately for me, I enjoyed this fascinating psychological exploration so much that I didn't mind.
I admit that there are some books I only read to satisfy my curiosity after I see all the hype. You know the kind - they win a bunch of awards, get aI admit that there are some books I only read to satisfy my curiosity after I see all the hype. You know the kind - they win a bunch of awards, get a kirkus starred review, feature in Goodreads "best books of the month"... and yet, you read the description and you're just not that excited for it. But you're curious enough to pick it up anyway and not expect much. Well, I'm so glad I'm one of those curious readers.
Honestly, this book was really good. It's one of those rare stories that manages to blend sad, moving parts, with action-filled fast-paced parts and laugh-out-loud hilarious parts and get the balance just right. And it's a western! So far from the genres I usually find myself in, but oh so very good.
There are some books I sit down to read a little of and suddenly find myself blinking at the clock, which tells me it's three hours later. This is one of those books. So easily readable, so easy to get caught up in the emotion, the action and the wonderful relationship between the two main characters. The blurb promises a book for fans of Code Name Verity - something which I'm sure appeals to many readers out there - but I found CNV to be much slower than this. Under a Painted Sky was hard to put down; I was so completely invested in the characters and the plot.
The author is one of the founders of #WeNeedDiverseBooks so, not surprisingly, this book was refreshingly diverse. Samantha is a Chinese girl living in Missouri in 1849 (i.e. not an ideal situation); when she finds herself in extremely unfortunate circumstances, she must flee West with the help of Annamae - a runaway slave. Disguised as two cowboys called Sammy and Andy, the two set off on the Oregon Trail and make all kinds of friends and enemies along the way.
This was not what I would call a "book about race" - it's a coming-of-age tale about two young girls and their friendship - and yet, obviously, the issue of race is woven in throughout and handled in a way that was sensitive, informative, sometimes funny and sometimes very sad. Take this:
“When I came early, the doctor turned her away because he had never delivered a Chinese baby. By the time Father found us, Mother was dead.”
It's so disturbing to think how prejudiced and ignorant people were in these times.
And it should be said that only a very small number of authors have that talent for making you care about characters instantly, but Lee makes it seem easy. We see so very little of Samantha's father in this book and yet the author uses the smallest touching details to make him a character we warm to and miss.
But I haven't even started talking about the stars of this show properly. Samantha and Annamae are amazing. No exaggeration. They make Thelma and Louise look totally lame. Annamae is a charming and hilarious badass - so goddamn strong, intelligent and funny. The dialogue in the book is PERFECT; so many great scenes between the two of them (and later between them and the cowboys they meet). This is one early scene I liked:
“Quickly, use the book and help me knock in a hole.” She clasps the Bible to her chest. “You want me to be struck down?” “Oh, sorry. Here, hold the pointy part against the strap, like this.” I show her. Putting down the Bible, she takes the belt, and pokes the prong into the leather where I want it. I take up the Good Book myself, then in one swift movement whack it down over the metal prong, driving it into the leather. I pray that nobody heard. “Sweet Jesus!” Annamae cries out. Her mouth opens in horror. “Thank you, Lord,” I whisper piously.
They crack me up so much. And this that Cay says to Samantha:
“Sorry, kid, I owe you one. You can kick me in the nuts if you want, or I can give you all my money.” “I’d go with the nuts,” says West. “He only has four dollars.”
When I'm reading a book that I enjoy, I mostly refuse to let myself fully accept my opinion of it until the end, just in case it doesn't stay good or something starts to annoy me. But I somehow KNEW this book was going to be good from the very beginning. And it was. Very impressed.
“Sometimes I think people take reality for granted.”
I stand by my earlier claim - YA contemporary is where it's at this year. I thought this book wa“Sometimes I think people take reality for granted.”
I stand by my earlier claim - YA contemporary is where it's at this year. I thought this book was excellent. Compelling, addictive, really weird and excellent. It was such an unusual novel; I can personally say I've never read anything quite like it and it's a great book for discussion. Such an unreliable narrator, constantly blurring the lines between reality and hallucination.
Alex suffers from paranoia and schizophrenia. Her world is full of colours, objects, people and noises that may or may not really be there. She cannot trust her own senses, so she takes pictures of the world around her, knowing that any hallucinations will eventually fade and the reality will be left behind in the image. And I just loved the way the story unfolded.
See, years ago, Alex was first diagnosed when she recounted an incident that no one else seemed to think happened that way. Despite being haunted by this strange false memory, she always told herself that it was part of her mental illness and she had to accept that her memory was lying. Only... then she meets Miles and she begins to wonder if everything about that day was in her head, or if maybe there's something more to the story.
It's fascinating. You don't know what's real and what isn't. The exploration of the line between reality and imagination kept me turning pages at a crazy pace to find out the truth. And it's such a charming little read with a cast of diverse and interesting characters. The dialogue is engaging and witty, without feeling strained like John Green's sometimes does.
I think I liked Alex and Miles because they're both kind of unlikable. Hehe. Alex is moody and antisocial; Miles is a total pain in the ass. But the weird relationship between them made me like them and made me care about them both. The story predictably takes the romantic route, but it happens very gradually and feels like a natural progression. Not the slightest whiff of insta-anything.
Very enjoyable and very unique (at least to me). Highly recommended to all fans of YA contemporary.
"In my nightmares I am alone on a train, heading into the wilderness. Or in a maze of hay bales. Or walking the streets of a big city, gazing at ligh"In my nightmares I am alone on a train, heading into the wilderness. Or in a maze of hay bales. Or walking the streets of a big city, gazing at lights in every window, seeing the families inside, none of them mine."
After my book club chose Orphan Train for our next meet-up, I picked up my copy and started reading just a little of the first page to get a "feel" for what the book would be like. I didn't intend to finish it right now, or even read any more than the first page, but I somehow ended up getting completely sucked into this story for the last few hours.
Firstly, it is a page turner. The pages just flew past as I devoured this story about two very different women who find they have a lot more in common than they could have imagined. It switches between the present day (2011) and the 1920s/30s, and it manages to be horrifying enough to hook you, but ultimately uplifting and charming.
The best kind of historical fiction, in my opinion, is that which introduces you to little pieces of history you'd never known about. I knew that many Irish immigrants arrived in the United States in the 1920s, hoping for a fresh start and a better life, but often received a less than warm welcome. What I didn't know, is that many orphaned children from crowded Eastern cities were boarded onto trains and taken to rural areas of the Midwest.
Families looking for servants, farm labourers, or occasionally more children would come check out the orphans and see if they wanted to take them home. In this book, Vivian is an orphaned Irish immigrant at just nine years old, and she finds herself on one of the orphan trains. The 1920s/30s part of this book tells the story of her life, being moved from one family to the next in Minnesota. In the present, she is a 91 year-old woman with an attic full of painful memories.
So what could she possibly have in common with a bratty teenage goth girl? Well, quite a bit actually.
Molly is in the foster care system and knows her current family only keep her for the extra money they receive. She rebels constantly: with her image, with her attitude and, finally, by stealing a book from the local library and earning herself some community service. That community service turns out to be helping an old lady clear out her attic.
As Vivian's story is revealed, the relationship between the two of them grows. I admit that I felt so much more sympathy for Vivian, though I did understand the importance of Molly's story too. Vivian deals with being constantly unwanted, being underfed, living in a farmhouse without any heating through the winter, and the leery eyes of her foster father. I felt sorry for Molly at times, but she was bratty and not easy to like, though I still quite enjoyed the insight into her mind. Like this:
"But it kind of feels nice to nurture her resentment, to foster it. It’s something she can savor and control, this feeling of having been wronged by the world."
I do think that things felt a little rushed toward the end. A lot seemed to happen in a short space of time, presumably because the main story had already been told and the author was just tying up loose ends. But, overall, that didn't bother me much. I really enjoyed this book; both the emotional journey and the history lesson. And I have to say, in a world that loves sword-wielding heroines no older than 21 and pretty-faced broody boys, it’s refreshing to see such an interesting and fleshed out elderly character.