30 Jun 2015

#TTT: Top 10 Books I've Read So Far in 2015

2015 Releases
 
  •  A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas: Holy amazeballs, Batman! I went into this one basically blind - I didn't know anything about it and bought it basically because Sarah J. Maas had written it. I loved it! This book proves how exciting the emerging New Adult genre is - talented authors have the opportunity to write coming-of-age stories with a bit more freedom due to writing for an older audience, and the results can be STUNNING.
  • The Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkoski: This was one of my anticipated releases of 2015, and I was definitely not let down - Rutkoski upped her game with this one. I think my favourite thing about it is that Kestrel is a character that's morally grey; she's able to make hard decisions that the reader doesn't necessarily agree with. You definitely see the full extent of her intelligence and cunning, and I loved her for it. The ending definitely made me want to get my hands on the next book ASAP!
  • Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli: This is most probably my favourite book of 2015 so far. Albertalli is able to address some serious themes in this book, yet somehow manages to keep the fluffy factor of the story throughout. It's a realistic portrayal of friendships and family and relationships in general. A fun, quick read that definitely stayed with me!
  • Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard:Sometimes you need a light book that doesn't make you think too hard, and Red Queen was that for me. Then the surprise ending came along and punched me in the face, and I'm excited to see what happens next! There were a lot of strategic plays, a lot of political plays happening in the book, which I enjoyed.

Rereads
 
 

I read Emma & Jane Eyre as part of the Reread Challenge 2015 + Brain Soup Goes Gilmore (admittedly, Jane Eyre was also partly read because I had an audition for Jane Eyre but also because BSGG was reading the Time Traveller's Wife as its February read and I couldn't stomach reading that book again, so I read Jane Eyre as it was the group's second choice for the month).
  • Emma by Jane Austen: Austen is my favourite author, and Emma is my favourite Austen novel. I love everything about it: I love Emma in all her stubborn, narrow-sighted glory; I love her relationship with Knightley; I love the way the clues planted throughout the book as to what the final outcome will be. I love the way Highbury becomes a character in its own right, brought to life with the gossip of its inhabitants and the ways in which they relate to each other. In short: I believe that Emma is Austen at her best, it demonstrates the care that she put into her craft. Her novels are finely crafted masterpieces; social commentary on the class and time period that Austen grew up in. Read ALL the Austen!
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: Who doesn't love Jane Eyre? I think that Jane is an interesting heroine, and definitely a character before her time. I love Jane for her quiet strength and passionate nature, and her refusal to yield to others and compromise her beliefs.
  • Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery: I think that Rilla of Ingleside is now my favourite in the series after Anne of Green Gables. I read it once, about ten years ago, and didn't really give it that much of a chance because Anne wasn't the main character, even though it technically is her series. This time around, I found Rilla to be just as much of a delight as her mother was, even though she's more vain/self-centred, and quite a bit more serious. I loved it! It captured the feeling of a country at war in a realistic fashion, and it was truly quite heart-breaking.
First-time Reads of Older Releases
 
 

  • Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal: I didn't know what to expect with this one. While I think it's more of a new adult than young adult title, it was utterly fascinating, unique and engrossing. A mix of historical fiction and fantasy, and I appreciated the show of female empowerment. While the book is unrelentingly depressing and dark, it does end on a (relatively) happy note, which is nice for our heroines (and the reader).
  • Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery: I had never read the Emily of New Moon trilogy by L.M. Montgomery, and I found it to be a wonderful little series. Although it's premise is quite similar to Anne of Green Gables, it's a lot more serious and darker in tone than Montgomery's most famous work. I have a feeling that it's the most autobiographical of Montgomery's work, which made it all the more heartbreaking. The second book was my favourite - we got to see Emily mature as both a writer and as a person. Although the character of Dean horrified me, I loved this book for its strong female characters and the wonderful friendships that formed between them. Emily Starr is a gem!
  • Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente: When I finished Deathless, I was speechless. It's a wonderful story - layered, complex, poignant, painful, humorous. It is strange and beautiful and brutal. Although I'm not very familiar with Russian folk lore, I think it manages to capture it wonderfully, the story peppered with references to and appearances from rusalkas and leshy, firebirds and domovye, and manages to weave a story about life and death, war and loss. Valente's writing is lush, gorgeous and a joy to read!

24 Jun 2015

Wishlist Wednesday

Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch

Synopsis (from GR): Sixteen years ago the Kingdom of Winter was conquered and its citizens enslaved, leaving them without magic or a monarch. Now, the Winterians’ only hope for freedom is the eight survivors who managed to escape, and who have been waiting for the opportunity to steal back Winter’s magic and rebuild the kingdom ever since.

Orphaned as an infant during Winter’s defeat, Meira has lived her whole life as a refugee, raised by the Winterians’ general, Sir. Training to be a warrior—and desperately in love with her best friend, and future king, Mather — she would do anything to help her kingdom rise to power again.

So when scouts discover the location of the ancient locket that can restore Winter’s magic, Meira decides to go after it herself. Finally, she’s scaling towers, fighting enemy soldiers, and serving her kingdom just as she’s always dreamed she would. But the mission doesn’t go as planned, and Meira soon finds herself thrust into a world of evil magic and dangerous politics – and ultimately comes to realize that her destiny is not, never has been, her own.



23 Jun 2015

#TTT: Happy 5th Birthday, Top Ten Tuesday!

Fun fact: Top Ten Tuesday first appeared over at The Broke and the Bookish on the 21st June 2010. In honour of this fun fact, this week's #TTT prompt is 'My Ten Favourite Top Ten Topics We've Ever Done in the Last 5 Years.' Given that my participation in this weekly meme is both a) a recent thing and b) sporadic at best, I was thankful that the lovely folks over at the Broke and the Bookish list pretty much every Top Ten Topic they've ever done over on their blog. What are your ten favourite top ten topics?

10. Top Ten Books I HAD to Buy and Have Still Not Read: Sometimes I get so excited for a book that I pre-order it or have to buy it the day it comes out, but then I get side-tracked by life and it takes MONTHS for me to actually read the book. Solidarity, guys.
9. Top Ten Minor Characters: Sometimes it's the minor characters that surprise you. You don't think they'll get enough page time for you to fall in love with them, and then BAM! they go and do something dorky or funny or brave and you're like, "Oh, no. Not again." On the other hand, as an (amateur) actor, I spend a fair amount of time talking about fictional people and how one would interact with them. I get to do a lot of period drama and stage adaptations of books - like playing Mary Bennet in Pride and Prejudice - and need to come up with a back story to explain why they behave like they do. Sometimes with minor characters - who are so overlooked and can be written rather one-dimensionally - you need to be a bit creative and fill in the blanks. Sometimes they need more love, because they do help push the story along.
8. Top Ten Favourite Love Stories: I'M A ROMANTIC AT HEART, OKAY?
7. Top Ten Books I Feel As Though Everyone Has Read Except Me: As both a book blogger and an avid user of Tumblr, there are many books that I feel like I should read just because everyone else is reading (and raving about) them, but I have zero interest in. It's good to be upfront about your tastes.
6. Top Ten Books I Have Lied About: Because when you feel like everyone has read a classic except you, sometimes you need to fake your way through it (as my friend Katie demonstrated during her HSC English exam...). Or, if you're like me, you lie about your love for The Ranger's Apprentice. When the first book came out, I was in a perfectly acceptable age range (12) to read that book. By the time that last one came out, not so much.
5. Top Ten Most Intimidating Books: You know, I have The Lord of the Rings sitting on my shelves. I have for a couple of years now. As someone who has started stacking her books in boxes because she's run out of shelf space, I now think of shelf space as a precious commodity. I still haven't read The Lord of the Rings. I've picked up The Fellowship of the Ring a couple of times, but have only ever gotten a few pages in before I set it aside and promise myself I'll finish it another day. Why? Because these books have some very vocal, very passionate fans, and I'm kind of scared to find out what happens if I don't like them. It's nice to know that I'm not alone in this whole 'being intimidated by a book' thing.
4. Favourite Kick-Ass Heroines: You know, there seems to be a belief in the entertainment industry that girls and boys will be interested in a book/film/television show that has a male main character, but only girls will be interested in a book/film/television show that has a female main character. To which I say: congrats on the fantastic display of sexism! But thanks to the Katniss Everdeens and Hermione Grangers of the literary (and subsequently film) world, that misconception is slowly being changed. Women can kick ass, and not just in the literal sense! There are so many ways that women can display strength - just read the Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta, because there are a dozens of women who show strength in their own way. Give me those kick-ass heroines, pronto!
3. Top Ten Favourite Covers: I'm a sucker for a book with a pretty cover. It's why I have multiple copies of Austen.
2. Top Ten Books I'd Hand to Somebody Who Says They Don't Like to Read: Here's the thing about studying English at school - it tells teenagers what kind of books they should be appreciating, but it doesn't tell them why they should appreciated, what it is about that book that they should appreciate. They hand out classics to teenagers, but they don't give any context to the time period it was written in. Although it's still written in English, the English spoken in the 1800s is different to the English spoken in 2015, and people struggle to understand it. As a result, there are generations upon generations of people who state, with pride, that they hate to read and it breaks my heart. Mostly because they most likely don't hate to read, they just haven't found the right book.
1.  Top Ten Authors Who Deserve More Recognition: I'm always amazed when I see a review that asks if there's something in the water in Australia that makes local authors so darn good (to which the answer is 'no, the industry is just smaller - which means only the best of the best get through,' although anyone who's read Halo by Alexandra Adornetto will disagree. Just because she CAN write better than most teenagers, doesn't mean it should be published), mostly because I don't expect Australian authors to get international attention. Just because I don't expect it, doesn't mean I think they don't deserve it, though. There are so many Australian authors who deserve to be internationally adored, and at the top of that list is Melina Marchetta and Jaclyn Moriarty, who can cross genres like it's nobody's business.

18 Jun 2015

Witch Hunter by Virginia Boecker

Witch Hunter by Virginia Boecker

Publish Date: 2nd June 2015
Publisher: Orchard Books
Pages: 413
Format: Paperback | Purchased

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Plot Synopsis (from GR): Sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Grey doesn't look dangerous. A tiny, blonde, wisp of a girl shouldn't know how to poison a wizard and make it look like an accident. Or take out ten necromancers with a single sword and a bag of salt. Or kill a man using only her thumb. But things are not always as they appear. Elizabeth is one of the best witch hunters in Anglia and a member of the king's elite guard, devoted to rooting out witchcraft and bringing those who practice it to justice. And in Anglia, the price of justice is high: death by burning.

When Elizabeth is accused of being a witch herself, she's arrested and thrown in prison. The king declares her a traitor and her life is all but forfeit. With just hours before she's to die at the stake, Elizabeth gets a visitor - Nicholas Perevil, the most powerful wizard in Anglia. He offers her a deal: he will free her from prison and save her from execution if she will track down the wizard who laid a deadly curse on him.

As Elizabeth uncovers the horrifying facts about Nicholas's curse and the unwitting role she played in its creation, she is forced to redefine the differences between right and wrong, friends and enemies, love and hate... and life and death.


My thoughts: This was one of my most anticipated releases of 2015, and I pretty much spent the first half of the year eagerly awaiting June so I could get my hands on this book. Unfortunately, I didn't love this book as much as I thought I would - it had so much potential! Witches! Black magic! Political intrigue! Cute healer boy! - but there were a few things that didn't really work for me. Nevertheless, things really picked up in the second half of the book.

Witch Hunter wasn't what I expected in that it was very... light? Given the plot synopsis, I was expecting something quite heavy and dark, but what I was given was a light-hearted adventure with a few fun characters, a light, sweet romance and a dash of humour. I'm not complaining, really - it was a fun ride of a read, but it also had a lot of unused potential. I expected a more complicated plot, a book that was darker in tone.

Elizabeth and I... we didn't get along. I found Elizabeth to be incredibly naive and it was incredibly difficult for me to sympathise with her. She rarely thought for herself - her job is capturing witches and wizards and letting them burn at the stake. It's a brutal way to die, and she never questions whether or not these people are truly guilty. She never questions why Blackwell won't let her kill the witches and wizards - if magic is truly bad, why let them live? Even after she is rescued from prison by Anglia's most wanted wizard, her only thought is returning to the people who imprisoned her and handing over innocent people to them. It was incredibly frustrating to read Elizabeth's bigotry.

Fortunately she is backed by an amazing supporting cast - the swoon-worthy John, who is a gentle and patient healer (and also the main love interest), was a standout. Another favourite was Fifer, who was brash and fierce and unapologetic. It was odd, having a character so full of personality next to one who lacked any discernible personality whatsoever, but Elizabeth was actually at her best when she was with the supporting cast and not left to any internal reflections. Fifer's sort-of love interest Shuyler was also amusing, and had some wonderful scenes with Elizabeth. While these characters all worked well as a group and each brought something different to the table, I don't think that they were developed enough for me to fully appreciate them as individuals. I could sense where Boecker was going with characterisation, and there were some traits that I wanted to be fleshed out a little more because they weren't quite there. That said, Boecker is a talented writer - she really draws you into the action scenes, which are cinematic and near flawless.

Though Witch Hunter didn't live up to my expectations, there was definitely enough there to get my interest piqued, and
I'll definitely be keeping the next book on my radar. The second half was quite enjoyable, and the big reveal at the end made me keen to find out what happens! 





Throwback Thursday: Looking for Alibrandi

Throwback Thursday is (supposed to be!) a weekly feature where I highlight an older book, whether that be a childhood favourite that brings back memories or a hidden gem that I feel deserves some recognition.
I can't remember the first time I read Looking for Alibrandi, but I know once I found it... it was one of those books that I kept borrowing from the library and rereading again and again and again until I bought my own copy. It is, in my mind, iconic.

Synopsis (from GR): 'And what's this about you and your friends driving around Bondi Junction half-dressed last week?'

'Who told you that?'

'Signora Formosa saw you. She said you and your friends almost ran her over. She rang Zia Patrizia's next-door neighborhood and it got back to Nonna.'

Telecom would go broke if it weren't for the Italians.

Josephine Alibrandi is seventeen, illegitimate, and in her final year at a wealthy Catholic school. This is the year her father comes back into her life, the year she falls in love, the year she discovers the secrets of her family's past and the year she sets herself free.

I'll run one day. Run from my life. To be free and think for myself. Not as an Australia and not as an Italian and not as an in between. I'll run to be emancipated.


I love everything about this book, from its opening scene to its beautifully drawn characters to its reminder that what works for everybody else may not work for you. I've learnt many life lessons from this book - most importantly, "... we vote not to get the best party in, but to keep the worst party out." Marchetta is a born story teller, and it is because of this book that I keep reading her stories - because I know that she can tell beautiful stories about belonging, about family, about finding your place in the world; because I know that she will create wonderful characters with whom you will share great joy and plummet to the depths of despair and feel every emotion in between; because I know that her stories will leave an impression on you long after you've finished. She's one of the great authors of Australian literature, and I will follow her no matter the genre. 


17 Jun 2015

Wishlist Wednesday

I have now banned myself from buying multiple copies of the same book mostly because I don't have the room or the money to buying so many editions (although I am saving up for the Folio Society's editions of Pride and Prejudice and Emma, which I've talked about before). However, if I did have the room (and the money), here are some of my favourite books that I would buy again in a heartbeat.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (Folio Society Edition)

Synopsis (from the Folio Society): Anne Shirley falls in love with the rambling farmhouse called Green Gables the moment she sees it. Unfortunately she is not quite what Marilla Cuthbert and her brother Matthew were expecting: they had applied to the orphanage for a boy to help on the farm, not a skinny eleven-year-old girl with a head full of romantic notions. At first Marilla is adamant that Anne should be sent back, but her heart relents when she hears about the girl's wretched life, and Matthew - though he would never interfere - is clearly already bewitched by the spirited red-head with a temper to match her hair.


I already own two copies of Anne of Green Gables - I purchased the entire series at the beginning of the year after falling in love with the hardcover editions that Tundra released late last year and I also own the Norton Critical edition of AoGG. This one is gorgeous, though.  Look at the illustrations! So cute!




Speaking of gorgeous editions of Anne of Green Gables...

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (Puffin in Bloom Edition)

How cute is this cover? It took all my self control to not purchase this when I purchased A Little Princess and Heidi from this series. ALL OF IT. I may have to break my promise to myself because more books in this series are coming out and THE DESIGNS ARE JUST SO FANTASTIC, YOU GUYS.






Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (Folio Society Edition)

Plot Synopsis (from Folio Society): ‘“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.’ This famous opening line sets the scene for the beloved coming-of-age story of four sisters growing up in a quiet New England town. Their father is away serving as a chaplain in the Civil War and money is scarce, but the girls invent their own amusements: they act plays, write stories and – most importantly – learn to lead good and financially independent lives.

Again, I already own a hardback edition of Little Women (the Penguin x Mr Boddington's Studio edition), and while this edition is tempting (all of my favourite things when it comes to book design - the gold foil detail! The gorgeous illustrations! A good colour palette!), its hard for me to justify purchasing it at the moment. JUST YOU WAIT, FOLIO SOCIETY. MY BANK ACCOUNT'S COMIN' FOR YA.




At this point, I may as well mention the Puffin in Bloom edition of Little Women, because I want it also: 

Anna Bond's art work is just so distinctive and gorgeously done. I think my favourite thing about the Puffin in Bloom series is that the books are linked with an overarching theme of young girls discovering who they are is people and finding their place in the world, and the covers somehow seem to capture that. I also love the decorative endpapers with all the important characters/objects in the books. It's a WONDERFUL series, guys. If you have nieces and daughters - OR if you want to encourage your nephews, sons, younger cousins to read stories centered around girls - you should purchase this series for them.


I feel like I should also point out that because it's the 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland, just about every publisher in existence is releasing a special edition. Puffin is teaming up with Anna Bond of Rifle Paper Co. AGAIN and we're getting this gorgeously illustrated edition:

Source: Vanity Fair
 
 So, there you have it - the sound of my bank account breaking!
 

16 Jun 2015

Consequential Classic: Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park

I was recently informed that because I had never read Playing Beatie Bow - apparently unlike every other Australian child since 1980 - my life was lacking. When Penguin's Australian Children's Classics series was released, I bought a copy and can now say that I wish I had the chance to read it as a child, because it is most definitely a tale I would have loved dearly.

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Playing Beatie Bow tells the story of Abigail (formerly Lynette) Kirk. Like Erica Yurken, she's more of an anti-heroine, or unlikeable-yet-strangely-likeable heroine. She's stubborn, and like a lot of teenage girls, she can be selfish, or at the very least, only see how things affect her. She can be opinionated - even when she doesn't have anything to back up those opinions - and prickly. She's blunt and can be bratty (although not as bratty as Beatie!). Yet beneath it all is a good, kind heart - she wants to do the right thing - that is afraid of getting hurt. There's a bit of a romantic subplot, but it's part of Abigail's growing pains (and it wraps up rather weirdly at the end in a 'meet-cute' kind of fashion that made me roll my eyes).

What I liked about Playing Beatie Bow is that Park had really done her research on what life was like in a colony in the 1800s. It wasn't as if she was just making it up off the top of her head: she had researched life in NSW in the 1800s (particularly for the working class), and quite possibly also the Scottish community that emigrated to the area. Despite the time travel and characters being able to see into the future and tell fortunes, Playing Beatie Bow is a contemporary coming-of-age story. Admittedly, the plot is a little vague - why does Abigail need to help save the Gift? For what purpose? - but it's such a great little book that it didn't detract from my enjoyment factor. 

Side note: I am confused why a book that went into areas like prostitution in the 1800s had to substitute 'bloody' for 'blanky.' If a teenager can handle reading about sex work - forced sex work, at that - you would think they can handle a few mild swear words? This is a YA book that is quite clearly geared towards a younger audience (I'm sure the talk of prostitution would go straight over a ten or eleven year old's head), but I mean...

Half Bad by Sally Green

Half Bad

Publish Date: 27th March 2014
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 380
Format: Paperback | Purchased

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Plot Synopsis (from GR): Sixteen-year-old Nathan lives in a cage: beaten, shackled, trained to kill. In a modern-day England where two warring factions of witches live amongst humans, Nathan is an abomination, the illegitimate son of the world's most terrifying and violent witch, Marcus. Nathan's only hope for survival is to escape his captors, track down Marcus, and receive the three gifts that will bring him into his own magical powers—before it's too late. But how can Nathan find his father when there is no one safe to trust, not even family, not even the girl he loves?

My thoughts: I didn't know what to expect from this - I literally walked into the bookstore and asked the retail assistant for a book recommendation (weirdly enough, she turned out to be a friend of a friend and we got to talk a little at a feminist gathering our mutual friend was hosting, it was great). I um'd and ah'd over it before deciding to purchase it. If I had to sum it up in a sentence - Half Bad is basically nature vs. nurture with witches conducting the experiment. It took me a little while to get into it - the beginning of the story is told in a kind-of non-linear fashion, going from present day to Nathan's childhood and then back to present day - but once I did, I thought it was a fast-paced, gruesome, saddening story. Unfortunately, I didn't love it as much as I thought I would.

When we first meet Nathan, he is living in a cage. Yes, you read that right: a cage. And as you learn more of his story, you become more and more convinced that the universe has pooed on this guy from a great height (I mean, yes, his father is a murderer but a child should not be forced to pay for the sins of the father). What Nathan faces - especially because he has to deal with these things from a young age - is horrifying and brutal, and I think that is why I couldn't love Half Bad like I wanted to. I see parallels between how Black witches are treated by White witches and how PoC are treated by white people. I don't know if Green intentionally set out to tell this kind of story, or if she was inspired by it, or if it happened incidentally. What made it more intense was that the narration flips between first and second person, so at times I felt like I was in Nathan's head, experiencing what he was experiencing. It was such a strange reading experience. These scenes are just throw-away scenes put in the book for the sake of torture and mistreatment, these moments help to define Nathan - who he is as a person, and what he is capable of. 
  
The second half of the book is where the build-up for the rest of the trilogy starts to happen, so the pace slows down quite a bit. It's also where the violence more or less stops, which is a relief, because if I had to read any more about Nathan being cut up or shackled, I think I would've had to stop reading. However, given the first half of the book, I found the ending to be quite anti-climactic. Another problem is that because the first half is spent characterising Nathan, and the second half if spent setting up the rest of the trilogy... the story doesn't really go anywhere. It's not really a novel where things happen, if that makes sense. Nevertheless, Green's writing is good - the time spent devoted to characterising Nathan and his mistreatment at the hands of the Council (and White witches in general) means that the witch lore is detailed, highly complex, and interesting -  not to mention original. There's kind of an old-school, eerie feel to the setting - I don't know if it's because it's spread across England, Scotland and Wales and I just kind of... associate that feel to these countries. 

Would I recommend Half Bad? ... I don't know. My opinion seems to be unpopular within the GR community. I will say this: It's a story that's about a young boy learning how to survive in a world that is anything but kind, and definitely one that you should read for yourself.

★★1/2

Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Queen of the Tearling

Publish Date: 8th July 2014
Publisher: Harper
Pages: 448
Format: Paperback | Purchased

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Plot synopsis (from GR): Her throne awaits . . . if she can live long enough to take it. It was on her nineteenth birthday that the soldiers came for Kelsea Glynn. They’d come to escort her back to the place of her birth – and to ensure she survives long enough to be able to take possession of what is rightfully hers. But like many nineteen-year-olds, Kelsea is unruly, has high principles and believes she knows better than her elders. Unlike many nineteen-year-olds, she is about to inherit a kingdom that is on its knees – corrupt, debauched and dangerous. Kelsea will either become the most fearsome ruler the kingdom has ever known . . . or be dead within the week. Combining thrilling adventure and action, dark magic, mystery and romance, The Queen of the Tearling is the debut of a born storyteller blessed with a startling imagination. 

My thoughts: I read this book because Emma Watson was rumoured to be in talks to play Kelsea, and Emma's been involved in some good adaptations (Harry Potter - obviously, also the foundation of my childhood and basically the series that shaped who I am as a person; The Perks of Being a Wallflower). This book had the potential to be a good book, but unfortunately wasn't executed as well as I had hoped. Don't get me wrong - this book has readability (and will definitely be a book that readers Love or Hate), and I'm still planning on reading the second book to see how much Johansen has been able to develop her story-telling - but I think that the world-building needed to be fine-tuned and the stakes raised for Kelsea. 

My first complaint is that the Queen of the Tearling takes place in a future where a bunch of people have decided that the European Middle Ages were a better time and sailed off to new lands where they can renounce technology. I didn't even realise this until mentions of Rowling and The Hobbit cropped up. If you're going to expect me to believe that people decided this was a good idea - and I don't, because vaccinations and women's rights, that's why - then you need to explain to me in greater detail why. Info-dump away, it'll be better than me left scratching my head at your world-building, I promise! Or better yet, just either pick the future or the past and stick to it. Given that these people had decided that the Middle Age life was the better life, there were a lot of anachronisms and inconsistencies. For example, at one point we're told red hair is a rarity (these people understand recessive genes, apparently, even though a lot of knowledge was lost through the Crossing - they were only able to bring ten books with them - and then through people burning books in their desperation to survive) and so a lot of people dye their hair. Up until the 1900s, dying hair wasn't a consistent practice, mostly due to the cost (the flappers brought about its popularity, due to black hair being ~in~. The 1940s saw a rise in blonde bombshells). Also, the chemicals were a lot harsher than modern chemicals, and the colours you could dye it depended on what natural resources you had available, so I don't think it would've been possible for a lot of people to be dying their hair red on what was apparently a fairly regular basis in Tear. 

 The things that boggle my mind don't stop there, though. Did the future magically grew new continents? Did plate tectonics cause countries to split and float away from one another? Did we just start plopping down man-made bits of land in the middle of oceans to make new countries? Are there actually the existence of alternate realities and SOMEHOW new countries just starting appearing in our universe? There's an apocalypse of some kind, did 99% of humanity get wiped out and a kind of British colonialism thing start happening with the remaining population? They just sailed from America (?) to England (New England? WHO KNOWS) I DON'T KNOW, THIS IS NEVER EXPLAINED. The entire point of the first book of a trilogy is to establish the world and its rule, the characters and their battles. NONE OF THIS WAS DONE IN QofT. NONE OF IT. I don't understand Tear or how it came to be. The Queen's Guard - they're apparently the best in the land, the crème de la crème. Do they do soldier-y type things while on duty? Setting watches, building perimetres, avoid doing things like making noise and building fires so the assassins after the person they're guarding don't spot them, preparing themselves to get away quickly if necessary? NO. They get drunk and sing bawdy songs at the top of their lungs, obviously. They are then shocked when they get captured. It really is a miracle that Kelsea makes it to The Keep alive, you guys. Seriously. 

Kelsea is... difficult to like and understand. I like that she takes a stand for what she believes in - but she talks about wasting resources, and then sends her Guard to fetch the books from the cottage she grew up in (and excuse me, how can a cottage on the woods house 2,000+ books?) pretty much immediately after settling into The Keep. She's plain and spends most of her time wishing she were beautiful, yet judges older women for doing the same. I mean:


How could a woman who looked so old still place so much importance on being attractive? (...) she saw now that there was something far worse than being ugly: being ugly and thinking you were beautiful.
 

Despite the fact we're told that she'll probably have to fight for her life and her throne, I never felt that Kelsea was in any danger of losing either. The Red Queen, for all her blow and bluster, is reluctant to declare war on Tear. Her uncle - who has being doing pretty much anything possible to make sure Kelsea doesn't get to sit on the throne, including hiring assassins - is allowed to stay in the castle for a month? The man undermining her is still able to keep his cushy position in The Keep, even though everyone knows that he's the mastermind? I don't understand how these characters came to make these decisions, because they're never explained. There is so much philosophising and internal monologues, and yet I STILL DON'T UNDERSTAND. 

Nevertheless, Johansen is actually quite good at writing actions scenes, so the last fifty to a hundred pages held my attention pretty well. I quite enjoyed them, and will be checking out the sequel for those last fifty to a hundred pages alone (or because I like existing in a confused and pained state). 

★★
 


 
 


A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Thorns and Roses

Publish Date: 5th May 2015

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 416
Format: Paperback | Purchased

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Plot synopsis (from GR): Feyre’s survival rests upon her ability to hunt and kill – the forest where she lives is a cold, bleak place in the long winter months. So when she spots a deer in the forest being pursued by a wolf, she cannot resist fighting it for the flesh. But to do so, she must kill the predator and killing something so precious comes at a price.

Dragged to a magical kingdom for the murder of a faerie, Feyre discovers that her captor, his face obscured by a jewelled mask, is hiding far more than his piercing green eyes would suggest. Feyre’s presence at the court is closely guarded, and as she begins to learn why, her feelings for him turn from hostility to passion and the faerie lands become an even more dangerous place. Feyre must fight to break an ancient curse, or she will lose him forever.


My thoughts: *Elle Woods voice* Ohmigosh, you guys - I loved, loved, loved this! I loved it more than I loved Throne of Glass. I didn't really know what to expect going in - I just kind of thought, SARAH J. MAAS!!! NEW BOOK!!! MUST BUY!!! so basically didn't know anything about it - and ended up spending The Queen's Birthday long weekend curled up in bed and speed-reading this book. SO. GOOD. If I'm being 100% honest, I felt like this could make a good standalone book, but I'm more than happy to have some more adventures with Feyre, Tamlin and Rhys.

A Court of Thorns and Roses is actually a retelling (of sorts) of Beauty and the Beast. My knowledge of fairy tales is limited to the incredibly sanitised Disney versions (Belle is my favourite Disney princess, for the record), so I couldn't tell you how this held up against the original tale, but I will tell you this: Feyre is one of my favourite heroines in fantasy. Unlike a lot of heroines in YA & NA fiction, she is actually quite flawed - but this doesn't stop her from being likeable. She's stubborn and unable to see the bigger picture at times, and sometimes her behaviour frustrates you, but you never stop hoping that she'll succeed in her Herculean task. Where Feyre really shone was in the scenes with Rhys - there's something light and playful about their relationship; there's often a lot of banter in their conversations and it was a joy to read. Tamlin is a wonderful love interest for Feyre - although from his description, he's not exactly beastly, unless you count the fact that there's a mask that's been magically adhered to his face (but then, everyone in the Spring Court does). Maas spends a lot of time developing their relationship, going from awkward, stilted conversation (on Tam's part) and long silences (on Feyre's part) to a real partnership. There were a few scenes fairly early on in the book that I felt fell a little flat - her father was a bit too spineless, her sister Nesta was a bit too harsh - and made me feel like this was, in fact, a retelling of Cinderella.

What I felt was missing was the action - because, let's face it: Maas is a brilliant writer, and her actions scenes are always done incredibly well. I got some beautiful actions scenes in the first few chapters - Feyre stumbling across a wolf while hunting in the woods, Tamlin breaking into Feyre's family cottage - but they were just there to tease me. There's very little action once we reach Prythian (although Feyre does have some interesting run-ins with some magical creatures); instead we have lush descriptions of the castle and grounds, and spend a lot of time with interesting characters. There's a lot of gorgeous imagery and lush descriptions, and Maas' writing is compelling. I never once bored of the book, even when Feyre was just describing her surroundings. I loved the inhabitants of the Spring Court so much that I was sad to leave them and return to the human world - not just because I felt that Feyre had better chemistry with Tamlin, Rhys and Arlis than she did her own family, but because I enjoyed what the characters brought to the story and it felt like I was leaving behind some good friends (in short: I cared about them, and didn't want to go). Maas has obviously spent a lot of time developing her world, it is inventive and detailed. It took awhile for me to get a handle on the different courts and political players, but once I did, I found it added something new to the fantasy format.

As a whole, I think that this book will be a game-changer. Maas has taken the coming-of-age perspective of YA books and combined it with the freedom of being able to write for an adult audience. It shows what a talented writer can do with an emerging genre, and I can't wait to see what Maas has for me next.

★★★★




#TTT: Top Ten Books on my TBR for Winter 2015

The original prompt for this week's #TTT was 'Top 10 Books on my TBR for Summer 2015,' but Sydney is currently a winter wonderland, and I don't really know what I'll feel like reading come December... although if I'm being honest, it'll most likely be something light and fluffy because it'll be too hot to think. This winter I'm aiming to read more classics - in particular, classics written by male authors. I have a habit of reading books by female authors, and I want to expand my knowledge of the classics beyond Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters. For this reason, I'm adding The Raven: Tales and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (because my knowledge of classic literature is mostly limited to the greats of British literature; I never really bothered with American literature). Never fear, ladies of literature are still on the list! I'm also hoping to tackle The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson this winter - there's something about winter that makes me think it's a perfect time to start reading horror stories. After reading Howl, Kaddish and Other Poems by Ginsberg for Brain Soup Goes Gilmore, I'm eager to read more poetry, so I'm adding Emily Dickinson to the top of my list. There are also some newer books that I've purchased and STILL haven't gotten around to reading, and I'm planning on getting them out of the way this winter!

10 Jun 2015

Wishlist Wednesday

Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story by David Levithan

Release Date: 17th March 2015
Publisher: Dutton

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It’s Tiny Cooper’s turn in the spotlight in this companion novel to New York Times bestseller Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Jazz hands at the ready! Tiny Cooper (“the world’s largest person who is also really, really gay”) stole readers’ hearts when he was introduced to the world in the New York Times bestselling book Will Grayson, Will Grayson, co-authored by John Green and David Levithan. Now Tiny finally gets to tell his story—from his fabulous birth and childhood to his quest for true love and his infamous parade of ex-boyfriends—the way he always intended: as a musical! Filled with honesty, humor, and “big, lively, belty” musical numbers, the novel is told through the full script of the musical first introduced in Will Grayson, Will Grayson.
 
The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell

Release Date: 29th January 2015
Publisher: Simon & Schuster


And these are they. My final moments. They say a warrior must always be mindful of death, but I never imagined that it would find me like this . . .

Japanese teenager, Sora, is diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). Lonely and isolated, Sora turns to the ancient wisdom of the samurai for guidance and comfort. But he also finds hope in the present; through the internet he finds friends that see him, not just his illness. This is a story of friendship and acceptance, and testing strength in an uncertain future.



9 Jun 2015

#TTT: Top Ten Most Anticipated Releases for the Rest of 2015

This list was harder to make than I thought it would be - some books have recently been released, and I just haven't gotten around to getting my hands on a copy; some books that were being released in late 2015 have now been pushed back to early 2016; there are some books that I am eagerly anticipating, but they're in a series and as I haven't read the earlier books... it wouldn't feel right to put them on here (I'll get around to reading them all... eventually). Click on the book covers to add on GoodReads!



Release Dates:
Go Set a Watchman: 14th July
The Rest of Us Just Live Here: 27th August
Everything, Everything: 1st September The Shadow Behind the Stars: 1st September
Queen of Shadows: 1st September
Dumplin': 15th September
The Weight of Feathers: 15th September
Six of Crows: 29th September
Carry On: 6th October
Illuminae: 20th October

8 Jun 2015

Brain Soup Goes Gilmore: The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

Brain Soup Goes Gilmore is a book club hosted by Dayeanne Hutton (of Emma Approved fame) and Felicity Disco. Each month, the club will read a book read by Rory Gilmore from Gilmore Girls. If you'd like to participate, just visit the club on GoodReads!
 

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
 
Release Date: 1982
Publisher: Everyman's Library
Pages: 488
Format: Hardcover | Borrowed

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Synopsis (from GR): Here, in an astonishing debut by a gifted storyteller, is the saga of proud and passionate men and women and the turbulent times through which they suffer and triumph. They are the Truebas. And theirs is a world you won't want to leave, and one you won't forget.

Esteban—, the patriarch, a volatile and proud man whose lust for land is legendary and who is haunted by his tyrannical passion for the wife he can never completely possess. Clara,— the matriarch, elusive and mysterious, who foretells family tragedy and shapes the fortunes of the house of the Truebas.
Blanca, —their daughter, soft-spoken yet rebellious, whose shocking love for the son of her father's foreman fuels Esteban's everlasting contempt... even as it produces the grandchild he adores.
Alba, the fruit of Blanca's forbidden love, a luminous beauty, a fiery and willful woman... the family's break with the past and link to the future.


My thoughts: I'm not going to lie, I found the first third or so of this book to drag on, to the point where I seriously considered DNF'ing it. I was slightly disappointed because Allende was one of those authors I'd always heard of. What turned out to be a slow read turned into a beautiful family story spread across generations. 

Esteban Trueba is one of the most despicable characters in literature - I was disgusted by his behaviour, and I was disgusted by the fact that so many other characters were aware of what he'd done, but turned a blind eye to it. I also found him fascinating, in a twisted way. He's a self-made man - when we first meet him, he is a labourer working in the mines, and over the course of the novel he becomes a wealthy landowner with a lot of political and economical power. He's a right-wing crusader, fighting against communists, atheists and any other party that he believes poses a threat to his power. I think I was supposed to be pity him towards the end - his ignorance, malice and hatred causes him to lose so much. I couldn't though - he had made his choices, and he learnt the hard way that they came with consequences. I pitied those who had been impacted by his choices - namely his children and grandchildren, both legitimate and illegitimate, and the women he had raped. I didn't care for Esteban's sister, Ferula, either. She was every bit a selfish, twisted, and power-hungry as her brother, although she exerted her power on a much smaller level. 

What really made this novel for me were Clara, Blanca and Alba. They are all gorgeous characters full of wonder and whimsy. They are strong, finding ways to survive in both the public and private sphere; rising above the adversities they face in a turbulent home and country. Clara is forced to deal with a husband who has a temper and abuses her emotionally, verbally and physically, yet insists he loves her. He wants to possess all of Clara, to the point where he drives away his sister because he's jealous of her friendship with his wife. Clara shows him only indifference, and refuses to acknowledge his existence when he begins beating her. Blanca is in love with Pedro Tercero, a young rebel whose family works on Esteban's property. When she falls pregnant with Pedro's child, she faces her father's wrath. Alba is forced to suffer for the crimes of her grandfather, and is driven half-mad in the process.

Allende frequently breaks the cardinal rule of writing - "show, don't tell." Somehow, it works. It's such a dense book - there's very little dialogue and the Trueba's story is layered in between the actual political history of Chile, and examines class conflict, the cycle of violence, and also briefly touches women's rights. Despite being vaguely familiar with the political conflict being told - "The President" mentioned in the book is Salvador Allende, the author's first cousin once removed - I was still invested in the outcome. The political and historical dimensions of the novel interested me greatly - I completed a Master of International Studies in 2012, so I don't think that this would surprise anyone who knows me - but even though Allende never mentions the political figures or even the country by name, I still believe that this is an inherently political novel. Rather than promote a specific ideology, I believe that Allende is simply making a point about what social and political conflict can do to a country. She makes this point on a smaller scale as well, showing what indifference and lack of love can do to a family.

All in all, a beautiful book - I hope to read more of Allende's work in the future!
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