29 Jul 2015

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Release Date: 1st September 2015
Publisher: Delacorte
Page Count: 250
Format: Ebook | ARC

Add on GoodReads

Recommend for: fans of The Fault in Our Stars or All the Bright Places

Synopsis (from GR): This innovative, heartfelt debut novel tells the story of a girl who’s literally allergic to the outside world. When a new family moves in next door, she begins a complicated romance that challenges everything she’s ever known.

My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla. But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly. Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

My thoughts:  I don't know what I did right in life to be approved for an ARC, but whatever I did, I'm glad I did it. Told in a series of emails, text messages, charts, illustrations, and Madeline's own dictionary definitions and mini-book reviews (in addition to first-person narration), it was an absolute joy to read. Everything, Everything was about on par with Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda for squee factor for me. It is a celebration life and love, and quite possibly the most uplifting book I have read all year. 

Madeline has Severe Combined Immunodeficiency Disease (SCID), a disease which basically means that she is allergic to everything. She has basically lived her life in a protective bubble with only her mother and her nurse, Carla, for companionship - her visitors are very few and highly regulated. For the most part, Madeline accepts her life for what it is - until Olly moves next door. 

Madeline and Olly's relationship was beautiful, and the romance wasn't insanely cheesy. I admit, it felt a little like insta-love - Madeline sees him through her bedroom window, and it's like her entire perspective on the world changes - but that didn't affect my enjoyment factor of the novel. After the initial sighting, their relationship was built up slowly. We got to see the pair begin a friendship through emails, instant messages, texts and miming through windows. Madeline and Olly weren't one entity - they were two separate people with their own traits and personalities, and I liked that we got to see their relationship test their boundaries and make them stronger for it. I liked that Maddy wasn't defined by her relationship with Olly - and while he presents new opportunities for her, she also fears how Olly can affect her life.

The addition of illustrations etc into the narration was done flawlessly. They added a bit of charm and character, and made the book feel a little... interactive. It gave you a bit more insight into Maddy's character - her wit, her sense of humour, her intelligence, and her yearning for something more in life. Maddy doesn't just want to live - she wants to live a life that's worth remembering, and while she can sometimes come across as being selfish, you cannot fault her for not wanting to live her life in a protective bubble. Also, shout-out for diversity (!) - Maddy is Japanese/African-American.
I think my only quibble with the novel (and it is a fairly big quibble - like, an entire plot point) was the reveal about what Maddy's mother had done. I felt like it cheapened Maddy's experiences. Maddy put so much on the line and risked so much in order to really feel like she's living, but the ending made me feel like what Maddy thought she was risking and what she actually did... didn't match up. Also, given that Maddy has SCID, I think Yoon could've focused a bit more on the disease. I know that the romance is the selling point of the novel (and it's a beautifully-written romance), but I would've loved for Everything, Everything to go into more depth about the disease.

Everything, Everything is definitely worth the hype (it's not released until September and already has a four-star average rating on GR), and I know will be going down as one of my favourite releases of 2015. I cannot recommend it enough!


The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes

Release Date: 22nd June 2015
Publisher: HarperCollins
Page Count: 394
Format: Paperback | Purchased

Add on GoodReads

Synopsis (from GR): The Kevinian cult has taken everything from seventeen-year-old Minnow: twelve years of her life, her family, and her ability to trust.

And when Minnow rebelled, they took away her hands, too.

Now the Kevinian Prophet has been murdered and the camp set aflame and it's clear Minnow knows something. But she's not talking. As she adjusts to a life behind bars in juvenile detention, Minnow struggles to make sense of all she has been taught to believe, particularly as she dwells on the events that led up to her incarceration. But when an FBI detective approaches her about making a deal, Minnow sees she can have the freedom she always dreamed of; if she is willing to part with the terrible secrets of her past.

Powerful and compelling. this remarkable and brave debut novel reveals the terrible dangers of blind faith. And the importance of having faith in yourself.

My thoughts: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly is one of my favourite books of 2015. I didn't know what to expect from it - I came across it while browsing my local bookstore and bought it without reading any reviews - and it was a happy surprise. I'm surprised it hasn't received more love from the GoodReads/YA community - I haven't heard any hype about it, I haven't come across any reviews on GR, but it definitely deserves more attention than it seems to be getting. 
I have to admit: I'm fascinated by religion and what it will drive people to do in the name of their beliefs, and I had a feeling that this book would suck me in.  I'm not sure if Oakes based the Kevinian cult on a particular religious cult or was inspired by religious cults in general, but her depiction of Minnow's life in the cult was quite realistic:

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.

I found the book slow to start, but became hooked about a quarter of the way in. Oakes does a brilliant job of balancing the horrific and the beautiful, telling the story of Minnow's life in gaol and in the cult, and creating a contemporary psychological thriller that keeps the reader guessing. 
In a book that is so fantastic, it is hard to pinpoint exactly what it was that I loved about it. I'm going to say straight off the bat that I adored Minnow - you would expect a girl who has spent most of her life in a religious cult and who has had her hands cut off to be submissive. Minnow is not that: she is damaged from her abuse, but she is also manipulative (when she thinks it necessary), cunning, and hardened. Despite being disabled, she never plays the victim. She is suspicious of almost everyone she meets, and she does everything in her power to protect herself from being victimised. Minnow also wants more from her life: she doesn't want to shut herself away from the world and live in isolation. Oakes' characterisation is wonderful - not just with Minnow, but with all of her characters. The Prophet aside, there were shades of grey in all of the characters, and that raised questions of morality and justice.  

There was also a beautiful friendship between Minnow and her cellmate, Angel. A lot of Minnow's growth in gaol is a result of her relationship with Angel. Angel is honest, wise, and wants Minnow to succeed. She supports Minnow in her quest for something greater in life, and believes in Minnow when Minnow doesn't believe in herself. In return, Minnow refuses to let Angel be defined by her crimes. Minnow likes to see the best in Angel, and I think that Angel is all the better for it. 

Despite the violence and physical & emotional abuse depicted in the novel, I found this book to be more thought-provoking than disturbing. It brought up questions of religion, God, justice and morality. Oakes writing is absolutely gorgeous and in some places, took my breath away. For example:

Dark clouds covered the pale blue in a holey blanket. To the east was the moon, almost full. My whole body was quaking, but I couldn’t take my eyes off that moon. Even as the Prophet approached me, shouting in a screeching voice that reached down into my soul and grabbed the necks of the angels that lived there, I could hardly care about anything but the almost-oval of moon hanging over the forest I’d known almost my entire life, clouds sliding across like doves.

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly is a coming-of-age story unlike any other that I've read. I love YA that packs an emotional punch, and The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly definitely did that. To create a psychological thriller that is grounded in realism and has a plot that is entirely plausible - that is an admirable feat and I take me hat off to Stephanie Oakes. The fact that this is Oakes' debut novel is even more stunning - she is definitely going on my 'authors to watch' list.  

28 Jul 2015

#TTT: 10 Characters Who are Fellow Book Nerds

Hermione Granger (Harry Potter)

How can any list of book nerds be complete without mentioning "the brightest witch of her age," Hermione Granger? Growing up, I loved that I had a bookish role model in Hermione, one who was quite proud of her intelligence and was always looked to for the answers (let's face it, Harry and Ron wouldn't be anywhere without Hermione. She gave them the answers while she was Petrified). 

Catherine Morland (Northanger Abbey)

Catherine is a great reader of Gothic novels, and sometimes lets her imagination get the better of her.

Liesel Meminger (The Book Thief)

Liesel is possibly one of the greatest book nerds in literature, and goes to great lengths to be able to read. She steals books to keep them from burning, giving them a home and cherishing them. She delivers laundry in exchange for getting to visit a beautiful private library. 

Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gables)

Oh, Anne with an 'e,' lover of all things poetic. I would say Anne is more a lover of words and stories - she loves reading them, she loves telling them, she loves writing them. She doesn't limit herself to one form of story-telling, either. 

Jo March (Little Women)

Jo is another character who I associate with books, but honestly believe that she loves story-telling. She loves acting and writing plays and stories and all sorts.

Cath Avery (Fangirl)

Cath is the ultimate fangirl: a lover of Simon Snow, she writes Simon Snow fanfiction and is basically the Queen of SS' fanfic community. What better way to appreciate a book than dedicate time and effort into writing something for your fellow fans?

Matilda Wormwood (Matilda)

Who could forget Matilda? Girl managed to read her entire library by the time she was five. Unfortunately, her parents dismiss her intelligence, knowledge and incredible literacy skills because they're, well, awful.  

Charlie (Perks of Being a Wallflower)

Charlie doesn't have a favourite book - every time he reads a new book, he gains another favourite. Charlie and I have that in common.  Charlie bonds with one of his teachers over books, with his teacher recommending a lot of classic novels for him to read. 

Scout Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird)

Scout doesn't even realise that she loves reading: it's something she's always done; she compares it to breathing ("until I feared I'd lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing"). I love that description, mostly because I had a similar epiphany when I was about five. 

Alaska Young (Looking for Alaska)

Girl picks up second hand books wherever she goes and her shelves are basically the defining feature of her dorm room. She sounds like the kind of person I'd want to befriend. 

22 Jul 2015

The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell

Release Date: 29th January 2015
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Page Count: 368
Format: Hardcover | Purchased

Add on GoodReads

Synopsis (from GR): 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.

My thoughts: It is with a heavy heart that I rate The Last Leaves Falling two stars. I really thought I'd love it, and was really surprised when I didn't. I wanted to, and it had everything there! But this book and I, we didn't click. I wasn't emotionally invested in this book, and it left me wanting more. 

Looking through the reviews and ratings on GoodReads, my opinion is definitely in the minority. There are so many reviews talking about what an emotional, affecting read this book was and I can't help but think did we even read the same book? I just felt so oddly detached from this book - I couldn't connect with Sora, the book was set in Japan but it didn't feel like it, the prose felt weirdly stilted in places.

I think my main problem was that I just wasn't connecting with Sora. His situation was devastating and heart-breaking. Sora has been diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a.k.a Lou Gehrig's disease and the reason why people keep throwing buckets of ice water on themselves, and given two years to live. I was able to sympathise with him, but I never empathised with him. I was never able to get inside Sora's head and understand his actions or motivations. Despite the little time we spend with her, I found that I empathised with his mother more, although that may be because Sora spent a lot of time wondering what life would be like for her once he is dead. I also found myself more emotionally invested in Sora's friends, Kaito and Mai. It's unfortunate that The Last Leaves Falling is character-driven; perhaps if it were plot-driven I could've found more to love.

One thing that did irritate me were the chat conversations. I didn't find them all that engaging, and some involved characters that you didn't actually meet or have any relevance to the story whatsoever, and although they were used to introduce Kaito and Mai to Sora, I felt that they were rushed, forced and unrealistic. Also, while there were mentions of samurai, Japanese food and superstitions, it didn't really feel like it was set in Japan. If it weren't for the blurb mentioning that Sora is Japanese and the passing references to Japan, I would've guessed it was set in the US or UK.

For me, the highlight was the ending, which sounds awful when I put it like that. Benwell chose the perfect point to end the novel, and I found it to be the most emotionally affecting scene in the book. I'm glad that this book went out on a high. As I said before: my opinion appears to be in the minority. If you're on the fence about reading it, I'd suggest to look into a few reviews, but really this seems to be a book you need to read for yourself.


Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch

Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch

Release Date: 14th October 2014
Publisher: Balzer & Bray
Page Count: 416
Format: Hardcover | Purchased

Add on GoodReads

Synopsis: 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.
My thoughts: I was initially wary of the hype surrounding this book because I had been promised so many things: an entirely unique world, a lot of action sequences, a well-written high fantasy, a kickass heroine and a bunch of amazing secondary characters. Oh, and a plot twist you'll never see coming. While I did get most of these things, I think because I (correctly) guessed the plot twist about 25% into the book, I didn't enjoy this book as much as I could've.

The world in Snow Like Ashes is fairly basic: there are eight kingdoms - four Seasons and four Rhythms - and each has their own conduit filled with magic. Spring is ruled by Angra, who may or may not be immortal and who is definitely hellbent on destroying Winter. Why he is so focused on doing so is never explained, and I suspect that it may be a more significant plot-point in the next two books.

The pacing of this book was slower than most YA fantasy I've read recently. As the book is set during a war (of sorts), I didn't mind this. A book with this kind of plot definitely needs to take the time to give backstory and put events into context. However, there was a lot of info-dumping. For example:

Just as Winter focused its magic on mining, Coredell focuses its conduit on opportunity - on helping its citizens work a situation in their favor so they get the most out of it. Opportunistic, resourceful, swindlers: whatever they're called, they can make "leaves turn to gold"--a Cordellan phrase Sir explained in our many lessons, referring to the fact that they're so good at turning a profit it's as if they make leaves on a tree turn into gold coins. That explains Captain Dominick's curse earlier - golden leaves. 
I appreciated that things didn't just magically slide into place and the Winterians didn't go in, guns blazing and no real battle plan. We actually got to see the Winterians making plans, preparing for invading and fighting. I became emotionally invested in the Winterians fight to get their magic back, and felt for them when things didn't go their way.

One little point of irritation (like, I'm being nit-picky here) was the names of the capitals: Juli (Summer), Ocktuber (Autumn), Jannuari (Winter), Abril (Spring). It's all well and good if you live somewhere in the Northern Hemisphere, but I live in Australia, so January doesn't exactly conjure up images of snow and frost. It pulled me out of the story when I first came across it, and left me feeling like the book wasn't as polished as it could've been. 

The characterisation is incredibly well done: every character is well-developed and brings something to the table. Overall, I found Meira to be an engaging, kickass character. She's feisty, stubborn, determined, and she relishes being where the action is.  However, I found that this last point sometimes turned into a character flaw. Meira is reckless, refuses to listen to others (particularly authority figures), and there are moments when she can't control her emotions and acts, which leads to her behaving childishly. For example:

"Meira, this isn't going to fix anything -"
"Don't care."
 "I've talked to him every day since he announced the engagement; if I can't change his mind -"
I grit my teeth. "I. Don't. Care."
I could understand why Meira was upset - I think anyone would be in the situation she was in - but I was frustrated by her refusing to listen to reason and throwing a tantrum like a two year old. That said, her emotions did come across as natural for a teenager - you expect a sixteen-year-old girl to be moody and confused by her emotions and sometimes unable to properly express what she's feeling or explain why she's feeling the way she does. While I was frustrated by her throwing tantrums, I could remember throwing some of my own as a teen - Meira is definitely a relatable heroine.

I really enjoyed Meira's relationship with her guardian, Sir. It's an awkward relationship - he's the only father figure in her life, yet he keeps her at arm's length. She constantly strives for his approval, yet never seems to attain it. She is frustrated by the boundaries he sets for her and fights him constantly. Yet Sir quite obviously cares for her, it is only Meira who cannot see it. It was a joy to watch that relationship unfold and develop.

There is a love triangle in Snow Like Ashes - which I was disappointed, but not surprised, by. When we first met Meira, she is in love with her childhood friend, Mather, who is the King of Winter (in name only). He looks out for Meira, and it is suggested that he also has feelings for her, but circumstances lead to Meira being in an arranged engagement with Theron, the Prince of Cordell. While Meira also develops feelings for Theron, it still feels natural. It's not insta-love, it's more like a spike in teenage hormones. The romantic sub-plot also didn't overwhelm the book, which I appreciated.

Snow Like Ashes is a solid read. It does exactly what the first book in a trilogy should do: introduce a world and its characters, help set up the next two books. Raasch is a wonderful writer - I found the way she writes to be engaging and absorbing, and her characterisation is some of the best I've seen in YA fantasy. That said, this book could've done with some tighter editing. I believe this trilogy will only get better with the sequels, and I cannot wait for Ice Like Fire!



21 Jul 2015

#TTT: 10 Books that Celebrate Diversity

People of Colour

Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey | Add on GoodReads

 I recommend this book every opportunity I can, but I can never put into words how important I think this book is or succintly summarise it. Jasper Jones is the story of Charlie Bucktin and his fleeting friendship with Jasper Jones. Jasper is an outcast because of his mixed heritage (Indigenous Australian/white). The book examines the conditional acceptance of Indigenous Australians in white society, and it's a really good depiction of Australian society as a whole (even though the book is set in the 1960s). Jasper is not the only character of colour - Charlie's best friend, Jeffrey Lu, is Asian. The book also covers the micro aggressions that Jeffrey faces from white Australians (such as his exclusion from the cricket team that he is on).

 The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin | Add on GoodReads

Unlike most fantasy novels which feature worlds based upon Medieval European societies, The Killing Moon is based on Ancient Egyptian society and mythology. It also features an inverted caste system, i.e., the darker your skin, the higher your position is society. If you're looking to add more authors of colour to your reading list, Jemisin is African-American (although that shouldn't be the reason why you read this book. You should read this book because it is amazing). 
The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker | Add on GoodReads

The Golem and the Djinni takes a creature from Jewish mythology and a creature from Arabic folklore and creates an entirely unique, original story. It is a story of displacement, of immigrants arriving in a new country and having to learn an entirely new way of life. Themes of identity and religion also come into play, making it an incredibly engrossing, fascinating read. Definitely on my favourites list!

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell | Add on GoodReads

Admittedly, this book is primarily a story about two teenagers falling in love. One of those teenagers happens to be mixed race (Vietnamese/white), and he questions his status as "the Asian kid" and whether or not it truly defines him. Even if this issue wasn't raised during the book, it is nice to see YA with a) a biracial character and b) a biracial relationship. While opening up dialogue about racism and discrimination is good, it's also nice to see characters of colour simply existing and not being the token character of colour put in solely for the sake of diversity, if you catch my drift.

Disability & Mental Illness

 Eon by Alison Goodman | Add on GoodReads

Eon is the story of Eona, a crippled sixteen-year-old girl masquerading as a twelve-year-old boy in order to achieve her dream of becoming a Dragoneye - an apprentice to one of the twelve dragons of fortune. If she is discovered, she will be put to death.  The world that the Eon duology is set in takes influences from both Chinese and Japanese culture and mythology - for those who are seeking books with Asian character or PoC - but the world building is truly unique.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon  | Add on GoodReads

Christopher Boone, is fifteen and has Asperger's. He's very good at maths, but not so good at understanding people. When his neighbour's dog is murdered, he goes on a terrifying, life-changing journey that turns his life upside down. This book was equal parts humorous and heart-breaking, and watching Christopher struggle with his Asperger's and how it affected him on a day-to-day basis just made my heart hurt. Actually, that's a good tagline for this book: will make your heart hurt. 

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes | Add on GoodReads

There were two things that first attracted me to this book. Firstly, it is a retelling of the little known Hans Christian Andersen tale The Girl Without Hands (and as such, you can expect a protagonist who has hand both her hands cut off with an axe). Secondly, the protagonist has spent most of her life in a religious cult (and had her hands cut off as punishment for rebelling against the cult's teachings). Go forth and buy this book, you will not regret it.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio | Add on GoodReads

Wonder is, in a word, heart-breaking. It is told from the perspective of Auggie, a ten-year-old with a facial abnormality that causes other children to run away from him, screaming. It is a poignant read about a young boy who faces so much adversity, yet does his best to remain upbeat and positive and try to live a life as normal as possible. My heart broke for Augie so many times throughout this book, and yet his cheer and positivity was so infectious. There are also chapters narrated by the people closest to him, giving the reader full insight into Auggie's life. I cannot recommend this book enough. 

 The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath | Add on GoodReads

Despite my love for YA, a lot of the books on my favourites list are actually adult fiction (and have been on there since I was a teenager). The Bell Jar is one of those books. It's semi-autobiographical, and while reading you get the feeling that Plath has experienced what Esther is going through. Bleak truths, difficult topics and incredibly black, wry humour abound.


Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli | Add on GoodReads

I loved this book so much, it was one of the most adorable books I have ever, ever, ever read. Simon is most definitely in the closet - not because he's ashamed, but because he knows that his friends and family will make a big deal about it when they find out. Albertalli does a good job of portraying how complicated and terrifying it can be for a gay teen to come out, but also how awesome and relieving it can be for them. I loved the way she managed to balance those emotions out. There's also the added bonus of growing up and dealing with changing friendships and relationships, which makes it a great coming-of-age story also. 

15 Jul 2015

This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner

Release Date: 19th November 2014
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Pages: 394
Format: Paperback | Purchased

Add on GoodReads 

Synopsis (from GR): Jubilee Chase and Flynn Cormac should never have met. Lee is captain of the forces sent to Avon to crush the terraformed planet's rebellious colonists, but she has her own reasons for hating the insurgents.

Rebellion is in Flynn's blood. Terraforming corporations make their fortune by recruiting colonists to make the inhospitable planets livable, with the promise of a better life for their children. But they never fulfilled their promise on Avon, and decades later, Flynn is leading the rebellion.

Desperate for any advantage in a bloody and unrelentingly war, Flynn does the only thing that makes sense when he and Lee cross paths: he returns to base with her as prisoner. But as his fellow rebels prepare to execute this tough-talking girl with nerves of steel, Flynn makes another choice that will change him forever. He and Lee escape the rebel base together, caught between two sides of a senseless war.

The stunning second novel in the Starbound trilogy is an unforgettable story of love and forgiveness in a world torn apart by war.

My thoughts: I will admit that I put off reading This Shattered World for the longest time. I liked These Broken Stars, sure but I found that it was quite heavy on the romance and it wasn't really what I was looking for. If I'm being honest, it felt like a romance novel masquerading as sci-fi, and although there were elements there that I loved - there were some decent actions sequences and the conspiracy theories surrounding LaRoux Industries intrigued me -  it wasn't enough to make me run out and grab This Shattered World the second it was published. Which is unfortunate, because This Shattered World was basically everything I wanted These Broken Stars to be. I will be sprinting to my nearest bookstore the day Their Fractured Light is released.  

Going into this, I really only knew that this book wouldn't be focusing on Tarver Merendsen and Lilac LaRoux - we were being introduced to a new couple and a new planet.  I actually really liked this decision, because I absolutely hate the trend in YA where a story that can really be wrapped up in one book is stretched out into a trilogy, and I felt that Tarver and Lilac's story really had no where else to go. That said, Tarver and Lilac made a cameo in  This Shattered World, neatly wrapping up their story for the fans who wondered what happened to them, and tying the events of the two books together.

The mysterious elements that kind of hovered in the background of These Broken Stars are brought to the forefront here. We are introduced to Jubilee Chase and Flynn Cormac, both soldiers on opposing sides of a war being waged on the planet Avon. Despite their opposing political views, Jubilee and Flynn find they have a lot more in common than they originally thought, and soon find themselves trying to solve a mystery that has them questioning their own reality.

We are given a better idea of what LaRoux Industries is up to - or at the very least, the enormity of it. What they are trying to accomplish, what they're willing to sacrifice in order to achieve their goals, and how far they will go to cover their tracks. It was like These Broken Stars was a close-up shot, and This Shattered World was taken a couple of steps back and allowing readers to see the bigger picture. I also thought that the stakes were driven higher in This Shattered World - with the tension between the military and the Fianna, it felt like there could be an uprising at any moment, especially with the Fury - a disease that seems to only affect the military - thrown in the mix.  

Can I just make a little point here? I really appreciated the way Kaufman and Spooner dealt with speaking about war. I am the daughter of a Vietnam veteran, and from the very few times that my father has spoken about his experiences in the war, I have learnt that in a war, everybody loses. Wars are complex, multifaceted things; a difficult subject to broach and always told from the perspective of the victors. I appreciated that Kaufman and Spooner explored a variety of perspectives and tried not to demonise characters - there were grey areas, as there should be.  

This Shattered World was a fantastic second novel and a welcome addition to my shelves. It was grittier and darker and more nuanced than I was expecting, and I was so glad that I took a second chance on this trilogy. I cannot wait to see where Kaufman and Spooner go from here!

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

 Go Set a Watchman by Harper LeeRelease Date: 14th June 2015
Publisher: William Heinemann
Page Count: 288
Format: Hardcover | Purchased

Synopsis (from GR): Go Set a Watchman features many of the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird some twenty years later. Returning home to Maycomb to visit her father, Jean Louise Finch—Scout—struggles with issues both personal and political, involving Atticus, society, and the small Alabama town that shaped her.

Exploring how the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird are adjusting to the turbulent events transforming mid-1950s America, Go Set a Watchman casts a fascinating new light on Harper Lee’s enduring classic. Moving, funny and compelling, it stands as a magnificent novel in its own right.

My thoughts: This book is incredibly hard for me to review for a number of reasons. Despite being marketed as a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird... it's not really. Harper Lee submitted Go Set a Watchman to her publisher, who then suggested that she write the story from a child's perspective. This leads to so many questions: did Harper Lee change her characterisation of Atticus in between writing Go Set a Watchman and To Kill a Mockingbird, or was Atticus always a racist? If he was always racist, did I just not notice because To Kill a Mockingbird was filled with childhood idealism, and I just idolised Atticus in the same way Scout did? Am I only noticing because Go Set a Watchman focuses more with the disillusionment of adulthood? Or does this not matter because there is a very high probability that Go Set a Watchman was never intended to see the light of day? After finishing this novel, I'm leaning more towards the last possibility.

Going into this book, I was terrified I was going to be biased in my rating. Like so many others, I list To Kill a Mockingbird as one of my favourites. I was afraid that I wouldn't be rating this book on its own merits, but rather because I love its predecessor so dearly.

After reading this book, I felt pretty similarly to how I felt after finishing Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy. The characterisation was off, the plot... questionable, and a perfectly good book had been ruined by its successor. The entire plot can be summarised in a single sentence: Scout learns that her father is not the man she thought he was, but she decides to love him anyway. I think what drove me through Go Set a Watchman was my understanding of the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, but this novel lacks all the charm, personality, humour, and richness of the latter. Lee's prose is beautiful and captures Maycomb wonderfully - but the writing slips clumsily between first and third person, or past and present tense. While I could forgive a lack of continuity with Mockingbird - because I don't think Lee had any agency in the publication of this book - I cannot forgive the lack of continuity within the book itself. This book needed either a) tighter editing, or b) not to be published at all (and I say that as someone who adores To Kill a Mockingbird and has read it almost as often as she has Harry Potter).

And so we come to the hardest part of Go Set a Watchman: Atticus' racist attitude. Racism is placed centre stage in Go Set a Watchman, as the story takes place around the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, which I believe ended segregation in the U.S. Scout may be slightly more progressive than her father, but both Atticus and Scout dislike the NAACP and believe that the Federal Government has no right to be interfering in the business of states. As To Kill a Mockingbird was told from the perspective of a child, it was easier to conceal both Atticus' and Scout's racist, problematic views. I think the worst part of Scout's views is that she insists that she cannot live with a hypocrite - but that is what she is. In one scene, Scout tells her uncle that although she thinks black people should have the same opportunities white people do, it's not like she'll marry one of them (as if that's a completely irrational thought that no sane person would think).

One scene that pulled me in was the scene where Scout confronts her father - but her uncle Jack slaps her so hard that she bleeds and told that she is a bigot (which she is, but not for the reasons that uncle Jack states). Scout is forced to submit to the whims and opinions of elder white men. Scout concedes - she decides to accept her relatives for who they are and what they stand for, because they are white people of good breeding.  Go Set a Watchman put To Kill a Mockingbird in an entirely new light for me, and I don't know if I'll ever be able to love it the same way ever again.


14 Jul 2015

#TTT: Last 10 Books that Came into My Possession

I don't think that this week's Top Ten Tuesday really needs any commentary, so here are some of the latest editions to my shelf. I think the one I'm most excited to read is Go Set a Watchman (which I literally just bought this morning), but I'm yet to read most of these! 



8 Jul 2015

#reread2015: Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

First published: 1811
Add on GoodReads

Synopsis (from GR): Marianne Dashwood wears her heart on her sleeve, and when she falls in love with the dashing but unsuitable John Willoughby she ignores her sister Elinor's warning that her impulsive behaviour leaves her open to gossip and innuendo. Meanwhile Elinor, always sensitive to social convention, is struggling to conceal her own romantic disappointment, even from those closest to her. Through their parallel experience of love—and its threatened loss—the sisters learn that sense must mix with sensibility if they are to find personal happiness in a society where status and money govern the rules of love.

 I first read Sense and Sensibility when I was eleven. My sister had introduced me to Pride and Prejudice and I decided to read all of her works. While I devoured them all, I think I had been expecting Austen's works to all be as light, bright and sparkling as Pride and Prejudice is, and it wasn't until I was older that I was able to appreciate her other works for what they are. I think I struggled with Sense and Sensibility in that I felt like Marianne had settled for second-best (thereby failing to understand Marianne's character growth) and I didn't understand why Elinor reacted the way she did in regards to Lucy and Edward. I have since re-read Sense and Sensibility multiple times (I try to reread at least one of Austen's works each year), and my understanding of has changed considerably. While it is not my favourite Austen (if I had to rank Austen's work in order of favourites, it would be fifth on the list), it is still an incredibly enjoyable read.
 Aside from loving Austen and thinking it pitiful I've only reread Emma so far this year, I'm auditioning for a stage adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, and basically used my audition as an excuse to reread Sense and Sensibility and binge-watch three different adaptations (the 1981, 1995 and 2008 adaptations). It has been far too long since my last reread of Sense and Sensibility, and it kind of felt like returning home or reuniting with an old friend.
 As a book I often reread, there isn't much I've forgotten, plot-wise. There is so much to appreciate - Austen's use of irony and wit, the Dashwood sisters (including Margaret!), the downright villainy of Fanny Dashwood and the selfishness of her husband.
 No matter how many times I read Sense and Sensibility, I will never understand why it was perfectly acceptable for Robert to marry Lucy Steele, but Edward gets disowned for honouring his engagement with her. The Ferrars are a confusing bunch, in more ways than one.

I found that my feelings about Willoughby have become more mixed with this reread - it's easy to cast him as a Wickham-type character and forget that he truly did love Marianne. It is hard for me to feel sorry for him though - getting a teenage girl pregnant and ignoring her existence; initially pursuing Marianne only for a bit of fun and to flatter his ego; marrying a woman he didn't love so he could live in the style he was accustomed to, only to wish his wife dead to he could marry Marianne. Willoughby is his own worst enemy, and a lot of his problems come from the fact that he wishes to live a life he cannot truly afford. It was easy to see Willoughby as a romantic interest, rather than just a villain this time around.

Elinor has captivated me and is slowly climbing up my list of favourite Austen heroines. I love her quiet strength, her sense of propriety, and her sense of duty towards her family. I also love that Sense and Sensibility is also a story of Elinor & Marianne's love for one another - their sisterhood and friendship is so important to each other's growth and development, and I cannot help but appreciate the importance that Austen has placed on their relationship. It is arguably the most important relationship in the novel - I see Sense and Sensibility as a novel about familial relationships rather than a romance novel.

Absolutely! Austen's an author whose works can be reread over and over again, and you'll still be picking up new details each and every time. It never ceases to amaze me how much effort she put into both writing and editing her novels. Every detail is put in for a reason (and if you have the Norton Critical Edition like me, they make notes of all the revisions she made between editions, which is quite interesting). Austen was a true writer, able to capture the mannerisms and mores of her society and creating characters who have their own sets of values and beliefs reacting to that society. Minor and seemingly insignificant details are more important than the reader initially realises - indeed, one may argue that Austen's novels are about the insignificant, the mundane, the day-to-day life of her society; which really makes it so remarkable that she's manages to make the insignificant so interesting.

7 Jul 2015

#TTT: Hyped Books I've Never Read

 Making this list was harder than I thought it would be. I wasn't really sure where to start (I peeked at a few other #TTT this week, and so many listed Harry Potter, which surprised me! And also is a series I couldn't talk about for this week's #TTT, because I talk about how much it has influenced me as both a reader and a person ALL THE TIME), and then once I had started narrowing them down was actually quite difficult.

Incarnate | Jodi Meadows | Newsoul
Add on GoodReads

I would be lying if I said I didn't want to read the Newsoul trilogy, because it actually sounds really interesting and unique. If my impressions are correct, the book takes place in a utopian society, rather than a dystopian one, and I have heard that in addition to incarnated souls, the book features dragons and sylphs and lots of other fantastical creatures. And that cover, oof! Unfortunately, there have also been a few mixed reviews that are scaring me off from reading this one.

Grave Mercy | Robin LaFevers | His Fair Assassin
Add on GoodReads

I actually want to read this. Why wouldn't I? Assassin nuns! It all sounds most intriguing, and the female characters are reportedly pretty badass.

 50 Shades of Grey | E.L. James | 50 Shades
Add on GoodReads

I'm sorry, but this is a series I will never read. A lot of my friends (most of whom aren't readers) tried to get me to read them when the books really hit their stride in terms of popularity, but there's nothing about these books that interest me. If it started out life as Twilight fanfiction, the bar is set pretty low. That said, I have never read the series and should probably refrain from mocking it so much.


 The Selection | Kiera Cass | The Selection
Add on GoodReads

 Again, there is simply nothing about this series that interests me. I have zero interest in watching the Bachelor, so I don't think I'd really go for what seems to be the YA lit version of it.

The Thief | Megan Whalen Turner | The Queen's Thief
Add on GoodReads

It seems that everyone on GR has read/is reading The Queen's Thief series (or at least, everyone who is a Marchetta fan). If anything, this book is hyped only because it is the first book in the series - it is really The Queen of Attolia that seems to have people raving. Admittedly, it does sound like something right up my alley, so I'll have to look into it.

Delirium | Lauren Oliver | Delirium
Add on GoodReads

When Delirium was released in 2011, it seemed like it was the book of the year. Everyone I knew was talking about it, everyone I knew was raving about it, and it seemed to be splashed everywhere. The premise of the book sits oddly with me, and it feels like another YA-love-story-masquerading-as-dystopian-fiction, which is why I've been holding off from reading it. Prove me wrong, Oliver, prove me wrong.

The Maze Runner | James Dashner | The Maze Runner
Add on GoodReads

I feel awful admitting this, but I very rarely read books by male authors. If you look at my bookshelves, the majority of the books on my shelves are written by females. It's not something that's done intentionally, it's just the way it's turned out. The premise never really grabbed me, and from what I've heard it sounds like the series was just cashing in on the dystopian trend. A few of my (again, non-reader) friends have had good things to say about this book, so I might borrow a copy from my library if they have it, but it's not a book that I'd be going out of my way to get my hands on.

The Witching Elm | C.N. Crawford | The Witching Elm
Add on GoodReads

This book has been described as what would happen if Joss Whedon wrote Harry Potter. Both Harry Potter and Joss Whedon's television shows made a huge impact on me as a child (I am a lifelong fan of both, even if I do spend a lot of time critiquing Joss Whedon these days), so I am actually quite excited about this book, and it is definitely on my TBR list.

Gone Girl | Gillian Flynn
Add on GoodReads

Everyone raved about the book, everyone raved about the film. I basically burrowed my head in the sand. Amy Dunne sounds exactly like the kind of character I like, so I'm not entirely sure why I haven't read this book. Maybe it's because I've read so many reviews where the reviewer has said something along the lines of "I picked this book up, tried reading it, and put it back down again," or "I took me three tries to actually read this."

Girl at War | Sara Nović
Add on GoodReads

I want to read this book so much, but am terrified it won't live up to my ridiculously high expectations. I love historical fiction, but it's definitely a genre that I don't get to read as much as I'd like to (that is my own fault, I must admit).

What are your Top Ten Hyped Books You've Never Read? Don't forget to leave a link to yours in the comments!

1 Jul 2015

Wishlist Wednesday

 Reading YA means that I'll occasionally often come across a book that is massively hyped. I'm always cautious about adding them to my TBR pile because often said hyped book and I do not gel well. Sometimes I'll stumble across a much hyped-book and immediately add it to my TBR pile, only to be hugely disappointed. In light of this, here are some much hyped-YA books that have recently been added to my wishlist.

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

Synopsis (from GR): Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi's wit and will, indeed, get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she’s falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend.

She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.

 An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Synopsis (from GR): Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

Monthly Summary: June

The Dynamic Duo! A stage management meeting in action
 June was an exciting month, and I was given an opportunity to push my comfort zones a bit - while I've been involved in community theatre for approximately three years now, it has only ever been in an acting capacity. I was thrilled (and mildly terrified) to be asked to stage manage a production of Michael Gow's Away (if you've never heard of it, it is an Australian play that is centred around three families who are suffering internal conflicts - Coral and Roy, grieving their son who died fighting in the Vietnam War; Vic and Harry, who's son Tom is dying of leukemia and they are yet to tell him; and Gwen, Jim and Meg). The cast are phenomenally talented and have put so much love and effort into this show. The show run is from the 01/07-05/07, so I'll let you know how it goes!

Some of our actors horsing around
A shot of our beautiful set. Well, part of it.

This month I read a total of  eight books:

Not as many as I would have liked to get through, but definitely an improvement on last month! Hopefully I will be able to get back into the full swing of things during July.
Favourites: A Court of Thorns & Roses by Sarah J. Maas

I bought four books this month:

YOUNG ADULT: Snow Like Ashes by Sarah Raasch | The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell
PLAYS: The Crucible by Arthur Miller | A Street Car Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

June was a good month for me in terms of webseries! For those of you who don't know, modernisations of classic literature is one of the newer YouTube trends (I've previously talked about them here and here). Not only did some of my favourites return with a second season, but I also stumbled across some new ones I'm excited about! Webseries are great to watch because they have the representation that is lacking in mainstream media - perhaps not in the PoC front (although some show have made an effort to have PoC in their main cast - but definitely in terms of female - we are given so many strong female characters and adaptation of female-centric novels or changing the gender of characters to female - and LGBTQIA+ characters. Representation is important, remember that.

Northbound: Northbound is an adaptation of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, and anybody who knows me will tell you that I love my Austen. Northbound is a cute little series - there has obviously been some thought into how to make it into a coherent story, rather than just staying true to the original (which, if taken too far, can make absolutely zero sense because the series is not telling their own story). Aside from the solid writing, the actors are all wonderful and we actually get to see New York and go on adventures with Catherine (as opposed to only seeing Catherine vlog from her bedroom). There's only five episodes so far, so I'm excited to see how this series develops!

 Green Gables Fables: The Green Gables Fables team started releasing these character videos as perks from their KickStarter campaign. They're supposed to tie in with Anne of Avonlea, which is being adapted via transmedia (their second season will be an adaptation of Anne of the Island). I've gotten to watch the actors (who double as crew, if I'm not mistaken) and writers grow creatively, and I am so glad that we will be getting a second season from them!

The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy: I loved the first season of NAoPW so much I donated to their crowdfunding campaign (which is saying something, because my experience with PemDig's crowdfunding campaign for The Lizzie Bennet Diaries made me never want to contribute to one ever again), but this one is shaping up to be even better. Satya Bhabha! Percy Daggs III! JIM BEAVER!
I am a huge fan of their work and am so excited to see them join the cast, and I think NAoPW is a really good example of the potential of emerging actors, writers and producers using YouTube as a distribution platform for scripted content. Also, Paula Rhodes (Wendy) reminds me so much of Kristin Chenoweth it is frightening.

Carmilla: Carmilla is another good example of a webseries breaking new ground and trying new ways to distribute scripted content on YouTube (in this case, they are sponsored by Kotex). I haven't the foggiest clue whether this adaptation is doing a good job at adapting the source material - I am not familiar with Joseph Sheridan le Fanu's novella and I have zero inclination to read it. What keeps me coming back to the show is the fantastic cast - Natasha Negovanlis and Elise Bauman are wonderful leads, but Kaitlyn Alexander and Annie Briggs hold their own and they all make such a wonderful team and seem to have a good rapport off-screen, too.

Classic Alice: I think my favourite thing about Classic Alice is that it encourages people to read - or at the very least, be interested in - classic literature. The arcs hit the important beats of the novel while still making it about Alice's journey and growth as a person. Also, I heard a rumour that Pride and Prejudice will be one of Alice's books this season and I am SO DOWN FOR THAT you guys.

22 Things You Should Know Before You Stop Eating Meat: I have quite a few vegetarian and vegan friends and this is a frequent point of discussion (in that they try to convince me to cut down on my meat intake and I try to convince them that chicken is basically my staple food). Given my views on the meat industry, cutting down on my meat intake is probably a good idea (but I would have to be more organised with my meal planning etc).
The Semicolon Project: I thought that this was such a beautiful story, and I am so glad that the author chose to share it. It is a reminder that we are all works in progress, that we are resilient and strong and that we are all surrounded by loved ones who can help us get through the tough times.
The Unlikely Inspirations Behind Clueless' Costume Design: Clueless is one of my favourite movies (and the greatest Austen adaptation) of all time. Even though the film is twenty years old, I still love reading about what went on behind the scenes and how the creative team put everything together.
Iranian Women Post Pictures of Their Hair to Fight Sexism: In 2014, 3.6 million women in Iran were warned, fined or arrested for 'inappropriate dress' - it is against the law for women to appear in public without one. Masih Alinejad, the force behind the 'My Stealthy Freedom' campaign summed it up perfectly: "My mother wants to wear a scarf. I don't want to wear a scarf. Iran should be for both of us."

Theme designed by Feeric Studios. Copyright © 2013. Powered by Blogger