Top Five… Books I've Received as Gifts

My birthday is coming up this week (hooray for getting another bit older) and it’s got me thinking about books I’ve received before as gifts, so here they are for my Top Five this week.

5.

Simon Cheshire
I got this book just last week as an early birthday present from my partner. I’d had a really awful day and he gave it to me as a cheering up present. It certainly made me happier (and also creeped out as well).
4.

The 100: Homecoming (Kass Morgan)
Only Ever Yours (Louise O’Neill)

Sneaking two in here. I wanted to read both of these books but was being good and not letting myself buy anything. My partner (him again!) bought them without telling and sneakily put them in my TBR pile and didn’t tell me (I didn’t notice til a day later) Surprise books!

3.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
J. K. Rowling
I got this on the day it came out from my step-grandmother. I think it was a New Year’s present, which is probably a bit weird because that’s her birthday and I got the present…But I glued it to my hand and finished it that day and enjoyed every second of it. And it’s obviously had lots of re-reads.
2.

The Hobbit
J. R. R. Tolkien
I did a post about this near the beginning of the year, when I first started blogging. What made it special was the thought put behind it and the lovely message from my partner inside, and the fact that I’d never owned my own copy before.
And the winner is…


1.



The Complete Works of Lewis Carroll

I found my beautiful copy lurking on one of the lower shelves in the mess that is my bedroom. The picture doesn’t even do it justice; it’s a seriously beautiful book. I love Alice and it’s a pleasure to dip into Wonderland in this gorgeous book.
I wish you all wonderful book gifts for the rest of your lives!

Book Review: The Yellow Wallpaper (Charlotte Perkins Gilman)


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Publisher: Penguin Classics
Pages: 64
Release Date: First published in 1892
Summary (From Goodreads):

‘The color is hideous enough, and unreliable enough, and infuriating enough, but the pattern is torturing.’

Written with barely controlled fury after she was confined to her room for ‘nerves’ and forbidden to write, Gilman’s pioneering feminist horror story scandalized nineteenth-century readers with its portrayal of a woman who loses her mind because she has literally nothing to do. 


Review:
My partner picked me up this for me from the Penguin Little Black Classics range. We both performed in a stage adaptation of The Yellow Wallpaper a few years ago – it wasn’t a brilliant adaptation and we both kind of hated it in the end, but it the story does hold a lot of fun memories (the best for me being playing a crazy woman and rolling around on stage smothering myself in wallpaper).
I wasn’t really sure how I’d find reading the story, especially as our adaptation was pretty much word for word the story (actually, on reading I found it was word for word – lazy adapting there). A lot of people I’d spoken to about it said they’d studied it at school or university and found it boring.
I actually really enjoyed but, but I’m not sure if I was really enjoying the story, or the memories I had from performing it. It made me wonder about the effect nostalgia has on reading. I couldn’t tell if I was enjoying the actually story or just enjoying reliving some good memories. It interested me, as  there’s a few other books I’ve re-read and wondered if I’ve actually enjoyed it or just enjoyed the feelings of nostalgia.
Anyway, all of that aside, I do think this is still a powerful feminist short story. The attitudes towards women are appalling, so much so that it’s hard to believe people used to think like that. It’s in the way the woman’s husband talks to her, so patronising it could be a child he’s talking to; it’s in the fact that the woman stays unnamed through the whole story, even though it’s her story she’s narrating; and it’s in her treatment, the way she is told what to do and how to think and is eventually driven insane through inactivity, but which is attributed to her over active imagination.
The story moves a little slowly at first as we see snapshots of the woman’s life as she is mostly left alone in the small attic room with the hideous yellow wallpaper, but it whips up into a frenzy towards the end as she sees a woman trying to escape from the confines of the wallpaper and vows to get her out. The woman’s almost calm madness is quite unsettling as she locks herself in the room and doesn’t seem to recognise her husband at the end.
This book is disturbing, unsettling and I’d recommend it as a quick read to anyone, though I’m aware it might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

My Verdict:



Ahaha I love this book, you should totally read it!

Return to my New Year’s Resolutions

We’re almost in month four of 2015 now (where has the time gone?!) and I thought it’d be a good time to see how I’m getting on with my New Year’s Resolutions. I don’t usually make them, but I decided this was the year to make some commitments and stick to them (for once).

So, here we go…


1. Start a blog

Well obviously I have done that (and technically had done when I made the resolution) but part of that was to keep going with it, which I have done really well (if I do say so myself!) I’ve managed to post regularly with reviews and other posts, and I’ve enjoyed the effect it’s had on my life. I’ve made a lot of online friends, even met some of them at the wonderful UKYA Extravaganza event. I’ve done my first author interview and have another coming up soon, and I’ve widened my reading and read some amazing books as a result.

2. Complete the British Books Challenge

It’s month three of the challenge and 21 of the books I’ve read this year have been by British authors, which I think is pretty good going. I want to make it to the end of the year and read at least 5 books by British authors each month.

3. Finish my second draft


After finishing the first draft of my first novel last year, I wanted to finish polishing it off this year. Have to say I’m stood still a little on this one at the moment. But I have taken a first step: my partner is now reading it (and is about half way through) which is a big step for me and massively scary, but also great to be able to share it with someone and discuss it (as if it’s a real book!) But while the editing isn’t happening at the moment, I am over half way through the sequel, which is progressing nicely.

4. Get fit


The classic New Year’s Resolution which I imagine a ton of people make every year. I’m not sure how to measure this one, but one of the main goals was to complete the NHS Couch to 5K running challenge, which I successfully completed this week. It did take me a little longer than the 9 weeks it should have, due to illness and other things (like going away for a few weeks and not taking trainers with me), but I can now run for at least 30 minutes without dying, which I think is pretty good work. I just need to try and keep it up now the programme is over!

So those are my resolutions, which I think are all progressing quite nicely. It does feel good to have some long term goals for the year, and I think writing them down and sharing them has made want to stick to them even more!

I hope anyone else who made resolutions is managing to stick to/make progress with them 🙂

Book Review: More Than This (Patrick Ness)

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Publisher: Walker Books
Pages: 480
Release Date: September 10th 2013
Summary (From Goodreads):

A boy drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments. He dies.
Then he wakes, naked and bruised and thirsty, but alive.
How can this be? And what is this strange deserted place?
As he struggles to understand what is happening, the boy dares to hope. Might this not be the end? Might there be more to this life, or perhaps this afterlife?

Review:

I’ve been a big Patrick Ness fan since the Chaos Walking trilogy: I loved them as a teenager and still do today. I decided to read more of his work this year and started with A Monster Calls which just reminded me how brilliant he is. 

I went into this book with both high expectations and a worry that it wouldn’t live up to those expectations. I needn’t have worried, Ness is a master story teller and I was sucked into this world almost as much as I was in The Knife of Never Letting Go.

The book has a mystery element to it that I really enjoyed: you’re constantly wondering where he is, what’s happened, what’s the deal with Owen, what’s real and what’s not? And, the thing that I found most interesting (and weirdly satisfying) is that not all of them are answered. This may annoy some people and the ending might not feel satisfying, but I felt that it would have been spoiled if everything was wrapped up and explained nicely. I enjoyed the open-ended-ness.

The theory I enjoyed most was that Seth had made everything up: some things happened that seemed too convenient to him, and he begins to suspect that he’s actually controlling events around him, as though he’s in a story. It made me question coincidences in other stories and think about patterns of events that seem to convenient. But, even when he think he’s in control, nothing goes to plan. There are so many surprises and twists – in true Patrick Ness style – that makes it almost hard to keep up.

The emotional storyline is tense and honest and oh so painful. I really felt for the way Seth had grown up with the secret of his choice weighing heavily on him, while his parents could barely look at him. Whether that was from their own pain or underlying anger at him, it doesn’t matter, it’s still terrible to grow up with that burden.

Seth really grows throughout the book, and, aided by Tomasz and Regine, the friends he makes (who he may or may not have made up) he becomes less self-centred. My one problem with him was the way/reason he died. Compared to Tomasz and Regine, his reasons seem poor. I understand there’s different kinds of pain and that he felt lost, but it angered me that he gave up for something that I didn’t see as a good enough reason. Either that’s me being harsh, or I just didn’t connect well enough with relationships…

Ness once again proves that YA novels are about substance and can be as thought provoking and important as any adult novel. He creates characters that are so real you can feel their pain, and he delivers a story that will make you question everything long after you’ve finished reading. I can’t wait to read more from him.

My Verdict:



Ahaha I love this book, you should totally read it!

Top Five… Dystopian YA


Who doesn’t love disappearing into a dystopian world? I sure do, so this week’s Top Five is my favourite YA dystopian novels

5.


The Hunger Games series
Suzanne Collins
I always think of this as a bit of a guilty pleasure, though I’m not sure why. I read them during uni and completed neglected my work to finish them. I remember the second one being glued to my hand as I tried to get ready in the morning (the third one didn’t quite do it for me but as a series I still think it’s ace).
4.

Never Let Me Go
Kazuo Ishiguro

Probably stretching the YA theme a bit here but I couldn’t not include this. I read it for a uni module – normally reading for work puts me off a book but I loved this. I found the pace quite gentle and the theme dark and disturbing. It’s a great read for someone venturing into more adult books.
3.

Chaos Walking trilogy
Patrick Ness
This is a series that keeps cropping up in my Top Fives, so I guess that’s testament to its brilliance. I found the whole thing one massive, speeding roller-coaster of action and emotions and I completely fell in love with the world and its characters.
2.

Louise O’Neill
I had to resist making this my number one. Right now I think it’s more than worthy, but I have just read it and am still buzzing off it and should probably give myself some time to calm down. So number two it is. Read it, is all I can say. I practically swallowed it whole it was so good.
And the winner is…
1.

Noughts and Crosses
Malorie Blackman
I adored this book when it came out, and it was probably one of my first steps away from MG and into YA. Although the series kind of lost its way a bit for me, I fell in love with Callum and Sephy and was heartbroken by what their world did to them.

I’d love some recommendations for more dystopian YA!


Book Review: Only Ever Yours (Louise O’Neill)

Publisher: Quercus

Pages: 392

Release Date: July 3rd 2014

Summary (From Goodreads):

frieda and isabel have been best friends their whole lives.

Now, aged sixteen and in their final year at the School, they expect to be selected as companions – wives to wealthy and powerful men. The alternative – life as a concubine – is too horrible to contemplate.

But as the intensity of the final year takes hold, the pressure to remain perfect becomes almost unbearable. isabel starts to self-destruct, putting her beauty – her only asset – in peril.

And then, the boys arrive, eager to choose a bride.

frieda must fight for her future – even if it means betraying the only friend, the only love, she has ever known..

Review:

I have literally just finished this book and am reeling from it, so this will probably be less review and more a splurge of my feelings on a page.

Last night Only Ever Yours won the first YA Book Prize (very much deserved) and so I bumped it straight to the top of my TBR, after finishing Say Her Name which was also shortlisted.

There’s so much to love about this book I just don’t know where to start. I think what really captivated me was the little details that helped to bring the world to life: the fact that all the eve’s names weren’t capitalised (freida, isabel) but the boy’s names are, as well as the Father having all the His and Hes capitalised. The grammar nazi inside me was irritated at first, but then so was the feminist in me. I think it’s a great example of how the book gets its message across. Even the way it’s printed tells you how women are inferior.

The idea of perfection is constantly shoved down your throat – in a good way! – and it felt like such a reflection of real life, just a little more exaggerated. I’m sick of magazines that point out some women who are too fat and others who are too thin, who tell you to be an independent women and then give you fifty tips on how to ‘please your man’. That’s real life and it’s ridiculous, so the ideas in this book really didn’t feel too far fetched to me.

The behaviour of the boys – the Inheritants – really disgusted me in their attitudes. I found myself excusing them because they’ve been raised to believe women are there to pleasure them and give them sons, but I still hated them and couldn’t forgive them for not questioning it, or having more respect. The relationship that developed with Darwin felt organic – no insta-love here, and no pesky love triangles either – and the way things turned out (trying not to do spoilers!) really packed a punch.

To criticise – difficult because I loved it – I’d say it could be a little triggering. There’s a lot of focus on weight and being too fat, restrictive diets and use of laxatives and ipecac, and for people who may have struggled with weight issues in the past, it does tread a little close to the line.

freida makes a very good narrator with refreshing honesty and flaws – maybe not as many flaws as she thinks she has (especially the physical ones) but it’s always great to have a protagonist who isn’t perfect. freida gets jealous and has nasty thoughts about the other eves, but it all seems so natural as that’s the way they have been designed and brought up. The idea of constant competition and comparison was exhausting: there’s always someone who’s better than you in something, and it felt like playing a game nobody could win.

I liked that frieda was the focus of the story rather than isabel: it could easily have followed isabel instead as the ‘special’ one, but instead we see her story from the sideline and focus on a normal eve, which, in such a strange new world, is probably even more interesting.

The ending definitely surprised me. I didn’t know where it was going at all and I raced through to get to the end. It might not be a satisfying ending for some: it’s definitely not a happy one, and not really even a bitter-sweet, which is normally what I enjoy. I felt a little deflated afterwards, but in the best way, because any happily ever after would have felt out of place.

This book hit me like a tight fist and totally took my breath away. It’s a genuine must-read for anyone and will likely convert a lot of nay-sayers to YA fiction. It’s dark, disturbing and powerful and I want to read it all over again already.

My Verdict:

Copy of an art exhibit

Check out my soundtrack for Only Ever Yours here.

Book Review: Say Her Name (James Dawson)

Publisher: Hot Key Books

Pages: 287

Release Date: June 5th 2014

Summary (From Goodreads):

Roberta ‘Bobbie’ Rowe is not the kind of person who believes in ghosts. A Halloween dare at her ridiculously spooky boarding school is no big deal, especially when her best friend Naya and cute local boy Caine agree to join in too. They are ordered to summon the legendary ghost of ‘Bloody Mary’: say her name five times in front of a candlelit mirror, and she shall appear… But, surprise surprise, nothing happens. Or does it?

Next morning, Bobbie finds a message on her bathroom mirror… five days… but what does it mean? And who left it there? Things get increasingly weird and more terrifying for Bobbie and Naya, until it becomes all too clear that Bloody Mary was indeed called from the afterlife that night, and she is definitely not a friendly ghost. Bobbie, Naya and Caine are now in a race against time before their five days are up and Mary comes for them, as she has come for countless others before… A truly spine-chilling yet witty horror from shortlisted ‘Queen of Teen’ author James Dawson.

Review:

The lovely Jim at YA Yeah Yeah gave me a copy of this book, so thank you very much to him 🙂

As I write this Say Her Name is being considered for the YA Book Prize (massive good luck to James and all at #TeamSayHerName) and it’s easy to see why.

According to the Acknowledgements, Dawson wrote Say Her Name after being challenged to write the scariest contemporary YA horror and I think he’s been successful. Say Her Name takes the well known legend of Bloody Mary and uses it as the basis for a very creepy, fast paced horror story.

I’ve done it myself before: way back in primary school a friend and I stood in the lower years bathroom and nervously giggled our way through three ‘Bloody Mary’s before leaving scared. If I’d only know it was supposed to be said five times, things may have turned out differently…

The boarding school setting was suitable creepy, but it was Mary herself who caused the most scares, and rightly so. The drip drip drip that indicated her presence immediately set me on edge, and that soon turned to a claustrophobic feeling as Mary began to manifest in mirrors and other reflective surfaces. The best ghosts are the ones that you can’t escape.  

The dreams that haunted Bobbie and Caine were very creepy but I was glad when Naya got her fair share of the awfulness – I’d started to feel she was getting off lightly, but I think she got the worst of it in the end!

The mystery pieced together very nicely and wasn’t so obvious that you could guess it, or so far-fetched you couldn’t believe it. I did begin to feel a little annoyed with all the ‘we must help Mary, she’s just a troubled lost soul stuff’ but the ending more than made up for that – I don’t want to give anything away but there was a satisfying twist at the end, just as I’ve come to expect from modern horror.

If I were to criticise, I’d say the plot reminded me a little too much of The Ring film: the wet ghost, the time limit and investigation and such. But I still raced through it and, as this is my first James Dawson book, I’m looking forward to reading more from him.

My Verdict:

4
If you enjoyed this, you might also like The Haunting of Sunshine Girl (Paige McKenzie)

Top Five… Mothers/Mother Figures

I wanted to a post for Mother’s Day so this week’s Top Five is my favourite mothers in stories. I’ve had to add in some ‘mother figures’ as too many protagonists in my stories are orphans or motherless!

5.


Mrs Coulter (His Dark Materials)
Philip Pullman
Perhaps an odd choice for the first one, and maybe not your traditional awesome mother/mother figure, but she does love Lyra fiercely, even if she has an odd way of showing it sometimes.
4.

The Beldam (Coraline)
Neil Gaiman
Whacking out another untraditional one, but when Coraline meets the Beldam she seems like the greatest mother on earth. Ignoring the buttons for eyes thing for a moment, she makes amazing food (which Coraline’s real mother doesn’t) and has created a whole amazing world for her to play in. Let’s just ignore what she goes on to do…
3.

Vinetta (The Mennyms series)
Sylvia Waugh
One of my favourite series, though I think it’s not very well known now. Vinetta has a protective love for her family of life sized rag dolls and she has a pretty tough job of keeping them all safe and protected in their house. I love her unwavering niceness and ability to pretend (that probably only makes sense if you’ve read it).
2.

Melissa (If You Find Me)
Emily Murdoch
She may not be their real mother, but Melissa takes care of Carey and Jenessa much better than their real one ever bothered to do. I tensed up a bit when I first realised Carey’s father had a new wife and family, because I so wanted them to live happily ever after, and it was a relief when Melissa was so good to them.
And the winner is…
1.

Molly Weasley (Harry Potter series)
J. K. Rowling
Who else but Molly for the top spot? She’s already an amazing mother to one daughter and six boys (is that right?!) but she also takes Harry under her wing as well. While obviously his mother was amazing because she died for him, but Molly was there afterwards to look after him and love him when he needed it most. 

Happy Mother’s Day to all real and fictional mothers and mother figures out there!


Book Review: James and the Giant Peach (Roald Dahl)

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Publisher: Puffin 
Pages: 160
Release Date: First published in 1961
Summary (From Goodreads):
This novel tells the story of James who has lived with his two beastly aunts ever since his parents were eaten up outside London Zoo. Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker are really horrible people and make poor James’s life a misery.

Review:
I received this book for Christmas from my other half. He wanted to buy me my favourite Roald Dahl book, and when he couldn’t find it in store (it’s The Twits, in case you’re curious) he bought me his favourite instead. Ah well, it’s the thought that counts…

I’ve always vaguely known James’ story but I don’t think it’s one I’ve actually read before; my knowledge was probably based on the film (which is amazing and I have such a craving to watch it now I’ve read the book).

The book is quite different to the film, which meant it was a refreshing read for me. It starts off quite similarly, with poor James’ parents being eaten by a rhino and him being sent to live with awful Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge. I enjoyed their fate in the book a lot more than I did in the film: a lot more satisfying and a lot more ‘Dahl’.

I read this book when I was feeling a bit down and it certainly cheered me up. Dahl’s books are charming, even when they’re dark and dangerous, and they never fail to make me smile. This book had a few pages that lost me a little: a whole page paragraph describing the peach rolling away was a bit much for me, but otherwise the story moves fast and is captivating and even makes giant insects seem charming rather than scary.

My Verdict:



Ahaha I love this book, you should totally read it!

Book Review: The DUFF (Kody Keplinger)

 *I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*
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Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books
Pages: 343
Release Date: January 1st 2010

Summary (From Goodreads):

Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper is cynical and loyal, and she doesn’t think she’s the prettiest of her friends by a long shot. She’s also way too smart to fall for the charms of man-slut and slimy school hottie Wesley Rush. In fact, Bianca hates him. And when he nicknames her “Duffy,” she throws her Coke in his face.

But things aren’t so great at home right now. Desperate for a distraction, Bianca ends up kissing Wesley. And likes it. Eager for escape, she throws herself into a closeted enemies-with-benefits relationship with Wesley.

Until it all goes horribly awry. It turns out that Wesley isn’t such a bad listener, and his life is pretty screwed up, too. Suddenly Bianca realizes with absolute horror that she’s falling for the guy she thought she hated more than anyone.

Review:
I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised how this book turned out. I read it after seeing the film trailer and I had a completely wrong impression of it. From the trailer, it looked like, after being called the Duff, Bianca had a makeover and got hot and won over the cute boy. It looked like a fun film but that wasn’t a message I could get behind in a book for teenagers.
That’s not quite how it goes in this book. After being called the Duff, Bianca falls for the person who called her it, despite the fact that he is a big man-whore and still insists on calling her Duffy. I did have a problem with this, as I couldn’t see how, even if he was providing her with escape, Bianca could let herself fall for someone who called her a nickname based on her being fat and ugly. It just doesn’t make sense in my head. If that was me, I would feel hurt and angry that he kept calling me that, and while Bianca does display these emotions, it doesn’t stop her going back to him again and again. While I know he wasn’t as shallow and awful as he appeared to be, it still didn’t make sense to me.
I found the characterisation in the book was often forced upon you: Bianca kept reminding us she was cynical and snappy, that Jess was bubbly and naive, that Wesley was smooth and a creep. It felt like I was constantly being told these things rather than showed, which made the characterisation seem a bit flat. The comparison to Wuthering Heights also seemed shoehorned in and that was jarring.
I’m glad that the overall message of the book wasn’t: if someone calls you fat and ugly, make yourself thin and hot. Instead, it leaned more towards: everyone sometimes thinks they’re the fat, ugly one, don’t let it get you down. I think the point was that everyone has insecurities, even your 6ft tall, skinny, blonde cheerleader friend. The message did get a little lost under all the romance complications though.
Overall I found this a pleasant bit of light reading. It’s a bit high-school drama for me, which isn’t really my cup of tea, but it does touch on some interesting issues of secrets, escapism and alcoholism. I’m sure a lot of people will be going to see the film and I hope they read the book first!

My Verdict:



I enjoyed – give it a read