Book Review: All the Bright Places (Jennifer Niven)

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Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 388
Release Date: January 8th 2015
Summary (From Goodreads):


Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the ‘natural wonders’ of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself – a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink. 

Review:
This is another of those heart breaking books á la The Fault in Our Stars and The Last Leaves Falling where the subject matter is tragic but a beautiful love story comes out of it. 

What I loved about this book more than anything were the characters. They really just sang to me, and I felt really connected to both Finch and Violet equally. While I tend to lean towards female charcters (being female myself) there was something about Finch that was just infectious.

This book deals with a lot of heavy issues and is not for the faint hearted. Violet’s survivors guilt after her sister’s death was a real driving force in the story and it was uplifting to see her slowly come to terms with it and learn to start coping, however painfully it might be, without her sister.

Finch, on the other hand, goes the opposite way, and gradually gets worse throughout the book. Even though I kind of knew where it was going, it didn’t make it any less painful. I wanted to shout at him to get help and sort things out, but it’s not always easy for people to do that (and definitely not easy for Finch). I loved his quirkiness and the fact that it was all weirdly rational, rather than just being another quirky YA hero who’s there to save the female from herself.

That said, I wasn’t sure about that aspect of their relationship sometimes. I loved the way it grew and how it seemed so natural for them to become friends (at Finch’s insistance) and then slowly more. But I don’t like the idea that it just took a good man to help Violet find herself again and start living after her sister’s death. I’m simplifying a bit there but there seems to be a bit of a trend towards that these days and it irritates me.

When all is said and done though, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. When it came to the climax and I found myself speeding up reading because I was desperate to know what happened, and when it hit me what did I was left with such complicated emotions, I dwelled on them all day. It’s always so good to see mental health issues discussed in an honest way in books for young adults, and this is one of the better ones.

My Verdict:


OMG GEE WHIZZ How have you not read this yet?!

Check out my soundtrack for All the Bright Places here

If you enjoyed this, you might like It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

Top Five… Princesses and Queens

Last week I read two of the Selection series books (The Selection and The Elite) and in honour of those reads, this week’s Top Five is Princesses and Queens! Unfortunately America doesn’t make this list as she’s not a princess or queen (yet…where I am in the books anyway!) And I guess this can also honour the newborn real life princess as well….
5

Redd Heart 
The Looking Glass Wars (Frank Beddor)
Redd Heart is one of my favourite evil queens. She’s got that perfect balance of power, crazy and pure evil that makes her so entertaining to read. I love seeing what she turns Wonderland into when she finally gets to rule. Though I don’t think she’d be too happy to see who’s number one on my list…
4

Princess Cleopatra
Cleo (Lucy Coats)
Everyone knows what an amazing Pharaoh (Queen, basically) Cleopatra becomes, but in Coats’ novel we see her as a princess, struggling against two powerful/evil sisters, being the Chosen One of Isis and generally being awesome. You can read a bit more about Cleo’s story in this interview with Lucy Coats
3

Jadis/The Queen of Narnia
The Chronicles of Narnia (C. S. Lewis)
Jardis could easily have made it into last week’s Top Five Witches, but she’s slipped in here under her unofficial title of Queen of Narnia. She’s one of the characters who terrified me as a kid but I also couldn’t wait to read more of her. She also made me very suspicious of turkish delight…



2


Daenerys Targaryen
A Song of Ice and Fire series 
(George R. R. Martin)
She has a dozen different titles saying she’s Queen of This and Princess of That and (most importantly) Mother of Dragons. Daenerys has always been a favourite of mine in the books as she grows so well into her role as a leader, and remains strong despite the men around who try to crush her. I hope she lives to the end!
1

Princess Alyss Heart
The Looking Glass Wars (Frank Beddor)
It’s Alice in Wonderland, but as a real princess (then later queen) of Wonderland. As a young princess Alyss is mischievious and fun, but after seeing her parents murdered by evil Aunt Redd she grows up pretty fast (in our world, no less). She becomes the ultimate warrior queen and I could read her story forever.

I actually found this pretty hard, I need more princess/queen story suggestions!

Book Review: The Elite (Kiera Cass)

 *I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

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Publisher: HarperTeen
Pages: 336
Release Date: April 23rd 2013
Summary (From Goodreads):


The Selection began with thirty-five girls.

Now with the group narrowed down to the six Elite, the competition to win Prince Maxon’s heart is fiercer than ever—and America is still struggling to decide where her heart truly lies. Is it with Maxon, who could make her life a fairy tale? Or with her first love, Aspen?
America is desperate for more time. But the rest of the Elite know exactly what they want—and America’s chance to choose is about to slip away.

Review:

Having enjoyed The Selection (the first book in the series) I went straight on to this book without taking a break in between, so they kind of blended into one book for me. However, there was a marked difference in The Elite for me and that was that…. SO MUCH MORE HAPPENED!

This is why my review of The Selection was a little muted. I had really enjoyed it, but after going straight into The Elite, I couldn’t help but think not a lot happened in the first book, comparatively. While the focus was still very much on the love story, I felt in this book there was more to keep me interested.

The main thing that I loved was Marlee’s storyline. I won’t spoil it here, but it seemed to come out of nowhere and really shocked me. It was the kind of thing I’d expected more of in the first book: the brutal reality of life in the palace, where harsh decisions have to made and punishments need to be dished out. This was by far my favourite part of the book.

America’s indecision and constant swinging between Maxon and Aspen did get on my nerves a little, but that’s mostly because I don’t see the appeal of Aspen very much. I just don’t see the connection there, and when America is with him she can be a bit simpering and annoying, whereas she seems much more herself (and likeable) with Maxon.

While I still feel I know very much where the story is going, there were a lot more plot twists and surprises in this book, and it’s really made me want to read on (I’m awaiting approval from Netgalley for The One, fingers crossed!)

If you enjoyed The Selection then I think you’ll definitely enjoy this book, and if The Selection left you wanting more then I think you might just find it here.

My Verdict:



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

Book Review: The Selection (Kiera Cass)

Publisher: HarperTeen

Pages: 336

Release Date: April 24th 2012

Summary (From Goodreads):

For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn’t want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she’s made for herself–and realizes that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

Review:

I made a mistake after reading this book, and that was to read the sequel straight after it (seriously, I devoured it in a day, there was no stopping me). Because of that, I think I’m marking this book a little lower than I would have if I’d read it on its own. Perhaps a little unfair, but what’s done is done!

I was curious going into this book because I’d heard pretty mixed reviews and it didn’t really sound like something I’d enjoy. But I was wrong.

Sure, the book had its flaws. My main gripe was that it was quite predictable, but at the same time I thought that was a little unfair: without it’s predictableness (America getting picked for the Selection, Maxon falling for her etc) then there wouldn’t really be a story. There was also something quite simple about it: the characters were sometimes a bit stereotypical and the world felt a bit underdeveloped. That said, I still enjoyed it.

The pace felt really gentle: nothing overly dramatic happened, everything just kind of sauntered along but, for some reason I can’t explain, I really enjoyed it. America was very likeable, not too perfect to be annoying yet pretty and talented enough to be in the Selection. Her main flaw for me was Aspen: I didn’t believe in the relationship for some reason, so her longing for him while faced with someone as lovely as Maxon was unfathomable.

I felt I’d like to know more about the world they lived in: about the castes, how they began, and more importantly, about the rebels. While we saw a couple of attacks and heard vague bits of information about them, I really wanted to know who they were and what they wanted. They were so nameless I didn’t really feel the threat from them.

I felt some of the other girls were a little bland: I forgot names of a lot of them very quickly, but I guess that was because they were doomed not to last too long. Marlee was obviously a favourite, being so sweet and friendly, but I did like Celeste and her massive bitchiness. I expected more characters like her to be honest.

This was a really great start to what looks to be an interesting series. I love that the concept isn’t really too far away from things that happen these days (I remember a certain show about girls wanting to marry ‘Prince Harry’). I’ve already eaten up the second book and can’t wait to read the next ones.

My Verdict:

3

Soundtrack Saturday: Only Ever Yours (Louise O’Neill)

Soundtrack Saturday is a weekly meme created and run by Erin at The Hardcover Lover. I’ve been meaning to do join in and do a soundtrack for a while now, and (finally) here it is. 

This week I’ve chosen to make a soundtrack for Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill, which I read a few weeks back and adored. 

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Losing Sleep – Charlotte Sometimes 
(the Beginning Song)

I’m awake and I’ve been losing sleep
I’ve been fighting all my demons
I’ve been getting weak
Cause I’ve been trying, trying, trying 
To be anything other than me

Ever Since the Chocolate – Rachel Sermani 
(Comparison Studies)

They clawed about my dress and now I’m naked
Tore holes in my soul about my neck.
The doctor says I have to wear a jacket
But as darkness falls I see this light, it’s burning at the fog and
I’ve followed ever since.

 Two Steps Forward – Emmy the Great 
(frieda and Darwin’s Song)

but
I knew you best back when love was just a feeling that ran out between my legs onto the, back of my dress
onto the clothes that i was wearing

Help I’m Alive – Metric 
(the eves Song)

I tremble
They’re gonna eat me alive
If I stumble
They’re gonna eat me alive
Can you hear my heart
Beating like a hammer

 Masterpiece – Meg and Dia 
(the eves Song)

Done by the hands of a broken artist.
You painted black where my naked heart is.
I finally know what wrong is.
Now I finally know what wrong is.
Carved like a stone with your hands still shaking.
On display through a soul still breaking.
Aren’t you proud you’re the one that made me?
Aren’t you proud you’re the one that made me?

Furniture – Amy Studt
(Meeting the Inheritants)

                                                             I am only flesh and bones,

Splintered glass and tattered clothes,

behind the skin, my fragility,
behind the skin, a skeletal impracticality,
I am only pieces of you,
held together with paper glue,
behind the skin, my divinity

behind the skin, my only sanctuary 

Pay Us No Mind – The Staves 
(frieda’s Song)

Easy come, easy go,
Tell me things I want to know.
Drink until your lips are black,
You’ve given things you’ll never get back,
Oh you silly thing

Cold sheets of linen,
Doomed from the beginning.
Do what you will,
Leave the worry to the women;
That’s our game to play

Bittersweet – Archis 
(isabel’s Song)

I could show you now but you’re never gonna see
Cause you’re watching me go up in smoke
I could shut it down, when I lose, you’re gonna leave
But you know that I’ll fall out alone
There’s secrets that you know
And secrets that I hold

Bath is Black – Marika Hackman 

(the Ending Song) 

Even though you think

To push me from the bath into the sink
I can still get clean
From everything obscene

So just pass me the soap
And I will scrub so hard to have the hope
That one day I’ll be free
And flies won’t follow me

But if the bath is black
And the soap is old
You’re turning the hot tap but the water is cold
Try as you might
Everything you’ve done has been washed out

#RandomReads Discussion – April Discussion

For the final post in April Random Reads, I’m going to be chatting about this month’s two Random Reads books in a bit more detail.
Our theme for this month was ‘Books that have been turned into a film’. Oddly enough, I’ve not actually seen the films that these books have been turned into, so I can’t really comment much on that…but I do have plenty of stuff to talk about which didn’t make it into the reviews.
I’m going to start off with The Book Thief as that’s the book Stacie picked for me to read. I said in my review that I had a story about this one so here it is…
My copy of The Book Thief was stolen.
There’s some kind of irony for you there.
I say stolen… I lent it to a friend who didn’t give it back for a long time (that’s why I don’t lend books!) and finally got lost in her breakup with her boyfriend (I hope he’s enjoying it!)
I have quite conflicted views about The Book Thief which I didn’t really bring into my review too much. It’s really interesting and well written and has some beautiful descriptions, but for some reason I just can’t get into it like I do with other books. It’s a shame because so many other people seem to love it – Stacie’s review is really glowing and I agree with all the points she makes, but for some reason I just can’t love it like everyone else does.
Another thing that I briefly touched on in my review was the use of metaphors and similes. Sometimes I loved them and felt they created a beautifully vivid picture, but other times I really stumbled over them as they just didn’t make sense to me. I think I like my writing a little simpler and to the point: The Book Thief tended to drag on a bit and sometimes I wished there was a little less flowery descriptions and a little more straightforward storytelling.
In terms of the film, though I haven’t seen it, I can’t imagine it doing the book justice. I don’t know if they kept the Death narration going, which is a pretty key part, but aside from that, I think it’s the words in The Book Thief that make it the story that it is. 
Although I’m glad Stacie made me read it again, I don’t think it’s one I’ll be picking up again.

Now on to Stardust which I nominated for Stacie to read.

Again, I think we had slightly differing opinions and she seemed to enjoy it more than me.
I’ve been reading a lot of Grimm tales lately and, while I love them and find them fascinating, I can’t read them like I do with normal books. There’s something about the way they’re told which is kind of distant and I can’t really connect to the characters as real people – because in a lot of cases, they’re not, they’re just a way to get a message across.
I don’t mind this in the Grimm tales because they’re so short, some less than a page long, but in Stardust it just didn’t work for me. It’s hard to care about a character you don’t feel connected to, and that’s how I felt about Tristan. Sometimes he irritates me with his actions, but other than I really didn’t feel much of a connection to him. 

Unlike The Book Thief I think Stardust would make a great film (probably is a great film, just not one that I’ve seen…) It’s just got that magical quality that I feel would look beautiful on screen, with enough interweaving plot lines, drama and romance to make the perfect film.

Stacie has done a lovely discussion about Stardust, which you can read here, as well as her reviews of Stardust and The Book Thief

After participating in this (first) Random Reads, I’ve read two new books and have resolved to watch two new film adaptations as well. I can’t wait to see what next month’s brings! Check back next Thursday to see what the theme and books are.

Book Review: It’s Kind of a Funny Story (Ned Vizzini)


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Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Pages: 444
Release Date: May 1st 2006
Summary (From Goodreads):


Ambitious New York City teenager Craig Gilner is determined to succeed at life – which means getting into the right high school to get into the right job. But once Craig aces his way into Manhattan’s Executive Pre-Professional High School, the pressure becomes unbearable. He stops eating and sleeping until, one night, he nearly kills himself.

Craig’s suicidal episode gets him checked into a mental hospital, where his new neighbors include a transsexual sex addict, a girl who has scarred her own face with scissors, and the self-elected President Armelio. There, Craig is finally able to confront the sources of his anxiety.
Ned Vizzini, who himself spent time in a psychiatric hospital, has created a remarkably moving tale about the sometimes unexpected road to happiness.
Review:
I made the mistake of Googling this book before I read it and found out the author committed suicide not long after the book was published and it made it all the more sad and poignant to read.

I struggled to get into this at first because of the dialogue, but I put this down to the fact that I have never been an American teenage boy. And after the first few pages of boy talk, when Craig is on his own, I found myself connecting better.

Craig’s illness is really relatable and it really shows that depression isn’t something abnormal or not understandable: it’s an illness with symptoms like anything else, and more people need to realise this. It’s also easy to see how life puts on these unnecessary pressures as well. My younger sister is 14 and cries every day about her GCSE exams, because she thinks if she doesn’t do well she won’t go to uni and she won’t get a good job and that’s her life over. It’s similar to Craig’s fears and I find it heartbreaking that she’s worrying about that at that age.

I thought the book started a little slow: I was expecting the majority of the book to be set in the hospital, but it took a while to get there, and I didn’t understand the significance of some parts (it came to me later though). I enjoyed Craig’s point of view as a narrator but didn’t find it easy to connect with him sometimes: his obsession with getting some girl action was a little annoying, especially considering his mental health position and where it got him.

I thought the characters were all very fleshed out and colourful, especially the ones inside the hospital – although this sometimes worked against them, as I felt they could be a little over the top some time.

The ending gave me conflicting feelings. I thought it did suggest a little that with a positive attitude and a new girlfriend you could make your depression better, which isn’t really something I believe. But I liked the fact that Craig wasn’t ‘cured’ as such, just getting into a better place.

Once this book got going, I really enjoyed it, but all the way through I couldn’t stop thinking about how sad it is that Ned Vizzini lost his own battle with depression. I hope his light hearted but poignant book has helped others with their own battles.

My Verdict:



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

Book Review: Crow Moon (Anna McKerrow)

Publisher: Quercus

Pages: 384

Release Date: March 5th 2015

Summary (From Goodreads):

Danny is a fun-loving 16-year-old looking for a father figure and falling in love with a different girl every day. He certainly doesn’t want to follow in his mum’s witchy footsteps.

Just as his community is being threatened by gangs intent on finding a lucrative power source to sell to the world, Danny discovers he is stunningly powerful. And when he falls for Saba, a gorgeous but capricious girl sorceress, he thinks maybe the witch thing might not be such a bad idea…

But what cost will Danny pay as, with his community on the brink of war, he finds that love and sorcery are more dangerous than he ever imagined?

Wickedness and passion combine in this coming-of-age adventure.

Review:

This book has been one of the most talked about releases this year and I was so happy when I finally got my hands on it. And then worried. Because when something’s been built up so much, it’s easy to be disappointed.

Happily, this wasn’t the case with Crow Moon.

The scene setting was perfect: there was no overload of information, but there was enough for you to understand the world: split into two, the Redworld, filled with gangs and fighting over the world’s last scraps of fuel, and the Greenworld, an environmentally friendly community split into covensteads and led by witches.

Danny lives in the Greenworld and his mother is head witch of one of the covensteads. He’s a great character and reads like a very realistic teenage boy (or how I imagine a teenage boy to think and feel at least, having never been one myself). I liked the idea that he wasn’t really sold on Greenworld and witchcraft at the beginning. If he’d been more gung-ho about it I think it would have been less convincing, but the fact that he has doubts and knows the Greenworld is flawed made it all the more believable.

The book is diverse and challenges some cultural ideas on witches – Danny is a male witch, in a world heavily dominated by females. While the Greenworld is supposed to be ‘colour-blind’ Danny still feels singled out because of the colour of his skin, which was another indicator of their less than perfect world and mirrors our own imperfect society.

All of the characters were wonderfully imagined and fleshed out, but one of my favourites was Saba. I was a bit wary of her at first, expecting some kind of Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but I really enjoyed the flaws in her character and how Danny’s opinion of her hanged throughout the book. Roach is also a great villain because what he’s proposing doesn’t sound like an evil master plan – it actually could make sense, and it’s his way of doing things that really makes him the villain. Melz was another highlight and I really can’t wait to see where her story goes in book two.

While I enjoyed the novel all the way through, it was towards the end when I really started to love it. The unconventional love triangle between Danny-Saba-Tom took a dark turn which I loved and had me yelling at Danny not to do what he was about to. The ending became very sobering at times, but also had some fantastical elements that were really incredible. McKerrow paints beautiful pictures of Devon and Cornwall and her mythology and goddesses are all really well imagined.

As the first book in a series, I think the ending was spot on. While part of the main story line for that book was finished off, giving closure, there’s enough cliffhangers and intrigue to leaving you yearning for the next book. Bring on March 2016 and the sequel!

My Verdict:

4

Top Five… Witches

After reading the fabulous Crow Moon by Anna McKerrow last week, I’ve decided this week’s post should be about fabulous witches. I’m defining witch as someone who calls them self that, so not necessarily a woman (but also not magical people who call themselves wizards etc). 
5

Serafina Pekkala 
His Dark Materials (Philip Pullman)
She says some of the most beautiful things in these books, and has a love story that gets more tragic the more you think about it. I can’t imagine staying young and watching my husband and son’s lives pass by as quick as a dream. And even with all that tragedy, she still manages to be one of my favourite characters in the series.
4

Danny Prentice
Crow Moon (Anna McKerrow)
Probably one of the very few male witches I’ve read about, Danny seems pretty sceptical of his powers and witchcraft in general at first, but he goes on to perform some pretty incredible magic (some of the end scenes are so magical!) and accept himself for the strong witch he is. 
3

Mildred Hubble
The Worst Witch series (Jill Murphy)
So she may not be the best witch in the world, but she’s probably one of the most lovable. One of the original klutzy protagonists with a heart of gold, Mildred’s antics kept me entertained through reading and watching her TV show (and this very old film that no one seems to mention, but has Tim Curry in and is amazing!)
2
Hermione Granger
Harry Potter series (J.K. Rowling)
I don’t think you can really do a list like this without slipping Hermione in there somewhere. She’s insanely smart and is constantly proving herself in a world dominated by male wizards and pure bloods. 
1

The Grand High Witch
The Witches (Roald Dahl)
Oo even now that picture gives me shivers. Maybe she isn’t quite as horrendous in the book as she is in the film, but the Grand High Witch is pretty fearsome and her hatred of children genuinely scared me when I was younger.

Book Review: The Novice – Summoner Book One (Taran Matharu)

 *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: 400
Release Date: May 5th 2015
Summary (From Goodreads):

When blacksmith apprentice Fletcher discovers that he has the ability to summon demons from another world, he travels to Adept Military Academy. There the gifted are trained in the art of summoning. Fletcher is put through grueling training as a battlemage to fight in the Hominum Empire’s war against orcs. He must tread carefully while training alongside children of powerful nobles. The power hungry, those seeking alliances, and the fear of betrayal surround him. Fletcher finds himself caught in the middle of powerful forces, with only his demon Ignatius for help.

As the pieces on the board maneuver for supremacy, Fletcher must decide where his loyalties lie. The fate of an empire is in his hands. The Novice is the first in a trilogy about Fletcher, his demon Ignatius, and the war against the Orcs. 

Review:

I’ve heard this book described as a cross between Harry Potter and Pokemon, so loving both of these, I was sold straight away.
It was easy to get into and the scene was set very well. The first few chapters, set in protagonist Fletcher’s home of Pelt were actually some of my favourite bits. There was a really gentle introduction to the world and characters that completely involved me in the world from the start.
For me though, it started going downhill a bit when Fletcher went to the academy. All the subtly of the first few chapters was suddenly gone and I felt bombarded by information. I understood why: there were a lot of thing that needed explaining to both Fletcher and the reader, and a school setting is a great place for that, but it just didn’t come across very naturally.
I loved the demons, especially Ignatius, who quite often reminded me of Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon (so completely adorable, basically!) However when it came to explaining classes of demons it all felt a bit technical, like learning the rules to a complicated board game. There were many parts where I felt like I’d like to play this story out as a computer game rather than read it as a novel.
Fletcher as a character was likeable enough but I sometimes found him a bit too good. I liked that he wasn’t the cleverest of the most gifted, but when it came to things like morals (like treating dwarves and elves the same as humans) he annoyed me as he felt a little holier than thou. The other characters felt a little cliché, and the nobles vs. commoners things felt very predictable and a little too OTT to read comfortably.
Overall, this was an enjoyable enough read but the characters felt too predictable and flat for me to really make a connection with them. There’s an interesting storyline though and I would like to see where it goes next.

My Verdict:


I enjoyed – give it a read