Saturday, 5 December 2020

Review of 'My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece' by Annabel Lee

 

Grey background with black writing that reads: "Sometimes when I wake up, I forget that she's gone and then I remember and my heart drops like it does when you miss a step or trip over a kerb" - 'My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece' by Annabel Lee

This book has been sat on my shelf for YEARS waiting to be read. It's something that I just didn't feel that drawn to picking up and thought it would be a big tear jerker because the premise is that it's told from the perspective of someone whose sister has died. 

10-year-old Jamie's older sister was killed five years ago in a terror attack. He still hasn't cried. His whole life was turned upside down when Rose died: his parents aren't living together anymore, he doesn't know when he'll next see his mum, he's having to go to a new school AND everything anyone does is always about Rose. He struggles to understand why his sister Jasmine, Rose's twin, can't see things from his perspective. 

At his new school, Jamie makes friends with a Muslim girl and knows his dad would be angry if he knew: you see, his dad spouts hate about Muslims, blaming all of them for the attack that killed his daughter, even on the rare occasions he is sober. Jamie's torn, and is suddenly faced with understanding that perhaps not everything he thought was true actually is.

I found this a bit of a tough read, not really because of the loss of a sister, but because of the Islamophobia throughout. Although it's used to show how Islamophobic the parents are, it's something that was quite extreme in the book, and presented really as the only way the dad could understand his daughter's death. It kicks off in a shocking way, and if nothing else the book highlights how a parent's prejudice can easily be passed on to a child. There are a whole load of tough topics in this: the obvious ones are grief and loss, but it also looks into alcoholism, eating disorders and family break ups, all from the perspective of a child. I definitely think this was more of a teen book than YA. There were parts of it I did enjoy, but I struggled to connect with the characters, which is why I gave it three stars. 

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Sunday, 29 November 2020

Review of 'To Kill a Mockingbird' by Harper Lee

 

Grey background with black writing that reads: 'You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.' - 'To Kill a Mockingbird' by Harper Lee

I first read this when I was a teen and looking to start embarking on reading classics. Having now re-read it ten years later there was SO much that went over my head in the first read, or that I didn't appreciate properly. I was so wrapped up in Jem and Scout's obsession with Boo Radley that all I really remember of the trial the first time around was that I didn't understand all the legal jargon, it was distracting time away from the story I wanted to know more about and I definitely didn't pick up on all the suggestions that her father was the culprit.

To Kill a Mockingbird  is set in a quiet town in the South of the US and revolves around the Finch family. Atticus Finch, a lawyer, lives with his two children Jem and Scout, who are motherless after she passed away. Scout's real name is Jean Louise, but her love for adventuring and ability to be a bit rough around the edges makes Scout a much more appropriate name. The kids are obsessed with Boo Radley: a man whose house they walk past to get to and from school every day, but whom they've never laid eyes on. 

Running parallel to this story is Atticus': he's been asked to defend Tom Robinson, a Black man accused of raping a white teenage girl. Atticus knows from the start that, despite Tom's innocence, Atticus' own skill as a defence attorney and the evidence pointing to the contrary, Tom will likely still get called guilty by the jury.  

The story is all about a loss of innocence in growing up, as well as racism, class, family, friendship and mental health. There's going to be more spoilers in this next bit! Scout and Jem go to the trial and are faced with understanding not only some of the details of the case, but that people's prejudice can ruin lives. They've been brought up to teach everyone with love, and bit by bit as the trial and events around it go on, they have their eyes opened to the fact that the world isn't what they thought it was. 

I had completely forgotten what the trial was about from my first read of the book and I was totally hooked by this. This part of the story is so well written and I felt like Jem and Scout: unable to look away, despite being told that things wouldn't be resolved the way I wanted them to. The book was deeply sad, and I felt dealt well with such a sensitive subject, especially considering that it was written in the 60s.

I gave this 4 stars.

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Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Review of 'Always and Forever, Lara Jean' by Jenny Han

 

Review of 'Always and Forever, Lara Jean' by Jenny Han

Ah, the final instalment in the TATBILB series. This was a great ending to the trilogy, and I'm hoping the author never gets pressured into adding a little something extra to it because this was really rounded off well. I felt like this was the book where Lara Jean developed the most as a person and we left her ready to embark upon adulthood.

Always and Forever, Lara Jean follows LJ through her last year of high school. She's got a class trip to New York on the cards, prom, college applications and her relationship with Peter's getting more serious. Lara Jean pins her hopes on one college in particular and has her whole future mapped out, but when things don't *quite* go to plan, LJ's forced to reconsider everything.

I felt a bit more like we got to understand more of Lara Jean in this book. There was a bigger focus on what was happening with her family in this one, and I loved that aspect. However a lot of it I struggled with. LJ put SUCH a focus on making sure her and Peter's relationship was her number one priority in terms of her decisions about college and no one really tells her to make sure she's making the best decisions for herself outside of the relationship. Maybe I've turned into a bitter old crone who cries 'don't throw your education away for a high school relationship', but I'm glad Lara did take *some* other factors into consideration too. 

I felt like both Lara Jean and Peter showed their immaturity in this one and I really struggled to stay on board with their relationship. Although couple fight and misunderstand each other, it doesn't always make you wonder what there *is* in the relationship and ask where the love/passion is. I just felt like I couldn't believe in their relationship, and so I struggled with it.

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Monday, 23 November 2020

Review of 'The Hungry Tide' by Amitav Ghosh

 

Grey background with black writing that reads: "How do you lose a word? Does it vanish into your memory, like an old toy in a cupboard, and lie hidden in the cobwebs and dust, waiting to be cleaned out or rediscovered?" - 'The Hungry Tide' by Amitav Ghosh

The Hungry Tide is a book I picked up on a bit of a whim, and as it borders on being literary fiction (something I very rarely enjoy), I wasn't sure how much I'd like it. Although it definitely was a bit out of my comfort zone, I really did enjoy this one. I felt completely ensconced in the nature side of the book and it did make me cry - a sure sign I liked a book. I mean, if I cry it means I've connected to the characters and the storyline, plus we all need a good book to make us a little teary every now and then, right?

The Hungry Tide follows Piyali's journey to find the very specific type of dolphin she's studying as part of her job as a marine biologist. She's heard rumours that the dolphins at least used to live in the Sundarban islands in the Bay of Bengal and has travelled there to learn more about them, and hopefully find some. There she meets an illiterate fisherman named Fokir, whose intelligence lies in his knowledge of the waters. The book tells her story, Fokir's story and the story of a translator who helps them communicate.

The book touches on themes of class, education, family, Indian culture, folklore, animal studies (including tigers as well as dolphins), heritage and language. Amitav Ghosh writes scenery beautifully, and it really helped to make the story more vivid against the backdrop of the mangroves, islands and water. The plot was gripping and I felt myself drawn more and more to see what was happening with the dolphins, and I especially enjoyed the folklore stories interwoven into the main action. 

Without trying to drop any spoilers, the story did get very dramatic, and I was tearing through the pages to see what happened before my heart got crushed a little. This was a beautiful story, and I learnt a lot both about the geography and history in the Sundarbans as well as about the nature in the area.

I would recommend this for fans of Where the Crawdads Sing and The God of Small Things.

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Friday, 20 November 2020

Review of 'P.S. I Still Love You' by Jenny Han

 

Grey sparkly background with black writing that reads: "Things feel like they'll be forever, but they aren't. Love can go away, or people can, without even meaning to. Nothing is guaranteed" - 'P.S. I Still Love You' by Jenny Han

I really wanted to read this before I let myself watch the film after enjoying To All The Boys I've Loved Before so much. I have very mixed feelings about this second in the trilogy: some parts I enjoyed way more, but I'm just putting it out there that I was Team John the whole way through ...

P.S. I Still Love You starts off with Lara Jean and Peter now an *actual* couple that aren't just pretending. LJ can hardly believe she's managed to bag Peter Kavinsky. However, things aren't going as smoothly as she'd like: despite making a pact to not hurt each other, Peter's spending more time with his ex Gen, and LJ has become pen pals with an old crush and hasn't quite mentioned she's in a relationship now. Will their fledgling relationship survive this?

My main gripe with this book is that the love story I wanted to triumph out of the triangle LJ found herself in lost. I really felt as though Lara Jean and Peter both develop a lot in finding themselves and finding how they want to be in a relationship which I felt was really great. However, I LOVED John Ambrose McLaren's character, and even though he was just a foil to their relationship, I thought he was much better for LJ than Peter was. I mean, he turned up in a SUIT to the elderly resident party to impress her. 

I would recommend this if you enjoyed TATBILB - I gave it three stars because I wasn't feeling the love (would a teenage girl really forgive a guy for hanging out with his ex after she posted a video of them being intimate? Would a teenage guy withstand the blow to his ego of a girl openly flirting with someone else in front of him? I just struggled to believe it, and to feel their connection). However, I still loved the Covey sisters' relationship in this one, and felt that was an important part of the book.

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Monday, 16 November 2020

Review of 'A Court of Wings and Ruin' by Sarah J Maas

 

Grey sparkly background with black writing that reads: 'It takes a rare person to face who they are and not run from it - not be broken by it' - "A Court of Wings and Ruin" by Sarah J Maas

This series is my favourite I've read in a LONG time, and this third book in it was another great one. It really felt like a lot of the plot strands finally came together, and we got to know so much more about characters I've been intrigued by.

We start with Feyre at Tamlin's, trying to plot against him in secret whilst her family is in tatters back in the Night Court. She's determined to make her way back to Rhys and her sisters so that they can hatch a plan to not only enact revenge against Tamlin but more importantly to use her new-found powers against the evil spreading across the realm. The courts are threatened by war: King Hybern's on a mission to become even more powerful and the seven High Lords need to unite to have a chance at winning against him. 

I really enjoyed the drama of this one. I'm trying not to give any spoilers away for this book, but I loved the battle scenes (honestly if they made this into a TV show with a big budget I really think it could be more popular than Game of Thrones). I'm always a fan of a good back story, and the snippets that built up throughout this about Cassian, Amren, Azriel and Mor's earlier lives made them much more 3D characters, and each felt like they came into the forefront of the narrative at different points. 

The last fifty pages or so of this had me WEEPING and then happy and then crying all over again - no one puts my feelings through the ringer like Sarah J Maas does and everything reached a complete pitch towards the end of this book. As always, everything was written so beautifully and the world building was something I totally adored.

This was a 5 star read for me, and it's made me so excited for the upcoming book in the series.

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Saturday, 14 November 2020

Review of 'Cinderella is Dead' by Kalynn Bayron

 

Grey background with black writing that reads: “I think sometimes we make the mistake of thinking monsters are abhorrent aberrations, lurking in the darkest recesses, when the truth is far more disturbing. The most monstrous men are those who sit in plain sight, daring you to challenge them.” -  'Cinderella Is Dead', Kalynn Bayron

I can think of basically no books that had LGBT representation in them that I read as a teen, and especially not any with a female protagonist in. I'm so glad that's changing now and I get to read more diverse books as an adult, so I was really excited to get stuck into Cinderella is Dead. 

Sophia lives in Cinderella's town 200 years on from her death. Every year, all eligible teenage girls must attend a ball presided over by the town's prince, where a man will hopefully pick her as his bride. It's supposed to be a time of great excitement for the girls, and a night on which the fairy godmother turns up to help them (although everyone's parents make sure each girl has a 'backup' outfit for when this inevitably does not happen)

The problem is that Sophia doesn't want a suitable bachelor to choose her as his wife, or any man. Sophia has a girlfriend: her friend Erin and her are being forced apart by the ball and the pressure from both their families to partake in it. Sophia's horrified by the suggestion that the girls that don't get chosen simply 'disappear', and when things don't go to plan at the ball she's determined to find out what secrets the castle, and the Prince, are keeping. 

I loved the plot of this - I'm a big fan of retellings of fairy tales and fables, and I loved that not only did this have a POC main character, but that she was also comfortable with her own sexuality. Often I find with LGBT rep in books that there's just one character who is openly gay/lesbian etc, and they might meet one other person later in the book who is too. In this book however, a whole swathe of main characters were part of the LGBT community, which was really great.

The book definitely could have done with a bit more editing and tightening up of the plot I think, which is why I gave it 4 stars instead of 5. There was a whole section in the middle that ended up being relevant to the plot, but at the time felt like a bit of a filler side plot, and I sort of got lost in exactly where the book was headed. I am however VERY excited to see what the author brings out next, as this was her debut novel. 

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