Friday, 30 December 2016

Top Books of 2016 (& Diversity)

This hasn't been a particularly good reading year for me. On one hand, I read more than 80 books, but on the other, I had many reading slumps, many DNF books (not included in my overall read count), and it just didn't feel like I read much this year. Maybe because there weren't many books out of the 80+ that wowed me.

But yes...of the books I read this year, these were the favourites. I'm also going to include a sort of diversity count/check at the end, because one of my goals for next year is to consciously read more diversely and I'd like to look back at this post next year to see if I've improved on that.

I'm going to break this down into categories...

Favourite Book of the Year:

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

This book was...wow. It's sitting on my all time favourites shelf right now, wedged between the likes of Melina Marchetta, Harry Potter and Code Name Verity. It's a beautiful story with beautiful characters and beautiful writing. I instantly bought the authors first book after finishing this one because if it's even half as good, it'll be amazing.

The Standalone Books:

You Were Here by Cori McCarthy

This one is a lovely little story about a girl dealing with the death of her older brother. One of the things that really made me love the book though was that two of the POV's were done using illustrations instead (one of them with graffiti/poetry, the other like a comic). It made it really memorable.

The Problem With Forever by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Jennifer L. Armentrout is just really great at writing addictive stories and good characters. This one is about foster kids and one of the main characters is dealing with PTSD and anxiety and I really loved it.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

This is a book about a girl dealing with the aftermath of her rape. It deals with abortion in a really positive way and it has A+ female friendships and parents who are actually present and part of the story. It should be noted that it's a very idealised story that won't be true for all victims of rape -- the main character is believed and supported by almost everyone, and any negativity towards her is shot down really well...that's often not the reality. But it's the way it should be, and it's an important story.


Landline by Rainbow Rowell

This one is probably one of Rainbow's most underrated books. It subverts gender roles, it's cute and fun and just...dflvlsjfbvkj. I had so much love for this story and these characters. And I loved the little Cath/Levi cameo.

London Belongs to Us by Sarra Manning

I was actually quite surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. London was practically a character
itself. It has French boys on mopeds and wonderful drag queens and a bad ass female character who realises that she deserves so much more than the crappy way her ignorantly racist, stuck up twat of a boyfriend treated her and it's just...I love the characters and the story was so cute and fun.

Chasing the Stars by Malorie Blackman

This book wasn't perfect, but it left me desperately wanting a sequel and incredibly disappointed that there doesn't seem to be one in the works so it deserves a spot on the list for leaving me wanting more even months after finishing the book. It's an Othello retelling set in space, where Othello is a teenage girl.

The New Series:


The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig 

Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

These two are odd, because they have quite a similar premise. Teenage girls time travelling to save their mothers, both partially set on ships, but the execution was quite different for each.

I enjoyed Passenger more while reading (it got 4 stars), but The Girl from Everywhere stuck with me more...it's one of those ones that got an average rating from me (3-3.5 stars) but I kept thinking about it and found myself desperate for the sequel.

Companion Novels:

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Salt to the Sea is a companion novel to Between Shades of Grey, but it can be read on it's own. It's about the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff at the end of WW2, the worst ship sinking in history (nearly 9500 people died).

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

It took me such a long time to get into this book, but by the time I finished it I loved it -- mainly because of Baz (both his character alone and his relationship with Simon).

The Memoirs:

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick 

Where Am I Now by Mara Wilson

I loved both of these. Anna and Mara are two wonderful human beings. Both of their books are honest and funny and feminist. Anna's has more focus on her adult life in the industry, while Mara's includes more detail about her childhood and what it was like to be a child star and dealing with the loss of her mother during that time and dealing with her own mental illness.

Picture Books:

Night Shift by Debi Gliori

This is one I was sent to review and it's beautiful. It's about depression and the illustrations portray depression as a dragon and it's just...it's sad and lovely and true. The book will be released in the UK on January 12th 2017.

Adulthood is a Myth by Sarah Andersen

And this one...again, kind of deals with mental illness. It's mostly about what it's like to be an adult and having anxiety and it's funny and so easy to relate to and I loved it.

Plays:

Peter and Alice by John Logan

I don't read many plays, but ones like this make me wish I did. It is such a beautifully written and heartbreaking story. It's about the real Peter and Alice, the children who inspired Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. The two actually met once when they were adults, and this play is a fictionalised imagining of how that meeting might have went down. It was just lovely, and it weaves a lot of true facts about their lives into it that I didn't know (I didn't realise how much tragedy both had in their lives, particularly Peter).

Annnd that's all my favourites this year. What are your top books of 2016?

Diversity check:
Before I start, it should be noted that I have read other diverse books this year, it's just that not all of them made it onto my favourites list. And with this, some books will count towards more than one category:
Non-white MC: 6/16*
LGBTQIA+ MC: 4/16
Neuro-diversity: 7/16*
Jewish MC: 1/16
Disabled MC: 0/16
Own voices: 9/18**

Anyway... I can definitely improve on the diversity of my TBR next year. And I want to be able to include less general categories next year too (e.g. instead of simply "non-white" I want to break it down and be specific, and with LGBTQIA+ to break it down to specific identities, etc.).

Later.

*With these two, I've included two side characters (one who is a lesbian, one who has bipolar disorder), because while they're not the POV characters, the characters did play a huge role in the stories and those aspects of the characters are very much present on the page. They're exceptions, there are other books on the list with a diverse cast of side characters but I haven't counted those.

**The count could be higher than I've put, because it's harder to know for sure with some things (i.e. not all LGBTQ+ authors who write LGBTQ+ characters are out, or if they are they're not always vocal about it online...same goes for authors who write about mental illness).

Friday, 2 December 2016

Dream a Little Dream & Dream On by Kerstin Gier

Dream a Little Dream
(& Dream On)
by Kerstin Gier


Summary: Mysterious doors with lizard-head knobs. Talking stone statues. A crazy girl with a hatchet. Yes, Liv's dreams have been pretty weird lately. Especially the one where she's in a graveyard at night, watching four boys conduct dark magic rituals.

The strangest part is that Liv recognizes the boys in her dream. They're classmates from her new school in London, the school where she's starting over because her mom has moved them to a new country (again). But what's really scaring Liv is that the dream boys seem to know things about her in real life, things they couldn't possibly know--unless they actually are in her dreams? Luckily, Liv never could resist a good mystery, and all four of those boys are pretty cute....
I'm reviewing the first two books in this trilogy together because I read them back to back, and because...well, I just don't have much to say about them.

I liked both books a lot, but the first book is better. The second feels very much like a filler book -- there is a plot to it, but it's one of those ones where the actual plot is overshadowed so much by the characters and filler stuff to the point where it feels like nothing much happens. The first book had more of a balance.

I really loved Kerstin Gier's Ruby Red trilogy and this series, while not quite as good, has a lot of the same elements that made me love that series. It's cute and fun, with a great cast of characters. I love the sibling relationships, I love that it shows step-families in a positive light instead of vilifying them the way a lot of stories do...the only thing that would make me enjoy it a lot more is to have more good female friendships, but I've seen reviews that promise the third book delivers on that.

My main issue with the books, although it doesn't bother me that much, is that the main character seems to have way more chemistry with her soon-to-be step brother than her love interest, especially in the second book (which I don't think was intentional, it might even be something that came across differently when it was translated to English from German). I'm hoping so much that that changes in the final book.

To sum up: these books are really fun, quick reads that make me laugh and smile, and I have high hopes for the third and final book which is releasing next year. Kerstin Gier is quickly becoming one of my go-to authors to snap me out of a reading slump (perhaps not a good thing seeing as I need to wait for her books to be translated from German before I get to read them).

I'd rate the first book 4 stars out of 5, the second 3 stars.

Later.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

The Hungry Ghost Festival by Jen Campbell

The Hungry Ghost Festival
by Jen Campbell


Summary: The Hungry Ghost Festival concerns misremembered and strange things. It's about girls praying to The Angel of the North. It's about a mermaid born in the river Tyne. It's about Chinese lanterns, teenagers at the beach, and a family who run a sacred farm.

You pick my arms up and spread them outso we are matching. Our woollen scarvestouch our noses - catch our breath
like cloth balloons. We dig our feet into the soiland stamp down into the very deep.
Somewhere below, the river sleeps with a lady
screeching. She has arms that could carry boulders
to the edge of cliffs. We wait for herto throw us down...
I'm quite fussy with poetry. If I love a poem, then it'll stick with me, the lines of it rattling around my head and coming to the surface randomly for years to come. But there is way more poetry that I don't like than poetry I've loved.

And I had such high hopes for this collection. I was so convinced it was going to make it onto the small list of poetry I've loved. I've watched a few videos of Jen's where she reads/performs some of her poems aloud and I've adored them. I've read a few she's posted online and it was love at first line. I thought her poetry was exactly my cup of tea, so I expected greatness from this collection.

But...I didn't like it. There was only one poem I sort of loved (the one quoted in the summary). None of the other poems had any of the things that make me love a poem, or any of the things that made me love the poems of hers I'd read/heard before picking this up. I don't know if maybe it's because this collection came first and her style has evolved over time or if it's just that the themes of this collection didn't click with me or went over my head.

Quite a few of the poems were the type that make me feel stupid because I just didn't get them. I hate that feeling so much when I'm reading poetry. I couldn't even begin to interpret those ones or find a meaning in them (and I can forgive that obscurity in poetry, or feeling like the point went over my head, if I like the writing or find my own meaning in them but that didn't happen with those ones).

Some of them felt like maybe they might be beautiful had I heard them read aloud by the author who would get the rhythm of them just right but I stumbled over the lines clumsily in my head (worse when I tried to read them aloud) and got frustrated because it was more like tripping on stones in a stream than words flowing like water.

This is all just my long winded way of saying that this collection was not my kind of thing. I still think Jen is a wonderful writer and poet (and person, based on her youtube channel), but this wasn't the right collection for me. I just didn't get it, or find anything much in it to love. Hopefully the next book or poetry collection of hers will be more my kind of thing.

I'd rate it 2.5 stars out of 5. It wasn't bad, just not right for me personally but I've seen many 5 star ratings and reviews so I'm probably in the minority.

Later.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Burial Rites
by Hannah Kent


Summary: Set against Iceland's stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution.

Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes's death looms, the farmer's wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they've heard.
I both loved and hated this book. It took me over a year to read it. Granted, I was listening to it on audiobook and I am a lot slower with them than I am with regular books, but still, it took a long time to get through. It was one of those books that was really, really easy to stop reading and difficult to pick it back up again.

What I loved: It was a really, really beautiful book. The writing was wonderful and so atmospheric. The way Hannah Kent wrote the setting turned Iceland into almost a character itself. And the actual characters? They were very real and complex and I loved that.

I found the story of Agnes really interesting, and the book made me care about her. Made me frustrated by her and angry on her behalf, but mostly just really sad for her. She was written so convincingly that sometimes I forgot I was reading a fictionalised version of a real woman, rather than a book about the real Agnes.

My problem with the book was that it was very, very, very slow.

Nothing much actually happens in the book until near the end. It's very much a character driven story. We go into it knowing how it's going to end, and it's just this slow build up to that, and we learn the Why of it all at a snails pace, little details of Agnes's life before her arrest dripping into the story, taking forever to get to the part we (or I) actually wanted to know about: the night of the murders, the reason they happened at all.

As for the format...it took me a really long time to listen to it on audio, but I'd still recommend it. The narration was fantastic (and, if you're like me and stumble over pronunciation of Icelandic words and names, it really helped hearing them said out loud by the narrator rather than trying to figure them out on my own).

Basically, the book was beautiful in so many ways and really interesting (the real story of Agnes is fascinating and haunting), and if you're the type of person who loves character driven stories then this is definitely one worth picking up, but if you like your stories fast paced and plot-driven, it might not be for you. I'd rate it 4 stars out of 5.

Later.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Punk 57 by Penelope Douglas

Punk 57
by Penelope Douglas


Summary: “We were perfect together. Until we met.”
Misha

I can’t help but smile at the words in her letter. She misses me.

In fifth grade, my teacher set us up with pen pals from a different school. And in no time at all, we were arguing about everything. The best take-out pizza. Android vs. iPhone. Whether or not Eminem is the greatest rapper ever... And that was the start. For the next seven years, it was us. Her letters are always on black paper with silver writing. Sometimes there’s one a week or three in a day, but I need them. She’s the only one who keeps me on track, talks me down, and accepts everything I am.
We only had three rules. No social media, no phone numbers, no pictures. We had a good thing going. Why ruin it?

Until I run across a photo of a girl online. Name’s Ryen, loves Gallo’s pizza, and worships her iPhone. What are the chances? I need to meet her. I just don’t expect to hate what I find.

Ryen

He hasn’t written in three months. Something’s wrong. Did he die? Get arrested? Knowing Misha, neither would be a stretch. Without him around, I’m going crazy. I need to know someone is listening. It’s my own fault. I should’ve gotten his number or picture or something. He could be gone forever. Or right under my nose, and I wouldn’t even know it.
Do you ever read a book that you kind of love, but you hate that you love it? This was one of those books for me.

What I loved about it was purely that it had me completely hooked. It was addictive and had a lot of tropes that simultaneously bug me and thoroughly entertain me. I loved the idea of the story from the moment I read the summary, and had the same concept been written differently, it could've easily become one of my favourite books.

The problem I had, and the reason I'm so torn, is because even though it had me hooked and I read it in one sitting, it also pulled a lot of crap I really, really, really hate in books. It was slut shame-y, there was a lot of that awful catty girl hate going on and there was literally no positive female friendships/relationships until almost the very end (and even then, it was so insignificant to the story that it barely registered).

Through most of the story, the main female character was a bully at worst and someone who stood there doing nothing while others were being hurt at best -- and while she did have a sort of redemption arc going on, something about the way it was done bugged me. I can't put my finger on why.

And the romance? I admit, that was one of the parts that hooked me. I love those opposites attract, love-hate type relationships. They're addictive, and I find it hard not to root for those couples. My issue with this one was that the dude was such a judgemental asshat and could be so manipulative and borderline emotionally abusive (sometimes even toeing the line of physical abuse too). And there was a lot of "you're not like other girls" kind of attitude thrown in there. There were definitely good parts to it too, but there was a lot that bothered me about it.

Basically, the book was kind of an extremely problematic fave. There is so much about the story and the characters that wasn't okay with me, but a book that can make me feel for the characters and has me so gripped that I read it in one sitting obviously did something right. I'd rate it 4 stars for how entertaining it was, 2 for subject matter, so overall I'd say it gets 3 stars out of 5.

Later.

Monday, 21 November 2016

No Virgin by Anne Cassidy

No Virgin
by Anne Cassidy


Summary: My name is Stacey Woods and I was raped.

Stacey is the victim of a terrible sexual attack. She does not feel able to go to the police, or talk about it to anybody other than her best friend, Patrice. Patrice, outraged, when she cannot persuade her to go to the police, encourages Stacey to write everything down. This is Stacey's story.
Before I start this review, I just want to warn you that there will be some spoilers. I can't really explain my thoughts on it without them.

I'm not really sure how to feel about this book to be honest. It wasn't a bad book, but I finished it nearly two weeks ago and still haven't been able to review it -- so, this is me winging it and we'll see if I can form some sort of coherent opinion.

To begin with, the format wasn't really my kind of thing. The writing style was quite mediocre through a lot of the book and I'm not sure if that was intentional or not because it is written in a journal-ish sort of format. It was easy to overlook that once I got caught up in the story, but I didn't like it in the beginning.

And the story? I think that's why I've had a hard time thinking of what to say about this book. The story is really quite bleak -- it's this raw and awful thing that happens to this character, and the story doesn't gloss over anything that happens to her. The details never seem gratuitous or like they were done for shock value (which, unfortunately, many books about rape are)... It just seemed honest. But it wasn't really hopeful. The bleakness persisted almost right to the end, there were maybe one or two scenes of hopefulness but the end still felt quite abrupt and unsatisfying.

When I read stories like this, there's always that part of me that wants to see justice done (which, I know, isn't the reality for many cases). That wants to see the part of the story where things are okay again, where the character has made it through this storm that has wrecked them and they're on the other side of it. And that was not this book. We don't get that -- we just get the reality and the tiniest hint that the character will get there, then the rest is left to the reader.

Books about rape are never easy to read, but I found this one particularly difficult because of that lack of closure. Again, that doesn't make this a bad book -- just one that is hard to read (and hard to review).

The book also wasn't at all what I was expecting it to be. Based on the title, I thought it was going to be about the slut shaming that some rape victims go through, the way some are made to feel like they're less of a victim or the wrong type of victim if they're promiscuous but it wasn't like that. It barely even touched on that, which wasn't a bad thing, just unexpected.

This book instead offers something that I've not really seen done before in YA stories about rape. There's many stories about date rape, about stranger rape, about acquaintance rape, but this is the first I've seen about grooming. About how a girl (or anyone really) can be manipulated into situations and forced to do things they don't want to do, how the circumstances can make them feel that what happened was their fault and they would be blamed or not believed, and how their abusers use that. The book did show that really well.

So...that's all I've got. I did not like this book. But it wasn't a bad book. I didn't hate it either, though I hate what happens in it. It's an important one, but I'm not sure I'd recommend it to someone even though I do think it's an important story.

I'd rate the book 3.5 stars out of 5.

Later.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

The Amateurs by Sara Shepard

The Amateurs
by Sara Shepard


Summary: When Aerin Kelly was eleven, she idolised her seventeen-year-old sister, Helena, and they did everything together. They made Claymation movies and posted them to YouTube. They made fun of Windmere-Carruthers, the private school they attended, they invented new flavours for their parents' organic ice cream shop, and they dressed up their golden retriever, Buster. But when Helena went into senior year things started to change. Rather than being Aerin's inseparable sister, she started to push her away. Then, on a snowy winter's day, Helena vanished.

Four years later, Helena's body is found. Wracked with grief and refusing to give up on her sister, Aerin spends months trying to figure out what exactly happened to Helena and who killed her. But the police have no leads. A young, familiar officer named Thomas wants to help and suggests she checks out a website called Case Not Closed. Hesitantly, she posts, and when teenagers Seneca and Maddox show up on her doorstep offering to help investigate she accepts in desperation. Both have suffered their own losses and also posted to the site with no luck, so they are hoping this case might be the one they crack. But as their investigation begins, it seems that maybe it's no accident that they are all together, and that maybe the crimes have something - or someone - in common.
This is the fourth Sara Shepard book I've ever read, and it's my least favourite so far. It wasn't a bad book and there was a lot about it I enjoyed, but it's one of those stories where the idea of it is way better than the execution.

I don't have a lot to say about the book really. I liked the characters, but there was just a spark missing to bring them to life. The plot required a lot of suspension of disbelief and was a bit trope-y at times, which didn't bother me too much but it did hold me back from really getting into the story.

The most disappointing thing for me was the friendships really, particularly the female friendships. I've found in Sara's other books I can forgive a lot when it comes to the plot or the writing if the relationships between the characters was done well and in this one, there was something lacking there. She usually excels at writing friendships but not in this one, they felt really underdeveloped -- the whole thing did really.

Basically, I love the idea of this story (a group of teen sleuths getting together to solve cold cases? awesome!) but the whole thing felt rushed. The bones of a good book were there, but it needed to be fleshed out more.

I was surprised by the final twist at the end and I do want to see the characters developed more so I'll definitely pick up the sequel, but this one was just an okay read for me. I'd rate it 2.5 stars out of 5.

Later.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Companion of the Night by Vivian Vande Velde

Companion of the Night
by Vivian Vande Velde


Summary: When Kerry's little brother forgets his stuffed bear at the laundry, Kerry ventures out at 11th p.m. to retrieve it for him. The laundry is deserted and kind of spooky, and while she's there three men burst in, dragging a bound and bloodied young man they insist is a vampire. Kerry helps him escape, only to be caught up in a desperate game between vampire hunters and their prey.
This book was...well, kind of a let down. But not because it was a bad book, I want to be clear on that. The issue was that I went into it expecting something very different.

Basically, a booktuber I'm subscribed to mentioned that this book was one of her favourite romance stories. And I was in the mood for a good romance, so I thought I'd pick this one up and...well, as far as that went: total let down.

The story itself is good. It was addictive and fun and had that really good pre-Twilight, 90's vampire vibe to it that I loved. If you want to read a vampire story that has more gory, bad/morally ambiguous vampires, this is a good quick read.

But as a romance? I didn't see it as that at all. 90% of the story was basically spent with the dude threatening and manipulating her and aside from the fact she comments on him being hot, there was nothing romantic about it at all. And when it did actually become a romance, it was really quite abrupt -- she literally goes from 0 to "I love you" in a matter of hours and they've only known each other for 2 days total (at least some of it was spent sleeping). She barely knows anything about him because all he does is lie.

Had she said she cared about him, against her better judgements, that I could buy because of the intensity of the situation and all but not love. Because it was so abrupt with no real build up, the scene it all leads to is as bland as reading a shopping list -- like "then he kissed me" and "I love you" would fit right in between eggs, milk, bread and toilet roll.

And the ending... I don't need everything to be neatly tied up but endings that don't have much closure bug me. We find out maybe one or two true things about him in the last few pages and we don't get to see much of the aftermath really. It was just an unsatisfying ending and just in general really.

I don't know if I'd have felt differently had it been recommended differently (i.e. as a supernatural thriller/vampire story rather than a book with a good romance) or if I'd read it when I was much younger before I had so much to compare it to. It was entertaining...just disappointing. And I'm being repetitive so, to wrap this up: I'd rate it 2.5 stars out of 5. Very good read if you're looking for some 90's vampire book nostalgia...just don't go into it with the expectations I had.

Later.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Ten Literary People I'd Name Something After

The topic of this weeks Top Ten Tuesday is Ten Characters I'd Name A Child/Dog/Cat/Car/Etc. After.

I really love this topic. I'm a bit obsessed with names...probably because I'm a writer, so names are important to me. If I can't get the right name for a character, I can't write the story. Hell, if I don't like the name of a character in a book I'm reading then that can totally influence my reading experience.


I'm going to do a mixture of things rather than just choosing one type of thing. And I'm making it "literary people" instead of characters because there's some author references on my list too.


1. Fitz from Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta - Choosing this one first because I actually have named a thing after him already. I'm one of those people that names gadgets and appliances (no clue why really) and Fitz is the name of the USB that I back up my most important files on (i.e. music and stories, mostly). My current phone may or may not be named Poe, as in Edgar Allen...



2. Hermione or Luna from Harry Potter - Grouping these together seeing as they're from the same series and I'd use the names in the same way: as either middle names for a child or cat names. Hermione has the added bonus of also being a name from Shakespeare's, The Winter's Tale and from Greek mythology.

3. And, seeing as I'm grouping series names together and I'm talking middle names: Isabella, Rosalie, Alice, and Jasper from Twilight -- purely because I love the names (I'd loved all but Rosalie pre-Twilight -- Isabella had actually been on my baby name list after my granny's sister, who died when she was only 11 of meningitis, but Twilight kind of put me off ever using it as a first name).


4. Eleanor from Eleanor and Park - I would totally name a little girl that. I liked the name, but my love for the book made me love it. And while we're on the subject of Rainbow Rowell? I used to not really like the name Georgie for a girl, but Landline made me sort of love it (especially when paired with a last name like McCool).


5. Auden, Halley, Remy from Sarah Dessen books - Sarah Dessen not only has a talent for writing wonderful contemporaries, but she also gives her female characters A+ names. I'd definitely name a kid after one of her characters.

6. Lochan from Forbidden - This one is an odd one. I adore this book and this character, but the subject matter is so taboo and heartbreaking that it makes my love for the name feel weird. But I do love the name and I would even consider naming a kid that. Maybe because I'm Scottish -- I'm not sure if Tabitha Suzuma made up the name, but it has a very Scottish vibe to it (if it's pronounced the way us Scots pronounce it -- LOCK-an).

7. Cosima from Orphan Black - Not a book, but there is a graphic novel/comic of the show, so it counts, right? I would love naming a cat Cosima. Or even a character or the middle name for a child. I love the name and love it even more because of the character -- she's nerdy and adorable and vkjlkfjv. If not Cosima, then Cosmic Creepers because of Bedknobs and Broomsticks...because I'm ridiculous. But that's not literary... Okay, I totally cheated with this one, didn't I.


8. Bronte or Alcott - I would absolutely name a cat one of those (I keep saying cat -- I don't actually have any cats, I have a dog, but something about the names just seem like cat names to me? And I would love to get a cat someday).




9. Elphaba from Wicked - It's really the musical I love, but it's based on a book and that book is based on a classic book, so it totally counts. This is another cat one -- I'd totally name a cat Elphaba/Elphie. And the author of the book, Wicked, came up with the name from the initials of The Wizard of Oz author (L. Frank Baum - LFB, el-fuh-ba).

10. Ponyboy or Sodapop from The Outsiders - I would definitely name a pet this. I did try suggesting the names to my best friend for her tortoise but her husband vetoed them (hasn't read the book), but he was named Darwin instead (as in Charles Darwin), which is awesome too. It would be quite ridiculous calling one of those names out for a dog, but I do like the idea of training a dog to respond to "Stay gold, Ponyboy" 

Honorary mention: Winifred/Winnie from Tuck Everlasting. I used to hate that name and it would just make me think of Winnie from Hocus Pocus (lovelovelovelove that movie, but not the best character to be thinking of when you hear a name), but Tuck Everlasting made me love it. I wouldn't inflict it on a child as a first name though, perhaps a middle name. Or a pet name (as in, name for a pet, not - a pet name for a kid).

There's so many other literary names I adore too but these are the first lot that came to mind when I saw the topic. What about you (assuming anyone is reading), what literary names do you like?


Later.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson

Where Am I Now? 
True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame 
by Mara Wilson 


Summary: Mara Wilson has always felt a little young and a little out of place: as the only child on a film set full of adults, the first daughter in a house full of boys, the sole clinically depressed member of the cheerleading squad, a valley girl in New York and a neurotic in California, and one of the few former child actors who has never been in jail or rehab. Tackling everything from how she first learned about sex on the set of Melrose Place, to losing her mother at a young age, to getting her first kiss (or was it kisses?) on a celebrity canoe trip, to not being “cute” enough to make it in Hollywood, these essays tell the story of one young woman’s journey from accidental fame to relative (but happy) obscurity. But they also illuminate a universal struggle: learning to accept yourself, and figuring out who you are and where you belong. 
I really, really loved this book. Both the book itself and as an audiobook. Mara Wilson is an excellent storyteller, and hearing her narrate her own story was a wonderful experience. There's something about people narrating their own biographies -- they get the tone perfect because they know how it should be told, it just adds and extra layer of something that doesn't come across in the text version.

I'm very bad a reviewing biographies. Fiction is easier, because the people and lives aren't real. I can talk about character development and the plot and what/who I liked and didn't like. I can't critique a biography without feeling like I'm an asshole, or feeling weird in the ways I'm judging it because it's real...there's a real person in every line of it, real experiences. But, I'll try:

I'm far from being alone in my adoration of Mara Wilson -- her portrayal of Matilda was such a huge part of my childhood (a part I happily and nostalgically passed onto my niece because its timeless), but in the past few years, I've been a fan of her online presence too. Loved seeing little glimpses of the person she's become since her days as a child star. Online, she comes across as funny, intelligent and just a pretty good person in general.

This book, it fills in the stuff that happened in between her movie days and the person she is now. Tells the bits of her life we didn't get to see back at the height of her fame and stuff that happened after. You'd think it would be hard to relate to someone whose life seemed to be so vastly different from what most of us experience, but it wasn't and I was surprised by how many moments of "omg, me too!" and "yes, that! that's exactly how that felt!" there was in the book. I was surprised by how much of her story was so like my own, particularly the struggles with mental illness and the loss of a parent at a young age.

It reminded me, once again, that *Famous People* were still just that: people. 

While the behind the scenes glimpses we get of her movie days were excellent, my favourite bits of the book were the simple human experiences that we all go through -- the loves and losses and awkward moments, the family stuff, the figuring out what we believe in and the process of finding our place in life and learning to accept ourselves. 

That's the heart of the book and that's what I loved about it (although I did also really love the way she describes what it's like to be a woman, her experiences universal in a lot of ways but amplified because unlike most girls, she was growing up under public scrutiny).

I cried multiple times listening to this (once, almost in the middle of a public park because unfortunately, it got to the heartbreaking bits about Robin Williams mid-walk). But it made me smiled a lot too (probably looking a bit creepy in the process to anyone walking past me).

This book, it wasn't about Mara Wilson, the child actress. It was just Mara, the whole person, not just the little bits and pieces we've seen over the years (well, as whole as you can condense into a biography). Her grief, her anxiety and insecurities, her high points and lows and I have a lot of respect for her for having the courage to share it like this.

I normally struggle to focus on audiobooks. I have a few audiobooks I started listening to last year that I'm still not finished yet... I listened to this one in just two days. It was that good. I'd rate it 5 stars out of 5.

Later.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Book Adaptation Wish List

So...this was actually a tag on booktube, but it got me thinking and seemed like fun so I decided to do a post on it (adding a few more categories myself). 

Basically, there's different categories (e.g. movie, cartoon, musical, etc) and you have to choose a book you'd like to see adapted into that format. If you feel like making a post, link in the comments so I can check it out? I'd love to see other peoples choices. 

I did attempt to stick to just three picks for each one, but that - yeah that didn't happen. 


Movie:


A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini - Done right, this one could be such a beautiful movie. It'd need incredible, authentic actors to get it right (i.e. not whitewashed, as Hollywood tends to do). His other book, The Kite Runner, was made into a movie and it was heartbreaking and lovely, but I think this would be even better. I think a movie actually was in the works but I don't know if anything has come of it.

On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta - This...it could go really wrong. But I think Melina wrote a script for it and her writing is fantastic (and she is good at script writing as well as novels -- her episodes of the show Dance Academy were some of my favourites of the series, before I even knew she was the one that wrote them). Again, movie was in the works but who knows if it'll ever come to fruition. 

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein - This one. I so desperately want this one to be a movie, it'd be so fantastic with the right cast. I hope if it ever does happen they cast someone who is actually Scottish for Julie though -- not many actors can quite pull off our accents.

Stolen by Lucy Christopher - I need a movie adaptation of this one so badly. It's one of those books that, while you're reading, the descriptions of the scenery just make it so easy to picture it as if it were a movie. I think this one was actually in the process of being made (they even cast the dude who was Jason in True Blood, I think?) but then it stalled.

And: Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira, Looking for Alaska by John Green, and Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell - all of these ones could potentially be great with all the right people involved (and the right soundtracks -- especially for LLttD and E&P), but they could also go wrong quite easily. I'd still like to see Hollywood attempt adaptations for them though.

Remake (i.e. one that already has a movie but should be redone):

Ella Enchanted - I love this movie. But...I loved the book too and aside from the basic premise, the two have little in common. The movie went in a more fun, whimsical, lighthearted direction while the book was more serious. I'd quite like to see the story attempted staying more faithful to the tone and plot of the book.

Blood and Chocolate - I liked this movie, it was entertaining enough but like with Ella Enchanted, it had little to do with the book. Even less so than Ella Enchanted actually. Literally all it had in common was character names and the fact that werewolves exist. They changed pretty much everything, even the ending. And in the process, they wrecked was made the story unique and turned it into another generic paranormal romance story. They also trashed one of the most interesting characters and relationships in the book. So yeah...I'd love a remake, done right this time, actually following the plot of the book.

Like Water For Chocolate - I did really like this movie and as far as adaptations go, it's quite good. But it also feels very low budget and dated. I'd love an adaptation made now, just to see what the movie could be with better effects and equipment and a slightly higher budget.

Honourable mentions - Twilight...mostly because I'd like to see the first movie done 1) with a better director (I like Catherine's style of direction in gritty dramas, not so much in paranormal romance), 2) a better lead actress (I like Kristen more in the later movies, but in the first one...no), 3) a better budget and script.

Also: The Lying Game and The Nine Lives of Chloe King. I don't so much wish for them to be remade but I think the shows got cancelled way too quickly and weren't given much of a chance so I'd like them continued. And they were cancelled on cliffhangers (I really loathe studios that do that -- cliffhanger endings should not be allowed if a series is at risk of cancellation). Or Meg Cabots Missing (which also feels quite dated so a remake would be good).

TV Show:

Throne of Glass - I think this one actually IS being made into a TV series and it could be so fantastic if it's done right (by right, I mean if it leans more in a Game of Thrones direction than Shannara Chronicles/Mortal Instruments).

Jennifer Lynn Barnes Natural's series - I'd love this as a TV show and the premise really lends itself to that format. It's about a group of teenagers who have an exceptional aptitude for certain skills that the FBI find useful (lying/detecting lies, profiling, reading peoples emotions, etc). The books have a good cast of characters that would translate well to screen, plots that would work as season arc's and the premise could easily be adapted to have them working on individual cases for episode arcs. 

Or, if not that series, then The Body Finder series by Kimberley Derting - for all of the same reasons. Only this one is about a girl who can sense dead bodies and then the FBI gets involved and there's serial killers and all that... So, again, it would work well as a show.

The Good Girls by Sara Shepard - It has a lot in common with PLL and since that show is wrapping up, this would be a good one to adapt to take its place. Like PLL, it revolves around a group of girls and the web of lies and murder they get caught up in. I liked the characters in this one a lot, and the friendships. 

Mini series:

Illuninae - I'd like to see this one as a Firefly-ish mini-series. I don't think I'd like it condensed too much to fit into a movie or drawn out to make it into a full TV show. Maybe 4-6 episodes.

The Lumatere Chronicles - I'd love this so much as a mini-series. There's too much to fit into a movie while doing justice to the story and characters. Mini-series would also mean they'd be less likely to pull annoying cliff hangers like they do with TV shows.

The Bronze Horseman - This one is actually in the works to become a movie, I think, but they're going to have to cut so much to fit it all in. The book is pretty big, and it's historical fiction so there's a lot of interesting stuff they could fit in about the war and the siege of Leningrad in a mini-series, whereas the movie will probably focus more on the romance because of time restraints.

Cartoon:

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell - I'm not really much of a fan of cartoons. This is literally the only book I could think of that I'd like to see as a cartoon. Maybe because it's kind of cheesy and that would work well in a cartoon but would seem pretty bad in a movie or something. Plus, they wouldn't have to worry about the special effects if it was animated.

Graphic Novel/Comic:

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender - I want a graphic novel adaptation of this one so bad. If they got the right artist (in my head, the people would be drawn realistically but it would have a whimsical quality, like the book does, and would be in pastel-y watercolours). 

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor - Same as above...it's one of those stories with such unusual characters and imagery in the book that it'd be nice to see those drawn out. (I picture this one with a bolder style -- mostly pale/monochrome with pops of the bright colours, like the blue for Karou's hair.)

Nevermore by Kelly Creagh - Again, so many bizarre characters and settings in this so it would work so well as a graphic novel. I'd love seeing it in a darker style, like The Crow, with reds and purples being the only colours.


Play/Musical:

Code Name Verity - I've already mentioned this one on the list and I don't know why, but I think could probably be adapted into a pretty good musical (imagining That Scene near the end as a duet between Julie and Maddie? Glkjdkbjfv!).

Carry On - Again, already mentioned, but it could be a good play (with musical elements). Kind of in the vein of Cursed Child. 

Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins - This could make an interesting musical. More lighthearted than a Code Name Verity one would be, lots of bright colours and upbeat songs and mixes of musical genres and...I dunno, I could totally see it working as a musical. 

Pretty Little Liars - Musical. Not the entire series, obviously, just the first A plot arc, cutting out all the extra story lines they used to drag out the series and the show. Kind of Heathers-ish. Could be really fun. 

And...that's all I've got. I love books being adapted into other forms so much, and sure sometimes they get it really wrong but it's still an interesting process and it's worth it when they get it right. 

Again, let me know if you do your own posts so I can check them out! :)

Later.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Unpopular Opinion: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Note/warning: there will be spoilers in this review because I can't explain my thoughts without them. And the majority of the review is talking about mental illness and suicide.


All the Bright Places
by Jennifer Niven


Summary: 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. 
So... I kind of hated this book. A lot. But I want to make something clear before I get into the why's of that: I don't think it's a bad book, it was just a bad book for me personally. If you love it, that's fine, if your opinion is different to mine, that's fine too -- opinions are subjective. I guess I feel the need to clarify that because I've seen so much high praise for this book.

But... I hated it. And these are the reasons why:

I read a few reviews after reading the book, trying to see if I was alone in the bad reaction I had to it. I stumbled across a couple of reviews that basically said that this isn't a book for kids who have depression, it's for the kids who have friends with depression. And that -- that right there sums up the biggest problem I had with the book.

I've read books with mentally ill characters before, even ones where they do kill themselves. And I've even loved some of those books. But this one was different. It was different because most of those, we read from the perspective of someone other than the person who commits suicide and I think that's actually quite important.

When you write from the perspective of the mentally ill person, especially a fictional story (memoirs are different), it's important to remember hope. To remember that the person reading might be in the same position as your character, and they need hope. And this book didn't do that. There was hope for the one left behind, but not for the one who was suicidal.

It was chapter after chapter of depressive thoughts, page after page after page of suicide ideation, it didn't show any method of someone seeking professional help in a positive light. Then it ends with Finch killing himself. It's a bleak and hopeless ending for him...one that manipulates the emotions of the reader and has people bawling as they read about how sad it all is.

But the saddest part is the people reading and relating to Finch, relating to those suicidal thoughts, and rather than it giving them hope? Rather than the message being "you can survive this" it's closer to validating all of those little voices in their head that they can't shake that tell them there's only one way out.

Had I read this during one of my low points, especially when I was a teen at my lowest, at that time where books were one of the few one of the few hopeful things I had left -- it would've been enough to push me over the edge. That sounds extreme, but when you're in that frame of mind, it's the little things that can set you off and the little things that can keep you going.

And that...that's not on Jennifer Niven. I understand that that is the absolute opposite of her intent in writing this book -- but it's just the truth. My truth at least, and the truth of a lot of mentally ill people that I know and many that I don't.

For someone who is depressed or has been depressed, I would never ever recommend this book to them. Maybe there would be some readers that would find some good in it, but because there's a big chance it could be detrimental, it's not worth the risk to me.

I thought it was a very trope-y portrayal of mental illness (specifically bipolar disorder) and I do think it romanticizes it. And it's not that it contains a romance, it's the way it's written:

Finch's illness is this thing about him that makes him Other, makes him interesting and charismatic and unique (manic pixie dream boy, basically) -- and it's like that in his chapters too, not just Violet's. Then his death reduces him to just this boy whose purpose was to be a plot device in Violet's story...like he was just meant to save her and love her and change her life, then his death was something for her to learn from.

It was like he never got to be more than his mental illness, and his mental illness wasn't handled very well. Which is sad because it's not like he was a badly written character in general, it's just that part (although his pretentiousness was irritating and his "you're not like other girls" attitude about Violet was even worse).

There were other things that bugged me about the book (the characters, both together and apart) but this review is long and negative enough as it is so I won't elaborate on those.

As for positives with the book: it was quite well written. Jennifer Niven is a good writer. My issue was purely with the subject matter and the way it was handled in this. If she ever writes a book that sounds good to me, and doesn't sound harmful or offensive, I'd probably check it out.

The tl;dr version of this is:

People who are suicidal or have been suicidal do not need to read someone else's suicidal thoughts (unless they get to see them come out the other side of it and live and be okay). They don't need to read someone being dismissive of therapy and medication or people calling them a freak. They don't need to the climax of that persons story to be suicide -- especially when the impact their death is shown the way it was here (e.g. the people that bullied that person crying at their funeral, shrines to them set up at school...when you're in a suicidal state of mind, that image wouldn't deter you from acting on your thoughts, if anything it could be encouragement).

People who haven't been suicidal or depressed or had personal experience with mental illness...maybe there's something they could get out of this book. I don't know. But for anyone that has, I don't think it'd be healthy or helpful to read (although people are free to judge for themselves, this is just why I personally wouldn't recommend it to someone mentally ill).

I'd rate the book 1.5 stars out of 5. I actually think I could maybe like the movie adaptation (there is one currently in the works), because the problem was that Finch's POV was included in the book...the story, had we not been stuck in his head half the time, would've been much different for me.

Later.

p.s. and just in case anyone feels the need to point it out to me: yes, I do know the story behind how she got the idea for the book. Does not change my opinion at all -- authorial intent isn't always on the same page as what they actually end up writing or how it's interpreted by readers. Also, it's the reason this review focuses more on Finch rather than Violet.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Ten Books I've Read On Recommendation

Top Ten Tuesday topic this week:


All About Books You Read Because of Recommendation -- Ten Books I've Read Because Of Another  Blogger (Or Book Person) or Ten Books I Read On Recommendation From People Outside Of This Community or you could talk about recommendations of books you read from other sources -- a magazine, a podcast, a "because you read this" algorithm.

I'm going to go with the books I've read on recommendation from other bookish people (authors, writers, people I knew from fan forums, bloggers, etc.). 

Hell, I could have probably just named this post "I blame Julie" and came up with 10 books I've read and loved based on her recommendation (a few years ago, we did a "books my co-blogger forced me to read" challenge and I loved 3 of the 4 she chose for me - so I won't include those ones but if you want to check out what we made each other read, click the link), but I'll try to make my list a bit more varied. So:

(links will take you to goodreads pages)

Ten Books I've Read on Recommendation

1. Hourglass by Myra McEntire - I don't know why I've not read the sequel to this yet, because I loved it. I read it purely on Julie's recommendation because she loved it and raved about it for months (literally) before it was released.

2. Rebel Belle and Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins - These were both Julie rec's (and series I need to finish), and I loved them. They're such fun reads, especially Rebel Belle (and I love the way that one subverts a lot of girl stereotypes and tropes).

3. The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons - I don't remember who exactly recommended this one first. I know it was a booktuber but quite a few booktubers mentioned it round about the same time (it may have been Regan/PeruseProject?). I love this book so much. It's a love story set during the siege of Leningrad (the romance has its issues, but the historical elements and setting are interesting).

4. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel - Rosiana Halse Rojas/missxrojas recommended this one. It's the book that made me realise how much I love magical realism and how much I craved books with more diverse cultures than the ones I had been reading. If you haven't read this one, please do, it's beautiful.

5. Peter and Alice by John Logan - This one is a play and it is so beautifully written. It's a fictionalised account of a real meeting between the real Peter and Alice, who inspired the title characters in Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. This one was recommended by booktuber/author Jen Campbell. Her recommendations are excellent, she always recommends books that make me broaden my horizons and go out of my reading comfort zones.

6. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein - Book bloggers in general recommended this one. People were raving about it when it came out, so I stuck with it to the end even though I found the first half of the book a struggle to get through...and now it's one of my favourite books. I also wanna include Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak here, because it was the same thing with them really (although Fangirl was less of a struggle to get into).

7. Stolen by Lucy Christopher - This was recommended by someone on a livejournal writing community I used to be a member of and I absolutely loved it. We both loved a few of the same books so, even now, she's one of the handful of people whose recommendations I know I can trust because we have similar taste. If she says she loves a book, I know there's a good chance I'll love it too. 

8. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta - I talk all the time about how she's one of my favourite authors and I am so grateful to the girl who introduced me to her books (via this one). There was a girl I used to talk to online back in the early Twilight days and we stayed in sort-of contact even after we both stopped going on the forum, mostly through Deviantart because we were both into writing and art. She was Australian and she posted a picture inspired by the book, titled it after it, and that got us talking about it. *shrug*

9. Eloisa James, and Sarah MacLean, and other regency romance authors - I blame Julie and the same girl who recommended Stolen to me. Their recommendations got me reading and loving regency romance and now I'm addicted.

10. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins - This one was actually recommended by John Green in a video and that's the main reason I picked it up. Not because he was the one recommending it exactly, but because the books had pretty terrible covers...very cliche and bland and I do sometimes judge a book by its cover. But the things he said when he recommended it convinced me there was more too it than the cover made it seem. And he was right. It was wonderfully written, great characters, and I can't think of anything I didn't love about it.

What's the best book you have read on recommendation?

Later.

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