Book Review

Book Review: Strange Alchemy by Gwenda Bond

Published August 1st 2017 by Switch Press.

34145337Goodreads Synopsis: On Roanoke Island, the legend of the Lost Colony—and the 114 colonists who vanished without a trace more than four hundred years ago—still haunts the town. But that’s just a story told for the tourists.

When 114 people suddenly disappear from the island in present day, it seems history is repeating itself—and an unlikely pair of seventeen-year-olds might be the only hope of bringing the missing back. Miranda Blackwood, a member of one of island’s most infamous families, and Grant Rawling, the sherrif’s son, who has demons and secrets of his own, find themselves at the center of the mystery.

As the unlikely pair works to uncover the secrets of the new Lost Colony, they must dodge everyone from the authorities to long-dead alchemists as they race against time to save their family and friends before they too are gone for good.

My Review: I didn’t have much knowledge of this book when it arrived in the post, or when I started reading! So it was only when I put this blog post together that I discovered this is actually a new version of Bond’s first book, Blackwood, which was published by Strange Chemistry (RIP, you brilliant company). If you hadn’t heard of Blackwood, I’d really recommend checking out new version now.

The set up for the story was really engaging, exploring Miranda’s unconventional life as a theatre worker and member of the most hated family on the island. The theatre Miranda works at tells the story of the ‘lost colony’ of the island from centuries ago – and when history begins to repeat itself, Miranda finds herself at the centre of the mystery.

Dual narratives can either make or break a book for me – I either love them or hate them! In this case, it was a really great way of telling the story. Chapter narration switches between Miranda and Grant, a misfit teenager who returns to the island to try and hear the spirits. For the most part, I enjoyed their dynamic; two outcast teenagers, newly reunited, on a mission to save the residents of the island. [spoiler, highlight to read – I didn’t really like the slow-burn romance between the two, it felt a little forced and obvious… but I still enjoyed the book overall]

Miranda was a really likeable protagonist! Though a typical outcast-teenager character, it felt refreshing to read about her. Bond takes a lot of time to delve into her family history, which intertwines with the mystery of the island, and I adored that. The character of Grant didn’t stand out to me as much, but I really enjoyed his narration too.

I have to admit that the plot lost me a little, about two thirds in. I didn’t quite understand how the 114 disappeared and later events unfolded. It became a little complex for me; I definitely enjoyed reading the initial mystery more. I couldn’t quite get my head around some parts, but nevertheless the book still gripped me and I carried on reading. Bond takes fascinating elements of real history, and blends it with fantastical imagination to create a really inventive story.

Overall, I would certainly recommend Strange Alchemy if you love a mystery! It’s inventive and gripping. Bond has re-imagined history to create an even more eerie story, and it’s fantastic.

My Rating:

three

I received a copy of Strange Alchemy from the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

Book Review

Book Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

I’m very late to the party with this one: Cinder is big, has its own fandom, and has been out for a while. But it’s never too late to fall in love with an awesome book, right?

Published 2012 by Puffin Books.

11235712Goodreads Synopsis: A forbidden romance. A deadly plague. Earth’s fate hinges on one girl . . .
CINDER, a gifted mechanic in New Beijing, is also a cyborg. She’s reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s sudden illness. But when her life becomes entwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she finds herself at the centre of a violent struggle between the desires of an evil queen – and a dangerous temptation.
Cinder is caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal. Now she must uncover secrets about her mysterious past in order to protect Earth’s future.
This is not the fairytale you remember. But it’s one you won’t forget.

My Review: Normally, I give it a couple of days between finishing a book and writing a review, but it’s been mere few hours and I JUST WANT TO TALK ABOUT THIS BOOK. I’ve owned a copy of Cinder for so long that I can’t remember where I got it from – it’s certainly been on my TBR pile for too long. I wish I’d read it sooner!

After being in a reading slump for, well, months really, I decided I needed something a bit different to read. This totally cured said reading slump – I read the whole thing in a day. I was completely hooked on the story. Meyer is a fantastic writer, and this concept is really incredible.

If Cinder isn’t on your radar, here’s the basics: it’s a re-imagining of Cinderella, where Cinder is a cyborg mechanic in New Beijing, a city hundreds of years in the future. A plague is sweeping this future Earth, and Cinder discovers she has an important part to play in scientific research, but this sudden shift in Cinder’s life is a huge risk.

I was worried that the concept would be a bit cheesy and disjointed – how do you work the classic elements of the Cinderella tale into a story about a future with cyborgs? But, wow, it really worked. I was totally absorbed in the story, perhaps more so than any other book I’ve read this year. It’s richly imaginative and I’m envious of Meyer’s storytelling capabilities. The imagery was so vivid to me; every scene played out like an epic film in my head.

Cinder was a really interesting character. Her back story was woven into the story really well, and I felt for her throughout the book. She was so three-dimensional to me. The re-imagining of the classic Cinderella character is so clever, yet Meyer doesn’t rely on the fairy tale. Instead, her protagonist is full of individuality. The only thing that did irk me was her often overly sarcastic dialogue. I couldn’t work out her intentions in some chapters! But I really enjoyed reading about her all the same.

Overall, Cinder was fantastic. It’s definitely one of the best fantasies I’ve read in a long time. If you haven’t read this, I definitely recommend you do! Cinder is richly imaginative and gripping and hard to put down. I wanted to read the next instalment immediately after I turned the last page (luckily, my copy has just arrived… brb while I go binge-read this).

My Rating:

four and a half

I purchased a copy of Cinder.

Book Review

Graphic Novel Review: The One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg

Published October 11th 2016 by Vintage Books.

28433627Goodreads Synopsis: In the Empire of Migdal Bavel, Cherry is married to Jerome, a wicked man who makes a diabolical wager with his friend Manfred: if Manfred can seduce Cherry in one hundred nights, he can have his castle–and Cherry.
But what Jerome doesn’t know is that Cherry is in love with her maid Hero. The two women hatch a plan: Hero, a member of the League of Secret Story Tellers, will distract Manfred by regaling him with a mesmerizing tale each night for 100 nights, keeping him at bay.

My Review: I have no idea why I didn’t get around to reading this sooner. I adored Greenberg’s debut, The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, and this second graphic novel is set in the same world.

I decided not to read too much about the events of the book, so I could be surprised – and I pleasantly was! The One Hundred Nights of Hero explores a relationship between two women, one of whom, Cherry, is forced to prove her ‘purity’ to a wicked man. Hero guards Cherry, keeping the man at bay using secret stories every night.

I fell in love from the protagonists from the start; I want to read more about Hero and Cherry! I also unexpectedly found myself totally absorbed in the lives of minor characters from the short stories. Part four, a fantastical romance about the moon, was so moving to me. What I also loved about the story was the witty dialogue. Honestly, it’s just brilliant.

All of the stories Hero tells are cleverly interlinked and juxtaposed with the plot of the two protagonists. I absolutely adored the structure, weaving in and out of tales and Hero and Cherry’s nights. The overarching theme is about the power of storytelling for women – and it’s so beautifully done! This is a fantastically feminist take on classic fairy tales and stories.

This is set in the same world of Early Earth as Greenberg’s debut. Again, the world-building is impeccable. I’ve fallen head over heels for this setting: it’s so unlike anything I’ve read before, and reads like an instant classic. Greenberg’s artwork compliments the story beautifully, from the gorgeous layouts to the use of colour. She has such a unique style and I really love it! Enchanting is probably the best word to describe this book – everything is just so mesmerising. Greenberg’s world of Early Earth is on par with Gaiman and Pullman.

Overall, I would recommend The One Hundred Nights of Hero without a doubt. From its feminist themes, to its gorgeous artwork and captivating short stories – there’s something in here for everyone to admire. This graphic novel has cemented my love for Isabel Greenberg and I’m so excited to read more from her.

My Rating:

I received a copy of The One Hundred Nights of Hero. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

Book Review

Book Review: Girlhood by Cat Clarke

Published May 4th 2017 by Quercus.

26224552Goodreads Synopsis: Harper has tried to forget the past and fit in at expensive boarding school Duncraggan Academy. Her new group of friends are tight; the kind of girls who Harper knows have her back. But Harper can’t escape the guilt of her twin sister’s Jenna’s death, and her own part in it – and she knows no one else will ever really understand.
But new girl Kirsty seems to get Harper in ways she never expected. She has lost a sister too. Harper finally feels secure. She finally feels…loved. As if she can grow beyond the person she was when Jenna died.
Then Kirsty’s behaviour becomes more erratic. Why is her life a perfect mirror of Harper’s? And why is she so obsessed with Harper’s lost sister? Soon, Harper’s closeness with Kirsty begins to threaten her other relationships, and her own sense of identity.
How can Harper get back to the person she wants to be, and to the girls who mean the most to her?

My Review: I first heard about Girlhood at YALC last year, so I’ve been really excited about getting a copy for a while. Cat Clarke’s last three books were incredible, so I had high hopes for this one.

Girlhood takes place at a Scottish boarding school, where Harper has spent the time since her twin sister died. When a new girl joins Harper’s tightly knit group of friends, and seems to feel the same way as Harper, the group’s friendship is put to the test as dark secrets surface.

I really liked the set-up for the book. I haven’t read many books set in a boarding school and I feel like it set a really fitting tone for the story, isolating the girls so the main focus is on their relationship dynamics. It definitely added an eerie atmosphere to the story.

One of my favourite things about Girlhood is that the friendship group was refreshingly diverse. Hell yes for a bisexual protagonist! And a gay roommate! And a friendship group that isn’t all white! I think the characters all had a really interesting dynamic too. I wish that some had been explored further, such as Ama, but the story was still really engaging and I loved the protagonists and their chemistry.

I feel this book was quite different from Clarke’s previous ones, as it felt less suspenseful to me – but it was still an incredibly riveting read. I ended up devouring it in a day, pretty much in one sitting, because I was so eager to understand why Kirsty’s actions were obsessively mirrored Harper’s. I did predict part of the truth revealed at the end, but it was still such an engrossing story.

Overall, Girlhood is another exciting book from Cat Clarke that I definitely recommend reading. It’s a really captivating read, that had me intrigued form start to finish. It explores so many different themes, from family death to the complications of friendships when you’re a teenager. I feel like it’s quite different from some of Cat Clarke’s books, like Undone, but it’s still a fantastic read.

My Rating:

I received a copy of Girlhood from the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

Book Review

Zine Review: Do What You Want

Published April 2017, edited and curated by Leah Pritchard and Ruby Tandoh.

35026501Cover blurb: Do what You Want is a one-off magazine, curated and edited by food writer Ruby Tandoh and her partner Leah Pritchard. Focusing on mental health and illness, it features an interview with actress Mara Wilson; writing from New York Magazine’s advice columnist Heather Havrilesky (Ask Polly); recipes from food writers Diana Henry, Meera Sodha and Bee Wilson; and an exclusive Q&A with Sara Quin of Tegan and Sara.

With essays, comics and poems by contributors from all walks of life, Do What You Want shows that mental wellbeing is for everyone. This is a project in aid of mental health charities and not-for-profit organisations. All profits will be split between Mind, Beat, Centre of Mental Health and more.

My Review: As soon as I’d heard about this zine, I knew I needed to order a copy! I’ve love Ruby Tandoh. So to hear she was curating a zine about mental health with her girlfriend Leah (now fiancees – congrats you guys omg), I was over the moon. As a Tegan and Sara obsessive, my excitement was undoubtedly furthered by the announcement that the zine would include an interview with Sara Quin!

Do What You Want covers a huge variety of mental health issues, from eating disorders to anxiety, depression and the intersectionality of mental health with aspects of identity such as being queer. I adored how broad this zine was, as it’s so eye-opening to read accounts from a variety of people from different backgrounds. I’m sure that many people who read this will find something to relate to, as well as come away from it having learned something valuable. It’s rare to see so many diverse, honest stories in one place like this; that’s what makes the zine so special.

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Every contribution is presented absolutely beautifully, whether it’s a personal story, report on statistics and services or a recipe. Presentation ranges from vibrant comics and portraits, to gorgeous illustrations accompanying heartfelt essays, interviews and first person accounts. I took my time reading this to admire all of the work that’s gone into making this book so visually exciting. The uplifting, wonderful artwork perfectly accompanies some incredibly hard-hitting topics.

I started reading Do What You Want during exam season, and that proved it to be the perfect read to dip in and out of. This zine is a wonderful read whether you’re leafing through a passage or two a night, or reading the entire thing in a day.

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As I was about halfway through, I did notice there were significantly more female contributors than male ones. It is fantastic to see so many talented female artists and writers in one place. However, I did want to see more representation of men’s experiences of mental health, after reading around the topic previously, and being aware of some shocking statistics. This is still a teeny tiny problem for me with the zine, but it definitely was addressed really well through a couple of contributions such as George Almond’s portrayal of toxic masculinity in a moving account of his family.

Overall, I am so, so impressed with Do What You Want; it’s the kind of book you want to shout about from the rooftops and demand everyone reads. not only is it an amazing resource on mental health information; it’s also a beautiful collection of art and writing, and has raised a lot of money for various charities. This is definitely up there in one of my favourite reads of all time. After selling out its initial 4000 prints, the zine is going into a reprint, so you can still order a physical copy now, or get the ebook if you’d like it sooner!

My Rating:

four and a half

 

Book Review

Book Review: Release by Patrick Ness

Published 4th May 2017 by Walker Books.

31194576Goodreads Synopsis: Inspired by Mrs Dalloway and Judy Blume’s Forever, Release is one day in the life of Adam Thorn, 17. It’s a big day. Things go wrong. It’s intense, and all the while, weirdness approaches…
Adam Thorn is having what will turn out to be the most unsettling, difficult day of his life, with relationships fracturing, a harrowing incident at work, and a showdown between this gay teen and his preacher father that changes everything. It’s a day of confrontation, running, sex, love, heartbreak, and maybe, just maybe, hope. He won’t come out of it unchanged. And all the while, lurking at the edges of the story, something extraordinary and unsettling is on a collision course.

My Review: Coincidentally Mrs Dalloway was near the top of my to-read pile, when I was offered this, inspired by Virginia Woolf’s book! I’m definitely going to have to go back and read it now, as I’d love to compare this contemporary re-imagining properly.

This story follows Adam, through an incredibly eventful single day, as secrets come to light and Adam navigates the complexity of losing people close to him. I’ve never read a book with such a short time span, and I found it really refreshing. It was compelling and addictive; I was completely swept up in this pivotal day in Adam’s life, reluctant to put the book down.

Alongside Adam’s story, another narrative follows the ghost of a girl recently murdered nearby. It was such a bizarre and haunting twist to the story. One that didn’t hugely make sense to me at times, but undoubtedly gave me chills. I think I need to actually reread Release and take it all in again, as the second narration and ambiguous ending has definitely stayed with me but I don’t quite know why. I finished this feeling like I missed something; maybe that’s because I read it in such a short space of time. Even if it’s only set over a few hours, it’s a book to spend time with to pick up everything.

I absolutely adored this book for the multitude of themes it discusses. The protagonist is living in a deeply religious family that won’t eventually accept him, whilst he’s navigating a complex love life, as a boy he loved is leaving the town. There’s so much more on top of that; I love how well everything is explored. It’s brutally honest about some terrifying stuff.

Patrick Ness’s books are always so unique and remarkable, and I consistently adore his characters. Again, in Release, I became so attached to Adam (and Angela) while I read. They’re incredibly memorable characters. I keep talking about the time frame of this book BUT  I think it’s incredible how in-depth the characterisation is, and how every small part of the story is explored, despite it only being based in one day. From Adam’s family religion to his friendship with Angela; everything is so memorable. It’s really stayed with me.

Overall, I would definitely recommend Release. It was inventive and unique, with some truly memorable characters and events. I really connected with the main narrative, and found the ghost story line very haunting, but I feel like I didn’t take it in properly; it felt like a story of its own. I would really like to give this another try though and enjoy it more!

 My Rating:

I received a copy of Release from the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

Book Review

Book Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I’ve seen so many articles, tweets, Tumblr posts about acts of police brutality against African Americans in the US, I’ve lost count of the amount of names I’ve seen listed. It’s upsetting. It’s horrible. It shouldn’t be happening. And it’s difficult to raise awareness about it, beyond sharing something on social media – so I really want to share this book as widely as I can.

Published 6th April 2017 by Walker Books UK. 

32613366Goodreads Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl’s struggle for justice.


My Review: I was so eager to read this, from the minute I learned what it was about. The Hate U Give is focused on Starr, a girl my age, who is in the car with her childhood friend when he’s killed by a police officer who had no reason at all to shoot. Grieving Starr is thrown into the most difficult situation, where she has to decide whether to stay silent or to speak out, even if it puts her life at risk.

What happens to Starr’s friend, Khalil, is frighteningly similar to so many deaths I’ve read about – and it’s frightening to think that this happens regularly. It really opened my eyes to the situation of prejudice and racism in America, as before I was aware but not aware enough, as most people sadly are.

The story is heartbreaking, and might be difficult for some to read as it touches on so many relevant themes today – but that’s why this book has to be read. It’s unflinchingly powerful and brave.

The narrative is compelling, and I grew to really love Starr throughout the novel – it’s told in her very realistic voice. She’s torn between what to do, because remaining silent about what she witnessed and raising her voice. She’s also torn between two different ‘lives’ she’s living: her hometown and the mostly-white populated private school she attends. Starr lives with so much internal conflict, and I really empathised with her because I can imagine so many people are in the same situations.

I became really attached to Starr’s family, and Thomas writes so much detail into each character that I can’t stop thinking about them. Starr’s father is one particularly well developed, unforgettable character – an ex-convict who found his way out of gang culture, determined to protect his children and also build up his life with the store he now owns. There’s something about all of the characters that’s incredibly inspiring – their stories stay with you for a long time.

The best thing about The Hate U Give is how unapologetic and real it is. I’m really excited to see how it translates into a visual story, too! The movie rights have been sold, with Amandla Stenberg to star – which is the most incredible news. I really hope this book, and a movie in the future, helps to raise awareness. Not only is this a captivating story – it’s a powerful and unforgettable message about an ongoing issue.

Overall, I obviously recommend The Hate U Give to everyone, especially if you’re not very informed on current events in America and the Black Lives Matter Movement. It’s the most memorable and moving book you’ll read this year.

My Rating:

four and a half

I received a copy of The Hate U Give from the publisher, via Lovereading4kids, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.