Discussion

Back to School Reading List | Autumn 2017

As I’m writing this, I have one week until I go back to sixth form, and when this post publishes, it’ll be one day (aaaahhh!) I’m sort of dreading starting year 13, especially after a really great summer. I’ve done so many cool things but now I’m preparing to return to a non-existent social life and even more academic pressure than I’ve ever had before.

Sooo, how am I gonna cope with that? BOOKS!

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This blog post is a list of all of the books I hope to read in the (little) free time I have during my first school term.

Disclaimer: I will probably not read all of these books during my first term back. I’m going to be so busy. But the IDEA of reading them is comforting to me, so this post is still valid, right? Without further ado, here’s the five books I’d like to read:

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Haddon Hall: Where David Invented Bowie by Néjib

My dad picked up a copy of this graphic novel, but I had to steal it from him! It’s a portrait of David Bowie’s life, right at the start of his career, documenting his time in Haddon Hall. I’m local to Beckenham and this place Bowie used to live, so I thought it would be a really interesting read. The cover is so vibrant!

Awkward and Definition: The High School Chronicles by Ariel Schrag

I purchased Likewise, another graphic novel by Schrag, before realising I didn’t own the precious books in the series. This graphic novel collects the first two memoirs she wrote, whilst still in high school. I’ve read so many fantastic reviews of this relatable and quirky memoir series, so I’m really eager to start it. And what better time to read it than my last year at school?

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Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

adored Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, the original book and the film. It’s probably one of my all-time favourite YA books. Despite having first read Miss Peregrine’s a while ago, I’ve never gotten around to its sequel. I’m putting this at the top of my TBR pile as I think it’ll be the perfect book for escapism on study breaks.

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Post Truth: The New War on Truth and How to Fight Back by Matthew D’ancona

One of my new resolutions is to read more non-fiction; more specifically about politics and society. It’s hard to stay away from the news in the current political climate, but so-called “fake news” has become so common that it’s difficult to know when and how to respond. I’m hoping to learn a lot from this!

They Can’t Kill Us All by Wesley Lowery

I’ve read so much about Black Lives Matter, but only in small snippets across social media. I’ve wanted to educate myself more about the situation of police brutality in America, so this book has been on my radar for the past few months. The writer is a journalist, who reported on related events over a number of years. This is going to be a very hard-hitting read, but I know it’ll also give me much more insight into an important movement.


 

So, those are the books I’m planning on reading in Autumn! Have you read any? What’s on your own reading list? Leave a comment 🙂

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

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

Book Review: Lost Stars by Lisa Selin Davis

Related posts: Blog Tour: Lisa Selin Davis on the novels that inspired her

Published 16th October 2016 by Hot Key Books.

31328363Goodreads Synopsis: In the aftermath of her older sister’s death, sixteen-year-old Carrie is taken under the wings of her sister’s friends, and finds herself forsaking the science nerds of her former life and slipping into a daze of cheap beer and recreational drugs. Carrie – a talented guitar player and obsessive tracker of the coming Vira comet – is partying hard and fooling around with boys she doesn’t even like, even though she’s desperate for a boyfriend.
Her mother, enveloped by grief at the loss of her eldest child, has retreated to a monastery in the Catskills that requires a vow of silence. With her family splintered apart, Carrie is overcome at times by uncontrollable rages and her father decides to send her to a boot camp for wayward teens. Compounding the shame, and to her horror, she is forced to wear work boots and a hard hat – boy poison.
Then she meets Dean, a fellow musician and refugee from his own dark past. Throughout the summer Carrie learns more about Dean, about her sister’s death, about her own family’s past, and about herself…as well as about the Bee Gees, disco and the difference between wood and sheet-rock screws. Through love, music and her precious comet – and no small help from Lou Reed – Carrie fumbles her way through the complex web of tragedies and misunderstandings, to the heart of who she is and who she wants to be.

My Review: First things first – I read this book at the wrong time. It was a really great story, and I did enjoy it very much, but I stupidly started reading it as my mock exams started. It took me nearly a month to find the time to finish it! So, maybe, I would have loved it even more if I had read the book in one go: it’s definitely a book you can get completely immersed in.

What I loved the most about Lost Stars was the characters. They were so wonderful and real-feeling. They’re still in my head, long after I put the book down. I quite liked Carrie and how complex her character was – the story is centred around her anger issues, and how her mother’s absence has played into it. I did tear up a little at the resolution.

The gang of teenagers Carrie hangs out with were my favourite. I loved how Selin Davis takes the time to explore Soo, who I could’ve read a whole book about! The love story… I didn’t enjoy so much. I don’t know why. Maybe I’m just really cynical.

Another aspect of the book I adored was the setting. Selin Davis’ debut is such a fantastic trip back to a few decades. I love books set in the 70s-90s – the atmosphere is just so great and nostalgic even if I’m a millennial. I loved all of the pop culture references, and the frequent mentions of iconic songs. It just made the book.

I do think I would’ve been able to enjoy Lost Stars even more if I’d read it at a better time, but I also think it has quite a few similarities to books that were already favourites of mine. It seemed very much in the same vein as Perks of Being a Wallflower and Love Letters to the Dead, in terms of the atmosphere and the similar topics of grief. It reminded me of those books a lot in places, but that’s not to say it’s not really original and compelling itself. I’m sure fans of those two books would adore Lost Stars.

Overall, this was a really enjoyable book and quite a fantastic debut novel. Lisa Selin Davis is definitely an author to look out for – I would love to read more from her in the future. Lost Stars intertwines grief, hope and love into a really thought-provoking and poignant story. I’d definitely recommend it to contemporary fans!

My Rating:

three and a half

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

Book Review · Discussion

Book Review and Film Discussion: The Drowning of Arthur Braxton

Today’s post isn’t a conventional review! I was kindly sent a copy of Arthur Braxton, a book I have wanted to read for months, and given that the movie adaptation is out soon (and that this new edition of the book has just published), I thought I would make this review a part-discussion, too!

I’ve been a fan of Luke Cutforth on YouTube for a long time, so when I discovered he was making his first feature film, I was jumping around in excitement. I can’t wait to see it.

Review and Discussion:

Written by Caroline Smailes, published by 4th Estate; adapted into film by Luke Cutforth.

Goodreads Synopsis: Arthur Braxton runs away from school.

He hides out in an abandoned building, an old Edwardian bathhouse.

He discovers a naked woman swimming in the pool.

From this point on, nothing will ever be the same.

My Review: It’s hard to put how I felt about this book into words. It is equal parts strange and wonderful and messed up, but that’s why I liked it.

Reading this book was an incredibly weird experience. Although I enjoyed it, it didn’t instantly blow me away, but it properly hit me after I’d put the book down and began mulling it over. The story, to anyone going in unknowing of the plot, is bizarre, but captivating; teenage Arthur Braxton finds his way into an abandoned bathhouse on a desperate night, and what he finds in there changes his life forever.

I couldn’t like Arthur very much at all, which was sad – but the characters I did adore were the ones that he finds in the swimming pool. Without giving away anything, I’ll say that their stories brought me to tears, and were told in such memorable ways. Lots of people adore Arthur’s character for how brutally honest the representation of his character is, but for me I couldn’t enjoy it too much. I’ll admit that I found it a bit crude in places (even though that is how it’s supposed to be!). Despite being an accurate depiction of a teenager, I just wished he had some qualities I could’ve liked.

I can’t wait to see how the film adaptation presents all of the characters on screen. I’m not sure how accurate they can be (given that there’s a lot of nudity and swearing, and I’m assuming the producers will be aiming for a 12/15 rating) but it’ll be really exciting to see how they appear. The casting looks fantastic so far, and features lots of upcoming talents, so I’m really excited!

The format of the book was really interesting, and not what I had expected! Different characters told their stories in varying styles – parts were in script, parts were conventional storytelling, and a couple of chapters were simply just dialogue. I adored the way in which the plot was told and presented – it felt very refreshing and kept me engaged. I’d love to read more books told in quirky ways like this.

What I also enjoyed about the book was the setting, and how there’s a lot between the lines to read into. Most of the book is set within the Oracle, an abandoned bath house set to be demolished and rebuilt. I envisioned it as a really haunting looking place, but the BTS photos of the set so far are very different – though it looks awesome!

If I am completely honest, I was not blown away by this book whilst reading it – not every aspect appealed to me, and parts were very unsettling. However, I think part of the reason I didn’t fall in love with it was because I wasn’t taking in the mythological aspects of the book – it flew right over my head! I read up on it after reading, and began to appreciate the story much more. There are many layers to this unique story, and it’ll be really interesting to see how Luke, director, translates these from page to screen.

Overall, The Drowning of Arthur Braxton left me in a very weird state after reading. It’s unlike anything I have ever read before; strange, haunting and weirdly wonderful. I’d recommend it to anyone who is looking for a very unconventional story; one that will make you laugh and cry.

I think Luke is the perfect director for this film. By looking at his YouTube channel, anyone might think he’s a strange choice – most of his videos are on the bizarre, funny side – not serious. But I think he’ll bring the brilliant crudeness to the film that the book has; and also, from his directing of various music videos on YouTube in the past, I can tell he’s definitely made for this sort of thing. It will be awesome to see his skills adapting to a much bigger project.

The new edition of this book (cover pictured at the top of this post!) also contains a new introduction written by him – so it’s definitely worth checking that out!

My Rating:

three and a half

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

Book Review

Book Review: Image and Imagination by Nick Healy and Kristen McCurry

Published March 2016 by Curious Fox Books.

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I used to write all of the time – I’ve got notebooks and ‘how to write’ books bursting with stories I wrote when I was younger. Since about year eight or nine, I’ve neglected them – focusing more on school and leaving behind that hobby. When I received this book in the post, I was really intrigued by it, as it seems like a fresh, new and inventive way to kick-start writing ideas.

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As soon as I opened this, I fell in love. Image and Imagination is a book solely full of sentence-long prompts and images to accompany them, nothing more, but that’s what makes it stand out among its market. It’s beautifully presented, with some really inspiring ideas and gorgeous, full-colour photos. (And, as a total font nerd, I spent just as much time squealing over the typography as I did imagining what I was going to write!)

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Although marketed for young adults and teen writers, I’d actually really highly recommend this to anyone looking for an exciting new way to find inspiration. Prompts range from half finished sentences, to quotes, to photos of characters to build profiles of, to encouragements to delve into your personal life and draw inspiration from it. With no boundaries or other guidelines, it’s a lovely and free way to start crafting stories. There’s blank spaces to begin your stories on each page, but lined paper at the back of the book to continue them on, too!

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Overall, I really recommend Image and Imagination to teenagers and adults alike. It’s a great book whether you want to start writing, or if you’re just stuck for ideas and need some stimuli. I’m sure this is a book I’ll make a lot more use of in the future, as it’s so beautiful to look at that I can’t help but want to fill it up with words!

My Rating:

five

I received a copy of Image and Imagination form the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.