Monday, 24 October 2016

Last Week's Shenanigans (17th October - 23rd October)...

Phew! What a week! It's been a bit of a mixed bag for me, mostly filled with work and the latter half tainted by a rather nasty cold. Autumn is well and truly here and thanks to that, a large portion of the people I know have fallen ill. Still, it's not been a terrible week and I'm feeling a lot better now. Monday was a lovely, relaxed day off with only a few chores to do and plenty of time to get on with other things. I also had the penultimate date for my management course which was a lot of fun and finished early, meaning I had a lot of Thursday afternoon to myself.

On Sunday, my official day off, I was unfortunately suffering the worst phase of that cold I mentioned before. I had to go to a training session that morning which was annoying because I hadn't slept very well the night before. Mat's family also came to visit, and we went for a very quick pub lunch before heading back to the flat for a catch up and hot drink. Mat and I have been watching a lot of Luke Cage on Netflix and are thoroughly enjoying the series. We're just over halfway through now, and it's getting so good. I hope it continues this way!

I Read...

I Received...

- 'The Loney' by Andrew Michael Hurley: Bought on Amazon (19/10/16)
- 'Bazaar Of Bad Dreams' by Stephen King: Bought on Amazon (19/10/16)
- 'A God In Ruins' by Kate Atkinson: Bought On Amazon (19/10/16)

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Book Review: If I Fall, If I Die; Michael Christie.

I know I said that October was for scary reads, but in a way this was. There were no ghosts or monsters to be found here, but this book predominantly focused on the subject of fear and so it worked for me. It took me a while to read, but I really did like it a lot! Also I'll be entering this into the monthly 'Key Word' challenge.

SOURCE: Netgalley
TYPE: E-Read

TITLE: If I Fall, If I Die
AUTHOR: Michael Christie
PUBLISHER: Cornerstone Digital
PAGES: 337
GENRE: Young Adult, Contemporary, Mystery

RATING: 4.5/5 Stars

Will has never been to the outside, at least not since he can remember. 

And he has certainly never got to know anyone other than his mother, a fiercely loving yet wildly eccentric agoraphobe who drowns in panic at the thought of opening the front door. Their little world comprises only the rooms in their home, each named for various exotic locales and filled with Will's art projects. But soon the confines of his world close in on him. 

Despite his mother's protests, Will ventures outside clad in a protective helmet and braces himself for danger. He eventually meets and befriends Jonah, a quiet boy who introduces him to skateboarding.

Will welcomes his new world with enthusiasm, his fears fading and his body hardening with each new bump, scrape and fall. But life quickly gets complicated. When a local boy goes missing, Will and Jonah want to uncover what happened. They embark on an extraordinary adventure that pulls Will far from the confines of his closed-off world and into the throes of early adulthood and the dangers that everyday life offers.

What I Liked:
  • The characterisation, without a shadow of a doubt, was the best part of this book. Both Will and his Mother, particularly for me, felt very relateable as characters. Will was a growing teenage by, clearly growing frustrated with his Mother as he fought for independence from her. But also his Mother's anxiety was a feeling I could relate to. I'm not agoraphobic, but her 'black lagoons' and desperation to rid herself of anxious feeling. Jonah and Angela were great side characters too and I really loved the diverse cast in this book.
  • Michael Christie's writing was just wonderful. So quotable and I found that it read really well too. I loved that this book focused on so many themes: fear, mental illness, coming of age, friendship, and even touches upon small-town community prejudice/racism & terminal illness. All great themes to read about and combined they made for a wonderful YA read.
What I Disliked:
  • Some of the plot points felt a little too out there for my liking, especially in the second half of the book, which felt very different from the first. The 'Titus' plot twist for one, and even some of the story regarding Butler and other villains in the book. While the second half of the book was an interesting mystery in itself, it felt very segregated from the first half and the ending seemed to diminish some of the characterisation that Christie had worked so hard to achieve.
Overall Conclusion:
This was a really good book. It took me a while to get through but I enjoyed it thoroughly, thanks mostly to the wonderful writing and amazing character work. I was a little disappointed that Christie decided to go down a different path in the latter half of the book, I can see that it provided a direction to conclude in, which I think might not have happened in a satisfying way were it not for the extra mysteries revealed.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Last Week's Shenanigans (10th October - 16th October)...

This week, for me, has probably been one of the most stressful I've had in a while. It hasn't all been bad, but so much has been happening that I've ended up feeling very overwhelmed and drained by the end of it. This is mostly down to work and if you put that aside I've actually had two lovely days off. Firstly Monday, I went back to Ashford in order to visit family and take care of an appointment back at home. I spent a large portion of the day with my sister which was lovely, and we went into Town in order to start our Christmas shopping. As usual, I ended up buying absolutely nothing present-wise, but things for me instead!

After my rather exhausting week at work, I was glad to have another day off on Sunday. I did a few chores in the morning before heading off to Tash and Meg's in the afternoon in preparation for our pre-arranged dinner at theirs. My walk to their flat was eventful due to the terrible rain and upon finally arriving we didn't end up catching up with Season 6 of 'Once Upon A Time' as we thought we would, but instead chatted and ate cookies. Mat came later after he finished work and we stayed pretty late into the night. It's been a long time since the five of us did something like that together since moving out, so it was a lot of fun!

I Read...

I Received...

- 'Uprooted' by Naomi Novik: Bought in Waterstones (10/08/16)
- 'We Should All Be Feminists' by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Bought in Waterstones (10/08/16)
- 'A Girl Called Owl' by Amy Wilson: Approved by Netgalley (12/10/16)
- 'Heartless' by Marissa Meyer: ARC sent by Pan Macmillan (15/10/16)
- 'A Quiet Kind Of Thunder' by Sara Barnard: ARC sent by Pan Macmillan (15/10/16)

Friday, 14 October 2016

Book Review: As I Descended; Robin Talley.

I'm trying to remember if I've ever read a modern re-telling of any of Shakespeare's plays, and I feel like while some books may be loosely based around famous ones such as 'Romeo & Juliet', the Shakespeare retelling count is surprisingly low. I've certainly never read a book based on 'Macbeth', which is a real shame as it's one one of my favourites of his works. I was so glad to get hold of a copy of this book and can't wait to review it! Also, I'm entering this into the Monthly Motif challenge!

SOURCE: Netgalley
TYPE: E-Read

TITLE: As I Descended
AUTHOR: Robin Talley
PAGES: 384
GENRE: Retelling, Contemporary, Horror, LGBT, Young Adult

RATING: 3.5/5 Stars

Maria Lyon and Lily Boiten are their school’s ultimate power couple—even if no one knows it but them.

Only one thing stands between them and their perfect future: campus superstar Delilah Dufrey. Golden child Delilah is a legend at the exclusive Acheron Academy, and the presumptive winner of the distinguished Cawdor Kingsley Prize. She runs the school, and if she chose, she could blow up Maria and Lily’s whole world with a pointed look, or a carefully placed word.

But what Delilah doesn’t know is that Lily and Maria are willing to do anything—absolutely anything—to make their dreams come true. And the first step is unseating Delilah for the Kingsley Prize. The full scholarship, awarded to Maria, will lock in her attendance at Stanford―and four more years in a shared dorm room with Lily.

Maria and Lily will stop at nothing to ensure their victory—including harnessing the dark power long rumoured to be present on the former plantation that houses their school. But when feuds turn to fatalities, and madness begins to blur the distinction between what’s real and what is imagined, the girls must decide where they draw the line.

What I Liked:
  • This book did a really good job with the 'Macbeth' references. In most ways it wasn't subtle, as for one it was easy to spot who each character represented - Maria being Macbeth, Lily as Lady Macbeth, Brandon as Banquo etc. Using the same first letter might not be in any way 'clever' but I still thought it was pretty cool. The supernatural elements remained in the book, though instead of witches there were ghosts who manipulated the students throughout until they drove themselves mad. Some of the references were oblique and I liked those even more. References to the Siwards, daggers, blood, and all sorts made it here. I enjoyed picking out parts of the story and saying 'I get that reference!'.
  • The diversity in this book was incredible. Being set in a boarding school, I genuinely felt that this was going to be a book about white, privileged kids battling to the top with a bit of LGBT thrown in. But Talley developed everything in a very impressive way: culture and ethnicity actually played a huge part in the plot. The main character was a bisexual, Latina girl which is groundbeaking (of course it shouldn't be, but it is). Mateo, the Macduff of the book, also really impressed me in this book and it made the plot of Macbeth feel more relevant and modern.
What I Disliked:
  • I had to give this book a lower rating because while the premise really had me invested, the writing was a little on the shaky side and sadly the constant jumping around of POVs left me feeling like I was stumbling around in the dark with this one. Plot events didn't receive enough focus and in turn it meant that I felt that everything was a bit rushed, as if Talley was desperate to get to the conclusion.
  • Characterisation was not completely up to scratch either. While I felt there was some complexity there, Talley preferred to tell me about everyone's personality rather than show me. Not only that, but as we jumped straight into the ghostly action it felt like I wasn't given an opportunity to see how they changed as the spirits messed with their minds and lives. Mateo was my favourite character as I said before, mostly because he remained the most consistent from start to finish.
Overall Conclusion:
This was not a bad book. In fact, I quite enjoyed it and it was definitely the perfect read for October as it had so many spooky moments to creep readers out. I loved the diversity, the originality despite the fact that it's a retelling and the way that 'Macbeth' was weaved throughout the pages in a fresh, modern way. It's setting, world-building and plot were really given a lot of thought. For me, it just lost it's way when it came to the pacing and way that the story was told. POV hopping became a little confusing and I wish that I had got to see the characters before the ghosts got to them, so I could have learned about them through actions instead of what I'm told they used to be like.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Last Week's Shenanigans (3rd October - 9th October)...

This week was a little different to usual because I ended up helping out at another store for work, so my hours changed slightly. Instead of working on Tuesday, I worked Monday and had Tuesday off! Mat and I decided to actually do something with the day so we took a bus to Ilford and went to the Cinema to watch 'The Magnificent Seven', which was a really good film! Chris Pratt and Denzel Washington were certainly the stars of the show, but I really enjoyed the performances from the whole cast. After, a cheeky trip to Nandos provided a wonderful end to a lovely day.

Of course I worked for most of the week as usual but still had a lovely week. My trips to the other store meant I got to spend a little time in Kensington, and Mat and I took a lot of time out to try and make our flat seem more cheerful so I bought flowers, water beads and some little tea-lights. It's getting colder in England too so we lit candles, which was nice. I'm so glad that October is here, because there's something about Halloween that makes me really excited! We've been watching a few different TV Series too in an attempt to catch-up with the rest of the world. We're currently working our way through Season 2 of Agents Of SHIELD, Season 1 of Luke Cage (which is AMAZING) and of course, Pokemon!

I Read...

I Received...

- 'Saint Death' by Marcus Sedgwick: Approved by Netgalley (04/08/16)


Top Ten Tuesday: Favourite Villains

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Book Review: China Dolls; Lisa See.

I kept promising that I would get round to reading more of my First Reads wins that ended up being shelved from so long ago, and now I'm making good on that promise starting from now. Technically I was hoping to read this book last month and never got to round to it. I'm sad it took me so long to trust that I would enjoy this book though, because I liked it a lot, though it took me a while to decide what to rate it.

SOURCE: Goodreads Giveaway
TYPE: Paperback

TITLE: China Dolls
AUTHOR: Lisa See
PUBLISHER: Bloomsbury
PAGES: 378
GENRE: Adult, Historical Fiction, Asian Literature

RATING: 4/5 Stars

In 1938, Ruby, Helen and Grace, three girls from very different backgrounds, find themselves competing at the same audition for showgirl roles at San Francisco's exclusive ‘Oriental’ nightclub, the Forbidden City. Grace, an American born Chinese girl has fled the Midwest and an abusive father. Helen is from a Chinese family who have deep roots in San Francisco’s Chinatown. And, as both her friends know, Ruby is Japanese passing as Chinese. 

At times their differences are pronounced, but the girls grow to depend on one another in order to fulfil their individual dreams. Then the Japanese attack Pearl Harbour and everything changes in a heartbeat. Suddenly the government is sending innocent Japanese to internment camps under suspicion, and Ruby is one of them. But which of her friends betrayed her?

What I Liked:
  • Lisa See's world-building was very impressive, and it's clear that she has a lot of natural ability when it comes to building and researching a setting. I loved that it was a world that was easy to become sucked into, yet was filled with the kind of detail that most books don't delve into too deeply. For me, world-building is especially important in Historical Fiction and yet I like the books to be relateable or comparable to modern times in some way. It definitely was in this book and there was a lot of political, historical and social context/commentary to enjoy.
  • The fact that I enjoyed this book is pretty impressive in itself, as American History is not normally something I particularly enjoy reading. I've also not read a lot of Asian literature, or books with Asian protagonists so I wasn't sure that the book would be my cup of tea. I was so relieved when I found myself hooked pretty much from the start. See's writing is actually very good, easy to read and immersive. I liked it a lot!
What I Disliked:
  • The characters, while complex and multi-faceted, were not necessarily likeable. Grace and Ruby's toxic niceties that covered up a very burning jealousy of each other was fairly tiring to read at times, especially as they acted the complete opposite to what they were thinking and their decisions to do so (a) didn't make sense and (b) didn't match their personalities, particularly in Ruby's case. Helen I liked at first, and then I later found that I didn't understand her at all, which was sad. Side characters such as Joe, Monroe and Eddie were, I think, supposed to be likeable. I didn't.
Overall Conclusion:
I really thought this was an impressive read that I enjoyed and reflected upon, even when I wasn't reading. It lead to a lot of interesting discussions with Mat about the history of which I knew very little about. I liked it's American setting and the facts that See chose to include in this novel in order to build an impressive and believable picture of San Francisco's China Town among other places. It also captured both the bitchiness and camaraderie found in Show Business and that kind of feeling is timeless. I just wish that the characters had been a little more consistent in their thoughts and feelings and tha I had liked them more.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: My picks for 'Favourite Villains'.

I actually did this topic a fair while back, close to the beginning of my blogging journey in fact in a REWIND freebie! My choices back then were from a lot of my older, pre-blog reads so it will be interesting to try and pick ten new ones now that I have almost three years of reading to choose from! I much prefer to read about villains than heroes in a lot of cases because I usually find them the most interesting.

1) Lucia from the 'Waterfire Saga' by Jennifer Donnelly.

The third book of this series was a fairly recent read of mine, but after a pretty good build-up in Books 1 & 2, the third book really added a lot of depth to Lucia's character and villainy. She isn't just a vain, spoilt, selfish person. She has a tough past coupled with a touch of insanity that's making her desperate to get what she wants.

2) The Darkling from 'The Grisha Trilogy' by Leigh Bardugo.

I can imagine this one' going to be on a few lists. The Darkling is such a good villain and one of the things I really loved about book one and even two (despite his very small presence there). I haven't read the last book in the series but I really look forward to seeing what Bardugo does with his character in the end! He's seductive, creepy and generally everything I love about a villain, complete with complicated backstory. 

3) President Snow from 'The Hunger Games Trilogy' by Suzanne Collins.

Who doesn't hate President Snow? I saw Donald Sutherland's fantastic depiction of him in the movies before I read the books, but I found him to be the same in both: cold, calculating and eerily reminiscent of powerful men that rule today. I love his little motifs and the way that he inspires both fear, and then forces bravery into those that oppose him. 

4) Cersei Lannister from  'A Song Of Ice & Fire' Series by George R.R. Martin.

Okay, I'm guilty when I say I'm referring to the TV show as well as the books with this one, but oh my goodness, is Cersei Lannister not an obvious choice. Her descent into madness and villainy is slow, but terrifying. Sure, Littlefinger's influence, the White Walker's power and the Mountain's barbaric violence are also horrible but there's something about the way Cersei does things that just puts her at the top of the list for me. She's ambitious, she's making the most of her position as a woman, and she'll stop at nothing to get what she wants.

5) Queen Levana from 'The Lunar Chronicles' by Marissa Meyer.

She's similar to Cersei in a way, but I love this character for a totally different reason. She represents the classic Fairy Tale style of evil. Obsessed with appearances and desperate to be loved, even if it's in the wrong way, Meyer did such a good job with er and really impressed me by managing to add more depth in every book. Her cohorts were impressive in their own way too but Levana was definitely the star of the show.

6) The Other Mother from 'Coraline' by Neil Gaiman.

There's no getting around it. This woman is terrifying. If she can even be called a woman, and not some sort of witch or demon! Her villainous traits include: stealing children, removing their eyes and sewing buttons there instead and kidnapping parents. Not to mention, she hates cats. Honestly, she's the worst, and it's so creepy watching her build this perfect yet sinister world for her victims to enjoy.

7) Nurse Ratched from 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest' by Ken Kesey.

Another terrifying woman, but for a totally different reason. This book is really good for it's depiction of the 1960s and their views on mental health. It contains a great array of characters, is told from the viewpoint of a guy who pretends to be deaf and dumb, and most of all has the perfect villain who is literally the Dolores Umbridge (another great villain included on the last list) of the medical world. She's cold but sincere, and offers the promise of freedom and care when really she likes nothing more than to control and manipulate the patients in her care.

8) Selena Leonelli from 'Bitter Greens' by Kate Forsyth.

I've read and watched a fair few adaptations of Rapunzel but never has the villainous witch been quite so ruthless. Selena is not afraid of performing dark magic to get her way. She kidnaps children to remain young and as they die she makes a wig out of there hair. She bites peoples thumbs off. She is as horrid as they come, and yet has such an interesting and terrifying backstory that it's easy to see how things progressed to such a stage. That plot twist at the end is absolutely fantastic too and this book is firm favourite of mine thanks to this character.

9) George Harvey from 'The Lovely Bones' by Alice Sebold.

'The Lovely Bones' is not your usual murder mystery because it's told from the eyes of the dead little girl who fell victim to George Harvey, a middle aged oddball who we know is the perpetrator from the beginning. Sometimes chapters are even told from his POV. In his own way, his ability to get himself out of trouble is actually terrifying and while he gets his just desserts in the end, his presence in the book still chills me to the bone.

10) The Driver from 'More Than This' by Patrick Ness.

While not exactly the 'villain' and more a caretaker programmed to do a job, this mysterious person in a black helmet and suit is absolutely terrifying. Whenever he turns up in the book he is almost a personification of fear itself. He drops in at the worst time, is relentless in his pursuit and is also extremely dangerous. Honestly, I thought he deserved a spot despite not having a complex personality of back-story just for the fear factor he creates!