Thursday 31 August 2017

August Wrap-Up.

So, reading-wise, I didn't really do all that well. I managed four of my eight chosen reads and I'm a little disappointed. I'm actually falling massively behind on my Goodreads challenge too so I'm hoping that September will be a lot better. But I still read some really great books!

  1. 'If I Was Your Girl' by Meredith Russo. So many fellow bloggers adore this book and it has been on my TBR for a little while. It's the first ever book that I've read following a member of the trans community as they struggle through love and life in their new high school. I felt Amanda was a great voice too, and I liked that Russo acknowledged that despite her struggles, she actually had it a lot easier than most trans people. Good friendships to be found here, though I wasn't so struck on the romance. 3.5/5 stars.
  2. 'The Sun Is Also A Star' by Nicola Yoon. I'd been hoping to read a book by Nicola Yoon for ages and finally found time! I liked the focus on racism within minority communities, both MCs were actually POCs, Natasha being Jamaican and Daniel of Korean heritage. There were some great themes in this book. Again, the romance was a little unrealistic but I don't think it interfered too much and actually Nicola provided some nice breaks with random POV chapters from side characters. 4.5/5 Stars.
  3. 'Not A Drop To Drink' by Mindy McGinnis. This is definitely my favourite read of the month, that's for sure! I haven't read dystopian fiction for ages but I liked that this one was very natural. Not too many government conspiracies, or zombies of any kind, just mother nature doing it's thing. Great characters, heartwarming relationships and interesting despite not an awful lot happening. I thought the end was a little rushed but I look forward to reading the companion novel. 5/5 Stars.
  4. 'Flame In The Mist' by Renée Ahdieh. My latest read and one I was really excited about, I'm definitely on board with this series. Set in Feudal Japan, Ahdieh had clearly done a lot of research and knew the time period well. I liked the characters and the beautiful blending of history and the supernatural. I would have liked a little more backstory to explain what was really going on and felt that the cliffhanger ending should have provided some resolution at least. Still, a great read! 4/5 Stars.

Now it's time to see how I did with my challenges this month!

This month I have read one book for the Netgalley & Edelweiss Challenge, bringing my yearly total so far to nineteen. My read was:

- Flame In The Mist

This month I have read one book for the 2017 New Releases Challenge, bringing my yearly total so far to nine. My read was:

- Flame In The Mist

This month I have read one book for the LGBTQIA Challenge, bringing my yearly total to nine. My read was:

- If I Was Your Girl

This month I have read three books for the Diverse Reads Challenge, bringing my yearly total to twenty five. My reads were:

- If I Was Your Girl
- The Sun Is Also A Star
- Flame In The Mist

And here's my update on this quarter's Bookish Bingo card, courtesy of Pretty Deadly Blog!

Over 5 Years Old: Green Rider; Kristen Britain.
Red Cover: Good Bones; Margaret Atwood.
Latinx MC: One Of Us Is Lying; Karen M. McManus.
LGBT+: Release; Patrick Ness.
Summer Release: Not A Drop To Drink; Mindy McGinnis.
White Cover: A List Of Cages; Robin Roe.
Blue Cover: Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls; Francesca Cavallo & Elena Favilli.
On My TBR Forever: The Sleeping Prince; Melinda Salisbury.
Name In Title: The One Memory Of Flora Banks; Emily Barr.
Royalty: Flame In The Mist; Renée Ahdieh.
A Book With A Map: The Final Empire; Brandon Sanderson.
Author From Another Continent: The Sun Is Also A Star; Nicola Yoon.
Flowers On The Cover: What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours; Helen Oyeyemi.
Romance: If I Was Your Girl; Meredith Russo.
Award Winner: Through The Woods; Emily Carroll.

Wednesday 30 August 2017

Book Review: Flame In The Mist; Renée Ahdieh.

Reading this book was a little like being on a rollercoaster. You end up, for the most part, having a really great time and enjoying yourself. But you also kind of want it to be over, and come out of the experience feeling a little dazed and confused. This book definitely had it's good and bad points, but I still felt that the pros far outweighed the cons.

SOURCE: Netgalley
TYPE: E-Read

TITLE: Flame In The Mist
AUTHOR: Renée Ahdieh
SERIES: Flame In The Mist (#1)
PUBLISHER: Hodder & Stoughton
PAGES: 416
GENRE: Young Adult, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Romance

RATING: 4/5 Stars

Mariko has always known that being a woman means she's not in control of her own fate. But Mariko is the daughter of a prominent samurai and a cunning alchemist in her own right, and she refuses to be ignored. When she is ambushed by a group of bandits known as the Black Clan enroute to a political marriage to Minamoto Raiden - the emperor's son - Mariko realises she has two choices: she can wait to be rescued... or she can take matters into her own hands, hunt down the clan and find the person who wants her dead.

Disguising herself as a peasant boy, Mariko infiltrates the Black Clan's hideout and befriends their leader, the rebel ronin Ranmaru, and his second-in-command, Okami. Ranmaru and Okami warm to Mariko, impressed by her intellect and ingenuity. But as Mariko gets closer to the Black Clan, she uncovers a dark history of secrets that will force her to question everything she's ever known.

What I Liked:
  • Historical fiction is a genre I love, and it's been a while since I read a historical novel. This book is set in Feudal Japan (my all time dream destination) and I loved it! I really felt that Ahdieh had done a lot of research and knew the time period and setting really well. There were samurais, and geishas and tea ceremonies galore, such a great 'Japanese' vibe!
  • There were a lot of different POVs included in this book which helped to mix things up a bit. Mariko was a great MC, a tough, stubborn woman angry with her 'place' in the world and seeking to honour her family more than just by marrying someone important. I thought all of the characters were unique and had great personality, and while I don't usually enjoy romance, I liked this one because it was slow-building.
What I Disliked:
  • There were definitely areas of this book that felt very rushed. The pacing was off. I found myself almost missing so many twists because they'd been casually mentioned and didn't feel like 'big reveals' and it was a little irritating. That paired with the constant jumping around from POV to POV made feel a little confused about who I'm supposed to be supporting and who is actually 'the good guy'. The thing is while Ahdieh's character's were vibrant they lacked detail backstory which meant I had little idea about what was actually happening. Who is the villain in this story? I'm not sure! 
  • There were a fair few plot-lines in this book - mostly political. I felt like very few of them were resolved by the book's conclusion. I don't mid cliffhangers in a series, and I understand they are a great device for bringing readers back. But I believe there needs to be a certain amount of resolution and there was absolutely none. Such a shame!
Overall Conclusion:
Don't get me wrong, this was a great book. Well thought-out and researched, with a wonderful sense of atmosphere. It was fun to read with good vibes that gave me a sense of attachment to the story. I'll definitely be coming back to this series. My complaints come from a place of frustration with how the plot direction was handled. Twists and turns need to be built up to. Characters need backstory. And most importantly there needs to be at least some resolution at the end!

Monday 28 August 2017

Last Week's Shenanigans (21st August - 27th August)...

It feels like it's been a busy week, but in fact, that's just because Mat and I have been working a lot. Other than that, we haven't really done much. We did get to go to the cinema to watch 'The Dark Tower' which was a good film, though not quite as good as I'd hoped it would be. I've never read the books but I imagine they space the plot out a lot better and allow you to get more attached to the characters. I would have liked a whole lot more backstory than there actually was.

I Read...

I Received...

- 'The Girl In The Tower' by Katherine Arden: Approved by Netgalley (22/08/17)
- 'The Giver' by Lois Lowry: Bought on Amazon (25/08/17)
- 'The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet' by Becky Chambers: Bought on Amazon (25/08/17)


Top Ten Tuesday: Book Pairs For Classroom Classics [Part II]

Sunday 27 August 2017

Book Review: Not A Drop To Drink; Mindy McGinnis.

I haven't read a really good dystopian for ages, but now I'm getting out of my reading slump, I'm finding that reading genres I haven't read for a while is actually helping a lot! This has been on the TBR for goodness knows how long, and it's another to add to the list of 'books I should have read a long time ago'.

SOURCE: Bought
TYPE: E-Read

TITLE: Not A Drop To Drink
AUTHOR: Mindy McGinnis
SERIES: Not A Drop To Drink (#1)
PUBLISHER: Katherine Tegen Books
PAGES: 312
GENRE: Young Adult, Dystopian, Science Fiction

RATING: 4.5/5 Stars

Lynn knows every threat to her pond: drought, a snowless winter, coyotes, and, most importantly, people looking for a drink. She makes sure anyone who comes near the pond leaves thirsty, or doesn't leave at all.

Confident in her own abilities, Lynn has no use for the world beyond the nearby fields and forest. Having a life means dedicating it to survival, and the constant work of gathering wood and water. Having a pond requires the fortitude to protect it, something Mother taught her well during their quiet hours on the rooftop, rifles in hand.

But wisps of smoke on the horizon mean one thing: strangers. The mysterious footprints by the pond, nighttime threats, and gunshots make it all too clear Lynn has exactly what they want, and they won’t stop until they get it…

What I Liked:
  • I really liked the narrative in this one. McGinnis has written a really gripping plot and I liked all of the twists and turns along the way that really did keep things interesting! I also liked the general plot because it focused on a much more 'natural' apocalypse. The main threats here are the weather and seasons. Disease and animals are more likely to kill you than humans, though of course that is also a distinct possibility.
  • The characters were enjoyable to read. I really enjoyed Lynn's POV, particularly as she grew and developed so well over the course of the book. She was badass and tough, but prone to vulnerability and those are my favourite kinds of heroines, especially as she had a sense of humour! I also really liked the side characters, they were all given a lot of backstory and uniqueness!
What I Disliked:
  • I have go say, I did end up deducting half a star because the ending felt a little rushed. In fact, pacing was probably the only real 'problem' with this story. It was a long, slow build-up followed by a lot of action that went very quickly. I barely had time to blink through it all!
Overall Conclusion:
I really liked this book and found myself dipping into it frequently because it really was gripping, from beginning to end! Good lot, lots of twists, well-crafted characters and an interesting setting/apocalyptic situation to read about. I wish the pacing had been a little better, the build-up was too slow for what it was leading up to! Still, I shall certainly be reading the next novel as soon as I can!

Tuesday 22 August 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Book Pairs For Classroom Classics [Part II].

Well here we are again, 'Top Ten Tuesday' is back in town and this week's theme is 'Back To School'. As soon as I saw it, I remembered a TTT list I did ages ago pairing modern books (mostly YA) with beloved classics generally found on the school curriculum. Well, I thought it would be fun to do that again so I've created a 'Part II'! Part I is available here for you to read, if you wish to see more pairings like this!

1) 'One Of Us Is Lying' by Karen M. McManus.

Classic Pair: 'The Outsiders' by S.E. Hinton.

So seeing as McManus herself has said that she drew a lot of inspiration from the film The Breakfast Club while writing this book, I really wanted a classic book with the same sort of camaraderie between children/teens trying to solve a murder. My first thought was Enid Blyton's 'The Famous Five' series but it needed to be grittier than ginger beer and lashings of hard-boiled eggs. 'The Outsiders' contains the necessary 'school stereotypes' needed to be compared with a book like 'One Of Us Is Lying'. It also contains danger, rivalries and death so seemed like a good fit.

 ...paired with... 

2) 'Noteworthy' by Riley Redgate.

Classic Pair: 'Twelfth Night' by William Shakespeare.

So in my list I had popular Shakespeare play 'Romeo & Juliet' paired with Malorie Blackman's modern day interpretation 'Noughts & Crosses'. I really wanted to go back to Shakespeare but this time I picked my favourite comedy of his - 'Twelfth Night'. Like the play, 'Noteworthy' is all about a girl who, in order to fit in better, disguises herself as a boy. There's plenty of mistaken identity, romance, confusion and laughs to be found in this contemporary read.

 ...paired with... 

3) 'Heartless' by Marissa Meyer.

Classic Pair: 'Alice In Wonderland' by Lewis Carroll.

This is more of a direct re-imagining of Wonderland before the rise of the Queen Of Hearts, but it is a really good story and one I highly recommend who want a taste of the Wonderland they know and love. Meyer does a great job of injecting the right amount of craziness into the setting without letting it stump the plot. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and though you know where it is going, it's a fun read all the same!

 ...paired with... 

4) 'The Sun Is Also A Star' by Nicola Yoon.

Classic Pair: 'The Catcher In The Rye' by J.D. Salinger.

'The Catcher In The Rye' is probably the original 'teenage angst' book. I really wanted to find a book about teens placed in terrible situations that dream of a 'better life' and have plenty of modern philosophical discussions about love, life and the universe. Enter Natasha and Daniel from my latest read, 'The Sun Is Also A Star' who seem a little like Holden and Phoebe. Making a connection in an alienating world.

 ...paired with... 

5) 'The Final Empire' by Brandon Sanderson.

Classic Pair: 'The Three Musketeers' by Alexandre Dumas.

This might seem a little bit of a weird connection but this book really gave me the same feeling that any interpretation of 'The Three Musketeers' has. Companionship is a big thing in this book: Vin was a newcomer in a pre-established 'gang' of men who were getting involved in bigger things (revolutions and rebellions) in order to do their bit for a better world. The humorous banter between the characters really gave me a 'The Three Musketeers' feel too!

 ...paired with... 

6) 'The Life Of Pi' by Yann Martel.

Classic Pairing: 'Robinson Crusoe' by Daniel Defoe.

This might be a bit of an obvious choice, but I'll mention it all the same! 'Robinson Crusoe' is about a man who becomes stranded on a desert island, while 'The Life Of Pi' is about a boy who becomes a castaway on a boat in the middle of the sea after the ship he was boarding with his family sinks. As if his problems couldn't get any worse, the ship was transporting zoo animals, and the tiger is also on board. I feel like 'The Life Of Pi' may be slightly more harrowing and realistic, but it's difficult to deny the similarities between these two tales.

 ...paired with... 

7) 'A Thousand Nights' by E.K. Johnston.

Classic Pairing: 'One Thousand And One Nights' by Hanan Al-Shaykh.

This is probably going to seem like a bit of an obvious choice, as 'A Thousand Nights' is clearly a retelling of 'The Thousand And One Nights'. But if you're a fan of the over-arching story in the classic collection of tales, then this might be a good book for you to read because it gives a little more insight into that, and focuses less on the short stories themselves. This interpretation gives real feminist vibes too and it has a lot going for it!

 ...paired with... 

8) 'Good Kings, Bad Kings' by Susan Nussbaum.

Classic Pairing: 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest' by Ken Kesey.

Funnily enough, I actually read 'Good Kings, Bad Kings' a long time before I read 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest' but thanks to the film, I knew the basic premise. 'Good Kings, Bad Kings' focuses on children and teenagers in comparison but they are both good books for looking at the mental health system and it's terrifying to realise that while Nurse Ratchet can no longer lobotomise people left, right and centre, there is still so much abuse and horror for those placed in mental health institutions.

 ...paired with... 

9) 'What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours' by Helen Oyeyemi.

Classic Pairing: 'One Hundred Years Of Solitude' by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez.

I read 'What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours' recently and became a big fan of the way that Oyeyemi handled the magical realism. I didn't find 'One Hundred Years Of Solitude' quite so charming myself (mostly confusing actually) but I know it has a lot of fans and the bizarre happenings are what draw people in. I think if you liked the vibe in 'One Hundred Years Of Solitude', you'll find Oyeyemi's book a delightful read with a bit more clarity.

 ...paired with... 

10) 'The Storied Life Of A.J. Fikry' by Gabrielle Zevin.

Classic Pairing: 'If On A Winter's Night A Traveller' by Italo Calvino.

This last pairing has one recurring theme: books. I found 'If On A Winter's Night A Traveller' a clever (if frustrating) read because of it's constant need to begin stories without ending them. That was of course the main plot, but it drove me round the bend and intrigued me at the same time. 'The Storied Life Of A.J. Fikry' is also great because it's about people who love and adore books, and use them to relate to the outside world.Every chapter begins with a great book quote too!

 ...paired with... 

Monday 21 August 2017

Last Week's Shenanigans (14th August - 20th July)...

This week has been absolutely lovely for me because I only ended up spending a small amount of it at work! Thursday onwards I had off, and it was glorious. On Friday, Mat and I travelled down to Ashford because my cousin got married! The reception was lovely - they'd picked a gorgeous venue with some awesome ideas and I had a lot of fun mingling with family! It made me even more excited about my own wedding planning because I saw a little of what I was aiming towards!

Speaking of wedding planning, Mat and I went with both of our families the next day to see another venue, The Orangery, in Maidstone. We loved it and I'm pretty sure this is the one guys! It has gorgeous gardens, beautiful spaces and a 'bridal entrance' to die for. Here's hoping for a sunny day on the day of the wedding. The rest of Saturday was spent with Mat's parents, talking weddings and having a lovely barbecue. Sunday I was back home and enjoyed a wonderful, relaxed day off!

I Read...

I Received...

- 'The Coffin Path' by Katherine Clements: Approved by Netgalley (14/08/17)


Top Ten Tuesday: Books For Fans Of Unreliable Narrators

Thursday 17 August 2017

Book Review: The Sun Is Also A Star; Nicola Yoon.

My high rating for this book may come as a surprise to those who know about my feelings on romance YA, but despite some obvious tropes, this felt like a modern and vibrant read and hooked me!

SOURCE: Bought
TYPE: Paperback

TITLE: The Sun Is Also A Star
AUTHOR: Nicola Yoon
PUBLISHER: Corgi Children's
PAGES: 348
GENRE: Contemporary, Young Adult, Romance

RATING: 4.5/5 Stars

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

What I Liked:
  • This book absolutely buzzed with energy! I think my favourite thing about it was the sense of fast-paced, warm feeling that Yoon injected into her writing. It made me feel as if the plot was constantly moving and even though it covered a day, it never got boring. For a YA romance, this felt pretty unique in the way that it was structured and I enjoyed seeing Yoon flit through so many other POVs and fact pages alongside the two main characters. Every chapter was short, but interesting.
  • Every character was different. Natasha and Daniel were wonderful MCs to focus on, with plenty of personality and they really felt like individuals. Both belonged to ethnic minorities (Natasha - an illegal Jamaican immigrant and Daniel from a Korean family being forced to live the life his parents have dreamed of). I liked the focus on the racism that can occur between minority groups too, as this is rarely covered in fiction and is a complex topic. 
What I Disliked:
  • Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed this book. But the insta-love between Natasha and Daniel? Blegh. While Yoon does things in a really interesting way, there's no denying that this book falls into one of the most exhausting tropes of all time. And it slightly irked me, I'll admit. People like me want romances to be built, and slow-to-burn. Also, the nature of their relationship meant there were some pretty nauseating quotes. Teenagers don't really talk in the way that Yoon had them talking, no matter how poetic they are, or how much they love science!

Overall Conclusion:
This book gripped me from beginning to end, which is actually pretty impressive considering my usual disdain for YA romance novels. Short, fast-paced chapters that interrupted the main POVs with other characters insights and facts on history were really cool to read, quotable, and gave me the sense that I'd learnt something. I liked the bigger issues that this book covered. However, Natasha and Daniel weren't great examples of teenagers because they spoke in a way that made them more akin to adults that had been studying philosophy and the 'bigger picture' for years. The insta-love trope was way too heavy in this book too. Yet somehow, this was still a wonderful read that I'd recommend to everyone!

Tuesday 15 August 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Books For Fans Of Unreliable Narrators.

Any book written could be described as having an 'unreliable narrator' as every character will have their own biases. However, these books I'm picking are really interesting because for varying reasons, it is very difficult to trust their narrators at all! Just a quick note to say that there will be some spoilers in this post so if you don't want things to be ruined, just look at the covers and trust that the narrators are pretty unreliable!

1) 'The Shock Of The Fall' by Nathan Fillion.

I really enjoyed this book for a variety of reasons, mostly because Fillion really seemed to understand mental health and the system surrounding it's treatment. The narrator, Matt, was interesting to read from because he suffered with Schizophrenia, and as he became more unwell and took less medication, the lines between reality and delusion became blurred.

2) 'One Of Us Is Lying' by Karen M. McManus.

There are four main POVs in this book and each are 'unreliable narrators' in their own right. In fact this was one of my favourite reads of this year for just that reason. Each of the four characters are a suspect in a murder case, and each have their own secrets. It means, while reading, you are never really sure if they are telling the truth or not.

3) 'Thin Air' by Michelle Paver.

This was a great ghost story that I thoroughly enjoyed reading in 2016! It's set high in the mountains and the narrator started out as any other man, perfectly reliable. But as he ascended towards the top and he began to face dizzying heights, altitude sickness and freezing temperatures it became more difficult to trust the strange, supernatural happenings that he described. Definitely very spooky and worth a read.

4) 'The Graces' by Laure Eve.

I loved this unreliable narrator because it isn't until the end of the book that you realise she has been one. You never learn 'River's' true name. And you only discover her true motives towards the end of the book. Before that, I thought she was a normal YA heroine looking to solve a mystery, survive high school, find love and make friends. But her manipulative and self-centred thoughts (starkly contrasting with her dialogue with other characters) will strike you as off from the beginning and it's fascinating to read.

5) 'The Girl On The Train' by Paula Hawkins.

This was a really good read, even if it plays on a fairly classic trope. One MC has a very severe drinking problem and due to this, can't remember a lot of her own actions, thoughts and conversations. Seeing as this happens during a murder investigation, it makes for a very tense and confused account of her own actions. Her own life and interests interfere, of course, and it was a great example of narrative at it's most unreliable.

6) 'The One Memory Of Flora Banks' by Emily Barr.

If ever there was an MC who could be called unreliable, then Flora is it. For those that don't know what Anterograde Amnesia is, it means that Flora is unable to make new memories after a specific event that triggered it. The story uses almost constant repetition as Flora makes the same realisations over and over. There are also plenty of twists and turns that make you realise just how unreliable a narrator she is too!

7) 'The Gospel Of Loki' by Joanne M. Harris.

I picked this book because unreliable narrators can occur due to extreme bias too, and Loki's is unprecedented. His entire story is made up of him moping and feeling sorry for himself, and trying to convince the reader that all punishment and blame upon himself was totally unfair. He's the kind of narrator that you love too because he does it all in a really humorous way.

8) 'White Cat' by Holly Black.

At first, this story doesn't seem like the kind of story that will contain an unreliable narrator. There's a lot going on, but it takes a lot to put the pieces together and realise what is actually going on. Cassel is actually under a form of hypnosis and is having his dreams tampered with, meaning that everything he remembers could potentially be false.

9) 'Going Bovine' by Libba Bray.

The narrator of this book is very obviously unreliable, because he is suffering from a particularly severe illness that causes him to constantly experience things that are not real. I can't 100% remember what causes it all - some kind of brain tumour I think - but this book is like one very long drug trip. It's weird for sure, but many people love this book and it's full to the brim of some pretty cool symbolism.

10) 'The Dead House' by Dawn Kurtagich.

This book will mess with your head. The narrator is actually one person split into two personalities, making her the most unreliable of all narrators. Not only that, but it's not clear what's actually causing it all: the doctors believe mental illness, friends are convinced that two souls have attached to each other, there's even talk of demons and ghosts. The ending provides no real answers either. But if you love unreliable narrators, this is a good book for you!