Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before – Jenny Han

“If love is like possession, maybe my letters are like my exorcisms. My letters set me free… or at least they’re supposed to.”

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Blurb: “Sixteen-year-old Lara Jean keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren’t love letters that anyone else wrote for her; these are ones she’s written. One for every boy she’s ever loved—five in all. When she writes, she pours out her heart and soul and says all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly, Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control”

As I keep finding myself saying, I have long since outgrown Young Adult Contemporary; and yet I still find myself picking it up every now and again so maybe this statement isn’t very true anymore. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is a book that I see every time I go into a bookstore and people are constantly talking about it – especially with the movie announcement. It’s because of that reason that I decided to give the book a go.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before follows a girl called Lara Jean who writes love letters to every boy she’s ever loved and keeps them in a box. They’re not intended for the person she’s written to. They’re for her eyes only as sort of “goodbyes” when she’s decided to move on from that crush for whatever reason. But one day when her letters are sent out, Lara is forced to face the past.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Laura Knight Keating which was the best decision I could have made. It was absolutely brilliant. Laura managed to capture the real essence of the protagonist and it really felt like I was just sitting down with a coffee listening to Lara chat about her story.

It was wonderful to see sibling relationships with a strong bond. A lot of the story is focused on Lara’s connection with her older sister Margot and how there is this inherent need to look after each other, even more so with the youngest, Kitty, and seeing them spending so much time together just added a nice layer to the book. Lara is Korean-American and it was nice to see her exploring that side of her while being encouraged by her father to do so. It was all very positive and even when it did fall to negative sides with some of her other interactions, Lara was not afraid to stand up for herself and say “this is wrong.” In fact, the initial plot device of the letters is more of a footnote in the story rather than a driving force. Most of the narrative is taken up by the sibling connections and the fake relationship that develops between Lara and Peter Kavinsky to make his ex-girlfriend jealous. The letters are more of a nod to how even the small interactions you have in life can have a lasting impact on you. Everything about this book was just so seamless and well thought out that I was in complete awe of the storytelling.

The only things that didn’t sit right were that it didn’t make sense why Peter would choose Lara out of every other girl at school to be his fake girlfriend when she wasn’t from the same social circle, and it was more likely to cause suspicion. Another was the fact that Lara had decided to address the letters if she never planned on sending them. But these factors didn’t make that much of an impact on my reading.

If you haven’t read the book yet, and plan on doing so, I highly recommend getting the audiobook.

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Posted in children's fiction, fairytale retelling, fantasy, review

The Land Of Stories: Worlds Collide – Chris Colfer

“Think about how wonderful this world could be if we all saw it through the eyes of a child.”

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Blurb: “ All of the Land of Stories fairy tale characters–heroes and villains–are no longer confined within their world! With mayhem brewing in the Big Apple, Conner and Alex will have to win their biggest battle yet. Can the twins restore order between the human and fairy tale world?”

In the sixth and final instalment of The Land Of Stories series, Alex is missing and it’s down to Connor and his band of fairy-tale friends to find her. Meanwhile, evil is brewing as the literary army and a group of witches, among many other evil villains, descend on the real world.

The Land of Stories was a series that initially took me by surprise. Like many when it comes to “celebrity” books, I didn’t expect it to be any good and Colfer was quick to prove me wrong. This universe that has been created is so cleverly woven together in a way that makes it impossible to find any glaring cracks. Each book has slowly added more players to the game, building up to Worlds Collide where… well… worlds do exactly that. I will admit that I’ve found the series to shaky overall. For me it really peaked at The Grimm Warning which left me quite worried when it was announced that the sixth book would be the finale. Thankfully, Colfer finds a brilliant way to bring everything together, tie loose ends and make it a very satisfying finish overall.

I felt like this was the perfect time to change the game and combine the fictional and real worlds together, giving the good guys some advantage over the impending threat. I loved the insight into the government trying to cover up the magic that was taking over the city (and frankly doing a terribly job of keeping it quite). It’s another book that sees Alex and Connor going down separate paths and focused a lot more on Connor than was expected. But this worked really well. It was nice to spend that time with Connor as an individual, rather than the duo with his sister, and watch him grow as a character and stand up as a leader. The fairy-tale characters such as Red continue to prove those hilarious scenes that remind you just why this series works so well.

The only big issue I have is that with building up the world so much prior to this book, it means there are a lot of characters. All of the characters that played significant roles in the previous books are present in the same city in this one which makes it rather overwhelming at times. It could be argued that this works in showcasing the scale of the problem that Connor faces, but at times it was very hard to tell who was who and at times even remember who was on which side.

Overall, not entirely perfect but an incredibly satisfying end to a series if you really do love it.

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Posted in discussion

The Harry Potter Studio Tour

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When it comes to birthdays, I am not one for big celebrations where I am the centre of attention. Like anyone, I enjoy receiving presents but feel bad once I realise how much that person has spent on me. Having said that, when begrudgingly deciding on what to do for my birthday, there was one place that came to mind… you guessed it… I went to the Harry Potter Studio tour…. For the fourth time. (Over the course of five years okay, don’t look at me like that!)

Since my last trip, the tour has seen two massive expansions in the form of the Hogwarts Express and the Forbidden Forest. One of the advantages of my birthday being in October meant that an additional “making of the dark arts” event was on so I got to see new costumes on display, Death Eaters roaming around , and the great hall was dressed up for Halloween. Speaking of which, I got to open the doors to the great hall as a birthday treat!

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Just like with the books, every time I revisit this place I learn something new or rediscover an extra bit of magic that I’d completely forgotten about. It was disorientating at first as a lot of things have not only moved, but been added too; a rather exciting one for me was a giant tapestry of Hufflepuff which I assume hung from the Qudditch towers during the games. A member of staff did a demonstration on how Fang slobber, Troll snot and unicorn blood were made for the film which was equally brilliant and disgusting. It was nice to visit old favourite sets such as The Burrow but nothing could have prepared me for how terrifying the Forbidden Forest was going to be.

I am not good with the dark and anything to do with spiders (when I was a kid I used to fast-forward my VHS tape through both the forest and Chamber of Secrets sections to the triumphant end). So, with wand in hand, I ventured into the part of the tour with thunder, lightning and spiders descending from the ceiling. But all the panic and horror I experienced was worth it to come out of the side and see the Hogwarts Express.

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I didn’t know what to expect when I turned the corner, but I didn’t plan on stepping out onto a fully rebuilt Platform 9 & ¾. It was one of the most beautiful and overwhelming sights I saw all day. There was the opportunity to go on-board and see the carriages redecorated for each of the films, along with getting to see the “nineteen years later” costumes which made me just a tad emotional.

After that, it was a quick stop at the Backlot Café for lunch, a cup of Butterbeer and avoiding some prowling Death Eaters, before venturing inside Privet Drive to see a living room full of Hogwarts letters for Harry! (A rare treat as it wasn’t open to go inside on all of my previous trips)

Then I moved on to the second sound stage which is dedicated moreso to the concept art and the animatronic which helps bring together all the magic we see on screen. It can be easy to rush through this area as it’s not as overwhelming as the first part of the tour but I still think you can appreciate it for the secrets it holds. The beautiful thing about it is that even when you know how certain things are put together, it doesn’t ruin any part of the films,  if anything it makes you value the work that went into them even more.

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There are many magical reveals in the latter part of the tour but a personal favourite of mine is Diagon Alley. It continues to baffle me just how much detail is added to the shop windows when you barely see them in the films there so much artistry added into every part of this set and I really had to take a moment to step back and realise that I was standing on a film set and not actually on a wizarding shopping high street.

 

As I keep saying (almost like a stuck record at this point), I can never really find the words to explain what the world of Harry Potter means to me, and I can’t pinpoint why this story has continued to stick with me many years out of childhood. But something about being in this place fills me with this warm, cosy feeling. I lose myself completely in this world and don’t feel odd for running around in a Hufflepuff jumper while waving a wand. I just feel at home. And I won’t stop at four times. There will definitely be more trips and I can’t wait to see what other magic they decide to add in the future.

Oh.. and it was confirmed that Warner Brothers were filming Fantastic Beasts 2 just next door!

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Posted in adult fiction, contemporary, review, romance

All That She Can See – Carrie Hope Fletcher

“Cherry’s bakery was a safe haven, a place where people could forget their troubles for an hour or two. And when their bad feelings latched back onto them as they left, Cherry noticed that their troubles seemed a little smaller than before.”

 

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Blurb: “Cherry has a hidden talent. She can see things other people can’t and she decided a long time ago to use this skill to help others. As far as the rest of the town is concerned she’s simply the kind-hearted young woman who runs the local bakery, but in private she uses her gift to add something special to her cakes so that after just one mouthful the townspeople start to feel better about their lives. They don’t know why they’re drawn to Cherry’s bakery – they just know that they’re safe there and that’s how Cherry likes it. She can help them in secret and no one will ever need to know the truth behind her gift.”

When Carrie Hope Fletcher made her mark on the fiction world, I bought it on the day of release. I was so excited to see her power of creativity channelled into a book only to be left feeling cheated when I finished it. There was something just not quite right about it. In fact, a lot of “somethings.” So I was very wary when she made the announcement for All That She Can See. But, as a big admirer, I decided that this would be a “make or break book” for me and that maybe, her types of stories just weren’t for me after all if I didn’t enjoy it.

All That She Can See follows a woman called Cherry who is able to see bad feelings. They manifest themselves as physical creatures (for example, worry looks like a tangled ball of wool) and attach themselves to person. Through a series of circumstances, Cherry discovers she can add good feelings to cakes and sets up a bakery, aiming to counteract the bad feelings with a whole lot of good. She becomes a sort of “Mary Poppins of cake” and moves her bakery to different places once she feels her work is done in her current location. In her latest stop, she meets Chase who can see feelings too; except he can see good feelings and he plans to make that change.

This book was utterly brilliant. Everything about it felt like it really had come from Carrie and that her magic had been well and truly mixed into the pages. The personification of the feelings had me in complete awe and I loved the descriptions of them following characters round. I found it interesting that Cherry was able to see her own bad feelings too and almost became close friends with them, rather than it taking the route of her not being able to see her own.

There’s enough time spend getting a footing in the world and the side characters are so well fleshed out that they became a solid part of the story too. When I returned from my short breaks to pick up the story again, it felt like I was being invited into a family gathering. It was warm and wonderful.

Chase created a nice balance, while not being a particularly nice man. I like the idea of him being able to see the opposite of Cherry as it showcased the fact that no two people really view the world or certain situations in the same way. It just made the story fuller.

However, in the last quarter of the book it did seem to fall down a little and start to feel like the story was rushing to get finished but overall this is a truly wonderful story that I could easily see being adapted into a visual format.

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Posted in contemporary, review, romance, young adult

When Dimple Met Rishi – Sandhya Menon

“Hello future wife,” he said, his voice bubbling with glee. “I can’t wait to get started on the rest of our lives.”

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Blurb: “Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?”

When Dimple Met Rishi is another one of those books that I wasn’t really interested in but had a massive buzz around it. So I decided to give it a go.

The story follows a girl called Dimple who has bagged herself a place at Stanford University and wants to spend her summer at Insomnia Con- a coding camp. When her parents do a U-turn and pay the fees so that she can go, Dimple finally feels like they are giving her more freedom and not so focused on her finding the “perfect Indian husband.” Little does she know that her parents have been talking to another family and a boy called Rishi is being sent to the same camp in the hopes of securing a relationship.

As I seem to have a big aversion to Young Adult Contemporary – yet still find myself reaching for it occasionally – I did not really expect much from this book apart from a light-hearted summer romance read. In some ways I was pleasantly surprised. Dimple is a stand out character. While she does fall to some “not like other girls” tropes, she is a very abrasive character at times compared to Rishi who is softer and the typical “boy that gets everything wrong no matter how hard he tries.” I’ve seen a lot of controversy online about Dimple throwing her iced coffee on someone and how it promotes that sort of behaviour etc but when you look at the context of the scene, it makes sense that she did that and was very fitting with the type of character she is.

I flew through the first half of the book and loved the use of duo-narrative to get both sides of the story as that balance between the characters was needed. However, past the halfway point it felt like the plot was struggling and that things were added to try and get the story to the final part. I was so invested but then found myself taking longer breaks between reading and when I did read it I was flicking through a couple of pages at best. It just seemed like the first half had had more focus on it than the latter half. When I finished the book I didn’t feel fulfilled. I felt let down a little.

I suppose it’s my own fault for delving into a book with so much hype expecting high things but it’s not something I’ve thought about since I put it down.

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Posted in review, romance, young adult

Jaded – K.M.Robinson

“I have always been warned to stay away from Roan Diamond. He is the enemy. He is dangerous. But today I will marry him. And it’s not my choice.”

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Blurb: “Her father failed in his mission to take control from the Commander, a defeat that has cost Jade her life. She will die as punishment. Now she belongs to the Commander’s son—as his wife. Knowing his intent is to quietly kill her in revenge, Jade’s every move is calculated to survive—until she learns her death ensures the safety of her father and her entire town.”

Jade’s father tried to overthrow the commander and failed. As a result, Jade must marry the commander’s son, Roan. But not everything is as it seems and Jade knows all too much about the plot to have her killed.

This is the second book from K.M.Robinson and showcases one of my favourite things: author growth. As I read more books from the same author, I look for signs of improvement from their previous book. Not to sound super critical or that I’m purposely looking for fault, but it’s wonderful to see a writer evolve with every new story , and K.M.Robinson achieves this with Jaded.

The pacing was perfect. Everything felt like it happened when it needed to and allowed enough time to get to know and understand the characters as well as get a solid footing in the world. A multi-perspective narrative is used at first which, given the plot, I thought might ruin the mystery as you could see Roan’s side and what plots were made to kill Jade, but it did the opposite. It made it more exciting. I was on the edge whenever Jade did anything; unaware of what was about to be thrown at her. I found myself falling for Roan at points only to pull back, realising everything he was doing was artificial, a trick to lower Jade’s defences.

Jade is the kind of female character I’ve been yearning for. I loved how she wasn’t like the ‘strong typical female;” she was everything. Brave but not afraid to cry. Strong and outspoken, but quiet when she needed to stay alive.

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