Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

Turtles All The Way Down – John Green

“We are about to live the American Dream, which is, to benefit from someone else’s misfortune.”

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Blurb: “Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.
Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts. “

When a billionaire goes missing in her neighbourhood, Aza and her best friend Daisy decide that they are going to solve the mystery and get the hefty reward sum on offer. Aza used to know the billionaire’s son, Davies, and so their mission begins to uncover the truth.

John Green has been heavily criticised in the past for his portrayal of the manic pixie dream girl and mental illness in his books, but, Turtles All The Way Down really steers away from that perception. This book feels a lot more mature than his others, and I feel that is in part down to the inclusion of a character with a mental illness that John Green suffers from too. It felt very personal in places as Aza performs certain rituals which she believes are the key to staying alive along with “thought spirals” that hinder her throughout. It was really nice to see that shift from the manic pixie to a character really struggling with a mental illness, doing her best to live with it and also getting help; there are frequent scenes of Aza meeting with her therapist.

While the initial plot point is about the disappearance of a billionaire, that aspect quickly falls by the wayside and it becomes more about the characters. I’ll be honest, that really threw me off and there were times that I really just wanted there to be a breakthrough in the case rather than reading scenes between Aza and Davies.

There were some elements that were sadly predictable in a story about mental illness in terms of how characters reacted but it highlights just how much stigma there still is out there. It was nice, however, to see a character that was willing to sit, listen, learn and understand Aza’s needs without putting her under pressure or overwhelming her.

Turtles All The Way Down is a raw, ugly and honest insight into the struggles of mental illness packed full of characters you’ll remember for a while.

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Posted in Dystopian, review, young adult

Only Ever Yours – Louise O’Neill

“You may have been perfectly designed but there is always room for improvement.”

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Blurb: “In a world in which baby girls are no longer born naturally, women are bred in schools, trained in the arts of pleasing men until they are ready for the outside world. At graduation, the most highly rated girls become “companions”, permitted to live with their husbands and breed sons until they are no longer useful. For the girls left behind, the future – as a concubine or a teacher – is grim. Best friends Freida and Isabel are sure they’ll be chosen as companions – they are among the most highly rated girls in their year.”

Having read Louise O’Neill’s more recent book Asking For It, I sort of knew what to expect when going into her debut. O’Neill has become well known for her activism regarding women’s issues from her weekly columns at the Irish Examiner, to her outspoken manner online, and of course her books; where she tackles topics most would rather avoid.

Only Ever Yours tells the story of a world in which the use of birth control to maintain the “perfect body” has led to women being created rather than born naturally. The girls are put into schools where they are trained to believe that their looks and rankings will dictate their futures. There are three roles available after graduation: companion, concubines and chastities. Of course, everyone wants to be a companion to one of the rich, attractive men – known as Inheritants – who will make their choice at the ceremony.

This is not a pleasant read. To describe it as a “brilliant book that everyone should read” (which it is) almost feels like missing the point of the narrative. From the outset that is something unsettling and if you are struggling with weight issues or an eating disorder it is best to wait until you are in a very good place before reading it – which is what I did. There is overwhelming sense that something bad is going to happen if any of the characters step out of line and there were many occasions where I was holding my breath as if that would help the story in some way. I don’t normally pay attention to quotes from other authors on books as those opinions never tend to sway me towards buying a book, but Jeanette Winterson says that “O’Neill writes with a scalpel” and honestly, that could not be more true.

I did find the world confusing at first as you’re thrown in the deep end to follow Freida who is in her final year, preparing for the ceremony. The characters around her are the embodiment of everything we would deem wrong from society and their views are amplified throughout, creating a sense of disorientation when you see the extreme lengths some girls will go to in order to keep their rankings up. While pitched as a strong relationship between Freida and Isabel, their friendship is fraught for most of the book as Isabel appears to let herself go and doesn’t get punished for her actions; instead she is simply removed from the rankings. The reason for which sets your mind into the worst possible outcomes for her. The chastities in charge refer to the girls by numbers, but the girls themselves call each other by names which made it difficult to understand the intended purpose: they are stripped of their names but seem to retain them at the same time.

An obvious comparison to make is The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Attwood because they both deal with government control of women’s bodies, but it’s important to note the very big differences. In Only Ever Yours birth control is seen as a good thing, to stop pregnancy ruining your bodies (meanwhile Handmaid’s sees birth control as a bad thing) and in Handmaid’s there is a sense of hope that things could really change. There is none of that in Only Ever Yours. It is a dark, terrifying insight into what our world could be like if we don’t start tackling important issues.

I can only salute Louise O’Neill for her fantastic efforts… even if she does scare me a bit.

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Posted in adaptations, children's fiction, discussion, review

Book To Movie Talk | Wonder

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*This post contains spoilers*

Wonder is another one of those books that I’ve heard about on and off over the past few years but never really had any desire to delve into it… until I saw the trailer for the film adaptation.

The story follows ten year old August Pullman who has been living with a facial disfigurement from the day he was born. He’s been home-schooled but his mother can only teach him so much and decides to enrol him in fifth grade as August will not be the only new kid starting. August battles through stares, whispers and outright abuse while gaining true friends along the way.

Having just read the book, the content was still very fresh in my mind. So straight away from an accuracy point of view, Wonder is the most accurate book to movie adaptation that I think I’ve ever seen. It can seem like a small thing in the grand scheme of things, but straying too much from the source material is the easiest way for an adaptation to lose me completely. Wonder was also directed by Stephen Chbosky who wrote and directed The Perks Of Being A Wallflower and there are many stylistic similarities between the two.

A film with a focus on child actors always makes me nervous as  a bad child actor can really derail a film. The role of Auggie is played by Jacob Tremblay (known for his lead role as Jack in Room) and he blows the part out of the water. He captured the true essence of Auggie’s personality and in the sadder moments, it was almost impossible to believe that he was just a child acting and now actually crying his heart out.  The absolute standout actor for me was Noah Jupe who took on the role of Auggie’s best friend Jack Will; who was my favourite character from the book. Noah did a brilliant job of facial acting and his chemistry with Jacob made the friendship between these two characters feel believable.

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I had a lot of issues with the use of multiple perspectives in the book and that’s one of the few aspects where I think the film did a better job of executing the intention. The different narratives are explored through voiceovers while the characters go about their day and the combination of that with the aerial, third person view of the film aided the experiences of the characters. For example, it was a lot easier to pick up on Viv being pushed aside as her parents focused on August in the film than in the book because the viewer can physically see Viv being side-lined and lounging around in the background.

Other actors that surprised me were the Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts who played the parts of Auggie’s parents. A clip of Owen Wilson in the trailer, along with an interview he did, are what really pushed me to devour this story and he pleasantly surprised me in this film. He is the typical, almost cliché “funny dad” there to break the tension at just the right moments and he really portrayed the loving father just trying to do the best to help out his child, along with paying Viv some attention unlike the preoccupied mother. When I looked into casting, Julia Roberts was the first one that I wasn’t I recognised but wasn’t too bothered about. Again, she surprised me and I found myself caring out – and appreciating the efforts of – the mother a lot more. Her chemistry with Owen did a great job of projecting that happy marriage and it was nice to see scenes of them together without the children.

I know that I’ve focused a lot on my thoughts surrounding the character portrayals, but in a heavily character driven story it’s too easy to focus on their efforts than anything outside of that. I will mention that I did love that the helmet featured a lot more in the film as it was an extra little thing to reflect Auggie’s character development throughout the story.

I left the cinema feeling emotionally drained but also overwhelmingly happy and satisfied. This adaptation keeps the real spirit of Wonder alive and showcases the importance of just being kind to others.

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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

All The Wrong Chords – Christine Hurley Deriso

“Sticking music in front of me is like putting a map in the face of a driver who already knows the way.”

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Blurb: “Scarlett Stiles is desperate for a change of scenery after her older brother, Liam, dies of a drug overdose. But spending the summer with her grandfather wasn’t exactly what she had in mind. Luckily, Scarlett finds something to keep her busy–a local rock band looking for a guitarist. Even though playing guitar has been hard since Liam died, Scarlett can’t pass on an opportunity like this, and she can’t take her eyes off the band’s hot lead singer either. Is real happiness just around the corner? Or will she always be haunted by her brother’s death?”

*This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

The story follows a girl called Scarlett who goes to stay with her Grandfather for the summer, following the death of her brother. She gets a job as a lifeguard, focuses on her upcoming college enrolment and tries to get on with life as normal. Through an almost unfortunate event, Scarlett meets a boy called Zach and learns that he is in a band. After his fellow bandmates learn of her talents on vocals and with a guitar, she is quickly asked to join.

At its heart this is a tale about grief. While it has been a few months, Scarlett is still deeply affected by the loss of her brother; and it doesn’t help when the real cause of his death is shielded from outsiders. Music is her connection to Liam as he taught her how to play guitar and she has shied away from the instrument since his death. What I loved is seeing Scarlett channel her feelings back into music. When she joins the band, memories are shared of times when she bonded with her brother through melodies.

While I enjoyed reading everything to do with the band and their performances, I found it hard to connect because I feel like it’s something that needed the visuals I struggled to conjure up enough of an image in my mind of the scenes in motion.

At the start I really didn’t like the Grandfather but as the story progressed I started to see the softer side to him and grew to really appreciate his relationship with Scarlet.

A must for music and romance lovers, and anyone wishing it was summer!

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Posted in children's fiction

Is The Christmasaurus: Musical Edition Worth It?

“I think books and music are very special. Books require a reader to use their imagination to bring the words to life, and music can affect your emotions like nothing else in the universe.”

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Last year, Tom Fletcher released his first full length children’s novel titled The Christmasaurus and it didn’t take long for it to jump onto my list of favourite books of the year. You can find my full review here.

For those who don’t know, The Christmasaurus  follows a boy called William Trundle who wants nothing more than a dinosaur for Christmas, and it just so happens that the elves have dug up a dinosaur egg at the North Pole. A series events leads to a magical Christmas Eve adventure. It was beautiful, funny, heart-warning and of course very festive. It was announced shortly after the release that The Christmasaurus would be transforming into a London-centric stage show for Christmas 2017 and as someone who lives at the other end of the country, I was disheartened. Until Tom Fletcher revealed earlier this year that the festive dinosaur would be returning in book form… with added music.

In terms of the aesthetic, the jacket designs are different, the embossing on the actual book binding is different and the end pages are also different. In terms of the content, the story is exactly the same.  However, the musical edition comes with a new introduction explaining Tom’s reasoning for the rerelease, a CD featuring 14 tracks and the song lyrics listed as a glossary at the back of the book.

The way to utilise the CD is simple: as the reader makes their way through the story, every so often there are little prompts in the margin indicating what song to play. The songs originate from Tom’s original writing process for the book in which he wrote a few songs to get into the true spirit of the stories and the minds of the characters. The songs are there simply to accompany and enhance the story.

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I wasn’t sure exactly how the execution of this would work as it’s something I’ve never seen done before. I didn’t need to worry because it is absolutely genius.

The combination of story and music really allows your imagination to run away with itself in new, magical and exciting ways. I found myself grinning when I reached a new prompt and got to listen to a new track – I will admit that sometimes I got distracted and listened to certain songs at least three times in a row before returning to the story. I was able to sit back and imagine new scenes while listening to the songs.

If you’re looking for something fun and festive to devour over Christmas, but will also leave you singing and dancing with a book in your hands, then I highly suggest you pick yourself up a copy.

I challenge you to not be excited for Christmas after going on an adventure with The Christmasaurus: Musical Edition

Posted in Non-Fiction, review

Feel Good 101 – Emma Blackery

“If you’re able to take away just one thing for this book that gives you the confidence to make a decision that benefits your life, then I’m glad to have written it.”

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Blurb: “In Feel Good 101, YouTube’s most outspoken star Emma Blackery is finally putting pen to paper to (over)share all her hard-learned life lessons. From standing up to bullies and bad bosses to embracing body confidence and making peace with her brain, Emma speaks with her trademark honesty about the issues she’s faced – including her struggles with anxiety and depression. This is the book Emma wishes she’d had growing up . . . and she’s written it for you”

I have always been skeptical of books written by YouTubers; especially when many of them are life stories written by people the same age as me. When Emma made a video expressing her distaste for a number of YouTubers signing book deals, it was a relief to see a big content creator breaking what had almost become a norm. Which made it an even bigger shock when she took a U-Turn a few months later and announced that she was writing a book.

Feel Good 101 started off as a series on Emma’s channel offering advice on various topics affecting young people, so it seemed only natural for that it to expand into a full book. Emma covers everything you can think of from school, music, mental health, dealing with failure, being bullied and the bully, and of course how she started her channel. It’s very similar to Carrie Hope Fletcher’s book All I Know Now in the sense that rather than attempting to be a self-help book (as Emma frequently makes it clear throughout, this book alone will not solve your problems), each segment is backed up by real life experiences. Emma doesn’t claim to have all of the answers and it’s that flawed, human element that makes this book a pleasure to read.

At first I was unsure whether to pick this up; for the reasons stated earlier. But when I heard there was an audiobook, I decided to use my audible credit. If you’re yet to buy Feel Good 101, I highly recommend the audiobook because it was like listening to one long video and held my attention a lot more than I think reading the book would have because you’re hearing Emma read her story. Oh, and there’s the additional bonus of an interview with YA author Holly Bourne if you opt for the audiobook.

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