Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

Ash Princess – Laura Sebastian

“You’re a lamb in the lion’s den, child. You’re surviving. Isn’t that enough?”

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Blurb: “Theodosia was six when her country was invaded and her mother, the Fire Queen, was murdered before her eyes. On that day, the Kaiser took Theodosia’s family, her land, and her name. Theo was crowned Ash Princess–a title of shame to bear in her new life as a prisoner.”

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

It’s a common theme in fantasy to see some sort of an invasion take place, and this book is no different. Ash Princess doesn’t hold back, and it’s brutal to witness. Theo’s home has been taken over, her mother killed, her language stamped out and replaced with that which her invaders brought over. The use of magic stones has been altered, her culture destroyed, the last of her people forced to work until they are driven mad, and she is kept as the prize; paraded in front of court and beaten to prove a point to anyone who dare step out of line. Oh, and she has been forced to answer to a new name: Thora. There were many parts of the book where my heart with in my mouth and it goes all in with the violence, forcing Theo into horrific situations. But I actually quite liked it because it felt like she really had lost anything, unlike other books of the genre that feature this kind of trope.

The world building is incredible. Learning all of the history of Theo’s original culture and seeing how it has changed was so fascinating to read. It just all felt so real.

However, outside of that, I really struggled to finish this book. It was a very predictable read, falling for the love triangle and “try to woo the prince” tropes. I also found the characters to be really bland and the only one who really stood out was the protagonist, Theo, but even then I couldn’t quite work out her character. Minus a particular event that spurs her to seek revenge, she was quite a repressed character and it was like she suddenly flicked the switch and became this individual trying to change her life. I just found myself skim reading quite a lot, desperate to get to the end but not in a good way.

It’s such a shame because the world building and initial start were so strong but everything seemed to fizzle out afterwards.

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Posted in discussion, Uncategorized

History Of Magic: A Comparison

“J.K Rowling first had the idea for Harry Potter while delayed on a train travelling from Manchester to London in 1990. Over the next five years she planned the seven books in the award-winning series for them at Bloomsbury. Harry Potter’s journey had only just begun…”

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To mark the twentieth anniversary of Harry Potter, the British Library held an exhibition all about the series. It covered everything from aspects of the content, to their real life magical counterparts, along with the chance to see J.K.Rowling’s notes and drawings in person. Like many, I was not able to attend, so breathed a sigh of relief when it was announced the exhibition would be turned into a book. In a time when we’re seemingly bombarded with endless add-on books (as discussed in my good things blog post LINK), I was slightly sceptical. But after reading, I can confirm this is probably the only extra Harry Potter book that needs to exist.

The book is available in two physical versions: The hardback which is called History of Magic and the paperback which is called Journey Through A History Of Magic.

The first main difference between the editions is the price: the hardback retails at £30 and is more of a “coffee table” book, whereas the paperback retails at £12.99 and is much easier to carry around.

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Both editions contain the same art and information; covering topics such as Defence Against The Dark Arts, potions and magical creatures. But the way that content is conveyed varies. The Hardback is more academic and very dense to read. I found myself having to take a chapter a day in order to get through it, and often had to reread passages because I didn’t understand what I’d just read.  Whereas the paperback is more aimed at children, and so the information is condensed, highlighting the important pieces of information to take away. It’s overall a lot more colourful and appealing to look at, along with little games to “try at home.”

Naturally, because I am such a child at heart, I enjoyed the paperback a lot more. It gives you the interesting highlights, has all the colourful illustrations from Jim Kay, and it’s easier to consume. Where it took me two weeks to get through the hardback, I was done with the paperback in an hour.

Have you read either edition? What did you think?

Posted in adult fiction, Dystopian, review, Uncategorized

Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

“These three words were always the last thing an Oasis player saw before leaving the real world and entering the virtual one: Ready Player One.”

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Blurb: “In the year 2045, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.”

Ready Player One has been very much an “on the fence” book for quite a while: I knew it was very popular but I just couldn’t quite bring myself to commit to reading it. Whenever I’ve brought up the prospect of delving into this one, I’ve had quite a few people speak very highly of the audiobook – which is narrated by Will Wheaton – so I decided to go for that format.

The world of The OASIS is equal parts fascinating and terrifying: since  its creation, it has grown into essentially its own kind of universe in which people marry other avatars without knowing where they are or what they look like in the real world and many, like the protagonist Wade, actually transferred from school in the real world to an education institution within this virtual existence. Learning how this way of life had become a way of life for so many people was really interesting but the concept of these characters spending hours upon hours motionless in a unit while they explored a different world with their avatars created this sense of vulnerability; which doesn’t work out well for a few of the characters.

The story gets straight into the crux of the plot, opening with the death of Halliday, the OASIS creator, and the video footage in which he reveals that he is leaving his fortune to whoever finds the hidden easter egg. The protagonist, Wade, goes on to explain how he went about solving the mystery and for me, the storytelling really fell apart. I appreciate the fact that this story takes place over a vast number of years (it takes five years from the Halliday video to the first clue being found) but the narrative went through consistent lull periods throughout and often, for that reason, ended up getting a bit sidetracked with other things. A lot of the plot points were just told in a “then I did this and then I did this” sort of way and I’m not sure how I found such issue with this as that’s basically how stories are told. But it felt like I wasn’t really being shown things. Along with that, I’m not sure if Wade comes across really obnoxious because of the writing style or if it was the way that Will Wheaton acted the part, but it didn’t sit right with me.

A big thing that made me apprehensive about picking up Ready Player One is that I knew it is packed full of eighties references so I felt that I wouldn’t gain full enjoyment given that I was born the decade after and have only see the odd eighties film. Naturally, there are a lot of jokes and sly comparisons that readers more familiar with the era will pick up on but it doesn’t majorly detract from the enjoyment if you’re not as aware of them.

The standout character for me was Artemis. Her frustration really seeps through the story as she always seemed to be just a few steps behind Wade throughout the book’s events.

For me, Ready Player One is a book with a fascinating concept but doesn’t quite hit the mark.

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Posted in Audiobook Of The Month

Audiobook The Month | Almost Love

As you can tell by the title of this post, it’s that undetermined point in the month when I talk about what audiobook I’ve decided to listen to for this short period of time. We’ve established that I’m terrible at introductions, so let’s get straight into it.

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Almost Love is Louise O’Neill’s first adult book and follows a woman called Sarah who starts to relive a past relationship after bumping into her ex for the first time since their “break up.” Some of the many themes we’ve come to know (and be terrified) of Louise O’Neill for are present this story: consensual and not-consensual sex, power imbalances and obsession. The book flits between the past and present with the former focusing on Sarah’s relationship with Matthew and how she let him use her for sex, constantly checked messages etc and was forced to keep their partnership private for reasons she didn’t really understand, other than that Matthew had told her to. The present focuses on her latest relationship and shows how Sarah hasn’t really evolved: it’s acknowledged in the narrative that she often pretends she’s going to pay even though she knows the men in her life always will and she’s quite abrasive with her current boyfriend.

The audiobook is narrated by Aoife McMahon and there’s just something truly captivating about the way she’s telling the story. Almost Love is a slow story and I think I’d have been easily bored if I was physically reading it, but her narration just has me flying through the chapters.

At the time of writing this, I am 52% into the book and nothing major has really happened but I’m waiting for that typical “Louise O’Neill moment” when impending doom sets free.

Posted in contemporary, lgbt, review, young adult

Leah On The OffBeat – Becky Albertalli

“I should have told him a year ago. I don’t think it would have been a big deal then, but now it feels insurmountable. It’s like I missed a beat somewhere, and now the whole song’s tempo.”

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Blurb: “When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic. An anomaly in her friend group, she’s the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.”

Becky Albertalli has cemented herself as one of my favourite authors. For someone who keeps saying she doesn’t like contemporaries (but still seems to read them anyway), I will happily devour anything she releases.

Do you need to read Simon Vs The Homo sapiens Agenda before reading Leah On The Offbeat? Absolutely. From the get-go this book is riddled with spoilers as, after all, it is a sequel.

Leah very much appears to be the outsider of the group at times. She is often the one looking on while everyone has their in-depth discussions and she rarely adds her own input until she’s with certain individuals such as Simon. It’s senior year and, as to be expected, conversations and plot are peppered with college worries, the concept of friendships ending and prom. Leah, just like possibly everyone who’s ever been a teenager, is worrying about everything.

She is also having her own internal battle with her sexuality. She is bisexual and only out to her mum. As a fat bisexual girl myself, I was able to relate to Leah in the way that she is quite comfortable with her sexuality but feels like she missed the window in which to declare it to the world; as the title implies, she’s offbeat. She doesn’t quite understand why she is unable to tell people, especially her best friend Simon who is out as gay. However, there is one particular scene that really does not sit right with me (for the sake of preserving the experience I have changed the name to Kelly). During a heart-to-heart with Leah, Kelly comes out as “low-key bi” and in response, Leah completely shuts her down, invalidates the sexuality of someone who is questioning and proceeds to storm off in a huff. In a time where LGBT books are reaching the mainstream in YA, it seems a very odd and harmful thing to include in a book. Normally I’m fine with problematic things as long as it’s called out within context and it isn’t. Leah never apologises and the scene just becomes a footnote in the overall plot. If I had read this book when I was questioning, it probably would’ve had a negative impact and I hate the idea of a questioning teen reading this book and feeling the same. It just seemed a very odd choice for Albertalli to make and I’m not sure how it slipped past editors.

There is also an instance of racism towards Abby which Leah is quick to step up and shut down and while it was lovely to see and appreciate, once it had been solved and Abby expressed this, Leah continued to hold a grunge.

But, moving on. I liked seeing Leah and Abby getting to know each other better outside of their friendship group obligations and it was nice to see some references to The Upside of Unrequited. I did struggle getting into this book at first as I reread Simon for the film and a few characters in the book are not present in the film, so once I found my feet again the book started to flow better.

Another thing that bugged me was the formatting of the Ebook. A few conversations take place through text messages and there were no bold or italic sentences to make it clear what was part of the message and what made up the narrative.

This was one of my most anticipated reads for the year, and sadly, it missed the beat.

 
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Posted in fantasy, review

The Book of Dust – Phillip Pullman

“He was liked when noticed, but not noticed much, and that did him no harm either.”

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Blurb: “Eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead and his dæmon, Asta, live with his parents at the Trout Inn near Oxford. Across the River Thames (which Malcolm navigates often using his beloved canoe, a boat by the name of La Belle Sauvage) is the Godstow Priory where the nuns live. Malcolm learns they have a guest with them, a baby by the name of Lyra Belacqua . . .”

I have a confession to make: prior to reading La Belle Sauvage, I had never read any of Philip Pullman’s work before. Actually, that’s a small lie. When having a discussion about this book with my mother she told me that we did attempt to listen to the audiobook on a car journey to France once but we ended up swiftly abandoning it because none of us were enjoying it. However, I have no memory of this so let’s pretend I was entirely new to his books.

The story follows a boy called Malcom who is the son of an innkeeper and lives in an alternate Oxford with his daemon Astra and canoe named La Belle Sauvage.  His everyday life is disrupted when a group of strange, important-looking people show up looking for a baby called Lyra.

The great thing about this new series is that you don’t need to have read His Dark Materials in order to fully understand this timeline. Philip Pullman himself has described The Book of Dust as an “equal” as the series will take place before, during and after the events of his previous one. Of course, there are things the reader is more likely to pick up on if they are familiar with His Dark Materials but it’s not a requirement to be entirely in the know. Having said that, I did get confused at some points and found myself looking to the wiki for answers: in one case when the aletiometer was introduced (which I discovered is a “compass-like device” that communicates with dust and can find the truthful answers to questions. Only six exist in this universe).

I loved the idea of everyone having their own daemon and how they were so quick to defend their person and found some of the conversations into dust and identity interesting but these were much more limited than what I had been led to believe by others who had read this book.

The really big problem I had with La Belle Sauvage fell down more to my own expectations. I went into it expecting a big high-fantasy adventure and instead had to sit through a more character-driven, low fantasy, slow burn. There are many action-packed scenes but it really has that feel of being the book to set up the rest of the events to come. I found myself rather impatiently plodding along, and persevered to the end to try and understand why everyone else seemed to be enjoying this book a lot more than me.

Overall, I just found it bland and that none of the characters really stood out despite the situations they were put in. But at least I tried a new author, even if it didn’t quite work out how I hoped it would.

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Posted in discussion

The Failure of The Great Gatsby

“I know Gatsby better than I know my own child. My first instinct was to let him go and have Tom Buchanan dominate the book but Gatsby sticks in my heart. I had him for a while, then lost him, and now I know I have him again.”

– Fitzgerald in a letter to Maxwell Perkins (December 1924)

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Originally titled Trimalchio In The West Egg, F.Scott Fitzgerald began work on The Great Gatsby in June 1922. After the success of his first two novels, Fitzgerald was sure that his new working progress would be the one to cement him as a literary writer.

Many critics and historians have tried to find the links between Fitzgerald’s situations and those his characters find themselves in, of which there are quite a few. But what I find most interesting is how fascinated Fitzgerald seemed to be with the period of time he lived in himself. In October 1922, Fitzgerald, his wife, and new-born moved to Long Island which would become the geographical base of his next novel. The house they lived in was small compared the homes of the wealthy New-Yorkers around them and money caused Fitzgerald no end of stress throughout his life. So it’s no surprise to see these themes make their way into The Great Gatsby; Especially during a time when technology was on the rise in the form of photographs and cars and the rise of consumerism.

The Great Gatsby was published by Charles Scribner’s Sons on April 10th 1925. On the same day, Fitzgerald contacted his editor, Maxwell Perkins, to ask if there had been any news, to which Perkins responded “sales situation doubtful, but excellent reviews.” As I mentioned earlier, Fitzgerald was sure his latest publication would be a commercial success, and hope he would sell as many as 75,000 copies. By October of the same year, The Great Gatsby had sold 20,000 copies. Critic response was incredibly mixed; and what many believe led to the period of self-doubt which Fitzgerald carried until the day he died. As to be expected, the negative reactions to the book were notable: One of the most memorable being from Harvey Eagleton for The Dallas Morning News who wrote “one finishes Great Gatsby with a feeling of regret, not for the fate of the people in the book, but for Mr. Fitzgerald.”

Fitzgerald felt that everyone, both with good and bad things to say, had missed the point he was trying to make with the book and (sorry to any ladies who swoon over him like I do) he blamed the bad reception, in part, on women being the main readers of literature at the time, and that they were put off by the lack of “admirable women” in the story.

Despite all of this, Scribner’s kept the book in print and the first edition remained on their trade list until 1946, by which time The Great Gatsby was available in three other print forms. In total, Fitzgerald earned only $8,397 from the book in his lifetime.

As critics continued to beat down his other books and with a stream of endless rejections, his wife’s illness led to him writing only short stories as a means to gain money quicker to pay for her care. F.Scott Fitzgerald died December 21st 1940 believing he was a failure.

However, this tale has a slightly happier ending. During World War II, publishing executives, under the “Council on Books in Wartime”, distributed paperback books to the fighting soldiers overseas. 155,000 copies of The Great Gatsby were among them. This led to streams of articles being written about Fitzgerald’s works in 1944. The book began to sell 50.000 copies a year and editor Arthur Mizener (The New York Times) labelling it “a classic of twentieth-century American fiction” certainly did a lot to help. As of 2013, The Great Gatsby had sold over 25 million copies worldwide. With the glitzy Baz Lurhman adaptation in 2013 and many educational institutions adding the book to reading lists, Fitzgerald is finding his way into new hearts every day.

F.Scott Fitzgerald died believing that he had failed as a writer. But that was not right. He just hadn’t found his audience yet.

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“America’s greatest promise is that something is going to happen, and after a while you get tired of waiting because nothing happens to American art because America is the story of the moon that never rose.”

-Fitzgeraald in a letter to Marya Mannes (October 1925

Posted in Dystopian, review, young adult

All Rights Reserved – Gregory Scott Katsoulis

“I made the sign of the zippered lips, and I silently vowed I would never speak again.”

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Blurb: “In a world where every word and gesture is copyrighted, patented or trademarked, one girl elects to remain silent.”

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

Trigger Warnings: Suicide, victim shaming, assault and drug use.

In a world where words and gestures are trademarked, the reader is introduced to the protagonist – Speth – who is approaching the age in which she is fitted with a cuff and starts being charged for every word she says and every action she makes. The initial concept of All Rights Reserved is terrifying in itself because it’s an ideal that is all too easy to picture in our own world. Right’s holders can charge a pretty penny for adjectives and a shrug higher than 2cm can cost, people are taken to Debt Collectors for copyright violations that happened years ago and involved their ancestors. People can be sued simply for looking like someone else. The word “sorry” will cost $10 and is classed as a legal admission of guilt.

As listed above, there are a few triggers throughout the story as characters feel trapped by their conditions. Please exersize care and make sure you’re in the best space to read this book because it doesn’t hold back.

All Rights Reserved is an interesting twist on the “dystopian rebellion” trope as normally the protagonist is fighting to make their voice heard. Speth chooses on her “last day” to zip her lips and refuse to speak. I’m not sure where I expected the story to go, but as the book is narrated from first person, the reader doesn’t get to see much of the rebellion. Speth becomes quite isolated as refusing to make her speech means that she can’t make purchases, have a job or get into most establishments because she can’t agree to the Terms and Conditions. A lot of what’s going on outside of her home is explained through her siblings calling out her behaviour and alerting her to news reports. Because of this, I feel like the plot slows down an awful lot and becomes quite a slog to get through. It picks up in the last quarter but it’s quite a struggle to get there.

Speth is by no means the first to rebel against the proverbial system: many other teens in her class read their speeches on their last day and haven’t spoken since. What makes Speth different is that she never read her speech; the first words she must say when she has been fitted with her cuff. It’s sort of like signing a contract.

This is a book with a thrilling premise but the execution falls short.

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