What I’ve Read / Reviews

Mini ReviewsI have mini reviews of three eBooks for you today!

Iron to Iron by Ryan Graudin

Wolf By Wolf was one of my favourite books of last year so I absolutely had to download Iron to Iron, a novella that takes place before the events of Wolf By Wolf.

Iron to Iron is narrated by Luka Lowe as he tries to figure out newcomer to the world famous Axis Race, Felix Wolfe – Adele Wolfe in disguise. Even though we already know the outcome of the dangerous motorbike race, the relationship between Luka and Adele is still a little bit of a mystery, so it was great to get to know them both better (since Adele is rather… occupied in Wolf By Wolf). It’s still just as tense as ever and I’d really love to re-read Wolf By Wolf, to see whether the novella has affected how I see Luka. It was a great way to whet my appetite before the highly anticipated sequel, Blood For Blood. It’s definitely worth reading if you loved the first book.

Love and Other Alien Experiences by Kerry WinFry

I had wanted to read fellow YA blogger Kerry’s novel for a while and so when I was in a reading slump, whereby I could only be brought out by fun contemporary young adult novels, it seemed like a perfect choice.

Mallory Sullivan has suffered from severe anxiety and agoraphobia ever since her father left without warning. She hasn’t left her house in weeks and is humiliated when her classmates pick her to be on the school prom committee. Because high school is cruel, they start the #stayathome hashtag and she desperately tries not to follow the nasty things they tweet about her. As a lover of all things paranormal, she instead finds solace in talking to her friend (or is he more than that?) BeamMeUp on the We Are Not Alone online community.

Even though Mallory feels alone, her brother Lincoln, best friend Jenni, and the neighbourly Kirkpatrick boys are also there to help. Even with their support, it’s quite tough to see how judgemental people, especially your own family, can be. Mallory feels like she’s the town “freak”, but she’s a fantastic, intelligent character with a lot of wit and sarcasm (a Sullivan family trait), and a surprising talent for flirting. It’s the characters that bring this story to life (but the puppies help, too). Even though it may seem serious, the characters’ conversations and relationships are often light and fun – something which helps Mallory more than she thought. Love and Other Alien Experiences will be available in print next spring and you’ll definitely want to pick it up!

Another Together by Lauren James

If wonderfully written historical romance and time-travelling sound like your cup of tea, then The Next Together should be on your wishlist. Another Together is a standalone short story set in the same world. It’s 1940 and war is upon us. Kitty and Matthew, codebreakers at the famous Bletchley Park, are determined to solve a different kind of puzzle – a murder has taken place and the investigation isn’t all as it seems.

Another Together is a sweet story that provides a little more insight into the relationship of one of 2015’s favourite literary couples, set during a time that’s always fascinated me. It’s over super quick, but it’s a little bit of fun to get you ready for the companion novel, The Last Beginning. Let the reincarnation romance continue!

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (Classic #3)

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (Classic #3)

Shelved: Classic (children’s, fantasy, science fiction)
Series: Time Quintet (#1)
Published: 1962 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Rating: ★★★
Challenge: Classics – #3
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

This is my third post for the 2016 Classics Challenge – sign up and join 430+ other people in reading one classic each month.

Out of this wild night, a strange visitor comes to the Murry house and beckons Meg, her brother Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin O’Keefe on a most dangerous and extraordinary adventure – one that will threaten their lives and our universe.

WHEN I Discovered This Classic
It’s a children’s classic that I’ve been aware of since joining the book community. It’s super popular in the US, but not so much in the UK. Last year, Puffin got in touch to offer me a bunch of newly redesigned and published Puffin Classics. I couldn’t say no and requested A Wrinkle in Time.

WHY I Chose to Read It
A Wrinkle in Time is not only a highly-regarded classic (it won the 1963 Newbery Medal), but a much-beloved classic. I was excited to finally pick it up.

WHAT Makes It A Classic
It’s a novel that is seen to be for 9 to 12-year-olds and yet tackles highly complex themes. Good vs. evil – illustrated in the story as light vs. dark – and conformity vs. freedom are woven into the plot. It’s scientific and philosophical, and some say religious.

Jean Fulton wrote: “L’Engle’s fiction for young readers is considered important partly because she was among the first to focus directly on the deep, delicate issues that young people must face, such as death, social conformity, and truth.”

“A straight line is not the shortest distance between two points.”

WHAT I Thought of This Classic
I was intrigued, particularly by the concepts of wrinkling time and tessering; folding the fabric of space and time. Meg, Charles and Calvin are promised that they’ll travel from one area of space to another and arrive back home five minutes before they left. As for the characters, I adored 13-year-old Margaret “Meg” Murray and her younger brother, 5-year-old Charles Wallace, who is both a genius and telepathic. They are the key to saving their father, a scientist studying tesseract, who is being kept on the planet Camazotz.

A Wrinkle in Time is one of the few children’s science fiction classics I’ve read. It’s impressive, challenging and ambitious. As my experience of science fiction is limited to dystopia and post-apocalyptic – and so therefore much easier concepts to grasp – I just about got my head around the science. But I appreciate that it was explained. I attended an event about writing children’s science fiction a few years ago and a comment was made that it’s easier to write for children because there’s less to explain. I’m sure Madeleine L’Engle wouldn’t agree. Rather than simply “travelling through time”, the reader becomes more invested in how this might happen and what could go wrong.

Even so, A Wrinkle in Time was often a little too bizarre for me, as someone who generally reads contemporary fiction. I was hoping that I’d get into the story much more than I did. But I thoroughly enjoyed the personal journey that the children went on and it’s one I’d happily give another shot.

“The only way to cope with something deadly serious is to try to treat it a little lightly.” 

WILL It Stay A Classic
I’m sure it’ll continue to be popular within in the US, but it may be a little too peculiar to be reintroduced to the UK – but time will tell as a new adaptation is currently being made!

“They are very young. And on their earth, as they call it, they never communicate with other planets. They revolve about all alone in space.”
“Oh,” the thin beast said. “Aren’t they lonely?”

WHO I’d Recommend It To
People who love science fiction. People who love stories about complex and challenging themes.

“We can’t take any credit for our talents. It’s how we use them that counts.”

A Book and a Bag / #PackAPuffin A Book and a Bag / #PackAPuffin

Book Review: Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

onlyeveryours

Shelved: Young adult fiction (science fiction)
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

I purchased Only Ever Yours after it won the YA Book Prize. It was one of the few books on the shortlist that I didn’t already own or hadn’t read, but it was one everyone was talking about.

Louise O’Neill describes Only Ever Yours as The Handmaid’s Tale meets Mean Girls. It is startlingly, painfully real. I’ve read a lot of young adult dystopian fiction and I’ve been reluctant to think of Only Ever Yours as ‘dystopian’  – it’s more ‘speculative’. Even though our society doesn’t mirror freida and isabel’s exactly, if you break it down and deconstruct every judgement, expectation and attitude that the girl’s are subject to, we’re almost already there.

freida and isabel are two of many girls waiting to see whether they will be selected to be wives to wealthy, powerful men and go on to bear his sons. They have grown up in a school that teaches girls how to be pretty and, in the near future, will progress into one of three career paths: companions, concubines or chastities. They don’t get to choose which. Popularity comes with being the most beautiful and the girls are ranked based on how they look and how thin they are. Eating disorders are encouraged and the girls are given opportunities to judge each other constantly. In one particularly dark scene, a girl stands naked in front of the class while improvements from her fellow students are thrown at her. Every time you think Only Ever Yours couldn’t possibly get any more bleak, it does.

Only Ever Yours is a dazzling, well-crafted feminist satire. It all unfolds when isabel can no longer live up to what society wants her to be and we watch as frieda struggles to deal with what she thinks she ought to do and what she feels is right. It’ll make you angry, shocked and outraged – and you’ll want to tell everyone.

Asking For It is Louise O’Neill’s upcoming book, about eighteen-year-old Emma O’Donovan, who is raped at a friend’s party. It is a much-needed novel and will likely be even more difficult to read than Only Ever Yours…

Published: 3rd July 2014 (UK) 12th May 2015 (US)
Publisher: Quercus
Pages: 392

Book Review: We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

Book Review: We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

Shelved: Young adult fiction (contemporary, science fiction)
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

“The best books, they don’t talk about things you never thought about before. They talk about things you’d always thought about, but that you didn’t think anyone else had thought about. You read them, and suddenly you’re a little bit less alone in the world. You’re part of this cosmic community of people who’ve thought about this thing, whatever it happens to be.”

We All Looked Up was the May pick for my informal we-actually-just-want-an-excuse-to-meet-up-and-chat book club and I was really looking forward to reading it. I’ve read a lot of young adult sci-fi but We All Looked Up is different – a mix of science fiction and contemporary, one of my favourite genres. I tweeted about We All Looked Up when I started reading it, saying it was The Breakfast Club meets the apocalypse, and I still think that’s true. But our four teenage protagonists are confined to one town rather than one building!

Before the asteroid, four teenagers lived their lives defined by four neat labels: athlete (Peter), the outcast (Eliza), the slacker (Andy), the overachiever (Anita), but now that the world’s changed, they have the opportunity to think about themselves, others and the world around them a little bit more. I love how We All Looked Up is told, in alternating chapters narrated by our protagonists, going back and forth between the present and the immediate past. I used to think of myself as someone who would pick ‘plot’ over ‘characters’ but while others are perhaps a little disappointed in the lack of wider world-building – what’s happening in the rest of the world as  Arden is approaching and what governments are doing to stop it – I didn’t feel that that was the point of We All Looked Up. All of the teenagers are flawed and the asteroid is just a device through which we get a modern coming-of-age story.

As with any young adult contemporary novel, we still get our love stories, family arguments, difficult choices and complicated friendships. Peter’s dealing with breaking up with his girlfriend and dreaming about his brief romantic encounter with Eliza – who went from shy to ‘slut’ as a result – and is in competition with Andy, who is amongst the wrong crowd, while Anita is struggling to live up to her parents’ crushing expectations. She takes the opportunity, as it is likely the end of the world after all, to pursue her desire to be a singer. We All Looked Up gets complicated and messy – adolescence often is – as the characters become closer, and I thoroughly enjoyed taking part in their journey.

We All Looked Up is a wonderful, poignant look at what it means to grow up. It makes you wonder whether you have the determination to change the course your life is on, whether you’ll ever have the opportunity to look up.

Published: 26th March 2015
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK & US
Pages: 384

 

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham (Classic #3)

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham (Classic #3)

Shelved: Classic (science fiction, post-apocalyptic)
Published: 1955 by Michael Joseph
Rating: ★★★
Challenge: Classics Challenge – #3
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

Here’s my third post for the 2015 Classics Challenge!  It’s not too late to join me (and 160+ other people) in reading one classic per month.

David Storm’s father doesn’t approve of Angus Morton’s unusually large horses, calling them blasphemies against nature. Little does he realise that his own son, and his son’s cousin Rosalind and their friends, have their own secret aberration which would label them as mutants. But as David and Rosalind grow older it becomes more difficult to conceal their differences from the village elders. Soon they face a choice: wait for eventual discovery, or flee to the terrifying and mutable Badlands…..

WHEN I Discovered This Classic
I bought The Chrysalids and The Day of the Triffids in 2013 when I visited Daunt Books, Marylebone, one of my favourite bookshops in London. I knew that his books were science fiction modern classics and that the two I picked were his most well-known novels.

WHY I Chose to Read It
It had been a while since I read my first John Wyndham novel. I read The Day of the Triffids in April 2013 and haven’t picked up a John Wyndham novel since, even though I own five now! I read an older classic in January and a children’s classic in February, so it was time to read a modern classic in March.

WHAT Makes It A Classic
All of John Wyndham’s novels are said to be modern classics because they were published during the era of great science fiction. One of the things I noticed while reading both The Chrysalids and The Day of the Triffids was how fresh and timeless they feel – they could have been published today. The Chrysalids also tackles religious fundamentalism and eugenics, issues that are still relevant today. David lives in a world where there are ‘offences’ (unusual plants and animals) and ‘blasphemies’ (humans with something unusual about them). If something is seen as being out of the ordinary – whether it’s a horse that’s a little too large or human with an extra toe – it is banished from society or destroyed, and it was easy to see that this kind of thinking is still prevalent today. It’s why I think science fiction – whether classic or contemporary – is such an exciting genre; it makes you think.

WHAT I Thought of This Classic
I loved The Day of the Triffids when I read it and I hoped that I’d enjoy The Chrysalids just as much, but unfortunately it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. I still enjoyed it, especially as it has a few unexpected twists and turns that make it exciting at times, but sometimes I found the religious aspect of the story to be a little too simple. It’s perhaps because the concept no longer feels that new. I loved the adult and child protagonists; they really brought the story to life. I read an article that said The Chrysalids was also a coming-of-age story, and that encapsulates it very well. Although it’s a post-apocalyptic story about living in a society where those who are seen as ‘different’ are eradicated, it’s also about young people growing up and questioning everything they’ve been told. In The Chrysalids, our young protagonists are much more open-minded than their adult counterparts; they’re curious, inquisitive and open to re-evaluating the morality they’ve been taught.

WILL It Stay A Classic
If you love post-apocalyptic fiction, there’s so many novels to choose from, so will The Chrysalids stand out another 50 years from now? It’s difficult to say because it seems like we’re in a time where science fiction isn’t just read by people who would browse the science fiction section of bookshelves, but perhaps people will continue to keep coming back to John Wyndham.

WHO I’d Recommend It To
People who love science fiction and want to delve into some of the top science fiction novels from the 1930s-1950s. People who adore young adult science fiction novels like The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. People who want a quick classic to read (this one is only 200 pages).

Have you signed up to the 2015 Classics Challenge?