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All The Bright and Wonderful and Dark and Horrible and Amazing Places...

All the Bright Places - Jennifer Niven

All The Bright Places is just one of those bowl you over, knock you for six books. It is wonderful and heartbreaking and … just …. Arghhh!

 

It’s difficult to write a coherent review because it should be done with the least amount of spoilers as possible. But I want to write about all the amazing and awful things, I am in serious need of an All The Bright Places wordvomitfest (like my new word?). I will try to keep it limited though while still providing you with all the reason to read it – wow reviewing can be hard!

 

All The Bright Places is the story of Violet Markey, dealing with the death of her sister, and Theodore Finch, who has an obsession with suicide that traces back to an abusive and neglectful past but just hasn’t brought himself to do it yet. They meet in the bell tower where Finch talks Violet out of jumping. Two very broken souls come together and it could either be the start of something magical, or something heartbreaking.

 

This book covers some heavy topics – its characters are both dealing with depression of different kinds and when they fall in love they not only have to deal with their own problems but each other’s while never asking for or receiving the help they really need from parents or teachers or counsellors. All they have is what they have found in each other and I spent the majority of the book hoping it would be enough. I have never wanted a fictional couple – or any couple, really – to be together so much and not only that, to be able to stay together against all odds. I wished, unrealistically, for them to fight harder, to want to survive. I hate suicide stories but I read so many of them because I’m looking for not necessarily a happy ending, but an ending that will convince likeminded people to stay. I just want them to stay.

 

Both Violet and Finch were such real characters who felt so alive which I think is why it got to me. They felt as if they could have been people I knew or had once met or even just passed in the street. From their adventures through Indiana that brought out the wandering nature in me, to their poignant moments with each other, to their interactions with their families and peers, everything about them felt real to me. I could have read a neverending book about Finch and Violet. I loved them even when I was annoyed, and when I tried to understand what they were going through but felt like I must have just been missing it, and when I was begging them to stay, I loved Finch and Violet all throughout this book. Jennifer Niven has crafted some wonderful characters and a poignant, moving story I won’t forget in a hurry. There were moments when they frustrated me, especially Finch, as much as I tried to understand him I just wanted to shake him and yell at him to GET HELP.

 

So please, if you ever feel depressed, if you ever experience something like this, like Violet or Finch or even something different – there are places you can go and people you can go to for help. You are never alone.

 

If you only read one contemporary this year, make it this one.

Modern fairytale retelling set in a theatre boarding school

The Rapunzel Dilemma - Jennifer Kloester

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing this book in exchange for an honest review. This did not influence my review in any way.

So me and this book had a few troubles. After being approved on Netgalley (which took so long it was already out by the time I was) I realised from reading other reviews that though it is a companion novel, The Cinderella Moment should be read before The Rapunzel Dilemma. Considering I’d been planning on reading it anyway I thought I would track it down, shouldn’t be too hard, right? Except Dymocks didn’t have it in so I had to wait a week for it to come in. So then I got it, finally, read it in a day. All good. I start The Rapunzel Dilemma that night only to get thirty pages in to my galley and encounter a blank page in the middle of a chapter and the next couple of pages seemingly out of order. Close Adobe Editions, open it again, restart laptop – nothing worked. And I couldn’t re-download it from Netgalley because I’d taken so long to get around to it that it had been archived. Great. However, I refused to be beaten and the next time I was in the city (Thursday) I bought myself a paperback copy (as well as some other goodies, because I can). I finished the book I’d moved on to and FINALLY I was on my way.

The Rapunzel Dilemma picks up a few weeks after the happy ending of The Cinderella Moment. Lily has convinced her father that he should let her attend the London Drama Academy, an idea he was not too keen on to begin with. But he has made her a deal: he will allow her three years at the Academy and then she will have to step into her role in the family business. She begrudgingly agrees, for now, and receives a rare audition for the Academy. Instantly, her new classmates believe that it is Lily’s money and connections that have got her there and as you can imagine they are livid. I would be too and I don’t blame them at all. So for the first time ever life is not easy for Lily de Tourney and she finds that at the Academy her status and privilege mean nothing other than being able to purchase an expensive bedspread to rub her roommates’ noses in (not literally!) which really is not going to make them like you any more than before. The classes are difficult, too, and Lily is also learning that even though she loves acting, she might not actually be as good as she thinks she is.

As well as handling all the drama of being the rich kid nobody likes, someone is also trying to sabotage Lily’s new friendships and things start to go missing, get ruined and trashed and all fingers point to Lily, even though she’s getting menacing letters in her locker. Oh wait, don’t forget the love interest! Cue entry of mysterious, angsty, good looking boy from the other side of the tracks.

The Rapunzel parallels are in Lily’s long blonde locks and the Tower in which she seeks refuge from the students who dislike her, the sabotage and from her teachers’ harsh (but in my opinion deserved) criticism. Basically, there’s a reason no one likes Lily. She is spoiled and privileged and has no idea about the real world and what goes on in it. Even when she recognises this she doesn’t change her attitude so it is hard to like her. She is incredibly naïve and I couldn’t believe that she didn’t realise that obviously she had help getting her audition at the Academy. I could still feel the fairytale element in this story but not quite as well, although overall I enjoyed it more than I did The Cinderella Moment. There were few parallels in the flow of the two stories, particularly in misunderstandings with the respective love interests and another rushed conclusion where everything is tied up with a neat bow in the last thirty pages or so.

So what did I like? Because I did like it, even though I didn’t like Lily, didn’t really like the romance and didn’t like how rushed the conclusion was. Wait….did I like this? Well, I did. I liked the boarding school setting and I liked the friendships, especially Angel and Lily’s friendship and how Lily had to more or less learn how to make friends with people who didn’t like her. I thought the blossoming friendships with her roommates were sweet but I didn’t particularly care for Max much at all, despite the fact that he was the first one to befriend her. Hands down my favourite character is still Grandmama, who has a more subtle role in this story but makes an appearance nonetheless. I completely understand Grandmama even when Lily doesn’t – imagine finding your 16-year-old granddaughter at a hotel in the English countryside and meet her male companion wearing nothing but a towel! Even if he had been the most upperclass young man ever she still would have thrown a fit (you would hope, in the name of good grandparenting) despite it all being a case of misunderstanding. Surely Lily and Ronan would realise that? But it’s a fairytale! There needs to be conflict for a nice resolution.

And look it was a nice, if somewhat unrealistic, resolution. It was a fairly enjoyable read and the ending was nice, but on further thought I have dropped my rating from 4 stars to 3.5. It wasn’t spectacular but it was a nice and light, fluffy read.

Exciting conclusion to the Reboot duology

Rebel - Amy Tintera

The exciting conclusion to the Reboot duology, Rebel doesn’t disappoint. We meet up with Callum and Wren moments after Reboot finished, standing in front of the entrance to the Reboot Reservation. They have escaped HARC and Wren particularly just wants to lay low for a while. She’s had enough of the hunting, the fighting, the killing. She couldn’t give a damn about what everyone else is doing, she just doesn’t want to be a part of any of it anymore. But when its revealed that the leader of the Reservation has a plan to take down all of the humans, Callum wants to stop him and protect the people. Wren wants to get out. The two are going to be at odds with each other while also struggling to work out what’s wrong and what’s right, in the middle of a war.

I really love the discussion of morality that comes up in this book. When you’re only seventeen and have been conditioned to hunt and kill, how do you come to grips with that part of yourself when someone shows you something else, especially when you actually enjoyed the hunt and were good at it? In the same breath, Callum, who only killed one person, seems shocked by how little guilt Wren carries around with her and he wonders how that can be. There is some serious moral dilemma here that they both struggle with, which works well with the dual view which I really enjoyed.

It’s been a while since I read Reboot and I probably should have done a re-read before reading this one, because I was a bit fuzzy on some details and I also couldn’t remember Callum being this funny! It provided some much-needed comic relief for what was quite an intense and action-packed book. Being a duology, everything moved quickly and there were no slow info-dumps or space-fillers, which is often seen in ‘middle books’ of trilogies.

Despite the supporting characters, this book is very clearly focused on Wren and Callum which is a bit of a shame because I would have liked to see characters like Addie and Riley fleshed out a bit more. Also, for such a fast-paced book, I felt there was a lot of sleeping or passing out to end chapters which is a bit convenient sometimes and just fell a bit flat for me especially once I noticed how often it occurred. And while I enjoyed the romance between Wren and Callum, I felt that they would kiss or fall into each other’s arms at critical points where they should have been thinking of the war they were in the middle of. There were a few other things in the romance that seemed to happen because the author thought they had to happen rather than just happening naturally. Other than the physical stuff though, I enjoyed the banter between the two and the way they make each other think and question things they each would normally accept.

Wren is one of my favourite-, bad-ass characters of all time and I also appreciate that Callum was ‘softer’ and ‘more human’ than her but still capable. Both were multi-faceted characters and I enjoyed this exciting conclusion to the duology. Duologies also make me feel good because its only two books and so easy to finish the series (something that rarely happens to me!).

Half the World in Winter

Half the World in Winter - Maggie Joel

Thank you to the publisher who provided this book in exchange for an honest review. This did not influence my review in any way.

It is 1880s London, and the Jarmyn family are coming out of deep mourning for the youngest member of their household, nine-year-old Sofia, after a terrible accident. Each member of the family is struggling – head of the family Lucas, his wife Aurora, eldest son Bill at Oxford, newly eighteen year old Dinah, younger sons Gus and Jack who were left out of it all – and it seems only their housekeeper Mrs. Logan is able to keep them all together. Six months later, another nine-year-old girl has died and it’s on the railway that Lucas owns. Her father Thomas travels to London for explanation and justice and the future of the two families collides.



I have had a lot of trouble trying to write this review – it was one of those that I just couldn’t work out where to start because by the time I got to the end I had mixed feelings. I was really enjoying it for the most part – while the story was moving slow, the history was fascinating and you can tell this book has been meticulously researched. It was just so interesting that I didn’t mind the pace of the story development. Though the death of Sofia, and Alice too, were grisly and the detail of ‘how to mourn correctly’ was heavy and you can tell these people are full of grief and guilt, this book still managed to be infused with humour relief, particularly from the household staff who were fantastic characters.

I enjoyed the slow burn and the development of both the story of Thomas Brinklow and the Jarmyn family following the train accident, and the story surrounding Sofia’s death and how this affected the other members of the household – particularly Dinah, who has turned eighteen and become a woman and no one has realised. All of this is happening in the midst of the Boer War, with the Jarmyns’ cousin Roger off to serve the Queen and young Jack wishing he could do the same. These stories were all intricately woven and well executed but I was left unsatisfied with the ending. It made perfect sense but it still seemed to fall flat, I’m not really sure why. I was really enjoying the story but maybe the ending was too quiet, with not enough of a bang? But then the novel wasn’t a bang of a novel, if that makes sense, so maybe a bang of an ending wouldn’t have worked and I’d be just as unsatisfied? You can see why I’m a bit confused about how I feel!

I think I will settle on 3.5 stars, which is kind of safe. But the writing and the storytelling was brilliant and I did enjoy it and I do recommend it for that, I only wish I hadn’t been so iffy about the ending!

Their lips may talk of mischief, but they do nothing...

Their Lips Talk of Mischief - Alan Warner

Thank you to Allen & Unwin for providing this book in exchange for an honest review. This did not alter my review in any way.

I’m just going to state this straight up, no flowery sentences or beating around the bush: I really disliked these characters! Llewellyn and Cunningham, they’re only 21, but both are stuck up and pretentious, believing the world owes them everything though they have made no contribution to it whatsoever. They both live on government welfare, some of it ill begotten, along with Llewellyn’s young wife Aiofe and baby daughter Lily, the former who Cunningham is increasingly attracted to. They wax on and on about how they’re going to write the greatest novel of their time, yet all they do is drink beer or spirits or whatever they can find and talk about the great novels they’re going to write. They don’t work, they don’t help themselves. They are very easy to dislike.

To start with I was okay with this. The writing was really good and I was enjoying disliking them. But unfortunately by the time I was halfway through I felt pretty done with it. By the time the inevitable happened, which I could see coming a mile off, I was quite disinterested in the rest of the book and could put it down for a couple of days without thinking about it. I wasn’t excited about the book and I didn’t care what happened to the characters, which can happen when you don’t like them. Simply put, I wouldn’t like these guys if I met them. But they do sound like idealistic twenty-one year olds, not that I know much about what life was like in England in the 80s. I recognise their self-entitlement in some of the people I know, so Warner got that spot on.

I know some really smart people have talked about how great this book is, but I can’t find a whole lot more to say about it. I enjoyed the writing but the story itself couldn’t keep me interested and I didn’t feel invested. I would be curious to read Warner’s other works though and see what else he can do.

Way better than These Broken Stars - loved it

This Shattered World - Amie Kaufman,  Meagan Spooner

This Shattered World is everything I wanted These Broken Stars to be – and more. In the places that These Broken Stars didn’t deliver enough for me, This Shattered World far exceeded any expectations. One of those super big positives was that This Shattered World is not about Lilac and Tarver, though I was curious to know what had happened to them, I couldn’t deal with Lilac’s voice again. In This Shattered World we are on the planet Avon where we meet Captain Jubilee Chase, an absolute badass soldier leading her men to maintain the peace on Avon, which is far behind the other planets in terraforming and is also home to The Fury, which sends people crazy. When she crosses paths with Flynn Cormac, the leader of the peaceful rebellion known as the Fianna, he kidnaps her to find out about a secret facility that seems to have appeared overnight. Neither of them could have known what this would lead to, but it is just the beginning of a sequence of events that’s about to change the world they live on.

This Shattered World is a fast paced adventure that never drags with an awesome heroine and a sweet male lead who are both fighting for what they believe is right, Flynn with peaceful rebellion, Lee trying to protect her soldiers from The Fury and defend their planet. They both believe in peace and equality on Avon but it takes a kidnapping and some strange bonding and quick banter to work that out. I really enjoyed Lee and Flynn’s back and forth and though they have very different personalities neither of them annoyed me (big plus!) but I was surprised that Lee allowed herself to be kidnapped in the first place. Other than that minor detail, I enjoyed the flow, the twists and turns, the character development. I also love that this book is not all about the romance but the rebellion and the weird stuff happening on Avon, which ties into the weird stuff that happened in These Broken Stars.

So, yes, that does mean we get cameos from Tarver and Lilac. It’s good to see how it all fits together and it makes me look forward to seeing how the mystery resolves in the third book of the trilogy, but it means we get Tarver and Lilac. At first we have Tarver and not Lilac, but then we make contact with Lilac as well. It wasn’t quite as bad as I thought and they did add to the story, I begrudgingly admit. But what really stands out is how old and mature they seem, all of them – they’re still just teenagers and yet Tarver is a decorated war hero, now retired, and Lee’s a captain? How quickly did they advance through the ranks, and why are they considered adults at sixteen? It doesn’t at all make sense to me especially as there was no explanation. Speaking of explanations, while the world building itself was good, why did people live in space? Did they always live in space? I wanna know!

Despite those slight little annoyances, I loved this instalment to The Starbound Trilogy. Even if you weren’t impressed by the first book, I think this one is far more enjoyable, with better characters and a stronger storyline while still building on the set up from the previous book. The mystery thickens and I am looking forward to book 3, only I think I’ll be upset when it’s all over!

Life as an nurse on an outback cattle station

An Outback Nurse: How a City Girl Became an Outback Nurse, Found Love and Had her Life Changed Forever - Thea Hayes

Thank you to Allen & Unwin for providing this book in exchange for an honest review. This did not alter or influence my review in any way.

Thea Hayes’ An Outback Nurse is a fascinating account of her life as nurse on a cattle station in the Australian outback (title is a little explanatory, I suppose). Thea was a city girl, just home from travels in Europe and the U.S. when she applies for a job in the Northern Territory on a whim. When she accepts the position she couldn’t have known then what her life would have in store for her and she didn’t know a thing about the four million cattle station she would soon be calling home. She found love, life and a home in the middle of nowhere.

I really enjoyed this. It is a fascinating slice of history of life out on the land. Farmers are the backbone of our country and Hayes gives us a personal view of what it is like for a woman working as a nurse. It’s not perfect and it’s not always easy. It is a fantastic insight into life on the land and the history of the Australian outback stations and also of the Indigenous people living and working alongside the white man. It is full of interesting anecdotes and stories, some humorous but others a bit more tragic, however all are written in the same light tone which does do a bit of a disservice to the tales she is telling. The writing is not perfect

What this book lacks in writing finesse, though, it makes up with its pure charm of the storytelling and the fascinating tales she was relaying. From the responsibilities of being a nurse to both the white staff and the local Aboriginal population to falling in love with a station hand and raising a family on the land, we are regaled with stories of the Negri races, Aboriginal customs and various celebrations, as well as the history of the Wave Hill Walk Off and other events. It’s funny how, at the time, no one would have realised how they were a part of history or how important it would be that stories like theirs, like Thea’s, are told and passed on through the following generations. An Outback Nurse is a fantastic and interesting account of the Australian spirit, of hard work and fun, of the men and women who helped to build, and continue to build, our country. A wonderful historic read that I highly recommend to people wanting to learn more about life on the land in northern Australia.

The brave men of Crete who kidnapped a Nazi general

Kidnap in Crete: The True Story of the Abduction of a Nazi General - Rick Stroud

Thank you to the publishers for providing this book in exchange for an honest review. This did not alter my review in any way.

I feel like when I read I am constantly learning something. This is even more true when I read historical non-fiction. I would consider myself pretty learned on World War 2, my dad being pretty much an amateur historian on the subject, but I didn’t know about Crete’s part in the war, how it was used as a German base and how the Cretan people fought back, built a resistance with the help of some dedicated Brits and then kidnapped a Nazi general from practically outside his house.

The courage and dedication of the Cretan people during the war was outstanding to read. Rick Stroud really brought to life all the key players in the saga, even the abducted general Kreipe, and the Cretan people stood out to me in their quest to protect their homeland. They weren’t going to submit quietly to the Germans even as their threats and devastating actions against the locals increased, but kept building the guerrilla resistance with each Cretan helping out in any way they could, no matter what the repercussions could possibly be.

The writing did, in places, get a little bogged down in details and I found it best and easiest to read when I had absolutely no distractions and enough time to really immerse myself in the narrative. Then I found myself really involved with firstly the set up of what’s happening on Crete at the time of the war (REALLY essential to understanding what happens later on), the characters – real people who actually existed, and the complexity of the plan for the kidnapping of General Kreipe. It’s been argued over the years since whether the kidnapping really achieved anything, but it was the moral booster for the Cretan people (over 400 were involved in the entire operation!) and was considered to be worth the trouble. Stroud explores all details surrounding the kidnap and what came after with clarity and honesty, incorporating multiple primary sources into his research, and leaves it up to the reader to decide what part this kidnap plays in World War 2 history. I was fascinated by the whole affair and in awe of what was accomplished in the rugged mountains of Crete by everyday men who became heroes.

I really enjoyed this read but I also found it easy to put down and leave for a day or two before I felt compelled to go back to it. I found myself reading only small amounts at a time even when I wanted to read more. But it is a fascinating part of World War 2 history and definitely worth the read. Three and a half stars.

Not as good as the Zac Efron movie...

The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud - Ben Sherwood

Don't hate me for this, dear readers, but in this case I have to say - the Zac Efron movie was better than this book. I know, I know! It's almost sacrilege. But, sadly, true. I can promise it doesn't happen often.

Charlie and Sam St. Cloud are the closest of brothers, and when Sam dies in a tragic car accident their bond transcends the here and now to include the inbetween. Due to a promise made just before Charlie was shocked back to life, Sam now hangs between the present and the afterlife. Charlie is also stuck. Since he made his promise to Sam, Sam appears to him every night at sunset in the cemetery where he is buried and Charlie now lives as caretaker. They play catch, they swing, they swim in the river. Neither brother has yet been capable of moving on so they are stuck in the inbetween. Enter Tess Carroll, a sailor who makes Charlie question whether this is really what he wants.

Overall, the story premise was good. And this is why I liked one and not the other. The author had a good idea. Unfortunately, he butchered it with his writing. I'm not sure if it's because I already knew the outcome, but I just wasn't really interested while I was reading. I found there to be a lot of 'telling' as opposed to 'showing' and that a lot of the time I wasn't reading about things that were happening, but instead things about the characters. I was rather bored and waiting for something to happen.

I couldn't understand how and why Charlie and Tess fell in love, it felt a bit superficial to read and I just didn't believe in it. As characters they both seemed a bit wooden and lacking in actual depth. The author just told me stuff about them but didn't let me see these things in action. I just couldn't stay interested because even though there was a story, it felt like nothing was happening. I hoped this book would make me feel something - but I didn't feel anything. I didn't hate it, didn't love it, just mildly tolerated it. And it shouldn't have taken long to read as it was only 269 pages but it took longer than usual for a book this size, reflecting my lack of interest.

I wanted to like it, I did. Based on the movie I thought I was in for a good read but in the end its just another book to put on my shelf and forget about it. It has been a few years since I saw the movie, so it will be interesting to watch it again now and see if I still like it as much as I did back then. Although I'm sure the presence of Zac Efron helps!

This review is also posted at Crash My Book Party. More reviews there!

Sobfest!

The Year of the Rat - Clare Furniss

Thank you to the publisher for sending me this book. This did not influence my review in any way.

Oh man. Did I only just start this book this morning? It’s not even eleven and my nose is running, my face is red, eyes are puffy. Did I mention I read most of this on a train? Yes, I like to embarrass myself that much. I’m pretty sure I nearly started sobbing at one point.

The world may tip at any moment.

Pearl has lost her mum and gained a sister, all in the one breath. She doesn’t know how she’s meant to love the new baby when she is reason that their mum is gone. Consumed by her own grief, Pearl starts throwing up barriers to the outside world and is not going to let anyone break them down in a hurry. The only person Pearl wants to speak to is her mum – and strangely enough, this doesn’t seem to be an impossibility, because Pearl knows her mum isn’t completely gone. But she’s not completely here either.

I’m sitting on the train after having finished this, have wiped my tears away with toilet paper and accepted the blotchiness may not fade instantly. Why was I crying? Who was I crying for? It wasn’t for the fact that Stella had died – as readers we don’t even really know Stella when we find out she has died – but for Pearl, and the fact that her grief is unfathomable. Sixteen years old and needing your mum more than ever, but only realising it when it’s too late. On top of that there’s a new baby that needs her dad’s attention so Pearl feels she has no one to share her sorrow with. No one knows, no one understands. No matter how hard they try. And this is – partly – why I was crying. (Also, it is very, very easy to make me cry!)

Other reasons for my tears? The way Pearl couldn’t see how much her dad loved her, despite him not being her biological father. He was her father in all the ways that matters and it takes her a trip to Sussex to work that out. The way she just watched her life slip away from her, not really caring where she ended up. Shit I’m nearly crying now just thinking about this, but that last scene, where everything’s not good, not yet, but maybe, eventually, it will be okay again.

I really enjoyed this book, despite all the crying. There’s a bit of dark, dry humour, there’s a bit of emotional upheaval, there’s the writing style I really enjoyed – actually being inside a sixteen-year-old’s head that I actually didn’t mind, even when I thought she was being unreasonable. Oh yeah, Pearl’s not always likable. There are times when I thought, okay your mum’s gone and that’s awful, but could you stop being a brat for like two seconds? Her off the cuff remarks could be quite hurtful and sometimes she did realise what she was doing, but didn’t stop. It’s hard to face moving on from the death of a loved one and even harder to watch the world move on without you, but these are the things you have to face, along with the consequences of the decisions made when your eyesight is blurred. Luckily, Pearl realises it’s not too late to begin to repair the relationships she has with people who are still here. I loved the emphasis on the important of family.

Just one of those really great reads. Not sure when I’ll crack it open next for fear of more tears, but it has definitely earned its spot on my bookshelf.

This review is also posted at Crash My Book Party. More reviews there!

A heroic team

It's All About Treo - Damien Lewis Dave Heyhoe

It’s All About Treo is the touching true account of the brave war dog, Treo, and his human, Dave Heyhoe and their six month tour in Afghanistan to where they were deployed as a search team for hidden explosives. Alongside the Rangers, they would go out on a patrol and Treo soon became known and feared by the Taliban as ‘the black dog’. Dave and Treo saved countless number of lives during their tour in Afghanistan and came home as heroes.

It’s difficult to review true stories. This is the account of someone’s life, their experiences. You can’t blame them for plot holes or poor characters. However, in the case of It’s All About Treo, I did find a bone or two to pick (pun intended!) regarding the writing, and the use of words regarding our four-legged hero himself. What I found glaringly obvious in this book, and despite being an all-round animal lover myself, was the anthropomorphizing of Treo. If this had been fiction and the animals the main characters (a la Black Beauty and Charlotte’s Web), it wouldn’t have been an issue. But it’s non-fiction, and having almost finished my Animal Science degree I find these things difficult to ignore. Coupling to that, what I felt was completely unnecessary was Dave constantly telling us what Treo was thinking, or, even worse, when he refers to things that Treo has ‘said’.

I understand the bond between them must be very close, but at the same time, your dog doesn’t think in words. He will think in smells, predominantly as that is the strongest sense, as well as sounds and sights. He also doesn’t ‘know’ many of things Dave accredits him with – his behaviour is simply a reaction to Dave’s, hence Treo seeming depressed when Dave is upset about the death of another dog handling team.

There are also inconsistencies within the writing, such as at one point Dave remarks that searching for bombs is all a big game to Treo, and at another point he says that the dog knows it’s serious now. Which is it? Is it a game or is it serious? Dave is also prone to exaggeration – if he actually froze everytime Treo took a step he wouldn’t get very far. I also feel like, as this a factual account, a timeline would have been helpful. It’s just the little things that detract from the overall reading experience, when I’m thinking ‘well, no, that’s not quite right’.

Treo and Dave were a remarkable team and regardless of whether you believe dogs should be in active military service, there is no doubting the special bond between handler and animal, and the incredible things they accomplished during their time. I wish them both a long and happy retirement.

This review is also posted at Crash My Book Party. More reviews there!

The Opposite of Loneliness

The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories - Marina Keegan, Anne Fadiman

Thank you to the publisher for sending me this copy. This did not influence my review in any way.

The Opposite of Loneliness is an affecting collection of stories and essays by Marina Keegan, who died tragically in a car accident only five days after her graduation from Yale. She was already an accomplished writer and left behind a whole catalogue of work, as young budding writers collate. In her memory, her family, friends and teachers put together nine stories and nine essays for this book, titled The Opposite of Loneliness, also the title of an essay she wrote about leaving Yale.

“We’re so young. We’re so young,” she wrote. “We’re only twenty-two. We have so much time.”

Marina’s writing is full of hope and possibility. Through her stories and her essays I really feel like I got to know her through her distinctive voice. And I think I identified with her because I’m her age and my own university graduation is rapidly approaching. She was still working out who she was and where she was going and trying not be overwhelmed by it all. So am I.

She writes like the twenty-one year old she was when most of her pieces were written and continually revised. She writes beautifully but she sounds twenty-one. That’s important to note because she’s not trying to be anything she’s not. She’s full of curiousity and wonder and hope about the world and she has anxieties and fears and uncertainness among that too. She was just feeling her way through the world with her words and although it is an impressive collection she left behind and I enjoyed the read, it makes me sad to think where she could have gone from her and what she might have done, and everything she will miss out on in the future.

After I read the collection, I went back and reread both the Introduction and the title essay, filled with new understanding from the stories and essays I had read. This time I read it through tears in my eyes but I am grateful that I got the chance to read this book. I know this is going to be one that I go back to again and again as I make my own way through this world.

This review is also posted at Crash My Book Party. More reviews there!

Disappointing conclusion

Ignite me - Tahereh Mafi

Contains minor spoilers

I've been putting off reading this book. I was nervous and then after reading Unite Me, I found my interest in the series had waned. But I'd already bought it so I convinced myself that I should read it and then put the series to rest. Be done with it.

I was right to be nervous about this book. After loving Shatter Me, liking Unravel Me and reading both in a day each, this book left me feeling absolutely nothing. After Shatter Me, my heart ached. After Unravel Me, I was angry but hopeful. After Ignite Me, I feel nothing but relief that it is over.

Ignite Me is the conclusion of The Juliette Chronicles, the story of Juliette Ferrars, a girl who cannot touch without destroying. After breaking out of the asylum where she spent almost a year locked away and then finding her way to Omega Point where she becomes a part of the war against the Reestablishment, only to have Omega Point destroyed and herself shot. As she recovers, she doesn't know what's happened to her friends or who she should trust. She only knows that she needs to take the down the Reestablishment. Somehow.

Before I start ranting, there were things I did like about this novel. Juliette is no longer the helpless, crying girl from the last two books. She is stronger and braver and she has a purpose. This was probably the best thing to come out of this novel. But it came too late and by the time it did I didn’t feel as emotionally invested in the series as I had been previously, so I was lacking in the excitement I would normally feel in such a fantastic character development and only thought to myself “about time”. Which may not be entirely fair, as not all characters will develop in the same way. But at this point I was frustrated with her for taking so long to make important realisations that would have aided her survival. It took way too long for her to care.

Oh look, the rant started without me meaning it to. It’s too late to stem the flow now, because I promise this review will move faster that the book. The progress through this book was painfully slow. 400 pages and only the last 30 where we really saw some action rather than just angst. Because it is very angsty. Enough to make you want to rip your hair out (the slow progress will contribute to this feeling). I couldn’t have cared less about the romance in this novel and only really hoped she went out on her own and didn’t end up with either love interest. Both were possessive and angry and if all you can say about them is how attractive they are, that doesn’t really sit well with me because that sort of obsession is fleeting. What happens when someone better looking comes along? All I see at the end of this is two angsty teenagers who are attracted to each other, but I don’t see anything that will make for a lasting relationship. And let’s be honest, if this was real, it probably wouldn’t last. Everything is amplified in their situation, but it won’t always be like that. You’re not going to be an angsty teenager taking over a nation (what the hell? Actually?) for the rest of your life.

Which brings me to our next topic. Juliette has superpowers, but she’s not the only one, yet she is the one taking over? Let’s wrap it up all nicely hey? How ridiculous. I know its fiction, but a 17 year old is now leading a country? Come on, we want it to be a little bit realistic.

This book also destroyed everything I thought about the characters that had been so carefully constructed from the first book - except the hilarious Kenji and sweet James. But Warner and Adam? Forget everything you thought you knew because Mafi is changing their characters! Warner was a villian, and I liked him that way. Not as a love interest, but as a bad dude. Adam was always patient, calm and enduring. Nope not anymore! I didn't feel like I knew any of these characters and by the time it was done I was so sick of the three of them. I wish more time had been taken with the rest of the cast, such as the Omega Point team, because they were actually interesting!

Such a disappointing end to a series that started so fantastically. What a shame.

2.5 stars

The Romances of George Sand

The Romances of George Sand - Anna Faktorovich

Thank you to LibraryThing and the author for providing this book in exchange for an honest review. This did not influence my review in any way.

Who is George Sand? Before I started this book I had no idea, and was lead to some moments of confusion when ‘George’ is referred to as a ‘she’. George Sand, successful 18th century author of romantic novels, was the pseudonym for Aurore Dudevant, nee Dupin, an aristocratic woman who suffers throughout her life with the constraints placed on women during those years. Forced into marriage with a man she doesn’t love, Aurore is on a search for a love that is lasting and true and this leads her to men and one woman companion outside the ties of her marriage while she fights for a divorce and essentially, the right to just be.

I haven’t read any of George Sand’s works, and I can’t say this book has led me to be as interested in them as much as I have become interested in the life of the woman behind George Sand herself. This was not about her works, and it is also not a biography. The author calls it ‘a work of fiction’, which it is, but it doesn’t know whether it such be a biography or a novel. At times it reads like both, which is not desirable if you are a reader who likes more structure. At times we get half a page of (fictitious) dialogue, but in other places we have pages of historical detail, not only about Aurore but also about the people surrounding her, including Napoleon, Alexandre Dumas (author of one of my favourite books, The Count of Monte Cristo), Victor Hugo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) and the composer Frederic Chopin, as well as others whose names I didn’t know. Some context may be required if you’ve never done any historical reading, but I personally felt comfortable with it having read War and Peace earlier this year, as well as works from the above mentioned authors (although not George Sand herself).

While I did mostly enjoy this novel, one of the things that stuck out to me was that I had no idea how much time had passed between events. I had read quite a good chunk of the novel and from the language used I assumed her children, particularly Maurice, was at this point a young adult, when it turned out he was only twelve. Towards the end of the novel, a decade was recounted within a paragraph. There were also people who were referred to at the end of the novel as having been part of Sand’s life for a long time, such as her adopted daughter, but had not warranted a mention. I thought that Sand accepting another child into her household would have been mentioned between her numerous affairs?

And the affairs were numerous to the say the least! Which I found to be quite sad. Especially while she was not able to gain a divorce and had to live attached to her vile husband, another of those men who view women like possessions, and had limited freedom which she fought for and rightfully gained. Still she could not be satisfied, as the men she fraternized with were only interested in her money and only continually let her down in her search for the lasting love she wrote about in her romantic novels, limited even in her writing scope as to what she would be able to sell.

There is no happy ending here. Aurore did gain a divorce, but never found her true love and it can’t be said that she lived out her days in happiness, as she constantly seemed to be at war with family, friends or lovers, or defending herself and her actions to the media. We admire her now, and those who knew her did also, but she was also seen as a whore, passing from one man to another, as well as upholding a sexual relationship with her one female friend, Marie, which was more fulfilling than any of her relationships with men. But both women were married and also had continual flings with men on the side. I find it sad that no characters – people – ever ended up with someone to love who would love them in return, due to financial or other societal circumstances.

I found The Romances of George Sand to be an interesting look at an interesting woman’s life, and though I recognise that it was focused on the relationships throughout her life, I also would have liked to read more on her impact as a writer and a revolutionist. Aurore Dudevant was a remarkable woman and this book is a testament to that.

This review is also posted at Crash My Book Party. More reviews there!

Fast paced and exciting translation

Multiversum - Leonardo Patrignani

Thank you to Goodreads and the publishers for sending me this book in exchange for honest review. This did not alter my review in any way.

Multiversum is the exciting, fast-paced story of teenagers Alex and Jenny, who live on opposite sides of the world and share a telepathic communication which has grown stronger over time. But when, after four years, they finally manage to arrange a meeting, they find that they exist in different dimensions, parallel universes. As Earth’s end looms closer and all existences threaten to cease, the two of them need to work out how to control their gifts and save themselves. When it seems like everything and everyone is working against them, except for Alex’s brilliant friend Marco, they have only each other – and the future of Earth is at stake.

Can I just say, before I begin, that this translation is just fantastic. The original novel was written in Italian, and I prepared myself for awkward phrases and things that just don’t make sense in English when translated from Italian. Considering the complexity of this novel, the translation could have been a trainwreck. But it wasn’t. It was clear and concise and not hard to follow, although the plot got increasingly more complex as the book went on. I think the translator, Antony Shugaar, needs a shout-out for his excellent work.

As for the novel itself, I really enjoyed it. The plot was fascinating and exciting. The concept of multiple universes is really interesting and it kinds of niggles at your mind, could it be true? The story moves quickly but I never felt left behind. We are dropped into the middle of Alex and Jenny’s lives after they’ve been connecting with their minds for four years. They are finally able to communicate with each other, and it’s been a long wait for both of them. At first I thought their relationship was moving quickly, then I thought to myself, this is no ordinary situation. It’s not like they just met one day and fell in love. There’s a lot more to it than that, and imagine how confusing it would be for both of them.

However, I felt the characters themselves were lacking in … something. I can’t name it, but something was missing. I felt no connection to either of the main characters. In fact, I felt more in tune to Alex’s computer genius friend Marco, who works out the Multiverse theorem, than to Alex or Jenny. Marco I wanted to read more of, wanted to know what was going to happen to him. He was interesting. And despite the existing across multiple dimensions and speaking through their minds, Alex and Jenny themselves were not as interesting. What should have been emotionally charged scenes felt glossed over and wrapped up blandly. It made the novel fall short for me, and what could have been a 4 star read or higher becomes only a 3.5.

Nonetheless, I will be following this series as the subsequent books are translated into English, I want to see where this goes!

This review is also posted at Crash My Book Party. Check it out for more reviews!

Beautifully written

The Protected - Claire Zorn

Thank you to the University of Queensland Press for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review. This did not influence my review in any way.

Hannah’s family is broken. Her mum is depressed, her dad injured and her sister? Her sister Katie was killed in the same accident that split the family in little broken parts. Since the accident, once the well-wishers were gone, Hannah has been ignored by everyone, even those who tormented her for years before Katie’s death. The relief at finally being left alone is eating at Hannah as she struggles to remember what happened during the accident. She is struggling by herself, until Josh comes along. Josh sees her as more than just the dead girl’s sister that everyone else tiptoes around. For the first time in years, Hannah may actually have a friend, if only she is willing to open herself up.

After I finished reading this, I took the afternoon to think it over before I even attempted to write this review. It was a fairly quick read for me, taking not even a day, but it filled me with emotion. When I connect with characters, I feel what they feel. So I felt hurt when Hannah was being bullied, I felt her relief at being left alone, her budding happiness at her friendship with Josh. I felt sad, I felt the guilt, and at the end of the book I felt hopeful. I wanted Hannah to in some way be able to deal with this horrible tragedy that happened to her family, and to remember what it felt like to be happy.

The writing itself was beautiful and the story was well paced and well constructed. Zorn creates memorable scenes of the Blue Mountains where Hannah and her family live, of the high school experience that can be both awful and amazing, of a family dealing with grief. It all feels very real, like they could be the family living down the street. Or maybe even your own. Hannah and Katie don’t get on well, and this lurks on Hannah’s memory because she will never have a chance to have a meaningful relationship with her sister. This book conveys to the reader Hannah’s fears and doubts without so many words. As the book progresses we understand more of their relationship through a then and now perspective, discovering the causes of Hannah’s guilt, relief and why she didn’t always like her sister. You can’t choose your family.

But you can choose your friends. Sometimes they choose you. Josh is not so important as a romantic interest, although it felt like a natural progression, but he is so important as a friend. He gives Hannah the confidence to restart her life, as opposed to just going through the motions. He shows her how important a good friend is, in a situation like Hannah’s. He doesn’t let her shake him off, but just gently encourages the friendship and doesn’t let her shy away from him. He makes her confront the things that scare her and their progressing friendship is uplifting and it just made me smile. I could feel that something was changing in Hannah and I was glad she finally had someone who was there for her. Not because they were paid, or because they had to look after her, but because they cared about her. It was important to Hannah’s development past the accident and so wonderful to read.

Such a beautifully written story will find its way into reader’s hearts. There is no reason it should get any less than five stars.

This review is also posted on Crash My Book Party. Find more reviews there!