Sunday, 31 May 2015

I'll Give You The Sun - Jandy Nelson

If you have watched my My Favourite Things video then you will know already that I was very excited about this book. (If you haven't watched it but fancy doing so head on over here. It's fine. I'll wait for you to return.)

This was such a wonderful experience. That's the only word I can really think of to sum up reading this because it was just so freaking beautiful to read. The American cover of this book is super pretty and rainbowey so I was ever so slightly disappointed to have to buy the UK cover instead because I do like me some pretty rainbowey colours. However, now I am so glad I did. I don't know what the format of the American edition is like, but the UK edition is so very pretty!

Let me show you what I mean:

See! GORGEOUS. The actual words of this were lovely (and I'll talk about them some more in a bit) but I just loved the physical experience of reading this. Art is a big focus of this book and I love the way that that spills across onto the page. Everyone loves a pretty book but I liked that this wasn't just pretty for the sake of it, it actually really ties in with the story. Noah and Jude view the world in a very metaphoric and artistic way and the page layout really reflected this and added to my immersion. It also had some cute little postcards that came free with it which work pretty well as bookmarks.

Now onto the words and the story and the actual content of the book. Noah and Jude are twins and the book focuses a lot on their relationships: to each other, to other characters, and to art. It alternates perspectives between 13 year old Noah and then 16 year old Jude. I enjoyed this narration style as I liked being able to view the world through both of their eyes. They are quite competitive with each other which causes issues but they also have an incredible amount of love for each other so it was interesting watching them navigate this and see the way that they view each other. I also liked how switching perspective broke up the narration a bit. Noah's narrative style is gorgeous and is overflowing with metaphors and imagination. Jude's narrative has elements of this but is slightly less full on and I liked this contrast. 

Plot wise, I probably enjoyed Noah's point of view the most and my favourite plot element was the relationship between him and Brian. I did also enjoy Jude's narrative, I just wasn't a big fan of her relationship with Oscar! However, it was the relationship between the twins I found most engaging and the different ways they were struggling to deal with their loss and relate to each other and all of the messiness that came with that. 

I loved this book. That being said, I can actually really understand why people wouldn't enjoy it. There are a lot of metaphors. Like, a LOT of them. Noah's narration is especially metaphorical as he is constantly painting the world within his head to reflect the way that he sees reality. This wasn't a problem for me as I just got swept up in the words and went with it, but I can see how it would irritate some readers. Also, the character of Oscar is a little clich├ęd. He's a British guy with a mysterious and dangerous past who rides a motorcycle and is a bad boy with a heart of gold etc etc. On a slightly more serious note as well, I can't remember precisely how old he's supposed to be but I think he's 19? I don't know but he just seems a lot older than Jude so now I think about it, I'm not sure how comfortable I am with their age difference. There's a massive difference in emotional maturity between someone who is 16 and someone who is 19. 

I liked this book because it tapped into the very visual part of my brain and gave me lots of wonderful imagery. As a result, I loved immersing myself in the experience and seeing where the book would take me. With hindsight, I can see that there are elements of the book that I think aren't that strong (namely the Oscar/Jude plot) but in the moment I didn't really care because I was just so enjoying going with it.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda - Becky Albertalli

This book. I want to elope with this book. It was wonderful.

I've been hearing good things about this book for a while and it caught my eye last time I was perusing Waterstones. When I picked it up for a closer look I noticed the front had a quote describing it as the love child of Rainbow Rowell and John Green, which was the final push I needed to go for it and buy it. Add onto this the fact that the woman at the till got very excited about me buying it and kept telling me how good it was and I was suitably excited! And let me tell you, it did not disappoint.

I pretty much loved every second of reading this. I've been having a bit of a YA book buying splurge recently because I got out of the swing of reading this genre when I was at uni and this book epitomises why I'm so happy I started reading YA books again. 

Basic plot is this: Simon is 16 and gay. The only person he's talked to about this is Blue. Blue and Simon go to the same school and are both in the closet but they don't know each other's real identities as they only correspond through email. Unfortunately, these emails end up in the wrong hands and Simon ends up being blackmailed. Hijinks and general adorableness ensues!

Sometimes I get the craving to read something non-heterosexual. I don't usually have anything more specific than that; I just want to read a really good book with an interesting plot and good writing where the protagonist just happens to not be straight. I was in one of these moods when I picked this up, having completely forgotten what the blurb said about it, so was immensely pleased when I realised that I had inadvertently satisfied my craving by pure chance. It turned out to be everything that I had been wanting to read.

The writing style is fun and engaging and I ended up speeding through the book in probably about 24 hours. The comparisons to Rowell and Green are very accurate. It's very fun to read with lots of jokes and references to things and some lovely moments of expression thrown in as well. I found Simon very likeable and the romance with Blue was just utterly adorable. Seriously, I cannot even with their emails. I know it's fictional but it makes me feel embarrassed about my lack of flirting ability when fictional 16 year olds are able to be so adorable and romantic and honest with each other and able to navigate waters that I am hopeless at. I mean read this: "He talked about the ocean between people. And how the whole point of everything is to find a shore worth swimming to". 

But that is kind of the point and one of the reasons why the story grabbed me so much. Simon and Blue are able to be so honest and open with each other precisely because they don't know who the other is. It knocks down those walls and allows them to pour out their feelings and connect, even when it's scary: "there's something about you that makes me want to open up, and that's slightly terrifying to me". I loved being able to glimpse into this. Their emails are light hearted and fun and flirty but they're also genuine and intimate and I loved reading them. At one point Simon says: "I think I like that we got to meet each other from the inside out". I liked it too. That being said, they are both gigantic dorks. 

There is more to this story than the romance, although that is a big part of it. I liked the extended cast of characters and I particularly enjoyed seeing them try to navigate their changing relationships to each other. When people grow up they change which means that the nature of their relationships with others also changes and this book explored that a bit with some of the friendships, which I enjoyed. 

I'm so torn whilst I write this because, on the one hand, I just want to include all of the quotes that gave me feels so that anyone reading this review will understand why I loved it so much, but on the other hand I don't want to take away any of the experience of reading them in context. Just go away and read this book and then come back to me and we can talk about it. That would be great.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Any Other Name & All Is Fair - Emma Newman

This is a two for the price of one review of books two and three in the Split Worlds series. I have one main thing to say and that is, I am so freaking excited to see where this series is going to go next!

First off, Emma Newman has built such an interesting world in this series and I've been really loving exploring it. From a world building point of view this series is just excellent. The way that the society in this series is structured is so interesting, as is seeing all of the different spheres that orbit each other start to come together and interact more. There is a great mix of traditional presentation of fae and original and interesting ideas. I love fairy stories and books that focus on fairies and I have read quite a few, so I love all of the extra ideas that make it seem fresh and original again. 

Secondly, I love that Newman isn't pulling any punches. The world presented is very complex already but the main characters are wreaking havoc on it, and I LOVE THAT SO MUCH. Cathy doesn't just critique and rail against the unfair and antiquated patriarchal society of the fae, she is actively working to combat and deconstruct it in order to build a fairer society for the future. There is still a lot to learn about the Elemental Court and the role they have in the world but Sam is challenging the structure of that as well. I won't go into the situation with the arbiter's and sorcerer's too much for fear of giving away spoilers, but suffice to say shit is going down. Drastic, change-the-way-society-works-forever kind of shit. And it is so very exciting! I have no idea where this series is going to end up but I am so looking forward to finding out. 

Cathy is still my favourite (and gradually working her way towards being one of my fav literary heroines in general) but I like the way that her flaws are explored. Across these two books she has been forced to realise that she is not the only person who hates the way that society functions and who wants it to change. This realisation was important and has been very interesting for the development of the story as she starts to work towards changing the system rather than just running away from it. She continues to swear like a trooper but is also finding her strength and realising how well she is able to manipulate the system to her advantage as well. I've enjoyed seeing her character grow and develop and am looking forward to seeing how she continues to do so in future books. That being said, I am also hella concerned for her safety and if anything happens to her I will be most upset.

I have very mixed feelings about Will. In the first book I felt he had a lot of potential to be a good man but as the second book went on I really started to question this as he became more controlling and seemingly happy to go to any means necessary to achieve his aims. By the end of book three I definitely like where he is at more than I did previously, but I'm not sure I can say that I like him. That being said, I find his character very interesting. In a way, he shows the way that the current fae society damages people. He started off as a man with a lot of potential to be good and kind and just. As the series has gone on he has had to compromise himself in order to appease his patroon and, especially in the first half of the third book, has become increasingly cold and controlling. Whereas Lord Poppy is capricious and flighty, Lord Iris is cold, calculating and dangerous, and in serving him Will has started to embody these properties more. I am hoping that as the society is challenged and changes are made he will be able to remember the good side of him and connect to it again. Also, a lot of my initial dislike of Will came from the whole love potion plot that happened because I feel incredibly uncomfortable with the idea of those. I'm hoping that this is something that will be addressed a little more than it has been so far.

I am still loving the idea of the Arbiters and love every interaction that Max and the gargoyle have together. I think this is one of Newman's most genius ideas and I really enjoy the way they interact. I'm very intrigued to see what is going to happen with Sam as I have no idea where that plot is going! There are so many threads in this series and I am thoroughly enjoying seeing how they come together.

If you enjoy fantasy novels then I very much recommend this series. Honestly, it's a fantasy series set around Bath and London that is full of fairies and feminism and fantastic ideas so please someone read this and then talk to me about how wonderful it is!

(P.S. I am writing about these books like there's going to be more in the series. Can anyone confirm or deny whether this is the case? I really hope it is but I'm aware I might have the wrong end of the stick!)

Monday, 4 May 2015

All I Know Now - Carrie Hope Fletcher

This is the second book by a YouTuber that I have bought but it will be the first that I have ever reviewed! (The other book being Hannah Hart's cookbook cos I kind of love her and couldn't not get it). I've watched Carrie's videos for a good few years now and she just seems generally pretty lovely. I know you can never really know a YouTuber cos they show you an edited version of themself yadda yadda yadda, but what can I say, she seems like a nice person! I decided to preorder her book because I was interested to see what her writing would be like and to read the pearls of wisdom she had to offer. And I now have lots of thoughts on it to share with you guys.

First off, can we just take a moment to admire how intensely pretty this book is.  If you don't know what it looks like go have a google and ooh and aah over how very aesthetically pleasing it is. The yellow/purple colour scheme is gorgeous (I do love me some contrasting colours), when you remove the sleeve there is a cute design on the hardback itself, there are lots of cute little illustrations and the book is structured like a theatre programme. It is just an extremely enjoyable experience to read this book, regardless of the actual content. 

Secondly, I do have to acknowledge something about the book. I am not the intended audience of this. A lot of the book is focused on Carrie's life at school, from around age 11-14ish, and that is the age group I would say the book is targeted at. That's not to say I didn't enjoy reading this. It was entertaining and enjoyable and I had Carrie's voice in my head narrating it the whole time. It just wasn't very relevant to me. I'm pretty sure that Carrie's birthday is in the same academic year as mine, but regardless, we are a very similar age. As a result, the advice given in the book wasn't really applicable to me. Bullies and arguing with parents, and first relationships and all that jazz aren't things that I have to deal with any more. I can totally see how people in their first few years of high school will connect to and treasure this book. Twelve year old Sophie probably would have done! But twenty one year old Sophie ended up skim reading quite a bit towards the end because it just wasn't relevant to me. Again, that is not to say that the advice she is giving is not good. It is. It just didn't grip me to read it because it's all stuff I've kind of figured out for myself by now.

That's not to say I did not enjoy reading the book! There were a number of sections in particular that I really enjoyed. For example, I was particularly pleased to read the Birds and the Bees chapter and to see the way that she explicitly addresses the subject of sexual abuse. There has been a lot come to light recently about sexual abuse in the YouTube community and whilst that is awful and terrible, it has been good to see YouTubers acknowledge this and have the conversations that mean we can work towards making sure this doesn't happen again. Whether she feels qualified or not, Carrie is someone who a lot of younger teenagers look up to, so it is fantastic to see her use her influence to cover some of these topics that we do need to talk about more. Four for you Carrie, you go Carrie!

I hope this review doesn't sound too damning, because it's really not supposed to be! This was an enjoyable read! Carrie's prose style is engaging and characterful and, should she write any fiction books in the future I would definitely be interested in giving them a read. Whilst I didn't find the content super engaging throughout, there were some really great moments that I liked a lot. One of these being the idea of soul shrapnel, oh my gosh she has put into words something that I have definitely felt but never named before. It was a perfectly enjoyable read, and if you are a young teenager I would definitely recommend you give it a read!