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Stay Where You Are And Then Leave - review

“I did it for the best reason in the world: love."

Title: Stay Where You Are And Then Leave
Author: John Boyne

Publisher: DoubleDay Children's Books
Source: ARC via Netgalley
Buy it:  Here

Synopsis

Alfie Summerfield is five when World War One is declared. He watches his father leave behind the simple life of a milk man for the life of a soldier in the trenches - a hero's life full of adventure! But Alfie soon stops getting letters from his dad, and, four years later, Alfie's mum is still telling him that his dad has been sent on a "secret mission". While shining shoes at Kings Cross Station to help pay the bills, Alfie comes across some information that convinces him that his dad may not even be in France at all... Alfie has a mission of his own.

Review

I'd bet you would be hard pushed to find someone familiar with books who has not at least heard of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne's hugely successful WW2 novel for children. However, would as many people know of Stay Where You Are And Then Leave? This book is set during World War One, and is, in my opinion, worthy of just as much recognition as The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.

The book introduces us to five year old Alfie; sweet-shop lover, aspiring milk man and best friend to Kalena Janáček - who is absolutely going to be the next Prime Minister, despite the fact that women can't even vote. However, everything Alfie knows is about to change. War is declared and the men of the street are starting to enlist. When Alfie's dad, Georgie, strolls into the living room one day, head to toe in soldier regalia, Alfie watches his mum fall apart and his grandmother announce that they're all "done for". He also watches Kalena and her Czech family forcibly removed from their homes - not even allowed to collect their possessions.

Emotions are laid bare in John Boynes writing and I think this is at the heart of why this book is so wonderful. Sensitively presenting themes such as women's rights, racism, conscientious objectors, cowardice, domestic abuse and mental illness comes like breathing to Boyne, who so naturally allows an audience of any age understand well the effects of what is happening, and what it all means. One of my absolute favourite parts of this book was when Alfie's neighbour explains his "conchie" nickname to him. I felt so much for them that I could feel my heart reaching out into the book.

Not only are emotions conveyed so well, but characters leap off of the page too. Some are only in the book for 10 or so pages, but they are fully formed and original. Just the language each character uses could let you know who they are in a single sentence! Politicians, doctors, suffragettes and soldiers walk in and out of the chapters so clearly it is often as if you are watching this book, not reading it!

The crux of this book, though, lies in its handling of shellshock. Post-traumatic stress was virtually unheard of at this period of time, and reading about the men coming back from war mentally traumatised, with no-one able to help them, was heartbreaking. Seeing them labelled cowards was even worse. Thank goodness for the growing understanding of mental illness today. I only hope we continue to understand and release the stigma surrounding many mental illnesses in years to come.

Overall

A simple story, beautifully told. John Boyne is not afraid to present deep and complex themes in his children's/YA books, and does so in a way that is relate-able, and easy to understand. I thoroughly enjoyed Stay Where You Are And Then Leave for its characters, its honesty and its fearlessness.

Score 
★★★
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Studying English as a reader; a discussion


I quit English Literature. There, I said it. I started studying books, and then I didn't see it through. Something of a blasphemy in this book blogging world, eh? When so many of you are preparing your applications for college or university, hedging bets on Literature spurred on by a love for reading, I can't help but be reminded of the hugely disappointing experience that English Literature was for me.

The thing is, dragging myself through class readings of Friel's Translations, only to be told what second hand opinion was worth more marks than my own, ruined reading for me. When I was told what Captain Wentworth's letter to Anne signified, instead of being asked in order to discuss it, a small part of me wondered whether "literature" had any relation to "reading" at all, and whether the nature of the subject ever really did.

Even further back, during my GCSE years, I remember sitting through videos of Macbeth played out on a council estate. Kenneth Branagh called to arms his band of brothers from the TV screen. Pip was mooning over Estella in black and white. We weren't even reading at all!

As a reader, a book fan, a lover of writing, stories and words in general; a person looking for poetry in prose, for hidden meanings and, well, character... Literature just wasn't cutting it for me.

On the flip side, I took English Language separately to English Literature at A-level (much to amusement of the department staff, I can assure you). My English Language classes were the most eye-opening, interesting and reader friendly lessons I had. We explored the history and origins of language. We mused as to the phrasing choices made by Chaucer, Shakespeare and their contemporaries. We drew our own links between the characteristics of modern day authors and their forebears, and we charted how authors had made an impact on the world, on language itself and on books. We took account of how the publishing world was changing - how it had, in fact,  all ready changed.
Of course, we also learned the rules and regulations of today's language. We learned the "proper" structure, syntax and grammar of the English language, and this, in turn, allowed us to appreciate and understand the intentions when the rules were broken for art. For literature!

My English Literature teacher in college was obsessed with the word "pragmatic". Everything was "pragmatic". Anne was a "pragmatist". Translations was a "pragmatic" depiction of the Irish troubles of the time. And, to be honest, English Literature is exactly that. It's pragmatic. It draws you to accept the most logical, marks-driven conclusion.

In the end, I was bored of repeating the same words I knew the class in the year before me had written on their test sheets. I was lead to believe my failure to accept the "widely accepted interpretation" was causing me to grade low. I quit English Literature after the first year, continued English Language with added fervor, and have never looked back. I learned to love reading again. And when my final grades for that year of English Literature modules were published, my "unaccepted" opinions scored me 100% for Shakespeare and 94% for critical analysis of Translations.

I can only feel that as a reader wanting to study a subject that inspires you, challenges you and considers the way your own mind interacts with words on a page, perhaps English Language is the way to go?

What are your experiences of English courses where you are? I would love to hear whether I am alone in this opinion of Literature. Perhaps it was just where I studied?! Maybe it was me?!

The Troop - review

Book description from Netgalley and Amazon:“The Thing meets Lord of the Flies in this fast-paced, addictive novel that will really get under your skin.

Title: The Troop
Author: Nick Cutter

Publisher: Gallery books
Source: ARC via Netgalley
Buy it:  Here



Synopsis

A group of five boys and their Scoutmaster head off to a small island to learn survival skills and gain scout badges. Their two day trip, however, soon turns into a prolonged nightmare as a horrific contagion find home on the island, and in the boys themselves.

Review

The Troop has a very familiar setup; a group of boys on the cusp of adolescence, stranded on an island and hunted not only by a very real threat, but also themselves and each other. It all sounds very Lord of the Flies and was marketed as such on the Netgalley listing. Unfortunately I found myself a little disappointed on this front, as the telling of The Troop is often more concerned with the gross-out factor than the psychological decline of it's characters. That said, the book does take impending insanity and mental decline into very good account. I just feel the visual "horror" of the worm contagion at the heart of the narrative took precedence.

The storyline itself also felt very familiar - not a bad thing considering I found myself recalling Dreamcatcher and Carrie, both Stephen King titles. The boys of the story are victims of a biological experiment gone wrong, in which tape worms infect, infest and, eventually, ingest their host. The narrative is told through a series of interviews, news clippings and prose. These things echo the previously mentioned books, but even though there was familiarity, The Troop stood apart. The writing style was it's own and it was very readable. The characterisation of the boys was brilliant; each one completely individual and bringing a new dynamic to their small group as they were tested to the point of madness.

Although I enjoyed reading The Troop, and have enjoyed plenty of horror novels in the past, I did find some scenes in this book to be quite disturbing. As times I felt quite sick and would skip over paragraphs to avoid further descriptions. Nick Cutter does love a good dose of detail! Despite this, I don't count the effect of the writing on me as a bad thing. Horror novels are written to be uncomfortable; to be discomforting, and The Troop does this very well. However, YA readers, and those new to the horror genre, may find it best to approach The Troop with caution, as uncomfortable themes (animal abuse, mutilation, animal testing to name a few) are dealt with in unflinching and shocking detail.

Overall

As a horror novel, this book delivers. I was repulsed but strangely compelled throughout the entire book. I do, however, feel that in parts it was gratuitously graphic, and therefore The Troop would probably suit readers already familiar with more graphic styles of horror writing. I also feel that the book often relied too heavily on it's influences (the author himself acknowledges King) and a spark of originality was dulled because of it.

Score 
★★★
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Christopher Golden's Top Ten Kick-ass Female Characters


Today's post is a wonderful guest blog from Christopher Golden - previously of Buffy novel fame and now co-author of new (and brilliant) graphic novel, Cemetery Girl, alongside Sookie Stackhouse creator, Charlaine Harris. Be sure to take a look at the graphic novel here: Cemetery Girl

Over to Christopher...!


My Top Ten Kickass (Fictional) Women
By Christopher Golden

I’m a lover of lists, but I’m also fickle, so I acknowledge right up front that if you’d asked me for this list yesterday, or if I were writing it tomorrow, it might be different. Also, I’ve cheated a bit. You’ll see what I mean when I get to #1.

I should add that it’s only a bit of embarrassment that’s kept me from including Jenna Blake, the star of my own Body of Evidence series, on this list. I wrote ten novels featuring Jenna (including five I co-wrote with Rick Hautala), and I still adore her. And, of course, if I could include Calexa Rose Dunhill, the central figure in Cemetery Girl, my new graphic novel with Charlaine Harris and Don Kramer, I absolutely would.

Now, without further ado…


10) Brienne of Tarth: Anyone who’s read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series or watched HBO’s Game of Thrones knows the honor, dignity, and brutal badassery of Brienne of Tarth. If I needed a bodyguard, you can be damn sure she’d be tops on my list.

9) Sarah Connor: The Sarah Connor in Terminator 2 may be the second baddest Mama Bear in pop culture history, but her arc in the first Terminator is even more interesting. How many of us could rise from our ordinary lives and concerns to survive an attack by a robot assassin from the future, and go on to lay the groundwork for humanity’s survival?

8) Sookie Stackhouse: Though she has impeccable manners and tries desperately to be polite, telepathic waitress Sookie kicks all kinds of ass when she needs to. She’s a better friend than most of her pals deserve, and usually the only one around with any common sense. I’ve read all thirteen of Charlaine Harris’s “Southern Vampire” novels and wanted to cheer at the end when Sookie makes the absolute best decision—and the one that sets the best example. Readers who groused confound me. Sookie’s most appealing characteristic was always that she’s her own woman, and she’s not going to betray herself just to please others. She shares that trait with her creator. Bravo to them both.

7) Katniss Everdeen: I’m not a fan of the Katniss we see in Mockingjay, but the first two Hunger Games novels are terrific. Katniss is fiercely loyal, determined, and thinks on her feet better than anyone. My daughter is a huge fan of the novels, and of Jennifer Lawrence, who portrays Katniss in the film versions…but I read ‘em first.

6) Angie Gennaro: My favorite women are always those who don’t suffer the presence of fools. (My wife is Sicilian—she barely puts up with me.) Angie Gennaro is one of the two main characters in Dennis Lehane’s genre-best mystery novel series, which includes Gone Baby Gone and Darkness, Take My Hand. If you haven’t read them, do yourself the favor and start with the first, A Drink Before the War. Go buy it now. I’ll wait.

5) Ellen Ripley: If I have to explain to you why Ripley’s on this list, I just don’t think we can be friends. Sigourney Weaver’s portrayal of the Nostromo’s Warrant Officer paved the way for Sarah Connor, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and so many other kickass women. The part was originally written for a male actor, but director Ridley Scott’s casting of Weaver broke the mold on smart action heroes.

4) Kathy Mallory: The brilliant main character of Carol O’Connell’s Mallory series—which begins with Mallory’s Oracle—is a sociopath. Adopted by a police detective and his wife, she only understands “right” and “wrong” in terms of whether or not they would approve of her behavior, and what she could sneak past them. The trouble is…she’s a detective as well. A character full of pain and contradiction, and someone you do not want to irritate. Ever.

3) Buffy Summers: Joss Whedon has created some of the best female characters in fiction, especially the women of Firefly and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But it’s the original—Buffy herself—who earns the highest marks. A high school girl chosen by the mysterious Powers That Be to fight vampires and the world’s darkness…a girl who leads, with male characters following her without hesitation. Buffy created an example, a paradigm, that has been endlessly imitated but never bettered.

2) Hermione Granger: J.K. Rowling’s seven novels about the students of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry each have a title beginning with the name Harry Potter, and sure, I like Harry well enough. Ron, too. But they’d have never survived the first book without the intrepid Miss Granger. Brilliant and wise, the sharp-tongued Muggle-born witch is by far the best character in the series. Argue all you like—it’s my list. If Rowling were ever to write another novel set in that world, I’d hope for it to begin with the words Hermione Granger and the…

1) All of Terry Moore’s Women: Whether you normally read comics or not, you really ought to read the work of Terry Moore. From his current horror series, Rachel Rising, to his sci-fi actioner, Echo, he is not only one of the most talented writer-artists working in comics…he’s also the creator of some of the most three-dimensional kickass women in pop culture. His signature series, Strangers in Paradise—about political, criminal, and romantic intrigue surrounding a FFM love triangle—is my absolute favorite modern comic book series, and it should be yours, too. Katchoo & Francine Forever!

Thanks Christopher! Don't forget that Cemetery Girl is OUT NOW
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The Sea of Tranquility - review

“I live in a world without magic or miracles. A place where there are no clairvoyants or shapeshifters, no angels or superhuman boys to save you. A place where people die and music disintegrates and things suck.”

Title: The Sea Of Tranquility
Author: Katja Millay

Publisher: Atria Books
Source: Purchased from Kindle Store
Buy it:  Here


Synopsis

Nastya has just started school again, two years after a horrific attack that left her hand shattered and much more besides. Nastya is an elective mute following her trauma and all she wants is to be left alone, and get through high school without anyone finding out about her past.

Josh Bennett lives alone following the deaths of his parents and siblings, and cares for his elderly, ill grandfather after becoming emancipated. He glides through high school in a lonely bubble only the most popular boy in the school can seem to enter. He spends most of his time in the carpentry department, so at home there that he is almost part of the furniture himself.

Nastya and Josh's worlds are about to merge as they find solace, silence and understanding in each others company, and perhaps, maybe, second chances.

Review

The Sea of Tranquility was one of the freshest breaths of air in my reading pile for quite a while. Recommended by Christina in this interview, I saw it in the book shop before Christmas and just had to pick it up. "Heart-breakingly beautiful" is so true.

Gorgeous writing that reflects it's characters so brilliantly introduces a narrative that is something of a gentle siren's song. Not bold or action packed, the words lure you so prettily towards the final pages you barely notice you're on the edge of falling apart, until you do. Although events are slow-building and many are simply aspects of "normal life", they have such a compelling effect. It is not often you meet characters for whom you feel elation at seeing them sit down to Sunday dinner. And, it is in the characters that the true beauty of The Sea Of Tranquility lies.

With a silent protagonist, you may wonder how well a story can be progressed. Katja Millay puts a lot of focus on describing Nastya's appearance and facial expressions, helping to convey her emotions to other characters she interacts with in the novel. And for the reader, we have Nastya's first person POV. I loved seeing how the emotions we, as the reader, knew she was feeling were transferred awkwardly to others in her physical world.
For a while in the novel, I wasn't sure whether I actually like Nastya. She seemed a bit selfish and judgmental, but these are all, of course, products of her past. Over the course of the book Nastya changes; softens, opens up and lets herself feel. It is in these moments her silence actually had it's greatest effect, as you realise just how much Nastya is holding back.

The second protagonist, Josh, was lovely, but I did find him to be a little too good to be true at times! (Honestly, the man has the patience of a Saint!) That aside, I found his interaction with Nastya tempered and endearing. They complimented each other wonderfully in joint solitude.

However, it is Josh's best friend Drew that gives this story a much needed streak of life. I think it's a shame he doesn't get his own POV later in the book... He is a complex character seemingly pulled in many directions, trying to uphold many reputations all at once; the player, the high school hero, the family guy, the best friend, the debate superstar. A lot of times, these conflicts see him crash and burn, but he jumps right up again and attacks the next challenge - his momentum something our main protagonists lack, owing to their inner turmoils.

As I mentioned before, this book creeps up on you emotionally. Tears were streaming down my face as I reached this book's conclusion - in relief, in happiness, in horror, in loss and in hope. I never knew I was so deeply invested in The Sea of Tranquility's characters until I was faced with not reading about them any more.

Overall

Beautifully written, affecting, gentle, quietly brilliant and emotional - for me, The Sea of Tranquility is just about as perfect as young adult fiction gets. I could read this books all over again right away. I missed every character as soon as the last page was turned and I'm sure I will be revisiting this book time and time again.

Score 
★★★
2

Books I cant wait to read in 2014

Here are the books I will be racing around the bookshops for in 2014!


(Don't You) Forget About Me - Kate Karyus Quinn

Just one glance at the blurb had me marking this as "to read" straight away - teens infected by deadly urges in a seemingly perfect town, strange mysteries, female lead with a dark past. YES PLEASE! June just cannot come quick enough!



Red Rising - Pierce Brown

I missed out on an ARC of this and I was so disappointed! Early reviews have been really positive about this dystopian class war. There have been Hunger Games comparisons, but to me, that means it can only be a good read! I'm waiting patiently. So. Very. Patiently!


Black Moon - Kenneth Colbourn

The world has stopped sleeping. As insomniacs become more and more desperate, few sleepers can be found. They have learnt to hide. One day, sleeper Matt wakes to find his insomniac wife missing... GIMME! The plot premise sounds amazing.




We Used To Be Kings - Stewart Foster

"Six years ago Tom’s brother died. The next day he came back." << If that isn't cause for me to be grabbing this book off of the shelves, I don't know what is! However, it gets even more intriguing, as Tom's brother lives inside his head, and they need to work together to get out of the care home for troubled children in order to remember the truth of their past, and their parents.



The Three - Sarah Lotz

There's barely any info to be found about this book at the moment, but here's what I do know: 4 planes crash, 4 people survive. Three of them are children, seemingly unhurt. The fourth is a woman who lives just long enough to record a message on her phone. This message changes everything. ARGHHHH I need this!




What books are you looking forward to this year? There were so many on my list, I couldn't list them all!
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Maggot Moon - review

“It had struck me that the world was full of holes, holes which you could fall into, never to be seen again. I couldn't understand the difference between disappearance and death. Both seemed the same to me, both left holes. Holes in your heart holes in your life.” 

Title: Maggot Moon
Author: Sally Gardner

Publisher: Hot Key Books
Source: Christmas gift
Buy it:  Here


Synopsis

Standish Treadwell is wondering "what if". What if he had never kicked the football over the wall? What if his best friend Hector hadn't gone to get it? Would there still be moon men and disappearances? Would he have made it in his paper mache spaceship to planet Juniper after all?
Thinking about things, Standish realises that all he really needs to do is be the underdog that throws the stone at the giant. He is going to make a stand. Because nobody expects him to.

Review

Right from the off, you get the feeling that Maggot Moon is no ordinary book. Prophetic illustrations litter the pages with an almost flip-book-like quality, the "fictional" dystopian world doesn't appear all that fictional on closer inspection, and conspiracies spell "truth" far too clearly.

I loved Maggot Moon for everyone of those qualities. A quick read (chapters are often only half a page long), Maggot Moon does not treat it's reader lightly. Heavy themes litter the fast-paced mystery, as echoes of Nazi Germany ring through the dystopian "Motherland", giving uncomfortable insight to what might have been, had the Third Reich prevailed. I found the first few chapters a little confusing as I tried to work out whether Maggot Moon was dystopian at all, or just wearing a disguise(!) but I soon settled into a "just go with it" stance, and was well rewarded for it.

Brutal events of the story are unflinchingly told through the two-coloured eyes of Standish Treadwell, the 15-year-old narrator who has seen people he loves disappear without a trace, kids beaten to death in he playground, and soldiers imposing strict rules to govern Zone 7.
It is Standish who gives Maggot Moon it's wonderful tone. Constantly underestimated due to suffering dyslexia, his teachers and many of his classmates consider him stupid. He is bullied by adults and children alike for being different, quiet and clueless. However, his best friend, Hector, his grandfather, and we as the reader know better. Standish is quietly mounting his own revolution.  He wants change, and he wants to go to planet Juniper, which he and Hector discovered. He already has a space ship.
Standish's narration is full of imagination, truth and courage, and it is his quest for escape, paired against the Motherland's quest for a moon landing that leads to the books uplifting and, at the same time, heartbreaking, conclusion, rife with expose, horror, love and amazement.

Overall

Initial confusion gives way to a wondrous story of friendship and courage in Maggot Moon. Dystopian world-building opens gateways that are sometimes too close to reality for comfort amidst it's familiar construction, and makes the reader question just how much this story is based in fiction. I loved every minute of this quick and thought-fuelling read.

Score 
★★★
0

Winter Book Haul

I imagine a lot of people are emerging from December with a lot of new books! I thought I would do a quick round-up of what I was lucky enough to receive as gifts over the Christmas period, and what I picked up in the sales:

Paper books:


Marina - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Maggot Moon - Sally Gardner
Serena - Ron Rash
The Madman's Daughter - Megan Shepherd
(Oh, and awesome Portal 2 bookends!)


Cabinet of Curiosities - Guillermo Del Toro


Blood's Pride - Evie Manieri
(courtesy of Jo Fletcher Books)

E-books:



Before I Fall - Lauren Oliver
The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt
Slated - Teri Terry

Empty books!


These Mucha notebooks are so pretty, I can't wait to start writing in them!

Did you find any bookish bargains? Or were you lucky enough to receive any awesome books as gifts?
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