Sunday, 1 September 2013

Reading Round-up:

#47: World Enough and Time by Emma C Williams

#48: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum

#49: The Marvelous Land of Oz by L Frank Baum

#50: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

#51: My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult

#52: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by JK Rowling

#53: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling

#54: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling

Eight books this month. Not bad! I didn't actually realise I'd read that many books this month until I sat down to write this post. I'm well past the goal I set myself of completing 40 books in a year, which is fairly impressive considering I only read 23 books in the whole of last year. 

I enjoyed all of the books I read this month and it's probably a tie between 'World Enough and Time', 'Sharp Objects' and 'My Sister's Keeper' when it comes to which book I loved the most. I would definitely recommend all three and I gave them each a 5 star rating.

What did you guys read this month? Any recommendations?

What I've Been Reading:
'My Sister's Keeper' by Jodi Picoult

After reading 'Sing You Home' by Jodi Picoult earlier this year, I knew I would eventually read another one of her books. When I found a copy of 'My Sister's Keeper' for £2 in a local charity shop, I couldn't resist and started reading it straight away. The following day I'd reached the final page and was kind of sad to close the cover on the world I'd immersed myself in so completely.

Anna Fitzgerald is thirteen years old. All she wants is to live her life but part of being her means that in a way, she also has to live her sister's life. Unlike most people she knows, Anna wasn't just a happy accident, she was the result of a fertilisation process that involved selecting the embryo that was the perfect match to give her sick sister Kate the stem cell transplant that might just save her life. The result? While not being sick herself, Anna has undergone multiple medical processes throughout her short life, ranging from donating stem cells after her birth to bone marrow donation several years later. Now her parents want her to donate a kidney to her sister. But how long can this process go on for? How long can Anna keep being a donor for her sister?

Anna takes her case to hotshot lawyer Campbell Alexander, who agrees to represent her in her lawsuit. Anna has decided to sue her parents for medical emancipation. Aged thirteen, she believes it is time she has the last word when it comes to her body and helping her sister.

'My Sister's Keeper' tackles an issue that is very prevalent in the media, an issue that many people will have strong opinions on. But she tackles it with incredible sensitivity, showcasing perfectly the two sides of the coin, the pros and cons of conceiving one child to save another. This novel was beautifully written, kept me gripped throughout and had me both laughing and crying at various points. 

As with the last Picoult novel I read, I fell in love with the characters. In this case, mainly Anna and Campbell. Anna is the perfect know-it-all kid, a child wise beyond her years and heavy with social and familial responsibility. And Campbell is just a sarcastic weirdo - his excuses for why his Service dog Judge accompanies him everywhere get more and more random as the story progresses (my personal favourite is 'I have SARS, he helps me keep track of how many people I've infected') - who really managed to touch my heart. 

I'd recommend this to anyone who enjoys a good soppy read with plenty of courtroom drama. 


What I've Been Reading:
'The Marvelous Land of Oz' by L Frank Baum

So, this is the second installment in the Oz series. It's kind of freaky, full of weird creatures and bizarre situations, and Dorothy doesn't so much as make an appearance (although she is referenced at one point) and yet this is still a fun little read.

The story opens with Tip, a farmboy fostered by illegal witch Old Mombi, who thinking it would be fun to scare his cruel guardian, creates Jack Pumpkinhead, a strange man made out of sticks and a pumpkin carved to look like a face. After Old Mombi casts an experimental spell on Jack, his unlikely form is brought to life, beginning a crazy adventure for himself and they young boy Tip.

Despite Dorothy's absence from the book, her old companions the Tin Man and The Scarecrow do make an appearance. The Scarecrow, now King of Oz and terribly weighed down by the crown sewn to his cloth head, has begun to let his brains get the better of him and spends his days sitting on his throne, chewing over the deep thoughts he had so longed for. The Tin Man on the other hand is now the kind-hearted leader of his own Empire, choosing to claim himself Emperor rather than King as he prefers the idea of a democracy over that of a kingdom.

But our Scarecrow leader is soon to find his seat on the throne at risk as a band of young feminists from across Oz turn up at the gates to the Emerald City wielding sharp knitting needles and a strong desire to overthrow the King and create a Matriarchal society where men will be repressed the way women have been for so long. Of course, the Emeralds paving the streets of Oz would also be a bit of a bonus.

This is a curious novel that was obviously heavily influenced by events at the time of its writing (the Suffrage movement springs to mind). It's definitely worth a read if you're into the whole Oz thing.


What I've Been Reading:
'Sharp Objects' by Gillian Flynn

I've wanted to read Gillian Flynn's debut novel pretty much since it was released in 2009 but as so often happens, I just never got round to it. Until I stumbled across it in the Amazon Kindle Summer Sale for £1.99 and decided that was too good an offer to pass up. I devoured the book in a matter of days and while it's been a couple of weeks since I finished it, I still can't quite get the characters out of my head.

Chicago newspaper journalist Camille Preaker has just been assigned the most difficult job of her career. There's been a nasty child murder in her home town of Wind Gap, Missouri and Camille's boss wants her to head back into her past and get the full story. But Camille's hometown is full of ghosts, memories of pain, sadness and loss. Going back there may not be the best idea.

Triggered by the death of her young sister Marian when she was thirteen, Camille began carving her grief into her skin. Now, aged 32, she's finally put the self harm behind her but the visible memories remain. Camille's skin is covered in words, cut into her skin as an addictive form of self expression. Only one spot on her body remains free from words - a tiny circle of skin on her lower back that she had been unable to reach. But once she's back in Wind Gap, there's more than the words on her skin to remind Camille of her troubled past. There's her mother Adora to do that. Not to mention being surrounded by the High School cliques she grew up with and who seem stuck in the past, re-enacting their School days in an adult setting. As Camille comes to realise, nothing ever really changes after High School. We just get older.

But Camille has more to battle than her new proximity to her mother and thirteen year old half-sister Amma. She has her job to contend with. Two gruesome murders have plagued Wind Gap. Two pre-teen girls have been killed and their teeth pulled out. Who would do this kind of thing? Surely it must be someone from out of town, some drifter with a penchant for cruelty? I mean, no Wind Gap resident would ever kill one of their own, would they?

As Camille delves deeper into the mystery of the murdered girls, she finds herself sucked into her old life. Her troubled relationship with her mother is slowly re-emerging and the strangely Lolita-esque Amma is sending out confusing signals. What exactly does she want from Camille?

This is more than your simple Crime novel. This is a psychologically taut and emotionally deep novel. It's not afraid to touch on the more traumatic elements of family life and that's what I liked most about it. Camille is a complex character (one of my favourite kinds of character) with an even more complex history. And the relationship that she and her sister Amma have with their mother is incredibly disturbing and psychologically intriguing. 

This is one of the best crime novels I've ever read and Camille is definitely one of the best narrators I've read so far this year. I'd love to read a sequel that shows where Camille is now and how she's doing with her life. I'd recommend this novel to anyone who likes psychologically taut drama. And as you've probably guessed, I'm giving this a 5/5.

Monday, 26 August 2013

What I've Been Reading:
'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz' by L Frank Baum

I've had an obsession with Oz since I was a child. I watched the film over and over, memorizing lines and wishing the world of Oz was a real place. I also read the original novel, devoured it, loved it more than the film if that was possible. Recently I acquired the complete set of Oz books and I'm planning to make my way slowly through them. 

'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz' is, obviously, the first and most well-known novel in the fantasy series. And I was super excited to re-visit it after so long. I had actually forgotten just how much more happens in the book when compared to the Hollywood film version. 

I'm not really going to bother saying too much about this book because we all know the story. But I'd recommend anybody who only knows Oz via the film, read this. You'll be enthralled, I guarantee it. And I'm sure you'll love the story of how the tin man came to be made of tin as much as I do.

This is a quaint little book, a quick read that you can lose yourself in completely. Of course, I give it 5/5.

Monday, 5 August 2013

What I've Been Reading:
'World Enough and Time' by Emma C. Williams

But at my back I always hear
Time's wing├Ęd chariot hurrying near; 
And yonder all before us lie 
Deserts of vast eternity.
'To His Coy Mistress' ~ Andrew Marvell

'World Enough and Time' by Emma C. Williams was 'recommended' to me by based on some books I'd read previously. The premise fascinated me and, seeing that I had it on my 'to-read' shelf, the author contacted me asking if I would like a copy to review. Of course, I accepted, and here we are...

Anna Jones is your typical 15 year old. Intelligent, sensitive and feisty she's got a lot going on. Firstly, there's Michael, a close friend who she'd like to be closer to, then there's the fiasco she's gotten herself into with her RE teacher and a badly phrased opinion. But the biggest thing going on in Anna's life right now is the build-up to an operation she's been waiting a lifetime for. An operation that could change her life completely.

You see, Anna has Goldenhar Syndrome, a genetic condition that prevented one side of her face developing at the same rate as the other. As a result, her face is severely asymmetric,  one half of her jaw is underdeveloped causing complex structural problems. Anna is also almost completely blind in one eye and has less than perfect hearing in one ear. She also has scoliosis of the spine as a result of her condition. And yet Anna does not let any of this get her down.

At fifteen, she's already gone through a lifetime of medical procedures, examinations and orthodontic devices but finally it is time for the operation of all operations. An eight hour procedure to transplant bone from one of her ribs into her jaw and hopefully make her face more symmetrical. Anna hopes that the procedure will allow her to live life in the same bubble of uncertainty that others do. There won't be any more over-friendly shop-keepers trying to show that they don't care how she looks, there won't be any more kids pointing and asking their parents what is wrong with her, and maybe, just maybe, Michael might find her attractive enough to date.

'World Enough and Time' is a beautiful novel. Told from Anna's point of view we get an exquisitely crafted and insightful look into the mind of a fifteen year old who just wants to live her life without prejudice. Unusually for a novel told from the point of view of a teenager, I really did feel like Anna was talking to me directly, as though the author had channelled Anna and was relaying her thoughts on to the page. Anna did not feel fictional. She felt thoroughly 3D, a fully developed character who I could really care about and wanted to spend time with. In fact, I didn't want the novel to end as I wanted to spend more time with Anna and her friends and I'd be happy to read an entire series of books devoted to Anna Jones. (Thankfully, I've discovered that Anna has her own blog! I'll definitely be checking that out.)

This novel taught me a lot. Not just about Goldenhar Syndrome, which I'd heard of before but didn't really know a lot about, but also about life in general. It taught me that no matter what we think of ourselves, no matter how hard it can be for us to believe that other people will ever find us beautiful, there will always be those who hold us up when we're down and see the beauty that hides within us. It made me pause for a moment in my own navel gazing and contemplate how different and more complicated my own life could be.

This is one of the best Young Adult novels I've read in the last couple of years and I want to urge any YA fans out there to get their hands on a copy and everybody else to buy a copy for any teenage girl in their life. 

5/5 - a firm new favourite.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Reading Round-up:

41: 'Dead Sky Morning' by Karina Halle: [4/5] a creepy instalment to the series.

42: 'Lying Season' by Karina Halle: [3/5] a bit disappointing when compared to the previous books in the series

43: 'The Panopticon' by Jenni Fagan: [5/5] my new favourite read.

44: 'Night Shift' by Stephen King: [3/5] I don't really do short stories but this was a good collection.

45: 'Saint Jude' by Dawn DeAnna Wilson: [4/5] a compelling tale of teen mental illness.

46: 'Rainbow Panda and the Firecracker Fiasco' by Eileen Wacker: [4/5] a sweet story for kids about Chinese New Year.

Six books this month, not bad...