Holiday Reads

I love summer, don’t you? One of my favourite things about the summer is going on holiday and finally having more time to finally read all day everyday on holiday. It’s the perfect time to get through that long book that’s scared you all year or just relax after a stressful few months in the sun and your favourite author. I’m going on a few trips this summer and these are the books I’m planning on devouring.

Holiday Reads 1

Once And For All – Sarah Dessen

There is always that author that feels a little bit like home when you go back to one of their books. For me, that is Sarah Dessen and I was so delighted to hear that she was bringing out Once And For All this summer. I love her summery settings, her great characters and writing that is witty and makes the best easy read in the sunshine. I’d also recommend The Truth About Forever and Just Listen.

IMG_5701The Mandibles – Lionel Shriver

When I go on holiday, it is the perfect time to read without having to fit reading in amongst working and other errands. The ideal book for these long periods of sitting and relaxing in the sun or for a plane or car journey is a longish one to get stuck into. I’ve wanted to read The Mandibles for about a year now since I saw it in hardback and heard about it in Rosianna Halse Rojas’ video.

The novel is set in 2029 and the dollar is practically worthless. The rich Mandible family cannot count on their inheritance any longer and their normal life existence disintegrates and changes completely. I’m so looking forward to getting stuck into this book and interested to see where this book goes.

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Stars Above – Marissa Meyer

I finished the epic final book in the Lunar Chronicles, Winter, last summer within three days and bought Stars Above and Fairest (two mini novels set in the same world) pretty soon after. I love this series and I think it’s a great read for sci-fi and dystopian fans as it has a little bit of everything within this interesting, magical and intriguing world.

The Power – Naomi Alderman

I successfully predicted from the longlist that The Power would win the Bailey’s Women Prize for Fiction, especially with Margaret Atwood’s backing behind it. The Power tells the story of what happens when young women are able to shoot electricity from their fingertips and cause the gender balance within society to shift.

This sounds like such an interesting and potentially powerful concept. I’ve purposefully not found out much about its plot so I’m interested to see how it is structured and the way the narrative unfolds throughout this book. I’m also reading The Handmaid’s Tale at the moment, so I’m interested to see how this compares also.

 

Carve the Mark – Veronica Roth

30117284.jpgTo some extent I did really enjoy this book, but also I felt pretty ‘meh’ too.

When I think back to everything I’ve heard about this book, the majority of the stuff that comes to mind is pretty negative. I remember having a debate about the controversial issues that arose when Carve the Mark was released with two other colleagues when I worked at Foyles. One of which had already read an advanced review copy and was surprised to hear the allegations, the other had not and took the decision not to read the book. On the other hand, I decided to give it a go, despite the controversies around its narrative and marketing, for three reasons: 1) I was intrigued to find out for myself, 2) It felt important to me to make my own opinion and 3) Before I heard about the controversy, I was genuinely excited for this book from an author who wrote a dystopian series I loved.

There was a lot of potential for this book, especially with Veronica Roth as its writer, which was perhaps part of the problem considering everyone expects something of the calibre of the Divergent series. I wanted the thrilling action, the political background and the overarching love story that I liked about her previous books.

In Carve the Mark, while there was plenty of politics, a vague love story as well as some great action, thrills and surprises at certain points, the ability to hook from the very beginning until the end  – as Divergent did – just never happened for me.

I felt a lot was explained in the first couple of chapters leaving very little backstory or detail to be discovered later on (particularly in terms of Cyra), therefore the book fell flat in the middle section and took a while to pick up again. It meant that after knowing everything about the world and the characters, there was nothing intriguing to get me through the book until the final conclusion. I feel a lot of the problems with this book – both with its controversy and my enjoyment of this book – comes from its structure and the sequence of events Roth has chosen.

However, at a lot of moments I did enjoy the book, largely at the beginning and particularly the end few chapters – which were incredible and the kind of writing I wanted the whole way through. I liked the characters, the world building was interesting (I loved the idea of the current) and the plot could have been decent – it was the writing that largely let this book down for me.

I’m disappointed by Carve the Mark in terms of my expectations for the book, for the author and for its marketing, but it did have a couple of glimmers of brilliance showing what this book could have been.

Will I read its sequel? I’m not sure, I don’t feel too invested in this book because the book felt somewhat quite final until the last page, but to some extent I am intrigued by some of the few seeds left unanswered in Carve the Mark.

I give it a 3 out of 5

The Secret History – Donna Tartt

Wow.

I’m currently sitting in my armchair, previously staring at the blank wall ahead of me, trying to come to terms with the last 100 or so pages I have just finished. Everything about this book was so different and so unexpected to what I thought, yet exactly the kind of Donna Tartt book I love.

With The Goldfinch being one of my favourite books, a colleague of mine recommended this. It was always a book I heard a lot about but never picked it up.

Its beginning is a slow-burner, quietly easing you into the world of the rich, privileged students of Hampden and entering the world of a group of students solely studying the even more exclusive Greek class. While The Goldfinch caught my attention from the beginning and held onto it, it took me a while to really appreciate The Secret History as I was reading.

However, the vital part of my enjoyment from this book was its structure. From the prologue, you are fully aware of what is about to happen in the book, therefore, adding an intensity to the book’s atmosphere as you wait patiently for that event to actually happen and see its aftereffects. And boy, is it tense. The last hundred pages suddenly rank this pressure up, making it both enjoyable and sometimes uncomfortable to read as you watch for the pressure to built up and up.

The book reminded me a lot of The Great Gatsby (my all-time favourite book) – Richard is very much like Nick Carraway, observing and largely idolising and admiring those around him. Tartt’s vivid writing also adds that romantic, immersive touch that I always appreciate from Fitzgerald’s writing too. It was nice to read a similar kind of novel that felt like it wasn’t trying to be like The Great Gatsby either.

The writing is incredible (I kept reading passages out to my boyfriend because I thought they were to great) and the characters are purposefully bittersweet, manipulating your emotions and opinions about them throughout.

I loved this book a lot. I think I still prefer The Goldfinch, but Donna Tartt is now firmly one of my favourite authors. What an incredible book…

I give it a 5 out of 5

Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher

Originally published on previous blog (the post has been edited for mistakes/clarity)

When Clay comes home from school, he finds a shoebox full of thirteen audiotapes on his front step. Thinking nothing of it, he gets them out and starts to listen, soon finding out that they are audiotapes made by his first love, Hannah Baker, who committed suicide two weeks earlier. As Clay listens to the tapes throughout the night, he discovers the thirteen reasons why Hannah killed herself.

This book has a lot of potential to be excellent and to some extent, it lived up to my expectations. I liked the way we heard from both Hannah and Clay, giving voice to the victim as well as the narrator. However, I only got into the story once it became clear how Clay came into the order of events that led to Hannah’s death, I felt he was irrelevant and didn’t care too much about him as a narrator until this point.

My problem with this book at the time was that it was a hard read and maybe if I read it again a little bit older, I would have a different reaction, but I remember finding it a hard read to pick up every day. It was a powerful and hard hitting book that I believe shines light on topics that need to be talked about, but I felt that it didn’t quite stay with me as much as I wanted it to. I felt it didn’t quite hit home in all the right ways. While there were some powerful moments in it, there are also a lot of problems with this book both from a literary perspective that either don’t make sense or just – for me – aren’t done right.

I think my main problem was the fact this book is supposed to be about Hannah and the actions and events that led her to this moment of suicide, however, in the book, I felt like the narrative was based too much around Clay (who I don’t find an interesting character) and his dealings with Hannah’s suicide.

I’m sure we can all understand what its like to uphold a certain reputation as a teenager. The stark light it sheds on the conditions of some schools and experiences teenagers can have growing up was so realistic and great to read for someone going through similar.

I recently watched the new Netflix series (my thoughts on it are probably for a whole OTHER blog post) and all my thoughts I had for my original reading of the book came flooding back. Ultimately, for the book and the series, I think it is so great these topics are being dealt with in these settings for this audience, but I’m not sure if they quite do the topics justice in my opinion.

My ultimate conclusion for this book is that it was good, but it wasn’t a book I loved or stayed with me in the long run. I’m so glad these topics are written about (especially in 2007!), but I think they could have been dealt with better.

I give it a 3 out of 5

The Circle – Dave Eggers

The_Circle_(Dave_Eggers_novel_-_cover_art)The Circle is an imaginative, almost dystopian (and almost contemporary too) book that provides an intriguing yet scary perspective of where the future of our technology industry could go in the not-too-distant future. It is a future that seems far off with some of its technology, apart from the subtle mention of recent events and the Circle’s concepts that are strangely familiar, like a FitBit like device and technology resembling VR.

The Circle starts off incredibly positively, sucking myself – and the main character, Mae – into the work and lifestyle of the Circle. The atmosphere of its campus, its positive belief in technology and its charismatic staff makes the Circle on the surface an attractive utopia to read about and for the character of Mae to be involved in.

It is in the middle of the book, however, that the subplots simmering previously come to the forefront of the narrative. I felt they lacked development up to that point to really make me care about reading about them. This period lasted briefly on the other hand, passing swiftly and catching my attention once again to take me through the escalating developments in the narrative to a point where you’re on the point of discovering how far this institution will go.

At the peak of this, waiting for this final big moment, another moment happens where the ending inherently depends on a character’s action. You’re waiting, on tender hooks, wondering what might happen, it’s tense…and then it ends. I sat there in shock flicking through the pages checking I didn’t miss anything. A sense of feeling cheated arises in me when I think back to reading it – it felt like a whole final scene was taken out the book and replace with a single ‘oh this happened by the way’ sentence. The ending itself left me conflicted, I was both simultaneously satisfied and dismayed by the ending, which I think is a place its supposed to leave you.

Overall, this book had so many brilliant 5 star moments, but the pace and the quality of writing didn’t quite last throughout its nearly 500 pages. However, this book was enjoyable and is certainly a modern Brave New World or 1984, which I think in itself should be appreciated. It looks at a lot of modern, scarily familiar issues with a magnifying glass without being too preachy. It’s important I think to remember this in the modern age with massive corporations, like Google and Amazon.

How familiar is this future? Who knows, but as I write this on Google Chrome using Windows operating software on a website owned by Amazon with an Apple phone next to me, it’s not hard to see what might happen if these massive, influential technological companies fused together. This is a novel I think that will stay with me as I grow up with the developments in technology and remind me how important it is to remember to be an individual.

(A great review which also summed up my thoughts perfectly is here, but does contain some spoilers: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show…)

I give it 4 out of 5

Paper Towns – John Green

Originally posted on my previous blog – this post has been edited for spelling errors/clarity

PaperTownsQuentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime in love with Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she climbs back into his life – dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge – he follows. After their all-nighter ends and a new day breaks, Quentin arrives at school to discover that Margo has disappeared. But Quentin soon learns that there are clues–and they’re for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer he gets, the less Quentin sees of the girl he thought he knew.

I’m a big fan of John Green, having previously read and enjoyed Looking for Alaska. This book felt different though, with a great dose of humour running throughout it and continues to be one of the few books that have made me laugh out loud. It was the quick wit and many of the character’s unique, one-liners that made me chuckle.

John Green does his characters the best. Quentin is a nerd, a social outcast in the hierarchy of American high school, yet he is popular among his own kind (the nerds) and has a secret crush on Margo, his childhood friend who is at the top of the hierarchy – everyone wants to be her friend. Ben is Quentin’s best friend who wants to climb the social ladder. He is also the funniest of the bunch, having a great childlike personality.  Radar is Q’s other best friend who is obsessed with Omnictionary, a parody of Wikipedia which he updates regularly to make sure they are up to date. 

Green’s writing is also quirky and rich, letting you absorbed into the story through Quentin’s voice. The story is mostly upbeat and nicely paced. There was a lull moment in the middle where it seemed to drag slightly but it soon quickened up and became as entertaining as before. The clues to finding Margo are conjoined with the narrative to create this great adventure that you as a reader join in with. Many reviews critique the similarity in narrative to Looking for Alaska, which – while I agree it was similar – I think the structure of Green’s books fit with the topics he addresses. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Although, some reviews have said that the ending is bad compared to the rest of the book (which I can see why), it fits with the overall plot and had a good amount of ambiguity. This book is incredibly entertaining and is a great summer read for anyone that wants a dash of humour in their books. I would definitely recommend this one over Looking for Alaska, although both are good in the own right. 

I give a 5 out of 5

*I recommend watching John Green’s TED talk on Paper Towns – very interesting to understand his thoughts behind this books name!*

Looking for Alaska – John Green

Originally posted on my previous blog – this post has been edited for spelling errors/clarity

looking-for-alaskaMiles Halter transfers from his childhood school in Florida to an exclusive boarding school in Alabama to look for the ‘Great Perhaps’ quoted in the poet, Francois Rabelais’ last words. At Culver Creek, he finds many unique friends, including the funny, self-destructive Alaska, and many new and exciting adventures, and of course, pranks. As he tries to understand himself, he is pulled into Alaska’s labyrinth that leads to some shocking consequences.

Once upon a time, in 2011, Looking for Alaska – Green’s first novel – was the only book by him available in the UK, so receiving this as a present was a pretty big thing, as a rising but not yet hugely popular author. Considering he is arguably one of the most popular teen authors now, it’s amazing to see where he’s come in the last six years, helped along by the incredible The Fault in Our Stars.

I really liked this book, I really did. It was almost a five star rating, however, there are two small things that let it down, and from reading other reviews on this book, I know I’m not the only one that thinks these things.

The book is in two parts, the chapters marked with the days leading up to an unforeseeable event and then its aftermath. I thought the first half was so good – amazing even. I loved Miles’ voice and how original all the characters were. They are all such unique people with their own personality and importantly, they didn’t feel cliched or anything for me.

However, in the second part, it started to go downhill. It started to get tedious, boring, went on and on about the same thing. It was also much shorter (or at least seemed it) even though the events in the second half are integral to the plot. While the book’s ambiguity wasn’t its downfall, I felt it seemed quite rushed in a way that it wrapped up too tightly in the last ten or so pages. For me, it just wasn’t how a book like this should end and it disappointed me slightly.

The second little niggle was Alaska. She started to get on my nerves latterly. I just found her quite annoying at times, with behaviour that didn’t make sense to me at times. I preferred Miles as a character overall.

This book held both good and bad points. The characters, both teachers and students (The Eagle and Takumi made me laugh) and descriptions were all so original and different to many things I’ve read before. The characters’ interactions are so real and so emotional – it’s really nice to see. What John Green does successfully is show what it is truly like to be a teenager. While, the ‘After’ bit held some really good and emotional points, it was this part that let some of my enjoyment down for this book.

The book has some dark moments, but overall, this is a YA book I would highly recommend. It is full of characters you’ll love, an engaging plot that, through its great writing, carries you throughout. Overall, I think John Green has done a great job, especially as this was his debut. I really enjoyed this book, despite some disappointment at the end.

I give it a 4 out of 5