Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell Review

Rating:

Cath is a Simon Snow fangirl, and not just any fan, the biggest. She’s basically an internet celebrity, with her fanfiction story Carry On garnering thousands of views everyday. When she and her sister Wren head off to university, Cath struggles to adapt to the world around her and buries herself in what she knows, Carry On. However, soon the outside world starts to creep in. Her creative writing class excites her, her roommate Reagan becomes a firm friend, and Levi, Reagan’s best friend, more than catches her eye. Will she have to choose between the real world and Simon Snow’s world, or will she be able to balance the two?

While I did enjoy Fangirl, at times it just felt way too long. I think that this was exacerbated by the fact that Fangirl is a very character-driven novel, and so at times the plot not only takes a back seat, but disappears altogether. There were plenty of smaller storylines, such as Cath and Levi’s relationship, Cath’s writing assignments, and her father’ mental health crisis, but there were periods in between these events that meant that we’re simply reading Cath, sitting in her dorm room in front of her laptop, worrying about various other events. Personally, even though I love character-driven novels, I did get bored of Cath thinking about doing stuff and not actually doing anything. Luckily, Fangirl has a cast of fun and lively characters, and they were entertaining enough to keep me reading. If it had been more concise, I would have loved the book completely.

One of my favourite aspects of Fangirl was the exploration of fanfiction in a way that presented it as real literature, and not an embarrassing online subculture. The fact that Cath has so many online fans that she is even approached by one in the real world, and that her fans insist she finish publishing her story before the actual final book in the series is published. However, there were parts about it that I found annoying. I couldn’t really relate to Cath’s trouble when she submits fanfiction for her creative writing assignment, because I didn’t believe that someone as intelligent and creative as her wouldn’t know the rules regarding what she is allowed to submit. Personally, whenever I submitted work in my studies, I would pore over the rules and ensure that I hadn’t broken a single rule, and so it seemed unrealistic and just a little dumb of her to submit a Simon Snow story.

In addition, I hated the excerpts from the fictional Simon Snow novels and her own fanfiction stories and actually ended up skipping them altogether very early into the novel. I just did not care at all about Simon Snow’s story, and it did not contribute at all to the main story. It was enough to know that Simon Snow was a Harry-Potter-esque series of novels, without having it forced down my throat. Put simply, I had chosen to read Fangirl, and not Simon Snow, so the fact that it was interrupting the main story started to piss me off.

Overall, I liked Fangirl, but I didn’t love it. There were major issues in pacing for me that ruined what would otherwise have been a great reading experience, and these were so significant that they overpowered what was otherwise a really interesting concept and fun characters.

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Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy

Hold Back the Stars – Katie Khan Review

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Rating: ★★★★

Hold Back the Stars follows Carys and Max as they float in space with only ninety minutes of oxygen left in their tanks, nothing left to hold onto but each other, and no hope of being rescued. With earth far below them, they think back over their relationship, and the love which led them to challenge the rules of their society, and eventually to the hopeless situation they find themselves in now.

The story is set in Europia, a society in the future where countries that survived nuclear war have pulled together to create a world of unity, no borders, and no cultural barriers. In order to achieve this, individuals are ‘rotated’ at regular intervals, shuttled all over the world so that they no longer ‘belong’ to any one country, and instead build relationships everywhere they go in the world. ‘Individualism’ is a central value, with individuals acting only in their own name, and not for or on behalf of their country or government, and the most important aspect of this value for Carys and Max is the Couples Rule. This requires that individuals stay single until their late thirties at the earliest before they settle down and start a family. However, when they fall in love, Carys and Max begin to challenge this rule, a decision which sets a chain of events that ends with them floating in outer space, waiting to die.

This is a simple story of boy meets girl, set in a futuristic world of space travel and utopian ideals of diversity, unity, and individualism – all great virtues, although they have backfired to prevent true freedom. I really enjoyed discovering the different aspects of Europia, especially because Khan didn’t bury the story under heavy or unnecessary details, and only gave us that which was necessary to understand the story so that it didn’t become buried under information. I found the world to be a realistic idea, and the details which Khan did give us made it seem like a genuine possibility for a future society. I also liked that Europia was not revealed to be an evil society but was a genuine attempt at a utopia that the characters all believed it to be. It made the world that Katie Khan created feel subtle and nuanced, letting the romance take centre stage.

The novel is split into two time frames. One story shows Carys and Max’s relationship evolving on earth, and the other shows them struggling in outer space as they try to figure out whether they can find a way to save each other. I liked that both stories were equally gripping but in different ways. The romance was more human, showing the highs and lows of the pair’s relationship. In space, each chapter is led with how many minutes the pair have remaining to live, adding an aspect of suspense, and we are gripped by the ways that Carys and Max try to find a way to survive. I was impressed that Katie Khan managed to make these two stories work so well together, because I expected one of the two to fall flat.

The only point at which this novel felt less than brilliant was the ending, which confused me as it completely stepped away from the structure that the rest of the novel had followed. To summarise, Katie Khan gives us three alternate endings to the lack of oxygen dilemma, each showing us different aspects to the world and characters. My issue was that this just didn’t fit with the book overall, and felt out of place. To make things even more confusing, the three endings weren’t clearly signposted as alternate endings, but rather I had to figure out what they were for myself, so when I began reading the second option, I was wondering whether or not my copy of the book had printed the same chapter twice by accident.

Overall, Hold Back the Stars was an enjoyable read, with a well-developed world and interesting love story at its core, but the structure of the ending of the book made it difficult to enjoy completely for me. Perhaps if the multiple endings had clear headings explaining what they were, I would have felt more comfortable, but as they were the reading experience felt confusing and muddled up.

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Goodbye Days – Jeff Zentner Review

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Rating: ★★★★

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Goodbye Days follows Carver Briggs, who sent his friends, Mars, Eli and Blake, a simple text message one night asking where they were. It was as Mars tapped out his reply that the three friends were crashed into a truck and died, and Carver can’t shirk the feeling that it was his fault. To top it all off, his friends’ parents are asking him to help them say goodbye to their sons with ‘goodbye day’ ceremonies, all while he tries to figure out his feelings towards Eli’s girlfriend, Jesmyn. Goodbye Days was a really moving book and I loved the writing style, which was simple but emotional at the same time. I only had some problems with the characters and dialogue.

I think that Zentner did a really good job of exploring the emotional struggles of Carver following his friends’ death. After the funerals of his friends, Carver struggles with panic attacks and still sees his friends around him. He takes his sister’s advice and enlists the help of Dr. Mendez, a therapist, to help him recover, and this aspect of the story was my favourite. It was while I read this book that I realised I had not read many books showing male characters struggling with trauma and mental health problems, and so this was really refreshing to read.

The book also shows how other people are dealing with loss as Carver helps his friends’ families with ‘Goodbye Days’, where they spend one final day doing things that their loved one enjoyed doing, and sharing memories of them. I liked that each of the three families were dealing with their loss in different ways and I feel like Zentner did a really good job at allocating each of these families an appropriate amount of time to explore their stories.

Another aspect of the book is Carver’s friendship with Jesmyn, Eli’s girlfriend, as they pull together after Eli’s funeral. On the one hand, I liked how Zentner toed the line between friendship and romance so that the relationship never became too corny for the context of the overall story. On the other hand, Jesmyn quickly started to get on my nerves when it became clear that she was a bit of a manic pixie dream girl character, and aspect of her character became very repetitive. For example, the fact that she had ‘Filipino genes’ came up multiple times in random conversations, and the scene where she gets childishly excited at a thunder storm felt too childish for a teenage character to be believable. It simply felt like Zentner was shoving in some ‘different’ characteristics to make her stand out, but it felt jarring.

My only other issue with the book was that sometimes the dialogue felt unrealistic. For example, the writing style of the book was largely simplistic, but sometimes characters would dive into long speeches about their emotions, with complex imagery that did not seem real for teenage characters. It was a minor issue, because it wasn’t that  any of the writing was bad, it just sometimes felt inconsistent in style and tone.

Overall, Goodbye Days was a really good book and I loved the exploration of Carver’s mental health. It was great to read a male character dealing with their emotions, and especially via a therapist, a method which is not often portrayed positively in books. I liked the stories of grief of the different families, but Jesmyn fell flat for me and so this aspect of the book was not quite my cup of tea.

Bookish Tags, Other

T5W: Future Classics

Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme that was created by Lainey of gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam of ThoughtsOnTomes. Every week, I will post my top 5 of that week’s theme. If you’d like to learn more about it or join in the fun, head over to the Goodreads group where all the discussions take place here.

This week’s topic is future classics, or books that you think will stand the test of time. I think the sign of a classic is a book that doesn’t lose its relevance to readers over time, no and so this is the standard that I’ve judged these books again. Do I think these books will remain as striking one hundred years from now? Read my top 5 picks below!

1. Maresi – Maria Turtschaninoff

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If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know that this is one of my all time favourite books. Maresi is a novice at the Red Abbey on a secluded island where men are forbidden. The island is a sanctuary for women from all corners of the world, and when they are threatened, they must pull together to defend themselves. The writing of this book is so beautiful and enchanting, and the story so unique and wonderful that I think this book will definitely stand the test of time.

2. I’ll Give You The Sun – Jandy Nelson

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This is another of my favourite books that has frequently featured on my top 5 lists over the years. The story of Noah and Jude as they recover from the death of their mother that has divided their family has stuck with me since I first read it two years ago. Jandy Nelson’s writing is beautiful and she weaves in artistic imagery flawlessly into her writing, so I think that audiences for years to come will love this book.

3. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

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I think that this book is already considered a sort of modern classic, and that definitely bodes well for its future. The book is narrated by Death, as they watch over a young girl called Liesel, who lives in Germany during the Second World War with her new foster parents, stealing books, and her friendship with the Jewish man that is hidden in her basement. This book is a beautiful story that often makes me tear up, even if I just read a snippet, and a very delicate snapshot of a dark and painful time in history that I think audiences for years to come will enjoy.

4. Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi

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Homegoing is a very recently published book, but I predict that its impact will be felt for years to come. The way that it spans over centuries of history and multiple generations in a single family is such a modern and striking way of telling a story. I think that it was so well done that this will quickly secure a spot on the list of 21st century classics.

5. Milk and Honey – Rupi Kaur

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This collection of poetry has already become known as one of the most successful poetry collections of recent years. Although my own feelings towards it were mixed, I really do think that it will stand the test of time and will be known as a turning point in modern poetry.

What books have you read that you think will be considered classics in the future?

Book Reviews, Historical

The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro Review

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Rating: ★★★★★

I’ve decided to write this review despite not being to actually put into words what I love this book. The only way I can summarise it is the Kazuo Ishiguro’s writing is magical, and he has a wonderful way of layering a seemingly simple story with nuances and themes so that it doesn’t smack you in the face.

It is 1956, and Stevens, who has been a butler at Darlington Hall for years, has been given some time off by his new American boss, and has been offered one of his cars to use for a motoring holiday. Stevens decides he will travel the west country, and visit an old friend, Miss Kenton, who used to be a housekeeper at Darlington Hall, before leaving to marry. Over the course of his week-long holiday, he writes a diary and explores his life at Darlington, and particularly his time spent working under the old Lord Darlington, before the house was bought by the wealthy American he now works for.

One aspect to the novel is that of Stevens’s working life at Darlington Hall. This considers his career as a butler, and Stevens’s own sense of satisfaction and pride from his position, as well as his opinion of his employer Lord Darlington. I really liked the way that this encompassed a range of historical events, as Lord Darlington play a role in European politics of the 1930s. I also found Stevens’s exploration of the meaning and importance of his lifetime of service to be really interesting. It was moving to see him almost try to convince himself that his work was meaningful, struggle with whether his life had been well spent, and with how other people see his accomplishments, especially in a society that is leaving behind the aristocratic world that Stevens is used to.

The other side of the novel is that of Stevens’s personal life, which is closely interlinked to that of his working life, but looks at his relationships with his father and Miss Kenton, the housekeeper at Darlington, who left many years ago to get married, and who he is travelling to visit. Although they were closely wound up in Stevens’s working life, it was refreshing to see a slightly more human side to Stevens, who keeps a tight hold of his emotions. Again, I enjoyed reading how Stevens struggles to decide whether he has made the right decisions in his relationships, and decide how he feels about the people that have passed him by.

The best thing about this book is Kazuo Ishiguro’s writing. My favourite book is Never Let Me Go by him, and I found that this had the same gentle style of writing that I loved about that book, which meant that I felt like the voice of the narrator was so realistic that I could believe they were a real person. It genuinely felt like Stevens was a real person, telling us a real story about his life, and as if there was no author being a middleman between him and me. It means that the characters all feel real, so the story feels real too, and it also meant that despite this book being laden with commentary on social class, historical events, and other themes, these issues are never being waved about in your face as if the author was trying especially hard to make the book complex, but rather, they feel natural.

Overall, I really loved this book and just like Never Let Me Go, I would probably consider it one of my favourite books.

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Freshers – Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison Review

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Rating: ★★★★

Freshers is a YA contemporary novel that follows Phoebe and Luke in their first term at university. I absolutely loved this novel, because it not only showed the highs and lows of the ‘freshers’ experience, and the relationships that the pair create, but it did it so well that I laughed out loud and couldn’t put the book down.

Phoebe and Luke went to school together, but never spoke, however, that doesn’t mean that Phoebe hasn’t noticed him. She is hopelessly head over heels with him, and when the chaos of freshers brings them together, she can’t believe her luck. As if that wasn’t good enough, her new friends in halls could not be any better, and university is everything she could have asked for. On the other hand, Luke is struggling to adapt. He broke up with his girlfriend of three years on his first night, and without his friends and school football team, he can’t seem to figure out who he wants to be in this new world. He thinks he has struck gold when he lands a spot on the university football team, but it’s not the environment he’s used to, and if he can’t fit in with the lads in his team, will he ever find his place?

My favourite thing in this book was that I felt like it accurately represented the struggles of starting university, or beginning afresh in any situation. I loved how even though Phoebe was having a great time, at times she was hit with intense homesickness, and in Luke’s story, he was confused that the reality of university wasn’t as exciting and positive as he had been told it was. Even though they do all of the things they’re ‘supposed’ to be doing at university, going out every night, getting drunk, at times they simply feel like they are going through the motions and not seeing the point. Even if you can’t relate to the specifics – for example, I didn’t drink at university, or go to ‘freshers’ nights, but I could relate to the fear of not being sure if you’re having as much fun as others around you, if you’re making enough friends, if you’re doing the right things, and I think most people could also relate to these fears.

There were so many fun characters to read in this novel, which made the story a much more interesting experience. I really enjoyed reading the scenes between Phoebe and her friends Liberty and Negin, and how they would come together in trying times, and their voices were so lifelike that I could almost hear them chattering next to me. I even liked the reference to people that they spotted around the campus but don’t know, which I found hilarious and so realistic – those miniature crushes that you develop on the attractive stranger that sits on the opposite side of the lecture hall and that you bond over with your friends. The only place where it fell flat was when these secondary characters became a part of the plot, because sometimes those characters weren’t well developed enough for me to recognise the significance of their role. For example, at one point, a character called Becky becomes a major part of the story, but I couldn’t actually remember who she was.

Also, although I liked how Phoebe and Lucy’s friends from before university made some small appearances, I would have really liked for their parents to make an appearance. We only saw a handful of text messages from Phoebe’s parents and nothing but a missed call from Luke’s. I realised after finishing the book that I didn’t know anything about either of their home lives or families and I think this could have been easily dealt with.

Overall, I really, really enjoyed Freshers and I think it is probably one of my favourite YA contemporary novels. I also really appreciated a novel that looks at the late teenage years and the university experience, as I feel like these years are often left out of fiction and forgotten. I enjoyed the different characters and relationships, but at times, it did feel like there were slightly too many and I couldn’t remember exactly who they were.

Book Reviews, Historical

See What I Have Done – Sarah Schmidt Review

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Rating:  ★★

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

As a huge fan of true crime, I have always been interested by the case of Lizzie Borden, accused of murdering her father and step-mother with an axe in 1892. Although she was acquitted at trial, Lizzie remains the main suspect in the murder, and I was really looking forward to reading See What I Have Done, which is a retelling of those events. The book benefits from the fact that the events of the book are so infamous, however, because the plot is so simple in that you know what happens, there needs to be more to make the book worthwhile. which in my opinion, See What I Have Done lacked.

In particular, as I said above, I was excited to see how Sara Schmidt presented Lizzie Borden herself, and the aspects of her character which led her to not only supposedly murder her parents, but to dominate her complicated relationship with her sister, and live the rest of her life in the very town where she allegedly committed the crime. Unfortunately, I think the book failed to make Lizzie interesting to me, and instead she was just annoying and simplistic. The Lizzie Borden in the novel is childlike in tone, throwing tantrums and manipulating those around her, but I felt like the dark side to her just wasn’t dark enough. It didn’t strike fear into me, and if the events of the story weren’t based on real life events, I don’t know that I would have suspected that she was even capable of the crime. Most of the characters had an issue along these lines for me. Apart from the set character that they were assigned in the story – Lizzie is childlike and scheming, Emma is the older sister who feels trapped by responsibility, the maid Bridget wants to go home to Ireland – there was nothing else to them. There were no grey areas or complexities, and I didn’t really care about any of them.

The second issue that I had with the book was the slow, lugging pace of the plot and the overuse of minor details. For example, I could barely tell whether the events of the book were simply focusing on the day of the murder, or the days leading up to it and after, because nothing really happened – apart from the murder itself, that is. It seemed like every single action by the characters was one of three options – eating pears, eating mutton, or struggling with food poisoning. I suppose that these details were meant to add to an atmosphere of claustrophobia in the house and increasing tension, like a ticking time bomb, but in reality it just felt repetitive and irrelevant after a time.

Regardless of the lack of action, the book could have been saved by more faceted character exploration, but as that was also lacking, I just felt like I was trudging through mud trying to finish this book. I think it could have been saved by some more character interactions, as they actually barely spoke to each other, but I suspect perhaps that Schmidt did not want to take any artistic liberties adding in events that are not historically proven.

I think Sarah Schmidt was perhaps trying to cast doubt on the belief that Lizzie committed the murders by including the chapters with her uncle and Benjamin, a man hired to teach Mr Borden a lesson. However, she didn’t really go through with it and kept with the story that Lizzie was guilty, which then just made me wonder what the point of these narrators were. I would have preferred for there to be a tighter focus on the Lizzie and her immediate family, or even just Lizzie and her sister Emma, exploring Emma’s suspicions, instead of having so many narrators. This would have made the book much more interesting that simply all of these characters eating mutton and pears.

Overall, I wish that I had loved this book, but it just failed to make me feel that tinge of terror and curiosity that I love getting from the Lizzie Borden case and other true crime stories. It was too weighted down with attempts to create an atmosphere, which simply fell flat for me and felt repetitive and boring.

Classics

The Making of a Marchioness – Frances Hodgson Burnett Review

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Rating: ★★★★

The next book in my mission to read the long-forgotten titles on my bookshelves is this one, which I picked up a few months ago in Persephone Books in London. I was intrigued it because I had previously thought that Frances Hodgson Burnett had only written for children, and I found that her novel The Making of a Marchioness was sweet and enjoyable like her other more famous works such as The Secret Garden.

Emily Fox-Seton is in her thirties, lives in a boarding house in London, and makes her living running errands for women of much greater means than her own. It is when one of those women invites her to stay with her in her country manor house, that Emily’s fortunes are turned around. Although she is only there to run errands for her host as she entertains other equally wealthy guests, Emily catches the eye of the marquis James Walderhurst. He choses her over the other younger and wealthier ladies and the two marry.  The second half of the book, originally published as a sequel, sees Emily, now Walderhurst, fight off schemes from James’s heir presumptive, who is concerned that the old Marquis’s new marriage may rob him of the wealth he is set to inherit.

Emily is an innocent and naive young woman. She is thankful for any and every kindness shown to her, and is oblivious to the fact that they may not be kindness. She exclaims that people are very good, because she has nothing to give but is always receiving, without realising that she is always giving to those around her, whether in the form of running errands for them, or giving them advice. Even though she is far from the smart and lively protagonists that we’re used to today, Emily is a genuinely good person who wants nothing more than to help those around her, and I enjoyed seeing her come into a life of comfort and wealth. I liked the brief commentaries on social class, particularly Emily’s concerns at the start of the novel that she would be forced to go to a workhouse in her old age. It makes her root for her, in contrast to the other ladies who are vying for the marquis’s hand in marriage, whose only concerns are that they will be spinsters, and not that they will live in poverty.

The two halves of the novel are very different in tone. The first half is similar to Austen, whilst the second half is darker in tone and also shows the perspectives of the Osborns, who are plotting to get rid of Emily. I enjoyed both of these, although at times the second half seemed too slow. In the first half, I enjoyed Emily’s character, for the reasons above. It is in this part of the novel more than the second that we see her pleasure in helping others. In the second half, I enjoyed the Osborns, and Emily’s maid Jane. However, there were issues with pacing and tension, and this wasn’t helped by the fact that Emily’s way of dealing with the threat is to simply remove herself from them and go into hiding. There were also issues with racial sensitivity as Hester and her maid Ameerah, who are from India, are described in ways that would likely not be published today.

However, I did like the ending of the novel, which showed a more romantic side to the Waderhurst marriage, whilst also showing Hodgson Burnett’s own cynicism of marriage. My copy included an afterword that highlighted the interesting way that the author chose to end the novel with a scene between the two women, rather than a romantic conclusion, which made me realise that the book was actually more interesting and complex than it might seem from the outside. I also found it interesting how despite marrying well, the entire second half of the novel takes place without Emily having the support of her husband, who is travelling on business. It means that throughout the entire novel, we are faced with Emily’s independence, even if she is naive, and we see that just as she has helped other women in her way, other women flock to support her in exchange.

Overall, I liked The Making of a Marchioness for the way that it took a simple romantic plot and turned it on its head. This is not a flowery fairy-tale romance like other period dramas, James and Emily do not fall in love instantly, but marry for other reasons like companionship and security, and instead grow to love each other. Emily is definitely a woman of her time – the novel having been published in 1901 – but I enjoyed seeing her relationships to others around her.

Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy

Windhaven – George R.R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle Review

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Rating: ★★

I’m a massive fan of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, but like many others, I’ve been impatiently waiting for the next instalment for years and years. So, I decided to give George R.R. Martin’s other books a chance, and picked up Windhaven when I found it in a secondhand bookshop. I was really excited to see what else the mastermind behind Westeros had come up with, but Windhaven just fell flat to me.

Windhaven is set on a world made of various islands, and communication between these islands is effected via ‘flyers’, who fly on wings made of a special fabric. These flyers are selected from an elite group of families, who pass the wings onto their children. However, Maris of Amberley, a fisherman’s daughter who is adopted and raised by a flyer, is furious when her stepfather takes the winks from her and gives them instead to her younger stepbrother, his natural born son, despite her being the better flyer. She is so angry that she begins a revolution of sorts, sparking a series of events that changes the course of her life, to allow flying to be an option to everyone in Windhaven.

One of the things that I liked about Windhaven was the insight into various times in Maris’s life that we get. The first third of the book shows her as a young woman, when she protests against the elitism of flying and asks for access to wings to be based on merit rather than birth. In the second third, Maris is a teacher in one of the schools that she has helped to set up, teaching children born to non-flyer parents how to fly so that they may compete for wings. The third and final part is a now elderly Maris, injured so badly while flying that it marks the end of her lifelong dream. While I feel like it is done in a somewhat disjointed way, by the end of the novel I enjoyed seeing her growth and the bigger picture of her life.

However, there were issues that I had with this novel. As I said, I feel like the plot was quite disjointed, and this is made worse by the fact that the three parts of the novel don’t share a real uniting overarching plot. Rather, each one feels more like a standalone story.

Further I really didn’t understand the world and feel like the world-building was lacking. It was only by looking at the blurb of the book that I understood that Windhaven was another planet, that humans crashed their spaceship on, and that flyers’ wings are made from the materials of the spaceship, hence explaining why the wings are so rare and difficult to acquire. I think I might remember this vaguely being told at one point, but if it was told, it was told in such a boring way that I barely acknowledged it. This was an issue in much of the world-building – it was told via info-dumps, political-style speeches, or just otherwise in a way that was just distracting me from the plot, and desperate to find it again.

Overall, I really wish that I could say that this fulfilled my desire to find something to compete against Game of Thrones, but it didn’t feel at all like it George R.R. Martin was behind it at all. This book was frankly, boring, and although there were aspects that I liked to a degree, it wasn’t enough to salvage the slow, disjointed, and difficult to wade through plot.

Book Reviews, Contemporary

A Song For Issy Bradley – Carys Bray Review

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Rating: ★★★★★

I’m currently on a mission to get through the books I have acquired over the years and have not yet read, and A Song For Issy Bradley has been sitting on my shelf for over a year. I was not expecting much from it, not being a huge fan of contemporary fiction, but this book blew me away. I found it to be really moving, and couldn’t put it down.

Issy Bradley is the youngest daughter of Ian and Claire. The Bradley family also includes daughter Zipporah, or ‘Zippy’, and sons Alma and Jacob, and the family are devout Mormons. The book opens on Jacob’s birthday, and mother Claire is struggling to prepare for the birthday party she will throw for him as Ian is away on church business. She is so busy that she doesn’t have enough time to check on Issy, who has been feeling poorly, and by the time she does, she realises that Issy’s illness is far worse than the flu. Before she has time to process it, Issy is in intensive care with meningitis, and despite the family’s prayers, Issy passes away.

The rest of the book follows each member of the Bradley family as they grieve, or struggle to grieve, in their individual ways. Ian feels comforted by his faith, and his confidence that he will be reunited with his daughter in the afterlife helps him to continue with his normal life. Meanwhile, Claire cannot see a way to move on, and Zippy has to step into her mother’s shoes, cooking and cleaning while dealing with confusion over dating in a religious setting. Alma’s love of football is tainted by memories of playing with Issy, and Jacob is faithful that God will answer his prayers to bring Issy back. Each chapter follows a different family member in turn, and follows their individual storylines in conjunction with their grief for Issy.

I loved each character’s story, which I think is a rare feat in a multiple-POV narrative. I think this was assisted by the fact that each character had such a different tone. Jacob’s belief that he can resurrect Issy is a humorous break from Claire’s incredibly sorrowful chapters. Zippy and Alma are struggling with challenges outside of Issy’s death, but in fear of adding to their family’s problems, they try to deal with it themselves. Ian and Claire’s relationship is crumbling under the strain of the loss and the now evident differences in their faith. The novel is a really beautiful and moving look at how a family deals with loss, individually and as a family, coming together to put the pieces back together.

Carys Bray’s writing is simple but not basic, with the emotions that the characters feel being clear and moving. I think she was really good at giving each character a strong tone that stood out from the others. Alma is angry and resentful of the way his father’s religion has crushed his childhood dreams of being a footballer, Zippy is growing into a woman and Jacob is naive and sweet. This made it easy to deliver into the characters of the different narrators, their lives and their minds, and to really understand them.

I also found the insight into the Mormon faith and lifestyle fascinating, and the different perspectives, from those who were confident in their faith and found peace and comfort in the teachings, to those who struggled with it and those who altogether turned away from it. In my opinion, it was a delicate and subtle insight into religious life and the challenges that come with growing up and living in a religious community.

Overall, I really loved A Song for Issy Bradley and thought it was truly moving. Despite the heavy subject matter, it was not difficult to get through, and the different characters narrating the story did not confuse or distract from the story.