Book Reviews, Non-Fiction

84 Charing Cross Road – Helene Hanff Review

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Rating: ★★★★★

I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but sometimes there are books that I just have to read. This was one of them. I love shopping for books in the used books stores on Charing Cross Road, and when I discovered there was a book on the same subject, I was instantly in love. This book was even more enjoyable than I expected, I am happy to report, and a brilliant sweet, short read.

Helene Hanff was a struggling writer in New York who loved to buy second hand books. Wanting to get the best value for money, she wrote all the way to London’s Marks & Co bookshop at 84 Charing Cross Road to have her books delivered to place her orders. Over the course of 20 years, she struck up a friendship with many of the shop’s staff, but mainly with Frank Doel, a bookseller who took personal responsibility for her orders, and even with his family. Although she never had the opportunity to meet Frank in person, or even to see the bookshop – Frank having died, and the shop having closed by the time she managed to visit London – this makes the letters between them even more moving to read, and especially in this day and age, it was really touching to see how such long lasting relationships could grow across oceans, through the medium of letters. My own copy was followed by the sequel, The Duchess of Bloomsbury, Helene’s diaries from when she finally managed to visit London. Although I didn’t enjoy this section as much, her wit and unique voice is equally strong here.

The thing that really makes this book so great is Helene’s brilliant writing. Her character really came through in her writing, and her letters are so witty and teasing that you will find yourself chuckling away at them. You could really get a feel for all of the characters through the letters, from Helene’s cheery humour to Frank’s more stiff-upper-lip reserve, the gossiping receptionist and his caring wife. It was also lovely to see the passage of time through their letters, and see how the relationships evolved into genuinely caring friendships. Frank remembers requests that Helene made years before, Helene asks after his family and even talks to his wife in separate letters, and although they plan for years to meet each other in London, the evolution of this slow-burn friendship is cut tragically short by circumstance, the event that prompted Helene to publish her letters.

Being such a short book with such lively writing, this was a really enjoyable read. It is barely over 100 pages but in that short period you feel like you have gotten to know Helene and the staff at Marks & Co. I definitely recommend it for a lively, sweet book about book, friendships, and friendships about books!

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Book Reviews, Contemporary

You – Caroline Kepnes Review

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Rating: ★★★★★

I have a secret love of true crime documentaries, particularly, anything to do with scary serial killers and their psychology. Even though they leave me creeped out for days afterwards, I also enjoy the fear a little bit. This book felt just like those documentaries feel, but worse. If you’re looking for a book to make you feel a bit creeped out – or probably, very creeped out – look no further. Let me introduce you to the scariest book I have ever read.

You is a story told from the perspective of Joe, a bookseller in a used and rare bookstore. One day, Beck walks into his store, a young creative writing student, and he is instantly smitten. But, this isn’t just a crush. Joe descends into a full-blown obsession with Beck, ehe is determined to have her, and will do anything to remove obstacles between them. The novel traces his various manoeuvres to not only successfully meet Beck, but to get her to fall in love with him, and to keep her by his side.

Hands down the best thing about this novel was the narration. The entire story is told from Joe’s perspective, in the second person, as if he is talking to Beck directly – the ‘You’ of the title. The effect of this is striking from the first page, and Kepnes really captures Joe’s voice as he explains everything that he is thinking and feeling. Sometimes it reads like he is writing a letter to Beck, sometimes it reads more like a stream of consciousness narrative, as if we are actually listening to his own inner thought process. It is incredibly effective, and elevates the creepiness factor to brilliant heights.

The plot itself is also exciting. Joe has no limits, and it makes the book both a thrilling and horrifying read. On the one hand, you’re intrigued to see how much further Joe will go to secure his goal. With every new thing that he does, you are shocked to find that he has taken that extra step, from tracking down a person’s social media, to their address, to their location on various social outings. By the halfway point, I was convinced that the rest of the book would be a downhill ride, because how could Kepnes keep up the pace, but she did! On the other hand, it’s also terrifying to read, as you realise that Joe has no boundaries, and that he doesn’t care. He understands social norms and that his actions would be considered weird or dangerous, but in his mind, he is justified, and it is everyone else that is insane.

Overall, this book was brilliant from start to finish. It was a tightly woven story that never got boring, the stakes were consistently being raised to heighten tension, and the second person narrative escalated the suspense even more to the point where, at times, I was trembling with shock and excitement at the latest plot twist. I could not recommend this more, but warning: it will scare you.

Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, YA Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Young Adult

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns – Julie C. Dao

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Rating: ★★★★★

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

I’ve been following this book for what feels like ages, ever since I stumbled upon a tweet by Julie C Dao celebrating getting a book deal. In the months since, I’ve seen excitement for the book continue to grow, with readers and authors alike talking about it, so I was chuffed when I finally got a copy. I’m so pleased to say that this book actually surpassed my expectations, feeding my love for morally grey characters and leaving me wanting more and more of Julie’s writing.

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is an East-Asian inspired fantasy novel about a young girl, Xifeng, who is determined to become Empress of her kingdom, Feng-Lu. It seems impossible, after all, she is only a seamstress, far from the Imperial City, but her aunt’s fortune telling cards tell of her destiny as Empress, and she does not question fate. After leaving home to head to the Imperial City, it seems that the stars have aligned to help Xifeng reach her goal. She is accepted into the Emperor’s household, but as a maid. A bigger problem is the fact that the Emperor has a wife, two other concubines, and four sons. How will Xifeng secure her fate, and how far will she go to get it?

My favourite thing about this book was that Xifeng was not a nice girl. That seems harsh, and perhaps it is, but it’s also true. I don’t mean this in a nitpicking way. Xifeng is selfish, ambitious, and determined to the point of being willing to walk over anyone else to get what she wants. She has set her sights on being Empress, and she will do anything, and does more than the unimaginable, to get it. There were scenes that were difficult to read, and events in the book that change your opinion of Xifeng for good, but it all adds to the complexity of the tale, and of Xifeng herself.

When the book begins, we don’t yet know if she is an unwilling pawn in a game of her aunt’s, whether she even wants to follow this path that has been set out before her, but as Xifeng takes step after step down the path, and as she knocks opponents and obstacles out of her way, we see her accepting her own desires, and embracing her ambitious selfishness and the darkness that lies within her soul. By the end of the novel, there is no doubt that Xifeng is not the pure, innocent girl that we thought she was at the start of the novel. She is dark, evil even, but having followed her along her whole journey, it is difficult to ignore the humanity in her that even she has set aside. Xifeng’s characterisation made this book so easy to read for me.

I loved seeing the exploration of her character reach new depths, and couldn’t get enough of deciphering her morals, or lack of them. What seemed like a bit of a cookie cutter female protagonist in the first pages, turned out to be a character of many layers, with surprises lurking beneath each and every one. When the book ended, I was shocked. I kept expecting a redemption arc, a sorrowful and repenting protagonist, eager to right her wrongs, but Xifeng doesn’t regret anything that she has done to get what she wants, and as horrifying as that is, I also found it refreshing and exciting to read a character do so confidently.

Overall, I really adored Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, and I’d love to read it again in the future to explore Xifeng some more. Whilst this book might not be for readers who like to like their protagonists, or for those who don’t like violence and gore, I would still recommend giving it a try and letting it challenge you. I like morally ambiguous characters, and still, Xifeng even challenged me. Julie C Dao writes Xifeng in a way that you still hold out some hope for her, and you’re so reluctant to let go of it, and that made reading Forest of a Thousand Lanterns a really interesting experience for me personally. I really think that this book has pushed the boundaries of YA fiction, and I hope to see more books like it.

Book Reviews, Contemporary

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

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Rating: ★★★

I have found it so hard to review this book because it is so unlike most of the books I have read. Junot Díaz’s writing is unique and effortless, it is a beautiful read and loved the intertwining of stories, but I sometimes felt like the overall story and unity of the various plots suffered under the weight of them all.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is, obviously, about Oscar. He is an overweight, nerdy, and eternally lovesick Dominican boy who lives with his mother and sister. He wants desperately to experience love, and although he experiences it very often, he has yet to have it be returned. Díaz’s narrative spreads not only across Oscar’s formative years, but as far back as previous generations, exploring the curse, or Fuku, that they believe has overshadowed their lives for decades.

I did enjoy this aspect of intergenerational storytelling, and particularly in the context of talking about an immigrant Latino family, it felt very appropriate. In my own Latin American upbringing, I have always been raised to consider my family history to be as strong a part of my identity as my own likes and dislikes, so I could really relate to this method of exploring Oscar’s life and beliefs and the events that had formed him. The experiences of his relatives even years before directly impacted his life, and by the end, we not only see a clear chain of events across generations, but also wonder whether the Fuku is real.

The downside to this was that sometimes I just found this secondary stories to drag on a bit. There were things that I didn’t understand the importance of, meanwhile other storylines were left by the wayside and I would have liked to have had the chance to explore more. As interesting as the stories of the different characters were as standalone stories, and even though by their end I could see how they linked in to Oscar’s story, sometimes while reading them I felt lost in their story and struggled to see the importance of some of the detail. Also, despite understanding that these events and people formed Oscar’s own identity and life, I felt like Oscar’s own story at times felt weak. For example, the final chapters of his story felt simply silly at times, and whilst his neediness and desperation for love had been endearing, I simply grew frustrated with his narrow-mindedness and decisions, and the ending, rather than feeling poignant and moving, just felt a bit – dare I say it – stupid.

Overall, I do appreciate Junot Díaz’s talent in writing this book, and I do appreciate the various features of its structure and storytelling, but I simply didn’t like the plot. It felt disjointed at times, and the main plot and character disappointed me.

Other

Top 5 Favourite Book Covers of 2017

We all know the saying, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’. We’ve probably all muttered it once or twice – particularly when recommending a book that we loved to someone and they don’t think they’ll like it. However, I admit, I judge books by their covers all the time. There is actually a lot that can be deduced from a good cover, or at the very least, a good cover will draw you in.

Here are my favourite book covers of 2017, some of which I’ve read, some of which I haven’t, but all of which drew me in with their cover art.

1. Naondel – Maria Turtschinanoff 

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The wavy blue  lines, the ship mast that looks like a face. This book cover is as dreamy and mysterious as the story inside. This book is one of my favourite reads of 2017, and you can read my full review here.

2. Unconventional – Maggie Harcourt 

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This cover is so bright and colourful that there’s no way it can’t catch your eye. I also love the way that the cover plays off of the conventions setting of the book, with the queue winding its way around the cover, and people dressed in costumes. The little references like the two main characters standing on either side, and the pineapple, make the cover even more enjoyable once you’ve read the book. You can read my full review for Unconventional here.

3. Wing Jones – Katherine Webber 

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The Wing Jones cover is beautiful. I love the way that the pink and purple laces spell out the title in such a beautiful font, but even better, the book’s sprayed edges in the same colour make this book one of the most beautiful books of this year. You can read my full review for Wing Jones here.

 

4. We Are Okay – Nina Labour 

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I had never seen a cover like this before, and it amazed it the moment that I laid eyes on it. I love the eeriness of the image, which means that you can’t quite tell what kind of book this will be. The girl in her bedroom suggests contemporary, but the landscape is dark and mysterious. I still haven’t read this book, but the cover meant that its earned its space on my TBR list straight away.

5. The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night – Jen Campbell

 

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I love the illustration on this image, with the heart looking like a planet with houses and plants growing on it. The font wrapping around it, and the simple colour scheme tells you suggests that the story will probably be mystical, with dark undertones and perhaps a little bit of haunting eeriness. The magical vibes from the art and the title meant that this book interested me from the moment I heard about it, and I really hope that I get a chance to read this book soon.

This was such a difficult list to create, and a lot of beautiful covers missed the cut, but tell me what your favourite book covers of 2017 are, and if you’ve read these books, what you thought of them in the comments below.

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Book Reviews, YA Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Young Adult

Gilded Cage – Vic James Review

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Rating: ★★

Gilded Cage was my first foray into the dystopian genre in a while, and while I was really excited, it failed to deliver. I liked the blend of dystopian and fantasy in a modern, urban, British setting, which we don’t see very often. There were also certain characters that I liked and would happily read more about, but overall, I found the story boring, and some aspects of the story and characters were just not quite there.

In the world of Gilded Cage, society is divided in two. At the top, are the ‘Equals’. They have Skills, or magical powers, and rule Britain. Then, there’s everyone else, and they are each required to spend 10 years of their lives in slavery to the Equals. These 10 years can be taken at whatever point in life they wish, and most people are sent to slavetowns, where they work in factories. At the heart of this story is the Hadley family, who elect to sign up to do their ‘slavedays’ as a family while they are still young enough to survive it. Whilst they think that they are all being sent to the estate of the Jardine family, one of the ruling families of Britain, Luke Hadley is actually sent to Millmoor, a slavetown. There, he gets wound up in a revolution, whilst back at the estate, his family serve the Jardine family, trying not to fall foul of the rules of the imposing Lord Jardine, and his three sons,  Gavar, a brute, Silyen, a mysterious figure with dark powers, and Jenner, the Skill-less disappointment.

I’ll start with what I did like about this book, and that was the whole concept behind the world. I really liked the way that Vic James’s Britain has some alternate history aspects to it, dystopian aspects, and fantasy. All of that together was very interesting. I liked reading about the political set up of this alternate Britain, the way that the Equals governed and their families, and the political intrigue. Quite a few of the Equals are scheming constantly, trying to outsmart each other to get to the top spot. My favourites of these were Bouda, who in my opinion did not appear enough. She is set to marry the Jardine heir, and is only in it for what it can do for her. Her goal? To be the first female leader. I don’t care that she’s a bit evil, she’s like a mini-Cersei, a Slytherin through and through, and I want more of her. Even more interesting, and also unforgivably underrepresented, was Silyen Jardine. He’s the slightly creepy middle son of the Jardine family, and there were hints of him being ready, and almost eager, to betray even his own family to get what he wants. The only parts of the book that I really enjoyed included Silyen, including an eerie chapter in the middle of the book where he steps right into someone’s memories. I loved Silyen and his dodgy ways. Give me more Silyen. In fact, I propose abandoning the story, and just following Silyen.

Now, for the not-so-good parts.

Honestly, the story at the Jardine estate was plain boring. Abi is the main protagonist of this part, and she is a completely passive character for most of the book, doing next to nothing (until the last two pages). The only thing that she does do is, of course, fall in insta-love with Jenner Jardine. This relationship was difficult to buy into because (apart from the slave/master thing) both Jenner and Abi had zero personality, apart from just being nice, so not only could I not see what had attracted them to each other, but I literally could not care less. Further, I was disappointed in the way that the Hadley parents are completely ignored. They might as well have not been mentioned, and it made the whole family dynamic and the premise of the story – their family decision to become slaves – difficult to understand. The only remotely interesting character in this set-up was Daisy, the little sister, who showed potential to be spunky, but wasn’t quite there. Even so, I still found her story flawed, as I found the idea that a ten year old would be charged with taking care of a baby quite hard to believe. Am I the only one? Maybe it’s just because I’m 21 and children terrify me.

Luke’s story was far better, although the characters still suffered from the same one-dimensional characterisation issues. They were just popping up randomly, and then disappearing, and apart from a few central characters, I couldn’t tell you much about his gang of rebel misfits. Still, Luke actually does stuff, and so this story was more exciting.Towards the end of the novel, the action really amps up, and over the course of a few chapters there is literally stuff going on left, right, and centre. It’s full on. Guns are going off and things are blowing up. BUT I had literally no idea what was going on. I think Vic James was trying to capture the characters’ shock in her writing, but it just felt too disjointed in parts and confusing.

Overall, this book had potential, but I think it just failed to deliver in terms of plot and characters. The characters were flat, and the plot was slow. While I didn’t enjoy Gilded Cage, I do feel that it has potential. It is a shame that the book waited until the end to delve into action, but I see a lot of promise for where the story is going in the sequel, Tarnished City, and for the characters themselves. I really hope that the characters are developed more in the sequel, as I think that this was the main flaw of Gilded Cage and was what really held back the story.

Bookish Tags, Other

The End of the Year Book Tag!

Today I’m going to take part in this great book tag created by Ariel Bisset over on her Youtube channel – you can watch the full video beginning the tag here. Ariel is one of my favourite book tubers, I just love watching her videos because she’s so enthusiastic and insightful when discussing books. Although it is only September, we are far nearer to the end of the year than the start (!) and so it’s around this time of year I start thinking about how I’ve (most likely) failed to achieve most of my goals. The questions Ariel has created for this tag are about reading goals for the rest of the year and for 2018!

I’d like to tag a few of my other favourite book bloggers to complete this tag next! They are toomuchofabooknerdWords Beneath the Wings, and Ally Writes Things! I’d love to see what you guys answer to these questions!

Are there any books you started this year that you need to finish?

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There aren’t any books that I’ve started this year and haven’t finished, but I did start the Lord of the Rings books last Christmas, and read the first 2 volumes over the holidays. I’ve been putting off the final one because, frankly I found them really slow, but I do want to get it over and done with!

Do you have an autumnal book to transition into the end of the year?

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One of the books that I am eager to read this autumn is There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins. I’ve been really enjoying YA thrillers this year, such as One Of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus and S.T.A.G.S by M.A. Bennett, and this book sounds like it will satisfy my urge for some teen suspense. It’s about a series of gruesome murders targeting students at a particular high school, and the hunt for the killer. I generally associate thrillers and the like with autumn and winter (Halloween, darkness, cold, etc.) so I think this book will be the perfect way to mark the beginning of autumn.

Is there a new release you’re still waiting for?

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The Hanging Girl – Eileen Cook (October 3, 2017): This book is about a girl who gives tarot readings, but her psychic abilities are fake. She begins to help the police on the case of a local missing girl, with insider information to help her form her visions. Then, what was originally a harmless prank begins to unravel and she realises that there is much more riding on her lies than she originally thought.

What are three books you want to read before the end of the year?

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The Dark Days Pact – Alison Goodman: I read the first book in this series earlier this year and loved it. I want to get the sequel read as soon as possible before I start to forget details, and I also think its supernatural spookiness would be really fitting for winter.

Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman: I picked up this book at it’s release way back in February and haven’t read it yet. The main reason for this is I picked up the humungous signed hardback edition, and lugging it around is not really something I want to do. I’ll probably try and read this during my Christmas break, but I really don’t want it to be unread come New Years!

Six of Crows – Leigh Bardugo: I’ve heard so many good things about this book, and so I bought it. Months ago. It remains unread on my bookshelf, even though I’m 99% sure I’ll love it. I definitely want to read this before the end of the year.

Is there a book you think could still shock you and become your favourite book of the year?

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Show Stopper – Hayley Barker: I only recently heard about this book, and I haven’t heard many details because what I have heard makes me want to go into this book blind. What I know is that it is set in a society where children are sold to a travelling circus with a demonic ringmaster, to provide entertainment to the richer echelons of society. I’m excited to read this, and hope that it lives up to expectations!

Have you already started making reading plans for 2018?

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I don’t usually plan very far in advance with reading because I change my mind a lot. I think that I’m going to read one book, and then when I go to my bookshelf, something else takes my fancy. However, I would like to read more classics next year. I have been building up my Penguin Clothbound Classics collection, and I’d like to say I’ve actually read more of them than I have. I also have a complete Jane Austen book section, and I want to work my way through all the ones I haven’t yet read.

I would also like to revisit some books that I’ve loved. I’d love to reread some favourite series, like ASOIAF, and Red Rising.

 

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Other

Giving Up On Books?

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks

Today, I’m going talk about something that I find very difficult: knowing when to give up on books. Why? Well, for one, it is something that I genuinely do struggle with often. Usually, I consider it a matter of principle to not give up on books, no matter how bored I am, or how much I’m not enjoying it. If I was less generous with books, I know for a fact that many books I have recently read and not enjoyed would have been abandoned by me within the first few pages. I can usually tell within the first few pages of a book whether or not I will enjoy a book, and more often than not, I am right. Second, I’m currently reading A Court of Wings and Ruin, which in case you don’t know, is the third book in a trilogy that I have, until now, read despite finding seriously boring and disappointing. Sensing that this would probably take me a while to finish, I thought I should probably write something to post before this blog went weeks without an update, and so here I am!

So far this year, I have only abandoned one book. That book was All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West. In my defence, I picked up this book without even reading the blurb, simply because I was intrigued by the author due to my own fascination with Virginia Woolf. I was excited to pick it up, and then I started reading it only to discover that it was about an elderly widow. What else was it about? Honestly, I couldn’t tell you. I read about fifty pages during which the protagonist decided that she was going to move out on her own, a decision which her children vehemently opposed. She spent pages and pages becoming friends with her new landlord, and discussing her various disappointing children. I was bored out of my mind, and the lack of a clear plot made it literally impossible for me to continue.

This, I believe, is my limit. I can make it through the most boring or badly written novels if I have an idea of what is going to happen, or at least, what the point of the story is. I have struggled through many books but still finished them. I didn’t enjoy the writing Things A Bright Girl Can Do at all, but I was intrigued in the stories of the three girls, and the subject matter made me interested in the portrayal of historical events. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell was difficult for me to enjoy because the story felt like it was stuck in the same position for the majority of the novel, and I was sick of it to progress (it eventually did, but entirely within the last few chapters). Cloud Atlas was an interesting concept, and had beautifully written passages, but the story was so convoluted and confusing that I actually slipped an entire section. Even once I had finished, I felt a little confused about the whole thing, despite being pleased that I had made it through.

On the other hand, there are stories which I have found to be slow, and yet continued reading. I still haven’t read The Return of the King, but I trudged my way through the first two instalments of Lord of the Rings because I wanted to know how the characters won. I loved American Gods despite its huge size and sometimes slow parts because I adore Neil Gaiman’s writing style and feel confident that sticking with his novels will be worth it. The ACOTAR series by Sarah J. Maas is, in my opinion, slow and convoluted, with too many YA fantasy cliches for my liking, but I have constantly forced myself through the books because I want to know where the story is headed. Slow parts in these books were made slightly more bearable by the writing style, which I enjoyed. There were passages which gripped my attention, phrases and sentences that felt refreshing despite the slow plot.

So what is more important? Quality of writing or plot? I’m not sure that I can confidently say when the right time is for me to officially decide to put down a book for good. My experiences tell me that I cannot bear reading a book when I don’t see any progression in  plot or any point to the story, but I have also trudged through many books like this. I would love to get to the bottom of this question – perhaps there is a formula to explain when I have reached my limit? Unfortunately, however, I am not a mathematician, so I guess this will remain unknown for now.

In the meantime, why don’t you tell me when you decide there’s no hope for a book? Have you given up on any books recently and why? Or are there any books that you wanted to give up and finished? Did you enjoy it eventually or not?

Bookish Tags, Other

T5W: Books From Before I Joined the Online Book Community

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 about the best books from before joining the online book community. I have been posting reviews here for a while, but I first properly joined the online book community on Instagram. It has introduced me to many excellent books, many of which have become firm favourites. So, here we go!

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

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This was recommended to me by an Instagram follower, and it honestly changed my life. That may be a slight exaggeration, but this book is amazing. It is always in my top 5 favourite books, and I still remember how long it lingered in my memory after I had finished it. Jandy Nelson has a way with words, and I don’t think I would have picked up her books if it wasn’t for other book bloggers. So thank you, Bookstagram!

Full review here.

2. Throne of Glass – Sarah J Maas

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This was my first foray into YA fantasy for a long time, and it opened up a whole new world for me. I loved Sarah J Maas’s world and characters, and YA fantasy, with its multitude of female protagonists and interesting magical worlds, has always been a favourite genre since.

3. The Sin Eater’s Daughter – Melinda Salisbury

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Another YA fantasy series that had already begun before I joined bookstagram, this book was recommended to me by a friend, and it is another world that dragged me in. I loved its quiet protagonist, and the way she slowly woke up to the injustice and lies of the world around her.

Full review here.

4. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before – Jenny Han

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YA book bloggers love Jenny Han, and although at first I thought that I wouldn’t like this book – I don’t typically go for ‘fun’ contemporaries, this book was too much fun to deny. You just have to give into it. Jenny’s writing was lighthearted but still strong, and Lara Jean feels like a real character, as do her family. This is another book I would not have given a chance if it weren’t for book bloggers, and yet again, I’ve been proven wrong about my prejudices!

5. All the Bright Places – Jennifer Niven

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I really enjoyed this book, despite (again) having some concerns about going into YA contemporary – basically, the online book community has broken down all my YA fears. I loved the characters and the writing, and the book made me cry. That’s always a score in my books (pun intended.)

Full review here.

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Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

A Quiet Kind of Thunder – Sara Barnard Review

A-Quiet-Kind-of-Thunder

Rating: ★★★★

Continuing on my 2017 trend of reading more YA contemporary novels than I ever have before in my life, I chose to read A Quiet Sort of Thunder, hoping to find a blend between sweet romance and something more substantial. This book definitely delivers. Not only does Thunder have wonderful characters and relationships at its centre, but it also brilliantly represents and brings attention to the experiences of people who find it difficult to communicate or communicate in different ways. Although I found that the story lagged at times, I definitely learned a lot reading this novel and it made me want to keep learning.

Steffi Brons has selective mutism and severe anxiety, and has done for most of her life. She can only speak around certain persons close to her, and is mostly invisible to those around her. But when she meets Rhys, who is deaf, she finds that communicating with him is easier than with anyone else. With BSL, it doesn’t matter if Steffi doesn’t speak, but even without any pressure to speak, Steffi is finding her voice, and the confidence to use it.

Sara Barnard’s representation of Steffi’s anxieties and selective mutism were both interesting and moving. As someone who has experienced severe shyness and anxiety, I could relate to Steffi’s fears and concerns about interacting with people in public. While I had heard of selective mutism, I had never seen it explored in so much detail. You can really tell that Sara did in-depth research when writing this novel, and I felt like her writing really helps you to get into Steffi’s head. There were some really moving passages that broke my heart, and I was rooting for Steffi the whole way through as she continued on her journey to confidence in herself. I also loved that, despite the main characters rarely speaking out loud, this didn’t hinder the story at all. They sign to each other and their ‘speech’ is told in bold rather than quotation marks, and there was greater focus on facial expressions and body language than in many other novels, which I really enjoyed. I also loved the BSL diagrams, in both the inside covers of the book, the chapter beginnings, and littered throughout the text.

My main concern about this novel was that it would fall into the cliche of a new love interest ‘healing’ the main character’s ‘ailment’. I was worried that Rhys would be the reason for Steffi finding her voice, and I would have hated that. In fact, there are several reasons for Steffi becoming more confident. She is taking new medication, which she is keeping a secret, she is seeing a therapist, and she also has great, supportive, people around her. I loved that Sara found a subtle balance between these things, meaning that there isn’t one single cure for Steffi, but rather a combination of factors that help her to push herself to her limits. Neither one works without the others, they all help her to take steps forward, and I really loved the important role that not only Rhys, but her friend Tem and her family play in helping her. One of my favourite moments was when Steffi, in an emergency, has to find help in a place that she has never been before. She not only deals with a panic attack, but then several of her fears, from talking to strangers to making phone calls, all while thinking that she is failing for being nervous. Sara does a really good job at helping you to get into Steffi’s state of mind and understanding her point of view, leading to a really insightful reading experience.

At times I did feel like the novel didn’t develop much in plot outside of the central relationship between Rhys and Steffi, but the novel was well written and interesting enough to not make this a huge deal. It wasn’t that Steffi didn’t have any goals in the novel, because she did – being able to speak – but I would have liked for there to have been a more specific goal. Perhaps a particular challenge or a goal that she was focused on throughout the novel. There is her desire to go to university, but this is quite vague and in the background of the novel, being mentioned a few times but not central to her thoughts. However, even without this, we do still get to see Steffi’s development and journey throughout the novel and see how she copes in different difficult situations. The fact that Sara’s writing helps you to relate to the character so much means that you can deal with the novel not being more plot-driven, and the fact that I cared for the character meant that I didn’t mind just reading her thoughts.

Overall, this book was incredibly well written, insightful and respectful. The characters are  relatable and their experiences are moving. It is filled with important insights into anxiety, deafness, and other difficulties that people may have in communicating and makes you much more aware of the challenges that people may face.This is a great balance between stories based on Steffi’s relationships, whether with Rhys, her best friend Tem, or her family members, and the challenges that she faces outside of those relationships.