Sunday, 25 August 2013

Review: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor and Park
Source: Goodreads
Title: Eleanor & Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Series: no
Published: 2012 by Orion Books
Source of book: the library

Synopsis from Goodreads

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, ELEANOR AND PARK is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under.


Sometimes I fail to recall how strongly a really good novel can affect a person. How it can dazzle, make you sizzle, break your heart, melt your brains, gently make you forget where you are and what the time is. Eleanor and Park reminded me. This is the love story of the decade, maybe even the century, a new Romeo and Juliet. I would like to thrust this book into any romance-lover’s hands immediately… or anyone’s hands, really… For me this novel was as close to flawless as any novel can be.

She is quirky, with her mismatched outfits, ribbons tied around her wrists and a shocking tangle of crimson hair. She is strong, facing her everyday life of poverty and a fear of abuse. And yet she is lonely, a new girl at school, friendless and hiding her life that is full of misery and anxiety.

All of these and more are the reasons I love Eleanor and truly felt for her situation. Her worries concerning her weight, her stepfather and her home balanced by her love of books and music, and her growing feelings for the boy next to her on the school bus make her appealing to the reader and a very much realistic, fully three-dimensional character.

Park starts off as an average guy – never messing with the school bully, reading comics and listening to his Walkman. Maybe the reason I found Park such an amazing character was that he definitely isn’t perfect. He cares about his reputation in the eyes of his classmates and doesn’t think positively or kindly about everyone at all times.

All in all, Park feels like a real, normal guy, not some Edward Cullenish supernatural freak, and that honest portrayal of him makes him exceedingly likeable – maybe because I relate to having faults like his. However, he develops as a person, and that makes him admirable as well, and the progress happens at a realistic pace.

The story
Rainbow Rowell’s talent in telling the story of Eleanor and Park has without a doubt woken my interests in becoming acquainted with the rest of her works. The pacing of the story is wonderful and unrushed and the profound thoughts throughout the novel resonated with me strongly. Due to the characters’ convincing backgrounds, personalities and conversations I truly felt like I was reading a true story about true people. Nothing felt exaggerated, overly polished or improbable and I delighted in that.

Perhaps the very best aspect of this incredibly well-written story was the web of relationships between characters – and the best of all was the slowly growing romance between Eleanor and Park. I can safely say that this pair is one of my top five favourites in literature and that their tale will stay in my heart for years. I beg those readers who have not yet had the chance to fall in love with this couple to give them a chance – I am certain many of you will be enchanted, like I was, by the very first page.

5/5 The best book I have read all summer – sweet, almost bittersweet contemporary romance that touched my heart and made me cry!

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus
Source: Goodreads
Title: The Night Circus
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Series: no
Published: 2011 by Vintage Books (Random House)
Source of book: I bought it

Synopsis from Goodreads
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.
My review
The Night Circus dumbfounded me. I imagined it would be something quite different – more normal, or predictable, or such – but it snatched my expectations away and shook them until they fell into pieces at my feet. And then it enchanted them into a flock of pure white doves…

The plot

The beginning piqued my curiosity immediately by its uniqueness and somehow, vagueness (as though it places key hints but reveals, in fact, nothing) – a magician and a curious grey-suited man meet and make a magically binding deal involving the magician’s daughter and another, not yet chosen child.
From that moment on Morgenstern starts to spin a fantastical tale which feels slow at first, introducing the reader to people and their stories at a gradual pace. After a while I grew used to this style of writing and it felt natural concerning the storyline and the era. I became invested in practically all the characters’ little intertwining stories, and was hungrily curious to what it would all add up to in the end.
It has to be said that this novel has a complex, convoluted, sometimes nearly confusingly immense and multifaceted plot, involving thousands of little twists, hints and details. Sometimes this felt unnecessary, like there was too much information and detail to digest, but sometimes, as the storylines gradually twisted themselves together, it felt just right. In many ways it suits the circus because it is, as well, convoluted and complicated, and yet an entity.


The world-building

And oh, how I love the circus… I dream to experience such magic. The main setting to The Night Circus is of course Le Cirque de Rêves, and I applaud Morgenstern for this astounding, simply spellbinding venue. The circus is quite other, and I love its strangeness, the tangible magic that can be sensed inside its perimeter, all the different performers and tents. The imagination behind it all strikes me silent.

The late nineteenth century was described well, in my opinion. Though I am no professional in this time period it felt to me like the historical setting burst from the pages. I liked to watch the circus move around, as well, through many different countries, though the different cultures of its destinations could have been brought to light more.


The characters

With a unique circus there have to be unique people. In that aspect, I wasn’t disappointed and found the personalities of the characters to be diverse and intriguing. Perhaps they weren’t all exactly likeable, but I was interested by their roles in the story and their relation to the circus. The main characters Celia and Marco were appealing to me, and I became fond of the twins, Bailey and the clockmaker Thiessen.
Though I had the impression that The Night Circus was a love story, I personally think after reading it that it isn’t, really. It’s true that there is a romance aspect but in my opinion the circus itself is the core of the story. This wasn’t a bad thing; I enjoyed reading about a non-living thing being so crucial to a novel.

4-/5 Though sometimes a bit long-winded, The Night Circus is a feat of awe-inspiring imagination and a novel that enchants!


Thursday, 27 June 2013

Review: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

The Girl of Fire and Thorns (Fire and Thorns, #1)
Source: Goodreads

Title: The Girl of Fire and Thorns
Author: Rae Carson
Series: Fire and Thorns trilogy #1
Published: 2011 by Gollancz (Orion Publishing Group)
Where I got the book from: the library
Rating: 5/5


Synopsis from Goodreads

 Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.
Elisa is the chosen one.

But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can't see how she ever will.

Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.

And he's not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people's savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.

Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young.

Most of the chosen do.

My thoughts

There has been a lot of hype in the blogosphere about Rae Carson’s Girl of Fire and Thorns and I had my hopes very high for this first novel in a fantasy trilogy. I am so glad to say that Elisa’s story mesmerized me from the very first chapter and without doubt lived up to my expectations.
Being an overweight princess, outshined by a beautiful and wise sister and practically ignored by her father is not the easiest fate for Lucero-Elisa de Riqueza, and it is no less challenging for her to also be God’s chosen one, the Godstone bearer which is selected every one hundred years. When Elisa is abruptly married off to the king of a neighbouring land on her birthday, everything changes. Girl of Fire and Thorns is as much of a story of a young girl’s evolution from overshadowed into admired as a unique fantasy adventure with riveting characters.
I have a weak spot for fictional approaches to religion – not quite sure why I find it such an appealing aspect as I am not a particularly religious person myself – and this novel definitely aced that part. The Godstones, the rituals, the Scriptura Sancta and the Belleza Guerra are all so well thought out, original and convincing that I can only give praise to Carson’s imagination. The different sides to and interpretations of faith are also thought-provokingly written.
Moreover, Carson’s writing is fresh and appealing; I couldn’t get enough of it. While traditional high fantasy novels tend to have long and detailed descriptions, Girl of Fire and Thorns uses a more modern style with crisp, to-the-point prose with vibrant vocabulary that creates an engaging tale and a vivid series of images in the reader’s mind. The settings, tangible and constructed with skill, were amazing and definitely an aspect that is core to the novel. Orovalle, Brisadulce, the desert… It was all intoxicating, fascinating because the world-building is amazingly believable.
The cast of characters is diverse and their actions pleasantly unforeseeable. Though I never actually felt a bond with Lady Aneaxi, the rest of the characters have depth, interesting agendas and distinct personalities. I especially appreciate the way Ximena and Cosmé are gradually introduced and given well-fleshed personalities. Most of all I love Elisa herself – somehow I find her immensely relatable, likeable and admirable, and it was encouraging to witness how she changes as a person. The challenges she encounters, both within herself and physically, made her someone to sympathize with, especially as she succeeds in defeating fears, insecurities and difficult problems. The romantic interest – whose name I won’t mention in fear of spoiling – didn’t dazzle me, but I like the person and think that what eventually happens is a surprising and actually good turn of events - this hardly ever occurs in books. In the following instalments I want to find out more about Lord Hector because he seems so steadfast and intelligent. I'd love it if Ximena also got more action!
If I have to find some flaw, then it is that though I love the title, I can’t quite comprehend what it’s relation to the story is, meaning that it’s not obvious or anything. I suppose I have my own theory about what it could mean but usually I prefer titles that make clear sense after reading the book. Of course this is only my own opinion and somebody else could argue that the title is perfect for this novel. Another concern I do have is that what happened to a certain character in the very end was rather convenient in a way, perhaps a little too neat – I might have preferred that this would not have taken place at least not just yet. On the other hand, this could be another situation that matures Elisa and gives her new opportunities to prove herself. However, these two things that I wasn’t entirely satisfied with in no way changed my experience or overall opinion of The Girl of Fire and Thorns and I can say with confidence that it is one of my favourite fantasy reads this year.

5/5 Exotic fantasy and an unconventional main character, along with vibrantly described scenery and a brilliant story itself!


Thursday, 20 June 2013

Mini Review: Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez

Source: Goodreads

Title: Virtuosity
Author: Jessica Martinez
Series: no
Published: 2011 by Simon Pulse (Simon and Schuster)
Where I got the book from: the library
Synopsis: Goodreads
Rating: 3/5 
Carmen is estranged from the world of ordinary teenagers, stuck in a life full of music with her strict mother, kind stepfather and grumpy violin teacher being her only company. Not the most original premise for a book, perhaps, but honestly I haven’t read that many music-centred books (namely If I Stay, Where She Went) so I thought I’d give this one a try.
Carmen is working hard to achieve her greatest dream, winning the prestigious Guarneri music competition that would certainly guarantee her career as a violinist. Her mother, an ex-musician, has always pressed her to do more than her best. However, vying for victory is also another virtuoso, Jeremy King, an obnoxious guy of her age. Carmen’s emotional struggles were described well enough, and I absolutely loved the passion evoked into the passages about music, but the plot didn’t whirl me away in ecstasy. I also was a little sceptical towards the romance – it was definitely insta-love, basically changing in the space of a few hours from near hate into a complete crush. Despite the fact that Carmen has no previous experience of boys I find it unrealistic for her to fall head over heels a few hours after she meets a specimen of the opposite gender, especially if thirty pages before she's thinking of him as a "complete jackass".
Regardless of my issues with the romance plot, I found Virtuosity entertaining and worth reading. An interesting twist was Carmen’s stage fright and Inderal addiction, especially because it caused a contrast in what music was supposed to give her – passion and joy – and what kind of affect taking the Inderal actually had on her playing – an hollow, empty feeling.
In short, Virtuosity didn’t actually bore me, although for me it doesn’t stand out among contemporary YA novels. The importance of music was portrayed beautifully but the romance felt lacking and unrealistic with its insta-love qualities.
3/5 Though I don't love this novel, the music aspect is very well-written!

Friday, 14 June 2013

Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray
Source: Goodreads
Title: Between Shades of Gray
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Series: no
Published: 2011 by Philomel Books and Puffin Books
Source of book: the library
Rating: 3.5/5


Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they've known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin's orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.


In my most recent history course at school we studied major turning points in Finnish history, and obviously the time of the World Wars was an important part of the course. Finland fought two separate wars against the Soviet Union during the Second World War, the Winter War (1939-1940) and the Continuation War (1941-1944), and though the country lost areas of land and obviously there were many casualties, the Soviet soldiers never occupied Finland. In fact, the capital Helsinki was one of the few European capitals that weren’t occupied in World War II. Due to political reasons such as the President Paasikivi’s diplomatic and friendly approach to the Soviet Union (a prime example is the YYA treaty which was not as constricting as the similar treaties the Soviet Union made with other Eastern European countries) and the defeat of the communist party (Finnish People’s Democratic League – SKDL, Suomen Kansan Demokraattinen Liitto) in elections in 1948 Finland did not become a communist people’s republic like many Eastern European countries. Therefore most Finns did not encounter such horrible fates as Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians did at Soviet prisons and forced labour camps. Between Shades of Gray tells the story of a group of Lituanians, deported from their homeland and made to suffer in squalid conditions at work camps in the Soviet Union.



Ruta Sepetys’ novel awoke emotions of horror, pity, sorrow and disgust in me. I was not surprised by the atrocities described – which are based on true accounts - that were committed in the 1940s. However, knowing that unbelievably cruel acts have been performed sometime in history is not the same as reading about them, especially when the victims are given voices and the foul treatment against all the innocent individuals builds up into a tidal wave of suffering, pain and trauma.

Awareness of these things sometimes fills me with anguish and despair – how can humanity be so easily tossed away in favour of barbarism? – and yet, awareness is also empowering because it gives us knowledge that we can use to spread goodness, acceptance and tolerance. Sepetys writes: “These writings may shock or horrify you, but that is not my intention. It is my greatest hope that the pages in this jar stir your deepest well of human compassion. I hope they prompt you to do something, to tell someone. Only then can we ensure that this kind of evil is never allowed to repeat itself.” I couldn’t agree more.

I liked many of the traits of this novel, in particular the historical basis, some beautiful phrases and the realistic feel of the characters’ personalities and reactions to their fates. Unfortunately I can’t say I loved Between Shades of Gray because one of the most important characteristics for me in a book, the way it was written, felt a little disjointed and awkward. I didn’t become attached to Lina’s narrative properly and in my opinion the flashbacks weren’t necessary. To be honest, they really bothered me in the beginning, but some of the ideas behind them were lovely, especially toward the end. I do want to see what else Sepetys has written and will write in the future because I see potential for her style to evolve into something I can connect with better.

As I mentioned, Sepetys created a few pearls in her prose, and I'd like to share some of those favourite quotes with you:

"Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch."
“'Sometimes there is such beauty in awkwardness. There's love and emotion trying to express itself, but at the same time, it just ends up being awkward.'”
“We'd been trying to touch the sky from the bottom of the ocean.

 3½/5 A harrowing yet hope-filled historical novel about the horrors of forced labour camp!



Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Top Ten Tuesday (#7): Beach Reads

This awesome book blog meme - hosted by The Broke and the Bookish - is where book lovers list their favourites inspired by a new topic each week. This week everybody is sharing their list of Top Ten Beach Reads! For me, the perfect book to read at the beach is a blend of a few of the following ingredients: an entertaining plot, adventure, a dash of humour, a sprinkle of romance, a dose of friendship and a summer setting. And it definitely should be a paperback! My favourite reads that fit in with my definition of a beach read are, in no particular order...

Graffiti Moon
Source: Goodreads

1) Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley

Graffiti Moon is one of the best contemporary books I've read this year! It's sweet, arty, summery and enchanting, a great choice for the beach!

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Source: Goodreads
2) The Absolutely True Diary of A Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Arnold is different from other kids because of brain damage at an early age. His story is touching and yet humorously told, a sort of black comedy of the harsh circumstances and awful incidents he faces. Though it isn't entirely light, I think The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian would be fun to read at the beach - especially since it has cartoonish pictures to balance out the dark side.

Ten Things We Shouldn't Have Done
Source: Goodreads

3) Ten Things We Shouldn't Have Done by Sarah Mlynowski

Looking for a FUN beach read? Humour, romance, friendship, crazy times? Yes? Then this is what you should take with you to the seaside.

Paper Towns
Source: Goodreads
4) Paper Towns by John Green

Mix together an epic revenge plot, a secretive girl, a guy who's in love with her, a mystery and a road trip, and you finish up with Paper Towns. For me it fits the bill of beach read - and seriously, I can and will add a John Green book to every TTT possible. And come on, road trips are the epitome of summer.

After Summer
Source: Goodreads
5) After Summer by Nick Earls

This was a great read with a guy's perspective - a little quirky, amusing and with a summer and a beach setting! The aspect of body-surfing was fascinating, I'd never heard of it before.

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight
Source: Goodreads
6) The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

Yup, this has been on several of my TTT lists already, but how can this cute novel not be a marvellous choice for the beach? Traveling by plane to London, going to a summer wedding, meeting a nice boy... Light, but not too much so, and honestly so adorable.

Where Rainbows End
Source: Goodreads
7) Where Rainbows End by Cecelia Ahern

I had a Cecelia Ahern phase once when I read several of her adult chick lit novels and this one just might be my favourite. It's really quite original - the story of Rosie and Alex, BFFs, that spans basically their whole lives (literally decades) and consists of e-mails, letters and cards they have sent and received from people. And it all works so well, despite there never being a "proper" narrative! Anyway, any Ahern book would work for the beach since they're all kind of magical, enjoyable and unique.

Siren (Siren, #1)
Source: Goodreads
8) Siren by Tricia Rayburn

In case you want something mysterious and paranormal to read at the beach, pick up Siren. In short, the main character Vanessa tries to figure out the truth behind her sister's death and the disappearance of their mutual friend - creepy, yet not especially "heavy" or too dark.

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #1)
Source: Goodreads
9) The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Two words: summer camp. Add in Ancient Greek gods, sword-fighting and going on a quest with a satyr and a daughter of Athena... Can't get much better than that.

Only thought of nine this week - what do you think are great books for the beach? Feel free to leave a comment or a link to your TTT and I'll stop by! =) All of the books have been linked to Goodreads.


Thursday, 6 June 2013

Review: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer (Mara Dyer, #1)
Source: Goodreads
Title: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer
Author: Michelle Hodkin
Series: Mara Dyer #1
Published: 2011 by Simon and Schuster
Where I got the book from: the library

Synopsis from Goodreads

Mara Dyer doesn’t think life can get any stranger than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there.
It can.

She believes there must be more to the accident she can’t remember that killed her friends and left her mysteriously unharmed.
There is.

She doesn’t believe that after everything she’s been through, she can fall in love.
She’s wrong.

My thoughts

There are some books that just grab you, glue you to your seat and make you simply turn the pages like a whirlwind. Those are the books that I love the best – the ones that make you tremble and laugh, the ones that send thrills through you and have you hold your breath (metaphorically) in fearful anticipation. I am so glad that I re-read The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer because I felt all that already for the second time.

I’m not even sure if I can describe this novel adequately enough. There were so many aspects that I LOVED and for me everything – yes, I’m fairly confident that everything – fit together into a perfect, intricate plot. Mara’s story unfolds steadily and with a fast pace, revealing shocking things one after another and making my eyes bulge out and my mouth drop open. This book literally sent shivers down my spine. Perhaps what makes it so deliciously creepy and captivating is Mara’s uncertainty about her sanity – I asked myself, as she asked herself, what EXACTLY was real and what was going on.
The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer was not only eerie – it was also funny. I loved the snarky dialogue between the main characters and the believable relationships. Especially Mara’s family was wonderful – Daniel and Joseph! Whee! - and I look forward to the relationships being developed even further in the next book. Of course Jamie was awesome and I need more of him – and I do have a feeling that his story isn’t over yet – and obviously I can’t leave out a mention of how much I am in love with Noah. He balances out Mara so well and they seem so equal in their banter – they can both stand up for each other and they have a connection that feels real. None of the characters in this novel felt at all shallow and I can’t wait to read more about them.
What more can I say? The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer is a beautifully, dangerously, powerfully captivating novel that I definitely recommend to people who want their head messed with by a book. Mystery, friendship, madness, grief, romance, fear, murder, uniqueness – this book has it all. So just, you know, get hold of it. Quick.
5/5 One of my favourites – an intense, unputdownable YA psychological thriller!