Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell Review

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell is a heart-jerker of a book. It’s a book so poignant and enjoyable that I had to invent a word for it. Right from the beginning, I fell in love with this book and I read it like my life depended on it.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, ISBN 9781250012579, 328pp

Set in the 80s, it tells the story of two teenagers Eleanor and Park who sit together on the school bus each day and go from not acknowledging each other to bonding over comics and music and then something deeper.

But life is complicated for Eleanor as the new kid in school. She battles with a poor body image and her red hair, terrible clothes and weight makes her a target for bullies at school. Life at home is just as bad as she has an abusive stepfather and is living in poverty.

Park has a great family but battles with his identity and what it means to be half Korean. He is also the son of a Vietnam vet and struggles to measure up to his dad’s expectations.

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Why I Love the A Court of Thorns and Roses Series

I came to this Young Adult fantasy series very late but I’m glad I finally made it. While I jump on the occasional YA reading bandwagon (Twilight, His Dark Materials and The Hunger Games), I consider myself a bit long in the tooth now to read this genre and I don’t really read much fantasy. But maybe a good book is a good book no matter how old you are or who the target audience is. And so when I recently joined the Bookgramming community on Instagram and saw all the love for the A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J Maas, I was intrigued to find out more and went and bought the three book box set.

I consumed all three books in the series–A Court of Thorns and Roses, A Court of Mist and Fury and A Court of Wings and Ruin–in a week. Now I finally get all the hype and all the love for this series. I can see why teens and women alike are filling their Instagram feeds with photos of these books and I’ve happily joined this reading cult.

For the uninitiated, don’t worry, I won’t give any spoilers. But I will say this is a fantasy series about the world of humans being divided by a great wall from the world of faeries after a great war 500 years ago. The main character Feyre is a human huntress who is struggling to feed her starving family (a crippled father and two older sisters). She reminded me of Katniss from The Hunger Games in that she is a bit ragged around the edges, smart and tough. Feyre kills a huge wolf she suspects might be a faerie who has come illegally through the wall. This sets off a chain of events that sees her whisked away over the wall into Prythian, the land of the Fae, as punishment for her crime.

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The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman: A Review

There must be something in the water in Oxford. It was once the literary stomping ground of writers such as J.R.R. Tolkien (The Lord of the Rings) and C.S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia series) who formed part of a writer’s group called the Inklings and met regularly at the Eagle and Child pub to discuss their writing. And Lewis Carroll was inspired to write Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland while living in Oxford. Now Philip Pullman, who resides in Oxford, can easily be added to this rich literary heritage as an author who creates such detailed, fantastical worlds.

The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman
The Book of Dust Vol One: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman, ISBN 9780857561084, 448pp, pub Oct 2017

Philip Pullman has just released The Book of Dust Volume One: La Belle Sauvage (what a mouthful). It is set in an Oxford that’s similar in appearance to the one we know, but is quite different. Pullman’s Oxford still has students, academics, colleges and pretty countryside but there are some magical differences. Every person has an animal companion called a daemon who is an extension of themselves and can talk, think and feel. Children’s daemons can change into all sorts of animals, reflecting their moods and needs, but once maturity hits the daemons settle into a particular animal form. In this alternative world there are also witches and other mythical creatures.

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The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (ISBN: 9780143567592, published 2012)
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (ISBN: 9780143567592, published 2012)

I received a book voucher for Christmas. I haven’t had one of those in years so was excited to go to my local bookstore to browse. I had seen The Fault in Our Stars by John Green on bestseller lists for a while, but never really paid close attention to what it was about. Then I heard that a movie based on the book was coming out this year so decided to give it a read.

My head must have been well and truly buried in the sand these last six months because I had no idea what it was about before starting to read it. I don’t think I even glanced at the blurb on the back before I bought it. So I didn’t realise that the main protagonists were teenagers – or I should say young adults given how wise and mature they came across on the page. Continue reading

Between the Lines: A Review

Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer (ISBN: 9781743310922, 353 pages, Pub July 2012)

Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer is a book that is all about “what if.” What if the characters of your favourite fairytale were alive inside the book? What if when you close the book they fall out of character and live life as they choose? What if the fairytale prince is desperate to get out of the book and stop performing the same part over and over again? And what if one day he finally makes himself heard by a reader – a teenage girl. Now she must figure out a way to break the prince out of the book.

I have to say it’s an interesting premise. Samantha van Leer is the teenage daughter of bestselling author Jodi Picoult and this book was her idea. I’ve read a few Jodi Picoult books and this one was drastically different. So if you’re a fan of Jodi’s, don’t expect it to be anything like My Sister’s Keeper.

I can’t say that the plot was very believable. I know this was fantasy but I couldn’t get my head around the concept of characters in a book being aware of someone reading them. I’ll be the first to admit that this might be my failing rather than the authors’. But when I chose to suspend disbelief, I found this an enjoyable read. Even though the ending made me scratch my head and go ‘what the?’

The thing I really liked about this book were the illustrations throughout. There were illustrations of princes, dragons, mermaids and cute silhouettes of characters dangling from words on the page. Different coloured font was used when the story was being told from different characters point-of-view. There were three points-of-view: the reader Delilah, the prince Oliver and then you read pages out of the fairytale. I thought that was quite clever.

This book was meant for a Young Adult audience. I think that girls in their younger teens, possibly even pre-teens, would love this book. For me, it didn’t have the depth of other YA novels – the kind that find a dedicated adult audience as well. I found it enjoyable. I appreciated the illustrations and the way the authors wanted to make this book an object of beauty in printed form. But it was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I liked it but can’t say I loved it. I’d be interested to hear other readers’ opinions.

One more thing … if the characters in a book can truly see a reader and possibly break out of character and communicate with the reader, I’m heading straight to my shelf to get Pride and Prejudice. I’m pretty sure that Mr Darcy must be sick to death of brooding over Elizabeth Bennett after all these years. Maybe I can break him out. Now there’s a thought …

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore (ISBN: 9780575097186, 547 pages, Published May 2012, Hachette)

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore is a brick of a book. I could literally use it as a doorstop. I’ve always had a soft spot for weighty tomes. It gives me a real sense of satisfaction to turn the final page on a mammoth read. What first struck me about this fantasy read, apart from its size, were its pages. It has beautiful illustrations and maps throughout. I thought it was a lovely touch which enhanced my reading experience.

At a time when books are facing an uncertain future, it’s nice that a publisher decided it was worth adding extra pages of illustrations. I wonder if we will start seeing more instances of fiction books being printed with more care – a start to books as objects of beauty you want to physically own over an e-book version.

Now to the story …
Bitterblue is set in the same world as Kristin Cashore’s previous books Graceling and Fire. I had read Fire previously but remembered little of the plot. While it might help to read Graceling before reading this book, I haven’t read it and was still able to follow the story.

Eight years have passed since Princess Bitterblue and her country were saved from the vicious rule of her father, King Leck. Bitterblue is now the Queen of Monsea, but the influence of her father lives on. Leck was a Graceling – a kind of mutant – whose power was mind control. He could get anyone to do anything and then wipe their memory clean if he chose to. Or he could force them to do horrific deeds and leave them to live with the memory. He had a whole kingdom under his influence – including Bitterblue and her mother. Her mother helped Bitterblue escape into the safe-keeping of a group of Graceling resistant fighters and was then killed by King Leck.

Now all should be well. But Monsea is still under some sort of spell. There are many missing pieces to put together and Bitterblue doesn’t know which of her advisers she can trust. She begins to sneak outside the castle walls in disguise. There she meets two thieves Saf, a Graceling who doesn’t know what his grace is, and Teddy. Bitterblue soon learns that there is more to this pair than meets the eye. They are trying to uncover the past that was clouded for so long by Bitterblue’s father.

The Verdict

I enjoyed Bitterblue, although it took me a while to get through. There were plenty of mysteries and ciphers to unravel and people who weren’t what they seemed. The character Bitterblue was believable as a very young Queen trying to find her feet and fix her devastated kingdom. But at times the plot rambled on and then there was a hurried ending which left me hanging.

The reviews on goodreads are all conflicted. Some readers give it five stars and herald it as a masterpiece and some give it two stars and a lump of their disappointment. I am somewhere in between. I didn’t race to the end. I sort of limped along and felt a bit relieved to get to the last page. Bitterblue didn’t capture my attention as much as Kristin Cashore’s Fire, but it was still a worthy and entertaining read.

Leave Them Hungry For More

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

 

  Title: The Hunger Games

  Author: Suzanne Collins

  Genre: Young Adult fiction

  Australian publisher: Scholastic

  Format: Paperback,  film tie-in ed, 458 pages

  First published: 2008

    Brief Blurb:

In the place that was once North America stands the nation of Panem. At its centre is the Capitol, home to strange and fascinating people who live a life of pleasure. Surrounding the Capitol are twelve districts – named imaginatively District 1, District 2 etc … They supply the Capitol with food, coal, manufactured goods, etc. The people of the districts live pretty poor existences compared to the Capitol dwellers.

Years ago the districts rebelled against the Capitol – but they lost. As punishment, every year the Capitol stages ‘The Hunger Games.’ Each district must send one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to participate in a fight to the death on live TV. There can only be one victor. 

This year they pick out the name of  sixteen year-old Katniss Everdeen’s younger sister, Prim. The names are drawn out at random (one lottery you don’t want to win). Katniss steps forward to take her sister’s place. From the poorest district 12, her odds of winning are slim. But her tough life has made her strong and given her the survival skills that just might see her become a contender.

Review

What better way to start a blog about books than with the book on everyone’s lips – The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I happily admit to jumping on the bandwagon with this read. I had heard of the series for a while, but it was the movie coming out that compelled me to buy book one. (One of the reasons I love it when books are made into films. Whatever gets people reading I say!)

I devoured The Hunger Games in a day and a half. Book two, Catching Fire, went even quicker and book three, Mockingjay, was inhaled so quickly I’m not sure I recall half of what happened. It has been a long time since a book series has captured my attention and imagination. But back to the review of book one …

It’s not the dystopian landscape that makes this book such a thrilling read. I think most readers are familiar with similar concepts of the future as a rather bleak place where the many are ruled by the few (yep, not that different to now). It was the concept of ‘The Hunger Games’ itself that intrigued me.

To send 24 teenagers into a specially constructed arena where they must kill or be killed and there can only be one winner is a horrifying situation. For the people of the Capitol this is the ultimate TV viewing and very few feel any twinge of remorse watching desperate kids kill each other. While to the people in the 12 districts it is a way of reinforcing each year that the Capitol is in control.

It reminds me of the Romans watching gladiators in the arena for sport. But it also says a lot about our current fascination with reality TV. People quite happily watch other people hurt one another emotionally and abuse and double-cross each other on TV as a form of entertainment. We’ve already seen the depths that ‘reality TV’ has plunged to (I think I lost a lot of brain cells watching Jersey Shore). It’s not that unlikely a concept that in the future people could become further desensitised as reality TV continues to push the boundaries in the name of entertainment.

Another thing I enjoyed about The Hunger Games was having the tough, yet vulnerable, Katniss to cheer for. You’ve got to love an underdog! From the poorest district 12, and with a rather surly attitude, her odds of making it through the games are not good. But she is a survivor who knows how to hunt and stay alive in the wild. And she has a streak of kindness under her tough exterior. First with her sister, then in the arena with Rue and later with Peeta …

Peeta was also an interesting character. (If you haven’t read the book, Peeta is the male selected from District 12 to participate in the Hunger Games.) I liked that he wasn’t much of a fighter or a hunter, but he was incredibly clever. He was never going to survive through his killing ability alone so he used everything else at his disposal. To team him as the love interest of Katniss kept me hooked as well.

I could go on writing about this book, but I’d rather hear what other people liked about The Hunger Games. Plus I don’t want to give away too much more if you haven’t read it. My next posting will be about the movie version. I can’t wait to see it! The anticipation is killing me (bad pun intended).

Have you read The Hunger Games? What made you read it?