In September I did things a little bit differently because it was Bookoplathon (hosted by Becca and the Books). I pulled five books out of my TBR jar as normal, but ended up pulling another two books out of the jar throughout the month when …
Tag: four star review
Hey everyone! I am SO excited to be taking part in the blog tour for The Ship of Shadows, and I’d like to say a huge thank you to The Write Reads for having me on board. I first read the swashbuckling adventure back in May during Believathon, when I wrote a little review of it, but today I’m diving back in and sharing my deeper thoughts on this nautical novel.
As always with my blog tour posts, I’m going to share a little bit more about The Ship of Shadows with you before I jump into my thoughts, so grab your cutlasses and follow me!
Aleja whiles away her days in her family’s dusty tavern in Seville, dreaming of distant lands and believing in the kind of magic that she’s only ever read about in books. After all, she’s always being told that girls can’t be explorers.
But her life is changed forever when adventure comes for her in the form of a fabled vessel called the Ship of Shadows. Crewed by a band of ruthless women, with cabin walls dripping with secrets, the ship has sailed right out of a legend. And it wants Aleja.
Once on board its shadowy deck, she begins to realize that the sea holds more secrets than she ever could have imagined. The crew are desperately seeking something, and their path will take them through treacherous waters and force them to confront nightmare creatures and pitch-dark magic. It will take all of Aleja’s strength and courage to gain the trust of her fellow pirates – and discover what they are risking everything to find.
Before I review this book, can we all please just take a moment to appreciate how gorgeous this cover is? I went in to Waterstones last week and saw a finished copy in the flesh for the first time and it is SUBLIME. Mad props to Karl James Mountford for designing such a stunning cover.
“You all have such adventurous stories.”
At it’s heart, The Ship of Shadows is a story about stories.
Aleja has always wanted to be an explorer, living for the tales that are told in the local taverns and the books she devours from the university library. She loves stories so much that she uses them to teach herself multiple languages, which is why Captain Elizabeth Quint notices her in the first place – the Ship of Shadows has just lost its linguist, and Aleja is the perfect replacement.
Not only are stories very important to Aleja, but they’re important to the Ship of Shadows itself. It’s powered by magic that is born from the legends and tales that are spread about the ship and its crew, causing new rooms to pop up as the rumours about the legendary ship travel and morph.
Of course, if you’re picking up The Ship of Shadows it’s likely that you’re a reader too, so I’m glad that Maria Kuzniar chose to make her protagonist such a bookworm. It gave me something that made me relate to Aleja, as I don’t relate to her thirst for adventure – I’m a total homebody!
However the gang on the Ship of Shadows made me reconsider that, because this crew of characters is so dynamic that you find yourself desperate to befriend them. My favourite character is unquestionably Frances – a bespectacled pickpocket who is absolutely addicted to cake and other sugary treats – but this is one of the most organically diverse casts I’ve encountered. We have characters from Norway, Sweden, Spain, Africa, London, as well as an LGBTQ+ character and characters with disabilities (because pirates don’t live the safest lives!). If you like reading books that have a very interesting range of characters represented then this is definitely the book for you. I’m not normally a fan of novels which introduce lots of characters very quickly, but Maria Kuzniar makes sure that all of her characters are such individuals that it’s extremely easy to keep track of them all in your mind, which is a huge skill.
I hope that we’re able to join Aleja and the crew on many more adventures in the future. As far as I’m aware nothing has been confirmed regarding a sequel yet, but as I said back in May, this story needs to be continued. I think this could end up being one of my favourite middle grade series of all time, as this is a remarkably strong debut.
I ended up giving in four stars, and the only reason it didn’t get to the five star mark was because I felt as though the ending was a little bit rushed compared to the pace of the first half of the novel. However, I was tempted to bump it up to five stars on my reread, and if I read it again I probably will cave and rate it that little bit higher.
Maria Kuzniar spent six years living in Spain, teaching English and travelling the world, which inspired her debut novel The Ship of Shadows. Now she lives in Nottingham with her husband, where she reads and writes as much as she can and bookstagrams at @cosyreads. She is always planning her next adventure.
Once again I’d like to that The Write Reads for allowing me to get involved in this blog tour. The Ship of Shadows has quickly become one of my favourite middle grades, and I can’t wait to see what Aleja and the gang get up to next.
See you next time!
Hello, and welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Kate McLaughlin’s What Unbreakable Looks Like. First things first, I’d like to say a huge thank you to Meghan from Wednesday Books for reaching out and inviting me to take part in this blog …
Another month means it’s time for another set of TBR jar reviews. I picked out a wide range of titles for June and could hardly remember anything about any of the titles, so it was fun to discover them throughout the month.
Before you check out my reviews, I’d love it if you could check out the Black Lives Matter carrd. It collects links for petitions and places where you can donate to support the cause, so if you have some spare time or money it can make a huge difference.
The Memory Game by Sharon Sant – 1 star
I had high hopes for The Memory Game. The blurb was reminiscent of Phyllida Shrimpton’s Sunflowers in February which I read back in 2018, but after finding that story a little bland I thought The Memory Game might impress me more.
Unfortunately, the exact opposite happened. I hated The Memory Game, and if it hadn’t been so short – coming in at under 150 pages – I would have abandoned it, review be damned!
David is dead, killed in a hit-and-run accident, but he’s still hanging around. His mum can’t see him, and neither can his best friend… In fact that only person able to see David is Bethany, the girl he used to bully.
I wrongly assumed that David was going to be trying to solve the mystery of his murder, so I was disappointed when Bethany suggested that and David said the identity of the hit-and-run driver didn’t matter. Really, man?! Someone killed you and you’re just blasé?
That wasn’t even the first thing about this book that annoyed me. David’s a massive sexist, blaming the girl he had a crush on for his death because – wait for it – he was only on that road because he was heading home after work, and he only had a job so that he could save money to take Ingrid somewhere nice IF she said yes when he eventually asked her out. Oh boy. Just take responsibility for your own actions, you moron! Then there are the jokes about him possibly following her home and watching her in the shower… Gross.
There is a reason why David is hanging around, which I saw coming from a mile away (and hoped I was wrong about). It’s a disappointing, unsatisfying conclusion. If it hadn’t been published back in 2013 I would have expected a sequel to be on its way, because the story ends very abruptly and it feels unfinished.
However, despite the fact that I really didn’t enjoy this book I was quite impressed by the concept of the memory game itself, which David and Bethany play together. David feels as though he’s fading away and is losing himself, so Bethany describes tastes, smells and feelings which he’s forgetting – it’s very simple, but the scenes featuring the two of them playing the game are some of the most enjoyable in the story.
Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung – 3 stars
To paraphrase a quote from this book: this wasn’t good, this wasn’t bad, it was nice.
After Lucy wins a scholarship to the prestigious Laurinda school, she begins writing letters to her old friend Linh to tell her about everything that goes on at the new school. From the Cabinet – the three most popular girls, who manipulate and bully anyone who crosses them – pranking a teacher so badly that she quits to the headmistress seemingly condoning the behaviour. Laurinda life would be hard for anyone to adjust to, but Lucy’s immigrant parents and downtrodden neighbourhood make it even harder for her.
Lucy tells Linh all about her first year while trying to work out how she fits into the world of Laurinda and who she really wants to be. Would she rather sit by and let the people in power get away with their terrible deeds, or does she want to stand up as leader of the underdogs?
There’s a big twist towards the end of this book which I don’t want to spoil, but I assumed that was where the story was going and I think that’s one of the reasons I didn’t enjoy it as much as other readers seem to. I’d been expecting something with a bit more drama, but Lucy and Linh almost reads like literary fiction rather than YA: the writing is a lot floatier, and the story is extremely character-driven. At times it doesn’t even feel like it has a plot, because when you boil it down it’s simply Lucy attending school for the majority of the book. In fact, I was far more interested in Lucy’s mother’s story: if this had been a book following her – having a new baby in a foreign country while working all hours of the day and night to provide the bare minimum for her family – I think it would have been much more interesting.
That being said, I did enjoy Alice Pung’s writing style. The descriptions of Stanley, Lucy’s hometown, are very evocative, while she gives Laurinda its own unique aspects so that it stands out from amongst other fancy private schools I’ve read about in the past. I think it helped that this book was set in Australia, as I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel like this which wasn’t set in America or the UK!
This just didn’t really have any impact on me, and I think I’m going to end up forgetting about this completely sooner rather than later.
Southern Perfection by Casey Peeler – 1 star
I was really looking forward to reading Southern Perfection, but I ended up being completely underwhelmed. I was expecting something a bit more like One Chance Night by Eliza Boyd – which I only gave three stars, but for some reason really sticks out in my mind – so I think I can partly blame my expectations for the reason that this book fell so flat.
However, the synopsis is also hugely misleading. Referencing appearances being ‘not what they seem’ and ‘all the questions are answered with one night, one song, one story, and one boy’ you’d think this would be a cute contemporary romance and not much deeper than that, right?
Wrong! The secret that Raegan Lowery is hiding is that her Grandaddy has leukaemia, so there is far more to this story than I’d expected. If this had been more obvious based off of the description I might not have been as disappointed, but I was looking forward to reading a summery romance, not a girl struggling to come to terms with her grandfather’s impending death.
If Southern Perfection had been solely focused upon Raegan and her Grandaddy, I probably would have given this a higher rating. That plotline is handled very well. Raegan wants her Grandaddy to undergo chemotherapy, while he values the quality of his life over the quantity so is hesitant to do the treatment. This is highly realistic (although Raegan wasn’t as supportive as I thought she could have been. Her constant storming out and flouncing off didn’t seem like the actions of a girl who would do anything to keep her Grandaddy happy).
But, of course, there has to be the romance aspect, and I HATED the relationship between Emmett and Raegan. Emmett has recently come back to town, and because he gave Raegan a toy bunny rabbit when her parents died when she was seven, it’s a-okay when they fall in love within a week.
Raegan hides Grandaddy’s illness from him, then gets really pissed off when he figures out something is going on… Then Emmett hides something about Grandaddy from Raegan, so they have another blow out, just for him to hide something else from her as soon as he possibly can. What?! Just learn how to talk to each other if you really love each other that much!
Not only that, but this book is really poorly written. The characters are flat, and even though Grandaddy’s ill I just couldn’t find the energy to care because none of the characters are three-dimensional. I’ve lost a grandparent to cancer, so you would think this book would hit me right in my feels, but I felt completely neutral (comma bored) throughout the entire story. I just wanted it to end, and I really wish I’d DNF’d.
I was tempted to give Southern Perfection two stars, because the discussion of Grandaddy’s illness was very well done, but then the epilogue happened. OH BOY. I have no words for how much the ending irritated me. Blegh. Nope. Next!
Friend Request by Laura Marshall – 4 stars
Friend Request is the best thriller I’ve read so far this year.
It all starts with a friend request on Facebook. Maria Weston wants to be friends… which wouldn’t be a problem if she hadn’t been dead for 25 years.
Louise is terrified that someone has discovered her involvement in Maria’s death and they are coming after her, so she quickly finds herself thrown back into the teen drama she’s desperately tried to leave in the past.
It all comes to a head when she attends her old class reunion, and the next morning the body of one of her old classmates is found. With another death to investigate, it seems likely that the police are going to discover the truth about what happened to Maria, but will they get to the bottom of the mystery before the mysterious creator of the Facebook page gets their revenge on Louise?
The beginning of this book was ridiculously slow. Louise constantly alludes towards the terrible thing she did to Maria, but we don’t find out exactly what that was until quite a way into the book. However, as soon as that secret is out the pace ratchets up dramatically, and I read the last quarter of the book in one sitting in the middle of the night (this is not the kind of book you can dip into for a chapter or two when you’re trying to fall back to sleep!).
Jumping from 1989 to 2016, this book was half adult thriller and half YA drama, so it was right up my alley. The flashbacks fleshed the characters out a lot more, and by the time you reach that fateful night you find yourself really rooting for Maria to make it out alive. I tricked myself that she was going to be behind it all on multiple occasions while reading, even though it was so obvious that that couldn’t be the case!
I wasn’t surprised at all by the identity of the person behind Maria’s Facebook page, but I loved the twist which came afterwards regarding Maria’s fate. Turns out, Louise wasn’t as responsible for her death as she thought she was… But I’m not going to ruin the surprise for you, because I gasped when I realised where the story was going. More often than not I can figure out the culprits in thrillers and I always feel a little disappointed, but Laura Marshall wove the red herrings throughout her story so cleverly that it was such a huge surprise to discover what actually happened.
I’m so glad I read this book. After reading quite a few disappointing thrillers so far this year, it’s nice to find one which got my heart pounding and kept me guessing for the majority of the story.
The Boy Next Door by Katie Van Ark – 3 stars
Maddy and Gabe have been skating partners since they were six, but they’re much older now. When their skating coach decides it’s time for them to start doing more romantic routines, Maddy thinks it’s the perfect opportunity to finally show Gabe why they should be together.
Gabe is known for only being interested in each of his many ex-girlfriends for two weeks at the most, so when he starts developing feelings for Maddy he’s sure they’re going to go away. When they don’t, he has to decide whether he’s willing to risk their friendship – and their skating career – for the chance of a relationship which might fizzle out almost as soon as it’s begun.
My actual rating for this book is 2.5 stars because it was painfully average. I was certain I was going to love this one, so this is probably my biggest disappointment this month.
All of the foreshadowing was so heavy-handed. There was a mystery surrounding Maddy’s father which I guessed as soon as it was even hinted that there was a secret he was keeping. Meanwhile, there are constant references to the fact that skating is Maddy’s only plan for life, so when something bad happens towards the end of the book it’s so predictable that I found myself shouting ‘Finally!’ rather than experiencing any sort of emotional reaction. The same thing happens with a subplot regarding another skating pair, but then that doesn’t get dealt with at all – I’m not sure whether Katie Van Ark was planning on writing a sequel and then never got around to it, but there’s are quite a few things which are left dangling in a wholly unsatisfactory way.
Then there’s all of the ice skating language which is shoehorned in throughout the novel. It is CONSTANT, but one of the most irritating examples was when something was referred to as ‘ice-crystal clear’… Come on, surely crystal clear is a good enough turn of phrase!
The relationship was cute enough, but there’s a whole lack of communication between the two which causes a lot of angst and I didn’t find that believable at all. If you’ve been skating with someone for over ten years you’ll know how important communication is, so I don’t think that these two would be as terrible at talking to one another. It also gets majorly cringey towards the end of the book, and I found myself glad that it was over when it ended.
That’s not to say this book was bad. The skating aspects were described beautifully, and I could find myself visualising the choreography which Igor set them really easily. Maddy’s competitive nature comes across brilliantly while her and Gabe are practicing, and I loved her character during those scenes (but sadly when it comes to the relationship she becomes a bit of a simpering wreck). The contrast between Maddy and Gabe’s perspectives was also handled really well: their voices are very distinctive, and it’s impossible to get confused about who you’re following.
Unfortunately The Boy Next Door is currently Katie Van Ark’s only novel, which is such a shame because I would love to read more from her. This wasn’t the book for me, but I found her writing so easy to digest and would have loved to have seen where she went from here. Maybe one day.
I hope you enjoyed this round of TBR jar reviews! This wasn’t quite my worst month of picks, but it was pretty close… Hopefully July will be a bit more successful.
See you soon,
First things first, I just wanted to post a link to the Black Lives Matter carrd. Please take some time today to sign petitions or make a donation to the BLM movement.
It doesn’t seem right to carry on blogging as normal when there are so many more important things going on in the world at the moment, but hopefully this post will give you a bit of a distraction and entertainment before you jump back into the activist fray.
Another month, another set of book reviews for my TBR jar picks. As soon as I drew the titles for this round I was extremely apprehensive about one book, knew hardly anything about another but was really excited for the other three – were my instincts correct?
Like Other Girls by Claire Hennessy – 2 stars
The first thing I need to say is that my exact rating for Like Other Girls is 2.5 stars. Originally I rounded that rating up to 3 stars, but on reflection I just couldn’t justify rating it that highly because I have some very serious issues with this one.
I think the majority of the problems come from the fact that Claire Hennessy is trying to tackle too much in a book which is less than 300 pages. Whereas one of the issues might have been able to be dealt with effectively in such a short book, the majority of the topics she is trying to address overlap are handled poorly.
If this had been a book focused on abortion and the eighth amendment it would have been pushing five stars, because that aspect of this novel is handled very well. If this had been a book focused on sexuality and gender it would have been a one star, because it’s transphobic to say the least. However, this means that the first half of the novel is a one star and the second half is almost a five star and that doesn’t make for an enjoyable reading experience in the slightest. I was angry at myself for appreciating the way Claire Hennessy used her platform to fight the eighth amendment, because I was angry at the way that she had written about trans people (which made me even angrier about that, because without that this could have been a new favourite book).
This is where I get spoilery, so as always if you haven’t read Like Other Girls yet it’s time to move on to the next review…
Like Other Girls starts with each chapter counting up: week zero, day zero; week one, day four etc. At first the reader isn’t aware of what this is pointing towards – is it tracking the weeks at school? the time that the girls have been rehearsing for their musical? – but around halfway through the book we discover that despite using condoms Lauren is pregnant with the child of her recent ex-boyfriend, Justin, and that is what is being tracked.
Lauren wants an abortion, but because she lives in Ireland she has no choice but to fly to Liverpool to get treatment. Telling her parents she’s going on a trip to Cork with Q Club – a group of LGBTQ+ friends she meets regularly – she makes the journey by herself, as thousands of Irish women have in the past.
This aspect of the plot is handled with aplomb. Lauren seeks advice in Ireland and accidentally walks into a pro-life clinic masquerading as a pregnancy support clinic, but she knows enough about her situation to realise that she’s being lied to. Lauren anonymously goes to the press with her experience, desperate to help other girls in the same situation as her, and the controversy that the article stirs up begins discussions about the eighth amendment and the way that abortion is viewed in Ireland.
When Lauren does have her abortion, she isn’t filled with guilt or regret, which is realistic. The only times I’ve seen abortion addressed in YA, the characters are either extremely remorseful or the entire situation is completely glossed over, so it was brilliant to see the other side of the story represented. As I said earlier, if Like Other Girls had focused entirely on Lauren’s accidental pregnancy, it would probably have ended up being a five star for me. In fact, the only criticism I can find for this aspect of the plot is that it seems unrealistic that Lauren’s brother wouldn’t ask which concerts she was planning on getting tickets for, as she gets the money for her flight to Liverpool by asking for £300 in ticket money for Christmas.
However, then we get to the ‘problematic’ aspects of the novel. (I’m putting problematic in air quotes there, because Lauren mocks the use of the term at various points throughout the book. Possibly Hennessy knew this was going to be a big criticism of Like Other Girls and was trying to invalidate that criticism internally?).
Lauren is a horrible person. Normally, that wouldn’t bother me too much – I’m not opposed to reading about horrible characters – but it is taken too far throughout this novel. Lauren’s sense of humour is infuriating (I literally updated my Goodreads status asking whether this was supposed to be funny, because all of the so-called ‘jokes’ fell completely flat) and most of her comedy is directed towards the gender and sexuality of her friends in Q Club.
These ‘jokes’ included:
‘Marc with a c. If you’re going to go to all the trouble of picking a new name after you come out as trans, at least pick Mark with a k. For fuck’s sake. The world of manly, masculine, macho names open to you and you pick Marc with a c.
And, like, if you’re deliberately going for something not super-macho then why the need to take testosterone and to talk about it all the time?’
“Half the pop stars out there are now bi, apparently.”
‘There has to be something clever and amusing to be said about how wanting a dick makes you act like one’
The sad thing is, I have more examples and I could go on.
All of those make me extremely uncomfortable. Lauren is bisexual, and her attitude to other bisexual people irritates me: she believes in the worst kind of stereotypes, claiming that she hates the word bisexual because it sounds as though you can only ever be sexually satisfied by having two lovers at once: wtf?!
She is very judgmental towards her pansexual friends too, derogatorily referring to them as the Posh Pansexuals and assuming that they are just straight girls wanting to fit in with the Q Club (when she herself is a bisexual girl with a boyfriend: double wtf?!).
She complains constantly about the fact that her boyfriend is a white, cis, straight guy, yet when he tries to break up with her she begs him to stay… Only for them to break up a couple of chapters later and for her to act like it’s no big deal, like she didn’t care about him anyway and had been trying to get rid of him. Riiiiight.
But the worst thing of all about Like Other Girls is Lauren’s attitude towards her transgender friends. She has a crush on her best friend Steph, but after they have sex – an intimately described f/f sex scene the likes of which I’ve never seen in YA before – Steph freaks out. A few weeks later she messages Lauren and explains that the reason she was uncomfortable is because she is trans, and soon starts going by the name Evan and using he/him pronouns.
Lauren begins hating Marc from Q Club because she believes he’s brainwashed Evan into feeling this way, and that he wouldn’t be transgender if it wasn’t for Marc’s influence. She also accuses Evan of only coming out because they had sex: it’s obvious that Lauren thinks the world revolves around her and that Evan’s decision is solely for her benefit, and that’s a terrible attitude.
It wouldn’t be so bad if Lauren went through some kind of redemption arc, but because of the short length of this novel there just isn’t time for that. She feels some empathy towards Marc after bumping into him at the therapist’s office after he attempts suicide – she has to get counselling because of alcohol abuse, another plot point which is somehow crammed into this story – but that’s the only thing that makes her attitude begin to change. Then she sabotages the school play to make some statements about gender and abortion and we’re expected to believe she’s a better person and her views have changed? Sure, sure.
I am not trans but I have seen this review from a trans readers on Goodreads, so I don’t believe I’m being overly sensitive with my criticisms of this novel. I’m not aware if the views of her character actually reflect the views of Claire Hennessy herself, but a topic like this should have been dealt with with far more sensitivity.
This could so easily have been split into two books, and then perhaps all of the topics might have been dealt with in a satisfactory manner, but as it is this is not a story I would recommend. I hate saying that, because Nothing Tastes as Good was a five star read and is one of the best books I’ve ever read regarding anorexia, but this just wasn’t the book for me. I wasn’t looking forward to reading Like Other Girls because I thought that might be the case: unfortunately I was right, but for so many more reasons that I first assumed.
Now that rant’s over, let’s move on to the other titles!
Internment by Samira Ahmed – 2 stars
Internment is another 2.5 star book. Although I liked it more than Like Other Girls, I still can’t justify rounding it up to 3 stars.
Set in America in the near-future, Internment follows Layla Amin as she and her family are placed into an internment camp for being Muslims. Considering that anti-Muslim rhetoric has been on the rise in America during Trump’s presidency, this is a horrifying ‘what-if’ novel which explores an important and timely subject, showing a snapshot of what life could have become for hundreds of thousands of American citizens… I just think that it could have been done better.
Layla is supposed to be 17, but she reads as much younger (I kept thinking she was either 14 or 15). She is separated from her boyfriend, David, and she befriends a guard called Jake solely so that she can contact David and let him know that she is okay. This eventually sparks a bit of revolution – Layla manages to smuggle articles to David with Jake’s help, so he can send the inside story to the media and show just how horrifying life is inside the internment camp – but to start with Layla comes across as quite self-absorbed, risking her family’s safety just so that she can contact her boyfriend. This might have made sense if she was a little bit younger, but most 17-year-olds don’t seem to be quite that impulsive.
I was also frustrated by David’s parents. David is Jewish and members of his family lost their lives in the German concentration camps during World War II, but his parents don’t want to get involved in the plight of the Muslims and David makes it sound as though they don’t really care that Layla has been abducted in the middle of the night. If you had lost family members to an atrocity like this in the past, I don’t think you would be ambivalent! Your voice would be one of the loudest, denouncing the entire scheme.
I did knock an entire star off for the way that Samira Ahmed describes the Director of the internment camp. If I’d taken a shot every time his ‘purple lips’ were mentioned, I wouldn’t have been able to finish the book because I wouldn’t have been able to see straight. He’s a caricature, and it’s hard to take him seriously because of that: despite the fact that he’s a violent, bigoted man, you know that he’s going to get his comeuppance because men like that always do. Ahmed attempts to make him suave and charismatic in front of the media but his anger fuels him and his facade shatters: he would have been far more terrifying if he’d been able to keep his cool.
Meanwhile, the idea of the internment camp being constructed using mobile homes on blocks seems a bit too sanitary: if you see the horrifying pictures from the detention centres that the Trump administration have opened on the Mexican border, it seems far more likely that the internment camps might have looked more like that.
This could have been more effective as an adult novel, because some of the older characters would have made really interesting protagonists. I think it’s brilliant that this novel was aimed at younger people, because it is important to educate them to the reality of internment camps, but I just think it might have worked better with an older audience in mind. If this had been aimed at adults Ahmed might have had a no holds barred approach, but this is the best-worst case scenario. It is infuriating and enraging to think that people could be controlled like this because of their religion, but I think the reality of internment camps is far more heart-wrenching and devastating.
I have found it so hard to review this novel. This is such an important subject and I’m so glad than an own voices author decided to tackle it, but the execution is very poor. I’d recommend checking out this own voices review to help you make up your own mind: they are far more eloquent than I am!
The Million Pieces of Neena Gill by Emma Smith-Barton – 5 stars
The Million Pieces of Neena Gill absolutely blew me away. Telling the story of a girl called Neena who suffers a psychotic break after her brother Akash leaves her, this is a powerful novel tackling mental health in a very sensitive way.
Due to the fact that Neena is suffering from psychosis, she is an unreliable narrator. You’ll find yourself questioning what you’re reading as Neena begins to doubt her own sanity, living scenes which are later revealed to have taken place in her imagination, and almost everything you think you know will be flipped on its head at one point or another.
There are so many things I absolutely loved about this novel. When the story begins Neena is taking prescribed anti-depressants, but she stops taking them because she believes that her mother is ashamed of her. Eventually Neena is medicated, taught CBT and undergoes therapy, showing that often a combination of treatments is often needed to have the biggest impact. That’s utterly realistic, and I loved the fact that there was no ‘one size fits all’ miracle cure in this story.
Cultural pressures are a huge part of this novel, but Emma Smith-Barton makes a concerted effort to tackle the presumption that all of the pressures faced are cultural. There’s a very eye-opening scene in which Neena is talking to a therapist, who suggests she may be interpreting her parents’ actions through a cultural lens when they might just be reacting the same way that any worried parents would. I’ve seen a lot of novels which have tackled the overbearing Asian parent stereotype (specifically British-Pakistani in this book) but none of which have actually posited the question as to whether it’s just a parent stereotype regardless of background, and that made me look at a few other books I’ve read recently in a completely different way.
Neena’s parents are three-dimensional characters with their own plot, which is a novelty in itself! So often the parents in YA are only there to react to their child’s actions, and I loved the fact that Neena’s parents felt so realistic. They are also struggling to accept life without Akash, and although they take their frustrations out on Neena at the beginning – believing that she’s following the same path as her brother and is going to end up leaving them as well – they undergo their own character development and are far more sympathetic towards her mental state by the end of the novel.
This book isn’t perfect – there are a few instances in the first half of the novel where Neena fat-shames her mother – so this is more of a 4.5 star novel, but I feel as though the good thoroughly outweighs the bad in this instance.
The Million Pieces of Neena Gill is Emma Smith-Barton’s debut novel, and I am very excited to see what she writes next.
How To Stop Time by Matt Haig – 4 stars
I don’t think I’m smart enough to review How To Stop Time. I finished it last week and I’m still finding it pretty impossible to form my thoughts on it into coherent sentences, because this is the kind of epic, literary novel which is beautifully written but almost went over my head and then smacked me in the forehead and gave me a little bit of a headache.
Following Tom Hazard, How To Stop Time focuses on the concept of albas – short for albatrosses – which is a code word for people who age extremely slowly. Tom only looks in his late-twenties, but he’s actually been alive for over 400 years (he said his ratio is 1:15; for every 15 years he lives, he looks like he ages one).
Tom is a member of the Albatross Society, which means every eight years he gets a new name and moves to a new place to avoid people getting suspicious about his lack of aging. When we join Tom he decides he wants to move back to London – the place where he fell in love and lost his love hundreds of years ago – so he can start teaching and try to track down his long (long!) lost daughter.
This book certainly wasn’t what I expected, as it was marketed as ‘a love story across the ages’ and I had expected romantic love rather than familial love. I actually think I enjoyed this more because of the fact that it focused so heavily on Tom’s desperation to find his daughter: she is like him, but she runs away before he can learn that about her and he has always sworn that he’ll make it up to her someday.
I really enjoyed this book, despite the fact that my brain had to work extremely hard to keep on top of everything. Tom’s memory begins overwhelming him, so he suffers with flashbacks intruding into his lessons and debilitating migraines. The intrusive nature of the flashbacks is written brilliantly – Tom will be halfway through talking and his words will spark some long forgotten scene from his past into flooding back – and it effectively shows the major downsides to living to be 400. I also feel as though I learnt a lot about what Britain (and London in particular) has been like throughout the ages.
The only thing that stopped me giving this book five stars was the ending. It’s extremely abrupt and doesn’t feel that satisfying compared to the rest of the novel. There’s not really a good way to finish a story like this, but something about it wasn’t exactly to my taste. That being said, there’s apparently going to be an adaptation starring Benedict Cumberbatch, and I can’t wait to see how they translate a novel like this to the big screen.
Eragon by Christopher Paolini – 5 stars
I should have read Eragon ten years ago at least. One of my friends in primary school kept recommending it to me, but because of its length – over 500 pages! – I found myself too intimidated, so I avoided it like the plague.
When I picked this one out of the TBR jar, I will admit that I was apprehensive. I didn’t know much about the story except for the fact that there’s a farm boy who finds a dragon egg in the forest, and that doesn’t sound like the kind of thing which can really fill 500 pages. I also thought the dragon’s name was Eragon, not the boy… So that was a bit of a surprise when I first started reading!
However, this is a non-stop action from cover to cover and a very strong series starter. It’s got everything you want in fantasy: mysterious creatures, adventuring and exploring, a few heartbreaking deaths and some very badass fight scenes.
Eragon hatches his dragon egg but soon mysterious men known as the Ra’zac appear in his village asking questions. They end up burning down his family home in the search for him, killing his uncle in the process.
Eragon goes on the run with a mysterious man called Bram (who knows far more about dragons than should be possible), trying to track down the Ra’zac so he can avenge his uncle’s death. While journeying across Alagaësia, Bram begins training Eragon to be a dragon rider – the first in the land outside of King Galbatorix’s control since he began his reign and killed any dragon riders who stood against him.
With monsters called the Urgal and the Shade chasing Eragon down, he begins having mysterious dreams about a woman locked in a prison cell. That, combined with some pretty dark prophecies divined by a local fortune teller named Agatha, means Eragon has a heck of a lot on his plate.
Honestly, I enjoyed this book so much. Despite its length it honestly flew past, and I couldn’t believe it when we got to the end and it had been such a painless experience.
The majority of the negative comments I’ve seen regarding Eragon focuses on the fact that it’s quite similar to Lord of the Rings, but I read The Fellowship of the Ring in April and struggled to get through it. The pace was interminable, the action didn’t really start until the second half of the book, and the large cast of characters made it pretty hard to keep track of anyone. In contrast, Eragon is nonstop. The cast of characters is much smaller which means you get to know them better and care an awful lot more for them, and although the world isn’t as richly described as Tolkien’s it also means you don’t get bogged down by information about the setting and scenery.
Perhaps if I’d enjoyed The Fellowship of the Ring more I would have enjoyed Eragon less, but as it is I think this is one of the best fantasy novels – particularly fantasy novels aimed at younger readers – which I’ve ever read. I’m looking forward to carrying on with the series, because the ending to this one is rather satisfying but leaves quite a few things up in the air and I just want to know what’s going to happen next!
I hope you enjoyed these reviews! Sorry for ranting a bit too much about Like Other Girls and Internment… I’m going to have to start giving myself a word count limit on these posts.
Please remember to visit the Black Lives Matter carrd which I linked at the top of this post. Signing petitions doesn’t take a lot of time but it can make a huge difference, and if you don’t feel comfortable going to physical protests for any reason then it means you can still make sure that your voice is heard.
See you next time,