Confessions of a Reader

'Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.' – Mason Cooley


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Book Review // Jane, The Fox & Me by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault

JaneTheFox&Me

Format: Hardcover
Published: 6th February 2014
Publisher: Walker Books UK
Pages: 104

This is a non-spoiler review. I’ve never reviewed a graphic novel before, I will do my best – although it will be a slightly shorter one than usual. Also, this is a part of my 2015 Reading Challenge.

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Synopsis:
Hélène has been inexplicably ostracized by the girls who were once her friends. Her school life is full of whispers and lies — Hélène weighs 216; she smells like BO. Her loving mother is too tired to be any help. Fortunately, Hélène has one consolation, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Hélène identifies strongly with Jane’s tribulations, and when she is lost in the pages of this wonderful book, she is able to ignore her tormentors. But when Hélène is humiliated on a class trip in front of her entire grade, she needs more than a fictional character to allow her to see herself as a person deserving of laughter and friendship.

Leaving the outcasts’ tent one night, Hélène encounters a fox, a beautiful creature with whom she shares a moment of connection. But when Suzanne Lipsky frightens the fox away, insisting that it must be rabid, Hélène’s despair becomes even more pronounced: now she believes that only a diseased and dangerous creature would ever voluntarily approach her. But then a new girl joins the outcasts’ circle, Géraldine, who does not even appear to notice that she is in danger of becoming an outcast herself. And before long Hélène realizes that the less time she spends worrying about what the other girls say is wrong with her, the more able she is to believe that there is nothing wrong at all.

This emotionally honest and visually stunning graphic novel reveals the casual brutality of which children are capable, but also assures readers that redemption can be found through connecting with another, whether the other is a friend, a fictional character or even, amazingly, a fox.

My Thoughts:
I heard about this graphic novel through Mercedes over at MercysBookishMusings on YouTube. Whilst browsing at the library during the week I saw it and knew I had to borrow it – I’m glad I did.

Firstly, I loved the presentation of this novel. The book itself is gorgeous, extremely good quality. The idea of the story encompassing Jane Eyre also intrigued me, as I love the original.

The artwork is lovely. Part of it is drawn in black and white and the other part in vibrant colours. I will let you discover for yourselves what this symbolises.

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The story is wonderful. It is so touching, one of the most touching graphic novels I’ve read. It is a story about loneliness, friendship, bullying and ultimately hope. The story would be relatable to any reader, young or old.

StarRating5 out of 5 stars

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Book Review // The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld

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Format: Paperback
Published: 12th March 2015
Publisher: Phoenix (Orion Publishing Group Ltd)
Pages: 238

This is a non-spoiler review.

Blurb:

A wondrous and redemptive debut novel, set in a stark world where evil and magic coincide, The Enchanted combines the empathy and lyricism of Alice Sebold with the dark, imaginative power of Stephen King.

“This is an enchanted place. Others don’t see it, but I do.”

The enchanted place is an ancient stone prison, viewed through the eyes of a death row inmate who finds escape in his books and in re-imagining life around him, weaving a fantastical story of the people he observes and the world he inhabits. Fearful and reclusive, he senses what others cannot. Though bars confine him every minute of every day, he marries magical visions of golden horses running beneath the prison, heat flowing like molten metal from their backs, with the devastating violence of prison life.

Two outsiders venture here: a fallen priest, and the Lady, an investigator who searches for buried information from prisoners’ pasts that can save those soon-to-be-executed. Digging into the background of a killer named York, she uncovers wrenching truths that challenge familiar notions of victim and criminal, innocence and guilt, honor and corruption-ultimately revealing shocking secrets of her own.

Beautiful and transcendent, The Enchanted reminds us of how our humanity connects us all, and how beauty and love exist even amidst the most nightmarish reality.

First Sentence:
This is an enchanted place. Others don’t see it but I do.

My Thoughts:
I just absolutely adored this book. It was – for me – absolutely beautiful. Dark, poetic, intense and thought-provoking. I’ve not read a book quite like this in a long time, if ever.

Firstly, this is Rene Denfeld’s non fiction debut – which astounds me. The way this book is written suggests an author with many, many previous works. I didn’t know what to expect when starting this book, it took me a few pages to really get sucked into the story. It has a writing style that I’m not used to, you need to savour the words. The prose is so beautifully written, every single word flowed with such ease. It is truly stunning.

The Enchanted explores many different themes. Here are just a few that I picked up on whilst reading – identity, loss, love, crime, reality of prison and death row, imagination, redemption, longing, understanding and being accepted. 

I really enjoyed the POV the story is told from. Choosing a death row inmate to tell the story, as opposed to an outsider, was a brave and brilliant decision. It is unlike anything I’ve read before. I found my feelings and values completely contrasting throughout the book because of this narrator. I felt absolutely horrified in some respects, and then I found myself feeling sorry for him – even though I knew that morally he had done something wrong. This, in my eyes, is the work of a great author.

The character ‘stories’ were so intriguing. Each of them were like real people, they have been created and moulded into people that I felt I knew. The pain, heartache and suffering in all of them was so heartbreakingly raw – it mustered up so many different emotions in me.  

I researched Rene Denfeld and found out that she is in fact a death-penalty investigator herself. What an amazing insight into the world of crime, death row and the people who are considered monsters. It really gave the book that extra ‘edge’ for me.

A deep and beautifully written book, that has so many underlying messages. Raw, real and edgy. I will definitely be adding this to my favourites shelf.

StarRating5 out of 5 stars

Website: renedenfeld.com
Twitter: @renedenfeld


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Book Review // Stardust by Neil Gaiman – ‘Random Reads’

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Format: Paperback
Published:  19th September 2005
Publisher: Headline Review
Pages: 194

This is a non-spoiler review. This was also my #RandomReads pick from Maia over at Maia Moore Reads.

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Synopsis:

In the sleepy English countryside at the dawn of the Victorian era, life moves at a leisurely pace in the tiny town of Wall. Young Tristran Thorn has lost his heart to the beautiful Victoria Forester, but Victoria is cold and distant as the star she and Tristran see fall from the sky one evening. For the prize of Victoria’s hand, Tristran vows to retrieve the star for his beloved. It is an oath that sends the lovelorn swain over the town’s ancient wall and into a world that is dangerous and strange beyond imagining.

First Sentence: There was once a young man who wished to gain his Heart’s Desire. 

My Thoughts:

I enjoyed this so much more the second time around. I found myself completely immersed in the world that Neil Gaiman has created, it was a truly magical read.

The language used in this novel is wonderful. The prose is so poetic, it was a total joy to read. Everything flowed so well and the imagery was so vivid – I could picture it all with such intensity. Neil Gaiman’s world building is phenomenal, he manages to create a place that is so far away, yet feels like you live right next door.

This is a brilliantly crafted fairytale with some dark twists and turns for good measure. The different storylines combined together keep the story alive. It was refreshing to read about so many different characters, in various stages of their lives – it kept my attention.

The characters – for me – were just okay. I wasn’t really attached to any of them, I didn’t love them. My favourite, if asked to choose, would probably be Yvaine. I felt that being an outsider looking in on this world was part of the reason I wasn’t able to connect with the characters so well. It didn’t enable me to get to know them, I felt like I wanted to be inside their heads – not just observing their actions from above.

For some reason, the whole plot read much easier the second time around. The first time round I wasn’t intrigued, I didn’t care about what happened. This time I wanted to see where Tristran, Yvaine and Victoria ended up, how their stories unfolded. I was satisfied with the ending, I felt it was well done and stayed true to its fairytale roots. 

I have only read this and The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. I have Neverwhere sat on my TBR shelf. Re-reading Stardust has made me want to delve into Neil Gaiman’s story writing and world building even more, so I am aiming to do that pretty soon.

Thank you to Maia for choosing this book for me as part of our #RandomReads feature. Check back for a discussion post in a week or so.

You can also hop on over and see Maia’s review of my monthly pick here.

StarRating4 out of 5 stars

Website: neilgaiman.com Twitter: @neilhimself


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Book Review // All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

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Format: Paperback
Published: 8th Jan 2015
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 400

This is a non-spoiler review.

Synopsis:

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him. 

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the ‘natural wonders’ of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself – a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink. How far will Violet go to save the boy she has come to love?

First Sentence:
Is today a good day to die?

My Thoughts:

I actually found this review quite difficult to write – for what reason I’m not sure. 

I wasn’t sure on this book at first, I picked it up a few weeks back and put it back down as I just wasn’t feeling it at the time. I wanted to try again as I’ve heard so much about it and actually borrowed it from the library and had already renewed it twice! I was so glad I finally read it!

The story is essentially very character driven. We follow Finch & Violet on their journey through life, and the discovery of themselves. I loved the build up of their relationship over time, they just clicked – even though they were so different from each other.

The novel is split into two narratives, Finch & Violet’s. I felt that this really helped me get to know them as individuals, yet displayed their love for one another perfectly. Their adventures and wanderings were charming – I throughly enjoyed reading about them – especially the mobile bookstore!

Jennifer Niven deals with two serious topics so well, I admired that she didn’t attempt to sugarcoat. The characters seemed real to me, their struggles genuine. Finch’s narrative was hard to read at times, it is a true reflection of his thoughts and ongoing battle with his mental state. After reading the Author’s Note it became clear that Niven had lost a loved one to suicide. Knowing this made me love this book even more, she had truly lived and breathed the situation. It must have been a difficult novel to write.

This book had me rooting for both characters, loving Finch’s quirks and Violet learning to live again. I knew it would break my heart, that there would be tears and sadness – I just didn’t know it would affect me as much as it did. I loved so many parts of this book – the love, the loss, the struggle, the fear, the strength and I would read it all over again.

I really want to pick up some more of Jennifer Niven’s books now – luckily there are a quite a few!

StarRating5 out of 5 stars

Website: jenniferniven.com
Twitter: @jenniferniven


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Book Review // The Breeders by Katie French

IMG_2363Format: eBook
Published: 31st July 2012
Publisher: LuLu
Pages: 256

This is a non-spoiler review. I will also be adding this to my 2015 Reading Challenge.

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Synopsis:
Sixteen-year-old Riley Meemick is one of the world’s last free girls. When Riley was born, her mother escaped the Breeders, the group of doctors using cruel experiments to bolster the dwindling human race. Her parents do everything possible to keep her from their clutches– moving from one desolate farm after another to escape the Breeders’ long reach. The Breeders control everything- the local war lords, the remaining factories, the fuel. They have unchecked power in this lawless society. And they’re hunting Riley.

When the local Sheriff abducts the adult members of her family and hands her mother over to the Breeders, Riley and her eight-year-old brother, Ethan, hiding in a shelter, are left to starve. Then Clay arrives, the handsome gunslinger who seems determined to help to make up for past sins. The problem is Clay thinks Riley is a bender– a genderless mutation, neither male nor female. As Riley’s affection for Clay grows she wonders can she trust Clay with her secret and risk her freedom?

The three embark on a journey across the scarred remains of New Mexico– escaping the Riders who use human sacrifice to appease their Good Mother, various men scrambling for luck, and a deranged lone survivor of a plague. When Riley is shot and forced into the Breeder’s hospital, she learns the horrible fate of her mother—a fate she’ll share unless she can find a way out.

My Thoughts:
I had so many mixed feelings about this book. There were elements that I thought were really good and others not so much.

The story follows our ‘heroine’ Riley, who lives in world where women and girls are kept in captivity and used in experiments; their main purpose is solely to have children. After a family tragedy Riley goes on the run with Clay, who doesn’t know she is a girl. To cut a long story short, chaos ensues and Riley in thrown head first into some rather tricky situations.

This book was definitely fast-paced, from the very start I was hooked and the writing kept the story moving pretty quickly for me. You dive straight into the action, the author didn’t hang about. One of the more significant characters dies early on in the novel; something which I always feel is a very brave decision for an author to make.

I was in a huge reading slump before reading this book, yet now I feel like I am over that hurdle. This book has to take some of the credit for that. Although I felt it had some major flaws, I read it in few days – it gripped me enough and was a relatively easy read.

Now, onto the problems I had with this book. Firstly, the grammar is horrendous. It is such a shame but every page has some sort of typo or grammatical error. It really frustrated me, I was re-reading sentences in order to decipher what was actually being said. I’m not sure if this was just a problem in the eBook version.

The main character – Riley – was irritating. She seemed so keen to be respected and valued more, yet made really stupid decisions ALL of the time. I kind of wanted her to step up to the plate and learn some valuable skills for on the run – like shooting or knife-throwing. Everything seemed pretty easy for her – there was always someone or something around to save her.

I purchased this book after reading the novella – ‘Nessa: A Breeders Story’. Unfortunately, this was nowhere near as good as the novella I read, but I was still gripped enough to finish it. It has been on my TBR pile forever so I’m really glad I can now cross it off.

If you like YA Dystopian then you may like this book – although it wasn’t the best I’ve read it was still fast-paced enough for me to finish.

StarRating3 out of 5 stars

Website: katiefrenchbooks.com
Twitter: @katielfrench

 

 


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Book Review // Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas

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Format: eBook
Published: 18th July 2013
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s UK
Pages: 401

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This is a non-spoiler review.

My Thoughts:

I read this book whilst in a massive reading slump, so it took me forever. I don’t think I enjoyed it as much as I normally would have for this reason.

Dangerous Girls is a YA Thriller that tells the story of a group of friends on vacation in Aruba. A tragedy happens – one of the group is murdered – and we are consequently led through Anna’s trial as she is the main suspect. I really liked the style of writing and the little ‘extras’ that the author gave us – a 911 transcript, TV interview etc. It made me feel like I was truly part of the plot, always guessing what was going to happen next. I never knew who to trust!

I loved the intensity and mystery throughout this book. I was constantly judging people, forming my own opinions of what could have happened. It was fast-paced, with lots of twists and turns. I was completely gripped!

The ending confused the hell out of me. I mean, what just happened? I still don’t really get it, if I’m honest. It shocked me, I was so sure of the outcome – so it threw me completely. As a reader, we don’t actually get to ‘see’ the murder scene, we never know the full details of that night. Although this was an unusual decisions, I liked this– it added to the mystery.

There wasn’t one character I trusted in this book. Tate frustrated me so much, I thought he was sly and conniving – I think this was intended. His relationship with Anna raised so many questions for me from the start, there were so many little hints that it wasn’t all what it seemed. I still felt that he was completely besotted with Anna, again raising so many questions.

Anna and Elise’s relationship was a little uncomfortable for me at times, again I think this was intended. I never really knew what their true ‘status’ was, but I could feel the intensity the whole time – it was compelling to read.

I felt sorry for Anna, her friends seemed to totally abandon her. Although, as the story is told from her POV I do think that I ‘bonded’ with her differently. There were lots of ‘red herrings’ in the book, that kept steering me in completely different directions.

Overall, a fast-paced enjoyable read. I think I will aim to re-read this at some point, as I feel like my head wasn’t really in it. A great YA thriller, with lots of twists and turns to keep you guessing again and again.

Dangerous Girls is currently only 99p in the kindle store, click here (price correct at time of posting).

StarRating4 out of 5 stars

Abigail Haas is a pseudonym for Abby McDonald.

Website: abbymcdonald.com
Twitter: @abbymcdonald

 

 


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Book Review // Charm by Sarah Pinborough

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Format: Hardback
Published: 18th July 2013
Publisher: Gollancz
Pages: 224

BUY: Amazon | Book Depository

This book will count towards my British Book Challenge.

Synopsis taken from Amazon:

CHARM is a beautifully illustrated re-telling of the Cinderella story which takes all the much-loved elements of the classic fairytale (the handsome prince, the fairy godmother, the enchanted mouse, the beautiful girl and, of course, the iconic balls) and puts a modern spin on the characters, their motives and their desires.

This is fun, contemporary, sexy, and perfect for fans of ONCE UPON A TIME, GRIMM, SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN and more.

My Thoughts:

I actually enjoyed this novel more than the first in the trilogy, Poison. The second instalment tells a reworked version of Cinderella, with appearances from characters who appear in the first novel.

The plot worked well for me, it was fast-paced and actually only took me just over a day to read. Again, Sarah Pinborough has shown her talent as a creative storyteller. The way in which she has created new, modernised characters and reinvented a well-known fairytale is truly commendable. I really enjoyed how the story went along, I was engaged throughout.

I liked the dark, slightly twisted edge that these retellings have. They aren’t all sweetness, light and ‘Disney-esque’. There is a particular scene involving a little toe, which definitely isn’t part of the Disney version – it was quite gory. I actually liked the darker side to them, it became rather refreshing!

The imagery and descriptions throughout were so vivid, the prose was so well-written and flowed beautifully. Sarah Pinborough writes so effortlessly. I didn’t find the sexual scenes so awkward this time either, which was a plus for me.

The epilogue of this one surprised me. Strange, yet it worked and I definitely didn’t see it coming.

I will read Beauty to finish of the trilogy (and tick another goal off of my 2015 Reading Challenge).

StarRating4 out of 5 stars

Website: www.sarahpinborough.com
Twitter: @SarahPinborough