Young Adult

Book Review: The Last City of America

I received a copy of this book from OnlineBookClub.org in return for my review.

 I’m going to be entirely honest; I did not enjoy this book. It seemed like such an interesting idea, and some of the events/plots could have been fantastic. I tried so hard to enjoy it but I really struggled with getting through this book. Right from the start, I could tell I wasn’t going to particularly enjoy it.
This book is set in a post-apocalyptic America after a breakout of hephaestus, a horrific disease thought to have been developed by scientists. We learn more about this throughout the book but are given a general idea of the situation at the start. Cities still remain across America, but most are in a drastic state of poverty. There is some sort of ruling system involving skylords and hosts but honestly, I got completely lost.
I’m having trouble writing this review. I have so much to say but no idea how to structure it. The book just had so many strange and confusing aspects and I really don’t know what to make of it.
I’ll start discussing the characters now. Every chapter is allocated to a different character – well, sort of. You would expect a homodiegetic narration from each character, but the narrative voice is heterodiegetic throughout the entire book. It would also be expected that the characters chosen to follow in each chapter are the key characters, but this wasn’t really the case. There were so many different characters portrayed as ‘key’ characters. I got extremely confused and failed to connect with any of them. It didn’t help that there was little to no emotion portrayed for a majority of the book. I was unable to sympathise with any character. When an emotional moment did occur, I still wasn’t able to actually care. It may just be my own preferences causing this, but I personally found the writing to just be lacking something. Emotion? Personality? I can’t tell, but there was definitely something wrong.
Another issue with the fragmented narrative is how hard the story became to follow. I had no idea which scenes were going to be important for the overarching plot, and as there were so many characters, I just kept losing track. The separate plot lines did begin to connect towards the end, but it still made little to no sense to me.
There were moments that I really enjoyed, especially when the atmosphere became more creepy. But these moments weren’t particularly relevant in the long run, and the array of different genres and atmospheres just made the book even harder to follow.
Overall, I found this to be a very fragmented and boring book. I wanted to like it but just couldn’t connect to any characters. The plot made very little sense most of the time and the 658 pages felt like a lifetime. 1 star.

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Book Review: Half a Creature from the Sea

David Almond is definitely a unique author.

This book is a collection of short stories based on Almond’s own childhood, mixed in with anecdotes of his own experiences. Like most of Almond’s writing, there is a very strange magic realism throughout these stories.

The stories are all based in Felling-on-Tyne, but Almond notes how he altered the setting to fit his stories. The characters are also a mix of fictional and real people.

Religion was clearly a big part of Almond’s upbringing, and he envelopes tht in his writing. However, the stories aren’t particularly religious at all. It’s more the daily routine of the young boys and how religion is incorporated into this.

I’m a big fan of short stories. This collection was really good, though they were all very similar in atmosphere/genre. Not that that’s a bad thing, necessarily, but I do like a bit of variety.

Almond’s writing is fantastic, as always. Descriptive enough, but still leaving some details to the reader’s own imagination. It was easy to just sit and read this book without needing to put it down. 3.5 stars.

Book Review: A Voice in the Distance (Flynn Laukonen #2)

I read A Note of Madness a little while ago and absolutely loved it. Flynn is a great character, and the story of his struggles with mental health is just fantastic. There can never be too much awareness, especially in boys/men.

This book was even more… emotional for me. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but Flynn really reminds me of my boyfriend. The ending of this novel – while fantastic and honest – was not very comforting at all.

Jennah and Flynn started dating after the first book, and so in this book we alternate between the two narratives. Hearing Jennah’s thoughts on what’s happening with Flynn was amazing. I related to a lot of it.

In case you haven’t heard about A Note of Madness, it’s about Flynn Laukonen, a young uni student in London. He struggles with mental health problems and is misdiagnosed at first, but eventually correctly diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He suffers from extreme manic episodes, followed by severe depression. Fitting his music – especially competitions – around these episodes is quite a feat.

As I mentioned earlier, the ending is great. It was extremely bittersweet. I think it’s good to be honest about things like this, though, and not just throw together a stereotypical happy ending.

In this book, Flynn goes through a few treatment methods. Following attempted suicide (which may be hard for some people to read about, so be warned) he is sectioned and sent to a residential unit for a month. He also has some issues involving his medication and the side effects they cause.

The most noteworthy thing about Jennah’s take on Flynn’s illness is her admitting that Flynn can be horrible and can hurt her sometimes, and it’s okay to recognise that. Just because he is ill does not mean he is excused for harmful and mean behaviour. This is so important for anyone to realise when dealing with a loved one with any kind of mental health problems.

A really good book, realistic and reassuring but really quite emotional. 4 stars.

Book Review: Uprooted

I’ve been meaning to read this for a long time now and finally managed to do so. I’m so peased I did! It was such a great book, and I really did enjoy reading it.

Agnieszka is a seemingly ordinary young girl. Her best friend is about to be taken by the Dragon, a powerful wizard who routinely takes girls into his tower for ten years before they leave the village for good. Everyone’s prepared for Kasia to go – she’s the pretty one, the talented one, the one who everyone is drawn to. Of course the Dragon is going to choose her.

Right?

Of course, nothing goes to plan. Agnieszka assumed she was safe from being chosen, due to her clumsiness and lack of appeal or talents. But of course, she is chosen. Little does she know that she was destined for this role all along.

The Dragon is feared by most, including Nieshka. But she soon learns that he is not as terrible as she thought. She also learns some valuable skills involving magic that she never knew she was capable of.

Nieshka discovers the importance of magic in protecting her village from the Wood. The Wood is full of corruption, often taking unknowing passers-by and either never releasing them or returning them to their families changed beyond repair. The Wood has been a huge threat for centuries. The Dragon holds it at bay, but nobody ever dreamed of defeating it.

Until Agnieszka came along.

It’s quite a complex plot, and there are a lot of moments where Nieshka makes mistakes. She is driven by emotion, especially when her best friend’s life is at risk. She is a passionate girl and doesn’t always think rationally. I liked her for this – don’t we all let our emotions get the better of us sometimes?

There was a small amount of romance in this book that I felt was rather unnecessary, but it didn’t overtake the plot or anything. I loved how the plot and subplots twisted together, and how many turns they took. It was exciting and intriguing and very clever.

The ending seemed a little too simple to me, though. Had they never thought to look into the Wood Queen’s origin before?

Overall it was a fantastic book. Timeless. I can see why it’s so popular, and I’m sure it will be for some time. 4 stars.

Book Review: Carry On

Rainbow Rowell is a fantastic author, and when I heard she would be writing Carry On I was really pleased. Fangirl was a great book, and actually writing the novel frequently mentioned in that book sounded like such a unique idea to me. It is a romance, so it’s not my favourite book ever, but I still loved it.

Carry On is pretty much the Harry Potter of Rowell’s Fangirl universe. This did make this novel a bit of a rip off, honestly, but that was bound to happen. It actually kind of embraced it.

The plot was really interesting, and I really did find myself excited to see what happened next. I wanted to understand the Humdrum and discover how he would be defeated. It was also rather interesting to see how the Mage played a part in everything. And the use of magic was fantastic; I really liked how Rowell explained the basis of spells and how they got their power.

The writing – as always – was fantastic. So easy to read, but very hard to put down! Even though it was cheesy (I mean, the hero falls in love with his best enemy. Who’s a vampire. Seriously.) I just enjoyed reading it so much. I even kind of shipped Baz and Simon.

The ending was… not disappointing, but I wasn’t overly pleased with it. I thought it was a bit too simple of a solution – surely they would’ve considered something along those lines? It’s not like it was particularly hard to see the connection. (I’d go into more detail, but I don’t want to include any spoilers.) I did like the bittersweetness of it, though. I liked how realistic it was, despite being a fantasy novel.

It was definitely a bit of a cheesy novel, but I kind of loved it. Rowell writes so well. It was a long novel, but I could’ve just sat down and read it from cover to cover without even realising. A strong 4 stars.

 

Book Review: A Song for Ella Grey

Sorry I waited so long before writing this. My life is a bit hectic at the moment.

I found this book really quite strange – but then everything I’ve read by David Almond has been a bit different. It really teeters on the line between the real world and fantasy, and I honestly couldn’t be sure whether some of the story was metaphorical or actually literal. It was a really interesting read.

Claire is the narrator of this book, telling us the events of the past. The story isn’t told entirely chronologically but more like a person would speak, with tangents and relevant contextual events thrown in.

Ella Grey is Claire’s best friend and possibly the protagonist of this book. Claire tells the story of how she met a strange boy called Orpheus on a beach one day, and how he turned up outside their school for Ella. The couple had a marriage ceremony soon after, but the day ends in tragedy.

Claire’s affections for Ella seem to blur the line between friendship and romance, which was definitely an interesting aspect. Her opinions of Orpheus seem a little mixed, and she is clearly looking out for her friend’s welfare.

Orpheus’s ‘journey’ at the end of the novel was especially strange; as was the way it was told through Claire. The entire book – especially when describing Orpheus and Ella – was extremely lyrical. The language was all very romantic and poetic, which I guess was to emphasise the musical quality that surrounds Orpheus’s character. It also really added to the sense of fantasy and mystery, giving the whole tale a strong ethereal quality.

This book was fantastically written, and definitely unique. I must say it was a little too romantic and poetic for my personal tastes, so I’m giving it 3 stars out of 5. I can definitely appreciate the beauty of Almond’s writing, though.

Book Review: Cuckoo

Sorry I haven’t been writing any reviews for a while. Life’s a little all over the place right now.

This was one of the books I picked up from the library without knowing anything about it, so I was pretty excited to read it. It was definitely different to what I expected; it’s written in “episodes” but not quite like a script. It’s more detailed and less firmly structured, but is from the point of view of the audience of the episodes (not any of the characters in the actual scene). The episodes are also acted by different people, who aren’t necessarily the actual characters. This was really interesting; it made it more like a ‘show’ that Jake was putting on, but did get a bit confusing.

It was definitely a good book. I enjoyed reading it and was interested to discover what happened next. I quite liked Jake as a character, although he did come across as a little overdramatic. (Maybe I’m being harsh by saying this, but did he really need to run away from home and cause such a fuss?) I understand how the author is perhaps trying to convey the message that even actors and “successful” people have problems, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I don’t know. Maybe a different issue should have been explored.

The story is basically Jake’s web-series after the soap “Market Square” is cancelled. After losing his job and income, his family is forced to move into a small flat. Jake can’t cope, especially with his disabled brother and his father who’s going through a bit of a mental breakdown, and so hops from one friends’ house to another. Somehow this leads to his best friend hating him, and he continues to be bitter through the comments of the web-series.

Quick side note: The comments are a good touch, but felt really fake. I liked having the ‘real-time’ dialogue, but the messages didn’t sound genuine/authentic at all to me.

Anyway, Jake ends up in some old woman’s house, who turns out to have been a director. He helps bring her out of her extreme dementia, and in return she allows him to live with her.

It all seemed a bit too much, too extreme, for what it was. Jake ends up homeless at one point, and his friend is still being all grumpy at him and it just seemed a bit off to me. But I don’t know, I might just be being way too harsh. Despite that, I did enjoy reading it. 3.5 stars.

Manga/Graphic Novel Review: Natsume’s Book of Friends

Several of my friends are into manga and so I have an extensive to-read list compiled, yet I found this on a whim instead. As Midorikawa mentions in the little asides throughout this book, it is an episodic manga. This made it a nice quick read to pick up on impulse, and not too much of an investment.

As it is episodic, there is no singe plot to really summarise. The main gist is Takashi Natsume seeing strange creatures – yokai – that nobody else can. After inheriting his deceased grandmother’s strange notebook, he discovers that she had the same ability. Due to being such an outcast amidst her village, though, she takes her frustrations out on the yokai. Natsume’s Book of Friends – the book Takashi inherited – is basically a collection of contracts signed by various yokai pledging their ‘devotion’ to her. Owning this book gives Takashi complete power over them, and naturally many of the yokai are eager to take it. Instead, Takashi sets out to return the names of all the yokai. He is accompanied by one yokai who he accidentally freed from a shrine, Nyanko Sensei – who, after being trapped inside a ceramic cat, usually takes the form of a cat. Takashi likes to remind him of this frequently (and Sensei is definitely not amused).

The episodes can each be read as a standalone, though they do connect in some ways. Takashi slowly begins to understand what he’s doing, and the relationship between him and Nyanko Sensei develops somewhat. While most of Takashi’s interactions are with yokai, there is one particular chapter in this novel where he meets another human who he can relate to. There is also a touching chapter – the final in the novel – where Takashi helps a yokai to meet the human that saved her in her past life.

The art is lovely and the relationship between Sensei and Takashi is really amusing. There isn’t a huge amount of character development or depth due to the episodic nature of the novel, but Takashi is likeable and kind. I would definitely recommend it for a quick/light read, and I may have a look for the rest of the series. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: The Returners

I have a vague recollection of reading this some time in the past which is kind of ironic considering the topic of the book itself. While I felt a repeated deja vu throughout this book, I can’t seem to remember when I actually would have read it before. I also couldn’t remember much of the main plot, which is pretty weird.

Anyway, the review.

It’s a good book. honestly, the opening paragraph of this review sums the book up quite well – it’s good, but not overly memorable. When you read it, you often think, “this is good” or “cool” or whatever, but a few months later you’ll forget all about it. At least, that’s how I felt.

Gemma Malley is an author I used to love when I was in my preteens, and I’m not sure if that’s why her books feel very adolescent to me, or if it’s because they actually are. Basically, I feel too old for them now. The protagonists are usually “cool” mid-teens, who the reader is supposed to look up to in some way. But I’m older than most characters and actually find their attitudes a bit pathetic and petty.

The story was good but I felt like there were a few loopholes, honestly. The idea of the “Returners” is interesting but not developed enough – who actually ‘controls’ them? Where did they come from? What is their real purpose? I felt like their purpose was a bit wishy-washy. Douglas’s refusal to change his attitude because it “isn’t their role” or whatever just sounded a bit… lame. Like a cop-out, I guess. I really would’ve liked to know more about the Returners and why they actually exist.

It’s only short and this may contribute to it feeling quite young, but it is well written and really enjoyable to read. Will is almost an anti-hero, and as the reader I both loved and hated him. His thoughts and attitudes were quite sporadic and it was sometimes hard to keep up, but that may have been the intention. I did like how we learned things at the same time as Will – we followed him through his own story. It was also really interesting how Will decided to handle the life he’d been forced into.

4 stars.

Book Review: Eden Summer

I keep falling behind on writing my reviews, sorry! I really need to get back on track. I finished this on Tuesday I think? I really enjoyed it, although it isn’t quite worthy of five stars.

I’m going to put in a trigger warning as there are mentions of substance abuse, physical abuse, death, adoption and suicide.

Jess’s best friend has gone missing. Through interviews with the police and Jess’s personal recollections, we begin to build up a picture of Eden’s life before her disappearance. Her sister had recently been killed in a car accident, and her seemingly perfect relationship with Liam was more complicated than anyone realised. Bit by bit, Jess – and we – begin to piece things together and discover where Eden has gone.

The girls are only young – 15 I think? – and very much have the all-consuming passion that young teens feel. As in, every little issue feels huge, and things feel far more serious than they might to an older person. I remember feeling this way. I think it was portrayed so accurately, the way fighting with your best friend feels like the end of the world and a family argument overwhelms you with guilt. It was a bit annoying in some ways, though; no fault of the author, of course, I just get a bit annoyed at kids taking things too seriously. I look back at myself and think how stupid it was to get so caught up in such little issues. So the things that Jess gets so worked up over just seemed a bit trivial to me, like she was exaggerating too much. But as I said, this creates the teenage voice really well in my opinion.

The things that both these girls have gone through are massive, though – Jess was attacked and Eden’s sister killed. That’s pretty hard for a young girl to deal with, and these are not the problems I’m saying are trivial. These are hugely important and emotional issues and I think it’s great to talk about. I love books with these real, albeit sad, events. I think it is so good to discuss all the feelings and situations that follow, and also emphasise how it is not the end of the world if something bad happens. life will continue. Eden says how she feels her sister’s death becoming more distant, more bearable, and how she doesn’t want that to happen. She feels guilty, as if she’s forgetting her and moving on. This is so important. She also thinks about killing herself due to guilt – which I won’t ruin too much – but then realises how she shouldn’t take life for granted. Her sister would’ve given anything to be alive still, and she shouldn’t be throwing that away.

It was a really good read and I found myself wondering what was going to be revealed next. It was well written and perfectly captured the young voice of Jess. If I read this when I was younger, I think I would’ve adored it. I would’ve understood it and connected to Jess more than I did now I’m older. 4 stars, definitely worth a read.