Bookish Things

Murder Most Unladylike – Stevens

I read Murder Most Unladylike because we’ve had an increasing number of students in years 7 and 8 asking for “murder mysteries.” I have no real idea as to why these types of stories are becoming popular again, but as an avid reader of Agatha Christie in my early teens, I cannot complain! And so, it was with great pleasure that I realised there is a new range of Middle Reader friendly murder mysteries available, one of which is the A Murder Most Unladylike Mystery series by Robin Stevens.28953339

Synopsis:

When Hazel Wong moves from Hong Kong to Deepdean School for Girls in England, she finds it difficult to make friends at first. After a rocky start she soon becomes fast friends with Daisy Wells, a typical English young lady. Due to Daisy’s murder mystery obsession, the two friends start their own Detective Agency. After solving a couple of small crimes, such as lost ties or collecting gossip, Hazel eventually stumbles on their first real crime: their Science Mistress has been murdered and Hazel discovers the body.

The body goes missing shortly after Hazel discovers it and so Hazel and Daisy must race against the clock to collect clues to find out who the murderer is. They know it’s someone on staff, but who?

Thoughts:

I did like this story, but I didn’t love it and I think it’s because I’m not it’s targeted audience. The murder mystery was well thought out though. I didn’t see the “who done it” coming and the way that certain off-hand events tied in was very clever – in this sense it is very Agatha Christie.

Hazel and Daisy of the Detective Society are likeable enough. The mentions of Hazel’s “oriental” background and the way the girls in her form refer to her are very apt for the time the story is set in. However at the same time, Stevens has shown sensitivity towards migrants by using Hazel’s voice as a voice of displeasure over the apparently “harmless” comments made by her peers. Daisy is initially portrayed as the perfect English rose, but her depth of character is explored further when Hazel slowly discovers that Daisy is the smartest girl in school but hides it, she loves to play rough when it comes to sport, and has a fascination with murder.

The setting of an all girls school back in the day (I don’t think the year is ever specified), and the description of the teaching staff set the scene for trouble quite nicely. The explanation of the Masters and Mistresses is slightly one dimensional; we never really get to know the staff that well, but I believe this is largely due to the fact that Hazel, the voice of the story, doesn’t know them well enough to make their personalities clearer. We see them as she sees them: untouchable and infallible.

The narrative of the story is a combination of present and past events. We see the murder unfold as the present, but Hazel adds in tidbits of information about the school and characters are reflective chapters. It’s really very clever. The other notable thing about the way in which this book is written is how Stevens has divided the story into parts. I am a huge fan of this as it gives me tangible goals for reading and I think this will only increase it’s popularity among Middle Readers.

Overall, I think this is a very clever murder mystery that is perfect for Middle Years readers looking for an Agatha Christie style novel. It’s easy to read, the main characters are likeable, and the plot twists are certainly shocking.

Bookish Things

The book EVERYONE is talking about

33007030Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls has certainly made waves in the literary world. I first heard about this book when Rebecca Sparrow attended the International Women’s Day Breakfast we hosted here in the iCentre and raved about this book! She did such a great job of selling it that almost all of the attendees wanted a copy! Since then I have purchased myself and copy and I absolutely adore it. I was so excited to learn that there was Volume 2 coming later this year!

I thought I’d quickly share my reasons for why I love this book:

  • I am learning so many things that I have never even heard of! The number of women in here that I am learning about is amazing, and they are all so inspiring. One story in particular has made a massive impact on me. It’s the story of the teenage girl that designs and makes a torch that gives light by using body heat for power! I won’t tell you which extraordinary woman it is, you’ll have to get the book to find out for yourself!
  • I love the way that each story is a perfect short story. They are quick, full of facts, have a moral, are inspiring, and the artwork is divine!
  • There are so many different role models! From artists to astronauts, poets to pirates, the variety is astounding and I loved reading every short story. I loved that they broadened my mind, taught me something new, inspired me to do some research and learn more about these extraordinary women!

In my humble opinion, every person (not just girls/women) should read this. Its a fascinating insight into what these extraordinary women have achieved.

 

Bookish Things, Thoughts

The 20th Anniversary of Harry Potter

It’s no secret around school that I adore everything Harry Potter. I…

  • Own multiple copies of all the books and DVDs
  • Own a copy of the audiobooks read by Stephen Fry and listen to them regularly
  • Am a proud Gryffindor, sorted through Pottermore
  • Have a large range of Harry Potter merchandise/clothing, including a cardigan and scarf from Harry Potter World Orlando that I wear to work regularly
  • Can discuss all cannon and fan theories in depth with fellow Potterheads

All of these things might seem crazy to those that live outside the Harry Potter Universe, but for me and, possibly more importantly, my students, it’s a way of connecting. So, how does Harry Potter connect us? Here is my list of 3 ways in which it does!

1. It’s worldwide!

For the 20th anniversary this year, Pottermore has started up a Wizarding World Book Club that fans all over the world can connect through. It’s being hosted on Twitter under the hashtag #WWBookClub and allows fans to respond to questions and replies across the globe. I love that the Harry Potter Universe is so big that they are able to have a worldwide book club! It’s blowing my mind! Some of the responses to the initial questions have really had me thinking deeply and appreciating being able to discuss my thoughts with other Potterheads.

2. It’s for all ages!

As I’ve already alluded to, I am able to have conversations with people of all ages about these characters. Whether they are students discovering the wizarding world for the first time, or adults that have been thumbing these pages for two decades now (how crazy is that?!), everyone is able to have and share their thoughts and opinions.

3. The themes are relatable!

Harry Potter is a boy that did not let his circumstances define who he would become. This in itself is inspiring, never mind the fact that Harry and his friends face issues of:

  • Bullying
  • Family dysfunction
  • Starting a new school
  • Friendship
  • Courage
  • Knowledge
  • Gender stereotypes
  • Standing out for all the wrong reasons and dealing with it
  • Good vs. evil
  • Dark and light
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Loss
  • Love

And so many more… Every one of these themes are themes that people can easily relate to. They occur in almost everyone’s lift experience. Learning about these with Harry and his friends gives readers strength and hope.

What does Harry Potter mean to me?

Well, I was 6 when Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published. I have very clear memories of my father reading it to me before bedtime, including begging him to read it to me during the day, or how he was unsure how to pronounce Hermione’s name!

When Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was published I was 7. I remember being on a family road trip with my mother reading it to me and my brother to pass the time. We arrived home and she wasn’t finished, so I grabbed the book, hid in my room and finished it – it was the very first proper book I’d ever read on my own. From then on, my parents had to buy two copies of the remaining books in the series to avoid arguments between my brother and I.

When I was in year 9, so 14 years old, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince came out. I remember lining up for ages to collect my preorder and then powering through the book over the weekend so that I wouldn’t have it spoiled for me when I got to school on Monday! Lucky I did too because just before the bell went for first period, someone shouted out the WORST possible spoiler (I won’t mention it here just in case but if you’ve read it then you just have to know what it was) and my entire year level of roughly 330 students groaned. 330 year 9 students were impacted by Harry Potter! That is insane.

I remember picking up my copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and it not feeling real. “This can’t be the end,” I thought. It was surreal. My first read was so quick and such a blur that I had to reread it again straight away for all of it to sink it. It was done, I was lost, there was no more… and it was amazing.

JK Rowling will always be my favourite author. She is a phenomenal human being and such a talent. She inspired a generation through her work and continues to do so every time another reader picks up Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, whether it be for the first time or the millionth time.

I could continue to talk about Harry Potter for hours on end, so I’ll leave it there for now. I hope that if you’re one of those people that thinks Harry Potter is silly, that I may have changed your perspective or at least made you rethink your opinion. To my fellow Potterheads, I look forward to connecting with you through the Wizarding World Book Club on Twitter, and to hearing your own stories and thoughts!

Bookish Things

Shatter Me -Mafi

Over the Christmas holidays I read the Shatter Me trilogy by Tahereh Mafi, and I fell in love with writing style and main character Juliette. The series itself goes in a direction I never would have picked and it only made me love it even more.

Synopsis:

Juliette has a terrible ability, her touch can kill. She has spent the majority of her teenage years isolated from society for the protection of others. She lives in an underground bunker that has overlords that monitor and feed her, with little to no interaction with other human beings and is essentially treated like an animal. One day, Juliette is given a cellmate, and it completely changes her world. Juliette will learn to trust, and then have that taken away from her. She will struggle to not become the monster the world believes her to be.

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Thoughts:

I love this series. Juliette is such a fragile character to begin with but she grows and develops into a strong, independent character – this transformation develops across the 3 books and is done so well that it feels real. Her leading man changes frequently and the internal conflict this causes is felt by the reader. Mafi has done a beautiful job of making readers question character loyalties and agendas.

 

Bookish Things

Critique Reading for Lynette Noni

Last year my school hosted the beautiful Lynette Noni for a writing and book chat with our year 8 students. As soon as I met her I knew that she was a kindred spirit. After a few long and hilarious emails back and forth, we decided to meet for coffee. Since then we have spent heaps of time discussing all things book related and I now refer to her as my bookish friend.

When we started corresponding a colleague of mine asked me if I was hoping to become one of Lynette’s critique readers and my response was “I hadn’t even thought about it.” I was simply enjoying being able to completely fangirl out and swap recommendations with an adult! (Don’t get me wrong, I love discussing books with my students but it’s nice to meet an adult that loves all the same things I love. Like I said, kindred spirit…) So when she asked me to be one of her critters (critique readers) towards the end of the year last year I was floored and honoured. I was also not allowed to make a decision until the holidays started because Lynette wanted to make sure that I was in a sound state of mind before making such a big decision. Needless to say, there was never going to be any answer other than “YES!”

 

Since then I have been honoured to read and critique her Medoran Chronicles, plus discuss a few more of her exciting upcoming adventures, such as WhisperI am astounded by the number of stories that Lynette has floating around in her head, each one detailed and intriguing. I love the way she writes and how she allows her characters to tell their stories. I have discovered that critique reading is an interesting challenge – when asked “what would you change?” or “what didn’t you like?” it’s really difficult to actually pinpoint a specific scene. I know that the feedback I give has to be genuine and detailed because it will potentially influence the final print and that is both terrifying and exhilarating. The hardest thing I have found is always wanting to know more…

Take The Medoran Chronicles for example. They are scheduled to be a 5 book series but I could honestly keep reading about Alex and her adventures forever and I know that Lynette could definitely keep writing many more stories. However, we both know that at some point it has to stop and that has got to be the hardest part about critique reading, not giving in to the “what ifs” or “maybes” and never moving on from the story.

I am super excited to see what the future holds for Lynette Noni. If half of her ideas make it to print then the readers of YA will be very lucky people indeed.

 

Bookish Things

2016: Favourite Books

Looking back on 2016 I thought it would be well worth the time to list my favourite books. I’d say that I read more in 2016 than I have in the last 5 years at least! Without the pressure of study (and the joy of saying “I’m working” whenever I get questioned over my reading habits) I was able to churn through a total of 110 books this year. Originally I set myself a goal of 52 books through the Goodreads Reading Challenge – thinking that one book a week might be achievable. It’s safe to say that I seriously underestimated my reading ability. I am also living proof that the more you read the faster and better you become. I started off the year thinking that a 300 – 400 page book was quite a task but that’s now the average size book I can read in a day. So, if you want to get better and faster at reading, you really just have to do more of it.

I’ve decided to limit my list to the few books that I would consider reading for a second time, otherwise my list would be at least 50 books long! For each book I’ve included a short statement explaining what has made me fall in love with these books.

1. A Court of Mist and Fury – Sarah J Maas

I have written so much already about why I love and recommend Sarah J Maas’ books so I’ll keep this very brief. It comes down to the fact that I love her characters. Maas’ lead characters are strong, independent females with male characters that are supportive, strong, and view their female counterparts as equals. I particularly love the characters in this book, the second of her A Court of Thorns and Roses series. I won’t say much more as I don’t want to spoil anything, but the development and change in these characters from the first book is really well done.

You’ll find more reasons as to why I love Sarah J Maas’ writing in A New Favourite Author.

2. Illuminae – Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

I just love the way this book is written. I call it a cross between a graphic novel and a normal novel. The way that the words on the page are displayed creates a visual representation of the action and events of the story. When the ships are fighting an epic battle, the words are actually traced across the pace in what might be the flight path of the ship. It is VERY cool, but can take some getting used to.

For more of my thoughts on Illuminae, read my review.

3. Akarnae – Lynette Noni

Part of my love for this book actually comes from the fact that I have met the author and discovered that she is a lovely, approachable, down to earth person. However, that is not the only reason! I love this book because it combines aspects of some of my favourite things from my childhood, and yet still manages to stand on its own two feet as its own work. It combines Harry Potter, Narnia, and The X-men and even though I can see how it does this, when reading the book I forget all these other stories and love it on its own. It’s very clever, with a strong main female character and level of comfort due to the feelings of familiarity with other well-known and well-loved stories.

Stay tuned for a further reflection on the fabulous Lynette Noni and her writing.

4. Counting by 7s – Holly Goldberg Sloan

I am not usually a fan of Young Adult Contemporary, but this one blew me away.  I was given this the school holidays before I started in my current position. It was thrust into my hands along with a few other books that we have class sets of and it has since become one of my all time favourite stories. The sweetness of main character Willow, coupled with her resilience and uniqueness made me fall in love with her. I felt her own pains and triumphs as my own. This is a story that I tell all my readers, particularly year 7s, to read.

 

So there you have it! Four of my favourite books from 2016. As stated before, I absolutely could have listed many, many more but those were the four that were life changing in their own special way. I hope that 2017 is just as good a year for reading as 2016. I have set the goal of 52 books again and we’ll see how far I get. Happy reading everyone!