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

Nyxia – Reintgen

I recently read a book that made me realise just how much I appreciate a really good SciFi, and very real male protagonist: Nyxia by Scott Reintgen. A colleague who doesn’t usually read SciFi recommended this to me and it did not disappoint – so much so that I even went and bought my own copy.

Synopsis:

34946083Ten teenagers from low socio-economic backgrounds are offered a chance of a lifetime from global corporation, Babel; embark on a journey to a new planet called Eden, learn valuable skills along the way, earn more money than most of the richest on Earth… but only if they can beat the other recruits and secure themselves a spot in the top eight.

Emmett is one of those recruits, and he is determined to make it to Eden to save his mother from cancer. He is regularly forced to decide between what is right, and what is easy, often forgetting that a life without his humanity is not worth living no matter how wealthy it is. Emmett has no idea about the challenges he is going to face, but he knows that he is going to do everything he can to be in the top eight and land on Eden.

Thoughts:

I absolutely adore this book for quite a few reasons. Firstly, Emmett is so very real. Its not often that I identify with an 18 year old male character, for obvious reasons, but the way that Emmett is written is very clever. You feel his pain, his need, and his drive. You understand what makes him tick and the motivation behind his choices. His ability to be acknowledge the darkness within him and yet fight to be the better man because that’s how his parents raised him, makes you appreciate the pressure that his is under and the manipulative nature of Babel. I just love Emmett.

Secondly, this is such a thrilling read. It was one of those can’t-possibly-put-down-until-finished, read-it-in-one-go reads. The twists, turns and shock values were great. I was worried for Emmett’s sanity, but at no point was I unsure of his fate (clever devices that teen readers wouldn’t normally recognise gave away certain clues for certain events, but I still enjoyed it). Just when you think all is finally well, Reintgen rips the rug out from underneath you with another twist and you can’t help hating Babel.

Lastly, I haven’t read a good SciFi thriller like this in ages. Yes, I love These Broken Stars by Kauffman and Spooner, and yes, I am very much looking forward to Obsidio by Kauffman and Kristoff, BUT, this is a different type of SciFi and it’s been a while. It’s made me realise just how much I love a good SciFi thriller, and how the genre seems to be making a come back with new authors, new ideas, and new stories to love.

Overall, I would recommend Nyxia to anyone from 13 years and up. Yeah, there are a couple of violent scenes but on the whole they are not the most violent I have come across, and they are written in a way that adds to the story rather than just being violence for violences sake (similar to the cleverness of the violence in Hunger Games). If you’re looking for your next great SciFi read, or are interested in trying the genre, I would highly recommend giving this one a go.

Bookish Things

Looking back at 2017’s reads

This year I have managed to read 61 books, surpassing my goal of 52. It was no where near as many as I read in 2016, I think I managed over 120, but I have certainly not spent anywhere near as much time reading this year. 2017, among other things, has been the year of Netflix for me! However, I am proud of the 61 books I have read and thought I would do a quick recap of my top 5 from 2017.

Before I get into it, I want to give some quick insight into my 2017 reads feelings overall. I didn’t actually love many books this year. Sure, I had a couple that I had been eagerly anticipating the release of, but there was only one book that really took my breath away. Everything else was just sort of “ok.” For example, I loved Gemina by Kauffman and Kristoff, but it had lost its shock value because it was the second in the series. Same with A Court of Wings and Ruin by Maas. In my humble opinion it was going to need to be something truly amazing to live up to its predecessor, A Court of Mist and Fury, which has to be one of my all time favourite books. Unearthed by Kauffman and Spooner was another highly anticipated release for 2017 and whilst I enjoyed it, I think these authors have been spoiled for me forever, simply because These Broken Stars of the Starbound Trilogy is simply one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. You can see that even though I enjoyed a lot of the books I read this year, it has been tricky to find the kinds of books that make me say wow. So, I went through my 61 reads for 2017 and picked out my top 5. I tried to avoid those that were continuations of series that I have been reading, and pick only standalone books or firsts in series.

#5  Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

 31145186

This graphic novel is very much along the same lines as Smile, and is all about learning to find friends that click with you, not you being forced to fit in with them. I really felt for main character, Shannon. I could recognised some of my own friendship experiences in hers, and some I have since witnessed. This is a great story about learning who you really are and how kindness above all else will help you thrive.

Recommended for all from ages 8 and up!

#4 Geekerella by Ashley Poston

34790383As a Cinderella story, the storyline of this is completely predictable, however… I loved it. The twist on each of the original Cinderella characters is very clever. I adored how in this version our main characters are geeks; fans that cosplay or write fan-fic, and are hopelessly in love with the fictional worlds that we in the real world also adore.

We also get more of a backstory for Prince Charming, or Darien Freeman in this case, that has never really been explored before. In my opinion, Cinderella stories are all about the girl. The fact that this novel is written in alternating chapters between Darien and Elle’s (Cinderella’s) point of view means that both sides of this story are told. I love how Darien’s geeky-ness is hidden behind his superstar facade, which makes him all the more loveable. Elle has the right amount of fiery courage as someone that has been treated as a doormat for her adolescent life for her break for freedom to be believable. In short, Geekerella is a great modern twist on a classic story.

There is just one little thing that bothers me about this book: Editing! There are so many little words missing that it is noticeable and a little annoying. Other than that, a very easy read. Recommended for readers 10 and older!

#3 Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth

30233110It look a little while for me to really get into this one; the beginning was a little slow and there are so many words that I struggled to pronounce. It got to the point where my brain would acknowledge the cluster of letters and move on. Once I got into the swing of the story, both characters started to grow on me.

Cyra and Akos live on the same planet, but are from two different worlds. Their lives are divided by a wide expanse of no-man’s-land, and their cultures differ greatly. Cyra’s is a world of brutality and war. Akos’ is a world of peace and farming. Their world’s collide when Cyra’s tyrannical father kidnaps Akos’ brother, and Akos in the process. Cyra and Akos must work together to escape from Cyra’s family.

I really loved the character development of this story, particularly Cyra’s. I also loved how the chapters were split in alternating perspectives, and that when Akos’ story was being told it was written in 3rd person, and when Cyra was telling her story it was in 1st person. I have no idea as to the reasoning behind this decision, and although it was  a little jarring at first, I really enjoyed the change.

Recommended for 13 years and older.

#2 Firstlife by Gena Showalter

28412750I really enjoyed this one, the idea that you needed to choose which life you would live after your first death really intrigued me. There are two sides to choose from and they are quite different, but both are appealing. Both sides want main character Tenley, or Ten, Lockwood but she can’t decide. Soon she’s on the run from both sides, simply trying to make her decision without their influence. She knows she needs to make a decision though because if she doesn’t and she dies, she will end up nowhere, doomed for eternity.

Ten is such a strong, female lead character. She makes decisions based on her own thoughts and desires, and doesn’t let anyone decide anything for her. She uncovers some hidden truths about the two worlds and puts herself in danger in order to show both sides what she’s discovered. I really enjoyed the action packed nature of this story, but also the world building.

Recommended for 13 and up!

#1 Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

28103790I have not been able to stop raving about this book since I read it back in April. I love World War II history, and this book taught me about a naval tragedy that I knew nothing about. In fact, it’s about the worst naval tragedy in history, more lives lost than the Titanic, and I had never heard of it! That in itself was pretty special, but what I really loved were the characters.

These characters were not your typical WWII story characters, they were German citizens, fleeing before the call for evacuation had been made. Because of this, they feared for their lives as it was considered treason to be fleeing against direct orders from the Fuhrer. Each character had a different reason for running, each had a secret, each were scared for their lives. I loved the hints, I loved the intrigue, I loved the storytelling, and I loved characters. As you can probably tell, this book has definitely found a place among my favourite books and I think everyone should read it.

Recommended for readers 13 and up!

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

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.

screen-shot-2017-02-27-at-2-20-11-pm

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

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!

Bookish Things

Follow Me Back – Cloke

This book was thrust into my hands by one of my avid year 7 readers. She said I had to stop reading everything else and give this a go. Whilst it isn’t one of my favourite books of the year, I can see why it grabbed her attention. So, what makes Follow Me Back by Nicci Cloke a book that compels year 7 students to excitedly express themselves in loud ways over their feelings for this book?

Synopsis:27799026

Aiden’s world is turned upside down when Lizzie Summersall goes missing.

Aiden was the new guy in town two years ago but, as in most small towns, he is still considered to be the “new guy.” He is a  football star with the potential to play for a premier club and also considered to be a nice guy.

Lizzie Summersall has always been the quiet girl with little to say unless she was on stage in a drama production. She dreams of being an actor in theatre productions, but first she must learn to deal with a semi-famous big sister . Cheska is on the local soap opera show filmed in and around their home time. Lizzie despises her sister and makes it well known, often having to put up with ill feelings towards her due to her sisters actions on and off screen. When Lizzie goes missing, her sister uses this new and scandalous story line to her advantage, raising questions regarding her involvement.

The investigation centres primarily on Aiden and his relationship with Lizzie, despite him denying that they were ever more than casual acquaintances. Aiden begins to realize how lonely he is without Lizzie, how online and real life personas can differ, how easy it is for people to pretend online, and how quickly a crowd can turn against someone they once called a friend.

Thoughts:

When I first started reading this book, I was intrigued straight away. The fact that is starts with the police visiting Aiden’s house to tell him the news and how he immediately acts like he’s covering something is very clever. As the story progresses you begin to realise that perhaps Aiden is not the nice guy he seemed to be in the beginning.

There was a point where I started to feel like the story line got a little bit too out there. I kept thinking “surely these teenagers can’t be this naive?!” At one point I’m pretty sure I yelled “JUST STOP IT!” and threw the book down in a fit of shock and disbelief. However, when I really thought about what was unfolding, I realised that perhaps teenagers actually do think, feel and react the way these characters did and that’s why its so important to have these characters as role models to show just how silly this behaviour is and how much trouble it can land you in.

In terms of how the story is written, it’s very clever. It starts from Aiden’s perspective; for someone that reads a lot of books from a female character’s point of view this was a nice change! It then begins to alternate between the present and the past via messages between Aiden and Lizzie. After a while a few other characters’ perspectives are added in – this only adds to the suspense.

There is mention of sex, a few swear words, and some inflammatory name calling, however these mentions are brief and done as tastefully as possible. In this day and age it would be naive of me to believe that 13 year olds had not heard or used these words and discussed these things. Therefore I would recommend this book to all teenagers as it explores online safety, relationships, bullying, and family, and is hopefully enough of a shock to the system to make them think twice about their own actions online.

Graphic Review:

follow-me-back-review

Bookish Things

A new favourite author – Sarah J Maas

There are some authors that you just want to read everything they’ve ever written because you’ve fallen in love with their writing style, character development, and plot lines. I have not felt this way about an author since I was in year 6 and reading Tamora Pierce‘s series, such as Song of the Lioness, Daughter of the Lioness, Circle of Magic, and The Circle Opens, until recently. For me that author is now Sarah J Maas; author of Throne of Glass series and the A Court of Thorns and Roses series.

1609682413519397.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So why do I love Maas’ writing so much?

Maas has this way of allowing you to relate to and understand all of her characters, even the ones you don’t like. In the Throne of Glass series, Maas writes in 3rd person, regularly jumping around to tell the story from different characters’ points of view. She does this seamlessly. You never get lost in the story, it flows really well and is very clear. Due to the switching perspectives, readers are able to gain insights into the thoughts, feelings and experiences of almost all the main and supporting characters. As the series progresses, you find yourself actually wanting to read points of view, not just the main ones, and find yourself wishing for sections from characters that don’t particularly get the limelight. This is masterful writing and demonstrates just how well Maas develops her characters. After reading the 5 books in this series, I am yet to have a concrete favourite character. I could go on and on about why I am thoroughly enjoying this particular series of Maas’, but I do not want to give away any spoilers! All I can say is this, the progression of the story from book to book only draws you into the world Maas has created more and more, and ensures that by the time you’ve read all 5 books, you are aching for the next instalment!

In terms of the A Court of Thorns and Roses series, affectionately known by fans as ACOTAR, Maas writes from a 1st person perspective, specifically that of main character Feyre. Because of this, you see the world completely through Feyre’s eyes and therefore your opinion of other characters if completely influenced by how she is feeling. The advantage of this is that you really begin to understand Feyre’s motives and want her to succeed in her trials. The character development and twists that occur during the series are made even more shocking and amazing to the fact that we experience it all alongside Feyre and never see them coming – this is what has made ACOTAR my favourite of the two series! It will be interesting to see whether this style of writing from only Feyre’s perspective persists for the remaining books of the series as the last 2 chapters of A Court of Mist and Fury suggest otherwise and I simply cannot wait!

The last point I’d like to make is with regard to Maas’ novellas for Throne of Glass. It is my opinion that most novellas are written for the sake of generating more interest in the series and income for the authors. In Maas’ case, I feel this is not true. Her collected novellas, printed as The Assassin’s Blade, is somewhat vital to understanding the background of major characters in Queen of Shadows, and the arrival of new ones in Empire of Storms. Without these novellas, Maas would have had to have spent time developing these stories within the context of these two books – something I am not sure she had the time or word length to do justice to them. Therefore, the addition of these novellas allows readers a chance to explore the world more extensively, fall in love with the characters more deeply, and understand the importance of certain events more fully.

I could spend all day talking at length about the genius of Sarah J Maas and why I think she’s made such a big splash in the YA world at this time, however I will refrain from doing so. I urge those that have not had the opportunity to experience her writing for themselves to give it a go!