Spoiler-Free Book Review: “Insurgent” by Veronica Roth

Following the enjoyable dystopian YA novel Divergent, I picked up the second of the trilogy. Things were getting exciting, and I had high hopes for what Tris and her love interest were going to do next now their world had fallen apart.

insurgent“As war surges in the factions of dystopian Chicago all around her, Tris attempts to save those she loves—and herself—while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.”

I actually found the second book to be a bit disappointing. I thought the first book was great; although sometimes dripping with YA cliches (such as falling for the first handsome guy she meets), I thought the world was original and I enjoy exploring the factions.

I lost interest about halfway through because Tris started to become really annoying. She was increasingly reckless, and I was glad Tobias caught on this as well, so it suggests that the writer was aware of this character flaw. “Playing the hero” all the time could have been forgiven, except when she did it again, she lied to her boyfriend… again, even though he worried so much about her and almost got himself killed trying to save her the last time.

The story circled several times in the first half of the book. They think they’re safe, until they’re attacked and have to run. They find a new place to hide, get attacked, and have to run. It only got interesting about 60% of the way through. The novelty of exploring this dystopian world had worn off by now, and there wasn’t much more to discover. They didn’t see anything new, only the same city and the train and buildings. Arguably the Amity headquarters was new, but it wasn’t that interesting.

Characters were also tough to keep track of. Jeanine, Tori, Tobias, Marcus, and Tris were easy enough, but other characters seemed to sort of blend together. I needed reminding when names like Edward, Lynn, and Shauna came up, and ended up remembering Edward for his eyepatch and Lynn for her shaved head rather than any defining personality traits.

This book wasn’t horrible, by any means. I wanted to know the all-important “truth” that became the main focus of the second half of the story, which drove me to keep reading. I was prepared for some mind-blowing news that “changed everything,” as the writer said. The information was… meh. It kind of annoys me this has 44,000 reviews on Amazon and three movies, yet no one really talks about it.

I’ve already bought the last in the series, Allegiant, so it might wrap up the story nicely and develop Tris’ character a bit. I hope to see an awesome final installment. I’ll let you guys know if it’s worth it!

I give this book in the Divergent series two stars out of five.

2stars

Spoiler-Free Book Review: “Wave Me Goodbye” by Jacqueline Wilson

If you’re British and you like books, it’s likely you’ve heard of Jacqueline Wilson. This much-loved children’s writer has written over 100 books now and is famous for characters like Tracy Beaker and Hetty Feather.

I was one of the kids who had some of the book sets when I was little. I had books like The Lottie Project, Double Act, The Suitcase Kid, Vicky Angel, Girls in Love, The Story of Tracy Beaker, and The Bed and Breakfast Star. She often writes books about girls around ten years old who are going through some kind of drama or tragedy, such as their parents’ divorce, poverty, bullying, and the like.

I actually hadn’t read any of Wilson’s books since the 2000s, unless you count re-reading The Illustrated Mum on Kindle a few months back.

It was cool to see that Wilson is still writing, and my dad bought me her 2017 novel Wave Me Goodbye, about a girl who is sent to the countryside right before World War II breaks out in 1939.

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“September, 1939. As the Second World War begins, ten-year-old Shirley is sent away on a train with her schoolmates. She doesn’t know where she’s going, or what’s going to happen to her when she gets there. All she has been told is that she’s going on ‘a little holiday’.

Shirley is billeted in the country, with two boys from East End London, Kevin and Archie – and their experiences living in the strange, half-empty Red House, with the mysterious and reclusive Mrs Waverley, will change their lives for ever.”

A lot of Jacqueline Wilson’s characters are very similar: around ten years old, female, timid, introverted, and often don’t have many friends due to moving around a lot or being considered “weird.” They’re usually creative and good at imagining things. Shirley Louise Smith wasn’t much different. I was more interested in the time in which the story was told; we hear a lot about soldiers’ experiences in World War II, but I hadn’t come across anything from a London child’s perspective before (I’m not saying that this book is the first of its kind, but that it was an interesting change written by one of my favourite authors).

Shirley is sent away on “a little holiday” to the countryside. I found her mother to be an interesting character; strict, strong-minded, and at first, slightly narcissistic, and unwilling to tell Shirley at first that she (the mother) won’t be travelling with her. She gets exasperated with Shirley’s love for reading and wishes to be more “posh.”

I often felt very sorry for Shirley. She considers herself ugly and hates her short hair. She loves to read and often pretends the girls from her favourite book, Ballet Shoes, are around her. She has trouble making friends and is bullied by others. On top of that, she misses her parents terribly when she is billeted. It makes us appreciate how tough it was for the children during the war as well as everyone else.

I loved the characters Kevin and Archie; in my opinion, they made the book’s story stronger. I enjoyed following Shirley on her adventure and was interested in the background of the family they were staying with.

Wilson did a great job of making Shirley relatable. Shirley loves books which are appropriate for 1939 but are also understandable by today’s children, such as old fairy tales like Cinderella, Mary Poppins, and Alice in Wonderland. The language seemed fairly appropriate for the time “cor blimey”/”bally” but I wasn’t completely convinced with Archie; he was supposed to be around three or four years old but he often spoke in longer sentences that I imagine a toddler would usually struggle with. Nevertheless, he was an incredibly cute character.

All in all, I was impressed with Wave Me Goodbye. The ending was nice, although it left a lot of questions open such as the fate of her father. That being said, it was a story about Shirley, not about the war itself.

Overall I give Wave Me Goodbye four stars out of five, although I would rather give it 4.5 as I remained entertained the whole way through and will probably read it again sometime in the future. Nice job, Wilson!

4stars

Get Wave Me Goodbye on Amazon UK
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Spoiler-Free Book Review: “The Queen’s Rising” by Rebecca Ross

Hi, everyone. I just got back from Ishigaki in Okinawa, and it was a few days’ rest I desperately needed. Keep an eye out for photos and blog posts.

While on my trip, I read a book I’d been waiting to read for a while. I’d seen it on Twitter and immediately fell in love with the cover. It was a debut fantasy novel by American writer Rebecca Ross, someone I’ve come to admire deeply. I bought it and read it any spare minute that I wasn’t playing about on the beach or sampling the delicious Okinawan food.

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“Brienna desires only two things: to master her passion and to be chosen by a patron. Growing up in Valenia at the renowned Magnalia House should have prepared her. While some are born with a talent for one of the five passions—art, music, dramatics, wit, and knowledge—Brienna struggled to find hers until she chose knowledge. However, Brienna’s greatest fear comes true—she is left without a patron. 

Months later, her life takes an unexpected turn when a disgraced lord offers her patronage. Suspicious of his intent, she reluctantly accepts. But there is much more to his story, for there is a dangerous plot to overthrow the king of Maevana—the rival kingdom of Valenia—and restore the rightful queen, and her magic, to the throne. And others are involved—some closer to Brienna than she realizes.

And now, with war brewing, Brienna must choose which side she will remain loyal to: passion or blood.”

I felt a pull to this book immediately, and from the first page, I knew I’d made the right choice. Ross writes with flair and explains details flawlessly, using sights and smells, especially, to really suck me into the world without going overboard on description. Brienna was sort of the anti-Mary-Sue; it was refreshing to come across a character who struggled with her pursuits. She was not gifted with art or music like her patron sisters, and eventually chose to passion in knowledge, working hard to catch up to her classmate. This book also defied stereotypes, and things which I thought I saw coming a mile away turned out to be entirely different than I expected. There were also twists that made me audibly gasp, which I think annoyed some of the surrounding travellers.

Some reviewers so far have complained that there was no action until later in the book, but I genuinely enjoyed exploring the world that Ross created, with its scents and beautifully described Magnalia House, the school in which Brienna studied. I don’t believe that all books should have brushes with death to hook you in from the first page, and I was gently seduced into the story. Ross’ prose is just gorgeous. I felt aching in my heart reading this book, inspired envy, and was captivated by the story she told.

I recommend this gorgeously crafted novel to any lover of fantasy, who enjoys discovering new worlds and learning rich and unique histories. Although there were several questions left unanswered at the end of the story, this is a fantastic stand-alone tale that I hope every book lover reads. I give The Queen’s Rising five stars out of five.

5stars

Get The Queen’s Rising on Amazon US
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Spoiler-Free Book Review: “Angst” by David J. Pedersen

I’ve just finished reading a fantasy novel called Angst, written by David J. Pedersen.

“When Angst turned 40, he knew it was over. Angst had longed to be a knight of Unsel, to make his mark in history, to be remembered for heroic deeds and wondrous acts. He grew up knowing he was destined for something great, but now it is too late. Not only is 40 far too old to become a knight, Angst is one of the few able to wield “the magics”.”

Most protagonists in fantasy novels are young and gifted, destined from birth to be the hero and saviour of the story – often not relatable at all. One of the first things that draws readers to David Pedersen’s Angst is the fact that the main character is the exact opposite of this stereotype.

Angst is the perfect name for this character: he is unsatisfied with his life, a gift that should have been cherished makes him an outcast, and he spends his life in skull-numbing boredom. After turning forty, he believes his dreams of becoming a knight, and subsequent hero, are over. That is until he draws a sword that has been unmovable for as long as anyone can remember. It just might be up to Angst to get to the bottom of the problems plaguing Unsel… once his back stops hurting.

Angst is just an adorable character. Pedersen cleverly captures the mid-life crisis, urge to become something bigger and better, and the fearless, cheeky flirting of a forty-year-old. It was really interesting how these elements fit nicely into a fantasy story.

The story itself was incredibly creative and I’ll have a hard time forgetting many different aspects of the world of Ehrde, including places, beasts, and the concept of the Vex’kvette. I found that I was carrying the book around with me so I could read it on the train and during my lunch breaks.

There were a few things I wasn’t sure about. Something we find out about Heather, Angst’s wife, could have been foreshadowed, along with several other things. I also couldn’t bring myself to like the character Rose, although that is personal preference because I’ve heard she’s a very popular character. Nevertheless, this was a fun story to read and I look forward to reading the next one! I give this book four stars out of five.

Get Angst on Amazon US
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Spoiler-Free Book Review: “Eyes of the Hunter” by Rosa Marchisella

Day 32

‘Sup, everyone! Hope you’re staying warm.

I recently read a book called Eyes of the Hunter, a new fantasy novel by Rosa Marchisella.

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“Prince Erin, heir to the throne of Simanthea, spent a lifetime protecting a dangerous secret no one can know. Not even Caley, Erin’s best friend and devoted bodyguard. 

But even the most tightly guarded secret can’t be kept forever. 

When Caley discovers the depth of Erin’s deception, his rage explodes like wildfire and devoted guardian turns to terrifying bounty hunter. To survive, Erin must outrun the past and evade the Eyes of the Hunter.”

As a lover of fantasy, I gobbled this one up.

After birthing six daughters, Queen Marianna is terrified that if she fails to produce a male heir to the throne of Simanthea, her life will be forfeit. The kingdom rejoices when the birth of a baby boy is announced, and the queen insists that only she care for the baby, whom she names Erin.

She hires a boy, Caley, to protect her son with his life. I truly loved this beginning to the book. I sympathised with the queen, a kind soul who had been basically used by the king “as a breeding mare” for his desire to have a son. Caley was also introduced well, being a shy and quiet boy but delivering when it mattered most. He won the right to become Erin’s guardian.

As a child, Caley was blamed for something he didn’t do and we get a taste of the king’s merciless heart and lack of empathy. When the secret comes out and Erin is forced to run, the atmosphere of the story goes from quiet contentment (if tense) to full-blown excitement and fear.

Caley goes from solid protector to hunter. We see Erin survive, a feat which would not be easy for a pampered member of royalty. However, with Caley’s teachings, Erin can find ways to get through some tough times, which is a little ironic for Caley since he’s now chasing the person he taught.

Rumours fly like wildfire through the land about the hunter, some far-fetched and some not far from the truth, keeping us on our toes as to what Erin will do to shake Caley off, because he always seems closer.

I really enjoyed this book. It was easy to read and Marchisella creates vivid descriptions. I know when I’ve read a good story because my mind wanders to think about the characters at times when I’m not reading, and as this happened a lot, I know the writer did extremely well in creating a world into which I could invest my time and heart.

There were some things that I wasn’t sure about; for example, some skills and knowledge that Erin had were not mentioned before so they could have been foreshadowed. I also felt that another character got the raw end of the deal towards the end of the story but, as we know, life is unfair, and that is possibly what Marchisella was trying to convey.

I recommend Eyes of the Hunter for lovers of fantasy, especially fantasy with rich worlds. I found myself wanting to know more about the kingdoms, what lies beyond the oceans. I’m hoping for a sequel to this engaging tale! Overall, I give it four stars out of five.

4stars

Get Eyes of the Hunter on Amazon US
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Reading “The Illustrated Mum” as a Child VS. Reading it as an Adult

Day 26

What was your favourite book when you were a child? I remember being about six or seven and getting a box set of Jacqueline Wilson books from my auntie. I read all of them many, many times and ended up getting even more of Wilson’s works. I was a big fan of hers; I still am.

With the Kindle and Kindle app, it’s great hunting down old books you loved and getting them on your e-reader within seconds. I’ve just finished The Illustrated Mum again, but the reading experience was pretty different from when I was eight.

If you’ve never read this book, it’s about a ten-year-old girl called Dolphin who lives with her older sister, Star, and their mother manic-depressive mother, Marigold.

Reading it as a kid, I saw the world from a child’s perspective and completely understood that Dolphin was confused and upset that Star was showing less and less interest in Marigold as she got older, angry at Star for leaving her mother and sister behind, and terrified alongside Dolphin when Marigold had rough spells of drinking or crazy shopping. Dolphin did her best to not let anyone, even her friend Oliver, see just how bad Marigold could get when she was in a state.

As an adult, I felt so much pity for the poor little girl we read about, her youth and unconditional admiration and love for her mother clouding the fact that she was much better off without her. I wanted to take care of Dolphin, to feed her and wash her properly and give her a warm and safe home. Reading as a kid and reading as an adult were two entirely different experiences.

Jacqueline Wilson has a remarkable gift for writing from the perspective of a child who really doesn’t know better. What does a ten-year-old know about bipolar disorder? Or about hospitals? She feels so bad for calling the ambulance when Marigold finally goes over the edge, yet we all know as readers that she did the right thing.

There are a few more really depressing (but awesome) Wilson books that I now can’t wait to read again. No doubt the experience will transform from an adult’s eyes, too.

If We Could All Discover Our Love for Reading

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Last year, I played a lot of video games. I worked a lot. I bought hamsters. I even wrote a bit.

After re-reading the Harry Potter series, I realised with an unpleasant drop in my stomach that last year I hardly read anything at all. There were some indie books, some work-related stuff, and… well, that’s it, really.

I had lunch with one of my students after a lesson yesterday and she was asking me about all these famous western writers, asking if I’d heard of them or read their work. Her eager little face looked so disappointed when I said I hadn’t even heard of most of them. She seemed surprised that I, a native speaker of English, didn’t know about all her favourite novels that she struggled through as a learner of our complex language.

I felt really bad. So I decided this year that I’m going to spend a lot more time reading. There are loads of books in the spare room I bought or was given and never even opened. Worlds waiting to be explored, characters waiting to be known, pages waiting to be turned. I am shocked it took this long.

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We’re so distracted by social media and the busy pace of life that most of us have forgotten what it’s like to curl up with a book (paperback OR electronic; there’s no shame in owning a Kindle). There’s really no excuse; people who claim to love books, yet say they are too busy to read yet spend three hours a day on Facebook, what are you doing? I’m determined not to be one of those people.

So hopefully you’ll see a lot more posts about awesome books in the coming months!