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Saturday, 26 April 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer #25 - When You Were Older, Catherine Ryan Hyde

When You Were Older is the moving tale of two brothers set pre and post-9/11.

Russell Ammiano is living the dream in New York City. He has a great job working for an advertising company in the Twin Towers. On the 11th of September he is doing his best to get out of the door for an important work meeting when the phone rings with news of his mother’s death. Soon after that, he watches the planes crash into the Twin Towers, bringing destruction and despair not just to the city, but to the world.

He hitchhikes his way to Kansas where he finds his mentally disabled brother, Ben. Ben, a creature of habit, we learn is mentally disabled because of an incident when he and Russell were teenagers. Their dad had taken them out fishing, gotten drunk, and one thing led to another. Their dad drowned and Ben transformed from a manipulative bully to a simple creature of habit, who does not currently understand why his mother is not coming home.

Russell finds it very difficult adjusting to life in Kansas when he tried so desperately to leave in the first place. Apparently he had not been to Kansas in six years, leaving his mother to cope with Ben on her own. The one bright spot in Russell’s life comes in the form of a young Egyptian woman, Anat, who works in her father’s bakery. They try to start a relationship, but issues of culture and faith brings a lot of strain, not to mention that the bakery is being targeted by vandals in the wake of 9/11.

The story is well-paced and plotted, with regular flashbacks to inform the reader about Ben, his and Russell’s relationships, and just why Russell did not want to come back. The characters are well-fleshed out and Catherine Ryan Hyde deals well with the sensitive issues she brings up; culture, faith, disabilities, and facing everyday problems.

It was an enjoyable read with a nice, happy ending. It’s the sort of book you can read easily in just a couple of sittings, but probably not one that I feel compelled to take up again.

Until next time!

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer #24 - Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins

Clearly, I'm running out of new things to read. No matter, though, I was glad to pick this up at my mum's. Though I always thought that "Mockingjay", the last of "The Hunger Games" trilogy by Suzanne Collins, was the weakest - disappointing after such a strong start - I still very much enjoyed reading it again.

Mockingjay opens with Katniss Everdeen standing in the remains of District 12, her home, that was bombed with firebombs by the Capitol after Katniss pulled a very daring, very dangerous stunt in the Quarter Quell - namely, fixing an arrow with some wire that was attached to a tree due to be hit by a massive bolt of lightning, then firing said arrow towards the top of the Dome, thus causing the ceiling to shatter.

She and the remaining refugees from 12 have been taken in by District 13, a District that was supposed to have been obliterated in the "Dark Days" by the Capitol. They want her to truly become the Mockingjay, the poster girl of the Rebellion, and she, thus far is being uncooperative, though she soon relents and agrees. Her conditions? Mostly deemed fair by 13, but then she asks for immunity for the victors who are trapped in the Capitol, namely Peeta.

Katniss is in a state of mental disorientation for pretty much the first half of this book, which goes some way to explaining why the writing and Katniss' doings were so spare. The second half of the book is like a final Hunger Games, during which the District 13 soldiers, having won over/subdued the Districts, have to battle through the Capitol itself. They have to be extremely careful, though, as the Capitol is laced with pods that release a variety of horrors when activated.

After such thorough and careful world-building in The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, the descriptions on a whole in this book seem rather half-hearted. I guess because of Katniss' state it didn't make sense to document most of what she was seeing around her - after all, 13 is mostly an underground city/huge bunker - but it was strange to see the writing rushed rather than fast-paced. Still, it was as equally thrilling and page-turning as the first two, with no doubt a very satisfying end for most of the major characters - most notably, and surprisingly, the fate of Coin, the President of 13. It's great to see such a positive, strong and well-rounded role model for teenage girls, who will hopefully take Katniss as an inspiration for building their lives and identity solely on themselves and who they are fighting for (love triangle notwithstanding.)

Until next time!

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer #22 and #23 - Continuing with Harry Potter

The last week or so has afforded me ample time for reading, and I've got to be honest - losing myself in good books has held me together the last few days.

I've been continuing with Harry Potter and devoured both "The Goblet of Fire" and "The Order of the Phoenix" this last week.

Book to movie adaptations, even if they are good, will never be able to include everything. It's a mark of how long it's been since I read the book because I had completed forgotten about a few major things in "The Goblet of Fire" - Winky, the house-elf, S.P.E.W., and a great many others. And of course, with The Order of the Phoenix, there was savage pleasure in remembering how great a character Umbridge was in her sheer awfulness - honestly, there was no character I wanted to see an end to more than her. The DA will always be one of my favourite parts of the whole series.

I had a bit of a maybe-inappropriate HP geek moment on Monday. I had a fleeting thought that I would be able to see Thestrals now (if they were real, that is). I told my sister, becuase I felt a bit guilty, but was reassured when she told me she had thought the same thing.

Can't wait to get to the last two books now.

Until next time!

Friday, 11 April 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer #21 - "Every Day" by David Levithan

While I was waiting for my little sister to have her hair done this morning I wandered to the local library and picked up this book in the YA section. I've been loving this genre ever since I picked up "The Fault In Our Stars" by John Green last year, and this book is no exception.

"Every Day" tells the story of 'A', someone who wakes up every day inside another person's body. It's been happening ever since he can remember, and the best he can do is just to try and live that person's life as routinely as possible, without doing anything out of the ordinary that might alert their family or friends to anything unusual.

One day he wakes up in the body of a boy called Justin. 'A' learns to dislike Justin very quickly, not least because of the way he treats his girlfriend, Rhiannon. Though 'A' knows it's out of character, he treats Rhiannon kindly and even suggests they cut class and go somewhere. She suggests the ocean, and that is the start of a very quick fall into love on 'A's part. The problem? He knows he'll go to sleep that night and wake up the next day somewhere else, as someone else.

He's never been in love before. Crushes, sure, but nothing like this, and he begins to break his own rules. He uses his new bodies to reach Rhiannon. Eventually 'A' tells her what he is. Though she's shocked and disbelieving eventually she comes to terms with it, and they embark on some semblance of a relationship. However, they both know it can't work out. They do their level best, though.

This novel is clever, funny, and deeply moving. Through the different bodies that 'A' inhabits we discover so much of the human experience at 16. He inhabits drunkards, addicts, depressives, the gender-questioning, and sometimes just very ordinary people. He tries to leave the bodies exactly as he found them, though sometimes he cannot help but intervene. The ending is fitting and as hopeful as you can expect it to be with 'A' being what he is. It's hard to let 'A' and Rhiannon go, particularly as a couple, but you know you have to. Like so much of the human experience at 16, you have to learn to let go, however painful.

Until next time!

Empty shelf/Mad Reviewer #20 "Blood Red Road" Moira Young

Reviews for this book regularly include things along the lines of "if you're a fan of The Hunger Games you'll love this", though as far as I can see there are only three similarities - a dystopian setting, a kick-ass lead, and an unwillingness to let its readers put it down.

This book is unlike anything I have ever read in the YA market. Set in America, post-war, the story is told first-person by Saba, a fierce eighteen year old, twin sister to Lugh and older sister to Emmi. They live in a place called Silverlake, a barren wasteland, with their father. One day, four men come to see them and end up killing the father and kidnapping Lugh - why, we don't yet know. However, with little thought for her own safety, Saba sets off to find him. Her sister Emmi ends up following and they get kidnapped, too, by a couple called the Pinches who exploit Saba by way of cage-fighting in a place called Hopetown. It is here that Saba meets a man called Jack and a group of women called the Free Hawks who engineer an escape for the enslaved cage fighters, while burning Hopetown to the ground.

While retaining the familiar elements of YA dystopia, the story feels new and fresh, not least because of the dialect in which Young writes. Young was a singer and actress before turning to writing - this is her first book - but you can see that she is in her element, weaving a story together with the prowess of a much more experienced writer. The characters are tough as rock but not lacking humour; the comraderie is genuine and moving; and the settings unfold in your mind like great vistas you know would be just perfect for the cinema screens. In fact, I'm wondering when the movie adaptation will be announced - there is sure to be one with this level of rich material.

I highly recommend.

Until next time!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer Challenger #18 and #19

Over the weekend I read both "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" and "Prisoner of Azkaban". It's crazy, you think you know a book or a film and you go back and read them again, and there's so much more you pick up.

At the final ever Harry Potter premiere J.K. Rowling said whether you return by book or by page, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home. And it sounds silly, but I really did feel like that. It is a great comfort re-reading these stories that meant so much to me growing up, and still do. To familiarise myself once again with the great characters, and once again feel the thrills of  Harry's adventures, such as discovering the true identity of Tom Riddle, not to mention those great Quidditch matches, was brilliant.

It was sad, though, reading the Prisoner of Azkaban, knowing all along that Sirius is innocent, Pettigrew was going to escape, and Sirius was going to die before his name got cleared. Nevertheless, it's been so long since I last read these books that it almost - almost - felt like it was the first time reading them.

Until next time!