Saturday, 29 June 2013

book review: elenor & park by rainbow rowell

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Genre: Contemp(-ish) YA
Rating: 8/10
Set over the course of one school year in 1986, ELEANOR AND PARK is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under.


So I caved and read this before going home! I've just finished a couple of good but dreary classics for my dissertation (post to come) and wanted to read something warm and lovely and this was perfect for that!

So yes, I liked this a lot! I loved that Eleanor was a plus size protagonist and how her experience was shaped, but never defined by that alone. I liked how her family situation was constantly present and was a real driving force in the story rather than being just detail. I liked the way Park's experience regarding being mixed-race was dealt with (at least at the beginning) though I wish there had been more about his relationship with his dad. I ADORED the way that Eleanor and Park's relationship slowly shifted from acquaintances to friends to romance. The scenes of the early stages of their friendship were probably my favourite - Rainbow Rowell really nailed the feelings of relief and elation that go along with making a new friend who you really connect with. The first mixtape bit was particularly wonderful - all of the different threads (i.e. them as individuals + their friendship) came together perfectly and (you guessed it) made me cry! Once Eleanor and Park were officially together I think the book lost some of that sense of wonder and charm but I was more than happy to spend another hundred pages or so with them to see how their story would end!

My first boyfriend was a friends-turned-romantic type situation so Eleanor & Park made me very nostalgic for being 16! Mostly joyful, sometimes heartbreaking, Eleanor & Park was bursting with love and I highly recommend it!

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

top ten tuesday: read so far in 2013

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Clearly this has been a good year for both historical fiction and sci-fi!

top ten books i've read so far in 2013

01. Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt - A beautifully written coming of age story based around the AIDS crisis of the late-1980s. Definitely my favourite of the year so far.
02. Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein - A companion novel to Code Name Verity which once again focuses on the WW2 experiences of some wonderful ladies.
03. Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis - A hybrid of sci-fi//historical fiction in which time travelling historians get stuck in WW2 Britain.
04. Little Gods by Anna Richards - To quote myself, "a beautifully written ode to complicated women struggling with ideas of identity".
05. Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner - A simple but hugely effective story of a child's endeavour to reveal a government conspiracy.

06. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline - A hugely enjoyable sci-fi quest through 80s nostalgia!
07. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater - Great paranormal YA with a historical twist and some really intriguing characters.
08. Paper Aeroplanes by Dawn O'Porter - A brutally honest portrayal of teenage friendship in the mid-90s.
09. Just One Day by Gayle Foreman - A YA riff on 'Before Sunset'
10. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman - YA does dragons!

Have you read any of these? Do you rank them as highly as I do? Have you got any book recs based on these?

Sunday, 23 June 2013

film review: man of steel

This looks like a review but it's really just an excuse to have Henry Cavill's face on my blog!

Man of Steel (2013)
Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe
Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi
Rating: 8/10

A young boy learns that he has extraordinary powers and is not of this Earth. As a young man, he journeys to discover where he came from and what he was sent here to do. But the hero in him must emerge if he is to save the world from annihilation and become the symbol of hope for all mankind.


It seems that public opinion over Man of Steel is mixed - the initial reviews (at least in the UK) were pretty positive but in the last week or so the internet has been awash with critiques. I have no history with the Superman mythology and so can only really review it in and of itself and I really enjoyed it! It definitely has faults - while the fight scenes are impressive the 3rd act is wayyyyyy too long, there are plot holes/consistency errors - but the first half was so great that I'm more than willing to forgive the gratuitous CGI fest towards the end!

Non-spoilery things worth mentioning:
  • Henry Cavill is excellent both as Clark and as a human being! As Clark he is brings a real earnestness and emotional vulnerability to a character that could otherwise be untouchable. He looks amazing - my type has always been guys with dark curly hair and so his look in the last 3mins made me go all unnecessary!
  • Lois Lane = lady hero!
  • A+ casting of the young Clarks.
  • The film looks gorgeous - I really really loved the visuals. The colour palate is muted but there are lots of lens flares and silhouettes. The opening sequence in particular is a real treat for the eyes!
  • Hans Zimmer's score strikes the right balance of strength and hope and really enhances much of the action.
  • The CGI was amazing! I was anxious to see how Superman's flight would look but it was great!
  • The promo tour has been really excellent - I especially recommend the MoS cast on the Graham Norton Show.
  • Henry Cavill's face!


Tuesday, 18 June 2013

top ten tuesday: tbr in summer 2013

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

I have to confess that I've only read 4 of the books that I said I was going to read in the spring so it's probably over-optimistic to think I'll get through these as well! I am going on a cruise in July though and I'm hoping that I'll get lots of reading done 'on deck'!

top ten books tbr in summer 2013

01. Eleanor & Park - Rainbow Rowell (This is the firs thing I'm going to read when I get home! I've heard nothing but good things from bloggers and critics so I'm really excited to get hold of this!)
02. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay - Michael Chabon (There was a feature on this in the last 'Little White Lies' (the 'Man of Steel' edition) which intrigued me!)
03. The Teleportation Accident - Ned Beauman (The GR blurb calls it, "a stunningly inventive, exceptionally funny, dangerously unsteady and (largely) coherent novel about sex, violence, space, time, and how the best way to deal with history is to ignore it". WHO WOULDN'T WANT TO READ THIS?!)
04. The Crane Wife - Patrick Ness
05. The Marriage Plot - Jeffrey Eugenides (Probably the most 'literary' of all the things here but I love the idea and have enjoyed Eugenides' other work so I'll give it a shot!)

06. The Quietness - Alison Rattle
07. My Life Next Door - Huntley Fitzpatrick (Obligatory contemp YA summer read!)
08. The 5th Wave - Rick Yansey
09. Jackdaws - Ken Follett (It's a novel about female saboteurs going behind enemy lines during WW2! Enough said!)
10. The End of Your Life Book Club - Will Schwalbe

In addition to all of these I'm trying to stock up my Kindle with easy reading material for the cruise, has anyone got any suggestions? I haven't read any stand-out YA series this year so if you have any recs let me know!

Saturday, 15 June 2013

things making me happy: 15 june 2013

things making me happy this week

The thing bringing me the greatest amount of joy this week is Henry Cavill's face! Let me direct you here. You're welcome! I'll probably post about Man of Steel later in the week.

Otherwise, lots of music has been making me happy this week!

1. 'The National' performed a Tiny Desk Concert with NPR and it was WONDERFUL! It opens with 'This Is The Last Time' which is my favourite track on their new album. You can check that out here.

2. KT Tunstall released her new album 'Invisible Empire/Crescent Moon' this week and it is really really lovely. I've enjoyed her last couple of albums but this one is really stripped back and has a slight country/folk twist (she recorded it in Arizona I think). My favourite track is probably 'Crescent Moon' but this acoustic performance of 'Made of Glass' is beautiful.

3. Arthur Beatrice revealed the video to their track 'Carter' this week.

I've been a fan since I saw them open for The Antlers a year or so ago and really love everything they've released so far.

4. Finally, I wanted to give a mini-shoutout to the music supervisors on 'The Americans'. What with all the Emmy buzz going around I finally watched the show this week and I really liked it. Given that the premise is 'undercover spies with marriage issues' I was already inclined to like it but the pilot really won me over when it pulled out 'In the Air Tonight' by Phil Collins! Whoever came up with that deserves a bonus! A+ work right out of the gate!

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

book review: rose under fire by elizabeth wein

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
Genre: Historical YA
Rating: 9/10
Rose Justice is a young American ATA pilot, delivering planes and taxiing pilots for the RAF in the UK during the summer of 1944. A budding poet who feels most alive while flying, she discovers that not all battles are fought in the air. An unforgettable journey from innocence to experience from the author of the best-selling, multi-award-nominated Code Name Verity. From the exhilaration of being the youngest pilot in the British air transport auxiliary, to the aftermath of surviving the notorious Ravensbruck women's concentration camp, Rose's story is one of courage in the face of adversity.

It's at times like this that I wish that I was a Booktuber so that I could convey my thoughts and feelings through facial expressions and wild gesticulation! I want to profusely use all of the positive adjectives that I know to describe this but they all seem inappropriate in describing a book whose subject matter is so dark. It's not to say that the book itself is oppressively depressing, actually one of its great strengths is its vitality (which I'll talk about later), but my go to exclamations of 'Wow!' and 'Awesomesauce!' are just too light, too lacking in substance to really convey what I think.

There were definitely technical and stylistic things that I liked. The three part structure worked well - war stories don't often get as far as the aftermath so that was a pleasant surprise. (To anyone about to read Rose let me suggest that once you reach what you will assume to be the climax that you read all the way through to the end of part two! Not realising I was that close to the break I stopped a chapter or two short (I needed to sleep!) and it messed with the momentum when I tried to pick it up the next day.) Also, I tend to be wary of novels that include poetic interludes (it's often gimmicky and has a tendency to weigh down pacing) but I actually really enjoyed it here. Not only were the poems themselves excellent but as Rose's poems they were products of her experiences and as such were an integral part of her account rather than being 'applied' to the story. Of all the poems I think my favourite was 'Kite Flying' but they were several others that I really liked.

I don't want to spend too much time comparing Rose to Verity because, despite a couple of cross-over characters and themes (lady pilots, captivity, female friendship), they do stand alone. That said, I think it's worth mentioning that the things that I loved most in Rose were the same things that I had loved in Verity. It's no secret that I like war-stories (this is the 3rd novel I've read based in C20 warfare this year!) but what really resonated with me in Verity was the friendship between Maddie and Julie - I was already inclined to like a novel about lady war pilots but their friendship and their love and respect for one another was what really made me love that book. In Rose the emphasis is again on female friendships and relationship dynamics and they are the backbone of the story. As the majority of the book is set in a concentration camp, the most developed relationships are those between Rose and the other detainees but I also really liked the relationships given less page-space such as with the other ATA girls and her family. The cast-list for this is, I think, longer than in Verity and the characters aren't equally developed (I would have really loved more on Elodie and Karolina and I wish we'd had a little more on Irena towards the end) but we get enough to care about each of them. While there are many notable incidents which demonstrate the depth of love between the girls, my favourite moments tended to be the slightly quieter ones - the gifts from Elodie and the first few conversations between Rose and Irina are particularly lovely. That said, I really respect Elizabeth Wein for her willingness to show her characters in unflattering light - they are often callous, unkind and selfish but Wein never apologises for that. They are the victims of terrible crimes but they are not saints. The final section illustrates quite well how the camp changed and influenced the girls in many ways but that it didn't change everything about them; their manners weren't just 'on hold' while they were in captivity and life outside the camp offers no quick fixes.

Writing a review for this is hard because reviews require me to be rational - I'm supposed to express myself in full sentences and justify what I'm saying with logic - but really the most important thing to convey about Rose Under Fire is how much it made me feel. There's a certain extent to which any accounts of life in concentration camps (fictional or otherwise) evoke an emotional response - the atrocities described are appalling and harrowing and deeply affront our humanity and that is definitely the case in Rose. What is special about Rose however is how Elizabeth Wein manages to infuse a book which is set in such a terrible part of our history with so much life; it's not just that the descriptions are vivid, it's that the voices of the characters sing. Though describing the bleakest of situations, the story is underpinned with goodness and joy and hope and it's that which makes the book so profoundly moving.

Highly, highly recommended but there will inevitably be ugly crying!

Saturday, 8 June 2013

book review: doomsday book by connie willis

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
Genre: Historical, Sci-fi
Rating: 6/10
For Kivrin, preparing an on-site study of one of the deadliest eras in humanity's history was as simple as receiving inoculations against the diseases of the fourteenth century and inventing an alibi for a woman traveling alone. For her instructors in the twenty-first century, it meant painstaking calculations and careful monitoring of the rendezvous location where Kivrin would be received.

But a crisis strangely linking past and future strands Kivrin in a bygone age as her fellows try desperately to rescue her. In a time of superstition and fear, Kivrin -- barely of age herself -- finds she has become an unlikely angel of hope during one of history's darkest hours.

Earlier in the year I read Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis (review here) and while those books were definitely flawed I really enjoyed them and was really keen to read the other books in Willis' Oxford Time Travel series. Doomsday Book is the first of the books in this series and was originally published in 1993.

If I had to sum up my review of Blackout/All Clear it'd read: really loved it due to the characters and setting but I felt it needed much stricter editing, a better sense of temporal distance and a stronger emphasis on academia as the purpose of the time travel. Perhaps unsurprisingly most of my thoughts regarding Doomsday Book hang around the same issues.

  • Editing: Once again it was too long. In terms of action hardly anything actually happens after the initial drop until about 60% of the way through. I appreciate the need to familiarise the audience with characters and to establish a sense of place and time but far too much time was spent on this set-up especially given the claustrophobic nature of the settings. Many of the scenes in contemporary Oxford could have been shortened or eliminated entirely.
  • Setting: Willis did a good job in creating a sense of time and place but the C14 just doesn't peak my interest in the same way that modern history does. (This is obviously very subjective!) As the location of one of the main threads, C21 Oxford was slightly better established than in Blackout but there was still an insufficient sense of home - I don't think Kivrin ever mentioned her parents or having a life outside her studies.
  • Characters: While Blackout was structured around 3 or 4 time-travelling characters, this narrative is more simply split between 'contemporary' Oxford and Kivrin's experience in C14. In theory, having fewer characters should mean that the protagonists should be better developed but this didn't seem to be the case. Kivrin, Mr Dunworthy and Colin are all easy enough characters to spend time with but none of them ever developed nuanced personalities or distinguishing traits. Both Colin and Mr Dunworthy appear in Blackout but I don't feel as if I know them any better having spent this story with them.
  • Time-travel as historical inquiry: Doomsday Book was much better in presenting this idea than Blackout. There were transcripts of Kivrin's 'diary' recordings at the end of most of her chapters and she frequently notes differences between the existing historical record and what she is experiencing first hand.

This was a good book for commuting in and out of London last week as the repetition of the first 60% meant that it was easy to pick up for 20mins at a time but overall I was disappointed. I don't suppose Doomsday Book is any worse than Blackout but as I prefer C20 history to that of the C14, I enjoyed the latter much more. I'd definitely recommend the series to people who enjoy historical fiction and I probably will read the other book in the series at some point if only because I really love the concept of time-travelling historians!