Wednesday, 26 September 2018

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Summary: Reclusive Hollywood icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant to write her story, no one is more astounded than Monique herself.

Determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career, Monique listens in fascination. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s - and, of course, the seven husbands along the way - Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. But as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.
This book is definitely one of my favourite books of the year so far. It's one of my favourite books in general really, and I could tell that was going to be the case very quickly (like, do you ever get a little bit into a book and just know that it's going to be one of the ones that sticks with you? that was me with this one).

I sat down thinking "I'll just read a chapter, just to see what it's like" (because I'm already juggling way too many Currently Reading books) and ended up reading the entire thing in one sitting because I was just so caught up in the story and entranced by the characters.

Also, it made me cry multiple times (about five times), which not only hasn't happened in quite a while, but it doesn't happen often at all but this one really got under my skin and made me care.

I loved the cast of characters, they were complex and flawed and I adored that. I think the characters were what made the book for me really. 

The book had a really diverse cast too. There were multiple gay characters, lesbian, and bisexual characters. And there was racial diversity too with the main characters being a mixed race woman with a black father and white mother, and a Cuban American woman. I will note though, none of it is own voices and being white I can't really speak for the groups being represented to say whether or not the representation was flawed or not.

Another thing I want to mention that I haven't really seen talked about much in any of the reviews is that there is an element of the Bury Your Gays trope in the book. Personally, the way it was written felt like it was nuanced and handled pretty well -- but it is A Thing in the book that I wanted to acknowledge because I know for some people it will be a deal breaker, and others would just like to go into it prepared rather than being surprised by it.

But yes... I really did love this book, a lot. It's one of the ones that I desperately want to be adapted into a mini-series (I say mini-series, because I feel like that would do more justice to the story than a movie could), partly because I want more of the story in any form I can get it, partly because it was so easy to visualize the story while reading it. 

I'd rate the book 5 out of 5 stars.


Tuesday, 18 September 2018

The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

The Phantom of the Opera
by Gaston Leroux
Summary: First published in French as a serial in 1909, "The Phantom of the Opera" is a riveting story that revolves around the young, Swedish Christine DaaĆ©. Her father, a famous musician, dies, and she is raised in the Paris Opera House with his dying promise of a protective angel of music to guide her. After a time at the opera house, she begins hearing a voice, who eventually teaches her how to sing beautifully. All goes well until Christine's childhood friend Raoul comes to visit his parents, who are patrons of the opera, and he sees Christine when she begins successfully singing on the stage. 
The voice, who is the deformed, murderous 'ghost' of the opera house named Erik, however, grows violent in his terrible jealousy, until Christine suddenly disappears. 
The phantom is in love, but it can only spell disaster. Leroux's work, with characters ranging from the spoiled prima donna Carlotta to the mysterious Persian from Erik's past, has been immortalized by memorable adaptations. Despite this, it remains a remarkable piece of Gothic horror literature in and of itself, deeper and darker than any version that follows.  

I don't review many classics on here. Mainly because I don't read them that often. They can be more time consuming than non-classics, and the writing can be a little on the clunky side, and overall reading them can be a chore.

I say "can be" because there are exceptions. And, for me, this was one of the exceptions. It surprised me in a good way.

I mean, it definitely had its moments where it dragged because of the writing style, and there were plenty of scenes that could've been cut or edited down to improve the pace of the story without losing any of the quality...but for the most part, it was surprisingly addictive.

I read it in three sittings, but I probably would've read it cover-to-cover in one if I hadn't been tired. It was fun and funny and even though I was familiar with the story, it had me hooked.

I only really had two big issues with the book:

First of all, the representation of disfigurement/deformity. There's a trope in fiction of giving the bad guys some sort of disfigurement and there are a lot of issues with that trope (Jen Campbell explains better than I can -- about 6 minutes into the video, she discusses the topic). In saying that, the book really is a product of its time, so I can forgive its use of this literary trope because it was born of ignorance, not malice. I just wanted to acknowledge that it is an issue with the book and I'd expect better of a story written now (or of retelling's -- which I really want).

The second issue I had with the book was Raoul. He was such an immature and inconsistent character. He would be sweet and kind one minute, then he'd suddenly get really whiny and judgmental and revert to being more of a petulant toddler throwing a tantrum than a grown man. I found him quite pathetic half of the time to be honest.

Anyway, to sum up, I really did enjoy the book. I didn't have many problems with it, and when I finished it I started digging through my classics shelves because it put me in the mood to read them. 

I'd rate it 4 stars out of 5.


Saturday, 15 September 2018

Every Breath I Take by Claire Wineland

Every Breath I Take
by Claire Wineland
and Chynna Levin

Summary: What is the experience of a child with a life-threatening illness? It can be so hard for parents, family, and friends to understand, because the experience of serious illness is so hard to articulate. That’s why Claire Wineland’s memoir, Every Breath I Take, Surviving and Thriving With Cystic Fibrosis, is so important. 
Claire describes with precision, honesty, and a remarkable sense of humor just what it’s like to live with an illness that is so often fatal. Claire explains exactly what it’s like to live as normal a life as possible while taking care of a condition that requires constant treatment and frequent hospitalization. 
Yet there’s nothing grim about Claire’s journey as she describes it. Claire finds the sunny side of life and the spirituality of her experiences in ways that captivate and amaze the reader. It’s impossible to come away from the book without a renewed sense of compassion and sensitivity toward anyone suffering from a serious illness.

I first found out who Claire Wineland was about three years ago, back when I started watching a show called Red Band Society. It was a show about sick kids living in a hospital, one of which had Cystic Fibrosis. Claire had Cystic Fibrosis and she would make videos about the representation of CF on the show and the portrayal of what it's like to be a sick kid spending a lot of time living in a hospital. 

I followed her videos long after the show ended, and she branched out making videos about her life and about CF and other topics. She made videos for a while on a youtube channel called The Clairity Project but later moved to another channel after the people who helped her set up that channel basically hijacked the channel, content and funds she'd make from it (I'm mentioning that specifically so if you check out her older videos, you know to support her actual channel, not the one stolen from her).

I guess what I'm getting at is, I stumbled across Claire and her story by chance but her and her story and her words got under my skin and stuck with me for years. 

You may know who she was too, or may have just seen her name trending recently on Twitter, but Claire died about a little over a week ago. She got the call that she was getting new lungs, and while the transplant went well, she suffered a massive stroke after the surgery and didn't recover. She was 21 years old.

I just felt that a little context was important before I got to talking about the book. The surgery, getting on the transplant list, the waiting for the call -- all of that happened after this book was written.

It probably seems like a horrible cliche to say a sick kid was wise beyond their years or that they were inspiring, but that really is a fitting way of describing Claire. Or at least the version of Claire she presented online (I have no doubt there was a whole other world to her that only people close to her got to see). 

She was genuinely inspiring -- and it feels okay to say that because that was one of the things she wanted for her life. She discusses it in the book, she discussed it on her social media, and her loved ones have discussed it since her death. She's one of the rare people that actually accomplished that want, and not even because she was a sick kid, but because of who she was and how she chose to deal with being a sick kid.

The book is short, but it explains in easy terms what CF is. What it's like to grow up with CF, as well as Claire's personal experiences of being a kid growing up with CF and being in a coma on the brink of death and what it taught her. She had a really unique outlook on life -- a clarity about life and death that so many people struggle to find, and that some never do.

Now seemed like an appropriate time to talk about her book. Her words, and her videos, and her foundation -- they are the legacy she leaves behind and they matter. 

I'm not sure what else to say really. If you want to know more about Cystic Fibrosis, or about Claire, or about what it's like to grow up with an illness like that then check out her book or her videos. And if you're able, check out her foundation. She was only 15 years old when she started it, but it has grown and flourished and done so much good, and her wish was for it to continue to do good even after she was gone.


Wednesday, 12 September 2018

The Changeover: Book vs Movie

The Changover was released on DVD from August 27th and I was sent a copy to review -- so I figured it would be fun to do a book to movie comparison.

Let's start with the book...

The Book:

The Changeover
by Margaret Mahy 

Summary: 'A clammy hand pressed Laura down to her knees beside Jacko's bed. It was the hand of terror, nothing less.'

It was a warning. Laura felt it when she looked in the mirror that morning. There had been others: the day her father left home, the day she met Sorensen - the boy with the strange silver eyes.

But nothing had prepared Laura for the horror of today. And now her little brother, Jacko, was fighting for his life after being sucked dry of his youth by the sinister Carmody Braque.

Laura knows there is only one way to save Jacko; she must join Sorensen and use his supernatural powers to change over if there is to be any hope for her little brother.
This was quite a strange little book, and I did mostly enjoy it. I just think I'd have enjoyed it more if I'd read it when I was a kid.

I loved that really the heart of the story is a sisters love for her little brother. There aren't many YA books that revolve around family and sibling relationships like that, and I loved that this one did.

And the plot -- it was really quite original, I can't say I've read any books that I'd compare it to, it just did its own thing without really putting me in mind of anything else. 

I had a love/hate relationship with the way it was written though. Parts of it were well written, but the dialogue could be quite clunky and awkward at times (particularly Kate's, Laura's mums, scenes). Parts of it were just so normal, and it could drone on for pages and pages about regular day to day things then it would abruptly switch to scenes that were totally bizarre...which isn't a bad thing exactly, it just messed with the pacing a bit. But then I also appreciated that so much of the story was rooted in the realm of normal.

The main issue I had with the book was that it really showed its age (not even with the phone thing -- which was quite weird to read), but with the way Laura and Sorry's relationship was written. He's 18, finishing high school. Laura is 14 years old -- and he talks about wanting to have sex with her. He just randomly touches her boob without consent and that whole scene is just weird. He makes a comment about how she "must be asking for it" by walking alone at night when a girl was raped doing the same thing not too long ago.

All of that? I didn't like it, but it felt very much like the book was written when that sort of stuff would've been brushed off as okay. A relationship like that in a YA book these days would be thoroughly called out for how creepy and problematic it is. 

So...overall, interesting read but it wasn't without its flaws and it did feel quite dated in some ways. I'd rate it 3 stars out of 5 (would've been 2.5 but Jacko was adorable so his character gets a whole half star added).  

The Movie:

Like I said, it was quite an odd book, so they didn't have the easiest source material to work with for the movie but I think they actually did a really good job adapting it, and I really enjoyed the movie. I loved the setting and the cast and the atmosphere and overall vibe of the movie.

There were some things the book obviously did better, because there was more freedom in the book to explain things more thoroughly because they didn't have the time constraints that a movie has. Like the thing with the stamp -- the book had a few extra scenes that gave a bit more context and made it seem less random than it does in the movie.

I think overall I preferred the movie though. The romance in the movie felt less weird/creepy than it did in the book, because the age difference isn't as big and the weirder scenes got cut (can't remember if they actually aged up Laura or if it's just the actors that seemed closer in age). The dialogue in the movie felt more natural too, and the relationship between Laura and her mother.

The movie gets 4 out of 5 stars.


Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Top Ten Hidden Gems

I really like this topic, it reminds me of Julie's Quiet YA thing.

I'm going to go for ones I don't see talked about often in the book community on social media, and I'll aim for ones with less than a thousand reviews on Goodreads (though some may have more, because a book that's been out for years with 2000 ratings vs a book that's been out for a few months with 2000 ratings are different).

Anyway, enough rambling and onto the books. They're in whatever order I think of them, not in order of preference.

1. We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

This isn't exactly a "hidden" gem based on how many ratings it has, it's just not one I see talked about much. It's a beautiful book and I didn't expect to love it as much as I did (total cover buy), but I adored it. It's about grief, and family, and friendship. The main character is a lesbian and there's bi rep in there too, and it's really not made into A Thing. Like, it's just this thing that quietly exists in the book without the book revolving around it, and I really loved that.

2. The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

There was a lot of hype surrounding her book, Code Name Verity, and rightly so -- it's fantastic. But I really don't see very many people talking about this little prequel. I loved the book. It's the first book I've read set in Scotland that really felt authentic (often non-Scots can't quite get it), and it has representation of the Traveler community (and shows the prejudices they faced back then and still face to this day). And, my favourite part of all, a lot of readers thought Julie wasn't straight in Code Name Verity (myself among them) and this book makes that canon and again, it's not made into a huge deal and I loved that.

3. You Were Here by Cori McCarthy

This book is about grief and friendship (and a little romance) and it's executed beautifully. Some of the character POV's are in an illustrated format rather than written and I loved that, it fit the characters so well (and also made the POV switches more appealing -- I'm normally quite put off by books with multiple narrators but this worked).

4. Made for You by Melissa Marr

I've had issues with some of Melissa's previous books, but I remember really enjoying this one. It was a pretty fun thriller read. It's about a girl who wakes up in hospital to find someone tried to kill her.

5. Jessica's Guide to Dating On the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey

Like We Are Okay, this one isn't really unheard of. But it's not talked about much anymore because it was released back in 2009. I remember really loving the book at the time, and I still think it's one of the more original vampire romance novels I've come across. I really want to reread it at some point, just to see if it's as good as I remember.

6. Nevermore by Kelly Creagh

I rarely ever see this one talked about/recommended (probably because it came out in 2010), but I loved this book. It has one of my favourite romance tropes -- the popular kid and the outcast -- and one of the most original fantasy/urban fantasy twists I've ever read. It revolves around Edgar Allan
Poe's work and it's just...I loved it.

7. Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves

I don't remember much about this book except that I really enjoyed it and it had vague Alice in Wonderland vibes. And, again, there was just something really original about it (it's another 2010 release -- the post-Twilight and Hunger Games years, where the shelves were flooded with supernatural romance and dystopian fiction, and a lot of them felt quite similar, so anything that did something different stood out to me).

8. Peter and Alice by John Logan

I don't see many plays recommended and discussed in the book community, especially not the YA one, but this one is really really good -- and it's a particularly good one because even if plays aren't your thing, it's about the real kids Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland were based on so it has those literary references to make it interesting.

9. The Year of Secret Assignments (a.k.a. Finding Cassie Crazy) by Jaclyn Moriarty

I really didn't expect to enjoy this series as much as I did, but it's really good. This is technically the second book, but it can be read on its own. The book is told through letters and diary entries and messages between three friends in Australia and three boys from another school in town as part of a pen pal thing their English teacher sets up (the letter style usually isn't my thing, but it's done really well in this one).

10. Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein

Second of her books on this list. This one is about an adoptive brother and sister. One is black, one is white. Their mothers were best friends (tbh, I think they were more), and when one dies, the other raises her son. The book is about family, and female pilots and about war and Ethiopia.

Bonus: The Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta

I was surprised this one didn't have more reviews (only 1320 and it's been out for 7 years), it's one of my favourite Melina Marchetta books (it's a companion to her earlier book, Saving Francesca).


Monday, 10 September 2018

That's Not What Happened by Kody Keplinger

That's Not What Happened
by Kody Keplinger

Summary: It's been three years since the Virgil County High School Massacre. Three years since my best friend, Sarah, was killed in a bathroom stall during the mass shooting. Everyone knows Sarah's story--that she died proclaiming her faith.

But it's not true.

I know because I was with her when she died. I didn't say anything then, and people got hurt because of it. Now Sarah's parents are publishing a book about her, so this might be my last chance to set the record straight . . . but I'm not the only survivor with a story to tell about what did--and didn't--happen that day.

Except Sarah's martyrdom is important to a lot of people, people who don't take kindly to what I'm trying to do. And the more I learn, the less certain I am about what's right. I don't know what will be worse: the guilt of staying silent or the consequences of speaking up . . .

I'm not sure what to say about this book really. It wasn't bad, but it was a little disappointing. I wanted to read it because it sounded like it was inspired by the stories of two of the Columbine victims* and I thought it would be interesting...and it was, to an extent, but I had some issues with the book.

On one hand, I loved how diverse the book was. I particularly loved that it was representation for people that often don't get representation in YA (i.e. people who are blind, people who are on the ace spectrum). I mostly loved the characters and how complex they were. And there were definitely other parts of the story I loved too.

The story -- it was one of those gut wrenching ones. Especially given how real it is, how frequently school shootings in the US do happen. I think it did a really good job of representing that. By making it about the victims and not the shooter, by not glorifying what happened, by putting more focus on the After part and by showing how caught up the world can get in tragic stories to the point where it's like we let the truth get lost and forget that there are real people who lived it and are still living with it.

But the execution of the story felt lacking (and normally I love Kody's books) and was where it fell flat for me.

It felt really slow and dragged out and repetitive, and it felt quite disjointed. And something about the narration was off. For Lee's parts, it tried to just narrate the story like it was any other novel but then at other parts it would remind us that it isn't, it's a letter to set the record straight. Except that doesn't work because there are details and huge chunks of her narration that wouldn't be included for that purpose.

I feel like I'd maybe have liked it more if the story didn't try to pull Dear Reader thing and was just narrated normally, with the letters interspersed throughout and with us going along on Lee's journey of revealing the truth with her rather than it trying to juggle making it feel like we're doing that with the "if you're reading this then you already know..." vibe. I just found it hard to buy that.

And the ending, while realistic, was really unsatisfying so the book just left me feeling quite hollow whereas books I love would leave me filled with happiness or pain or sadness or hope or a mix of all of those things. But again, I think that's partly to do with the way the narration was done.

I guess what I'm getting at is that it wasn't a bad book and it did a lot of things so well, but it just wasn't for me. I was quite disappointed by it considering how much I'd been wanting to read it and how much I've loved Kody's previous books.

I'd rate the book 2.5 stars out of 5.

*Note: I don't know if the book actually was inspired by Cassie Bernall and Rachel Scott. It's not really mentioned in the acknowledgements or anything, but it just reminded me of the stories surrounding those two.


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