Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Monster Calls is the sort of book that transports you to feel what you felt at the most heart-breaking moments of your life. It’s a book that, despite being short in length, it can only be read deeply as it’ll provoke you to speculate about what it means to lose the people you love.

Pros:
– Outstanding way to broach the subject of grief and loss with young people
– It’ll make you reflect on your own life and how you feel about the people in it
– It doesn’t try to pull at your heartstrings, it just does without it feeling forced or over the top.

Cons:
– I feel like it would be a good idea, especially for young readers, to have someone to talk to about the book if you’re particularly affected by it. Not so much a ‘con’, but a warning perhaps.
– It’s marketed at young people but I think that’s misleading, though it’s simply written in parts, this book has something for everyone, regardless of age.
– It has received some criticism for being predictable, however, I think this is done on purpose so as not to take away from the emotional gravitas of the overall story: being true to yourself and letting go. Also, it’s important to bear in mind that this book isn’t so much a lead up to the ending but more about the journey it takes to get there.

I imagine this book hits every person in a different way depending on where they are in their life and how much they can relate to Connor’s pain at facing unbearable loss. For that reason, it’s clear to see why some people have a powerful, emotionally heart-breaking reaction to it and why others perhaps, are left wondering what sets this apart from any other sad story. At first, the book feels as though the most interesting feature is the monster – the mystery behind his stories and his appearance – but the more you read on, you realise that the monster is only a small aspect of a much bigger story – one that will be familiar to most people because they will have felt what Connor feels at some point in their lives.

As it’s a very short book, I recommend people go out and read it for themselves rather than reading too many reviews, I don’t think having the hype of the book’s reviews will do anything but take-away from the experience of reading it. At most, it’ll take two hours of your time to read the book but it’s a story that will stay with you long after reading.

If Ness could do anything to extend the story without it losing its emotional potency, what I would love to see come out of this book would be a spin-off story of the book from Connor’s mother’s point of view. It can’t be easy being the parent in this situation and I think it would be interesting to see the mother’s need to protect versus Connor’s need for transparency and stability.

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Review: Once (Once, #1) by Morris Gleitzman

Once
Once by Morris Gleitzman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are some books that don’t let go of you once you’ve lived through their story. Once is certainly one of them, this haunting, bittersweet story managed to tell so much in a mere 160 pages that it has captivated me as a re-reader for life.

Pros:
– Gleitzman does an astounding service to both the readers of the story, by protecting them from some of the more extreme aspects of the Holocaust, and to the history, by not allowing protection to discredit the historical realities of the trauma suffered during, and as a result of, this time.
– This short book is so powerful it made me weep.
– One of the main characters, Barney, is based on an inspirational person, Janusz Korczak.
– The prose is simple but this can be misleading, this is a book with many layers of meaning making it suitable for all but very young (under 13 or so) readers.

Cons:
– Although the book is short, Felix’s initial naivete can be irritating in the first couple of chapters. Stick with this, it makes much more sense as you see his character develop.
– Though not a criticism of the book itself, its marketing and presentation make it appear as though it’s for young children. I don’t believe it should be read by anyone under the age of 13 without an appropriate adult mediator or learning support to supplement the material and discuss its content.

This book is incredible in what it achieves. I firmly believe everyone should read and discuss this book, particularly people interested in trauma and childhood, and I don’t say that lightly. Gleitzman’s brief novel promotes a great deal of deep thinking about the Holocaust, trauma generally, and children’s responses to trauma.
I’ve read this book twice within six months and after analysing it (alongside other books) for an essay on the representation of the Holocaust in children’s/YA fiction, I can’t emphasise enough what a compelling book it is. Saying too much more could ruin it or dampen it’s effect so I’ll avoid that and instead, ask that you read and reflect on Once. This book that can be read in under two hours will have a lingering, albeit haunting, effect on you.

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Review: Twilight (Twilight #1) by Stephenie Meyer

Twilight
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Recently I’ve returned to a few books I’ve read before and I’ve had a completely different view of them now that I’m older. I figured the same thing might happen with this series now that I’m out of my whole ‘glittery vampires are lame’ branding phase where I just poked fun at the whole Twilight series and the cult of fans that followed it. The last time I read this book was in 2007, it had just been released and everyone in my secondary school was going school-girl crazy over it, even girls who teased others because 11-year-olds think

Since I read Stephanie Meyer’s ‘The Host’ a couple of years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it, so much so that I’m going to dare a re-read of it this year, I thought the Twilight series might be a good contender to re-read in a different light.

I’m actually sorry to say I was so wrong.
I tried so hard to enjoy this book because I was desperate for some light relief (I’m doing an essay on how the Holocaust is presented in children’s literature), I even tried getting into the mindset of a 13-year-old girl with a sugary crush on Robert Pattison, but it just wasn’t happening.

The frank truth is, this book is horrendously boring.
Everything about it is just flat and cringe-worthy. Bella could be mildly likeable if she wasn’t so self-obsessed over her own clumsiness and angsty misery. Edward is just plain creepy, no matter how you put it. In every scene he comes across as being woefully socially inept (which you’d think a 300 year old good-looking teenager would have got the hang of by this point) and worryingly aggressive. Of course, this aggression is meant to be romantic protectiveness over his swooning love for Bella but it’s not. It’s goddamn creepy and reading his scenes made me feel like I was covered in a coating of slime.
And it’s all so very obvious. We’re repeatedly told the same information in a hundred different ways – Meyer doesn’t just want to get the point across, she wants to nail a neon placard to our face.
C’mon, we get it.

Everyone loves Bella, Bella is oblivious and doesn’t know why anyone loves her, poor dear.
The first third of the book contains barely anything else. It’s absolutely mind-numbing.

For once, I’m actually congratulating 12 year old me for hating this trash, kudos to you past-Enya, Darren Shan’s vampires kick ass.

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Review: The Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson and the Olympians #2) by Rick Riordan

The Sea of Monsters
The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

For me, this second instalment of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series was a disappointing flop.

Perhaps the first book left me with too much expectation but The Sea of Monsters didn’t grip me at all. It left me racing through the pages out of boredom to reach the end and just get it over and done with. I’m trying to read these books while being mindful they’re written for young teenagers and also trying to ignore the gross similarities to the early instalments of the Harry Potter series (though, without their depth and finesse…as a huge Potter fan since childhood I may be biased here!).

Even so, this book was frustrating. It had the potential to be so much more but any interesting storyline or character development was sacrificed for action scene after action scene in which the characters handled every challenge in a similar way each time. The character who was meant to be the main villain was poor and barely seemed worth mentioning, it was the second villain (to avoid spoilers, I’ll just say the creature villain!) that added some interest to the story and that was limited at best. I feel like the book could have been ten times better if only Riordan concentrated on the plot and the characters rather than churning out ridiculous life-death situations all the time. This worked in the first book when we were finding out new things about the characters and the Olympians in the process but in this book, it felt sloppy, pointless and just a way of getting cheap movie-like thrills without having to include anything of substance.

Percy’s cheesy jokes, much in the style of Harry Dresden in the Dresden Files, make the ridiculousness of the action scenes far more bearable and have their occasional moments of brilliance but not to the point where they outweigh how repetitive all that action, action, action is.

A few reviewers have defended the excess of action scenes by saying that they’re true to Greek mythology which is fair enough but they shouldn’t come at the cost of everything else that made the first book so great. Far too many characters in this book were dismissed too quickly and given too little page-time. The ones that we were left with had weak portrayals, cliché predictable reactions/phrases and the ‘show don’t tell’ rule just fell out the window.

I mean, we get it – Annabeth is smart. Percy is brave and loyal. That was all established in the first book, no need to have it featured on almost every page in this book. Barely anything else was added to these characters despite them dominating the plot.

It was interesting how the author’s incorporated the Greek mythology into these books, so far that is definitely their greatest asset and seems to be carrying the weaker parts of the story. The contemporary take on classical stories is both entertaining and for the most part, seamlessly done, but the series just can’t survive on that alone. I’ll read the next book in hope that there’s a bit more substance to the whole thing before I give up on the series completely.

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Review: Red Tears by Joanna Kenrick

Red Tears
Red Tears by Joanna Kenrick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of those books that’s nigh-on impossible to review and I wish I could rate it a solid 3.5 as the 4 star feels undeserving.

In some parts I felt like the author was glamorising mental illness whereas in others, it felt like she was giving a true voice to what it’s like being a teenager going through mental illness. During the entire book I felt torn between it being cliché (the misunderstanding parents, the bitchy friends, the ignorant school etc.) and scaringly relevant to other experiences I saw growing up.

My main criticism about this book is that it makes recovery look easy and that belittles the entire approach of the book which is to develop compassion and understanding for teenagers going through mental illness. The conversations with the therapist (not a spoiler as it is mentioned in the preface) were accurate to my own experiences of therapy but they were too shallow and too much of a quick fix. In reality, mental illnesses can take years to recover from and it is a difficult process with usually a lot of relapses.
In this book, I think the lack of focus on the difficulty of recovery and the likelihood of relapse is actually dangerous given the books’ subject – self-harm and depression.

I also found it very distasteful that the author’s advice for anyone experiencing mental illness is to visit her book’s website for more information. I feel there should be more practical advice such as speaking to a friend/trusted adult and that there should be information for parents/carers on how to identify mental illness in their children and what to do about it. The one-page endnote does not seem enough given the likelihood of someone reading this book encountering mental illness in their own life or that of their loved ones.

That being said, the book’s strength lies in its ability to explain the rationality behind a person going through mental illness. What is a logical thought for someone experiencing depression could seem completely ridiculous to someone outside of the condition and that often leads to dialogue breaking down as it makes accessing help more difficult. I’m sure that this book has helped many young people open up about their problems or at very least, identify that they themselves or someone they know may have a problem and for that reason, I’m reluctant to say it’s not worth reading as there is nothing more precious than saving one person.

However, I think it is worth pointing out that this book is often quite negatively provoking. Through the main character’s reasoning about her actions it is quite easy for them to seem reasonable responses to her circumstances and I think, given the book’s target audience, this may be harmful on young adults that are particularly impressionable or are having difficulties (hence my wish that there should be a greater attempt to list supportive resources at the end).

It is recommended on the caution that this book shouldn’t be read without the opportunity to discuss the issues it raises in a secure and understanding environment and that this book is a lens through which to approach mental illness and not appropriate without further supplementation/discussion.

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Photos and Words: They Say it’s a Place on Earth

– ‘This must be what Heaven looks like,’ She said, gazing up at the treetops with joy in her eyes. The only sounds were that of birdsong and the gentle beating of her heart as she entwined her fingers with his, snuggling closer to his chest.
‘Yes,’ he whispered as he drank in the beauty of her smile and the soul he carried so much love for, ‘it must be’. –

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Review: Company of Liars

Company of Liars
Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was an excellent book and Maitland did a brilliant job of bringing the past to life in a way that was realistic without being overwhelming.

In parts the plot pacing was a little shaky as it could often be quite slow but I think this was more than compensated for by the great attention to detail which kept the reader hooked into the plot by all the eccentricities of medieval life. I absolutely loved all of the superstition and religious elements that were included! They’re the main reason I enjoy studying the medieval period and Maitland did a brilliant job of including them without it becoming overbearing or without it seeming out of line with our modern beliefs on what is and isn’t possible (view spoiler). Furthermore, the mysteries were very deftly done and I spent most of the book trying to second-guess what was behind them all. Though some were a bit of a let down, I do think this was more in part to the amount of suspense leading up to them rather than the plot itself – with that much suspense constantly building up throughout a novel most revelations would feel like a let down!

The entire theme of truth throughout the novel was a pretty unique take on a book like this and I thoroughly enjoyed how it was explored in most situations. It didn’t delve too far into challenging whether lying was necessarily a bad thing in every scenario but it did raise enough questions to make the book linger in the reader’s mind long after they finished a chapter.

A writing device used in the book I particularly liked was the way Maitland had the characters tell stories and, instead of repeating them to us parrot fashion, she voiced their content through the different reactions of the character’s. This really helped keep my interest up in the story as well as move the plot on very nicely while giving us more information about the characters.

The only criticism I would have of the novel, and a small one at that, is that the characters of Osmond, Adela and Rodrigo would’ve been better with more development. This is particularly the case with Adela as the fact that she was ‘tender-hearted’ was both shown and told to the reader repeatedly but there seemed to be very little else to her and this did get a bit irritating towards the end. A much stronger backstory for all three of those characters would have improved the book tremendously, I’m aware there is some extra material to accompany the novel so I hope I find what I’m looking for in there!

All in all this book was a fantastic read and I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in either English history and/or myths and legends.

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