Book Review: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

9780718157838-me-before-you-reissue-jacket-2Shelved: Romance (Adult novel, Realistic fiction)
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books, 480 pages
Release date: January 5th 2012
Ratingstar star star starhalf star
Ages: 15+

Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick. What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to lose her job or that knowing what’s coming is what keeps her sane. Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he’s going to put a stop to that. What Will doesn’t know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they’re going to change the other for all time.

I’ve been on a hiatus for months but I had to come back to write about this very special book that I finished reading, prior to the release of its movie.
This book has been floating around for years but it only recently acquired media attention with the new movie that’s coming out (which will make me cry fountains). My friend pestered me to read it a while ago but I only borrowed it from her this recently. My expectations were relatively mid-high, as she explicitly told me that she loved it loved it loved it. And I wasn’t disappointed! I even went so far as to buy my own copy.
I’m not going to give away any spoilers, but I think this book deals with a lot of controversial issues that are hidden by the light, comical narration. Louisa is a lot of fun but she reminds me of myself in her fears and desires. We often see the best and worst of ourselves through book characters and I definitely felt that through reading Me Before You, I discovered something about myself  (that sounds cheesy, I know. But bear with me). It really draws you into the world of small towns and the children who grow up in such close proximity to each other, they feel as though they may never get out. Louisa’s sister Katrina really resonated with me, especially. Hopes and dreams are obstructed by the reality of the mundane and all the difficulties that come with it emotionally (and financially). I feel like character development and portrayal is one of the strongest factors of this novel and it really contributes to why I enjoyed it so much.
This is classified as an “adult” book, presumably because the characters are in their late 20s and 30s. But even as a teenager, I still found it to be an entertaining and compelling read. I was never bored or tired, I always felt excited and curious to find out what happened next. This is one of those rare books that really encompasses all aspects of life: happiness, sadness, morality. There are so many layers and that is why this a well-deserved 4.5 stars.
There’s also a sequel to this novel, but I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet (also it’s got really bad reviews on Goodreads so I’m kind of scared?). I feel like even without the sequel, the ending to this tale is enough for me. It felt complete, and that makes me happy.

Christmas Holiday Reading 2015

For many of us, Christmas is synonymous with days spent eating, sleeping and reading reading reading. I’ve got a pile of books sitting on my desk, ready to be DEVOURED and I’m so excited to get into them as soon as humanely possible. So here are some of the books on my reading list for the end of 2015!

The Harry Potter Series by J.K Rowling

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Yes, you heard correctly. The ENTIRE Harry Potter series. When I was younger I sporadically read a few books out of order, but never all at once with the full experience. I’ve been delving in and out of Hogwarts for the past week now (I’m up to Goblet of Fire) and it feels like coming home. As you can see, all of the books I own are second hand (except for Prisoner of Azkaban, which I borrowed from the library because I have yet to find it in its Bloomsbury edition). I am so engrossed in this series at the moment, it’s hard to read anything else!

Signs Point to Yes by Sandy Hall

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What a lovely cover! I read A Little Something Different and absolutely adored it, I was so happy to get my hands on Sandy Hall’s latest book. From what I’ve read so far, it has all the components of a happy little young adult novel – sweet romance, summer holidays, babysitting jobs, everything sweet and fun and easy to read.

The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons

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Yes finally! It IS HERE. I’ve heard so many good things about this book and I’m studying Nazi Germany in Modern History right now, so this will definitely be an interesting read for me.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

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Just because this is a prescribed text from school, doesn’t mean I’m not super excited to start reading it. I’m horrible with classics, but I’ve heard so many great things about this book so I’m PUMPED. (Also, age-gap novels are my guilty pleasure. Oops.)

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Book Review: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

11250317Shelved: Young adult fiction ( LGBTQ, Romance), historical fiction
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing paperback, 384 pages
Release date: September 20th 2011
Ratingstar star star star star
Ages: 14+

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. Despite their difference, Achilles befriends the shamed prince, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess.
But when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, Achilles must go to war in distant Troy and fulfill his destiny. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus goes with him, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.

I’m not greatly acquainted with Greek mythology, but my limited knowledge of the subject did little to hinder my love of such a beautifully crafted novel. I never thought I could be so encapsulated by gods and demi-gods and centaurs and heroes of war. The Song of Achilles perfectly twists history into a What If? scenario, exploring the very possible romance between Achilles and Patroclus.
After reading this book, I researched some of the mythology behind it – and was surprised to find that much of what is written in the book is true. Miller is such a brilliant writer and historian, and that pairs extremely well for historical fiction readers.
One of my favourite things to read in YA literature is the awkward growing-up adolescent phase. In The Song of Achilles, we watch Patroclus and Achilles’ relationship grow from when they’re 10 years old until they’re 30. This time lapse is not slow or boring or quickly rushed through; it’s very well-paced and the description for each character’s growth is so very raw and honest. I felt like I was experiencing time go by alongside them.
A very big plus is the fact that Achilles and Patroclus are, well, gay. Although this plays a relatively large role in the progression of the story, it has very little to do with the characters themselves. Patroclus and Achilles are not defined by their sexualities; they have character depth and extended lives that branch out from their relationship with each other. Most of the story does not revolve around their romance, but rather the events that affect it. I thought that this was a very realistic and beautiful touch. Nothing is overdone or under-explored, every scene is written to perfection. It has the right amount of gooey romance and violent wars. It even explores hubris, individuality, the human condition, morality.
The Song of Achilles is truly a gem. Who know that history could be so appealing to a young contemporary audience? The ideas explored in this novel are timeless. Deeply moving, fun and exciting, thought-provoking and poignant, The Song of Achilles is a new addition to my favourites list!

Book Review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

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Shelved: Young adult fiction (Contemporary, LGBTQ, Romance)
Publisher: Penguin Books paperback, 303 pages
Release date: April 7th 2015
Ratingstar star star star
Ages: 12+

Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.
With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

As soon as I saw the 4.30 average rating on Goodreads, I knew that I had to read this. The book is described as “the love child of John Green and Rainbow Rowell”, which basically sums up every young adult romance novel to date (they really need to stop using that analogy). As a lover of both the aforementioned authors, my expectations for Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda were incredibly high, and I was not disappointed!
There’s something both thrilling and refreshing about a new LGBTQ book aimed for teens that isn’t depressing or incredibly angsty. Simon did have a few sad emoji moments, but the overall tone of the novel was uplifting and very happy. Overall, this book delivers some incredibly positive LGBTQ vibes, and if that’s a new trend – then I’m totally up for it!
Speaking of political correctness, hello to racially diverse characters! I love it when books include characters that aren’t, well, all white. Not to mention that these different cultures aren’t self-defining; they’re an extension to characters with enough depth that a race doesn’t have to define them. Extra brownie points to Becky Albertalli for excellent characters with a lot of guts in them.
Although I said that this book had some seriously positive messages for LGBTQ teens, there are also some issues that are addressed that aren’t particularly nice. Homophobia is a widespread adversity in so many schools around the world, and I’m so happy that there’s a book that addresses the issue but still manages to keep a light and fluffy atmosphere.
One of the things that I love to comment on in my reviews is readability – am I bored? Is it the author using beautifully written prose that is still incredibly slow-paced and horrifying to get through? The answer to these questions in relation to Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda is: NO. This book is fast, action-packed and full of life. The characters felt real. The situations felt real, the awkward parties, the messy friendships.
I have yet to mention the greatest part of this novel (other than the perfect amount of cute gay boys) – the use of emails! So here we have a novel that portrays both a positive depiction of LGBTQ young teens and a positive depiction of feminine boys. It also includes characters of diverse ethnicities and completely obliterates stereotypes about homosexuality (coughs, spoiler alert – someone is unexpectedly gay!). But the best part? They’re completely relatable to the kids of the modern era. I feel like so many people shame love that is developed online, and as a frequent internet-user, I can totally vouch for the integrity of online love. You can definitely fall in love with someone because of their words (trust me, I have), you can definitely fall in love with the mystery of someone who is a stranger to you, but still be cautious of the dangers of online messaging. No matter what, feelings are valid. Online friends are special and important and even if adults believe that it’s a world of danger, it’s also a world of friends who understand you better than those you know in real life.
Overall, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is an incredibly lovely piece of literature. What a great debut novel from a terrific writer who also happens to be a psychologist! I’ll definitely look forward to reading more of her work.

The Unspoken Pecking Order of Literature

I pride myself in being an avid reader – someone who devours books and loves them with every ounce of my little being. Alas, I am but a tiny 16 year-old girl with not enough time on her hands and not enough mental capacity to fully comprehend Old English. I am a child of the modern era, the kindles, the e-books, the crappy $12 Young Adult Fantasy fiction. And I am absolutely in love with it.

I have a very clear memory of my childhood that haunts me to this very day: I’m 10 years old and borrowing my favourite Candy Apple pre-teen novel about cheerleaders and cute boys, when my librarian shoots me an unnerving glance. The look on her face is one that I can still envision now; the very face of coffee-drained teachers that stays imprinted in my mind to eternally disgrace me: the look of disappointment. At the time, I was unaware and oblivious of the problem. I had no idea what I was doing wrong or why I felt so guilty. She scanned my book and said, “You’re too old to be reading books like that. Your reading level is advanced, why not read some classic novels?” Cue ominous music. I remember the feeling of shame, humiliation, embarrassment. She thought I was smart. She thought I was too good for childish books. And here I was, holding a sparkly pink 100-page flimsy novel for kids. So even though Candy Apple books were my favourite books of all time as a 10 year-old, I put all my childish books under the bed and forced myself to read like a “big kid”.

And here comes the period of early adolescence, a time of secrecy and discretion. I was twelve, and struggling to get through Jane Eyre. I was thirteen and hiding The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants beneath Oliver Twist. I was reading about 18th century class-systems when all I wanted to do was read a damn book about teenagers falling in love. What was so unappealing about modern novels written for 15 year old girls? They were heartfelt, honest and true.

The hierarchy of classic literature domineering over contemporary novels is something that has haunted me for my entire life. Even to this day, I feel more confident holding To Kill a Mockingbird in public than a cheesy chick-lit book covered in pink hearts. Evidently, classics are eternal and profoundly beautiful. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be classics. But at the same time, contemporary novels are a work of art; they are aimed at a new audience of tech-savvy kids. I’m tired of hearing old art teachers telling me that the book industry has gone downhill. The book industry is not deteriorating, it’s evolving! We are a society that is changing and progressing and constantly in motion, it’s no surprise that our words are developing with us. We have learned to write about new issues and new themes that can still transcend time and stay relevant. If Jane Austen was all about class-structure and socialisation of gentry, John Green is all about kids having fun and going on road trips and falling in love. They are both examples of authors whose writing is influenced by their environment.

As for the actual production of literature, there is the endless debate of e-books verses printed novels. I personally don’t own a kindle and haven’t read many books online, but I definitely don’t see the issue with it. We are reading the same words, we are feeling the same emotions. E-books are simply a different medium. It’s especially easier for those who aren’t able to access specific books, or for people who don’t want to spend $30 for a hardback. What about readers with vision impairments? One of the advantages of online reading is that text size and brightness are adjustable. Unlike physical books, e-books can be read in the dark. You can have multiple stories on one device. Isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t the evolution of language something that amazes you?

I often wonder what people did when the steam powered-printing press was invented. Mass printing of novels and newspapers meant that a colossal amount of ordinary citizens were able to access the written word for much cheaper. Did the old-fashioned traditional people of the Industrial Revolution say “No! We don’t need your technological advancements that actually benefit us a society! We want the old way back!”? It’s crazy to think about how history is merely a reflection of everything that surrounds us. Why do we reject the progression of our own society? Humans are innately so afraid of change and so hungry for comfort that we don’t realise that sometimes its beneficial for us to move on from our old ways.

In summation of this unnecessarily convoluted rant, we need to accept modernisation in the book industry. We need to glorify, venerate, romanticise books about vampires and werewolves and 16 year-old girls. We need to stop hating on people who read e-books! It’s time for us to end this eternal battle of classics over contemporary. There is no shame in adults reading picture books. There is no guilt in loving every cliche John Green YA quote there is. There is no need to hate someone who loves a book. No matter what kind of book it is, whether it be from the 1930s or the 2000s. A book is a book, and book-lovers need to stick together. If not, I guess you can go back to churning butter or reading hieroglyphics.

Book Review: Belle by Lesley Pearse

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Shelved: Historical fiction (Mystery, Romance)
Publisher: Michael Joseph paperback, 589 pages
Release date: February 1st 2011
Ratingstar star star starstar
Ages: 15+

Fifteen year-old Belle has lived in a brothel in Seven Dials all her life, with no understanding of what happens in the rooms upstairs. But her innocence is shattered when she witnesses the murder of one of the girls and, subsequently snatched from the streets by the killer, she is sold into prostitution in Paris. No longer mistress of her own fate, Belle is blown across the globe to sensuous New Orleans where she comes of age and learns to enjoy life as a courtesan. Yet thoughts of home and the knowledge her status as golden girl cannot last compel her to break out of her gilded cage.But Belle finds escaping tougher than she imagined, for her life is threatened by desperate men who crave her beauty and attention. Armed only with resourcefulness and spirit, she has a long and dangerous journey ahead of her. Will courage be enough to sustain her? Can she make it back to her family and friends and find her chance at true happiness?

It’s been so long since I’ve read a 5 star book that the feeling is surreal! Let me just start off with the background info on how I acquired this book: I was searching through second-hand novels at St. Vinnies when a very old lady asked me if I was looking for something good to read, and she told me to have a look at this book by one of her favourite authors. She said that she had read almost all of the books on the shelves, but this one in particular stood out. Now, I’m not very kind with recommendations, and usually I put books down when I feel like they won’t appeal to me. But as soon as I saw the time period, I was hooked onto the fact that this would be historical fiction. And this was historical fiction at it’s best! So I bought the massive 600 page book for $3 (with a couple of others), and started reading it on my way home.
This has instantly been added onto my favourites shelf. After reading the first few chapters, I already felt immersed in the story and the setting of London in the 1900s. I’m a huge fan of historical fiction, and while this doesn’t match the beauty of The Book Thief, Belle is a close favourite. There’s something whimsical about reading about stories that are based on truth. This book is largely founded on the history of the red-light District, a time period that I’m not entirely familiar with. Of course, a tale of prostitution is one that comes with darkness and mystery, but Belle definitely has an air of beauty embedded into it. Many scenes are disturbing and explicitly described, but this definitely adds to the overall roller-coaster of emotions that Pearse has created.
The writing style is beautiful yet still readable – not overly descriptive or purple prose-y. What’s especially lovely about Pearse’s writing style is her ability to meld atmosphere with reality, where you feel as though you are the character experiencing the same feelings from an outsider’s omniscient perspective. The novel extends over a period of many years, and Belle is the perfect example of a big fat novel that keeps you interested and enthralled by watching characters develop and grow. The characters become your friends and the world becomes the one that you live in. I especially loved Etienne (older men will always have my heart), but each and every character was perfectly flawed and humane.
The feminist undertones are very well executed and allude to the Suffragette movement, the advocation of women’s rights and first-wave feminism in the near future. I especially loved this aspect of the book, as Belle accepts her femininity and still empowers herself! She is definitely a great protagonist and one that I will continue to admire and adore. What’s especially beautiful about Belle is its portrayal of prostitutes and hostesses – they are still human and they still deserve respect. I thought that that was an incredibly sophisticated and truthful take on an industry that is so full of abuse and violence and hatred of women. The female characters in this novel are admirable, not because of their gender, but because of their personalities and own experiences.
Belle is my first Lesley Pearse novel, and I definitely want to continue reading more of her books! This is a novel that combines history, romance, girl-power and adventure. It’s packed full of gusty scenes and fast-paced interactions that keep your heart racing and your hands turning pages. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in historical fiction and feminist literature.

Book Review: The Flywheel by Erin Gough

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Shelved: Young adult fiction (Contemporary, LGBTQ, Romance)
Publisher: Hardie Grant Egmont paperback, 288 pages
Release date: February 1st 2015
Ratingstar star star
Ages: 13+

Seventeen-year-old Delilah’s crazy life is about to get crazier. Ever since her father took off overseas, she’s been struggling to run the family’s cafe without him and survive high school. But after a misjudged crush on one of the cool girls, Del’s become the school punchline as well. With all that’s on her plate she barely has time for her favourite distraction – spying on the beautiful Rosa, who dances flamenco at the tapas bar across the road. All this leaves Del grappling with some seriously curly questions. Is it okay to break the law to help a friend? How can a girl tell another girl she likes her without it ending in humiliation and heartbreak? And – the big one – is it ever truly possible to dance in public without falling over?

First of all, finding an Australian LGBTQ Young Adult novel is so rare; not to mention finding one that’s well-written is like discovering a gold mine. The Flywheel is a little book full of a lot of love. We follow the life of sixteen year-old Delilah Woolwich-Green as she struggles to run a cafe, gets her best friend out of going to jail and deals with her flamenco-dancing crush all at once. Talk about a wild teenage fiasco.
One of the things that I loved about The Flywheel (and what I love about most YA Aussie fiction) is the touch of realism that is near impossible to replicate. These fun, funky, quirky characters felt like ordinary people that I could meet on the street in Sydney. I especially loved Delilah’s close friend Lauren, who closely resembled so many of my actual studious school friends.
The Flywheel properly addresses sexual diversity not only through Delilah’s homosexuality and Georgia’s inability to come to terms with her own, but also through Charlie’s way of love that is spontaneous and plentiful – but still valid. There is no shame in falling in love with too many people too easily. The social justice side of this book is almost faultless, save for a snide comment about anorexia that I didn’t particularly agree with. But other than that, there were many important lessons in this novel that deviated from typical LGBTQ books (where the only lesson learned is being gay is okay!).
What I love about this book is the quintessential bubbly YA romance, blended perfectly with an angsty LGBTQ novel but still written in a way that can be read by a thirteen year-old. The casual language resulted in a fast-paced, quick read. I constantly felt the need to continue reading without feeling pressured to finish the book at a certain time. Some books just make you want to devour them, and The Flywheel is definitely one of them.
There are very few things to fault in this little golden book, but to lay out what stopped me from rating it as 5 stars: it didn’t hit me in the heart. Some books stay with you your whole life, and some books simply give you a good 3 hours of reading time, before it’s forgotten. Nevertheless, The Flywheel was a fun little roller-coaster of a novel. I’d recommend it for teenagers or for anyone’s who’s looking to pass some time with a quick-paced book!

My Favourite Books of All Time

In the grand scheme of things, I’ve probably got around a hundred favourite books. I love every piece of literature I’ve ever read (well, okay, almost every piece), but only a few books get a special place in my heart Favourites shelf on Goodreads. These are the books that have made me cry just because I was sad that I finished reading them. These books will stay with me for years and years because they’ve left such a large stain on my heart, and I sincerely hope you’ll consider reading a few! Click on the book covers for goodreads links.

13. I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

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More gorgeous covers! I didn’t expect to love this book so much, but as a horribly superstitious art student, I felt like this book was speaking to me. Love the characters, love the plot, love the cute-photographer-indie-leather-jacket-love-interest. Love, love, love.

12. I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip by John Donovan

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Apparently this is the first ever LGBTQ novel, first published in 1969. Unbelievably ahead of its time, this is also my favourite LGBTQ novel. It realistically deals with the hardships of romance and heartbreak  through the lives of two young boys in the backdrop of a city scene.

11. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

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Gorgeous, dreamy, American suburban reverie. Love the language and structure, love the characters and minimalist plot. Eugenides is a genius story-teller! And also I bought this lovely book second-hand for $2, which means I love it even more.

10. The Real of Possibility by David Levithan

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I don’t even know how to explain how much I love Levithan’s writing. His prose is magic but his poetry is a whole new level of beautiful. Definitely a quick read that will stay with you for a long time even after the last page.

9. Looking For Alaska by John Green

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I’m such a teenage cliche but this is such an amazing book! If you haven’t read it already, you probably should. John Green has a way with words that makes you feel like you’re on one giant adventure.

8. The Anatomy of Being by Shinji Moon

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Shinji Moon is quite possibly my favourite poet of the 21st century. This is such an amazing collection of poetry, I don’t even know how to explain how much I love it. It’s a very short book, so if you have the chance, you should definitely give it a go!

7. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

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Ummm unconventionally beautiful heroine and racially diverse romantic interest in the 80’s? Sounds like a book for me. I swear to God this book was so heavy and full of life. All the songs and the cheesy sappy dumb lines just makes me want to restart my life as a teenager. Honestly.

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