Saturday, April 19, 2014

This Star Won't Go Out by Esther Earl...

Title- This Star Won't Go Out.
Author- Esther Earl, with Lori and Wayne Earl.
Publish date- 29th April, 2014.
Publisher- Penguin Books Australia.
RRP: $19.99


Review time...

(A brief) Synopsis:
This is the story of Esther Earl, a bright young woman who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer when she was twelve and, a woman who strove for others to be happy and was endlessly caring. It includes journal entries, personal writing, and words from family and friends.

What I thought:

I believe the first time I heard about Esther Earl was when John Green made a vlogbrothers video commemorating her life and death; gradually I learnt more about her, watched her videos, grew to have an understanding of the foundation started in her name, and I felt a severe loss. I felt the loss of this incredible young woman and the brightness she bought to life.

Reading This Star Won’t Go Out was many things- difficult, amusing and painful, to name a few- but one of the things I can say I feel now, after having finished it, is happiness. I’m very glad that this book was published, that it felt as if I got to know Esther for a time through her words, and that, even if it had to be posthumously, she had her work published.

This was certainly a perspective altering read, one that made me look at life and the joys, turmoils, of it more clearly, simply. Reading of Esther and her love, seemingly so abundant, her gratitude, it was a very powerful experience and one that certainly made me think.

This book is comprised, mostly, of journal entries and letters by Esther, and updates on her health by her parents, recounts from people who cared for her; there wasn’t so much of Esther’s own work as I had anticipated and I didn’t quite realise how it was, almost, a story of her life- I didn’t anticipate how much it would be about her life, instead thought it would be more highly comprised of snippets of her writing, and I was a little disappointed by that. Indeed, there was many a time I wondered if there would be any of Esther’s fiction, which I had believed there would- turns out there was some, a few excerpts at the back, but I would really have liked to see more of her work in that vein.

This Star Won’t go Out wasn’t what I expected and I couldn’t help but be disappointed by this, though the story I got still held me fast; even though it contained much of Esther’s life written in her own words, it did feel, at times painfully, life a recount of her final years (this due to the health updates, essays from friends) and at other times a tribute, and those were the factors that made me like it less.

Rating- Switching between Hmm... and Excellent.
I’m pleased to have read this- very saddened, but glad, at least, that I was able to learn more, understand at least a little the incredible young woman I had watched the videos  of; in the style of writing, the way it was put together, I sometimes felt irked, but overall… overall I felt more things than I could name.

Thank you to Penguin Books Australia for this review copy!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Conversation on: How I live Now by Meg Rosoff...

Title- How I live Now.
Author- Meg Rosoff.
Publish date- 2004.
Publisher- Penguin AU.

(A brief) Synopsis:
Daisy, a teenager from America, is sent to live with her cousins in the UK. She spends increasingly peaceful days with this new family, then a horrifying war breaks out.

Image Credit: Penguin AU.

Lets converse.
Though this was, by no means, a long novel, I didn't feel as if it was rushed at any one moment, or (alternately) that scenes/occurrences could've happened over a lengthier time. It felt, more than anything else, as if I was having a secret told to me, and eventually I found myself having trouble (a minimum amount of trouble, but still) figuring out if the sense of dread, even the belief that the war I felt so much fear for was happening here and now, and I was the one stranded in it. Then I would remember, all of a sudden, that Daisy and not I was the one facing it...  that was a perplexing experience, to say the least. A little frightening.

How I live Now was spectacular in it's honesty, in the unlikable-likability of it's protagonist and narrator, the way it filled me with a powerful dread, tugged me into the very story itself- a story that, at it's core, terrified me.

Because I felt so connected to the characters, it was as if I was a part of the story, like I was there at Daisy's side, fighting to get home, and so it feels, afterwards, as if I battled a lot in the time I was reading- I faced fears and learnt that it's so much harder to be triumphant than you might imagine. I realised that hope is far more necessary than I previously could've imagined, and you have to face mistakes.

Rating: Big Explosion, MIND BLOWN.
I learnt a lot whilst submerged in How I live Now, and I only hope there will be more lessons to learn when I next return to it's pages.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The House of Cats by Maggie Pearson...

Title- The House of Cats.
Author- Maggie Pearson.
Publish date- 2013.
Publisher- Bloomsbury. Imprint: A&C Black.
RRP: $22.99 (Hardback) AUD.

Review time...

(A brief) Synopsis:
A collection of tales from around Europe (one from each member of the EU) that are as expansive and diverse as you can imagine they might be. Perhaps a little more.

Image Credit: Bloomsbury AU.

What I thought:
The House of Cats is a new favourite when it comes to fairytales, and not just that story which doubles as the title of the book and is one of the many found in this book. I loved the darkness, sorrow and even creepiness that was abundant in these stories, but also the love and joy. Some of them didn't suit me at all, but all intrigued me- how was it they were told in the first place, did they originate somewhere only to be changed by word of mouth to become something quite different in another part of the world?

I really enjoyed checking again and again where each story originated from as I read, and I found each to be incredibly interesting if, as I said, a little creepy. One in particular I wouldn't re-read because it was quite startling and unsettling, but on the other hand, The House of Cats was very peculiar and it became my favourite, though if only it was longer than a few short pages.

The design of this book, particularly the cover, is just beautiful. It will be finding a firm place on my bookshelf in no time!

Rating: Ooh, very good.
This is a favourute and has actually made my longing to read more fairytales (traditional and retellings) a lot greater- there are stories here I look forward to reading again and, perhaps, recognising in different forms.

Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia for this review copy!

Friday, April 11, 2014

A Feature of Pictures (and books!) No. 2

The second on my picture book feature, these are two very different books but they both struck particular chords with me.

Title: Max.
Author: Marc Martin.
Publisher: Penguin Australia. Imprint: Viking.
Publish Date: March 26th, 2014.
RRP: $24.99

Max tells a very sweet story, that of a seagull called Max and a man called Bob who owns a fish and chips shop. The story was both amusing and heartwarming, but it wasn't the written story that I found myself most enraptured by. No, it was the illustrated one.

I felt as if the written story only really covered a small section of things, whereas I could get the same story, and more, from the pictures over each page- there was detail and a certain livliness that the words didn't convey, or so I felt. An added factor, the illustrations just happen to be beautiful and feel like they've come straight from a vintage picture book, and I truly did love this style of drawing- it became the book very well.

So whilst I did enjoy this, I do think I would have been more taken in had it been a silent read, so you only had the pictures and it was up to each individual to tell the story. The words just didn't work as well as that would have.

Image Credit: UQP.

Title: Here in the Garden.
Author: Briony Stewart.
Publisher: UQP.
Publish Date: March 26th, 2014.
RRP: $24.95

Here in the Garden is vying to become one of my new favourite picture books, and I'm sure after a few more reads it'll succeed.

The story is delicate yet powerful and it is heartrending in an almost warm way, because even though it's sad you're still remembering fondly, and I truly loved that.
It did surprise me when I read, before and during my read of the story itself, that the child pictured on the cover was a boy, because I did think it looked more like a short haired girl, and in the story there wasn't anything I saw to suggest otherwise, so specifying a gender, when the story itself did not, felt peculiar.
The illustrations- of the child, the rabbit and the garden are all beautiful, and I just loved the feel they gave the story. Time passing was conveyed, seasons changing was, also, and all done finely.

Altogether I really enjoyed this and would highly recommend, not to mention re-read.

Thank you to Penguin Australia for the review copy of Max!
Thank you to UQP for the review copy of Here in the Garden!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"When Did you See her Last?" by Lemony Snicket...

Title- "When Did you See Her Last?" (All the Wrong Questions #2.)
Author- Lemony Snicket.
Publish date- October 2013.
Publisher- Hardie Grant Egmont.
RRP: $16.95 (AUD)

*This review may contain spoilers relating to book #1 in the All the Wrong Questions series*

Review time...

(A Brief) Synopsis:
Though the beginnings of one mystery may have been solved by the young Lemony Snicket, things in Stain'd-by-the-Sea are only getting more puzzling, and if people aren't careful someone might just go missing.
Image Credit: Hardie Grant Egmont.

What I thought:
I am, practically always, sold when it comes to Lamony Snicket, and though I took a while reading the first book in this series, the second was certainly a different story. From the amusing list of questions on the back cover to the beautiful design and colour scheme of the cover and all illustrations throughout, this was an absolute win.
Instantly I was captivated and I caught onto what was happening a lot more quickly, finishing the book in just over one day, compared to the few weeks that I took with the first.

The plot was thrilling (all taking place, if I'm correct, in a single day, though it didn't feel too speedy or unbelievable- the contrary! I felt as if this could certainly happen in an obscure little town on the edge of a dried up sea) and the new characters were most intriguing. Even if they are only shown for a moment, or reoccurring as some are, from the first book, every single character has a distinct taste and attitude and though not all are likable, all are immensely captivating.

There was plenty of mystery to keep my mind at work, both when it comes to figuring out what question is the wrong question, helpfully assisted by Lemony, discovering what happened to the missing girl amidst a trail of falsities, what exactly the villain (whose name I awfully cannot remember or find note of online, which just goes to show how villianously stealthy he is) of the series has planned, not to mention a whole barrel full of refrences to well known (this is not to say I understood all of them, I note) books, the titles for you to work out and thrill over when you understand.
For those piecing together information on Lemony Snicket himself, this is the book to read- it also introduces some other familiar faces from A Series of Unfortunate Events, though they're considerably younger.

Rating: Excellent.
Very enjoyable. I wouldn't have minded a bit more length, but I really appreciated how things were so cleverly worked out and pondered over such a short time. It only goes to show how great Lemony Snicket is at what he does. This is a series I definitely plan to continue.

Thank you to Hardie Grant Egmont for this review copy!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Wonder by R. J. Palacio...

Title- Wonder.
Author- R. J. Palacio.
Publish date- 2012.
Publisher- Random House. Imprint: The Bodley Head.


Review time...

(A Brief) Synopsis:
A boy is seen differently from others because of how he looks, even though he is just the same on the inside. Told from the perspective of August, the boy, and the people who care about him and live alongside him.

Image Credit: Random House AU.

What I thought:
When I opened this book, it wasn't to read it- just to see if I would actually like it when I did go to read it. There were other books I'd set my sights on... not a great frame of mind to be in when you're looking at a book, I've found.
I didn't think I would like it, either, but my rule is 20 pages (a rule I break often), and by the time I got to twenty... I hadn't even noticed. I was at 50 before I knew it, then 100... by the time I got to 170 I realised I'd be able to finish it in a day.

Wonder took me by surprise because I didn't think I'd be able to stand the voice that was telling the story, yet in the end I absolutely loved it.
In fact, when the story changed perspective (as it does multiple times throughout the book) all I wanted was August's voice back. And the great thing is? I grew to love each voice, each perspective and, so importantly, the originality that each carried. It never sounded as it each voice was written by the same person, and I loved- no. I adored that.

This is so many things all pulled into one- it's the story of a boy who doesn't want to be looked at as different; it's the story of the people around him and people who are the most vital to his life; it's a story containing beginnings, life, love, cruelty, dreams and wishes and desires. It's touching. It's beautiful. It's thought provoking. It's painful. It's moving. It's devastating. It made my mind whirr, and that is one of the best things, I think, a book can do.

There were things I didn't like, of course, but they were few- sometimes the characters, Auggie and the ones around him, just seemed like they were far too young- only 10, when they seemed so much older and had a level of cruelty placed upon them that was far too strong for what I imagine 10 year olds should experience or dole out- but I think, awfully, it may be acurate. Via, on the other hand, seemed far older than 15.
There was a section titled "Texts" where Auggie and a friend used text talk, and I just felt so strongly that he wouldn't half words or use any substitutes, and once there was a scene in which a cruel thing had been said and it was turned into an almost joke, thrown secretly at someone else, which I truly abhored.

I seem to be loving book designs at the moment and Wonder is no different- within and out, it's beautiful! I love, most of all, the white cover unde the blue dustcover, a simplification of the original. It's truly exquisite.

Rating: Almost Big Explosion MIND BLOWN but not quite.
This is the kind of book to share with others and to read over and over again- it's a very well told story, and a very important one, too.

Thank you to my local bookstore for this review copy!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Severed Heads, Broken Hearts by Robyn Schneider.

Title- Severed Heads, Broken Hearts. (The End of Everything in other countries.)
Author- Robyn Schneider.
Publish date- September 2013.
Publisher- Simon and Schuster.
RRP: $16.99 AUD.

Review time...

(A brief) Synopsis:
Ezra believes you have one tragedy waiting for you. He has his. Then he thinks that's it. But... what if you can't tell when tragedy might strike? What if it's not as predictable as he thinks?

Image Credit: Simon and Schuster AU.

What I thought:
The main reason that Severed Heads, Broken Hearts fell flat for me was that it didn't feel all that real. It's full of topics and characters, things that are real enough, but I just didn't ever care for the people this story featured, feel anything for them- it was a very detached experience for me, unfortunately, and though I read it in two days, I didn't really enjoy it at all. A week after finishing it (when review was written...) and my memory has dulled the storyline already. I remember it well enough, but it just feels empty, in a way. Lifeless.

Ezra, the protagonist, speaks from a distance as he narrates the story, starting from his tragedy and explaining things from afar, and though I did wonder once or twice at how he mentioned seeing seeing things coming, I didn't really wonder about it overly. Ezra is, I think, supposed to be a character that you take to heart- if there's one in the whole book, I think it is supposed to be him, but for me I couldn't help but dislike him and his pettiness, and Cassidy- confusing, inconstant Cassidy- was the one I was drawn to. Even by the end I liked her much more than him.

Something that perplexed (and to a certain extend frustrated) me was that both blurbs on the book refernce John Green's work, and though there is a similarity in the speech and use of particular words from Ezra and a few of the other characters, there is nothing else that I could see that links them, which bothered me and made me look for reasons as to why it could be.

Severed Heads, Broken Hearts, whilst it has an interesting premise, didn't end up being a favourite for me- rather it feels a little forgettable. I had anticipated more.

Rating: Whatever comes between Poor and Oh Nooo...
Sadly not for me; though I do think a lot of people enjoy it, I wouldn't personally recommend.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster for this review copy!