Friday, 30 August 2013

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

17119852Age Group: Middle-Grade
Genre: Contemporary
Pub Date: Jan 2013
Publisher: Corgi Children's
August (or Auggie) Pullman is about to start his first year at middle-grade. However, unlike the rest of the kids starting middle-grade, this is going to be his first year at any school. The reason why? Auggie has a facial deformity, and enough medical conditions to fill an episode of House.

Auggie is a brilliant character; he is like any other 10 year old kid. He loves Star Wars, playing on his Xbox, and hanging out with his friends. It is his ordinariness in contrast with his illness which made the book so harrowing. Auggie knows exactly how people react to him, every gesture, every smile. He knows more medical words than me. So he created a bubble where he knows every person in his block to protect him from the world.

And school shattered that apart. Most of us have been to school. We know the story. The pain of fitting in, of finding your place. And we didn’t have Auggie’s face. But despite the stares and whispers, the cruel parents and school events, Auggie makes some friends. Wonder deals with the ordinary becoming extraordinary. Everyday events that you take for granted turns into torture for August, such as having school photos done or going to your sister’s play.

This book really highlighted that there are many types of people in the world. There are the good hearted ones, and then there are the ones who hate people for being different. But the world isn’t limited to that. There are people who are neutral, unsure, change sides and some who come out and surprise you. In a children’s book, you would expect a lot of black and white, but Palacio really highlighted the shades of grey.

Wonder is written from several points of view, which was important because it hits home the fact that Auggie isn’t the only person affected by his deformity. Via’s, Auggie’s sister, chapter highlighted this, as she struggled with her identity, and having to take care of herself, while defending and caring for Auggie. I thought all the characters were brilliant, and had their own unique view on life, which really contrasted against Auggie’s.

As a middle-grade book, the writing was fairly simple, yet there were enough variation to keep it interesting. The chapters are very short, and focuses on incidents, keeping you engaged. Then there were Mr Browne’s precepts, monthly ideas for his class to focus on, about kindness and truth, which really kept you focused on the theme of the story. As this book was for children, the book wasn’t as gritty as it could have been, but I don’t think that was the point. Wonder is about showing kindness, not shocking you with brutality.

This is a sad story, but it’s also happy, funny, thoughtful, and uplifting. And that rests in its sincerity. Nothing felt overdramatised, which would have been easy to do with a story which relies on children being cruel. I was taken on a journey of emotions with brilliant characters, and shown that the Wonder of people is not in how cruel they can be, but in how kind.

Overall: Just read it. Really, you won't regret it.

Rating: 10/10

Sunday, 25 August 2013

One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis

Age Group: Adult
Genre: Contemporary/ Mystery
Pub Date: April 2013
17404760Publisher: Kirk Parolles
If you asked me what the theme of this book was, I would have no idea. All I could say is “drama”. And that is because One Step Too Far has every type of drama possible, with a whole array of different characters.

We begin our story with Emily, a woman who is running away from her life in Chester to London, not for fame or fortune, but as a means of escape, using her handy birth name Catherine. Why? Well we have no idea. Then we meet Emily’s parents, Francis and Andrew, and we hear their problems, and then Emily’s “evil twin”, Caroline (no seriously, they’re identical twins). On top of that we have Ben, Emily’s abandoned husband, and Angel, Cat’s (Catherine wasn’t snazzy enough for her), troubled new best friend. And I haven’t yet begun on the different problems: anorexia, depression, psychosis, and that’s just Caroline. You add in everyone else’s issues and you have enough problems to fill several episodes of Jerry Springer.

All in all, One Step Too Far reads like a soap opera. Jam packed with lots of different issues, addictive to read, but at the heart of it, completely hollow. There was so much down in this book that I started to resent nearly all the characters and their miserable lives. As much as I was interested in their lives, I lacked any sort of empathy or connection to any of them. In fact, the only emotion I felt towards most of them was pity. It seems that Seskis was so focused on getting shade and depth into her characters that she forgot about the light.

Emily was our first person viewpoint, and when it jumped to another time or character the novel was in third person. This made it fairly easy to tell apart the different time periods with her, but made it quite confusing with telling apart the different points in time with the other characters. I also disliked the ridiculously long paragraphs and endless detail that Emily often provided, it was verging on stream of consciousness, and went past “setting the scene” to “irrelevant”.

I found the writing of the third person characters to be the best parts. Seskis seamlessly made very detailed, interesting (despite depressing) characters, and you could quickly spot the differences in their thoughts and voices. I found Caroline to be the most interesting, if not unlikable, and I was impressed with how Seskis really went back with Caroline’s history and how all her problems started.

It was only near the end of the book that I started to really enjoy myself. That was the point when the plot really kicked in and all the reveal came out, including one amazing omg-I-did-not-see-that-coming twist. And it was that which made it all worth it.

Overall: If you like soap operas you’ll love this book. Packed to the brim with enough drama to give EastEnders a run for its money, One Step Too Far may be a step too far, but its clever characters and interesting reveals make up for it.

Rating: 7/10

*I received this copy from Kirk Parolles via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Age Group: YA
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Pub Date: August 2012
Publisher: Bloomsbury
I had mixed feelings coming into Throne of Glass, mostly because I had been hearing a lot of different opinions about it. My conclusion is: I totally get why people love or hate it, and I really can’t decide how I feel.

Celaena Sardothien is an assassin in slavery until the Crown Prince, Dorian, pulls her out to become his champion in a competition held by his father to find the new royal assassin. Along the way, she is trained by the handsome Captain of Guard, Chaol, whilst trying to fit into the royal court. Yes, it’s a little ridiculous, but sometimes you have to shove away logic and sit back and enjoy the ride.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: the love triangle. Shockingly, I am not opposed to love triangles, as over-used as they are, as long as they are done well and this wasn’t the worst one I’ve read. I liked both of the male characters, and it wasn’t blatantly obvious which one Celaena was going to pick, so my issue wasn’t with the triangle itself, but more with the number of clich├ęs used. Up-close-and-personal-training, masquerade balls, childhood-friends-turned-love-rivals… Do I need to go on? I quickly stopped reading this as a fantasy book with a healthy dollop of romance, but as a romance with a fantasy background. Which is fine, as long as the writer knows what she’s writing.

I found both the plot and writing jumpy. It felt like Maas couldn’t decide if she wanted to write a riveting romance or an action novel, and the book wasn’t long enough to accommodate both. I found the stark contrast between cute and real romance, and grisly murders really bizarre. And the writing was painful to read. It was melodramatic, over-written, and sometimes made no sense. “Her blood grew warm and glittering” is an example of the problems I had.

Once I got past the writing and accepted the crazy premises, I actually enjoyed reading the book. I really loved the characters: Dorian was fun and Chaol serious, but most importantly both seemed like they had some depth to them. As for Celaena? I liked her character, but I didn’t feel like it fitted with her story. She was cool, witty, confident, and smart, but she didn’t strike me as an assassin. As much as I liked this version of Celaena, I wanted her to be darker and grittier, as the only way I kept on remembering that she was an assassin was because everyone kept on saying it.

Throne of Glass was a guilty pleasure for me. It was good in a bad way, and I understand why so many people love it. Despite it all, I found it really addictive and fun to read. However, if you’re looking for a more meaningful read about a teenage assassin, I would look elsewhere.

Sum It Up: Romantic fantasy, which is at sometimes a bit contrived and far-fetched, but really fun to read.

Rating: 6/10