Friday, 17 October 2014

Belzhar - Meg Wolitzer

Title: Belzhar 
Author: Meg Wolitzer 
Published: September 2014
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile 
Pages: 264 
Bought: £7.99 Waterstones
Rating: four stars

A group of emotionally fragile, highly intelligent teenagers gather at a therapeutic boarding school where they are mysteriously picked for 'Special Topics in English'. Here, they are tasked with studying Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar and keeping a journal.

Each time the students write in their diaries they are transported to a miraculous other world called Belzhar. Here, they are no longer haunted by their trauma and grief - each begin to tell their own story. 
*Synopsis from back of book*

So, I can't lie when I started this book I was a bit mislead by the first line: "I was sent here because of a boy." I thought to myself 'ah hell, this book is going to be appallingly cliché'. (And I did manage to guess the love interest 30 pages in.) It all sounded a bit typical, and at some points it definitely was.

But I was enjoying it, because all the main characters had a little something extra to them. The Special Topics English class was rich with well-rounded characters I could feel for. Sierra especially, I just wanted to fall into the book and talk with her. Jam was vividly put to page, I didn't always like her, with her love-dumbness in the beginning, and that something was concealed from us for so long was almost too much. At the same time she weaned herself into my emotions even before I could understand her. She's so perceptive of other people and I don't think I was perceptive enough of her. 

By the end it all made sense. I'd forgotten that this was a school for the "emotionally fragile", especially because the image of the school itself didn't come across very clearly to me. The fact that she'd created this perfect imaginary scenario out of a very different reality really stood out for me. And in the end, though not fully recovered she's positive about her future, she's positive about life outside of the school - which made me feel good. 

I was left feeling, like the English student I am, that the magic notebooks were all just some huge metaphor for their recovery, for realising what went wrong and how to deal with it. Or as Jam puts it, how to find their voice. 

"Words matter. All semester, we were looking for the words to say what we needed to say. We were all looking for our voice."

I've got to give it to the author, she can say some beautiful things. But the road did seem a little bumpy, because she can also say some cliché and slightly forced in things that didn't make me think that it actually was the mind of a teenager. 

So overall I liked the twistiness of this novel and the romance was sweet without being too overpowering. It was a story of recovery and of finding a voice, and in the end I did enjoy it. 

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Top Ten Places Books Have Made Us Want To Visit

1) The Nevernever
Julie Kagawa made it sound so mysterious and awesome, and yeah I'd probably die in a second flat but looks cool.

2) Middle Earth
This is more based on the film considering I've only just started reading the book, but still I think it'd be beautiful and, as with the Nevernever, pretty deadly.

3) The world Todd lives on in The Knife of Never Letting Go
I don't know why but I think it'd be fascinating!

4) New York
I thought Cassandra Clare was really good at setting up an image of the city in my mind, and I've always wanted to go anyway.

5) Japan
I love Japan, like a lot and I've been studying the culture for a while, but Memoirs of a Geisha was a kicker for me.

6) London
I actually live in England so this one is feasible, and I have been once before, but I'd like to go again. There's been a lot of recent books (and old ones) set in London and they make it seem more charming than I remember is being, so I think I better give it another go, eh?

7) The alternative universe (as I like to think) from Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
I just seem to be picking places that will kill me...but this sounds so awesome.

8) Can I just say America? I know that's pretty vague but...
All the books seem to be set in America and it might be nice to understand some of the references without googling them,

Because America is such a vague/massive one I might just let it fill in 9 & 10. ;) (i.e. I can't think of any more.)

Friday, 10 October 2014

Reread and Review: Darke Academy - Gabriella Poole

Book: Secret Lives, Blood Ties, Divided Souls
Series: Darke Academy
Author: Gabriella Poole
Published: August 2009
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton 
Pages: 288 - 320
Rating: 3/5 stars

 You'll be dying to join the chosen Few... 

The Darke Academy is a school like no other. An élite establishment that moves to an exotic new city every term, its students are impossibly beautiful, sophisticated and rich. And the more new scholarship girl Cassie Bell learns about the Academy, the more curious she becomes. 

What sinister secrets are guarded by the Few — the select group of students who keep outsiders away? Who is the dark stranger prowling the corridors at night? And what really happened a year earlier, when the last scholarship girl died in mysterious circumstances? 

One thing Cassie will discover is that a little knowledge may be a dangerous thing, but knowing too much can be deadly...
*Synopsis from Goodreads*

So I decided to go through my books and find a story that I haven't read in ages to see how my opinion of it has changed. I picked The Darke Academy series, from my Vampire book phase, because I remember really enjoying them but going off vampire books before the fourth was released.  I want to know whether I should continue it now.

The story is really original and I find Cassie a super gutsy and likeable character. The images of the school and cities are really good, and the writing style is simple and easy to read. It helps that these aren't particularly long books.

Poole is really good at building characters and giving them their own identity, even if they weren't front and centre stage . I remember wanting Isabella to be my best friend and having a book-character-crush on Richard and Ranjit. In fact Richard is probably my favourite character out of the whole series because he's a dastardly charming English gent but also two-faced and sneaky (I'm not 100% convinced it's just because of he Few spirit either).

The plot in the first two books really made it for me. I loved the idea of this not-so-secret, yet totally mysterious, clique ruling over a school filled with privileged kids and that it takes scholarship student Cassie to shake things up a bit. The Few spirits were a chilling take of vampires as well, and the way they fed really freaked me out.

I found Cassie's resemblance to Jess a little...strange. Also, that apart from knowing she comes from a care home we never find much out about Cassie's past. But apart from that and Cassie's ability to kill without any apparent remorse, I loved the mystery and scandal that arose with her appearance. The first book ultimately deals with Cassie becoming a member of the few...illegally, and the second book about dealing with some of the fall out of the first book, including one rich, homicidal maniac.

But the third book...meh. It was like the ideas had run a little dry. All of a sudden Ranjit is crazy as hell and there's some chase for some weird-ass relics. It all goes a bit cliché, and the fall out between Cassie and Isabella seems flimsy at best. It disappointed me because I so enjoyed the first two. Once again Cassie demonstrates her ability to have no morality whatsoever by:
a) letting Ranjit escape, when she could have stopped him
b) not caring about Richard's role in Jess's death, no matter how innocent his intentions seemed
c) almost completely disregarding Jake and Isabella in the last chapter in order to have some witty banter with Richard

Originally, I thought her fling with Richard was a blessing, because I thought they'd be a really interesting dynamic. But no, Cassie is all "I'm still so in love with my serial killing, unreliable ex-boyfriend, I have to be with him". This made me sad.

Anyway, I don't know whether I'm going to get the fourth book. I might just to satiate the slight tingle of curiosity that I have but. 3/5 stars for the last book making me sad but the first two being really good.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Currently reading - October

I thought the best way to get back into the swing of things was probably to tell you what I'm reading at the moment!

1# Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer
Published: September 2014
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Pages: 266

I was attracted to this because the plot sounded super interesting. When I started reading I didn't know if I was going to get along with it, though. Anything that starts with "I was sent here because of a boy" would strike me as sort of edgy, to be honest. I'm on the second chapter and fortunately it seems to be keeping my attention really well. I do hope I haven't guessed the love interest already though, because if I have that's just too cliché. 

2# Invisibility by Andrea Cremer and David Levithan 
Published: May 2013
Publisher: Philomel 
Pages: 358 

So this one is one that I just saw in the bookstore and was instantly intrigued by. It's not a new book but right now I'm fancying a bit of a romance novel and this looks like it's going to satiate that want! I actually haven't read anything by Andrea Cremer and only Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green. So really excited to get into this one!

On a slightly different note, for my course I'm currently reading The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler, which I'm surprisingly not hating like I thought I would!