Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The Princess Mirror-Belle Collection by Julia Donaldson

Review by Jenny, age ten.

I have finished a book called The Princess Mirror-Belle Collection by Julia Donaldson. It was a good book and I enjoyed it. It’s about a little girl who finds out that her reflection in the mirror is a girl called Princess Mirror-Belle and is in a completely different world. They do loads of different things together, like going trick or treating and also going to the hospital. If I was that little girls Mom or brother and she told me that her reflection in the mirror was talking to her, I would definitely think she was mad . I would really recommend this book to a friend.  It would suit children 7 to 11, girls would probably like it more than boys.

Four Stars ****

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Paper Aeroplanes - Dawn O'Porter

Published: May 2013
Publisher: Hot Key
Pages: 261


It's the mid-1990s, and fifteen year-old Guernsey schoolgirls, Renée and Flo, are not really meant to be friends. Thoughtful, introspective and studious Flo couldn't be more different to ambitious, extroverted and sexually curious Renée. But Renée and Flo are united by loneliness and their dysfunctional families, and an intense bond is formed. Although there are obstacles to their friendship (namely Flo's jealous ex-best friend and Renée's growing infatuation with Flo's brother), fifteen is an age where anything can happen, where life stretches out before you, and when every betrayal feels like the end of the world. For Renée and Flo it is the time of their lives.

With graphic content and some scenes of a sexual nature, PAPER AEROPLANES is a gritty, poignant, often laugh-out-loud funny and powerful novel. It is an unforgettable snapshot of small-town adolescence and the heart-stopping power of female friendship.


I was forced to read Paper Aeroplanes by a friend of mine who absolutely adored it and was convinced I would too. She was partly right , I didn’t love it as much as she did, but I did really enjoy it. Paper Aeroplanes is Dawn O’Porter’s first novel, and I must say that she has got her writing career off to a flying start.  The book follows the lives of two teenage girls, Reneé and Flo, as they grow up on the the island of Guernsey in the nineties. While Paper Aeroplanes is a real bildungsroman, it’s not necessarily a teenage or YA book. I enjoyed it, being reasonably close to the girls’ age, but I think anyone who grew up in the nineties , or anyone who has ever been a teenaged girl ( as Caroline Flack nicely put it ) will love this book.

The first major thing I noticed in the book was Flo’s relationship with Sally. Flo is scared stiff of the domineering Sally, but doesn’t seem to realise that what they have isn’t a real friendship. Sally keeps Flo around for the sole purpose of putting her down and criticising her to make herself feel better. Their relationship is completely dysfunctional, but quite realistic. I feel like it is a relationship that many girls have once or twice in their life, but it never seems to be dealt with in any YA literature, and O’Porter deals with it very effectively here.

In contrast, the relationship between Flo and Reneé is a real one. Despite the fact it’s super important, I found that the way O’Porter portrayed the relationship a bit soppy, but I’m probably the only one who thinks that.

The book is filled with complex relationships, and Julian and Renee’s is just one of them. I’m extremely confused as to if Julian is taking advantage of Reneé or not. I finally came to the conclusion that O’Porter uses their relationship to highlight the fact that just because someone’s up for some sex stuff, doesn’t mean they’re up for or ready for ALL the sex stuff and that you still have to be careful.

We also see examples of how people deal with grief and loss. Renneé loses both of her parents, her mother dies of cancer and her father runs away to Spain leaving Reneé and her sister Nell with their grandparents. We can still see the after effects of her mother’s death years previously on the family and the way they are still struggling , all these years later, to come to terms with it.

On a lighter note, I loved the nineties stuff. As someone who grew up during the explosion of electronic media , mobile phones etc I found it really interesting to see the way teenagers interacted without all these things. I love that they throw paper aeroplane notes to each other, they use payphones and landlines to call each other, and the fashion they talk about being cool you wouldn’t be caught dead in now. I’m sure anyone who was around back then would enjoy this blast from the past.

Overall this is an extremely decent contemporary coming-of-age story and I would recommend everyone who wants an easy but fulfilling read, that is really hard to put down once you start reading.
Four Stars ****

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Vivian Vs America - Katie Coyle ( Vivian Versus the Apocalypse)

Publisher: Hot Key Books
Published: September 2014
Pages: 272

Blurb: Seventeen-year-old Vivian Apple has just travelled across the country, fended off roving bands of indoctrinated teenagers, re-evaluated everything she ever thought was true, and uncovered the dark secrets about the recent so-called 'Rapture' and the Church of America. And now, she must rescue her maybe-boyfriend Peter from the Church before the world is (supposedly) due to end, which is in less than three months. It's been a busy apocalypse so far.

Stranded in a city on the verge of complete panic, and faced with a society in an ever-increasing state of breakdown, Vivian and her friend Harp don't even know where to begin looking for Pete. But then a tip leads them to Los Angeles, and the somewhat unlikely location of the Chateau Marmont Hotel. Vivian must save the day - or she'll lose everything worth living for a second time...


Vivian Vs America is the sequel to Vivian Vs the Apocalypse, and it takes place right after the first one ends. Literally , right after, there is about 15 seconds between the end of the first book and the start of the second. Really it could have been one reasonably large book instead of two shortish ones, but it also works really well this way. Vivian’s story definitely follows two distinct arcs, and while I loved these books and I secretly wish there could be a third, I know that would be unnecessary and I would probably just give out about it. I feel like a lot of YA authors are pressured into drawing the stories out in order to fill a trilogy, and I’m glad Coyle wasn’t, because it worked a lot better as two books. Book one doesn’t have a review because I read it when I was supposed to be preparing for an interview ( which , if you’re interested, I didn’t get, darn you Katie Coyle !!!) and really didn’t have the time. But if I had written the review I would have given it four to four and a half stars, and Coyle definitely keeps up this standard in the second book.

One of my favourite things about this book is it if filled with strong female characters. Not ridiculous Lara Croft style ones, they reminded me more of the female characters in Harry Potter. Vivian is a fantastic protagonist , though she is fallible and sometimes makes mistakes, she has a good head on her shoulders and she always tries to do what is best. She is a perfect contrast to her best friend and partner in crime Harp, who is loud, overly confident and extremely eloquent and humourous. But the best thing about Viv and Harp is the support and loyalty they have for one another, they really do have a true friendship and they make a fantastic team. On the other hand, as great as Viv’s relationship is with Harp, her relationship with her mother Mara and her half sister, Winnie is a weird one. It is strained at first, but over the course of the narrative  we see it strengthen and develop.

Vivian is one of two books I’ve ever read that explores the idea of religion ( the other being The Life of Pi ). It’s a charged subject, one that few authors, especially YA ones, are willing to take on. Coyle presents religion as neither a bad nor a good thing, but it has the potential to cause harm, but also bring hope and comfort, depending on the intentions of those wielding the power. She also highlights how desperation and fear can cause people to do some terrible things. The whole book is also a damning indictment of the consumerist culture in the west, and she’s pretty much spot on with the whole thing. The angels use the apocalypse as a way to make money, so obviously once the rapture day comes and no one is raptured people are going to be suspicious. The plan that the Angels come up with to keep the apocalypse going is pretty clever, but their barefaced cheek is kind of unbelievable.

Throughout the novel, we see Vivian and Amanda clash heads over the issue of using violence to achieve their aims. Amanda is ruthless and she talks about sacrificing the lives of her militia in an offhand way, while Vivian is very apprehensive about the whole thing. She would much rather try to take down the church of America as peacefully as possible. I agree with Vivian, and this is where my love for Edie ties in . Edie is the most peaceful and thoughtful yet sharp witted character I have read about in a long time. She is so full of love and hope and is the perfect contrast to  the Church of America.

The only thing that annoyed me about the book was Viv and Peter’s relationship. Now don’t get me wrong, I love Peter and the two of the are super cute together, but that’s kind of the point. It kind of annoys me when girls in dystopian  novels get distracted by romance, because realistically if we were actually in that situation, you would be too scared to think about anything but survival. Also Vivian makes an insane out-of-character mistake that also functions as a major plot hole.
Overall I absolutely loved this book, it was a perfect conclusion to the story and I simply couldn’t put it down.

Five Stars *****

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Beloved - Toni Morrison

Published: 2005 ( first published 1987 )
Publisher: Vintage
Pages: 324


Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby.

Sethe was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. Her new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.

Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement by Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison.


This will be more like a reaction piece than a review, because I’m not sure if I’m well experienced enough in literary criticism to do it justice. To summerise, I simultaneously loved and hated this book. As someone who spent most of 12 Years a Slave with my hands over my eyes, I found a lot of this book extremely difficult to read. Every time I picked it up, I dreaded reading it, and then couldn’t put it down when I had to. I found it both beautiful and horrifying, it was both peaceful and painful. The story and the characters are fascinating, but I had great difficulty reading it because of it’s nonlinear timeline and the language used. Morrison bounces back and forth and switches perspective a lot without warning, and I found that this made the story quite hard to follow, but I managed.

In a perfect world this would be a book that everyone would have to read, it really does hit home how appallingly cruel human beings can be to each other. I always thought I had a fair idea what had gone on in America during the times of slavery, but it turns out it was so much worse than I thought. I would definitely recommend this book to absolutely everyone as a must read, but if you’re the sort of person that was quite upset by films like 12 Years a Slave, maybe it might be best to skip this, because it is horrendously disturbing.

I know that Toni Morrison received the Nobel prize for literature the year this was published, so that might entitle this book to five stars off the bat. But personally, as a reader who finds high literature difficult to read, I’m going to give it four.
Don’t shoot me, it’s only an opinion.

Four Stars ****

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Invisibility - Andrea Cremer and David Levithan

Publisher: Penguin
Published:May 7th 2013


A magical romance between a boy cursed with invisibility and the one girl who can see him, by New York Times bestselling authors Andrea Cremer and David Levithan.

Stephen is used to invisibility. He was born that way. Invisible. Cursed.
Elizabeth sometimes wishes for invisibility. When you’re invisible, no one can hurt you. So when her mother decides to move the family to New York City, Elizabeth is thrilled. It’s easy to blend in there.
Then Stephen and Elizabeth meet. To Stephen’s amazement, she can see him. And to Elizabeth’s amazement, she wants him to be able to see her—all of her. But as the two become closer, an invisible world gets in their way—a world of grudges and misfortunes, spells and curses. And once they’re thrust into this world, Elizabeth and Stephen must decide how deep they’re going to go—because the answer could mean the difference between love and death.


Invisibility is the second collaboration I have read by David Levithan, but the first I have read by Andrea Cremer. I was not disappointed by this book, I am a big fan of Levithan’s writing style and I’m looking forward to picking up something by Cremer.
The narrative is told through the dual perspectives of Stephen, the invisible boy, and Elizabeth, the tough arty girl who moves into his building. I don’t know if Cremer and Levithan took a perspective each( as in Will Grayson, Will Grayson ), or wrote the whole thing together, but whatever they did it worked. Both perspectives have really clear voice, and it was extremely easy to differentiate between the two of them. There was no flicking backwards and forwards to the start of the chapter to try and figure out who was speaking like I’ve had to do with so many other books.
I don’t know what I expected from this book, but for some reason I didn’t expect to find any magic in a book about an invisible boy. But this book quickly became quite heavy with fantasy, but the world is well introduced and the concepts are understandable. That being said, I much prefered the beginning of the book when the plot was more concerned with Stephen and Elizabeth’s relationship than the end of the book when it became quite bogged down with fantasy and magic.
As there always seems to be in Levithan’s books, one of the main characters is gay. This is NOT a critique , but rather an observation. I actually agree with Levithan that gay people are severely underrepresented in YA literature, and I applaud him for almost singlehandedly taking on the job of presenting us with some LGBTQ+ characters. I do feel however that the way he deals with it is a bit heavy handed and preachy, but maybe it has to be. It’s kind of  a shame that Levithan seems to be the only one writing about gay teenagers, but at least someone is doing it, and doing it quite well.
Levithan and Cremer also present the idea that the best way to punish a parent is to punish their child, that inflicting pain on their child will cause them more pain than you could ever inflict on them. This is a really interesting concept, something that I had never thought of , and something that every budding psychopath should note for future use.
The thing that docked all the stars from my final rating of this book is the ending. If you like satisfying endings, do not read this book. I’m not using satisfying as a euphemism for happy , because I don’t need endings that are happy, I need endings that feel like endings and not the set up to a sequel. Is this the first book of a series?? because that would make sense, but I have a feeling that this is a standalone book. This book lost two stars because when it ended I just sat there staring at the page thinking “if this is the end of the book I am going to be SOOOO mad”, but it was and I was so mad. That is why, despite the reasonably good review, this has gotten such a low star rating. Take it as a constructive criticism Cremer and Levithan, finish your books properly ;)

Objectively, this is probably about 3 stars, but personally it’s getting a 2 :(

Monday, 1 December 2014

Paper Towns - John Green

Published: 2010
Publisher: Bloomsbury 
Pages: 305


Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs back into his life - dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge - he follows.

After their all-nighter ends and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. But Q soon learns that there are clues - and they're for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer Q gets, the less Q sees the girl he thought he knew.


Paper Towns is John Green's third book for young adult readers, and in my opinion has many parallels to his first book, Looking for Alaska. The protagonist of the book is Q,    
a culturally stunted sort-of looser in his final year at high school. The similarities between Pudge, the narrator of  Looking for Alaska are staggering. Both characters are fairly plain, lacking culturally ( but both develop a love for poetry and the insight and meaning it can give life) and of course they are both madly in love with an extremely unrealistic and unbelievably cool girl. Because these characters are painfully boring to begin with, it does leave massive room to grow, which  Q does, in leaps and bounds over the course of the novel. 

The aforementioned "cool girl" in Paper Towns is Margo Roth Spiegelman, Q's next door neighbour , undisputed queen bee of the school and a unfathomable mystery. While Margo is an excellent character and is intrinsic to the plot and the message of the novel, there's something about her that annoys me, and she reminds me of Alaska, a lot.

On the other hand I love Ben and Radar. Ben is a guy that loves prom! Not exactly realistic but still fascinating to watch .Finally  I really loved the whole concept of the novel. Margo disappears and leaves Q a treasure trail of clues to find her. 

Overall I loved this novel and would recommend it to anyone who likes John Green's work or any young adult fiction.

Four Stars ****