Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Anna and the French Kiss - Stephanie Perkins

Publisher: Usborne Publishing UK
Published: January 2014
Pages: 416


Anna is looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. Which is why she is less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris--until she meets Étienne St. Clair. Smart, charming,beautiful, Étienne has it all...including a serious girlfriend. 

But in the City of Light, wishes have a way of coming true. Will a year of romantic near-misses end with their long-awaited French kiss?


To be completely honest, I avoided this book for a long time. Firstly because of the awful, awful, awful title, and secondly because of the equally awful cover. So what changed? Basically every book tuber I watch recommended it , and they changed the awful cover. And so I decided to give it a go. It’s important to specify that I gave this such a high rating because it is one of the best YA romance novels, not because it’s one of the best novels. In comparison to Pride and Prejudice , it’s more of a three. But it’s not trying to be P&P, so it gets five. I actually read this book twice, it’s an easy, really enjoyable read, perfect if you’re looking for something light. It’s actually quite a long book, and I’m not sure if it had to be. I think Perkins may have been trying to stretch it out Harry Potter style so the finale happened at the end of the school year. Perkins’ writing is pretty good. It flows and makes the story very easy to read.

Anna is a reasonably good protagonist, meaning that should doesn’t make me want to shoot myself with frustration. Anna claims to be a film buff, and she wants to be the next big film critic, but despite this it never occurred to her that Paris might be the heart of cinema. I mean France is basically the birthplace of film, even I knew that. But thankfully, she’s not an aspiring writer like every other protagonist I seem to read about. Poor Anna is a lower middle class girl who doesn’t want to be sent to a fancy school in fancy Paris for the experience of a lifetime because there is a boy she might sort of like back at home. This nearly made me strangle her, it is such a first world problem it hurt my soul. But to be fair to Anna , a few chapters in she admits it’s not moving to Paris she’s pissed about, it’s the fact she had no choice. And that made me want to kill her lee. Apart from that, Anna’s pretty solid. Sure she makes mistakes, but don’t we all.

The real problem character is Étienne St. Clair, the artistically messy, yet super-clean, fascinatingly academic and adorably short American-English-French boy. First of all , his name is horrendously stereotypical. Secondly, why does he have to be three different nationalities, why can’t he just be two? Three is a bit excessive. St. Clair is that annoying Hugh Grant-style character who can only exist inside the universe of a rom-com. I was torn between being absolutely in love with him, and absolutely exasperated with him. He is not a real boy, but I don’t think the love interest in a YA romance can be a real boy.

The best part about of Anna and Étienne’s relationship is their friendship. Normally in YA novels the girl just pines after the guy, until he deems her worthy enough, but Anna and Étienne are actually friends, which is refreshing. Unlike other books, Perkins doesn’t only deal with Anna’s romantic relationship , but also her friendships. Anna struggles with her friendship with Brigette, from Atlanta, and her new friends Rashmi, Meredith and Josh. Anna can be a pretty awful friend, but she does try to atone for her mistakes.

Anna and the French Kiss is the best YA romance novel I’ve ever read. It’s a really strong book in quite a weak genre. It may not be deep and some of you may even find it painful, but it may also make you squee with it’s cuteness and adorableness. It will also make you want to go to Paris so badly. Maybe for my erasmus, if I get my act together.

Five Stars *****

This is the old cover. (I bet you all agree with me now.)

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) - Mindy Kaling

Published: November 2011
Publisher: Crown Archetype
Pages: 222


Mindy Kaling has lived many lives: the obedient child of immigrant professionals, a timid chubster afraid of her own bike, a Ben Affleck–impersonating Off-Broadway performer and playwright, and, finally, a comedy writer and actress prone to starting fights with her friends and coworkers with the sentence “Can I just say one last thing about this, and then I swear I’ll shut up about it?” 

Perhaps you want to know what Mindy thinks makes a great best friend (someone who will fill your prescription in the middle of the night), or what makes a great guy (one who is aware of all elderly people in any room at any time and acts accordingly), or what is the perfect amount of fame (so famous you can never get convicted of murder in a court of law), or how to maintain a trim figure (you will not find that information in these pages). If so, you’ve come to the right book, mostly!

In Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Mindy invites readers on a tour of her life and her unscientific observations on romance, friendship, and Hollywood, with several conveniently placed stopping points for you to run errands and make phone calls. Mindy Kaling really is just a Girl Next Door—not so much literally anywhere in the continental United States, but definitely if you live in India or Sri Lanka.


I wasn’t a fan of Mindy Kaling before I read this book, but I was when I finished it. This is not the intellectual autobiography of the year, but it was fantastic. If you’re looking for a quick ( it took me about four hours to read),funny read , I would definitely recommend this. Kaling has an easy, yet interesting and extremely witty writing style, and the book is full of lists which I absolutely loved. Throughout the book Kaling discusses her struggle with her weight in a way a lot of people can identify with, and she deals with it in a sincere yet humourous way. It was really interesting to watch Mindy's career develop, and here about the ins and outs of the industry. The book has been compared to Tina Fey’s Bossy Pants , and I suppose it is similar as they are both a series of personal essays written by two extremely witty women. This book made me want to be best friends with Mindy Kaling, she seems like an absolute riot, and I wish I had read this book when I was a bit younger. The book is a bit short, by the time it was finished I was hoping for more.

This book might not be high literature, but it succeeded one hundred percent in it’s aim, so I’m going to give it five stars.

Side note: This book was unbelievably hard to get a hold of in Ireland,(a friend brought my copy back from America), so if you're looking for it you might just be better off ordering it online.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

2014 - A Reading Year in Review

Five Star Books

Four Star Books

  • The Intern - Dillon Khan

Goose - Dawn O'Porter (Paper Aeroplanes #2)

Published: May 2014
Publisher: Hot Key
Pages: 228


It's a year and a half on from Paper Aeroplanes, and Renée is now living with her Aunty Jo. They even have geese, and Renée likes to sit and watch them, wondering if she'll ever find 'the One' - someone who will love her no matter what, and be there for her no matter how bad things get. She and Flo are in their final year at school, and they've got some tough choices to make - like will they go to university? And if so where - and will they go together? Renée's usual ambivalence on the matter shocks Flo, who had assumed they'd continue as they were, the best and closest of friends, forever. She feels as though she needs Renée's support more than ever, so when a handsome young boy enters Flo's life, she finds herself powerfully drawn to his kindness, and his faith. Renée and Flo's friendship will soon be tested in a way neither of them could have expected - and if Paper Aeroplanes was a book about finding friendship, Goose is the novel that explores whether it's possible to keep hold of it.


Goose is the sequel to Paper Aeroplanes , and we pick up again with Reneé and Flo’s story when the girls are seventeen/eighteen years old. This review will contain spoilers for Paper Aeroplanes, so don’t say I didn’t warn you!! Here’s a link to my review of Paper Aeroplanes if you want to check it out first.

In this book, the girls are finishing school and are wondering what to do next in their lives. I definitely identified more with Flo and Reneé in this book that the last as they are closer to my age and situation than in Paper Aeroplanes. As a first year in college , I have recently experienced the same freakout as the two girls, and even though I successfully managed to get into a pretty good college in a pretty good course, I still have no idea what I’m going to do with my life.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book was the contrast between Flo and Reneé’s experience of sex. It’s important to stress that neither of them is wrong or right, they’re just really different. Reneé has a kind of no holds barred attitude to sex, while Flo is a lot more cautious about it all. On the emotional side of relationships, O’Porter uses the metaphor of the goose to explore the idea of that one true love, that one person you’re supposed to spend the rest of your life with. While this idea is sweet and romantic and all, it’s something most teenaged girls ( and a lot of women ) worry about. For some reason finding someone to spend the rest our lives with is a big worry for most women , and that’s just not fair, damn you society. ( Yes, I will find feminism in everything, just smashing the patriarchy.) Speaking of feminism, one of worst parts in the book was when Dean tells Reneé that “Men fuck and women get fucked”. Now, you can tell that O’Porter doesn’t agree with this, and even Reneé doesn’t feel comfortable with this, but she still uses sex to keep Dean happy.

One of my favourite aspects of the book is Flo’s relationship with God. I’m not really a religious person, but I found the way O’Porter presents this relationship really genuine and not at all preachy. I think religion is too often glossed over in YA books, and while there are a lot of religious and spiritual teens, they are not always represented in an accurate way, ( in my experience they are usually used as cannon fodder for disenfranchised angsty atheists to make fun of.) That being said , my least favourite part of the book has got to be that absolutely random plot point ( I’m trying my best to avoid spoilers here) that happens about three quarters of the way through ( you’ll know it when you see it ). It felt really out of the blue, kind of unnecessary and a little bit like a cheap trick, but I am being harsh here.

With regards to relationships , the most interesting ones are probably Flo and her mother, and Reneé and her sister Nell. At the beginning, Flo and her mother are basically strangers living in the same house, and it was wonderful watching their relationship develop and grow. Reneé and her sister are also estranged after her sister moved to Spain to be with their father, and it was fascinating and heartbreaking watching Reneé come to turns with this.

This is a pretty awesome sequel to a pretty excellent book. O’Porter writes a pretty decent book and I wouldn’t hesitate in the slightest to read the third book in this trilogy ( hint hint Dawn, hint hint. ) I would recommend this to everyone. Teenagers and adults, and possibly even both men and women ( guys may not get it, but it may educate them with regards to the cause ) . Everyone should read this book, except maybe young children. It’s short , the writing is clear and the plot’s easy to follow so you have no excuse.

Four Stars ****

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Only Ever Yours - Louise O'Neill

Published:July 2014
Publisher: Quercus
Pages: 400

Blurb:In a world in which baby girls are no longer born naturally, women are bred in schools, trained in the arts of pleasing men until they are ready for the outside world. At graduation, the most highly rated girls become “companions”, permitted to live with their husbands and breed sons until they are no longer useful.

For the girls left behind, the future – as a concubine or a teacher – is grim.

Best friends Freida and Isabel are sure they’ll be chosen as companions – they are among the most highly rated girls in their year.

But as the intensity of final year takes hold, Isabel does the unthinkable and starts to put on weight. ..
And then, into this sealed female environment, the boys arrive, eager to choose a bride.

Freida must fight for her future – even if it means betraying the only friend, the only love, she has ever known. . .


I had to give myself a little time to settle after reading this book if I wanted to make any sort of coherent analysis. If I hadn’t this would probably be all “ OH MY GOD I CAN’T EVEN THE FEELS !!!!!!!!!!!!!” or something equally awful. That’s a good thing, I suppose, that this book inspired so much emotion in me that I just sat staring at the wall for God knows how long, completely dumbstruck. Thanks a million to Quercus for my copy !!

I was told that this book was shocking by everyone, so I was surprised when I wasn’t shocked by it. It’s not that it’s not shocking, but it’s also realistic, if that makes sense. A lot of the scenes seemed really familiar, like when the girls ( called eves ) sat around in a circle and talked about each other. I also identified with a lot of the thoughts that freida had, the way she puts herself down and her opinion of herself. The ranking that goes on between the eves plays a huge part in the novel. Every year the eves are ranked against each other according to their appearance, and the results are published for everyone to see. They are told that only the top ten eves will be chosen as companions, so this inspires fierce competition between the eves. While we don’t actually get ranked, I think most girls can agree that we subconsciously rank our peers and ourselves. We think “ her hair is better than mine, but my legs are slimmer than hers” and we place ourselves in the hierarchy accordingly. With this ranking system , O’Neill captures perfectly the idea that it’s not even enough to be pretty, you need to be prettier than everyone else. O’Neill also captures our obsession with weight. The eves are told they are supposed to aspire to an optimum weight , not too fat, not too skinny, and they are treated according to their weight. Throughout the novel we see girls being staved and put on kcal blockers if they are overweight, and they are force-fed if they are underweight. The eves must exercise complete control  over their weight, and deviating from the mark is seen as a sign of weakness.

Another interesting aspect of the novel is the different attitudes to sex that come hand in hand with companions( the wives ) and the concubines. Companions are considered fairly sexless, they should just ‘lie back and the of England’ for want of a better phrase. The only reason they should ever have sex is to provide sons for the husbands, and they should certainly never enjoy it. Concubines are also definite sex objects, except this time they are allowed enjoy sex. In fact, they have to enjoy it, and they better fake it if they don’t.  Both concubines and companions are there to be used by men, despite the fact they have very different ‘functions’. To me they represented the double standard that women are subjected to by some people in todays society. The idea of a termination date is also interesting. The eves are terminated at a certain age according to their role. The concubines are terminated the youngest, next the companions, but the chastities are never terminated. The idea of not being terminated is horrifying to the eves, because god forbid they would be old and ugly. One of the moments that stood out for me is when the picture book was taken off freida because she asked about something that was said in it, the forbidden topic of math. The chastities also discourage the eves from being ‘academic’, and it is considered a bad sign when an eve displays any signs of logical thinking or intelligence.

O’Neill dehumanises the eves extremely well - I even had to remind myself from time to time that these girls were real people. They are seen as disposable commodities, nothing more than a jumble of body parts. This should be shocking, but realistically this is how a lot of women all over the world are still treated today. The writer drops the capital letter from the eves name, and the chastities call them by numbers instead of names. This serves to dehumanise the eves even more.

Only Ever Yours is written by an Irish writer (Yay for the home team) and is definitely one of the best Irish books I’ve ever read. It’s a really fast read. I read it in two days , and once I picked it up I had a hard time putting it down again. The ending is fantastic, it is gut wrenching and exciting and thoroughly surprising. O’Neill’s writing is perfect. It is not laboured or heavy. It doesn’t get in the way of the storytelling, in fact it enhances it. I expected the book to be extremely theme driven, but it was actually driven by narrative, which I prefer, so that made me very happy.

I would recommend this book to everyone over the age of about fourteen (because some of the scenes can be quite distressing). Not only is it important for teenage girls to read it, but I think that  boys should read it too, if only to try and understand what the other half of the human population go through on a daily basis. This is a book that should be taught in school, there is so much more in it than what I’ve put in this review.

Five Stars *****

( Also, I hear there is going to be a sequel. Louise, if you're listening, that would make my life. )