Friday, 24 July 2015

March and April Reads

It has been impossibly long since I have blogged because I had been so busy with coursework and then revision and exams and after that I got caught up in the thrill of summer freedom. I really want to keep track of how I felt about the books I have read this year though (although this is going to feel impossible to write) which is why this is coming like 4 months late. Over March and April I only managed to read 7 books and one audio book which is an average one month for me...yay for responsibility preventing me from reading

The Infernal Devices Trilogy by Cassandra Clare     90%
(Synopsis for Clockwork Angel) The year is 1978. Tessa Gray descends into London's dark, supernatural underworld in search of her missing brother only to find that her sole allies are the demon-slaying shadow hunters, of which include two mysterious boys that Tessa is attracted two, Will and Jem. Soon they find themselves battling against a secret organisation of  warlocks, vampires, demons and humans equipped with an army of unstoppable clockwork creatures. Out to rule the empire, can Tessa and her allies stop them in time...?
I finally finished this trilogy by marathoning  Clockwork Angel, Clockwork Prince and Clockwork Princess during this month, although I had already read the first, Clockwork Angel, last year. I was not aware that City of Heavenly Fire had about one thousand and one spoilers in it for this trilogy so I went into it already knowing quite a lot about about what happens which was very annoying because as a result I was so much less engrossed in this trilogy then I had been in The Mortal Instruments. Nevertheless, I still immensely enjoyed this trilogy and actually think it's far better than The Mortal Instruments (which I still love) in terms of the writing, storyline and the characters. The characters were complex and flawed and just wonderfully crafted and it really made this book for me. I also loved the storyline which was really unique and interesting and flowed really well because of the easy writing style. This trilogy gave me all the feels and was heart wrenching but brilliant and I really need Will so that he can quote classic literature to me all day long.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett     85%        
Enter a vanished and unjust world: Jackson Mississippi, 1962. Where black maids raise white children, but aren't trusted not to steal the silver... There's Aibileen, raising her seventeenth white child and nursing the hurt caused by her own son's tragic death; Minny, whose cooking is nearly as sassy as her tongue; and white Miss Skeeter, home from College,who wants to know why her beloved maid has disappeared. Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny. No one would believe they'd be friends; fewer still would tolerate it. But as each woman finds the courage to cross boundaries, they come to depend and rely upon one another. Each is in search of a truth. And together they have an extraordinary story to tell...
This was a reread for me of a much loved book. I actually listened to this on audio book while completing my textiles coursework and I would definitely recommend the audiobook to anyone who is interested in reading this but can't find the time as the voices are done very well and it still managed to engross me just as much. The Help is a novel that I will go back to again and again as it never fails to to hit me with a strong tidal wave of emotion and I know that this is something I will appreciate for, well, forever (excuse the dramatics). Wonderfully written with beautifully crafted characters filled with flaws and subtleties which makes them excellently developed causing me to love some of them even more. The story is heart-wrenching and heart-warming, filled with emotion and the unexpected touch of humour which I always enjoy. The brilliant message in this books makes it a vitally important read for everyone.  
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven     59%
Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him. Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death. When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.
My feelings about this book were and still are very weird so this is going to be a very jumbled review with opinions you may not agree with and I haven't even sorted out myself yet. I am really sorry if I offend anyone when writing about the mental illness addressed in this book as that is definitely not my intention. After first finishing this book I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads and you would probably see me saying very different things about it if I had written this when I was supposed to but after a lot of reflection I reduced it to 3 stars and the main reason I didn't reduce it further was due to my original rating of it proving that I clearly enjoyed it. The five stars came down to me thinking this book had a great message about mental illness, loving Theodore Finch, enjoying the story and thinking the writing style was beautiful (even though parts made me cringe and now it all makes me cringe). After thinking about this all maybe a month after reading it, I realised my opinions were beginning to change quite drastically. Not only did the writing and the story lose some of its magic for me as I felt it was rather cliche, cringey and somewhat juvenile (although it has to be said that I still really like the story when I think about it now) but I began to develop quite a big problem with the characters and the message. While I appreciate parts of the message in trying to make people understand that you never really know what is going on in someones life and that mental illness isn't shameful at all, I have a big problem with the way it was executed and dealt with as well as some of the other messages this book had. I have had no personal experience dealing with serious mental illness and if I am correct this author does so I do understand that she may be very good at portraying what it is like to have a mental illness through her characters, however I have had friends who have suffered and have been through a lot with mental illness and so I know that while it can consume them it doesn't make up the whole of who they are. In this book however, I began to feel that the characters merely felt like personifications of their illnesses, as if that was the only thing worth knowing about them - to me it felt as if it was saying that a person's mental illness will become them and that is okay to accept and that people with mental illnesses are all like the characters in this book. I know that there is nothing to be ashamed of in having a mental illness, however I do not think it is okay to promote the characters (such as Theo's) struggles with the illness as little quirks or desirable traits, as if them being their illness is how it is meant to be. To me, it almost feels disrespectful to those who are suffering from these things and are fighting to  make people realise that they aren't their illness, much like someone with cancer, for example, might do so. This is all  just my opinion and I am not even sure it will be my final opinion, I think I will need to reread it at some point to form a full and final opinion about it. Feel free to tell me I am wrong or have got the wrong idea from it if you have read this book, I am really sorry if I have accidentally offended anyone or got the wrong end of the stick with this. I have other problems with the messages in this book too though, one being that it promotes slut shaming, something which I am very against - why do women get called "slut" and shunned for doing what they want and having fun while men are celebrated for the same thing? Anyway that's a rant for another day, but to conclude (after a very long "mini" review), I would recommend that you give this book a try if you are interested, it's a good story that will rip your heart out regardless of some of the problems you may find with it. I would suggest, however, that you go in to it aware of these things so that you can form an opinion for yourself as it is definitely not for everyone.

Shatter Me by Taherah Mafi     78%
Juliette hasn't touched anyone in exactly 264 days. The last time she did, it was an accident, but the Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette's touch is fatal but as long as she doesn't hurt anyone else, no one cares. With diseases destroying the population, scarce food and birds that can no longer fly, the world is too busy crumbling to worry about a 17-year-old girl. Claiming that their way was the only way to fix things, the Reestablishment threw Juliette into a cell. Now that so many people have died, the few remaining survivors are whispering war and the Reestablishment have changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than just a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she is exactly what the Reestablishment need right now. Juliette has to make a choice: be a weapon...or be a warrior
I really enjoyed this read, managing to fly through it in one evening - yes, it was that addicting. I found the writing style really unique and beautiful and it completely engrossed me from the word go. Taherah Mafi's writing perfectly captured Juliette's mental state helping me to understand her so much more and added complexity to the story. I also really enjoyed the fast-paced, action-filled dystopian story line which, although I wouldn't say was unique, made for a fun and interesting read only emphasised and improved by the romance aspect which I also enjoyed (despite the insta-love). Although I really liked the characters and caught glimpses of their more complex sides (something I assume and hope will be expanded in the next two books), I didn't really form much of a connection with any of them, I think because I found it so fast-paced. For me forming connections with characters is what converts a YA novel from being fluffy and fun to being heart-wrenching and important so that aspect was a bit disappointing but hopefully, that will change once I delve a little further into the Shatter Me world as I definitely enjoyed it enough to want to pick up the next book. All in all, a fun, interesting and beautifully written dystopian (but perhaps a guilty pleasure) read that I would definitely recommend.

The Crucible by Arthur Miller 
 Arthur Miller wrote of his classic play about the witch-hunts and trials in seventeenth-century Salem, Massachusetts. Based on historical people and real events, Miller's drama is a searing portrait of a community engulfed by hysteria. In the rigid theocracy of Salem, rumours that women are practising witchcraft galvanise the town's most basic fears and suspicions; and when a young girl accuses Elizabeth Proctor of being a witch, self-righteous church leaders and townspeople insist that Elizabeth be brought to trial. The ruthlessness of the prosecutors and the eagerness of neighbour to testify against neighbour brilliantly illuminate the destructive power of socially sanctioned violence.
I had to read this for school for my Literature exam and because of the deep analysis and everything I am not really sure if and how much I liked it (hence the missing rating). If I had read this in my own time it is hard to say if I would have enjoyed it as it is not something I would usually reach for, but I definitely wouldn't have understood it for all there is to appreciate about it. The themes in this book such as hysteria, theocracy and betrayal are really important and I think that this book holds some really interesting points about oppression in a puritan society as well as the paranoia and hysteria that can build from false accusation in a theocracy. Additionally, the parallel this play draws between the Salem witch trials in the seventeenth century and McCarthyism during the 1950s (the persecution of communists in USA) is incredibly interesting and I now know so much more about both this and Salem witch hunts because of it. The characters are also brilliant- fantastically flawed and realistic and through Arthur Millers commentary in between scenes as well as the dialogue that we witness, we really get a feel for why the characters are desperate enough to do the things that they do. This really helps with the back-story and foreshadowing as well. All in all, it is a very interesting, though somewhat bizarre and strange (which is further highlighted if you have seen the film) read with well written characters and a lot to think about. It is definitely worth picking up just to see what you think.

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome     70%
The Walker children - also known as Captain John, Mate Susan, Able Seaman Titty and Ship's Boy Roger - set sail on the Swallow and head for Wild Cat Island. There they camp under open skies, swim in clear water and go fishing for their dinner. But their days are disturbed by the Blackett sisters, the fierce Amazon pirates, The Swallows and Amazons decide to wage war and so begins a summer of unforgettable discoveries and incredible adventure.
This book was a lovely adventure story that I am sure I would have loved when I was a kid - I mean, it certainly isn't a children's classic for nothing. However reading it now, I found it quite difficult to get into because I couldn't relate to any of the characters and it didn't feel like much was happening, even though for the characters a lot was, and this made it slightly boring to read. The story did start to pick up a bit and it was a very lovely and sweet children's adventure that I did really appreciate, this was certainly helped along by the writing style which I also enjoyed. The characters didn't really feel well developed but they were still executed in a way that created a great group dynamic between them which I liked. Although it wasn't the most enjoyable read and I won't be continuing on with the next books, I am still glad that I read this and I definitely appreciate it for what it is.

Have you read any of these books, what did you think of them?