Reading Regularly

Review: Opposite of Always by justin a. reynolds

Review: Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds

Opposite of Always made me nostalgic for my teen years. 

I’m the kind of person who re-reads books over and over again. Opposite of Always reminds me of a book that I read until the pages nearly fell out, Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall. Both books deal with a character reliving a death… although in this case it is the death of Jack’s love Kate that is trying to be avoided.

Jack meets Kate on a college visit and falls head over heels in love. And then she dies.

When he wakes up before they ever met he has the chance to put things right. Save her. This novel shows his attempts to be the hero and find a way back to the young woman he met on the stairs at a party.

This novel had a lot of positives. Jack is a funny and likeable character, with a supporting cast of great friends. His friend Franny’s dad, The Coupon, is in prison. I really appreciated reading a novel where the characters surrounding the main character are more than just Back-Up 1 and Back-Up 2.

 

The way Jack interacts with the central premise is also really fun. He doesn’t just presume that the only path available to him is to stay in a relationship with Kate. It might be possible to save her in another way…

The diversity rep in Opposite of Always was also really impressive, both in terms of the representation of people of colour and the discussion of health conditions. I learnt about sickle cell anaemia in this novel, a condition which I didn’t really understand about before.

There were a few aspects that I found frustrating though. The relationship between Jake and Kate is explained much better in some of the later iterations. I have a better sense for why they care so much for each other, whereas in the first go around I do question a little what made Kate seem a better choice than Jillian – the girl Jake has known for years. I also felt that some parts of the book dragged a little and wonder if it would have been a little snappier if it had been shorter.

How did I feel about the ending? That’s a trickier question! I am curious to see how other readers find the conclusion to Jack and Kate’s story.

My overall rating, 4.5/5, reflects the fact that I know that teenage me would have jumped up and down in joy for this book. Figuratively, at least! It gives me the same feeling that the books I used to love back then did, allowing me to escape my worries and fears for a little bit.

Jack and Kate: a teen romance for the post-millennial generation.

Thank you to NetGalley, Pan Macmillan and Justin A. Reynolds for the opportunity to read in exchange for my honest review.

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Reading Regularly

Review: Voices by David Elliott

Review: Voices by David Elliott

This is one of the most unusual books I’ve had the pleasure to read in a very long time. The tale of Joan Arc, hero and martyr, is one I’ve heard only in children’s history books a very long time ago. I’ve studied History at university for four years, including a smattering of French history, but never encountered The Maid. I have a sense that this verse novel might set young people on a course of discovery, learning more about the past and the women who inhabited that faraway place. 

In Voices, we follow Joan in her final hours before her execution, as she narrates her journey from countryside maid to heroine (and back down towards her doom). There are interjections from the king and also poems from the perspective of her sword and other vital objects. Some of these additional poems felt a little gratuitous, but overall they added rather than detracted from her story.

The writing was beautiful and I found myself bookmarking many passages within the short book to re-read later. If this had been a paper copy I would have found myself highlighting and folding over pages too.

From an academic perspective, one of the most impressive aspects of this book was something I only encountered upon reading David Elliott’s author’s note at the close of the book. I had no idea that the poetic forms mirrored those that were actually in use in medieval France and can imagine that was quite tricky to execute.

This short, but perfectly formed, poetic exploration of the Joan of Arc will be published in March 2019. Check it out!

Thanks to NetGalley, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s Book Group and David Elliott for the opportunity to read this book.

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Review: Not Her Daughter by Rea Frey

Review: Not Her Daughter

If you saw a woman verbally and physically abusing her child while no-one stopped it, what would you do?

This terrible dilemma is the basic premise of Rea Frey’s showstopping Not Her Daughter. Most people would perhaps let someone official know, or just stand by and avert their eyes, but Sarah refuses to do that. Frey’s stunning characterisations mean that the businesswoman’s choice doesn’t appear crazy or criminal, just horrifically misguided. When Sarah ‘rescues’ five year old Emma, it seems like it could almost be the right choice.
Throughout this novel, as we flip back and forth between the lives of Emma Townsend’s mother and the lady who kidnapped her, the complexity of motherhood is laid bare. I loved the use of third person for Amy, her real mother, and first person for Sarah. It meant that we subconsciously root for the kidnapper, an interesting twist.
Amy also has a story of her own to tell though. She’s had a hard life, feels trapped in her marriage, and has made plenty of mistakes of her own. Amy oozes regret and guilt. Her desperate attempt to find excitement through discovering her past lives demonstrated so clearly just how broken she is.
The use of ‘before’ and ‘after’ gave us insight into the lives of these women before everything went wrong. Sarah was highly successful, Amy unfulfilled. Sarah had recently left a long term relationship with a man who she had believed to be The One while Amy has a husband she hates. The contrast between them makes the conflict even more striking.

Sarah would be the perfect mother for an excitable young girl. But she isn’t — Emma is not her daughter. 

There were some plot threads I would have liked a little more detail on, such as why Ethan never proposed to Sarah, or what happens to Amy’s husband after the novel ends. By cutting those threads loose, though, Frey has constructed a world which feels just as real as our own.
A brilliant read that I devoured in two sittings.
Thank you to NetGalley, St Martin’s Press and Rea Frey for the opportunity to read this wonderful novel!
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To Kill a Kingdom Review

To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo
Review

First things first, wow.

This book is my favourite of the year so far and I have a sneaky feeling that it might retain that position until December 31st!

It’s incredible. Definitely not what I was expecting when I started reading either.

The novel follows a prince and a siren as they try and achieve their competing goals: the death of the prince and the death of the siren. Of course, as they get to know each other, things start to change. One of the best aspects of this book was its dual narrative, although some of the changes in narrator were slightly confusing. Usually books with two narrators put me off but this time, though Lira was my favourite, I enjoyed both sides to the story.

Every other mermaid/siren book I’ve read has turned the stuff of legend into weak-willed characters. Not To Kill A Kingdom. Even when she is forced onto land, Lira can certainly not be called weak. The depth of the characterisation in this book was wonderful. I would have happily read hundreds of pages more about their journey together.

For me, the one weakness of this book lay also in its strengths. The author knew when the story was told and the book ends accordingly. It was almost a little too abrupt, the ending, as I wanted to know more about what comes next. How all of the characters react to new situations and changes to their lives.

Although, of course, leaving you wanting more is a sign of a very good book indeed!

Having flown through this book in an evening, I’m excited to read this author’s next books. Thank you to NetGalley and Bonnier Zaffre for the opportunity to read To Kill A Kingdom.

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To Kill a Kingdom Review

To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo
Review

First things first, wow.

This book is my favourite of the year so far and I have a sneaky feeling that it might retain that position until December 31st!

It’s incredible. Definitely not what I was expecting when I started reading either.

The novel follows a prince and a siren as they try and achieve their competing goals: the death of the prince and the death of the siren. Of course, as they get to know each other, things start to change. One of the best aspects of this book was its dual narrative, although some of the changes in narrator were slightly confusing. Usually books with two narrators put me off but this time, though Lira was my favourite, I enjoyed both sides to the story.

Every other mermaid/siren book I’ve read has turned the stuff of legend into weak-willed characters. Not To Kill A Kingdom. Even when she is forced onto land, Lira can certainly not be called weak. The depth of the characterisation in this book was wonderful. I would have happily read hundreds of pages more about their journey together.

For me, the one weakness of this book lay also in its strengths. The author knew when the story was told and the book ends accordingly. It was almost a little too abrupt, the ending, as I wanted to know more about what comes next. How all of the characters react to new situations and changes to their lives.

Although, of course, leaving you wanting more is a sign of a very good book indeed!

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Reading Regularly – Books 8 to 11

8) The Taming of the Queen by Philipa Gregory
An exciting look at one of Henry VIII’s most neglected queens, that had some scenes that really made me question the characterisation of Henry VIII that we see in most fictional portrayals today.

9) The Fall by Claire McGowan
Beautifully written, starts off so strong but in the end brought only disappointment after hours spent frantically tearing through the pages to reach the end as quickly as possible.

10) Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal
A really intriguing idea that felt like it could have been so much more, but made for an enjoyable, if bittersweet, read anyway.

11) The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett
Featuring thinly veiled North East landmarks like Barter Books, this is a book that I really enjoyed and look forward to reading more from this author in the future.

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Reading Regularly 2017: Book 7 [Dear Amy by Helen Callaghan]

Wow. This one was a real shocker for me. I bought it on a whim, after realising that out of the mountain of books I’ve bought this year there wasn’t really anything I was desperate to read. It was chosen because it seemed like the least ‘middle class family in crisis’ crime novel, as I’m really sick of those, and because it was just £3.85 and had a Sunday Times bestseller announcement on the front.

This book really impressed me because every twist and turn was perfectly orchestrated and while it was possible to guess what was coming around half way through, the way it was put together kept you turning the pages. I started reading it in the middle of the afternoon yesterday and by the time I went to bed — much later than I would have liked to — it was done.

Definitely recommend this one.

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Reading Regularly 2017: Book 6 [My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella]

I only realised that Sophie Kinsella had released this book when I saw it in a Costco near my home. It was weird, considering that I was used to following her publishing schedule avidly as I had done earlier in the Confessions of a Shopaholic series.

This book was a great quick read and another one where I did stay up a lot later than I had planned to. The difficulties of affording to live in London while in an entry-level job were something I could definitely relate to, as a soon-to-be graduate who has a keen sense of the challenges that moving to London would bring. There were also some really insightful comments on baby boomers and the generation gap that got me thinking, making me almost believe that Kinsella was a twenty something just like me… Of course she isn’t, but her characterisation was just that good!

One of the difficulties the book had for me was the level of sympathy I was able to feel for the MC as the book progressed. Her Dad and Stepmum ended up opening a glamping resort as they had that much land and spare cash available. This was a great backdrop for the drama of the second half of the book but detached the experience of relatively well-to-do farmers from my own life experience a little too much for me.

I’m usually put off by books that have overtly middle class characters at the centre of them as I like to read about people I personally identify with, but the opening sympathy I’d felt for the main character kept me going.

Avoid reading the inner jacket copy if you don’t want to be spoiled as it took a little bit of the intrigue away from the first half of the book.

It was a fun, quick read. Not really something that has stuck in my head much weeks after I read it, hence why I’m calling the leading lady ‘MC’ rather than her name (as I can’t quite remember it!)

It would be a perfect beach read.

Up Next: I’m about to start reading Dear Amy, which is a Sunday Times bestseller so I have high hopes for this one!

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Reading Regularly 2017: Book 5 [The White Princess by Philippa Gregory]

 

It’s been a while without reading for fun, once again, and that’s been weird. I decided to restart my reading adventures with a book I first bought (hardback, more difficult for my hands/wrists, so never got around to it) way back when it first came out. I’d read all of the earlier books in the series, bar the one about Jacqueta, and was eager to give this one a go. I’d loved The White Queen on TV, as well as the many fanvids and fanfictions about the series, so wanted to read The White Princess before that show comes around next month.

I found this one a little slower to get into than the others, perhaps because it is edging closer to a historical period I know things about. I’ve studied Henry VII at university but have always had an interest in English history from Henry VIII onwards, so I had a barebones idea of how this was going to go even before I started reading. It does take away the thrill a little bit, especially when it is written in straightforward prose rather than the ingenious innovation of my beloved Wolf Hall!

I am very impressed though how the author jumps a little forward in history each time through a different character’s eyes. I started reading Three Sisters Three Queens just before reading this and am going to give it a fresh go having read Elizabeth of York’s story (I found the main character of that one a little whiny in the early chapters, understandable given her age).

The development of Elizabeth’s relationship with Henry over time was brilliant and the threading in of the curse that has plagued the series since The White Queen was great, especially since it provides an answer of sorts to the question of who — in this fictional universe at least — is responsible for the death of the Princes in the Tower.

The ending was perfect, as I came closer to the end I wondered if the book was going to deal with the final heartbreak right towards the end of Elizabeth’s life. As far as I remember, It didn’t. That wasn’t the last scene. And I loved the book for that.

Next Up on Reading Regularly: I have a few books I started earlier in the year during the business of university that I might try and finish soon, especially one of them that I was only a few chapters from the end of back in January or February. I’ve also just started reading the latest Sophie Kinsella novel! If anyone has any reading suggestions, do let me know 🙂

 

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