Monday 29 August 2016

Book Club Picks #2 Nothing Tastes as Good

After Annabel McCormack dies, she is given a mission to help Julia Jacobs, a girl who she remembers being briefly aquainted with at her old school. However, Annabel is not told what she is meant to help Julia with, and assumes it is to help her with her binge eating and weight problem. Annabel soon finds out that there is more to Julia than meets the eye, and her eating problem may be in response to a much bigger problem.

 I have to admit that when Hot Key Books sent us this book, I didn't think I was going to like it. Although I realise talking about mental health problems is important, I have been reading a lot of similar books recently and felt as if I needed a break from this kind of thing. However, despite wanting to read something lighter, I did actually end up enjoying this book a lot more than I thought I would. It follows Annabel, a girl who has died from heart failure caused by her anorexia. Like many girls, Annabel believes that skinny is beautiful, but we can see from the start that she has an unhealthy obsession with it. However, Annabel believes that her way of thinking is right, and although she had been diagnosed with anorexia, she does not believe that there is anything wrong with her. Having an anorexic girl being set up to a girl who binge eats sounds like a match made in hell, and although it definitely was at the start, Annabel slowly realises that she is wrong, and comes to realise that she did have anorexia, and her family were just trying to help her. I loved the redemption that Annabel went through, and although she initially wanted her last message to her family to be angry for putting her into hospital, she ends up writing a heart warming letter to her sister instead. I found this to be extremely sweet, as her sister was in danger of becoming just like Annabel, which she eventually realised wasn't healthy.

I loved the fact that Annabel was the narrator rather than Julia. Annabel is an extremely unreliable narrator, which I found quite interesting, as it is up to the reader to realise how wrong her thoughts are. At the start of the novel, Julia doesn't seem to be particularly bothered by her weight gain, which made me wonder how “fat” Julia actually was. Julia only starts seeing herself as being extremely overweight once Annabel starts planting these thoughts into her head, and Annabel seems to think that anyone who doesn't have their ribs showing is fat. For all the reader knows, Julia could be a perfectly average sized person, but to Annabel that could be seen as huge. Weight gain and binge eating can be dangerous to a persons health, but the way Annabel went about it was very harsh.

Although the final message of this book is that being underweight can be even more damaging than being overweight, and that being fat isn't the worst thing a person can be, I did feel as if the book should have had some sort of trigger warning. Although I have never personally suffered from anorexia, I do have problems with my weight and sometimes feel horribly fat. Even though I realised how wrong Annabel's thoughts were, it is very easy to let a person with such strong opinions start manipulating you into thinking their bad opinions are right, especially if you are vulnerable to that kind of thing. Even as someone who isn't necessarily a vulnerable person, I started feeling guilty about my own weight, even going so far as to feeling guilty about eating a chocolate flapjack as I was reading the book. I felt as if people who suffer from anorexia could be triggered by this book, and that it should have at least had a warning on the back to explain this. The final message is about body positivity and that the most important thing is to be healthy, but I felt as if the lead up to Annabel's realisation of this could be harmful to certain people.

I was shocked by the plot twist in this book, as Julia has much bigger problems which triggered the binge eating to begin with. I loved how although she had been put in a horrible position, she finally realised she was not to blame, and, for lack of better words, called the person out on his shit. I also loved how Annabel was so supportive, and realised that her weight wasn't her main problem after all, and she needed help with a bigger problem.

I genuinely couldn't decide if I liked Gavin or not. After breaking up with his girlfriend, he starts flirting with and kissing other girls as a coping mechanism. I felt as if this was extremely unfair on the girls, as at least two girls who he did this to had developed feelings for him, which he seemed to not care about. Although he was sweet to Julia and seemed to genuinely like her, the moment when he thought she didn't like him anymore, he went back to kissing random girls. The fact that he didn't care that he was upsetting girls made me dislike him, but at the same time I loved that he was there for Julia when no one else was and helped her with the newspaper. Even after finishing the book, I still have mixed feelings about Gavin and still have no idea if I like him.

I feel as if this is an important book to read, and although it is a little difficult to get through emotionally, I am glad that I read it. The fact that it was narrated from the point of view of a girl who had died from anorexia was extremely unique, and the only other book I've read that I thought was a little similar to this was The Lovely Bones. The fact that mental health problems can get to the point of killing a person is barely ever taken seriously, so I felt as if this book helped to see the seriousness of it, and how people with mental illnesses often need just as much help as those with a physical illness

We will be discussing Nothing Tastes as Good along with our other book club pick, More Happy Than Not on 31st August at 7pm! Join in with the hashtag #BCChat

Wednesday 24 August 2016

Review on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

It is nineteen years after the Battle of Hogwarts, and as a Ministry of Magic worker and father, Harry Potter must balance both his work and family life. His youngest son, Albus, is just about to start his first year at Hogwarts. However, Albus turns out to be nothing like his father, and amidst bullying and teasing, he makes friends with Scorpius Malfoy, the son of his fathers childhood rival. As the two boys go through their Hogwarts journey together, they soon discover a terrible wrong in Harry's past, the untimely death of a boy named Cedric Diggory. Albus and Scorpius must go back in time to prevent this tragedy from occurring. However, as we all know, bad things happen to wizards who medal with time.

 So as some of you might already know, I am a huge Harry Potter nerd. It all started when I was eight years old.. Okay I won't go into details but just know I started reading the books around sixteen years ago and have never looked back since. I was both excited and disappointed when I found out that there would be an eighth story in the form of a play. Excited because OH MY GOD THERE IS AN ACTUAL CANON STORY ABOUT THE NEXT GENERATION

Disappointed because I'm probably never going to be able to go see the play. Tickets are like leprechaun gold, disappearing in the blink of an eye, and along with the hefty price tag, travelling up to London and staying in a hotel would not put me in a good financial position to say the least. As many people have pointed out, this is after all a script that is designed to be watched not read, a fact that for some reason, some people didn't understand and felt it necessary to complain that it wasn't in novel format. As a lot of us don't have the privilege of getting to see the play for ourselves,  the only way we will ever be able to learn this story is by reading the script. If at some point I ever get the opportunity to see the play I will definitely do a comparison, but for now this review is based on reading the script not the play itself.

I adored that it started right where Deathly Hallows finished, and it was fun to see some of the lines we all know and love from the epilogue, especially Harry's talk to Albus. I felt as if I'd never been away from this wonderful world, and I was so excited to see what this new generation would be like! The first thing I have to talk about is the characters, particularly Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy. As we all know, their fathers were enemies at school, so I loved that these two boys became instant friends on the Hogwarts Express, much like Harry and Ron did. Immediately you can see that Scorpius Malfoy is nothing like his father was at his age, and instead of being arrogant and self confident, he is shy, and through trying to impress Albus messes up his words. I found it adorable that he tried to share his sweets in an attempt to make friends, and the fact that Albus didn't care he was Draco's son or that there were rumours he was actually Voldemort's son made me instantly adore this new friendship.

I really wanted to like Rose Granger-Weasley, but unfortunately I just couldn't. I felt as if she wasn't in the script enough for me to create a full opinion of her, and what we do see of her is extremely judgemental towards Scorpius, a boy who has only ever tried to befriend her. I hated how she stopped being friends with Albus just because he was friends with Scorpius, and I couldn't for the life of me see why Scorpius liked her. Scorpius is an extremely sweet character who would never do anything to hurt anyone, so I felt as if she treated him extremely unfairly. I was honestly hoping she would change her ways and become friends with both boys, but unfortunately that did not happen.

 Although I adored seeing the characters we all know and love grown up, I did feel as if there was a few characters who definitely should have at least got a mention. Although Neville is briefly mentioned, we never actually see him, which I thought was strange as a good part of the script takes place at Hogwarts, and being a Hogwarts professor and friend of Harry, Ron and Hermione, I thought he would have made a small appearance. I also felt as if George and Luna should have been mentioned, as I really wanted to know if they were okay. Another character who I expected to get a mention was Teddy Lupin, Harry's Godson. Although he is an adult by this point, I really wanted the script to at least tell us that he was okay and living happily somewhere, and I found it strange that Harry didn't even acknowledge his existence.

Moving on to the story itself, I really loved it! Time travel is always one of my favourite plot devices, and as Prisoner of Azkaban was my favourite Harry Potter book because of this, I loved that Cursed Child reminded me of this. I remember Dumbledore warning Harry and Hermione that time travel could often have dangerous consequences, so I loved that the script showed exactly how dangerous the consequences could get. 

Although I did somehow accurately predict how Part 1 would end, there were still plenty of plot twists that I was not expecting at all! Although I realise the play wasn't written entirely by JK Rowling, I did feel as if some of the characters were a little out of character at times, but as people change as they get older most of it didn't bother me too much. However, some parts genuinely did seem like a strange fan fiction, one part which stands out for me being the trolley lady scene, which I found both hilarious and completely ridiculous. I also found it incredibly unbelievable that precious cinnamon roll Cedric Diggory would ever become a death eater just because he was humiliated. Cedric is honestly one of the sweetest characters in the Harry Potter series and I honestly could not see him even hurting a grindylow never mind becoming a death eater.

I adored that both Scorpius and Albus were in Slytherin! As we all know, Slytherin has always had a bad reputation, with the majority of Death Eaters, along with Voldemort himself being members. As a Slytherin myself, I always felt as if it was extremely unfair to stereotype all Slytherins as being bad, so I was so excited to learn that the protagonists of this story would be in Slytherin! I felt as if it really helped to break the Slytherin stereotype, as although you could argue that Albus acts like a typical Slytherin, Scorpius did not seem like a Slytherin at all, so I loved that he smashed the Slytherin sterotype into pieces. 

Another redemption I was extremely happy about was Draco Malfoy! Throughout the Harry Potter series, I always felt as if there was more to Draco than meets the eye. I never saw him as a villain, but more a young boy who was forced into a situation he was uncomfortable with due to the circumstances of his parents. Having a father who was a Death Eater really didn't help him be the person he could have been, and seeing how Scorpius and Albus acted together made me a little sad that under different circumstances, Harry and Draco could have been that way also. It was heart breaking that Draco explained how he had been lonely as a child, and that he had envied the friendship between Harry, Ron and Hermione. I think something we all forget is that Draco initially tried to befriend Harry, but with a bad upbringing, he didn't really know how to go about this. The fact that Harry and Draco work together to find their sons and finally become friends made me extremely happy, as I have honestly wanted that for a long time. Another thing that I loved was the fact that Draco Malfoy was a much better father than Harry Potter. I was angry at Harry for the horrible things he said to Albus, and the fact that Draco had to come round his house and call him out on his shit said it all really! Basically I really adore Draco Malfoy in this story and the fact he finally got the redemption he deserved made me happy.

I know some of you probably don't want to hear this, but at the risk of conflicting opinions I'm going to do this anyway. I felt as if the relationship between Albus and Scorpius felt nothing like the relationship between Harry and Ron. Although it did feel that way at first, as the story progressed, you really saw how much these boys cared for each other and how they would do anything for each other. If we look back on Goblet of Fire, a story line that actually comes up a lot in this book, and takes place with Harry and Ron being the same age as Scorpius and Albus, you can really see the differences in the friendships. As we all remember, Harry and Ron had a falling out about Ron thinking Harry had put his name in the Goblet of Fire without telling him. I felt as if there was a lot of feelings of anger and betrayal in that story line, and although they were upset, it didn't seem to affect them too much overall, as Harry still moved on to focus on the task ahead. However if you compare that to the forced falling out of Albus and Scorpius, it couldn't be more different. The boys are described as being heartbroken, as we see Scorpius on several occasions moping round the castle, clearly upset. It gets to the point where Draco has to confront Harry about his decision, as his son has come to him in tears about not being able to be with Albus. Along with Scorpius being clearly jealous of Albus getting female attention, Scorpius' happy thought being Albus when the Dementors are close, and the adorable hugs they frequently share, it has come to my attention that, to me at least, their relationship seemed to be bordering on romance. As gay characters in children's and YA books are becoming more frequent, I thought this would have been the perfect opportunity to represent the LGBTQ community. Unfortunately, this turned out to all be queer baiting, and I was extremely frustrated when towards the end of the script, Scorpius tells Albus he has asked Rose out. I felt utterly betrayed, as along with trying to add hetero normativity into the script, I could not understand why Scorpius would like Rose. Throughout the script, she is nothing but unkind to him, adding to the horribly bullying that Scorpius has to endure. I could not believe that the child of Ron and Hermione could turn out to be a bully, but honestly there is no other word for what she is. It is clear that Albus and Scorpius have a true understanding of each other, and I saw no reason why their close friendship couldn't have turned romantic. I feel as if this book proved that we still have a long way to go to make LGBTQ relationships the new normal, and I can't help but feel as if Cursed Child missed out on the opportunity to take a huge step into achieving this. This is honestly my main problem with this story, and if that hadn't been a huge issue for me, I feel as if this story would have been border lining perfection.

So, should you read this script? DEFINITELY. Should you go see the play? If you have the money and can somehow get hold of a ticket, then please do and tell me all about it! I would honestly love to one day see the magic in person, and see if the relationship between Albus and Scorpius can be seen as a romance, or if it's merely the stage directions doing it. If you've seen the play then please feel free to let me know your opinions on this! Although i'm going to rate it 5 stars purely because I loved the story and it's Harry freaking Potter, I think the gay baiting and lack of some of my favourite characters would probably make the actual rating a 4.5.

Monday 15 August 2016

Review on The Felix Chronicles #2 Five Days in January

After winter break, Felix August must resume his life as a freshman at Portland College. However, the murders have not stopped, and after experiencing the numbered ones first hand, Felix must find a way to stop them from killing innocent people. With the help of his best friend Alison, Felix must confront Lofton Ashfield, the Drestian who is destined to save the source, but also bend humankind to his will. As the Belus, Felix must overthrow Lofton and save the Source in a way that will allow the people to keep their freedom. However, Felix must also deal with the Protectors, a group of people who think that it is the Sourcerors themselves who are killing the Source, and believe all Sourcerors must be destroyed.

I was so excited to start reading this book! Although the first book in the series wasn't perfect, it did have potential, so I was looking forward to seeing how the story progressed. The story picks up right after winter break, and is action packed right from the first chapter! As one of my major issues in the first book was that it dragged out for too long, making certain parts boring, I was happy to find that this book didn't do that at all. I was hooked from start to finish, and there was barely any time for the story to slow down. As the first book was practically an origin story, I was expecting this book to be an improvement, and it definitely was! It was shorter than the first book, but I didn't feel as if this was a problem, as there was no plot point I felt was unnecessary and was just being added to fill time, which I felt was a huge problem in the first book. Books do not have to be 500 pages long to tell a well rounded story, and this book definitely proved that!

Felix continues to struggle with the extent of his powers and trying to control them, which puts him into some life threatening situations, particularly since the numbered ones, a group of monsters of Lofton's creation who easily rip humans to shreds are after him. I loved that he started to realise that he was killing people and feeling no remorse about it, which made him question himself on if he was good or bad. I adored the plot twists, particularly the ones that happened towards the end of the book, and the fact that although we are pretty sure Felix is the chosen one who is destined to save the world in the first book, this one makes us question that, and realise Felix is more of an anti hero.

 The idea of the chosen one not necessarily being the “good guy” was extremely unique and something I've never seen in a YA book before which I loved! I also loved that although Alison was the best friend who needed to be saved in the first book, she is able to look after herself in this one, and is an all round badass. Although I wasn't that keen on Alison in Freshman, I adored her in this book and she became a strong ally to Felix. I did however see some hints of their relationship starting to turn romantic, which I really didn't like as I would prefer them to remain best friends. Something I hate is that in the majority of YA, heterosexual characters can never be friends with someone of the opposite sex without it turning romantic, and I feel as if it is important that male and female characters can be friends and remain friends. However as I wasn't that keen on Harper in the first book, I was happy that there was a minimal amount of romance.

Dirk was a less important character in this book, which I couldn't decide if I was happy or disappointed about. The first book showed how he was doing crazy things to get attention, and I expected him to be more than just Lofton's pawn, so I was a little disappointed that he didn't have more of a story line. However, I did love how clever Lofton was, using others for his own personal gain and corrupting the public into thinking the government owned the numbered ones and were doing terrible things such as poisoning the water supplies when it was in fact him. The poisoning of the water was one of my favourite chapters. It followed a boy named Carter working as kitchen staff who discovers that everyone who had drank the water was dying except for himself. Sadly the book didn't return to Carter, which I was disappointed about as it left me wondering why the water hadn't affected him and if he was actually a sourceror. I felt as if he had potential and would have been a good addition to the story.

I was a little disappointed that Lucas didn't play as big of a role in this book as he did in the first one, as he was initially one of my favourite characters. I felt as if the non sourcerors, or “Wisps” should have been shown as being just as important, as I always feel as if the little people should be represented too. Although he is seen as a typical reality star, Lucas is actually quite smart, as although everyone else thought he was crazy, he was right about a lot of things about Felix before they were revealed to him. Although it wasn't really a big deal, I was surprised that his relationship with Caitlyn didn't really go anywhere, as the first book seemed to hint at a romance forming between them.

I felt as if this was a big improvement to the first book, and although I did still have a few issues with it I really enjoyed it. It ended with a huge cliffhanger and I have no idea how I'm going to be able to wait until the next book comes out! I have a few theories, one being that I think that Bill is Felix's dad, so I am excited to find out if i'm right or if i'm completely wrong! I'm hoping to see the extent of Alison's powers in the third book, and hopefully have Lucas a little more involved!

Monday 8 August 2016

Review on I'll Give You the Sun

All Noah Sweetwine wants in life is to get into the art school of his dreams. However, his twin sister Jude has other plans, including hanging out with older surfer boys and wearing short skirts. When tragedy strikes, the twins strong bond is severed, and their lives are not what they once were. Noah and Jude must learn to be truthful with each other if they are ever to repair their broken relationship

Ok so hear me out here. I realise everyone is ranting and raving about how amazing this book is, but to me it felt like your average typical YA contemporary. I'm not saying I didn't like the book, but it's not one i'll still be thinking about in a few months time. The story centres around twins Noah and Jude, and is told in a first person narrative by both twins at different points in their lives. Noah's point of view is from when they were thirteen, while Jude's is from the present day where they are sixteen. The two storylines start out being seemingly unrelated, but are gradually cleverly interwoven until they come together to form a full story. I loved this narrative technique and getting to know the characters at two different points in their lives. However one thing I didn't like was how lengthy each chapter was, which forced me to stop reading in the middle of a chapter multiple times.

Noah was by far my favourite character. He was the only character (besides the parrot) with any sort of comedic value, and I loved seeing how determined he was to get into art school. I also loved his relationship with Brian, and felt that it developed a lot more naturally than Jude and Oscar's. Brian is an extremely quirky character who is obsessed with space and is often collecting meterorites. I thought it was extremely cute that Noah kept the rock that Brian gave him, and the scene on the roof with Brian's telescope was probably my favourite scene in the whole book. However I did think Brian had more potential as a character, and I was disappointed we didn't get a scene of the boys reuniting for the first time in two years towards the end of the book.

Compared to the romance between Noah and Brian, I felt the romance between Jude and Oscar was extemely cliché. I thought the descriptions and metaphors were over the top, and they honestly made me cringe a couple of times. I feel that overusing metaphors causes them to lose their impact, and are much more effective when used sparingly to portray strong and powerful emotions. One thing I hate is instalove, and it annoyed me that Jude broke hey “boycott” at the first sight of a cute boy before she even knew his name. Although I usually love the handsome, overconfident boy with a tragic backstory, I found Oscar to be a little creepy for taking pictures of her without her permission and asking her to do a naked photoshoot. I also came to not enjoy Jude' chapters a much as I enjoyed Noah's, as I felt that nothing really happened apart from her working on her sculpture and flirting with Oscar.

I feel as if lack of communication as a main plot point is usually a lazy way to create disputes between characters, and although it is used regularly in some of my favourite works of fiction, it's always something that annoys me, especially when it's something easily resolved. Noah and Jude are extremely petty towards each other, which is fueled by jealously. There are a lot of secrets and petty revenge, one instance which comes as a shocking revelation towards the end of the book which made me dislike Jude even more.

There were some important themes in this book, such as a loss, betrayal, guilt, jealously and coming out. The book focuses heavily on the death of the twins mother and the aftermath. I loved that by the end of the book they had started to come to terms with her death, and after revealing some secrets started to realise her death was an unfortunate accident. I felt as if I would have enjoyed this book more if it had focused more on the relationships between the twins rather than the romances. I also felt as if the romances were not balanced, as Jude and Oscar was focused on a lot more than Noah and Brian. Although I do not usually give half ratings, I think I would probably give this one a 3.5.