Thematic Recs: Boarding School

Boarding schools make great settings for stories; familiar enough to the average reader, but enclosed in their own social bubbles, allowing for some really interesting situations – of all kinds! So, from a few different genres, here are a few of my favourite boarding school books:

1) Killing the Dead by Marcus Sedgwick. A short story set in a girls’ boarding school and told from several perspectives, which circles around the mystery of the death of a student the previous year. For a book this short, it manages to pack quite a punch, and is wonderfully atmospheric. I believe it also has some connection to Sedgwick’s previous book, The Ghosts of Heaven, but you certainly don’t need to have read that in order to enjoy this one, as I can attest! 😊

2) The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockheart. Annoyed at being excluded, Frankie decides to infiltrate her school’s secret boys’ club, sparking a hilarious and meticulously-plotted prank war. Fantastically written, with an amazing lead, and a great feminist angle that really snuck up on me… just like my love for this book, which I now consider among my all-time favourites.

3) Double Act by Jacqueline Wilson. Ruby and Garnet are identical twins, and love to play a matching pair, but beneath the surface they’re actually very different – and when they’re forced to move away from home and live with their dad’s new girlfriend, their relationship is put to the test. I read quite a lot of Jaqueline Wilson books as a child, but this one is hands-down my favourite; it’s a riot for younger readers, but still interesting for anyone older, and beautifully illustrated, too! Unlike the other books I’m recommending here, Double Act isn’t set at a boarding school, but the school does play an important part in Ruby and Garnet’s changing relationship towards the end of the book.

4) The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. And, of course, no list of boarding school books would be complete without an appearance from the school that we all wish we could’ve gone to: Hogwarts! Of course, there’s little point in my recommending these books, as they’ve already got the attention of anyone who’s even slightly interested, but I would like to give an honourable mention to a couple of other magical-boarding-school books: The Iron Trial by Holly Black & Cassandra Clare, and Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, both of which were undoubtedly influenced by Harry Potter, but have put their own unique spin on the genre. (Carry On, in particular, is a favourite of mine.)

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The Harry Potter Tag

harry potter tagToday I will be doing the Harry Potter Tag, which I’ve been seeing around quite a bit recently, looking absolutely fabulous (with help from that lovely artwork 😉 )! The tag (and aforementioned art) was created by Lashaan & Trang from Bookidote, and I was tagged by Poppy from Poppy’s Best of Books, whose blog you should check out for more bookish awesomeness. 😀 There’s only one rule for this tag: No picking Harry Potter for any of the answers! 😮flagrateHolly Bourne//Soulmates1) A book with a theme you found interesting, but would like to be re-written.

Soulmates by Holly Bourne was a book that I picked up because its premise – that meeting your soulmate isn’t always a good thing – sounded really interesting, but this book was terrible. And I don’t say that lightly. 😡alohomoraTamora Pierce//First Test2) The first book in a series that really hooked you.

There have been so many, but going way back, I’d like to mention First Test by Tamora Pierce, which not only got me into the Protector of the Small series, but the whole Tortall universe, and later on, her other books as well.accioDavid Gaider//Dragon Age: Library Edition3) A book you wish you could have right now.

I really want to get my hands on the Dragon Age: Library Edition by David Gaider and various different illustrators, which is a bind-up of the three comic books that have been released for the series so far – but I’m not letting myself buy any more books until there’s some space on my TBR shelf. 😦 One day, however, it shall be mine!avada kedavraGeorge R.R. Martin//A Storm of Swords4) A killer book. In both senses.

A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin. This is my favourite book in the A Song of Ice & Fire series – there were so many excited twists and turns! It’s also probably the bloodiest of the books so far.confundoBeate Grimsrud//A Fool, Free5) A book you found really confusing.

A Fool, Free by Beate Grimsrud was quite confusing in places, because Eli was such an unreliable narrator. It was mostly confusing in a good way though, & I did enjoy it – you can read my review here.expecto patronumRainbow Rowell//Carry On6) Your spirit animal book.

I’m not entirely sure how to interpret this one, but I figure it means a book that spoke to you in some way? 😕 So I’m going to go with Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, every word of which just made me ridiculously happy (as is something of a theme with Rainbow Rowell’s writing). XDsectumsempraSally Green//Half Bad7) A dark and twisted book.

The whole Half Life trilogy by Sally Green, which is surprisingly dark and gritty for a YA series – it starts off with a child being tortured, and goes on from there… o_OapareciumE. Lockhart//The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks8) A book that was more than it seemed, and surprised you in a good way.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart was a book that I expected to be a quirky boarding school romance story. Instead, it turned out to be about prank wars and upsetting the status quo, and was full of brilliant social commentary, which was way better – and it’s now one of my favourite books! 😀nomineesLast up, I nominate:

2015 in Review: Favourites

Since we’re getting super, super-close to the end of the year, I thought it was about time that I shared some of my 2015 favourites with you! (That is, books I read in 2015, rather than books that were released in 2015… Though, as it turns out, a surprising number of these are actually new releases.) It takes a lot for me to pick a new book as an “official” favourite – by adding it to my favourites shelf on Goodreads – but there were five books that made the cut this year, and they are (in the order in which I read them):

Elizabeth Gaskell//North & SouthAll the way back in February, I read North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell, since I’d been watching (and loving) the 2004 mini-series with my cousin, but was too impatient to wait for her so we could finish the series together. Reading the book was, for me, a nice compromise that let me find out what was going to happen, without actually going ahead and watching the TV series on my own. This was also one of the 12 books that I wrote a full review for this year – you can read it here.

Jenn Bennett//Night OwlsE. Lockhart//The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-BanksIn the summer, I – like many people, I think – got really into contemporary fiction, and I ended up reading several very good ones. The two that really stood out to me, however, were The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, which was a simultaneously really fun and really, really interesting boarding school story, full of pranks and social commentary; and Night Owls by Jenn Bennett, which was more of a pure romance novel, but with an unusual, arty premise.

Rainbow Rowell//Carry OnThe next book that really blew me away didn’t come along until October, but was, of course, Carry On by Rainbow Rowell! 😀 I’d been looking forward to this book for so long, and grabbed it as soon as I had the chance – and it didn’t disappoint, even a tiny bit. XD Everything about this book just made me ridiculously happy; I spent several weeks after (and during) reading it in a Carry On-induced happy daze, probably walking around with a ridiculous grin on my face the whole time. ^^’ (I also wrote a mini-review of this one, since I finished it during the Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon.)

Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff//IlluminaeSo, if I had to pick an absolute favourite for the year, then that would probably be it… Or this book would be: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff came as a huge surprise to me. I’d heard a whole load of rave reviews, and I eventually picked it up because I was curious, but – since I am, emphatically, not a sci-fi fan – I wasn’t expecting to be hugely impressed. Needless to say, I was wrong. Illuminae was powerful, and ridiculously emotional; I even cried a bit, towards the end, which is something that hasn’t happened since I read The Book Thief last summer (and never before that, so far as I can remember). I’ll definitely be picking up the second book in this series as soon as it comes out next year!

Thematic Recs: Religion

Religion’s not a topic that you often see covered in children’s fiction – I suspect because it can be quite controversial – but I’ve noticed that when authors do decide to touch on in, they tend to do it very well (so long as they can avoid being over-preachy). I’ve not read too many religious books, but here are a few that stood out to me:

Annabel Pitcher//My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece1) My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher. This story follows a young boy whose sister died in a terrorist bombing in London, after which his family fell apart. Now living with his increasingly intolerant father, Jamie struggles over the Christian command to honour one’s father and mother, in the face of his growing friendship with a muslim girl at his new school.

David Almond//The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean2) The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean by David Almond. This post-apocalyptic novel focuses on the secret, illegitimate son of a priest, who’s lived in seclusion all his life. Billy’s perspective (and spelling!) can be a little confusing at times, but the story is both powerful and chilling, and the religious aspects of it are incredibly well thought out.

Rae Carson//Fire and Thorns3) The Fire & Thorns trilogy by Rae Carson. A high fantasy series about a young princess who was born with something called a “godstone” embedded in her belly, indicating that she would have an important duty to perform for God. The actual religions portrayed in this are fictional, but the attitudes towards them and the conflicts that arise between them ring true.

E. Lockhart, Lauren Myracle & Sarah Mlynowski//How to Be Bad4) How to Be Bad by E. Lockhart, Lauren Myracle & Sarah Mlynowski. For the most part, a fun contemporary novel about three friends on a road trip. One of the girls (Jesse, whose character was written by Lauren Myracle), however, is deeply religious, and often wonders if the troubles that she and her family are facing are some kind of divine punishment for her sins.

Philip Pullman//Northern Lights5) The His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. Last up, I’ve picked out a much darker take on religion for you. His Dark Materials follows a girl called Lyra, who leaves her home in Oxford for the Arctic Circle in pursuit of a missing friend. On the surface, this doesn’t sound like it has much to do with religion at all, but the Church plays a huge (antagonistic) part in the story, and there’s a lot of allegorical allusions as well, particularly as the series goes on.

July Wrap Up

Another month gone, another eleven books read (or, rather, seven books, three audiobooks, and a short story). Which isn’t as much as I usually read in a month, but I’m still quite happy with it, considering that I spent a large part of July in a Fire Emblem-induced slump, and I also started a new summer job that’s taken up a lot of my time in the last couple of weeks. But anyhow, I now present to you… everything I read in July!

Den Patrick//The Boy with the Porcelain BladeThe Boy with the Porcelain Blade by Den Patrick. A gothic fantasy set in a city where a group of deformed children called Orfani are being educated and trained for reasons not explained until quite late in the book. The main character is an Orfano called Lucien, who desperately wants to join House Fontein – the noble house that trains soldiers and swordsmen – despite persecution from some of the high-up members of the House… To be honest, this book dragged a little at the beginning: It switches a lot between past and present timelines, so the action is slowed down a lot, and it took me quite a long time to get to grips with the city’s society. However, I feel like you have to expect to need to be patient when starting a new fantasy series… And once I got about halfway through, my patience was definitely rewarded. The second half of the book was both chilling and action-packed, and brought all the different threads of the story together really nicely.3 starsRoald Dahl//Danny the Champion of the WorldDanny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl. The story of the son of a recreational poacher, who begins to learn the sport himself, with incredible results. I listened to this as an audiobook in the car, and it was incredibly enjoyable, though I suspect that my recording may have been edited for sensitive listeners, as there was one part where Danny was caned by his teacher which didn’t seem to have any relevance to the plot whatsoever, and my sister told me that she thinks it was a more prominent part of the book… This is one of Roald Dahl’s more cheerful stories, and the story, characters and narration were all really wonderful.5 stars

Den Patrick//The Boy Who Wept BloodThe Boy Who Wept Blood by Den Patrick. The second book in the Erebus Sequence, though, to be honest, it read more like a first book in a series (in that it’s clearly the beginning of a much larger story, whereas – like many prequels – The Boy with the Porcelain Blade can quite easily be read as a standalone)… There’s not much that I can say about the story without giving away major spoilers, but it takes place 10 years after the events of The Boy with the Porcelain Blade, is told from the perspective of a different main character, and deals with the aftermath of Lucien’s actions in that book. The mystery elements are less prominent in this book, too, and are instead replaced by politics and court intrigue, which was a welcome change to me (I’m not really a fan of mysteries), and while I liked The Boy with the Porcelain BladeThe Boy Who Wept Blood was a huge step up. A really fantastic read. I am now, of course, faced with the problem of desperately wanting to read the sequel (which isn’t out yet 😦 ) – I want to know what’s going on with Anea!5 starsE. Lockhart, Lauren Myracle & Sarah Mlynowski//How to Be BadHow to Be Bad by E. Lockhart, Lauren Myracle & Sarah Mlynowski. A contemporary novel about three teenage girls who decide to go on a road trip together, nominally in order to visit Vicks’ boyfriend, but actually in order to escape from all their various problems at home, and forge a really great friendship on the way… I had actually intended to pick up The Ask & the Answer after The Boy Who Wept Blood, but I really felt that I needed to read something happier – and this book definitely cheered me up! It was a little slow-going at first, and I found both Vicks and particularly Jesse quite difficult to warm up to (probably because I identified most strongly with Mel, who was very much an outsider to them both for much of the story), but they both grew on me a lot, and it was a really enjoyable read overall. 🙂4 starsRoald Dahl//Esio TrotEsio Trot by Roald Dahl. A short story about a man who is trying to woo his neighbour by helping her to encourage her pet tortoise to grow more quickly. I thought the concept of this story was quite sweet, and the narration (by Geoffrey Palmer; I listened to this as an audiobook) was excellent, but I found that Mr. Hoppy’s plan to win Mrs. Silver’s affection really bothered me, so I didn’t actually enjoy the story as much as I’d hoped to…3 starsRoald Dahl//MatildaMatilda by Roald Dahl. The story of a young girl with awful parents, but a brilliant mind, who uses her cleverness in order to make – and escape from – all kinds of trouble, and to help out her teacher, Miss Honey, who’s been terrorised all her life by the horrible Miss Trunchbull. This was probably one of my favourite stories when I was little (though I was more familiar with the film than the book), and although it wasn’t quite as good as I remember it being, it was still fantastic, and it’s definitely one of the best of Roald Dahl’s books!4 starsPatrick Ness//The Ask & the AnswerThe Ask & the Answer by Patrick Ness. The second book in the Chaos Walking trilogy, which follows the ongoing ordeals of Todd and Viola. The Knife of Never Letting Go left off on such a nail-biting cliffhanger that I can hardly believe I waited two whole years to read the sequel, but it was definitely a book worth waiting for! Obviously I can’t say much about the plot, but Patrick Ness really is a master at keeping you guessing – this book made me doubt just about everyone at one point or another. Like it’s predecessor, the tone of the narrative was one of an almost breathless kind of panic, which was one of my favourite things about The Knife of Never Letting Go… I think I can safely say that I won’t be waiting another two years before I pick up Monsters of Men! 😉5 starsNeil Gaiman//Hansel & GretelHansel & Gretel by Neil Gaiman. A retelling of the Brothers Grimm fairytale, in which two children are abandoned by their parents in the woods, and then captured by an old woman who’s planning to eat them. This edition also includes the pictures (by Lorenzo Mattotti) that apparently inspired it. I did enjoy the story (and the narrative, as usual with Neil Gaiman’s work, was beautifully haunting), but there was nothing in it that really set it apart from other fairytale retellings, and – unlike The Sleeper & the Spindle – there was no unexpected twist to the storyline. The art was compelling as well, but very dark, which – though it fit the atmosphere of the book – made it difficult to see what it was supposed to depict.3 starsStormy Smith//Bound by DutyBound by Duty by Stormy Smith. A new adult fantasy about a girl with the powers of the Keeper – someone who has been prophesised to bring an end to the reign of the evil queen – but who has grown up secluded from the magical world that her parents belong to. The plot of this story was actually pretty decent. Or it would have been, had it not been completely shoved into the background in favour of ridiculous romantic drama for the majority of the book. Additionally, Amelia was an incredibly annoying lead – constantly “solving” things by throwing temper tantrums and lashing out at people who were trying to help her. Her romantic relationship was insta-love-y in the worst possible way, and her platonic relationships were completely unconvincing. There’s a chance I might pick up the sequel to this book, just to see where the story’s going (and some of the side-characters were interesting – namely, Aiden and Micah), but it’s a very slight one – there are so many much better books out there! I’ll probably write a full review of this sometime soon.2 starsJulia Daniels//Master of Her HeartMaster of Her Heart: A Time-Twisted Tale of North & South by Julia Daniels. A re-telling of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North & South, featuring Margaret as a time-traveller from 2015. I enjoyed the beginning of the story quite a lot, though I felt that Margaret adjusted to being in 1851 a bit too quickly… but the narrative was quick and engaging, and the story concept was certainly unique! 😛 But towards the end of the book, I began to find it rather grating. Several of the threads of the plot are just abandoned without any resolution, and never mentioned again (e.g. Mrs. Hale’s illness, Margaret’s friendship with Bessy & Nicholas, and so on). Frederick is never even mentioned at all. :/ The parts of the story that were set in 2015 were clearly under-researched (the author seems to be under the impression that we use Euros in England), and the twist at the end came out of nowhere – and was never explained… I realise that there’s going to be a sequel to this, which will probably resolve some of the issues I had, but I doubt I’ll be reading it.2 starsMichael Morpurgo//War HorseWar Horse by Michael Morpurgo. The story of a horse who is sold to the British cavalry to fight in the First World War, and his friendship with the boy who raised him from a colt, and who joined the army in hopes that they would be reunited. I picked this up because I was in the mood for a tearjerker, and I’d heard that it was incredibly sad – and it was, in places (it didn’t quite manage to make me cry, but it came pretty close a few times), but it was also quite uplifting, and through the whole book, I was really rooting for Joey and Albert to find each other again, even though Joey met plenty of other wonderful people on his journeys. If I have any complaint, it’s only that I wish the story had been a bit longer, and the pacing a little slower, so that there could have been a bit more of it!4 stars

Thematic Recs: Road Trips!

In anticipation of my upcoming 2-day car journey home from Skye, in which I will be jammed into the back seat with my sister and an extraordinary number of bags (and that’s just the ones that won’t fit in the boot!), I thought I’d recommend some books about more pleasant road trips than the one I’m about to embark on. 😛 I haven’t read all that many road trip books – they’re not something I usually go looking for – but here are a few that stuck out to me:

Morgan Matson//Amy & Roger's Epic Detour1) Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson. The classic road trip novel! After her father’s death, Amy’s family moves across the country, and Amy is charged with taking the car to join her mother at the new house. But Amy is scared to drive on her own, so her mother arranges for an old friend – Roger – to drive with her, and they have an epic adventure on the way. This story is a little sad, naturally, but no overwhelmingly so. It’s wonderfully-written, the characters are really enjoyable to read, and there’s even a little romance mixed in that’s really cute~ ❤

Mag Rosoff//Picture Me Gone2) Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff. Mila goes on a road trip across the U.S. with her father, searching for his missing best friend, and makes some unexpected discoveries on the way. Part road trip story, part mystery, with just a hint of magical realism – this book was an unexpected hit for me! 😀

E. Lockhart, Lauren Myracle & Sarah Mlynowski//How to Be Bad3) How to Be Bad by E. Lockhart, Lauren Myracle & Sarah Mlynowski. A recent read (I only finished reading it yesterday!), in which two friends go on a road trip together in hopes of repairing their rather strained relationship, and are joined by their new co-worker, who is really just hoping to make some new friends… There’s a lot going on in this one, and each of the girls has their own problems that they’re trying to either solve or escape from, but it makes a really great feel-good summer story!

Alexandra Bracken//The Darkest Minds4) The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken. This one’s a little more of a stretch, since I haven’t actually read it, but I thought this list needed something that’s not so contemporary – and The Darkest Minds is, unusually, a dystopian road trip, following a group of teenagers with special powers. I can at least vouch for Alexandra Bracken’s writing style, as I really enjoyed her other book (Brightly Woven, a fantasy novel). This trilogy is super-popular, as well, so I have high hopes for when I actually get round to reading it (which will be soon, I hope!).

[EDIT (27/7/17): Have finally read The Darkest Minds, and can confirm that it’s everything I hoped it would be, i.e. excellent.]

Holiday Reads

This week I’m heading off to the Isle of Skye with my parents and my sister (and my friend Chloë this year! 😀 ), which is something we try to do every summer, if we’re all available. Last time I was there (which was two years ago, as this time last year I was still living in China), I somehow managed to marathon basically the whole A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin – which is crazy; I have no idea how I managed it – as well as The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness and Delirium by Lauren Oliver.

So since Skye seems to be a good place to read epic fantasy, I thought I’d try to stick with that theme this year as well. The other books I’m taking are all summery contemporaries, since the weather’s been so lovely recently, and it’s really put me in the mood for them… Without further ado, I present my Skye TBR:Skye TBR

1) The Boy who Wept Blood by Den Patrick. I hope to have finished reading The Boy with the Porcelain Blade by the time I leave, so I’ll definitely be packing the sequel…

2) The Ask & the Answer by Patrick Ness. This will be a nice bit of continuity, since I also read The Knife of Never Letting Go in Skye (or, rather, on the way back). 😛

3) A Court of Thorns & Roses by Sarah J. Maas. I’ve been super-excited about this book for a seriously long time, so I’m really looking forward to finally reading it!

4) How to Be Bad by E. Lockhart, Lauren Myracle & Sarah Mlynowski. One of the new contemporaries that I bought in June. I’m hoping to read this while the weather holds out.

5) Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson. I’ve heard that this is on the heavy side for a summer contemporary, but I’m looking forward to reading it anyway. I’ve also had it on my shelf for a while, so it’ll be good to finally get it read.

6) Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen. Sarah Dessen’s books are usually my first choice when I feel like reading something summery – they’re all so good! 😀 – so I’m really excited about this latest release. Though I’m also a little nervous about it, as I didn’t like her last book (The Moon & More) nearly as much as I liked the ones that came before it…

The other two books that I might take with me are Seeker by Arwen Elys Dayton and The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente, but I’ll have to wait and see if there’ll be enough room in my suitcase… And of course, I’ll also be bringing my kindle along, just in case these books simply aren’t enough~ 😉