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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August Wrap Up

Another month over, another load of books to tell you about~ and this was a really great reading month for me! Overall, I managed to read 9 novels, 4 graphic novels, 8 manga volumes, and 2 short stories, and 1 (amazing) picture book – and I even discovered a new favourite! 😀

Booktubeathon started before I managed to finish anything else, so the first eight books I read were all part of the challenge! I’ve already written mini-reviews for each of these, so I won’t say much about them here, but you can see my ratings and ramblings by clicking on the covers below:

Yumi Unita//Bunny Drop vol. 1 Sarah J. Maas//A Court of Thorns & Roses Marcus Sedgwick//Killing the Dead Winston Graham//Ross Poldark
Kate Beaton//Hark! A Vagrant Antoine de Saint Exupéry//The Little Prince Sarah Dessen//Saint Anything Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang//In Real Life

Emily Carroll//Through the WoodsThrough the Woods by Emily Carroll. A collection of scary short stories, in graphic novel form! First off, the illustrations for this book were amazing, with just the right blend of beauty and creepiness, and I don’t think this book would’ve been half so good without them. In terms of the story, I (thankfully) didn’t find them too scary myself, but I did still really enjoy them, and they were definitely chilling. People who scare easily might want to avoid this book!5 starsNoelle Stevenson//NimonaNimona by Noelle Stevenson. A graphic novel that follows the adventures of Lord Ballister Blackheart, supervillain, and his new shape-shifting sidekick, Nimona. I really loved this! The characters were all really interesting, the story was surprisingly deep, and the art style was incredibly cute. I just wish there was more of it! 😦4 starsShigeru Mizuki//Onward Towards Our Noble DeathsOnward Towards Our Noble Deaths by Shigeru Mizuki. A semi-autobiographical manga series, which tells the story of a company of Japanese soldiers stationed in Papua New Guinea during the World War II. After miraculously surviving a suicide charge, they’re told that they must perform another, since their deaths have already been reported. I wasn’t initially all that into this book, since there are a lot of characters, and it’s quite difficult to keep track of them all (despite the character list at the beginning of the book). But after I’d identified the most important characters, I found myself really enjoying it. Which is not to say that this is an enjoyable story – it really, really isn’t – but it is powerful, and very well-told. The art is really great as well, and the contrast between the realistic backgrounds and the cartoony character design is incredibly striking.4 starsYun Kouga//Loveless vol. 11Yun Kouga//Loveless vol. 12Loveless Volumes 11-12 by Yun Kouga. A manga series that follows a young amnesiac boy called Ritsuka, who – after coming to school one day to find his brother’s charred corpse at his desk – becomes involved with the mysterious Soubi, and gets dragged into the strange hidden world of Fighters and Sacrifices. It sounds intriguing, right? And much darker than you’d expect, judging by the cutesy artwork! Obviously, a lot has happened since the beginning of the series, but it’s still weird and wonderful, and I’m still loving it. I was a little lost at the beginning of volume 11, since it’s been a while since I last picked up this series (and I’m also pretty sure that I’ve skipped a couple of volumes somewhere along the line, so that will need to be rectified soon), but I managed to get back into it relatively quickly, and overall, it was a really fun read. 🙂4 starsRyuji Gotsuba//Sasameke vol. 1Ryuji Gotsuba//Sasameke vol. 2Sasameke by Ryuji Gotsubo. Another manga series, this time about boy called Rakuichi, a high school football player who’s recently returned home from Italy, having sworn off football for good – only to be dragged kicking and screaming into his new school’s football club. I had high hopes for this series – I read the first (bind up) volume of it several years ago, & I remember loving it – and first volume (which I re-read, as I couldn’t for the life of me remember anything that had happened) started off pretty well. But unfortunately it just got worse and worse as it went on… The characters were all either unremarkable or unlikeable and the storytelling was all over the place. I did like the art style, but it really wasn’t enough to make up for the sheer stupidity of the rest of the book. If you like sports manga, or football, then I’d advise you not waste your time on Sasameke, and just read Whistle! instead. Or Area no Kishi. Or Giant Killing. Or, really, any other number of far superior football manga – there are a lot of them out there.2 starsYumi Unita//Bunny Drop vol. 2Bunny Drop Volume 2 by Yumi Unita. The continuing adventures of Rin and Daikichi! This time featuring such exciting events as: Getting Rin ready for elementary school! The search for Rin’s mother! And Daikichi starting his new job! 😉 All jokes aside, this series continues to be adorable and charming, and I’m definitely looking forward to getting hold of the next few volumes!5 starsMatsuri Hino//Vampire Knight vol. 11Vampire Knight Volume 11 by Matsuri Hino. This series follows a student called Yuuki Cross, a prefect at the prestigous Cross Academy, whose duty is to keep the peace between the Day Class and the Night Class – who are all secretly vampires! At this point in the series, Yuuki is adjusting to life outside the Academy, and is still torn between her feelings for the pureblood vampire Kaname and the vampire hunter Zero. Vampire Knight is clearly trying very hard to break my heart with all it’s love-triangle drama, and it’s doing a very good job of it! I’m still firmly on Team Kaname, but Yuuki’s struggle over her feelings for Zero are super-painful (in a good way!) to read about!4 starsPatrick Ness//Monsters of MenMonsters of Men by Patrick Ness. The third and final installment in the Chaos Walking trilogy… Now I just have to get my hands on those novellas! Because I really, really want more of this universe. Obviously there’s not much that I can say about the events of this book, because of spoilers, but it was basically the perfect ending for this series. So many feelings! Such drama! And a surprising new protagonist, whose viewpoint was really interesting, too. Highly, highly recommended! 😀5 starsJuan Tomás Ávila Laurel//By Night the Mountain BurnsBy Night the Mountain Burns by Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel. A story that recalls the narrator’s childhood on a small, impoverished island in Equatorial Guinea, which was apparently based on the author’s own experiences growing up on Annobón Island. The book is written in an almost stream-of-consciousness style, which I found a bit frustrating, as it meant that the narrator never stayed on point for very long – and, in fact, I found it difficult to tell what the focus of this story really was: At several points, it seemed like there was going to be some kind of dramatic revelation about his mysterious grandfather, but it never materialised… That said, I did enjoy this book; the writing was beautiful and the setting was very interesting, as was the narrator’s outlook on the events of the book… If you were at all intrigued by my Teaser Tuesday post for this book, then it’s probably worth giving it a try. 🙂3 starsGeorge R.R. Martin & John J. Miller//Dead Man's HandDead Man’s Hand by George R.R. Martin & John J. Miller. The seventh book in the mosaic Wild Cards series, which I picked up for the Library Scavenger Hunt this month. Consequently, I’ve already written a mini-review for this book, so I won’t say too much about it here – only that I really enjoyed it, & I’m looking forward to reading more of this series! 😀4 starsJames Joyce//The Cats of CopenhagenThe Cats of Copenhagen by James Joyce. A short, playful letter that Joyce sent to his grandson in 1936, about how there are no cats in Copenhagen. I picked this up while I was at Waterstones, & read through the whole thing (it was really short) – and it was incredibly cute! The illustrations (by Casey Sorrow) were great, too, and managed to make me chuckle a few times, but I don’t have much to say about it otherwise…3 starsKate Beaton//The Princess & the PonyThe Princess & the Pony by Kate Beaton. A children’s picture book about an tiny princess who wants a proper warrior’s horse for her birthday. What she gets instead is a roly-poly little pony, with an unfortunate flatulence problem… 😛 I don’t often read books targeted at small children, but this one caught my interest because it’s by the same author/artist as Hark! A Vagrant, so I decided to pick it up anyway – and I’m really glad I did! It’s one of the cutest books I’ve read in years, with a charming story, and beautiful illustrations. Definitely recommended. 🙂5 starsKatie McGarry//Nowhere But HereNowhere But Here by Katie McGarry. The first book in the Thunder Road series, which centres around a motorcycle club: This story follows Oz, a teenage boy who’s grown up around the club and is hoping to join it, and Emily, the biological daughter of the club’s leader, who comes to town unexpectedly when she hears about her grandmother’s funeral. Naturally, what follows involves romance, and way more secrets than are good for any family… I remember when I was reading the first few chapters that my initial thought was how refreshing it was to be reading a Katie McGarry book where the heroine seemed to have a normal, loving, supportive (immediate) family. Then things progressed, and I realised just how mistaken that impression was. But regardless, I really enjoyed this book. Oz and Emily were both great characters to read about (and there were a lot of really great side-characters, too!), and I found Oz’s motorcycle club lifestyle interesting, if not particularly healthy… All in all, it was a great start to a new series, and I’m looking forward to reading more.4 starsJenn Bennett//Night OwlsNight Owls by Jenn Bennett. Called The Anatomical Shape of a Heart in the US, this book follows Bex – a teenager who wants to become a medical illustrator – and Jack – a notorious graffiti artist – who meet on the night bus. The story was both cute and touching, with some surprisingly dark moments; the characters were great, and their relationship was really fun to read about; and as the icing on the cake, the writing was brilliantly witty and engaging. I read this in two sittings, but it would’ve been one if only I’d started reading a little earlier in the day – I found it very difficult to put it down!5+ stars

Booktubeathon: Update 3 & Mini-Review

Marcus Sedgwick//Killing the DeadJUST FINISHED: Killing the Dead by Marcus Sedgwick.

Written for World Book Day 2015, this is a short novella set in a girls’ boarding school, and told from the perspective of several characters – students, teachers, and a young boy who lives in the nearby town – though the central figure in the story is one whose point of view we never hear: Isobel, a student who died the previous year. The story deals for the most part with the mystery of her death, and with the effect it’s had on the people she left behind – even those who never knew her. And it’s incredibly well-done. Both haunting and a little chilling in tone, Killing the Dead brought to mind books like Susan Hill’s I’m the King of the Castle and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. A truly fantastic read.

A brief aside: I’m still not entirely certain whether or not this story is supposed to be connected to The Ghosts of Heaven (also by Marcus Sedgwick), since I haven’t actually read that book yet. They certainly have their spiral-imagery in common, and presumably the synopsis of Killing the Dead, which reads “Let the ghosts of heaven tell their story”, is supposed to make you think of that book, but whether they share a setting or any characters remains a mystery to me – and one that I will have to solve as soon as I manage to get hold of a copy of The Ghosts of Heaven.4 stars

CURRENT READTHON STATUS: On a roll!

Books Completed: 3
Pages Read: 729
Challenges Competed: 5

BOOKTUBEATHON TIME!

Tomorrow is the start of the 2015 Booktubeathon, which I’m super-excited about, as you can probably tell from the capslock title~ 😛 Last year’s Booktubeathon (before I even started this blog) was my first ever readathon, and I had so much fun that I’ve been looking forward to this one ever since… And it’s finally here!

So, first of all, here are some handy informational links:

The readathon will be going on from 3rd – 9th August, and there’s no official sign-up, so it’s never too late to join in! And all the challenges are non-mandatory, so there’s no need to worry if you don’t complete them, or if there’s one that you just don’t want to do. I really enjoy them, however, so I’ve made a tentative TBR with each of the challenges in mind, which is as follows:

 Morgan Matson//Second Chance Summer1) Read a book with blue on the cover.

The book I’ve chosen for this challenge is Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson, which I’ve been meaning to read for a while. I find Morgan Matson’s writing style to be quite quick to read, so hopefully this won’t take me too long.

Marcus Sedgwick//Killing the Dead2) Read a book by an author who shares the first letter of your surname.

An author with an S-W surname would be a task to find, unless I wanted to read something by one of my relatives (which I don’t; they’re all dry, academic volumes on subjects I know next to nothing about). So I’ve decided to stick with “S”, and pick Killing the Dead by Marcus Sedgwick, which is the novella he wrote for World Book Day this year, so it’s very short.

Antoine de Saint Exupéry//The Little Prince3) Read someone else’s favourite book.

I asked my friend Chloë about this challenge, and her favourite book is The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, which works out quite well for me. I’ve already read it a couple of times, but it’s quite short – so it’s a good choice for a readathon – and I’ve been meaning to re-read it for a little while anyway, in preparation for the film… 🙂

Yumi Unita//Bunny Drop vol. 14) Read the last book you acquired.

The last book I got my hands on is Bunny Drop Volume 1 by Yumi Unita, which I bought when I was in London yesterday. I’ve also ordered a few graphic novels from the Book Depository, however (using the Booktubathon discount code!), so if they arrive today, then I’ll be reading one of them instead – probably Nimona by Noelle Stevenson.

5) Finish a book without letting go of it.

As I’ve got two very short books on my TBR already, I’ll be combining this challenge with one of the earlier ones, and reading either Killing the Dead or The Little Prince. Whichever is shorter (probably Killing the Dead).

Sarah J. Maas//A Court of Thorns & Roses6) Read a book that you really want to read.

What I choose for this challenge will depend largely on my mood at the time, but at the moment, I’m leaning towards reading A Court of Thorns & Roses by Sarah J. Maas, simply because I’ve been dying to read it since I bought it, and other priorities keep getting in the way… 😡

Sarah Dessen//Saint Anything7) Read seven books in total.

Winston Graham//Ross PoldarkSince I’ve only got five books on my TBR so far, I’ll be picking a couple more to finish up this challenge (that is, if my new graphic novels don’t arrive before the end of the week). And my most likely choices are: Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen, which is another one like A Court of Thorns & Roses, where I just don’t understand why I haven’t read it yet; and Ross Poldark by Winston Graham, a historical romance/social novel that I’ve been wanting to read since I finished watching the TV series~ 😛

I’m planning on writing mini-reviews for each of the books that I read, and I haven’t heard if there are going to be blog/video challenges in addition to the reading challenges this year, but if there are, then I will likely be posting some of them, too. So if all goes well, they you will be hearing from me a lot over the next few days! 😀

March Haul

A worrying thing happened a couple of weeks ago: My Dad came into my room to wake me up, sat down on the bed, looked around for a moment, and then said, “Frances, I think you shouldn’t buy any more books.” This was, I suppose, an intervention (of sorts), but my my excuse this time is that I bought most of these books at the Oxford Literary Festival – and so clearly should not count towards book-buying bans! The Cambridge Literary Festival also happened just last weekend, and I went, but I think that now I really should cut back…

In other news, I thought I’d do something a little different for my haul photo this month, since so many of the books I bought in March were both beautiful and rather oddly-shaped! What do you think?

March Haul

1) Jane, the Fox and Me by Isabelle Arsenault & Fanny Britt. A beautifully-drawn graphic novel about a girl who’s being bullied at school. I read this towards the beginning of March, so all my thoughts on it are in my March wrap-up.

2) The River of Lost Souls by Isabel Greenberg. A short comic about Charon, the ferryman in Greek mythology. I’ve also read this already, so, again, there’s more about it in my last wrap-up.

3) The Snow Queen and Other Stories by Isabel Greenberg. Another comic, this one based on The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen. This book, along with The River of Lost Souls, seems to only be available from Isabel Greenberg’s Etsy store.

4) The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman. A re-telling of Sleeping Beauty, with elements mixed in from Snow White, and beautiful illustrations by Chris Riddell. I’d been on the edge about buying this for a while, but I finally decided to pick it up while I was in Oxford, ’cause I was really in the mood for fairytales… 🙂

5) Killing the Dead by Marcus Sedgwick. A short story that was published for World Book Day. I really don’t know anything else about it, except that I’ve really liked what I’ve read of Marcus Sedgwick’s writing so far.

6) Nowhere People by Paulo Scott. These next three books on the list were something of an impulse buy, which I picked up mainly because I really want to read more culturally diverse books this year… Paolo Scott is a Brazilian author, and this book was originally written in Brazilian (naturally).

7) By Night the Mountain Burns by Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel. See (6) for reasoning. This book was originally written in Spanish, and is, I believe, set in West Africa.

8) The Alphabet of Birds by SJ Naudé. Again, see above. This was translated from Afrikaans, and Naudé is a South African author.

9) Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp by Philip Pullman. Another impulse buy from Oxford, but I’ve always loved Philip Pullman’s writing, and the illustrations in this book were absolutely beautiful!

10) Wordsmiths and Warriors: The English-Language Tourist’s Guide to Britain by David Crystal & Hilary Crystal. A book about the history of various different English words (presumably, most of them particular to Britain). I’ve read a couple of David Crystal’s other books, and enjoyed them, and I’m looking forward to reading this, too. 🙂

11) 100 Ghosts by Doogie Horner. A collection of cartoon ghosts, with various different cute and quirky themes.

12) Flambards in Summer and Flambards Divided by K.M. Peyton. The new Oxford University Press editions of the last two Flambards books, which I read years ago. I bought the first two at the beginning of the year, and have been eagerly waiting for these to be released, so that I could finally have a matching set!

13) Sorry, I’m British! An Insider’s Romp Through Britain from A to Z by Ben Crystal. Another book about Britishisms, though this one looks to have a more humourous approach…

14) The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris. A novel inspired by (or possibly a re-telling of) the stories about Loki in Norse mythology. I’ve always been interested in Norse myths, but even more so now than I have been previously, because I’m so excited about Rick Riordan’s new Asgard series. 😀

15) The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and the Secret History of Wonderland by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst. A biography of Lewis Carroll which I bought in Oxford (which was quite fitting, since that’s where he lived). I’ve only read the introduction so far, but since I’m going to go to a talk by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst later this month, I’m hoping I’ll have a chance to read some more of it soon (& maybe get it signed!).