#BookTubeAThon 2017: Update 3 & Review

JUST FINISHED: Nowhere People by Paulo Scott.

Driving home one evening from a Workers’ Party meeting, Brazilian law student Paulo meets a young girl on the side of the road, and decides to give her a lift. Maína is fourteen years old, Guarani Indian, and lives with her family in a roadside encampment; she’s not planning on going home.

If I could rate the two halves of this book separately, then I would. I didn’t exactly dislike the first half of the book, but I found it very difficult to get through… Scott’s words themselves (or at least Daniel Hahn’s translation of them) were really beautiful, but I found the way they were structured – each paragraph seeming to take up three or four pages, for no apparent reason – made it really tiring to read, and although (again), I didn’t precisely dislike the main character Paulo, I disapproved of nearly all his life decisions, and found it extremely uncomfortable being inside his head. The sections from Maína’s perspective I found easier to get through, but there weren’t very many of them, and they were all quite short.

However, about halfway through the book we’re introduced to a new main character, Donato, from whose perspective almost the entire remainder of the book is shown, and I loved this part (despite the continuing problem with the paragraph structure). His outlook on the world, his circumstances, his relationships with his friends and parents… they were all really interesting, and only seemed to be becoming more so as the book went on. In particular, I really loved his performance activism towards the end, and the contrast it provided with Paulo’s much less fruitful efforts at activism at the beginning of the book… I only regret that the story ended where it did, as the final scene (a return to Paulo’s perspective) marked a dramatic change for both Paulo and Donato, which I feel could have been explored further.

CURRENT READATHON STATUS: So glad that I finished this book (& the review is slightly late, I know, but I promise that I finished it before midnight)! For a while I didn’t think I was going to make it, but I pulled through! 😆 This was still my least successful booktubeathon ever, but with this third book, I’m actually pretty happy with how it went, as I spent much of the week either  at work, or super-tired, or super-distracted (by Final Fantasy XII 😓)…

And I’ve decided to count this book as completing the cover-buy challenge, as well as the one it was originally intended for, as, well, the whole set of & other strories books that I own I bought at least 80% because they were so pretty. (The other two were By Night the Mountain Burns, and The Alphabet of Birds.)

Books Completed: 3
Pages Read: 914
Challenges Completed: 6/7

#BookTubeAThon 2017: Update 2 & Review

JUST FINISHED: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken.

A terrifying illness sweeps over the US, killing almost every child who catches it – which is all of them. The lucky survivors, however, might not be so lucky after all, as they’ve all been corralled into massive, dehumanising rehabilitation camps that are supposedly going to help cure them of the frightening, uncontrollable new abilities the the disease has left them with… Ruby is in one of the worst camps, and has been hiding one of the most dangerous kinds of power; a power which may now have come to light.

It’s been a long enough time now since the end of the dystopian craze that I’m no longer put off by the very idea of reading a dystopian novel, but oddly, I think that I would probably have enjoyed The Darkest Minds even if I’d read it back then… Like most good dystopians, there are a lot of truly horrific things going on in this book, but it’s also strangely fun. The characters are all wonderfully quirky, and I loved the way they interacted with each other – and a decent chunk of the book is spent on exploring that dynamic. 😊

Ruby made for a sympathetic and likeable lead, and her fear of her abilities, and her hesitance to use them – even when they would undoubtedly have been helpful – made a lot of sense; I personally found her a lot more relatable than many of the dystopian heroes and heroines that I’ve come across before. As for the side characters: Liam was a sweetheart the whole way through. I’d like to see his character developed a bit more as the series goes on, but as things are now, I like him a lot. Likewise with Zu, who was a very interesting character, but a little under-developed. Chubs was wonderful, too, and the way that he and Ruby slowly warmed up to one another was one of my favourite things about the book… I also really enjoyed reading about Clancy, who was endearing and suspicious in equal measure until pretty close to the end of the book; I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what Braken has done with his character in the next two books.

Plot-wise, the beginning of the book shaped out the world really well, and the final part was exciting and action-packed. There was something of a lull in the middle of the book, but – as I said earlier – I appreciated the space that that left for character- and relationship-building. I’m also a fan of the Ruby-and-Liam romance that is in the works, though I also wouldn’t object to (and may have spotted some hints at) some further exploration of Ruby’s relationship with Clancy, provided that Bracken doesn’t shy away from how messed up it is (and I feel that she wouldn’t).

So, yeah, I really liked this book, and am glad that I finally got round to reading it… Now to hunt down the sequels! 😉

CURRENT READATHON STATUS: Finding it difficult to pull my mind away from Final Fantasy XII, so I’m not sure how much more I’ll be reading today, but I hope to pick up either Nowhere People or Darkbeast next…

Books Completed: 2
Pages Read: 608
Challenges Completed: 4

#BookTubeAThon 2017: Update 1 & Review

JUST FINISHED: All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman.

Tom’s wife isn’t ignoring him, she just can’t see him any more… leaving Tom with only the scant hours of her flight to Vancouver in which to convince her that he’s still by her side.

This book is incredibly short, and very anecdotal, which combine to make the overarching plot quite weak; it’s interesting conceptually, but I found that I wasn’t given enough time with either Tom or his wife (whose superhero name is the Perfectionist) to become fully invested in them, or in their plight – both due to the length of the book itself, and to the amount of time that was spent meandering through Tom’s musings over the various different superheroes he’s known.

Kaufman’s writing, however, was wonderful, and the descriptions he included of all Tom’s superhero friends and their powers were incredibly imaginative. In particular, I was struck by the Projectionist and Mistress Cleanasyougo, but to be honest, if Kaufman was to write a directory of superheroes, I’d read it happily. I also spent much of the book (and still remain, to a certain degree) unsure of whether many of the superheroes were actually personifications different kinds of mental illness, but I may have been reading too much into it… and in any case, I doubt that knowing for sure would have made me like the book any more or less.

Conclusion: Interesting, imaginative, enjoyable, and splendidly written, but weak in terms of story and character development.

CURRENT READATHON STATUS: Happy to see some sunshine, which allowed me to get that tricky “read a book outside” challenge finished early on. I’m already halfway through book #2 (The Darkest Minds, which I started yesterday), so hopefully I’ll be able to finish that soon, too. 😊

Books Completed: 1
Pages Read: 373
Challenges Completed: 3

Library Scavenger Hunt: July

This month’s LSH challenge – to read a book with either the word “metal”, or a kind of metal in the title – was somewhat random, and I had no idea what I was going to pick up when I first ventured into the library… but I actually managed to find something reasonably quickly while perusing the (quite small) comic book section; that something was…

THE IRON WAGON
Jason

A short and strange graphic novel, based on the 1909 Norwegian novel Jernvognen by Stein Riverton, which has never been published in English. It tells the story of a writer whose friend is discovered murdered, and the investigation into his death – which seems like it may be tied to the local of the iron wagon.

The sentence “Why won’t he stay dead?” in the blurb of this book was what initially drew me to it, despite my general dislike of murder mysteries, and my indifference towards what I’d seen of the art style from a cursory flip-through. And, now that I’ve read it, my feelings towards it are slightly mixed… On the one hand, there was not much character depth or development, and I managed to guess both of the story’s major twists early on. On the other hand, I was second-guessing myself a lot, and although this wasn’t the ghost story I was hoping for, it did manage to retain the eerie atmosphere of one.

I’ve already said that the art didn’t initially grab me, but as I grew accustomed to it, I liked it more and more. I wan’t a huge fan of the character design – which completely gave away one of the book’s two plot twists – but the black-red-and-white colour palette was incredibly striking, and really added to the unsettling tone of the story…

I feel that this is a book to be enjoyed more for its strangeness than for its story or characters (or even art), but I did find that I enjoyed it. And, as a book that only takes around half an hour to read, it’s well worth picking up for anyone who’s even a little curious. I’m not sure that I’d be likely to go looking for more of Jason’s work (or Stein Riverton’s), but I also wouldn’t reject it out of hand.

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

Review: Calum’s Road by Roger Hutchinson

An account of the life of Calum MacLeod, and the construction of the road from Brochel Castle to South Arnish, which he built almost single-handedly with only a wheelbarrow and a few hand tools, in hopes of bringing settlers back to the north of Raasay, and connecting his two-person community with the rest of the world.

Calum MacLeod seems to have been a truly remarkable man; his persistence and ingenuity – demonstrated not only by the building of this incredible road, but by numerous enterprises throughout his life, which Hutchinson also describes in this book – are inspiring, and Calum’s Road is both a thorough and impassioned account of his life and work, and his dedication to the land and community that raised him. As someone who does not generally read biographies, I’m probably not the best judge, but it seems clear even to me that Hutchinson has taken great care with his research, and has investigated this tale from many different angles.

Which is not to say that the book is perfect. The problems I noticed were quite small, but cropped up a lot: Firstly, Hutchinson uses a lot of quotations, and as the book went on, they became both more frequent, and much longer, sometimes taking up whole pages… Perhaps this is not uncommon in biographical/historical writing, but I would’ve preferred to have read much of it in Hutchinson’s own words, especially since it’s clear that he’s an excellent writer. Secondly, a lot is said about the beauty of Calum’s Road, and of the island as a whole, so it’s a shame that this book doesn’t include any photos or illustrations beyond a couple of maps at the very beginning (and a single photo on the inside of the cover) – and also something of a surprise, since there are a few places in the book where Hutchinson describes photographs in great detail, where surely it would have been much simpler to show the photos themselves…

I do think that my overall impression of this book must have been improved by the fact that I read it while visiting Skye (which is just a short distance from Raasay, and which is mentioned in several places in the book), but even despite that, this was a really interesting and engaging story. (It’s certainly sparked an unexpected interest in Raasay in me, even though I’ve only ever seen the island from a distance, and have never given it much thought…) Undoubtedly, this is a book that will be of most interest to people who already have some attachment or attraction to the Hebrides, or to similar island communities… but if you are one of those people, then Calum’s Road is definitely for you.

Review: Once & for All by Sarah Dessen (Spoiler-Free)

Louna may work in the wedding industry – helping out her mother, who’s Lakeview’s top wedding planner – but she’s not so certain about true love, especially since her own first love was so fleeting, and ended so disastrously. Enter Ambrose, the handsome and maddening brother of one of a client, with whom Louna seems to be constantly forced into company, and who can’t take anything seriously… except perhaps Louna?

Another great Sarah Dessen book! 🎊 The story was a wonderful blend of sweet and bittersweet, with a real dash of humour that showed up whenever the book began to get a bit too heavy. Louna made for a great protagonist: cynical, but understandably so, and not so much so that it made her annoying, and watching her grow and overcome her problems was incredible. Ambrose, on the other hand, was a rather unusual love interest; when he first made his appearance, I – like Louna – found him more irritating than charming… but he grew on me a lot as the story progressed, and the kindness and compassion behind his seemingly self-centred actions became more evident.

As a plot device, I wasn’t a huge fan of Louna and Ambrose’s bet, but it did keep the story moving quite effectively, and I felt that it progressed (and eventually derailed) in a way that was true to both characters. I would, however, have liked to have seen a bit more of Ambrose’s side of the story…

The side characters were all great, too: Louna’s family (her mother and her mother’s best friend William) played a huge role in the book, and I found it kind of refreshing to be reading a Sarah Dessen book with a protagonist who had such a great relationship with her family. Her best friend Jilly was a lot of fun, too, though her role seemed to mostly be limited to instigator-of-Louna’s-dates… And then there was Ethan. 💕 I loved Ethan – Louna’s first love – so much; he was my favourite thing about this book, and although he played a huge role, and his influence was felt even in his absence, I wanted more of him. During the flashback chapters, where Louna remembered their short but incredibly cute romance, I kept catching myself thinking, “Oh, I wish this whole book were about Louna and Ethan”, or “I hope Dessen writes a book about Ethan next” (all her books are connected in small ways), and then remembering why it wasn’t, and she probably wouldn’t… 😭

For all their cuteness, Sarah Dessen’s books always seem to have a tinge of something sad to them, and Once & for All is sadder than most, but I’d still recommend it to anyone who doesn’t mind that fact – it’s a wonderful book, and a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Cameos I spotted: It’s been a while since I last read anything by Dessen, so I probably missed a lot of the more subtle connections between this book and her others, but the big one – in the form of Eli and Auden from Along for the Ride at the pie place where Louna and Ethan stop on their date – was obvious even to me, and made me ridiculously happy; Along for the Ride is probably my second-favourite of Dessen’s books (after Just Listen). 😊

Review: What’s a Soulmate? by Lindsey Ouimet (Spoiler-Free)

In a world where everyone sees in black and white until the moment they meet their soulmate, Libby Carmichael is shocked to meet the eyes of Andrew McCormack and see the world bloom into colour around her. After all, she’s always been a good girl, so how could she possibly be destined for someone behind bars?

I’m kind of a sucker for soulmate tropes, and this particular one – where people begin to see in colour after meeting their soulmate – is one that I’ve come across a lot online. Several of the reviews I’ve seen for this book criticise Ouimet for taking the idea directly from tumblr/pintrest/etc., but (while I think it would probably have been better practice for her to acknowledge that it’s not an original concept) I don’t think it’s particularly fair; this trope is common enough that it’s difficult to pin down where it actually originated, let alone where Ouimet first came across it… And I also think that her take on this idea is far more complex and well-thought out than any other I’ve come across. From fashion to social structures, Ouimet has done a fantastic job of showing how colour – and the absence of it – has shaped the world of What’s a Soulmate?.

The actual philosophy on soulmates that Ouimet uses in this book is also one that I really approve of (and don’t come across very often): There is no certainty that a person will ever meet their soulmate, and even for people who do, there’s no guarantee of a perfect romance. In What’s a Soulmate? we are given examples of so-called “true soulmates”, who are soulmates in the traditional sense, but also of healthy romantic relationships where the soulmate connection is one-sided; a reciprocal soulmate bond that’s still a really unhealthy relationship; and even platonic soulmate relationships between close friends, or within families (Libby, for example, is her father’s soulmate)… I’ve always thought that if soulmates were a real thing, then they wouldn’t be as cut-and-dry as a lot of soulmate stories portray them, so this portrayal appeals to me a lot.

This great world was also populated by some really wonderful characters. Libby made for an excellent lead; she was a fun and very likeable character, and her flaws also managed to make her feel very real. I would have liked it if Libby’s interest in fashion had played a larger role in the story, but that’s a very minor complaint… Her various relationships – with Drew, with her best friend Beth, and so on – all rang very true as well, and I particularly appreciated the scenes between Libby and her parents; YA books with really great parental figures are difficult to find, but I seem to be stumbling across quite a few of them lately, and although her family bonds are not the focal point of this novel, they’re really heartwarming.

Like Libby, Drew was a very genuine character. The mystery surrounding him meant that it took significantly longer to get to know him (both for Libby, and for the reader), but I felt that the time put into it was worthwhile, and he ended up being really likeable, with a fascinating backstory. As the (obvious) love interest of the book, I always assumed that there was going to be a good (and sympathetic) reason for what he did – if it even turned out that he did it at all – but piecing together what happened to him was still fun, even if there were very few surprises along the way… And, to be honest, I picked this book up for the romance, not the mystery, so I was glad that the characters and their relationships were the driving force behind the plot.

All in all, What’s a Soulmate? was a really fun read, and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a cute but somewhat unusual romance story. The story is engaging, the characters wonderful, and Ouimet’s writing is also excellent… I’m looking forward to reading more of her work in the future.