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Gabby Singer (UK)

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The Mortal Instruments 3: City of Glass
The Mortal Instruments 3: City of Glass
Price: £4.27

5.0 out of 5 stars People aren't born good or bad. Maybe they're born with tendencies either way, but its the way you live your life that matters.", 7 Nov. 2014
This book (and the two before it) have had me absolutely addicted for the last few days. I've read them while cleaning my teeth in the morning, while on a break at work, while blow-drying my hair in the evening... So utterly desperate was I to find out what happened to Clary, Jace, and their raggle-taggle band of half-human friends and family, I'm amazed I managed to go to sleep between reading sessions, to be honest!

Okay, so it's not the world's finest literature. It borrows heavily from the aesthetic and mythology of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (not that that is necessarily a terrible thing). There's a fair bit of repetition of phrases - although this may have been made more noticeable due to the fact that I basically ate the books one after the other at breakneck speed... People 'unhitch' and 'detach' themselves from walls and doorways a lot, which is a very cool description once, but wears thin the third time. And I never really could imagine Jace's "golden" eyes - all a little too manga-esque for this reader.

But... I've got to admit, despite his mystically coloured eyes, I loved Jace - the perfect tortured hero. And I loved Clary, too, for being fairly bad-ass and fiesty, and for being totally unlike the whining, fawning Bella Swan from the pappy Twilight series. I LOVED the decision she made at the end of the book, during the final confrontation with Valentine, when (without giving too much away) she could have chosen to lie down and die, but didn't. Hooray for strong female characters in young adult novels. Hooray for Cassandra Clare. Hooray for getting so immersed in a book (or three!) that you forget everything else for a few days.

Go on, read it. It's dead good. And I'm far too old to have enjoyed it as much as I have!


Flotsam
Flotsam
by David Wiesner
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunningly illustrated and brilliantly plotted - what a book!, 3 Oct. 2014
This review is from: Flotsam (Paperback)
An inquisitive little boy finds a barnacle-encrusted camera washed up on the beach. When he gets the film developed, he's in for a surprise...

A gorgeous, thoughtful story, with an extremely clever and satisfying twist. Who needs words?! This is entirely picture-based, but the plot is complex enough to thoroughly engage and delight ten-year-olds... To be honest, it was complex enough to engage and delight myself and my husband! What a wonderful book. I shall be reading more of David Wiesner.


A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing
A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing
by Eimear McBride
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.74

20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Bleak and unforgiving: not one to read on a cold dark night..., 26 Sept. 2014
Relentlessly bleak, this novel tells the story of a girl growing up in Ireland in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Her brother had a brain tumour before she was born, and the consequences of this have shattered her family long before she even emerges into the world.

Tough and bright, but terribly naive, at the age of thirteen the girl embarks upon a disastrous sexual entanglement with her uncle, who is a thoroughly nasty and manipulative character. From this point on, she seeks out sexual liaisons wherever and whenever she can, seemingly with never any thought for protection from disease or pregnancy. She leaves home, and for a few pages the future looks brighter... but then her uncle re-enters her life. She then undergoes a rapid and horrifying descent to the inevitable conclusion.

I found very little to like about this book. While I have enjoyed many novels which rely stylistically on the inner thoughts of their protagonist (Woolf, Haddon, etc.), I didn't like the way this one was written. Sometimes the syntax seemed to have been warped simply to make the sentence sound odder, rather than to reflect the way the character might be thinking. This syntactic strangeness pushed me out of the book and broke the spell, in several places.

I felt desperately sorry for the main character, but was also enormously frustrated with the seemingly thoughtless choices she made. I had very little sense of the mother, who faded more and more into the background as the story went on. The brother was also a terribly sad character, whose whole being was blighted by the after-effects of his childhood tumour, and I felt the protective feelings his sister had towards him were very well portrayed - but not enough, sadly, to save the book, for me.

Meg Rosoff said once, at a book festival I attended, that she felt it was fine to write about bleak subjects in children's literature, as long as you put a 'ladder of hope' in there for the reader. I must say, I think that this should apply to adult fiction too. There was no hope in this book. It was tragic and bleak, and God knows there are enough people in this world whose lives truly are that dreadful, but I think that to get your reader to really connect with a story (for this reader, anyway), there needs to be some element of light in there. This was pure darkness, and difficult to engage with because of that. I shan't be recommending this to anyone else to read...


The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun
The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun
by Gretchen Rubin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having ... as much happiness as possible" --Dr Samuel Johnson, 13 July 2014
On the one hand, Gretchen Rubin comes off as an irritating over-achiever. Why make one resolution when you could make twenty? Why stop at resolutions, when you could have a list of commandments to follow, too? And then why not preach about it all to your friends and family at every opportunity?

On the other hand, reading this book has actually changed my life.

So much of what Gretchen explores during her year of trying to live more happily - more mindfully, in many respects - rings true in my own life, and I suspect in the lives of many others, as well. I too am a person who puts off things until tomorrow. I too feel the need for 'gold stars' to be awarded to me. I too am always looking ahead impatiently for the magical (and non-existent) point at which everything in my life will be sorted.

Thanks to Gretchen Rubin, I am allowing myself to focus more on the things that make me happy. I particularly loved her idea of going back to the past-times she enjoyed in childhood, and have found that doing this in my own life has really begun to put me back in touch with who I am as a person. This book has actually affected the way in which I go about my day, for the better. I've dog-eared lots of pages for ideas to go back to, as well - I love the notion of a one-sentence journal, and her compassionate way of dealing with upset children, and her friends' suggestions about how to keep a marriage good.

I would unhesitatingly recommend this book.


Americanah
Americanah
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Ifem, I'm chasing you. I'm going to chase you until you give this a chance.", 11 July 2014
This review is from: Americanah (Paperback)
A young Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, sick of the lecturers' strikes which are disrupting her university education, travels to America to restart her degree. Left behind is her teenage sweetheart, Obinze. The two young lovers keep in contact via emails, letters, and calls made using an international phone card. Their plan is to be together again just as soon as university is over.

However, Ifemelu is struggling in America. She cannot find work, her rent is due, and the bills for her tuition fees are building up. Desperate for money, she makes a decision which changes the course of her life, leading her to cut off all contact with a bewildered Obinze.

This is a story of true love, of choices, and of race. Other reviewers have commented that they found Ifemelu hard to like as a character; I disagree. Yes, she is opinionated and, at times, rather selfish, but she is also witty, deeply loyal to her family, as well as being hugely vulnerable. I found her an incredibly well-drawn human being.

If you're looking for a plotty novel, this is perhaps not for you - it is more ponderous than Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's previous works. I found myself frustrated that we kept returning to the scene in the hair-braiding salon over and over again. However, if you want a thought-provoking read with precise and beautiful writing, and engaging, believable characters, then I would highly recommend this book.


The Story of Antigone (Save the Story)
The Story of Antigone (Save the Story)
by Ali Smith
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.48

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "They fought. They died. And all along the way they made up dreadful poetry about themselves.", 16 April 2014
I was gifted a signed copy of this exquisite book by a good friend, and what a perfect present it was! Written in Ali Smith's masterly sharp and beautiful prose, illustrated simply but evocatively by Laura Poaletti, it retells the story of Antigone, the daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta in Greek mythology.

Against her sister's desperate warning and Creon the King's explicit command, young Antigone ventures out of the city at night to bury her brother's body. He has been left to be eaten by the crows as punishment, but Antigone cannot bear to think of her sibling's body being desecrated in this way. She is caught in the act of burying him, and this leaves the King with a dilemma. What shall he do with this young criminal, with whom his son is in love? The law states that she must be killed...

Smith tells the story cleverly through the voices of the crows who watch over the city; their wry, unhuman take on the tragedy brings a dark humour that adults and children alike will appreciate. She balances timeless prose and modern wit to create a truly enjoyable version of the myth, and which requires no foreknowledge of Greek mythology to appreciate. Brilliant stuff.


Room
Room
by Emma Donoghue
Edition: Paperback
Price: £2.00

3.0 out of 5 stars A sensitively handled (but flawed) story, which will appeal to fans of Jodi Picoult, 15 April 2014
This review is from: Room (Paperback)
Jack is an unusual and tricky choice of narrator - brought up alone by his mother, in an 11-foot square room, he has no concept of other people (apart from his shadowy impressions of the kidnapper - also his father - who he views as a kind of devil figure), or of the outside world. All his knowledge has been acquired from his mother, who was 19 when she was abducted, and from the television he is allowed to watch twice a day. His vocabulary is advanced, due to the intense relationship he has with his mother, but his syntax and sense of grammar is often childish - 'You cutted the cord,' he tells his mother, recounting the story of his birth. These inconsistencies of language have drawn criticism from other reviewers, but I'm not sure that I mind them. Even children with sophisticated vocabulary can often make mistakes with tense. I think Donoghue has pulled off something extraordinarily difficult in telling a dark and adult tale from the perspective of a very innocent boy.

That's not to say I think it's without flaws. The first half of the novel, bound as it is in the consciousness of a small child and a soundproofed room, is limited in plot. The minutiae of the mother and son's daily routine becomes tedious - as of course it would do to the two prisoners - and I found myself flicking forward to see if the pace changed. It did - so I kept reading.

I was worried that it would feel a little voyeuristic. However, Donoghue has cleverly avoided this by choosing the child as narrator - his mother is so fiercely protective of him, that he witnesses almost none of the abuse she suffers at the hands of her abductor. Although Ma is obviously a fictional construct, her story is based on those of real-life victims, and I did feel that Donoghue was writing with a respectful sense of distance.

I don't think I'd read this book again. The quality of the writing did not quite make the cut for me, and I am a little surprised that it made the Man Booker shortlist. I felt some of the plot further on was flawed - without giving anything away, I didn't feel that Ma's actions were entirely true to her feelings for her son, and I was disappointed with the behaviour of Ma's family when I learned more about them. That said, I did sit up till nearly midnight reading the first half, and finished the rest of it the next morning, which says a lot for the page-turning quality of the story. Donoghue is sensitive in her treatment of the subject matter, so I would have no qualms in recommending it to someone who enjoys Jodi Picoult, for example - but it's not for me.


Broken Soup
Broken Soup
by Jenny Valentine
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.69

5.0 out of 5 stars Cleverly-plotted and very touching, 15 April 2014
This review is from: Broken Soup (Paperback)
First up: don't let the pink cover put you off! This book is not girly in the slightest, with its tough young protagonist, Rowan, and her collection of off-beat friends.

A friendly lad returns a negative to Rowan, under the impression that she dropped it in a shop doorway. The negative, when developed, turns out to be a photograph of someone very close to Rowan - but she's never seen the photo before in her life. Thus, a chain of events is unleashed that will keep readers page-turning to the very end.

The book deals with some gritty stuff, so younger readers should be forewarned. Rowan's family is in the depths of grief following a tragic death: her father has left, her mother is barely functioning, and Rowan is struggling to maintain normality for herself and her cheerful little sister. Things get a lot darker before they get better, but Valentine skillfully maintains a pervading thread of love and hope - alongside a quietly-burning romance - which makes the book a hugely heart-warming read.

One of the best young-adult books I have read in recent years. Hats off to Jenny Valentine!


The White Tiger
The White Tiger
by Aravind Adiga
Edition: Perfect Paperback
Price: £6.14

4.0 out of 5 stars An uncomfortable but mesmerising read, 15 April 2014
The White Tiger is an uncomfortable read. Written from the perspective of Balram Halwai, the son of a rickshaw-puller, it shines an uncompromising light onto the 'India of Darkness', where a dip in the River Ganga will fill your mouth with 'faeces, straw, soggy parts of human bodies, buffalo carrion, and seven different kinds of industrial acids.' As a small boy, Balram watches his mother's body burn in a pyre on the banks of the river, and is appalled to watch her become part of the 'black mud of the Ganga into which everything died, and decomposed, and was reborn from, and died into again.' Thus begins Balram's quest to liberate himself from this desperately inevitable cycle, and to emerge into the second India, the 'India of Light'.

Balram is not a character with whom it is easy to sympathise. Yes, like many a downtrodden protagonist, he is given a miserable start in life, and yes, he aspires to greater things. But he is cold-blooded in his attitudes and his actions, and at times, his crude turn of phrase made my skin crawl. But then, this unlikeable crudeness is the whole point. Balram is a tea-wallah turned driver turned entrepreneur, a 'half-baked' semi-urchin from a lowly sweet-making caste, and all he has been exposed to in his short life is filth, corruption and greed. He is unshakeable in his belief that if he is to improve his lot in life, he must be ruthless. And ruthless he is, and improve his lot in life he does.

As a novel, The White Tiger is not a conventionally satisfying read - the ending, in my opinion, lacks resolution. It is, however, a fascinating read, and its brilliance lies in Adiga's acute observations of India's serving class - and, nested within that, the servants' own gimlet-eyed observations of the middle classes who employ them. Theirs is an India of air-conditioned cars and cut-throat ambition, where religion is played for advantage, and the accrual of rupees is the ultimate goal in life. Chilling, but mesmerising stuff.


The Butterfly Lion
The Butterfly Lion
by Michael Morpurgo
Edition: Paperback
Price: £2.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Moving read with a superb twist in the tail, 14 April 2014
This review is from: The Butterfly Lion (Paperback)
A young boy, miserable at boarding school, decides to run away. He bumps into an old lady, who, seeing his distress, invites him in for a cup of tea. While he calms down, she tells him the story of a little boy she knew once - a boy who grew up in Africa, and who kept as a pet a beautiful white lion cub. When the lion grows too large to be kept within the compound, he is sold to a circus, and the devastated boy is sent away to boarding school in England. He grows up, and becomes a soldier in the First World War, but never does he give up hope of finding the lion again...

Morpurgo's books are always beautifully crafted, and this is no exception. What I really loved about it was the twist in the ending, which was wholly unexpected and left me absolutely breathless. It's a superb read for 8-12 year olds - buy it; you won't regret it!


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