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Laura Hartley (London)

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The Vegetarian: A Novel
The Vegetarian: A Novel
by Han Kang
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

3.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing & Beautiful, 15 Oct. 2017
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Having flirted with the idea of turning towards a vegetarian diet for quite some time now, I was instantly drawn to The Vegetarian. When I was 17, I decided to give up meat for lent, to prove to a friend that I could and would survive for forty days without meat. However, when I got home from school and announced this news to my mother (Chinese), she was horrified. Although the vegetarian movement has grown enormously in the West, it is not wholly accepted in East Asia. This is partly what Han Kang explores in her phenomenal piece, The Vegetarian.

Before the nightmare, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary life. But when splintering, blood-soaked images start haunting her thoughts, Yeong-hye decides to purge her mind and renounce eating meat. In a country where societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye's decision to embrace a more “plant-like” existence is a shocking act of subversion. And as her passive rebellion manifests in ever more extreme and frightening forms, scandal, abuse, and estrangement begin to send Yeong-hye spiraling deep into the spaces of her fantasy. In a complete metamorphosis of both mind and body, her now dangerous endeavor will take Yeong-hye—impossibly, ecstatically, tragically—far from her once-known self altogether.

First of all, I have to admit that at first I just didn't get this book. It was disturbing enough that I kept reading but it wasn't what I was expecting at all and when I put the book down I was very confused. It wasn't until after I had done a bit of research and read about what Han Kang was trying to get at that I really began to appreciate all the themes in this story. You're not supposed to understand everything that happens here and if you go looking for a "right" answer to everything then you've missed the point entirely.

Told from three different perspectives, we see Yeong-hye descend into a sort of quiet madness through the eyes of her husband, her best friend and said friend's husband. Each chapter is very distinct and we get a glimpse at the inner workings of this family that once seemed "normal" from the outside. Kang shows us how our inner demons can haunt us and what happens when they finally break loose. There's conflict between father and daughter, husband and wife, sister and sister. Through these relationships and conflicts we are given a glimpse into Korean culture. Of course, this book is not representative of all Korean culture (I would be pretty worried if it did), but it certainly makes you aware of some of the stark cultural differences between the East and the West. Being half Chinese myself, I can imagine that turning vegetarian could actually have such a huge impact on your family.

The plot seems a little surreal at times and the writing can be rather abstract. The imagery is disturbing and yet beautiful all at once. Kang weaves together these two notions, completely captivating the reader and compelling you to read on even though alarm bells are ringing at the back of your brain. Reading The Vegetarian almost brings you into a trance-like state, much like the leading character herself, Yeong-hye.

Finally, I must say that The Vegetarian isn't for the faint hearted or the squeamish. Whilst I wouldn't go quite so far as to say there are "gory" parts, there were a couple of passages that made my stomach squirm. Make no mistake, this story isn't the happy story of how a woman moved towards a plant based diet - it is dark, it is disturbing, it is distressing. Kang's description of the protagonist through the eyes of her narrators is frighteningly compelling and it's certainly not a book I'll be forgetting anytime soon.

The Little Book of Ikigai: The secret Japanese way to live a happy and long life
The Little Book of Ikigai: The secret Japanese way to live a happy and long life
by Ken Mogi
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £6.99

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fresh perspective on the little things in life, 19 Sept. 2017
Hygge was last year's trend, this year it's Ikigai. It's a concept that the Japanese roughly translate as "a reason to get up in the morning". Supposedly it's the secret to their record-breaking longevity, sensory beauty and mindfulness, too. It's impossible to describe ikigai in just one sentence because it means so many different things and is likely to be interpreted a little different by every single one of us. However, there are five foundational pillars that are key to ikigai:

Pillar 1: Starting small
Pillar 2: Releasing yourself
Pillar 3:Harmony and sustainability
Pillar 4:The joy of little things
Pillar 5:Being in the here and now
It's not hard to see the connection between ikigai and the growing trend of "mindfulness". What is interesting, however, is that this concept has existed in Japan for centuries and centuries and is ingrained in their very culture. Having just visited Japan, it was fascinating to learn more about what makes Japanese people tick. Many of the things Mogi explains are things that I noticed myself in Japan, but couldn't understand. For one, they are the most polite nation of people I have ever encountered. Another thing is that they keep their country incredibly clean - despite the lack of bins! Knowing that the five pillars ikigai drive most Japanese people, I now understand how these things may have come to be.

I didn't expect author Ken Mogi to give us such a detailed and intricate insight into Japanese history and culture. All of the examples he uses are deeply rooted in Japanese culture from sumo wrestling to Comiket, a Japanese comic book convention. He uses examples from the present day and from the 17th century, showing how the concept of ikigai is seeped into every aspect of Japanese life throughout history. This only proves that ikigai is for everyone. For every single person on this planet, regardless of age or gender. It's a movement that transcends time and I hope it is something that we in the West can learn from and adopt ourselves.

Ikigai will remind you to enjoy the little things in life. To really think about what it is that makes you happy and encourage you to work on it, little by little, with no expectation of reward. This is the true path to being happy with oneself. Many people find Ikigai leads them to success, but many will not. No matter what though, we are all equal. All aspirations are given equal importance whether it is creating a leading global business or drawing a picture that pleases you. Mogi's book reminds us that success and money aren't everything and that if we appreciate the here and now, the small moments that make up the bigger picture of life, we can find our own purpose in life and be happy.

All in all, The Little Book of Ikigai: The Essential Japanese Way to Finding Your Purpose in Life is a really insightful and motivational read. It's quite short so you'll zip through it in a couple of hours and if you don't feel like your perspective on the little things in life has changed then go back and read it all again. For fans of Japanese culture and those that know it well, this may just give you a fresh perspective on the things you already know and love about Japan. For those that know nothing about Ikigai or Japan, this should be an enlightening and eye opening read about how others live across the seas.

Originally published on whatshotblog.com

Caraval: the mesmerising Sunday Times bestseller
Caraval: the mesmerising Sunday Times bestseller
by Stephanie Garber
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £5.00

5.0 out of 5 stars A mysterious and magical read!, 22 Feb. 2017
The story begins on the isle of Trisda. Scarlett is engaged to Count d'Arcy, a man she has never met before, but she is convinced that he is the key to freeing her and her sister from their father's tyranny. After a failed escape attempt two year earlier, this seems like their only option. However, every year, Scarlett has written a letter to Caraval Master Legend, begging him to bring his magical five-day show to Trisda. She has never received a response - until now. Scarlet is due to be married in just a few days but can she resist the Caraval Master's long awaited invitation to his infamous game?

I have to admit that at first, I wasn't sold on this book. It was a really interesting story but I didn't see what made it better than a lot of other very popular young adult novels out there right now. Then, Scarlett, Tella and Julian arrived at Caraval and the story really kicked off. Caraval is a five-day performance in which the audience participates. It's only a game - or so the players are told. However, it becomes quite increasingly obvious as time passes by that there's something else at work at Caraval. Things are not at all as they seem but we aren't really given any clues as to what is really driving the plot and this yearly performance. I felt like I was in the dark for a long time but it kept me on my toes and I raced through this book.

There's so much mystery in this story and I truly had no clue what plot twists were coming my way. There's a hint of magic, dark magic more specifically, underlying everything here and I loved that as time went on the story became more and more black. There were some passages where I was rather disturbed or, at least, very shocked by what was happening and the performance certainly isn't designed to be a happy and enjoyable experience for the players.

As for the characters, sisters Scarlett and Donatella couldn't be any more different in personality, but they are both fiercely loyal to each other. Or at least they were before the game began. Scarlett is the "sensible" older sister and Donatella is the rebellious younger sister. Scarlett grew on me quite a lot as the story went on and she realised that the world had so much more to offer her. Her eyes are re-opened and she sees that she doesn't need to settle for the marriage her father has arranged. She's definitely not the feistiest female protagonist out there but the Scarlett we meet at the beginning of this book is very different from the Scarlett who's been playing Caraval for five days. Her character develops quite a lot and I think she'll only become even stronger in the next book.

My favourite character was Julian, partially because he sounds super yummy, but also because he is the most mysterious character. He tells you not to trust him and yet lots of things he does make you want to and you're never quite sure what his motivations are. At the end of Caraval, Julian's story is revealed and that is probably the most exciting plot twist there is. He's certainly not a character you should ignore and he is integral to the plot's developments.

Predictably there's an element of romance in this story but nothing much comes of it until the latter half of the book. It doesn't add a huge amount to main plot for the most part but it was a nice little side story. This storyline does become wrapped up in the numerous plot twists at the end so I have high hopes that this'll become more exciting and significant in the subsequent books.

All in all, Caraval is a fantastic debut novel from Stephanie Garber and it blew me away. It has elements of magic, mystery and adventure, which will have you turning those pages like crazy! This is a little different from a lot of the other young adult stuff out there right now so I'd highly recommend it if you're looking for a fast-paced tale that will take you and your emotions on a roller-coaster ride.

The Secret History
The Secret History
by Donna Tartt
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Secret History is a Modern Classic, 6 Jan. 2017
This review is from: The Secret History (Paperback)
The Secret History is the story of six Classics students at Hampden College, New England. It is told through the eyes of Richard Papen, a financial aid student from California desperately trying to escape the banal life his parents wish for him. When Richard arrives at Hampden, he is told of an elitist group of students taught by Julian M. Naturally, he wants to join. Little did he know, this reckless decision would result in dire consequences that would haunt him and his new 'friends' for the rest of his life.

First of all, this book is pretty damn long. It may not look like much, but it's actually over 600 pages long. I don't know many authors who could sustain a gripping story throughout all those pages but Donna Tart does it magnificently. There was not a single part of this story when I didn't feel engaged and enthralled by the plot. I guarantee you will be in one of two states when reading this novel: tearing through the pages, desperate to find out what happens; or slowly savouring Tart's beautiful writing, never wanting to reach the end of this story. Tart has this way of lulling you into a false sense of security and then ripping everything you thought you knew out at the seams.

The are seven main characters: Henry, Richard, Charles, Camilla, Francis, Bunny and Julian, their teacher. They are all despicable human beings and yet there's something about them that draws you in. I guess that's exactly how Richard got sucked into their elitist little group in the first place. Each member of the group has their own eccentricities that you discover as the story unfolds and nothing is as it first seems. Each character has their own secrets but what's most interesting is the relationship between all of them. These characters are tied together by some sort of twisted bond that is completely captivating. They are all flawed but it is not until the very end of the story that you find out just how messed up they all are.

I totally agree with the assertion that The Secret History is a modern classic. Instead of making us wonder what's going to happen, Donna Tart makes us fear it. We are told right from the outset that a murder has occurred and from then on you're anticipating it, looking over your shoulder to check if the murderer is coming to get you. The author and her characters draws strongly from Greek myths, little too strongly given what happens to them and the group ends up becoming something of a modern myth themselves.

To conclude, Donna Tart is now ranked amongst my favourite authors. Her work is both twisted and beautiful at the same time dealing with friendship, love, desire, hedonism, jealousy and tragedy. She tells a dark story but she tells it so well you can't help but be entranced. There were a few sections that made me feel physically sick and others that I've put to memory amongst some of my favourite quotes. The characters themselves are Tart's greatest triumph and there is no way that you won't find yourself completely wrapped up in their story, both wishing you were part of their little group and thankful that you're not. A must-read for all.

The Wangs vs The World
The Wangs vs The World
by Jade Chang
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.78

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Refreshingly funny!, 28 Nov. 2016
This review is from: The Wangs vs The World (Hardcover)
The Wangs Vs The World follows the story of the Wang family – Charles, Barba, Saina, Andrew and Grace. Charles is an incredibly successful business man who came over from China and made his fortune in the make-up industry. Then disaster strikes. Bad investment decisions coupled with the 2008 recession sends his company down and his entire fortune with it. Completely broke, Charles packs up as much as he can fit into a car and starts a journey across America to pick up his two youngest children, on a journey towards his eldest daughter’s home – the only place they can go. Along the way they rediscover what is means to be family and how to continue their lives without the immense amounts of money they once had.

Keep reading to find out what I thought…

I found The Wangs vs The World to be a refreshing and hilarious read. Jade Chang really hits the nail on the head when it comes to what it is like for American-born Chinese youngsters (ABCs) who grow up in the West with Asian parents. Being half Asian, half British myself, I was astounded at how accurate and funny, but crucially, how not racist, this story is. In Charles Wang she has perfectly captured the brazen, money-driven, family orientated Chinese man. He is an exaggerated character but I can genuinely imagine him existing in real life. It is so easy to go overboard when lightly mocking another race but Chang has balanced humour and accuracy perfectly and I’m so happy to finally be reading a really good book about POC.

The characters are complex and there is a real sense of family between all of them. At first the children seem bratty and spoilt, as many kids raised with millionaire fathers are, but as the novel goes on they start to turn more human and you grow to love them. The lives of these three kids have been completely uprooted and they’ve been dragged across half a continent by their father who seems just a bit loopy and is hiding secrets. Whilst at the beginning they are all very independent individuals, as the story goes on, they are reminded of what it means to be family, which is heart-warming. This is a tale about re-finding yourself and grounding yourself with what is really important in life when everything you have has been taken away.

What I do wonder, however, is how this book would be perceived by someone who isn’t of Oriental descent and doesn’t understand the cultural nuances. A huge part of why I enjoyed this book so much was precisely because I felt an immense connection with the characters and their heritage. I know exactly what it’s like to have an immigrant Chinese mother but most of the general population can’t say the same. What’s more, several sentences are actually written in Pin Yin (the written form of Chinese characters), which must’ve looked like gobbledegook to anyone who doesn’t speak Chinese. They are frequent enough that I wondered if someone who didn’t understand them might simply get frustrated.

All in all, I was very impressed with Jade Chang’s debut novel. It is genuinely very funny and the it is a pretty accurate representation of what many Chinese/American families are like. For those who are interested in reading something a little different and diverse, which many people have been complaining about as of late, then I’d definitely recommend The Wangs vs The World. As I said though, this book resonated with me personally quite a lot because I am half Chinese so I’m not sure others will feel quite the same way. Four out of five stars for me.

First published on [...]

Crown of Midnight: 2 (Throne of Glass)
Crown of Midnight: 2 (Throne of Glass)
by Sarah J. Maas
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Plot twist after plot twist!, 27 Sept. 2016
Celaena, Adarlan’s most dangerous assassin, has won the King’s gruelling competition. She is now the King’s champion and contracted to do his bidding for the next four years to win her freedom back. The King sets her to work, killing off potential traitors and rebels but the unwilling Celaena has got a few tricks up her sleeve yet. With whispers of amassing rebel forces and secrets between those who once trusted each other, Celaena must keep her wits about her as she tries to figure out what is going on and what demons are lurking in the dark.

After the action packed and exciting debut to the Throne of Glass series, the sequel, Crown of Midnight, gets off to a slow start. There’s still a lot of world and character building to be done as the relationship between Chaol and Celaena is mapped out, Dorian’s family history is explained and the King’s plans for domination are slowly revealed. The story focusses much less on Celaena now, widening its scope to include many other members of the court and various characters’ histories.

The romance between Chaol and Celaena was surprisingly passionate and whilst I wouldn’t exactly label it ‘mature content’, it certainly implies some very adult things (wink). As with Throne of Glass, the romance isn’t cringe-worthy or childish, it does seem realistic and passionate. Celaena is often seen to be a cold-blooded assassin but Chaol turns her into an ordinary girl with ordinary feelings. That said, at no point did I think she was ‘silly’, which I think is the right word to describe a lot of female YA protagonists in love, which I was glad about.

I’d definitely say this series is aimed at older teens and young adults because the characters are all mature, working people with ‘real-life’ problems. This is a dark fantasy tale that seems to just get darker with each new chapter. This series gives you real monsters that bite, not sparkling vampires and I just wish they would make this into a film so I can see these demons take shape.

Now can we just take a minute (or hour) to discuss the ending of Crown of Midnight. My eyes were glued to my Kindle for the last few chapters and I think a hurricane could have blown my home away (Dorothy-style) and I still would have continued reading. Celaena is – ? Chaol said – ? Dorian has – ?! There are at least half a dozen questions burning on the tip of my tongue and I am desperate for answers! I actually re-read the last few passages of this story again as soon as I finished because I couldn’t believe what was happening and I needed to check I hadn’t just made it up in my head!

To conclude, Sarah J Maas has swiftly become my favourite young adult author and she certainly knows how to surprise her fans. Although the first half of this book was a little sluggish, S J Maas throws down plot twist after plot twist in the second half. I have never read a book that has gone from good to extraordinary in the space of just a few pages. Crown of Midnight is full of mystery and intrigue and as soon as you think you’ve got all the characters sussed out, a new piece of information is revealed to completely change that.

Onto Heir of Fire we go…

SheSole Women's Suede Ankle Boots
SheSole Women's Suede Ankle Boots
Offered by SheSole Flagship Shop
Price: £49.99

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very stylish shoe!, 26 Sept. 2016
Winter is well on it’s way and it’s time to bring out the boots! This style is very fashionable at the moment I have no complaints about the look of the shoe. The suede material is very soft so I would recommend using some sort of shoe protector spray to keep them looking sleek and black throughout winter.

The zip on the inside makes it easy to put on and remove these shoes without bending them out of shape. The outside zip is actually just for decoration so don’t be fooled by that! I love the chunky heel, which is neither too high, nor too short. They are just the right height for walking around in on a day trip and you won’t have to worry about sore feet.

Note on sizing:

I would say I’m around a 4.5 UK size but I opted for a 5 with these shoes. They were far too big for me without any insoles in them so if your feet are a little on the small side for your size then I’d definitely recommend going DOWN a size rather than up. This is my only complain really!

Alice Through The Looking Glass [DVD]
Alice Through The Looking Glass [DVD]
Dvd ~ Johnny Depp
Price: £4.99

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Nothing but a disappointment, 12 Sept. 2016
Alice Through The Looking Glass sees Alice re-enter the world of Underland and she must travel back in time to try and save The Mad Hatter (Depp). The Mad Hatter has lost his muchness, convinced that his dead family is actually still alive, and Alice is the only one who can bring the old Mad Hatter back. She embarks on a quest to steal the Chronosphere from Time (Sacha Baron Cohen), which will enable her to travel back in time and stop The Mad Hatter's family from being killed. This is an incredibly dangerous mission as playing with the past can have disastrous consequences in the present. In the past she encounters many of her friends and enemies at various stages of their lives and races to save The Mad Hatter before it is too late.

The second instalment in the Alice in Wonderland film franchise is directed by James Bobin, not Tim Burton, and it shows. The magic of the previous film is completely lost in this film and instead of being enchanted I was thoroughly bored. What's worse, the special effects were not spectacular and some scenes looked awfully fake. Alice in Wonderland stories rely heavily on the whimsical world that Lewis Caroll created and without the special effects to pull it off, there's just no magic. The hair and makeup wasn't whacky, it was just plain weird. Alice goes through this entire adventure dressed in a traditional 'Chinese' outfit. However, I think most Chinese people would agree with me when I say that her outfit was absolutely not a 'traditional Chinese' dress and was rather just an insult to my culture's history.

I don't think I would be that far off the mark if I compared this film to a really bad Pantomime. The characters were all dressed up in ridiculous outfits, the acting is atrocious and at the end of it you kind of want to smash your face into a brick wall. This film is riddled with stars from Helena Bonham Carter to Johnny Depp to Sasha Baron Cohen to Alan Rickman to Anne Hathaway - the list goes on. If a film with this many incredibly talented actors still manages to flop then you know that there is something seriously wrong with it.

Most of the actors looked thoroughly bored throughout their performances and I didn't feel a connection with any of the characters, least of all Alice. I have never been a huge fan of Mia Wasikowska and this film did nothing to change my opinion of her. I think she over-acted Alice, coming across as a very posh, young and confused young lady, and her character lacked realism. This version of Alice is one of those characters that desperately tries to do good but at the end of the day is just so irritating.

This film's one redeeming feature is it's slight nod to feminism at the very beginning of the tale. Alice has just returned from years at sea on her dad's boat, the only female captain in an industry and time (it begins in 1875) that is very much dominated by men. Despite her mother's protests, she insists that she is going to continue to explore the world and that there is much more out there for her than marriage and children. This was pretty much the only positive thing I found in this film and this happens in the first fifteen minutes.

I imagine young kids may still enjoy this film because of the wonderfully strange world that this story takes place in but I really do pity the parents who are dragged along to watch this. This film is just under two hours long and I found myself checking to see how much time there was left at regular intervals. All in all, save your money, save your time. Alice Through the Looking Glass is nothing but a disappointment.

Rebel of the Sands (Rebel of the Sands Trilogy)
Rebel of the Sands (Rebel of the Sands Trilogy)
by Alwyn Hamilton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.07

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Western meets Eastern fantasy, 10 Sept. 2016
Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton follows the story of Amani across the deserts of Miraji. Amani belongs to her uncle and he is free to marry her off to anyone he chooses, or even marry her himself. Refusing to accept her lot in life, Amani plots to run away from the family that has never accepted her and the dead-end town of Dustwalk. She sneaks out one night and heads to a shooting competition, hoping to win the bounty of 1000 coins. She’s a killer shot and knows that she can easily win, but the game makers are corrupt and things don’t go to plan. It is here that she meets Jin, a mysterious foreigner, and their stories become entangled from here on.

Great world building is a crucial to a fantasy novel and Alwyn Hamilton does this perfectly. We are quickly plunged into a magical world that seems to fuse a Western and Aladdin. There are mortal and immortal beings, new mythical creatures and rebel armies. Characters sit around camp fires telling tales of old and I found it so exciting to learn about all the new rules in this fantasy world. It’s difficult to write something completely original these days as the young adult genre is so saturated, but Hamilton’s world is mysterious and magical in all the right ways.

Hamilton spends the first half of the story introducing you to her new world and characters but it’s not until the second half that things start to get really interesting. It took me a little while to get into the story as I found the first half to be a little slow at times. However, there are numerous plot twists towards the end of the story that are completely unpredictable and you’ll be tearing through the last few chapters.

If you’re looking for a book with a kick-ass female lead, then Rebel of the Sands is for you. Amani is a tenacious girl, fighting against the prejudiced system in her home county. Women have no rights so Amani must disguise herself as a boy in order to escape Dustwalk and her uncle’s control over her. She feisty and reckless and you’ll be rooting for her from start to finish.

I have to say that despite this, I didn’t find her to be the most likeable character, but I did admire her a lot. She’s certainly a very interesting character but I didn’t think that she was developed quite as well as she could have been. I’m looking forward to the subsequent books in this series to see how her character progresses.

Weirdly, I thought the character Jin (and I guess you could call him ‘love interest’) was much older than he actually is in the books. As a result, I found the thought of any romance between Amani and him strange at first. The Jin at the beginning of the book is very different to the Jin at the end of this story and I guess that’s down to the fact that he has a hidden identity. I wasn’t a huge fan of his character at first but by the end of the book I had come round to him. His character definitely could have been developed a little better as I know I wasn’t the only one a little perplexed at how his character turned out.

Now before I wrap up this review, I have a confession. One of the main reasons I was drawn into this book is because of the cover. Yes, I’m a sucker for pretty covers, and let’s be honest, who isn’t? I needed a beautiful book to take with me on my travels around Thailand and Rebel of the Sands was my pick. You can check out all my #bookstagram photos with this gorgeous book over on my Instagram account: @whatshotblog. The cover release for Traitor to the Throne (book #2) is happening on Monday 12th September 2016 and I can’t wait to see it!

All in all, this is a strong debut to a new young adult series. This is only the first in the Rebel of the Sands trilogy and I for one can’t wait to see what happens next! The character development could do with some work but Hamilton has laid the groundwork for an awesome young adult trilogy in a world that is completely different from anything we’ve seen before. The strong female lead is definitely a huge plus and this mystical world will have you dreaming about desert sands and rebel princes.

by Marissa Meyer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.49

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An original take on a classic tale, 5 Sept. 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Cinder (Paperback)
Cinder is the first in the Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer, a dystopian young adult series. Set in New Beijing, this is a Cinderella story retelling - with a twist. Our protagonist Cinder is not your average girl, in fact, she's not a girl at all, she's a Cyborg. After a terrible accident at the age of eleven, Cinder was left part human, part machine; but her history is shrouded in mystery and there are secrets to be uncovered.

When Prince Kai of New Beijing visits a mechanic's workshop seeking the city's best mechanic, he finds Cinder, not at all what he was expecting. Little did they know that this meeting would irrevocably change both of their lives and they'd find themselves in the middle of an intergalactic struggle.

Cyborgs, androids, lunars, the plague - by all accounts this story just shouldn't work. But it does. There's a mishmash of half a dozen different individual plot points that one would never think of putting together for they would make a truly absurd story. Yet, here we have Cinder that does exactly that, but instead of being completely bonkers, it presents a story full of plot twists in a new world.

Cinder is a fantastic female protagonist that you will be rooting for from start to finish. She is deemed a second-class citizen because she is a Cyborg and her step mother will never let her forget it. Her step sisters have never had to work a day in their lives and their main focus is the royal ball. Meanwhile, Cinder spends every day stuck in her workshop, scraping pennies together for the whole family, but she doesn't resent her sisters for this. Of course, Cinder would love to go to the ball (who wouldn't?!), but she's not obsessed with it at all. She's accepted her lot in life and knows that pretty dresses and princes aren't for her. This is the story of a hardy and head strong girl who is fighting for her freedom, not trying to tie herself down.

I love that there's a nod to feminism in this story as Cinder is the most successful female mechanic in the city, amongst all the other girls who seem to just be vying for the prince's attention. Certainly Cinder's step mother is very focussed on how her daughters look and how that affects their ability to find a suitably rich husband. Cinder is the breadwinner of the family, singlehandedly supporting her poor family, but she is also kind and just, which makes her richer than her step mother will ever be. She is always willing to help those in need, but also seems unaware of just how kind and special she is, making you love her even more.

There is an element of romance in this story as Cinder starts to fancy the prince, but this is not at all the focal point of the story, which was a relief for me. There is nothing more annoying than a story in which the be all and end all is whether or not the boy gets the girl. Or in this case, the cyborg. I suspect the romance will be developed much more in the later books, but I am glad that the focus of the first novel was Cinder and her plight, rather than a teen romance.

One of the things that I loved most about this story is that it was set in New Beijing and not the US or the UK. I will admit there is a lot more diversity in books now than there used to be but we are still sorely lacking books set in non-Western countries in my opinion. Admittedly, the fact that we are in New Beijing doesn't seem to have a huge impact on the plot bar the fact that many characters have Chinese names, but it is a step in the right direction. Chinese culture definitely could have been integrated into this novel a lot more, which I would have really enjoyed (Asians ftw!), but it was refreshing nevertheless to read a story set in a completely different place. And, you know, the Cyborgs and stuff.

I'm a sucker for fairy-tale retellings, which are becoming increasingly popular, and this is definitely one of the best I have ever read. Cinderella with a sci-fi twist is something special and will keep you guessing with every page you turn. This is a truly unique fairy-tale retelling that does more than just tell another Cinderella story. This is the story of an outcast girl, desperately seeking freedom. She just happens to meet a prince along the way.

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