Thursday, 6 March 2014

Review: Bunheads by Sophie Flack

Blurb: As a dancer with the Manhattan Ballet Company, nineteen-year-old Hannah Ward is living her childhood dream. And while she might not be a prima ballerina yet, she's moving up the ranks and surely if she works hard enough she can make it happen. But devoting her whole life to ballet leaves very little time for anything else: friends, family, school have all fallen by the wayside. Hannah doesn't mind, until a chance encounter brings Jacob into her life. He's cute, he plays guitar and he's offering a whole future that Hannah never considered. And now she must choose between her lifelong dream or what could be the love of her life.

What I thought: Books and ballet are two of the things I love most, so I was expecting a lot from this book. Probably a mistake, but either way I was disappointed. Especially near the beginning, the writing just felt wooden and underdeveloped. The characters weren't very interesting- I felt like Sophie Flack had just tagged a list of characteristics under a name, and left it at that. The dialogue was incredibly flat, especially between Hannah and Jacob. It didn't feel real. You couldn't tell why they liked each other so much, why he didn't just ditch her, why she was friends with Zoe. The whole book felt very imagined, which obviously it was, but I just felt that it would never have been like that in real life. Parts of the book felt really disjointed- the end was completely different from the beginning, and the change didn't really work. You couldn't see how she got there, which I thought could definitely have been improved upon.

I've been dancing since I was about four, so another thing that really annoyed me was the very basic explanation of ballet steps and techniques and stuff. This probably wouldn't be a problem for someone who doesn't know anything about dancing, but it felt kind of patronising to me.
Also, Sophie Flack seemed to use the book as a platform to spread her opinions about rude dancers, or people who think all male dancers are gay, or the word ballerina. This kind of irritated me, because it wasn't really supposed to be about that.

However, the book did have a few redeeming points. My favourite aspect, probably the main reason why I kept reading, and something that made me incredibly jealous throughout the entire book, was the ballet. I am always going to wish that I had gone to ballet school, and I am absolutely obsessed with dance, so this was always going to be a good point for me. Sophie Flack was a dancer once, so she's got it all down perfectly. She may not be the best writer, but she does know ballet, and that brings a lot to the book.
Basically, the plot boils down to whether she'll choose ballet or normal life. And despite all my issues with the book, I did get pretty invested in her choice. I'm always incredibly jealous of anyone who can dance, and I was really worried about her making her choice for the wrong reason. I am trying so hard not to put any spoilers in here. Ugh.

Conclusion: This book was disappointing- bland characters, flat dialogue, and not very good writing. However, Sophie Flack captures the world of ballet so well that it made me want to keep reading.

Rate: 5/10

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Review: Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

Blurb: Summers span decades. Winter can last a lifetime. And the struggle for the Iron Throne has begun. It will stretch from the south, where heat breeds plot, lusts and intrigues; to the vast frozen north, where a 700-foot wall of ice protects the kingdom from the dark forces that lie beyond. Kings and queens, knights and renegades, liars, lords and honest men. All will play the game of thrones.

What I thought: I don't normally read this kind of book (epic fantasy series, apart from Harry Potter) but I loved it. It's so popular, and everyone's been going on about it for so long- mainly because of the TV series- that I wanted to try it. I was pleasantly surprised and read pretty much the whole thing when I was on holiday last week.

The story is a lot more complex than most books- there are different plots and areas and a hell of a lot of characters with unusual names (Daenerys, Jaime, Drogo, Viserys). Because of this, the story is more spread out, and you don't get so much detail about people. You aren't so invested in their lives, which is probably a good thing because damn, they drop like flies. And also most of the characters are not very nice. You have bad people, and better people, and the occasional good person, but they don't tend to last very long. My favourites were Arya and Tyrion, because they were just SO AWESOME.

One of the things that really annoyed me were the typos and misspellings. I understand that it's a big book, but come on. If a fifteen year old girl can spot them, surely one of the no doubt multiple people working on publishing the book should have. I always get really annoyed about this, especially in really, really good books like this, because it brings the whole level down.

Another thing I like to rant about, about Game of Thrones, is this quote from the blurb; "Book One of A Song of Ice and Fire begins the greatest fantasy epic of the modern age". Um, no. No no no no no. Just because you have a popular book series and a TV show does not make you the "greatest". George R. R. Martin may be an awesome writer, but he is not J K Rowling, and I stand by Harry Potter.
This brings me onto other stuff I didn't like, or felt this book was lacking in (especially compared to HP). First; this is a great story- it's interesting and funny and dramatic, but that's all it is. I don't know if this side improves further down the series, but I doubt it. There is just no morality aspect. I don't know if that makes any sense to people who aren't me, but whatever. There is no clear good and bad, there is just bad and bad and bad and better. Like, in Harry Potter there was the whole love-will-kill-Voldemort thing, and the question of whether what they were doing was actually right. Game of Thrones doesn't have that, and it's perfectly fine to have an awesome plot/characters/etc. but you need something more.
Another thing I didn't like was the treatment of women. A lot of the Game of Thrones world is based off medieval times, but enough has been changed that I would have thought they could at least make feminism a thing too. Most women are either stupid, cruel, or prostitutes. There are SO MANY prostitutes. I think the only three (girls, not prostitutes) that I actually liked were Arya, Daenerys and Catelyn. Most of the actual conspiring and war stuff is done by the men, with the notable exceptions of Cersei and Daenerys, which I don't think is right. It's unnecessarily sexist, and I think if women had a bigger part (which actually, I think they do further down the series) the plot line and books would gain a lot.

However, despite the length and other issues, this is a very good book and I loved it. In no way is it deep or meaningful, but it's fun and dramatic and interesting reading. I would recommend it to fans of The Lord of the Rings, and fantasy/historical fiction.

Rate: 7/10

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Review: Reason To Breathe by Rebecca Donovan

Blurb: In a town where most people worry about what to be seen in and who to be seen with, Emma Thomas would rather not be seen at all. She's more concerned with feigning perfection, pulling down her sleeves to conceal the bruises. Emma doesn't want anyone to know how far from perfect her life truly is. When Emma unexpectedly finds love, it challenges her to recognize her own worth- but at the risk of revealing the terrible secret she's desperate to hide.

What I thought: This book went very well with Eleanor & Park because of the whole complicated-home-life thing. If you like that kind of story, definitely read this. Rebecca Donovan tells it so well- it doesn't seem fake or imagined or exaggerated in any way. Maybe apart from the fact that Emma is supposed to have no money and no luxuries, and yet she has an iPod. Kinda odd.

But that was pretty much it for weird stuff. Emma was an amazing character. You got to know her gradually, throughout the book, and she's simultaneously this amazing, strong person and this poor girl going through this really awful thing and just trying to get by. She was so determined. I really liked her. She was so confused and desperate to do the right thing, but she was never sure what that was, and you just felt so sorry for her. So yeah, I loved Emma. And Sara, I thought she was awesome. Her character wasn't very detailed; she was just the popular girl who tried to help Emma and slept with a lot of guys. But she was pretty cool.
One of my favourite parts of this book was Evan. From a couple of reviews I've read, I think this is true for most people. He was so great, and their story was so sweet. I think what I liked most about him and Emma was that it felt natural. When they were first getting to know each other, and then after. Sometimes in books like this there's a massive jump between the stages of the main character's relationship, and it's completely different when they're together from when they're just getting to know each other. This wasn't like that (partly because of some complications that I WILL NOT MENTION).

So I loved the good people, and hated the bad people. Really hated. Rebecca Donovan wrote evil so well. The scenes where all this stuff happened were so vivid, you could feel the injustice and general awfulness of the situation, and the descriptions kept making me wince.

However, there were some things I didn't like besides the weirdness of Emma having an iPod. I read this book online (I know, I have sinned) and some of the grammar and spelling was terrible. I don't know if this is true for the physical book, but it really annoys me when that happens.  Also, there were some parts that were very abrupt, which I didn't like. I kept wondering if she was dreaming, and when she was going to wake up, which kind of spoiled the scenes for me. Especially the end. Towards the conclusion, I was wondering how she was going to finish it, but I never expected that, and I think it could have been done better. It just felt a bit surreal, like there wasn't enough time to write a proper ending, so that was just stuck on the end. I know it's a trilogy, so I guess the story is concluded at the end of that, but I will not be reading it. It's not that I didn't enjoy this book, it's that what I enjoyed most about it was Emma's struggle and how she slowly opened up- and the other two books won't have that, although I'm sure they will be good too.

Overview: Whilst this book was very strong in the character and emotion department, I felt the story could have been paced better. It was very interesting, and explored a tricky subject very well, but there were definitely some areas that could have been improved. Overall, an enjoyable (although this maybe isn't the right word) but not particularly insightful read.

Rate: 6.5/10

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Blurb: Eleanor is the new girl in town, and she's never felt more alone. With her mismatched clothes, mad red hair and chaotic home life, she couldn't stick out more if she tried. Then she takes the seat on the bus next to Park. Quiet, careful and- in Eleanor's eyes- impossibly cool, Park's worked out that flying under the radar is the best way to get by. Slowly, steadily, through late-night conversations and an ever-growing stack of mix-tapes, Eleanor and Park fall in love. They fall in love the way you do the first time, when you're sixteen, and you have nothing and everything to lose.

What I thought: Eleanor & Park was completely different from how I thought it would be. In a good way. It's not that I was expecting it to be bad, it just surprised me. Mainly in the writing. Rainbow Rowell wrote this book so perfectly; her so style is so right for this kind of story. It's romantic and swoon-worthy and so, so sincere.
One of my favourite parts of this book was the characterization. Eleanor and Park and everyone else felt so complete. They didn't have just one side to them; they were fully functional, not at all perfect people. I really loved the people I was supposed to love, and hated the people I was supposed to hate. The emotions were so vivid and real, you couldn't help falling in love with Eleanor and Park.
Pretty much the only thing I thought could have been done better was the setting. I loved the idea of the story being set in the eighties, but it really didn't come up that much. Aside from mix-tapes and Walkmans, there wasn't much to show that it wasn't based right now. I felt that Rainbow Rowell could have made more of the setting, but that was the only thing I would have improved upon.
Overall, I really loved this book. It was sweet and happy and romantic, and then it had a darker side, so it was a good balance. The writing was awesome, the characters were interesting, and their love felt so real.

Rate: 8/10

Monday, 3 February 2014

Not-really review: This Star Won't Go Out

Blurb: Diagnosed with thyroid cancer at the age of twelve, Esther (Persian for "Star") Earl was an exceptionally bright and talented- but very normal- teenager. She lived a hope-filled and generous, outwardly focused life as she navigated her physical decline with grace. A cheerful, positive and encouraging daughter, Esther died in 2010, shortly after turning sixteen, but not before inspiring thousands with her growing online presence.
This unique memoir collects Esther's journals, fiction, letters and sketches. Photographs and essays by family and friends help to tell Esther's story, along with an introduction by award-winning author John Green, who dedicated his international bestseller The Fault In Our Stars to her.

What I thought: This is not a review. It is not possible (at least for me) to review, or criticize, or try to find fault in this book. This is a collection of thoughts, and a plea for everyone everywhere to please, please read it.
I never knew Esther Grace Earl. I never met her. I'd never even heard of her when she was alive (I was kinda late to the whole nerdfighter thing, unfortunately). So I feel a bit of a fraud, like I'm not worthy or not good enough to read her book, because when she was here I didn't know. However. I wish so much that I had met her. And I wish she was still alive because cancer sucks. And dying when you're still a teenager sucks. And from this book, it is so obvious that she was such an amazing person.
This Star Won't Go Out should be compulsory reading, especially for people my age. For people of any age, but especially for teenagers. People should know, and I hope that with everything surrounding the TFIOS movie, even more people will read this book, and watch her videos, and donate to the TSWGO foundation. Gah, I doubt I'm even making sense, and I know this non-review is awful and totally not worthy of the book. I just wanted to write about it.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

One Last 12 Days of Christmas, and ACTUAL CHRISTMAS!!!

I've actually forgotten how many of these I've done, so whatever, this is the last one at any rate, because, you know, Christmas is tomorrow. Or maybe today, or two days from now, depending on where you live. So then... one final 12 Days Of Christmas: Presents For Bookworms.

I really, really wish I was the legal drinking age so I could get this as a Christmas present. We found these in Waterstones a while ago, and we bought two copies just because. So awesome. No idea who we're going to give them to.
It's basically a collection of book-based drinks. For example: The Rye In The Catcher, Moby-Drink, etc. Do I need to say anymore?

Aaaaaand... CHRISTMAS. Despite various reservations about commercialism and whether or not Christmas trees are a good idea, I am SO EXCITED. If you're reading this (which I hope some people are), I hope you have a great Christmas, or a great day if you don't celebrate it. I will be getting up at five tomorrow to unwrap presents, so hopefully you'll get more sleep than me!

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Review: Just One Day by Gayle Forman

Blurb: A whirlwind day in Paris... A chance at true love... Heartbreak is waiting just around the corner.
(That's one explanatory blurb, right there.)

What I thought: I don't know what it is about Gayle Forman's books. The writing is good but not great. The story/idea/plot/whatever is fine. It should end up being an average-to-all-right book. But Just One Day was really good (and by good, I mean I really enjoyed it. I don't mean that despite everything I just said, it turned out to be amazing, and I just can't stop talking about it and all people everywhere should read it).

It did take me a while to get into, just like If I Stay and Where She Went. In the beginning, Allyson annoyed me because of her passivity and Melanie annoyed me because of her me-ness (which is, as of now, a word, and I expect it to be in the OED by Christmas), and you kind of wonder when the story actually starts.
And then Willem turns up, and he seems like SUCH A DICK. Not at first, I mean, but a few pages after he's introduced. I was thinking, okay, nothing happened, and now she's dropped all of the nothing to go off with this guy who kinda sucks. Great. 

HOWEVER. Willem turns out to be kind of awesome. But still kind of a dick. Which is actually kind of nice (kind of, kind of, kind of). Refreshing. But still a bit annoying. Arghhh...

I did think that the story had parts in it that were very like some other books I've read. Although, goldfish that I am, I've now forgotten what those bits were. Got to write reviews closer to when I actually finish the book... Anyway. I do remember thinking that some parts were a bit Anna And The French Kiss, and also some other stuff which, guess what, I don't remember.

But the thing is, all of that really didn't matter. I read an article in my school magazine a few days ago about film critics, and there was a bit about how it doesn't matter if there are slight plot gaps or whatever, if the story makes you forget about them or just not care. If the story is better than it's failings. Which I think Just One Day is. Despite all of the things that could have been better or different, or the parts that annoyed me, it was one of those books that you just can't stop thinking about. For me, that goes for all of Gayle Forman's books that I've read so far. I don't know how she does it.

Rate: 7/10