Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Review: Hushed by Joanne Macgregor

Title: Hushed
Author: Joanne Macgregor
Publisher: Self-published (April 2017)

Would you sacrifice your voice for love? 
18-year-old Romy Morgan desperately longs to escape the boring confines of home, and explore the world. 
When she saves her celebrity crush, superstar Logan Rush, from drowning, Romy is offered a job as his personal assistant. She strikes a deal to reinvent herself in exchange for entering the exciting world of the movies, and love sparks between her and this prince of Hollywood. But Romy soon discovers that she has traded her voice and identity for an illusion of freedom. 
When Romy discovers a dreadful secret with the power to destroy Logan, she must choose between love, vengeance and finding her own, true element.
I was fortunate enough to receive a physical copy of Hushed for review. Thank you so much, Joanne Macgregor!

Hushed is a fun, modernisation of The Little Mermaid. It is set in Cape Town and I really love that. There are far too few YA books set in South Africa.

I literally cruised through this one in two days. I found the story and characters captivating and authentic. I also really loved Logan and how the author deals with the stresses of being famous. I felt it was probably what a lot of young celebs go through, especially having the pressures of maintaining a public appearance and the assumption that your fans know who you are as a person.

This book has some good themes which feature quite strongly. Such as self-identity and having the courage to follow your own path.

Romy is a fantastic character, too. She is not a special snowflake and has family pressures I am sure most teens can relate to. She is strong with her head screwed on properly. I also love that she is big into conservation!

In short, if you are tired of over-hyped YA contemporary with unrealistic characters, give this a try. You can grab the ebook off Amazon for less than $4 or, if you are local, find physical copies at Love Books in Melville.

Monday, May 8, 2017

5 Books Better than 13 Reasons Why

I am openly critical about the tv show ans book 13 Reasons Why and figured I might as well offer some constructive help here, too. It's all very well telling people that the show is bad, but to not offer alternatives is a little irresponsible on my behalf.

Of course kids need to talk about loss and grief. Of course they need to find media that is relatable and helps them understand complicated tragedies like suicide, rape and addiction.

I have put together 5 awesome books that deal with core issues in a responsible manner. These books really stand out for me as some of the best in the genre. Also, none of them are written by John Green.

1. The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney
Some schools have honor codes.
Others have handbooks.
Themis Academy has the Mockingbirds.
Themis Academy is a quiet boarding school with an exceptional student body that the administration trusts to always behave the honorable way--the Themis Way. So when Alex is date raped during her junior year, she has two options: stay silent and hope someone helps her, or enlist the Mockingbirds--a secret society of students dedicated to righting the wrongs of their fellow peers. 
In this honest, page-turning account of a teen girl's struggle to stand up for herself, debut author Daisy Whitney reminds readers that if you love something or someone--especially yourself--you fight for it. (From Goodreads)
The fact that the author actually experienced date rape herself makes this a credible and important read. It doesn't glamorize it for the sake of plot.

2. Crank by Ellen Hopkins
In Crank, Ellen Hopkins chronicles the turbulent and often disturbing relationship between Kristina, a character based on her own daughter, and the "monster," the highly addictive drug crystal meth, or "crank." Kristina is introduced to the drug while visiting her largely absent and ne'er-do-well father. While under the influence of the monster, Kristina discovers her sexy alter-ego, Bree: "there is no perfect daughter, / no gifted high school junior, / no Kristina Georgia Snow. / There is only Bree." Bree will do all the things good girl Kristina won't, including attracting the attention of dangerous boys who can provide her with a steady flow of crank. (From Goodreads)
This is an awesome novel told in prose. It covers the struggles with addiction and identity. I really recommend this to any teen who has had exposure to drugs and even alcohol addiction.

3. Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin
Elsewhere is where fifteen-year-old Liz Hall ends up, after she has died. It is a place so like Earth, yet completely different. Here Liz will age backward from the day of her death until she becomes a baby again and returns to Earth. But Liz wants to turn sixteen, not fourteen again. She wants to get her driver's license. She wants to graduate from high school and go to college. And now that she's dead, Liz is being forced to live a life she doesn't want with a grandmother she has only just met. And it is not going well. How can Liz let go of the only life she has ever known and embrace a new one? Is it possible that a life lived in reverse is no different from a life lived forward? (From Goodreads)
 This is an awesome, touching book that deals with themes of loss, grief and death. It shows a comforting view of the afterlife with an opportunity to learn and accept fate.

4. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink. (From Goodreads)
I didn't like this book at first, but I realized it is actually pretty damn good as it really does deal with suicide and depression in a realistic way. Go read it instead of the offending book whose name I will not mention again. :P

5. I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah's story to tell. The later years are Jude's. What the twins don't realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world. (From Goodreads)
I adore this book. It left me with a major book hangover and weepy eyes. It's touching and has the best cast of characters. It's about family, sexual identity, loss and so much more. Just go and get a copy and thank me later after you have dried the tears.

Opinion: Are Literary Reviews Relevant In Today's Reading Landscape?

It is no secret that I am not a huge fan of literary reviews and will seldom chase after titles that critics have rated well with the upper echelons of literary critique.

He thinks you need more purple prose in your life.

There is this archaic misconception that only select books are considered "good literature". That reading anything other than these lauded titles means that one simply is not a real reader. This has irked me for years as I always felt that I was a reader! Readers, after all, read, do they not? It's in the name and everything.

It also said that reading these books is not supposed to be easy. That it should encourage thought and provide some mind-opening experience that will allow the reader to transcend the intellect of average mortals. "Read this!" critics proclaim. "Read this and have rainbows of superiority radiate from your nethers!"

Honestly, I feel that we live in the age of information. Where I can go from wanting a book to having its digital form on the device of my choosing in less than a minute. Where I have literally millions of books at my fingertips. Why would I want to slog through a book for the sake of literary snobbery? The world is hard enough, dammit. And yes, there is a place for difficult literature, but we need to shed the ridiculous ideals placed on the reading public.

I feel that these perceptions are damaging and, instead of promoting literacy and the love of reading, they can actually have the adverse effect. People should read for enjoyment and should have the liberty to pick books that appeal to them without their choices being frowned upon. Also, schools should have a look at their prescribed materials and determine if kids actually find these books fun to read. I know I would rather get papercuts than slog through Joseph Conrad's A Heart of Darkness, a book that was both mystifyingly short and long at the same time.

I have taken a look at a bestsellers list from 2016 and will highlight some of the results here for interest's sake.

The bestselling book of 2016 was Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The reason for this is obvious. It's Harry Potter. It would sell even if it was the worst written book in history because the fans need more Harry. It clocked just under 1.5 million unit sales in the UK alone. This is hardly a literary masterpiece. The series has dominated best-seller charts for the past two decades because they are books that speak to the general public. There is a character everyone can relate to and fall in love with.

Hot on Harry's heels is The Girl on the Train, sales driven by the release of the film. I have read this book in one sitting. It is also far from being a literary work of art, but it has satisfying and addictive plot elements. It is also one of those hybrid titles that dips its toes into many different audience groups, including those of the snobbish variety. But, it remains an accessible read.

Go Set a Watchman, the newly discovered novel by Harper Lee, one she arguably never intended for publication, sits at number 70. This was a book that had set tongues wagging in all the high places, with readers clamoring for copies on the day of release. It's one of those books that you simply had to get because you would look good reading it. It was also bested by not one but three Wimpy Kid titles in terms of sales. Go figure.

Another example is All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. It managed to secure spot number 80 in spite of winning the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Andrew Carnegie Medal for Fiction, ALA Alex Award and more. Certainly, it was not published that year, but one would think the accolades under its belt would have meant a higher ranking.

In 2012, The Guardian released a list of the top 100 bestselling books of all time.

The spots in the top ten that were not claimed by Harry Potter were taken by two of Dan Brown's novels (Da Vinci Code in the top spot) and Fifty Shades of Grey. Fifty Shades Darker sits in number 11 with Twilight in number twelve.

Here. Read these.

My point is simple. People read what makes them happy. It doesn't have to be verbose and "intelligent". Reading critically-acclaimed books should not be treated as a badge of honour. And no one, ever, should be judged by reading what they enjoy. The sales show the bigger picture. Critically acclaimed novels are not the ones that sell.

Literary reviews only cater to a very tiny, niche, upper-crust market. They actually mean very little in the grander scheme of things and should, quite frankly, not be taken very seriously at all. Well, unless you are the kind of person who needs this to define your own intellect and worth. Then, don't let me stop you. But don't point fingers when I laud my love of YA all over the internet, either!

If you think I am wrong or have anything to add, please feel free to leave a comment below.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Crime Month: 5 Favorite Female Fictional Detectives!

To kickstart Crime Month, I thought I would do a post on five awesome female fictional Detectives who really stand out for me. These characters come from both books and tv shows and are both awesome characters as well as competent in their fields. Plus, I am all for girl power here on the blog!

1. Mma Precious Ramotswe

Mma Ramotswe, played by Jill Scott in the 2009 tv series.

Mma Precious Ramotswe is the star of Alexander McCall Smith's Number One Ladies Detective Agency series. The series is set in Botswana and was turned into a tv series of six episodes.

Mma Ramotswe is a fantastic character, who uses her inheritance from her father to set up her own Detective Agency. She helps the locals solve cases such as missing husbands, kidnappings as well as helping herself overcome her own personal demons.

Being the first female Detective in Botswana, Mma Ramotswe has to overcome a lot of prejudice and sexism but it is her feisty hardheadedness that helps her endure and rise above this.

2. Veronica Mars

Veronica Mars is played by Kirsten Bell in the cult hit TV series.
Teen Detective, Veronica Mars, was a huge part of my TV viewing. The show of the same name ran from 2004-2007 and featured Veronica following her Detective father's footsteps.

While her father tries to rein in her enthusiasm for solving mysteries, Veronica often ends up being a key player in solving cased before her father does, earning his respect. She also acts as an unofficial detective for her school's newspaper, assisting in helping out her fellow students.

Veronica had a pretty crappy childhood after her mother left her and her father when he lost his job as Sheriff. She was also ousted from the popular crowd at school and becomes a victim of sexual assault after her drink is spiked at a party. But she uses her knack for investigating as a catalyst to overcome these hurdles and is a strong character who stands up for what is right.

3. Nancy Drew

Created in 1930, Nancy Drew is one of the most iconic female characters of the past century. Her character has shifted with the times, but has always been a figurehead for girls to aspire to the world over.

Nancy is always driven by what is right and doesn't let the patriarchy get in her way. She can fix her own car, is trusted by her father and can even shoot a firearm.

There have been several TV series and films based on the series and new books are being written by new authors every year, continuing Nancy's legacy into the new millennium.

4. Kate Beckett

Stana Katic as Kate Beckett in the ABC series, Castle.
Castle's Kate Beckett is yet another strong, female character. The TV series would not be the same without her and author Richard Castle's banter and flirtatious relationship. She is also one of the few people who are immune to his crap, in spite of being a fan of his novels.

She is intelligent, well-read and also a bit of a geek at heart, having been an avid reader of comic books from a young age. I can personally relate to all these things. ;)

5. Tenperance Brennan

Emily Deschanel in Bones.

Tempe Brennan is the leading character in a series of books by Kathy Reichs. The character is later portrayed by Emily Deschanel in the hit TV show, Bones.

Bones is actually only very loosely based on the books, but rather draws inspiration from the life of author Kathy Reichs.

Tempe is not exactly the best with people, often struggling socially and missing social cues and references. However, she is a brilliant Forensic Anthropologist who uses her ability to remove emotions from a situation to approach crimes with logic and facts.

I will be doing another post on five more awesome characters, as I have realized there are just too many who deserve a mention! If you think I left someone out, please let me know in a comment!