A very special book about a bond of sisterhood and survival

One by Sarah Crossan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As I sit and think about how to put into words my feelings about this book I am still somewhat stunned by it, having just read the final pages. I am trying to think about the last time a book left me feeling quite so emotional and quite so bereft now I have finished it. It’s hard to imagine that I only picked it up 24 hours ago and yet it has left such an indelible mark upon me that it may be one of the best books I’ve ever read.

The winner of The Carnegie Medal One by Sarah Crossan was somewhat of a revelation to me when I picked it up last night. I had picked it up in my local library having heard nothing about it and glancing at the blurb on the back had established it was a story of conjoined twins and their lives together. Finding it in the teen section I had expected a contemporary light-hearted read so you can imagine my initial surprise when I opened the pages to find that the book is written entirely in free verse. I have never read a book written in this style before and I initially wasn’t sure whether it would detract from my enjoyment of the story or if I’d struggle to immerse myself.

I found very quickly that this was not the case, yes the pages are generally very short, although it came in at 434 pages I literally flew through it, I read it in a day but I wasn’t sitting consistently reading so I reckon you could do it in just a few hours. The style of writing is engaging and draws you in, it isn’t rhyming prose but the way it is written is carefully structured to draw out the important parts of the story and to allow you to focus in on certain phrases and emotions making it a powerful and impactful read.

The story is that of Grace and Tippi, conjoined twins who are about to start high school for the first time. Told from Grace’s perspective we learn about their life together, the way that the world views them, the challenges they face and the most important thing of all – how they are two people with two different personalities and beliefs, not just one. Their story of beginning school for the first time and the way this makes them feel is heartfelt and this along with the story of the struggles their family face just to keep them cared for medically and the impact this has had upon each member is heartbreaking. It is the ongoing struggle the girls face to lead normal teenage lives that build the foundation of the book and their strength together that hits home.

The girls are clearly beginning to struggle medically and are scared to think about what this might mean for their future and this book takes us on that journey with them. All the time you root for these girls, you want them to be happy because as they say in the book being conjoined twins isn’t the worst thing in the world. Surely there are many worse things that could happen to a person than being joined to the person they love most in the whole world?

I cannot recommend this book highly enough, I know I’m going to bore everyone for the next year or so recommending this one as one of those very special books that will remain with me forever. I am so very glad I didn’t allow it’s format to sway me not to read it. I am so pleased that I took the time to delve into the world of Grace and that her story has been recognised by so many as worthy of recognition. Sarah Crossan has delivered a very clever, touching and inspiring book. I’d give it more stars than 5 if I could.

A great fun contemporary read about falling in love unexpectedly

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Dimple Met Rishi was one of the breakout Young Adult contemporary books of this summer. Everyone who is anyone has been reading and raving about this novel over the past few months. I felt it only proper to read it before the summer drew to a close.

This is a novel about family values and culture versus the need to break out and find yourself and your own voice. Dimple is about to go off to college to study her love of coding but her family are keen for her to make an arranged marriage and become a good wife who will be there to support her husband and family. Dimple is independent and strong-willed and while she loves her family she loves coding more and she is not ready to give up her dreams just yet. She is surprised when her parents agree to her attending a summer coding programme at San Francisco University and she heads off determined to give it her all and win the coveted prize at the end of the programme, hence showing everyone that she is as good as she thinks she is and has a bright future.

On her first day Dimple is thrown when a young man comes up to her and tells her he is her future husband. You see Rishi has already been told all about Dimple, he’s going to the summer programme at SFU for the sole purpose of meeting the girl his parents have told him he is going to marry at the agreement of all their parents. The only problem is that no one told Dimple!!

This story was really funny, from the time when Dimple meets Rishi we fall in love with Rishi immediately. He is in a really difficult position as he likes Dimple, a lot, and he has been told that she is aware of their marriage and so when he finds she has no idea he has to backtrack and pretend that it doesn’t matter to him and he enters that dreaded ‘friend zone’. He’s such an endearing character, he’s instantly likeable and you feel for him as he is trying to be the devoted Indian son, making a marriage and going off to study a subject he doesn’t necessarily love in order to provide for his family in the future.

The way in which Dimple and Rishi impact each other’s lives is lovely, from a misunderstanding they grow into friends and from friends into a relationship which will change their lives for the better. They are each other’s biggest cheer squad, they learn about what it means to see life through the other’s eyes. Dimple to learn that complying with her cultural values needn’t mean giving up her dreams and Rishi in living his own dreams doesn’t mean he cannot be a good son and make his family proud.

This was such a quick book to read, the chapters are all quite short and snappy and we flick from Dimple to Rishi’s perspective every page or so to ensure we are aware of both points of view throughout. It’s nice to see how they each view their blossoming relationship and how they help each other to grow throughout the narrative.

It’s a great contemporary summer read, funny and emotional and with great characters leading the story.

Scarlet doesn’t deliver as much character development as I’d like but it’s an okay sequel

Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles #2) by Marissa Meyer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Trying the sequel to a book you have really enjoyed is often a bit of a double edged sword, if it turns out that the book is as good as or better than the predecessor then you have sheer joy and a chance to spend more time with your favourite characters however there is always that fear that the second book is poorer than the first and instead of moving the story along in a fulfilling way it kills the vibes you had for your favourite characters and leaves you feeling that you wish they’d left well alone.

I think this initial worry is what meant I took nearly 6-8 weeks between reading Cinder and picking up the second Lunar Chronicles novel, Scarlet. Scarlet, like Cinder, is a fairy tale retelling and in this book we follow Scarlet, who is loosely based on Red Riding Hood, and a fighter she meets called Wolf. Scarlet’s grandmother has been taken from their farm and Scarlet has no idea where she is and no one seems to want to help her find the old woman. During her search she meets Wolf, a fighter who goes from place to place earning his living by fighting and he offers to help her find her grandmother.

This story of Scarlet and Cinder is fishtailed into the continuing story of Cyborg Cinder who we left at the end of book 1 in the series languishing in a New Beijing prison awaiting execution. In this book, she again plays a central role as she begins to adjust to the news that she is a Lunar and that she is, in fact, the lost Lunar princess, Selene. Her friend and love interest Emperor Kai has promised to hand her over to the Lunar Queen in exchange for her leaving his people alone and he is facing the moral dilemma of the safety of his people versus what his heart is telling him to do.

The stories of these two couples become intertwined in this novel and lead to more revelations about Cinder’s early life and the lengths people have gone to in order to keep her safe whilst also exploring the extent of the Lunar Queen’s plans for earth. There’s lots more action along the way and lots of romance too.

I liked this second book in the series but I do have to be honest I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did book 1. I think that I would have liked to have seen more plot development in this book. Essentially we didn’t move forward as much as I would have liked by way of showdowns between Cinder and her aunt. I also wanted some Kai and Cinder time which we didn’t get in this book. There were some high points though, I loved the time we had with Scarlet and her grandmother, the small family moments Meyer treated us too were really emotional and moving and I would have liked a little more of that. I also loved the bits with Cinder and Scarlet together which don’t come till quite late on in the book and I’m looking forward to more of this in book 3.

This isn’t my favourite series, I like the twist on the fairy tales and giving them a really futuristic twist but sometimes I think there’s a lot of focus on the surroundings and I would like more dialogue between the characters that is meaningful and emotional, sometimes it’s all a bit superficial. I want to fall in love with the characters but I find them a tiny bit two dimensional and I feel like I’m only ever scratching their surface, I want to know more, I want more detail. I hope we will get this as the series progresses because I want to root for them but I’m not totally invested in them yet.

It’s a good second book, it’s not as good as book 1 but I am willing to hang on in there and give book 3 a try.

A beautiful story of loss that has been adapted for the big screen

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am not one of these people who gets upset when books get turned into movies, for me it’s quite exciting to see stories I’ve loved brought to life off the page. Sometimes I’ve even discovered really good books on account of the fact I’ve seen trailers for movies that have then prompted me to go and find out more about the book itself.

I already knew a bit about The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman and had heard it highly recommended and it had been hiding on my e-reader with a promise that at some point I’d get around to reading it. Then I came across the trailer for the movie which is due to be released in October and I suddenly felt a burning urge to ensure I read it before I watch the adaptation to the big screen and I am very pleased I did and a little perplexed as to what took so long.

The Light Between Oceans is a story of a lighthouse keeper who moves to take over a new posting on a tiny island off the coast of Australia shortly after the end of the first World War. It is a remote island where the keeper can spend many months alone until the arrival of supplies by boat and they may not step foot ashore beside other people for years at a time. On one of his early trips back to the mainland he meets and falls in love with Isabel, the daughter of the local school headmaster and they begin corresponding and eventually marry and she moves with him back to his tiny island of Janus.

Their marriage is a happy one initially but is soon blighted by many miscarriages and stillbirths and it is shortly after the stillbirth of their son that a boat is washed up ashore on their tiny island containing the body of a stranger and his tiny baby daughter. Isabel is bereft from the loss of her own child and craving a child of her own and she persuades her husband that no one will know if they keep the tiny baby and say she is their own, after all the mother must also have drowned in the boat.

It’s a story where we feel the happiness of the family, there are only 3 of them on the island and they create their own little world together. They are happy and the little girl, whom they name Lucy, is loved beyond measure. They bring her home when they eventually get shore leave some 2 years later and introduce her to Isabel’s family and prepare for Lucy’s christening. It is then that they hear the story of a local woman whose husband and infant daughter were lost at sea approximately 2 years before and they realise that the mother they assumed to be dead is very much alive.

This is a book of complex emotions as a reader because you can feel Isabel’s pain, you can understand her choices and why under the weight of such intense grief and loss for her own baby she finds it easy to take the baby washed up ashore and use her as a way to fill that loss, choosing to persuade her husband to keep the baby. However as the book progresses we learn that whilst she has filled the gap left behind she has also developed a fierce protectiveness over her daughter that means that even when faced with another grieving mother seeking closure for her daughter lost at sea she cannot be truthful and admit what she has done. Instead she works tirelessly to justify her actions, to almost blackmail her husband into staying quiet with emotional threats.

One of the quotes that really stood out to me in the book to help understand Isabel’s feeling was the one that read “As a fourteen-year-old, Isabel had searched the dictionary. She knew that if a wife lost a husband, there was a whole new word to describe who she was: she was now a widow. A husband became a widower. But if a parent lost a child, there was no special label for their grief. They were still just a mother or a father, even if they no longer had a son or a daughter. That seemed odd.”

Tom is an entirely different character because he has no less love for the child but instead of feeling this as a signal to stay quiet about what they’ve done he finds his guilt presses him to want to reassure the mother that her child is safe. He is seeking redemption for his actions as a soldier during the war and as a way of righting his wrongs, he feels pressed to contact the other woman anonymously and let her know that her child is safe and loved.

The moral dilemma in this book is that we know that Tom is doing the right thing, the thing we like to think we would all do but we can understand the anger that Isabel feels at him for doing so, the increasing panic she feels that her child will be ripped from her. We want their child to remain theirs but we also know she doesn’t belong there. This is a wonderful book full of complex emotions and characters who are all essentially likeable and doing the things they feel are right and at the heart of the book is a child who is dearly loved by two families instead of just by one.

I have a feeling this will be a wonderful story on the big screen and that there will be many people who haven’t read the book who fall in love with the wonderful story. I cannot recommend it highly enough and will be desperate to see it as soon as I can to contrast it with it’s book version.

A beautiful historical novel from Kate Morton

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have been a big Kate Morton fan since reading The Forgotten Garden and despite a dip in form in The Distant Hours she is definitely back to her best with The Secret Keeper.

From the first chapter it starts with a bang when Laurel Nicolson witnesses her mother Dorothy violently stab a man who comes to their quiet countryside home one summers afternoon. For years she has lived with what she saw without understanding why her mother would do such a thing but as she prepares for her mother’s 90th birthday many years later she begins to be drawn into the mystery even further.

Jumping between present day and London in the second world war we see the story through the eyes of Laurel, her mother Dorothy during the war and find out about the mysterious relationship between Dorothy and her friend Vivien. Twisting and turning from the start the writing is wonderful. The story is gripping and beautifully evocative of war time London. Just when you think you’ve got the ending all figured out it twists and turns again.

A brilliant book, I was reading it whilst on holiday in busy Blackpool and found that I couldn’t wait to keep going back to reading it, snatching moments in the car or a quick 5 minutes here and there to keep reading so gripping was the story. Very much recommended.

A beautiful conclusion to Rhysand and Feyre’s love story

A Court of Wings and Ruin (A Court of Thorns & Roses #3) by Sarah J. Maas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I kicked off my July reading this month with the third book in the A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J Maas. I’ve read this series quite quickly over the past month or so and it was my first experience of this author but I’d heard such great things that it drew me to this series and I am so glad that I did.

This third book in the series will be the final one Maas writes from the perspective of Feyre and her mate Rhysand, we are anticipating more books in the world Maas has built but they will be focusing upon different characters from the world and so this book was where Maas had to really bring together all the threads of Feyre and Rhysand’s stories and make sure she also laid the groundwork for the book that is to follow.

This means that we pick up in this book immediately after the end of Book 2, with Feyre returning to The Spring Court with Tamlin having been torn apart from her mate Rhysand. Feyre is playing double agent though and has pretended she never felt anything for Rhys and is now going with Tamlin for the sole purpose of trying to infiltrate his court and find out all she can about their alliance with Hybern and the King of Hybern’s plans to attack the human realm. This return to the Spring Court was a great opening to this book, it allows us to connect with those characters we fell in love with in Book 1, Lucien and Alis and to allow us to re-examine the relationship with Tamlin and see just how dysfunctional it could have been.

The subterfuge Feyre undertakes to cause disharmony in the Spring court is a wonderful opening to the book, the wiles she uses to make Tamlin trust her while sowing the seeds of doubt in the minds of those close to him about his actions are brilliant. Feyre has reached the point in this book where she is strong and sure of herself, she has learned much about the strength of her powers and is willing to use them to ensure she protects the human world and to get back to the night court and Rhysand.

There is so so much that happens in this book, at nearly 760 pages and each one full of so much action it would take a long long review to break down each and every plot point and would also spoil for readers who haven’t delved in yet, however, there are a few areas I feel worthy of discussion at this point.

Firstly is the way in which this world and it’s characters have expanded over the course of the three books. When I think back to A Court of Thorns and Roses I now realise how small the world Maas painted was compared to where we finish at the end of A Court of Wings and Ruin. Throughout the books she has added to the world piece by piece and book by book until at the end of this series we have met such a rich cast that the world feels truly three dimensional. This is one of the things I have loved most about this series, Maas never makes any character feel short-changed from their time on the page. She takes the time to develop them all enough, to give them light and shade and a back story that we feel engaged in them, we like or dislike them enough that we truly care about their fate. This is really exciting because as we move away from Feyre and Rhysand in this series there are so many possibilities of who we could focus upon next that it is going to be so exciting to find out who Maas may choose. Will she follow Feyre’s sisters and their mates? Will she follow the story of Myriam and Drakon, who’s story was only hinted at near the end of this book? Will she explore Lucien’s backstory and his uncovering of his heritage? Each and every option sounds amazing and this is because of the way Maas builds her characters and weaves them in so that you never feel overwhelmed or confused about who is who but she almost without you noticing builds a whole world fo you to lose yourself in.

The second thing about this book was the way in which the action unfolded, I found this book had a really strong start, it immediately was back into the story with no stopping to fill in any backstory just moving the story along. I did find a little dip around 100 pages in and I’m not sure if that was down to me and I had a little struggle for 50 pages or so then suddenly I was back the moment and I could not put this down. My husband took my children out for the day on their school holidays and I got some precious alone time and for the 4 hours they were away I read this solidly getting through 250-300 pages. When my daughter came home she asked me how I could read that long without getting bored and I said to her that this book had had me shouting out loud at it’s pages. Punching the air in joy and at it’s ending crying my eyes out. It took me through so many emotions that it left me feeling drained by the end. There were such wonderful high moments and then heartbreaking moments that Maas had been building to over the course of all the books. Characters we had only touched on had their moment in the spotlight and left us loving them in ways we never thought they would evoke from us.

Finally, I am going to be sad not to follow Feyre and Rhysand in the next book, I love them and their relationship. They have become one of my all time favourite couples in any books I’ve read because of the way in which they support each other without question through all they do. The way they each are happy to let them be their own individual people with thoughts and decisions of their own whilst they are absolutely devoted to one another. We are given a small and unusual glimpse of what is to come in their future in this book and that was one of the most touching moments for me. I would dearly love to touch on them from time to time as the series moves on but whoever Maas focuses upon next has a huge legacy to live up to in this couple. They have been a joy to follow and I know I am not alone in having them very high on my favourite literary couples list.

I am delighted I have discovered Sarah J. Maas as an author and will be taking time over the months ahead to delve into her Throne of Glass series also, although I have a couple of other series I’d like to complete and try first. I now fully understand why so many readers were excited about this series and can say these books absolutely do live up to the hype they have received.

An amazing sequel and a beautiful progression of Maas’ wonderful world

A Court of Mist and Fury
 (A Court of Thorns & Roses #2) by Sarah J. Maas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I made no secret of the fact I loved Book 1 in this series, A Court of Thorns & Roses and so I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold off on reading this, the sequel, for too long. I had heard so many amazing things about this particular book in the series that I knew that where the first had blown me away this one would offer an extra something special that would take the story and characters to the next level.

Following on a few months after the end of A Court of Thorns & Roses, we return to the Spring Court where newly created High Fae, Feyre is preparing to marry her true love Tamlin but is struggling to cope with the events of book 1 that occurred Under The Mountain and she is also feeling suffocated by Tamlin’s overprotectiveness and is chaffing against the increasing control he is exerting over her. She also is waiting to find out if the High Lord of the Night Court, Rhysand, will ever call upon her to honour the bargain they made where she would spend one week per month with him in the night court.

Firstly, let’s talk about Tamlin. I think we all loved him in the first book, he was kind and considerate and seemed the perfect gentleman to Feyre yet in this book he seems to have undergone a character transplant and is now controlling and secretive and content to have Feyre play the role of his wife but not to do anything else. This took me a bit of getting used to as it was such a different perspective to the Tamlin we’d loved. He went from being the hero to the villain in only a few chapters and kind of left my head spinning. Of course, this character transition allows us to move him aside for the arrival of the real hero of the hour, Rhysand, the enigmatic and slightly dangerous Lord of the Night Court.

Rhysand was great even in the first book, a little darker than in this book but there was always something about him that shone off the page. Let’s not forget he was the one person to back Feyre to be able to succeed in her first trial and did have her back, even if it was in a slightly dark fashion. In this book, he comes front and centre and boy does his arrival totally take away any lingering feelings we may have for poor Tamlin. When he whisks Feyre off to his home it is with kindness and consideration that he does so and from there, his little actions towards her get more and more endearing.

This book introduced a whole raft of new characters that also help to expand the world from Book 1 and take us to a totally different area of the Faire realm as we meet Mor, Azriel, Cassian and all of Rhysands closest confidantes. The relationships between them all are wonderful to read about and each character brings something to the story that makes you feel they are worthwhile characters to invest in. I also love that we return to the mortal realm and Feyre’s family and I am really keen to see how they will feature in the third and final chapter of this book.

The plot is great, this book clearly is setting up for a final showdown in the last book in the series and we are left with a suitably intriguing cliffhanger which is heartbreaking and yet exciting. We have now so many people we care about in these stories that we need to bring all of their individual strands to a conclusion and I cannot wait to see how Sarah J. Maas does this in A Court of Wings & Ruin.

What I love most about Sarah J. Maas’s writing is that she is wonderful at creating the Faere world, she adds so many beautiful and whimsical aspects to it that you really do feel transported as a reader. She uses such great descriptive language when writing and it pulls you in and means you lose yourself completely whilst reading. It’s a very special series and I literally cannot wait to delve into the third and final novel in the trilogy.

One of my favourite books this year, a wonderful book about the world of Faire

A Court of Thorns and Roses
 (A Court of Thorns & Roses #1) by Sarah J. Maas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The A Court of Thorns and Roses series has been everywhere in the book world this month as the release of the third and last book in this trilogy had its release in May and everyone has been going crazy to read it. The author of these books seems to be held in such high regard by book lovers I literally had to give these books a try and see if they lived up to the hype everyone has been giving them.

Categorised as Young Adult books these can often be found in the bookstore with a warning sticker on the front stating that they do contain scenes that may not be suitable for younger teen readers due to scenes of a sexual nature and I would wholeheartedly state that up front, these are not books for the younger end of the Young Adult reader market but instead should be aimed at older teens and beyond.

This story is classed as a fairy tale retelling, loosely based on the Beauty & The Beast story but having read it I’d say that whilst yes you have themes from that fairy tale in there it isn’t something that leads this book entirely or consumes the story. The story of Feyre, a young girl who lives in a poor and bleak village trying to keep her father and two sisters fed and cared for any way she can we find her at the start of the book hunting for whatever food she can to get them through the winter. She kills a wolf in the forest and brings his hide home to sell for what money she can. What she doesn’t know is that the wolf she killed is actually a faire who has crossed the border between the fairy lands and the human world. We learn that years before the human world had been ruled by the Faire and that their retreat left the human world a desolate place, but now years later more and more incidents of Faire crossing the wall and harming humans are occurring and no one knows why.

Feyre is visited by a faire who tells her that because she killed the wolf she must either die to give a life for his life or she must come with him and live in the Faire world for the rest of her life. With little option, she goes with him back to his home where she finds out that he is the High Fae and ruler of one of the seven fairy courts, his specifically is the Spring Court, but there also exists the Summer, Winter, Autumn, Dawn, Day and Night courts. Instead of being unkind to her, Feyre finds that Tamlin is kind and thoughtful and only wishes for her to be happy and content. From there we are swept into a story of their growing love for one another.

The first 70 or so pages of this book were reasonably slow paced, Maas has a huge amount of scene and character setting to do and this takes us some time to achieve so initially the action is limited instead focusing on Feyre and the circumstances of her family and the travelling to the Faire world and her becoming familiar with all the characters of that world. What happens after this initial scene setting though is just magical. Maas paints her Faire world in such vivid clarity that it springs off the pages. Each and every chapter is filled with even more colourful characters and such a wonderfully gentle way in which she develops the relationship between Tamlin and Feyre.

The entire first half of this book is set entirely in Tamlin’s Spring Court and focuses closely on this aspect of the story but we are aware all the time of shadows on the edge of this world creeping inward and that all is not well in the Faire world and that a dark shadow hangs over them all. Tamlin himself is cursed never to be able to remove the mask he wears and show his true self and Feyre is aware that something terrible cast this curse but doesn’t know what. This leads us into the action-packed second half of this book which explores this curse.

I literally devoured this book in 2 days, I could not put it down. If I wasn’t reading it I was thinking about it, it’s written so vividly that it really stays with you in your mind. The characters are really engaging and we have a great mixture of the good and evil. It struck me as being a little bit like Game of Thrones meets Beauty & The Beast. There is all the fairytale love in part 1 and then all the vicious, violent politics of the seven courts and their ruler in the second. We even have a villain so evil she’d make Cersei Lannister look like Snow White. It is breathtaking. The second half of the book is all action, there is so much adventure and danger for Feyre that she has to overcome and the introduction of great new characters that expand the world and help us to understand just where this series may be going as we move into Book 2, A Court of Mist & Fury.

There are great moments where the plot unveils itself a little more and gives you a little more information as a reader and those are the points where I was shouting at my book, those Oh My God moments that have you wanting to jump into the pages and get involved. Awful twists and turns that really affect you emotionally and such excitement.

I loved this book so much, it was spectacular. It was by far one of my favorite books I’ve read this year so far. It was so much more than just a fairy tale retelling it was the setting up of what I know is going to be an amazing series moving forward.

Marissa Meyer gives a sci-fi twist to the world’s most beloved fairy tale in the first of her Lunar Chronicles series

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles #1) by Marissa Meyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My final book for June was one that I have tried to begin reading a couple of times before. Cinder has been on my To Be Read shelf for some time and I have read the first few pages in the past and immediately thought “What on earth” then found something else to read. The Lunar Chronicles series though, of which this book is a part, has received such glowing praise that it has made me think that it’s worth a second look and as I have been challenging myself over the past few months by exploring different genre’s and types of books I decided now would be the perfect time to try again.

I am a huge huge fan of fairy tale retellings, the joy of taking characters I’ve loved since childhood and developing them further or placing them into new settings is something I find fascinating and they have become increasingly popular over the past few years along with shows like Once Upon A Time. Cinder though has taken the concept to a slightly new level and in a direction that is completely unique.

Set in a futuristic New Beijing we find that the world in hugely overpopulated and that a plague is affecting the population killing people and spreading not just to the lower classes but to the highest levels of society, including the Emperor of New Beijing. Scientists are trying to find a cure but they have had no success and people are scared. Living in New Beijing is a young mechanic called Cinder whose reputation proceeds her, she runs a small stall in a street market where she tries to make enough money to support her guardian and her two ‘sisters’. Cinder though is no ordinary girl as she is part human, part robotic – a cyborg. The result of a car accident when she was a child Cinder has no recollection of her life before the accident only that she is now classed as a lower level of being now and that people look down on her and so she tries to hide her condition.

In the true vein of Cinderella’s story Cinder meets Prince Kai, the son of the Emperor when he comes to her for mechanical help for his android robot. There is an immediate spark and talk of a Royal Ball to which Kai wants her to attend. Cinder though is scared that the closer she gets to Kai the more likely he is to discover the truth of what she truly is and so we have all the essential essences of the original story. This though is only scratching the surface of this book.

Woven among the original elements of the fairy tale story we have the other aspects of this book, the battle to find a cure for the disease that is spreading fear through its people, the far off Lunar world whose Queen is determined to make a marriage alliance with Prince Kai in order to give her unprecedented power in the human world. The stories of the history of the Lunar world, the missing princess who may or may not have died in a fire years before. Kai is searching for her as a way to dethrone the evil Lunar Queen and save him from a marriage he knows will place his people in danger but the Lunar Queen holds a solution to the plague that is devastating his land and he feels trapped.

I really enjoyed this book once I managed to get into the world of New Beijing. I must be honest and say for the first few chapters I had to really force myself to suspend all my criticisms and just go with the story. Once I had built enough of a picture of the world in my head I found I flew through this book very quickly, I began to really enjoy the story and the characters and enjoyed it immensely. I think one of the things you need to bear in mind going into the story is that it is the first in a series and as a result along with telling the basic story of Cinder, Meyer is also setting out the playing field for the books that are to follow. It means we do not get a complete story in this book but an introduction to characters who will feature as the series progresses, there is no resolution to their story here but a cliff hanger that will follow into the next.

When you explain this book to other people some look at you like you are crazy, a Cyborg Cinderella sounds a little off the wall and a futuristic setting takes it so far away from the original fairy tale that people find it difficult to see how it could work but Meyer really makes it all come together. It is not a plot by plot recreation of the original story but instead it uses aspects of Cinderella to then shape the initial characters and the world we will follow. It gives us a structure to guide us through the rest of the story she weaves and she does so in a very clever way.

I would say that in honesty I’d give this about 3.5 stars out of 5 and I am now looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Scarlet.

Does Truly Madly Guilty live up to the wonderful Big Little Lies legacy?

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have a mixed relationship with Liane Moriarty, I’ve read 4 of her books now (including this one) and I find that it’s a bit of a love/hate situation, to be honest. I had recently read Big Little Lies, in order to ensure that I’d read the book before I viewed the TV series, and I loved it. I had high hopes, therefore, going into Truly Madly Guilty and was keen for more of the same.

This book is centered around a family barbeque which is attended by 3 couples and their families and the event that takes place at that barbeque will change everyone’s lives forever. The book narrative is written from the perspective of events following the barbeque and also on the fateful day itself. We also are given perspectives from each of the different people who attended the barbeque that day and each of their recollections help to build up to the revelation of what went on that day.

Liane Moriarty books have become synonymous with this type of storytelling, they always have a mystery at their heart and focus on the relationships between the characters and how the events of the book have impacted their lives and Truly Madly Guilty falls into this format nicely. In the case of this book, we follow best friends Clementine and Erika and their husbands and the neighbours of Erika, who hosted the fateful barbeque that day.

This was where my main issue with this book arose and that is that none of the characters in this book had particularly redeeming qualities about them, aside from Erika’s husband Oliver who was a stand out good guy throughout and a thoroughly decent human being. Everyone else seemed to be thoroughly self-involved and harboured terrible communication issues. Erika, for example, is somewhat of a control freak. Having grown up the daughter of an extreme hoarder she has latched onto Clementine and her family as a safe haven from her manic home life. From childhood she has longed for stability and as a result, she is a somewhat inflexible and judgmental character.

Clementine, on the other hand, didn’t fare any better as a character from my perspective. A musician with 2 young children she is focused wholeheartedly upon an upcoming audition with a prestigious Sydney orchestra. She seems unhappy with her role as a mother and often hands over care for the children to her husband, Sam, whilst she focuses upon preparing for her big audition. Her parenting style is relaxed and she is instead driven by her art. She has been friends with Erika from childhood but we learn in the book that she has always felt Erika was forced upon her by her mother, who felt sorry for Erika, and therefore she feels resentful that she has missed out on other friendships she could have formed and instead had to spare the feelings of her poor friend with the crazy mother.

The mystery, or events at the barbeque, that form the central plot of this book are revealed approximately half way through the book although all of the clues and if, like me, you are good at second guessing it will probably not entirely shock you. I knew from probably 3 or 4 chapters before where it was going and therefore I felt a little let down that there wasn’t more to it. I also began to wonder that if we were only 50% of the way through then where on earth was the other 50% going to take us.

This meant that once I reached the big reveal I found the second half of the book a little slower. It became very much about the feeling and impact the events of the barbeque had upon each of the characters, the guilt that they all carried and how it began to eat up their lives and become something they couldn’t move past, hence the book’s title Truly Madly Guilty.

I liked this book but was disappointed after the amazing Big Little Lies, Moriarty had raised the bar with that novel and on this occasion, she failed to live up to that expectation. This wasn’t a bad book it just failed to evoke as much sympathy for its characters as it’s predecessor and nor did it make me want to spend any further time with them, such as was the case with Madeleine, Celeste and Jane from Big Little Lies.