Review: Release by Patrick Ness

31194576Adam Thorn is having what will turn out to be the most unsettling, difficult day of his life, with relationships fracturing, a harrowing incident at work, and a showdown between this gay teen and his preacher father that changes everything. It’s a day of confrontation, running, sex, love, heartbreak, and maybe, just maybe, hope. He won’t come out of it unchanged. And all the while, lurking at the edges of the story, something extraordinary and unsettling is on a collision course.

Before we start: A big, big thank you must go to Walker Books for sending me a review copy. You make my bookish dreams come true, my friends.

Release is a day in the life of Adam Thorn, interspersed with a day in the life of a ghost, spirit and faun (stick with me). Where Adam’s sections are poignant and at times heartbreaking, the fantastical sections are a mysterious meandering journey for answers, for, as the title suggests, release. The two storylines meet with their need for release and while Adam’s story didn’t need the magical realism to work, or to be enjoyable, it was an intriguing addition (even if it has left some reviewers torn).

It’s a book of details, we see the kind of detail that can only be built into a novel that takes place over one day. There is no skipping over important details, every feeling is felt, every confrontation confronted and every revelation revealed in front of our waiting eyes. I like this. I like books which deal in detail. During my Creative Writing degree, we studied a module called A Day in the Life and this book would fit right into the reading list, I wish it were around when I was doing that course. It’s so engaging and a lot can be learned about writing from it, as well as it being a great reading experience.

Due to the degree of detail, we get to know the characters rather well, and what lovely characters they are. Adam is surrounded by an excellent supporting cast in the form of Angela and Linus. They are excellent. They are everything I wanted them to be and more.

Release deals with a lot of big things in a short amount of time but I think my favourite thing about it is its portrayal of relationships, romantic, familial and platonic. Every kind of relationship is hard and messy and Release doesn’t shy away from that. Ness is great at making you feel things. I felt my heart clench in moments between Adam and Linus, and I felt it break in a scene with Adam and his father, it swelled every time Adam was with Angela.

It is a sensitive representation of what it is like to be gay in a religious family that doesn’t agree with homosexuality but it packs one hell of a punch when it needs to, and emphasises that family isn’t just what you are born with, it’s what you choose. It’s a deeply personal novel, while it’s not about Ness and the characters are not people who are in his real life, you can tell he drew from his own experience and I think that’s what makes it so powerful.

The magical realism wasn’t as poignant, and that seems to be the problem for readers who didn’t like those parts, but it was interesting and it did a lot to break up the utterly terrible day Adam was having. I love a bit of fantasy, so I enjoyed it. I liked puzzling together what Katherine (a murdered girl, the ghost who has risen from the lake) was looking for, and how that linked her with the Queen (a spirit also inhabiting her ‘body’). Though it deals with murder and blame and addiction and all the mess therein, it stopped the novel from being depressing – if we had just had Adam’s day going from bad to worse to absolutely horrible, I think it would have been hard to get through. The fantasy adds something to puzzle over, something to distract, and it made each scene with Adam easier to digest. The fantasy is a palate cleanser between the meaty courses of the novel.

It does offer some light at the end of the tunnel, it’s not all doom and gloom, there are moments of dazzling brightness, alongside the dark. It’s not a novel where everything is tied up at the end, there are things that we don’t get to see (which happen after) that I am still curious about and I like it when books leave me curious. Sure, I will never get the answers I want but I will be thinking about it for days, and that’s what you want from a book. You want it to stick with you, and Release does.

Harry Potter re-readathon: The Deathly Hallows

9781408855959_309031We did it! We completed a series! The blog is alive! Alive with the sound of pages ruffling and words shuffling about on the spot waiting to be read. I am proud of this.

Here we are, on the last stop of our journey. The Deathly Hallows.

This book is painful. It hits you right in the gut so many times. With every grave injury or character death, I felt a crack splinter into my heart. It takes its toll – a mark of good writing.

It’s amazing to compare this to The Philiospher’s Stone, the two books are so different and yet they still feel like the same series. True, The Deathly Hallows is a much older, more experienced, and hardened brother to the sweet, innocent Philosopher’s but they are still brothers.

Speaking of brothers, I adore the Tale of the Three Brothers and I wish more folksy fairy tales were included in the body of the series. It added so much to the story and it felt like a real tale. I am a sucker for stories within stories.

Another thing I love about this book is that we get to visit the Ravenclaw common room and its wonderful riddle entry system. I identify as a Ravenclaw (if I haven’t already made that abundantly obvious) so I was so happy when the common room popped up in the books. It’s so wonderfully appropriate, I just want to curl up in there with a good book.

I am, however, still waiting for an epic Ravenclaw protagonist.

We get more helpings of McGonagall, who is just as bad-ass as I wanted her to be. It goes without saying (yet here I am saying it) that I am very much here for more McGonagall, in all of her forms. I am so glad she survives to pass her sass on to future generations of Hogwarts.

Like most Potter fans, however, I feel a great sense of exasperation towards the epilogue. I don’t think it was necessary and I think Harry needs to drastically improve his choice of names. There is no way Ginny had anything to do with that monstrosity. I refuse to believe otherwise.

I don’t quite know how to end this. I’d never thought this far. So I a just going to end it with this:

I bloody love these books. Thank you, J.K. Rowling.

Harry Potter re-readathon: The Half-Blood Prince

9781408855942_309034I am nearing the end of my nostalgic Harry Potter not-quite re-readathon posts (the actual not-quite re-readathon having taken place this time last year, cue whistling) and I am so happy about how excited I still get about these books (I wear my Ravenclaw jumper with pride – it is my favourite and I never want to take it off but if I do, I have a hoodie to wear in its place because I am just that invested). Even if I did hide my excitement for a number of years to hide my shame at not finishing the fourth book in one go.

This book makes me happy for many reasons but one of those is Ginny Weasley. I’d long seen the internet shouting about how great Ginny was but having only read to the middle of book four, and watching the films, I didn’t quite understand why before. I thought it was excellent but I didn’t understand. Now I do. Ginny Weasley is the greatest injustice in the films and I am so sad that I did not know that until last year. Well, I knew through tumblr but I didn’t really know.

Even though I think I got more out of this from reading it as an adult than I would have if I’d read it when I was younger, I wish I’d had Ginny in my life while I was in my teens. She is just the sort of role model I needed. If only I had a time turner. (Though, I can imagine so many ways that could go wrong. It’s probably for the best that I don’t have one. I can definitely see the world crashing down around me as soon as I caught up with the present. Or I would go too far back and just cease to exist in the present. I wonder if it works that way, I don’t even know.)

I also missed out on the hilarity that was Ron Weasley and Lavender Brown. I just… It’s great to see a ridiculous romance in teen fiction. There are too many all-important, way-too-serious romances in YA. Yes, some teens do have wonderful and meaningful and their-world-will-end-if-it-ends scenarios but a lot of teen relationships are ridiculous and over the top and incredibly cringe-worthy. It’s nice to see that teens in books also have those relationships. Perhaps, if I’d’ve read this book back then wouldn’t have been quite so ridiculous. I mean, I probably would be. But you never know.

I find it hard to pick a favourite book out of the last three in the series. I love them all whole-heartedly, as I always hoped I would. I did feel a sense of dread getting to the end of this one (which is unsurprising considering what happens at the end of this one), I knew I only had one more book before I had to stop reading them. I wasn’t ready for Harry Potter to leave my life. (My worries were unfounded, I later saw Fantastic Beasts and recently visited the House of MinaLima so the world of Harry Potter is still very much in my life – hooray!) It’s always nice to get that invested in a series.

I know I am preaching to the choir with these posts and that I was very late on the boat but at least the boat wasn’t so far out to sea that I could no longer catch it. There is still a community to be a part of and I think there always will be. This makes me happy.

Harry Potter re-readathon: The Order of the Phoenix

9781408855935_309037Phew. We are past my problem book. That’s a relief. The sense of relief I felt when I closed Goblet of Fire was paled only by the excitement of finally being able to read further into the series. I had waited years for this moment.

It was actually quite daunting. What if I didn’t like it? What if I’d built it up so much in my head that nothing I could read would compare to that build up? Had I ruined it for myself? I’d watched my friends fall in love with the last few books and I was so worried that I had missed it, that somehow by not reading them when they came out my enjoyment of them would cease to exist before it had even considered existing. Luckily, I was worrying for nothing.

I love the later books in this series. Even if I do get a little frustrated with Harry. But what’s a bit of frustration between friends, eh?

This book has a special place in my heart for one main reason: we actually find out what’s happening by way of prophecy. Before this book, each story seemed more separate. Goblet of Fire led us to this, and Order of the Phoenix dumped us head first into the crux of the story.

We lost even closer friends than Cedric, and our hearts were all but ripped out of our chests. (Just you wait… I could hear the pages whispering to me as I read. I knew what was coming, of course but that’s for later entries.) J.K. Rowling, I have realised, is ruthless. Maybe not the upfront kind of ruthless, but a quiet kind that sits in the back until just the right moment. That kind.

I cannot write this post without mentioning Dumbledore’s Army. This book is a gift because it gave us Dumbledore’s Army. A group of young people who want to learn, who want to defend themselves and who are afraid but don’t let that fear get in their way – a lesson we could all learn from. We get to see a lot more of the supporting characters in these scenes, which brings me to my next reason that this book is a gift. Luna Lovegood. Little Luna, lovely Luna. There is nothing I dislike about Luna, she is my tiny fave, and she should be protected at all costs. The fact that she is in Dumbledore’s Army is so lovely and poignant, especially considering she doesn’t have many existing friends that we know of – not that that bothers her. It is heartwarming to see her being accepted.

There is a third reason that this book is a gift (I know, three reasons in one book – I could list more, don’t tempt me), and that is sassy!McGonagall. I love McGongall. She is easily my favourite teacher, and not-so-easily my favourite adult character (alongside Molly Weasley).

Even though the story takes a dark turn, we still get humour in the scenes with McGongall and Umbridge (I do not like Umbridge), and for that I am thankful.

Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

27827627Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

I’ve wanted to read this book for a while. I read the first paragraph on amazon many moons ago and knew I had to read it.

Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.

It’s a fantastic opening paragraph. That combined with the idea of a Wood with malevolent power and I was all in.

It follows Agnieszka as she is chosen by the Dragon to serve him in his tower for 10 years as he works to keep the Wood from consuming the valley, and the kingdom with it.

I didn’t know how fairy tale-esque the novel would be (the clue should have been in the ‘girl serves dragon in his tower for 10 years but apparently my brain didn’t pick up on that very large cue), I don’t know what my expectations were before reading but they weren’t that! I love fairy tales, and I love stories that feel like fairy tales. So Uprooted was a win.

I really enjoyed the way magic was presented, and the different methods of using it, as well as the names given to the various wizards. They made me very happy. One thing I wished for though, was more of Jaga. I adore the mythology she is based on and would have loved to have seen a little bit more on that.

However, the thing that stole the show was the Wood itself, how it was described, the back story, all of it. I adore the Wood more than anything else, though I think Kasia comes close second.

It’s a lovely little standalone, and I would recommend it to anyone who loves a good fairy tale.

Harry Potter re-readathon: The Chamber of Secrets

The Chamber of SecretsHoo boy, I was supposed to post these every week for seven weeks, since I read the whole series in about 14 days. But alas, life happened, as it often does, but I have resolved to be more regular in my blog updates and book reviews and various other things. So I am posting this from the past. Hooray for queued posts! Anyway…

The Chamber of Secrets was never my favourite. Possibly because it sits between the first book (much excitement because it’s the start of the series) and the third which, until recently, was always my favourite. It’s pretty hard, then, for the book between those two to be quite as exciting. That said, it does have the joy that is Gilderoy Lockhart and his failure at life. (Or perhaps it’s not a failure, not until the obliviate mishap anyway.)

Though it was never my favourite, Riddle and the diary always fascinated me. I loved the idea of having a book that could interact with me, and I mean really interact with me, not a choose your own adventure or an enhanced ebook type deal. A really real book, which really did talk to me and respond to my words and actions. Who doesn’t want a book that tailors itself to them and them alone?

I often ignored the fact that the diary was evil. Or rather, I didn’t care that it was evil, I just thought it was cool.

Now that I am older, wiser, and more dashing (the crowd sniggers), I see it in a different way, even though I would  still like a really real interactive book. I can see now how creepy and twisted the Riddle in the diary is, and how much that scarred Ginny (especially when it is mentioned in later books). There are all sorts of mental manipulation techniques in the Potterverse and arguably this is the worst. Especially when you consider the life-sucking part.

Shudder.

I can now see what little-me overlooked, the ever so subtle setting up of the latter half of the series, though if older me hadn’t already known about horcruxes, I never would have guessed what relevance the diary would have had to future events. At first the series was seemingly less connected, the first three books had clear openings and endings and most things were left resolved, excepting the looming threat of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, but once you go through them again, you see that it isn’t quite as cut and dry as it at first seemed. I like that. I like that a lot.

Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

23306186One snowy night in Toronto famous actor Arthur Leander dies on stage whilst performing the role of a lifetime. That same evening a deadly virus touches down in North America. The world will never be the same again.

Twenty years later Kirsten, an actress in the Travelling Symphony, performs Shakespeare in the settlements that have grown up since the collapse. But then her newly hopeful world is threatened.

If civilization was lost, what would you preserve? And how far would you go to protect it?

This book. This book is a very good book.

It takes place in both the present and in a future where a virus has wiped out most of the population. Unlike most dystopian fiction, Station Eleven deals not so much with the apocalypse but with art – how it connects us, those who perform it and what it can mean.

It’s not so much plot driven as it is concept driven. It’s a novel crossed with a study of art and life, and artists’ lives. Instead of trying to puzzle out the virus and its cause and each nook and cranny of what comes after, it brings our focus in on one man, Arthur Leander, and a girl he once knew, exploring the interconnectedness of their stories.

I love it. It’s a quick read, but a good one. The only thing that disappoints me is that my copy doesn’t have the comic spread created by Nathan Burton (who also designed the cover) inside!

Station Eleven Comic

All in all a great little book which stands out from the crowd. If you like introspection over action, I would definitely recommend.