Wednesday, 9 August 2017

A Review of The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Sorry for the movie cover.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a Young Adult novel by Stephen Chbosky. Set in the early 90's, Charlie, a freshman at High School, attempts to come into his own teenage life. Charlie makes friends with a guy called Patrick, and through him meets Sam, Patrick's stepsister. Over the course of the book, Charlie has to come to terms with some traumatic events that happened before the story starts.

I have never liked letter-based books. I'm not sure why, especially considering I like diary-based books, which are structured very similarly. This book kind of straddles the line between both, all letters being written from Charlie's perspective. I just find this kind of framing disjointed, but just because it doesn't work for me, doesn't me it will be the same for you. The letters are addressed directly to "you," the reader, so it is a good way of engaging people immediately with the story.

We are told a lot about Charlie's personality. He's also described as "intelligent beyond his years" on my blurb, but his letters read as if they were written by someone much younger. I'm choosing to believe this is a stylistic choice, representing how Charlie is sorting out his problems. He also seems very naive for a high-school freshman, but maybe that's more realistic for teens in the early 90's then it would be now, in the era before internet was widespread. He seems to mature a great deal over the course of the book, understanding sex and drug references better towards the end then he did at the beginning. Maybe this is the influence of hanging out with a group of older teenagers.

And there are a lot of issues dealt with, or should I say touched upon, over the course of the book. Some are handled with all the subtly of a sledgehammer, and others are given more nuance. I'm not sure if I would have preferred the book to focus on fewer in more depth, or if the approach it takes works. I do like how it shows the importance of getting help with mental health problems from professionals, and how talking with friends or family can do the world of good.

It also happens to be very quotable. "We accept the love we think we deserve" and "In that moment, I swear, we were infinite" are well-known, but I found my favourite quote a little later on. "You shouldn't tell her she looks pretty. You should tell her how nice her outfit is, because her outfit is her choice whereas her face is not." I have never been able to articulate why I hate generic "you're pretty" compliments, but love it if someone says they like my clothes.

I know most people have probably heard of the movie, which I remember mostly for the presence of Emma Watson. As an adaptation, it's very good, but as a movie on it's own, I find it forgettable. I have only seen it once, back when it first came out, so that may be a factor. In fact, losing the letter format means you lose a lot of Charlie's personality that comes through in the book.

I think this is one of those books I'd have to recommend on an individual basis to people I know well.

Friday, 4 August 2017

A Review of Lydia

Lydia: The Wild Girl of Pride and Prejudice (also published as The Secret Diary of Lydia Bennet) is a novel by Natasha Farrant. It is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice from Lydia Bennet's point of view. Lydia is the youngest of the five Bennet sisters, bored with living in the country, and dreaming of adventure and romance. While her older sisters are courted by the charming Mr. Bingley and the handsome Mr. Darcy, can Lydia discover her own happy ending?

I have long had a soft spot for Lydia Bennet.

She's fifteen during the events of Pride and Prejudice. Who can say they didn't do silly things at fifteen? Let alone the thought that your family's future rests upon your behaviour at that age! For one mistake, did she deserve to be forever married to someone like Wickham? Their relationship was developed over the course of the book, as was Lydia's personality. She customises her clothes - a respectable and no doubt practical skill for a lower-middle class woman of the period, but she also seems to enjoy it and do it well, to the point where I thought she could make a living from it. She talks a lot about marriage, but in as much as she sees it as her only way out. If she could go on adventures by herself, without marriage, I have no doubt she would. She also goes through some character development over the course of the book. She starts out liking the idea of marrying a rich man for money, but as events come to light, she starts despising the whole system.

I personally don't think she is stupid, she just never got the chance to become educated, and wasn't so into the whole learning from books method that worked for her sisters. She prefers to be outside, and picks up things like horse riding and swimming quickly enough. Some of her points of ignorance will cause a titter from modern viewers - Silly Lydia, not knowing where India is - but I can't decide if it's realistic for a sheltered country girl in her time not to know. India was under the British Raj, and surely she would have heard it discussed? I did raise an eyebrow that she can recognise Indian fabric or a South Indian palace but not place the country on a map.

While Lydia's flightiness and self-centred parts of her personality comes through on these pages, through her eyes her three older sisters can seem sanctimonious at times. It's actually an interesting point, applicable to real life, that someone's attitude can seem totally different, depending on whom is telling the story. I like how the story kept the personality points of the sisters intact from the original novel, while still seeing them from a new point of view.

The language used is more readable for today than in the original novel, and the characters talk like everyday teenagers, too. I am not saying this is a bad thing. It makes the book accessible to a wider group of people. However, the historical fiction aspect of the book is somewhat lost when you can see Lydia pulling out a phone and uploading her Outfit of the Day to Instagram! The whole book is done in a diary format, too. I've always liked diary-style books, but I know some don't like that setup.

I would recommend some familiarity with the story of Pride and Prejudice before reading this book. If you have previously struggled with the novel, try the 2005 film for a quick review. It's a nice way of introducing teenagers to Jane Austen, and I would recommend it for people aged 12 and over.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

I'm Actually (Almost) Glad Firefly Ended When it Did

Some shows, they overstay their welcome. They are kept on air long past the point where they stop being enjoyable, and wind up only enjoyed by a couple of hard-core fans who didn't give it up in earlier seasons. The type of thing where people will look in surprise and say "Oh, is that still on?" Sometimes, things will experience a very sharp drop in quality between the first and second seasons, a la Heroes, or a gradual decline over several seasons. Something that gets shunted around from time-slot to time-slot, and when it does finally die, leaves most people with more of a memory of the disappointing last few seasons than the awesome start the show had.

And then, there was Firefly. In a scant 14 episodes and a movie, it caught the imagination of people everywhere. It was a brief, bright spark that went out suddenly, and way to quickly. Some people are probably ready to come at me with pitchforks, so let me point out - I meant "almost" for a reason. I would have loved to see what Joss Whedon could do with 8 seasons or more. How the world would build, new characters be introduced, and sub-plots tie up.

Why do I say this? Well, for one, it never got the decline that other series do. Because there are so few episodes, all are both intensely quotable and memorable. There's no "bad" Firefly episode, exactly - I like them all.

Between the series, the movie and a selection of graphic novels, people have really been able to let their imaginations run wild. Since there are less established characters and plots, writers of fanfiction have been able to let themselves loose on this world practically since it's inception. Up there, I said that I'd like to have seen what Joss Whedon could do with the world. Well, we've been doing that. Whether we keep it inside our heads, or share it with other fans, everyone has a different idea about where the story would go.

In fact, because of the story surrounding it and it's cancellation, I'd bet it has a larger and more dedicated fanbase than it might have had otherwise. There's never a point where half of the fanbase lost interest. Instead, the fanbase has only grown over the years, with more and more people being introduced to it.

Also, it's easy to get people to watch it. 14 episodes and a movie isn't as hard a sell as, say, some anime series. Once it's finished, you'll always have something to talk about. If you meet a fellow fan at a convention, too, you already have something in common.

Finally, it gave Joss much less of a chance to kill off our beloved characters. Were any of those deaths in Serenity actually FUCKING necessary?

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Gilmore Girls and Some Thoughts on the Revival

Gilmore Girls was my jam in my mid-teens. For one summer, the series was shown on repeat in the UK, on E4. I'd wake up, and put the channel on while eating my breakfast. I loved the interaction between sweet, intelligent Rory and quirky, business-minded Lorelei. I loved Rory's bookworm tendencies, which I identified with myself. I loved the backstory on Lorelei building up a life for herself and Rory out of nothing. I loved the Gilmore's, who for all their faults really did love Lorelei and Rory. And I loved their best friends, the town of Stars Hollow and the people who lived there. And the love interests! Jess was best for Rory, no?

Spoilers for both the Revival and the original series under the cut:

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

A Review of The Book of Tomorrow

Also awesome cut-out cover!
The Book of Tomorrow is a novel by Cecelia Ahern, who has written many books for adults and the Young Adult book Flawed. Tamara Goodwin lives in luxury with very rich parents. However, her father dies, leaving behind only debts and bad investments. Tamara's charmed life in Dublin is no more, and she and her mother move in with her Uncle in the countryside. When a travelling library comes to town, Tamara finds an unwritten notebook that writes out what is going to happen to her tomorrow.

I may overuse the term "fairy tale" in my reviews, but this book feels like a modern day fairy tale, a medieval riches-to-rags that just happens to be set in our modern age. I love books with that sort of feel, and I really liked this one.

Magical realism is an odd genre to me. Sometimes, I'll read a magical realism book and think 'this is just fantasy.' It seems like the term people give fantasy books when they want them to sound more serious, which plays into the weird stigma of fantasy fiction and the people who read it. But this is one that absolutely falls into the 'slight magical elements, but still very much a normal world' part of the genre. The other odd genre related fact about this book is that I've seen it in the adult section of stores, so often. The main character is a teenager, and there's nothing that disqualifies it from being enjoyed by young adults. Was it just to keep all of Ahern's books on the same shelf. Not that everything with a teenager in it has to be YA, or that adults can't enjoy reading books about teenagers...

As a diarist myself, I love that the book centres around a journal. I like the idea of a journal that tells you what you will do in the future. I liked Tamara's character development. If you don't warm to her immediately at first, keep reading. I've also got to point out how this book becomes almost a mystery story over it's course. Some of the twists are easy to see coming, but there are quite a few, so at least one will take you by surprise.

I didn't like the running joke Tamara made about her name - "good win, like hot sun" - she believes it's a statement of the obvious, that all wins are inherently good. I could understand her not knowing Pyrrhic victories, but she's from Ireland, she must have experienced at least one day when it's freezing cold but the sun is out.

There is sexual content, but no explicit sex. I've read worse in YA than how the sex was described in this book.

I recommend this book for teens and adults who are after a good magical realism book, with hints of a good mystery.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

A Review of Hold Back The Stars

Hold Back The Stars is the debut novel by Katie Khan. It is a romance/sci-fi/space survival book about the struggle of two people to survive in space. Carys and Max met back on earth, and they look back over the chain of events which have bought them to this point. They come from Europia, a country born out of the old European Union, between the remains of the shattered USA and Middle East.

Wow, what a fascinating setting! Most of the story here comes from the worldbuilding, so let try and explain as much of it as I can, without giving anything away. Many people call it a utopia, but for some people it seems more like the other thing. There is much discussion on the actual meaning of the world utopia, and those who call it that most vehemently are the ones with a more vested interest in seeing it survive. You know how if you have to tell your citizens they live in a utopia, they probably don't.

Citizens live in Voivodes, numbered parts of the world, and every three years they move on to a new Voivode, in a process known as Rotation. This is so that people don't develop ties to any one place - people are meant to act not in the name of religion, country or rulers. There is, however, somewhat of a cult of personality around the man who first set up the Voivodeship. These terms aren't explained, but presented to you as if you are a citizen of Europia and would know what they mean. It's easy enough to work them out from the context, however. I actually thought this was an interesting idea, and I would love the chance to live in a different part of the world every few years.

The next big point is people settling down much later. Because of advances in medical technology, people can have children later, leading to the creation of the Couples Rule, whereby people aren't supposed to settle down until they're in their late 30's. I would personally love the idea of not settling down until I am much older. However, what I would like shouldn't control what everyone else can do, and if they want to settle down at 20 with their childhood sweetheart, they should be allowed to

There is a strong emphasis on the individual, with people acting for themselves, rather than doing things because of family name, country ties or religion. There is one unified faith, and though old languages have survived, there is mention of a universal European language. To me, this would make the world worse, not better. When people say the world would be better if we all had one language or religion, they usually mean that the world would be better if everyone was just like them.

 The one thing I didn't like was the idea of an asteroid field surrounding earth, which is given no explanation. Also no word on how the former UK is doing being united under a system which takes much, such as the flag and the motto, from the former EU?

It's possibly a shame that I didn't care for the characters as much as I did the world. Carys and Max are in such peril from the start of the story that we really should be able to care about them instantly. I clicked with Carys, but Max took me longer to warm up to. Carys is supposed to be an astronaut and an scientist, yet she never displayed much personality that I would associate with these careers. She didn't remain calm under pressure, nor did she seem particularly logical. It was often Max coming up with ways to help them out of the situations they were in. Max is a chef, but we never see him cook - I think Carys cooked more than he did.

So, is this story a sci-fi with some romance elements? A romance with sci-fi thrown in? A bit of both, with too much of the other genre to appeal to fans of either? I really like cross-genre stories like this, so if you like that sort of thing, give this book a go. It does fall on the softer end of hard sci-fi - no The Martian style science-ing the shit out of everything. Still, I think there is enough romance and sci-fi here to appeal to fans of both.

Also, no spoilers, but a warning - the ending does start to drag.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

A Review of Wilde Like Me

Wilde Like Me is the first book by Louise Pentland, a UK based YouTuber. Robin Wilde is a mother to Lyla and a make-up artist. She has great friends, a good job and an amazing daughter. However, she struggles with being a single mother, and feels she doesn't fit in with the other Mums at Lyla's school. With nothing to do for long periods of her day, she spends much of her time with a feeling she describes as "The Emptiness." In an effort to get back in the dating scene, she tries online dating, leading to a series of hilarious mishaps!

YouTubers writing books has become the new thing. Sometimes, such as in the case of John Green, it works well. Other times, such as with Zoe Sugg, they received more mixed reviews, although I liked her Girl Online series, personally. I knew Louise had experience with book publishing, that she was doing much of the work herself and that she was writing about subjects she cared about, so I have to say I was cautiously optimistic. After reading, I must say I am very pleasantly surprised! This book is hilarious, heartwarming, relatable and real. It's been a long time since I've felt "The Emptiness" like this after finishing a book, with tears in my eyes. I just wanted to read more and more about Robin Wilde. This may sound silly, but all I wanted to do was hug the book.

Like with most books of this sort, it's characters are it's heart. Every interaction between Robin and Lyla is gold dust and I'm sure will bring a smile on the face of everyone who's ever been around a child. I would have taken a book just with moments between them! Lyla acts wonderfully like her age - not too old or too young -  and speaks exactly like someone of her age would. Robin feels like everyone else around her has the perfect life, with everything together, but to her credit, never resents anyone around her for this. Robin's insecurities should make her relatable to a large group of people, not just mothers. There were other characters I loved, such as Robin's boss Natalie - an awesome make-up artist and businesswoman, who built a company out of nothing. And Robin's friend Lacey gave the feminism speech I've been waiting to read in a book "being a feminist means you want everybody to be equal; to have the same chances, opportunities and treatment as everybody else." It becomes clear as the book goes on that no-one has the perfect life they seem to.

Robin does want a man in her life, and many people around her seem to think her problems will be fixed if she has one. I will actually point out the difference here between wanting something and needing something. Robin may want someone to share her life with, but she's also getting on fine on her own. She also doesn't want any man, she wants someone who is right for her. Also, the overall theme of the book seems to be that gal-pals will be there for you, even if men aren't. Loneliness... isn't something I experience much. I'm the sort of person who much prefers being on my own. But I know that isn't the way for everyone. At one point, Robin does mention she had post-natal depression. Robin didn't seem just lonely to me. In my non-expert opinion, much of what she felt sounded like depression. It's not always possible to just shake off depression, and isn't 'fixed' just because someone starts dating. I know there has been talks of a second book, and I would like to see this sort of thing touched on in the sequel.

Spoilers: I am also so, so glad that things weren't wrapped up in a nice, neat bow. The twist here is basically what I've been hoping to read in chick-lit since I read Bridget Jones in my teens. Robin realises that, actually, she's doing very well in her life without a man, and I loved that.

Also, since I grew up in Cambridgeshire, I loved the fact that it was set there! I smiled whenever I recognised a place, and was nodding along with some of the cultural references to things I experienced, or heard from Mum. She struggled to fit in with the other mother's at school to start with, since we moved just when I started Primary school.

I would recommend the book to any parent or parent-to-be, to remind them that they aren't the only ones who are struggling, or who have worried about raising their child right.