Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Published: 26th February 2013
Goodreads badgePublisher: St. Martin’s Press
Pages: 323
Format: Book
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Eleanor is the new girl in town, and with her chaotic family life, her mismatched clothes and unruly red hair, she couldn’t stick out more if she tried.

Park is the boy at the back of the bus. Black T-shirts, headphones, head in a book – he thinks he’s made himself invisible. But not to Eleanor… never to Eleanor.

Slowly, steadily, through late-night conversations and an ever-growing stack of mixtapes, Eleanor and Park fall for each other. They fall in love the way you do the first time, when you’re young, and you feel as if you have nothing and everything to lose. 

I had been hearing about this book this ages and I finally got to read it last year. I liked it don’t get me wrong, but it certainly wasn’t the Big Grand Amazing YA Book I’d heard it praised as. The amount of love and praise didn’t match up with the book I read. It was, for lack of a better word, sweet.

When you break it down it is also heartbreaking and admirable, and the characters are the best they be at the time, but matter how I tried, I didn’t gush over it. It remained very sweet. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it being sweet though, it is the kind of sweet that touches you a little inside and makes you happy and then breaks your heart while making you smile.

I will say a strong point was most definitely the characters. This book is all about the characters and I loved them; I loved their uniqueness, how different Eleanor is from, dare I say it, most girls. I also loved that Park is who he is regardless and he gets through high school as best he can. I loved that I was surprised and proud of these two, I adored them just a little and Rowell has written them well. I feel their characters were able to shine in the setting they were given, the 80s was a great environment to tell this kind of story, one I think needed the retro feeling.

The narrative was well told, Rowell gives you both Eleanor and Park’s point of view and seeing them interact with one another from both sides is a great example of misconceptions and hiding personal truths. I felt sorry for Eleanor’s life but proud of her at the same time. I felt she was a wonderfully strong character even when she didn’t feel it herself.

Park’s initial reservations and desire not to stand out by helping her is a kick in the gut but you also understand where he is coming from (even if you think him a coward). Social expectations, bullying, and peer pressure are all explored in this novel, and Park is a clear example of trying to remain unnoticed, seeing something is wrong, but not being strong enough to stand up against it. Seeing his development over the book was good, a bit disappointed it took as long as it did, but I ended up being proud of him which is a good result.

I don’t think this needs to be a Big Grand YA, I think this is a beautifully sweet and wonderful story that gets you right in the heart and makes you pity and love these foolish teenagers and their lives. Maybe the very fact that it is sweet and heartbreaking is what makes it wonderful?

You can purchase Eleanor and Park via the following

Dymocks | Booktopia

Book Depository | Wordery

Fishpond | A&R Bookworld

Amazon | Amazon Aust

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Anna and the French Kiss

Published: 16th July 2013
Goodreads badgePublisher: Speak
Pages: 372
Format: Book
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Can Anna find love in the City of Light?

Anna is happy in Atlanta. She has a loyal best friend and a crush on her coworker at the movie theater, who is just starting to return her affection. So she’s less than thrilled when her father decides to send her to a boarding school in Paris for her senior year.But despite not speaking a word of French, Anna meets some cool new people, including the handsome Étienne St. Clair, who quickly becomes her best friend. Unfortunately, he’s taken —and Anna might be, too. Will a year of romantic near misses end with the French kiss she’s waiting for?

There are definitely two emotions one experiences whilst reading this book. On one hand, it is sweet and adorable and there are lovely French sites and wonderful friendships and cute, sweet romances. On the other hand, there’s a boy who essentially cheats on his girlfriend because he hasn’t got the emotional stability to be alone, both have too many emotions that can’t seem to stay balanced for more than five minutes, and other kinds of moral problems that just don’t sit right.

Focusing on the good though, I loved that Perkins took the friendship route. I loved the entire first half where Anna and the nice French boy Étienne St Clair become friends as he shows her around France. There’s not anything to worry about and you fall in love with their friendship. I loved that Anna didn’t pine for the boy across the room without really meeting him, she got to know him and be a close friend first and foremost which made their relationship and the story much better.

I enjoyed the narrative a lot; I liked the normalcy of it before the relationship drama really began. I liked seeing Anna find her feet and making friends, seeing her navigate through this French school as best she could. Character \wise though, Anna was complicated. To be honest, all the characters were interesting and had some issues, but my word they were dramatic. Very dramatic, and so many emotions! Anna was such an emotional yo-yo it was hard to keep up. She also cried a lot. A lot. For no reason, at the drop of a hat, for the smallest thing. It’s a character choice I guess, the sensitive girl, but I swear there are times when crying is not the right reaction and there’s some stuff that maybe could be solved without tears.

St Clair was another emotionally and angst-ridden teen. St Clair is the typical YA boy: the hair, the smile, the eyes, the way he chews on his nails is even meant to be adorable, and I’ll be honest, at times I hated myself thinking that was adorable but credit where credit is due, Perkins makes you fall in love with these two and makes all the problematic moments easy to forget. Like Anna, St Clair is an emotional confusion which makes him a pain at times with his own indecision, but I guess it is meant to be romantic or something.

I certainly shifted between them being adorable and rolling my eyes at them which was weird. They shifted between the two so quickly so one minute I was rolling my eyes then I was ‘awwing’ at their sweetness. It was an odd experience but in a weird way, I think the sweetness worked out, even if it was hilarious at times watching them discusses their situation and I hate St Clair at times for his actions.

I know there are problems in this about characters and their actions, but I think I was won over because it was sweet and it was a romance that was built up through friendship and accidental feelings. But I will openly admit that I feel a bit wrong in doing so.

You can purchase Anna and the French Kiss via the following

Publisher | Book Depository

Amazon | Booktopia | Kobo

Wordery | Fishpond | A&R Bookworld

 

The Name of the Star (#1) by Maureen Johnson

Published: 29th September 2011
Goodreads badgePublisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 372
Format: Book
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Jack the Ripper is back, and he’s coming for Rory next….

Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London to start a new life at boarding school just as a series of brutal murders mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper killing spree of more than a century ago has broken out across the city. The police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man believed to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him – the only one who can see him. And now Rory has become his next target…unless she can tap her previously unknown abilities to turn the tables.

Upon finishing this book I was experiencing a myriad of emotions and feelings that the first draft of this review was, for the majority, unhelpful gushing and exuberant praise. I was on a high of delight and amazement at what I had just read. Nothing wrong with that, but rather unhelpful for a review.

I cannot ignore though that a full 330 words were devoted entirely to going on about just how wonderful this book was. I experienced so many feelings and emotions throughout this book, especially during the final chapters, that I was on the edge of my seat and unsure where it could possibly lead, excited and impatient and nervous of what was going to happen.

I have been a long time fan of Johnson through her guest vlogging, her books, and following her hilarity on Twitter, but only recently have I been able to snag a copy of her Shades of London series which I have been dying to read for years. And can I just say I am so glad I finally got to read this because it is the greatest book ever! It is such a Maureen Johnson book as well. Her personality and own quirkiness shine off the pages and through her characters.

I strongly recommend you read this book, it really is all kinds of amazing. It’s a Jack the Ripper story like no other and it sucks you in and holds you while it simultaneously messes with your mind and makes you amazed and wide-eyed at the cleverness of it all.

The story follows Rory, a girl from southern USA who is sent to boarding school in London. She soon becomes embroiled in a series of murders eerily similar to that of Jack the Ripper. From there it becomes a story about murder and mystery, with a unique and clever paranormal element as well. Johnson’s writing is light and funny but also manages to be delightfully creepy in all the best ways.

The characters are unique and have their own stories to tell. I liked Rory’s charm in that she was a bit odd but she was who she was and wasn’t ashamed. I loved the differences between the UK and the US and the cultural clashes that are evident. I also loved that the story was slowly revealed. I revelled in the shocks, the surprises, and the delights. I made so many gasps and various other noises while I read this I’m sure people nearby were looking at me weird.

Other characters like Jerome and Stephen are wonderful. Jerome, in particular, is all kinds of adorable and while it took some time to warm to Rory, I loved Jerome immediately. I liked each character’s quirky nature and that they brought their own strengths to any situation. There is a wonderful sense of UK boarding school culture as well as a nice look at the streets of London through the eyes of a newcomer as well as its citizens. You get a taste of the culture and the mystery the old city has to offer and it is easy to fall under the spell through Rory and her own fascination.

When you read this book I suggest you keep the second in the series nearby because the moment you finish that last page you will want to dive into the next book right away. It is a wonderful story and it is a ghost story like no other.

You can purchase The Name of the Star via the following

Wordery | Book Depository | Fishpond

Dymocks | Amazon USA | Author Website

Barnes and Noble | Readings | Amazon Aust

Bro by Helen Chebatte

Published: 1st February 2016 (print)/1st June 2016 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Hardie Grant Egmont/ABC Audio
Pages: 240/MP3
Narrator: Julian Maroun
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

What happens when you mix teenage boys, a fight club, and ethnic rivalries? 

You get war.

Romeo Makhlouf knows the rules.

Stick with your own kind. Don’t dob on your mates or even on your enemies. Respect the family.

But even unwritten rules are made for breaking.

I wasn’t sure I was going to like Bro but Chebatte definitely surprised me. It isn’t a long book but it one that is important as it talks about trying to fit in when people class you as different on both sides, and the pressure of being loyal to your family roots, all with a delightfully Australian feel.

This is Boys ‘R’ Us meets Hate is Such a Strong Word  in all the best ways. It is, I’ll admit, very Australian. One could say too Australian, but I have heard teenage boys speak to one another and aside from the lack of swearing, it sounds like this for the most part (so many bros!). It takes some getting used to but I quite liked the tone of voice Chebatte used, especially how Julian Maroun narrated, it felt very real; you really get the sense of these teenage boys who are trying to be cooler and tougher than they actually are and the tired effort the adults are going to to try and help them

Chebatte uses the male point of view quite well, demonstrating the conflicts between the races at school, girl trouble, and trying to find where you belong, something which reminded me of Ayoub’s Hate is Such a Strong Word for the female perspective. I liked Romeo as a narrator, I also liked that Chebatte balanced him but not too evenly. He has some sensibilities but he is still a young boy with wild ideas and a feeling of invincibility. You clearly understand his conflict about who he is and whether he is Lebanese or Australian, and how even though he was born here he still doesn’t feel like he belongs. This conflict drives his decisions and affects the decisions he makes, right or wrong they may be.

There are many aspects I recall from my own high school days in here, just the scenes Chebatte has set up about classes, canteen lines, and group dynamics, even though my experience wasn’t the same as Romeo’s school in a lot of ways, it still feels familiar. The plot can be criticised as childish and absurd, but in the way that most teenage conflicts are, they are petty and ridiculous and fought for nothing, and yet at the time, it’s the fight you are willing to stand for no matter the consequences.

I was apprehensive about this book, I genuinely thought I wouldn’t like it but I’m glad I read it. It tells the story of the danger of boys and their masculinity, peer pressure, “national pride”, racism, and trying to belong. It’s a book people should read about feeling different, and the consequences of male pride.

You can purchase Bro via the following

Dymocks | QBD

Booktopia | BookWorld

Amazon | Amazon Aust

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La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust #1)

Published: 19 October 2017 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
David Fickling Books
Pages: 560
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead and his dæmon, Asta, live with his parents at the Trout Inn near Oxford. Across the River Thames (which Malcolm navigates often using his beloved canoe, a boat by the name of La Belle Sauvage) is the Godstow Priory where the nuns live. Malcolm learns they have a guest with them; a baby by the name of Lyra Belacqua . . .

For over ten years I have been waiting [im]patiently for this book to finally be published. From 2005 when Pullman first really mentioned he was working on it I have waited. I’ve check update after update, any little mention from 2005, 2007, 2012 when Pullman said he was taking over a year off everything just to work on it. When the “late 2016” possible publication was announced I was excited but also doubtful, when that got pushed back to 2017 I was heartbroken. When that 19 Oct date was announced in February this year I may have lost my little mind. Then I had to wait, but it finally happened. I finally got it, I finally read it, and I have to say, my word was it worth the long wait.

The Book of Dust is everything I possibly imagined it to be and more. It is a beautiful and magnificent book that draws you right back into Pullman’s world, so much like ours but still completely different. It’s familiar, but not too familiar because it takes place away from the Oxford we know but still feels like slipping into a well-loved pair of shoes. I fell in love again almost instantly and the more I read the more drawn in I became. Every turn of the page I was almost in tears of happiness and I loved this new side of this world we got to explore. (As I said, I have a slight obsession with this series and I have been waiting a long time for this book, so no judgement please).

Pullman’s new characters are as fully formed and unique as his existing ones, and those we’ve met before (technically) are also introduced as if we’re meeting them for the first time, such is the benefits of having a new point of view to focus on. Malcolm Polstead is a great voice to tell this story; he is young, can come off as a little simple or naive, but shows strength and determination when needed. His loyalty and friendship for others, and his love and protection over Lyra is his driving force. His sense of what is right and what’s wrong is clear, and he has wonderful guidance around him to direct his curious mind.

I loved Malcolm. I loved his love of Lyra, and I love his childlike wonder and innocence. Having only really seen Lyra’s interactions with Pan as the example of child/dæmon relationship, it was great seeing Malcolm and Asta’s connection. Pullman also includes subtle and brief bits of information about the daemons through the story, and uses childlike curiosity to cover any questions, much as he did in His Dark Materials.

What I found interesting was that Lyra’s role is so small, she is just a baby after all, and yet she is the entire point of the book as well. One thing I adored, and actually had never thought about before was babies and baby daemons. There’s plenty of children’s daemons in the trilogy, but babies not so much. Seeing baby Lyra and baby Pan interact was joyous, and every time they’re mentioned I found myself aging them forward to the wild girl and dæmon ten years on and thinking of all the great things they were going to achieve.

Important things to note, there is some swearing in this book, one of the Big Ones I guess you could say is said by a few characters. Pullman has used them well so they work, but it was a surprise when they appeared. Also, there is a darker story here, it’s a bit more brutal at times, nothing too explicit, but just darker. Pullman has also said numerous times this is not a sequel or a prequel, he calls it an equal, a companion piece. I would agree in as much as it is separate from the trilogy, and even separate in part from the follow up books he did. But my opinion is you do have to read the original three first. Very much like Star Wars you need to have experienced all that there is in the originals before you go back to the Before. Knowing what it all means and to know the grandeur and power it holds is more impactful as you read this book. Secrets from the trilogy are openly discussed, mysteries are no longer mysterious as they play out before you. All of which is fantastic mind you, but knowing that they have been secrets means that reading the trilogy after this will not have the same effect at all in my opinion. Though I would be interested to speak to someone who does read this first.

When I finished reading I did find myself with a few tears. Not so much for what happens but for all of it: for the big, gorgeous new story, for Lyra and Pan and Malcolm and his beloved canoe. For the strength and love Malcolm has, and the beautiful innocence and unbridled sense of doing what is right. And of course, because who can read any book about this world and not end up in beautiful tears of happiness? When I finished that last page I wanted to hug the book close to my chest because it was perfect in all the ways that mattered. Pullman brought long time devoted fans the book they’ve been longing for for over ten years. He made us wait, but for what has come of that waiting I couldn’t ask for anything more. I can only imagine what is going to come in the next two volumes, and I’m sure Pullman will come up with something much better than I ever could imagine.

In a Sydney Morning Herald article Pullman said that the second book is written but not yet edited. With a hopeful release date of next year I have something to look forward to that’s much less vague than it has been. If you’re interested, it’s a great article, Pullman talks about his Australian connection to parts of La Belle Sauvage, and his experience with the whole writing experience.

You can purchase La Belle Sauvage via the following

QBD | Dymocks

Booktopia | Book Depository

Amazon | Publisher

Audible | Wordery

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