Review: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

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Far beneath the surface of the earth, upon the shores of the Starless Sea, there is a labyrinthine collection of tunnels and rooms filled with stories. The entryways that lead to this sanctuary are often hidden, sometimes on forest floors, sometimes in private homes, sometimes in plain sight. But those who seek will find. Their doors have been waiting for them.
Zachary Ezra Rawlins is searching for his door, though he does not know it. He follows a silent siren song, an inexplicable knowledge that he is meant for another place. When he discovers a mysterious book in the stacks of his campus library he begins to read, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, lost cities, and nameless acolytes. Suddenly a turn of the page brings Zachary to a story from his own childhood impossibly written in this book that is older than he is.
A bee, a key, and a sword emblazoned on the book lead Zachary to two people who will change the course of his life: Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired painter, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances. These strangers guide Zachary through masquerade party dances and whispered back room stories to the headquarters of a secret society where doorknobs hang from ribbons, and finally through a door conjured from paint to the place he has always yearned for. Amid twisting tunnels filled with books, gilded ballrooms, and wine-dark shores Zachary falls into an intoxicating world soaked in romance and mystery. But a battle is raging over the fate of this place and though there are those who would willingly sacrifice everything to protect it, there are just as many intent on its destruction. As Zachary, Mirabel, and Dorian venture deeper into the space and its histories and myths, searching for answers and each other, a timeless love story unspools, casting a spell of pirates, painters, lovers, liars, and ships that sail upon a Starless Sea.

I reckon this book took me a month to read – but am I disappointed? No. The short fact is I just never wanted it to end. The Starless Sea is rich, enticing, beautiful and filling. It’s like a giant piece of chocolate cake – you devour it bit by bit and never want it to be gone. It fills your soul the way a good meal fills your belly. All I wanted was to go back for more. Just like The Night Circus, it sprawls.

‘Everyone wants the stars. Everyone wishes to grasp that which exists out of reach.’

I read The Night Circus almost 2 years ago now, and I’m pretty sure it ended up being one of my favourite books of that year. After that, Erin Morgenstern had a lot to live up to, but she certainly didn’t let me down. She managed to capture the enchantment and magic of her first book and develop an entirely new and just as beautiful world with it. My major love for Morgenstern’s books comes from her development of world. I have never before felt so enveloped in a place, a world, as her writing makes me feel.

To hold the extraordinary in their hands and keep the remarkable in their pockets.’

This book could easily be my desert island choice – simply because I imagine it would give more and more with every read. I could find something between the pages again and again, delving into this deep, whimsical, haunting world happily every time.

The beautiful Starless Sea reminded me why I adore reading so much. It transported me away to another land, and I love it for that. Morgenstern’s writing is so enticing, I felt like I was reading a beautiful fairytale.

This book is stardust. Savour it.

★★★★★
5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

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Ebenezer Scrooge is a miserly old skinflint. He hates everyone, especially children.
But at Christmas three ghosts come to visit him, scare him into mending his ways, and he finds, as he celebrates with Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim and their family, that geniality brings its own reward.

I find it strange reading these books so late when the stories have so often been ingrained in my fellow readers lives for years. I think a lot of this also comes from my family not being massive film buffs as I grew up!

However, I still adored this story coming into it now. Although I have grown up being familiar with the story itself, I don’t remember having ever watched a movie adaptation or reading any version, other than Marley’s Ghost by David Levithan.

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future.”

I’m so glad I’ve read this in the run-up to Christmas. Every time I sat down to read it, often on a night with my fairy lights behind me, I felt like I was being wrapped in a warm blanket and taken on a Christmassy journey. Over and over, this story warmed my heart.

I couldn’t help but smile at the pages every so often as I followed Scrooge on his story. Considering we have such a short time to get to know these characters, I quickly sympathised with Ebenezer and loved seeing how he reacted to each ghost as the book progressed.

“The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”

I can definitely see myself re-reading this every Christmas to get in the mood. Dickens’ writing is so atmospheric and beautiful, and this is just a lovely thing to pick up on a winters night. It reminded me of snow and starlight.

★★★★★
5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

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Peyton, Sydney’s charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion’s share of their parents’ attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton’s increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident?
Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.

Sarah Dessen is an author that has stuck by me for years, and was one of the first authors to introduce me to YA. Because of this, diving into Saint Anything was like wrapping myself in a warm blanket. It was soothing to be in a world I knew so well, however predictable. I can liken Dessen to Disney movies for me, I know the pace and character profiles so well, yet her books are different enough to keep me on my toes. I was skeptical to go back into her stories having not read them since I was in my mid-teens myself, but I still thoroughly enjoyed this one as a 20 year old woman.

There was a sharpness and emotion to Saint Anything that threw me slightly, and I felt a deeper connection to Sydney than I ever expected. Dessen manages to write emotionally relatable characters so well, and I found myself even sympathising with Sydney’s brother Peyton, which surprised me as he had such a bad past.

“It was fluid and easy, like everything had been since we’d met,”

Dessen seems to write with such a fluidity and effortlessness, I couldn’t help but find myself so absorbed in her writing. Towards the end of the book, I was reading up to 100 pages at a time, which thrilled me as I haven’t been reading as much recently! Dessen writing might not constantly be poetic, but some scenes made me just put the book down and smile, because they were just simply beautiful and really touched my heart.

The only small complaint I have is that Dessen can be quite predictable. I found this familiar and comforting but I can also see how it can get a little annoying having very similar characters across a vast number of books.

“as I stood on my tiptoes and finally, finally kissed him.”

Overall, if you’re looking for an easy but emotional read, this one is definitely it. I loved seeing Sydney grow as a character and adapt to the changes around her as she matured. This one brought tears to my eyes but also made me smile quietly to myself on so many occasions, because it was just simply lovely.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

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Alex fights a daily battle to figure out what is real and what is not. Armed with a take-no-prisoners attitude, her camera, a Magic 8 Ball, and her only ally (her little sister), Alex wages a war against her schizophrenia, determined to stay sane long enough to get into college. She’s pretty optimistic about her chances until she runs into Miles. Didn’t she imagine him? Before she knows it, Alex is making friends, going to parties, falling in love, and experiencing all the usual rites of passage for teenagers. But Alex is used to being crazy. She’s not prepared for normal. Can she trust herself? Can we trust her? 

I think this might be the first book I’ve read with a protagonist suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, and it felt so important because of that. The whole idea of the narrator having schizophrenia meant reality was constantly being questioned, and gave a magical realism level to the novel similar to that of Adam Silvera’s style of writing. It also allowed for some pretty big plot twists, which kept me constantly intrigued and engaged.

Although this is very much a contemporary novel, Alex’s schizophrenia left a mysterious element to the story. I found it so interesting how she used a camera and photography to try and capture the real to distinguish it from what was in her head. The only frustrating aspect of this was not always knowing what was real and what was happening inside Alex’s head.

I realized I wanted to kiss him. I didn’t know why.”

Alex’s story still tackled family, friendships and romance. Unfortunately I don’t think I fell for Miles as much as everybody else seemed to, although his character did become sweeter throughout the story. I found her relationships fascinating and heartwarming, especially the one she shared with her sister.

Although Alex’s story was emotional, I didn’t find it as heart-wrenching as I expected. The mystery was compelling but a little far fetched for me, so I lost a little connection with the book because of this. The mystery plot-line was fun, but that fun seemed to take away some of the emotional depth for me.

“Maybe it was the way he looked at me like I was the only thing he wanted to look at.”

Overall, this book was fascinating due to the main character having paranoid schizophrenia. It surprised me with the compelling plot twists and entertaining mystery element, but wasn’t quite as heart-wrenching as I wanted it to be and lacked some connection to me as a reader.

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Katherine Webber

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Reiko loves the endless sky and electric colours of the Californian desert. It is a refuge from an increasingly claustrophobic life of family pressures and her own secrets. Then she meets Seth, a boy who shares a love of the desert and her yearning for a different kind of life. But Reiko and Seth both want something the other can’t give them. As summer ends, things begin to fall apart. But the end of love can sometimes be the beginning of you..

Since this book has been released, it’s been on my TBR. I adored Wing Jones, and have been keeping an eye on this author ever since. Thank you to Tavi for buying Only Love Can Break Your Heart for me off my wishlist!

Reiko is a heartbroken teenager who is dealing with the tragic loss of her sister. When she finds an unexpected friend in Seth, her world is turned upside down and she is forced to face her grief.

I wasn’t disappointed by this book, and I was drawn in from the first page. There was a certain level of comfort that came from Webber’s beautiful, poetic descriptions of the desert, and I found myself loving the locations as much as Reiko herself. Webber left me feeling like I was being enveloped in warmth every time I picked up this novel.

Only Love Can Break Your Heart explores topics in depth that I’ve hardly seen in YA, and found very interesting. This covered subjects such as grief, family, friendships and most importantly for me, social hierarchy. Social hierarchy is often not discussed in YA, especially from the viewpoint of those at the top of the social ladder. However, Reiko is unashamedly one of those people, and reading about her viewpoints were fascinating.

I had a love/hate relationship with Reiko throughout this book, unfortunately. Due to her attitude, she made many mistakes and some decisions which I frowned upon and found hard to relate to. I unfortunately felt the same about Seth as the book progressed, which left me feeling somehow betrayed. However, Reiko went through a lot of self development throughout the book and I left feeling reassured by the way she matures.

Overall, this book had compelling characters, a beautiful location and heart-wrenching plot line. Although I had problems with the characters at times, I would highly recommend this lovely story.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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ARC Review: Pixie Pushes On by Tamara Bundy

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Pixie’s defenses are up, and it’s no wonder. She’s been uprooted, the chickens seem to have it in for her, and now her beloved sister, Charlotte, has been stricken with polio and whisked away into quarantine. So it’s not surprising Pixie lashes out. But her habit of making snap judgements–and giving her classmates nicknames like “Rotten Ricky” and “Big-Mouth Berta”–hasn’t won her any friends. At least life on the farm is getting better with the delivery of its newest resident–a runt baby lamb. Raising Buster takes patience and understanding–and this slowing down helps Pixie put things in better perspective. So too does paying attention to her neighbors, and finding that with the war on she’s not the only one missing someone. As Pixie pushes past her own pain to become a bigger person, she’s finally able to make friends; and to laugh about the fact that it is in places where she least expected it.

This was such a sweet middle grade book I sped through in a couple of sittings. I was grabbed by the premise, the gorgeous cover and the idea of having a book set on a farm in the 1940’s. It was such a cute read and I loved Pixie. She made me chuckle with her way of addressing her peers, calling them names and standing up for herself. She seemed like a plucky girl who is in the process of learning a lot about life, family and friends.

The cast of characters was broad and interesting to see all aspects of life over three generations, as Pixie lived with her dad and grandparents on the farm. Her sister is suffering from polio and being taken cared of in a hospital, which was such a heartfelt and sad storyline between the two sisters. I loved the depth this aspect of the story added to Pixie’s world, and the guilt she carried around believing she played a part in her sisters illness.

The farm was such a nice setting for this story, and gave Pixie her own battles to face as the story progressed. As she learned more about herself, the book tackled problems I didn’t expect, such as Pixie and her relationship to the farm animals.

Overall, this was a very sweet middle grade book which explored some deep and emotional situations and subjects.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: The Places I’ve Cried in Public by Holly Bourne

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Amelie loved Reese. And she thought he loved her. But she’s starting to realise love isn’t supposed to hurt like this. So now she’s retracing their story and untangling what happened by revisiting all the places he made her cry.
Because if she works out what went wrong, perhaps she can finally learn to get over him.

This book is a reminder of how powerful words can be. A reminder of how they can make you cry, make you smile, and make you feel so much less alone. I’m lucky enough that I have never been through what Amelie went through in this book, but I have been in many similar places to her. I have cried in public. And I know how it feels when love doesn’t make you happy anymore.

Amelie’s story is such a powerful one and is unfortunately true of many women (and men) all over the world. Her relationship with Reese includes the most basic forms of manipulation and emotional abuse, which gradually strip her from her confidence and happiness.

‘It’s such a simple torture – the silent treatment. As basic as tripping someone over or pulling their chair out before they sit down. And yet it’s so very effective.’

Amelie can be a frustrating narrator at times as she is constantly making decisions that make you want to scream at her…but that’s kind of the point. She’s young, and manipulated against her better judgement. I know what it’s like to be young and in love, and I couldn’t be angry at Amelie for the choices she made. Talking of, I need to write a small warning into this post. It hit me hard, even though I haven’t experienced the vast majority of what Amelie did. It was still an incredibly painful and hard hitting read, which will stay with me forever.

Both Amelie, Reese and the other characters in this story are incredibly well written and developed. I feel like Bourne knew her characters inside out and this came across at all times. The only part I’m regretful about is feeling like I could have known Alfie (Amelie’s ex) better going into this story. Just a few more scenes with him may have helped me fully sympathise with what Amelie was leaving behind when she moved at the beginning of the book. Reese is especially well developed, and Bourne did an excellent job of writing his character so we felt exactly how Amelie did about him, through all of the love, charisma, hurt and anger.

The plot meant this book flew past. I love the switches between past and present, as it was a constant reminder of how all of these past events had made Amelie feel in the present day. It allowed the book to be just that little more hard hitting and effective.

‘When someone has the willpower to pretend you’re not there, it nullifies you. How do you fight against that humiliation?’

This was definitely my favourite of Bourne’s books so far, and I can really see how she’s developed as a writer. Amelie is now a young narrator to me, but I still felt all of the hurt and emotion that she did.

Above all, this book feels important. It’s one of those I can’t help but want to push into the hands of other young women out there, to understand that it’s normal to feel unhappy, it’s good to trust your gut and it’s okay to reach out and ask for help. It’s okay to cry in public.

CW: sexual and emotional abuse, PTSD.

★★★★★  
5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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