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: 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: 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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Review: A Curse So Dark and Lonely (#1) by Brigid Kemmerer

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Fall in love, break the curse.
It once seemed so easy to Prince Rhen, the heir to Emberfall. Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year over and over, he knew he could be saved if a girl fell for him. But that was before he learned that at the end of each autumn, he would turn into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. That was before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.
Nothing has ever been easy for Harper Lacy. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother barely holding their family together while constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, she learned to be tough enough to survive. But when she tries to save someone else on the streets of Washington, DC, she’s instead somehow sucked into Rhen’s cursed world.
Break the curse, save the kingdom.
A prince? A monster? A curse? Harper doesn’t know where she is or what to believe. But as she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what’s at stake. And as Rhen realizes Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back. But powerful forces are standing against Emberfall . . . and it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people from utter ruin.

As always, I can’t believe it took me so long to get round to reading this book. It may have taken me a while to read it, but as a friend put it, I savoured this book rather than rushed through it. And it was still worth it in the end.

A Curse So Dark and Lonely is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but it had just the right balance for me of being a retelling and being original. The fairytale aspect was only a small part of the story, which left room for so much more.

‘We are all dealt a hand at birth. A good hand can ultimately lose – just as a poor hand can win – but we must all play the cards the fate deals.’

This world felt so real and beautiful to me, and I pictured it as Hyrule in Breath of the Wild funnily enough. The characters were all great for their own reasons, especially Harper. We don’t have enough strong female protagonists, and having a disabled main character with Cerebral Palsy is so rare, especially in fantasy. Having not got a disability myself, I can’t talk about the accuracy of the writing from her point of view, but I really admired her all the same.

Rhen wasn’t my favourite character, but I grew to know and love him all the same. Reading about him was fascinating, as he turned out to be a different person as the book progressed, but his progression felt entirely natural.

Even though it took me a while to get through, when I did manage to sit down and read, the pages seemed to fly by. So it definitely wasn’t a problem with the pacing, but instead with my situation in the past month!

‘The choices we face may not be the choices we want, but they are choices nonetheless.’

Unfortunately I’m not giving this book a full 5 stars, purely because I didn’t feel quite as drawn in as I’d have liked to. Although my pacing was partly to do with my own situation, I also feel like I could have been more drawn into the story and made to want to pick it up.

★★★★ 
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

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Humanity has nearly destroyed its world through global warming, but now an even greater evil lurks. The indigenous people of North America are being hunted and harvested for their bone marrow, which carries the key to recovering something the rest of the population has lost: the ability to dream. In this dark world, Frenchie and his companions struggle to survive as they make their way up north to the old lands. For now, survival means staying hidden but what they don’t know is that one of them holds the secret to defeating the marrow thieves.

Thank you to the author for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

It’s so unfortunate that I didn’t enjoy this book. It sounded so intriguing and like such a unique concept, but I was very disappointed with the book itself. I wish it hadn’t been such a let down!

The only way I can possibly think to describe The Marrow Thieves is it feels like there’s so much missing. Like, if I didn’t read the synopsis beforehand, I would have had no clue what was actually happening throughout the novel. It feels like nothing is ever explained in full and everything is quite a random series of events. I wouldn’t have been shocked if I found out someone had actually ripped pages or whole chapters out of my copy. This improved slightly towards the end of the book, but only as I became more involved in the story, and no where enough to recover from the disappointment.

‘Sometimes you risk everything for a life worth living,’

Unfortunately, the plot wasn’t the only problem. The characters also felt majorly underdeveloped and I struggled to connect with their stories because of it. Most of them were just names on the pages for me, and that meant the connection I should have felt in emotional scenes was just lost. I feel like the author concentrated fully on only a few of the characters, only one of whom I actually liked, and the others got lost along the way.

The reason I’m giving this book 2 stars instead of 1 is because the writing isn’t bad at all. At points, I even found myself sucked into some of the short stories within this larger story. In fact, I think this author could write some brilliant short stories and maybe they would be more developed and her forte?

‘even if you’re not the one that’ll be alive to see it.’

Overall, the concept was interesting but left unexplored and underdeveloped. I’d love to read more books exploring indigenous people and it’s definitely something I’d like to see more of, but this was a major disappointment with few things going for it. It’s definitely not the worst or most annoying book I’ve read, but it was by far from the best.

★★ 
2 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Heartstopper Volume 2 by Alice Oseman

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Boy meets boy. Boys become friends. Boys fall in love. An LGBTQ+ graphic novel about life, love, and everything that happens in between: this is the second volume of HEARTSTOPPER, for fans of The Art of Being Normal, Holly Bourne and Love, Simon. 
Nick and Charlie are best friends. Nick knows Charlie’s gay, and Charlie is sure that Nick isn’t. 
But love works in surprising ways, and Nick is discovering all kinds of things about his friends, his family … and himself. 
Heartstopper is about friendship, loyalty and mental illness. It encompasses all the small stories of Nick and Charlie’s lives that together make up something larger, which speaks to all of us. 

What can I say other than I love Heartstopper and having these books in physical form makes me so happy? I’m actually up to date completely with the webcomic, but I love reading these as they come out.

Anything Alice Oseman ever does will warm my heart and being able to sit down and just devour these books makes me feel so cosy. I read this in about half an hour in the middle of a thunderstorm and it was perfect. Oseman’s art style is lovely and has such a good flow, I can easily flick through the pages.

Volume 2 focuses a lot on Nick coming out and discovering himself, and normalising that it’s okay to question who you are was such a central theme of the book. As always, Nick and Charlies’ friends and family are great and make for entertaining scenes. Some of my favourite scenes are naturally with Nick’s dog and the little ‘borks’ never fail to make me smile!

Overall, if you’re looking for a cute, heartwarming graphic novel that flows beautifully and centres around LGBT characters and coming out, please pick this up.

Or, go and read it on Tumblr or Tapas!

★★★★★
5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura

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Katsuyamas never quit—but seventeen-year-old CJ doesn’t even know where to start. She’s never lived up to her mom’s type A ambition, and she’s perfectly happy just helping her aunt, Hannah, at their family’s flower shop.
She doesn’t buy into Hannah’s romantic ideas about flowers and their hidden meanings, but when it comes to arranging the perfect bouquet, CJ discovers a knack she never knew she had. A skill she might even be proud of.
Then her mom decides to sell the shop — to the family who swindled CJ’s grandparents when thousands of Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps during WWII. Soon a rift threatens to splinter CJ’s family, friends, and their entire Northern California community; and for the first time, CJ has found something she wants to fight for.

I don’t know how, but I seem to be getting so lucky with books with great, female protagonists recently! I’m so glad I picked this up at YALC because it was exactly what I needed, and lived up to the beautiful cover 100%.

I seem to only read/enjoy contemporaries with a twist now, and this one definitely had enough twists for me. CJ was such a great main character, who was strong and empowering and surrounded by brilliant, beautiful women. This book made me want to stand up and scream about how strong and resilient and focused women can be!

‘“Look at these wildflowers.” Hannah sweeps her arm around. “They’re not fancy, they’re not prizewinning orchids or roses.”‘

There was just so much good in this book. Alongside the strong women, we have strong people of colour. And strong LGBTQIA+ people. This book was diverse in every way and focused heavily on LGBT and racial issues. I loved the subplots that included tension between POC and brought up Japanese-American internment camp issues and how these mistreatings still have an effect on people today.

Hannah’s dysfunctional family were so lovable and enjoyable to read about. I love how we saw the flaws of CJs family and friends, but ended up seeing their soft sides too (e.g. CJ’s mum and Brynn). Some of the topics discussed in the book really resonated with me and I find are not discussed enough in YA or in the media in general. Some of these included abortion, pregnancy and single parenthood.

Sugiura has such a captivating and enthralling writing style I thoroughly enjoyed. I’ve been having a hard week and I’m surprised I managed to pick up a book at all, but This Time Will Be Different definitely helped me battle through and I ended up reading the last 80ish pages in one go. I’m sure under different circumstances I would have absolutely stormed through this book in just a few days!

“But they don’t care. They’re just wildflowers, doing their thing, and they’re beautiful. Be like them, sweet pea. Just be you and be happy.”’

The only downside I have is how CJ could be super annoying at times. I loved her despite that, but I feel like it was just too out there occasionally. The story still could have been very enjoyable without me wanting to throw it against a wall in annoyance! Due to that, I’m going to knock off half a star unfortunately, but it was a very minor factor in the entire book.

★★★★★
4.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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