Saturday, 9 September 2017

Re-reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Re-reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Re-reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

I've always rated Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets as one of my least favourite books in the series. But, re-reading it recently has made me realise that I've been totally wrong all this time. HOW CAN I NOT LOVE THIS?! This summer (well Autumn now, let's face it), I decided to reread the whole HP series - you can see my comments on The Philosopher's Stone here. So, in this second installment, let's talk about how/why I'm convinced I totally underrated this.

Dobby. This is the first book in which you get to meet Dobby. AND he gets freed at the end. It's the beginning of a great love affair between you and Dobby. He adds a lot of humour to the book, and genuinely made me laugh out loud at one point. Plus, his presence proves even more than normal how shitty the Malfoys are.

Tom Marvolo Riddle. This totally blows your mind the first time you read it. I love that we get to see the human side of Voldemort (soz but if you haven't read the series, then there's going to be tonnes of spoilers. Also, if you haven't read it, you need to sort that out). It all ties in with the last book and it's making me so happy to see how Rowling was creating little strands of the horcrux plot early on in the series.

Harry's 'dark' side. You get to see that Harry isn't a perfect Gryffindor. He can speak parseltongue. But, he uses it for good, showing that not all Slytherins, or descendants of that house founder, are rotten to the core. It puts him on an even keel with Voldemort in terms of skill too. For the first time, we see that Harry Potter is special for reasons other than his famous past.

Hagrid's back story. This totally makes my heart bleed. Loveable, clumsy Hagrid being blamed for something that he'd never do. They totally should have let him back as a mature student and reinstated his wand after this. My bby. 

Mr Weasley. I love this man. He's so pure and his interest in Muggles is so endearing. I'm not prepared for the darkness that comes into his life in the next few books. His character also gives me a reason to hate the Malfoy's even more.

There were so many perfect little stories in The Chamber of Secrets, and I can't believe I used to rate it as one of my least favourites. From Aragog to the puzzles surrounding the injured students, to the Whomping Willow and more, this book is a work of art.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Review of 'Alice and the Fly' by James Rice

Review of 'Alice and the Fly' by James Rice

I haven't read a good thriller in a long time, so when Aimee from Aimee Raindrop Writes offered to lend me this I jumped at the chance. Alice and the Fly is told from the perspective of an individual with an intense case of schizophrenia, or at least that's what psychiatrists have deemed it. I've never read a novel with such a good insight into what it's like to live with a debilitating mental illness. Not having struggled with schizophrenia myself, I feel as though I now understand more about it, and just how life-consuming it can be.

Greg is a bit of an oddball at school. Everyone calls him 'Psycho' because of what happened in the past, and he doesn't have any friends. His English teacher, Miss Hayes, attempts to tap into Greg, to see what is troubling him so that she can help him. She asks him to start a journal, and jot his thoughts down into it. This is what we get to read. Interspersed with diary entries are transcripts from police reports about an incident Greg is involved in. 

It soon becomes clear that Greg is struggling. He has so many thoughts inside him that he wants to express, but can't seem to get the words out. Instead he remains silent, and is mistaken for being cold and distant. 

The one thing which really drives Greg out of this stupor of quietude is his fear of spiders. It is a full on phobia. Greg has every possible gap in his room taped down so that no spiders can get in. His room is his safe space; there's no chance of Them getting in. But everywhere else is a mine field.

Alice and the Fly was a real page turner for me. I needed to find out why this troubled boy's family and associates were being investigated by the police. I wanted to see how Greg's psychiatric issues came about, how they were handled, and how they progressed as he became more and more obsessed by the idea of Them coming near him.

If you're into thrillers, then this is one that is so easy to whip through, and it definitely had some moments in which I was on the edge of my seat!

Friday, 25 August 2017

Re-reading Harry Potter and the Philsopher's Stone

Re-reading Harry Potter and the Philsopher's Stone

Re-reading Harry Potter and the Philsopher's Stone

Every summer I decide to reread the Harry Potter series. I think the last time I followed through with it I hadn't sat my GCSE's yet, so it's been a long time. It's always a goal that seems a little unachievable, but I'm feeling determined this time round, and with one now under my belt, and the second one started, I'm hoping that I can actually see this through. 

It's been SO long since I read HP and the Philosopher's Stone, that I can now see everything in my mind in the way it is in the film. That aspect of imagination has been totally lost on me. It kind of sucks, but I'm glad that as a child I got to read the book before the film came out. I also found it interesting to see how closely the film stuck to the book. I honestly think this is why the film franchise has done as well as it has. Bar a few mishaps with how things are staged, and the debacle that is Ginny on screen, everything kept really close to the OG novel, and it meant that the movie didn't disappoint.

I found that I could have whizzed through the book: I'd completely forgotten how short it was. But I really didn't want to. I wanted to savour every moment. I really wanted to go slow, and enjoy meeting all the characters for the first time, and gradually descend into the world of magic.

Reading back now, I'm still bowled over by the fact that J K thought of everything. There were no parts where I realised that the later books had contradicted what was said. It really feels as though she had the whole saga planned out from the beginning. For example, Snape has a dear place in my heart, and going back to this book has made me see how Snape could completely hate Harry. Here he comes, being celebrated, getting special treatment, and looking exactly like the man who made Snape's life a misery. Snape hates Harry, but could never harm him, and it just makes my heart bleed to think about his love for Lily. 

The book made me fall in love with so many characters all over again. I'd forgotten how innocently obsessed Mr Weasley is by all things Muggle, and how much I loved him asking questions about how things like plugs work. I'd forgotten how defensive I felt of Hagrid, and how sensitive he is. I'd forgotten how funny the Weasley twins are, and how great Ron's one-liners could be.

I'm so glad I actually did pick this up to re-read and I can't wait to get onto the rest!

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Review of 'Our Chemical Hearts' by Krystal Sutherland

Review of 'Our Chemical Hearts' by Krystal Sutherland

I'm still obsessing over YA fiction at the moment, and Our Chemical Hearts is truly a beauty of the genre. I've heard so much about this and honestly it shows mental health in a truer perspective than I've seen it shown in a long time. Usually when I read a book about someone who's struggling with their mental health I get a niggling 'this isn't what it's really like' feeling welling up inside me, until I'm not comfortable with the contents of the book at all. But Our Chemical Hearts brought this idyllism that people create around mental illness up, analysed it and made me fall in love.

Henry Page is an average teenage boy. He's not lost 'the big V' yet, and his last kiss ended up helping his best friend discover that she's just not into men. Not a brilliant track record for keeping on the cool side of the tracks at school. He has cast aside attempts at romance for the time being, instead focusing on becoming the editor of his school newspaper, which he's been working on for the past two years. 

Henry's life is all going to plan, until Grace Town transfers from her old school to his. Her literary reputation at the previous school means that the head of the newspaper wants to make them co-editors for the year. She refuses. Henry reluctantly chases after her, requesting that she works on the paper with him. Despite her boyish clothes, limp and cane, there's something about Grace that lures him in.

Before he knows it, Henry's in love with Grace. But she has good days and bad. On the bad days, they barely speak a word to one another (Grace's choice, not his). On the good days, she might just brush up against Henry whilst they chuckle over a joke, making him blush. 

However, Henry's bothered by the fact that he knows nothing about her past. So, he checks out her Facebook page. At first he thinks he's got the wrong Grace Town. The girl in this profile picture is stunning. She has long hair, the biggest grin and is absolutely beautiful decked out in makeup and girl's clothing. Henry falls more and more in love with her.

Grace knows what's going on with Henry, but she's all too aware of why it can't be. You see, Grace was in an accident with her boyfriend, the love of her life. That's where she got the limp, and where she lost Dom. She's living in his room, and the boys' clothes she wears are his. She's not, nor will she ever completely get over losing Dom. He was her soulmate, and they'd been close since they were five. 

Grace knows what Henry doesn't want to admit, even to himself: he's not in love with Grace Town, he's in love with an idyllic version of her. He craves the 'good Grace' days, and can't handle her on the bad ones. He wants to fix her; he doesn't really want to be with the Grace in front of him.

The rest of the story is about a struggle for love that's based on an illusion. This is exactly what I meant when I said that the book doesn't shy away from the realities of mental illness. I was completely 100% suckered into Henry's love for Grace, and how noble it was, until Grace pointed out that it wasn't. Then I saw what was happening: he was in love with the girl without the mental illness. I realised that I'd overlooked the depression coming out of her grief, and I was waiting for Grace to miraculously get better, and become the girl that Henry was lusting after. But mental illness doesn't work like that. Loving someone can't cure them. 

If you're interested in YA fiction about mental health and love, then I'd really recommend this!

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Review of 'Eat Pray Love' by Elizabeth Gilbert

Review of 'Eat Pray Love' by Elizabeth Gilbert

I don't use the word 'life changing' often, but this novel has totally made me put my life into a new perspective. I've heard Eat Pray Love hailed as an incredible read for years, but hadn't delved into it. It's now something that I want every woman ever to read. I want to lend it to all my friends and family so that they can embark on a journey to learning more about themselves and about life in general as they travel with Liz.

Eat Pray Love is a semi-autobiographical novel, based on the author's own travels to Italy, India and Indonesia. Liz, aka Elizabeth Gilbert, ended her marriage in a bitter divorce. After a passionate, if a little fiery and messy affair with a man called David and subsequent break-up, she found herself in a pit of despair. 

Depression had come knocking on her door, and she was tired of living the same life, just without a man. So, she started doing things for her. First she travelled to Italy, where she practised speaking a language she loves, and put back on the weight that she lost from stress through the divorce. Then she went to India. There she stayed in an ashram, spent time cleaning temple floors, meditating, and getting close to her spiritual core. Finally, she ended up in Indonesia to help an ancient medicine man learn English, and find a balance in her life that would keep her content.

The section dedicated to Liz's time in India was definitely my favourite, and resonated with me SO MUCH. Her time in the ashram helped her learn more about herself, about how to let go of the past and to accept change. It's something that I'd like to do too. 

Have you read it? What did you think?

Friday, 28 July 2017

Review of 'Where Rainbows End'* by Anne Marie Brear

Review of 'Where Rainbows End'* by Anne Marie Brear

I love a good comforting chic-flick read. I recently read The Savage Detectives (review here), and whilst it was a very interesting book, it was also a very heavy one. Where Rainbows End* provided the perfect respite. I was actually lucky enough to read another one of Brear's novels before publication, and loved it, so I was excited for this one.

Where Rainbows End* is set in 1850. The Noble family have travelled to Australia to rid themselves of the black mark against their name in England. Despite being a loving father, Gerald Noble has a gambling problem. Time and time again, the family has had to be bailed out by their wealthy relatives. Gerald has taken one last loan to get them to Australia and create a new life.  

Pippa, Gerald's eldest daughter, is more than happy to leave England. Not only is she ashamed of how her family has fallen down in the ranks, but she also declared her love to Gil Ashford, only for him to throw it back in her face. 

The family are to move into a valley and breed valuable horses there. Pippa is determined to make this venture a success. When her father falls ill, Pippa breaks tradition and becomes the head of proceedings. She orders the work men building their home in the valley about, processes invoices and manages the family's finances scrupulously. But is it enough? And will people accept this woman as their boss?

I'm all about the girl power, and I LOVED seeing this 1800s lady stake her place in the world of business. Things aren't idealised in the novel either; she faces real challenges due to her femininity.

Have you read this?

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Review of 'If I Was Your Girl' by Meredith Russo

Review of 'If I Was Your Girl' by Meredith Russo

I *think* this is the first book that I've ever read with a trans* main character. And it sucks that it's taken me so long, but quite frankly there just aren't enough in mainstream literature. I'm so glad that If I Was Your Girl was chosen to be part of last year's Zoella book club as it gave so many young people an incentive to read a book about a trans* character.

As the novel progressed, I began to get a little (very) concerned that it actually wasn't very progressive at all. Although our main character Amanda was bullied because of transitioning to become a girl, she did have things a little easier than most trans people. For starters, Amanda knew she wanted to be a girl from a young age. She's overtly feminine. She also gets hormone treatment and surgery to fully transition to a girl that honestly would not be available to the majority of trans* youth. I felt disillusioned by how idyllic the whole setup was. 

When I got to the end of the novel, however, there was a note from the author, Meredith Russo, who is trans* herself, to the reader. In it, she explains that this idyll of transitioning was purposeful; she isn't naive about how things really work. She wanted to show what being trans could be like if things were easy. It also makes it easier for cis readers to accept Amanda as a girl. In my opinion, this makes the novel a good step in to trans* literature, I just wish this note was at the beginning of the novel! Although dark subjects are discussed, it shows the positive sides to the practicalities of being trans*, like how easy it was for Amanda to get treatment. I would love to see Russo write a YA novel about an individual who couldn't get treatment, and how they struggled. 

In the novel, Amanda has just moved to a new school. She's come to live with her dad after a violent attack on her in her hometown. The attack came about because Amanda used to be Andrew, and some of her classmates couldn't accept the change. Amanda is keen to make a fresh start. She wants to keep her head down to make it through high school alive, get good grades and go to college. All goes well until she realises that she's falling in love with a boy at her school. Can Amanda really keep the past behind her?

Have you read it? What did you think?