Best Books of the Year (so far)

As we are now just over half way through 2017, I decided to post a list of the best books I have read so far this year. I have reread some books – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and the Hunger Games trilogy – but this list will feature books I have read for the first time.

cover93280-mediumReplica by Lauren Oliver

I rarely buy hardback books – they’re too expensive and heavy. However, I just could not wait for the paperback of Replica to come out. The idea of the story being told from two points of view, and flipping the book over the read the second half of the story, just seemed so cool. I was curious to see whether Lauren Oliver could pull it off, and desperately hoped I wouldn’t be disappointed. I was not, and it is one of my favourite books I have read this year. Without the two ‘stories’ in one, would the actual plot of the book hold its own? I’m not sure, but I speak-laurie-halse-andersondefinitely enjoyed it in this form, and the two points of view weren’t gimmicky like I had feared. I eagerly await the next book in the series, and hope it lives up to the first one.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

This is the first novel I have read by Laurie Halse Anderson, and will forever be one of my favourite books. It doesn’t shy away from the difficult topics it deals with. The poetic writing style and imagery is stunning. The metaphors woven into the book are really effective. I felt totally pulled into the story.

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson  51k75eaduxl

With Wintergirls, Laurie Halse Anderson once again writes about mental health. I found the writing as engaging as that of Speak, and although this is also one of my favourite books, it didn’t bowl me over in the same way as Speak. I didn’t know much about eating disorders before reading this book, and I found it enlightening to read about what it can be like to experience it.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Having seen and enjoyed the film when it came ender-movieout, I wanted to read the book. The characters are aged up somewhat for the film, so the beginning of the book is even more shocking consider the child characters are so young. Ender is only six when he is sent to Battle School to begin his training. Some parts of the book were slow, but on the whole it kept me reading, with a satisfying twist at the end.

7095108Crank by Ellen Hopkins

This is the second book I have read by Ellen Hopkins, and only the second verse novel I have read. The book tells the story of a girl who becomes a drug addict. This is another one with tough subject matter! What I liked about the book is how Hopkins utilises the verse form to reflect the narrator’s addiction and mental state. I found it highly effective.

These are the best books I have read so far this year. I wonder what my favourites will be at the end of 2017!

Book Review: The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

Genre: General Fiction, Contemporary Fiction

Publishing Info: May 2013 by HarperCollins (kindle edition)

Pages: 320

Star Rating: 5/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

‘I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.’

There are books you can’t stop reading, which keep you up all night.

There are books which let us into the hidden parts of life and make them vividly real.

There are books which, because of the sheer skill with which every word is chosen, linger in your mind for days.

The Shock of the Fall is all of these books.

The Shock of the Fall is an extraordinary portrait of one man’s descent into mental illness. It is a brave and groundbreaking novel from one of the most exciting new voices in fiction.

 

The Shock of the Fall wasn’t what I expected. It was more. It was a rollercoaster of emotions and sometimes I felt like I was drowning in the words but I couldn’t stop reading. The words, so simple, but drew me in so much and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget this book.

I read the kindle edition, and I think it would be better to read it in paperback. It was fine reading it on kindle, but I think the experience of it would be better in physical copy. There are images and different fonts used, which I think would be easier to see in paperback.

There isn’t exactly a plot, so to say. It’s mostly the narrator, Matthew, talking about his past and life. He is mentally ill, diagnosed with schizophrenia in the book. It was a real delve into the character’s mind, of how his thought processes work and how he conveys things in his writing (the narrator is writing their story). I really felt like I was seeing things through his eyes. I was in his mind, feeling his thoughts and feelings.

I didn’t realise when I bought it, that it would be so much about grief, and I think if I had known I may not have read it. But I’m glad I did read it. I cried through a lot of it. It’s a far cry from my own life, but the loss of the sibling and the emotions and feelings were close to home for me. It made me incredibly emotional reading it. I guess that’s a good thing, because it must have been a realistic portrayal of grief, for the emotions of it to have made me stop reading for the tears in my eyes and streaming down my face blurring the words. I’m glad I finished it to the end, even though I found a lot of it upsetting.

I would full heartedly recommend this book. Though, I would warn that as it deals with grief and mental health it isn’t an easy read. But totally worth it.

Book Review: Impulse by Ellen Hopkins

Impulse by Ellen Hopkins

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Publishing Info: May 2008 by Margaret K. McElderry Books (first published 2007)

Pages: 667

Star Rating: 4/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

Sometimes you don’t wake up. But if you happen to, you know things will never be the same.

Three lives, three different paths to the same destination: Aspen Springs, a psychiatric hospital for those who have attempted the ultimate act — suicide.

Vanessa is beautiful and smart, but her secrets keep her answering the call of the blade.

Tony, after suffering a painful childhood, can only find peace through pills.

And Conner, outwardly, has the perfect life. But dig a little deeper and find a boy who is in constant battle with his parents, his life, himself.

In one instant each of these young people decided enough was enough. They grabbed the blade, the bottle, the gun — and tried to end it all. Now they have a second chance, and just maybe, with each other’s help, they can find their way to a better life — but only if they’re strong and can fight the demons that brought them here in the first place.

 

Although I have read plenty of poetry and plenty of novels, I had yet to read a novel in verse until Impulse by Ellen Hopkins. The book looks dauntingly thick, but is actually an incredibly quick read since there aren’t all that many words on each page. It explores how three teenagers came to be at Aspen Springs psychiatric hospital and doesn’t shy away from dealing with complex issues.

The book uses three different narrators – Vanessa, Tony and Conner – with headings to show which is which. It switches between the perspectives about every three poems. Surprisingly, I was mostly able to keep track, but there were times where I forgot which point of view it was, got confused, and had to flick back and check.

I enjoyed my first novel in verse, and liked that Hopkins didn’t go overly flowery and poetic with the language, as that would have come across as quite unrealistic for the voices of most teenagers. The characters were developed slowly, their personalities pieced together as different bits of their past were revealed. I liked that the three protagonists, although very different, had things that connected them. I thought Vanessa’s point of view was written very well, and found the way Hopkins described the experience of bipolar to be effective for imagining what it would be like.

While reading, I questioned the realism (and sense) of taking a group of patients on some kind of wilderness training thing as the last stage before they would be allowed to be discharged. However, after some internet searching, I discovered that wilderness therapy is an actual thing. Maybe it was just hard to keep track of the passage of time, but it seemed like the characters were able to get to that stage quite quickly, which seemed quite surprising (they would start at Level One and progress up to get different privileges until the wilderness training).

In future, I wouldn’t turn away from a novel in verse, and would consider reading more of Ellen Hopkins’s work, as this seems to be her narrative style of choice for her novels. The book was both quite dark and deep, exploring the troubled pasts of the characters and their thought processes.

Book Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Publishing Info: September 2009 by Penguin UK (first published 2007)

Pages: 297

Star Rating: 5/5

Back Cover Summary:

You can’t stop the future.

You can’t rewind the past.

The only way to learn the secret is to press play.

Clay Jensen returns home to find a strange package with his name on it. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker – his classmate and first love – who committed suicide two weeks earlier.

Hannah’s voice explains there are thirteen reasons why she killed herself. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why.

All through the night, Clay keeps listening – and what he discovers changes his life…

Where to begin. I don’t give five star reviews much. I have to love a book so much it hurts. A five star review, to me, isn’t about a book being perfect. A book can’t be perfect, it’s impossible. A five star book is one that will stay with me forever.

I’ve wanted to read this book for years, and finally found myself opening the cover a few days ago. I don’t usually write a review right after finishing a book. I give it a couple of days to let it sink in. But today I’m writing this review having finished Thirteen Reasons Why half an hour ago.

The book uses the dual narratives of Hannah and Clay as he listens to the tapes Hannah left behind. It was hard to get around my head that Hannah was dead before the book even started. Isn’t there any hope? Can’t Clay save the day? No. This isn’t a book about saving someone, it’s about exploring what happened to them to make them give up.

Hannah’s voice really popped out of the page. It was haunting, imagining her voice replaying through those tapes. Asher managed to capture her voice excellently since we only get to know her through her voice on the tapes (well, there’s some of Clay’s memories of her, but we don’t see those through her eyes so it isn’t the same). I thought the mix of the two narratives worked well for the format, with Clay’s actions and his reflections on what he was hearing mixed into the tapes. It means you get to see his thoughts and responses to what he’s hearing in real time, as he’s hearing it. It wouldn’t have worked so well any other way. However, I would have liked to know Clay’s character more. By the end of the book you know nothing about Clay, except the parts of his life that relate to Hannah. Which, in a way, makes sense because to me Hannah was the protagonist of the story, not Clay, even though she was already dead before the book started. Clay was just a vessel to carry her story. But Asher could have breathed more life into his character. I got a bit of a sense of what he’s like, but not much. But maybe that’s not important for this story. Would it add to the value of the story if we were told unnecessary details or back story about Clay? No, actually, it probably would have distracted from the point of the story. So maybe it doesn’t matter.

I’ve read other reviews about how the reasons aren’t really reasons why someone would commit suicide, how Hannah was whiny and needs some perspective etc. but actually that’s the point. And highlights the problems with attitudes to mental health in our society. You can never know exactly what someone is thinking and feeling. We only hear what Hannah wants us to know on the tapes. We know nothing else about her life. A lot of little things (and bigger things) can build up to make you feel really awful, so there might have been more to it than what was on the tapes. We don’t know. We have no way of knowing. Those are the things she picked out to talk about, but that’s not necessarily the whole story. There isn’t always an explanation or reason for the way you feel. Sometimes you don’t even understand what you feel, never mind why you feel that way. Maybe this is Hannah trying to understand herself as well, to understand why she’s gradually felt worse.

Another thing discussed in other reviews I read was not getting enough emotion from Hannah, but I can see how someone who has got to that point may actually be quite detached from their own story. Hannah has already given up when she is making the tapes, she’s already made the decision to kill herself and it’s like she’s relaying her life from the other side of a glass screen. Nobody reached out to her, and so maybe the tapes are a last attempt to save herself, to go over what has happened to her, to get it out her system. But it doesn’t work, it just reminds her of all the ‘reasons’ to kill herself. There are so many interpretations to this story, because there are so many unknowns. All we have to go on is the tapes, and what Clay remembers about some of the events.

I think this book has an important message (or many messages, actually) – about how our actions influence others, and how even though it may seem insignificant in the context of the rest of that person’s life it actually has a bigger impact than you’d think. About how all it takes is someone to notice, to listen, to reach out, to tether someone to this world. Every action has a consequence.