Book Review: Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall

rose

Favourite Quotes:

“See, anxiety doesn’t just stop. You can have nice moments, minutes where it shrinks, but it doesn’t leave. It lurks in the background like a shadow, like that important assignment you have to do but keep putting off or the dull ache that follows a three-day migraine. The best you can hope for is to contain it, make it as small as possible so it stops being intrusive. Am I coping? Yes, but it’s taking a monumental amount of effort to keep the dynamite inside my stomach from exploding”.

“Beauty comes from how you treat people and how you behave. But if a little lipstick make you smile, then you should wear it and forget what anyone else thinks”.

“Social Convention dictates that I must deny being pretty, but I am… pretty. It’s one of the only things I have that makes me feel normal. Of course, I pervert that normality by embracing my looks. <..> This is mine, one of the only things about me that I actually like. I own it. And Social Convention will have to pry it from my cold, dead hands before I ever give it up”.

 

Norah Dean lives with agoraphobia and obsessive compulsive disorder. She is homeschooled and spends most of her time at home with her loving mother. For her, even a walk to the car can cause a panic attack. Her illness might not be visible, and the media might make people believe that she doesn’t look “mentally ill”, but Norah is sick. And a new boy-next-door isn’t a cure.

But Norah’s chance encounter with the new neighbour is not something she can ignore. Luke is a sweet kid with an air of mystery around him and he seems to be interested in Norah. She is keen, too. And if she were a “normal” kid…

 

I’m sorry. I seem to be unable to write a decent summary for “Under Rose-Tainted Skies”. And I’m not too fond of the Goodreads summary either. It’s making it seem as though romance is the solution to mental health issues. It is NOT. And the book makes it abundantly clear. In fact, I see the Goodreads summary as a disservice to this amazing novel – it is not a “romantic” story. It’s more of a character study that features some romance.

And I can’t emphasise enough how important this book is. How it can help young people understand mental health and its impact on one’s everyday life. “Under Rose-Tainted Skies” is brutally honest, doesn’t beat around the bush or shy away from heavy topics (TW: self-harm). Norah’s daily struggles felt incredibly real – not least because the book is told from her point of view and a lot of it is her thought process. These kinds of introspective books are what the world needs in order to smash stereotypes about mental illnesses. Norah makes a reference at some point to one such stereotype – “People always seem to be expecting wide eyes and a kitchen knife dripping with blood”. Thing is, most people who suffer from mental health issues are not like that. Norah isn’t like that – she is a conventionally pretty girl who is an overachiever. However, the fact that her OCD and agoraphobia can’t be seen with a naked eye – just because she doesn’t “look mentally ill”, doesn’t mean that she isn’t struggling with them on a daily basis.

I cannot speak for people who suffer from OCD or agoraphobia. But I have been treated for depression and Generalised Anxiety Disorder in the past, and to this day I struggle with anxiety. Fortunately, I have more Good Days than Bad Days now, but, as Norah said, “anxiety doesn’t just stop. It lurks in the background like a shadow <…>, and the best you can hope for is to contain it, make it as small as possible so it stops being intrusive”. I was first diagnosed during my second year of University which is when I was first prescribed medication and CBT. They did help me get through exams, and little by little, I learned to somewhat cope with my anxiety. It has reared its ugly head again when I was in law school – a very stressful time for me, for many reasons. I did seek help again, but I wish I had done so months earlier. Years earlier, even.

Why didn’t I? Well, like many other millennials, I had fed into the narrative offered by the media that stigmatised mentally ill people as “weak”. Plus, I was an only child and was brought up to believe that you only do enough if you get the best grade, or get promoted. A lot of my anxiety struggles did have to do with my envrionment and background, and not to mention the lack of a support system. I was living 2,000 miles away from my family, my low moods and anxiety made me pull away from friends, and while I was in a relationship, it wasn’t the best one. Besides, relationships aren’t a cure to mental illness, as I’ve already pointed out. Unfortunately, the society where I currently am doesn’t buy that and most people believe that getting married and starting a family is all a woman can ever need. Not a helpful narrative, AT ALL.

So I do wish, as I’ve said, that I’ve gotten the help I needed earlier. The UK university that I was at had an excellent mental health center, and the counsellor had a daughter studying to be a lawyer, so she understood and was able to help. I believe that, if “Under Rose-Tainted Skies” had been released in 2009, I would’ve asked for help much earlier. And I genuinely believe that others like me would also have done so.

Everyone experiences mental illnesses differently. Perhaps you can relate to Norah’s experience, or maybe yours are vastly different. Whatever the case might be, DON’T SUFFER IN SILENCE. ASK FOR HELP. IT’S OK TO DO SO. Books like “Under Rose-Tainted Skies”, “Cracked Up to Be”, “Speak” – hell, even the classic “The Bell Jar” – aren’t just useful – they’re mandatory for everyone who wants to learn more about mental health, people’s experiences with it, or just needs someone to relate to. And if we get more books like that, I believe we can, slowly but surely, smash the stereotypes about mental health altogether and help more people get the help they need.

Well, this review has turned into a personal essay, hasn’t it? I’ll finish with this – buy/borrow “Under Rose-Tainted Skies” and educate yourself. You won’t regret it.

 

Recommendations:

You might like “Under Rose-Tainted Skies” if you liked:

Cracked Up To Be” by Courtney Summers;

“The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath;

“Paper Butterflies” by Lisa Heathfield

 

Have you read “Under Rose-Tainted Skies”? Do you have favourite books that depict mental illness realistically and not just use it as a plot device? Drop me a comment and don’t forget to visit my Etsy charity shop before you go! ๐Ÿ™‚

Book Review: You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner

25701463

Favourite quotes:

“My old art teacher told me I draw like a man. I’ve never forgiven him. I don’t draw like anything, I draw like everything. I draw like me”.

“I’m a fingerprint, an anomaly, a snowflake. Indian, Deaf, girl, two moms. You couldn’t make this shit fit in the pages of those glossy mags”.

“My life has to be about more than the Refresh button. <…> I want to make art that makes my heart race. Art that demands to be felt, even if that feeling is terror”.

 

Julia is an artist and like all artists, she wants her art to have an impact. That is why she painted over a slur about her best friend scribbled on school property. Sadly, said friend snitches and Julia is expelled from Kingston School for the Deaf and has to transfer to a regular public school. Her two moms impose more boundaries on her life than ever. Life isn’t easy when you’re sixteen, and it’s even harder when you’re a brown deaf girl who needs an ASL interpreter with her at all times. Especially if that interpreter is one nosy woman.

On top of all that, the art class that Julia wants to be so badly in is full. So since her moms pretty much put a stop to her graffiti activities, she has few opportunities to draw. Julia is a smart girl, though, and quickly figures out a way. She tags landmarks all over town with her signature – “HERE”. However, she’s not the only notorious graffiti artist in town. Someone else is making additions to her work and while they look amazing and provocative, Julia has no desire to be involved in some kind of a “turf war”. She just wants to make amazing art. So who is the other “vandal” in town? Is it Julia’s former crush and coworker Donovan? The charismatic art teacher? Or someone else entirely, like her new clueless friend YP? Can Julia figure it out and not get arrested for vandalism in the process?

 

Guys, I have a confession to make.

I’m twenty-five years old. And this seems to be the year where I finally feel too “old” for YA books. Not all YA books, obviously – I’m never gonna be too old for Harry Potter, for instance. But lately, I just seem to rush through young adult novels and find myself unable to care for teenage characters as much as I used to, even a year ago.

Despite that, I definitely recommend “You’re Welcome, Universe”! Julia is a deaf Indian girl living with two mothers, which is not something you see often in young adult fiction. She is not very “likeable” – the betrayal of her supposed best friend makes her driven to isolate herself from people in the new school, she has an attitude and she’s spunky. In other words, she feels real. The author has really fleshed out her character, and not least because of the absolutely amazing illustrations of Julia’s art that are featured in almost every chapter. I haven’t really read anything like that before (with the exception of Cat Winters’ books), and I loved it.

I also loved the novel’s approach towards ASL (American Sign Language). I don’t know it unfortunately (although I know the alphabet of British Sign Language – not the same thing!), but “You’re Welcome, Universe” definitely made me interested. Julia’s new friend YP is trying to learn it too, and I felt that it was really important that the author has shown how people communicate in ASL – both through text and illustrations of the novel. At one point, Julia describes ASL to a useless adult – “English is my second language. I speak American Sign Language. It’s not English. It’s not charades, not miming. It’s a language”. Smashing misconceptions like Julia does in that scene is the best reason for YA literature to be gaining momentum as it currently is.

Books like “You’re Welcome, Universe” are important, not least BECAUSE they’re marketed towards younger audience. When young people read, they want to relate to the characters – they want to see themselves in them. And if all protagonsits are the same straight white able-bodied men, it’s hard for people who don’t fit into that mold (such as myself) to relate to them. Julia’s story feels real; since I’m not deaf, I cannot presume what people like her go through every day, but according to acknowledgments, the author has employed sensitivity readers to make Julia’s experiences as truthful as possible. I can only hope that more authors follow Gardner’s example!

I’m certainly going to read more of Whitney Gardner’s books! My rating for “You’re Welcome, Universe” is 7/10.

 

Recommendations:

You might like “You’re Welcome, Universe” if you liked:

“Of Pens and Swords” by Rena Rocford;

“#famous” by Jilly Gagnon;

“It Started with Goodbye” by Christina June

 

Have you read “You’re Welcome, Universe”? What are your favourite books released so far this year? Let me know in the comments:)

Thanks for reading this review and don’t forget to check out my Etsy charity shop before you go!

Book Review: Far From You by Tess Sharpe

far from you.jpg

This is a review of a re-read.

 

Favourite quotes:

“But my heart isn’t simple or straightforward. It’s a complicated mess of wants and needs, boys and girls: soft, rough, and everything in between, an ever-shifting precipice from which to fall”.

“But this is the thing about struggling out of that hole you’ve put yourself in: the higher you climb, the farther you have to fall”.

“I want to keep my memory of her untainted, not polished by death nor shredded to pieces by words she meant only for herself. I want her to stay with me as she always was: strong and sure in everything but the one thing that mattered most, beautifully cruel and wonderfully sweet, too smart and inquisitive for her own good, and loving me like she didn’t want to believe it was a sin”.

 

Sophie Winters is an addict. She got hooked on painkillers after a car accident two years ago which wrecked her leg forever. But contrary to what her family, what the entire town believes, she’s been clean for over nine months now. And there was no relapse of any kind. Her best friend Mina wasn’t murdered because of a drug deal Sophie’s orchestrated. There was no drug deal at all, actually. But Sophie’s parents don’t believe her and send her to rehab anyway. Once she comes back four months later, she’s determined to find out who killed Mina and why.

However, very few people are keen to help her. The only one who seems to believe her is Rachel, the girl who found Sophie the night Mina died. Mina’s brother Trev has been in love with Sophie for the longest time, but he won’t speak to her. Her parents won’t believe her. And it goes without saying that Sophie’s time in rehab has done absolutely nothing to help her move on. Mina was her best friend – her other half, even. But some things, some secrets are buried so deep that unraveling them would send Sophie down a rabbit holeย  which she has little chance of climbing out of. Can Sophie solve Mina’s murder and stay clean in the process? Or will the secrets they shared with each other, and things that Mina kept to herself and herself alone, wreck Sophie to the point of no return?

 

I first read “Far From You” in January 2015. I remember loving it and being heartbroken by it, and recently, I decided to re-read it. However, I was quite surprised by the fact that I haven’t written a review of this wonderful novel two years ago. So this review is based on both my initial impressions and what I’ve experienced during the re-read.

“Far From You” is both mystery-centric and protagonist-centric. Sophie Winters is a first-person narrator, so the story is shown from her perspective entirely. However, her voice is the kind that makes it clear for the reader the things that she doesn’t state explicitly. This is particularly true when she talks about Mina – Sophie’s pespective of the latter is skewed by many things revealed during the course of the story. However, the reader figures out several things about Mina that venture beyond Sophie’s somewhat romanticised notion of her. This is helped further by the “before” and “after” structure of the novel – flashbacks make up about 50% of the book, which worked brilliantly, even though they were slightly difficult to follow at first. Mostly because they weren’t in the order that you would expect. To reveal more about what the reader learns about Mina through Sophie’s narration and the things left unsaid by Sophie would be quite spoilery, though, so I’ll just say this – nothing in this book as it seems.

One would even argue that the mystery of Mina’s murder is as much of a core of “Far From You”, as it is a plot device. A lot of the book focuses on Sophie’s investigation, but just as much is centered around her relationship with Mina. Even her relationships with other people – Mina’s brother Trev, Mina’s boyfriend Kyle, the subjects of Mina’s newspaper article – they’re all somewhat related to what Sophie had had with Mina. And the way “Far From You” is written doesn’t let the reader forget that. It is also written in a way that makes the reader genuinely feel for both girls, and the words used by the author are weaved into sentences that made me weep both times I read the book. “Far From You” is definitely a story that got to me, made me truly care about the characters, despite their numerous flaws. These flaws are indeed what made them real – the author doesn’t skirt around them but turns them into character traits that make the actors genuinely relatable. And I’m not just referring to the LGBT+ aspects of the book, although books with LGBT+ protagonists are incredibly important today. The author doesn’t make the characters all about their sexual orientations – Far From It (sorry for the pun). All the characters – not just the protagonists – feel like real people, real teenagers with real struggles, their sexuality being one of them, but hardly overshadowing all of their other defining traits. I love books like that. And if they make me cry – well, that’s just a bonus, isn’t it? All stories matter, and stories featuring diverse characters especially. And if they get to the reader, if they make the reader experience strong emotions, that just makes them even more important. “Far From You” is one such story.

When I found out that “Far From You” was a debut novel, I was stunned. The author is incredibly talented with words and story-weaving, and I cannot wait for her next book! My rating for “Far From You” is 8/10.

 

Dreamcast

Sophie Winters – Eliza Taylor

Mina Bishop – Luisa D’Oliveira

 

Recommendations

You might like “Far From You” if you liked:

“Cam Girl” by Leah Raeder/Elliot Wake

“Complicit” by Stephanie Kuehn

“Pretty Little Liars” – Mina was no Alison DiLaurentis, yet one can’t help but draw Emison parallels.

 

Have you read “Far From You”? What is your favourite book with a bisexual protagonist? Let me know in the comments! ๐Ÿ™‚

Thanks for reading this review and don’t forget to check out my Etsy charity shop!

Book Review: Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig

leaving

“Rape was violence, not sex”

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

Favourite quotes:

“Nobody look at me, I’m a fucking mess! I’m going to sue Sarah Jessica Parker. Sex and the City did not prepare me to be a single woman in her thirties without designer heels and amazing sex!”

“Having a crappy job means having money that’s just mine, that I can spend on whatever I want to. I can’t tell you how good that feels”.

“Would everyone remember the times they’d said stuff like ‘that’s so gay’ and ‘don’t be a fag’ in my presence, and suddenly be unable to look me in the eye anymore? Would they even care how it made me feel? Just how different would my life be if the truth got out?”

 

Flynn Doherty’s girlfriend January broke up with him and a few days later, the police are at his house. January hasn’t been seen since then. As the ex-boyfriend, Flynn is naturally the first person of interest for the police of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Of course, it can’t be January’s stepfather – future State Senator Jonathan Walker. Or any of the dumb rich kids at her new prestigious school. Or her pervy stepbrother. Or Kaz – January’s coworker and the guy who’s so much cooler and more handsome than Flynn. Well, that’s what the police thinks. Flynn is shocked by the news but is he really as innocent as he claims? Or are his own secrets something a lot more sinister than the reader initially believes?

As the search for January continues, the situation becomes much more puzzling for the townspeople. And for Flynn. Apparently, he was quite blind to his ex’s relationships with other people. People like her mother and stepfather. And her new classmates whom she made fun of relentlessly to him. And of course, with Kaz. Kaz turns out to be a whole new mystery entirely. Can Flynn handle juggling January’s disappearance, his own secrets and the changing relationships in his life? Or will the story end completely differently from what the reader is expecting?

 

“Last Seen Leaving” is a book that’s been described as “Gone Girl” for teens. Aside from my personal issues with that description (are teens not smart enough for “Gone Girl”?), it is to an extent true. Indeed, you get the “Gone Girl” vibes from the very first chapter – a missing girl, a narrator with a secret who lies to the police, and revelations that don’t exactly cast him in a favourable light. However, “Last Seen Leaving” is more than capable of standing on its own pages, without any comparisons to any bestsellers (no matter how much we all love Gillian Flynn, there are other mystery writers out there!).

Our narrator is Flynn Doherty, a 15-year-old skater who’s quite smart for his age. A little too smart in fact – at one point, he makes a reference to Torquemada. It is my understanding that in America, there is little focus on non-American history until the last two years of school, so I was quite puzzled by the idea that a sophomore would know who Torquemada was. And for a smart kid, Flynn makes a few very dumb decisions – breaking into an apartment of a potential murderer being one of them. However, he is struggling with some very difficult things during the course of the novel. Being fifteen is hard enough, and when you are in the closet with an ex-girlfriend who is probably dead and a strange crush on a dude whom you thought to be after that very ex-girlfriend – well, it’s no surprise that Flynn’s decision-making process is not in top shape. And January McConville is another story entirely. I do think that Flynn somewhat idealised her, which led to him being an unreliable narrator and such a viable suspect for the police and January’s acquiantances.

Tana French has said it best – “teenage girls make Moriarty look like a babe in the woods”.ย I’ve already pointed out the novel’s similarities to “Gone Girl”, but I will tell you one thing – that is not a spoiler. The mysteries may have a few things in common, but I was still quite engaged in “Last Seen Leaving” because I genuinely had no idea what was going to happen until the very last page of the epilogue. I’ve suspected several things that came to be, but I was quite surprised (and devastated) by many other revelations.

“Last Seen Leaving” is a very strong debut and an interesting YA mystery. Caleb Roehrig is certainly one author to keep an eye out for! Plus his Instagram pictures are beautiful! My rating of “Last Seen Leaving” is 7/10.

 

Recommendations

You might like “Last Seen Leaving” if you liked:

“As I Descended” by Robin Talley

“The Secret Place” by Tana French

“Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn

 

Have you read “Last Seen Leaving”? What are your favourite YA mysteries and thrillers? Drop me a line in the comments, I love them! ๐Ÿ™‚

Thanks for reading this review and don’t forget to check out my Etsy charity shop before you go!

Book Review: Neverland by Shari Arnold

neverland

Favourite quotes:

“There should be a rule universally accepted when it comes to kids, like an age restriction. Nothing and no one should harm a child during the time they are too young to fend for themselves. I get that life isn’t fair. But it’s far worse when you don’t understand what is happening to you. When you’re too young to even make sense of it. The death of a child hoes beyond unfair. It feels like a punishment”.

“Love isn’t selfish. It may be unkind and it will definitely humble you, but never will it demand what it can’t give back”.

“There’s this feeling I get sometimes, that I’m displaced, like I’ve fallen and no one has noticed yet. If I stay real still they’ll avoid me, put up pylons around me like I’m a large pothole in the ground. Yes. That’s what I am. I’m a pothole. And until someone comes along and fixes me, I am dangerous. I am broken. I am not a part of this life and yet I’m still here”.

 

Is anybody else missing “Once Upon a Time” like I am? March is still weeks away ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

In the meantime,I suggest you enjoy this gif of my favourite character:

killian

and this review I wrote of a lovely, albeit not too well-known, retelling of “Peter Pan”.

 

Livy Cloud’s little sister Jenna died of cancer four months ago in Seattle Children’s Hospital. Ever since then, Livy spends most of her time there, reading stories to sick kids, hoping to make their stay there at least a little bit more bearable. She can’t bear the thought of any kid going through what Jenna had gone through, and hopes that by being there, she can at least help somewhat. Besides, it’s better than being at home, with her father who’s been locked up in his study since Jenna’s death and her mother whose sole focus is her Senate campaign. The children, especially Jenna’s best friend Jilly, love listening to Livy’s stories. However, they don’t seem to help Livy herself. She is unable to move on, to stop holding onto Jenna, to move past the denial and depression stages of grief. One day, she meets a mysterious teenage boy named Meyer in the reading room. He doesn’t answer any questions about himself – all he seems to want is for Livy to go on adventures with him and his mysterious friends all over town. Adventures are obviously the last thing on Livy’s mind, but little by little, she remembers how to have fun. Until a tragedy that was Meyer’s fault nearly takes away her best friend. Livy pushes him away and focuses her efforts on saving Jilly’s life – she is a match for a bone marrow translplant and if she couldn’t save Jenna, saving Jilly is the least she can do. However, her new tutor James H. makes her question things, encourages her to broaden her mind, reconsider many issues. Can Livy survive the operation and if not, what awaits her afterwards? Who is Meyer really and why does he seem to know James? And can Livy ever really move on from Jenna’s death and be happy again?

 

I was intrigued by the idea of a Peter Pan retelling taking place in a modern hospital, so that’s how “Neverland” made its way to my TBR almost a year ago. I did expect it to be quite an intense read – most loss of innocence stories are. What I didn’t expect it to be is an amazing tear-jerker that pulled me in right away. Nor did I expect to have such a hard time pausing when life got in the way.

Indeed, “Neverland” was both a sad and beautiful tale of family love, loss of innocence (like most of the Peter Pan retellings) and overcoming grief, and a mystery. The main mystery – for Livy, not for the reader – was Meyer. She is a girl from our world, and naturally she doesn’t believe in Peter Pan, Neverland, mermaids and all that magical stuff. There is little magic left in her life now that Jenna’s gone, so why is Meyer trying to convince her that it exists? Both Meyer and James are making her view Jenna’s passing in different lights, and yet they shed little light upon themseves. And whilst I realised whom they were supposed to represent pretty much right away (James Hook is not someone I’d ever miss), I was very intrigued by the direction the story was taking. Seemingly occurring in our world, it had touches of magical realism that were weaved into the contemporary setting by a skilled pen, as though they belonged here.

The characters and tropes are an integral part of “Neverland”. I have to admit, whilst I saw the glimpses of the seemingly intended love triangle, it didn’t bother me as much as it normally does. Nor did the insta-love between Livy and Meyer. I usually scoff at insta-love because most of the time, it is written in a very unbelieavable way, but I could see it happening to someone who’s gone through what Livy has gone through and I could certainly believe that she had fallen for Meyer. Another trope is loss of a young family member being a catalyst for character development. Jenna was a lot more than a plot device, but her death sets the events of “Neverland” in motion and thus serves as a prism for Livy’s character development. Livy has always been a good person, but it is through that prism that we see how selfless and loving she really is, and how, despite the devastating loss and the grim atmosphere of the hospital around her, she has retained a zest for life. Meyer was just a way to bring it back out – it’s always been there. Her romance with Meyer is important to the overall story, but it does not distract from the rest of the book, which is essentially Livy-centric. That’s not to say that the background characters are underdeveloped or boring. For example, the James Hook twist was definitely a new one and yet I could so see it.

You know that an author is talented when they write things that the reader believes and gets. “Neverland” is not Shari Arnold’s debut novel – it’s not even her first self-published novel. And reading it was an amazing experience. My rating is 8.5/10.

 

Recommendations

You might like “Neverland” if you liked:

“Never Ever” by Sara Saedi

“Nora & Kettle” by Lauren Taylor

“Alias Hook” by Lisa Jensen

“The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender” by Leslye Walton

 

Have you read “Neverland”? What are your favourite Peter Pen retellings? Drop me a line in the comments! ๐Ÿ™‚

Book Review: A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

charlotte

Favourite quotes:

“I’m bad with words. Too imprecise. Too many shades of meaning. And people use them to lie. Have you ever heard someone lie to you on the violin? Well. I suppose it can be done, but it would take far more skill”.

“At best, our friendship made me feel as though I was a part of something larger, something grander; that, with her, I’d been given access to a world whose unseen currents ran parallel to ours. But at our friendship’s worst, I wasn’t sure I was her friend at all. Maybe some human echo chamber or a conductor for her brilliant light”.

“We weren’t Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. I was okay that, I thought. We had things they didn’t, too. Like electricity, and refrigerators. And Mario Kart”.

 

Happy Sherlock Season, everybody! Who is excited for episode 2?

I love Sherlock Holmes and I love the many adaptations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories – whether they’re literary, cinematic, or television. I’ve enjoyed Andy Lane’s Young Sherlock Holmes stories and was quite keen for more like this, which is what led me to “A Study in Charlotte” that came out last year.

Jamie Watson is a descendant of Dr. John Watson – best friend to the Great Detective. His family is quite keen to preserve the legacy, but nowhere near the level of the Holmes’ family. He only suspects it, but his life and Charlotte Holmes’ were entwined from birth. Like his ancestor, he dreams of solving cases in London with a Holmes. So it comes as a major disappointment when he is awarded a full rugby scholarship to a boarding school in Connecticut. Sherringford – the school – is close to the home of his estranged father and his new family. It is also the new home of none other than Charlotte Holmes – a genius, aloof girl who hosts weekly poker nights and doesn’t seem to have many friends. Could Watson’s dreams actually be coming true and could he actually form a friendship with someone he’s idolised all his life?

However, his efforts prove fruitless. At least until their classmate is murdered. Holmes seems quite keen to solve the murder, but soon, both she and Watson are painted as prime suspects.

As one disaster after another, shakes Sherringford to its core, Holmes’ and Watson’s lives are in more danger than ever. Who is trying to frame them by using the Sherlock Holmes stories for inspiration? Or is it not a frame-up at all and Charlotte Holmes is a murderess? Did she start killing at 14 and was August Moriarty her first victim? Or is he the one behind everything? Watson’s mind is riddled with questions that can make or break his fragile friendship with Charlotte Holmes. Can the two manage to stay alive, stay friends and find the villain in the process? Or is the friendship doomed, just like them?

 

“A Study in Charlotte” is the kind of novel about which one has very mixed feelings. I can’t say I loved it, but I did enjoy certain aspects of it. I have to say that while the concept of Holmes’ and Watson’s descendants is interesting in theory, I could never get on board with The Great Detective Sherlock Holmes having a child. The Holmes’ dynasty in the novel and their obsession with deduction, as well as the need to ingrain it in every generation, were very strange to read about. What the parents were doing to their children in the Holmes family was abuse, plain and simple. If that happened to every generation, I don’t believe that all the Holmes’ could have possibly been “on the side of the angels” and wanted to assist law enforcement. Abused kids don’t tend to trust the authority, and I really don’t see how a teenage descendant of Sherlock would be keen to assist Scotland Yard. So I really wasn’t too crazy about the idea of almostย  every generation of Holmes’ being “the good guys”. I also didn’t like how the Holmes and the Moriarty families seem to have a rivalry that spans centuries and how most Moriartys were evil. That’s simply unrealistic – almost as unrealistic as the idea of Sherlock Holmes reproducing.

Another thing that bothered me was the pacing and the narration. I think that despite being a Sherlock Holmes adaptation, the book would have been much better if it were written in third person, not from Watson’s first-person POV. It seemed to me that the author was struggling to find Watson’s voice for 3/4 of the novel. True, he is an unreliable narrator, and if that was the author’s goal, it was achieved. However, the narration seemed to be all over the place for the majority of the novel. It was quite hard to follow at times who was saying what, and sometimes even what was happening and where. It almost made me not enjoy the book at all, but in the last quarter of “A Study in Charlotte”, the author seemed to have figured out where to take the narration and the events and it flowed really well. It was fast-paced, like the rest of the book, but with little distraction and the scenes were clearly set.

I’d also like to point out that Watson as an unreliable narrator worked really well in some ways, but not so well in others. If the author was trying to make Charlotte seem “perfectly flawed” through Watson’s eyes, then that’s what happened. But I don’t like my characters to be perfect and I especially dislike it when one character is so smart or attractive they make everyone else around them look stupid or inadequate in some other ways. Charlotte is a sixteen-year-old girl – and she is hardly perfect. Yet Watson keeps trying to make the reader believe that she is, and the police and other adults look terrible in comparison. This is another reason why “The Study in Charlotte” would’ve worked much better in third person. Watson is too subjective – and to be honest, his weird attraction to Charlotte was really distracting. The book could’ve done without it and would have flown much better.

The third-person POV would have also made all the Sherlock Holmes references much more fun to read about. The book is riddled with them, which I really liked. I also liked the nods to the original stories and the detailed descriptions of Charlotte’s investigative activities. And I do wish that Watson’s biased narration didn’t distract from the fact that she is still a teenager with issues typical teens face. Despite the negative points I’ve elaborated on in this review, I still thought that “A Study in Charlotte” was an OK book. My rating is 6.5/10.

 

Recommendations:

You might like “A Study in Charlotte” if you liked:

“Lock & Mori” by Heather W. Petty

“Young Sherlock Holmes” series by Andy Lane

“Velvet Undercover” by Teri Brown

“Elementary” TV series

 

Have you read “A Study in Charlotte”? What are your favourite Sherlock Holmes adaptations? Tell me in the comments! ๐Ÿ™‚

Book Review: Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire

egg.jpg

I’m only a boy born a dragon’s tooth

In the nick of time, sad but true.

No father or mother, just two hundred brothers

All telling me what to do.

I want to belong to the two hundred strong,

Yet here is the dismal truth:

I’ll never get older

Or grow up a soldier,

I’m a boy born a dragon’s tooth”.

 

Favourite quotes:

“When you’re young, I think, being vulnerable to desolation comes from your not being able to imagine the world beyond you.<…> Being vulnerable to desolation also arises from being unable to picture a set of choices with which to change your lot in life”.

“It seems there is no shortage of regret among the young – but then, they are young, they make mistakes. They have time to correct them and the courage to admit their failings aloud. Adults should try it. But frankly, I think it’s a miracle that adults can manage to speak to one another at all, and that the entire species doesn’t take a universal vow of silence. Some days I wish it would”. 

“Anything that can happen will happen, sooner or later. The question is whether or not the world can be made ready”.

 

My long-term readers would remember how much “Wicked” by Gregory Maguire destroyed my soul. Naturally, I got another Maguire’s book – this time it’s a YA fantasy based on Russian mythology, a.k.a the characters my family and I grew up with.

“Egg & Spoon” is set in an alternative pre-revolution Russia where magic is real. It is a story of two girls from completely different worlds. One is Elena, a peasant girl who fights for her survival and her mother’s every day. The village of Miersk is desolate, miserable and the land doesn’t produce any food. Elena’s survival depends solely on her own wits and resourcefulness. She doesn’t have her brothers to help her anymore – one, Luka, has been conscripted and another was taken away by the landowner. She needs to get one of them back. But to do that, she needs to go to Saint Petersburg to beg the Tsar to release Luka from his service.

Another is Ekaterina (Cat), a spoiled kid neglected by her parents who insisted on her meeting the Tsar’s godson and pulled her out of a boarding school in London for that very purpose. She is stuck on a train with her aunt, the butler and the governess, and the train couldn’t be passing through Russia slowly enough. By a twist of fate, it stops at Miersk – the very village where Elena struggles to survive on a daily basis. We see through our yet unknown narrator’s eye that two girls form an unlikely friendship and by another twist of fate and by virtue of several accidents, switch places with one another. Elena is headed to St Petersburg, whilst Cat is stuck in frozen Miersk with not a single friendly face around. Luckily – or perhaps not so luckily – she meets Baba Yaga. For those unfamiliar with the Russian folklore, she is a witch who lives in a house with chicken legs and is rumoured to lure children in only to eat them later. She is incredibly wise and can appreciate a smart girl, however. Cat, while a sheltered kid, quickly finds her wits about and gives Yaga a gift – a Faberge Egg.

What neither Elena nor Cat know, but Baba Yaga strongly suspects, is that the Firebird is missing and there is no egg from which a new one can hatch. A Firebird is like a phoenix and without it, magic – which is the essence of the Russias – cannot exist either. Our narrator knows that too, and he is scared. Can Elena, Cat, Baba Yaga and the Tsar’s godfather Anton successfully defy the Tsar and find the Firebird? Or will the magic of Russia disappear forever and the lands swallowed by the Ice Dragon?

 

Gregory Maguire is not the sort of author whose books you can just “flick” through. His novels require focus and complete immersion into the worlds that he weaves or adapts. Doing that with “Wicked” has destroyed me in the best way possible, and doing it with “Egg & Spoon” was an amazing ride, too, from start to finish. We are introduced to the narrator early on, but we don’t know who he is until the end of the novel, which adds an element of mystery to an already well-crafted, well-written story that twists Russian mythology in a way I’ve never seen before, and, as someone with Russian ancestors, can appreciate. “Egg & Spoon” to young Russian aficionados is what “Deathless” is to those who are a bit older. Yes, in essence it is a children’s story, with protagonists in their early teens. We have two very different young girls, a boy who is thirsty for adventure, a reluctant mentor figure whose sass can easily match that of “Deathless”‘ Baba Yaga, an equally sassy cat, and a quest. In other words, this has all the elements of an amazing YA novel, and it takes a writer like Maguire to twist them into a story that would appeal to adults and children alike.

I’ve been to St Petersburg a few times by now, and I’ll never get tired of that city taking my breath away, making my soul soar and playing with my emotions to her heart’s content. Needless to say, reading books that take place in St Petersburg is something I love doing, and I am a glutton for punishment when it comes to the city’s atmosphere being reflected in literature and having the power to break my heart over and over again. “The Bronze Horseman” has done that to me earlier this year. “Egg & Spoon” might not have broken my heart like “Wicked” has, but it certainly did leave its impact. It’s been about a week since I finished it, and I’m still feeling it. Not just because of a setting that’s close to my heart, but also because of how real the characters felt to me, of how easy it was to recognise my much, much younger self in all of them, and also because of the overall tone of the book. The narrator tells the story of Cat and Elena in a way that tugs at your heartstrings, but there are also moments when you can’t do anything but laugh out loud at Baba Yaga’s antics.

I should point out that the poem that begins this review is one of the saddest bits of “Egg & Spoon”, and is uttered by a character who NEEDS his own spin-off.

 

Maguire, you’ve done it again. You’ve managed to hold my attention for the entirely of a novel, and I want more. 8.5/10 is my rating of “Egg & Spoon”.

 

Recommendations

You might like “Egg & Spoon” if you liked:

“Deathless by Catherynne Valente”

“Briar Rose” by Jane Yolen

“Tsarina” by J. Nelle Patrick

 

Have you read “Egg & Spoon”? What are your favourite Russian fairytale retellings? Let me know! And Happy NaNoWriMo 2016!