Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Rainbow List of Must-Reads: Pink - Anna and the French Kiss

This is the Rainbow List of Must-Reads: Where I review a different one of my favourite books each week! last on our list we have a pink book with a pink cover:

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

            It was one in the morning on a school night and I was lying restless on my bed with a throbbing ache in my heart. ‘Anna and the French Kiss’ lay open on the pillow beside me, spine still stiff from the bookshop that day. As I lay sighing at the ceiling, there was only one thing occupying my mind.

           Étienne St. Clair.

           I was in love. Really in love. I was in love with someone who I had only ever seen in my imagination; who only actually existed on paper. I longed to pull Etienne out from the pages of ‘Anna and the French Kiss’ and into my own comparably boring world. This just wasn’t fair! Why are the hot boys always fictitious?!

            ‘Anna and the French Kiss’ had truly slayed me. Never before had I felt such an ache of yearning when reading a romance novel (and trust me – I’ve read a lot of them). But what was it that made this book so perfect? Let’s analyse shall we?

           The Setup: The story follows Anna Oliphant as she is unwillingly pulled from her happy life in Atlanta to go and attend her final year at a prestigious boarding school in Paris. First off – Paris: The city of love. We’ve not even started the book yet and already our heart is melting a little bit. Romantic things just seem to happen in Paris. Maybe it’s the language? You could describe a particularly bad case of athlete’s foot in French and I’d still want you to kiss me under the twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower. Whatever it is, as soon as Perkins so much as mentioned Paris, I was drawn like a moth to a flame.

            The Boy: Of course it wouldn’t be Paris if there weren’t a few good-looking chaps floating about, now would it? You simply cannot have one without the other. Our boy takes form as Étienne St. Clair. I’m not sure how she did it, but Perkins somehow manages not only to wedge a French boy into an American boarding school, but give said boy a gorgeous British accent as well. Étienne was the perfect mix of cheek, chivalry and charm, (not to mention, fantastic hair) but somehow didn’t come across as over-the-top or arrogant. Despite being otherwise engaged with long-running girlfriend, Ellie, St. Clair was a love interest you could really lust over, making the rest of the book a tantalizingly tasty read.

            The girl: I am a massive fan of teen romance fiction, but usually when I pick up these sorts of books I find the female narrative a little… irritating. Seemingly as some kind of rule the girls who star in these books are self-involved, shallow and little bit too obsessive – I expected a similar situation with ‘Anna and the French Kiss’. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Not only did Anna give a likable and interesting narrative to the book, but she also managed to break every single one of the rule I just stated. Anna cared about her friends and her family back home; she was ready to put them before anything else in her life. As much as she lusted after Étienne St Clair, she also showed an interest in other boys and kept a constant and thriving film blog too.

Sure, maybe Anna fell for Étienne unrealistically fast and a few other details are slightly off, but this is romance fiction, people! It’s what we’re here for! We read this stuff because sometimes real life just isn’t exciting enough. If we start picking apart every detail in a romance novel that’s the slightest bit unrealistic then you might as well chuck the entirety of Waterstones’ teen romance section into a massive bonfire and go and buy a big fat history textbook instead.

The bottom line is if you don’t like romance novels; don’t read ‘Anna and the French Kiss’. It just won’t be for you. It is the most brilliantly, satisfyingly romantic novel I have ever had the pleasure of reading, and it isn’t pretending to be anything else. I regard ‘Anna and the French Kiss’ so highly that there were really no other contenders for the pink spot on this list. The book pushed me into a deep cavern of love and longing that I don’t think I’ll ever really climb out of. Not that I’d even want to try.

Find out more about Stephanie Perkins here!
You can read the other reviews in the Rainbow List of Must-Reads here: RedOrangeYellowGreen, Blue, Purple

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Rainbow List of Must-Reads: Purple - Will Grayson, Will Grayson

This is the Rainbow List of Must-Reads: Where I review a different one of my favourite books each week! Sixth on our list we have a purple book with a purple cover:

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

            As I lifted ‘Will Grayson, Will Grayson’ from the shelves of my local Waterstones, a strange sadness washed over me. Having just finished ‘An Abundance of Katherines’ (My favourite of his works) I had rushed to the shops to complete my Green collection – Now, I wished I had waited just a little bit longer. This was the last one of John Green’s books that I hadn’t read. This book would be the last time for a while that I would get the excited rush of reading something of his for the first time.          

For those of you who don’t know, ‘Will Grayson, Will Grayson ‘ is shared by two authors; with John Green writing the odd numbered chapters and David Levithan the even. It follows the story of two teenage boys; both named Will Grayson, living in different parts of Illinois. The issues that the two boys are faced with in their day-to-day lives cause their stories to intertwine one faithful night in Chicago outside a dirty looking sex shop.
        I slipped into the story of ‘Will Grayson, Will Grayson’ in the same way one would slip into a hot bath. I sighed with a mixture of bliss and relief as I sailed through the first chapter. I had gone to the bookshop in search of some sweet John Green familiarity and I was not disappointed.

Though in ‘Will Grayson, Will Grayson’ Green’s characters are somewhat different to what we have seen before (The book features the exuberant, extravagant and fantastically gay character of Tiny Cooper) the writing style is still easy, warm, satisfying and distinctly John Green.  It was exactly what  I came for, I was not disappointed. However, when I bought the book there was one rather large aspect of it that I had forgotten – co-writer, David Levithan.

After John Green’s smooth opening chapter, the switch in writers was a bit of a shock. Not only because Levithan has refused to any capital letters in his chapters whatsoever (something which took quite a bit of getting used to), but also because the two writer’s main characters have a strong and obvious contrast. While Green’s Will Grayson seems your typical awkward, ordinary teenage boy, hopelessly trying to fly under the radar of high school life, Levithan’s Will Grayson is an angry, angsty teenager with a severe case of depression, desperately clinging to his online relationship with another boy.

Levithan’s Will Grayson definitely wasn’t what I was expecting from a book with John Green’s name on it. But as I worked my way through the book I found myself savouring Levithan’s chapters a little more than Green’s. As much as I enjoyed Green’s Grayson’s side of the story, Levithan’s came as a refreshing change of pace, giving the book whole new dimensions.

The character development in ‘Will Grayson, Will Grayson’ is simply beautiful. Though initially I found both Will Graysons annoying and horrifically self-involved, as the book progressed I began to understand them and relate to them in ways I don’t usually with other books.

One of the reasons ‘Will Grayson, Will Grayson’ made such an impact on me was because the characters were imperfect - and that was okay. Often, teen fiction can undermine the emotions of young characters as instances of teenage angst rather than issues that should actually be recognised and dealt with. In ‘Will Grayson, Will Grayson’ the problems of the two main characters were indulged by the writers in a most satisfying way. The reader is taught that the dilemmas you are faced with as a teenager are equally as important as the ones you will face in your adulthood and can in fact affect you for the rest of your life.
   I loved ‘Will Grayson, Will Grayson’ because it is a book written by adults that finally manages to acknowledge that being a teenager is difficult, without seeming condescending in any way. And that it why I believe it deserves the purple spot on this list. 

You can find out more about John Green here!
You can find out more about David Levithan here!
You can read the other reviews in the Rainbow List of Must-Reads here: RedOrangeYellowGreen, Blue

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Rainbow List of Must-Reads: Blue - We Were Liars

This is the Rainbow List of Must-Reads: Where I review a different one of my favourite books each week! Fifth on our list we have a blue book with a blue cover:

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

      Right. You have to promise me right now that if you happened to have read this wonderful, wonderful book that you won’t tell anyone how it ends? Okay? Right, let’s begin.

 ‘We Were Liars’ has the most magnificent and astonishing ending to a book that I have ever read. It blew my mind. After I’d finished it I closed the book, put it down in front of me and just stared at it for about ten minutes, quietly weeping. It’s that good.

            ‘We Were Liars’ is a book that everyone seems to be raving about. There are countless videos and reviews out there that will tell you almost the same thing about it and it’s ending that I just have. I was worried when I picked it up a few weeks ago from Waterstones that the hype may have ruined it, as it sometimes can. I read the blurb – it gave away nothing – and bought it anyway.
         Out of the set of books I bought that day, I read ‘We Were Liars’ first. I was excited to finally get in on this secret that the whole world seemed to be keeping. I sunk into that book like you sink your teeth into a large sandwich after a long day’s work and was soon eating it up at an alarming rate.
         I loved the characters. Particularly Gat – he had me at ‘strong coffee’. The book contains some absolutely gorgeous descriptions and personable details making you feel like you could have known these people all of your life.

           E. Lockhart successfully manages to tell a satisfying and captivating story whilst still hiding the mystery from the reader for the duration of the book. She ensnares you into her world of Beechwood Island and teases you with miniscule hints and details until you are absolutely gasping to know what’s going on. When the puzzle finally slides into place, you wonder how you never managed to work it out before.
          The only complaint I have heard about ‘We Were Liars’ is it’s interesting choice of writing style. I completely disagree. One of the reasons I fell in love with this book is because it sounds so effortlessly beautiful in my head. It is a graceful combination of prose and poetry that allows Lockhart to display her character’s thoughts and feeling and explore the themes of friendship, love and privilege in the clearest, most elegant way possible. Every sentence was a feast.
          Usually in these reviews I like to give you a basic idea of the book’s plotline. I’m not going to do that today. A large part of ‘We Were Liars’’ charm is in its mystery. I feel that if I ruined any part of that then I might accidentally tarnish the experience as a whole. I want you to experience ‘We Were Liars’ in the same way that I did – completely in the dark, without even a clue as to what to expect.

           It’s the kind of book that once you’ve finished reading (and once you’ve finished crying) you feel like you need to make someone else read it too. I realise now that I needn’t have worried about the book’s hype, ‘We Were Liars’ is a book that is immune to exaggerations. The only way it could ever be torn down from its pedestal is if its audience decided to revolt against it, spilling its secret everywhere they could. But where’s the fun in that?
          There were some very strong competitors for the blue spot on this list. ‘We Were Liars’ beat them all by a landslide. I have no more words for it today - only a stunned, astounded silence. Just read the damn book, okay?

You can find out more about E. Lockhart here!
You can read the other reviews in the Rainbow List of Must-Reads here: RedOrangeYellowGreen! 

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Rainbow List of Must-Reads: Green - How To Be a Woman

This is the Rainbow List of Must-Reads: Where I review a different one of my favourite books each week! Fourth on our list we have a green book with a green cover:

How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

        I’ve finally worked out what I want to be when I get older. When I grow up I want to be Caitlin Moran. She is my idol; the woman is wonderfully witty with a wicked sense of humour; she’s met countless of my favourite musicians and celebrities; she had this brilliant outlook on life; and she is the author of my current favourite book – ‘How to Be a Woman’
         Having read everything Waterstones’ Teen Fiction section had to offer, I was wandering round the shop in search of something to fill my empty holiday hours with. I’m generally reluctant to pick up fiction from the main adult section as in previous experiences the books I have picked up have been heavy, complicated or rife with sex scenes, but after a good twenty minutes of dragging my family around every section in the shop I realise that if I don’t pick something soon they would physically remove me from the building with no book with whatsoever.
         Taking Caitlin Moran’s ‘How to be a Woman’ off of the shelves I was a little bit apprehensive. I don’t usually read non-fiction, it’s never been something I really enjoyed, but as I rushed for time I remembered all the people who had recommended the book to me and decided that it was going to have to do.
          I opened the book as soon as I got home and within the first few chapters had fallen head-over-heels in love with it. I’ll admit menstruation and pubic hair aren’t usually the kind of topics that float my boat, but when Caitlin Moran spoke of her own experiences with them I found myself actually laughing out loud at the wonderful honesty.  She somehow manages to speak about them without making the reader feel uncomfortable. Moran is rude – but she isn’t disgusting.
          The theme of the book is feminism and woman’s issues. Usually a heavy topic tackled by the more fierce women and in a slightly aggressive tone, Moran manages to use light-hearted chat and humour to teach us women that really we should all call ourselves feminists – whether we like it or not. Moran teaches us that feminism isn’t really anything to do with man-hating or aggression – as is the stereotype – but more just basic common sense. In fact, Moran was so persuasive in her argument that I suddenly found myself standing on a chair yelling ‘I AM A FEMINIST!’ at my poor mum as if in a Moran-induced trance.

           Her charming way of taking the piss out of everything managed to change my mind on quite a few things actually. I will admit that I used to be slightly wary of Lady Gaga and her extravagant outfits, but after reading about Moran’s time in a sex club with the lady in question, I was playing ‘Bad Romance’ on repeat and googling pictures of the infamous meat dress.

I have even drawn a picture of the woman in question

The book is brilliant; I loved every bit of it. I honestly cannot fault it. There’s something quite relatable about Caitlin Moran. She’s impossibly cool and she’s led this amazing life talking to amazing people, but when reading the book you kind of feel like she’s just down the road and you could pop round for a cup of tea. She just seems so genuine.

The book uncovered this womanly pride in me that I never really knew was there. After reading ‘How to Be a Woman’ a woman seemed the very best thing that one could possibly be. Feminism no longer seemed like the angry, un-attractive thing that its stereotype once presented it as. With Caitlin Moran, if you’re a feminist, you pretty damn kickass!

Caitlin Moran is the kind of author I want to be my best friend for life and her book, ‘How to Be a Woman’ gave me this new kind of self-confidence I never really knew I was missing. There were really no other comparable candidates for this spot on the list.

You can find out more about Caitlin Moran here!

You can read the other reviews in the Rainbow List of Must-Reads here: RedOrange, Yellow

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Rainbow List of Must-Reads: Yellow - It's Kind of a Funny Story

This is the Rainbow List of Must-Reads: Where I review a different one of my favourite books each week! Third on our list we have a yellow book with a yellow cover:

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

           ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’ is a book I picked up in the teen fiction section last year as an interesting summer read. If I’m quite honest with myself one of the main reasons I lifted it off the shelf was because I absolutely loved the quirky cover-art and there was nothing on the blurb that I found entirely unappealing. When I finally got round to opening the book up a week later as I lounged lazily on my deck chair in my garden, I was met with a pleasantly unpleasant surprise.
          ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’ is not the kind of book you would usually find amongst the brightly coloured stories of the teen fiction section, to say the least. The book did not give me that bright and happy feeling I would usually get when reading something of such a high standard, but instead would leave me feeling low and foggy when I emerged from between its pages. This is because ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’ is about depression.

           Depression books don’t usually find their way to my shelf. In the general I find them overly-dramatic and clichéd with transparent plotlines. However, when reading this book I found I connected with the main character, Craig Gilner, in a big way. When Craig sits in his friend Aaron’s house, smoking pot, his brain hazing with misery I could feel my own mind cloud over. When he stands on the Brooklyn Bridge, crazed by an erratic sort of desperation, I felt painfully desperate as well.
          I won’t lie to you. ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’ is dark. Really dark. You follow Craig as the pressure from his prestigious school becomes unbearable and he spirals into a deep state of extreme self-loathing. The book is a brutally honest depiction of what depression is really like. Not glorified in the way of a dark romantic interest or cool like the troubled rock star, but a pure, raw, awful emotion. ‘It’s Kind of Funny Story’ is a book that finally shows depression as what it is – depressing.

           And how can we trust that Vizzini’s illustration of depression is not some exaggerated, over-the-top, version created for the sake of good fiction? How do we know that when Craig eventually finds himself in the adult ward of a psychiatric hospital that this isn’t just the psych ward of Vizzini’s imagination? We know because the author has experienced all this himself. ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’ is a memoir of Vizzini’s life. He has felt like this; gone through this; been to these places. Through Craig, Vizzini shows us his own experiences with depression. He has shown us how frightening and all-consuming depression really is.

           But he has also shown us that it can get better – and that I believe is the most important thing about ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’. Yes, in the first half of the book we are shown how trapped and lonely depression can make you feel, but in the second half we are shown that you are never truly alone. Only when Craig finally seeks help can he begin to climb back out of the dark pit that is his life. Only upon dealing with his feelings does he realise that every single reason he wanted to kill himself could be quite easily fixed. I believe that ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’ exists not only to acknowledge that there are people with these feelings in the world, but also to help these people break away from their lonely situation.

           Ned Vizzini dealt with a lot in his life. On December 19th 2013, after an on-going struggle with depression, he committed suicide, leaving behind his wife and two-year-old child. When I read about Vizzini’s death it really hit home. Not only because his book was able to move me to tears, but because it made everything written inside ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’ all the more true. Because of Vizzini I will never undermine the feelings of anyone battling with depression. I will never see depression as anything other than unbearable, isolating and completely serious. Vizzini has more than earned his spot on this list, I only regret that I couldn’t honour him in a bigger way than this blog post.

            I opened ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’ with a light heart and an empty head, and I close it knowing profoundly more about the world around me than I had before.   

You can find out more about Ned Vizzini here!
You can read the other reviews in the Rainbow List of Must-Reads here: Red, Orange