YA reviews: All the bright places, The catalyst and The originals

Want the skinny on books? Check out what the Cashmere High School Read and Review Team have to say.

Cover of All the bright placesAll the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

“Sometimes when we’re in the darkest places, we find the brightest light.”

Extremely moving, will make you feel joy, sadness and inspired all at once! All The Bright Places is an amazing book, it keeps you on your toes and is impossible to put down! I totally recommend it for teenagers!

– Genevieve (Y9)

Cover of The catalystThe Catalyst by Helena Coggan

It has been eighteen years since the world they knew was ripped apart around them, eighteen years since the ‘Veil’ between their world and the beyond shattered. Human were split into the magically Gifted and the non magic Ashkind.

Rose Elmsworth is fifteen year old Gifted working with her father at the Department, an organisation that holds power in the crumbling war-torn society. In Rose’s world monsters reside within men and women, and there is no one you can truly trust, not even yourself.

The Catalyst establishes a unique dystopian world that is the perfect setting for this dark fantasy story and leads perfectly into the second book in the series (The Reaction). It was an enjoyable read with interesting and intriguing characters.

I would rate The Catalyst 4 out of 5.

– Cassie

Cover of The originalsThe Originals by Cat Patrick

Elizabeth Best is a name, not a person. Elizabeth is the name used, and split, by 3 sister-clones: Lizzy, Ella and Betsy. Their mother is a scientist and cloned 3 “test subjects”. She intends to kill the two clones that aren’t ‘perfect’ but instead she gets too attached to the girls and runs away with them. She makes the girls live a third of a life until, one day, the girls have had enough.

I’ve read this book twice and the second time, even though I knew what was going to happen, I felt myself sitting there holding my breath! This book is amazing and you would be silly not to read it.

I rate it 4 out of 5.

– Eibhlin

Cool stuff from the selectors: Cars, recipes, and science

9781613252024Exotic Barn Finds: Lamborghini, Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin and More by Matthew Stone.

It seems everywhere you turn, on TV, at your library or favorite bookstore, Internet forums, and even social media, people are discovering and documenting the resurrection of old cars stored in barns, garages, and forgotten resting places.

Really?  I must be out of the loop –  but if you enjoy the idea of a rusted 1925 Bugatti Type 22 Bresia, found at the bottom of a lake that sold for $360,000 (US) even before any restoration was started – then this is the book for you.

Lab Girl9780349006192 by Hope Jahren

We don’t always equate being a scientist with being a great writer, however Hope Jahren manages to combine both skills to produce a book that has become a surprise bestseller. Lab Girl is a book about work and about love.

In Lab Girl, we see anew the complicated power of the natural world, and the power that can come from facing with bravery and conviction the challenge of discovering who you are.

Life Without a Recipe9780393249095 by Diana Abu-Jaber

I remember reading The Language of Baklava and feeling it was a nonfiction book written like a novel, and not being a big nonfiction reader this was perfect for me, and a few added recipes made it even better.  I am hoping for big things from Diana Abu-Jaber’s new book which promises:

struggles with cross-cultural values and how they shaped her coming of age and her culinary life, tracing her three marriages, her literary ambitions, and her midlife decision to become a parent.

Men writing about love

/Cover of The Course of LoveFirst some facts:

  • There is only one male Mills and Boon writer – and he writes under his wife’s name
  • and four grudgingly recognised female writers of Westerns (and they are accused of bending that particular genre in more ways than one).

In-between these gender outliers, it’s a bit of a free for all. Nevertheless, despite the fact that all men will have loved, far fewer men write romantic fiction, or books about love.

And I’m not including here books where there’s a sprinkling of lurve on top of a mountain of general bad behaviour and savagery. I’m talking about contemporary authors who truly attempt to reveal what they understand about love. Authors who lay themselves bare, who wrestle with love, whose hearts have (in all probability) been broken. Those men.

Cover of BullfightingAnd they do exist, but let’s just get the following man writers out of the way: Tony Parsons (with books like Man and Boy), David Nicholls (One Day and Us) and Nicholas Sparks (anything romantic that has recently been filmed, like Message in a Bottle). They are all popular, they all write well, but they feel to me like observers, one step distant from real involvement. They tell stories about men and women in love, but they don’t dig that deep.

My “Men who write about love” do it in a way that is very revealing to women, in books that will make you look differently at male bravado, and with characters who are almost certainly based on their own experiences. Authors like this:

This is a terribly Non-PC blog, I know. After all, why even bother distinguishing the gender of writers? Why not include gay writers and those who are transgender? But it gets worse, because  what I think I am really trying to say here is that men write better books about love than women do.

Prove me wrong.

Modern modem romance

Cover of Modern romanceModern Romance by US comedian Aziz Ansari (of Parks and Recreation fame) is just another in a growing list of books I have started reading expecting one thing, but which turned out to be something else entirely (looking at you, High-rise).

What I had expected was a comedic look at modern courtship, man-woman relationships in the internet age etc. Having previously watched a bit of Ansari’s stand-up via YouTube, I knew this was a topic that he touches on a lot, so I expected to read a more or less extended stand-up routine. One man’s humorous philosophy on the opposite sex, feminism, relationship blunders and so on. Something similar to what Chris Rock was writing 10 years ago.

Um, yes. But also…no.

In fact, Modern Romance, is solidly non-fiction. Ansari, himself caught up in the changing courtship habits of a dating populace now fixated with mobile devices, became intrigued with what seemed a very flawed and frustrating process –

I got fascinated by the questions of how and why so many people have become so perplexed by the challenge of doing something that people have always done quite efficiently: finding romance. I started asking people I knew if there was a book that would help me understand the many challenges of looking for love in the digital age.

He didn’t find exactly the book he was looking for SO HE WROTE IT.

He wrote the book with help (Eric Klinenberg, Professor of Sociology at New York University is co-author), and after undertaking quite a bit of research with the help of online dating websites like OKCupid, as well as interviews, and focus groups. Most comedians don’t quote focus groups in their books, unless by “focus group” you mean “crazy cab drivers I’ve conversed with”. Nor do they have thorough indices and footnotes for the many research papers they cite.

So rather than being a written comedy routine with the occasional fact thrown in, Modern Romance is a book about the effect of technology on modern dating mores, (but with swearing and jokes). What Ben Goldacre did for Bad Science, Aziz Ansari has done for the sociology of modern dating.

But does it work? On the whole, yes. For someone who wasn’t intending to learn anything particularly much from Modern Romance (I am not on “the market”), it does a good job of entertaining and informing. I’ve learned that less choice can actually be a good thing, that the search for perfection in a mate is a fool’s errand, and though I’ve never used the dating app Tinder, I now understand better what it does and why it’s so popular. I’ve also been given a window into differing dating “cultures” via interviews with singles in Tokyo, Paris, and Buenos Aires.

And this isn’t really related to anything but I really wanted to include this quote about a Tokyo barman with an apparently quite active love-life who Ansari describes thusly –

Like most fedora wearers, he had a lot of inexplicable confidence.

This book has a lot of wisdom to offer, on a great many things, it seems.

So what are the takeaways from Modern Romance, other than ramen recommendations from Tokyo (Ansari is something of a “foodie” and the book is liberally littered with references to delicious meals), and the characteristics of hat-wearers?

  • Don’t get so caught up in the multitude of options that you forget to actually pay attention to and invest time in the person you’re with.
  • Make introductions online but don’t date online. Dating is a real world activity.
  • Treat potential partners like real people, not a bubble on a screen.

If you’re a bit sensitive to swear words then Modern Romance probably isn’t the read for you but thankfully Ansari and Klinenberg have included a bibliography of titles they consulted when writing their book, so one of the below may be of interest instead.

Cover of It's complicated: the social lives of networked teens Cover of Love @ First Click The Ultimate Guide to Online Dating Cover of The art of choosing Cover of Everything I ever needed to know about economics I learned from online dating cover of Sex at Dawn cover of Alone together Cover of Data, a love story Cover of Going solo the extraordinary rise and surprising appeal of living alone

Any thoughts on how modern technology is affecting our approach to courtship? Is it okay to ask someone out on a date via text message?

Chick Lit and the armchair traveller

Chick Lit is not as popular as it once was, at least publishers seem to think so. Chick Lit is light, quick, generally uplifting, at times thought provoking, romantic and quirky.  Armchair travel seems to quite easily rub up against chick lit – plenty of romance, exotic locations, quirky interesting characters and plenty of action. Try out some of these titles:

Head Over heelHead over Heel Chris Harrison

On a trip to Dublin, Chris falls head over heels in love with Daniela, an Italian girl with eyes the colour of Guinness, and follows her to her small home town of Andrano on the coast of Puglia. Among olive groves and cobblestone lanes, Chris takes us on a moving, insightful and often hilarious journey into the heart of Southern Italy.  Can this relationship with Southern Italy possibly survive or will the sweet life turn sour?

My Paris DreamMy Paris dream : life, love and fashion in the great city by the Seine Kate Betts

On a leap of faith Betts moves to Paris to throw herself into Parisian culture, master French and a find a job that would give her a reason to stay. After a series jobs, she begins a magnificent apprenticeship at Women’s Wear Daily and is initiated into the high fashion world. Betts gives us a view of what it is to be a  young woman, finding yourself, falling in love, and exploring this dazzling world all at once.

Cover of 50 year silenceA fifty-year silence : love, war and a ruined house in France Miranda Richmond Mouillot

After escaping the Nazi occupation, Miranda Richmond Mouillot’s grandparents, Anna and Armand, bought an old stone house in the south of France. Five years later, Anna packed her bags and walked out on Armand and the two never saw or spoke to each other again. This is the account of Miranda’s journey as she immerses herself in letters and archival materials, slowly teasing out what happened to her Grandparents.  Along the way she finds herself learning to survive, and to thrive in making a home in the village …and falling in love.

Sideways on a ScooterSideways on a scooter : life and love in India Miranda Kennedy

When twentysomething reporter Miranda Kennedy leaves her New York job and travels to India with no employment prospects, she longs to immerse herself in the turmoil and excitement of a rapidly developing country. She Lives in Delhi for more than five years, experiences friendships, love affairs, and alters her own attitudes about everything.

Ho Not to Travel the WorldHow not to travel the world : adventures of a disaster-prone backpacker Lauren Juliff

When Lauren left to go travelling, she thought she would instantly become a glamorous backpacker. But after being mugged, scammed, caught up in a tsunami and experiencing a very unhappy ending during a massage, she realised that learning how NOT to travel the world was the most enlightening experience she could have hoped for. It was just as she was about to give up on travel when she stumbled across a handsome New Zealander with a love of challenges…

The whirlThe whirl : men, music & misadventures Jane Cornwell

Travelling the world in search of love, great music and good stories, Cornwall collects relationship ‘experiences’ the way the rest of us do souvenir tea towels or postcards.

A fearless and funny search for love, connection and a man who can dance salsa with her (and not ask for money afterwards), this is a truly sexy travel memoir of music, men and mistakes for the adventurer in all of us.

Love in the elephant TendLove in the elephant tent : how running away with the circus brought me home Kathleen Cremonesi

On a whim, this former administrative assistant with wanderlust took a job as a dancer in an Italian circus and, working her way up, became an ostrich-riding, shark-taming showgirl. Kathleen bonds with the exotic animals that could strike and kill at any moment, but instead bring her a peace she has never known. And when she stumbles into the arms of Stefano, the sexy elephant keeper, she finds a man who understands her wild spirit.

The birdwatcher’s guide to love

Cover of A Guide to the Birds of East AfricaIt took a couple of months for my husband to reveal his hobbies to me when first we met. He slapped Amateur Radio on the table pretty early on (I think he knew I would never really understand what it was all about. He was right.) He then drip fed his love of Opera – still I hung in there. But I think even he knew that Birdwatching might be a shove too far, so we were well into the relationship before I finally went on a birding outing. But it is only recently that I’ve noticed bird watching fiction books flying off the shelves.

A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson was our Book Group read of the month just recently. It sounds as if it will be a field guide and almost looks like one, but in fact it is a charming story about winning the love of a woman in a bird watching competition. It is like Alexander McCall Smith but set in Kenya. The main character – Mr Malek – is an Indian gentleman with a comb-over. It is his absolute integrity that takes us for a wander through a quite sanitized Kenya. It’s all rather darling.

Cover of H is for HawkH is for Hawk, on the other hand, although about birds – well, hawks in particular, is a true story about the author (Helen Macdonald) and her need to train a wild hawk to assuage the pain she felt on the death of her beloved father. It is not sweet and cute; it is hard and true and very revealing. It is on the extremities of bird watching; I can’t see Helen ever joining a Sunday walking birding group for a bit of twitching.

Other recent reads with birds as a theme include Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield where crows and the superstitions around them play an important role in the structure and ominousness of this novel set in Victorian times. The Birdwatcher by William McInnes is a poignant read about twitchers and secrets and changing your life. And Snapper by Brian Kimberling is a romp of a read with a beautiful cover: “Snapper is a book about birdwatching, a woman who won’t stay true, and a pick-up truck that won’t start”. Finally, before you get too cosy, you must read the brilliant, chilling novella by Daphne du Maurier The Birds – later made into a horror film by Alfred Hitchcock.

Cover of SnapperTurned out I would grow to love birding: the pre-dawn start with the sounds and smells of the bush at Ndumo Game Reserve slowly coming to life. I loved the coffee pit stop, the walking, the camaraderie. On my first major outing, everyone wanted to find one particular bird: a Pel’s Fishing Owl. What chance did I have? I knew nothing about birds and had yet to be gifted my own binoculars. Hours into the walk, I felt the call of nature and snuck furtively away from the group into bushy scrubland and managed – inadvertently, to flush out the Pel’s Fishing Owl – which flew in a graceful arc over the Pongola River for all to see.

I recommend birding men as potential partners. They are observant, patient, good listeners who love nature, plus they know when to shut up. And when you flush out the bird of the day (for all the wrong reasons), they remain proud of you – and buy you your own binoculars!

Outlandish kilt addiction

Cover of OutlanderThe things you find when trawling through the library catalogue.

I was just trying to fill the hole that the conclusion of the first season of the Outlander TV series, based on the books by Diana Gabaldon, had left in my leisure time.

I found a blog post about the source novels, and an If you like… Diana Gabaldon book list. It seemed I wouldn’t have to wait until the next series to get some more 18th century kilted historical-time-travel-romance in my life. Very good.

But then I idly went searching to see if we had any copies of Highlander (either the movie, or the TV series) and shove me in a sheep’s gut and call me haggis, I stumbled upon… a bunch of shirtless kilt-wearing cover-boys. And not just a couple, but legions of them. Well hello, Jamie Fraser!

It must have been warmer in Scotland in days of yore if this lack of upper body garments is anything to go by. Will ye nae put a vest on, lad?

After rigorous research I can confirm that covers in this particular genre fall in to three categories in which the muscular hero can be –

holding a lady,
Cover of Rogue with a brogueCover of Mad, bad, and dangerous in plaidCover of to marry a scottish lairdCover of In bed with a highlanderCover of Never seduce a Scot

holding a sword, either pointy side up…
Cover of To wed a wicked highlanderCover of The chieftainCover of Sins of the highlanderCover of The guardian

…or down,
Cover of Temptation in a kiltCover of The stone maidenCover of Moon awakeningCover of The hellion and the highlander

or at least, wearing some kind of armband (face optional).
Cover of awaken the highland warriorCover of The immortal highlanderCover of The dark highlanderCover of Sweet revenge

And am I allowed to say that some of the titles are AMAZING? For my money Mad, bad and dangerous in plaid is a standout, though Temptation in a kilt must surely get an honorable mention.

You’ll be pleased to know that almost all of these titles are available in eBook format, possibly as a result of the “embarrassment factor” that does apparently influence choice of format for recreational reading. Though why you’d be whakamā about reading In bed with a highlander on the bus, I can’t imagine (okay, yes I can).

Which of the above is your favourite Caledonian cover-boy?

Anti-Valentine’s Day teen fiction

Living with a florist has its definite perks. A few months ago saw my long-suffering flatmate spending hours in our living room, surrounded by buckets of roses under an arctic flow of air-conditioning, patiently preparing buttonholes and flower arrangements for my wedding. Flatmate of the year award!

Cover of New MoonOn the other hand, the closer it gets to certain holidays, the more stressed she gets. At the moment no one is allowed to mention the words Valentine’s Day for fear it’ll bring on a panic attack. Consumerism has a lot to answer for.

If you, too, feel a stab of panic every time you see a pink cut-out heart or a bunch of roses, maybe you should take my approach and ignore the day altogether. Let’s give Edward Cullen a disdainful eyeroll and have a night in or out with our friends, because, really, it’s time friendship stopped being considered a poor cousin of (or mutually exclusive with) romance.

Do you agree? If so, or even if you don’t, you might enjoy some of these fantastic books featuring strong friendships and family relationships with plots that don’t centre around whether the hottest vampire in school secretly wants to eat you.

Complicit, Stephanie Kuehn

Jamie’s mother was murdered when he was six; about seven years later his sister Cate was incarcerated for burning down a neighbour’s barn; and now Jamie, fifteen, learns that Cate has been released and is coming back for him, blaming him for all the bad things that led to her arrest.

The Raven Boys cycle, Maggie StiefvaterCover of The Raven Boys

This series has everything. Set in the small town of Henrietta, the books feature the strong but complicated friendship between Blue (daughter of a local pyschic) and a group of boys from the local private school (plus one ghost).
Their quest to find the tomb of ancient Welsh king Glendower in the foothills of Virginia is exciting but increasingly dangerous, as they aren’t the only ones on the trail. (Guns might be involved.) Plus a death was predicted at the start of the series and one of the main characters has a deadly allergy to insect stings. Such fun!

Sorrow’s Knot, Erin Bow

An interesting take on zombies and friendship. Otter is a girl of the Shadowed People, a tribe of women, and she is born to be a binder, a woman whose power it is to tie the knots that bind the dead but she is also destined to remake her world.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, E. LockhartCover of Code Name Verity

When Alabaster Prep sophomore Frankie Landau-Banks starts dating senior Matthew Livingston, Matthew refuses to talk about the Loyal Order of the Bassett Hounds, his all-male secret society, so Frankie infiltrates the society to enliven the mediocre pranks for which the club is known.

Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, Elizabeth Wein

Spies and lady pilots in World War II, what’s not to love? If you like books that make you chew off your own fingers while reading, these are for you.

Wildlife, Fiona Wood, which Knit1purl1 talked about in a previous blog post.

What are your thoughts on romance in fiction? Love, hate, indifferent? Let me know your favourites (romantic or otherwise) in the comments!

Electronic sexy time with OverDrive

So last weekend I went on a second date and he has not called me back. I have to admit I was not feeling much spark either but can’t help but wonder – was it because I had three plates of food at the buffet? I thought men like women with an appetite? Maybe undoing the top button on my pants was a step too far though?

Life is so much easier when it is fictional fantasy! This weekend I will heal my wounds and sink into a world without stretch marks, uncomfortable silences and missed opportunities. Bring it on OverDrive!

Morticians in love

Cover of The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior FuneralsMorticians also fall in love.

This must have been happening since the beginning of time, but only now (to the best of my knowledge) has there been a such a rush of material on the love life of those who deal with the dead.

The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals is a 2012 first novel by Welsh writer Wendy Jones. Set in small town Wales in the 1920s, Wilfred makes the kind of mistake that only the blurters of this world will identify with. He hears the sentence “Will you marry me Grace” come out of his mouth and crash onto the picnic rug when that was not what he was thinking at all. Almost immediately events get completely out of control. There is an unwanted pregnancy, a new love, the mother-in-law from hell and, of course,  the dead. Wilfred is at best naive, at worst a little dimwitted (especially about women), but he is unfailingly courteous to the dead. He is a decent man.

Cover of A Trick I Learned From Dead MenFast forward some eighty years and meet Lee Hart, a young mortician in London. His story is told in A Trick I Learned From Dead Men by Kitty Aldridge. The content of these two books is quite similar, but the styles of writing are very different. For that reason alone they are worth reading. Lee is surrounded by death both at work, and in unfolding episodes, at home as well. Yet he remains resolutely upbeat, positive about life and ready to love and be loved. He is a kind young man whose dead customers end up on the receiving end of some of the best conversations of their lives when they finally end up in his care.

In case this is all becoming too sweet and fluffy for your liking, fear not, for Evelyn Waugh produced an acid drop of a little book in The Loved One (first published in 1948). Set in Hollywood, there are two funeral parlours, one for humans (Whispering Glades) and one for pets (Happier Hunting Grounds). Senior Mortician Mr Joyboy,  a mysterious cosmetician, a murder, several corpses and a seemingly hapless Cover of The Loved Onepoet combine to make this Black Humour at its best.

But if you want soulful and beautiful, head straight to the library DVD section and watch the Japanese film Departures in which a young musician, having lost his position in the orchestra, applies for a job in what he thought was a travel agency. Instead he ends up as a Nokanshi (encoffineer) in a small Japanese town. In this film the taboos that cling to those who deal with the dead almost ruin his marriage.

And taboos there are. Western culture has separated us from dealing with death. I have never met a mortician, never met anyone who wanted to be in that line of work. Certainly it doesn’t crop up in career guidance at school. As a result, I felt quite squeamish reading bits of these books. So it was important for me to be reminded that there is a human side to dealing with death and that it is undeniably true:

Morticians also fall in love.