Eleanor hadn't written him a letter,
Title: Eleanor & Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Do you still remember what it was like to be in love when you were young? Delve into the world of the 1980's and teenagers Eleanor and Park who are about to experience true love for the first time.
With Park living with his super happy (borderline gross in love) parents in a posh house and Eleanor living with her piece-of-a-shit stepfather, siblings and mother in a rundown house, they make an unlikely couple - but aren't those the best?
Eleanor is the new girl, and Park lets her sit next to him on the bus to school, which makes him inherently less evil than Eleanor's other class mates. Through their mutual love for music (great references for teens of the eighties), they slowly start to fall for each other, and some love is direly needed as their hormonal problems are also overshadowed by family, friends, peer pressure and everything else that comes with being young and in love.
Apart from the captivating story, the form also needs some praise. Rainbow Rowell is a brilliant story-teller. With short chapters recounting the character's stories from their respective perspectives, the book is a fast read and a total page-turner. Sensitively and authentically, Rowell depicts young teenage love without giving it the too-deep "Twilight" vibe, yet taking it serious to not sound like a condescending adult.
Filled with well-known topics like abusive stepfathers, overachieving Asian families and rebellious teenagers on the cusp of adulthood, this book still brings lots of new aspects to the table with its eye for detail and complex characterisation. If you are a teenager or crave a little detour back into teenage-hood, this is a page-turner not to be missed. And even though the book's end sort of blew my mind (no spoilers here), I cannot really find a flaw in this pleasant and catching read. Especially perfect for your summer reading list - so snatch it up quickly before August is looming above September.
One word description: Authentic
Book title: Isadora Moon Has a Sleepover
Author: Harriet Muncaster
If you like stories about special little girls told within a series of stories, the Isadora Moon books are your perfect fit. With its glitzy black and pink cover and illustrations is appeals to the eye, as much as the story appeals to the taste.
Meet Isadora, half vampire, half fairy, totally unique. This time little Isadora faces a completely new challenge in her life - her first ever sleepover at her friend Zoe's. But it's not all fun and girls' talk: Zoe and Isadora are to bake a fantastic cake for a school competition. Having a half vampire, half fairy as a friend comes with its perks, for example flying through the room and having your favourite toy come to life to play along with you.
Sounds good? And the magical cake with multiple layers and sparkling glitz about it is not even in the mix yet. Is it fair though to present a cake that's seen more than just one tap of the magic wand on it? Isadora and Zoe will have to find out and decide whether they should put forward their incredible magic cake, or rather the simpler, but magic-free cake.
I enjoyed reading this children's book immensely as an easy read. The characters are likeable and fun, and which girl hasn't dreamed of being a little special and have a toy monkey that talks to them? Delve into the pink world and accompany Isadora on her next adventure.
One word description: Pink
"You Can't blend in
Book title: Wonder
The reader is never fully informed about just how deformed August's face must be, but it clearly must be quite a sight to behold if children cross the streets to get away from him, and he spent two years of his childhood hiding it behind a football helmet. With numerous surgeries ever since he was born to make him look somewhat human, August has had quite an ordeal already, but now he's facing something even scarier.
Now August is ready to go to public school, ugly face or not. With exposure to additional turmoil, mean kids and the inability to hide any longer, Auggie must find out who are his real friends and find his own way through this new life.
Now made into a major movie, the world knows about Wonder, so I was rather late to the party, I must admit. I particularly enjoyed Wonder because it doesn't fit into the "sick lit" genre in any way, but is simply about a special child dealing with ordinary problems and life.
As the story is not only from his perspective, but also from his teenage sister Via's, her boyfriend Justin's and some others. By opting to do that, Palacio not only manages to share the attention August is getting, but also points out that the problems August is facing are pretty normal ones. He is in no way special regarding the thoughts that keep him up at night, his fears and his need to be included into a group.
Similarly, when the perspective blends over to Via or her boyfriend Justin, we see that their problems, too, are very similar to August's, despite lacking a deformed face and looking "normal". The fear of abandonment, exclusion, loneliness, and the question what it all means follows each of the children and teens as they grow up, which makes this a unique ride for the reader.
Another feature I immensely enjoyed about reading Wonder, and which has influenced my writing ever since, is that it is simply a story. I have recently read so many books and texts where I felt the writers wanted to force as many "pretty" words on the page as possible. In Wonder, there is actually little detailed description, it is very dialogue-driven and therefore fast-paced, also because some of the chapters are only one or two pages long.
People who have been deterred of "sick lit" by works like The Fault in Our Stars of similar books can rest assured that such an atmosphere is not dominant in Wonder, because his illness is only the "MacGuffin" as it were. A MacGuffin is an object or occurrence that is needed to drive the plot along, without being the actual main part of the story. I feel his deformity is the MacGuffin to tell the story, but in its essence we read about a 10-year old boy whose simply struggling with growing up and coping with school - as so many children do.
This book was a heartfelt story without unnecessary emotion-dripping that opened my heart and made me miss my childhood at some points, while praying inwardly I am well over it in other places.
One word description: Heartwarming.
Imagine a wood in which children wander, but never return. Imagine a town which is used to weird things happening. Imagine you shouldn't leave your laundry out after six o'clock or terrifying things may happen...
The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Woods by Samuel J. Halpin is a mysterious and well-written children's book, full with dark twists, riddles and two thoroughly enjoyable main characters. Attracting with aggressively purple pages (not on the inside), this books holds even more than it promises from the outside.
Follow Poppy into the town of Suds where her quirky grandmother lives. She already stumbles into the first mystery on the train there. Or why would anyone leave a miraculously silken-bound empty book on the train?
Together with her obnoxious and fantastic new friend Erasmus, Poppy sets out to find out why children keep vanishing in this town, and why no one seems to particularly bother.
But not all vanish simply into thin air, some also return, bald and lifeless, unable to speak properly.
And does the vanishing of children really have something to do with all the peculiar rules Poppy's grandmother imposes, like
Lock away the sugar
Don't leave any laundry out after six o'clock
or, most importantly,
NEVER DUST THE WINDOW SILLS.
Wreathing their way through adventure, Erasmus and Poppy soon learn the awful truth why kids keep popping into thin air, their eyes wide as snow and their heads deprived of dreams. It has to do with an old legend, the river, which may be far deeper than anticipated, and the Peggs who come at night...
As an advocate for giving children more to chew than most people think possible, I really enjoyed reading this book. It was, surmising from the colourful cover, surprisingly dark and took a few even darker twists towards the end. I thought Halpin's way of describing the scenery and surrounding especially enjoyable and the main characters possessed wit, emotion and reliability. Even though the illustrations were not entirely up to my taste, they still added plenty to the story and make for a truly wonderful children's book.
Especially through know-it-all Erasmus, we learn a lot and are guided well through the adventure, but he is not all knowledge and superhero. One especially great feature of the book was what happened outside the adventure. Poppy's Mum died in a tragic accident and the relationship to her father has been strained ever since,so when he comes to visit many emotions stir up. Additionally, topics like bullying, well-known children's fears and authentic school yard banter sneak their way through the main plot and give the characters complexity and texture.
It seeps through the lines that Halpin is a fan of fairy tales and folklore, as it is very reminiscent of a more complex and darker fairy tale. The woods, the witches, the mystery, it's all there, entangled into a delightfully sinister story, combed with friendship and sprinkled with fantastic words and concoctions I would love to come up with, too.
In terms of age recommendation, I would say eleven years and upwards. Smaller children may find witches making masks from their victims' skins a tad too much and children vanishing forever are also part of the plot.
"The Emporium opens with the first frost of winter. It is the same every year."
A magnificent story of magic, engineering, a family saga and betrayal has the reader hooked from page one, on the life-transforming story of the brothers Emil and Kaspar, as well as Cathy Wray, a young runaway.
Papa Jack's Emporium is a place of magic, where dreams come true and where Emily and Kaspar grow up with their father as the most incredible toy maker in London. But the Emporium only opens for the Christmas season - as soon as the first frost settles and the first snowdrop unfolds her petals. This family saga starts in the early 20th century with 15-year old and pregnant Cathy Wray fleeing to London, so her parents cannot make her give it up for adoption. Stumbling into the Emporium, she becomes a sales girl and quickly falls for handsome and charismatic Kaspar. Emil, the other brother, is a quirky, weird boy, always shoved into the shadows by his superior brother.
But the shadows unfolding outside the Emporium as war knocks on the door also leave their imprint on the family, and when Kaspar is recruited, Cathy has to say goodbye to her sweetheart and step-in father of her child for a long time. Always trying to keep the Emporium afloat, a family crisis ensues when deeply traumatised Kaspar returns and everything falls into mayhem.
Genre-wise I would describe this book as a children's book for adults. From its playful cover and way it is written, it is suggestive of a children's book, but topics like war, mental instability and teenage pregnancy may be a little intense for young readers.
This book was a particular gem in my latest reading history, perfectly fusing magic and engineering, a little reminiscent of books like Northern Lights or Cogheart. The magically infused toys that literally come to life in this story are not perceived as too-out-of-the-ordinary, but it only adds to the magical atmosphere of the plot.
One particular wonderful aspect of the book was its perspective. Author Robert Dinsdalde foregoes all traditional "rules" of narrator and happily mixes all perspectives, sometimes providing an omniscient view, sometimes even out of the toys' views. Dinsdale does a great job of guiding the gaze of the reader, addressing us directly before pulling out again and directing it in a different way.
Instead of a usual story arch where something triggers the action before there is a resolution and happy end, this book simply follows the lives of this extraordinary family over a few decades, stricken with war, personal grief and growing up, all amidst the magic of the Emporium filled with toy soldiers, rocking horses and almost real-life stuffed dogs. Parts of their story (and I won't review which for spoiler reasons), were almost impossible to bear, as tragedy does not only strike once or twice, but in regular periods. Especially the incredible twist at the end comes as a huge surprise and is almost too shocking to take, but definitely a fantastic turn towards the end.
Fans who look back to their childhood nostalgically and love a pinch of magic will appreciate the wonderful story-telling and enchanting setup guiding through this story line - and you will never look at toy soldiers the same way again.
Truth be told, crime novels are usually not on the top of my book list and the main reason I dug into this tome was because it is written by J.K. Rowling (under her pseudonym Robert Galbraith) and because I've read the previous Strike volumes, too. The previous Strike novels consistently got darker and darker, and Career of Evil has appalled and thrilled me the most, but Lethal White does live up to expectations.
I marvel at the ability of Galbraith to keep the plot going without really much happening in the beginning - and still making the book an absolute page-turner. This time, we are led into the harsh realities of politics and the British government in the Houses of Parliament. Blackmail, kidnapping, left wing organisations and, of course, murder are all part of the game, which ends in a fulminate and breathtaking finale.
However, there is also plenty of character progression for the main two characters. Half of the book, the reader gets to witness the many rows between Robin Ellacott, Strike's pleasing-looking partner, and her indignant husband, Matt, who actually might be right in his jealousy of Strike and Robin's relationship. However, he comes across as such a chauvinist dickhead that as a reader you wonder how Robin can stick with him (but then, half of the book, so does she). Strike's progression is somewhat slower. Although we clearly see the approaching love affair between him and Robin emerge, he is still a man unable to keep up a relationship (which this book's girlfriend does not fall short of telling him repeatedly) and seems emotionally slightly crippled (also, he smokes too much).
With their business, yet again, on the verge of extinction, they take up a blackmail case involving a politician in the higher ranks - only for that politician to be found murdered in a most gruesome way.
However, this is by far not the only story line evolving in Lethal White. It generally seems to hold various plots together at the same time, and although that may appear to be a dangerous game to play as a writer, Galbraith easily pulls it off and manages to bring everything neatly together in the end. We also meet drug-head Billy who stumbles into Strike's office right in the opening chapters to ramble about a child he saw being killed many years ago - ironically very close to where the murdered politician's country house is situated! His brother Jimmy runs a left wing extremist organisation and gets all twitchy when being talked to about a supposedly dead child in the bog...
Even though sometimes the plot seems to be driven by coincidence (as in most crime novels, it appears) and I could guess who the murderer was before the big reveal, Lethal White was a thorough joy to read and definitely a page-turner. It is a pleasure to see a writer who owns the craft seemingly effortlessly pull together relatable characters, various plots and a gruesome murder scene. Definitely recommended for a long and rainy weekend - it will surely keep you entertained all weekend long!
Truth be told, summer is over and winter is coming. This summer I read a lot because I had a reading list from university, and I am grateful the list was about children's literature, as I have now dropped my studies at this stupid university (more on that in an entirely different post), so at least it wasn't for nothing.
On my YouTube channel you can find this video on my summer reading list with my review on it (SPOILERS). Individual and more detailed reviews will follow soon here in the Book Corner.
Recently I stumbled upon Zumbo's Just Desserts on Netflix and absolutely mesmerized by the level amateurs can bake (which makes me what? An incompetent amateur?)
Pastry chef Adriano Zumbo is renowned for his magical creations which are not only absolutely tasty (I have heard), but look incredible. From floating hats to profiterole towers, there is something for any taste.
In this show, twelve contestants go into the ring and bake something according to a specific theme (like fairy tales or chocolate). Then, the two weakest participants have to go into the Zumbo Test in which they have to re-create one of Zumbo's insane creations. The one performing worse in this task is eliminated.
The contestants are insanely skilled! Even though they are all amateurs, they know their craft and I am sure could outdo one or the other chef in a competition; however, the jury in the show is improvable. Rachel Khoo, who was absolutely adorable in her own TV show, comes over as a mean and humourless bitch and the other "jury member" who is only there to count down the clock and look pretty is Gigi. She has the most annoying voice you have ever heard (and if this doesn't intrigue to watch the show, I don't know what will). Zumbo himself seems quite nice, but with a sadistic streak whenever revealing the dessert the two contestants have to bake.
Also, there are various catchphrases in the show which are repeated again and again, which makes it pretty repetitive. Rachel Khoo wishes every contestant that their "all their sweet dreams may come true", which, at first, seems really nice, but becomes a tad bitter and almost mocking towards the end.
However, if you are interested in amazing baking and weird creations, this is the show to watch and I can only highly recommend it, so let the binge-watching begin...
Oh and in case you are wondering...all of the above given pictures are really desserts and a hundred percent edible!
Here you find book reviews, and sometimes also things about films. Enjoy reading.