Stories of Loss and Redemption: Pieces Like Pottery – by Dan Buri

Short Fiction

Pieces like Pottery is an anthology of seven stories and two poems; each explores an aspect of life, including parenthood and anxiety, in a unique setting.

Before evaluating this anthology, I ought to confess that I did not pick up on the author’s references to biblical stories; in fact, only after I read Buri’s comments on Goodreads did I see that this was the case. Although I noticed the ‘Sorrowful Mystery’ layout, I was unaware of its significance and so didn’t understand the correspondences between stories. Hopefully this doesn’t devalue my review – my perspective as an ‘ignorant’ reader may be a common one, and I believe not considering the author’s intended links and deeper meanings probably didn’t take away from my reading experience.


After a couple of pages, I was reasonably interested in the book – the characters were credible and interesting, if a little two-dimensional, and the story was intriguing. The power of the short story is leaving the reader wanting more, and The Gravesite (the first of nine pieces) is no exception.

The power of the short story is leaving the reader wanting more, wondering what more there is to know and what has been left unsaid.

My favourite of the stories is Expect Dragons; I cried when reading it. It’s an emotive, thought-provoking narrative: a young man is visiting his old high school English teacher for the last time (before he passes away). On the journey to see him, he reflects on his traumatic childhood and the prevalence of his teacher during his formative years; after he arrives, his old teacher imparts one more invaluable lesson to his former student. Although the account was a little clichéd, I empathised a great deal with the characters and felt thoroughly involved in the plot. 

The last story, entitled The Ballad of Love and Hate, featured characters from other stories at different stages in their lives. This was a welcomed contrast to the other pieces in the collection, offering context and intrigue to an otherwise mundane storyline.

The second story, The Dominance of Nurture, is set in a dystopian (although not entirely distant) world, with the core idea being that ‘nurture’ (the way people, especially parents, treat their children) is paramount and ‘nature’ is irrelevant. It’s an interesting concept, and was executed well; it had the potential to be far greater if explored further in a book.

Twenty-two is a moving story about two men going about their daily lives, living with their tortuous pasts. I enjoyed reading it and loved the ending, although it was stilted and cliché at times, particularly in parts with dialogue. An interesting idea, but the weakest in the collection.

Overall, this is a unique collection of provocative stories; you’ll find at least one that you relate to and enjoy – for me, it was Expect Dragons. Buri doesn’t promise a first-class quality of writing or ground-breaking ideas, but what he does, he does pretty well: interesting, ‘relatable’ commentaries on normal life.

My Ratings (out of 10 As):

Plot/Story: AAAAAA (6)

Writing: AAAAA (5)

Pace: Medium/Slow

Unfortunately, as far as I know this book is only available on Kindle.

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Thanks to Dan Buri for providing me with a digital copy of this compelling collection of short stories.

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Top Five ‘Coming of Age’ books

Top Five books

This is a little different to what I usually do, but as we’re coming to the end of the academic year, I thought it was appropriate – we can all get a little sentimental. Here are my favourite coming-of-age books, spanning from beloved classics to iconic YA’s.

to_kill_a_mockingbirdInspiring classic: To Kill a Mockingbird – By Harper Lee 

I have this book to thank for inspiring my sense of justice and love for books. I read it for the first time when I was around ten, and have since re-read it, regarding it from a completely different perspective; I’m sure I will go on to read it many more times. Scout Finch, the protagonist, lives in Alabama with her brother Jem and doting father Atticus. The book accounts parts of her childhood, including a devastating trial that Atticus, an esteemed lawyer, was involved in. A tale of life in the South, justice and morality, it’s one for the ages.


Humorous and thought-provoking: Holes – By Louis Sachar

515ml3nzwxl-_sy344_bo1204203200_This is another book that was a big part of my reading ‘career’ – I’ve read every one of Sachar’s books at least once. There’s something fantastic about a well-written tale of misfortune, and this one’s no exception. The Yelnats’ curse was passed on to Stanley, who was unjustly sent to a juvenile detention centre because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. At Camp Green Lake, where he’s sent, there’s no lake – only countless holes, where boys have dug holes to ‘build character’. Soon, Stanley and his newfound friends realize that the holes aren’t just for character improvement – the warden is looking for something, and the boys embark on a mission to find out what. A funny, creative story of punishment and redemption, Holes is the quintessential light read for all ages.

61t67xhl2cl-_sx321_bo1204203200_
Eye-opening and reflective: Perks of Being a Wallflower – By Stephen Chbosky

Part of the reason that I’m so crazy about this book, and film, is that I really relate to it; I could see myself in Charlie, the protagonist – and I know that a lot of people feel the same way. An awkward, introspective freshman (in high school – equivalent to a year 10), Charlie is a wallflower attempting to find his way around the unchartered realms of new friends, parties, dating and mixtapes. But his story is deeper than that, as the reader quickly deduces, because he has deep-rooted, previously unaddressed issues that have a had a huge effect on his life. You’ll love, laugh and cry reading this moving book.

Entertaining: The Manifesto on How to be Interesting – By Holly Bourne

I owe much of my perspective and knowledge on popularity and ‘being interesting’ to this book, which I have read so many times I’ve lost count (that seems to be a recurring fact in this list – take it a22533460s a good sign). The protagonist, Bree, takes it upon herself to become more interesting to write better books – she’s an aspiring – in her words ‘failed’ – author whose books have been rejected by every publisher in the country. She’s also a cynical teenager who’s considered a nobody at school. Determined to leave behind her insipidity in search of popularity (for book success), Bree resolves to become someone worth reading about, infiltrating the popular set and becoming a new, more confident – and bitchier – version of herself.


Haunting and enlightening: The Bell Jar – By Sylvia Plath

‘It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.’

The Bell Jar is an iconic, semi-autobiographical account of Esther Greenwood’s slide into plath04depression and her consequent rehabilitation. Famed for its wry humour and intense, credible descriptions of mental illness, Plath’s only novel questions the roles of women in society and the meaning of life. This book is deeply haunting – I’m not sure I truly understood everything that was going on, or picked up on every metaphor, but the story and the characters ‘spoke to me’ in a direct way; I felt guided by the book. Famed as a rite of passage, t
his book is a must-read for those looking to branch out into the world of ‘readable’ classics about being young.

 

What are your favourite ‘coming of age’ books? Comment down below 🙂

A Window into the Privileged of London: A Week in December – by Sebastian Faulks

Romance, Tragicomedy

A Week in December is a window into the lives of London’s wealthy. It’s narrated by diverse people connected, directly or through mutual friends, by a dinner party; they’re chosen by the host, socialite Sophie Topping, to reflect well on her husband, the newest Conservative MP Lance Topping. Of the list, a handful at most are not millionaires – including unsuccessful barrister Gabriel Northwood and cynical, bitter book reviewer R. Tranter. The rest are a familiar mix of obnoxious businessmen and their skinny wives, a repugnant TV magnate and a surprisingly endearing Polish footballer who is new to the country. As they go about their daily lives, they emulate the ‘spirit’ of the city, with many of them questioning (or unintentionally urging the reader to question) the lack of purpose in their existences. Although many of these people are not kind or likeable, they’re intriguing; I wanted to know what would happen, what decisions they’d make. More than anything, many of them seem like real people, reminding me of people I know or know of.

I suppose this sensation, along with my new-found cynicism of hedge-funds, is unsurprising; I’m expected to challenge our society and its materialism after finishing Faulks’ satirical, aspiring ‘state of the nation’ novel. Many of Faulks’ characters are stereotypical wealthy Londoners: egotistical, self-important and money-obsessed. I deduce that the ‘moral’ of the book is that, despite their privilege, their lives aren’t happy. No amount of money or insincere socialising can give a life substance or enjoyment. Near the end of the book, during the dinner party, minor character Roger Malpasse drunkenly berates Veals for the ruthless and underhanded practices of the Financial industry, his rant highlighting the pinnacle of Veals’ disgusting personality, demonstrated in hid unrelenting mission to bring down a major bank – and a load of African farmers with it.

At the other end of the spectrum is Hassam al-Rashid, who is a jihad-in-training and son of entrepreneur  Farooq al-Rashid (an invitee of the Topping’s party). In Hassam’s sections of the novel, he broods on the Kafir (consumerist, irreligious) world and its disgusting ways, viewing his terrorist activities as an ever-important mission from God, an escape from impiety. Although I enjoyed his character as a change from the others and an insight into a world I know nothing about, I didn’t find him wholly convincing.

Their cynical, circumspect voices work as within an orchestra to render life in London and its diversity. Many of them are realistic, interesting and even likeable, but there were also some that were unpleasant and desperately boring – in particular, Veals, who gives a shameful face to his business and, most disappointingly, doesn’t change at all during the book. I’m sure he is intended to disappoint, representing everything wrong about the rich of London and their inauthentic means of earning money, but I couldn’t help finding him plain annoying – especially his monotonous descriptions of financial deals.

At times, sentences read disjointedly due to their length and uninteresting subject content, and I wasn’t always compelled to pick the book up. However, after about half way, I started to enjoy it more as I became more hooked into the ‘plot’ (although loose). Overall, A Week in December is a good-quality, well-written book – an interesting commentary on life in London. I can’t, however, guarantee it for ‘grip’ or sustained interest. If you like The Casual Vacancy, or perhaps Ian McEwan’s books, then you’ll love it.

My Ratings (out of 10 As):

Plot/Story: AAAAAAA (7)

Writing: AAAAAAA (7)

Pace: Medium/Slow

Buy on Amazon (UK)

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Another Hunger Games? The Selected – by Kiera Cass

Dystopian, Romance

The Selected, a dystopian YA romance, sounds anything but unique. Lovable, grounded female lead? Check. Two attractive love interests? Check. A protagonist who gains fame and opportunity by chance, yet wants neither? Check. Its similarities with The Hunger Games are unnumbered – I felt like I’d read parts of it before. Yet despite all of these things, I powered through it at break-neck speed: I was desperate to know what would happen, even though the plot was fairly predictable; I couldn’t help myself loving it, sucked into the fandom like so many others.

Set in the future United States, The Selection is about America, who works as a musician, born into a family of artists with low social status. The book opens soon after a notice has been sent out to the teenaged girls of Illéa (their country), inviting them to sign up to a competition, the Selection, in the hopes of winning the heart of Prince Maxon, and being made his wife and Queen. 35 girls are chosen – ostensibly randomly – to live in the palace, where they will meet the prince and train to become a member of the aristocracy. However, America might be the only girl in the country who has no interest in being one of the Selected – in fact, it’s her worst nightmare, because it would mean leaving her secret love Aspen; after a series of unexpected events, she meets Prince Maxon, and all of her certainties disintegrate.

I’ll be the first to admit that the book doesn’t sound especially promising from the synopsis, and there’s no question that the plot is often predictable, and the characters two-dimensional. As I’ve said, the book definitely has its problems, but – not to be condescending – you kind of expect these things from a YA book. As I approached it with such low expectations, I was pleasantly surprised: the characters were more realistic, the plot was more interesting, and the setting better established than I had hoped; what really made the book was that it exceeded my expectations. So what if it’s not the next War & Peace? It’s not meant to be! It’s a fun, enjoyable YA book that offers an entertaining, easy-to-relate-to escape from life; it does its job well!

Regarding its likeness to The Hunger Games, it’s important to point out that, although the worlds and plots are alike, they are portrayed in different lights and from contrasting perspectives. America isn’t looking to lead a rebellion – in fact, she fears the rebels and is perplexed as to what they’re angry about (despite being a slave to the country’s merciless caste system). Unlike the famed Katniss, The Selection‘s protagonist is only interested in love, and perhaps charity – they’re all she knows.

I commend this book to anyone who loves a good dystopian YA, especially The Hunger Games – but with plenty of romance and no gruesome fighting. It’s short, fairly fast-paced and very easy to read; I don’t suggest it to those who don’t like YA books, or those which are ‘plot-based’ (rather than ‘writing-based’: merited for their good writing, not an interesting plot).

My Ratings (out of 10 As):

Plot/Story: AAAAAA (6)

Writing: AAAAA (5)

Pace: Medium/Fast

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The Taliban Shuffle: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – by Kim Barker

Non-Fiction, Post-9/11

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, now a major motion picture with Tina Fey at its helm, is a foreign reporter’s account of her time in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It includes political commentaries, lessons she learnt and incredible stories – a lively mix of personal and work-related experiences, describing interviews with important political leaders and drunken nights out in the ‘dry’ Afghan city of Kabul. Through her time with US soldiers on ’embeds’, visits to villages, Barker reports on the lives of normal people – or as she put it, “the smaller stories about what happens in a country when the west rushes in there after being kept out for so long”. Her move to Pakistan halfway through the book offers another perspective on the Taliban and the ‘forgotten war’ – and clearly displays her preference for Afghanistan over its unbelievably corrupt, damaged counterpart (although it seems Afghanistan gives Pakistan a run for its money).

After reading this book, I gained a newfound respect for journalists, especially foreign reporters, who often risk their lives to deliver news; like many professions, the majority of journalists are passionate about their jobs. But I don’t think it was this that drove Barker in her ‘quest’; it wasn’t fast, emergency information that she really wanted to provide – especially as it was this that repeatedly interrupted her much-needed holidays! Despite her commitment to ‘reporting the truth’ and the buzz that comes with it, she seemed far more interested in the bigger picture: the long-term effects of war on citizens, and the problems that hinder the country’s progression. Perhaps it’s easy to criticise others, but Barker seemed especially talented at pointing out where things were going wrong in Afghanistan, with Afghans and Westerners alike.

I also learnt a lot about the complex tribal system of Afghanistan, which is an integral part of politics and life in the country. Similarly, I had a new understanding for the corrupt, volatile political landscape in Pakistan, with its destructive military leaders and over-powerful intelligence agency; reading about a place that is so different was quite an eye-opener. Reading from an individual’s perspective enhanced my appreciation and knowledge for the subject – far more than an impersonal newspaper article ever could. With her dark humour and satirical tone, some would argue that Barker isn’t your typical woman on an ‘Eat-Pray-Love’ journey abroad – but although I agree, her optimism and resilience are also apparent, and contribute to her charming voice.

As with many  books, and especially non-fiction ones, I was a little slow to ‘get into it’ and find myself wanting to pick it up; however, once I did, I relished the escape it offered and Barker’s entertaining narrative. It was especially well-written (which is maybe to be expected from a print journalist, but nonetheless), a funny, easy-to-follow ‘travel diary’ with sophistication and wit.

Especially after the story picked up, the book didn’t seem long at all (but because I read it electronically, it’s hard to say). A book for those looking for a perspective on life in 2000s Afghanistan and Pakistan combined with a good-quality travel memoir. Basically, if you like substantive memoirs then you’ll like this.

My Ratings (out of 10 As):

Plot/Story: AAAAAAAAA (8)

Writing: AAAAAAAA (7)

Pace: Medium

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Thanks to Angela at Wunderkind for providing me with a digital copy of this entertaining travel-memoir of a foreign journalist.

All the Light We Cannot See – By Anthony Doerr

Historical Fiction

‘What to read?’ I ponder, searching my ‘unread’ bookshelf. Perhaps that book I’ve  been meaning to read for a while (it’s been on this shelf longer than I’d like to admit). Or maybe that one that everyone’s talking about – I feel like the only person who hasn’t read it. What a dilemma! In these instances, I seek advice from a fellow book-lover. I listed to him the books I had on my ‘to-read’ shelf, before casually mentioning my forthcoming trip (to Brittany, in France). At that, he definitively exclaimed that I should dive into All the Light We Cannot See, much of which is set in Saint-Malo, Brittany – one of the places I was going to visit. Well, to give him credit, it was perhaps the best recommendation he had ever given me. I started reading the book a little before the trip, so by the time I visited the town, I felt like I had already lived there, walking the streets with Marie-Laure (one of the two protagonists). It was an almost magical book experience.

So, what’s it about? you wonder. That is, if you haven’t already heard about it – it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2015. The novel wasn’t expected to be such a hit; the writer himself has said he thought only a small audience would enjoy it because of its sometimes lengthy descriptions of radio technology and trigonometric calculations. But nonetheless, people loved it. Perhaps this is due to its innocent, endearing protagonists: Marie-Laure, a blind girl who lives in Paris with her father, a museum locksmith. The other is Werner, a German orphan who lives in a coal mining village. Although set in the Second World War, this story isn’t really about concentration camps or inhumane Nazi prisons (although these are featured); it mainly focuses on the average French experience in occupied France, and the malevolent influence and power of the Hitler Youth. By giving a voice to both sides, Doerr doesn’t present a narrow, overly biased view of the war, but merely lets you come to your own conclusion about the war – and the ordinary people stuck in the middle.

Despite their contrasting upbringings and environments, Marie-Laure and Werner are surprisingly alike: they’re both ‘innocent’, although Werner sees (excuse the pun) more of the war than his counterpart. They’re also passionate about their interests. From a young  age, Werner has been infatuated with inventing and science, especially radios; Marie-Laure has had a great love for molluscs ever since she went to live in Saint-Malo with her great-uncle, hearing about them in stories and feeling them on the beach for the first time.

All the Light is simply enjoyable to read; never once did I feel like I had to work at it to keep interested, or push myself to read further. It’s got a compelling, credible storyline with sweet, lovable characters who contrast with a few vile ones; it’s beautifully written (I say that a lot but it’s true), with a vivid description – more like immersion – of the bombing in Saint-Malo. Not only is it a physical experience, but an emotional one, especially for Marie-Laure, blind and alone, and Werner, who is trapped in the basement of a building. Not once does Doerr give way to monotonous, predictable thriller/action description. The structure, although at times disorienting, helps move the plot along and keep ‘grip’: weirdly similar to the last book I read, its chapters alternate between different time settings, gradually coming closer and closer, closing the gap until ‘one setting’ at the conclusion. This switching juxtaposes life at different points in the war and how the characters have changed. Additional narrators add layers/perspectives to the plot and the reader’s overall outlook on the war, increasing the tension caused by dramatic irony (because the reader can ‘see all’, they can understand and appreciate the links among the characters and the ways their lives will intertwine).

Something struck me when Werner and the other boys (at the boarding school) chase the weakest boy in the group. I was reminded of Orwell’s 1984, specifically the Two Minutes’ Hate, when Winston is surrounded by people inexplicably, furiously shouting at a picture on a screen, and he can’t help but join in. Werner is the same – he doesn’t really want to hurt the boy, but because everyone else is chasing him, he feels he must, and longs to fit in and be part of something far bigger than himself. On a larger scale, this is what happened with a lot of people, both in Nazi Germany and occupied France; they simply didn’t want to (or couldn’t) fight back. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not excusing their passivity, ignorance or indolence, but it’s important to try to understand what life was like under such an oppressive, omnipotent regime. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that people had ordinary lives and just wanted to get on with them. I guess it’s just something to think about, and it’s great that this book brings it up in a non-oppressive or explicitly judgmental way. Conversely, Marie-Laure is never ‘tainted’ by influence of war, staying true to her beliefs; this is why she’s such a lovable character, because she’s everything that people (or at least I) aspire to be like: honest, caring, passionate and intelligent. But perhaps this is only because being blind has meant she’s never had much of a ‘social life’; in a way she’s unrealistic, or at least not ‘normal’.

Overall, I loved this book – so much so that this is one of the longest reviews I’ve ever written! I can’t really find much to criticise, but I will say that it’s a pretty long book (although not slow-paced), and as I mentioned before, it contains some lengthy scientific descriptions – although at least for me, they were quite interesting. If you usually like historical fiction, then you’ll love this – although even if you don’t, you’ll probably still enjoy it.

My Ratings (out of 10 As):

Plot/Story: AAAAAAAAA (9)

Writing: AAAAAAAA (8)

Pace: Medium/Fast

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A new take on the teen-cancer novel: Side Effects May Vary – By Julie Murphy

Romance

Side Effects May Vary is about Alice, a teenage girl who is diagnosed with cancer. Knowing that she is going to die soon, she feels free to do whatever she wants, unburdened from the threat of her actions’ consequences. Consequently, she resolves to complete a bucket list, which includes performing an unexpected act of kindness and seeking revenge against people who have wronged her. She enlists childhood friend and persistent admirer Harvey for help, who reluctantly obliges, driven by the prospect of spending time with her. Fully aware of his this, Alice manipulates him into doing things for her; although Harvey is semi-conscious of this, he doesn’t care – he’s in love. Alice suppresses her true feelings for him, fearing the temporary, short-term nature of her life and succumbing to the effect this has on her decisions.

Moreover, Alice isn’t your typical cancer patient/survivor: unlike so many idealistic, exceptionally talented or love-obsessed YA characters, she is unbelievably pessimistic, self-absorbed and manipulative. She hates many of those around her, and mistreats the people that care about her. It comes as a big, not entirely pleasant shock for her when she goes into remission, as she must face up to everything she’s done, as well as figuring out her relationship with Harvey. Alternating chapters are set ‘Then’ (when Alice had cancer) and ‘Now’ (after she went into remission), with both Alice and Harvey narrating. Although officially the novel is about Alice’s bucket list and its effects, the majority follows Alice and Harvey’s complicated, ever-changing relationship.

This book is a quick, easy read, and a welcome relief from the heavier books I had been reading. I stayed interested in the story the whole way through, partly because of the suspense and interest that the unique structure brought to the novel (although at times they confused the plot), but also because it was simply enjoyable to read. It wasn’t particularly cringeworthy or unrealistic, despite its somewhat simplistic plot. It was well-written (for a YA book) – I can say this not because I noticed it, but because I didn’t: it wasn’t irritating or clunky, or even noteworthy at all, but it did its job by remaining unnoticeable, letting the plot take centre stage. This often happens in YA literature, or at least is aspired towards – and I think Murphy achieved it. 

However, there were also some issues with Side Effects May Vary: firstly, many of the characters were two-dimensional. Although this is kind of understandable for secondary characters like Deborah, it’s not sufficient with the protagonist – much of Alice’s hatred and pessimism was left unexplained, and was therefore unconvincing. Secondly, as many people have found, I grew tired of Alice and her ‘spontaneous’, egotistical and sometimes gratuitous ways. The way she treated Harvey was awful, and it was frustrating that he put up with it for so long. Finally, the ending, although effective, was unsatisfying; the book didn’t feel finished. It was a really good part of the plot, but would have been better if it wasn’t the ending – perhaps the book would have benefitted from being longer, with more time on the end of the plot.

You would enjoy this book if you’re looking for a good-quality (although not exceptional or mind-blowing) YA book: it’s short, light and easy to read, with a relatively unsophisticated plot. It’s also interesting as an insight into life with a terminal illness, and its effect on one’s thoughts and decisions.

My Ratings (out of 10 As):

Plot/Story: AAAAAA

Writing: AAAAAA

Pace: Medium

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Far from the Madding Crowd – By Thomas Hardy

Classic Literature, Romance

This book is about how the lives of four people – Gabriel Oak, Bathsheba Everdene, William Boldwood and Frank Troy – with different backgrounds and aspirations intertwine, charting their relationships through different circumstances.

I have never felt so relieved to have finished a book – Far from the Madding Crowd is ‘thick’ and heavy, despite its short length. Although it isn’t too slow-paced, or wordy, I struggled to maintain an interest in it. The cause of its insipidity is its topic: despite the beautiful romantic story suggested by the blurb, this book is about everyday life, and love, in rural England. Bathsheba Everdene, the centre of so much attention, has ordinary thoughts and feelings, most of which are self-absorbed. Gabriel Oak, a sheep farmer – and my favourite of Bathsheba’s ‘suitors’ (or hopeful admirers) – is humble and understated in the way he lives his life. The only characters that seem somewhat fantastical come to their tragic ends through the course of the story. Perhaps this suggests the underrated value in living an ordinary, honourable life – sometimes, the most safe, boring option is the one that will make you happiest.

I felt compelled to read this book, knowing it to be a largely beloved classic; there is something distinctly rewarding in reading a ‘respected’ book, despite this being a poor reason for reading one. Nevertheless, I started it, determined not only to read it, but enjoy it. But frankly, I was disappointed: I tried to like it, but as I wasn’t gripped, I found it hard to pick up. I forced myself to read a couple pages every day, ploughing through it slowly and reluctantly. It wasn’t until the end that I finally began to enjoy it, when the plot gained momentum and exciting events occurred in succession. If it wasn’t for this, I wouldn’t recommend the book at all: more than once, I came close to putting it down.

Far from the Madding Crowd is Marmite: some rave about it, whilst others think it tedious. I’m not sure which I fit under – I found a lot of it hard-going, but by the end wished I had savoured it. Overall, it’s a great, well-written book, but must be read with patience: eventually, it is rewarding. It’s good for people who like old classics for their language and history, but don’t want too long a book (and don’t mind a drawn-out, sometimes monotonous plot).

My Ratings (out of 10 As):

Plot/Story: AAAAAAA

Writing: AAAAAAAAA

Pace: Slow

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The lives of Ugandan women: Crossroads – By christopher Conte

Non-Fiction

I don’t usually read books like this, and when it was sent to me, I was wary about what it would be like. However, despite my reservations, I decided to read it, and I’m glad I did.

Crossroads is a collection of autobiographical essays written by Ugandan women, describing their lives and the difficulties they have encountered. The selection of topics discussed is broad, relating to both ‘Ugandan’ issues and universal ones – from sex, sexuality and gender roles to NGOs, torture and corporal punishment. The women, living in modern Uganda, insightfully describe Western influences versus traditional customs, exploring their benefits and drawbacks.

The authors of Crossroads, writing passionately yet with measure and control, explore the nuanced reality of living as modern, Ugandan women.  The book’s brevity is powerful, because none of the stories are boring or drawn-out; the purpose of the collection is to highlight impactful parts of the women’s lives, relating to a theme. This focus ensures that the reader is not overwhelmed by an excess of information, and can freely come to their own conclusion about the importance of western values in traditional societies like Uganda.

My favourite of the stories is ‘No time for pain’, which is written in the second person; it describes a woman’s isolation as she struggles to live a normal life with the memory of her war-torn childhood. Her account of grief and detachment is well-written and easy to relate to, and is complimented by her well-considered commentary on the long-term effects of war and refugee camps on the society she lives in.

I urge you to read Crossroads if you are interested in Ugandan life and stories about women’s coming-of-age. This collection of essays is readable and fairly short; it is appropriate for mid-teenagers and older.

My Ratings (out of 10 As):

Plot/Story: AAAAAAAAA

Writing: AAAAAAA

Pace: Medium

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Thanks to Christopher Conte for providing me with a digital copy of this fascinating collection of essays for review.

 

A Summer Paradise: We Were Liars – By E. Lockhart

Fictional Memoir, Romance

We Were Liars is about the Sinclairs, an ideal WASPy family: the patriarch, his three daughters, and their families. In summers, the clan retreats to its private island off Martha’s Vineyard. We’re told that ‘no one is a criminal’, ‘addict’ or ‘failure’ in the family; that they’re all athletic, tall and handsome, with their wide smiles and square chins. The narrator, Cadence Sinclair, is the eldest grandchild; she’s sick of being forced to act ‘normal’ and composed, and feels – along with her contemporaries on the island – that the family focuses too much on money and competition.

We Were Liars is a readable, intriguing YA novel; it’s fairly well-written, and is based on an interesting story, which many readers will relate to. At times, I felt the plot was unrealistic; however, I don’t feel this took away from the quality of the book. The narrator’s wry, intelligent voice, characteristic to so many YA books is entertaining, although sometimes tedious. The only aspect of the book that made me cringe slightly was the sweet but annoying voice of Gat, always pondering morality in a naive and condescending way.

Overall, I would recommend this book if you are looking for a solid, good-quality YA book – but don’t expect much of it as an adult book. It’s funny, well-executed and has a clever ending that you won’t expect.

My Ratings (out of 10 As):

Plot/Story: AAAAAA

Writing: AAAAAA

Pace: Medium

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