A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

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Title: A Great and Terrible Beauty

Author: Libba Bray

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Feeling: Longing

★★★★★

This is the first book I have read by Libba Bray who is, in fact, quite the prolific author and incredibly popular amongst fans of Young Adult literature. My interest was peaked in Bray’s writing after reading an article she had written here for EW that Monica from SheMightBeMonica shared online. Upon reading Bray’s article I immediately ordered both A Great and Terrible Beauty and Beauty Queens by the author. Seeing her discuss the influences and objectives of her young adult work made me see them in a much more complex light than perhaps the blurbs alone would have. Not only did my first foray into her work not disappoint, it far exceeded all of my expectations. A Great and Terrible Beauty is the first in her Gemma Doyle series and what a beginning it is.

The year is 1895 and our story follows Gemma Doyle, a young woman from a wealthy English family who has spent her entire life thus far growing up in India. After tragedy strikes, however, her life is uprooted and she is sent to board at a girls’ finishing school in England. Her life in England is far more than elocution lessons and keeping up with this season’s latest fashions; Miss Doyle is haunted by visions of another world, one both terrifying and beautiful.

This book melds together 19th century Britain, female friendships, sexual awakenings and magic. The story and characters are engaging and mysterious with so much more bubbling under the surface. There is so much I enjoyed about this first book in the series that it is difficult to condense my feelings for you in one blog post, but here I go.

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Hollow Pike by Juno Dawson

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Author: Juno Dawson

Publisher: Orion Books

Feeling: Secretive

★★★★★

Rarely does an author’s debut novel accomplish everything it sets out to do. Hollow Pike sets up a premise, introduces us to its characters and takes us on a journey that ticks every box the reader is looking for it to fulfill. The novel itself first came out in 2012 and is not my first foray into Juno Dawsons’s writing. I had previously read Say Her Name when it was released in 2014, a novel which also falls into the Young Adult Thriller/Horror genre, and shortly before picking up Hollow Pike I had finished listening to the audiobook of Dawson’s first adult nonfiction work The Gender Games. In fact, it was listening to The Gender Games that had me itching to finally pick Hollow Pike up from my shelf having acquired it shortly after finishing Say Her Name. This is not a review of The Gender Games but I think it is safe to say that the book had to be pretty good to have me jumping straight into another work by that same author.

Hollow Pike, as I have mentioned, is a Young Adult book that could be described as a thriller or even horror novel. Due perhaps to the flexibility of Young Adult writing, where Dawson herself feels authors are freed from the confines of a single genre, Hollow Pike offers a little more than goosebumps. The book follows Lis who has recently moved from her high school in Wales to one in Hollow Pike, Yorkshire, after a bad bought of bullying at her last school. Bullying, moving, new environments, making friends and first romances are all prevalent themes throughout the novel; all accompanied by a good, creepy mystery.

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Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

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Title: Stay With Me

Author: Ayobami Adebayo

Publisher: Canongate Books

Feeling: Astonishing

★★★★★

This book was first put on my radar when it was longlisted for The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction this year (2017). And let me tell you, I will be forever grateful it did. For me, the experience of reading this book demonstrates what is so magical about the Women’s Prize for Fiction, as without it I may never have picked Stay With Me up. Which would, I assure you, have been a great loss for me.

The book itself takes place in 1980s Nigeria and predominantly follows Yejidi, whose husband Akin, in the very first few pages of the book, takes a second wife without informing Yejidi that he is about to do so. Although he is not alone in their circle of family and friends to marry multiple women he did so against the express wishes of his first wife. The reason that Yejidi’s life is suddenly turned upside down is due to her inability thus far in their marriage to conceive a child and the pressure that has incurred from Akin’s family to find a wife who can. From that point on nothing unfolds as you might predict.

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The Arrival of Missives by Aliya Whiteley

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Title: The Arrival of Missives

Author: Aliya Whiteley

Publisher: Unsung Stories

Feeling: Expectant

★★★★

Prior to reading this novella I had read Aliya Whiteley’s other short novel The Beauty and a selection of her short stories; all of which deeply unsettled and disturbed me (The Beauty genuinely gave me nightmares). This is not a criticism, however, Whiteley’s writing is beautifully addictive and I was ready to read anything she wrote. I, therefore, instantly requested a copy of The Arrival of the Missives upon its release. For one reason or another, it took me a few months before I actually got a chance to read it but as soon as I arrived back at my parents home in Edinburgh for Christmas, where my books currently reside, I picked it up off the shelf. A decision I do not regret! I sped through this book, I quite literally could not put it down and it has made me all the more excited to see what Whiteley comes out with next.

The premise of the story begins with our protagonist Shirley, a 17-year-old girl about to complete her schooling and living on a farm in rural, post World War 1 Britain. We are made aware from the offset of the novel that she has feelings for her 24-year-old school teacher Mr. Tiller who returned from the war permanently injured. It is her intention, however, to make her feelings known to him now that her schooling is coming to an end in order for them to be together. From that point on absolutely nothing goes as you would expect it to.

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The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

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Title: The Wonder

Author: Emma Donoghue

Publisher: Picador

Feeling: Steady

★★★★

I was a little apprehensive to pick up Emma Donoghue’s latest novel. Having previously read two of her other works and absolutely adored both I had high expectations for anything else she wrote. High expectations, can, sometimes be a terrible burden for any book to handle. The Wonder, however, bore my hopes steadfastly throughout my reading experience and assured me that Donoghue’s beautiful prose are here to stay.

The story is set in 1850’s Ireland and follows our protagonist Libby, an Englishwoman unfamiliar with rural Ireland. She was trained as a nurse by the renowned Florence Nightingale and thus comes with a certain reputation. She has been specifically hired to watch over Anna, an eleven year old Irish girl who has supposedly not allowed a morsel of food to pass her lips in the past four months. Naturally a collective of authority figures including priest and doctor wish to discover whether this is due to divine intervention or some trick that is being played; it is Libby’s duty to find out.

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Smoke by Dan Vyleta

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Title: Smoke

Author: Dan Vyleta

Publisher: Orion

Feeling: Confused

★★½

It brings me a little sadness to review this book because despite an exciting beginning I had unfortunately fallen completely out of love with it by the end.

The premise of this book is undeniably unique and undoubtedly what peaked my interest when I was offered a copy to review from the publisher. The story takes place in an England unlike that that exists now; potentially a future version of the country but one that feels as though it is set a couple of hundred years in the past. That is, with one major difference: smoke. In the world that Vyleta has created smoke is an inescapable phenomenon. It is seen as a physical manifestation of sin amongst humans. When individuals lie, act through aggression or lust or even just think uncouth thoughts they begin to smoke. The reason for smoke it is not, however, as clear cut as it might seem. In fact what really created smoke was one of the fascinating mysteries that had me engaged in the story from the beginning; I wanted answers.

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The Hunger Games the 2nd Time Around

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Over the span of the last week, I have re-read Suzanne Collins’ entire Hunger Games trilogy for the second time and what an adventure it has been. I originally read the trilogy shortly after the first film was released on DVD and I watched it one night not expecting much but coming away thoroughly surprised and impressed. After that I just had to read the books; I had to know what happened to Katniss, Peeta & the rest of the citizens of Panem. So I delved in with the first book in the series only to learn so much more than the film had shared with me and continued to zoom through books two and three. I was honestly shocked by how these books actually managed to successfully live up to the hype I had been hearing from left, right and centre; just based on past experience.

Now, four years on, I decided it was time to re-read the series for the first time. I am an avid re-reader as much as I am an avid reader. If life is proving stressful there is nothing I find more soothing than to return to a story that brought me joy the first time around and re-emerse myself in its pages. The re-read often provides with me with as equally an exciting journey as the original read, a return to old emotions and the discovery of new. The Hunger Games did not disappoint. Everything I enjoyed about the series the first time around was waiting for me and something extra too.

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