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Three Novels: ‘Winter’, ‘War Crimes for the Home’, and ‘Turtles All the Way Down’

Winter by Ali Smith ***** 9780241207024
Anybody who knows me will not be surprised in the slightest to hear that Ali Smith’s Winter, the second novel in her seasonal quartet, was one of my most highly anticipated reads of 2017. I received a signed copy for Christmas, and read it just three days afterwards. The novel is, again unsurprisingly, startlingly brilliant; I was swept in immediately, and was once again blown away by the quality and clarity of Smith’s writing. Winter is searing, and so clever; it is once incredibly topical, informed, and important. I cannot speak highly enough of the novel in my review; I shall merely end by saying that it is an absolutely brilliant literary offering from Smith, as per.

 

9780747561460War Crimes for the Home by Liz Jensen ****
I have very much enjoyed most of Liz Jensen’s novels to date, and the storyline of War Crimes for the Home would have piqued my interest even if I had not already been acquainted with her work. This is, I believe, my first foray into her historical fiction, and I found it very enjoyable. This takes place on the Home Front in Britain during the Second World War, and the battles fought on British soil, along with the effects which they brought, have been well captured. I liked the use of retrospect, and the memory loss which present-day Gloria suffers with has been handled well. Not at all a nostalgic portrayal of times gone by, War Crimes for the Home is sure to appeal to every fan of historical fiction that likes to be surprised a little in their reading.

 

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green **** 9780525555360
As with many readers, John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down was a highly anticipated read for me. I really enjoy his writing, particularly with regard to the dialogue which he sculpts; it is not always entirely authentic, in that I cannot imagine many teenagers speaking as articulately as he clearly can, but it is stuffed with original ideas, and beautiful turns of phrase. Green’s portrayal of anxiety is not a stereotypical one, such as I have read before; rather, it has depth. The plot is not a predictable, and it certainly throws up some surprises along the way. Whilst not my favourite of his novels, I still found it markedly difficult to put Turtles All the Way Down well… all the way down.

 

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One From the Archive: ‘Will Grayson, Will Grayson’ by John Green and David Levithan ****

First published in May 2014.

I love John Green and David Levithan, so the very fact that they collaborated on a novel together excited me rather a lot.  I couldn’t wait to read Will Grayson, Will Grayson, and it was almost agony to put it onto my to-read shelves and wait for its title to come out of my book choice jar, rather than to begin it straight after purchasing it from Waterstone’s Piccadilly.  I was patient, however, and thankfully I didn’t have too long to wait to read it.

My favourite John Green novel – rather predictably, I suppose – is The Fault in Our Stars, and my favourite of David Levithan’s is the fabulous Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares (written with Rachel Cohn), which I read every Christmastime without fail.  (Also, I must mention that the periwinkle coloured Penguin cover of Will Grayson, Will Grayson is just lovely.)

I tried not to read many reviews of the novel before I started to readit, but from what I’ve seen, it appears to be a ‘Marmite’ book of sorts, and is either loved or hated.  Its premise is simple yet clever:

“One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two strangers cross paths.  Two teens with the same name, running in two very different circles, suddenly find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, culminating in heroic turns-of-heart and the most epic musical ever to grace the high-school stage.”

I loved the nod to Neutral Milk Hotel at the start of the book (a great band, and the favourite band of my favourite band’s frontman).  As with most of Green and Levithan’s characters, almost everyone was instantly likeable (aside from Maura, that is).  Each protagonist in Will Grayson, Will Grayson had noticeable flaws, but they felt all the more human for it.  The stories of each Will Grayson blend seamlessly, and I very much liked the different literary techniques which the authors had used to differentiate their protagonists from one another.  Out of both Will Graysons, I much preferred the gay one (I am almost entirely sure that this is Levithan’s creation); he was quite simply adorable.  The same can be said for Tiny, the character who essentially links both Wills.

Elements of both authors’ novels have been skilfully woven in – there is a love story a la John Green, which is rather unexpected but warms the heart nonetheless; there are many references to homosexuality, as in David Levithan’s books, and a few gay characters – all of whom I would love to call friends; and there is wit, humour, and even hilariousness at some points.  Will Grayson, Will Grayson is an immensely difficult book to put down, and the authors write so well together that I hope they choose to collaborate again in future (multiple times, please, gentlemen.  You know you want to.).  The novel has been perfectly executed, and I would heartily recommend it to everyone in search of a heartwarming and amusing novel.

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‘Will Grayson, Will Grayson’ by John Green and David Levithan ****

From ‘greenquotes.tumblr.com’

I love John Green and David Levithan, so the very fact that they collaborated on a novel together excited me rather a lot.  I couldn’t wait to read Will Grayson, Will Grayson, and it was almost agony to put it onto my to-read shelves and wait for its title to come out of my book choice jar, rather than to begin it straight after purchasing it from Waterstone’s Piccadilly.  I was patient, however, and thankfully I didn’t have too long to wait to read it.

My favourite John Green novel – rather predictably, I suppose – is The Fault in Our Stars, and my favourite of David Levithan’s is the fabulous Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares (written with Rachel Cohn), which I read every Christmastime without fail.  (Also, I must mention that the periwinkle coloured Penguin cover of Will Grayson, Will Grayson is just lovely.)

I tried not to read many reviews of the novel before I started to readit, but from what I’ve seen, it appears to be a ‘Marmite’ book of sorts, and is either loved or hated.  Its premise is simple yet clever:

“One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two strangers cross paths.  Two teens with the same name, running in two very different circles, suddenly find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, culminating in heroic turns-of-heart and the most epic musical ever to grace the high-school stage.”

I loved the nod to Neutral Milk Hotel at the start of the book (a great band, and the favourite band of my favourite band’s frontman).  As with most of Green and Levithan’s characters, almost everyone was instantly likeable (aside from Maura, that is).  Each protagonist in Will Grayson, Will Grayson had noticeable flaws, but they felt all the more human for it.  The stories of each Will Grayson blend seamlessly, and I very much liked the different literary techniques which the authors had used to differentiate their protagonists from one another.  Out of both Will Graysons, I much preferred the gay one (I am almost entirely sure that this is Levithan’s creation); he was quite simply adorable.  The same can be said for Tiny, the character who essentially links both Wills.

Elements of both authors’ novels have been skilfully woven in – there is a love story a la John Green, which is rather unexpected but warms the heart nonetheless; there are many references to homosexuality, as in David Levithan’s books, and a few gay characters – all of whom I would love to call friends; and there is wit, humour, and even hilariousness at some points.  Will Grayson, Will Grayson is an immensely difficult book to put down, and the authors write so well together that I hope they choose to collaborate again in future (multiple times, please, gentlemen.  You know you want to.).  The novel has been perfectly executed, and I would heartily recommend it to everyone in search of a heartwarming and amusing novel.

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Flash Reviews (29th October 2013)

9781846169243

‘Stargirl’ by Jerry Spinelli

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli ****
Stargirl was one of the very first books which I wrote in my original ‘to-read’ notebook when I purchased it back in 2007, and I have only just got around to purchasing and reading it.  I was so excited to begin it after April telling me that the snippets of the story which she had read were beautiful.  Whilst reading, the novel reminded me of Looking for Alaska by John Green in terms of its school-based storyline and quirky characters, and The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides with regard to its narrative style.  (Side note: If you have enjoyed either or both of these novels, then go and locate yourself a copy of Stargirl as soon as you can, and don’t stop reading until you have finished it.)

The characters in Stargirl are all incredibly well developed, and I loved how different they were.  Spinelli makes it easy to identify those who are only mentioned once or twice in the narrative due to the original details which he includes.  The characterisation of Stargirl particularly was marvellous.  I loved how quirky and unexpected she was, and the arc of her character development was well constructed and believable, if very sad.  This is a novel which I will certainly be reading again.

Bluestockings: The Remarkable Story of the First Women to Fight for an Education by Jane Robinson ****
I find non-fiction books like this fascinating, particularly when they explore education and the suffrage movement in detail (which, incidentally, Bluestockings does).  I loved the way in which Robinson set out the history of the female fight for education, and admired the fact that she based the book only within England and Scotland.  Her use of sources – quotes and case studies – to back up particular facts or statements worked very well, and I was pleased that she did not rely too heavily upon them, as some historical books which I have read in the past have done.  Without the women outlined in Bluestockings, I doubt that I would be as well educated as I am now.  It is thanks to them, really, that all children and young people have the same educational rights and opportunities to study today, regardless of their sex or upbringing.  I am so very grateful for both their determination and their bravery.  A great and highly recommended book.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer ***
I had not planned to read another non-fiction book directly after finishing the marvellous Bluestockings, but it was the first suggestion which I picked out of my handy to-read jar, so I decided to go with it regardless.  The story which Krakauer looks at – that of a young man named Chris McCandless, who donated his savings to Oxfam and then disappeared into the Alaskan wilderness, his whereabouts relatively unknown until his body was found some time afterwards – is interesting, and as I don’t really read true crime books often, it has made me want to explore the genre further.  Despite this, Into the Wild did feel a little lacking in its execution.  Krakauer’s narrative style was a touch dull at times, and I think a little more passion in or enthusiasm for his subject would have made the world of difference.  Although I was keen to learn about McCandless’ story, the writing style meant that I rather struggled to get into it.

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Flash Reviews (1st October 2013)

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green ****
(Kindly sent to me by April – thank you!)
I always look forward to a new John Green novel, and whilst this is one of his earlier works, it is one which I’ve strangely never been able to locate in bookshops.  The more I learnt about Colin, this book’s protagonist, the more baffled I was that he was able to have one girlfriend, let alone nineteen of them.  That sounds very mean, I know, but he was very self-important and wallowed in self-pity for the majority of the novel.  His antithesis for me came in the guise of his best friend, Hassan, with whom Colin sets off on a roadtrip with no destination in mind.  Hassan reminded me of one of my friends with regard to his speech and mannerisms, and so I liked him immediately.  I enjoyed the structure, which included scenes involving many of Colin’s past girlfriends – all Katherines – at the end of every chapter.  There were perhaps a few too many graphs and instances of ‘fugging’ in An Abundance of Katherines, but the novel is well written and rather amusing.  It is not incredibly sweet and sad like Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, nor as heartwarming as Paper Towns, but I still very much enjoyed it.

The Lovers by Vendela Vida ****
I so enjoyed Vida’s Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name, and have been wanting to read more of her fiction ever since.  Turkey’s landscape was set out beautifully throughout The Lovers, and I found that Vida built up the sense of uneasiness in rather a marvellous way.  She is one of the few authors I can think of whose use of the third person perspective does not detract at all from the story which she writes.  Throughout, she captured the protagonist Yvonne’s loneliness perfectly.  I liked the way in which she describes Yvonne being both married and widowed, weaving the memories together in order to create a full picture.  The characters were all believable and felt real, as did the relationships which Vida built up between them.  The Lovers is a great novel, and one which I struggled to put down.

Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare ****
Troilus and Cressida followed on marvellously from my reading of The Iliad.  I found it most interesting that critics find it difficult to place this play into only one genre, as elements of it cross over somewhat.  I very much liked Shakespeare’s inclusion of a prologue, which set the scene marvellously.  I am often blown away by the conversations Shakespeare crafts between his characters, and this play was no exception.  The insults particularly are rather marvellous; Ajax and Thersites call one another ‘You whoreson cur’, ‘thou sodden-witted Lord’ and ‘thou scurry-valiant ass’, amongst other things.  The plot in Troilus and Cressida moves along marvellously, and whilst it is most enjoyable, it does pale rather against the stunning epic poem that is The Iliad.