The Stars Never Rise

Nina has some problems right now. Her mum is a drug addict and hasn’t cared for Nina and her sister, Melanie, for quite some time. She’s constantly trying to figure out where to get the next meal from. She’s trying to get through school with decent grades. Then Melanie reveals that she is pregnant (she’s fifteen. It’s unfortunate). Oh, and both girls live under the oppressive regime of the church, brought in ever since most of the souls in the world where taken over by the demon horde.

Any perceived sin can be put down to demon possession, meaning that no one – even the innocent – are safe from the wrath of the church. As such, Melanie’s pregnancy puts both girls in danger of severe punishment.

the stars never rise

Nina has to figure out a way to keep them all – herself, Melanie and the baby – safe, fast. Keeping them safe seems to involve trusting a strange boy, Finn who appears to possess the exorcist powers only wielded by powerful members of the church. Nina quickly finds she has little choice but to embrace Finn as circumstances soon strip her of the little control she has over her life.

I read The Stars Never Rise, by Rachel Vincent in two sittings. This story is fast paced!

Nina lives in a world that has gone to hell. Literally. Her life is driven by basic survival needs. She doesn’t see any kind of self-determined future for herself. Instead she plans to join the church she doesn’t even believe in as a means to support Melanie and escape her mother. Reading a character with this self-sacrificing nature was kind of frustrating at times. She couldn’t really see a life beyond her current situation. Nina didn’t dream in a way that I could relate to. There was leaving her mother but there was no real escape from the misery of New Temperance, and while it was alienating it was also great writing from Vincent. She has created in Nina an interesting portrayal of a young person living in a regime from which there is no escape. It isn’t possible to even run to a different part of the world, as most of it was destroyed in the war with the demons. There is only the church and her crappy town and playing the limited system she is part of to the best advantage she can.

That is, until Finn and Co. show up. And then everything changes… a little too quickly. Nina throws herself into her new life with Finn and his groups of rebels a little too fast to be quite believable. In particular she throws herself into her relationship with Finn. I mentioned in another recent review that I’m not a massive fan of instant love in characters and that’s kind of what happened here. Nina’s Trust No One and Look After Your Own attitude just seems to evaporate when she’s faced with Finn. A part of me was left sort of thinking…. Really?

That said, I loved the rebels, or Anathema, as the group refers to themselves in the book. They are an interesting group of characters – particularly Devi (class mean girl) – and I am looking forward to how they develop through the rest of the series.

Overall this was a good series started. We are introduced to a troubled, hellish world in need of some good fixing. The characters are intriguing and screaming out for some development. Tantalising hints were drop as to the overarching plot of the trilogy. I think it’s likely I’ll be reading the sequel.

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Rereading The Princess Diaries #3

Everything seems to be looking up for Mia. She’s raised her F in algebra to a D, she finally has a boyfriend and… well, she’s a princess. Her life should be perfect right?

Right.

Unfortunately the boyfriend is the wrong one. She’s dating Kenny, her sweet but ultimately unattractive lab partner, meanwhile, Michael Moscovitz – her best friend’s brother she has loved in secret for years – has started dating fellow computer club member Judith Gershner. Judith can clone fruit flies. As far as Mia is concerned – despite the D, algebra is a continual issue – she doesn’t stand a chance against a girl like that.

princess diaries #3

The princess thing is also a problem. She has to spend the coming Christmas in Genovia, the country she will one day rule. Preparation for this involves daily princess lessons with her evil Grandmere, the dowager princess of Genovia.

What Mia Learns

– Having a best friend who also happens to be a genius is hard work, and sometimes, when said best friend is planning a school-wide walkout (inspired by a teacher turning down her term paper proposal: How to Survive High School by Lilly Moscovitz (‘Students of the future will learn that the way to  settle their differences is not through violence, but through the sale of a really scathing screenplay – featuring characters based on individuals who tormented them all those years – to a major Hollywood movie studio. That, not a Molotov cocktail, is the path to true glory.’)) that will likely seriously hurt your algebra teacher, step-father and soon to be father of your half sibling’s feelings, it’s sometimes just best to pull the fire bell.

– Don’t allow boys who can’t ice skate backwards to ice skate backwards, they will pull the both of you over and the whole thing will be highly embarrassing.

– Your cousin might not be plotting your murder to steal your claim to the throne, but he probably is using your image without your permission to advertise his clothing designs.

– Advice from the empress of Japan: Always make sure your kimono is securely fastened before you raise your arm to wave to the populace.

Grandmere’s Best Moment

Grandmere is basically evil. She scares everybody she comes into contact with. At one point she tells Mia to keep dating Kenny until she finds someone better – for practice. That said, the lady has her moments.

‘You are not a loser, Amelia,’ Gradmere said. ‘You are a princess. And princesses do not run away when things become difficult. They throw their shoulders back and they face what disaster awaits them head on. Bravely, and without complaint.’

Lars

Lars is Mia’s bodyguard. He is present for basically everything that happens during the series. In general, I have no interest in reading existing books from alternative perspectives (I think it is a money grabbing move by lazy authors), but I would totally read this series narrated by Lars.

A Thousand Pieces of You

I wanted to enjoy Claudia Gray’s A Thousand Pieces of You a lot more than I actually did. It wasn’t that there were any elements I outright hated, it’s that somehow this book and I lacked a connection.

Marguerite Caine is on a mission of revenge. She has vowed to kill her father’s murderer and former protégé, Paul Markov. The main problem is figuring out which dimension he’s in. Marguerite’s mother proved the existence of other dimensions and together with Marguerite’s late father built the firebird technology that allows people to travel between them. Together with Theo, a PHD student working under her parents, Marguerite is determined to track down Paul and avenge her father’s death.

Sounds simple, right? Not so much. When Marguerite finds Paul, her certainty of his guilt starts to falter. It seems that her father’s death is part of a much more sinister plot in which Marguerite herself has a greater part than she ever knew.

a thousand pieces of you

I wanted to enjoy Claudia Gray’s A Thousand Pieces of You a lot more than I actually did. It wasn’t that there were any elements I outright hated, it’s that somehow this book and I lacked a connection.

First off, let’s go through the good stuff. The book takes place across four dimensions. Our own – pretty recognisable, if more technologically advanced (interdimensional travel), a future dimension (hover cars), old world-ey Russia and a post-climate change catastrophe world in which most people seem to live underwater.

Gray throws us right into the centre of the action. We enter the story at the point of Marguerite’s first jump into an alternate dimension, her grief totally eclipsing her ability to feel anything other than intense anger.

I enjoy playing catch up with characters and not having all the information. I don’t enjoy reading the final moments of the life of a character I already know from the blurb will be six feet under by the end of chapter two.

So far so good.

Marguerite’s exploration of the first futuristic dimension and the process of gathering information on the circumstances that led to her being there was interesting to read about. Theo and his flirtatiousness were pretty fun. The discovery that the situation with Paul wasn’t so simple intrigued me.

Then Marguerite and Paul arrive in nineteenth-century (or whenever) Russia, through a convoluted series of incidents that are slightly plot-holey lose their firebirds and therefore their ability to leave the dimension and are stuck there for a month. This portion of the book seriously drags. Marguerite decides that she is in love with the nineteenth-century Russia version of Paul (after like a week and a waltz. I can only assume he is an insanely great dancer) and this storyline really dominates the rest of the book. Even after they have left the dimension its ghost lingers, casting a dissatisfying shadow over the events following it.

It’s kind of like when you’re reading Jane Eyre and you skip over most of the St John part. Half way through, this book lost its Rochester.

From this point onwards the book limps toward its end, gradually gaining strength again the further it gets from the chill and bloodshed of the war torn Russian winter. By the time we reach the underwater dimension it has almost clawed its way back to being an interesting read. Almost.

Like I said, me and this book lacked a connection. I really don’t enjoy instant love. There is something exciting in that period of pre-relationship uncertainty I really miss when it’s skipped over. Plus I guess I’ve never managed to invest in couples who just tell me how much they care for each other (think Black Widow and Hulk in the last Avengers movie. What even was that?) Like my creative writing teachers always said, you have to show it to me. In this book, the weird instantaneous love was particularly disappointing because elsewhere Gray had done such a good job of developing relationships in a way that was totally believable.

A Thousand Pieces of You is the first in the firebird trilogy. Seeing as there is (spoiler alert!) little chance of Marguerite heading back to Russia any time soon, it might make a more interesting read.

5 Weird Reads

5 Weird Reads to Get You Out of Your Real Life and/or Reading Rut

Sometimes real life gets kind of boring.

Boredom is contagious. It infects all areas of your life. Sometimes – and I hate to admit it – boredom even invades your sacred reading space.

YA has trends like everything else after all. There are only so many dystopian novels a person can read, you know?

I might have a solution.

5 Weird Reads to Get You Out of Your Real Life and/or Reading Rut:

1. Going BovineLibba Bray

going bovine

Cameron has mad cow disease. He’s going to die. Unless he does as the hot angel Dulcie tells him to, and takes his hypochondriacal dwarf buddy, Gonzo and an angry Viking gnome across America in search of a cure. And defeat the evil United Snow Globe Wholesalers in the process, of course.

2. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender – Leslye Walton

the strange and beautiful sorrows of ava lavender

This book is a beautiful example of magical realism. The story weaves throughout the tragic history of the Roux family. Ava Lavender, a girl born with wings, traces back through the saddest stories in order to find her place in the world. Is she an angel, or just a girl? Can she be both?

3. The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

the graveyard book

Bod is the only living resident in a graveyard. It’s hard to grow up around the dead, but it comes with certain perks. Bod knows about to fade, like a ghost. It’s a killer move for hide and seek, but sadly Bod doesn’t have anyone living to play that with.

4. Grasshopper JungleAndrew Smith

grasshopper jungle

Austin and Robby may have accidentally brought about the end of humanity by accidentally releasing an army of unstoppable, six foot praying mantises in Iowa. Unstoppable praying mantises who pretty much only eat and fuck, which wouldn’t be so bad if their diet weren’t strictly human.

5. John Dies @ the End – David Wong

john dies @ the end

This book isn’t YA, and absolutely isn’t for younger readers, but remains one of the weirdest pieces of fiction I have read ever. Basically if you take the soy sauce Korrock (evil God of evil) becomes your responsibility. You can’t un-learn about the invasion (led by Korrock). Once you’ve taken the sauce you must fight the forces threatening to enslave humanity. This might involve killing the same two headed creature with the same ax twice.

The Walls Around Us

The Walls Around Us is creepy, unapologetic, vengeful, sad and full of longing. It’s a great way to pass a lazy summer evening alone.

Violet is a ballet dancer. Her best friend Ori is dead, and it’s Violet’s fault. Ori died because of what happened in the smoking tunnel. If it weren’t for that awful day, Ori would never have been sent to the juvenile detention centre in the first place. She’d still be alive.

Amber is locked in Aurora Hills Juvenile detention centre indefinitely. She was sentenced for the murder of her step-father. Most of the other girls in the centre believe Amber to be innocent.

the walls around usAmber just got a new cell mate, Orianna. Orianna is different from the others, from Amber herself.

The Walls Around Us, by Nova Ren Suma is a ghost story. It deals in hauntings by the dead and by the consequences of actions. It’s full of unreliable narrators.

I love unreliable narrators.

The Walls Around Us is a book about guilt and innocence. It’s about girls who convince themselves of innocence, despite the obviousness of guilt. It’s about what it is to be perceived as innocent while guilty at heart.

It shows what destruction the presumption of guilt wreaks on the lives of the truly innocent.

The prose intrigues. Reading Violet, we are forced to unravel her lies, to view her from a distance even as we experience the workings of her mind. The girl is crazy. Nothing about her is likeable.

I loved every second of her.

It takes real talent to attach an audience to a character who is heartless, controlling, manipulative and selfish, but Nova Ren Suma does it seemingly effortlessly. A less delicate hand would have made her character over the top, but Suma has written her in such a way as to make her utterly believable. She’s an unassuming sociopathic ballet dancer, and I had great fun being disgusted by her.

The scenes taking place in the prison, from Amber’s point of view, were also wonderful. Each line echoed with the girl’s loneliness and anger and grim acceptance of the present. I really enjoyed the collective voice often used during Amber’s sections of the book, as if Aurora Hills were a character of itself. It makes sense, the building looms large in book both when it is full and empty.

There were times however, particularly toward the end, where I found events and revelations a little confusing. I also find reading books like this, where from the get-go we know that a character has died, a little difficult to read, as I’m so preoccupied by the ending that I find myself less focussed on the present. Even before I finished, I found myself thinking that such a layered novel would probably seriously benefit from some rereading.

The Walls Around Us is creepy, unapologetic, vengeful, sad and full of longing. It’s a great way to pass a lazy summer evening alone.

Rereading The Princess Diaries #2

Mia Thermopolis recently found out she’s the heir to the throne of a small principality in Europe called Genovia. And this isn’t her only problem.

Mia Thermopolis recently found out she’s the heir to the throne of a small principality in Europe called Genovia. And this isn’t her only problem.

She has to take princess lessons with her Grandmere, who’s primary hobby seems to be the torture of young princesses. Her mother is having her algebra teacher’s baby. And she’s in love her best friend, Lilly Moscovitz’s brother, Michael.

In this book, Mia has to deal with her Grandmere planning her mother’s wedding to her algebra teacher, Mr Gianini, without her mother’s permission. Helen Thermopolis doesn’t do anything that she doesn’t want to. Mia is convinced the whole thing is going to be a disaster. Her dad claims he has the situation under control, but she isn’t so sure.

the princess diaries #2

In addition to all this, Mia has started to receive anonymous love letters. She dares to hope that they might be from Michael, Lilly’s brother who she has been in love with since forever. But her admirer – to Mia’s extreme frustration – will not reveal their identity!

All Mia really wants is her relative anonymity back, but after her first ever TV interview she is dealing with more attention than ever. She’s uncomfortable and she often says stupid things – which down to her newfound princess status, are heard by more people than ever. She has to get through the awkward process of growing up under the scrutiny of New York celebrity culture.

Mia’s Best Moments

– When she freaks out and throws away all of the food in their apartment that could potentially be unhealthy to her mother’s developing foetus. Also when she tells her mother not to have ice cubes in her drinks – they potentially contain harmful parasites – for the same reason.

– When the Duchess of York and Catherine Zeta Jones help her adapt her bridesmaid outfit into a Halloween costume so she can go to The Rocky Horror Picture Show with her friends.

– When she accidentally tells the world her mum is pregnant with her algebra teacher’s baby on television.

– Anything involving Mia, Lilly and Lilly’s foot fetishist stalker, Norman.

Michael’s Best Moment

‘… Michael, who ended up standing beside me, waiting for his turn to get into the car, went, ‘What I meant to say before, Mia, was that you look… you look really…’

I blinked up at him in the pink and blue light from the neon Round the Clock sign in the window behind us. It’s amazing, even bathed in pink and blue neon, with fake intestines hanging out of his shirt, Michael still looked totally –

‘You look really nice in that dress,’ he said, all in a rush.’

Michael, you slay me.

Nineties Kid Nostalgia

Lilly’s public access TV show, Lilly Tells It Like It Is.

Obviously it wasn’t normal for any of us to have our own television shows, but there is still something nostalgic about a time before Youtube.

The Alchemist

I am preoccupied, right now, with the idea of success. Obviously this has a lot to with my final year of university, during which I was told – on multiple occasions – that I am never going to succeed at the thing that I want to do.

(writing).

A few months ago my school ran a career day called Working with Words. It was a series of lectures with people working in publishing, journalism and radio. I went to a talk about the process of getting published. The first thing that happened was a man from a small publishing house based in the city told us that none of us would ever make a living from writing.

Believe it or not the day only got more discouraging from there.

But it’s not just the whole writing issue that has left me so preoccupied with the notion of success. It’s not just the likelihood of failure the well-meaning people in my life keep reminding me of.

What I eventually realised was happening when I would leave each career event, my heart tying itself in ever more complicated knots in my chest, was that was realising that I didn’t really have a definition in my head for what success even was.

But I was beginning to think it wasn’t the kinds of jobs I was being told it should be. It wasn’t living in London. It wasn’t throwing myself into the strong currents with the competitive people I was surrounded by who did their first internship when they were nine or whatever.

I was not interested in any of that shit.

It’s only been a couple months, but getting out of that environment has given me some much needed headspace. It’s given me the opportunity to think about what I want to do without the influence of the girl behind me in the lunch queue who just can’t wait to tell me about the job she has lined up at Penguin this summer.

The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, is a book about success. It’s a fable about a shepherd boy called Santiago who has a prophetic dream that there is treasure buried for him at the Egyptian Pyramids.

the alchemist

Spoiler alert: it takes him a while to find it.

Coelho describes the process of success as a literal and spiritual journey. Each part of the literal journey contains a spiritual lesson. It’s based in religious teachings – Coelho is Catholic – but not in such a way as to be alienating to the less religious types. He describes the difficulties that must be overcome in pursuit of success. He describes unlearning your childhood lessons about the inevitability of failure and of going forward fearlessly in the face of discouragement and defeat.

All of my own thoughts on success have led me to one solid, but unfortunately cringe-worthy when articulated conclusion. Following your heart is the way forward, even when it feels like your heart has no clue what it’s doing. The lesson at the centre of The Alchemist is the same. Follow your heart at the world will do what it can to aid you.

Another feeling I took from reading this book – and one that I am self-aware enough to realise is probably unique to my current time of life – is that success doesn’t have to be a burden. There is a quote in the book where it is said that all people eventually come to believe the biggest lie of the world – that eventually everything is determined by fate. And even at my age I have believed that at times. When I’ve been stuck talking with my peers about their publishing internships and the graduate scheme they just got an interview for while nursing my wounds over a rejection from an arts administration placement I didn’t even want, I have found myself thinking that it’s already over –  that I’m already this massive failure when I haven’t even started yet.

To remember that there is no fated outcome and everything is subject to change is a good attitude to take going forward, I think.