Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Review-Footsteps in the Snow

Dear Blog,
today's review is for Footsteps in the Snow, by Carol Matas (and part of the Dear Canada series). I got it for my birthday and, well, I thought it deserves a mention. Also as I'm still working my way through The Sweet Far Thing (about 300 pages to go), which I stayed up until 1:30 last night reading.
Anyway. On with the matter at hand.

Summary: It's 1815. As the book begins, 12-year-old Isobel Scott is on the voyage from Scotland to Canada with her father and two brothers, following the death of her mother, who died on the voyage. Isobel finds her old journal and, seeing as there's only a page or so written in, she starts recording her thoughts and feelings. They're on their way with some other Selkirk settles to Rupert's Land, but various complications ensue as they have too few supplies to last a winter, struggle to claim their land, and are caught in the conflict between the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Bay Company.

Review: I have a thing for historical fiction in diary form. I started reading the My Story series when I was eight, and since then I've also started working through the Dear America series and Dear Canada, as well. But Footsteps in the Snow is only the second book in the Dear Canada series I've read because they're so hard to get in England. But my general outlook on such fiction is: you can never have enough.
My favourite thing about this book had to be Isobel herself. She was such a believable character and I really found myself rooting for her. Maybe this was because she was unlike the uncountable numbers of female protagonists in such historical fiction, i.e being awful at sewing, wanting to run around climbing trees, getting their hair tangled and all in all looking for adventure, Isobel was the exact opposite. Nay: She spoke English as well as Scottish Gaelic and could read and write better than many other children in that era (i.e 1815). shewanted to be a lady, and believed that in Canada she could be just that. She wanted to live a life of luxury and happiness, "living in a grand house in the New World, with servants to wait on me and young men coming to call." This is what made her seem even more out of her depths traversing the Canadian wilderness at minus thirty degrees. This quote particularly struck me:

I cannot believe how far from my dreams we have sunk. We were supposed to begin a life where I would be a lady. Instead I am nothing more than a servant to the savages. I always try to bear myself with dignity, however, so as not to let them see that my pride is injured.
As I read it I was thinking, "YES! YES! YES! That's exactly how somebody in her situation would feel!" Carol Matas captured her character perfectly. Her frustrations, her joys, her initial resentment at her father marrying White Loon (a local Cree woman)...Everything was there. Eventually Isobel overcomes many hardships in the end and emerges as a strong young woman.

However. Despite this the book was quite slow moving at times, and I felt it needed a little push to get going again. Though it was a pleasure to read, when you sort of stand back and think, "so what happened?" The answer is, well, not as much as you think as you're reading this. But then, I suppose, it was told in diary form and you can't expect such a beginning-middle-end type plot as such.
Oh well. That aside, it's well worth a read for all fans of such historical fiction.
Rating: 4/5

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Review: Jinx

Dear Blog,
the clocks went forward an hour, so British Summer Time has begun. It's making my brain confused :P. Though my computer tells me it's 9:30, my mind thinks otherwise.
Here goes. My first book review. It probably sounds awkward and weird because, well, though I've reviewed books before, never for a book blog. My first victim is Jinx by Margaret Wild.
I first read it a few weeks ago, I borrowed it from the library. Next time I go down I'll most likely borrow it again, it's so wonderful.

Summary: Jen is an ordinary teenage girl. She lives in the suburbs with her mother and sister, Grace, who has Down's Syndrome. Though, in a quote from the book, "she loves it here/wouldn't live anywhere else/but/week after week, month after month/each day is relentlessly the same".
Suddenly and without warning, her boyfriend Charlie dies and naturally, Jen's heartbroken. She's in the depths of despair until she meets Ben, who helps her get over his death. But then he dies and a friend at school calls her "Jinx" and she believes it suits her. Jen dissapears and gets replaced by Jinx, but after meeting Hal, who she believes to be responsible for Ben's death, she tries to become Jen again.

Review: I love poetry. I especially love blank verse. So from the moment I saw it I knew I wanted to read it.
I love the way it's told. Though the story mainly revolves around Jen/Jinx, everybody in her life has a story to tell, from her friend Serena to her boyfriend's mother. It keeps alternating from the first to the third person (with the second person too if you count poems from Serena's point of view as she talks to her computer), but without any awkwardness. The story flows along and the reader is swept up with it.
The prose is wonderful. Some of the poems seem almost fleeting, but still portray the characters in a quiet sort of way. I suppose the best way to describe this would be looking at the characters from a totally different angle: "strange but beautiful", "jen's mum will write" (my favourite poems from the book), "hair", "window shopping" and so on, capturing a beautiful and fragile picture of Jen's world:

Jen's mum writes advertising copy.
She specializes in white goods:
washing machines, dryers, fridges,
freezers, dishwashers.
She hates these appliances
in corners,
power-hungry and fractious.
One day, she will have a wood stove,
and she'll write about things that matter-
she will write about birth and death,
about love and the absence of love,
about fathers and children,
about mothers and daughters,
about lovers and friends.
She'll write about the whole goddamn
wonderful, awful business
of loving and being loved.

"Strange but Beautiful", for example, doesn't directly tell you about Jen's mum's personality and physical appearance, but gives you a snapshot of her through her daydreams and thoughts.
And the characters. How I adored them all, from Grace to Connie to Hal to Stella. They all seemed to wonderfully shaped, with flaws and real depth to them. I especially liked Jen's friends: Connie, a lesbian, Serena, surrounded by luxury but neglected by her parents (Hi man/guess what?/I got a nose ring/it only took a week for my parents to notice), and Ruth, daughter of a geologist and probably my favourite character (not just because my dad has a degreee in geology). I felt all their emotions: both understood why Charlie felt so alone and felt angry and confused alongside Jen, unable to understand why he had killed himself.
It was wonderfully touching. "Things we like about our mums", following a hilarious poem called "Things we hate about our mums" almost made me cry. I don't know why when her boyfriends were dropping like flies and Jen was getting into all sorts of trouble. It was just, in a word, emotional. In two, emotional and truthful. I finished the book feeling that little more understanding about life.

Rating and extra stuff: 5 out of 5. Definitely a book to read before you die. I'm going to seek out her other blank verse novel, "One Night", when I next go down to the library.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

In praise of book trailers

Dear Blog,
Entry no.2. Just spent about an hour trying to re-organize the layout, background colour and everything. No matter.
I'm currently on page 42 of The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray, the epic tome that is the conclusion to the Gemma Doyle Trilogy. It's been sat on my shelf since November and I've been saving it for a weekend where I have nothing to do and can just sit for hours reading. I suppose I'll do a full review when I've finished it (but with over 800 pages, that may be a while).

No, dear blog, today's subject is in fact Book Trailers. They rock my socks!
In case you haven't heard of them before,the clue's in the name really. They're like film previews but...for books!
My favourite is most likely for The Boy with the Cuckoo Clock Heart by a French author whose name escapes me. Though I understand none of it, it's beautiful and they should release it as a single and music. It uses PUPPETS!

And my other favourite is for If I Stay by Gayle Forman (which I've heard they're making into a film). As with many other book trailers, it makes me want to rush out to Waterstones and buy the book.

*adds both books to Goodreads "To Read" shelf*
Oh well. All for now, dear blog. Over and out.

Friday, 26 March 2010

The Book Blog Begins

Well then. A book blog. Here goes.
Books and the Universe.
I thought before I launched into writing endlessly about my passion (books, obvs.), I better introduce myself. So hi *waves*. I will be your book reviewer for this blog. I hope we get on very well.

Well then, now that insanity and awkwardness of the first few sentences is over, I can start writing endlessly about my passion. Books!
Let the fun begin.