As my last wrap-up was an overview of what I read in 2013, I didn’t get the chance to say a few words about what I read in the last week of December.
Now we’re firmly in January, I have another couple of books to share with you – SO – welcome to this bumper edition wrap-up post! Featuring all these lovely books:
Tinder, Sally Gardener
Breathe, Sarah Crossan
Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell
Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein
Spoiler-free reviews below!
TINDER is a illustrated tale loosely based on The Tinder Box by Hans Christian Andersen. Sally Gardener is an absolutely fantastic author, and it seems, incredibly versatile. Her dystopian tale Maggot Moon was one of my favourite reads of 2013, and is a story whose beauty comes from Gardener’s achingly sparse and poetic writing, as well as the immediately endearing characters. Tinder, by comparison, is a richly detailed and dense illustrated novel, with characters who you pity more than love, and which runs with the source material and brings it to a new light in horrific splendour.
The illustrations by David Roberts are incredibly atmospheric and really add to the story. I think a danger with illustrated fiction is that the drawn elements can seem superfluous to the story, but I really felt that Roberts’ illustrations heightened the reading experience of Tinder greatly.
I gave Tinder 4/5 stars on Goodreads, and definitely recommend it to anyone who is after a dark fairy-tale. It only narrowly missed out on 5 stars, as I felt that some sections of the story felt a little long. The ending is very strong though, and I really enjoyed this original, non-whimsical fairy tale adaptation.
Jumping ahead briefly from December to January – BREATHE has been my first book this year.
In the vein of many popular dystopian tales, Breathe takes place in a world where something we take for granted has become strictly regulated by a corrupt government. In Breathe‘s case, this is oxygen itself; the very air we must breathe to live is no longer free.
The premise is this – when the world population began to spiral out of control, the forests were destroyed to make room for more farms to create enough food to support it. The powers-that-be assumed that the ocean would be able to cope with re-oxygenating the atmosphere in the absence of the trees, but they weren’t counting on the ocean dying from over pollution.
This was the ‘Switch’; when the oxygen levels of the atmosphere dropped to around 4%, suffocating billions of the worlds population. During the Switch a oxygen-manufacturing corporation called Breathe built ‘Pods’; whole cities contained in glass bubbles where oxygen could be regulated to a level to be breathable, but only a select few could to afford to retreat into Pods, as well as a handful of the poorest winning a lottery to gain entrance as well. Everyone else suffocates. Generations later, the outside world is still completely inhospitable, and the trees aren’t growing back… or are they?
Breathe is a novel which takes on a big concept and doesn’t disappoint. The characters are engaging and likeable, and the world building is very believable – the sense of desperation of those who struggle to afford their air is palpable, and the cruelty of the government very real feeling. Breathe also has a love triangle that is well resolved and without two female characters slugging it out and taking shots at each other. It’s way to easy for love triangles to devolve in to ‘girl-hate’ territory, and I’m SO glad that Breathe avoided this.
The ending of Breathe is really fantastic and a well crafted cliff-hanger; just enough hope and resolution to feel satisfying, but enough intrigue and uncertainty to make you want the next instalment, Resist, ASAP. In fact, I’ve already bought my copy!
Since reading Eleanor and Park earlier in 2013, I have become a huge Rainbow Rowell fan. She’s an absolutely superb writer and a genius of sensitive, realistic contemporary YA.
FANGIRL is about Cather and Ren, twin sisters who are starting their first year of college (university) and leaving their home behind for the first time. Both girls are huge fangirls of Simon Snow (a vaguely Harry Potter-esque book series), Cath more than Ren, and while Ren takes to college life like a duck to water, Cath struggles to live in the real world, taking refuge in the universe of her childhood instead.
Fangirl is about finding independence, coping with change and coping with real life, especially when you feel more invested and safe in the world of fiction than in a world of people whose intentions can’t predict.
Rowell has a real skill for writing characters who you empathise with so much that everything they go through tugs at your heart-strings. The voice in Fangirl, as in Eleanor and Park, is so authentic that the novel reads flawlessly and before long you really feel as if you’re right there alongside Cath. Fangirl is the first book in a long time that I’ve been able to sit down and read 200+ pages in one sitting!
I can’t recommend Fangirl enough to fans of contemporary YA, to anyone who ever dipped their toes in fanfiction, or to anyone who enjoys a sensitive and original coming-of-age with an adorable romance. In fact, even if you hate any of those things, just read it anyway!
CODE NAME VERITY was the last book I read in 2013, and what a fantastic ending to the year it was.
*review contains some mild spoilers*
I’ve been really interested in the ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary) and the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) in WWII after reading The Spitfire Women of World War Two by Giles Wittell, and so when I heard about this historical YA involving the ATA, WAAF and espionage? I was SO there.
Told in part as a written confession from Julie, a captured British spy in German-occupied France, and part as the frantic diary entries of her best-friend Maddie, an ATA pilot who becomes trapped in France after crash-landing during an unauthorised moonlit mission, Code Name Verity is an incredibly clever and heart-wrenching story of resistance, daring, truth, and friendship.
There are so many things I loved about Code Name Verity, but aside from the excellent writing and pacing, the exhaustively researched historical setting, the plot twists, and the mounting sense of tension that grows throughout the book as it draws nearer to it’s epic conclusion, – I simply adored how central the strong, supportive female friendship between the two protagonists is to the plot.
When tortured into confessing her knowledge about the allied resistance, Julie’s refuge is writing about Maddie, their friendship and their days on British soil. When Maddie is in hiding the the cramped loft of a dank stable, hiding from the Nazis who regularly visit the farm she’s hiding in, she writes about Julie and the admiration she has for her, and her absolute belief that she will survive this, if anyone can. It’s rare and special to read a novel where the two central characters are A) both women, and B) not in romantic competition with each other, and rather, are supportive and loving of each other in a way which true friendships often are.
Don’t misunderstand me – there is absolutely no preachy element to Code Name Verity – but the overall impression of the novel is extremely pro-women. The ATA and WAAF were factions of the RAF in which female volunteers faced huge amounts of discrimination, despite their skill and their desire to aid the war effort. Julie and Maddie both represent the dozens of pioneering women who with huge sacrifice and great skill aided the war effort more that we’re likely to ever know.
I am so very grateful for this wonderful novel, where the women are spies, pilots, military strategists, and not just women waiting to fall in love.
I’m really excited to read the companion novel Rose Under Fire, which I’ve already bought for my Kindle.
Normally this is the part of the post where I share the books I’ve bought this past week, however for Christmas I got a *lot* of book tokens and some money (which I’ve been madly spending), and haven’t yet recieved everything i’ve ordered. So, my plan instead is to do a cumulative January book haul at the end of the month.
In lieu of a stack of brand new books, here’s a little peek at my current read Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce, which I am really enjoying so far!
Let me know if you’ve read any of these books, and what you thought! What are you reading at the moment?