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My Sister's Keeper
My Sister's Keeper
Jodi Picoult | 2009 | Fiction & Poetry
8.2 (49 Ratings)
Book Rating
“If you use one of your children to save the life of another, are you being a good mother or a very bad one?”

<i>My Sister’s Keeper </i>was the first Jodi Picoult novel I read. (I have since read all Picoult’s books to date) I was not expecting much when I first picked it up, especially as I was reading it for a medical ethics module at college. Yet this book rekindled my love of reading and suddenly, after only reading one story, I was asking for Jodi Picoult books for my birthday.

Many people may be familiar with the storyline, even if they have not read the book, as <i>My Sister’s Keeper</i> shot to fame when the film version hit the cinemas. Thirteen-year-old Anna Fitzgerald was Rhode Islands first genetically engineered baby, created with the purpose of providing her older sister Kate with the means to survive acute promyelocytic leukemia. However over the next few years Kate relapses resulting in Anna going under numerous procedures, such as bone marrow extraction, in order to save Kate’s life. Now things have got so bad that Kate will die unless Anna gives up one of her kidneys, yet unwilling to do this Anna hires a lawyer, Campbell Alexander, to sue her parents for the rights of her own body.

From reading a synopsis the reader can already see that <i>My Sister’s Keeper</i> is going to be an emotional story, but what was it that made me love the author so much?

The story was told from six points of view: Anna, Jesse (older brother), Sara (mother), Brian (father), Campbell and Julie (guardian ad litem). Notice that Kate was not one of the narrators, which leads us to speculate from the very start that Anna wins the case and Kate dies. Despite the six main characters there is no antagonist – unless you count cancer – and in all of them the reader can find something relatable.

In one of the chapters, Jesse pronounces that Kate is the martyr, Anna the peacekeeper and himself the lost cause. With Anna we can recognize the struggle to follow the decisions laid down for us by other people – a time when we have no choice of our own. Jesse represents the times when we have been ignored and forgotten because of bigger or more important events, thus resulting in attention seeking behaviour. Brian, the firefighter, the man who wants to save everyone, cannot put out the metaphorical fire that is his family. Sara, whose narrative starts in the past rather than present day, shows us how easy it is to get wrapped up in one problem (or daughter), ignoring everything (or everyone) else.

One thing that is great about all Picoult’s novels is that they are not focused on one storyline. Granted this book is focused on the trial and Kate’s illness, but the inclusion of Campbell and Julia’s voices provide an interesting subplot. Julia is not exactly thrilled to discover that she will be working alongside Campbell, a person she knew from school that she had a difficult past with. Since then Julia has found herself unlucky in love and blames Campbell for this. Campbell on the other hand has been having trouble of his own and now needs a service dog with him at all times. Yet he is self conscious about people knowing the true reason behind this and often comes up with creative lies to stop people from asking questions. “Maybe if God gives you a handicap, he makes sure you’ve got a few extra doses of humor to take the edge off.”

Another reason Picoult’s books are so great is that the reader learns something every time. <i>My Sister’s Keeper</i> is full of medical and legal jargon, which may go over some people’s heads, but it is also bursting with random bits of knowledge, for example the way a fire should be treated, facts about astronomy and many other interesting details that the characters use as metaphors to describe their experiences.

Without taking into account Picoult’s novels and writing style as a whole, <i>My Sister’s Keeper</i> is a story that will stay in people’s hearts and minds for a long time. It is never revealed who the narrator of the prologue was, but we immediately assume that it is Anna and that she wants Kate to die. By the end, we are still unsure who the character was but if it was Anna we see it in a completely different light. This is not a book about whether it is ethical for Anna to be Kate’s donor; it is not a story about cancer. Instead it is a message about the right for each person to have choices in regards to their lives.

A warning to potential readers: this book could break your heart, shock you or leave you in tears. <i>My Sister’s Keeper</i> is full of irony. Some of that makes up part of the story line, for instance Jesse’s experimentation with arson – fires that are then put out by his father. But the biggest sense of irony, the biggest shock is the ending (FYI this is the complete opposite to the film ending). After everything that has been achieved, devastating circumstances result in the same conclusion that it would have had Anna sat back and done nothing. Yet this does not make it a pointless story, despite Anna’s actions almost tearing the family apart, it also wakes them from the stupor that Kate’s illness has put them in and makes them realise how precious everything else in their life is too.

I highly recommend this book to everyone, and if you have not read a Jodi Picoult novel before I strongly suggest you begin with this one. It is suitable for adult and adolescent readers, especially those who like to think about hypothetical, moral questions. <i>My Sister’s Keeper</i> definitely gets you questioning your own choices and actions within your own life and may even make you view the world slightly differently.
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Hazel (1412 KP) rated Cuckoo Song in Books

Dec 14, 2018  
Cuckoo Song
Frances Hardinge | 2014 |
8.0 (1 Ratings)
Book Rating
<i>I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads.</i>

Frances Hardinge’s <i>Cuckoo Song</i> is a historical, horror story for children. Six years have past since the end of the First World War, a war in which the Crescent family lost their eldest child. Eleven-year-old Theresa Crescent “Triss” lives with her parents and nine year old sister, Penelope “Pen” in the fictional town of Ellchester, England. Since losing Sebastian, Triss has become a very frail child and so it is no surprise to her parents that she develops an awful fever after falling into a millpond. The question, though, is how she came to be in the pond to begin with and why Pen is so scared of her?

Things become even more mystifying when Triss sees dolls start to move, finds leaves on her pillow, and is constantly ravenously hungry. Her parents begin to consider that Triss is suffering from some form of mental illness, however, Pen, the bad-tempered child, is adamant that that is not the case. She claims that Triss is a fake.

The horrible realization is that perhaps Triss is not Triss at all. This discovery leads the tale into paranormal territory with the introduction of unique new creatures: Besiders.

Cuckoo Song is not just an entertaining, fantastical story; it also deals with themes of family and personal emotion. Piers and Celeste Crescent are examples of parents whose behaviour and response to the death of a child impact on their remaining children. Triss becomes a child they want to protect and save leaving Pen to become an attention-seeking troublemaker.

As the story progresses, Triss and Pen’s relationship develops, or rather Pen and Not-Triss’, into something more recognizable and sisterly. Through their strength and newfound love for each other, they fight to get the happy ending they deserve. And through it all Triss discovers that just because someone calls you a monster, it does not mean that you are a monster.

The 1920’s setting did not feel quite accurate. At times it felt as though the story could have been set today. This, however, was not a major issue as, apart from Sebastian’s death during WW1, the time period was not a key aspect of the plot.

Initially the children, particularly Pen, were written in a way that made them seem older than Hardinge intended them to be, although by the end it is clear that they are fairly young. This is shown in the way that Pen begins to become attached to, and slightly more dependent, on Triss.

It is difficult to say who the target audience of <i>Cuckoo Song</i> is. The protagonist is eleven but the writing may be a little difficult for some children, on the other hand it cannot exactly be classed as Young Adult fiction since the characters are not even in their teens.

Overall, <i>Cuckoo Song</i> is an exciting, fast paced, fairy tale-like story with original characters. It is not scary and is fun to read; there is nothing to stop older readers from enjoying it too!
<i>This ARC was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review</i>

One day in Ohio Adam Meltzer is celebrating his twelfth birthday when suddenly he dies from a fatal be sting. Then he comes back to life – sort of. Jeff Norton’s children’s book <i>Memoirs of a Neurotic Zombie</i> is a comical tale narrated by Adam who is, as the title suggests, a zombie.

Three months after his death Adam claws his way out of his coffin and heads home where he attempts to carry on with life (afterlife?) even though his sister has taken over his bedroom and all his clothes have been donated to charity. Oh, and his body had already started decomposing. However it is not long until he discovers that he is not the only unnatural being in his neighbourhood. Connected by their weirdness, Adam becomes firm friends with Corina (a half-vampire) and Ernesto (a chupacabra). Inspired by a school science project (being half-dead is no reason for exemption, apparently) the three of them set out to track down the bee that killed Adam and solve the mystery concerning his return from the grave.

<i>Memoirs of Neurotic Zombie</i> is full of humour targeted at nine to twelve year olds, so reviewing this from an adult’s perspective if rather difficult. As people get older child humour becomes less funny, particularly in relation to certain bodily functions – namely poo. Even though being a children’s book limits the amount of seriousness, some of the story line did not feel quite right. Adam’s parents and sister were far too accepting of the situation and the lies he told at school to explain what had happened were rather farfetched.

An important element to the story was that Adam was suffering from OCD and as a result was gripped by a fear of dirt, bacteria and disease – rather ironic considering his physical condition. There is nothing wrong with writing for children about characters with disorders such as OCD, however there was no explanation about the seriousness of this mental illness. Adam’s behaviour was used to make him appear less “normal” than other children his age – something campaigners are encouraging people <u>not</u> to think!

There were some deliberate inaccuracies in Adam’s narrative, which added to the hilarity, although how much the reader will benefit from these will depend on their own intelligence. On the other hand there were one or two errors that may not have been intentional. “I lurched forward like a tweenage Frankenstein” – surely that should be “Frankenstein’s monster”? Unless, of course, Norton intended Adam not to be aware that Frankenstein was the scientist?

The storyline overall is enjoyable and something children, particularly boys, would enjoy. Then again it may not be suitable for the more sensitive child as it deals with themes of death and paranormal creatures. Adam comes across as rather intelligent for his age – despite taking some things too literally – so there are footnotes to explain definitions of difficult words or to clarify something further. In spite of a few misgivings I would recommend this book to its intended target audience.
The Girl Who Stayed
8.0 (1 Ratings)
Book Rating
Zoe returns to her hometown of Sullivan's Island with one goal in mind: repair her childhood home and sell it, so she never has to come back. Her parents are dead, her brother doesn't want it, and her little sister, Hannah, disappeared from the Island when Hannah was eight and Zoe was ten. At the time, Hannah's friend, Gabi, insinuated that Zoe was responsible for Hannah's disappearance and while she knows it isn't true, Zoe has always felt confused and remorseful about her behavior during the time period when Hannah vanished. Even worse, she grew up under the doubt of her parents, especially her angry father, who seemed to believe Gabi, and with whom Zoe had a rough and rocky relationship as she aged.

This was an interesting book and I confess it had the misfortune of being read during a crazy time for me of illness and work: not its fault. Zoe is a tough character to crack at first, but she's also a victim of abuse, and her slowness to reveal herself--in the book and to others--makes sense. Crosby does a good job of displaying (versus telling) how Zoe's relationship with her parents has formed her into the adult she is today. What I enjoyed is that Zoe is a complicated individual with many layers. I've read too many books lately where a character had a bad childhood or suffered some form of abuse and that seems to be a reason to make them have only one character trait, which they must act upon, with no sign of reason. Zoe is nuanced, even if she takes some time to warm up to.

There are several scenes in the book that are nearly heartbreaking as you read. For instance, when Zoe finds a projector and a bunch of film belonging to her grandfather and manages to splice together enough film to capture a few moments of her late sister as a kid. As she describes the moment, it's powerful, and you can completely picture it. In another scene, she reminisces about how her mother "helped" her fix up Zoe's bathing suit before a first date--an event that ended poorly. This moment is not only formed so clearly, but says so much about how Zoe continued to relate to her Mom. It's very well-done.

The book spends most of its time focusing on Zoe's late second coming of age story (at nearly 40), with a few characters from Sullivan's Island thrown in, but there is a subplot to Hannah's disappearance that picks up pace near the end. The very end of the story felt a little rushed (though exciting). I'm still a bit torn about the actual ending--it sort of pissed me off--but I understand Crosby's choices.

In writing this review, I'd probably push my rating up to a 3.75 stars. It's a different book, and I enjoyed Zoe. I almost wish I could encounter her again.

I received an ARC of this book from Edelweiss - thank you! It is available for publication on 4/19/16. You can find a review this novel and many more at my <a href="">blog</a>;.
When We Collided
When We Collided
Emery Lord | 2016 | Contemporary, Fiction & Poetry, Romance
7.3 (3 Ratings)
Book Rating
* I received a copy of this book from Netgalley and the publishers in exchange for an honest review*

Vivi arrives at Verona Cove for the summer holidays with her mum, after a few days of being in this little town she manages to snag herself a cushy little job in a pottery shop. Vivi is an extrovert, she will speak to anyone and everyone wants to be around her, she has this infectious personality and she certainly makes no exceptions when Jonah walks into the shop with his little sister. Jonah is 17 and a permanent resident at Verona Cove, however his life has been tipped upside down in the last 6 months and has become a responsible guardian to his three younger siblings while his mother is suffering from depression. Vivi and Jonah start hanging out together and become more than just friends. Vivi shows Jonah how to live like a teenager again with her wild antics and enthusiasm for life, however Jonah knows that Vivi has suffered, he has seen the scars.

This book was ok, I had problems with it though. I didn’t like Vivi whatsoever she was too flouncy, her personality was too much and the crap she came out with, such as Jonah used to be a pirate in his past life just had me rolling my eyes. There is also a serious case of insta – love in this book, as soon as Vivi sets eyes on Jonah she has to have him! urgh! There was no build up or tension between the two of them and the romance seemed a little forced and too heavy on Vivi’s side.

The mental health issues in this book were depicted really well, you could definitely tell through Vivi’s character that she was suffering and it was told in such an honest and respectful way. Even when Jonah is trying to come to terms that his mother is suffering from Depression or Ellie when she talks about her brothers stay in the psychiatric ward and recovery.

Jonah is one of six children in his household, for the past 6 months him and his two older siblings have been looking after ‘the littles’ (his 3 younger siblings) whilst his mother is battling depression. He is also trying to work his shifts at the restaurant and continue his dad’s legacy. He has no time to be a teenager, like playing baseball or worrying about homework. I love that he is a foodie, I want him to cook for me everyday as the food sounded divine.

When we collided is told in dual POV alternating from Vivi and Jonah, I would have like some other point of views in this like Vivi’s mum and Jonah’s siblings. The writing was good and even poetic in some parts. I think this book was a really good for people wanting to read about mental illness but I feel the romance wasn’t really necessary.

I recommend this book if you are interested in YA with mental health.

Overall I rated this 3 out of 5 stars
My Sister&#039;s Bones
My Sister's Bones
Nuala Ellwood | 2017 | Fiction & Poetry
6.5 (4 Ratings)
Book Rating
Also read my review here:


<b>Trigger warnings are noted in the first paragraph.</b>

<b><i>We’re all of us, every day, just a hairbreadth away from evil. If I’ve learnt anything from fifteen years of reporting, it’s that. But I couldn’t expect these people to understand.</b></i>

This is a really heavy read as it deals with some really dark and depressing subjects, <b>such as the war and refugees in Syria, domestic & child abuse, rape, death, mental illness, alcoholism and miscarriages.</b> Don’t read this if you’re having a low period in your life because this is not going to make you feel any better, throughout it’s a rather distressing and upsetting story.

Each character in this novel was well developed, no matter how small a part they played in the plot. Ellwood has done a fantastic job with her research into PTSD as Kate’s fears and anxieties seem so real to the reader. Though I’ve never experienced anything even close to PTSD, I can really imagine how terrifying and disturbing it would be, from reading this book. It’s definitely the best and most harrowing description of the condition I’ve ever read in a fiction novel.

This was a really well presented novel and I’m amazed that it’s a debut! It was excellently written and thought out. My only issue being that sometimes, the timings in this book felt a little off. When Kate and Paul were together, one minute they'd be serving dinner and the next, after a small 5 lined conversation, it would be midnight and time for Paul to leave and Kate to get into bed. It seemed like large chunks of the day would just disappear.

Maybe I shouldn’t have read some other people’s reviews on this beforehand, but because I was expecting all these super duper amazing twists, I kind of didn’t feel that they were super duper amazing. I also found some of them to be a little far fetched and silly, rather than surprising.

I can definitely see why this has gained so many 5 star ratings, but it’s all down to personal preference at the end of the day, and this one was just a little too dark for my liking. That's not to say I didn't like this...I enjoyed this a lot, hence the 4 stars. I found myself not wanting to put it down, even when my eyes were telling me it was definitely time for sleep. It was certainly a thrilling and page turning read, but I don’t know if I could recommend this to anyone because of all the dark subject matters. It seems like the sort of book some people are going to love for it’s dark realism and others are going to hate that and find it too distressing to read.

Thanks to Netgalley and Penguin Books UK for giving me the opportunity to read this in exchange for an honest review.
The Sugarless Plum
The Sugarless Plum
Zippora Karz | 2009 | Biography
10.0 (1 Ratings)
Book Rating
Zippora’s memoir is touching, inspirational, dramatic, and profound. I felt 100% in her shoes through her story, not just because I am a dancer and can relate to a lot of the experiences, but because of the way she has written it. She writes like the whole thing is magic—because Ballet is magic. I just can’t think of words to describe how much I loved this book.

There was a lot of information about Diabetes in the text, and I did skip over a paragraph occasionally. But for the most part it all fit in perfect. She described how she worried about how much Insulin to take before a show so that she wouldn't faint on stage. She told about how she was in complete denial for a while. She told about the horror to find that after she broke down and tested her blood after eating off-diet for so long, and her reading was off the charts—and another time, while she was having short black-outs, her reading was so low she didn’t know that a human’s blood sugar level could get that low… and how she felt in all those situations.

How Zippora felt was a key element running through the book. It wasn’t just “this is my story, hope you enjoy.” No, it was “First this happened. It looked like this, it felt like this, it smelled and tasted like this. Then this happened!”

Would a non-dancer relate to this book? Yes I believe they would. Maybe they wouldn’t have the same respect for what she went through as I do, but they would still relate. I danced through injuries and illnesses and partnered people who could at any moment throw up all over me and had six hour rehearsals en pointe and stayed at the studio from 8:00am to 7:30 pm with only a few crackers and water keeping me alive and ate dinner at 11:30 at night. I remember how it feels. But Zippora’s memoir tells us how it is in the professional world—which is all that I mentioned to a higher degree—and does it in a way that you don’t have to have that background to understand and relate to it and feel it (Although dancers will know what a pirouette or a tendue is without the explanation that she gives. At least the better if they call themselves dancers :).

THE SUGARLESS PLUM wasn’t just for dancers. It’s for anyone who dreams of the stage. Any athlete who suffers from an illness or an injury, either Diabetes or otherwise. It shows people that although they may not be able to overcome or fix a chronic disease, but it is possible to achieve your goal and cope with it and still achieve what you dream of most.

Content: There is one scene with brief mention of sex but no explicit details, and there is no language.

Recommendation: Ages 12+ to anyone who has ever dreamed about the stage, any athlete who suffers from Diabetes and needs encouragement, or anyone who loves a touching and inspirational memoir.
A Monster Calls (2016)
A Monster Calls (2016)
2016 | Drama, Fantasy
A Masterpiece
J.A. Bayona is one of the most exciting rising stars behind the camera lens. His knack for creating superbly shot, engaging films like The Orphanage and The Impossible has meant many in Hollywood have been keeping an intrigued eye on him.

His hard work paid off last year when it was announced he would be taking over directorial duties on the as yet unnamed Jurassic World sequel. In the meantime, Bayona has been busy working on A Monster Calls, based on the book of the same name by Patrick Ness, but does it continue the director’s brilliant work?

12-year-old Conor (Lewis MacDougall), dealing with his mother’s (Felicity Jones) illness, a less-than-sympathetic grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), and bullying classmates, finds a most unlikely ally when a Monster (Liam Neeson) appears at his bedroom window. Ancient, wild, and relentless, the Monster guides Conor on a journey of courage, faith, and truth through three dramatic tales.

The first thing to say is that the film is visually stunning with detail seeping from every frame. Every shot is breath-taking in its own way and the tall tales in which Liam Neeson’s booming voice narrate are beautiful. Bayona yet again demonstrates his flair for cinematography, but this time his creativeness is set free in Conor’s imagination, where he literally paints pictures with superb animations.

Acting wise, A Monster Calls is sublime. With talent like Liam Neeson, Sigourney Weaver and Felicity Jones making up the bulk of the cast, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’d be easy for newcomer Lewis MacDougall to get lost in the fray, but he doesn’t. His performance throughout the film is exceptional and the chemistry he shares with on-screen mum Felicity is entirely believable, making his plight all the more heart-breaking.

But the real winners here are the special effects. Liam Neeson’s gravelly tone lends itself perfectly to creating ‘the Monster’ in all its woody glory. The incredible CGI used to bring him to life is some of the best I’ve ever seen, all the more remarkable given the film’s relatively modest $43million budget. The effects are better than those in some blockbusters costing three times this.

Then there’s the plot. Essentially a coming of age story as one young man tries desperately to hang on to his youth and escape the tragedies of life; A Monster Calls is one of the most heartfelt and emotionally resonant films in the genre. It is a testament to author and screenwriter Patrick Ness that his novel’s gut-wrenching themes are carried across perfectly to the silver screen; that is by no means an easy thing to accomplish.

Overall, A Monster Calls is a mesmerising 115 minutes that stays with you long after the end credits roll. Everything from the acting to the direction is spot on, with the story being relatable to every single one of us. This time last year I was sat in the cinema watching Daddy’s Home; what a difference 12 months makes.