Bookish Review: The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

Published: May 2015 by Macmillan Children’s Books

GenreFantasy, Historical, Mystery

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

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Behold the 2015 Costa Book of the Year Award Winner! I found out about The Lie Tree after its shock win, becoming only the second time a children’s book has won the award since Philip Pullman’s win in 2001 almost fifteen years ago. The Lie Tree is a murder mystery wrapped up in historical fiction and so I was super excited to get stuck in.

Fourteen-year-old Faith finds herself thrown into a tale of mystery and intrigue when her father dies suddenly and under suspicious circumstances. No one else in her new village seems to agree though, and so Faith takes it upon herself to solve his murder. Amongst her father’s papers she finds evidence that points to a tree that survives on lies and rewards the person who sustains it with hidden secrets. Faith realises that the tree contains the secret to her father’s death and begins to feed it with progressively bigger lies, but she finds that not all truths are easy to bear…

Dead people bled silence

Well what to say about this book? It simply and utterly blew me away. I was totally and completely engrossed in Faith’s world from page one. She is a wondrously complex and inquisitive character and, although only fourteen-years-old, will resonate with readers young and old with ease. She had faults, good intentions, she loved and hated passionately, intelligence beyond her years, and an understanding of the ways of the world and the unfairness of her place as a female within that society. However, she was also naive and desperate for the acceptance of her father. I could literally go on. I haven’t come across a character in a very long time that I was so invested in. She is a fantastically realistic character, bolstered even further by a strong cast of supporting characters.

The rules tinkled silently as they broke

The prose was another delight. Frances Hardinge is a master of the English language and I found myself highlighting loads of passages as I read (grand total being upwards of 30!). The Lie Tree was atmospheric and beautiful in its detail and almost seemed like a love letter to the British coast – with its overcast but evocative weather and eccentric village cast. One thing I really noticed was how imaginative and original Hardinge is in her use of similes and metaphors. There’s a page where the author describes the sensation of taste and it was so expressive that the description left me responding physically – suffice to say this doesn’t happen often and Hardinge’s talent shines through her prose.

And now Erasmus Sunderley would be added to the names of the deceased in the family Bible, another little human life crushed fly-like between its great pages

Although the story is based on an outlandish fantasy object, the Lie Tree, I like how the author doesn’t glorify or overstate the oddity of the plant and its powers. Instead, Hardinge focuses the narrative on an exploration of the human character including the effects of greed and gossip. I loved the insights into Regency society – Faith’s canny and witty observations threw into sharp relief the societal restrictions placed upon women and girls and how she desperately wants to defy these. Whilst the main characters are predominantly male and Faith encounters many obstructions from male characters in her investigation, it is the female characters who are vivacious and strong despite the restrictive rules and conventions of society. Hardinge’s exploration of this, and Faith’s desperation to learn and to be accepted for her mind, weaves through the story but is never heavy-handed. 

Each lady quietly relaxed and became more real, expanding into the space left behind by the men. Without visibly changing, they unfolded, like flowers, or knives.

The story moved along really well – there were no filler scenes with everything that happened contributing to moving along the plot. It was pacy and brisk, meaning that it kept the suspense ratcheted up – important in a book of this genre. I did not see the ending coming but liked it a lot. The only slight critique being that the action was a little hijinks compared to the rest of the novel and was a little jarring. However, it was executed well and did not detract from the overall excellence of the book.

I am not in the least bit surprised that The Lie Tree won the Costa Book of the Year Award. This was a brilliantly evocative story with just the right amounts of intrigue, drama, societal issues and coupled with a fantastic cast of characters. In case my adoration wasn’t evident in the rambling above, I wholeheartedly recommend The Lie Tree and if you haven’t read it already, it’s well worth bumping this up to the top of your TBR list!

 

Bookish Review: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

Published: February 2016 by Faber & Faber

Genre: Fantasy, Romance

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

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I’m part of the same YA book club as Alwyn Hamilton so Rebel of the Sands has been on my radar for some time. Billed as the “Arabian Nights meets the Wild West”, this novel is the first in a new trilogy and one that sounded really different and exciting.

Amani dreams of having a greater purpose in life and is desperate to leave behind her bitter extended family, who took her in after she was orphaned, and the dead-end desert town that she has grown up in. A talented gunslinger, she’s hoping it’s enough to get her to the capital city of Miraji where she can be free from the constraints of small town life. Her plans are however derailed by the arrival of a foreigner in town who awakens Amani’s desires (romantic and adventurous!) and the two are flung together for survival. But this stranger has secrets of his own and it is not long before Amani finds herself wound up in his mysterious mission and his mesmerizing eyes…

This book was simply delicious. I was really looking forward to reading a novel in an Arabian Nights setting and Rebel of the Sands did not disappoint. Hamilton’s world-building and attention to detail is great and the setting was at once recognisable, familiar enough to ground readers, but different enough to keep it fresh and intriguing. I loved the references to the Djinni fairy tales and the exploration of the spiritual aspect of life in the desert, such as the origins of the world and ideas behind right and wrong. At times, I’ll admit I found it difficult to keep up with the wider world – there were other cities, nations, and political alliances pretty important to the story that I had to make an effort to keep straight but it wasn’t impossible.

Amani was a wonderful character to get to know and follow as she found the world opening up in front of her. She is the ultimate heroine fighting against societal constraints and I loved that she was a balance of bold and loyal but self-critical and unsure – a very realistic 17-year-old. Her smart mouth gave way to some pretty epic lines and made her so badass and impossible not to like. Jinn was also a delight, mysterious but compelling and you can totally understand why Amani found it difficult to abandon him at various points.

Amani’s desperation and need to get away was beautifully explored and was reflected in the barren and vast surroundings of desert that she has been grown up in. At the same time her growing attachment to Jinn felt natural too. It brings to mind the saying that home isn’t a place but a person. I was supper happy that there wasn’t instalove – she totally poisons him at one point in order to put her need to escape first (atta girl!) There were some stereotypical romantic moments  e.g. burning touches and overwhelming ~feelings~ but I can forgive Amani those because 1. Jinn is hot and 2. She is so busy being badass the rest of the time that she is totally entitled to some twitterpation 😉

The pacing in the book was just right and the balance between action and explanation was strong throughout. And the overarching plot was super intriguing that I’m eagerly anticipating the next installment. I read this with half a mind to the fact that it was the first in a trilogy and would most likely spend the majority world building, and setting up the plot for the rest of the trilogy so I was pleasantly surprised when the book finished with a satisfying climax and ending of its own with no cliffhanger in sight.

If you’re at all interested in far-flung exotic lands with badass heroines, yummy love interests and the promise of rebellion, you will not be let down by Rebel of the Sands.

Bookish Review: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

downloadCarry On by Rainbow Rowell

Published: October 2015 by St. Martin’s Griffin

Genre: Fantasy, LGBT, Mystery

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

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Rainbow Rowell’s previous YA books, Fangirl and Eleanor & Park are two of my absolute all-time favourites. So it was a no-brainer that I would read Carry On as soon as it was released. We were first introduced to the characters, Simon and Baz, in Fangirl as Cath, the protagonist, is a huge Simon Snow fan and prolific fic writer. In Carry On, we see Simon and Baz get an outing in their own right.

Simon Snow knows two things for certain: firstly, he is the Chosen One to defeat the Insidious Humdrum, the greatest threat to the World of Mages; and secondly, Tyrannus Basilton Grimm-Pitch is his arch nemesis and roommate. Going back to the Watford School of Magicks to finish his eighth and final year, he must figure out how to overcome the Humdrum who is growing stronger by the day, whilst also navigate the pitfalls of growing up. Just in case there wasn’t enough on his plate already, Simon gets sucked into a mystery that could turn the World of Mages upside down. Luckily he can rely on his best-friend-not-sidekick, Penelope Bunce, and his roommate’s mirth to keep him grounded. Except Baz is nowhere to be found and Simon can’t stop obsessing over the infuriating vampire and his whereabouts…

Whilst reading Carry On, it is of course undeniable to note the similarities to the Harry Potter series – the prophesied destiny of the Chosen One, the infamous boarding school and wise mentor, and the assortment of friends and arch nemeses. But I found it refreshing that the World of Mages was very distinct to Harry’s world. Rowell’s magickal world was more in tune with Normal life, with much of the Mage population owning mobile phones and traveling by car.

Rowell’s approach to spells was also really interesting, if a little jarring at times because most of the phrases were so familiar. But this only served to make the things even more hilarious – nothing quite like a climatic scene where the hero begins chanting a nursery rhyme with honest and plucky intent to defeat the villain… Rowell’s trademark humour is clear and present in this book and you will adore the bits in brackets  – the internal converstations of the characters are absolute gems!

The characters in Carry On are compulsively likeable and Rowell has fun with the classic fantasy tropes that appear in fanfics everywhere. Simon, the reluctant hero, may not be the most talented magician in the world but his sense of loyalty and goodness is unwavering. Penelope is fantastic as the “brain”, seeming to know Simon better than he knows himself while Agatha gives us a balancing reality check – it was interesting to come across a character who is not as enthralled by the world of magic as the rest of us. Baz is of course deliciously antagonistic whilst nursing what he believes is an unrequited and frankly embarrassing infatuation for the Chosen One. Simon and Baz’s interactions are what make this book and the chemistry Rowell gives them is every fic reader’s dream (slash fic lovers eat your heart out!) Also, kudos to Ms Rowell for taking the classic roommate setup trope and making it classy af 😉

The plot intertwined a mystery alongside the usual overarching good vs. evil narrative. The novel was told from multiple viewpoints with Simon and Baz understandably getting the most page-time. This worked really well as there’s nothing like trudging through the narrative of an uninteresting secondary character amiright? The varied POVs made the mystery more intriguing and slowly revealed more clues as you read on. Although, I’m not entirely sure what happened during the climax, let’s face it, who was really reading Carry On for the plot? I devoured this book because it was the Harry Potter novel that never was, a “Harry Potter and the Alternative Plot Line”, if you like.

In short, this book was excellent. I remember voraciously reading HP fanfics and trying my hand at a few; Carry On will bring back fond memories of the classic fic tropes and make you want to re-read your favourites all over again (The Bracelet by AkashaTheKitty anyone?) I read this book for the Baz and Simon snark-fest ship and numerous Potter references and if that’s what you’re interested in, you will adore this book.

Have you read Carry On? Do you ship Simon and Baz? Any HP fic recs? Leave a comment letting me know 🙂

Bookish Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Published: February 2012 by Simon & Schuster

Genre: Contemporary, Coming-of-age. LGBT

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

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I first heard about Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe on Tumblr where everyone is raving about it. I was also drawn to it by the beautiful cover and very unique title. I went into it blind, knowing very little about it beyond the blurb and I think that’s the best way to read this book.

Aristotle is your average 15-year old whiling away summer and waiting for life to begin. Ari, as he prefers to be called, is underwhelmed by his short life so far and also frustrated with the secrets his family seem determined to keep. Being a “pseudo only child” with two much older sisters and a brother locked up in prison, he is comfortable and happy being a loner . All that changes though when Ari meets Dante at the local swimming pool. Dante is unlike anyone Ari has met and the two are polar opposites. But it is from this chance meeting that a very special friendship blossoms, one that changes their lives and helps them unravel the secrets of the universe – the mysteries of identity, family and growing up.

“And me, I always felt that I didn’t belong anywhere. I didn’t even belong in my own body – especially my own body. I was changing into someone I didn’t know. The change hurt but I didn’t know why it hurt. And nothing about my own emotions made any sense.”

Aristotle and Dante is written almost like a stream of consciousness, we are in Ari’s head the entire time, hearing his innermost thoughts. While Ari is not very forthcoming on the outside, his inner monologue is beautiful. He is inquisitive, frustrated, insightful and sad in equal measure but not one bit pretentious. Ari doesn’t seem to realise the wisdom he possesses and is convinced he is lacking in all the ways that matter to a teenage boy. The book’s blurb describes it as “lyrical” and it was indeed lyrical. But, while the word usually denotes something light or whimsical to me, this book was the absolute opposite. It was so, so raw and all of Ari’s thoughts felt and rang true.

“But the worst part was that those words were living inside me. And they were leaking out of me. Words were not things you could control. Not always.”

How to talk about Ari? Ari who is “unknowable”. His narrative voice is one of the most powerful I’ve come across in young adult literature, and not because he’s leading a rebellion against a dystopian state or because he is rebelling against parents or society. Ari is mostly rebelling against himself. He was often truthful to the point of being painful at times, something that is incredibly refreshing and allows the reader to understand Ari’s insecurities. You realise how little of himself Ari reveals to the world and it feels like a privilege to be privy to his complex thoughts. Some of his opinions and thoughts were so wonderfully uncensored and there were points during this book where, I admit, there were tears because it was so moving.

“I thought it might be a great thing to be the air. I could be something and nothing at the same time. I could be necessary and also invisible. Everyone would need me and no one would be able to see.”

Dante was, simply put, beautiful. His confidence, his vitality was just contagious and you immediately fall in love with how honest he is with himself and his unique approach to life. I won’t say much more about Dante because he really is a delight to read about through Ari’s eyes. The parents and other characters in this book were portrayed fantastically. It was great to see a YA book where the parents are as central to the story as the teens, and portrayed as human, as something to be understood rather than dismissed. Aristotle and Dante was honest in its depiction of the power struggles, the invisible battles, the subtle dynamics of families – the things that essentially *make* it a family.

“There were so many ghosts in our house – the ghost of my brother, the ghosts of my father’s war, the ghosts of my sisters’ voices. And I thought that maybe there were ghosts inside of me that I hadn’t even met yet. They were there. Lying in wait.”

If you need anymore convincing that you should read this book, I clearly haven’t fangirled enough above. This is a great read with a lot of depth and proves the critics of YA fiction wrong. If you’re partial to having playlists for books, Wake Me Up by Avicii would fit Aristotle and Dante perfectly. I couldn’t get the lyrics out of my head whilst I was reading this book.

Have you read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe? What did you think of it? Sound off in the comments below 🙂