An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

DSC00149An Ember in the Ashes is the incredible debut novel of Sabaa Tahir. It is an absolutely fantastic read which I will be recommending all round! The novel fits into the category of YA lit and is a fantasy novel with many elements reminiscent of Ancient Rome, particularly the setting. I think this one appeals to a wide range of readers, but in particular I think it’ll be a winner for fans of Star Wars and Harry Potter. There is also a film adaptation in the works which I can only imagine will be incredible, AND a sequel to come which I can’t wait for!

Tahir’s characters are phenomenal. There are two protagonists – Leia and Elias – which is a set up I always find pleasing in a novel. The chapters alternate between their perspectives and from the start you are just itching to see how their paths will cross.

Both are likeable characters, with a conflict of identity between who they should be and who they are. Thematically this is linked in with the concept of masks.

Elias is in his final year of training to be a Mask at Blackcliff. Masks are an elite group of soldiers for the Empire, named for the terrifying masks they wear which meld to their faces. The brutal nature of their work doesn’t sit well with Elias, and neither does the fact that his mother – who abandoned him as a child – is the commandant of the Masks and runs their training. He is gifted at what he does and hides his reluctance carefully – but like his mask which refuses to meld with his face as it is meant to, his true feelings threaten to expose him to punishment and death.

He has a complicated friendship with Helene, the only female mask in their cohort. She is the most bad-ass character and while her perspective isn’t offered, she has a crucial role in the novel. She makes an interesting foil for Elias, and also for the Commandant and Leia.

Leia is from the Scholar district, one which is persecuted by the Empire. She is a timid girl who knows she should be more courageous. All her life there’s been her brother to be the courageous one, and when he is torn from her by a brutal Mask she resolves to do whatever it takes to save him. After all, that’s what he would do for her. When she turns to the Resistance for their help, she finds herself taking risks she never knew she had the strength for.

As well as likeable heroic protagonists who are caught on opposing sides of a war, there are some fantastically horrible villains. The Commandant of Blackcliff takes precedence here – whipping and flogging children and disfiguring her slaves on a whim; but there are also the twins Marcus and Zac for whom brutality is second nature. Marcus is Elias’s nemesis and main competitor and the main feature of Helene’s nightmares. Zac seems to have some redeemable qualities but is overshadowed and encompassed by his elder twin’s nature.

I just can’t emphasise how great this novel is. It’s real. It’s gritty. It’s powerful.

My first 5/5 in a while!

Read an interview with the author and the first two chapters HERE.

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Five Reasons to Love Libraries

 

Are you making the most of your local library? Today I want to write something a little different to my usual reviews. See, in the last year or two I’ve developed a new-found appreciation for public libraries. Sure, I’ve been using libraries since I was a kid, but at some point your parents stop taking you and don’t pay your overdue fines anymore…. so there was a gap there where I wasn’t making the most of all the library had on offer. So, for all of you reading I want to share some ways I have discovered the library is more amazing than we realize! I hope these five tips will have you popping in to your local or hunting in your wallet for your library card!

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1. Give your wallet a break.
First of all, before all my other points, I need to establish one thing. Libraries are free! Unlike perusing titles at your local bookstore, you don’t have to be worried about the damage the pile of books you leave with will do to your wallet! This means you can try books you don’t want to invest in monetarily, or give up on finishing books without feeling like it’s somehow a waste. Plus, if you prefer owning a copy of books you can always buy a copy later if you love it!

2. Request to put books on hold through the website.
Libraries pretty much all have an online catalog which you can search through. I like to sit down with a list of books (usually sourced from goodreads or instagram or recommendations) and search through the books, ebooks and audiobooks to see what’s there. Some libraries, also have a recommended reads section! Putting a book on hold doesn’t take long and you get an email when it’s ready to pick up or download!

DSC094883. Use your phone to borrow ebooks and audiobooks.
Most libraries have an app they use which allows you to download books from your phone. I have used this religiously in the last year while I’ve been moving around a lot. Auckland Libraries in NZ is my home library and it uses the app Overdrive. With internet access, my library card number and this app I can borrow books from anywhere in the world!

4. Buy an e-reader which can read epubs
If you are considering an ereader I can highly recommend that you choose one that is open source, which I think is anything but a kindle. Why? Because, this means that you can borrow e-books from the library and read them on your device! (without buying them… saves so much money… consider the ereader as an investment). I had a kobo for a while but it broke after less than six months so I’m not sure I can recommend it in good conscience. But I much prefer reading on e-ink than a phone screen. It’s great for reading in bed, especially if you get one with a little light! And the books automatically return themselves so you never have to worry about fines!DSC07393

5. Wander around the library bookshelves
Okay so this one is a little bit obvious, but it’s amazing how peaceful it can be to wander through the shelves of a library, and amazing how many little gems you can stumble across. I love the feeling of running my hand along the rows and rows of books, and the sense of community that comes with the atmosphere of a well used local library. I also like looking at the holds shelf and seeing all the books too popular to be on the main shelf. You can get some good ideas for ones to request! And, while you’re there, keep an eye out for library book sales.
Every so often libraries clear out old books and you can get some great bargains! Anything from children’s books to recipe books or that novel you’ve never gotten around to! I like to pick up a few to put in the back of my classroom for students to read.

At this point I probably have to do a big shout out to Auckland Libraries who have been my main source of borrowed books for the last few years! The library here in my town in the UK is nowhere near as awesome! I also wanted to dedicate this post in some way to my sister, who to this day has a serious phobia of libraries but who joined one at my insistence only to discover she gets fines as easily as ever. Don’t give up S!

Next non-book-review post ideas:
A. Why audio books should be part of your life
B. How to choose the right ereader for you
C: Beka’s Five Favorite Audiobooks
D. Interesting Book Shops Around the World (that I’ve been to)

Which would you like to read? Comment below!

On the Merit of Audiobooks

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I imagine that pretty much anyone interested in reading a blog that primarily talks about books is familiar with goodreads. I love goodreads and am on my third reading challenge! I especially love that I can make detailed to read lists and keep a log of what I’m reading, while also seeing what others are interested in. Another fun feature of goodreads is the poll. Which is where this post comes in. I’ve embedded the poll that I just did because I was truly shocked at how few people have any love for the audiobook! (click and see!)

https://www.goodreads.com/poll/widget/112460-what-format-do-you-prefer-to-read-in

So, I wanted to do a quick summary of the reasons I have become a convert to audiobooks.

  1. You can listen to it while commuting to work (or school) (or anywhere really)
  2. You can listen to it in the bath
  3. You can listen to it while doing dishes/ironing/sewing/cleaning.
  4. It adds a certain liveliness to the text
  5. You can borrow from a library – either as CD files or as a file download (I use OverDrive)
  6. Your eyes don’t need to be open

So I’ve realized that most of those options basically boil down to multitasking! But it really does make long trips fly by, housework seem less tedious, and free up all but your ears for being productive or creative!

The reason I avoided audio books for so long was that I simply consider myself bad at listening! I was terrible on listening comprehension tests and I just decided as a result that I’m not good at taking in information that way. But, that was when I was a kid and now, while I might get distracted and have to rewind a few seconds (or minutes) I can sit and absorb and imagine while listening. It’s probably even improving my listening skills! I know my limits though – I can’t listen very well while marking school work or reading anything else really. It has to be a different part of the brain for multitasking!

I’ve been known to sit in my car in the carpark at work or driveway outside my house just to hear one more chapter! I listened to a number of audiobooks while I made a quilt a year or two ago, and the audiobook for Outlander by Diana Gabaldon got me through numerous flights around Europe this summer! Sometimes if I can’t sleep I listen to an audiobook until I nod off.

So, if I have got you in any way intrigued, where should you start?

First off, I’d suggest an audible trial. You use your amazon login and you get two free downloads before you have to start paying. You can listen to little samples to check if you hate their voice or love it (I spend a ridiculous amount of time doing this), and you can get a free swap in if you  don’t like it (although I haven’t yet had to do this). You can listen to this on your phone or a computer.

Secondly, I’d recommend seeing what your library has on offer. Depending on what systems they use, you may need to download an app on your phone to listen, or some may offer listening in your browser. Auckland Libraries uses an app called OverDrive which allows you to browse, download, and listen on your phone – all you need is your library card number!

Thirdly, look for CD audiobooks. These can be bought in most bookshops and some libraries have a nice selection. It’s like the audio equivalent to a hardcopy book and is good for if your car has a CD player. I also think it’s nice to invest in any good ones if you want to have it for your children to put on for themselves without needing their own little computer or smartphone. I know that the Harry Potter Audiobooks narrated by Stephen Fry are often high on recommendation lists! Once a classic, always a classic.

In conclusion, the humble audiobook has a lot to offer you in your busy life. Let the smooth tones of storytellers take your mind away from your reality and don’t feel guilty about indulging in some reading time when you have dishes to do and commutes to endure. What’s stopping you?

If you have any suggestions of why YOU love audiobooks or questions on how to get started please leave a comment!

 

A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray

I love time travel. It’s one of those things that just fascinates me. This novel is not about time travel. It’s about a different kind of travel – dimensional travel. It’s a new concept to me but one that has my brain cogs clicking away happily! You can only travel to another dimension if the same genetic version of you exists there, and if you travel you wake up in that version’s body. Which one of you controls the body is another matter entirely!

The cover art is beautiful and full of colour, appropriately representing the protagonist. It was what drew me to the book to start with. Meg is an artist. The only one in a family of genius scientists. Yet she has somehow become the one using her parents technology – the firebird – to seek her father’s killer in any dimension she has to.

The things that annoyed me in the novel are as follows:
– There are characters who can figure out technology in any dimensions within minutes. I’m pretty savvy with computers and such but I don’t think I’d figure out stuff nearly as fast. They are meant to be crazy science people though so maybe I’m being overly fussy.
– Meg being a ‘chosen one’ character was getting on my nerves for the first part of the novel – lots of hints that she has some special skill unlike others. I kind of liked what that ended up being about though – without spoiling anything I can just say it wasn’t as completely cliché as I’d expected!

I listened to the audiobook – narrated by Tavia Gilbert – and loved it. She does a huge array of voices to show the different ‘bodies’ that are in each dimension and while some of her accents come off a bit staged, it’s still great work from her.

Has anyone else read this series? I am on a waiting list for book two from my library and can’t wait!

 

Terror Kid by Benjamin Zephaniah

DSC09495Terror Kid: A fantastic novel written for younger teenagers by Benjamin Zephaniah.

On the first day of work at my current school here in the UK we had a whole day of teacher training, parts of which featured child protection. In particular I remember a part about looking out for signs of extremism. It’s scary how sheltered and vulnerable to extreme ideas our students are. The area they live in is like a bubble that keeps them sheltered from some of the harsher parts of city life, but also keeps them from being exposed to the ideas and realities of a more cosmopolitan society. One of my students once told me he hated airports because there are so many foreigners there. He doesn’t know how racist that comment is, and that is a tragedy.

I guess that’s why I have really loved this novel: Terror Kid. It’s written by Benjamin Zephaniah who is a new favourite author for me. He fuelled my poetry unit for year seven exclusively! Look him up on YouTube for some great readings of his work! He doesn’t shy away from the issues that young people so desperately need to engage with.

The novel is about a boy who is always in the wrong place at the wrong time. Rico is a whiz with computers and cares deeply about political and social issues. He understands injustice and wants to make a difference. Around him, his friends are involved in riots and looting, but he can see the futility of that violence. He’s frustrated – and then a stranger gives him a chance to do something real; something that would make a difference. But does he really understand what he’s getting into?

Rico ends up complicit in something bigger than he realised and torn between honesty and self preservation.

Although not on such an extreme scale, I think I know a lot of students who really would relate to that situation of getting in trouble just because of the people you’re associated with.

My rating: 3.5/5 – but only because it was a bit simple for my reading level! I think younger readers would give it a much higher rating.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

DSC09488.JPGI was recommended this book over a year ago by a lovely student called Rosie in my class at school. The main character is also named Rosie! It’s a beautiful read and narrated well. I am fussy about narration for audio books so believe me when I say it’s a good one! I also like that it was narrated by the author and was still great ( I find it awkward when the author does a bad job of narrating their own book).

Rosie starts tasting things that shouldn’t be detectable in food flavours. Emptiness. Love. Tiredness. It makes no sense and isn’t something she can explain to adults, or even her friends. The only person who believes her is her brother’s friend George, who she clearly idolises and adores.

The story is about family, love, and the things that cannot be explained or spoken about. It’s a fascinating story and one that, despite not being a particularly happy narrative, is heart-warming and sweet with moments of humour woven in. The mystery of her strange ability and her mysterious brother and his vanishing, and the wish for romance with George all add to the nuance of a strange tale.

It is a coming of age story and moves seamlessly from the innocence of a nine year old girl troubled by something strange in a slice of lemon cake, to that of a sophisticated young woman who has grown into her gift and discovered things none would think possible.

An idea I find fascinating in the novel is that abilities which are special can often be more of a curse than a blessing. Rosie can taste food in an incredible way and has insights as a result that many would wish for – however the impact on her day to day life and well being is enormous!  It reminds me of a fairy tale where the wishes always come with a catch and magic always has a high price.

One of the things that was nice about listening to it was that my hubby Pete was listening in too and every so often he’d crack up at something he’d heard. And at different times I’d be laughing. I suppose it’s an insight into the way we all react differently to stories. I am a big fan of this book and I suspect I will be buying it as a gift for various loved ones! Someone tell Rosie thanks for me!

My rating is 4.5/5!

 

 

Back to Work Blues

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We all know what it’s like to have that dread feeling of a holiday ending and the work or school week starting up again. I am only a few days into the school term after the half term break and I’m already exhausted! I know at home in New Zealand it’s that time when the summer is still hot and yet you still have to be working on those glorious days! I put a few polaroids from my latest adventures in my photo for the post. Plus two new books I bought at the markets on Saturday morning.

I like to think that the best way to combat a depressing reality is a healthy dose of escapism. While it may not be an answer all, it can give you the temporary fix you need to face the next day and get you through until the weekend.

Here are five fun recommended reading ideas that I hope will brighten your week:

      1. Read a ‘fluffy’ book.
        Light reading means the novel won’t totally absorb your concentration or distract you for too long from any preparations you should be doing. Fluffy reads can be chic-lit, romance, or often young adult. My favourite ‘fluffy’ authors are Kiera Cass and Stephanie Perkins who both write YA romance.
        The Selectionn
      2. Listen to an audio book.
        This also goes particularly well with treating yourself to a relaxing bath complete with luxe bubbles and a nice face mask or hair treatment.
        imageFor audiobooks I usually borrow from my library using the overdrive app on my phone, or download from audible. My favourite audio book is still either Outlander or Code Name Verity for a more serious listen, but if you want something a bit more light, go for The Rosie Project! Or if you enjoyed The Fault in our Stars I’d recommend All the Bright Places. It’s sad but beautifully written and narrated. I’m currently listening to The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender and it’s lovely.wpid-img_20150927_205400.jpg
      3. Look for a book that’s been made into a film.
        If you’re reading a book soon bound for the silver screen you can have the bonus of being able to critique the film when you see it. These are often ones that become a fairly big deal too so you’ll be in the know! Or you simply have the safety net of watching the film if you don’t finish it.Click here for a book to film 2016 list. One I’m excited for is A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness – set to release October this year!DSC01905
      4. Re-read an old favourite.
        There is something a little less daunting about picking up an old paperback you’ve read years ago than cracking into the latest Man Booker Prize Winner. I recently re-read A Voice in the Wind  by Francine Rivers which I read when I was a teenager. Re-reading is something I definitely want to do more of! This picture reminds me of another great pick me up: tea! I love this herbal collection by Pukka because you can try all the different flavours to see if you like them for future purchase! In other tea related news, do take note of my beautiful teapot in the photo at the top of the post! It’s the perfect one, a Christmas present from my hubby!
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      5. Buy a magazine or read some articles or blog posts.
        You know those posts you’ve been saving but never gotten around to reading! Or that magazine you always pick up at the check out or in a waiting room? There are so many great articles out there which can inspire, encourage, educate, and entertain. My favourite magazine to buy is Frankie which I am currently having to enjoy digitally rather than in the flesh! Doing a good update of your bloglovin feed or any other apps you use to follow blogs and articles can also provide a great source of reading material on all sorts of topics.

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What do you do to get through the back to work blues? Which of these ideas might you try? I’d love to hear what gets you through the work week! This week I’ve enjoyed a bath with an audio book, and a YA read (Terror Kid – review to come) as well as reading tonnes of articles. Mainly about make-up because I’m deep like that!

What about you? Don’t forget to leave a comment! xx