Ink and Bone (The Great Library Series #1) – Rachel Caine

I haven’t read anything by Rachel Caine before; the whole Morganville thing didn’t really appeal to me even though they were really popular in the library. This one kind of grabbed me because of the library  connection and I thought I’d give it a go.

The book is based on the premise that The Royal Library of Alexandria in Egypt was not destroyed and is still standing at the time the book is set, which is in 2025. The Royal Library was built in the 3rd century BC and was a centre of cultural learning and knowledge. It housed thousands of papyrus scrolls and other scholarly works which were destroyed by a big fire in 30 BC. The library then moved to a daughter library or Serapeum and this was destroyed in the Muslim wars in about 642 AD. This background knowledge would have helped when reading the book but is not essential!

The Library is controlled by the Librarians (!) a sinister group that basically rule the world and all the knowledge in it. Any printed books are banned and any that exist are housed in the original library in Alexandria. There is a black market trade in printed books but this a dangerous game and, if discovered will lead to execution. All citizens of the world are allowed to read from tablets, or blanks, and these are controlled by the Library. There is also some wars going on, particularly between the Welsh and the English and these are brutal, almost medieval, warfare. There is also a group of people who live in the Iron Tower in Alexandria called Obscurists. They can preform some sort of magic that controls the blanks and other things. If you are an Obscurist you cannot leave the Iron Tower, ever. They are super powerful and rare. There is also a group of people called Burners who destroy books in a public way to draw attention to the fact that all books should be free to be read without being controlled by the library.

Jess Brightwell lives in London with his family. They are book smugglers and he is a runner. He has to deliver the books to the clients. Some are extremely rare and worth lots of money. He had an older brother called Liam who was executed at 17 for smuggling and a twin called Brendan, who is a mystery ( he makes fleeting appearances in this book!) The Brightwell family are large and have relatives all over. Although Jess is part of the business his heart isn’t really it so when he turns 17  his father buys him an opportunity. Every year students from all around the world are chosen to go to Alexandria to study. They have to sit a series of exams and if they pass, go to Alexandria and study with a Scholar, who chooses six of them to be taken in to the library. The others are sent back.

On the train to Alexandria he meets his fellow students; Thomas, Khalila, Danton and Glain. When he arrives he meets his room mate, Dario who isn’t very nice and later another mysterious girl arrives called Morgan. Their scholar is a chap called Wolfe who may or may not be dodgy, and they are also trained by the Garda, a man called Santi. These are all the main players in the book and you will get to know them as you go.

I don’t want to elaborate too much on the story because it will give you too many spoilers, but this is a series opener so it needs to set everything up. Which it does! The story is fast paced and gritty and there is a hint of magic but it’s not too overwhelming for people who aren’t too into magical books. Jess is a great character and there is a developing love story as well but, the main plot is; who to trust? Should we agree that one organisation can control all the power and knowledge in the world just because they can? The other characters are really good as well and I’m sure that the ones that survive will make an appearance in the next book (which is already in my kindle!)

This is a great summer read and you will become immersed in their world, I am looking forward to reading the next one and the third one is out in July so that’s going on the kindle as well! There are also some spin off novellas which will keep you busy. If you love a series with some magical twists and turns then this is the one for you!

 

 

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Lydia: The Wild Girl of Pride and Prejudice – Natasha Farrant

Ok, hands up who has read the classic Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen? That doesn’t include watching the BBC adaption with Colin Firth in it, or the film with Keira Knightley….

Well, if you haven’t read it or seen the film or TV show then I will give a brief outline of the plot. Mr and Mrs Bennett live in Longbourne. They have five daughters and need to get them all married off. The oldest daughter, Jane, falls in love with their new neighbour Mr Bingley who is super rich. The second oldest, Lizzie, is pursued by Mr Darcy even though he thinks that she isn’t good enough for him (he’s a bit arrogant but also mega rich) then there is Mary, Kitty and lastly, Lydia who turns 16 during the course of the novel. The book is set in Georgian England and it is about the time that England is fighting the French. Their village is overrun with soldiers, one of whom is Mr Wickham, who has history with Mr Darcy. There is a silly vicar called Mr Collins who is a cousin of theirs and he will inherit their house when Mr Bennet dies unless one of the girls marries  him and secures it for all of them. Mr Collins also happens to be the local vicar for Mr Darcy’s aunt,  who is a Lady. Mr Collins is also really creepy but sets his sights on Lizzie.

Everyone is obsessed with class and money and whether people have good reputations. Mrs Bennet is certainly obsessed with making sure that all her daughters make good marriages with rich husbands so that the family won’t have to worry about being thrown out on the street. I may have just butchered a classic there but that’s a broad outline of the story!

In the original book Lydia is silly, vain and obsessed with dances and dresses and being pretty.  She doesn’t read and isn’t interested in being educated. She follows the soldiers around in their lovely red coats and loves flirting. During the course of the book she befriends the Major’s wife and, when the soldiers are moved down to Brighton she goes with and hopes to bag a husband while having as much as fun as possible.

In this book, she is keeping a diary which was given to her by her sister, Mary. Mary is the clever one who likes reading and playing the piano. The first section of the book follows the storyline of the original and gives us a fresh perspective on the Bennet’s life. Lydia gets on with her sister Kitty the best but respects Jane and Lizzie and feels a bit left out by them. She is a minor role in the original book until the end where she is integral to the ending but, in this her personality comes through. Things really start to get interesting when she arrives in Brighton. In Georgian times, Brighton was the place to go and Lydia soon fits in. She goes to balls at the Ship Assembly Rooms (I’ve been there!) and goes to the theatre where the King may also be attending. She also starts to swim in the sea. During the time, if you wanted to swim in the sea you have to be pulled in a carriage in which you got changed. Everyone was obsessed with their reputations and not exposing themselves to ruin. Other people seeing you in your swimming costume would ruin you!

Anyway, Lydia is on the beach with Harriet (the Major’s wife) when she sees a very glamorous redhead. She learns that this lady is a Comtesse and has  fled France after the revolution. A Comtesse in like a Countess to us. She also learns that she has a brother, Alaric, who is a Comte. She is enthralled by the idea of meeting real life royal French people and sets about engineering a meeting with them. Helped by the dashing but dodgy Wickham. Wickham is already in trouble because he keeps trying to marry  rich women (including Darcy’s sister when she was about 13!). The Comte and Comtesse are living with  a relative who, it turns out, is pretty rich and eligible and Wickham decides to try his luck with her. Lydia in the meantime falls in love with Alaric and hopes to marry him and live in India where his stepfather has a tea plantation.

The book has a good twist at the end which I wasn’t expecting and it is obviously more accessible than the original. It is also of the period so will give you a good idea of the original storyline and why everyone behaves the way they do. It also made me very glad that I didn’t live in that time!

Lydia is a likeable character and you will want her to make a success  of things in the end. The only problem is that I didn’t really feel there was enough time spent on the romance to make it believable that she would do what she did, and there is a few little bits that are a little hard to believe. A nice spin on a classic though, you will enjoy it whether you have read the original or not.

What We Left Behind – Robin Talley

what-we-left-behind

Morning all; before I write my review of this book I am going to get all technical and give you some terms which are frequently used.  This would have helped me out a lot when I was reading so…. you’re welcome.

Genderqueer: A person who does not identify with either gender but with both or neither or a combination.

Transgender: A person who is ‘presenting’ themselves as the opposite gender to what they were assigned to at birth.

Cisgender: A person who is ‘presenting’ themselves as the same gender as they were assigned at birth.

We  first meet Toni at her high school dance. She has arrived with her girlfriend Renee and is dressed as a man, the whole place is clapping and shouting her name. We then learn that she goes to an all girls school and has been battling away against the school for some time to be allowed the right to wear trousers instead of a skirt as she feels more comfortable that way. She claps eyes on a new girl, Gretchen, and bam… it’s love at first sight. The book is written as a split narrative  so we get both of their perspectives on this, and it really is love at first sight for both of them.

Fast forward two years and they are preparing to go to college. Toni is determined to go to Harvard and has been accepted. She thinks that Gretchen is going to Boston University so that they can meet up every weekend and still stay together. Gretchen isn’t sure she wants to go to BU and applies to NYU (New York) as well (without telling Toni). This will give you an inkling of what their relationship is like. Toni is a wee bit selfish.

Toni throws a wobbly but they still vow to stay together. Off they both go with plans to meet up the first weekend of term. Toni really wants to join the LGBTQA+ group at Harvard and meets Derek. Derek used to be a woman but is in the middle of transitioning. Toni is immediately drawn in to a group of people who are all at various stages of this process and makes friends. Gretchen meanwhile, makes friends with a gay guy called Caroll and they hit it off. Then it all starts to get a bit annoying. even though Carroll is gay he makes some fairly derogatory remarks about lesbians and gay people and admits that he has never had a boyfriend or even kissed a man. He is almost like a caricature of a gay man and this is a little annoying. That’s ok though because by the end you won’t care anyway!

Toni is genderqueer and does not identify with either sex. Toni does not use male or female personal pronouns so instead of using he or she Toni uses peoples names or ‘they’ or ‘them’. This gets a bit annoying and confusing. Gretchen struggles to describe this to her new friends so she doesn’t bother – I know how Gretchen feels.

Toni gets more and more involved with her trans group and just becomes more and more irritating. She is obviously in some turmoil and doesn’t think that this is appropriate to speak to her girlfriend about it, instead she leans on Derek and ‘the guys’ and immerses in their world.  Gretchen is lovely and just wants to get on with things – Toni is selfish and doesn’t give her any leeway. Toni refuses to see Gretchen for weeks because she is too busy (she is punishing her for going to NYU) and they don’t meet again until Halloween. Toni wants to ‘show her beautiful girlfriend off’ to all her new mates. You couldn’t get more rugby club machismo then that.

Gretchen just wants to be with Toni but struggles with all the changes that Toni wants to make. Toni thinks Gretchen is a bit thick and can’t understand what’s going on, so just doesn’t tell her. Unfortunately, Gretchen starts to believe she is a bit thick too. Her biggest problem is that because Toni isn’t telling her what’s going on, she is totally in the dark about what to do. If Toni transitions and becomes a man, will she still find her attractive? Does she want a boyfriend even though she’s a lesbian because it’s Toni and she loves Toni. See why she’s confused?

The blurb says that these two are made for each other. I disagree. It makes me angry when people are prejudiced, and Toni is a prejudice of the worst kind. Toni (you see even I’m not using personal pronouns!) thinks that people who aren’t trans won’t understand what she’s going through. Well, maybe that is the case to a certain extent but give us straight people (or cisgender) some credit!

I love Lies we Tell Ourselves. I thought it was an outstanding book, the sexuality in the book was almost incidental to the racial tension but it was so well written I identified with them all in many different ways. I liked Gretchen. I’d want to be friends with Gretchen. She’d have to dump Toni though!

The book does highlight the problems of going to university with a partner in tow. Will you stay together even though you meet new people and your horizons broaden? Are  they holding you back or holding you together? This is an age old problem and not confined to LGBTQA+ people. It also highlighted the problem of trans people when they are mid change, what bathroom do they use when out in public? If they are identifying with a particular  gender but don’t look like it then it must be hard – there is a scene when Toni’s gang go out for dinner and are having a lovely time until the waitress says “anything else ladies?”: half the group are mid trans and identify as men. That must be hard and I felt that. But don’t think that because we aren’t the same as you we can’t sympathise and understand, because that’s labelling us as idiots and that’s not true. Nance, one of Toni’s friends, says that Toni labels everyone as soon as Toni meets them, can you get more prejudiced then that?

Well written and thoughtful book but sometimes I think that the LGBTQA+ community are so desperate to be heard that forget that most people are tolerant and kind and just want to get on with life. It’s  not a fight for most us, it’s just a confusion that needs explaining. I did some research on it though and am much more clued up so, I guess that’s good for me!

PS> Count how many times Toni says ‘the guys’ but doesn’t like using male and female pronouns to describe people – oh the irony!

The Sun is also a Star – Nicola Yoon

the-sun book-cover-envy

Firstly, the book cover alone makes this book amazing. Look how they made it!

Secondly, I was a little disappointed with Everything, Everything and went into this book thinking that it would be sort of the same quality. Girl with some weird thing wrong meets boy with some issues, they fall in love super quickly and then live happily ever after. Well, the only similarity is that girl meets  boy and they fall in love super quickly – or at least one of them does. Prepare to be blown away by this book – it’s a-maz-ing!!

At the beginning of the book we meet Natasha. We learn that she lives in New York with her mum and dad and brother, Peter. She was born in Jamaica and her dad came to the US to make it as an actor. She and her mum follow him over when she is 6 and they outstay their visa. She is now in the position where, after her dad has been arrested for Drink Driving and told the police that he is living in the US illegally, they are 12 hours away from being deported.

Daniel is of Korean origin and lives with his mum and dad and older brother Charlie. Charlie has a big chip on his shoulder and hates Daniel (this is never fully explained, although Natasha has her own theory). Charlie has just been sent home from Harvard after one  term. Daniel’s dad owns a black hair care product shop in New York (apparently it’s a thing for Korean people to own black hair care shops New York). Daniel is on his way to get his hair cut before he has an interview for a place at Yale to study medicine. Unfortunately he doesn’t want to be a doctor, he wants to be a poet.

Natasha and Daniel meet through a series of events and Daniel falls in love at first sight. Natasha has a lot on her mind and is hoping that she can persuade an attorney to help overturn her case. She is also a scientist and doesn’t believe in the romantic notion of love at first sight. Daniel tries to change her mind through a series of questions and some time spent together in between their respective appointments.

The book is written as a split narrative so, although Daniel thinks he is having a hard time convincing Natasha that she likes him, we know he isn’t. There is also some lovely asides from bit part characters in the book, like Irene, the guard at the Immigration Centre or informative chapters about the meaning of Irie. The neatness of the way the author summed up what happened to the characters, the explanations by Natasha’s dad as to why he was doing what he was doing, all make for a really clever and involved book.

I read this book really quickly and the characters are people that I will remember for a long time. The weight of expectation on second generation immigrants really made me feel for Daniel. The helplessness of Natasha to stay just because her parents had made a mistake made me see the injustice of the immigration system. Natasha had lived more of her life in America then in Jamaica, she had no connection to it yet she also had no legal connection to America.

You will read this book and connect to the events going on in America at the moment. When racial intolerance is rife this book brings it back to us that America is made up of so many different nationalities and cultures and they can all live together under one flag but, they will always have their own culture and identity and we must respect and embrace that. The kids in this book don’t want to be what their parents want them to be, they want to just be themselves, and this is a struggle in itself. The cultural baggage that they carry round from their parents is heavy, and it weighs them down. This might be the clue to the problem with Charlie.  It also demonstrates how powerfully love can hit you, and change you, and when you fall in love for the first time it will blow you away. Maybe it already has…

Further Reading: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell and The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E Smith.

 

Remix – Non Pratt

remix

This book is on the longlist for the Hounslow Teen Read Award 2017.

Remix is essentially the tale of two friends. Kaz is dumped by her rugger bugger boyfriend Tom. She is a tiny bit devastated as she super loves him and expected to lose her virginity to him, as well as get married and have lots of babies I expect. Ruby is her wayward friend who has recently dumped her gorgeous but untamed boyfriend Stu after she found out that he had been unfaithful. Her brother Lee and his boyfriend Owen manage to get the two girls tickets to the local music festival (think Glasto and then scale it down a bit) and both are looking forward to a new start before the summer ends; or are they?

It’s kind of like a comedy of errors this book. All the main players end up being at the festival; Tom is there with his mates, Stu is there being all brooding and effortlessly cool, Lee is having some problems with Owen and is just about to go travelling and leave it all behind…. Then there is the lead singer of the girls’ favourite band; Gold n Tone.

The book has two narrators; both girls have their own POV and this can get a little frustrating because sometimes you just want them to speak to each other. Surely as best friends they should be able to be a little bit more honest with each other about how they feel and what they’ve done?

I was also a little bit disturbed about the amount sex going on in this book!  I am no prude but these girls are only 16 years old. They are drinking and smoking and having sex. One of them has sex with two different boys at the festival (it was only two days!) I didn’t particularly like either of them TBH but Ruby was the least likeable I think. Perhaps if they had been a bit older it would have been a little more believable. Maybe I am just an old granny who doesn’t understand the world today but I was 16 once believe it or not and I don’t remember it being like this, apart from the cider drinking obviously!

I did like Lauren though, and Owen. Not too keen on Lee either I’m afraid,they felt a little bit like they were the token gay couple and it was a tad forced. All in all a good book but it’s left me a little concerned about the yoof of today….

Further Reading: Trouble by Non Pratt