Monday, April 14, 2014

[Review] Poppy (#1) by Mary Hooper

Publication (dd/mm/yyyy): 08/05/2014
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher for review
Genre: YA (12+) - Historical

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My Rating: 
Highly entertaining!
My thoughts

I had no idea that this book would have a sequel, but as I was nearing the end I knew there was no way there couldn't have been. May 2015, 'Poppy in the Field'. I know it's going to be an emotional and intense read.

Last week I received a package from Bloomsbury in the mail, containing two books: this was one of them. I hadn't heard anything about it, but 1) I adore good historical fiction; 2) Mary Hooper is quite a well-known staple of YA historical fiction; 3) This book focuses on WWI; 4) The heroine becomes a VAD nurse for the war effort, so I picked it up almost immediately and don't regret the decision one bit.

Poppy Pearson is a young woman working as a parlourmaid for the de Veres. The war rages on. While the older de Vere brother enlists to fight in the war, the younger, Freddie, only joins after being handed an anonymous white feather in the mail (which Poppy's teacher had encouraged her to send). It is also by her teacher's suggestion that she also partake in the war effort by joining the VAD as a nurse. She's good at taking orders and she is no stranger to hard work and long hours. Before Freddie and Poppy part, they share a few moments: a look, a kiss, a touch and squeeze of the hand; and despite their difference in social standing they exchange letters and agree to meet once again. But Mrs de Vere will not allow the two of them to end up together--her son must marry someone of higher class...



 
Poppy was quite an easy read and definitely recommended for younger readers (12+) who are interested in learning more about what it was like in these times. Written in third person, with simple prose.

The characters were just okay for me. None of them were really that fleshed out or memorable. I like Poppy; she's a hard-working, honest and kind young woman, but she can be a bit frivolous and indecisive. Nonetheless, I liked following her in her progression as a nurse, and found that I could relate to a few of the situations that arose. Obviously, as a nurse myself, I had to draw some comparison between the conditions of the war hospitals back then, and how the hospitals are now. It was highly interesting and I think Hooper did a good job portraying the hospital working environment in England at the time.

Freddie de Vere doesn't have much of a personality at all; all I can really gather is that he's fighting in the war, he's from an extremely well-off family, he's quite a sentimental person, and he loves Poppy. Despite this, I think things will get a lot more interesting in the sequel. Something big happens in the end of Poppy, and it'll be interesting to see how that escalates, how both of them react to the actions of the other. As for the other young man in her life, the doctor at the hospital...

Poppy's VAD friends at her station, Matthews and Jameson, were interchangeable for me. They were the support that Poppy needed to get through the various ups and downs in her life, but I could never tell them apart!

A few of the Tommies (soldiers) and higher-ups were fun to read about. I like that Hooper included some of the injured, gave them names, personalities and back-stories of their own, so that they weren't just something thrown in the background. Instead, Hooper gives them life and brings forth the point that all of the injured and those who died in the war, had lives and voices of their own.

Finally I want to mention Poppy's brother, Billy/William. I think it is important that he was included in this story. While many young men jumped at the chance to gain glory and fight the good fight, many were frightened and were bullied or pressured into enlisting. The experience proves too much for him and he returns home in pretty bad circumstances. I can't wait to find out what happens to him next!

Poppy is the first book I've read that was set in England in 1914-1915 and overall I think that Hooper succeeded in portraying the setting with a level of realism worthy of the historical fiction genre. While I didn't fall in love with any of the characters I am invested in their lives and stories such that I will, without a doubt, be reading on with the sequel, Poppy on the Field! An easy to read account of what VAD nurses may have experienced in war-time England.


Quotes

First lines: "Poppy sat, bolt upright and uncomfortable, on one of the carved, wooden chairs in the blue drawing room of Airey House in the village of Mayfield. In front of her, looking equally out of place, sat Molly, the other parlourmaid. They were winding wool: Poppy had her arms outstretched with a long loop of wool around each hand, Molly was winding it into a ball, from right to left and back, catching Poppy's eye every now and again and giving her a look. Each time she did this, Poppy would have to glance away quickly or risk giggling."

   
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I have received this review copy in return for an honest review.




Friday, April 11, 2014

[Review] The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

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Publication (dd/mm/yyyy): 01/01/2012
Publisher: Doubleday
Pages: 296
Source: Bought
Genre: Adult contemporary

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My Rating: 
Bittersweet
My thoughts

I was drawn to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry because I'd read The One-Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (review), which also involved an elderly man walking... somewhere. I didn't really know what to expect when I started reading this book.

It wasn't long before I was hooked on the story, the characters and the meaning behind it. This is a very simple story. It's about an elderly man who pledges to walk from one end of England to the other because he believes that as long as he keeps walking the woman he let down 20 years ago will continue to live. She has cancer. All he knows is that he must get to her; he will not let her down again.

I just can't get over how engrossing the story was, how invested I became in it. I couldn't put it down, or if I did before long I was itching to pick it back up again. I think the simple writing also contributed to this. I didn't have to focus too hard to make sense of the sentences.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a story about love, hope, loss and death, redemption, forgiveness and moving forward. Putting one foot in front of the other - as Harold continues to walk he continues to remember the past and sort out and come to terms with all that has happened.

I like that Harold Fry's past is revealed bit by bit. I liked the development of his relationship and marriage with his wife: how the walk changes them and reminds them of why they got married in the first place. I like the parallels between that punk kid (can't remember his name) and his own son. I like the simplicity in the writing style. I like the emphasis that Rachel Joyce, the author, places on the idea that everyone and everything, the places you go, the people you meet, leave imprints on a person.


Quotes

Favourite quotes:

"'You have to believe. That's what I think. It's not about medicine and all that stuff. You have to believe a person can get better. There is so much in the human mind we don't understand. But, you see, if you have faith, you can do anything.' ... 'I mean trusting what you don't know and going for it. Believing you can make a difference.' (5%)

"'I'm setting off right now. As long as I walk, she must live. Please tell her this time I won't let her down.' (7%)

"'You'd think walking should be the simplest thing,' she said at last. 'Just a question of putting one foot in front of the other. But it never ceases to amaze me how difficult the things that are supposed to be instinctive really are.'
She wet her lower lip with her tongue, waiting for mroe words. 'Eating,' she said at last. 'That's another one. Some people have real difficulties with that. Talking too. Even loving. They can all be difficult.' (16%)


"People were buying milk, or filling their cars with petrol, or even posting letters. And what no one else knew was the appalling weight of the thing they were carrying inside. The superhuman effort it took sometimes to be normal, and a part of things that appeared both easy and everyday. The loneliness of that. (28%)

"Beginnings could happen more than once, or in different ways. You could think you were starting something afresh, when actually what you were doing was carrying on as before. (49%)

"There was so much out there, so much life, going about its daily business of getting by, of suffering and fighting, and not knowing he was sitting up there, watching. Again he felt in a profound way that he was both inside and outside what he saw; that he was both connected, and passing through. Harold began to understand that this was also the truth about his walk. He was both a part of things, and not. (63%)

"They [the people in his life who have passed on] were part of the air he walked through, just as all the travellers he had met were part of it. He saw that people would make the decisions they wished to make, and some of them would hurt both themselves and those who loved them, and some would pass unnoticed, while others would bring joy. (98%)
   
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I purchased this book with my own money. All opinions written here are my own.




Wednesday, April 9, 2014

[Review] The Assassin's Blade by Sarah J. Maas

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Publication (dd/mm/yyyy): 13/03/2014
Publisher: Bloomsbury UK
Pages: 437
Source: Publisher for review
Genre: YA (14+) - High fantasy

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My Rating: 
Brilliantly written
My thoughts

Somehow, after knowing what happens in Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight, revisiting Celaena BEFORE the salt mines of Endovier brought forth a whole new perspective and a newfound appreciation for Celaena's character AND Sarah J. Maas' writing and vision. I LOVED that I was given the chance to reread the novellas in a print paperback format. I believe the experience was somehow different and richer because of it.


This book contains the five novellas that precede Throne of Glass--The Assassin and: the Pirate Lord, the Healer, the Desert, the Underworld and the Empire.

The additional novella/story, The Assassin and the Healer, was nice, and showed yet another side of Celaena. I believe the greatest importance of these novellas is the fact that it paints Celaena in a more sympathetic light. She has a bit of an abrasive and frivolous personality which may rub some readers the wrong way. We learn some of Celaena's past before she is freed from the salt mines of Endovier in Throne of Glass.


I still adore Celaena, think she's one of the greatest YA literary heroines I have read so far, and can't wait to continue the series with Heir of Fire! Sarah J. Maas introduces a romantic interest in these stories that develops beautifully. I felt kind of guilty, rereading these stories--I absolutely love Chaol (who is introduced in Throne of Glass), but remembering Celaena's first love... just... speechless.


Arobynn, King of the Assassins, is such an amazing character to rival the likes of Warner (Shatter Me) and King Leck (Graceling). I love the relationship that Celaena has with him: confused, conflicted, undefined, uncertain. Arobynn is just a little insane, especially about her. And his money. The first time his true nature and utmost potential was revealed to us I was more than surprised. He's introduced to us as a formidable and important figure from the getgo, but once he is truly unveiled to the reader, it's really quite amazing and a great achievement on Maas's part. I loved every bit of his character and was glad to see him make a few reappearances past the novellas.

These stories are far from easy to read, but it's such an absorbing tale that it'll be hard to stay away. Maas's writing is perfect: the atmosphere, mood and setting were always spot-on and appropriate; the character development and portrayals consistent and realistic; the pacing just right.

Highly recommended. These novellas are brilliantly written and set an excellent prequel to one of the hottest high fantasy series in YA--Throne of Glass!


Quotes

Favourite quotes:

"Celaena put a hand over her heart, tightly gripping her sword with the other. "Because I know what it feels like." She dared another step. "Because I know how it feels to have that kind of hate, [name omitted]. I know how it feels. And this isn't the way. This," she said louder, gesturing to the fortress and all the corpses in it, all the soldiers and assassins still fighting. "This is not the way." (212)

"'If you can learn to endure pain, you can survive anything. Some people learn to embrace it--to love it. Some endure it through drowning it in sorrow, or by making themselves forget. Others turn it into anger. But [name omitted] let her pain become hate, and let it consume her until she became something else entirely--a person I don't think she ever wished to be.' (222)

"She shook off his grip. 'I am what I am, and I don't particularly care what you think of me.' Maybe once he might have believe that, but now...
  'Well, I care what you think of me. I care enough that I stayed at this disgusting party just for you. And I care enough that I'd attend a thousand more like it so I can spend a few hours with you when you aren't looking at me like I'm not worth the dirt beneath your shoes.' (282)


"'No matter what I have done, I really do love you, Celaena.'
...
He was using words as chains to bind her again. He'd had so many chances over the years to tell her that he loved her--he'd known how much she'd craved those words. But he hadn't spoken them until he needed to use them as weapons. And now that she had Sam, Sam who said those words without expecting anything in return, Sam who loved her for reasons she still didn't understand ... (369-370)


"'My name is Celaena Sardothien," she whispered, "and I will not be afraid.' (430)
  
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I have received this review copy in return for an honest review.



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