19 July 2016

June 2016 Wrap Up

I read 3 books this month, and here they are, books #17, #18 and #19 of 2016:

17. These Vicious Masks – Tarun Shanker & Kelly Zekas

England, 1882. Evelyn is bored with society and its expectations. So when her beloved sister, Rose, mysteriously vanishes, she ignores her parents and travels to London to find her, accompanied by the dashing Mr. Kent. But they’re not the only ones looking for Rose. The reclusive, young gentleman Sebastian Braddock is also searching for her, claiming that both sisters have special healing powers. Evelyn is convinced that Sebastian must be mad, until she discovers that his strange tales of extraordinary people are true—and that her sister is in graver danger than she feared.

A bit disappointing. I didn’t like our main character Evelyn at all. Her one defining characteristic was that she was boring, which isn’t great. I was really looking forward to the relationship between Evelyn and her sister Rose, because the blurb made it seem like the whole book would revolve around the pair, but in actuality they’re together for only the beginning of the story, and they were such badly developed characters that I really couldn’t get a glimpse of this fantastic sisterly bond that would be the driving force of the book.

I usually manage to avoid books with the mere hint of a love triangle, or the whole ‘I’m completely unaware that two different men are chasing me! Oh my!’ thing, so I was unpleasantly surprised to find it in this book.

But really, I shouldn’t have been that surprised. The love interests in question were “dashing Mr Kent”, who really wasn’t that dashing (he was annoying and came across like a prick) and “the reclusive, young gentleman Sebastian Braddock”, who was barely any better. To be fair, the writer used Evelyn to poke fun at the stereotypical dashing and mysterious Byron-esque hero Sebastian seemed to embody, but this wasn’t enough – pointing out clichés in your book doesn’t somehow compensate for them, or make them ok.

This book sounded interesting to me because it was about people with superpowers in Victorian Britain, but the way these superpowers were actually handled and explained was very disappointing. In comparison to literally anything else I’ve read that also dealt with superpowers and abilities this came up lacking, and in fact the whole book was a bit lacklustre. The writing wasn’t great, the pacing felt really uneven, and my main criticism was that I flew through the whole thing quite quickly and came out the other side thinking ‘Wow, what a waste of time. I really don’t care about anything I’ve just read.”

Having said that, there was a twist just before the final chapter that I genuinely didn’t see coming, and bumped this review up to 2 stars. If the writing had been better, and the characters more interesting, and the plot more compelling, I might have been tempted to go on to read the inevitable sequel, but that one little moment of ‘Huh, that wasn’t as mediocre as the rest of the book’ just didn’t make up for the wasted time I got out of it.

Rating: ⭐⭐

18. Sofia Khan is Not Obliged – Ayisha Malik

Unlucky in love once again after her possible-marriage-partner-to-be proves a little too close to his parents, Sofia Khan is ready to renounce men for good. Or at least she was, until her boss persuades her to write a tell-all expose about the Muslim dating scene. As her woes become her work, Sofia must lean on the support of her brilliant friends, baffled colleagues and baffling parents as she goes in search of stories for her book. In amongst the marriage-crazy relatives, racist tube passengers and decidedly odd online daters, could there be a a lingering possibility that she might just be falling in love . . . ?

A great book that genuinely subverted my expectations – I like to think I’m pretty good at predicting romances, but Sofia Khan proved that wrong. There were plenty of feints and red herrings when it came to the relationships, but I loved how the story wrapped up (and I’m already looking forward to the sequel!). I also really liked what a large part of the story Sofia’s family and friends were, as this just created a really lovely feel to the book, and meant you get plenty of insight into all of their lives too.

I knew I was probably going to enjoy it (my sister’s recommendation), but what I wasn’t expecting were the couple of moments that were filled with raw, genuine emotion that made me cry. It’s generally a pretty happy and funny book, so these bits were a real surprise.

Obviously, you think she’s going to end up with Naim, and when it turns out he’s a bit of a douche, I was really surprised, because I thought an eventual relationship between the two of them was what the author had been aiming for. In romances, it’s generally: protagonist meets potential suitor, but nothing happens/it doesn’t work out, protagonist moves onto to other potential suitors, something somethings, protagonist ends up with the first guy. And I loved this book because it completely ignored the formula! Until I realised, Conall is actually the first guy mentioned, but at this point he’s just referred to as “racist neighbour”, so you really don’t think anything’s going to happen.

When he made that little comment about a Muslim man’s beard, and it finally all clicks into place that he’s converted to Islam so he can be with her, it was just beautiful and precious and all I wanted from this book, and it made me smile like an idiot when I was reading.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

19. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – JK Rowling

I’ve fallen back into a very pleasant Harry Potter hangover, and so reread this one in (pretty much) one sitting at the very end of June. The hangover itself was because me, my sister, and some friends went to see The Cursed Child in London and it was SO INCREDIBLY FANTASTIC and I loved it SO much I just needed to stay in the wizarding world a little longer. I’ve honestly lost count of the number of times I’ve reread the series, but one of the things I love is that every reread brings something knew. Here are thirteen thoughts I had upon this particular reread of The Philosopher’s Stone:

1. The sentence “Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much” is actually such an innocuous sentence, but also one of the best in literature.

2. Dedalus Diggle is one of the greatest named wizards in this series.

3. Aaaaaaand there’s the first mention of Sirius Black! Right there on page 16. And I wonder what happened to the flying motor bike after this scene? Hagrid says it was “lent” to him, so he was definitely supposed to give it back to Sirius, but I’m assuming he was falsely arrested and imprisoned before this could happen. But then the bike pops up again in the final book, on Harry’s last time at Privet Drive, so did Hagrid have it all this time? Where did he keep it? Or did Dumbledore keep it in Hogwarts for him?

4. Also in this first chapter Dudley’s apparently learnt a new word, but if he’s around Harry’s age, he’s only one year old, which is pretty young to be able to speak. Unless he was born earlier in the school year, and could already be around two. But I looked it up, and he’s only sixteen months old at this point, which makes him a pretty exceptional toddler if he can already speak. Perhaps Dudley was actually a genius of untold proportions all along? Until Harry showed up in his life and threw him off his groove. Or perhaps I spoke too soon about Dudley’s intelligence, seeing as in the very next chapter he’s having trouble doing 37 + 2.

5. People are always poking fun at Harry for trying to catch one of the letters falling down around him, instead of just picking one up off the floor, but I can forgive him for this, because he’s just an excited ten year old, delighted with these wonderfully strange occurrences, and I doubt any other ten year old would have acted differently in the situation. 

6. I think Diagon Alley might be the first pun six-year-old me ever understood?

7. In the film, the moment when the new First Years arrive at Hogwarts and are greeted by the eternally stern Professor McGonagall, a friend of mine once thought they were trespassing in her castle, and were about to get properly told off for it, and left our sleepover viewing of the film in terror to go to sleep. This moment is less terrifying in the book.

8. Another of my favourite sentences: “There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them.” And with these words, the trio was finally formed.

9. A great thing about rereading books you first read as a really small child is that when you first read them you naturally miss things, and to this day I’m still understanding new jokes and references and puzzles in the Harry Potter books. Eg. for the mirror of Erised, “Erised” = “desire” backwards; similarly, the inscription around its edge “Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi” = “I show not your face but heart’s desire” backwards.

10. Hagrid was the original mother of dragons.

11. This books also has one of my favourite plot twists of all time: “There was already somebody there – but it wasn’t Snape. It wasn’t even Voldemort. It was Quirrel.” I love that moment so much! For me it’s up there with the whole Sirius is innocent/Lupin in a werewolf/Scabbers in a murdering Animagus moment from The Prisoner of Azkaban.

12. I’ll admit, when I was younger it took me a while to understand exactly how Harry gets the stone out of the mirror, but now I get it I agree with Dumbledore that that whole plan was bloody genius.

13. Oh my God I love this book so much.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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