Reviews: A little semi-mid-June update (with 3 YA books!)

I’ve been sitting on this update for aaaaaages, and, it being a Sunday evening, thought it’ll be a good idea to post this before a new week begins. I’m the lead (read: only) writer for Regency Love, a Regency-set iOS game/interactive novel, and have been working on new content for the app. It’s great fun, but significantly cuts down my reading time!

30. Gabrielle Zevin – The Collected Works of A. J. Fikry (19 May)
32. Amanda Hocking – Wake (1 June)
33. Annie Proulx – The Shipping News (7 June)
34. Jo Riccioni – The Italians at Cleat’s Corner Store (15 June)
35. Lois Lowry – The Giver (18 June)
36. Aeschylus – The Oresteia: Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, The Eumenides (trans. Robert Fagles) (19 June)

(In case you’re wondering, 31 was The Theban Plays, about which I’ve already posted.)


30. Gabrielle Zevin – The Collected Works of A. J. Fikry (19 May)

30 - FikryBlurb: A. J. Fikry owns a failing bookshop. His wife just died in tragic circumstances. His rare and valuable first edition has been stolen. His life is a wreck.

Amelia is a book rep, with a big heart and a lonely life.

Maya is the baby left on A. J.’s bookshop floor with a note.

What happens in the bookshop that changes the lives of these seemingly normal but extraordinary characters?

This is the story of how unexpected love can rescue you and bring you back to real life, in a world that you won’t want to leave, with characters who you will come to love.

Plot: Lots of quaint little twists that aren’t particularly twists. Some things are a little unbelievable (the whole baby thing), but overall, it was charming.

Characters: A. J. started off as a wonderful, grumpy character, and although it was kinda nice seeing him soften, I still preferred him as the grumpy one… Although I didn’t really find the whole baby thing plausible, I did really like Maya’s character.

Themes: Bookshops! Books! Reading! Really, this novel felt like a tribute to books and bookshops, and I found that rather charming and endearing. I felt that Zevin tried to incorporate a range of other themes, such as the loss and gain of love, the unexpected turns in life, and so on, but they didn’t stand out for me as much as the characters’ relationship to books and the written word.

Language: I found nothing extraordinary with the prose. I enjoyed some of the dialogue, but exchanges all seemed rather artificial, and belonged purely in the fictional world. Some of A. J.’s quips at the beginning are quite fantastic, but that disappears as he begins to “mellow”.

Overall: A charming read, but rather light and fluffy and without much substance. Although it was enjoyable, I won’t be revisiting it or throwing it around as a must-read recommendation.

For those who like numbers: 3.7/5


32. Amanda Hocking – Wake (1 June)

32 - WakeBlurb: Strangers in town for the summer, Penn, Thea and Lexi have caught everyone’s attention, including the eye of practical Harper. But it’s her sister, Gemma, they’ve chosen. Sixteen-year-old Gemma seems to have it all—carefree, pretty and falling in love with the boy next door. But her greatest passion is the water. She craves solitary late-night swims under the stars, where she can belong to the sea. But lately she’s had company.

Penn, Thea and Lexi spend their nights dancing and partying on the cove, and one night Gemma joins them. She wakes, groggy, on the beach the next morning and knows something has changed. Suddenly Gemma is stronger, faster and more beautiful than ever. And as she discovers her new mythical powers, Gemma is forced to choose between staying with those she loves—or entering a dark work brimming with unimaginable secrets.

Plot: A lot of the plot was quite predictable, and I didn’t find any of the “twists and turns” exciting. This might be because Wake is the first in a quartet, and merely tries to set up most of the following action—if so, the novel does it job well enough, and in a relatively entertaining way.

Characters: I didn’t fall in love with any of the characters, but I didn’t hate any of them, either.

Themes: The concern with familial duties comes through quite strongly in this book, which I found quite pleasantly surprising. It was nice to see a complex relationship between sisters, as well as with their mentally ill mother and single father.

Language: This reads like your run-of-the-mill YA (she says, without having read much YA), with suitably gushy moments when it comes to the two sisters’ love interests.

Overall: I got through this really quickly, and found it a nice, brainless read. I’m actually a little curious about how the main conflict will be resolved, and might check out the other books in the series for some more nice, brainless reads. (Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with a brainless read—those are becoming quite enjoyable!)

For those who like numbers: 3.3/5


33. Annie Proulx – The Shipping News (7 June)

33 - Shipping NewsBlurb: Quoyle is a hapless, hopeless hack journalist living and working in New York. When his no-good wife is killed in a spectacular road accident, Quoyle heads for the land of his forefathers—the remotest corner of far-flung Newfoundland. With his delinquent daughters, Bunny and Sunshine, in tow, Quoyle finds himself a part of an unfolding, exhilarating Atlantic drama. The Shipping News is an irresistible comedy of human life and possibility.

Plot: I really like the book’s beginning, which told Quoyle’s early struggles and his doomed relationship with Petal. After they’d moved to Newfoundland, though… I guess I just lost interest.

Characters: I thought Quoyle was extremely endearing, and one of the few good things about the book. His unwavering devotion to Petal, while sad and a little pathetic, demonstrates a sort of commitment that is rather honourable. His love for his daughters ennobles him even further—this guy really deserves an Exceptional Single Father award!

Themes: I know this has been taught as part of the HSC (a high school thing in the state of New South Wales, kind of like the British A-levels) under the localisation/globalisation module, so that has probably shaped my reception of the novel. I really got a sense of the smallness of the town, and although I wasn’t particularly taken by the representation, it was certainly there, and certainly quite strong throughout.

Language: The writing really bugged me. Yes, Proulx has a pretty distinct voice, but nope, I’m just not a fan. I didn’t really mind the Newfoundland dialect in the dialogue, but to have brachylogia (the omission of words) left, right, and centre? Makes me a little seasick.

Overall: I can appreciate this novel has been highly regarded in its portrayal of Newfoundland, as well as in its focus on quirky and “underdog” characters, but the story just didn’t resonate with me. I liked some moments, and especially enjoyed the beginning, but overall, The Shipping News just wasn’t my thing.

For those who like numbers: 2/5


 34. Jo Riccioni – The Italians at Cleat’s Corner Store (15 June)

This is a book club selection, which I panic-read over a weekend (can’t go to book club without having read the book!).

34 - ItaliansBlurb: In 1949, the arrival of an Italian family sets tongues wagging in the village of Leyton, an English farming community still recovering from the war. For seventeen-year-old Connie, however, the newcomers provide a tantalising glimpse of the wider world—a world beyond the gossip and petty concerns traded over the counter of Cleat’s Corner Store.

Under their father’s stern eye, the Onorati brothers adapt to their new life in remarkably different ways. While the charismatic Vittorio is determined to reinvent himself and embrace all things English, the solitary Lucio is haunted by the secrets of his past—events that tether him to the war in the mountains of Lazio.

As both brothers begin to cast an unexpected influence over Leyton, Connie realises that, like them, she must grapple with her ambitions and dreams for the future. But what can any of them hope to find in the ruins of all they’ve lost?

The Italians at Cleat’s Corner Store is a heart-warming, vividly observed tale of small-town life, exploring love, prejudice and identity in the wake of World War II.

Plot: This novel contains a nice parallel narrative set in the Italian mountains during WWII, and in a little English town post-war. However, I just found everything so predictable—the romantic pairings, the brothers’ backstory, the eventual reaction of Leyton’s inhabitants. Being predictable isn’t necessarily bad, but in this instance, I just wasn’t particularly excited about the story.

Characters: I liked Lucio right from the beginning, when my Broody Man Sensor went haywire. Mmm, broody men… Vittorio, the charmer, I didn’t like so much. Connie, the protagonist, was okay, though I didn’t find her particularly special, nor did I identify with her. And yes, although all these characters have their own backstories and so on, I wasn’t too caught up in their lives or emotions—but I certainly had a level of appreciation for the Broody Man of the hour. Look out for him, if you decide to read this book.

Themes: Family, identity, individuality. Although Riccioni most definitely did her best to explore these themes, I just…didn’t seem to connect.

Language: There are some moments of lyrical prose scattered throughout the novel, and although I enjoyed the writing, I wasn’t blown away or anything. I did think a lot of the dialogue containing Italian and Italian-accented-English seemed very authentic, which was nice.

Overall: All in all, I thought this was a pretty entertaining read, and rather on the brainless side. (Uh, yes, I think I just called a WWII-related novel “brainless”.) Despite its predictability and the lack of appealing characters (to me anyway), I enjoyed the novel, and am glad to have read it.

For those who like numbers: 3/5


35. Lois Lowry – The Giver (18 June)

I read this due to Maria’s recommendation, and I’m so glad I decided to give it a go!

35 - The GiverBlurb: Jonas’s world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war or fear or pain. There are no choices. Every person is assigned a role in the community.

When Jonas turns twelve, he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver. The Giver alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life. Now it’s time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back.

Plot: I loved the pacing of this novel, which I later discovered to be the first in a quartet. Everything unfolds gradually and beautifully in a seamless unveiling of the utopian/dystopian world. Every action and event led to some kind of revelation for both the protagonist and the reader, and it was all just a delight. The final few chapters really spur things into action, and now I’m itching to find out about what happens in the later books!

Characters: I really loved Jonas, and thought he was just kind, gentle, perceptive, courageous—he just became one of those characters I really wanted to support. The other characters, despite being rather minor, all have their “unique” personalities (which isn’t quite “unique” on an individual level, but more on the level of their individual life assignments), and I thought that kind of portrayal was quite wonderful.

Themes: This is going to sound a little trite, but: The Giver explores what it means to be human. Lowry gives us a world where everyone has their capacity for true memories and emotions stripped away from them, shows us how it’s seemingly wonderful on the surface, then digs deeper in the core of human existence. And best of all, she does this in a subtle, quiet way, whereby most of the emotional impact is experienced by the reader when they come to their own realisations.

Language: The language is so simple, yet so clear and beautiful. I don’t have much else to say about this, other than I thought it was perfect for the type of story Lowry has written.

Overall: I am so glad I came across this book—it’s definitely one I’d recommend to anyone who’s looking for something to read!

For those who like numbers: 5/5


36. Aeschylus – The Oresteia: Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, The Eumenides (trans. Robert Fagles) (19 June)

36 - The OresteiaBlurb: In the Oresteia—the only trilogy in Greek drama that survives from antiquity—Aeschylus took as his subject the bloody chain of murder and revenge within the royal family of Argos. As they move from darkness to light, from rage to self-governance, from primitive ritual to civilised institution, their spirit of struggle and regeneration becomes an everlasting song of celebration.

Overall: I hope you’re prepared for a few paragraphs of observations/typing-out-loud, because I’m still an utter newb when it comes to the classics!

Agamemnon was brutal, with the entire narrative leading to the final act, which is Clytemnestra’s merciless murder of her husband. There is so much moral ambiguity in her action—yes, he brought back with him Cassandra, and yes, he killed their daughter, but should she have killed him? Wasn’t Iphigenia’s sacrifice necessary for their ships to sail to Troy? Is Clytemnestra’s murderous actions fuelled by her sense of justice, is it coloured more by her thirst for vengeance, or is it in light of her adultery with Aegisthus?

The Libation Bearers continued this line of questioning, but now in relation to Orestes’ action: he kills his mother to avenge his father. But is this right, and is this just? Orestes murders the woman who gave him birth, whose blood runs in his veins—is this act more unforgivable than Clytemnestra murdering Agamemnon, or even Agamemnon murdering Iphigenia? Again, is it truly justice that has been served?

The Eumenides brings it all to a close, and these questions of justice/injustice are addressed. For the most part, I thought everyone (Athena, Apollo, and the Furies) has a valid point, and they all argue their points quite well. Of course, I then wonder about the mortals’ interaction with the gods, and the extent to which these characters actually act of their own accord. Are the mortals fully responsible for their actions, or are they justified in placing blame and responsibility to the gods (as Orestes does to Apollo)?

And then there’s the fascinating movement of the chorus’s function. In Agamemnon, we have the elders of Argos; in The Libation Bearers, we have slave women who are pouring on Agamemnon’s grave; in The Eumenides, we have the Furies themselves. These shifts in perspective and voice give such variety to the voice, tone, and moral positioning of each play, which I found absolutely fascinating by the time we’d come to the Furies.

Anyway, now I really need to go back and re-read The Iliad—it’s going to be amazing!


I’m hoping to finish devouring a few more titles by the end of June—maybe I should just jet off to a nice tropical island and take with me a suitcase of books…

One thought on “Reviews: A little semi-mid-June update (with 3 YA books!)

  1. I’m so excited by how much you like The Giver! :D

    The blurb of The Collected Works of A. J. Fikry sounds good, too bad you thought it didn’t deliver!

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