Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

*Scroll down for a link to my video review

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Published May 18, 2017 by Harper Collins
Source: purchased the physical copy and the audio book
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.
Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.
One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.
Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is Gail Honeyman's debut novel. Set in Glasgow, we meet twenty-nine-year old Eleanor. Eleanor works as a finance clerk for a graphic design company. Eleanor has a very routine-bound life: she goes to work, eats very similar meals each day, speaks to her mother on the phone on Wednesday evenings, and each weekend she spends her time somewhere between sober and drunk. Then Monday finally comes around and her week repeats itself. Her world is very small, she has no friends, and she's incredibly lonely. But if you asked her how she was, she'd tell you she was fine.

Clearly Eleanor is anything but fine. She has depression and won't acknowledge some aspects of her former life, and therefore is quite an unreliable narrator. I was captivated by her voice from the first page, I could hear her clearly and was immediately intrigued. Honeyman has developed her character so well, with layer upon layer of detail. Her quirks, mannerisms, and habits were revealed via her daily life and interactions with those around her. I found her easy to relate to and also felt extremely protective of her.

The relationships in this story were the focus, particularly the growing friendship between Eleanor and her new co-worker, Raymond Gibbons. Eleanor's reluctance to interact with Raymond was understandable, and highlighted her feelings on other humans. Eleanor is very judgemental, often seeing other people as unintelligent. She's also very critical of appearances, even though she dislikes being judged for her own appearance as she has some facial scarring from a childhood incident.

Initially I didn't know the setting was Glasgow, I had wrongly assumed England, possibly London, as Eleanor frequents places like Tesco. But 46 pages in I realised my mistake and from then on I could easily imagine the voices with Scottish accents.

There's a perfect balance of humour and heartbreak in Eleanor's story. While I spent a lot of it clutching at my heart, sobbing, and trying to get my breathing under control, I often found myself laughing aloud at Eleanor's jokes and mannerisms. The friendship made my heart very happy, and I adored seeing Eleanor's life improve.

On a personal note, I found myself relating to quite a few aspects of this story. I like routine so I understood Eleanor's need for it. I also get eczema on my hands so I found it to be a visceral experience as my hands were as red and sore as Eleanor's because I read this during winter. Also, Raymond's mother reminded me of my English mum and I adored her scenes. And I loved Eleanor's immense vocabulary, I must have written down at least thirty words that I want to look up in the dictionary.

The pacing was perfectly done, with events acting as catalysts to slowly introduce change into Eleanor's rigid, solitary lifestyle. Slowly, her world starts to widen, causing her long-held assumptions and delusions to be examined, leading up to a heartbreaking climax, followed by a satisfying resolution.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a sensitive exploration of loneliness, grief, mental health, and survival. Eleanor's voice is captivating and her story is compelling. I loved this book so much that immediately after finishing the library copy, I went out and bought it in paperback and audio book via Audible, then ended up reading it three times in a row over the course of three weeks. I hope you love this beautiful, impressive, debut as much as I do.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Marsh and Me by Martine Murray

Marsh and Me by Martine Murray
Published May 1, 2017 by Text Publishing
Source: the publisher
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: Joey Green wants to stand out - he wants to be the best at something. He plays the guitar, but only when no one is listening. And no one knows he wants to be in a band - no one except the birds and the old kangaroo that live on the hill at the back of his house. When Joey goes up there he can be anything he likes.
But when he finds someone has built a treehouse in an old peppercorn tree on the hill, he's not very happy. Who could this intruder be? And why is she so strange and unfriendly and full of secrets?
Joey has a mystery to solve, and a plan to solve it. And some unexpected discoveries to make.

Marsh and Me is the follow up to Martine Murray's 2016 novel, Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars. I adored that last year and absolutely loved Marsh and Me!

Joey Green likes imagining his future careers and his possible successes. Will he be an explorer, an astronaut, a guitarist? Only time will tell. He also worries about what he's good at, but when he asked his mum, all she could come up with was that he is a nice kid. But Joey doesn't want to be known for that. One day while exploring the hill out the back, he discovers someone has disturbed his favourite place and he decides to investigate.

Joey's voice was clear from page one. He's smart, funny, and endearing. He wonders about historical events, like how did Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong decide who got to go first? He worries that he's not good enough, that he's not like other boys. He's not good at sports and is shy about sharing his love of music. He feels as though he's a bit of a disappointment and this really weighs on him.

I loved Joey's family relationships. Opal, his younger sister, dotes on him, but he finds her annoying most of the time. I thought she was hilarious, her words and actions always made me laugh aloud. Joey's parents are wonderful and supportive, but at the same time, he was a typical kid who didn't want to tell them everything. He also had a good friend in Digby, despite them being very different.

Joey's friendship with Marsh was a delight. Watching them slowly grow closer, seeing him become more tolerant and caring, rather than resentful and angry. Marsh's story was heartbreaking so it was lovely that she found a friend in Joey.

Ableist language: dumb, bonkers.

Marsh and Me is a beautiful, heartwarming story of friendship, grief, and being true to yourself. The mystery and fairy tale aspect is captivating, and kids will easily relate to Joey's dreams and insecurities.

Thank you to Text Publishing for my copy.

Cover illustration: Kat Chadwick
Cover design: Imogen Stubbs

This cover is perfect. I love the illustration, I love the colour scheme, it suits the story so well. I painted Molly and Pim last year and couldn't wait to paint Marsh and Me!

Friday, 11 August 2017

The Reading Quest - My TBR

I'm taking part in The Reading Quest! The Reading Quest is a reading challenge created by Aentee of Read at Midnight. All of the beautiful artwork was created by CW of Read Think Ponder. To take part in the reading challenge you must sign up at Read in Midnight by Sunday, August 13.

I'm taking part here on my blog, and on my YouTube channel, Cook Read Create!

To take part, you choose one of four characters and you go on their quest along the game board, earning points as you go. Head to Read at Midnight for the instructions and rules.

I have chosen to be a Knight! My TBR is:

  • Genesis (The Rosie Black Chronicles #1) by Lara Morgan - The First Book of a Series
  • If Birds Fly Back by Carlie Sorosiak - A Book with a Verb in its Title
  • Gap Year in Ghost Town by Michael Pryor - A Book with a Weapon on its Cover
  • Final Girls by Riley Sager - A Book with a Red Cover
  • The Dead Zone by Stephen King - A Book that has a TV/Movie Adaptation

The first three books are physical copies, Final Girls is an eARC and The Dead Zone is an audio book.

I am really looking forward to taking part and seeing what everyone else has chosen to be and to read! Let me know if you're joining us on The Reading Quest!

Monday, 7 August 2017

The Dream Walker by Victoria Carless

The Dream Walker by Victoria Carless
Published June 27, 2017 by Hachette Australia
Source: ARC from the publisher
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: Sixteen-year-old Lucy Hart has been counting the days till she can get the hell out of Digger's Landing - a small Queensland fishing hamlet home to fifteen families, a posse of mongrel dogs, and Parkers Corner Store (no apostrophe and nowhere near a corner).
But just like the tides, Lucy's luck is on the turn, and as graduation nears her escape plans begin to falter; her best friend, Polly, is dropping out of school to help pay the bills, and Tom has been shipped off to boarding school, away from the flotsam of this place. And then there's Lucy's nightlife, which is filled with dreams that just don't seem to belong to her at all . . .
When the fish stop biting, like they did when her mum was still around, Lucy realises she isn't the only one with a secret.

The Dream Walker is a debut YA novel by Australian author, Victoria Carless. Set in the fictional town of Digger's Landing, we meet sixteen-year-old Lucy Hart. She and her father are still trying to get by after the death of her mother the previous year. Lucy promised her mother she'd finish high school, and she intends to do so before leaving the town for good. But Lucy is haunted each night by dreams and soon becomes the target of the town's malice.

Lucy cannot wait to move to the city. She and her best friend Polly have been dreaming about it for years, but they need to save up more money. Tom, another friend of theirs, was going to join them, but after a car accident last year, he was been sent to school in the city. Ever since the accident, Lucy's been having dreams and these dreams start to intensify and become more real, often involving the townspeople. Lucy has no one to talk to about this issue; her father is distant, and soon Polly leaves school for full time work. Lucy finds solace in Glen, one of the stray dogs that lives in town, and her time spent in nature. She internalises the pressure of needing to meet their fishing quota so her father won't lose his license. She helps him before school and on weekends, but nothing she does ever seems good enough.

Her desire to leave is so understandable. The town felt stuffy, menacing, and cage-like. There are only fifteen or so families, each of them adhering to unspoken rules: only greet another boat with the flick of a finger, don't ask each other about their fishing haul. They know everything about each other. But Lucy seems to be unaware of a secret the town is keeping.

The pacing was a touch slow for me in parts, and sometimes the events felt disjointed. I also felt like certain things were built up and alluded to (for example, the car accident) and then turned out not to be that significant. I was reading an ARC, so perhaps these things were changed before publication. The dream element was something I just had to accept as part of the story, not knowing if it was real or something Lucy was experiencing as a way of coping with her grief.

Ableist language: dumb, psycho, halfwit, crazy.
Other warnings: animal cruelty and death.

The Dream Walker is a beautifully written, atmospheric story capturing the teenage desire to grow up and move on, as well as the loneliness often associated with small town life. The novel tackles subjects like grief, poverty, bullying, death, in a sensitive and realistic way.

Thank you to Hachette for the ARC.

Cover design: Astred Hicks

I adore this beautiful cover, it suits the dreamy, water-themed story perfectly. I filmed my nail art process, you can view it here or on my YouTube channel.

Monday, 24 July 2017

How to Bee by Bren MacDibble

How to Bee by Bren MacDibble
Published May 2017 by Allen & Unwin
Source: the publisher
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: Peony lives with her sister and grandfather on a fruit farm outside the city. In a world where real bees are extinct, the quickest, bravest kids climb the fruit trees and pollinate the flowers by hand. All Peony really wants is to be a bee. Life on the farm is a scrabble, but there is enough to eat and a place to sleep, and there is love. Then Peony's mother arrives to take her away from everything she has ever known, and all Peony's grit and quick thinking might not be enough to keep her safe.

How to Bee is middle grade novel by debut author Bren MacDibble. The setting is a futuristic Australia where bees have become extinct - unless you believe the rumours that scientists still have some in laboratories. To counter this problem, farms are now staffed with children and the best, most agile and light-footed ones are chosen to be bees. These children climb trees and pollinate each and every flower so the trees produce fruit. Unfortunately for the farm-dwellers, most of the produce is carted away to the city where it is considered a luxury item. It's on a farm that we meet nine-year-old Peony. Peony lives with her grandfather and older sister Magnolia. Their mother lives and works in the city but returns for monthly visits. It's on one such visit that she announces she'll be taking Peony to the city with her, which derails Peony's dream to become a bee.

I fell in love with the cover of How to Bee the moment I saw it and the subject matter only further endeared this story to me. I worry about the state of the world often and, as a vegan, the future of the bee population is important to me. With the way our world is going, it's not hard to imagine Peony's version of the future, and it saddens me greatly.

I adored Peony from the moment she was introduced. She's determined, protective, and loyal. Her dream to become a bee was not only something she wanted for herself, it would provide more food for her family. Her kindness also extended to her best friend and his family.

The focus on friendship was also endearing, especially watching the relationship between Peony and Esmeralda unfold. It was admirable to see Peony help Esmeralda with her fears, even though the girls didn't get off to a great start.

How to Bee is a sad yet hopeful and heartwarming story, sure to provoke conversations between kids and parents.

Thank you to Allen & Unwin for my copy.

Cover design: Jo Hunt.

As mentioned, I love this cheerful yellow cover and couldn't wait to paint it. It's eye catching and suits the story perfectly.

You can watch me paint my nails in a video tutorial on my YouTube channel, or view the photos below.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Stargazing for Beginners by Jenny McLachlan

Stargazing for Beginners by Jenny McLachlan
Published April 6, 2017 by Bloomsbury
Source: the publisher
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: Science geek Meg is left to look after her little sister for ten days after her free-spirited mum leaves suddenly to follow up yet another of her Big Important Causes. But while Meg may understand how the universe was formed, baby Elsa is a complete mystery to her.
And Mum's disappearance has come at the worst time: Meg is desperate to win a competition to get the chance to visit NASA headquarters, but to do this she has to beat close rival Ed. Can Meg pull off this double life of caring for Elsa and following her own dreams? She'll need a miracle of cosmic proportions …

Fifteen-year-old Megara Clark, Meg for short, finds herself abandoned by her mother and left in charge of her younger half sister, Elsa. Her mother, a nurse and volunteer, gets caught up in a new cause and flies off to Myanmar, leaving Meg in charge. Meg's grandad lives nearby, but he's often just as messy and unreliable as her mum, even though he's caring and supportive. Meg's plans to win a competition gets derailed by her mother's sudden absence, despite her attempts to stick to her plan.

I adore Jenny McLachlan's Ladybird series - four books about a group of friends, and I could not wait for her latest, Stargazing for Beginners. It did not disappoint. I immediately connected with Meg. It's clear her neatness, organisation, and love of planning is a direct response to the irresponsibility and unreliability of her mother. Meg's dream of becoming an astronaut was admirable, as was the fact that she knew exactly how she was going to achieve it. I loved that she was proud of her intelligence and that she was open about her love of science and space.

Unfortunately for Meg, her BFF moved to New Zealand, so she spends her lunch times alone in the library, and often sits alone in class. Though, she is in a friendly rivalry with classmate Ed, as he is also extremely smart. Through Ed, Meg has some interaction with other students like Bella and Raj. Meg also makes some new friends thanks to getting a detention, and they provide much needed support to her and Elsa.

Meg's home life left me feeling helpless and angry. Her mum's complete disregard was infuriating, especially as she left them without any money. Meg has anxiety about not letting anyone know they've been abandoned which is even more stressful for her. But, this more serious plot line was balanced perfectly by the romance and friendship in the story. Ed's obvious feelings for Meg made me so happy. Poor Meg doesn't realise that Ed returns her feelings, so watching them bumble around was sweet and heartwarming.

Ableist language: idiot, twit, insane, crazy, mental, lame.

Stargazing for Beginners is a funny, clever, heartwarming story of a girl who has a big dream. Meg's ambition, determination, and intelligence makes her a wonderfully relatable character, and she's sure to inspire teens to pursue their own dreams, no matter what!

Thank you to Bloomsbury for my copy.

Cover illustration: Levante Szabó.

This is such a gorgeous cover, it's so perfect for the story. I love the beautiful illustration, the shades of blue, and the matte finish with shiny accents. Stunning!

I filmed a tutorial for how I painted this set of nails, this one is fairly easy to do. Check it out below or on my YouTube channel, Cook Read Create.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

A Cardboard Palace by Allayne L. Webster

A Cardboard Palace by Allayne L. Webster
Published June 1, 2017 by Midnight Sun
Source: the publisher
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: Jorge lives in a shanty town on the outskirts of Paris. Bill, a controller, has an army of child thieves at his command - and Jorge is one of them.
But soon Jorge faces an even bigger threat. His home is to be bulldozed. Where will Jorge sleep? What will happen to his friends, Ada and Gino? Could a growing friendship with Australian chef Sticky Ricky help Jorge to stop Bill and save the army of child thieves?
And will he do it before he loses Ada forever?
Jorge can't keep fighting to live - now he must live to fight.

A Cardboard Palace by Allayne L. Webster is set in Paris, but it's not the Paris we see advertised to tourists. Jorge is eleven-years-old and he was taken from his family in Romania years ago and bought to France to work for a man named Bill. Bill collects children and uses them in all sorts of schemes around Paris. He teaches them to beg and steal and makes them live in a small community on the outskirts of Paris. The community is made up of immigrants and they have built houses out of metal and cardboard. The children have nothing of their own and are often left to go hungry as punishment.

Jorge's character was a testament to the human spirit. You'd think living such a hard life would make a child hard as well, but Jorge is loyal, caring, and inquisitive. He is obsessed with food and longs to be a chef one day - a dream Bill scoffs at. Jorge is also naive and slow to work out what's going on. He is fearful of Bill's threats and tries to follow orders, even when his conscience tells him otherwise.

There are brighter spots in this story; Jorge's love of food and Paris were a delight. He truly loves where he lives and longs to be a part of the city. He meets people who are kind to streets kids rather than shunning them, and he starts to dream about what his future might hold.

This is a heartbreaking story that highlights a lot of world issues in a way that is perfect for middle grade and teen readers. There are hints to more serious and disturbing issues (like child brides and human trafficking) that aren't too graphic for young readers, and I'm sure this story will spark conversations between children and parents.

Ableist language: crazy, insane.

A Cardboard Palace shines a light on the darker side of a major city we know and love, in a beautiful, sensitive and needed way. It's a touching story of survival and hope.

Thank you to Midnight Sun for my copy.