Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Book Review: Monsoon Summer, by Mitali Perkins

Photo by jjreade

The one time Jazz tried to take the initiative and help someone, it went wrong. Since then she's avoided all acts of charity, taking a back seat, along with her father, as her mother shines in the charitable spotlight. But this summer, the whole family is leaving Berkeley, California, and going to India, so that Jazz's mum can help out at the new clinic at the orphanage where she spent her first four years. Jazz is convinced that she's going to hate it, not only because she's going to feel out of place and useless, but because she'll be missing working at her business with her best friend Steve, whom she is secretly in love with.

In India, whilst the rest of her family find ways to help at the orphanage, Jazz refuses to set foot in the place until she absolutely has to. But even school is strange and new, and when she's seeking comfort, it's hard to resist the delicious tea made by Danita, their fifteen-year-old housekeeper. As Danita prepares their dinners, they get talking, and soon Jazz is finding it more and more difficult to resist the urge to try to help Danita as she struggles with decisions about her future, and that of her sisters, who have grown up in the orphanage together.

Let's be honest. The plot of Monsoon Summer sounds totally predictable, doesn't it? And it is. There are no grand surprises, I saw almost every turn coming, but it was still a lot of fun to read. Jazz is a convincing teenage girl, a bit self-centred and opinionated, with wavering self-esteem. I liked the details about the orphanage, the academy where Jazz goes to school, and her relationship with Steve. My favourite character was probably Jazz's brother, Eric, and his obsessions with bugs and football (I refuse to call it 'soccer', because I'm British).

Although I enjoyed reading it, one thing that really bothered me was Jazz's reaction to being stared at whenever she went out in public. She wondered why she was attracting attention wherever she went for such a long time and it didn't make much sense, considering that she knew full well that she looked more like her white father than her Indian mother. I think that the author was trying to shoehorn in a point about self-esteem and body image issues that didn't quite fit, and it seemed especially forced when I thought back to the way questions about cultural standards of beauty were woven so spectacularly into the fabric of Born Confused. I also thought that Danita was a little too perfect, but her relationship with her sisters was great and it brought some serious issues into the book.

Monsoon Summer is quite fast paced, I read it quite quickly and was easily absorbed whenever I picked it up. Although I didn't love it and probably wouldn't read it again, I think it's an easy, accessible read and many readers would enjoy it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Books With Covers or Titles That Made Me Buy Them

This is my third Top Ten Tuesday post, you can read the first here and the second here. Top Ten Tuesday was created and is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is...

Top 10 Books With Covers or Titles That Made Me Buy Them
It was quite difficult for me to come up with ten books, I had to go through my 'read' shelf on Goodreads. I don't tend to buy books based on titles or covers, I choose them because I've read a good review, or the synopsis has intrigued me. I haven't actually read the first two in the list cover to cover yet.

1. Chronicles of King Arthur, by Andrea Hopkins
Okay, I confess, it wasn't just the title, it was the price. This was in a library sale, thus, 50p. I was obsessed by the legend of King Arthur when I was a kid so I bought it for old time's sake and because I feel like I need to refresh my memory when it comes to all things Arthurian.
2. Eyes Like Stars, by Lisa Mantchev
Just look at that cover. Look at it. Even if the novel's rubbish I think it's still money well spent and I'll just have to frame the dustjacket and use the book as a doorstop! (I really hope it's not rubbish)
3. The Diamond of Drury Lane, by Julia Golding
On to books I've actually read! The cover is just so bright and theatrical, I couldn't resist picking it up and reading the blurb. Then I took it home. My review is extremely overdue (I read it last April). It's a great read, intended for the 9-12 age group, but I loved it.
4. What Was Lost, by Catherine O'Flynn
I liked the cartoony cover and the description was intriguing. It's a fantastic book. I read it last May (pattern emerging?). It appears to have been reissued with a new cover, which I suppose they've chosen to make it look more serious and literary, but I think it looks bland.
5. Notes from the Teenage Underground, by Simmone Howell
I saw the words 'teenage' and 'underground' and thought 'ooh! This could involve teenagers engaging in subcultural activities!'.
6. Diary of a Chav: Trainers V. Tiaras, by Grace Dent
Do I need to explain this one?
7. Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, by Gabrielle Zevin
The cover is really eye-catching, with bright green and pink, and the blurb convinced me to take it home.
8. All My Friends Are Superheroes, by Andrew Kaufman
The cover just looks vaguely surreal but that title - wow! It immediately made me wonder, because you could interpret that title several ways.
9. Ten Things I Hate About Me, by Randa Abdel-Fattah
Another big bold cover, with an eye-catching title that sounded like a reference to Ten Things I Hate About You, one of my favourite films.
10. The Oxford Book of Modern Fairy Tales, edited by Alison Lurie
'Fairy tales'? 'Modern'? I had already read and loved quite a few modern fairy tales, so how could I say no?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Book Review: Empress of the World, by Sara Ryan

 Photo by uitdragerij

When Nicola Lancaster arrives at the Siegel Institute Summer Program for Gifted Youth, she doesn't plan on making any friends. Her only goal is to find out, by taking the archaeology class, whether she actually wants to be an archaeologist or not. She spends the introductory lecture drawing and writing notes about the other students, but Katrina sees her sketches and grabs her notebook, passing it around to some of the other students. It's easy for Nicola to be friends with excited, friendly, Katrina, but she finds Battle Hall Davies more confusing, intriguing, and beautiful. Nicola is plain and boring, or so she thinks. Battle could never be interested in her...but of course she's wrong.

A book about a girl who has decided to spend the summer at, well, school, may not sound exciting, but I really enjoyed Empress of the World. It's quite a short book, with only 214 pages, yet it covers Nicola's entire time at the Siegel Institute. It's written in sections that have the date, time and location at the top, like diary entries, and there are quite often several days between these reports, which sometimes include passages in a handwriting-style type, like actual diary entries. Sometimes the gaps were a bit off-putting, but Nicola usually summarises what she's been doing. I really liked the characterisation, Nicola was an engaging narrator, and I thought Katrina was fantastic, her weird fashion sense making her definitely my favourite character. The minor characters were nicely drawn, but not so intriguing that I wished they were the focus of the story instead. I have to confess that I didn't entirely understand why Nicola liked Battle so much for much of the book. I think her personality was overshadowed somewhat by Katrina's, it seemed less clear, but maybe that's the point. She is supposed to be mysterious, someone that Nicola can't quite work out. In the end I was rooting for Nicola to get the girl, anyway!

This is one of those books that I read and then thought "Was this really supposed to be controversial?". Okay, there's some drinking. And Nicola and Battle are both girls, and their relationship does get physical, off the page. But they're at a summer camp for intelligent, studious teenagers! And they all do their homework! Some people's children.

I wouldn't say Empress of the World is a must-read, it's a nice way to spend an afternoon or two, but I didn't find it to be unputdownable. I don't think it's supposed to be a thriller, but it's a gentle story of self-discovery and romance, not an emotional rollercoaster ride that keeps you turning the pages. 

Sara Ryan has also written comics featuring Battle and Katrina: Me and Edith Head, a prequel to Empress of the World starring Katrina, and Click, which is about Battle with a small appearance by Katrina, and takes place in the time between Empress of the World and the sequel/companion book, The Rules for Hearts. I definitely want to read The Rules for Hearts - it sounds like a good story, and I think it would help me understand Battle more.

The BookDepository


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