Author: Lyndsay Faye
Published: 22nd March 2016
Goodreads Rating: 3.89 out of 5
Reviewed: March 2017
“Reader, I murdered him.” Jane Steele is a gothic retelling of the renowned Jane Eyre written by the celebrated Charlotte Bronte. Crime writer, Lyndsay Faye, creates an entirely new story whilst appropriating the skeletal structure of the original classic. However, Jane Steele is nothing like Miss Eyre, with whom everyone is familiar. She is far more headstrong and independent. She is also a murderer.
Before readers are discouraged to hear that their beloved Jane is portrayed as a criminal, the murders that occur are more of a homicidal or self-defence nature, as opposed to serial killing. The first death, occurring when she is a nine-year-old orphan, is not her fault, but it prompts Jane’s wealthy aunt to pack her off to boarding school, and thus the similarities with Jane Eyre commence.
Written in an autobiographical manner, Jane describes her years at the virulent school, where she and the other girls experience abuse at the hands of the schoolmaster. As readers will recall, Eyre’s life improves in her later school years, but Jane Steele’s education comes to a premature end, resulting in her fending for herself in 19th-century London.
As the blurb indicates, Jane returns to the house she grew up in after the death of her aunt to become a governess for the current owner’s ward. Mr Charles Thornfield, a bachelor, is Jane Steele’s version of Rochester, minus the wife in the attic. The contents of the cellar are a different matter.
From a romantic point of view, all happens in a similar manner to Jane Eyre, but this is where the comparisons end. With concealed crimes and secrets, as well as an unsolved murder, the story becomes the thriller it initially proposed to be. The incisive Jane Steele takes matters into her own hands – figuratively and literally – as she determines to resolve the unanswered questions.
Although not written with the intent to be comical, the stark contrasts between the original and the retelling create humorous scenarios. The nature of the main character, in comparison with the time frame, a period where women had very few rights, makes the narrative far more exciting and amusing than the earlier novel – although not necessarily better.
Lyndsay Faye maintains the atmosphere of the 1800s with her affinity for eloquent turns of phrases and choice of words. She is a prolific author full of wonderful ideas; her ability to create a new story out of a well-known classic is a formidable skill. What is admirable is the way in which Faye has made Jane Steele a novel in its own right and not merely a rip-off of Bronte’s work.
The skilful composition and wording will likely be loved by all, its only downfall being the reaction of hardcore Jane Eyre fans. Those who wish for the classics to be left alone and not pulled apart by contemporary authors or film directors may adopt a negative attitude towards the publication of Jane Steele. On the other hand, many will love this gothic retelling, appreciate the similarities and enjoy the new twist to the storyline.
How To Talk So Little Kids Will Listen
Author: Joanna Faber and Julie King
Published: 10th January 2017
Goodreads Rating: 4.41 out of 5
Reviewed: April 2017
The highly rated How To Talk books were developed by Adele Faber as a guide for parents, who face daily struggles with their children’s behaviour. Now her daughter, Joanna Faber, and childhood friend, Julie King, are parenting experts and have contributed to the series. This latest addition, How To Talk So Little Kids Will Listen, is a survival guide for parents with children between the ages of the terrible twos to the semi-civilised-sevens. Covering topics from food battles to sleep issues, parents are bound to relate to something in this book and be able to put some of the advice into practice.
Most of the content encompasses the tried and tested methods Joanna and Julie encourage parents to consider as part of a parenting workshop. Split into topics, the reader is given a set of tools to work with that may help to turn a situation away from a tantrum and a harassed parent. These tools are demonstrated with real-life stories from the Mums and Dads who used them.
As well as the usual behaviour troubles that most children develop, the book also includes ways to cope with children who have sensory issues or are diagnosed with Autism. These youngsters do not process the world the same way as other people their age, which can be very frustrating for parents. Armed with a new set of tools, adults will be able to support their children as they grow up in a world they do not understand and make them feel safe and understood.
Illustrated with cartoons, each chapter ends with a short summary of ideas to try in any situation. By providing these recap points, parents can locate a tool or idea in a moment of desperation and put it into practice immediately. The layout and clear headings offer an easy way of finding the relevant information, meaning that harried parents do not have to skim paragraphs and pages to find what they seek.
By including real-life scenarios, Joanna and Julie highlight that there is no one-size-fits-all when dealing with unruly children. Each child is different and needs to be treated appropriately. However, the experts provide enough information so that when one tool fails, there is another as a backup.
After reading How To Talk So Little Kids Will Listen, you will feel empowered to tackle anything your child throws at you. Of course, there is no guarantee that you will become a parenting master overnight, but you will be more confident about dealing with the little rascals.
How To Talk So Little Kids Will Listen is a book that feels realistic with no psychological jargon to make you feel inadequate. Joanna and Julie are both parents and have had to resort to taking their own advice – and sometimes failing. The writers are human and not childless psychologists who believe they know what they are talking about. So, if you are tearing your hair out and do not know what to do to make your child happy, this How To Talk series is something to check out.
Author: Aaron Starmer
Published: 23rd August 2016
Goodreads Rating: 3.33 out of 5
Reviewed: April 2017
Dubbed the “funniest book about spontaneous combustion you will ever read” by the acclaimed best-selling author John Green, Spontaneous by Aaron Starmer is a story about growing up and blowing up. Seeing a classmate explode in front of you during third-period pre-calc class is not something you ever expect to happen. Nor do you expect this to be the first of many to randomly occur throughout your senior year, but for Mara, this is her appalling fate.
Mara’s senior year was not all that exciting until the first explosion, but after a few more students from her class spontaneously combust, it is clear she is not going to have a normal final year of school. Only affecting the seniors, Mara and her friends are ostracised from society while FBI agents try to solve the problematic situation. With bombs, terrorists and government conspiracies eventually ruled out, the class is left abandoned to explode at their leisure – although they would rather not!
Mara, with her boyfriend, Dylan, and best friend, Tess, attempts to continue living their lives. They encourage students to start their own school so they can still graduate at the end of the year. But with an increasing number of messy ends, they begin to doubt they will make it that far.
Full of crack-pot ideas that will leave readers laughing, Mara’s dry sense of humour gets her through most of the year, but the painful loss of her friends and acquaintances soon catches up with her. It is hard not to despair when you know you could detonate at any moment.
The easiest way to describe Spontaneous is bonkers, absolutely bonkers. For a start, spontaneous combustion is uncommon for any living creature. Mara’s inappropriate humour and acidulousness only add to the farcical state of affairs, providing a comical and entertaining narrative. However, as Mara begins to acquiesce to her new situation and live as if regularly being sprayed with blood and guts is normal, the story takes a sombre downturn.
Annoyingly, the conclusion of Spontaneous is ambiguous, leaving attentive readers with no answers. Had Starmer not imaged a solution, or was it too difficult to explain? Whatever the reason, it leaves us with a dissatisfying ending.
On the other hand, the ending of a book is only a fragment of the story. The beginning and middle were of the author’s optimum quality. Combining typical teenage emotion and behaviour – romance included – with a horrifying crisis results in a book that will make you “feel all the feels” – to borrow a Mara term – and enjoy every moment.
Spontaneous will entertain young and old adults, although perhaps not the more sensitive reader. With uncensored language and no sugarcoating, Mara gives us all the gory details blow-by-blow (literally). Be prepared for laughter, shock and unadulterated pleasure.
The Inexplicable Logic of my Life
Author: Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Published: 7th March 2017
Goodreads Rating: 4.13 out of 5
Reviewed: February 2017
Over the past couple of years, social media, particularly Tumblr, has been raving over Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s multi-award-winning novel, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. As a result, I have wanted to read this book to see what the fuss is about. Unfortunately, libraries and bookstores in the UK do not appear to stock any of Sáenz’s novels. When I saw an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of The Inexplicable Logic of My Life was available to review on NetGalley, I took the risk, having not read any of Sáenz’s work, and requested a copy. I am glad I did. The Young Adult novel turned out to be a thing of true beauty. The prose is almost poetic and full of emotion; it not only tells the story but also makes you feel it.
The narrator, Salvador “Sal”, is beginning his final year at El Paso High School with his best friend, Sam. Normally, the first day of school is something he looks forward to, but he feels different this year. Something within Sal has changed, something indescribable but there all the same. Something that makes punching someone in the face an automatic reaction.
Sal’s dad is gay. Although not his real dad, Vicente adopted Sal into his extended Mexican American family after the death of his mother when he was three years old. He could not have asked for a better parent, but something is niggling in his mind: who is his biological father?
Whilst Sal soliloquizes about his feelings, the reader is introduced to best friend Sam – a girl who, despite an erudite vocabulary, is not afraid to cuss and swear. Sam also understands what it is like question who you are, as does Fito, another friend with terrible relations. Tragic events pull the three together, giving them a new chance at being part of a family despite not being blood-related.
Sal, Sam and Fito try to help each other through their problems, ruminating together over their pasts and contemplating the unpredictable future. Despite each character suffering from grief, their friendship gives them a purpose and encouragement to carry on.
The Inexplicable Logic of My Life covers so many themes it is impossible to categorize. Sam, Fito and Vicente are all encumbered with something that could ostracize them from society – their sexuality, race, drug addict parents – but they never let this get in their way. Sal, on the other hand, struggles somewhat, believing he no longer knows who he really is. He questions everything: how does he fit into the world around him? What right does he have to graduate and go to college?
With great efficacy, Sáenz explains through Sal’s voice the importance of believing in yourself, letting yourself be loved, and accepting things for what they really are. All the main characters are trying so hard to belong; they do not realize they always have belonged.
The Inexplicable Logic of My Life is a story of grief, death, family, friendship, fathers and words; a graceful, almost lyrical narrative that gets to the heart of human existence and uplifts the spirit. The expressive language has a great emotional impact on the reader – have your tissues at the ready – and resonates within the soul. With quotable lines that you will wish you had written yourself, I guarantee you will love this book.
See You in the Cosmos, Carl Sagan
Author: Jack Cheng
Published: 28th February 2017
Goodreads Rating: 4.05 out of 5
Reviewed: March 2017
Carl Sagan (1934-1996) was an American astronomer and cosmologist famed for sending the Golden Record into space, full of sounds from Earth for any living being in the universe to find and listen to. Now, his youngest fan, 11-year-old Alex Petroski, intends to follow in his footsteps, recording sounds and information about his everyday life onto his “Golden iPod”. Told through the transcripts of these recordings, the readers (and the aliens) follow Alex on an unexpected epic journey in which he discovers things about himself that he never expected to.
Alex is a very independent child, having grown up with no father, a mentally vacant mother and a rarely there brother. Despite his young age, he has been taking care of himself and his mother, cooking meals, shopping etc. Now he is taking himself on a journey to another state to attend SHARF – a Rocket Festival – where he hopes to launch his iPod into space. With the help and kindness of strangers, particularly from a silent man named Zed, Alex makes it safely to Albuquerque, New Mexico. However, his journey is far from over.
It is impossible not to love Alex, his naivety and acuity of mind. Disappointed with the failed attempt at sending his iPod into the cosmos, he is distracted by thoughts of discovering more about his long-dead father. With encouragement from Zed and the reluctance of his disgruntled friend Steve, Alex sets off on his mission, recording all his experiences along the way. However, instead of the happy ever after he is seeking, Alex discovers some unexpected truths.
See You in the Cosmos, Carl Sagan is a funny, moving story about an overly optimistic child who, despite his upbringing, has been sheltered from the negativity of the world. Unable to understand his adult companions’ dilemmas, Alex will make readers laugh with his innocent ways of viewing the world. On the other hand, his simplistic view of life will pull on the heartstrings as he begins to realise things are not as straightforward as he initially believed.
Although published by Puffin and therefore classed as a children’s book, See You in the Cosmos, Carl Sagan is much more appropriate for an adult reader. The humour is targeted at those able to understand the innocent blunders of an 11-year-old, which would be lost on a reader of Alex’s age.
The author, Jack Cheng, writes in the style of a child’s speech. Long, breathless sentences, often full of too much irrelevant information, fill up the pages, but this only adds to Alex’s adorableness.
Viewing the world through the eyes of a child, especially one as unique as Alex, gives a new perspective on the trivialities of life. His laid-back personality will make people realise that some things are taken far too seriously or unnecessarily complicated. Without a doubt, Alex will be an inspiration to all.
Be warned, there are references to abuse and schizophrenia, but See You in the Cosmos, Carl Sagan, is a pleasant, hard-to-put-down read that will remain in the mind long after its conclusion.