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Month: October 2020

Review: Tales From the Forest by Emily Hibbs & Erin Brown

Review: Tales From the Forest by Emily Hibbs & Erin Brown

Tales From the Forest is a delightful collection of stories based around animals and nature, covering a wide variety of creatures that is bound to include those that children know of or have seen, while introducing some that they may not be as familiar with. It is divided into four sections to cover the seasons, with animals often chosen for each season to allow for opportunities to teach something about that particular animal’s behaviour or life cycle that is unique to them.

Each story is roughly five pages long and in a clear type of a good size that makes it easy for children to trace their progress along a line with a finger or a reading aid, or to follow along with an adult reading to them. The length of the stories makes them ideal for those who are moving from picture books with only a few lines of text to something more challenging, while still maintaining those familiar features, for each story has pages in a different colour, bearing illustrations around the edges and at least one full-page picture to go with each tale. The stories themselves contain words that young readers would be familiar with and introduces more complex and nature-specific vocabulary, particularly when unique animal behaviours and features are reached. At the end of each one, there’s a rhyme that teaches and reminds children about what is unique and special about each animal, the rhyming scheme something that makes it fun to recite and doubles as an aid to remembering what they’ve learned.

The illustrations are beautiful and accompany each tale with a full-page image of the animal(s) in the story, referencing moments from the narrative. They’re a gorgeous mix of watercolour and pencil images, the details picked out in the latter and creating great depth and texture, especially when it comes to the animals themselves – it’s almost as if you can feel the different in texture between the boar’s fur and that of the mouse. The pages of the stories are edged with bits and pieces from the creatures’ habitats, and sometimes even contain full backgrounds and additional pictures of the animal that is the focus of the story. I’ve tried time and again to decide on an absolute favourite picture from the book, but I can never choose just one!

Tales From the Forest would make a lovely book to read with children at bedtime and to inspire greater confidence in reading. With Christmas approaching, it’s something that would make an ideal gift for nature-loving younger family members, and is an appealing and pleasingly put together book with a lovely cover and end-pages. Thank you, Little Tiger Books, for sending me a copy!

Review: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

Review: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

‘When Addie La Rue makes a pact with the devil, she trades her soul for immortality. But there’s always a price – the devil takes away her place in the world, cursing her to be forgotten by everyone.

Addie flees her tiny home town in 18th-Century France, beginning a journey that takes her across the world, learning to live a life where no one remembers her and everything she owns is lost and broken. Existing only as a muse for artists throughout history, she learns to fall in love anew every single day.

Her only companion on this journey is her dark devil with hypnotic green eyes, who visits her each year on the anniversary of their deal. Alone in the world, Addie has no choice but to confront him, to understand him, maybe to beat him.

Until one day, in a second hand bookshop in Manhattan, Addie meets someone who remembers her. Suddenly thrust back into a real, normal life, Addie realises she can’t escape her fate forever.’

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is a beautifully written book that I simply couldn’t put down. I particularly enjoy stories that exploit the idea of parts of the narrative happening in different time periods and, in this case, it was especially well done and never without clear purpose, focusing on the significant events that shape Addie and how her deal with the devil unfolds. How time is visited and runs over the course of the story is one of its strongest features, in my opinion, and it was often that I found myself preferring the glimpses into the past to the present day passages.

This isn’t to say that that which happens in the present day isn’t full of stunning writing, particularly its look at how Addie has left her mark through the years, despite being unable to impact the world around her as she wishes. My biggest issue here is with the pacing, for it feels as if the collection of characters the Addie meets are, in-fact, the forgettable ones (I still wonder if this is deliberate and further commentary on the nature of memory and belonging) and I found myself wanting to skip ahead to spend less time with them. Her love interest is an intriguing and engaging character in himself, but the people around him less so, which, again, I wonder if there is the possibility of it being playing with the idea of what he desires and the irony of it being his friends who are as he feels. It’s well into the story that readers finally meet him, which means that a lot of the reveals towards the end of the novel are rather rushed and are details I would have happily read much, much more about it.

Addie’s relationship with the devil is one of the details that has a good deal of late reveals, though remains one of, if not the most engaging facet of the story. Addie herself doesn’t appear to change much in terms of personality or temperament, and ultimately with only herself and the devil for company, this is quite understandable, since it is arguably the people around us who influence us the most (this is perhaps most evident in the book’s conclusion, when it becomes very clear who she has been learning from). Instead, Addie focuses on learning and accumulating knowledge, which is maybe the best decision she could have made in terms of her sanity, literature being a way for her to experience vicariously what she never will.

A fantastic read, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is one of those books that feels as if it is a dream, the prose lyrical and haunting. Highly recommended.

I received a digital e-ARC from Netgalley and the publisher.

 

Review: Shine by Jessica Jung

Review: Shine by Jessica Jung

‘What would you give for a chance to live your dreams? For seventeen-year-old Korean American Rachel Kim, the answer is almost everything. Six years ago, she was recruited by DB Entertainment – one of Seoul’s largest K-pop labels, known for churning out some of the world’s most popular stars. The rules are simple: Train 24/7. Be perfect. Don’t date. Easy right?

Not so much. As the dark scandals of an industry bent on controlling and commodifying beautiful girls begin to bubble up, Rachel wonders if she’s strong enough to be a winner, or if she’ll end up crushed … Especially when she begins to develop feelings for K-pop star and DB golden boy Jason Lee. It’s not just that he’s charming, sexy and ridiculously talented. He’s also the first person who really understands how badly she wants her star to rise.’

What I love reading even more than fantasy novels are books that look at our relationship with the media and the impact it can have on people’s lives. That, and the fact that I loved K-Pop when I was a teenager, and Shine swiftly became one of the books of 2020 that I desperately wanted to read, so thank you very much to Electric Monkey for sending me an ARC for review!

Shine follows Rachel, a Korean American girl in her late teens whose family have relocated to Seoul, ostensibly so that she can try to make it in the world of K-Pop, after being signed by DB Entertainment. However, Rachel’s experience of that world is notably different to those that she is working with and who are ultimately her rivals, for her mother requires her to attend school during the week and only train with DB at the weekends, something that Rachel quite bitterly resents and sees as something that is only putting her at a disadvantage – and, at seventeen, she doesn’t have much time left to be selected as a member of the next girl group to debut.

One of the novel’s focuses is on just how much of their trainee’s lives DB Entertainment (and, we are led to assume, not so fictional companies) has complete control over. This obsession with their trainees’ weight, appearance and behaviour spills over into every aspect of their lives, to the point where it seems that the trainees are unable to think or act without fear of how the company will react and how it might punish them – and their potential careers – for any slight mistake, no matter how unintentional. DB Entertainment’s fixation on controlling every aspect of everyone’s lives opens up the potential for sabotage in a world of fierce competition, something that Rachel experiences more than once over the course of the narrative, but a particular incident early on, in which she is drugged by a rival, is the most serious and isn’t quite resolved, so I hope that we get to see it addressed in more detail at some point in Bright, the follow-up scheduled for October 2021. What’s most troubling about the company’s attitude to those in their employ is that they don’t seem to understand that they should be those in their care too. The girls are worked to exhaustion and constantly encouraged to see each other as competition, thus stripping them of any support system that they might be able to build in the stressful environment in which they work. There seem to be no boundaries as to what rivals might do in terms of sabotage, from invasions of privacy to exploiting family members, which leaves the trainees essentially isolated in their efforts to pursue their chosen career.

Rachel’s romantic interest, Jason Lee, is a somewhat conflicting character. There are times when he truly seems as if he could be a nice person, such as during his interaction with Rachel’s sister, but he remains so oblivious about who and what he is – being one of the company’s biggest successes – that his behaviour is often contemptable and makes it quite obvious that he shouldn’t be trusted, even if Rachel herself doesn’t quite see it. And yet, just as the reader may have made up their mind about him, there are instances where he seems to redeem himself, only to then ultimately undermine his acts of decency. It’s easy to see, especially in a world where no-one can be trusted, how Rachel can never quite decide whether he is ever not acting a part or under the company’s spell.

Shine is a ridiculously enjoyable read and a sharp look at the darker world that exists beneath the glossy surface that K-Pop presents. One of the things it does well is avoid falling into predictive narratives with the relationships that Rachel forms, swerving away from easy redemption arcs and quick forgiveness to highlight that there is no quick fix in an environment where you are constantly monitored and your life – and your decisions – aren’t your own. It develops an effective contrast between the bright and vivid performances for camera, and the pain and confusion beneath, while continuing to bring to the forefront why Rachel is putting herself through the grueling routine demanded of her: that she loves to sing and loves K-Pop, no matter what.

Out on October 15th, Shine is so fun that I didn’t want it to end! I was checking to see if there was a sequel long before I’d finished, as I was afraid I was reading too quickly and wasn’t ready for it to be over. A delightful book!