Wednesday, 7 March 2018

The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

The Pearl Thief
by Elizabeth Wein

Summary: Sixteen-year-old Julie Beaufort-Stuart is returning to her family's ancestral home in Perthshire for one last summer. It is not an idyllic return to childhood. Her grandfather's death has forced the sale of the house and estate and this will be a summer of goodbyes. Not least to the McEwen family – Highland travellers who have been part of the landscape for as long as anyone can remember – loved by the family, loathed by the authorities. 

Tensions are already high when a respected London archivist goes missing, presumed murdered. Suspicion quickly falls on the McEwens but Julie knows not one of them would do such a thing and is determined to prove everyone wrong.  

And then she notices the family's treasure trove of pearls is missing.

I was simultaneously excited and nervous to read this book for two reasons.

First, I rarely read books set in my country. Mostly because they tend to be written from an outsiders perspective and any I have tried have bugged me because of inaccuracies and lack of nuance (i.e. the author writes a Scottish stereotype rather than something that genuinely captures the heart of my home).

Secondly, I lovelovelove Code Name Verity so much (and the other books I've read of Elizabeth's) and I didn't think this book could possibly live up to the expectations that book set.

So I was wary going into it for those reasons. But also excited...because Scotland and more Julie.

My nervousness went right out the window with the first chapter. I loved this book. It wasn't quite the same emotional gut punch that Code Name Verity was, but it was really good and more than I hoped it would be.

It's one of the only books I've ever read set in Scotland that really felt right. Like you could just tell that the author either was Scottish or had lived here for years. She gets the people right, the way of talking right, the humour, the country...she got it all so right and that made me so happy.

As for the story...the story itself wasn't my normal kind of book plot-wise, but it was fun and entertaining. I mostly read the book for the characters and I loved the characters so much.

The book was also way more diverse than I was expecting it to be. It explores Julie's sexuality (which people had speculated about in some Code Name Verity reviews I've read) -- this book pretty much confirms she's not straight, and while the words aren't used she's pretty blatantly either bisexual or pansexual and I loved that, especially given the time period.

I love that there was subtle romance in the book, it was just a subplot rather than the focus. I love that it doesn't romanticize the age gap between a teenager and older guy, instead it highlights it as being creepy. I love that Julie's attraction to girls was treated no differently than her attraction to guys.

There was also disability representation in the form of Julie's friend, Mary, and I thought it was handled really well because the book didn't shy away from Julie's ignorance regarding Mary's disability and it didn't make Mary out to be this perfect person who was just there to inspire able bodied characters. Mary was flawed, kind, capable, ignorant -- she was complex. It felt more honest because of that.

I really, really loved that the book included some of the Scottish Traveller community too. Growing up in Scotland, Traveller's show up in town every now and then (usually annually) and my friends and I always loved it when they did. It was new friends for us to hang out with (and we did make a lot of friends and they were some of the kindest people I've ever known)...but their arrival was always met with suspicion from our parents and warnings for us to stay away. The ignorance and discrimination never really registered with me for what it was when I was younger, and it still doesn't make sense to me now.

My point was, I loved that Scottish Traveller's were represented in this book and it showed them in the positive light I've always thought of them. I loved that it showed the discrimination and hate they used to have to put up with, and still do put up with to this day. I love that the book didn't try to justify that unfounded and irrational hate and suspicion people have for them. Euan and Ellen were probably my favourite characters other than Julie.

Basically...there was so much I loved about this book. I loved the writing and the representation, I thought the story was fun and I really, really, really loved getting to see more of Julie (and Jamie) as characters, and what her life was life before she met Maddie in Code Name Verity.

I'd rate the book 4.5 stars out of 5. The only thing holding it back from 5 is because...well, it wasn't Code Name Verity, that book burrowed a painful hole into my heart and made itself at home there and so that's the story that Elizabeth's other books get measured against (so far, they've all held their own pretty well, even if CNV is still my favourite).


Side note: the book does include slurs against the Traveller's (though mostly they're called Travellers and the slurs are used in scenes where people are showing their ignorance and discrimination of the people, rather than casually or in a way that comes across as okay). I thought I should mention that because I know it does bother people.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth

Call the Midwife
by Jennifer Worth

Summary: Call the Midwife' is a most extraordinary book and should be required reading of all students of midwifery, nursing, sociology and modern history. It tells of the experiences of a young trainee midwife in the East End of London in the 1950's and is a graphic portrayal of the quite appalling conditions that the East Enders endured.
I made the mistake of reading this book after I'd watched the TV show.

The problem with that is that the TV show is a really, really good and faithful adaptation so while I was reading, it felt like I had already read this story, and this was one of the rare occasions where the book didn't add much more to it than the show gave.

The only thing I got from the book that there was less of in the show was hindsight...the book includes a lot of information about how midwives and nurses were trained to treat patients back then, but Jennifer Worth also talks about the things they got wrong. Like having mothers on bed rest for weeks when now they know that it's best for them to be up and about as soon as possible to prevent complications. There's a little bit of this in the show via the narrator, but there's more of it in the book.

There were also some more graphic descriptions of child birth that obviously couldn't be shown on the show. It was actually pretty interesting to read about (I'm not squeamish about that sort of thing, if anything it's reassuring knowing what our bodies are capable of). It left me kind of in awe of the women throughout history who were having children before all of the medical advancements we have now (and the option of pain meds).

This review is a bit waffling and I'm not sure where I'm going with it really (out of practice), but I guess what I'm trying to say is that the book is really fascinating and informative and it pulls that off with so much heart and personality. It's hard not to love and care about the people from Jennifer Worth's stories when she talks of them with such warmth and realness.

I did genuinely love the book. I just wish I'd read it before seeing the show. The show is fantastic too -- the cast is excellent and it's so honest and heartwarming and heartbreaking and eyeopening, and I love seeing what it was like for women like my granny back then, and how the NHS and nursing and midwifery have evolved over time.

I really recommend checking out both, but maybe start with the book.

"Now and then in life love catches you unawares, illuminating the dark corners of your mind and filling them with radiance. Once in a while you are faced with a beauty and a joy that takes your soul all unprepared..." - Jennifer Worth


Monday, 12 February 2018

The Royals 1-3 by Erin Watt

Paper Princess
The Royals Book 1
by Erin Watt

Summary: From strip clubs and truck stops to southern coast mansions and prep schools, one girl tries to stay true to herself.

These Royals will ruin you…

Ella Harper is a survivor—a pragmatic optimist. She’s spent her whole life moving from town to town with her flighty mother, struggling to make ends meet and believing that someday she’ll climb out of the gutter. After her mother’s death, Ella is truly alone.

Until Callum Royal appears, plucking Ella out of poverty and tossing her into his posh mansion among his five sons who all hate her. Each Royal boy is more magnetic than the last, but none as captivating as Reed Royal, the boy who is determined to send her back to the slums she came from.

Reed doesn’t want her. He says she doesn’t belong with the Royals.

He might be right.

Wealth. Excess. Deception. It’s like nothing Ella has ever experienced, and if she’s going to survive her time in the Royal palace, she’ll need to learn to issue her own Royal decrees.

I'm reviewing these three books in one review because the way the books are written, it doesn't really feel like they're individual books. Just one long story broken into three parts.

So. Here's the thing: I mentioned recently that the past year has been one of the worst reading years I've had in a really long time. Well, these three books kind of snapped me out of that slump I was in (or at least the first two did). I read the first two books in one or two sittings easily (the third was a bit more of a drag).

The first two kept me hooked and I was never bored. The third book had its moments but it didn't maintain the same pace as the first two, it really dragged in parts and felt so needlessly repetitive. For most of the three books, I felt emotionally invested in the characters and their relationships. For those reasons, I did enjoy the books.

But, this series has trope upon trope that I have some major issues with. Including, but not limited to:

  • Trivialization of statutory rape, sexual coercion (i.e. rape), and there were just little things littered throughout the book along those lines than irritated me (e.g. in the third book Reed, main love interest, makes a comment that one of the highlights of his night was seeing his friend grope the ass of a girl Reed didn't like while they danced even while she kept telling him to stop).
  • Using rape/attempted rape as a plot device (not even in relation to my first point, this was it's own separate thing)
  • Girl hate (there's maybe one positive female relationship in the book...though it does have its moments where it improves but there's still sooo much of the "catty girl cliche" and the "crazy ex girlfriend" tropes)
  • "You're not like other girls" vibes
  • That problematic romance between the two leads, where he treats her like crap but she falls for him anyway (I admit, those hate-to-love relationships are addictive but that doesn't mean they're healthy or that I don't feel bad for rooting for them) and he's kind of possessive and controlling (though not as bad in this as I've seen in other stories). This does improve once they're together, when he becomes kind and considerate towards her but still.
  • obnoxious rich kids
  • slut shaming (but only the girls)
  • MC being a virgin used to stop/counteract slut shaming rather than just "hey, slut shaming is wrong"
  • Trivialization of addiction (drug, gambling and alcohol).
  • Trivialization of violence (i.e. Ella actually finds it kind of attractive seeing her boyfriend fighting, rather than realising how dangerous it is and that one wrong punch could kill or seriously injure him or the person he's fighting).
  • Falling for the bully trope
  • Pretty much every issue is solved with either money or violence. 
And many things that bugged me. They didn't necessarily get in the way of how entertaining the book was, they just made me wish I didn't enjoy the books because they're not the kind of books I'm happy to recommend to people knowing all the harmful tropes they pull. 

I did really like the characters for the most part. I really enjoyed reading the hate-to-love romance and the friendship/sibling relationships that formed between Ella and the Royals. The plot didn't really pull much of anything I haven't read before, but it was entertaining.

The third book was the only one I struggled with because it was so dragged out and the ending was so obvious right from the start.

Basically, this series was quite addictive and I love that it pulled me from my reading slump...but, if you read it, go into it knowing that it is really flawed and if any of the stuff mentioned in the bullet points is a deal breaker for you, maybe steer clear of the series.



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