Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Review: The Island at the End of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

2017 Chicken House  288 pages 

Set in the Philippines at the beginning of the last century, Ami lives with her mother on Culion Island. It’s a beautiful place covered in lush forests and surrounded by a blue sea that matches the sky. It’s Ami’s home and the only place she has ever known. But Culion is an island for people with leprosy who are sent there to live on the edge of the world away from civilisation. Ami’s mother is among the infected but Ami herself remains untouched, so when government official Mr Zamora arrives to transport the islanders who are free from the sickness to another island, Ami’s world is torn apart. Banished across the sea to an orphanage, Ami is determined to get back home and crosses great lengths to return to her sick mother once more, on the island at the end of everything.

This story was simply stunning. I don’t know how I can describe it in many more words. I was swept up in Ami’s narrative from the first page and I stayed engrossed until the very last page. Having read Millwood Hargrave’s debut novel The Girl of Ink and Stars last year, I already knew I was going to enjoy her newest release if it possessed half as much magic as its predecessor. So beautiful was the story I read it in near enough one sitting.

This is easily one of the most impressive children’s books I’ve read for a long time. I believe that if adult readers can find joy in a world marketed for young booklovers, then the author has succeeded in writing a book that stands out from the rest. I enjoyed the characters in this story immensely and the relationship between Ami and her mother was so raw and touching it was pulling on my heartstrings by the end. Yet what I loved most about the story above all else was the themes that flowed throughout. Children’s fiction doesn’t have to be simple and one-dimensional, and the author proves this by exploring how damaging prejudice can be and how wrong it is to judge others by their appearance.  Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s writing creates a world that is so real yet so gloriously magical you can’t help feeling anything but raw emotion for her characters.

The use of Filipino words and phrases throughout was something I was especially glad the author decided to include. It gave the story a sense of truth and helped me transport to the setting of the novel. Culion Island is indeed a real place and it was turned in to a leprosarium in 1906, becoming known as “the island of no return”. I previously knew nothing about the history of the Philippines and after I finished this book I did a little searching on the web to find out more. Millwood Hargrave has managed to create a beautiful story from a sad history which I think will be loved by readers of all ages.

Overall rating: 4.5 stars

My copy of The Island at the End of Everything was sent to me by The Bookbag and my review originally appeared on their website.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

March Wrap Up: Four Mini Book Reviews

Hello! Another month has gone by and a new one is just starting. Already 2017 is flying by but with each passing week and month I’m reading more and more books, and keeping on top of my reading goal for the year. In March I completed four books, one of which was a short story collection, so instead of writing a lengthy review for each I thought I’d compile my thoughts about each of them in one post. I find it helps me keep on track of reviews since I’ve been falling behind a bit lately (oops!), so here goes:

Sufficient Grace by Amy Espeseth
2012 • 327 pages • Scribe Books

Set in rural Wisconsin, Ruth and her cousin Naomi live as a part of an isolated, religious community with their families. The nature of their home is beautiful yet harsh – the cold winters, hunting seasons, the harvesting of crops – they are separated and closed off, but beneath the surface of their own world are hidden lies and dangers that they are soon no longer protected from.

Sufficient Grace was sent to me in one of my Moth Boxes, run by Booktuber Mercedes of  MercysBookishMusings and like many of the books sent in the box, I’ve never heard of any of them prior to my box arriving. However I started this shortly after I opened it because something about te story just grabbed me and I wanted to know more. It’s a dark and twisted tale about family and the secrets that can be kept hidden in such a small and close knit community. It takes a turn I wasn’t expecting but it’s a beautiful story (in a creepy and messed up kind of way) and the writing is gorgeous. Contemporary literary fiction is hard to master but Amy Espeseth handles this wonderfully.

Overall rating: 4 stars

The Doctor’s Wife is Dead by Andrew Tierney
2017 • 272 pages • Penguin Ireland

This was my first non-fiction read of the year and I think I may have discovered a new love for true crime thanks to this book. In 1849 Ellen Langley, the wife of a prosperous doctor, died in her home in Nenagh, Ireland. A woman of a respectable home and a good family, and yet she was buried in a paupers coffin. Why did her death cause so much gossip and why was her husband arrested for her murder?

Andrew Tierney takes you through all the twists and turns in to the inquest concerning Ellen Langley’s death, and I found it completely fascinating. It’s a gritty true crime set in Victorian Ireland so the premise had me hooked before I even turned the first page. I’m definitely going to be checking out some more true crime at some point. I was sent The Doctor’s Wife is Dead by The Bookbag so I’ll leave a link to my full review on their website here.

Overall rating: 4 stars

The Birds and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier
1952 • 256 pages • Virago

Man, I do love du Maurier. It’s been a while since I’ve read any of her work so this was long overdue. I just find her writing style so comforting and easy yet so brilliant at the same time. I want to read more of her this year as much as I can because these stories rekindled my love for du Maurier’s writing, and I want to collect all of her books in same beautiful new Virago editions that are being steadily released. Some of the stories I enjoyed more than others which I think is expected in a short story collection, but the titular story is wonderful, as is The Apple Tree which has the same creepiness echoing throughout.

Overall rating: 4 stars

One Hundred Shadows by Hwang Jungeun, Jung Yewen (translator)
2016 • 152 pages • Tilted Axis Press

Another Moth Box treasure - One Hundred Shadows is an off-beat, obscure novel set in Central Seoul and it’s takes a slightly weird and twisted look at our own world. It follows Eungyo and Mujae who work as repair shop assistants in the destitute part of town, when due to the declining economic circumstances the shadows of the towns poor inhabitants begin to rise. These shadows act like shape shifters and bring their owners closer to death. Its macabre social commentary which highlights the underbelly of society and its fascinating - completely unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It’s bizarre yet lyrical in its exploration of the ultra-modern face of contemporary South Korea, and I found it to be thought provoking and skilled in its execution. I’m interested to know more about Hwang Jungeun’s work in the future.

Overall rating: 4 stars


So, ultimately a very good reading month! All four star reads and I managed to read a mixture of different texts including a short story collection, a non-fiction, and a translated work – all of which were part of my reading resolutions for 2017. I planning my Spring TBR for the next couple of months so I hope I can have as many good reads over the next few weeks as I did in March!
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