Tuesday 6 October 2015

Mini-Reviews: The Rithmatist, The Help & Wild Crush

The Rithmatist, Brandon Sanderson
384|Tor|26th February 2015|purchased

Joel is fascinated by the magic of the Rithmatics, but few have the gift and he is not one of them. Undaunted, he persuades Professor Fitch to teach him magical theory. Joel can't infuse his protective lines and circles with power, or bring his chalk-drawn creatures to life, but he’s quick the master the underlying geometric principles. His unique skills will soon face an extraordinary test when top Rithmatist students are kidnapped from his Academy.

Since he’s not a magic user, Joel appears to be safe – but he’s so desperate to investigate and prove himself. Then people start dying. However, can Joel really stop a killer alone? As even more students disappear, he realises he’ll need the help of Rithmatist apprentice Melody. Together, they must race to find clues before the killer notices them – and takes them out too.    

Brandon Sanderson is a hero in the world of fantasy and I’ve always been a little intimidated by that, and the size of his novels, but after finding The Rithmatist nice and cheap on Audible, I decided to finally give him a go. And I really, really enjoyed it.

I couldn’t believe how detailed and all-encompassing Sanderson’s magic system is in The Rithmatist. Rithmatics is the mathematics of chalk circles, lines and creatures that battle. It’s a magic system built on geometry and  have to admit that it took me a while to figure out the rules and everything while listening as I missed out on the illustrations that were in the physical copy – having them described isn’t quite the same! I found that high fantasy is a little more difficult to get into on audio, but I ended up being really involved and invested in the world and characters.

With such a complex and perfectly constructed world, I kind of expected the characters and their relationships to dim in comparison but they were equally as well done. Joel is a slacker in his lessons and assignments, but he’s naturally gifted as the theory of Rithmatics, even though he’s not one and never can be. As he begins to study under Professor Fitch, a brilliant Rithmatist, Joel’s skills develop even further and he begins to get a toe in the world of the Rithmatists. Fitch is also tutoring Melody who is completely hapless at the basics of Rithmatics, though her chalkings (chalk drawn creatures used in Rithmatic battles) are some of the best Fitch has ever seen. I loved the banter and teasing in their friendship, and even more, that it was just friendship between them. So refreshing! Joel, Melody and Fitch made a brilliant team when it came to investigating the mysterious murders and I frequently found myself laughing aloud at them.

The Rithmatist was a lot of fun and I already have two more Brandon Sanderson novels lined up: the rather intimidating The Final Empire and The Way of Kings… Wish me luck!

The Help, Kathryn Stockett
444|Penguin|13th May 2010|purchased

Enter a vanished world: Jackson, Mississippi, 1962.
Where black maids raise white children, but aren’t trusted not to steal the silver…

There’s Aibileen, raising her seventeenth white child and nursing the hurt caused by her own son’s tragic death; Minny, whose cooking is nearly as sassy as her tongue; and white Miss Skeeter, home from college, who wants to know why her beloved maid disappeared.

Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny. No one would believe they’d be friends; fewer still would tolerate it. But as each woman finds the courage to cross boundaries, they come to depend and rely on one another. Each is in search of a truth. And together they have an extraordinary story to tell…

My mum read this novel in about 2011 and was constantly on at me to read it. I finally did, four years later, and I really should have listened to her then! It’s wonderful.

I have to admit that I went into The Help with some trepidation. I was worried, as I always am when it comes to hyped bestsellers, that I wouldn’t enjoy it; that it’d give me so much second-hand guilt it’d be impossibly uncomfortable to read; and that it might be a tad boring. I was wrong on all accounts. I listened to The Help on audiobook and the narration was split between Aibileen and Minny, two black maids, and Miss Skeeter, a young, white girl who dreams of being a writer. The narrators were so wonderfully spot on. Aibileen was by far my favourite. Her chapters were warm, vibrant and quietly powerful. I was surprised by how funny all three narrators are. Minny is outspoken and brash; Miss Skeeter has a clever, sarcasm about her and Aibileen is one of those wise, old women who knows what's right for you before you’ve even identified a problem. I fell in love with all three of them.

The Help offers an intimate glimpse into the life of a small town in Mississippi when women still stayed home and had kids, had League meetings, Bridge clubs and could destroy someone’s life with the click of a finger. Miss Hilly, the head of the League and Minny’s former employer, is the Regina George of 1960s Jackson and I hated her with the fire of a thousand suns. The way she treats people is unbelievable, and that’s not limited to the maids; she's just a vile human being and I hated watching people crumble under her will.

But really, this is a story about friendship and love. Whether that be the friendship between the maids, between Skeeter and Aibileen, or between the white ladies of the League; the love between the maids and the white children they bring up or for the people they have to sacrifice to survive in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s. There are so many layers to every relationship in The Help and I could wax lyrical about my favourites and the way that people are treated, but I honestly feel that you’ll appreciate it a whole lot more going in blind like I did; I barely knew a thing about it and ended up falling in love.

The Help is an important book: funny, touching, powerful and clever. I’m so very glad I finally read it, and I really recommend trying the audiobook.  

Wild Crush, Simone Elkeles
240|NLA Digital|22nd September 2015|purchased

When the only girl you want is the one you can't have…

Bad boy Vic Salazar breaks all the rules except one: Don’t make a move on your best friend’s girl. It’s a Guy Code that Vic lives by. It doesn’t matter that he’s had a crush on her for years, Monika Fox is off limits.

Monika has a secret of her own and when a tragedy throws her and Vic together, the only boy she trusts is the one she shouldn’t confide. Vic.

As Vic struggles to keep his distance, and Monika struggles with her secrets, will their wild connection violate every rule both vowed never to break – about relationships, about friendship, about love?

I’m a huge fan of Simone Elkeles and have been for a long time, and although Wild Crush wasn’t her best, I still devoured it in only a few hours.

Elkeles’s novels have something of a formula: rich good girl and poor bad boy, secrets, miscommunications, swoony scenes and romantic declarations. For some people that might not work, but I'm a total sucker for it and I love the comfort that reading one of her novels brings me. Wild Crush was no exception. Vic actually reminded me a lot of Alex Fuentes, her most popular hero from Perfect Chemistry, and my favourite *swoons just thinking about him*. Very excitingly, Alex made a few extended cameos in Wild Crush and I got rather excited about it; especially when Alex himself identified how much like his younger self Vic is. They’re judged for their badassery, misbehaviour and penchant for getting into trouble, but underneath they’re strong, clever and have a heart of gold. And it takes a girl to bring that to the surface.

I actually wasn’t a huge fan of Monika. The synopsis of the novels promises secrets, but the secret she kept was life-threateningly dangerous and it wasn’t worth it. I also didn’t really feel anything for or from her; she didn’t have a huge amount of personality, she was largely a reaction to the boys in the novel and the expectations placed upon her. Monika has a chronic illness that dictates a lot of what she can and can't do, but the way it was presented made me a little uncomfortable. I can't quite pinpoint why, maybe the constant referable to her being ‘disabled’ or her refusal to share it with anybody, I just don’t know.

Even though Wild Crush lacked Elkeles’ usual snap and I didn’t like it as much as I wanted to, I’ll always read her books and it was still a pleasure to be back in her suburbs of Illinois.


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