Thursday, 19 July 2018

Heartfelt and unique, The Murderer's Ape by Jakob Wegelius is children's literature at its finest

Title: The Murderer's Ape
Series: N/A
Author: Jakob Wegelius
Genre: Middle-Grade
Publication: April 16th 2014
Pages: 640 pages, Hardback
Source: Thank you to Pushkin Children's Books for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review!
Rating: 4.5/5 cupcakes!
'I don't know when I last read a book with such pure and unalloyed pleasure. It's ingenious, it's moving, it's charming, it's beautiful, it's exciting, and most importantly the characters are people I feel I know like old friends. I thank Jakob Wegelius wholeheartedly for giving me several hours of joy' -- Philip Pullman
Sally Jones is not only a loyal friend, she's an extraordinary individual. In overalls or in a maharaja's turban, this unique gorilla moves among humans without speaking but understanding everything. She and the Chief are devoted comrades who operate a cargo boat. A job they are offered pays big bucks, but the deal ends badly, and the Chief is falsely convicted of murder.
For Sally Jones this is the start of a harrowing quest for survival and to clear the Chief's name. Powerful forces are working against her, and they will do anything to protect their secrets. 
Oh, this book. It was charming and whimsical and filled with fallible, yet lovable characters and a beautifully woven plot that took me on an adventure with love and justice at the heart of it. I wanted to read this delectable novel from the moment I heard about it. Not only is it a visually stunning book, but it has such a distinctive, interesting story line that I knew I would fall in love with. The Murderer’s Ape is about a very unique gorilla called Sally Jones, who works as an engineer on the ship, The Hudson Queen with her human friend, Henry Koskela. She doesn’t speak in a language that we can comprehend, but she understands what humans say. One day her and Koskela are offered a job that will pay extraordinary well, however, deception and malice occurs in the deal and Koskela is wrongly accused of murder. Belittled and forced into hiding, Sally Jones has nowhere to go. Settling on the roof of a house in Lisbon, she hears an angelic voice singing. The voice belongs to Ana Molina, who kindly takes Sally Jones in and makes her feel at home. This is the start of her journey to survive and prove her friend innocent. It starts in a Lisbon port and meanders through oceans and India until she finally finds her way back home. She’ll face betrayal, threats and heartbreak on her quest, but she’ll also experience the goodness and kindness that humans are capable of.

This was such a beautiful story. It was built on the power of friendship, love and justice and the strength it gives us to tackle storms we face. It was filled with characters who were flawed yet radiated kindness and love. It explored sensitive issues in a gentle manner. Not only was it richly layered with emotion and heart, it was a classic adventure story. In this murder mystery adventure there was treason, stowaways, and a journey on a sailboat across the seas to reclaim the innocence of a man wrongly accused - EXCITING!!!

I absolutely adored the characters. After finishing the book, I wanted to dive right back in and spend time with the characters. They felt so real. They were complex and genuine. They were all so vividly unique and they saturated the text with warmth and love.

Sally Jones was a brilliant protagonist. She was so incredibly smart and would go through treacherous trials to even have a chance of saving her friend. I loved how the author gave each character so much emotion and complexity. Before reading this book, I thought that this book would mainly focus on plot and not delve into the emotional states of the characters. I was wrong. The author described Sally Jones' heartbreak, terror, happiness and hope that wrenched at my heartstrings. The author mentioned the bouts of depression Sally Jones would enter into, as well as symptoms of PTSD that she experienced after what she’d seen and gone through. I admire the author for touching on those things in a children’s book in an honest, yet uplifting way. I loved the vast amount of emotion that was covered in this story - it made it that much more touching.

I absolutely adored the friends Sally Jones made. They were dynamic and flawed, yet so kind and generous. Sally Jones and Koskela’s friendship was so sweet. The care they had for each other and the lengths they would go to in order to help the other were stunning. I loved reading about how they would work on the boat together in compatible silence. They were best friends and companions. It was a beautiful portrayal of the friendship that can be formed by man and animal. 

I loved Ana Molina and Signor Fidardo. I loved Ana's kindness and gentleness. I loved Signor Fidardo's determination, care and dilligent attitude. I loved the friendship between Ana, Signor Fidardo and Sally Jones. It was so heartfelt and emotional. Their care and love for one another radiated off of the pages, and some of my favourite scenes in the book were the Sunday nights they'd spend in Ana's apartment where she sung and Signor Fidardo played the guitar and Sally Jones felt as if she belonged. The scenes were vivid and captured the harmonious serenity felt when in the presence of true friends. I loved the traits these characters possessed: kindness, acceptance and selflessness. I loved the evolution of the friendships in this book too. Signor Fidardo began disliking Sally Jones (or perhaps that's too strong a word...maybe more suspicious of her), but then grew to admire and respect and love her. I adored how most of the people who initially disregarded her or had hardened their hearts towards Sally Jones began to adore her after realising her kindness, sensitivity and intelligence. 

I appreciated that the author wrote the secondary characters with depth as well, such as the maharajah and Alphonse Morro. They were characters compiled of varying shades of black and white, and I loved how Wegelius showed their good and bad qualities, portraying them as complex humans instead of 2D characters whose main purpose is helping the protagonist achieve something or the other. I deeply admire the depth of all of the characters featured in this novel.

I adored the plot, writing and illustrations too. The Murderer's Ape is a long book. My edition is 640 pages. It's not a fast-paced read. It's languid and deliberate; it made the reading experience feel vividly real. I loved that this book was long. It allowed me to feel as if I was thoroughly involved with the characters' lives, especially Sally Jones's as she settled into the different places and tried to prove Koskela innocent. The plot was an adventure and it took me on a journey and completely swept me up - I loved it. The writing was simple which had a greater impact on me. Sally Jones's intense emotions, her thoughts and her actions were expressed clearly, in a raw and real manner. I adored the illustrations too - they transported me even further into the vivid setting Wegelius created.

The Murderer's Ape is captivating, emotional and utterly enchanting. Written with sensitivity and heart, this book wrenched at my heartstrings. It catapulted me from jubilation to sadness and back again. I adored the themes of friendship, love, kindness and empathy that were woven throughout this story, saturating the text with layered emotion that anyone of all ages will appreciate. The protagonist's voice is authentic and completely lovable. Many of the characters are extraordinarily real, fallible yet so gorgeously kind and compassionate. The plot is detailed and takes the reader on a journey from a port in Lisbon, across oceans and to a maharajah's court in exotic India, making all the sights and sounds of the journey tangible to the reader. All these things combined resulted in a devastatingly beautiful and wonderfully emotional novel that has made its mark on my heart. Read it. 

I give it: 4.5/5 CUPCAKES!

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Monday, 16 July 2018

What I'm Currently Reading #26

Hiii everyone!

I hope you've had a lovely week. 

This past week has been so wonderful! I've been seeing friends a lot, which has been so nice. I went to the beach yesterday with my parents, my mom's friend, and her son and it was literally the nicest day I've had in ages. It was a beautiful day; the water was fairly warm; the fish and chips were great, and I got a pink body board! I was going to hire a paddle board for an hour and do that, but we ended up staying at the beach for 6 hours, so I'm glad I bought a body board instead! I did, of course, take books with to read, but I didn't manage to get any reading done. BUT I SWAM. So there's that.

I also volunteered at my church on Friday, which was lovely as always! I stop volunteering this Friday, as the playgroup isn't on during summer holidays, BUT I start volunteering at the library on Thursday - YAY. I'm going to be helping out with the summer reading challenge again this year which I'm really looking forward to! 

I finished two books this week.

1. The Murderer's Ape by Jakob Wegelius
2. This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab 

The Murderer's Ape was such a wonderful story! I adored the characters and the story line. My review will be up this week and hopefully it will convince you to READ IT! It's SO GOOD.

I also read This Savage Song which I've been meaning to read FOREVER. After reading A Darker Shade of Magic last year, I knew I was going to try to read all the things she's ever written. I liked it. I loved the characters, the premise and the writing. But I felt like it was lacking in something? Maybe plot? I'm not sure. It wasn't a 5 star read for me, which I was really surprised by! I'm hoping I'll like Our Dark Duet more.

Nothing. WHO EVEN AM I?! I'm starting a book today though, which will be Satellite by Nick Lake! Apparently it's heartbreaking, so that's always fun. I'm also currently reading Defending the Gospel. My friend loaned me some of her Christian apologetics books, so I'm looking forward to reading them. 

Good question. I have no idea. Maybe The Last Song or When Dimple Met Rishi?! WE SHALL SEE.

What books did you finish this week? Have you read any of these books -  if so, what did you think?
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Friday, 13 July 2018

Summer Biannual Bibliothon TBR!

IT'S TIME FOR THE SUMMER BIANNUAL BIBLIOTHON!!! Squee! I absolutely loved participating last year, so I'm super excited to participate again this year. Since I'm on summer holidays, I wanted to try to participate in ALL THE READATHONS. This is my second one so far, and I'm so excited to take part!

For this readathon, there are several reading challenges that you must try to complete. If you want to see more information about this readathon in detail, head over to this video. 

The reading challenges are:
1. Read the group book. This year it's THE WICKED DEEP
2. Choose from someone else’s TBR
3. Try the first chapter of 3 books and pick 1
4. Read a book that has been on your TBR for over a year
5. Read a predicted 5 star read
6. Own voices - different than YOU
7. Read the last book you bought 

This is my TBR for the readathon! Well, kind of. Take Back the Skies, Satellite and Defy the Stars were the three books I read the first chapter of and it was SUCH A STRUGGLE to decide which book to pick!! I've decided to go with Satellite though - I think I'm going to love it.

I won't be participating in the first challenge, as I don't want to read The Wicked Deep (I'm not into witch books). I chose This Savage Song for #2 - it's on Little Red Reader's TBR. For challenge #3, I chose Satellite. For challenge #4, I chose The Archived! I've been meaning to read it FOREVER, so I'm hoping to FINALLY get to it this month! For challenge #5 and #7, I'm choosing The Last Song - I'm pretty sure it's going to be a new favourite. Let's hope I'm right! I might choose The Cruel Prince for #5 though...I'm dying to read it. I'm not sure if I'll get around to #6, but for that I'd like to read When Dimple Met Rishi! 

What books are YOU planning on reading for the readathon? Have you read any of these? What did you think?
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Thursday, 12 July 2018

Two by Two by Nicholas Sparks was a stunning read

Two by TwoTitle: Two by Two
Series: N/A
Author: Nicholas Sparks
Genre: Adult Fiction, Women's Fiction, Romance
Publication: October 4th 2016, Sphere
Pages: 496 pages, Hardcover
Source: Library
#1 New York Times bestselling author Nicholas Sparks returns with an emotionally powerful story of unconditional love, its challenges, its risks and most of all, its rewards.
At 32, Russell Green has it all: a stunning wife, a lovable six year-old daughter, a successful career as an advertising executive and an expansive home in Charlotte. He is living the dream, and his marriage to the bewitching Vivian is the center of that. But underneath the shiny surface of this perfect existence, fault lines are beginning to appear...and no one is more surprised than Russ when he finds every aspect of the life he took for granted turned upside down. In a matter of months, Russ finds himself without a job or wife, caring for his young daughter while struggling to adapt to a new and baffling reality. Throwing himself into the wilderness of single parenting, Russ embarks on a journey at once terrifying and rewarding—one that will test his abilities and his emotional resources beyond anything he ever imagined. 

This is my second Nicholas Sparks book. I read See Me on the 1st of July and then immediately picked up Two by Two. I've never read adult fiction, and I'm not particularly fond of books that make me cry, so I'm not entirely sure what tempted me to start reading his books. But I did. And I've fallen in love with his writing, characters, romances and story lines.

Two by Two is about Russ. He's got a beautiful wife, lives in a large house, has a good job and a wonderful little girl, London. However, cracks begin to form in his perfectly-constructed life and in the blink of an eye, he finds himself with no job, a wife that seems like a stranger, and a newfound role of being a mom and a dad to little London. As he hits rock bottom and tries to make sense of his new life, he slowly regains his footing. He discovers strength he never knew he had, a friendship of solid gold in the form of Emily, his ex-girlfriend, and he develops a deeper bond with his young daughter. However, as things begin to fall into place, a devastating incident shakes the world he has only just begun to repair.

Going into this book, I knew I was going to cry. I've watched Nicholas Sparks' movies, and I know of his reputation. I don't even like reading tear-jerkers (unless they're the happy kind). However, after reading See Me, I knew I needed to read more of his books. Since this was another book of his nearing 500 pages, and since I'm currently participating in the Tome Topple readathon, I thought this would be the perfect next read. And, once I got into it, it was.

At first, I considered DNFing. This book has a slow start, a reallyyyy slow start. There are pages upon pages of internal monologue and the character's day to day routine. The amount of times I read about Vivian sitting on the couch, asking for a top-up of wine whilst flicking through a magazine and then picking a fight with Russ was almost one times too many....however, at the 150 page mark, the book started moving along, and I found myself completely engrossed in the story. I began to speed through the book and I found myself missing the characters when I was away from the book – that's when you know it's a good read, right?

I also nearly DNFed this because of the content and age of the characters. They were in their early thirties and going through a tough time in their marriage. As a nineteen year old who's never even been in a relationship, I found myself wondering if I was really interested in reading a book about characters who were in a completely different stage in their life. But then I remembered that that's one of the beauties of reading: it puts you in someone else's shoes. I was in Russ's shoes for this book; it was an uncomfortable place to be at times, but it was worth it. This book delves into heavy topics that could make the reader feel anxious and depressed, but Nicholas Sparks managed to infuse the book with charm, love and heart that fills the reader with courage and hope, producing a bittersweet, emotionally charged novel that tugs at the heartstrings.

In a book, the characters are often the most important part of the novel to me. I loved the characters in this book. I saw quite a lot of reviews complaining about Russell being a doormat and having no backbone, but I really liked him. He was sweet. He worked hard. He always did what he thought was best for his family. Yes, he probably should've stood up to Vivian, but he didn't because he just wanted to make her happy. He wanted to keep the peace and ensure his home was a happy environment for his wife and his daughter. He was such a good guy – and such a brilliant father! It absolutely melted my heart. I loved how much time he spent with London and all he did for her. Everything he did was to ensure that London was healthy and happy. I loved how the novel showed the deep bond they formed – it was utterly adorable. I also really appreciated that Russell was a sensitive guy. He cried in front of others and he would speak about his problems to his close friends and family. It's largely upsetting how many men today feel that in order to appear strong they must refrain from crying and speaking about their problems. I loved that Russell demolished that toxic viewpoint and freely expressed how he was feeling. He was sensitive and deeply compassionate, and he embraced it. GO, RUSS!

Obviously, I loved London and Bodhi, Emily's son and London's best friend. They were so adorable. Their antics and view of the world was so innocent and imaginative: it added happiness and wonder to a story that could've easily felt dark and hopeless.

Emily was such a wonderful character too and a stark contrast to Vivian. She was positive and wise and encouraging. She was a wonderful friend to Russell, and I admired her ability to forgive Russell for the stupid mistake he made when they were dating years ago, as well as to trust him again. Emily was the perfect antithesis of Vivian. Her character brought so much more joy and light to the story which I absolutely loved. I could almost feel the positive effect she had on Russ. She was a brilliant friend and exactly what he needed: a rock when everything else was crumbling.

Then there was Vivian. “What a cow” was muttered several times whilst reading this. She was manipulative, selfish and emotionally abusive. She constantly played the victim and blamed poor Russ for everything. It crushed my heart to see all her piercing words make him feel like he was never good enough. She did so many despicable things and was extremely superficial. She was cruel and conniving and UGH. Just ugh. At least she had some redeeming moments towards the end. Some.

I also loved how involved Russell's family was in his life. His dad was gruff, tough and constantly trying to fix things. However, there were moments he revealed his sensitive side, especially towards the end of the book, and it had me crying. Russell's mom was so lovely and had experienced so much pain throughout her life, I just wanted to give her a hug. Then there was Marge, Russell's sister. I LOVED Marge. She was a brilliant older sister – she teased Russell mercilessly, gave him incredibly wise advice and was always there for him and he there for her. She was witty and hilarious and I loved her character. Her partner, Liz, was also such a sweet, supportive character. Their family bond was so strong. I loved how Russell would spend hours chatting to his family on the back porch while London sat and watched baseball with her grandfather or did gardening and baking with her grandmother and aunts. The strength, love and complexity of family was explored in this book. By the end of Two by Two, I felt almost as if I was a part of the family.

Despite this being a Nicholas Sparks book, there wasn't as much romance involved. There was love, of course. The love being a father and a daughter, a brother and a sister. There was the promise of a romance between Emily and Russell but it was quite implicit for the majority of this book. This isn't a grand love story and you shouldn't go into this expecting one. It's a tumultuous novel about falling out of love, the difficulties of marriage and infidelity. It's about losing your job, the life you used to know and having almost everything taken from you. However, it's also about friendship and a new love between old lovers. It's about family and resilience and courage. This book contains the devastating lows that life can throw at us, as well as the sweet, priceless things that sustain us through the difficulties.

However, there were a couple of minor issues I had with this book that prevented me from giving it the full five stars. The first thing I already mentioned: so many unnecessary details. Perhaps Sparks wanted to really familiarise us with the routine so that we could feel the vast change in Russell's life. If so, it worked. I felt the devastating impact of all the upheaval in his life, and, like Russ, I felt slightly confused and worried and lost. I think by including all the details and allowing the reader to get such an in-depth look into Russell's life, it made all the change that much more hard-hitting.

Secondly, it was quite discouraging to read about the family refraining from going to church after Marge came out. I know a lot of people will sympathise with their decision to do so, but as a Christian, I found it sad that they stopped going completely due to Marge's sexuality.

I also would've liked to see a bit of Vivian's point of view. Her anger and bitterness seemed completely unfounded. I would've liked slightly more understanding as to why she started being so attacking towards Russell. The book was completely one sided and there was no explanation for Vivian's antics. Perhaps that was just the way she is, as his family implied that she was a bit of a disaster from the early stages of their marriage.

That being said, I still fell deeply in love with this book. Two by Two is a sentimental read. It's nostalgic read. It's a touching read. At the beginning of each chapter, Russell recalls a memory from his life, a memory involving Emily, London or his family. It added a touch of authenticity, emotion and heart to the story. It allows the reader to feel as if they've known Russell through every stage of his life. Most of the characters were deeply fleshed out and all had their own unique personalities that added richness and complexity to a deeply layered, intertwining story. Two by Two is book that explores the devastation of a broken marriage, the heartbreak of loss, the difficulty of being a parent and financial worries. It's emotional and it's hard-hitting because it's so real. The things that happen in this book could happen to anyone at any given time which makes it quite a difficult story to swallow at times. However, threaded throughout the story, is the promise of hope and courage, of friendship and family. I love that this book teaches that even once you've gone through something devastating, you will find the strength in you to continue. You will laugh again, you will smile again, and things will eventually be okay.

I loved watching the bond between Russell and 6-year-old London grow – it was incredibly sweet. I loved watching Russell begin to gain confidence in himself. I admired how hard he worked and his resolve to keep his family as happy as possible. I loved the strength of the bond between Russell and his sister, Marge; I loved Russell and Emily's friendship that was based on trust and care and love, that began to grow into something more. I just loved the complexity and emotion this book was filled with. Yes, it has a slow start – but keep going. You won't be disappointed.

I've only read two Nicholas Sparks book but he's quickly becoming one of my favourite authors. His books are authentic: they contain the vast spectrum of emotions that feature throughout our lives. They tackle the difficulties of life with grace and sensitivity and hope, and explores relationships and love in such a genuine manner.

I absolutely loved Two by Two. It was gut-wrenching and heartbreaking, but it was also filled with hope, happiness and encouragement. I highly recommend it.

I give it: 4.5/5 cupcakes

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