Tuesday, 30 April 2013

UKYA Review: Slated by Teri Terry

Published by: Orchard Books
Release date:
3rd May 2012
Slated #1
I got it from:
Quote:It is one thing to ask questions; what do you do with the answers?” 
Goodreads summary:

Kyla’s memory has been erased,
her personality wiped blank,
her memories lost for ever.

She’s been Slated.

The government claims she was a terrorist, and that they are giving her a second chance - as long as she plays by their rules. But echoes of the past whisper in Kyla’s mind. Someone is lying to her, and nothing is as it seems. Who can she trust in her search for the truth?

My review: 
I resisted reading Slated for quite a while - I'm not a massive fan of dystopia - it has to be just right to grab me. But I'm taking part in the British books challenge, and Slated finally found its way onto my reading list. I'm glad it did.

Set just far enough in the future, in and England that is recognisable but altered, Slated is a very interesting book. This England is a closed state, cut off from Europe and controlled by a powerful coalition government and its Lorders (Law & Order Operatives). The Lorders watch everything, and if something, or someone, threatens the system, they deal with it.

Kyla has been slated - her memory has been wiped, making her a brand new person. She has learned to walk and talk again, surprising everyone with the speed at which she picks things up, and now she is ready to be part of a family again. Act normal, don't question anything, allow yourself to be re-integrated into society, and above all keep your emotion level up. This is the Slated way. Get too sad, angry or upset, and the Levo on your wrist will react - first buzzing a warning. Eat some chocolate, stroke a cat, go to your happy place - get your level up. Because if it continues to drop, the Levo will take over - knock you out to prevent further damage. Lower than 2, and it will be permanent. The Levo is a tool of compromise - for those who care about slateds to make sure they are happy enough, and for those who worry that they will return to their old ways to make sure they don't do anything bad.

Slated kids don't have an easy time. Recognisable by the Levo band on their wrist, they are a target for bullying. You can see why in a way - they were slated in the first place because they'd done something wrong. Would you like to share classes with a possible murderer? Just because they can't remember what they did, does that make them incapable of doing it again? Just one example of the many interesting questions this book raises. Slated would be an ideal book to study in school - the writing is interesting and powerful, and Terry's world is eerily close enough to our own that it raises lots of good discussion points.

There has to be an element of romance of course, and this time it comes in the shape of Ben - another Slated at Kyla's school. The romance is more a nice little side story though - it's not the main focus by far. Much more important is what's going on - people are disappearing, either taken by Lorders or suffering from 'accidents', and Kyla's new parents are not all they seem. Even her doctor and teachers are full of surprises - warning her to stay under the radar yet full of leading questions. Who can she trust?

Slated kept me gripped from start to finish, and had me frustrated at the end, which leaves us with more unanswered questions than a particularly tricky edition of university challenge!

Monday, 29 April 2013

New Adult Monday Review: Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire

Published by: Atria Books
Release date:
14th August 2012
Beautiful #1
I got it from:
Quote:“I knew the second I met you that there was something about you I needed. Turns out it wasn’t something about you at all. It was just you.” 
Goodreads summary:

The new Abby Abernathy is a good girl. She doesn’t drink or swear, and she has the appropriate number of cardigans in her wardrobe. Abby believes she has enough distance from the darkness of her past, but when she arrives at college with her best friend, her path to a new beginning is quickly challenged by Eastern University's Walking One-Night Stand.

Travis Maddox, lean, cut, and covered in tattoos, is exactly what Abby needs—and wants—to avoid. He spends his nights winning money in a floating fight ring, and his days as the ultimate college campus charmer. Intrigued by Abby’s resistance to his appeal, Travis tricks her into his daily life with a simple bet. If he loses, he must remain abstinent for a month. If Abby loses, she must live in Travis’s apartment for the same amount of time. Either way, Travis has no idea that he has met his match.

My review:
This has to be one of the most stressful books I've ever read. Don't get me wrong - I loved it, completely and absolutely, but it was hard to read at times. Every now and then a book will really get under my skin and affect me emotionally. I don't just mean the funny bits make me laugh and the sad bits make me cry - it's more like I become emotionally linked to the heroine and what happens to her affects how I feel. When she's happy and in love I'm full of joy and affection; when she does something stupid I'm irritable and short-tempered; when she's heartbroken I'm depressed. Abby was one of these characters. I had to keep reading and try to make sure I ended up in a good scene before putting the book down!

One of the best things about Beautiful Disaster was its ability to keep me guessing. I mean, there's usually an outcome that you want - an ending that you think is the way things should go. Much of the time books subscribe to this and give you a nice, neat ending that ties up all the lose ends and finishes the story. I don't really appreciate books like that too much. Endings are a big thing for me and it's not that often I come across a book that, for me, really gets it right. Beautiful Disaster kept me guessing all the way through. I knew what I wanted to happen, but I really wasn't sure if it was going to or not. This is part of what made for some stressful reading, but it's also what made it excellent. Life is not a story. Stuff happens, things get in the way of what you want, and you can't always rely on things, be it fate, other people or even yourself sometimes. Beautiful Disaster illustrated this point - well, beautifully. The title says it all.

Abby is an amazing character. At the start she's trying to be this girl, who fits in, studies hard, doesn't get in with the wrong crowd and definitely doesn't get tempted by the likes of Travis Maddox. She's kind of damaged, but it's made her incredibly strong - too strong sometimes. She's proud, stubborn and a bit wild. 
Her sketchy past makes her really interesting, and her determination to escape and overcome it makes for a great story. Travis is not in her plan. He is too close to everything she's trying to get away from, but she just can't help herself. The very fact that she is proud of, rather than repelled by, Travis' fighting hints at the kind of past she's had and the kind of person she is. It's the point when we start to see this at which we begin to see the true Abby Abernathy. When she finally starts to let Travis in everything takes off. The chemistry between these two is incredible. The intense relationship they have is both a blessing and a curse. I know only too well what it feels like to experience that kind of love and need. Some people may say it's not healthy, that it's destructive, but when you've felt something that strong it's impossible to settle for anything less.

America, Abby's best friend, is the very best kind of best friend. She's unswervingly loyal and supportive, and exactly who Abby needs. Travis' support network of his flatmate Shepley and his band of brothers is a rare insight into the world of boys, and the relationships dynamics between them are brilliant to read. What's interesting about this book for me is that it's almost like part fantasy novel - the type of life these people read is so far out of my realm of experience that I can barely imagine it. Yet however different the lifestyles are, the relationships remain familiar, true and real.

However stressful it was to read the first time, I adored Beautiful Disaster and can't wait to read Travis' side of the story, Walking Disaster. Check back next week for my review!

Thursday, 25 April 2013

UKYA Review: Demonic Dora by Claire Chilton

Published by: Ragz Books
Release date: 30th June 2013
The Demon Diaries #1
I got it from:

Goodreads summary:

Dora Carridine is trying to summon a demon, but she's not very good at Latin and nothing ever works out the way she plans.

Her life is fraught with weekly exorcisms and having to watch her father’s fire and brimstone TV show every Sunday. So, when Dora finally succeeds in summoning an incompetent demon lord, she’s absolutely delighted when all hell breaks loose.

She thought summoning a sexy demon lord would be the answer to all of her problems, but her problems are only just beginning when her zealot parents try to burn her at the stake, and Dora is left with only one option—to escape and follow her demon straight into Hell.

My review:
I wasn't quite sure what to make of Demonic Dora at first. I haven't read anything by Claire Chilton before, and I can safely say I've never read anything quite like Demonic Dora. Most YA involves a certain level of angst. It's all a bit emo usually - brooding boys, forbidden love, drama and doom. Demonic Dora kind of has those aspects, but it also has an all-important hit of comedy. I wasn't expecting it, and it took me aback at first, but when I got into it, I realised I loved it!

Light-hearted, irreverent, full of swearing and down-right funny at times, Demonic Dora is a perfect candidate for the Best of British Challenge I'm taking part in this year. You just don't get this kind of humour from any other nationality. Dora is brilliantly teenagerish - full of attitude, sarcasm and misplaced confidence. Her dad is a TV minister, and in a typically teen act of rebellion, Dora is teaching herself witchcraft and trying to summon a demon. To everyone's surprise, she succeeds. Unfortunately, her father is not too impressed and reacts by trying to burn her at the stake. It's surprising how stupid an angry mob can be. There's only one way to get out of it - Dora lets her demon (the rather sexy and distinctly human-looking Kieron) escort her into hell.

Chilton's Hell is just brilliant. Full of all manner of winged, horned, furry and smelly demons, a Disneyland level and an office-worker's corporate nightmare, this is an interesting place to visit. Kieron's dad isn't too impressed that he's brought home a girl with a shiny white soul at first, but he agrees to let her stay for a while and once Kieron rescues Dora from the dungeon (where his schizo mother decided she belonged), everything is hunky-dory. Well, for a while at least...

Kieron is different from your average paranormal hero. To start with, he's not exactly the brightest spark. He's much too nice for Hell's standards, which means that he's a bit of a rubbish demon. When he's in his human form he's all blonde-haired, blue-eyed, good-boy-sexy, and when he's in his demon form... well, he's pretty much the same but with little horns and red eyes. Not quite the scary monster his parents want him to be. He's enough of a demon to be pretty low on morals, which makes him a fun, sexy character who's always trying to get into Dora's pants. He's got a good heart though, which may not be a great trait in a demon but it makes for a good story and means that he comes through when Dora really needs him.

Full of entertaining adventures and torture devices, Demonic Dora is a charming read - a super bit of witty escapism and a welcome break from the usual YA distressed souls.

Monday, 22 April 2013

New Adult Monday Review: Wait for You by J Lynn (Jennifer L Armentrout)

Published by: Harper fiction Release date: 25th April 2013
Wait for You #1
I got it from:

NetGalley summary:
Some things are worth waiting for…

Travelling thousands of miles from home to enter college is the only way nineteen-year-old Avery Morgansten can escape an event that changed her life forever. All she needs to do is keep her head down – the one thing she never planned on was capturing the attention of the only guy who could shatter her defences.

Cameron Hamilton is six feet and three inches of swoon-worthy hotness. She knows she needs to stay away from him, but Cam is everywhere, with his charm, his banter, and that dimple that's just so… so lickable. Getting involved with him is dangerous, but ignoring their simmering tension is impossible…

When Avery starts receiving threatening emails and phone calls, she realises that someone from her past is refusing to let her go. When the devastating truth comes out, will Cam be there to help her or will he be dragged down with her?

My review:
Wait for You is a typical New Adult romance, but with some pretty hefty emotional issues mixed in. Avery has just started at a new college, miles away from home. Something happened to her five years ago, and she's never gotten over it. Her family are rich Texans, country club members who care more about appearances than anything - even their own daughter. So she's running away - away from home, and away from the people who won't let her forget what happened. But in running away she bumps into Cameron Hamilton, who is definitely not part of her plan.

Where Avery is shy and retiring, Cam is outgoing and charismatic. He's totally hot and has something of a reputation as a ladies man, but when it comes to Avery he's nothing but caring and considerate. He bakes her cookies, makes her breakfast, helps her with her homework and introduces her to his pet turtle. The stilted romance between Avery and Cam is so delicious. He wants Avery, but he senses that she is damaged emotionally and gives her time. Not that he doesn't try some sneaky tactics. He's continuously asking her out, but while she's saying no he's becoming her best friend, insinuating himself into her life until she doesn't want to be without him. Avery is doing her best to resist Cam because she's scared, but he makes her feel things that she never thought she'd feel again, and with the sexual tension in the air making it difficult for her to keep her hands off him, it's inevitable that she will give in.

The path of true love never did run smooth though. The events of Avery's past are affecting her present. Cam has the patience of a saint, but for a relationship to work it takes trust and if Avery can't bring herself to open up and be honest with Cam, will it ever really work?

Lynn writes with great sensitivity and maturity, without losing the sense of wonder and giddyness that comes with falling in love. Wait for You deals with some big issues, and Lynn deals with them in a sensitive and realistic way. The interaction between the characters, and Avery's private thoughts, give way to a story that sucks you in and refuses to let go. In Cam, Lynn has created quite a character. Avery is great too, but it's Cam who steals the show - take a look at the reviews on Goodreads and you'll see a level of adoration that doesn't come along often. Cam turns Wait for You from a good read into a great read. Once you get to know this sexy, charming guy there's no way you'll want to let him go. Finishing Wait for You is a bittersweet thing - the ending is everything you could hope for, but it means you have to let Cam and Avery go. This is New Adult romance at its best!

Saturday, 20 April 2013

UKYA Review: Night School by C J Daugherty

Published by: Atom
Release date:
1st January 2012
Night School #1
I got it from:

Summary (from cjdaugherty.com): 

Allie Sheridan’s world is falling apart. Her brother’s run away from home. Her parents ignore her. And she’s just been arrested.
This time her parents have had enough. They cut her off from her friends and send her away to boarding school, far from her London friends.
But at Cimmeria Academy, Allie is soon caught up in the strange activities of a secret group of elite students.
When she’s attacked late one night the incident sets off a chain of increasingly violent events. As the school begins to seem like a very dangerous place, she finds out that nothing at Cimmeria is what it seems to be.
And that she is not who she thought she was.

My review:
Night School was a real breath of fresh air. Just to read a book that's based in a school, that's British! The wonderful familiarity of the language and terminology, and just the way the kids act - I've gotten so used to reading US-based books that I didn't realise how different they are until I read a Brit book again. There's an entirely different feel to it, made up of all the little ways in which life, customs, language and sense of humour differ between the two countries.

Allie is an interesting character. She's suffered tragedy in her life and she's gone off the rails a bit because of it. When she arrives at Cimmeria, she's resentful and wayward, but she's not a bad girl at heart - she just needs the right kind of treatment. Cimmeria is a strange place - an elite boarding school full of the children of rich and powerful families. Allie doesn't fit in, and some of the students make sure she knows it. We're given all the expected aspects of boarding school life, but Cimmeria has its secrets too. The rules are not just rules, they're Rules. As Allie gets settled in we start to see that things are not quite normal at this school. There's no contact with the outside world, for starters - no technology at all in fact. No mobile phones, no internet, no TV. Instead students study and play chess by the light of a candelabra.

At least Cimmeria is a co-ed school, and the boys make up for some of the weirdness. There's the sexy French Silvain, whose interest in Allie seems unbelievable at first and causes even more trouble for her with the popular girls. But then there's Carter West, who seems to do everything he can to alienate and infuriate Allie, while at the same time trying to warn her that Silvain is not all he seems. Is he jealous or does he just not want her to be happy? Or is there something else going on?

It's all very mysterious, and that's really what's at the heart of the book - a good mystery. It really is a good one too - Daugherty keeps us guessing right up until the end. I really didn't know what to expect. There are hints at possible paranormal elements and secret society-style connections, but as long as Allie is in the dark, we are too, and it isn't until everything goes down at the end that things start to be revealed.

Daugherty's settings and characters are well-written. The few friends that Allie makes help to keep the story ticking along well, and the enemies she makes add more intrigue. The fact that some characters are more like frenemies, not always easy to work out, makes it more realistic. Cimmeria itself, with its spooky gothic mansion setting makes for a slightly cliched but interesting location. There's a good balance between description and action, romance and friendship. It's a really enjoyable read and I can't wait to get the next installment!

Friday, 19 April 2013

UKYA Review: The Lady in the Tower by Marie-Louise Jensen

Published by: Oxford University Press
Release date: 1st January 2009
Series: n/a
I got it from: Library

Goodreads summary: 

Spring 1540: "I am afraid. You are in grave danger. Mother, will you run away with me if I can free you?"

The servants call it the Lady Tower: the isolated part of the castle where Eleanor's mother is imprisoned after a terrible accusation. For four years Eleanor's only comfort has been their secret notes to one another.

A chance discovery reveals a plot to murder her mother. Now Eleanor must free her before it is too late. But with danger and betrayal at every turn, she can trust no one. Especially not her father. Eleanor must use all her cunning to survive. For she soon realises that it is not just her mother she needs to save ...but also herself.

My review:
I couldn't decide whether I liked Eleanor or not. In the end I decided she was a very good portrayal of a 15 year-old girl at that time. Her life was not easy, and she did not know whom she could trust. Fifteen was old enough to marry then, and I believe that the way children were brought up meant that a girl of 15 was probably equal to a girl of about 17 now - practically an adult, expected to know her own mind and act her part. But who really knows their own mind at that age? What comes across well in this book is that there is no getting away from the fact that Eleanor is just 15. She has had a very sheltered upbringing and really can't be expected to act as an adult. So when she thinks like a whiny teenager, makes foolish decisions and seems like a child, we have to remember that is what she is.

This is one of those books that really is YA - I don't think it makes the crossover to YA-enjoyed-by-adults. I'm quite sure that if I had read this book when I was 15, I would have absolutely loved it. The combination of history, adventure and a hint of romance hits just the right tone. The historical side of the story is very interesting, and the excitement of murder plots, escape plans, secrets and betrayals make for a book that is hard to put down.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Review: The Deepest Night by Shana Abe

Published by: Bantam
Release date: 13th August 2013
Series: The Sweetest Dark #2
I got it from: NetGalley

Goodreads summary:
It’s 1915, and sixteen-year-old Lora Jones is finishing up her first year as a charity student at Iverson, a prestigious, gothic boarding school on England’s southern coast. While she’s always felt different from everyone around her, now she finally knows why: She is a drákon, a rare, enchanted being with astonishing magical abilities.

As war hits Britain’s shores, and Lora reels from an unimaginable loss, she finds that her powers come with grave and dangerous responsibilities. At the request of Armand Louis, the darkly mysterious boy whose father owns Iverson, Lora will spend her summer at his lavish estate. To help the war effort—and to keep Lora by his side—Armand turns his home into a military hospital, where Lora will serve as a nurse. For Armand is inescapably drawn to her—bound to her by heart-deep secrets and a supernatural connection that runs thicker than blood.

Yet while Lora tries to sort out her own feelings toward Armand, fate offers an unexpected surprise. Lora discovers there is another drákon, a prisoner of war being held in Germany. And that only she, with her newly honed Gifts, will be able to rescue him.

With Armand, Lora will cross enemy lines on an incredible mission—one that could bond her to Armand forever, or irrevocably tear them apart.

Beautifully written, deeply romantic, and filled with daring adventure and magic, The Deepest Night is a mesmerizing novel of the enduring pull of destiny, and the eternal strength of love.

My review:
I was totally captivated by this book. I adored The Sweetest Dark (you can read me gushing over it here), and The Deepest Night just hooked me even tighter. I flew through the book like a dragon flying through the amethyst night, never stopping, glorying in the darkness.

Lora is possibly my favourite heroine ever. She is exactly the right combination of gutsy, sweetness, bravery and empathy. She is growing into her powers and herself. In The Sweetest Dark, Jesse taught her so much, and now in the Deepest Night she is learning even more. At this point I should probably warn you that if you haven't yet read The Sweetest Dark, you need to go away and read it before continuing with this review, because I'm likely to drop a spoiler or two. I will try not to, but it's hard to talk about a second book without mentioning the outcome of the first!

Abe weaves a wonderful world. It's war time, and the gravitas that this lends to the story is very important. By placing the book in recent history, Abe creates the feeling of a fairytale combined with a memoir. The events of the war are very much a part of the book, though they are somewhat abstract. We're not bogged down with details - it's enough to know about the zeppelins and U-boats that pose an ever-present invisible threat to Iverson, and that in order to save Aubrey Lora and Mandy must cross over enemy lines to a prison camp in East Prussia. The restrictions society of the time places on the way men and women can interact with one another makes the growing relationship between Lora and Armand so much sweeter and more poignant.

Mandy, aside from his name, is growing on me more and more. Jesse in The Sweetest Dark was the epitome of a first love - he brought Lora out of herself - sheltered her when she needed it yet urged her forward when it was required. He taught her about magic, about her other nature, and about love. But now Lora is grieving, and Armand is the one who is there for her. In facing up to the feelings he has for Lora, and the beast that he may yet become, he is growing up. He is transforming form a spoilt boy, crashing off the rails for the sake of it, and taking responsibility for not just his own actions but others' too. His devotion to Lora, even knowing that her heart belongs to Jesse, is hard to resist. And don't worry - he hasn't lost his cheeky side! I think the way Abe wrote Jesse and Armand in the first book was genius - we love Jesse but we can't help but siding with team Armand, which is ideal given the events at the end of book one and the way things progress in book two.

While The Sweetest Dark started slowly, easing us into the story and setting up the background, The Deepest Night doesn't need that so it's a lot faster paced. Events move quickly in a nation at war, and the characters have to keep up with them. Part adventure, part fairytale, part love story; The Deepest Night has everything you could ever want from a book and more. Abe's writing is just glorious. Everything about her books is so enjoyable. The way she writes makes me want to just dive in and live in her world. Her descriptions, the relationships between the characters, and the way we see deep into the main characters' psyches, makes for a truly incredible reading experience. I have no idea when the third book is due for publication, but given that this one isn't out until August I'd say it's going to be a while. I can only hope that I get a chance to read it early on NetGalley, because I really can't wait!

Monday, 15 April 2013

New Adult Monday Review: True by Erin McCarthy

So, fiction used to be divided in age from Children, to Young Adult, to Adult. Now there's a new genre. Somebody has decided that we need to smoosh in something else between Young Adult and Adult, so we now have New Adult. Books for/about people who are newly adults. It might seem like a marketing ploy, but this is a good thing, because now when you want something a bit more powerful than the usual YA snogfests, something with more intensity and excitement, you know where to turn. So I'm going to join in the growing trend for devoting Mondays to reviewing New Adult books. Not that it's going to happen every Monday!

Published by: Intermix
Release date: 7th May 2013
Series: n/a
I got it from: NetGalley

Quote: "I couldn't see or think. I could only feel the press of his body against me, his breath a hot rush past my ear as his lips brushed over mine. It wasn't what I was expecting. It wasn't a determined or aggressive or erotic kiss. It was delicate, worshipful, teasing."
Goodreads summary:  

When Rory Macintosh’s roommates find out that their studious and shy friend has never been with a guy, they decide that, as an act of kindness they’ll help her lose her virginity by hiring confident, tattooed bad boy Tyler Mann to do the job…unbeknownst to Rory.

Tyler knows he’s not good enough for Rory. She’s smart, doctor smart, while he’s barely scraping by at his EMT program, hoping to pull his younger brothers out of the hell their druggy mother has left them in. But he can’t resist taking up her roommates on an opportunity to get to know her better. There’s something about her honesty that keeps him coming back when he knows he shouldn’t…

Torn between common sense and desire, the two find themselves caught up in a passionate relationship. But when Tyler’s broken family threatens to destroy his future, and hers, Rory will need to decide whether to cut her ties to his risky world or follow her heart, no matter what the cost…

My review:
I haven't read that many 'new adult' genre books yet, but I'm already starting to see a pattern. Good girl meets bad guy, bad guy turns out to have a heart of gold, they fall into an improbably but passionate relationship, stuff happens... I've recently read Beautiful Disaster and loved it sooo much. I have yet to review it, as I'm concentrating on my NetGalley reviews at the moment, but I'll get there eventually. I hate to say it, but True seems like a lesser version of Beautiful Disaster. Which is not entirely a bad thing - I really enjoyed it. It's certainly an easier read - I found BD incredibly stressful to read at time. True has its ups and downs, but it's not as intense. 

I liked Rory, but I found her a little hard to believe - 20 and never had a boyfriend? But I guess it happens. She's investing everything in her studies, and she's an introvert. I like the way her sense of humour gradually peeks out. We get to know her as Tyler does - a bit at a time, and with each bit of her character that's revealed, she becomes more likeable. She's a person who isn't into talking about her feelings, or letting anyone get near her, and in Tyler she recognises a kindred spirit. Together they learn how to let someone in, and from Tyler she learns about family, fun and love. I like the way they complement one another - it may seem obvious that Rory can make Tyler into a better person, but what's better is what Tyler does for Rory - his honour and integrity have a big impact on her, and he teaches her how to let herself out, to flirt and be someone other than the honour student.  

There are some great bits of dialogue between Rory and Tyler. They're two people who have really clicked as friends, as well as something more, and this comes across really well in the book. Rory is a virgin when they meet, and that defines the start of their relationship - to start with Tyler is just a lay - a guy she finds hot and trusts enough to lose her virginity to. What she doesn't bargain for are his feelings getting involved. She tries to keep her distance from him, but she's fighting a losing battle.

I really liked Tyler's family. It's an echo of Travis' family in BD, but Tyler's brothers are younger and need looking after. Their mum is an addict, and it's down to Tyler and his older brother Riley to make sure the kids get taken care of. The way Tyler is with his family is one of the things that endears him to Rory the most - I guess no girl can resist a hot guy with strong paternal instincts. 

True is a fun read, with enough emotion and action to keep you glued without the intensity that can make reading a book a love/hate experience. I will definitely be looking up Erin McCarthy's other books - it's great to find a new author who's work I enjoy.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Reivew: The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

Goodreads summary:
Pat Peoples has a theory that his life is actually a movie produced by God, and that his God-given mission in life is to become emotionally literate, whereupon God will ensure a happy ending – which, for Pat, means the return of his estranged wife Nikki, from whom he's currently having some 'apart time.' It might not come as any surprise to learn that Pat has spent several years in a mental health facility. When Pat leaves hospital and goes to live with his parents, however, everything seems changed: no one will talk to him about Nikki; his old friends now have families; his beloved football team keep losing; his new therapist seems to be recommending adultery as a form of therapy. And he's being haunted by Kenny G. There is a silver lining, however, in the form of tragically widowed, physically fit and clinically depressed Tiffany, who offers to act as a go-between for Pat and his wife, if Pat will just agree to perform in this year’s Dance Away Depression competition... 

My review:
This review is a bit of a departure from the norm for me - I usually review YA books. However I do read adult books too, and if I come across one sufficiently arresting, I'm going to include a review on here. Adults read and enjoy YA books, so there's no reason why young adults shouldn't read adult books - they do it in school all the time, after all. 

Silver Linings is, to put it simply, a great book. It's the kind of book where you have a good idea of what the ending is going to be like, but a whole bunch of stuff happens along the way which you couldn't possibly guess at. Now, I realise this book has been made into a film, but I haven't seen it yet, so I read the story with fresh eyes and I'm going to assume anyone reading this will be too. After all, if you've seen the film you don't really need a review of the book. 

It's not that often I read a book that's told from a male point of view, so this was interesting for me. I've read books that deal with mental health issues before and I always find them intriguing, as I think it can be very difficult to understand someone else's mental issues if you haven't experienced something similar yourself. It's impossible to imagine the detachment you can feel from your own mind unless you have been through it. Books like Silver Linings go a long way to helping people to get an inkling of what goes through people's minds when they are troubled though. 

Pat Peoples chronicles his life in a simple and charming way. Often very funny, often touching and more than a little uncomfortable, Silver Linings reads like an in-depth diary. Starting on the day when Pat is released from 'the bad place' and moves back in with his parents, we see how he begins to cope with living in the real world again, talking to family and friends, meeting new people and interacting in public. His relationship with his parents, who have their own problems, is portrayed very well, and the sessions with his therapist are just brilliant. Then there's Tiffany. The slow and amazingly awkward build-up of the relationship between Pat and Tiffany, two very damaged characters, is a wonderful thing. 

There's something very real about this book. The characters feel real. That's kind of a weird comment to make, but I'm hoping you know what I mean. Sometimes the characters in a book are quite obviously just that - characters. They can be lovable without being particularly realist, which is often a part of their charm. Quick's characters are real though - you get the feeling that this could easily be a true story, There are ups and downs, twists and quirks. The ending is perfect.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Review: The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

Published by: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Release date: 4th June 2013
Series: The Testing #1
I got it from: NetGalley

Goodreads summary:  

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Isn’t that what they say? But how close is too close when they may be one in the same?

The Seven Stages War left much of the planet a charred wasteland. The future belongs to the next generation’s chosen few who must rebuild it. But to enter this elite group, candidates must first pass The Testing—their one chance at a college education and a rewarding career.

Cia Vale is honored to be chosen as a Testing candidate; eager to prove her worthiness as a University student and future leader of the United Commonwealth. But on the eve of her departure, her father’s advice hints at a darker side to her upcoming studies--trust no one.

But surely she can trust Tomas, her handsome childhood friend who offers an alliance? Tomas, who seems to care more about her with the passing of every grueling (and deadly) day of the Testing. To survive, Cia must choose: love without truth or life without trust.

My review:
I don't really like it when a book is marketed as 'the next...(insert popular title here)'. The Testing is being pushed as the next Hunger Games. Yes, there are close parallels between the books, but then The Hunger Games wasn't the most original idea in the world anyway. There are only so many ideas out there, but there are many different takes on the same idea, and that's where it gets interesting. Just look at the plethora of monster books. Vampires, werewolves, zombies... whatever costume you put on it, it's still a monster. When it comes to the subject of dystopia, again there's lots of ways to dress it up - a whole host of different nations, different outcomes from nuclear war or whatever disaster has occurred to make the future so inhospitable. 

In The Testing, war has left much of the world inhospitable, and humankind are slowly rebuilding and repopulating in the United Commonwealth (aka the US). Cia is a smart student from a good family but they live in a very small settlement. Her father is one of the few who went to university - meaning that he passed the testing. When Cia is chosen as a candidate, her father can't tell her anything about the testing - because he can't remember it. All students who pass the Testing have their memories of the process removed. But Cia's father has nightmares, and he has reason to believe that they are more than just bad dreams.

If we're going with the Hunger Games comparison, I'd say The Testing starts off feeling very much like it, but that doesn't last for long. The trials that Cia and her fellow candidates undertake are very different, although there is more than a little violence and bloodshed. Cia herself is a great heroine - I was really taken with her and she made the book very easy to read. She is just the right combination of smart, nice, strong and vulnerable - a mixture that makes for a very real-feeling character. Thomas is unfortunately not quite as good - I think the fact that we don't really get a proper feel for him is indicative of Cia's fight with herself over whether to trust him or not, but she's supposed to be falling in love with him and that doesn't really come across.

I'm not quite sure why the United Commonwealth require such rigorous testing. That's my only gripe with this book, and I've got a feeling that it may be explained at some point in the next book. We hear the story in the first person from Cia. If she doesn't know why the testing is so harsh, then neither do we. But I think she might learn more in the future, and I want to join her. I'm not really a massive fan of dystopia, but I really enjoyed reading The Testing and I now need to read Divergent to see the comparison that lots of people have made!

Download a free prequel, which includes the first three chapters (they're short chapters!) of The Testing and find out more at The Testing Trilogy website.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Review: Scrapbook of My Revolution by Amy Lynn Spitzley

Published by: Curiosity Quills Press
Release date: 14th March 2013
Series: n/a
I got it from: NetGalley

Goodreads summary: 

Amber Alexander has gold-colored skin, and she doesn’t much like it. The ability to read emotions isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be, either. Then she meets two unusual boys, Malians like herself, and everything changes. Super-hot Jonny, with his apple-red looks and gift of persuasion, encourages her to fight back against those who think the Malians are freaks. Lavender-toned Cam, on the other hand, is a live-and-let live kiteboarder who blends in with the shadows.

Safety is becoming more of a concern for “freaks” like Amber. Sure, Malians showed up in society the year she was born, but now that they’re teenagers nobody seems to know what to do with them. Politicians talk about sending them to Siberia, or even to colonize the moon.

When Amber is attacked by Regulars, the so-called “normal” people, she realizes how she wants to live her life; but if she does, one of her greatest supporters may become her enemy.
Finding a summer job, organizing a support group, boy trouble, beaches, and a maniacal teen idol—it’s all a year in the life of a girl who realizes she may be more than just a “golden goddess” after all…

My review:
I was disappointed and annoyed when I first opened this book. It uses a stupid handwriting font. I hate that. However, I decided it wasn't a good enough reason not to give it a chance, so I ignored my dismay and got reading, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. I was expecting something fairly light and fluffy, but that's not what I got. 

Firstly, I love the idea that there's all these different-coloured people being born, and with special talents too. I liked the way Amber is first generation - one of the first lot of kids to be born different. It gives an interesting element of the unknown to the story. Everyone knows the Malians look different, but nobody - not even the Malian kids themselves - really knows the full extent of their difference.  

Amber is a great protagonist. She has to deal with a lot of unwanted attention, but it doesn't make her a wallflower. She's hot and she knows it. We all get a bit fed up with those girls who don't know just how beautiful they are. Well Amber, Golden Goddess, knows exactly how attractive she is, and that's an interesting angle to read - because she can sense the emotions of people around her, she knows how they react to her looks. I can't imagine feeling the dirty desire coming off a bunch of teenage boys. Ick. 

As great as the idea of the Malians is, I have to say I did get a bit bored of Amber's activist tendencies. Maybe I'm just old and jaded, but the constant references to the group of kids trying to make people believe that Malians are not a bunch of freaks, just got a bit too much. I would have preferred a bit less about that, and a bit more about the bigger picture. The book covers all sorts of teen issues, but it felt a little like it was just a vehicle for them - like the author had a list of issues that she wanted to cover (bullying, racial hatred, dealing with boys who want too much, alcoholism etc), and she wrote the story around the list. I'm not sure how to describe my dissatisfaction with it, but something just didn't quite gel. The worst part was that it seemed like the book ended before it should have - I'm sure it's built up for a sequel, but to me it felt like it was just getting started, then it was over. I really enjoyed the premise, but it made me want something different out of it.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

British Books Challenge 2013

I hereby promise to read and review at least 12 books by British authors in 2013. I'm a little late starting as I only just came across the challenge and it's April already (my, how time flies!).

Unfortunately I've only managed to review one Brit book by accident so far this year, but rest assured I will step up the page and make it my mission to read and review as many Brit books as I can for the remainder of the year! Below you'll see the list of what I've read so far, plus some of the books I plan to read. If you have any suggestions feel free to leave a comment for me.

So far...
Dinner with a Vampire by Abigail Gibbs

To read...
Night School by CJ Daugherty
Slated by Teri Terry
Infinite Sky by CJ Flood
The Night Itself by Zoe Marriot
Hidden Among Us by Katy Moran

Review: Shooting Stars by Clayton Zane

Published by: Odyssey Books Inc
Release date: 14th December 2011
Series: n/a
I got it from: NetGalley

Goodreads summary:
The Beatles sang "All you need is love," but whatever happened to sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll? For one young Sydney musician, life is like a shooting star - fast and beautiful. He has unparalleled talent, a record contract with his band, and after fleeting relationships with a parade of gorgeous girls, he has finally met the enigmatic girl of his dreams. But love isn't always written with four chords and a major key, and soon he finds himself heartbroken in his very own fairytale.Shooting Stars is touching, raw, humorous and sexual, guided by a motley group of youths inspired by the messages of famous musicians. Our hero learns that love often only exists in the gaps between us, almost within reach. With this in mind, he sets out to make his mark and climb to a dazzling height. From there, the fall will look spectacular.

My review:
I don't really like to write reviews of books that I didn't get or enjoy much - I'm not good at being uncomplimentary, and I'm of the 'if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all' school, but I owe it to NetGalley to post a review, so here it is. 

I'm afraid Shooting Stars didn't do anything more me. The premise sounded good - sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll! But when it came down to it, there was just a lot of gratuitous drug-taking, some sex that didn't have enough feeling behind it, and some music. 

I don't know the progatonist's name. I don't know if that's because we're never told it, or because I don't care enough to remember. This novel is supposed to contain love and heartache, but all it really contains is drugs and arrogance. It's entirely possible that the voice of the protagonist is very true, and it we're being given a rare glimpse into a rock-star's messed-up mind, but if that's the case, I don't want to catch even a glimpse of it. I didn't like any of the main characters enough to want to keep reading about them. I forced myself to make it to the end, but I have to say, it was a chore. 

I've never been so blunt or damning in a review, and I don't like myself while I'm doing it, but this is the reaction this book incites in me. Weirdly, I can imagine it making quite a good film - visionary assistance could fill in the gaps where the writing fails.