Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Review: The F- It List by Julie Halpern

Published by: Feiwel & Friends (Macmillan Children's)
Release date: 12th November 2013
Series: n/a
I got it from: NetGalley
Goodreads summary:

With her signature heart and humor, Julie Halpern explores a strained friendship strengthened by one girl’s battle with cancer.

Alex’s father recently died in a car accident. And on the night of his funeral, her best friend Becca slept with Alex’s boyfriend. So things aren’t great. Alex steps away from her friendship with Becca and focuses on her family.

But when Alex finally decides to forgive Becca, she finds out something that will change her world again--Becca has cancer.

So what do you do when your best friend has cancer? You help her shave her head. And then you take her bucket list and try to fulfill it on her behalf. Because if that’s all you can do to help your ailing friend--you do it.

My review:
I knew as soon as I saw it that this book was going to be full of brilliance. Browsing through NetGalley, there are always a couple of books that make me think 'hmm, that might be interesting', but then every now and again, I see a book that makes me really, really want it. I don't always get the books - I'm just a small blogger based in the UK, not exactly a dream reader, but when I got that email telling me The F-it List was available to read, I whooped a little bit. 

Alex is brilliant. I love her. She's straight-talking and honest and tragic and amazing. She gets called a cold-hearted bitch, and you can see why straight away but that's not her - she cares, she just doesn't like admitting it to anyone, herself included. Her dad has just died, and now her best friend has cancer. That's a lot to cope with by any standards, and it takes Alex a while to work it out. 

Becca's bucket list is something of a vehicle for the book, but actually it ends up taking a back seat. It's more about Alex and how she finds a way to cope with grief, and then learns to let herself be happy again. Along the way there's tragedy and woe, bittersweet moments, and quite a lot of sex and swearing. Halpern writes in a way that feels very real, and I think a lot of people will be able to relate to this book in some way or another. The relationship between Alex and Becca is wonderful. There's a lot of humour in there, a lot of honesty and quirkiness. Alex is obsessed by horror movies and Becca loves her sci-fi series and computer games. These are girls who embrace their inner geek and are proud of it. Becca is quite a perv, Alex talks before she thinks way too often, and they just make such a perfect pair in so many ways. They're both completely believable and lovable as characters. 

The female characters are so amazing, it's a shame that I don't feel quite the same about the male characters in the book. Leo, Alex's love interest, seems like a great guy but a little flat. This is understandable to start with - Alex is really just using him, rather than actually getting to know him, so as we're reading Alex's point of view the fleeting impression of niceness we're left with feels right. Later on though things change but we never really get much of an impression of that boy. Then there's homeschool hottie Caleb, who is more of a peripheral character when I feel he should be a bit of a star. 

One-dimensional boys aside though, I loved the hell out of this book. It just felt incredibly real. A tiny bit of a tear-jerker (though not as much as you'd think with the big C involved), funny and honest and a wonderfully entertaining read. I'll definitely be looking up Halpern's back-catalogue. NB It's classed as YA but it borders on NA as the sex and swears might offend some.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Review: You are Mine by Janeal Falor

Published by: Chardonian Press
Release date: 6th May 2013
Series: Mine #1
I got it from: NetGalley
Goodreads summary:

Serena knows a few simple things. She will always be owned by a warlock. She will never have freedom. She will always do what her warlock wishes, regardless of how inane, frivolous, or cruel it is. And if she doesn’t follow the rules, she will be tarnished. Spelled to be bald, inked, and barren for the rest of her life—worth less than the shadow she casts.

Then her ownership is won by a barbarian from another country. With the uncertainty that comes from belonging to a new warlock, Serena questions if being tarnished is really worse than being owned by a barbarian, and tempts fate by breaking the rules. When he looks the other way instead of punishing her, she discovers a new world. The more she ventures into the forbidden, the more she learns of love and a freedom just out of reach. Serena longs for both. But in a society where women are only ever property, hoping for more could be deadly.

My review:
I approach high fantasy with caution. I'm definitely more of an urban fantasy girl, and I like my magic to be dark but believable. That said, I do have a very good imagination and love to get lost in a book, so my range of what's believable is pretty far-reaching. Although I like a real-world setting most of the time, I will delve deeper into the fantasy genre if a book catches my eye, and You Are Mine certainly did that. Am I glad I relented? Oh yes.

This is a brilliant piece of world-building. Falor dabbles with high fantasy while somehow keeping it real enough to relate to. Her uses of magic are inspired, and the races she has created are very well thought-out. Serena's life is completely different from mine, yet Falor writes her so well that I felt I really understood her, and her emotions became mine.

The concept of ownership that men have over women could have come across as trite, but you can tell that Falor has thought about it a lot, and she's created a society that seems very real when you're reading about it. The way Serena describes her life makes you really empathise with her, and the way she talks about how things work in her country makes me almost believe it is a real place.

There is definitely a fairytale aspect to You Are Mine - the magical realms, the evil, domineering father and the bevvy of sisters relying on our Serena's intervention. As for the knight in shining armour, or handsome prince, well you'll just have to read it yourself to see how that goes down. I don't want to give anything away.

Serena herself is a wonderful character. She's strong and has a mind of her own, two things that are not appreciated in her society. Most women in her world are meek and submissive, bowing down to first their father and then their husband's will. Serena isn't like that though - she has thoughts that would earn her a harsh punishment if ever a man heard them. At first, she doesn't know what to do with those thoughts - doesn't believe she can do anything. But when fate deals a twisted hand and changes her life, she grabs hold of the opportunity she's been given. Serena has her whiny moments, but given the circumstances you can hardly blame her - to me, it just makes her all the more real.

I'll definitely be looking out for Falor's next book, eager to hear more about her wonderful, magical world.