Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Review: The Wicked We Have Done by Sarah Harian

Published by: Penguin/InterMix
Release date: 18th March 2014
Series: Chaos Theory #1

I got it from: NetGalley
Goodreads summary:

Evalyn Ibarra never expected to be an accused killer and experimental prison test subject. A year ago, she was a normal college student. Now she’s been sentenced to a month in the compass room—an advanced prison obstacle course designed by the government to execute justice.

If she survives, the world will know she’s innocent.

Locked up with nine notorious and potentially psychotic criminals, Evalyn must fight the prison and dismantle her past to stay alive. But the system prized for accuracy appears to be killing at random.

She doesn’t plan on making friends.

She doesn’t plan on falling in love, either.

My review:
If you took a mash-up of The Hunger Games and Maze Runner and made it for grown-ups, The Wicked We Have Done is what you'd be left with. I enjoyed it immensely, more so than THG or MR, perhaps because I am a grown-up, although I read, and love, A LOT of YA.

There's something rather brave about making all your main characters evil criminals. Murderers, rapists and the like. When I started reading I had to question whether it was going to be possible for me to actually like or identify with any of these characters. Because, you know, I don't normally hang around with murderers. The thing is though, there's more than one side to every story, and until you hear them all you can never really know what went down.

TWWHD is a bit clever in the way it lures you in, then raises questions and makes you rethink things. Harian's writing is cunning, with well-paced reveals and events that make us see certain characters in different lights. I found the opening chapters particularly believable and though-provoking. The way the press reacts to Evalyn, the way even other prisoners react to her, and the way she reacts in turn is very telling. I want to believe that she is innocent, but I don't get to find out for some time, and when I do, I'm thinking about things in a different way.

I wondered whether romance could really work in a book like this, or if it would be overly contrived. But when you throw a bunch of young people into a crazy situation, they're bound to gravitate into groups that can work together. That's a start. Then take two people, some chemistry and a feeling that neither one is truly evil, and you have blossoming relationship. Given that anyone could die at any time, there's a certain urgency added into the mix. It's not gooey YA insta-love, but it is an acknowledgement that there's not exactly time in this situation for first dates, and come on, these are consenting adults. I think Harian has handled that side of things very well.

There are horror elements to this book, though I wouldn't call it a full-scale horror. There's blood and guts, a bit of a fear factor and some psychological thriller-ness to it too. I'm not really into horror or thriller books, but TWWHD draws it all together with the romance, the dystopian edge and new adult vibe, making the whole into something that just works on so many levels.

I have to say, I can't think of a single thing about this book that I don't like. The writing is very good, the characters are well-developed, the plot is interesting, twisty and addictive, and the pacing is perfect. It makes you think, yet it's easy to read. Even the ending, and you know how picky I am, is just right. I seriously want to read the next book, right now!

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Review: Because of Her by KE Payne

Published by: Bold Strokes
Release date: 18th March 2014
Series: n/a
I got it from: NetGalley
Goodreads summary:
For seventeen-year-old Tabitha "Tabby" Morton, life sucks. Big time. Forced to move to London thanks to her father’s new job, she has to leave her friends, school, and, most importantly, her girlfriend Amy, far behind. To make matters worse, Tabby’s parents enroll her in the exclusive Queen Victoria Independent School for Girls, hoping that it will finally make a lady of her.

But Tabby has other ideas.

Loathing her new school, Tabby fights against everything and everyone, causing relations with her parents to hit rock bottom. But when the beautiful and beguiling Eden Palmer walks into her classroom one day and catches her eye, Tabby begins to wonder if life there might not be so bad after all.

When Amy drops a bombshell about their relationship following a disastrous visit, Tabby starts to see the need for new direction in her life. Fighting her own personal battles, Eden brings the possibility of change for them both. Gradually, Tabby starts to turn her life around—and it’s all because of her.

My review:
For some reason, there aren't many gay girls in YA fiction. There are a lot of gay boy best friends, which annoys me a little, but gay girls are rare. So it was a real delight to find Because of Her. It's such a typical contemporary YA romance, but with girls - it's exactly what the genre needs. There must be a lot of girls out there who are either questioning their sexuality, unsure of how to deal with it, or just want to find someone else who feels the same. This book is perfect for all of them, and I think confident straight girls would enjoy it too. It's the perfect book to show straight girls that gay girls have all the same feelings as them, just for different people.

Payne creates a host of well-developed, realistic characters to play with. I thought they were all brilliant, from the parents to the best friends to the bitchy girls, and of course Tabby herself.

The book deals with a lot of different issues - the trauma of moving away from everyone and everything you know, starting again at a new school in a new city, long distance relationships, a guilty crush, and then there's the whole homophobia and coming out to friends and family thing. It's a lot to pack into one book, but Payne does it well. It doesn't feel rushed or over-done at any point. The pacing is good, and everything is given due consideration.

I found Because of Her a very sweet story. The way Tabby describes how she feels about Eden, first as a crush and then something more, is very well written and gave me that squiggly feeling inside. I felt Tabby's hurt when things were going against her, and I felt her anguish over how things went with her girlfriend Amy. Reading Tabby's story really took me back to that time in my life, not because I went through the same things, but just because Payne really captures the way a girl that age feels and processes things.

Immensely enjoyable read, I will definitely be looking up Payne's other books.