29 June 2015

Review: The Uninvited by Cat Winters


The Uninvited by Cat Winters
Expected Publication: 11 August 2015 by William Morrow
Pages: 368 
Genre/s: Historical Fiction
Source: Publisher for review
Find it online: Goodreads ~ Amazon

Synopsis

Twenty-five year old Ivy Rowan rises from her bed after being struck by the flu, only to discover the world has been torn apart in just a few short days.

But Ivy’s life-long gift—or curse—remains. For she sees the uninvited ones—ghosts of loved ones who appear to her, unasked, unwelcomed, for they always herald impending death. On that October evening in 1918 she sees the spirit of her grandmother, rocking in her mother’s chair. An hour later, she learns her younger brother and father have killed a young German out of retaliation for the death of Ivy’s older brother Billy in the Great War.

Horrified, she leaves home, to discover the flu has caused utter panic and the rules governing society have broken down. Ivy is drawn into this new world of jazz, passion, and freedom, where people live for the day, because they could be stricken by nightfall. But as her ‘uninvited guests’ begin to appear to her more often, she knows her life will be torn apart once more, but Ivy has no inkling of the other-worldly revelations about to unfold.


My Thoughts

There are three very specific reasons why I wanted to read The Uninvited:

1) I fell in love with Cat Winters’ writing when I read In the Shadow of Blackbirds

2) It’s historical fiction which I adore.

3) It’s set during the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918.

The very first thing I realised when I started reading, is that The Uninvited is in fact an adult novel – not a Young Adult novel, with the main character, Ivy, being in her mid-twenties.  But to me that’s neither here nor there, plus I was curious to see how Winters transitioned to adult novels, this being her first.  The next thing I realised is that I was instantly comfortable reading The Uninvited – it had the same lyrical, ethereal style that I had enjoyed so much when reading In the Shadow of Blackbirds.

As a main character, Ivy is far more complicated than she first appears – she’s isolated from the outside world, and yet incredibly loyal to her mother, almost assuming a motherly role herself with everyone she meets during the course of the novel.  However, she’s quite headstrong and determined, and throws herself into everything with all of her heart, including a new and unlikely relationship.

The Uninvited is also far more focused on Ivy, and the historical fiction elements than the paranormal elements that the synopsis eludes to – and that’s probably one of the reasons why I enjoyed The Uninvited so much – the ghosts that Ivy sees are there in key moments throughout the plot, but they aren’t as prominent as I had expected. 


There is a lot more I want to say about The Uninvited, but as the synopsis doesn’t really go into much detail about some of the aspects that I really liked, I’m a bit hesitant to ruin the surprise for anyone else that reads it, but it is a book that I highly recommend to readers of historical fiction – the writing is beautiful, I lost myself in this book constantly, and THINGS happen that I really hadn’t anticipated.  Unexpected, captivating and a wonderful mixture of things that I love, The Uninvited definitely lived up to my lofty expectations.

24 June 2015

Review: Day Four by Sarah Lotz

Day Four (The Three #2) by Sarah Lotz

Published: 21 May 2015 by Hodder

Pages: 340

Genre/s: Horror

Source: Own library

Find it: Goodreads ~ Amazon

Contains absolutely no spoilers for The Three!

Synopsis

Four planes. Three survivors. One message. It seemed like the end of the world... but it wasn't. This, however, just might be.

The extraordinary, unforgettable sequel to THE THREE - perfect for fans of The Shining Girls, The Passage and Lost.

Four days into a five day singles cruise on the Gulf of Mexico, the ageing ship Beautiful Dreamer stops dead in the water. With no electricity and no cellular signals, the passengers and crew have no way to call for help. But everyone is certain that rescue teams will come looking for them soon. All they have to do is wait.

That is, until the toilets stop working and the food begins to run out. When the body of a woman is discovered in her cabin the passengers start to panic. There's a murderer on board the Beautiful Dreamer... and maybe something worse.


My Thoughts

I really enjoyed Lotz’s The Three when I read it last year – the gradual, more subtle creepiness was an interesting departure from my normal slasher style horror reads, and I was impressed with the way that a seemingly straightforward plot had several unexpected twists and turns. Day Four is a loosely connected sequel, and I’d even be hesitant to call it a companion novel as the connections are so subtle that one could probably read and enjoy Day Four without having read The Three.

Day Four is set on a cruise ship in the Gulf of Mexico, which as a person who hates boats with a burning passion, is probably one of the creepiest possible settings, especially when communication with the outside world is cut off and the passengers are left to fend for themselves.

Told through multiple alternating perspectives, shit starts to get real on the Beautiful Dreamer pretty quickly – as soon as the passengers realise that something sinister is happening it turns into a mixture of every man for themselves with only a few characters resisting the urge to join the chaos – even when things start to get rather dark and creepy. However, I found it quite difficult to care about the characters, as just when I started to get to know them and see the story through their eyes, the perspective shifts were a little jolting and in the end I struggled to remember all of the different points of view – I would have probably enjoyed the book much more if there has been less perspectives, and less characters with similar storylines.

Although the setting itself is enough to give you nightmares, another problem that I had with Day Four is that the elements that are supposed to be creepy and disturbing instead came across as rather cheesy and not completely thought through. There’s also a lack of resolution around some of the more supernatural aspects that although unusual in their execution, left me feeling rather lost.

If you enjoy horror with a supernatural twist in a unique setting, and particularly if you enjoyed The Three, I can certainly recommend Day Four, there were just a few elements that didn’t really work for me, but overall it was a book that I found myself picking up without hesistation.

07 June 2015

The Sunday Post #6

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer sharing news and new books for the past and coming weeks.

Sooooo it's been a month since my last Sunday Post.  It's not that I haven't accumulated any new books, but I've just not had the motivation to post them!


For Review
Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez
A 52-Hertz Whale by Natalie Tilghman and Bill Sommers
Either the Beginning or the End of the World by Terry Farish

Purchased
Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

Have an awesome week guys!

18 May 2015

Review: The Killing Jar by Nicola Monaghan


The Killing Jar by Nicola Monaghan

Published: 3 April 2007

Pages: 288

Genre/s: Adult, Contemporary

Source: Own library

Find It: Goodreads ~ Amazon

Synopsis


Very early on, Kerrie-Ann begins to dream of the world beyond the rough council estate where she lives. Her father is nowhere to be found, her mother is a junkie, and she is left to care for her little brother. Clever, brave, and frighteningly independent, Kerrie-Ann has an unbreakable will to survive. She befriends her eccentric, elderly neighbor, who teaches her about butterflies, the Amazon, and life outside of her tough neighborhood. But even as Kerrie-Ann dreams of a better life she becomes further entangled in the cycles of violence and drugs that rule the estate.

Brilliant, brutal, and tender, The Killing Jar introduces a brave new voice in fiction. Nicola Monaghan's devastating prose tells an unforgettable story of violence, love, and hope.


My Thoughts

The Killing Jar is dark, gritty, and at times very confronting. When you have a main character growing up on an impoverished estate, surrounded by drugs, abuse and the never ending threat of violence, it was never going to be a book that filled me with warm, fuzzy feelings. At times it was almost overwhelmingly dark – and I could easily have switched to looking at pictures of kittens to cleanse my mind, but I found it a very difficult book to put down.

Kerrie-Ann grows up in an environment that perpetuates a cycle of drug abuse, young motherhood, broken families and a lifestyle that is almost impossible to break out of. Her mother is addicted to heroin, she’s never met her father, and at a young age is dragged into selling and taking drugs. However, she’s tough, she’s smart and the kind of character that I just couldn’t help but wanting something better for, and when her neighbour starts teaching her about entomology, she begins to dream of something bigger and better for her younger brother, Jon.

The highlight of The Killing Jar however is Monaghan’s writing. She tells a dark, twisted story with a bevy of unlikeable secondary characters with a touch of sympathy, without glamorising or excusing the almost constantly bad behaviour. Kerrie-Ann’s volatile relationship with her childhood ‘sweetheart’ Mark, is violent and tense, and yet there are moments when they seem a rather fucked-up kind of happy. It all feels very realistic, from the grim lives of those on the estate, the crime and the drugs and violence, through to Kerrie-Ann’s almost indestructible belief that she can change her life, despite all the roadblocks that are constantly thrown at her.

If you like dark, gritty books with a main character that make you want to simultaneously scream with frustration and sadness whilst cheering them on with your fingers crossed, check out The Killing Jar. Just don’t blame me if you need to bleach your eyes with pictures of bunnies and kittens afterwards.

14 May 2015

Review: Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider


Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider

Expected publication: 26 May 2015 by Katherine Tegen Books

Pages: 336 pages

Genre/s: YA, Contemporary

Source: Publisher for review

Find It: Goodreads ~ Amazon

Synopsis

At seventeen, overachieving Lane finds himself at Latham House, a sanatorium for teens suffering from an incurable strain of tuberculosis. Part hospital and part boarding school, Latham is a place of endless rules and confusing rituals, where it's easier to fail breakfast than it is to flunk French.

There, Lane encounters a girl he knew years ago. Instead of the shy loner he remembers, Sadie has transformed. At Latham, she is sarcastic, fearless, and utterly compelling. Her friends, a group of eccentric troublemakers, fascinate Lane, who has never stepped out of bounds his whole life. And as he gradually becomes one of them, Sadie shows him their secrets: how to steal internet, how to sneak into town, and how to disable the med sensors they must wear at all times.

But there are consequences to having secrets, particularly at Latham House. And as Lane and Sadie begin to fall in love and their group begins to fall sicker, their insular world threatens to come crashing down. Told in alternating points of view, Extraordinary Means is a darkly funny story about doomed friendships, first love, and the rare miracle of second chances.
 

My Thoughts

Extraordinary Means should not have been a book that got my attention, if I’m completely honest.  I’m not the biggest lover of YA contemporary fiction, nor am I an emotional reader.  It was only the fact that the plot centres around teens with an incurable disease that made me want to read it, because I am a complete sucker for anything that involves diseases or viruses.

And when I started reading Extraordinary Means, I wasn’t completely sold.  The story is told through the alternating perspectives of Lane, who is completely focus on his academic success, and Sadie who he briefly met four years before at summer camp, and who has used being admitted to Latham as a way to reinvent herself as the kooky, funny rule breaker.  It took me a good three or four chapters to begin to really warm up to them, and it was only at about page 100 that I realised I was completely head-over-heels with this book.

The relationship between Sadie and Lane feels right – it’s close and intense, magnified even more so by the fact that they are able to spend so much time together in a closed environment – in any other setting their relationship would have felt a little too rushed, but with the possibility of death hanging over them, it’s completely understandable and felt very realistic.

Although I loved the characters, and the fact that Schneider is a certified heart-stomper is the fact that there was more to this book than two seriously ill teenagers falling in love with each other – there’s also growth in the characters, a lot of introspection about life and goals and all the things that make us who we are, and it was delicious.
Perhaps the most telling thing is that I actually highlighted passages because I thought they were beautiful and really resonated with me, which I very rarely do.  Here’s a small selection:

‘There’s a difference between being dead and dying.  We’re all dying.  Some of us die for ninety years, and some of us die for nineteen.  But each morning everyone on this planet wakes up one day closer to their death.  Everyone.  So living and dying are actually different words for the same thing, if you think about it.’ 
‘We mourn for the future because it’s easier than admitting that we’re miserable in the present.’ 
‘It’s strange how we can lose things that are right there.  How a barrier can go up at any moment, trapping you on the other side, keeping you from what you want.  How the things that hurt the most are the things we once had.’


Yes, these quotes are rather sad, but Extraordinary Means is not just a sad book – although my heart is now rather worse for wear, by the end I felt incredibly satisfied – I got so much more out of this book than I had ever imagined, and it’s definitely one of the best YA contemporary novels I’ve read.

13 May 2015

Review: Swan Song for an Ugly Duckling by Michael Murphy


Swan Song for an Ugly Duckling by Michael Murphy

Published: 28 May 2014

Pages: 220

Genre/s: YA, GLBT

Source: Own library

Find It: Goodreads ~ Amazon

Synopsis

Aaron and Josh come from extraordinarily different backgrounds in small town America. Aaron is the only child of a fundamentalist preacher who fears and condemns the ways of the world outside their community. Josh is a jock who can only seem to express the feelings Aaron stirs in him by tormenting Aaron about how he looks and dresses. But one day, Josh’s world is turned upside down by a simple sentence spoken by Aaron, and he decides to get closer to Aaron.

Aaron assumes it is a new form of torture, but Josh persists: first a ride home, then talking with Aaron while he does his afternoon farm chores. Then Josh persuades Aaron’s father to let him participate in a scholastic event out of town one weekend. Josh pays a huge price for Aaron to attend, but that one weekend persuades Aaron to get free of his parents and attend college.

College doesn’t solve all their problems, though. Josh is horrified when a senior on campus seduces Aaron. He can’t believe Aaron has always been gay and he missed it—and missed getting to be Aaron’s first. But when Aaron finds out his boyfriend isn’t faithful, things go from tense to worse.


My Thoughts

Once again it’s a book with a main character who lives in an isolated religious community. It’s a theme that I’m always drawn to, and Swan Song for an Ugly Duckling had the added bonus of being a GLBT novel.

The synopsis is pretty accurate – Aaron has been bought up in a community lead by his father, and is grudgingly allowed to attend school where he is ridiculed for his hair, his clothes, his glasses, and generally ostracised by the other kids. Josh is one of his worst tormentors, until the moment that Josh realises that there’s more to Aaron than meets the eye, and he starts to befriend him.

The negative aspect of this book was the clumsiness of the writing. It never really feels like it flows properly, the dialogue is awkward and the second portion, when Aaron and Josh go to college changed the dynamic of the story so much that I felt like I was reading another book entirely.

However, the first part of the book I enjoyed very much – I loved seeing the friendship between Aaron and Josh grow and develop, and although the overwhelming message was about Aaron finding freedom from the restrictions of his upbringing, it was also interesting to see Josh grow as a character. Murphy does a good job of weaving those themes together, even making it possible to feel sympathy for the bully as well as the bullied.

Swan Song for an Ugly Duckling is a touching story about two young men finding their way through difficult times, an unusual friendship, and breaking free of the things that are holding them back. I enjoyed it quite a lot, despite the fact that at times the writing felt a little awkward and the feel of the story switched so quickly from the first to second half.

11 May 2015

Review: The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak by Brian Katcher


The Improbably Theory of Ana & Zak by Brian Katcher

Expected publication: 19 May 2015 by Katherine Tegen Books

Pages: 336 

Genre/s: YA, Contemporary, Romance

Source: Publisher for review

Find it: Goodreads ~ Amazon

Synposis

It all begins when Ana Watson's little brother, Clayton, secretly ditches the quiz bowl semifinals to go to the Washingcon sci-fi convention on what should have been a normal, résumé-building school trip.

If slacker Zak Duquette hadn't talked up the geek fan fest so much, maybe Clayton wouldn't have broken nearly every school rule or jeopardized Ana’s last shot at freedom from her uptight parents.

Now, teaming up with Duquette is the only way for Ana to chase down Clayton in the sea of orcs, zombies, bikini-clad princesses, Trekkies, and Smurfs. After all, one does not simply walk into Washingcon.

But in spite of Zak's devil-may-care attitude, he has his own reasons for being as lost as Ana-and Ana may have more in common with him than she thinks. Ana and Zak certainly don’t expect the long crazy night, which begins as a nerdfighter manhunt, to transform into so much more…

My Thoughts

I enjoyed Brian Katcher’s Almost Perfect when I read it last year – I was in the midst of a YA GLBT kick, and I liked the unique storyline and the kooky characters, so I was really looking forward to The Improbably Theory of Ana and Zak, particularly due to the setting – a sci-fi convention – geeks unite!

Zak is the ultimate cool geek with a few personal demons and Ana is the ultimate perfect student who lives under a cloud of permanent pressure from her parents, and herself.  Katcher’s choice to alternate perspectives between Ana and Zak works perfectly – and I loved being in Zak’s head, and although I took a while to warm up to her, I also enjoyed Ana’s side of the story.

Both Zak and Ana have their share of problems, and instead of being just a crazy, funny story, Katcher does get down to the bones of their issues and rather than just being a backdrop, they shape how the plot develops, even if they are not directly addressed in the body of the novel.

When it comes to the romance, there’s definitely a strong love/hate vibe in the beginning, and it was fun to watch the relationship change and the banter was funny and endearing, although perhaps not as laugh-out-loud funny as I had anticipated (but I’m a tough crowd in that respect).

The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak is definitely a kooky story, and at times Katcher trades in realism for a rather far-fetched storyline, but it works perfectly for the setting of a sci-fi convention – there’s a feeling that anything can happen, and it certainly does – practically all in the space of one night.  And don’t worry if sci-fi culture isn’t really your thing – the references are quite broad and refer mainly to the more mainstream than the hardcore, making it an easy and fun read.

Overall, The Improbably Theory of Ana and Zak didn’t blow me away, but it kept me entertained and (internally) smiling – I loved the characters, enjoyed the uniqueness of the plot and the fact that Katcher pushed a few of the traditional YA contemporary boundaries.

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