27 February 2014

Review: From Notting Hill With Love ... Actually by Ali McNamara


From Notting Hill With Love ... Actually (Actually #1) by Ali McNamara

Published: 1 November 2010 by Sphere

Pages: 448 (paperback)

Genre/s: Adult, Romance

Source: Own library

Synopsis

She was just a girl, standing in front of a boy . . . wishing he looked more like Hugh Grant. 

Scarlett loves the movies. But does she love sensible fiancĂ© David just as much? With a big white wedding on the horizon, Scarlett really should have decided by now . . . 

When she has the chance to house-sit in Notting Hill - the setting of one of her favourite movies - Scarlett jumps at the chance. But living life like a movie is trickier than it seems, especially when her new neighbour Sean is so irritating. And so irritatingly handsome, too. 

Scarlett soon finds herself starring in a romantic comedy of her very own: but who will end up as the leading man?

My Thoughts

When I was packing for my trip to Australia, I allowed myself to take five paperback books with me.  Primarily for the purpose of airplane reading I chose books that I didn't actually have to concentrate too hard to enjoy - and I chose From Notting Hill With Love....Actually because it sounded like a book I could read in bits and pieces and not get frustrated with myself if I had to re-read a few pages because I wasn't concentrating.

The premise of the book is a fun one, particularly as I love the same types of movies as Scarlett - Love Actually is one of my favourite films of all time, and I also really liked Notting Hill.  And there are a lot of movie references throughout the book which I really enjoyed.

Scarlett is, for the most part, a pretty likable character.  Although her motivation is a little questionable when it comes to her fiance, she's not an overly complicated character - what you see is pretty much what you get, and considering the situations she finds herself in, the plot fits her personality.  However, it's also a little bit of a downfall because I found it hard to take her very seriously, and even though I was looking for a lighthearted read, having a character that is so straightforward was a little bit disappointing.

However, the romance is really sweet - it's lighthearted at times, but there's also a serious side, and the interactions between Scarlett, David and Sean felt realistic - the whole book gives the feeling of reading a romantic comedy with a serious edge.

The plot edges on the side of predictable, but there are also some other elements that I didn't expect, especially when it came to Scarlett.  By the end of the book she'd dealt with some issues not related to her romantic relationships even though she had obviously found it difficult to deal with, and I really appreciated that McNamara put that extra element into the story.


From Notting Hill with Love....Actually is a fun book, and I'd definitely recommend it as a lighthearted holiday read, and I loved the romance and movie references - and now I'm off to watch Love, Actually.

25 February 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: My List of Shame

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. I heart lists!

I know we all have a habit of starting series and not finishing them (because there ARE SO MANY), but I have the added compulsion of buying a whole series before I've even read the first book, or reading the first one and buying the whole series and then never getting to them.

It's one of my resolutions for 2014 to try and finish those series that I'm very nearly finished (embarrassingly I have a very outdated page on the blog that I will now be compelled to update after airing my unfinished list), or that I loved but got completely distracted and never finished.  And yes, I own all of the books below - Outlander is the only series where I'm missing a book, and that one hasn't been released yet.

The Paranormals by J.L.Bryan
Read: Jenny Pox, Tommy Nightmare
To Read: Alexander Death, Jenny Plague-Bringer

Yep, nothing has changed here.  I could make all kinds of wild declarations about when I will finish but then I'll have another embarassing list.  But if you haven't started this series you definitely should - Jenny Pox is awesome!

As the World Dies by Rhiannon Frater
Read: The First Days, Fighting to Survive
To Read: Siege

And again, still on the list.  I'm scared of how this one will end though - I love Rhiannon's books and I've been procrastinating finishing this series for years.

Ashfall by Mike Mullin
Read: Ashfall, Ashen Winter
To Read: Sunrise

Sunrise calls to me from my Kindle.  This one will definitely be read veeeerrrry soon.

Temptation by Karen Ann Hopkins
Read: Temptation, Belonging
To Read: Forever

I didn't love the second book, but I was curious enough to request an eARC of book three.  Yet there it sits, still unread.

Day by Day Armageddon by J.L. Bourne
Read: Day by Day Armageddon, Beyond Exile
To Read: Shattered Hourglass

One of the first zombie series I ever listened to on audio - loved the first and second books, even re-read the first and eagerly anticipated the release of the third.....

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Read: Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager
To Read: Drums of Autumn, The Fiery Cross, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, An Echo in the Bone

OK this series is HUGE, but I got half-way through book four and then stopped.  I was halfway through!  Gah!

Tomorrow by John Marsden
Read: Tomorrow, When the War Began, The Dead of Night, A Killing Frost, Darkness, Be My Friend, Burning for Revenge
To Read: The Night is For Hunting, The Other Side of Dawn

Technically I have read this whole series, but it was about 10 years ago.  I continue on my quest to re-read it all again.

Razorland by Ann Aguirre
Read: Enclave
To Read: Outpost, Horde

Everyone tells me this series gets better with each book - and it's zombies, hello!

Hourglass by Myra McEntire
Read: Hourglass, Timepiece
To Read: Infinityglass

Another series I wasn't madly in love with, but enjoyed a lot - and only one book left!

Generation Dead by Daniel Waters
Read: Generation Dead
To Read: Kiss of Life, Passing Strange

I really liked Waters' different take on zombies - I'm intrigued to see where the series goes next.

So that's my Top Ten Series I Want to Finish - aka, the list of shame!

24 February 2014

Review: A Death-Struck Year by Makiia Lucier


A Death-Struck Year by Makiia Lucier

Expected Publication: 4 March 2014 by HMH Books for Young Readers

Pages: 288 (hardcover)

Genre/s: Young Adult, Historical Fiction


Source: Publisher for review

Synopsis

In the grip of the deadly 1918 flu pandemic, not even the strong survive.

The Spanish influenza is devastating the East Coast—but Cleo Berry knows it is a world away from the safety of her home in Portland, Oregon. Then the flu moves into the Pacific Northwest. Schools, churches, and theaters are shut down. The entire city is thrust into survival mode—and into a panic. 

Seventeen-year-old Cleo is told to stay put in her quarantined boarding school, but when the Red Cross pleads for volunteers, she cannot ignore the call for help. In the grueling days that follow her headstrong decision, she risks everything for near-strangers. Strangers like Edmund, a handsome medical student. Strangers who could be gone tomorrow. And as the bodies pile up, Cleo can't help but wonder: when will her own luck run out? 

My Thoughts

Whenever I see a book with some kind of virus, I'm immediately drawn to it.  When it's a fictionalised version of a real event like Spanish influenza, I'm compelled to read it because it also contains the historical element that I've always loved.  Therefore, reading A Death-Struck Year was always a given.

A Death-Struck Year begins with Cleo, a teenager who has an overwhelming need to pitch in with the effort to provide medical aid to the flu victims, despite the fact that her family and friends cannot understand why she would put herself at risk.  Lucier's use of language, both in the storytelling and the dialogue fits the period perfectly and makes the story feel more realistic.

Cleo is an easy character to like - shes caring yet strong and has a definite sense of empathy for both people that she knows and strangers.  Her own background and family life make her strength and determination feel even more pronounced.

Although the synopsis hints at a romance, it's more of a meeting of kindred spirits than a world-shattering love story, and at times it feels like an afterthought that was thrown in to attract a certain audience rather than add to the plot of the story.

A Death-Struck Year is a fast read, with an admirable main character, strong use of language to portray the setting but slightly lacking in the level of impact and intensity I was hoping for.

23 February 2014

Showcase Sunday #69

Showcase Sunday is hosted by the fabulous Vicky at Books, Biscuits and Tea and is all about sharing our new books - beg, borrowed or bought.

I've spent the last week in a reading challenge for a GoodReads group - and finished 6 books in a week, which is really unusual for me!  It also means I read more books than I accumulated - which is quite rare lately.


Purchased
Landry Park (Landry Park #1) by Bethany Hagen
The Worlds We Make (Fallen World #3) by Megan Crewe

For Review
Ember Island by Kimberley Freeman (thanks to Touchstone)

Short and sweet this week. Happy Sunday!

21 February 2014

Review: Above by Isla Morley


Above by Isla Morley

Expected Publication: 4 March 2014 by Gallery Books

Pages: 384 (hardcover)

Genre/s: Contemporary, Realistic Fiction

Source: Publisher for review

Synopsis

In the bestselling vein of Room and The Lovely Bones, a stunning and harrowing novel about a Kansas teenager who is abducted and locked away in an abandoned missile silo by a survivalist who believes he is saving her from the impending destruction of the world.

Blythe focuses on finding a way to escape until she discovers that she also has to deal with crushing loneliness, the terrifying madness of her captor, and the persistent temptation to give up. Nothing, however, prepares her for the burden of having to raising a child in confinement.

Out of fear, she pushes aside the truth about a world her son may never see for a myth that just might give meaning to his life underground. But when fate intervenes, Blythe and her son manage to re-emerge, only to find themselves in a world even more terrifying than the one they left behind.

My Thoughts

The synopsis for Above was pretty much an instant sell for me - along with the cover that I think it all kinds of awesome, I knew that I had to read this book.  Although I tried to ignore the comparison to Room and The Lovely Bones because comparisons rarely work for me personally, having loved Room and liked The Lovely Bones I was really looking forward to Blythe's story.

Morley starts the story when Blythe is abducted, which is the first thing I really appreciated about Above - there's no long-winded lead up and goes straight into the storyline rather than setting a scene.  The only problem was that I actually didn't like Blythe all that much at the beginning - she's incredibly naive and doesn't really seem to take her situation seriously for the first few days and although it could have been explained away by shock and confusion, I didn't respect or admire the way she reacted.  We were off to a bad start in the reader-character relationship.

What Morley does very well with Blythe's character however, is capture how being isolated from the rest of the world stunts her emotional growth.  Which is also hard to explain without giving away major parts of the plot, but it comes back into play later in the story when she misses some very obvious clues about things that are happening around her.  It could have been a frustrating experience, but it's so convincing that I could really appreciate the intricacy of creating such a character.

There are also large time jumps in the plot that I was a little disappointed in - jumping straight from the first two days to four months later and just mentioning her escape attempts didn't give me the depth of emotion and desperation that I was hoping for.

However, as Blythe's time in the silo progresses, the plot becomes more compelling, dark and at times quite overwhelming in it's intensity.  Although her captor isn't violent, he's certainly unstable and his character really adds to the atmosphere - Blythe's constant uncertainty and dancing around Dobbs was almost hypnotising.

The first half of the book focuses solely on Blythe's life in the silo and particularly focuses on her difficult and constantly-changing relationship with Dobbs.  At times she fears him, at others is ambivalent and at times she appears to hold all the cards - the relationship is appropriately complex and watching it seesaw between Blythe and Dobbs was a real rollercoaster.

The plot changes direction in the second half of the book when Blythe escapes the silo with her teenage son, Adam.  This is also the stage in which I really started to appreciate the story, Blythe's character and the strength of Morley's writing style.  Although it's quite flitty in places, it speaks volumes, and in particular Adam's reaction to the world outside the silo shows amazing imagination in portraying how someone would react to the sky, dirt, rocks etc. for the very first time in their lives.  Adam's age also means that he puts his fascination into words, which works far better than it would have with a younger character.

I liked the second part far more than the first part, and that's pretty much because I felt the first half dragged just a little too much in places - which sounds ironic given the frequent time jumps, but I was very much ready for more action by the time Blythe left the silo.

The ending was a point of conflict for me - in some ways I thought it was absolutely perfect, but I also felt like a few key plot lines weren't tied up as neatly as I liked.  I'm not particular about everything being squared away neatly, but there were a few relationships that didn't feel completely resolved.  Overall, Above has a lot of appealing characteristics, despite a few small issues that I think are more personal to me than readers in general.

20 February 2014

Review: The Deepest Secret by Carla Buckley


The Deepest Secret by Carla Buckley

Published: 4 February 2014 by Bantam

Pages: 448 (hardcover)

Genre/s: Adult, Contemporary, Mystery

Source: Publisher for review

Synopsis

Diagnosed with XP, a rare medical condition which makes him lethally sensitive to light, Tyler is a thirteen-year-old who desperately wants just one thing: to be normal. His mother Eve also wants just one thing: to protect her son. As Tyler begins roaming their cul-de-sac at night, cloaked in the safety of the darkness, he peers into the lives of the other families on the street-looking in on the things they most want hidden. Then, the young daughter of a neighbor suddenly vanishes, and Tyler may be the only one who can make sense of her disappearance…but what will happen when everyone's secrets are exposed to the light?

My Thoughts

Carla Buckley's latest novel, The Deepest Secret, poses not only the question about how well do you know the people around you, but also that the line between right and wrong isn't always clearly defined.  I was exited to read it after I enjoyed Buckley's The Things That Keep Us Here in 2012, and interested to find out more about Eve's son's condition.

Xeroderma pigmentosum (or XP) is a genetic disease in which the sufferer's ability to repair damage caused by UV light is deficient - in other words, XP sufferer's cannot step into sunlight or any other type of UV light such as halogen bulbs without suffering burns, and subsequently skin cancers.  Eve and David's son Tyler was diagnosed with XP as a baby, and their whole lives have been adapted to keeping him safe - from nighttime birthday parties through to asking all their neighbours to use non-Halogen globes in their homes and having all the street lights in their cul-de-sac turned off.

Such is Eve's obsession with keeping her son safe, that her husband has taken a job in another state, travelling back and forth every weekend to spend time with his family, and starting to feel very disillusioned with his life.  What makes this relationship stand out from all the standard 'troubled marriage' story lines however, is the obvious fact that he still loves his wife - he has regular flashbacks to what she was like when they first met, the beginnings of their relationship, and how she lived before Tyler's diagnosis.

Eve's best friend Charlotte, who is her complete opposite, also lives in the cul-de-sac, and many of the residents are on friendly terms with each other, attending Tyler's birthday party and obliging Eve's requests, but there are also a few rebels who refuse to go along with her security measures.  Tyler's nightly forays reveal a few of their secrets to him, but there's not actually that many revelations about the neighbours themselves - more their reactions when another child vanishes in the night.

Although I'm not always keen on alternate POVs, they work well for The Deepest Secret - it very much suits the underlying theme of the novel to see events from multiple perspectives.

Eve is admirable in her dedication and sacrifice to her family, but it also means that she doesn't really have her own personality - it has been pretty much absorbed by her determination that Tyler will remain well and have as fulfilling a life as possible.  And although it's easy to feel sympathy towards Tyler due to his condition, his frustration with his life makes him rather unpredictable and unlikable.

But what I did particularly enjoy about The Deepest Secret was the main theme of the storyline - that although people have very definite ideas about what is right and wrong when they are removed from the situation, when they are in the middle of it, it's very difficult to make that distinction.  Buckley's storytelling made it easy for me to see why Eve did things in a certain way, and although I appreciated the realism of the ending, it did feel a little rushed and not completely logical to me.

18 February 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Reasons I Love Being a Reader and Book Blogger

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. I heart lists!

I Love Being a Reader Because:

- I can lose myself in other worlds - whether they are real, imaginary or a combination, I can escape the daily grind by immersing myself in a different place, time, people etc.

- I always have a reason to buy new books and break fill up my bookshelves.  And they look so PRETTY.

- I get to meet other readers and talk about our passion - whether it's book bloggers, Goodreads friends or just random people I meet in bookstores, it's awesome to share the love (or otherwise) with someone else.

- I've always got something to do / a reason to procrastinate.

- I'm always learning new things.

I Love Being a Book Blogger Because:

- I have another platform to talk about books that I love/enjoyed/wanted to throw out the window.

- By connecting with other book bloggers I find books that I would NEVER have come across by myself.

- I've made a whole bunch of reading friends I would probably never have 'met' otherwise.

- When I don't feel like reading, I have another reason to procrastinate real life.

- It's an awesome hobby to talk to other people about - everyone is always fascinated.

That's my Top Ten Reasons I love being a reader and book blogger - what do you love the most about reading and/or book blogging?

17 February 2014

Review: Panic by Lauren Oliver


Panic by Lauren Oliver

Expected Publication: 4 March 2014 by HarperTeen

Pages: 416 (hardcover)

Genre/s: Young Adult, Contemporary

Source: Publisher for review

Synopsis

Panic began as so many things do in Carp, a dead-end town of 12,000 people in the middle of nowhere: because it was summer, and there was nothing else to do.

Heather never thought she would compete in Panic, a legendary game played by graduating seniors, where the stakes are high and the payoff is even higher. She’d never thought of herself as fearless, the kind of person who would fight to stand out. But when she finds something, and someone, to fight for, she will discover that she is braver than she ever thought.

Dodge has never been afraid of Panic. His secret will fuel him, and get him all the way through the game, he’s sure of it. But what he doesn't know is that he’s not the only one with a secret. Everyone has something to play for.

For Heather and Dodge, the game will bring new alliances, unexpected revelations, and the possibility of first love for each of them—and the knowledge that sometimes the very things we fear are those we need the most.


My Thoughts

Ah Panic.  Your premise was so good - a bunch of teens who try and outlast each other at playing a horrific game of chicken - there are physical challenges, mental challenges and the ultimate test of will and guts.  

Told in multiple POVs, Panic centers around three of the teens involved in the annual Panic competition - and the prize of more than $60,000.00 (if I remember correctly), has all the students vying for the top prize.  For main character Heather, it's an escape from her deadbeat mother for her and her younger sister and she's determined to do whatever it takes to secure the prize.  The other, more minor, POVs are that of her best friend, Nat and Dodge, who has a crush on Nat.   There is also Nat and Heather's best friend, Bishop.

What first struck me about the teens is that they ALL have family issues.  I suppose it isn't particularly unusual, but it just felt like drama for the sake of drama - Heather has a deadbeat mother, Nat's parents are distant, and Dodge's mother is a struggling single mother who works in the diner they live above.  And maybe I'm making more of this than necessary, but it would have been great if one of them had an uncomplicated family - and one that was a little more involved in what was happening.

The second thing was the fact that in such a small town, they all pretty much got away with the whole Panic thing without any attempt at parental or school administration intervention, and the cops only appear briefly to break up one game - although they fear being caught by the police, I found it hard to believe that they could get away with so much.

Back to the characters, and I really struggled to connect with any of them.  Heather is the main character, but despite her plans to save her sister from their scary home situation, I didn't really feel much depth to their relationship.  It was almost like Heather was going through the motions of what was 'right', rather than being emotionally attached and invested.

And then the ending - it was too fast for me, and pretty unrealistic - there's a huge showdown scene for the final game of Panic and there were parts that just logically didn't make sense - it was definitely a too-good-to-be-true scenario.


Overall, Panic had a lot of potential, but my inability to connect with the characters, and not being convinced by the plot made it hard for me to enjoy.

16 February 2014

Showcase Sunday #68

Showcase Sunday is hosted by the fabulous Vicky at Books, Biscuits and Tea and is all about sharing our new books - beg, borrowed or bought.

I've been M.I.A on Sundays for the last two weeks now, but I only accumulated a few books this week so I'm just going to list those. Three weeks worth of books just kind of freaks me out!

Purchased
Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller
NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

For Review
On the Fence by Kasie West
In the End (In the After #2) by Demitria Lunetta
Renegade (Mila 2.0 #2) by Debra Driza

Have a fabulous week!

14 February 2014

Review: Me Since You by Laura Wiess


Me Since You by Laura Wiess

Expected Publication: 18 February 2014 by MTV Books

Pages: 368 (paperback)

Genre/s: Young Adult, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction

Source: Publisher for review

Synopsis

Before and After. That’s how Rowan Areno sees her life now. Before: she was a normal sixteen-year-old—a little too sheltered by her police officer father and her mother. After: everything she once believed has been destroyed in the wake of a shattering tragedy, and every day is there to be survived.

If she had known, on that Friday in March when she cut school, that a random stranger’s shocking crime would have traumatic consequences, she never would have left campus. If the crime video never went viral, maybe she could have saved her mother, grandmother — and herself — from the endless replay of heartache and grief.

Finding a soul mate in Eli, a witness to the crime who is haunted by losses of his own, Rowan begins to see there is no simple, straightforward path to healing wounded hearts. Can she learn to trust, hope, and believe in happiness again?

My Thoughts

The synopsis of Me Since You was what first grabbed my attention - although I'm very particular when it comes to Young Adult contemporaries, some of my favourites are those that fall into the realistic fiction genre - because the good ones really stick with me.

Rowan is an average teenage girl who makes one choice that changes the lives of her whole family, and herself.  It's not even something earth-shattering - just a decision to skip school with her best friend to meet up with a couple of boys.  Despite the fact that her parents border on being helicopters, there's obviously a lot of love in her family which is obvious from the very beginning.  And although the synopsis hints at quite a heavy romantic theme, this is very much a book about family, grief and how every person has different reactions to difficult situations.

The one thing I really disliked about this book was Rowan's best friend, Nadia.  Right from the very beginning her attitude grated on me, and it only got worse as the book progressed.  I don't believe that Wiess was actually trying to make Nadia a good person with a few flaws, but was instead trying to show how true friendship is a very difficult thing to find, and for that I loved this book even more - it was just frustrating that Rowan couldn't see it herself.

That point aside, this is a very emotional book - it's raw and emotional, and although I'm not a crier when it comes to books, this one really hit home - I could FEEL Rowan and her family's pain, and I loved that Wiess really went in deep - this is a book that is unflinchingly honest and realistic and doesn't try to glamorise or gloss over just how a tragedy can have a ripple effect through many different people.

Although I did mention that there isn't a heavy romantic element to the story, the relationship between Rowan and Eli is particularly heartfelt and very realistic - everything didn't fall neatly into place for them and it didn't feel insta-lovey - it was just the kind of romantic theme that I really like.

Me Since You is a heart-breaking look at how one decision can change many people's lives, and it's a roller coaster of emotions, but it's also incredibly satisfying and is definitely a story that will stick with me for a long time.

13 February 2014

Review: Blood by Tony Birch


Blood by Tony Birch

Published: 2011 by University of Queensland Press

Pages: 264 pages (paperback)

Genre/s: Contemporary

Source: Own library

Synopsis:

From the moment he saw her wrapped in a blanket at the hospital, Jesse knew that he’d be the one to look after his little sister. When their mother's appetite for destruction leads the little family into the arms of Ray Crow, Jesse sees the brooding violence and knows that, this time, the trouble is real. But Jesse is just a kid and even as he tries to save his sister, he makes a fatal error that exposes them to the kind of danger from which he has sworn to protect Rachel. As their little world is torn to pieces, the children learn that when you are lost and alone, the only thing you can trust is what's in your blood.

My Thoughts

When I was in Australia earlier this year, I specifically tried to hunt down a few books by Australian authors and Blood was one of the first that caught my eye.  It's been a long time since I read a contemporary novel set in Australia, and I was intrigued by the synopsis, especially Blood is about the relationship between a brother and sister - something that always grabs my attention.

Jesse and Rachel are brother and sister that are bound together by both genetics and their reliance on each other.  Their mother, Gwen, is really a deadbeat - her boyfriends, her inability to stay settled in one place and to think about what is best for her children makes her a pretty unlikable character - although her own childhood was difficult it didn't really make me feel sympathetic towards her.  She's frustrating, naive and very immature - and whenever the kids feel a little settled and comfortable she uproots them again and again, putting her own needs above theirs.

But the focus of Blood is really that of the sibling relationship - Jesse has cared for Rachel since she was born and although they don't always see eye to eye, he protects her, feeds her and tries to make sure that Rachel doesn't know in great detail about what her mother really gets up to.  It's a complicated but pure relationship - Birch depicts the depth of their relationship without being overly poetic or dramatic, but by showing just how much they care for each other in their day-to-day interactions.

Blood really describes the essence of Australia - a beautifully stark, demanding landscape juxtaposed with the warmth and openness of Australian people really evokes the true feeling of Australia.

The only issue I had was the ending....well, actually the beginning.  The first chapter of Blood is actually the epilogue, and for me it just didn't logically fit with the actual ending at the back of the book - I couldn't reconcile the two scenes in my mind and although I re-read the first chapter I still didn't find it believable.

Despite that one issue, I was completely sucked into this book.  I was so glad I decided to read an Australian author, and Blood is an intense, sad, moving and emotional book about the relationship between a brother and sister.


10 February 2014

Review: Maybe One Day by Melissa Kantor

Maybe One Day by Melissa Kantor

Expected Publication: 18 February 2014 by HarperTeen

Pages: 304 (hardcover)

Genre/s: Young Adult, Contemporary

Source: Publisher for review

Synopsis

Critically acclaimed author Melissa Kantor masterfully captures the joy of friendship, the agony of loss, and the unique experience of being a teenager in this poignant new novel about a girl grappling with her best friend's life-threatening illness.

Zoe and her best friend, Olivia, have always had big plans for the future, none of which included Olivia getting sick. Still, Zoe is determined to put on a brave face and be positive for her friend.

Even when she isn't sure what to say.

Even when Olivia misses months of school.

Even when Zoe starts falling for Calvin, Olivia's crush.

The one thing that keeps Zoe moving forward is knowing that Olivia will beat this, and everything will go back to the way it was before. It has to. Because the alternative is too terrifying for her to even imagine.

In this incandescent page-turner, which follows in the tradition of The Fault in Our Stars, Melissa Kantor artfully explores the idea that the worst thing to happen to you might not be something that is actually happening to you. Raw, irreverent, and honest, Zoe's unforgettable voice and story will stay with readers long after the last page is turned.

My Thoughts

Books about serious illnesses have a weird pull for me.  I know they will be difficult and emotional for me to read, but I also like to push myself to confront the things in books that I find very hard to talk about in real life.  This is why I read books such as Maybe One Day - I know they will hit close to home and make me reflect upon things in my own life, but using them as a catalyst helps me work through my own personal emotions.

Olivia and Zoe have a once-in-a-lifetime kind of friendship.  Their personalities are very different, but they compliment each other, and their lifelong obsession with dance binds them even closer together, and this relationship is what I loved most about this book - their relationship feels very real, and the emotions that Zoe goes through during Olivia's illness are very realistically portrayed. Although the story is told from Zoe's perspective, her interactions with Olivia, Olivia's family and her own family tell their story too - and all their reactions felt very real and emotional.

However, I did have one issue with Zoe's character - and it's when she makes a rather nasty generalisation about a group of kids at her school, and then just a few pages later states that she hates gender generalisations.  It's a small moment, but it really bugged me, and I found it more difficult to connect with Zoe from then on.

What I did like is that Cantor pulls no punches when it comes to Zoe's emotional reactions to the situation - she moves through different stages of anger, sadness and acceptance, whilst still standing by her best friend's side.

The synopsis hints heavily at a relationship, but it actually plays a very small part in the story - this book is much more focused on friendship and the emotions of having someone you love being diagnosed with a serious, life-threatening illness.  Zoe shows real strength as a character in putting Olivia's needs before her own, and making her the number one priority in her life.

Apart from my one issue with Zoe, this is a book that had a huge emotional impact on me - in fact I forgot to take notes whilst I was reading, but everything came flooding back once I re-read the synopsis.  It's a story about friendship and growing up, learning to accept things that cannot be changed and making the most of every moment.

07 February 2014

Wicked Valentine's Readathon #WWReadathon - Goals & Updates


WVRAT

It's been so long since my last Read-a-Thon, so I'm super dooper trooper excited that My Shelf Confessions is hosting the Wicked Valentine's Read-a-Thon starting TODAY!  

So, what to read?!

I've noticed I'm far more successful at Read-a-Thons if I don't have a list in place, but I am going to aim to finish the three books I'm currently reading:


This Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready
In Velvet by Burt Weissbourd
Shadows (Ashes Trilogy #2) by Ilsa J. Bick

Updates will be posted below.  Let me know if you're joining in!

Friday 7 Feb / Saturday 8 Feb

Weeeeell, there's always room for improvement right?  I haven't done a lot of reading the last two days as I've been *ahem* busy watching Breaking Bad, playing Sims 3 and trying to explain to my boyfriend why, if paid EUR 600.00 for a new XBox, he should be playing that bitch 24 hours a day.

But I have done some reading!

Finished Reading: This Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready (115 pages)
In Progress: In Velvet by Burt Weissbourd (56 pages read) & Anything to Have You by Paige Harbison (27 pages) = 198 pages read

Let's hope there are no further distractions today.....

06 February 2014

Review: The Naturals (The Naturals #1) by Jennifer Lynn Barnes


The Naturals (The Naturals #1) by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Published: 5 November 2013 by Disney-Hyperion

Pages: 304 (hardcover)

Genre/s: Young Adult, Mystery, Thriller

Source: Publisher for review

Synopsis

Seventeen-year-old Cassie is a natural at reading people. Piecing together the tiniest details, she can tell you who you are and what you want. But it’s not a skill that she’s ever taken seriously. That is, until the FBI come knocking: they’ve begun a classified program that uses exceptional teenagers to crack infamous cold cases, and they need Cassie.

What Cassie doesn’t realize is that there’s more at risk than a few unsolved homicides— especially when she’s sent to live with a group of teens whose gifts are as unusual as her own.

Sarcastic, privileged Michael has a knack for reading emotions, which he uses to get inside Cassie’s head—and under her skin. Brooding Dean shares Cassie’s gift for profiling, but keeps her at arm’s length.

Soon, it becomes clear that no one in the Naturals program is what they seem. And when a new killer strikes, danger looms closer than Cassie could ever have imagined. Caught in a lethal game of cat and mouse with a killer, the Naturals are going to have to use all of their gifts just to survive.

My Thoughts

I love a good crime mystery - and I seem to enjoy them more in Young Adult than Adult literature lately.  Maybe it's just a bit of change, but I like the fact that in Young Adult books, there's usually more focus on the characters than in the adult equivalents, which tend to be more plot focused.

Having said that, The Naturals is a quick read that completely held my attention all the way through.  I enjoyed the crime element, but also the fact that the characters were so diverse.  Even the *cough* love triangle felt different than the normal cliche - so much so that it didn't even really irritate me the way love triangles usually do.

The Naturals has an interesting premise - being able to read people, emotions etc. is a pretty cool idea, and Barnes did a good job at getting that interest going, however it was a little overshadowed by the mystery element as the story progressed.  For me, a little bit more profiling and background on why the teens had this ability would have made it a more interesting read, but perhaps more will be revealed in the next book in the series.  It wasn't enough explanation for me - I like to understand this kind of stuff up front so I can then get immersed into the plot, rather than having to wait to find out more.

I also found there were a few too many characters introduced at once, and I did start to get them a little confused at certain points.  As a series, there is hopefully a lot more character development to come, but although they had distinct personalities, I didn't feel like I really got to KNOW the characters and what drove them which made it difficult to remember who was who (and their abilities).

As mysteries go, The Naturals was actually quite unpredictable and I enjoyed Barnes' writing and her ability to keep the pacing even and the plot interesting.   I'm going to keep an eye out for the next book in the series, because I do think the characters have a lot of potential and I'm still to find out more about their abilities.

05 February 2014

Review: The Future of Us by Jay Asher & Carolyn Mackler


The Future of Us by Jay Asher & Carolyn Mackler

Published: 21 November 2011 by Razorbill

Pages: 356 (hardcover)

Genre/s: Young Adult, Contemporary/Fantasy

Source: Own library

Synopsis

It's 1996, and Josh and Emma have been neighbors their whole lives. They've been best friends almost as long - at least, up until last November, when Josh did something that changed everything. Things have been weird between them ever since, but when Josh's family gets a free AOL CD in the mail,his mom makes him bring it over so that Emma can install it on her new computer. When they sign on, they're automatically logged onto their Facebook pages. But Facebook hasn't been invented yet. And they're looking at themselves fifteen years in the future.

By refreshing their pages, they learn that making different decisions now will affect the outcome of their lives later. And as they grapple with the ups and downs of what their futures hold, they're forced to confront what they're doing right - and wrong - in the present.

My Thoughts

In 1996 I was 14 years old.  I remember what life was like before the Internet, I remember 'getting' Internet when I was 16 and I remember what a dial-up Internet connection sounded like.  So I was incredibly excited to read The Future of Us - pop-culture references from the 1990s are my favourite.

The problem is, there actually weren't that many pop-culture references in The Future of Us.  What there was in The Future of Us were two characters that I didn't particularly like, nor find very realistic.  If I like the characters, I can overlook a lot of other faults, but it just wasn't happening for me.  Josh wasn't particularly interesting and Emma pretty much spent the whole book complaining about her future husband/boyfriend and trying to change who she ended up marrying without even knowing more than what a few status updates hinted at.

The second thing that really irked me was their complete lack of interest in the futures of other people in their lives.  Now, if I had discovered a Facebook page of my 30 year old self, I would have searched the shit out of it, trying to find out how the lives of my family and friends and those horrible bitchy girls at school turned out.  I would have searched for pages of my favourite movie stars and singers to find out future gossip, looked through peoples photos and walls.  After all, when I first had Internet access at home (and OK even now!), I was completely addicted.

At one point, Emma does make a list of all the people she wants to look up on Facebook, but Josh talks her out of it.  And that didn't make a lot of sense to me either - on one hand they are immaturely self-absorbed, and on the other hand are mature enough to think that it might not be a good idea to look up other people.  The whole thing just didn't sit right with me - it was all a big contradiction.

Thirdly, there are unresolved plot lines and it's not just small stuff - it's big stuff that they found out about the two people they searched for other than themselves and there's no resolution, despite the fact that they were actually life-changing events.


The Future of Us had so much potential that I just didn't feel was realised - a few more pop culture references, more realistic behaviour, less obsession from Emma about boyfriends and husbands and tying up those plot lines would have made this a much more enjoyable read for me.



03 February 2014

Review: Darkness, Be My Friend by John Marsden


Darkness, Be My Friend (Tomorrow #4) by John Marsden

Published: 1996, republished 27 September 2012 by Quercus

Pages: 288 (paperback)

Genre/s: Young Adult, War

Source: Own library

As the fourth book in the series, this review may contain minor spoilers for previous books.

Synopsis

Their country ravaged. Their families taken. Their solution - fight. 

After the trauma of the invasion and the pain of their tragic losses, Ellie and her friends have finally found sanctuary.

But after five months away, they are called upon to return to the fight.

The gang have got used to feeling safe. They've suffered enough. And Ellie is sick with fear at the thought of returning to combat.

But sometimes there's only one answer: We're going back.

My Thoughts

As with all the Tomorrow books, there is a small gap between book three and book four, but as always, this is only a small break.  Enough to take a breath, remember the previous book, and jump right back in to the story.

Darkness, Be My Friend, finds the teens safe and comfortable for the first time since discovering their country had been invaded.  And with that long-awaiting feeling of safety, all their emotions and reactions come spilling out.  As the series is told in Ellie's perspective, much of the focus is on her own emotional reactions, although she does also speak about how her friends, and the group as a whole, are dealing with the reality of their situation now that they have time to stop and think about it.

Some of the most strong reactions from Ellie in the whole series so far comes when she is told that the powers that be want her to return to the war zone she has only recently been rescued from.  Her emotions feel real and powerful, and I could completely sympathise with her feelings and how torn she felt.

Darkness, Be My Friend is much more of a psychologically intense book that the previous books in the series, and focuses far more on the survival of the group, rather than the explosiveness of the first three books.  This change of focus allows more reflection and rethinking by Ellie - and it's obvious that her psyche has been damaged, most probably permanently, from everything she has been through.


That is what I find most compelling about the Tomorrow series - the characters grow as the story progresses, but they also become much more emotionally affected - which feels natural and logical - it's great to see heroes that aren't always perfect.  Darkness, Be My Friend is introspective and character driven, with enough action to keep it moving along at an intense pace.


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