21 September 2015

Review: A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinniss


A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis

Expected Publication: 6 October 2015 by Katherine Tegen Books

Pages: 384

Genre/s: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Source: Publisher for review

Find It: Goodreads ~ Amazon

Synopsis

Grace Mae knows madness.

She keeps it locked away, along with her voice, trapped deep inside a brilliant mind that cannot forget horrific family secrets. Those secrets, along with the bulge in her belly, land her in a Boston insane asylum.

When her voice returns in a burst of violence, Grace is banished to the dark cellars, where her mind is discovered by a visiting doctor who dabbles in the new study of criminal psychology. With her keen eyes and sharp memory, Grace will make the perfect assistant at crime scenes. Escaping from Boston to the safety of an ethical Ohio asylum, Grace finds friendship and hope, hints of a life she should have had. But gruesome nights bring Grace and the doctor into the circle of a killer who stalks young women. Grace, continuing to operate under the cloak of madness, must hunt a murderer while she confronts the demons in her own past.

In this beautifully twisted historical thriller, Mindy McGinnis, acclaimed author of
Not a Drop to Drink and In a Handful of Dust, explores the fine line between sanity and insanity, good and evil—and the madness that exists in all of us. 

My Thoughts

When I saw that Mindy McGinnis’s new book was a historical fiction mystery set in an asylum, I knew I would have to read it as soon as possible. I’m a huge fan of both Not a Drop to Drink and In a Handful of Dust which sucked me in, mushed up my feels and both of which were not afraid to really push boundaries – and I was not disappointed to find that A Madness So Discreet was dark, had no romance and that I was once again completely hooked.

Grace Mae is a character who I immediately wanted to know more about. Mute, pregnant and residing in a Boston asylum, at the mercy of the staff and other inmates, A Madness So Discreet starts as a dark story, and although it does have flashes of light, it mostly stays that way. There are experimental medical treatments, violence and some rather frightening patients that all make for a haunting setting that hooked me in immediately.

Without a doubt, Grace is the shining light of A Madness So Discreet. Despite everything she has been through, she’s tough, loyal and very smart. Partnering up with Thornhollow, the doctor who helps her escape from the Boston asylum, they investigate a series of murders, using psychology to try and find the killer which itself is rather fascinating given the time period and lack of acceptance from the police.

However, A Madness So Discreet is so much more than a murder mystery. Grace forms strong friendships with other patients in the asylum, even though she does not speak, simply by being present and supportive through actions rather than words. There is also a lot that made me think about the definition of ‘insane’, particularly as it was applied in the early 20th century – some of the patients clearly have mental health issues, but others have been admitted simply because they do not fit the ideals of society – such as prostitutes, or people who have had a strong reaction to a trauma.

It was only the ending that I didn’t really love – I get what McGinnis was trying to achieve, but it felt a little too convenient, nor was I completely convinced that it was realistic.

Overall, I adored A Madness So Discreet – it pulled me in, made me think, had characters that I adored and it was deliciously, fabulously dark.

23 July 2015

Review: Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica



Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica

Expected Publication: 28 July 2015 by Mira

Pages: 384

Genre/s: Contemporary, Thriller

Source: Publisher for review

Synopsis

She sees the teenage girl on the train platform, standing in the pouring rain, clutching an infant in her arms. She boards a train and is whisked away. But she can't get the girl out of her head...

Heidi Wood has always been a charitable woman: she works for a nonprofit, takes in stray cats. Still, her husband and daughter are horrified when Heidi returns home one day with a young woman named Willow and her four-month-old baby in tow. Disheveled and apparently homeless, this girl could be a criminal—or worse. But despite her family's objections, Heidi invites Willow and the baby to take refuge in their home.

Heidi spends the next few days helping Willow get back on her feet, but as clues into Willow's past begin to surface, Heidi is forced to decide how far she's willing to go to help a stranger. What starts as an act of kindness quickly spirals into a story far more twisted than anyone could have anticipated.


My Thoughts

Pretty Baby is a book that I found very difficult to put down. It’s that addictive kind of reading where you can see the disaster coming and you just have to know NOW what is going to happen. Told in three perspectives, current day Heidi and her husband Chris and past Willow, each perspective is distinct and equally compelling, and although at times it’s disappointing not to know Willow’s current day thoughts and feelings, the gradual reveal of her history keeps the mystery element high.

Apart from the main plot between Heidi, Willow and the baby, there’s also a secondary plot between Chris and Heidi that adds an extra dimension to the storyline, and helps build the characters of Heidi and Chris even further. Unfortunately the plot felt rather familiar and predictable, possibly because I’ve read a few similar plots in the not-so-distant past.

Heidi is the successful mother of Zoe, and a kind hearted woman who is dedicate to helping people less fortunate than herself, which is how she becomes entangled with Willow – a homeless teen with a baby who appears at the train station that Heidi regularly travels past on her daily commute. Overwhelmed with concern and sympathy, Heidi makes the first steps to gaining Willow’s trust, eventually inviting her into her home, along with her tiny baby Ruby. As a character, I felt like I should have liked Heidi – she’s kind-hearted and open, and although she is quite an overprotective and overinvolved parent, her good intentions are clear to see. Getting into Willow’s head is much harder, given that her perspective is really only a gradual reveal of her past.

At times however it felt like the characters changed too drastically, too quickly. Not that it wasn’t particularly unrealistic, but more like Kubica was rushing to get to the point, when a little bit of time would have made the book feel a little more sinister and tense.

Would I Recommend It? Yes, if you like psychological thrillers, Pretty Baby has many of the elements that make psychological thrillers fun to read – there’s mystery, unreliable narrators, a side plot that doesn’t take away from the main story, and good characters.

Pretty Baby is a good psychological mystery thriller and I would definitely recommend it to fans of the genre, I’m just a little disappointed that the plot wasn’t as shocking to me as it could have been, and I really wanted to know Willow’s thoughts on the here and now.

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.

09 May 2015

Review: Down from the Mountain by Elizabeth Fixmer


Down from the Mountain by Elizabeth Fixmer

Published: 1 March 2015 by Albert Whitman & Company

Pages: 272

Genre/s: YA, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction

Source: Publisher for review

Find it: Goodreads ~ Amazon

Synopsis

Eva just wants to be a good disciple of Righteous Path. She grew up knowing that she's among the chosen few to be saved from Armageddon. Lately, though, being saved feels awfully treacherous. Ever since they moved to the compound in Colorado, their food supplies have dwindled even while their leader, Ezekiel, has stockpiled weapons. The only money comes from the jewelry Eva makes and sells down in Boulder--a purpose she'll serve until she becomes one of Ezekiel's wives. But a college student named Trevor and the other "heathens" she meets on her trips beyond the compound are far different from what she's been led to believe. Now Eva doesn't know which is more dangerous--the outside world, or Brother Ezekiel's plans.

My Thoughts

Down From the Mountain is yet another 2015 book that had me captivated, but yet strangely unmoved. Reading it was like what I imagine watching a car crash in slow motion would be like – I felt disconnected from the people that were involved, but compelled to keep going, even though at times I’d developed a case of couldn’t’-give-a-fuck-itis.

Eva, at fourteen, has lived for the majority of her life in the compound of the Righteous Path. Led by Ezekiel, with only one other grown male and a bevy of women and small children, they live an isolated life, dominated by prayer and punishment for those who break the increasingly strict rules. It’s only when she is temporarily allowed to leave the confines of the compound when she shows an unexpected flair for jewellery making that she really starts to question how the Righteous Path members really live.

I can completely imagine that some readers would get rather frustrated with Eva – she retreats back to the safety of the commune at every moment, and at times I felt frustrated with her too, but when I stopped to think about it, it was logical. She’s been brainwashed – and the normal human reaction in any uncomfortable or scary situation is to fall back on the familiar, and apart from some patchy early memories, the commune is all she has ever known.

What made Down from the Mountain so addictive to read however, is knowing there’s a crunch time coming, and although it’s obvious quite early on what it is going to be, I was so curious to see how it would play out and Fixmer definitely drew me into the climax of the story.

The reason I felt rather disconnected from the book, however, was the characters. Eva was strong and brave, going against everything she had been taught, knowing the consequences would be dire, and yet I never really felt like I knew her very well. She bonds with one of the other ‘mothers’, Rachel, and yet I never really got to know Rachel, or any other secondary character either. And guys, there is no romance – although for everyone that assumes there is romance just because it’s a contemporary YA novel, this is why we should never assume – because there isn’t one.

Finally, Down from the Mountain ends rather abruptly, and it felt a little awkward to me – everything is a little too neat, despite all the trauma that Eva has been through, and it was just over too quickly for my liking.

Down from the Mountain was an interesting read – there is a lot to think about in terms of the way that human beings can be convinced by others to believe in something, even if it is illogical. An interesting premise that just didn’t quite hook me in.

07 May 2015

Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak


The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Published: 2005

Pages: 550

Genre/s: Historical Fiction

Source: Own library

Find It: Goodreads ~ Amazon

Synopsis

HERE IS A SMALL FACT - YOU ARE GOING TO DIE

1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier.

Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall.

SOME IMPORTANT INFORMATION - THIS NOVEL IS NARRATED BY DEATH

It's a small story, about:

a girl

an accordionist

some fanatical Germans

a Jewish fist fighter

and quite a lot of thievery.

ANOTHER THING YOU SHOULD KNOW - DEATH WILL VISIT THE BOOK THIEF THREE TIMES


My Thoughts

As I read the first pages of The Book Thief, I was confused. Everyone and their dog has loved this book, and yet I’m trying to figure out what the hell is going on and the prose is waaaaaaayyyy too purple for my tastes. But I persevere, I keep reading because either I’m missing something terribly obvious or I’m going to lose my faith in all my book loving friends. Before I know it, I’m completely sucked in and only stop reading for other compulsory life activities.

Normally, when I have trouble getting started with a book, even if I end up loving it, I’ll deduct a star or half as penance. But you know what? Fuck it, this book redeemed itself rather quickly and then had the audacity to make me want to cry. (Not actually cry because my reading heart is made of stone, but WANT to cry). So five stars it is.

Narrated by Death, The Book Thief is the story of Leisel Meminger, who finds herself living with a foster family just outside of Munich, after her mother puts her in foster care, and her younger brother dies. It didn’t take very long for Leisel, and her foster parents Hans and Rosa, to find a place in my heart – whether good or bad, almost all of the characters, and especially the main characters of The Book Thief are larger than life. I loved both Leisel and her best friend Rudy, her foster father Hans, but most tellingly, the seemingly abrasive Rosa Hubermann who really does have a heart of gold (albeit a well-hidden one), and on and on – Zusak invests a lot in his characters and it was so easy to imagine them in my mind.

The most telling thing, however, is that I loved this book despite two things that would normally irritate me:

- Death tends to go off on one a little bit – the colours, the way of speaking, at times it was beautiful and poetic, at other times I thought perhaps he’d been partaking in an afternoon tipple.

- The story is not linear – Death occasionally jumps back and forth, and he’s a terrible one for dropping hints, or even outright telling part of the story before Leisel’s story has arrived at that point.

So in the end, I loved The Book Thief - so much that I also bought the movie tie-in enhanced Kindle version and the audiobook so I could read for every possible second. Its great historical fiction with fantastic characters, a unique narrator and although a little unconventional in approach, it’s definitely memorable.

06 May 2015

Review: We Are All Made of Stars by Rowan Coleman


We Are All Made of Stars by Rowan Coleman
Expected Publication: 21 May 2015 by Ebury Press

Pages: 400

Genre/s: Contemporary, Adult

Source:
Publisher for review

Find it: Goodreads ~ Amazon

Synopsis

What if you had just one chance, one letter you could leave behind for the person you love? What would you write?


Stella Carey has good reason to only work nights at the hospice where she is a nurse. Married to a war veteran who has returned from Afghanistan brutally injured, Stella leaves the house each night as Vincent locks himself away, unable to sleep due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

During her nights at the hospice, Stella writes letters for her patients, detailing their final wishes, thoughts and feelings – from how to use a washing machine, to advice on how to be a good parent – and posts them after their death.

That is until Stella writes one letter that she feels compelled to deliver in time, to give her patient one final chance of redemption...


My Thoughts

If you ask me what my favourite movie is, I will immediately answer ‘Love, Actually’. I’ve seen it at least a dozen times, and it always leaves me feeling warm and fuzzy. So saying that We Are All Made of Stars left me feeling that way, when it’s a book about a woman who works in a hospice, writing final letters for her dying patients whilst her marriage falls apart, sounds a little strange, as they don’t seem that similar.

We Are All Made of Stars is one of those books – the kind that you go into with not huge expectations, and suddenly, somewhere along the way you find yourself thinking about it every moment that you aren’t reading it, and when you are reading it, you go back over certain passages again and again to squeeze out the maximum amount of emotion.

Although the synopsis only mentions Stella’s story, the book revolves around three main characters, Stella, Hugh and Hope and their individual but linked stories. Stella is struggling in her marriage to Vincent, injured in Afghanistan, Hugh is isolated and lonely but not able to admit it to himself, and Hope is a young woman with Cystic Fibrosis who spends her life hiding away from the world.

The writing is beautiful, full of profound moments and thoughts, but at the same time the characters feel like real people, and their relationships are awkward, fragile and they don’t always know what to do, or how to handle the situations they find themselves in. Coupled with the funny, heartbreaking, mysterious letters that separate the changes of perspective, I was completely hooked.

It’s been a long time since I was so emotionally invested in a book, and it’s definitely one I recommend to anyone that enjoys a good, moving story with characters that are very easy to care about.

03 May 2015

The Sunday Post #5


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

It's been a crazy busy week but now I have a FOUR DAY WEEKEND.  WOOT.  And some new books to keep me company!

New Books


Purchased
The Last Summer of Us by Maggie Harcourt

For Review
A Step Toward Falling by Cammie McGovern
Future Perfect by Jen Larsen
A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinniss
Underneath Everything by Marcy Beller Paul
Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu
Awake by Natasha Preston
A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz

27 April 2015

Review: Soft Apocalypse by Will McIntosh


Soft Apocalypse by Will McIntosh

Originally published: 2011 by Night Shade Books

Pages: 368

Genre/s: Apocalypse, Science Fiction

Source: Own library

Find It: Goodreads ~ Amazon

Synopsis

What happens when resources become scarce and society starts to crumble? As the competition for resources pulls America's previously stable society apart, the "New Normal" is a Soft Apocalypse. This is how our world ends; with a whimper instead of a bang. New social structures and tribal connections spring up across America, as the previous social structures begin to dissolve. Locus Award finalist and John W. Campbell Memorial Award finalist Soft Apocalypse follows the journey across the Southeast of a tribe of formerly middle class Americans as they struggle to find a place for themselves and their children in a new, dangerous world that still carries the ghostly echoes of their previous lives.

My Thoughts

McIntosh’s debut novel, Soft Apocalypse, is a bit of a different take on the apocalyptic genre – rather than one event being the tipping point that pushes the world into full melt-down, it’s a thirteen year ride through a gradually deteriorating world.

Soft Apocalypse is told through the perspective of Jasper – who at the beginning of the novel is living with his nomadic ‘tribe’, homeless due to rocketing unemployment that has made their skills and education obsolete. On first impression I didn’t particularly like nor dislike Jasper – he didn’t seem to have any real passion or personality, and I was cautious as to how I would feel after spending a whole book with him. However, as the story progressed, I found myself liking him more and more, despite the fact that he spends a lot of time obsessing about finding true love, which sounds a little odd for an apocalyptic novel, but worked quite well for me.

The story also revolves around Jasper’s group of friends, who initially form his tribe, and later remain close through the ups and downs of the story as the world gradually falls more and more apart. I found most of the characters either likeable and could understand why they did certain things – even if at times Jasper’s never-ending quest for true love was a little irritating, when the world is falling apart in stages, there would be times when the survival adrenalin stops pumping and hormones and the need to be with someone are leading emotions.

For those who like to know all the details of why, when and how the apocalypse occurs, Soft Apocalypse may be a little disappointing. McIntosh limits the story to the characters and what they themselves know through media or personal experience – there are quite a few tantalising hints at what is happening outside the group’s immediate experiences, but I preferred the lack of info-dumping – it fit the plot much better. The parts that are revealed I found infinitely fascinating, the splintering of law and order into different factions with their own agendas, bio-terrorism and engineered viruses were all new ideas to me and were convincingly presented in their implementation, if not in the science.

The action ebbs and flows throughout the story, and perhaps the only real disappointment was the large time jumps where something major had obviously happened to change the fortunes of the characters, but the details fall into the gaps between.

Although I enjoyed the whole of Soft Apocalypse, it was the last third or so that really hooked me in, not surprisingly it’s where the stakes are raised and the action really picks up, and again, it was fitting for this novel.

As the second McIntosh novel that I’ve read, the comparison between his debut and his most recent novel, Love Minus Eighty is easy for me to make – McIntosh obviously aims to make his characters, and their relationships the driver of his novels, and has a knack for tantalising science fiction which poses new ideas without going into great detail of the execution – which is actually MY kind of science-fiction read.

26 April 2015

Sunday Post #4

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

No exciting personal news this week - I think last week was enough to last me for a while!  I did take last Monday off work to have a 'me' day, and I'd fully intended to spend the day in my pyjamas reading books, but I am currently obsessed with playing DayZ - and that's what I ended up doing the WHOLE day.  Oops.

But there ARE books this week - a whole bunch of books I had on my wishlist for a long time were on sale so I snapped them up.


The Knife and the Butterfly by Ashley Perez Hope
Smashed by Lisa Luedeke
Wanted by Heidi Ayarbe
You Are My Only by Beth Kephart
The Great Collapse by Jeff W. Horton
The Unhappening of Genesis Lee by Shallee McArthur
The O'Briens by Peter Behrens

Have a fabulous week!!

19 April 2015

Sunday Post #3

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

My Life
Guys, this has been such an epic week!  My birthday was on Saturday, so the evening before we went to my favourite restaurant for a steak dinner.  Nom nom nom.


And then on Saturday morning, this happened....

Yep, Mr Kat decided after more than seven years together that he'd make an honest woman out of me.  Don't ask me when/where the wedding will be - with family in the UK and Australia, and lots of our friends living in other parts of Europe, it will be a logistical nightmare.  Maybe we will just elope....and upset everyone ;)

Reading

I've read five books this week, which is the most in almost forever.  One was a novella, and two were graphic novels but I'm still surprised.  Best of the bunch was The Earth is Singing by Vanessa Curtis.


New Books
I went a bit crazy for my birthday present to myself and ordered a whole bunch of ebooks which I'm too lazy to list all of, but I did get two physical books this week:



A Little in Love by Susan Fletcher
Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein

Coming Up
Nothing planned nor scheduled so far this week, but I'm getting used to that now ;)

Have a fabulous week guys!

14 April 2015

Review: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer



Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Series: Southern Reach #1

Published: 4 February 2014 by FSG Originals

Pages: 195

Genres: Science Fiction/Fantasy

Source: Publisher for review

Find it: Goodreads ~ Amazon

Synopsis

Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.

This is the twelfth expedition.

Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.

They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them, and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another, that change everything.


My Thoughts

So.

Yeah.

How to talk about this book? It’s a little bit of crazy, a lot of WTF and a whole bunch of confusion is probably the most accurate way I can begin. Basically, Annihilation is the journey of the unnamed biologist who is part of the twelfth expedition to Area X – an isolated, mysterious area that Southern Reach (which I understand to be some type of government agency) sends expeditions to on a regular basis to learn its secrets. In theory this all sounds pretty straightforward, but reading it is anything but.

The narrator isn’t named, but her life is so consumed by her job, that it doesn’t feel particularly strange not to know her name. However, there is a lot of information about her life before the expedition, her relationship with her husband, her fascination with other worlds around her, and some rather candid introspection into her own character. She’s particularly comfortable with herself, which is rather refreshing for a main character.

And then there’s the crazy, WTF and confusion. At first introduction, Area X seems quite straightforward, but quickly escalates into some seriously weird stuff. I’ve always struggled with the super-strange in fiction, but I really enjoyed what Vandermeer does with Annihilation – it’s all a bit strange and I won’t even pretend that I understood, nor spent large chunks of time trying to decipher exactly what was going on, but nevertheless I found it strangely addictive.

I have absolutely no clue who I’d recommend this book to, because really it’s quite hard for me to put it in a nice little box and say ‘yes, this person would LOVE it’ or ‘this person would HATE it’. It’s one of those books that’s very hard to predict who it would appeal to, and why. And I’m keeping this all rather short and quite generic, but I was totally sucked in…even whilst I was scratching my head and trying to figure out exactly what was happening.


06 April 2015

Review: All the Rage by Courtney Summers


All the Rage by Courtney Summers

Expected Publication: 14 April 2015 by St. Martin's Griffin

Pages: 336 

Genre/s: YA, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction

Source: Publisher for review

Find it: Goodreads ~ Amazon

Synopsis

The sheriff’s son, Kellan Turner, is not the golden boy everyone thinks he is, and Romy Grey knows that for a fact. Because no one wants to believe a girl from the wrong side of town, the truth about him has cost her everything—friends, family, and her community. Branded a liar and bullied relentlessly by a group of kids she used to hang out with, Romy’s only refuge is the diner where she works outside of town. No one knows her name or her past there; she can finally be anonymous. But when a girl with ties to both Romy and Kellan goes missing after a party, and news of him assaulting another girl in a town close by gets out, Romy must decide whether she wants to fight or carry the burden of knowing more girls could get hurt if she doesn’t speak up. Nobody believed her the first time—and they certainly won’t now — but the cost of her silence might be more than she can bear. 

My Thoughts

All the Rage is not an easy read.  In fact, at times it is so confronting it would be easier to put it down and move onto something much more light and fun.  But this is what Summers does – she takes a girl, in this case Romy, who has been through a terrible trauma and puts her smack bang in the middle of a group of nasty, vindictive teenage girls who would rather place the blame on one person than admit there is something bigger going on.  

And we could argue until the end of time that not everyone is like that, and we’d stand up and do something about it if we were in that situation, but it’s mob mentality at it’s very strongest – to admit your opinion doesn’t match the group would mean social death, and therefore they continue, despite the mounting evidence otherwise.

Trying to describe this book is almost impossible – it’s confusing, gripping, and mentally and emotionally exhausting.  Romy herself is confused and confusing, she pushes people away whilst trying to get closer, and she’s never quite sure how she really feels about people and situations.  She’s close to her mother but doesn’t confide in her, has an easy relationship with her mothers’ boyfriend and a complex relationship with Leon, her colleague and the boy who openly admits that he likes her.

Romy hides behind her shield of perfectly applied nail polish and lipstick – they are her signature, for better or worse (and made me painfully ashamed of my own nails every bloody time she mentioned it – even now as I type I keep looking at the terrible state of them!) and even when it is cruelly used against her, she sticks to her guns – I love a good stubborn character and Romy is right up there.

Summers writing is rather different than her normal style, but I loved it –nothing is laid out neatly and it was up to me to decipher what was happening and put all the pieces together. Normally this wouldn’t be my kind of style, but it definitely works in All the Rage – it’s so reflective of Romy’s state of mind that anything else wouldn’t have felt right.

If you’re looking for a gritty, emotional read, I can most definitely recommend All the Rage.  It’s tough but compulsive reading, and although there’s no happily ever after (and that’s not a spoiler if you know Courtney Summers’ books), it’s a very satisfying, thought-provoking read.

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