Saturday, May 18, 2013
Ella doesn't want to go back home, but her first year at college is over and she can't avoid going back to confront the reality she ran away from: her past, and her fears about her changing relationship with Micha, her best friend since childhood. Micha had refused to let her go, telephoning colleges and asking for her, hoping that he could find her and explain his feelings. Now she's back, he wants to make his move, but she is determined to cling to the calm and collected façade that she built during her time away, to protect the old, impulsive Ella who couldn't handle her life anymore.
If you follow me on Twitter, you might have noticed that I'm quite positive about the concept of 'New Adult'. As much as I love YA and always will, I've been wanting for years to read more coming-of-age stories about characters in their twenties. I like the idea of a marketing category for books like this to make them easier to find - I think anything that helps people find books they might enjoy is a good thing. When I was invited to read and review The Secret of Ella and Micha, a New Adult title that has already made the bestseller lists in the USA, I jumped at the chance, because I hadn't read any New Adult books before and I wanted to see what the hype was all about.
The Secret of Ella and Micha is essentially a romance, albeit one in which the protagonists also have serious family issues to deal with. Unfortunately, this book was the next book I read after the wonderful Pushing the Limits, which probably set it up at a bit of a disadvantage, especially as it features similar issues. The Secret of Ella and Micha is definitely more adult, and maybe more realistic in some ways, but I have to admit that it didn't move me in the way that Pushing the Limits did.
The Secret of Ella and Micha is a much shorter book, and the characters are all drawn more quickly. My favourite thing about this novel is the setting. Ella and Micha's background is almost completely different from mine, and I enjoyed discovering this small town where the young people have nothing much else to do than throw parties and go drag racing. I thought Lila, Ella's roommate, was really intriguing and enjoyed finding more out about her.
When it came to the romance, I often wished that Ella and Micha would just get on with it, instead of acting up around each other and attempting to resist the inevitable. Many readers will probably enjoy the drawn-out tension, but I found myself wanting the story to hurry up so that I could find out how things would work out once they decided to date, and see how they would handle all the challenges of life together.
I didn't feel like the story really needs to be New Adult, because although Ella is a university student, almost all of the action takes place in the town where she grew up, and apart from her student status providing a reason for her to have left town for several months, and to return bringing a stranger (Lila), it doesn't add anything to the story. Ella might as well have been a teenager who moved away with a parent or other relative and then came back. The story was more about resolving issues from her past than negotiating her future, and I think I would have been more excited about it had it been the other way around, because that's the kind of content that I want to see in New Adult. Maybe Ella's future is dealt with more in the sequel, The Forever of Ella and Micha. I'll have to read some reviews and find out.
This is quite a minor criticism, but I think the text could have done with an extra proofread or two - I spotted several spelling, grammar and formatting mistakes.
I'm not entirely sure that The Secret of Ella and Micha was my kind of book in the end, but if you're looking for a romance that touches on tough subjects, it might be one for you. Honestly, it seems likely that I'll skip the second in the series, but I might keep an eye out for the third, The Temptation of Lila and Ethan, as I found Lila and Ethan, Ella's roommate and Micha's best friend respectively, to be quite likeable and interesting, and I wanted to know what was going on between them when they went off alone.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
All the books I chose for this theme that I currently have copies of, except for Girl Overboard, which I couldn't find.
This is my twenty-second Top Ten Tuesday post. Top Ten Tuesday was created and is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. I'm really excited about this topic because it means that I get to feature a wide range of books, from those that have held a place in my heart (and on my shelves) for years, to more recent reads. I've tried to pick books that deal with a variety of issues, but couldn't resist including three that deal with food and body issues, all read as part of the Body Image and Self-Perception Month that I participated in. As always, click the links in the book titles to read my full reviews.
Top Ten Books Dealing with Tough Subjects
1. Pushing the Limits, by Katie McGarry - Yes, this novel has a romance at its heart, but Echo and Noah also have to deal with the social care system, betrayal, amnesia, and mental illness, and the characterisation throughout is outstanding.
2. Noughts & Crosses, by Malorie Blackman - A thriller set in an alternate version of the UK where the dark-skinned Crosses are in charge of everything, whilst the light-skinned Crosses struggle to gain access to decent education, healthcare, and justice. As best friends Callum and Sephy, a Nought and a Cross, head towards adulthood, they have to deal with the harsh realities of their world and their growing feelings for each other. It's a heartbreaking and fascinating story, and the first in a four-part series of novels.
3. Candy, by Kevin Brooks - A compulsively readable novel about Joe, who falls in love with Candy, a heroin addict, and despite his denial, slowly and inevitably learns about the terrible world she lives in.
4. Nobody's Family Is Going To Change, by Louise Fitzhugh - The eldest of the protagonists is only eleven, but this story, about learning to cope with parents that disapprove of your dreams, is immensely powerful.
5. Massive, by Julia Bell - A haunting snapshot of the life of Carmen, a teenage girl heavily influenced by the disordered eating of those around her, especially her mother Maria, who is obsessed with dieting.
6. Fat Kid Rules The World, by K. L. Going - Troy, the titular 'fat kid', is befriended by Curt, a popular, skinny, punk boy, in this short book with an unusual plot. Troy finds himself following Curt around, and eventually being encouraged to play the drums in Curt's band. This book deals with family problems as well as the food and body image issues that you would expect from the title.
7. Girl Overboard, by Justina Chen Headley - Billionnaire's daughter Syrah Cheng has to deal with the body issues her mother has passed onto her while recovering from a snowboarding accident and heartbreak.
8. Leader of the Pack, by Kate Cann - As their relationship develops, Gem and Jack have to deal with the laddish, hyper-masculine culture that goes hand-in-hand with his beloved rugby team.
9. Saving June, by Hannah Harrington - Recently bereaved Harper sets out on a road trip to scatter her sister's ashes in California, along with her best friend Laney and the mysterious Jake.
10. Dancing Through the Shadows, by Teresa Tomlinson - A tiny little book about a teenage girl called Ellen whose mum is diagnosed with breast cancer, and how she deals with her feelings though dance and helping to clean an ancient well.
Would any of these make your top ten? What are your favourite 'tough subjects' for books to tackle?
Saturday, May 11, 2013
Echo Emerson wasn't always an outcast. Last year, she was popular, an accomplished painter, on the school dance team, and dating Luke, one of their school's top sports players. She had everything, at least on the surface, though she was struggling to deal with her parents' divorce and the death of her brother Aires in Afghanistan. But that was all before the incident at her mother's house one afternoon that left her with scars on her arms and torso, and no memory of what happened. She knows her mother was responsible, and that now there is a restraining order to keep her away, but nothing more.The only thing Echo is looking forward to is leaving to go to university, but her father won't let her take art classes anymore, pressuring her to study accountancy at university instead.
Mrs Collins, the new school counsellor, doesn't seem much better than all the other professionals Echo's seen since the incident, but then she offers her an opportunity to make some money, which Echo desperately wants so that she can finish fixing up the car that Aires dreamed of getting running.
To earn this money, Echo has to tutor Noah, our other narrator: failed by the social care system, angry at the world, but desperate to gain custody of his younger brother once he graduates. Echo and Noah both resent this setup at first, despite their mutual attraction, but slowly they become an important part of each others' lives.
I have to guiltily confess that my expectations of Pushing the Limits were not that high. It's been changed on the final edition, but the tagline on the front of the proof copy (received at the first Mira INK bloggers' party) is 'A bad boy. A lost girl. An unforgettable love'. I do not generally like 'bad boys' as love interests, and despite all the positive reviews I'd read I just didn't think that Pushing the Limits could be that good. I was wrong. I loved it from the start.
I thought the characterisation was just fantastic. Of course I loved tentatively willful Echo, desperate to find out what exactly her mother did to her and struggling to break free from her father's control, and determined Noah, who is full of angry emotions yet loves his brothers above all else, but the secondary characters are interesting and well-developed as well. Mrs Collins is clever but flawed, excellent at understanding the teenagers but a terrible driver, and usually right, but not all the time. Echo's dad is demanding and controlling but we can see that he does want the best for Echo. Echo's mother, probably the most challenging character to portray fairly, is frighteningly believable. I also loved Echo and Noah's friends - beautiful Lila, who is always on Echo's side, provides a nice contrast with impatient and socially-paranoid Grace, and Isaiah and Beth are essentially Noah's true family, both caring towards him and self-involved at once. Even when the characters behave selfishly, they still have sympathetic elements, so no-one that features 'on screen' is easy to hate.
I loved Echo and Noah's relationship - yes, the scenario in which they get together isn't the most likely or original, but they seemed like a believable couple. They're in lust from the start but when their feelings develop, it doesn't seem rushed, and when they have relationship troubles, Noah gives Echo the space she needs, unlike some fictional couples that harass each other until they give in, something which is presented as romantic but isn't the healthiest or most successful technique in real life.
The novel is in first person; the chapters alternate between Echo and Noah's narration. Katie McGarry takes full advantage of this to show us the differences in the ways that Echo and Noah view each other, their relationship, their friends, Echo's father, and life. They very rarely agree on anything immediately, and the alternating chapters make it clear to the reader when they are interpreting events and the motivations of other characters through their own biased lens. For example, Echo sees her father as overbearing and controlling, and is convinced that he doesn't love her, but Noah sees him in quite a different way.
Some of the dialogue was a little stilted, and both narrators, but especially Noah, suffered from the oft-bemoaned YA cliché of mentioning eyes/hair/scent too much. I did roll my eyes every time someone's scent was mentioned, but then I always do because I almost never notice anyone's smell, and if it is them and not perfume, then it's terrible BO, cigarette smoke, or just a nice human-y smell. Not vanilla or cinnamon or woodsmoke!
In terms of plot, I have to admit that I guessed how things would work out for Echo and Noah at just a few chapters in, but there is so much else going on in this story besides the main plot that there were still plenty of small surprises, and the story is so convincing that I didn't mind at all. My only other criticism is that I didn't really get much of an impression of the town in which the story is set, but again, I don't really mind that much as the characterisation is so amazing, and as both a reader and a writer I treasure good characterisation above all else.
In short, Pushing the Limits is an incredible novel that far surpassed my expectations. It's rare that I read or watch or listen to a story and feel completely sure that the author knows every single one of her characters inside out, the way that Katie McGarry must do. I am thrilled that I already have Dare You To waiting on my TBR pile, and will look forward to her future work - hopefully she has a long and prolific career ahead of her!
Monday, May 06, 2013
Photo by JaimeMorrow
Exciting (and amusing) news: I've decided to make Monday Amusements a regular feature on both this fleeting dream and its sister blog, this second's obsession. I'll be posting bookish Monday Amusements here every other week, starting today, and doing the same (only fashion and make-up themed) on this second's obsession starting next Monday. Therefore you can expect my next Monday Amusements post here on the 20th May.
Also, I am going to try to credit my sources when I didn't just find a post or article myself via RSS feed or e-mail newsletter, or the publisher's twitter. Previously, I'd just bookmark the piece and by the time I got around to putting my Monday Amusements post together, I'd have forgotten how I discovered it. From now on I will bookmark the relevant tweet or Facebook post instead, so that you can find and follow interesting people too!
Now, onto today's link selection! I'm afraid I don't have any favourite reviews this week as I'm very behind on my RSS feeds, but this means that in a fortnight I will have a bumper selection!
I don't go to performance poetry events very often, but I've enjoyed every one I've attended. 'Is poetry the new comedy?' (The Telegraph) is not a particularly original piece (I'm sure the Evening Standard publishes something similar about once a year) but I chose to include it as it includes a couple of videos that are a great entry point to exploring the range of poetry videos on YouTube.
'10 Literary Board Games for Book Nerds' includes some games that sound interesting, and others that just sound surreal (the Animal Farm one). I'm kind of sad that it doesn't include A Game of Thrones, because that's what I'm probably playing right now as you read this. No really, I scheduled this post on Saturday so that I wouldn't have to interrupt my game plans (pun intended).
Jo visits the place where YA love interests are grown, in On Writing: The Boy is Mine, a hilarious and thoughtful post! Make sure you read the comments, as lots of people have added interesting opinions. The same goes for the responses to SisterSpooky's brilliant post about the relationship between bloggers and publishers. I'm not just saying this because I commented on both. Other people have said good things too!
'Jane Austen: Strictly Ballroom' is a really interesting piece with a terrible title, which describes the social rules and types of dance at Regency balls. I didn't realise that the dances were so energetic!
As someone who found 14 notebooks in one cupboard during one clearout session a few weeks ago (REALLY), I can appreciate Liz De Jager's post showcasing notebook collections. (Via @cloverness)
The ladies behind Makeshift Bookmark have now retired from blogging, but I would like to share one of their best discussion posts, All My Reviews Sound the Same. I know I will be referring to the comments over and over again for ideas to keep my reviews from getting stale, and for a good laugh.
This now fully-funded Indiegogo campaign will fund the production of the manga series of Julie Kagawa's The Iron King, which I reviewed recently. You can still contribute to receive the pretty cool perks.
Finally, 'Lovesick and Tired: Unnecessary Romance in YA', an incredibly excellent article which I discovered thanks to a link posted by E. Lockhart on Twitter. It led to some really interesting discussions on Twitter, which I would recommend reading if you can get over to @elockhart quickly enough! As much as I love a good romance, I've read some books in which the romance seems tacked on because the author thought they had to include one. If the characters are dating but barely seem to have two thoughts about their developing relationship, I don't think the book is really doing it justice, and it would have been better not to include the romance at all, or perhaps to just hint that it happens after the end of the book. YA books shouldn't have to involve romance. Real teenagers are not always involved in a romance. Some teenagers are never involved in a romance! We should be trying to show them that their lives can be fun and interesting and meaningful too.
What did you think of this week's list? Do you agree with my thoughts on YA romance? Do subscribe if you enjoy my link selections, and feel free to explore the archive!
Thursday, May 02, 2013
The students and teachers at the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women pretend that the school is an exclusive private school in order to hide the fact that it's a government-funded institution, intended to train future spies. Cammie Morgan, the headmistress' daughter, enjoys every part of this charade until one night, on a practice mission, she meets a boy from the town who assumes that she is just as normal as he is. Cammie thinks he's cute. Her friends think he's a enemy agent. And her mother can't possibly be allowed to find out about their burgeoning relationship.
Looooooong title. Short book. I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You is a quick, fun story set in a fabulously unusual school. I loved all the little details - from the lesson topics, to the mechanisms that disguise the building's real purpose when outsiders arrive. The mission scenes are exciting and funny and I really looked forward to the dramatic final operation. I also loved Cammie's friends - the mix of characters in the group is a bit of a YA cliche, but it works in whimsical stories like this, and they're all intelligent, hard-working, determined young women. I think Liz, the clumsy genius, is my favourite, but I suspect that my opinion is subject to change!
Cammie has a lot to juggle: secrets, feelings, and spy-schoolwork, and at times I felt like that the book jumped potentially interesting scenes. An example from the start of the book - Cammie skips over telling us about the homecoming of her school 'sisters' and why they stayed up all night, and I thought that could have been such a good scene. I also wanted more scenes featuring Cammie and her mum together, but I expect that their relationship is explored in more detail in the rest of the series. I didn't find Cammie's voice completely engaging, and as a result, I felt slightly distanced from her, but hopefully that will also improve.
I would recommend I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You to fans of boarding school stories, with a caveat to bear in mind - it's intended for the younger end of the teen market. There are a few serious moments, but for the most part, it's a gentle and light-hearted read.