Thursday, August 20, 2009

Book Review: Girls on Tour, by Alison James

This book is one of a fairly large series of teen romances aimed at the now defunct Just Seventeen/J-17 magazine. It was printed with two different covers, the one pictured and the one I have, which is a later re-print after Just Seventeen had been re-branded to J-17 and it features different models and the new magazine logo.

It is a short book with a simple story: three girls, Ushi, Stella and Jodie, set off together to travel around Europe for their summer holiday, and in-between seeing the sights, experiencing various adventures and mishaps, they all find romance in some form. It's not great literature, or even great teenage fiction, it is lightly entertaining, harmless fluff, with a host of stock characters and situations - annoying posh boys, putting up a tent in the rain, music festivals. All three girls attract male attention very easily and make no new female friends, it is like all the other young women in Europe have vanished for this fictional summer! It would appeal most to younger-mid teenage girls who like romance and because it is so simple and short I would recommend this book to parents who are looking for cheap books to get reluctant teenagers to read more. Avid readers and older teens will probably be bored by the uncomplicated plot.

This book is out of print but available on Amazon for 1p + shipping, these books are also quite easy to find at second hand sales and some are still available in libraries. I got my copy on Bookmooch when I mooched another from this series by Sarra Manning, an author whose more recent books I have enjoyed. I have now decided to track them all down as they make great, quick intros to different authors, so watch this space for more reviews of books from this series!

The BookDepository

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Book Review: Ten Things I Hate About Me, by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Jamilah Towfeek is living a double life. She finds it hard to fit in fit in with her Lebanese Muslim family - her widowed father is strict and obsessed with their reputation, her sister Shereen is a student activist wearing hijab covered in peace signs, and her brother Bilal wants to be a car mechanic, much to their father's disappointment. She doesn't want to have the same problems at her school in Australia, so she dyes her hair blonde, wears blue contact lenses and answers to 'Jamie', making up excuses to explain why she can't go to parties.

Jamilah has kept this up for the past three years, but things are about to change. She's noticing that other teenagers don't have the same difficulties with their identities, and she feels ashamed. One of her friends has started going out with one of the popular but mean boys, and one of his friends is attracted to Jamie. The school prom is approaching, and the traditional band she plays the darabuka (drums) in has been booked to perform - if she goes, she will blow her cover. Confused, she makes a new friend online and starts to tell him everything, about Jamie and Jamilah, her family, and all the things she hates about her life.

I had mixed feelings about this book. The characterisation of Jamie was great, cultural details were interesting, the casual bullying that takes place at the school was captured wonderfully, and I think it would be a good book for teenagers to read to help them understand and get on better with people from different cultural backgrounds. However, I was a bit disappointed in the plot. I could see the "twist" coming a mile off, and I felt the ending was rushed, with too much coming together at the same time - though to be fair, I am an adult who has read hundreds of teenage books in my time, I'm hardly coming at this with fresh eyes! I would also have liked to see more of Jamilah's relationship with her religion, it was barely touched upon.

I am bemused by the cover design for this book. On the front there is the image you can see above this review, but on the back cover, the same model is wearing hijab (the headscarf/veil). Jamilah does not wear one. At no point does she consider doing so. The cover really goes against the message of the book by invoking a stereotypical image of Muslim women in this way. It would have been better if there was no second image and a longer blurb, it is only a couple of lines, which meant that I had to start reading the book to find out what it was about.

I would expect 12-15 year old girls to enjoy this book the most. Although the protagonist is older, I don't think the plot is sophisticated enough for teens of the same age and higher to be convinced by the story. I would also suggest "Ten Things I Hate About Me" as a good book for school libraries, as there are not many books about teenaged Muslims available.

The BookDepository

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Book Review: Cold Water, by Gwendoline Riley

This short book (149 pages) is not so much a story as a snapshot of the life of its protagonist, 20 year old Carmel McKisco, an ambitionless daydreamer working in a bar in Manchester. It is difficult to describe the plot as there really isn't one. Carmel wanders around meeting different people and describing those she already knows, and the most action comes when she goes on a sort of pilgrimage to find the singer from a band she loved as a teenager.

In this book style is the substance: the characters are well drawn, the atmosphere is gloomy yet beautiful, everything is tinged with poetry - but nothing much actually happens, the novel is more about capturing Carmel's life at this stage and her development as a person. If you absolutely require action in novels to enjoy them, don't bother with this one.

I did enjoy reading this book and I will probably read it again - but I liked it for the descriptions more than anything else: I found Carmel a frustrating protagonist, because she didn't seem to want to do anything will her life besides maybe go to live in Cornwall, and I felt like nothing big had really changed by the end of the book.

However, I do think it is the right length - any longer a book and it would need a plot to hold my interest, and the style would stop being so powerful on its own. It is well paced as it is.

I would recommend this book anyone looking for a short, atmospheric book to slip into for a couple of hours (if that), so readers who don't mind novels without strong plot lines, give this a try.

The BookDepository

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Book Review: Leader of the Pack, by Kate Cann

When the rugby team gets a new coach, captain and angry-white-young-man Jack Slade has his life changed forever. The team used to have fun, but lost games more often than not. Their new coach inspires and pushes them to success, and in return the boys have to dedicate their whole lives to the sport. The boys become the stars of their school, feared by other rugby players for their rough behaviour, and suddenly very attractive to girls seeking the glamour of relationships with these infamous lads.

Gem fancies Jack from the start. She loves watching him play - but when they start dating feels increasingly uncomfortable around his team mates and coach. It seems like he has to spend all his spare time with them, and the boys are picking up bad attitudes towards women from their manipulative coach. She wants to be with Jack, and for him to be happy, but she needs more respect.

This is a pretty quick read with an absorbing story. Some of the characterisation is a little rushed, there isn't very much background information given about the school and the characters but it fits with the pace. The relationship between Gem and Jack is realistically portrayed, from their first awkward meetings to their frank discussions as they become more serious about each other.

There really shouldn't be so much pink on the cover of this book. It is not a sickly love story, and the narrative is split between the point of view of two characters, a girl and a boy, alternating between them. Kate Cann writes male characters brilliantly, and it's a shame that the cover could put boys off reading it.

I would recommend this book to mid-teenagers, both girls and boys (if you can get the latter to look past the cover). There is a fair bit of sexual content but all the sex is safe, and I think it's important that teenagers learn not to be embarrassed about protecting themselves. Anyone over the age of 17 will probably find the storyline a bit simplistic, but if you read teen/young adult fiction regularly you should enjoy this. Like all of Kate Cann's novels it has a realistic story and I could imagine it happening all over the country for real.

The BookDepository

Saturday, August 08, 2009

How to read more

"I've read 58 books so far this year (in 7 months), which is more than I read in the whole of last year!"

How I did it: I found as many books I thought I would enjoy as I could and found ways to make time for reading almost every day. I read different lengths of book - short novels as well as longer and have been amazed at how much reading I can get done if I put my mind to it.

Lessons & tips:

  1. I carried a book everywhere so I could read whenever I was sitting still with no other tasks to do - on the train, whilst waiting to meet friends, etc.

  2. I still watched TV - but I would decide in advance what programmes I wanted to watch and record them so that I could watch them when I couldn't read, like when I was eating or painting my nails. I never sat down in front of the TV just for the sake of it.

  3. I listened to audiobooks when I couldn't physically read but could concentrate on the words - whilst walking, knitting, cleaning etc.


  1. I found books I was interested in by reading book reviews on blogs, I'm really into YA and I'd recommend Chicklish and Leaving Shangri-La. I also found new authors by using the Literature-Map.

  2. I got books from my local library, bookstores, charity shops and via online book exchange websites Bookmooch and readitswapit.

  3. I downloaded free mp3 audio books from LibriVox.

It took me 7 months.

It made me delighted!


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