Monday, July 30, 2012

Monday Amusements 3

I've been meaning to post another one of these for ages! There has been so much good stuff shared in the last couple of weeks, I just had to get my butt in the chair and put it all together. Enjoy!

Above: a working version of the Weasley family clock! (I think someone posted this on Twitter, but I don't remember who. Sorry! If it was you, leave me a comment and I'll credit)

I appreciate and (mostly) agree with this post In Praise of Ripening at Writer Beware. Although the lowered costs involved in self-publishing these days are a good thing in that niche or marginalised writers whose work might never have been published can do-it-themselves and get their words out there, I dislike the DIY-as-fast-as-possible idea. I love the stories I'm working on, and I want the published versions to be the best they can be, and that requires a lot of work. I can't imagine there are any writers whose work doesn't benefit from the eye of a good editor or at least a practiced reader.

NPR is running a readers' poll for a top 100 list of teen novels. I voted for:

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
Boy Meets Boy, by David Levithan
Discworld/Tiffany Aching (series), by Terry Pratchett
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart
Fire and Hemlock, by Diana Wynne Jones
If I Stay, by Gayle Forman
Ruby Oliver Quartet (series), by E. Lockhart
Saving Francesca, by Melina Marchetta
and I couldn't decide on a ninth or tenth!

The nominations are pretty good! There are loads of books I really want to read on there and only a couple that I think are totally overrated (am I the only one who feels that way about The Perks of Being a Wallflower? Maybe I need to give it another go). I didn't vote for either the Harry Potter series, The Hunger Games trilogy, or His Dark Materials, as I'm sure they'll get plenty of votes, and I wanted to support books that were more likely to be underdogs. Also, aren't the Harry Potter books children's lit? I know Harry, Hermione and Ron are in their teens for most of the series, but due to the readers-younger-than-characters rule and the fact that bookshops shelve them in 9-12 (or on their own stand, of course), I always think of them as children's rather than teen.

As a counterpoint to the NPR list, which is rather heavy on American authors, the UKYA blog is now receiving nominations for their own top-100 of British teen novels. You have until Saturday 3rd August to leave a comment on the post linked above with your own suggestions. I know it'll take me quite some time to decide on mine!

The Guardian books staff have started a 'What are you reading today?' Flickr group in which members can post images of the book they are reading that day. I'm not quite sure how discussion will evolve from this but it'll be interesting to look at occasionally.

I know next to nothing about the Olympic athletes but Jo's post on weartheoldcoat pairing athletes with YA audiobooks made me smile! 'Usain Bolt reading The Hunger Games. Don’t even pretend you wouldn’t buy it.'

I've decided to include links to the most interesting reviews I've read recently from now on. I had two favourites this week. Luisa Plaja's review of The Twice-Lived Summer of Bluebell Jones by Susie Day was really intriguing, I loved Girl Meets Cake and the idea of a Susie Day book with a darker edge has sent this one straight to my wishlist.

I was drawn to Cicely's review of The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale because I love fairytale retellings and have never read a retelling of 'The Goose Girl', which is one of my favourites. It sounds similar to Robin McKinley's Spindle's End, which I really enjoyed.

Anything bookish you've seen that you think I'd enjoy? Please share it in the comments!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Book Review: Where She Went, by Gayle Forman

Where She Went is a sequel and this review will contain spoilers for the first book, If I Stay.

It's three years after Mia's accident, shortly after which Mia left Adam behind and moved on to life as a virtuoso violinist at Juillard. Adam has become a celebrity - a rock star with an actress girlfriend. But he is far from happy, suffering from anxiety and having fallen out with his bandmates.

Then Adam has one night to himself in New York City before he goes on tour, and almost by chance, he goes to see Mia perform. She invites him backstage and as they both have one last night in the city before they go to separate corners of the world, they decide to spend it together. But they can't avoid discussing the painful past.

There were definitely things I liked about Where She Went. I was interested to find out how Mia coped with life after the accident, and how Adam failed to cope. I thought that Where She Went was a good exploration of the ways that people deal with traumatic events and build their futures afterwards. I loved Mia as a character because she seems so real. She's kind and loving but she's not a pushover or a doormat - she's really strong and she takes care of herself first. I think in that way she's a role model for all of us. I felt so sad for Adam, but hopeful that he could turn things around. I was rooting for them to work out where they had gone wrong, and to heal themselves and each other. There is a really strong emotional journey that the characters - particularly Adam - go through, and as a reader I was taken along for the ride, starting off depressed by the way Adam has changed and going through his following emotional ups and downs with him. I also liked the way that music tied everything together - music was also a pivotal part of If I Stay and one of my favourite things about it.


I have this issue with books and paranormal activities. I can read fantasy novels, urban fantasy, paranormal, magical realism, etc, no problem. But when a book with some ambigious paranormal activity (I'll call it 'magic' from here on out) suddenly becomes unambigious, it can fall flat for me. If something's happening and we don't know if it's magic or if someone's imagining it, I don't mind the suspense. If it becomes clear that it is supposed to be magic and there's a proper explanation after that point, that's fine. If there's no explanation, if we're just supposed to accept the existence of this magic - then I become uncomfortable and usually dislike the rest of the book.

It's really hard to explain this without spoilers. But basically, I think that although I had no problem suspending my disbelief when reading If I Stay, where the whole conceit of the novel is that Mia's disembodied spirit is watching her family and friends' reactions to the accident, when that idea got taken outside of that one novel and introduced to the 'real world' in Where She Went, I had problems suspending my disbelief.

Also, although I liked the idea of it all happening over just 24 hours, in practice I wasn't sure all those revelations and decisions were realistic. I think that in reality people separated like Mia and Adam would need to take more time to rebuild their connection than they do.

After I finished and adored If I Stay, I couldn't wait to read the sequel. I don't think I could have stopped and never read Where She Went. I wanted more. Yet it turned out that I didn't need more. It's not that I disliked Where She Went, I just think that it was was unnecessary for me. Not unnecessary full stop by any means, just unnecessary for me. It was, as I said above, interesting to read, but I didn't believe it the same way I believed If I Stay.

Maybe it's merely a clash of personality and book. Plenty of other readers have loved Where She Went, and odds are you will too. I am still looking forward to reading Gayle Forman's previous and future books. But if your reader's mind works like mine - you're not alone.

Two reviews that I read prior to Where She Went:
Fluttering Butterflies (with author interview)
So Many Books, So Little Time

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Book Review: Adorkable, by Sarra Manning

Photo by 20after4 (runner up: puck90)

Our heroine, Jeane Smith, is a seventeen-year-old borderline-professional blogger. Jeane has a fair bit in common with real-live fashion bloggers Tavi and Gala Darling, especially when it comes to the activities she gets paid for, but she's older than Tavi and younger than Gala and she's British. Really British. She loves all things dorky, writing very opinionated posts, eating Haribo, and watching cute videos of dogs on YouTube. Although Jeane's career star is on the rise, her parents fund the flat she lives in and she still goes to school, where although it seems everyone follows her blog, they don't spend any time with her outside of class. Her only friend at school is her boyfriend, Barney, though their relationship isn't the most romantic - to say the least.

Our hero is Michael Lee, eighteen and toeing the line of conformity with his faux-hawk and Converse shoes. He's popular and conventionally successful for a teenage boy - good at school and at sports. He lives with his parents and two little sisters and dates the popular and beautiful Scarlett. Everything changes when he starts to suspect that Barney and Scarlett might be having an affair, and decides to tell Jeane.She doesn't believe him until Barney and Scarlett make their affections obvious and several dramas later, somehow, Jeane and Michael end up kissing. And they just can't stay away from each other after that...

I'd been excited about this book ever since Sarra first described it, years ago, and as soon as it was announced that it would be published this year, my excitement went into overdrive. Every time I opened a jiffy bag and didn't find my copy of Adorkable within, I was a little bit disappointed. And then, on the glorious day when it actually arrived, I squealed and did a victory dance. I'm not sure how getting a book you were expecting anyway is a victory, but yeah. It was not much like this. But it was joyful.

I had no idea until I recieved my copy that there would be two narrators. At first I was a bit disappointed, because I often find books written from alternating perspectives to be missing some magic. Either one narrator is a lot more convincing than the other, or the alternating perspective means that I can't really get into the head of either character properly. However, neither of these issues plagued Adorkable. I liked both Jeane and Michael's voices and I felt that it switched between them at just the right moments. I also thought that they both developed equally over the course of the novel, so it was well balanced.

I loved Jeane and Michael's characters - neither of them are immediately nice but I thought that was realistic. Teenagers are not very nice! I was fairly nice and thoughtful for a teenager and I was still a bit of a knobhead 70% of the time. There's no instalove in Adorkable, as they bicker and fight and bicker some more. I really liked that they were both quite arrogant characters. Jeane is a breath of fresh air in a genre filled with girls in with faltering self-esteem. Both Jeane and Michael's families feature in the story but their influence is not overdramaticised, which I really liked. Jeane's family history is sad but she's not traumatised, it's just something she has to deal with.

I also adored the secondary characters - especially Barney and Scarlett. I liked that the story was kind to Scarlett - it would have been easy for it to be mean and it wasn't. There is also a cameo appearance from a couple of Guitar Girl characters. Complete tangent - Guitar Girl characters have cameoed in at least three other books now. When are we going to get some Diary of a Crush cameos? I know Edie or Dylan is extremely unlikely, but how about Poppy? Mellowstar are mentioned in Guitar Girl but she never appears. Or her boyfriend from Sealed With A Kiss, Jesse, because he's hilarious. Or maybe Darby and/or Atsuko, boy-chasing? ANYWAY...

Twitter plays a pretty important role in Adorkable and I was really pleased with the way it's presented. It's not used in a gimmicky way at all, it's completely realistic in my opinion, and that's quite refreshing. There were quite a few novelty books published in the early '00s using text messaging and/or e-mail to tell the stories and happily Adorkable is nothing like those. 

Other things I loved in Adorkable include: the dialogue (I heart Sarra Manning's dialogue, forever and ever and ever), the feminism (particularly in relation to matters of the physical nature, ahem), the descriptions of Jeane's outfits, and Michael Lee! Although I have enjoyed every book Sarra Manning has had published, no love interest has ever matched the standards of the first. Dylan is still the original and the best fictional boyfriend, but Michael Lee isn't a bad number two (on the Sarra Manning only list of course, on the All Books list he's number three, behind Noel DuBoise, obviously). He's funny and a bit conceited but also down to earth and he's not afraid to take action. Cue girlish sigh.

It took me about six days to read Adorkable and I have to admit that at times I was trying not to read it so fast as I didn't want it to be over! Adorkable surpassed my hopeful expectations and is a book I'm sure I'll read over and over again. I've run out of other things to say so I'll just finish by saying: if you have the vaguest notion that you might enjoy Adorkable, buy it or borrow it, and read it ASAP!

Many thanks to Atom for sending me a review copy.

Other enthusiastic reviews for your perusal:
Readaraptor (in letter form! I love it!)
Fluttering Butterflies
So Many Books, So Little Time
Cicely Loves Books
weartheoldcoat (features some hilarious fangirling I can totally relate to)
Young Adult Anonymous

Monday, July 23, 2012

Book Review: Bright Young Things, by Anna Godbersen

I was really excited when I won a copy of Bright Young Things in a competition at Chicklish. I love reading about the 1920s, so I was delighted by the prospect of a new YA series set during that time (I'm also really excited about Libba Bray's The Diviners and Jillian Larkin's The Flappers series, of course). I knew that the same author wrote the 'The Luxe' series, which I'd been meaning to try. 'The Luxe' was described as 'Gossip Girl set in the 19th Century' by a Grazia reviewer so I wasn't expecting anything world changing from Bright Young Things. I was expecting it to be a fun read, but one that wouldn't wow me, and that's exactly what I got.

I adored the atmosphere and all the period details. I thought the author captured the spirit of the age and how excited the girls would be to live through it. There were plenty of descriptions of parties and speakeasies and fashions, and I did love the characters' names and the descriptions of clothes but all the repetitive descriptions of hair and eyes started to really annoy me after a while. The prose gets quite purple in places when the author is needlessly reminding us how beautiful her protagonists are - hair halos heads and skin is glowing and eyes are sparkling far too frequently.  By the end it seems like the contrast between Letty's big blue eyes and dark hair is mentioned everytime she enters a scene or the narration starts to follow her again, and to use an appropriate idiom, it's a bore.

In terms of the plot and characterisation - I could predict what was going to happen easily and I didn't really love any of the characters, though Astrid and her mother Virginia did make me laugh with their cynical frivolity and love of drama, especially in later chapters. Although I was hoping for good things for Letty, she was lazy, naïve, and a little thoughtless. Everything happens a bit too easily for Cordelia and I could see so many places where the author could have made things a bit trickier for her and introduced complications. If her father was so pleased to see her, why didn't he come for her years ago?

Yet despite all these flaws, as I said above I did enjoy the book, and  I will read the second in the series, Beautiful Days - actually, I've already read the preview pages!

If you can't stand purple prose or require great depth from all your reading material, I would skip Bright Young Things. But if you want an enjoyable bit of escapism, give it a try, especially if you like all things 1920s.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Book Review: Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins

This book is the second in a trilogy and therefore this review will inevitably contain spoilers for the first book, The Hunger Games. In the next paragraph below the picture! So if you haven't read it or watched the film and want to without spoiling the end, stop reading this blog post now. Seriously!

Photo by Dave Stokes

So Katniss and Peeta have won the 74th Hunger Games and returned home to District Twelve, where they now live in comparative luxury in the mansions reserved for victors. Whilst her sister and mother enjoy their new surroundings, Katniss misses the comparative freedom of her old life - hunting with Gale in particular. The Victory Tour is approaching and Katniss knows she will have to start pretending to be madly in love with Peeta again, otherwise all their lives will be at risk. The stakes become even higher when she hears about  possible rebellions in other districts, and there is also the approaching Quarter Quell to worry about - a special version of the Hunger Games that takes place every twenty-five years.

Some readers have said that they didn't enjoy Catching Fire as much as The Hunger Games. Not me! I loved it. I really liked how the plot developed and enjoyed trying to work out what was going on. However, I can see where they're coming from in that there are a lot of similar scenes to the first book, and then not much is revealed until the end. You finally find out what's going on at the end of the book but then of course it's the end of the book! Argh. I wouldn't say Catching Fire is filler as it does advance the plot and characterisation, but if I'd read these books when they were originally published, and didn't have access to Mockingjay straight away, I would have been really frustrated.

I think the characterisation was better in Catching Fire than in The Hunger Games, simply because Katniss spends more time with more other people. In the first book, she spent most of her time in the arena, alone, which was fantastic for setting her up as a self-reliant, clever individual, but we didn't really get to know the other tributes, or her family and friends. I really liked seeing how Katniss' relationships with the other characters developed in Catching Fire, slow as that development might be, and finished absolutely thrilled about the prospect of the final book, Mockingjay.


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