Thursday, May 30, 2013

J-17, Diary of a Crush and my teenage pursuit of cool, or: Edie Wheeler, the world's coolest girl...definitely

It's the final day of Diary of a Crush week. The books are out in shiny new print editions today, and you can also get the trilogy plus the Diary of a Grace novella in e-book form, should you prefer. Yay!

Today I shall be mostly talking about myself, and using the word 'cool' a ridiculous number of times. I hope you enjoy it!

Warning: this post contains massive spoilers for the Diary of a Crush trilogy. I read the ending before the beginning, you don't have to. Stop right now and go read the books, if you want to and haven't already!

Diary of a Crush and my J-17 mags, radiating cool. A beautiful image I'm sure you'll agree.

I've always been a magazine fiend. I've still got my hoards of Girl Talk and Art Attack from childhood, though I'll be sorting through them soon. Last year I threw out several editions of Safeway (yes, the freebie from the supermarket that got taken over by Morrisons), and tore out the pages that I wanted to keep from countless other store magazines - though it took me until this year to tackle my piles of Spirit, the Superdrug magazine, because I could hardly bear to dismantle all those beautiful make-up photos. In my teens I read Mizz, and then Sugar, and then Sugar and J-17, and then finally just J-17.

To explain my love, we must rewind to Guide camp in the early Noughties. One of the girls in my tent had a copy of J-17 that we flicked through, and it seemed so much cooler than any other magazine I'd read. It seemed to be aimed at a slightly older audience than Sugar, but without being completely boy-obsessed like Bliss, which I never could stand. The photoshoots were edgier and the articles meatier and I wanted it.
One essential fact about my teenage self: I desperately wanted to be cool. I was lanky and bony, with glasses and flat hair, and one proper friend. All I wanted to do all day was read books, write stories, sing along to music, and occasionally play my keyboard. I liked Guide camp because I didn't go to school with anyone there, so nobody knew that they had to ignore me if they wanted to be cool, and most of them would happily chat to me and even invite me to games.

To be honest, I wasn't even sure what cool was. I caught a whiff of it every now and then, when an interesting song was played on the radio, or a woman walked past with a quirkier outfit than I usually got to see. I muddled my way through popular culture, listening to whatever everybody else was playing, and wearing pedal pushers and karma beads that year everybody else did. But J-17 was cool. I just knew it.

A month or two or three later, after I'd finally plucked up the courage to buy a magazine that I was sure was for girls that were much cooler than me (ie. any degree of cool at all), I was delighted. I've also always loved make-up. And there, in the first copy of J-17 that I bought, was an article about how to do punk-style make-up, with actual intructions and impressive photos. Other magazines' beauty editorials were vague and uninspiring compared with this riot of colour. There was also an article about kissing, and reviews of music by bands that I had never heard of, and fashion pages that were actually interesting, and it was all so incredibly cool.

Finally, on the back page, I read the Diary of a Crush column for the first time. It didn't make much sense, being one entry in an ongoing series, but as the months passed I fell in love, because Edie Wheeler was the coolest of all cool girls. Let's summon my teenage self from the depths of my mind and look at the evidence:

1. She was 18. I was only 13, which meant that Edie was basically the same as God to me.
2. She was named after Edie Sedgwick and Tim Wheeler, of Ash fame
3. She was a WAITRESS (seriously, height of cool)
4. She was in a band (NO WAIT THIS IS THE HEIGHT OF COOL)
5. She was dating an artboy (I only discovered what an artboy was because of J-17, and thank God, I mean Edie, for that)
6. Who was two years older than her! (*swoons from all the cool*)
7. And she didn't live with her parents, in my first issue she'd just moved out! (WARNING: COOL OVERLOAD)

Sadly, after 22 months of excitingly looking forward to J-17 release day each month, the Diary of a Crush column was cancelled without prior warning and J-17 got a new look and editorial direction and started featuring articles about Gareth Gates, so I stopped buying it.

Eventually, I realised that all those things I thought were 'cool' are just things that I really liked, and that's what I missed, still miss, about J-17. The catalogue of discoveries. Finding new things to like each month. Even with the internet, I miss having a reliable guide, and I think that J-17 would have been even better if the internet had been around. I was terrified of record shops, obviously, because they're full of cool people. If I'd been able to Google the bands on their lists of new artists to check out, I might have managed to actually listen to some of them!

But back to the world's coolest girl. Edie. I only started reading J-17 at the tail end of her story, so you can only dream of imagining how thrilled I was when two years later, I was wandering in Waterstone's, and spotted the books on a shelf. I bought them immediately and took them home, where I fell upon my bed and read and read and read, blissfully happy to find out how it all happened at last.

It was comforting to discover that Edie wasn't always as cool as she ended up becoming. At the start of the story, she was 16, which by 2004 was slightly younger than me (and not so cool), and in her first year of college. I was in sixth form myself at the time, and was making new friends, so I could relate to the excitement and anxiety of meeting new people. Edie wasn't a waitress or in a band, she lived with her parents, and of course the artboy was just a crush. She still wore cool clothes and attracted cool friends, but her beginners-cool seemed a lot more attainable.

So I could be cool too, if I was brave enough. It took a few more years, but eventually I started actually speaking to people, going to events that I thought sounded interesting, and buying clothes that I actively enjoyed wearing and then putting them on regularly, even just to go to uni or the shops. I'm not sure if anyone would consider me cool, but I'm happy, and have been for several years now. I hope that would impress my teenage self, but honestly? She'd probably be more impressed with the fact that I own copies of all the Diary of a Crush columns in book form, to refer to for knowledge of 'cool' at any time. 

Comments will be much appreciated. I can't have been the only one that was in love with the idea of being cool...

Previously: I reviewed the final book in the trilogy, Sealed with a Kiss.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Book Review: Diary of a Crush: Sealed with a Kiss, by Sarra Manning

Warning: this book is the third in a series, and will inevitably contain spoilers for the first book, French Kiss and the second, Kiss and Make Up.

So Edie and Dylan are back together again and seem to have achieved some level of stability. There's no more sneaking around and kissing other people - but there's a dark spot looming on the horizon. Edie is due to head off to London for university in September while Dylan has to finish his own degree in Manchester. To make the most of the summer, they decide to blow their combined savings and go on the road trip across the USA that they've always talked about. Across the ocean, with no friends nearby to help them blow off steam, spending long days with only each other for company, their relationship becomes difficult once again. Will they work past it, or finally break up for real?

The third in the trilogy, Sealed with a Kiss brings another change of tone and atmosphere. Whereas French Kiss featured just-out-of-school Edie playing hard to get with an equally difficult Dylan, and Kiss and Make Up was all about heartbreak, fighting, and lust, Sealed with a Kiss is about adulthood and big decisions. Edie's patience is put to the test as Dylan finally starts to open up and confront his past. I think this is handled really well, and shows how both characters have developed in the last few years.

In Kiss and Make Up we saw a few of Edie and Dylan's e-mails to each other, but in Sealed with a Kiss, Edie regularly e-mails Grace, who has taken over guitarist duties in Mellowstar and has a crush of her own. This was originally the set-up for Grace to become the new diarist in the J-17 column, and you can read her diary entries in the e-novella Diary of a Grace, though I'll warn you that it ends too soon! Sealed with a Kiss also features e-mails between Dylan and Shona, which I loved. I think that their friendship is one of the best in the series, much as I love Poppy and her girl gang.

But it's not all serious business as Poppy acquires an amusingly odd boyfriend in Jesse, the band perform in front of an audience, and D and Eeeds see the sights of America and enjoy being young and in love. There's plenty of fun amongst the angst, though I always find it bittersweet as I know the end is nigh.

The spine of my copy of Sealed with a Kiss is still unbroken, and the pages are only slightly warped, whereas my copies of French Kiss and Kiss and Make Up are worn and battered-looking. I haven't read Sealed with a Kiss that often, compared with the other two books, and I think that my reluctance to reread it comes partly from wanting to avoid the end. Rereading the first two books, there's always more to come, but although Sealed with a Kiss has probably the most perfect ending that this trilogy could have, it's still an ending. There are glimpses of Edie and Dylan in Diary of a Grace (or at least there were in the columns!), but Edie never picks up her diarist's pen again.

However, I know I've also avoided rereading it because I read the road trip section too many times in my mid-teens. It was originally a free-gift book, American Dream, and I adored it, despite having missed both previous books and knowing almost nothing about Edie and Dylan's history. Seriously. I reread it every couple of months and took it on holiday with me a couple of times just so that I wouldn't be without it.

[I know. Wasn't there a library in my town? There is a library in my town! It's great! But back then contemporary teen fiction books were these tiny thin things that you could read six of in an afternoon - not an exaggeration, I did this every third Saturday after my library trip. American Dream was far better than any of them.]

As you might imagine, by the time I got my greedy hands on the Bite edition of the trilogy in 2004, I knew American Dream almost by heart, and despite my love, I was kind of sick of it. So I read Sealed with a Kiss hungrily up until the part where I recognised the entries and then I flicked over the rest! I've read it again since but it was quite hard to make myself do it.

What I'm trying to say is that I hope the teens of today love this series as much as I did and read it over and over until they're nearly sick of it. I then hope they stop and go read something else for a bit before they return, and that they lend their copies to their friends, and buy more copies as presents for their younger cousins! I loved it as a teen, and despite its age and change of format, I think that it stands up well today, as a fun, addictive, fast-paced and romantic trilogy (plus novella). Dylan is still the ultimate book boyfriend, and Edie the coolest fictional girl in the world.

Previously: A Top Ten Tuesday and discussion post about 'toxic' boys like Dylan.
Next up: I wrote about how much I wanted to be cool, and how J-17 was a massive influence on me.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Don't You Know That They're Toxic? - A Guide to Bad Love Interests (and Top Ten Tuesday)

Today's post is going to be a little different, as it's not directly about Diary of a Crush, but is a discussion post about a topic familiar to all DoaC-loving hearts. If you want to skip to the Top Ten, just scroll down until you see the bold and centred heading!

Bad boys and girls! The drama! The suspense! The muscles! The sardonically raised eyebrows! So many of us love them, so many of us hate them. I think that there are, broadly speaking, three types of "bad" love interest in YA literature, though plenty of characters belong to multiple categories.

Type one is the love with a dangerous lifestyle. They may be strong, they may be a good fighter, but they're always getting into fights, and could drag you into them. You are supposed to swoon over their bulging muscles and readiness to defend your honour. Vampires and other supernatural creatures almost always fit this type.

Type two is controlling, and perhaps manipulative and stalkerish, though they claim to love the narrator and have their best interests at heart. If you read popular books or listen to other people talk about them, you know who I'm talking about!

Type three is the one who claims not to be romantic. This is more of an emotional danger. They don't do serious relationships. Until they meet the narrator, who appeals to the softer side that they had all along. Any further drama is caused by their fear that they aren't good enough, due to their history and/or background.

The thing that I think unites all these characters is the danger. Not the danger-in-narrative, that type one could break your heart by getting killed or could get you hurt in the crossfire, but the danger that you'll romanticise the situation when you meet a potential partner who is actually bad for you.

There are people with dangerous lifestyles who won't consider your safety first, or who will lose in fights and get seriously injured, or get you seriously injured. There are people who use love as a method of control, and consciously or not, hope that you will do what they want because you depend on them emotionally.

There are people who are not romantically inclined. While some of them might act as if they have romantic thoughts sometimes, because they think it's a good way to get people to spend time with them, there are others who are completely upfront about their aromanticism and are good people. But even when someone says outright that they don't imagine themselves having a romantic relationship ever, it can be difficult to believe them. We see so many fictional characters who claim these feelings and then change their minds that many of us think it's the natural, inevitable course of events. We assume that everybody has the same definition of love that we do, and that ultimately they will choose to have a long-term romantic relationship, if they meet the right person in the right circumstances (ie. if we love them enough). It's not scientific fact, or destiny. It's just an assumption.

I know that some people reading this will say that everyone with a brain should know the difference between fantasy and reality, but sometimes it's not very easy, when you grow up surrounded by these stories.
I'm not against "bad" boy or girl characters. I don't find violence attractive, so pure type ones often leave me cold, yet I love a coming of age story in which the characters become better people and learn to accept themselves and the love of another (sigh...where was I?). I just prefer books in which either the narrator avoids a genuinely bad love interest and chooses to roll solo or couple up with someone else, or the author shows us both the romance and the danger. This could be by making the bad love interest a narrator, by including another character with similar traits who doesn't redeem themselves, or by giving the story a tragic ending. Cue list -

Top Ten YA Books Featuring 'Bad' and/or Genuinely Bad Love Interests

1. In the Diary of a Crush series, Dylan, a type three, is contrasted with Carter, another boy (or maybe man, as he's 23) who acts caring one minute and callous the next. Unlike Dylan, however, he turns out to be a right nasty piece of work in the end and always appears to be a bit creepy, as he's TWENTY-THREE (Edie is 17).

2. In Let's Get Lost, by the same author, the narrator is a bad girl, who tries to hide the truth (including her age) from her love interest.

3. In Spellbound, Emma and Brandon's (a combo of type one and three), arch-nemesis is another bad boy at school - controlling, egotisical and truly frightening.

4. In The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, Frankie's boyfriend Matthew wants to control what kind of girl she gets to be, and what she is allowed to know about him.

5. Jackson, from the Ruby Oliver series, flits from girl to girl and back again, before and after dating Ruby. She struggles with her feelings for him until book three, when she delivers a withering, straight-to-the-heart-of-the-matter put down that made me punch the air in joy.

6. Cal, from Cate Tiernan's Wicca/Sweep series, is Morgan's first boyfriend. He introduces her to the world of magic and tries to convince her that he loves her, but only succeeds until his ulterior motive begins to show and Morgan meets Hunter, who lacks Cal's easy charisma, but is ultimately a much better boyfriend.

7. Noah is a narrator in Pushing the Limits, so we get to see his thought process and can hypothesise freely about why he's attracted to Echo. The ending is a bit neat and tidy but I loved the characterisation.

8. In Bright Young Things, Cordelia's romance with the boy she's been warned away from has terrible consequences.

9. Surrounded by boys and men who don't respect girls and women, Jack has to decide whether to join in or opt out, in Leader of the Pack.

10. In Night School, Allie thinks that Sylvain is charming and perfect, until an incident that changes her opinion of him. I'm a bit afraid that this series is heading towards redeeming him, though.

How do you feel about 'bad' love interests? What are your favourite books about them?

Further reading/inspiration: Wondrous Reads: Guest Blog: Sarra Manning on Toxic Boys

Writing this post has put this song in my head.

Previously: My review of Kiss and Make Up!
Up next: I review the last book in the Diary of a Crush series, Sealed with a Kiss!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Book Review: Diary of a Crush: Kiss and Make Up, by Sarra Manning

Warning: this book is the second in a series, and will inevitably contain spoilers for the first book, French Kiss

Edie has achieved what she once thought impossible - Dylan is her boyfriend! Unfortunately it's nothing like she anticipated - he's still moody and difficult and sometimes she misses the time when they were just friends.  But when her trust in him is shaken and they break up, she's heartbroken. Just when Edie thinks she's over it all, she meets Dylan's beautiful, controlling new girlfriend Veronique, and becomes determined to get him back again - until Veronique's sly, brother Carter takes an interest in her...

Kiss and Make Up is my favourite of the series to re-read; French Kiss' darker, deeper and naughtier elder sister. The college drama is replaced with personal angst as Edie tries to make up her mind about what she wants from Dylan. Yet again, Edie tries to date somebody else, but she struggles to stop cheating on the standoffish, smug Carter with Dylan, and lets Dylan cheat on Veronique with her. In most stories, I can't stand cheating, but Veronique and Carter are both such fantastically horrible people that I don't mind. There are few bad book boyfriends (although he refuses to let Edie call him her boyfriend) as secretively vicious as Carter, and his sister Veronique is an extraordinarily evil drama queen. They make excellent antagonists, and I just love reading about the havoc they wreak.

I don't think that it's quite as fast-paced as French Kiss, and the relationship drama does spin in circles for a while, eventually reaching an uncomfortable plateau right before the music festival, when of course it all kicks off again. Some of the secondary characters from the previous novel take on a more minor role (Nat, Trent, and to some degree Shona), but Edie finds a new best friend in wannabe-rock-goddess Poppy, whose entourage includes boy-mad bandmates Darby and Atsuko and shy, sidelined little-sister Grace (the girl who has a diary novella of her own).

If you loved French Kiss, you'll probably love Kiss and Make Up - it's got more angst, more lust, nastier villains and some undeniably hilarious moments. What Edie writes after meeting Veronique makes me burst out laughing every time!

There should be more books set at music festivals. I've only read two, ever - this and Festival, but it makes a great setting and a convenient method of getting parents out of the way!

This review is based on the 2004 edition - there may be minor changes in the 2013 release.

Previously: I played dress-up Edie!
Next up: A discussion post and a Top Ten Tuesday all about toxic boys!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Book Review: Diary of a Crush: French Kiss, by Sarra Manning

Edie Wheeler has just moved to Manchester with her parents and cat and is starting college for the first time. Everyone else there seems to know each other and she feels left out of everything. Spotting Dylan, a gorgeous art student, the boy of her dreams, only seems to make things worse as she feels sure she'll never get to know him. Frustrated with her lack of friends, Edie signs up for a photography class, where she is forced to work with Dylan, but she can barely speak in his presence and she doesn't have any good ideas. Dylan and his friend Shona just seem so much cooler than Edie could ever be. Then she starts talking to Mia, who is dating Dylan's friend Paul. It's a relief to finally have a friend, but Mia isn't at all helpful when it comes to her crush and when Dylan kisses Edie, then ignores her afterwards, she doesn't know what to do.

I've read this book so many times before that I've lost count, but when I received a copy of the cute new edition published by Atom Books I decided to read it and see how it holds up. I still found Edie to be a witty and engaging diarist. I like how she doesn't shy away from sharing the embarrassing things she does, and how self aware she is after she does something silly like throw a stereotypical teenage strop. Although she begins the diary as a nervous, self-conscious narrator, she stands up for herself when she needs to, even if it takes a long time for her to build up her resolve sometimes.

Of course I loved Dylan, as usual, but this time around he seemed more awkward, which actually made him more endearing in a strange kind of way. Edie knows what she wants, it's Dylan who is confused and flighty, and both of them act like inconsiderate fools when they're in the mood. I also still loved all the other characters - Shona still seems like a paragon of hipness, Nat and Trent are adorable (I always miss them in the following books, where they fade into the background). Josh, Edie's Dylan-substitute-boyfriend is endearingly deluded - I just wanted to take the poor boy aside and tell him to lavish his affections somewhere else. Villianous Mia's personal delusions are not so sweet, but I do feel sorry for her, and suspect that she wouldn't be playing games for attention if she had any friends.

The story is very fast paced, because Edie only writes when something has happened or to complain when something's on her mind. There are only 205 pages, and there is so much friendship and relationship drama in the first half of the novel that the pages fly by, and before long I was on the ferry with Edie, on the way to Paris for the photography trip!

Having read a previous edition, I was interested to see what changes would be made. Apart from the inclusion of an author's afterword, all of them are quite superficial - cultural references updated, sentences cut to improve the flow of the text - but it was quite weird to me to imagine Edie and Dylan walking around in 2013! Because I've been reading the 2004 edition about once a year since it came out, in my head I had them frozen in that time, wearing clothes that I thought were cool when I was a teenager. Art boys were better dressed back then, I'm afraid to say. Nowadays they all seem to wear the same checked shirts and skinny jeans and beanie hats (as described at one point in the novel) - I kind of preferred them in baggier jeans!

I would recommend French Kiss to fans of books featuring moody boys, friendship drama, and amazing kissing scenes. I've read hundreds of books since I read this for the first time, and I still think that French Kiss has some of the best kissing scenes of all time. The Louvre. The discotheque. The hotel room...

Previously: I introduced the Diary of a Crush trilogy in my first Celebrating Series post!

Next up: I utilise my hard-earned Polyvore skills and play dress-up-Edie!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Celebrating Series 1: Diary of a Crush

I decided a month or so ago that I wanted to start a new regular feature, and after a few ideas my mind turned to series. I've always loved reading series. I like falling in love with characters and following them over multiple adventures, seeing where the stories take them and how they grow and change. I'm addicted to the thrill of opening the next book and finding out where the characters have got to.

However, I often neglect them. It's easier to pick up a standalone and review it, especially if you've read it before. Series require upkeep and hours of rereading if you really want to do them justice in a review, and that's where this feature comes in. Celebrating Series posts will be overviews, rather than detailed reviews of each book. This will allow me to share my enthusiasm for series I've read in the past, even when it isn't convenient for me to re-read every book. I can also use them to spotlight series that I've already reviewed, when I think they deserve a bit more praise and attention.

I can even use them to kick off themed weeks, like I am doing here!

 Diary of a Crush, in all the forms I own! From the top: Atom's new edition of French Kiss, free with J-17 books Losing It and American Dream, the first Bite editions of the trilogy, and finally, my J-17s! I still love the puntastic, content-relevant spines. 'Same Old Brand New 'Do' will probably make no sense if you were born after 1989 or not in the UK...

I chose the Diary of a Crush trilogy for my first Celebrating Series week, because a) it will be back in print next Thursday, and b) to force myself to stop procrastinating on my reviews!

The series is about a girl named Edie who moves to Manchester from Brighton and develops a crush on Dylan, a beautiful but moody art student (or artboy, for short). Her feelings are so strong that she can't help feeling painfully awkward whenever she's around him or his friends. While working together on a photography project he kisses her, only to start ignoring her almost immediately afterwards. With Dylan switching from hot to cold all the time, and her new friend Mia tugging her into a whirlwind of drama, Edie quickly starts getting fed up of being a shy pushover. The three books deal with the not always lovely reality of being in a relationship, from difficult beginnings to adult decisions, and each of them involve some kind of travelling. French Kiss, naturally, features a college trip to Paris, Kiss and Make-Up, a music festival, and Sealed with a Kiss, a roadtrip across the USA.

This is one of my favourite series of all time, and I have read the books so many times I have lost count. I spent most of my teen years wanting to be Edie, and wanting to date Dylan. When I started reading YA again as an adult, with my newly developed critical eyes, I read lighthearted books and serious books, books about families and books about boyfriends. Quickly, I worked out what I enjoyed the most, and what spoke to the part of me that is stuck forever in her teens. The books I loved had something special about them, the same thing that made me obsess over Diary of a Crush. Eventually I worked out what it was, and why I loved it so much more than almost any other teen book I'd read. It's aspirational.

To my mind, aspiration means something more than wanting the hot boyfriend, though of course Diary of a Crush made me want to snog an artboy - I defy anyone to read it and not want to start hanging around the Tate Modern to check out the eye candy (greatly recommended as a post-Diary of a Crush adventure, have done it multiple times). I coveted Edie's life. I was jealous of her job and band and friendship with Shona and Poppy. It made me want to have more friends and to go places and do creative things.

Honestly, the nostalgic love I have for these books means that I struggle to say anything negative about them. I think that objectively, Let's Get Lost, Nobody's Girl and Adorkable are better written, and it does slightly bug me that some of Edie's friends from the first book disappear or almost disappear later on, but these are the books that gave us Dylan and that started Sarra Manning off on the glorious path of writing books about people who kiss first and engage the brain cell later, and more importantly, girls who grow in confidence as they grow in experience. I will always have a crush on Diary of a Crush.

Next up: I review the new edition of French Kiss and ruminate upon the fact that artboys were actually better dressed in the mid-noughties...

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Favourite Book Covers Of Books I've Read

This is my twenty-third Top Ten Tuesday post. Top Ten Tuesday was created and is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. I thought it would be silly to mention the books without showing them to you, so this week I bring you a video!

Top Ten Favourite Book Covers Of Books I've Read

1. The World's Wife, by Carol Ann Duffy (Picador, 2000) - simple but eyecatching!

2. The Book of Blood and Shadow, by Robin Wasserman (Atom, 2012) - blue and purple and pretty, a really well designed cover, I think.

3. The Iron King, by Julie Kagawa (Mira INK, 2011) - glitter, swirls, and thorns. Just lovely.

4. Under the Never Sky, by Veronica Rossi (Atom, 2012) - gorgeous illustration, title in the colours of a sunset.

5. The Magic Toyshop, by Angela Carter (Virago, 2008) - I chose this one specifically for the cover, which is fabric-covered and features an array of puppets.

6. Nights At The Circus, by Angela Carter (Picador, 1985) - just fantastic, Fevvers in all her winged glory and a starry leotard!

7. Vile Bodies, by Evelyn Waugh (The Great Writers Library, 1988) - fabulous Art Deco styling.

8. The Secrets of Jin-Shei, by Alma Alexander (HarperCollins, 2004) - the kind of design you'd expect for historical fiction set in Asia, but beautiful nonetheless.

9. Let's Get Lost, by Sarra Manning (Hodder Childrens/Bite, 2006) - eyecatching, black and pink illustration.

10. Dramarama, by E. Lockhart (Hyperion, 2007) - bold yet classy.

Have you chosen any of my selections? What did you think of my foray into YouTube?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Monday Amusements 9

My reading journal, with my current favourite pen.

Happy Monday! A strange greeting, perhaps, but just think, you could read something really brilliant this week. And on that subject...

Keris Stainton wrote a beautiful post for Author Allsorts, I love libraries. I would love to know that my local library had a book that I'd written in stock. I really do love that place. I haven't gotten any new fiction books out of my local library in months but every time I visit to renew something I find it impossible to resist walking around for a little while to soak up the atmosphere. Then I tell myself that I must get through my TBR so that I can fully enjoy discovering new books in the library like I used to. Not sure that will happen any time soon, but it's a lovely thought!

I enjoyed reading Jo's write-up of her experience speaking on a London Book Fair panel at Once Upon a Bookcase. It sounds like such an amazing event.

I was excited to read that SisterSpooky will be hosting another Geek Week! I caught up with the last one a bit late but it was really fun to read all the posts revelling in geekdom.

It seems like every book blogger has been posting about the state of their TBR piles recently. I loved seeing Clover's pictures, and Lynsey of Narratively Speaking posted asking for ideas for TBR organisation. Last year I used a spreadsheet to help me calculate how many books I had left to read to help me finish each reading challenge I was participating in, but I haven't set it up for this year yet. It's not easily customisable because you'd need to change all the categories and numbers to fit your plans, but if anyone is interested in seeing it, I might upload it somewhere when I'm done.

I really enjoyed this video post by Paula at The Broke and the Bookish about learning to give people better quick reviews, though honestly I admire her for being able to openly enthuse to people about the books she loves! I've never been entirely comfortable expressing my opinions about anything cultural other than things that are really mainstream, like television and fashion. Talking about music makes me really anxious that I'll be judged for my tastes and when I do have the opportunity to talk about books, sometimes I freeze up and don't say anything because I don't think the person I'm talking to would have any interest in reading the books I like, or because I'm worried I'll bore them with my enthusiasm or criticism. It can be tough being an adult with a serious, academic interest in YA! (And this is why I blog)

I love a good list, and my recent favourites are Books I'd Like To See As Film Adaptations, at Fluttering Butterflies, Unlikable Female Characters in YA Fiction: A Reading List, at Stacked, and Stylist's 50 best books of the 1920s. I want to read my way through all three of these lists!

Did you ever stop to think and forget to start again?'s Confessions of a Book Nerd (via @cloverness) made me giggle. I have gotten the bus to another library so that I can get out a specific book that I looked up on the online catalogue. Several times. Happily this bus ride only takes me about 20 to 30 minutes, not an hour, but I usually go straight to the library, get the book, and go home again, only spending about 20 minutes there in total.

On to reviews, and Michelle at Fabbity Fab Book Reviews made Cadillac Couches by Sophie B. Watson sound like an absolute must read. A coming-of-age book about twenty-somethings? With a road trip and music festivals? Yes please!

After reading Sophie's review of Gail Carriger's Etiquette & Espionage I thought, yet again: right, that's it, this year I MUST read something by this author. I've had Soulless sitting on my TBR for years now, so I have no excuses.

Finally, Writing from the Tub and SisterSpooky both covered You Don't Know Me by Sophia Bennett and made it sound amazing - it's going straight on my wishlist for sure.

Do subscribe if you enjoy my link selections, and feel free to explore the archive! No Monday Amusements here next week, but Friday is the first day of my Diary of a Crush theme week (aka, my cunning plan to force myself to review this series)!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Book Review: The Secret of Ella and Micha, by Jessica Sorensen

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

Top Ten Tuesday: Books Dealing with Tough Subjects

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

Book Review: Pushing the Limits, by Katie McGarry

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

Monday Amusements 8

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

Book Review: I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You, by Ally Carter


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.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Words/Topics That Will Make Me Pick Up or Buy A Book

This is my twenty-first Top Ten Tuesday post. Top Ten Tuesday was created and is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. I had to be careful when making my list for this topic to avoid replicating my Top Ten Settings I'd Like To See More Of (Or At All)! Did anyone else have this problem?

Top Ten Words/Topics That Will Make Me Pick Up or Buy A Book

1. Quirky - it's right there in my profile - I love quirky characters, settings, plots, and details. If a book features a character who works in a cute café, or lives in a houseboat, I'm sold.

2. Music - I've got to love a book with a soundtrack or with musicians.

3. Theatre - the swish of the curtain, the glare of the lights, the costumes, the dramatics. I love getting behind the scenes of the stage, even if it's only at summer camp or school.

4. Ballet - see point three. Since reading Bunheads I've added tonnes of books about dancers to my wishlist.

5. Fairytale - I find fairytales irresistible in all their forms, as described a couple of months back in another Top Ten Tuesday: Favourite Characters in Modern Fairy Tales and Fairy Tale Retellings.

6. Friends - I love books that explore the dynamics of friendship, such as the Ruby Oliver Quartet. Most recently I enjoyed reading about the problems Echo has with her friends in Pushing the Limits.

7. 1920s - there are many books on my wishlist set or written during the twenties or thirties, and it's all thanks to the course I took at university that required me to read Vile Bodies.

8. Folklore - further to point five, I really like finding new takes on traditional folklore. I've always loved mythology but I think that there is so much more untapped potential in local legends from around the world.

9. Parties - I probably like reading about parties more than actually going to them. Bonus if the party is in historical fiction - see point seven!

10. Heroines - I can't get enough of inspiring girls and women who grow in strength and resolve to overcome the challenges they face.

Do you share any of my bookish addictions?


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