Saturday, May 17, 2014

Book Review: The Testing, by Joelle Charbonneau

Watch this video to find out what the other Bookish Brits thought of The Testing!

Malencia Vale has dreamed of being selected for The Testing for as long as she can remember. She desperately wants to follow in her father's footsteps, go to the University, and help her world. When Cia is chosen, she wants her parents to be proud., but instead her father tells her about some grisly truths about what the Testing involves. No one is supposed to know what The Testing involves, because all candidates have their memories wiped when the process is over, but he has retained a few snippets of memory, and what he tells Cia chills her to the bone.

There is no escape. Participation is compulsory. So now Cia must go to the city, terrified of what she might encounter, what she will have to do - and the memory wipe that she will go through, if she survives.

I'm not going to lie. The Testing is a lot like The Hunger Games. The opening situation is almost identical - a girl from a minor colony takes part in a ceremony and is selected to go to the big city to compete against others her own age, in order to stay alive.

So honestly, I think this book will be best enjoyed by those who haven't read very many dystopias. I have pretty much only read The Hunger Games trilogy, and that was a couple of years ago, so I read The Testing with somewhat fresh eyes. I expect that readers who have read, say, five Hunger Games-a-likes in the last year will have less patience with The Testing. Not because it's a bad book, but because the ideas and character types and twists that these books rely on will inevitably seem less fresh and exciting, even if the writing is good, when you've seen them multiple times.

And I think the writing is good. The protagonist, Cia, is a sensible, science-minded but not unemotional, enthusiastic young woman who hopes to make her country, which is struggling to rebuild itself following a war that devastated the world, a better place. There is a backstory to the whole situation that we get to see in small doses as Cia completes her exams. The City, and the Testing officials, are much more ambiguous than the Capitol is in The Hunger Games. Cia is not a child being punished for the sins of her ancestors - she is trying to complete a test that the officials believe, or are led to believe, will help them pick out the future rulers and designers of their nation.

I really enjoyed meeting the other characters - family, friends, and Testing candidates. Cia's main romantic interest is a boy from her home colony, Tomas, but we never know how much she should trust him. I have to admit that I wasn't the biggest fan of their romance - I was more intrigued by Will and Stacia, and by Cia's elder brother, who perhaps should have been Tested himself.

The Testing is (of course) the first in a trilogy, and I think that its ending sets the scene for the second book really well. I think it will start to lose its similarities to The Hunger Games from here on out, so I am really looking forward to reading Independent Study.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Book Review: Sunshine, by Robin McKinley

One night Rae feels like she needs to get away from everyone, including her family and boyfriend, and have some space to think, so she goes out for a drive by the lake. There she is kidnapped by a group of vampires. They take her to a heavily guarded house by the lake and put her in a room with another vampire, who is chained to the wall, yet able to reach her. Rae is clearly meant to be food, so she is surprised when the vampire doesn't devour her immediately, and instead asks her to talk to him. But he isn't like other vampires, and, it turns out, Rae isn't like other humans either.
Sunshine is a very strange book to review. I enjoyed it immensely but was also really annoyed by it! The plot is quite an unusual one as the bulk of the story takes place after Rae escapes the vampires and explores the effect this has on her life. Though she claims that she can't remember anything, and tries to convince herself that life will continue as normal, supernatural law enforcement officials that she has known all her life start turning their attention to her, eager to find out what happened that night. Her mother starts leaving protection charms around. And the vampire that she was held prisoner with hasn't disappeared either.

There's a lot of detail in this book. Rae goes off on a lot of tangents, which some readers don't like, but I loved it. I really enjoyed all the different elements that were brought into the story. The world building and characterisation was excellent and I was desperate to find out what Rae would do and what would be revealed about each character in the end.

And then it just stops.

And not in the first-book-in-a-series cliffhanger kind of way.

At The End of the story, almost nothing has been explained, let alone resolved. The one major relationship has developed, but that's it.

It's extremely frustrating. It seems like there is so much interesting material left to explore, but to the author, the most interesting part, that relationship, has developed, so that's the end of the book. To her it's a love story, but to me, it could have been a lot of other things as well. It could have been an epic about the end of the world. It could have been the best urban fantasy series I'd ever had the privilege of reading.

I respect the right of the author, who is extremely talented, to tell the story she wants to tell. But at the same time I can emphasise with all those people who find Sunshine annoyingly long-winded. I loved the detail, but when most of it turns out to have no bearing on the ending, it seems unnecessary. 

Would I recommend Sunshine? Yes, if you love urban fantasy and like vampires to be properly terrifying, and if you want to see some really interesting ideas, or if you enjoy reading about unusual romantic relationships. But if you like to have mysteries explained, don't get your hopes up about the ending.

I would more broadly recommend Robin McKinley's Spindle's End, which is also full of interesting characters but has a much tighter ending. I've also read Beauty, which is extremely popular, but I didn't like it as much as Spindle's End.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Book Review: Jessie Hearts NYC, by Keris Stainton

Yes, this maple syrup is super-Canadian, but maple syrup features in the book. So nyah.

Jessie desperately wants to get over her ex-boyfriend, and can't think of any way better than spending her summer in her mother's New York City apartment with her best friend Emma. There's even a potential new love interest on the horizon for her, Ben, one of the actors in her mum's play. The only thing that seems to stand in the way of her happiness is her relationship with her mother, which has always been difficult.

Finn has two major problems. One, he is in love with Sam, his best friend's girlfriend, and two, he doesn't know how to tell his dad that he finds the idea of working in insurance utterly boring.

Coincidence after coincidence has Jessie and Finn sharing scenes - but it seems like they will never properly meet!

It took me a while to get into Jessie Hearts NYC, because it's quite succintly written and I prefer a bit more detail to draw me in, but after I got to know all the characters I was hooked. I loved that Jessie and Finn keep bumping into each other. It might be a tad unrealistic, but it's so much fun (in a frustrating kind of way) to keep seeing them come so close to talking only to go their separate ways!

I was also really interested in Jessie's complicated relationship with her mum. They don't relate to each other very well and this has caused problems throughout Jessie's life. Emma, Jessie's best friend, was a bit of an enigma, but I'm not too bothered because she has her own book!

I finished reading Jessie Hearts NYC over a month ago and it's really stuck with me, partly because of the relationship between Jessie and her mum, but also because it's full of vividly memorable scenes, like a good film (which it could be). New York plays a really important role in the story, providing a vibrant backdrop for all of the emotional drama, and even though I've never been there, it was easy for me to imagine the locations.

I would recommend Jessie Hearts NYC to those who would like a quick, romantic read, but also to those who love reading about difficult mother/daughter relationships. I loved Della Says: OMG! so I will definitely be reading Keris' other books, and to be honest, I'm ashamed it took me so long to read this one!

Monday, May 05, 2014

Monday Amusements 32

My local Oxfam has a lot of paranormal romance and original Virago Modern Classics.

I love this tablet case tutorial at Take Courage.

I'm really looking forward to #PicnicYA, a UKYA-themed meetup on Sunday 18th March! Let's hope the sun shines!

Michelle at Fluttering Butterflies is hosting a giveaway for Don't Even Think About It and Ten Things We Shouldn't Have Done by Sarah Mlynowski. I've just finished reading Don't Even Think About It and I can't really talk about it yet because it's one of the books that my book club will be discussing next month, but I will say that when I got to the end and saw the ad for the upcoming sequel, I was THRILLED.

On the subject of book clubs, Daisy at The Broke and the Bookish wants your recommendations for book club reads! If you'd like to join a book club, try your local library, but if there isn't one near you, the internet is your friend. You can read along with the Bookish Brits Book Club or join one of the groups on Goodreads. I would also recommend the ReadItSwapIt reading group.


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