5 Oct 2013

MR. PENUMBRA'S 24-HOUR BOOKSTORE - ROBIN SLOAN

SUMMARY
Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a San Francisco Web-design drone - and serendipity, coupled with sheer curiosity, has landed him a new job working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. But after just a few days, Clay begins to realize that this store is even more curious than the name suggests.

There are only a few customers, but they come in repeatedly and never seem to actually buy anything, instead they simply borrow impossibly obscure volumes from strange corners of the store, all according to some elaborate, long-standing arrangement with the gnomic Mr. Penumbra.

The store must be a front for something larger, Clay concludes, and soon he's embarked on a complex analysis of the customers' behaviour and roped his friends into helping to figure out just what's going on. But once they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, it turns out the secrets extend far outside the walls of the bookstore...

REVIEW
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is an absolute dream of a book. I adored it. Imagine yourself finding a job where all you had to do is work the nightshift in a quirky, old bookstore. You don't have to do anything except locate the dusty tomes of desperate cliental. Then imagine that you find out that those cliental are part of a secret society trying to crack a literary code. How awesome is that?! Then bring the story in to the technological world where you can use to computers to try to crack the code - would you do it?

23 Sep 2013

THE STRING DIARIES - STEPHEN LLOYD JONES

SUMMARY
A jumble of entries, written in different hands, different languages, and different times. They tell of a rumour. A shadow. A killer. The only interest that Oxford Professor Charles Meredith has in the diaries is as a record of Hungarian folklore... until he comes face to face with a myth.

For Hannah Wilde, the diaries are a survival guide that taught her the three rules she lives by: verify everyone, trust no one, and if in any doubt, run. But Hannah knows that if her daughter is ever going to be safe, she will have to stop running and face the terror that has hunted her family for five generations. And nothing in the diaries can prepare her for that.

REVIEW
The String Diaries tells the story of Hannah, on the run and trying to protect her family from the supernatural figure of Jakab, who has terrified them for generations. The narrative flicks between Hannah, set in the present day; Charles, Hannah's father set in the 1970's, and Jakab in 1700's Hungary.

I picked up The String Diaries after wanting something similar to The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper, which I adored. While the tension builds well, with great shifts in narrative, I felt that it dissipated too quickly without any resolution or any particular amount of action. The writing style is easy and fluid but it's tense. There is so much loss and tragedy that I found myself getting quite depressed in places.

This is a holiday read, and it didn't really do much more for me than that. The supernatural could have  been more sinister, more believable. Jakab's changed should have been more gory, more gripping, probably even more disgusting than it is. I also wanted the book to explore proper old manuscripts or for extracts from the diaries for the reader to decipher, but everything is done for you. It's good to see the diaries played out but I'd rather that have been an award for cracking a code in the text. It should have felt more like excavating ancient secrets rather than a series of strained vignettes.

22 Sep 2013

THE BIG OVER EASY - JASPER FFORDE

SUMMARY
It's Easter in Reading - a bad time for eggs - and no one can remember the last sunny day. Humpty Dumpty, well-known nursery favourite, large egg, ex-convict and former millionaire philanthropist is found shattered beneath a wall in a shabby area of town. Following the pathologist's careful reconstruction of Humpty's shell, Detective Inspector Jack Spratt and his Sergeant Mary Mary are soon grappling with a sinister plot involving cross-border money laundering, the illegal Bearnaise sauce market, corporate politics and the cut and thrust world of international Chiropody.

As Jack and Mary stumble around the streets of Reading in Jack's Lime Green Austin Allegro, the clues pile up, but Jack has his own problems to deal with. And on top of everything else, the Jellyman is coming to town...

REVIEW
If I'm looking for a comic book I want something with in-jokes I can understand, something that mocks its own form, and something that at times is just downright stupid.

The Big Over Easy is a super easy read that made me laugh on every page. It was just what I needed after weeks of reading emotional writing. It follows Jack Spratt, DI for in the Reading Police Force who heads up the tiny NCD (Nursery Crime Division). I just thought this was the most awesome premise ever and made me rather jealous that I hadn't come up with it myself. It takes the nursery rhymes of your childhood - which, if you don't know them, then your parents have failed you - and puts them up against modern law and thinking, with interesting results. For example, the story opens with Jack failing to secure a sentence against the Three Little Pigs, who were on trial for the murder of the Big Bad Wolf. What is not to love in that?

The main story is the investigation of the death of Humpty Dumpty who - you guessed it - is smashed to pieces at the base of his favourite wall. But did he fall or was he pushed? Even though you think you know their stories these character will continue to surprise you and the twists and turns are enough to rival the most serious of crime novels. I never knew who to trust.

18 Aug 2013

CHARM AND STRANGE - STEPHANIE KUHNE

SUMMARY
No one really knows who Andrew Winston Winters is. Least of all himself. He is part Win, a lonely teenager exiled to a remote boarding school in the wake of a family tragedy. The guy who shuts the whole world out, no matter the cost, because his darkest fear is of himself ...of the wolfish predator within. But he's also part Drew, the angry boy with violent impulses that control him. The boy who, one fateful summer, was part of something so terrible it came close to destroying him. A deftly woven, elegant, unnerving psychological thriller about a boy at war with himself. Charm and Strange is a masterful exploration of one of the greatest taboos.

REVIEW
Oh God. How do I even begin to describe something that I adore so much without giving away the truth of it? Charm and Strange is an incredible, powerful book that is just so compelling I was almost breathless when I finished it. It has a calm, sad feel and the world around me disappeared and I sank into the narrative.

Perhaps I should start by saying how I came to read this book.

A proof of this had been sitting on the shelf at work. No cover really, just blank and black with the title.  I'm terrible when books don't have a cover, I almost like to prejudge a book and be proved wrong. I read the blurb and thought it sounded quirky and interesting. My initial thought was that it was a werewolf book, and certainly people on Goodreads have listed it as a paranormal book. Reflectively this really annoys me because they have either formally categorised it without reading it, or they have read  it and didn't pay enough attention. However, I noticed it on display at work and chatted to a colleague about it, and became determined to give it a go. 

I genuinely don't want to give anything away about it and that makes it so difficult to review. It's so important to go into this blind to experience the full impact of it. It's like nothing I've ever read before.  Charm and Strange is a narrative that unveils a boy's fragmented mental psyche and also the story behind it. It teases out facts through Win's interpretation of events and I was so desperate to know what had happened, what he had done or what had happened to him, that made him become quite so withdrawn. I had no idea, though. I wasn't prepared. There were so many hints and clues as to what had happened but when I finally realised it was like being punched in the chest. It's strange that something so devastating can also be compelling to read, but's its so interesting to read about the development of personality through trauma. I find the brains ability to cope, adapt and change to help us try to cope with situations infinitely interesting.

TORN - CAT CLARKE

SUMMARY
Four girls. One dead body. A whole lot of guilt. Alice King isn't expecting the holiday of a lifetime when she sets off with her classmates on a trip to the Scottish wilderness, but she's not exactly prepared for an experience beyond her darkest nightmares...Alice and her best friend Cass are stuck in a cabin with Polly, the social outcast, and Rae, the moody emo-girl. Then there's Tara - queen of mean. Powerful, beautiful and cruel, she likes nothing better than putting people down. Cass decides it's time to teach Tara a lesson she'll never forget. And so begins a series of events that will change the lives of these girls forever...A compelling story of guilty secrets, troubled friendship and burgeoning love.

REVIEW
Torn is told from the perspective of Alice, a sweet level-headed girl with a kind heart. She tells us the story of what happens on a school trip, when she and her friends decide to take revenge on Tara, the school bully. Unfortunately it all goes horribly wrong.

Alice is in the middle of the school social scale - she's not one of the most popular kids but she's also not constantly bullied, like Polly is by Tara. When they're on a school trip and Tara is separated from her 'entourage' Cass, Alice's best friend, decides that it's time that Tara is taught a lesson for all the times she's put them all down. None of them thought their plan would go so horribly wrong. When Tara accidentally dies Alice must live with the guilt and fear of being discovered.

Cat Clarke is always completely spot-on in her portrayal of what it feels like to be in a British High School. I personally hated school, and can remember exactly what it's like to not be in the in-crowd. There's a survival instinct that kicks in that makes you just want to get through the day. Not only do you have to deal with the school work, but also the way you look and the things you say. And just hope that you can make the right friends.

17 Aug 2013

GEEK GIRL - HOLLY SMALE

SUMMARY
"My name is Harriet Manners, and I am a geek." Harriet Manners knows that a cat has 32 muscles in each ear, a "jiffy" lasts 1/100th of a second, and the average person laughs 15 times per day. She knows that bats always turn left when exiting a cave and that peanuts are one of the ingredients of dynamite. But she doesn't know why nobody at school seems to like her.

So when Harriet is spotted by a top model agent, she grabs the chance to reinvent herself. Even if it means stealing her best friend's dream, incurring the wrath of her arch enemy Alexa, and repeatedly humiliating herself in front of impossibly handsome model Nick. Even if it means lying to the people she loves. Veering from one couture disaster to the next with the help of her overly enthusiastic father and her uber-geeky stalker, Toby, Harriet begins to realise that the world of fashion doesn't seem to like her any more than the real world did. As her old life starts to fall apart, will Harriet be able to transform herself before she ruins everything?

REVIEW
I received Geek Girl after being invited as a bookseller to HarperCollin's 'Big Book Parade' - which was an absolute dream come true. Not only did we get to see all the awesome new books due out at the end of this year, but we also got to fill bags with whatever books took our fancy. For free. Reviewing doesn't seem like enough for the goodies publishers give us but hopefully being able to recommend a book like this goes some way to show how appreciative I am.

Geek Girl follows Harriet Manners on her way to stardom. After accidentally getting 'spotted' by a modelling agency at the Clothes Show she is whisked away, destined to become the World's Next Top Model. Unfortunately, Harriet was only at the show to help her best friend get spotted and now Harriet has to make the choice: follow a new path and opportunities that have opened up for her life, or stay true to her friend and turn it down? How do you follow you dreams when it means changing the lives of those around you?

13 Aug 2013

BECAUSE IT IS MY BLOOD - GABRIELLE ZEVIN

THIS IS THE 2ND BOOK IN THE BIRTHRIGHT SERIES, SO MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST BOOK.

SUMMARY
Freed from jail, Anya hopes that things will get back to normal. But life on the outside is even more dangerous than life behind bars. Some of her gangland family want revenge for the crime for which she has done time: the shooting of her uncle. Forced to flee the country, Anya hides out in a cacao plantation in Mexico. There she learns the secrets of the chocolate trade, a trade that is illegal and deadly in her native New York. There too she discovers that seemingly random acts of violence carried out across the world have a single target: her family. As innocent bystanders get caught in the crossfire Anya must act fast and decisively to stop it, no matter what the danger to herself.

REVIEW
When Anya is finally released from Liberty, she finds that life on the outside is still as difficult as ever. Win's dad is still running for office and her mortal enemy so her boyfriend is off limits, her Catholic school won't have her back, and all she wants to do is graduate like a normal teenager. Nothing ever runs smoothly.

This, the second book, doesn't necessarily ease you in slowly. I like that it doesn't use the first chapters to recap everything that happens in the last book but you can still pick up on the important threads if you don't remember. I had missed Anya's voice a lot - she's probably my favourite character in any book. She's still strong and admirable, but she's funny too and I really aspire to be like her. She does what she has to in difficult circumstances but is also willing to deal with the consequences too. I hate quite a lot of female narrators in YA books, they can be so superficial or underdeveloped in terms of character - either completely weak to boys or think they are so ugly when every man falls at their feet. I despise this. So it came as a pleasant surprise when Anya decides to stay away from Win. Don't get me wrong, I adore their little relationship, but Anya is so much more realistic about things and knows that she and Win are both young and might decide to go their own ways one day. She's also clear about the fact that even though she cares deeply about him, she's not willing to put him before her family. She is so far from being stupid.

12 Aug 2013

DIVERGENT - VERONICA ROTH

SUMMARY
She turns to face the future in a world that's falling apart. For sixteen-year-old Tris, the world changes in a heartbeat when she is forced to make a terrible choice. Turning her back on her family, Tris ventures out, alone, determined to find out where she truly belongs. Shocked by the brutality of her new life, Tris can trust no one. And yet she is drawn to a boy who seems to both threaten and protect her. The hardest choices may yet lie ahead...A debut novel that will leave you breathless.

REVIEW
I had had a big bulky trade version of Divergent sitting on my shelf since its publication but I just couldn't bring myself to read it. However after attending HarperCollins' 'Big Book Parade' I received copies of both Divergent  and Insurgent and knew I had to read it before my colleagues got in there first and berated me for missing out. Not that I did this to them with The Maze Runner... So anyway, I set myself up in bed with a cup of tea and pretty much didn't leave until Divergent was finished. I enjoyed it that much.

Divergent has been compared several times to The Hunger Games, and yes, it has a similar set up of a fractured society split to serve each other, and even though I enjoyed The Hunger Games, I think Divergent is much more fun, less depressing, and although it is just as much of a page turner, it was so much less claustrophobic. There will always be these comparisons because the genre lends itself to stock features, but I will try to stay away from them for the rest of this review.

Here's the gist: 

In Tris's dystopian world society is split into 5 'factions' (groups): Erudite, Amity, Dauntless, Candor, and the faction Tris is born in to, Abnegation. When they reach 16, members of each faction take the Aptitude Test, which runs a series of simulations, to see which faction they fit in to. Those who are special and therefore dangerous are labelled as Divergent. When Tris's turn comes to choose, she leaves her family and embarks upon a new life in Dauntless, the daredevil faction.

11 Aug 2013

IF I STAY - GAYLE FORMAN

SUMMARY
Life can change in an instant. A cold February morning ...a snowy road ...and suddenly all of Mia's choices are gone. Except one. As alone as she'll ever be, Mia must make the most difficult choice of all. Gripping, heartrending and ultimately life-affirming, "If I Stay" will make you appreciate all that you have, all that you've lost - and all that might be.

REVIEW
When Mia and her family are involved in an horrific car crash, she becomes stuck in Limbo, waiting to decide whether or not to return to her body or let it die so she can join the rest of her family on the 'other side'. She can see her body and can walk around, and most importantly can hear the things her family say when they come to visit her.

The story focuses on Mia's body in the present, but also alternates with her life before: life with her family, meeting her boyfriend, and her love of classical music. While I liked her parents and thought they were really funny are pretty cool, it all just seemed a little too perfect. Mia barely has regrets from her life, no explosive arguments with her brother or teenage fits where she tells her parents she hates them. It all just seemed too perfect and didn't ring true. The book is sickly sweet and I couldn't connect with it. Although the whole point of Mia's narrative is to understand what it's like to be an outsider observing your own life, I felt too far away from it. Its more of a novella.

29 Jul 2013

COLIN FISCHER - ASHLEY EDWARD MILLER & ZACK STENTZ

SUMMARY
This is a brilliant detective story for readers of 10+, from the screenwriters of X Men First Class and Thor. It is a must-read for anyone who loved The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. "Fans of John Green and Sarah Dessen will like this book very much". (Publishers Weekly). Colin Fischer is 14 and he has Asperger's. A lot of the world is a mystery to Colin - he can't read his classmates' expressions without looking at a chart, the colour blue is really off-putting and he has no idea why his parents like to hug him. But when a gun goes off in the school cafeteria one lunchtime, Colin knows he can work out who did it. Colin loves cool, hard logic. His hero is Sherlock Holmes. Only Colin can piece together the puzzle that links chocolate cake, a dodgy gangster, a cheerleader and a very unlikely suspect.

REVIEW
A few months ago I recieved Colin Fischer through the post and wasn't really that interested in it. I was going through an adult dystopia phase and it just didn't fit in with what I was looking for. So it went in the work locker and was forgotten about when I lost my key. When my key finally surfaced and I went through my locker, I was surprised to find this again. At the moment my trend is male-narrated contemporary, quirky, psychological YA fiction. Sorry to be so vague. So this was a real treat to stumble across again. I've always been a firm believer that books find their readers at the right time.

Firstly, Colin is brilliant. He is one of my favourite all time narrators. He suffers from Aspergers Syndrome and as such can't read facial expressions and takes things people say as literal. Although he struggles emotionally with things like loud noises, he's able to reduce day-to-day occurrences and insults down to logical fact - and Colin loves facts. The beginning of each chapter is an extract from Colin's Notebook, usually a fact or theory that helps him understand whatever is happening to him. I honestly thought this was fascinating. Through him you being to look at society and social contract through a different perspective. Imagine The Big Bang Theory's Sheldon, although Colin doesn't try to actively shun or criticise those around him.

KETCHUP CLOUDS - ANNABEL PITCHER

SUMMARY
Fifteen-year-old Zoe has a secret - a dark and terrible secret that she can't confess to anyone she knows. But then one day she hears of a criminal, Stuart Harris, locked up on death row in Texas. Like Zoe, Stuart is no stranger to secrets. Or lies. Or murder. Full of heartache yet humour, Zoe tells her story in the only way she can - in letters to the man in prison in America. Armed with a pen, Zoe takes a deep breath, eats a jam sandwich, and begins her tale of love and betrayal.

REVIEW
Ketchup Clouds won the Waterstones Children's Book Prize last year and since then, and since reading the blurb, I was really eager to read it. Normally, and this is going to sound like I'm a complete jobs worth but it's sadly true, Waterstones pick a lot of award winners as their focus titles, so this sounded like something I wanted to read.

The story is formed around 'Zoe' and the letters that she writes to a criminal on Death Row. They act as a way of coming to terms with the guilt she is carrying around following the death of one of her friends. The silent character of Mr Harris, who she begins to affectionately call Stu, is a therapist of sorts for Zoe, talking to someone she believes will have sympathy for her situation, but is also someone worse off than her. I enjoyed finding out about his crimes and why he was on death row. A "crime of passion" seems so suitable and you being to understand why Zoe chose to write to him. 

Zoe's voice is sweet and naive, and her writing has a melancholic humour to it, which at times is really powerful. What really annoyed me, thought, about this story is that the voice she is given isn't reflected in her actions. Her free and easy attitude with boys doesn't match up to the way she describes things to Stuart. It reflects young love and learning well, but the way she acts around the boys is too free and easy for someone of her age, and after Max does something unforgivable she, of course, forgives him straight away and barely mentions it again. If this had happened to me I would have been so angry and yet she pretty much lets it slide! 

9 Jul 2013

HELLO DARKNESS - ANTHONY MCGOWAN

SUMMARY
“Stealthy, furtive, unhurried yet urgent… In a few seconds of efficient butchery, the chickens are dead and dismembered.” Someone is on a killing spree – slaughtering the school pets with a cold-blooded savagery. The number-one suspect: Johnny Middleton. Johnny’s had problems in the past, but they’re behind him now. So what if he still sees the world a little differently? He’s not crazy and he’s not a killer. And he’s going to prove it.

REVIEW
Johnny Middleton is a boy with a problem: someone is butchering the school pets and he is the main target. If he can't solve the case by the end of the week he faces expulsion along with threats of a beating from several of the students. On top of this his parents are away for a week and are still pestering him to take his medication.

Johnny is an outsider, excluded from every faction at his school and pushed from pillar to post from aggressive teacher to bully. When the students start to think that he is murdering the schools pets they isolate him even more, especially after the undisclosed events surrounding Johnny's previous breakdown. And this is what Hello Darkness is really about: Johnny's disintergrating mental state. He is your typical unreliable narrator, and the reader is never quite sure how much of what Johnny is seeing or doing is actually happening. Some things are farfetched and even Johnny realises he's not well, although it's just as easy to believe that this is nothing more serious than a school boy fantasy - exaggerations made to make his life seem more interesting - there are still very subtle hints that seem to suggest otherwise...

His investigation takes him through the dangerous parts of the school and talking to the kings and queens of the social groups. No actual schoolwork really goes on and you're left wondering what kind of school he's in, or even if it is contemporary or part fantasy because of  the school set-up. It's really quite sad in places, the way that people react to Johnny, and the way that he sees his place in society is a little heartbreaking at times.

1 Jul 2013

THE RECKONING - ALMA KATSU

THIS IS THE SECOND BOOK IN THE SERIES, AND MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS OF THE FIRST, THE TAKER.

SUMMARY
Lanore McIlvrae is the kind of woman who will do anything for love. Including imprisoning the man who loves her behind a wall of brick and stone.

She had no choice but to entomb Adair, her nemesis, to save Jonathan, the boy she grew up with in a remote Maine town in the early 1800s and the man she thought she would be with forever. But Adair had other plans for her. He used his mysterious, otherworldly powers to give her eternal life, but Lanore learned too late that there was a price for this gift: to spend eternity with him. And though he is handsome and charming, behind Adair’s seductive fa├žade is the stuff of nightmares. He is a monster in the flesh, and he wants Lanore to love him for all of time.

REVIEW
I was quite affected by the first book, The Taker. If you've read my review you'll know that I found it really shocking and haunting in places. The abuse is absolute and frightening, and the power and control of Adair emanates from the pages. I felt saddened by the book but it has still made me curious as to how the plot will play out, and how much Katsu can move the story forward without just using Adair to create a circle of violence that is the same as how the last book started.

What I think has drawn me to the series is its exploration of love. This is no love that you'll find in Nicholas Sparks or the idealised love in the majority of YA fiction, no. It's a suffocating, forced love. Adair controls his followers through abuse and a Stockholm Syndrome type love, but even he comes to tire of his sycophants. He realises that a love that isn't organic is not love at all. Fear can make someone obey you but it cannot make them truly love you.

I'D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU BUT THEN I'D HAVE TO KILL YOU - ALLY CARTER

SUMMARY
Gallagher Academy might claim to be a school for geniuses - but it's really a school for spies. Cammie Morgan is fluent in fourteen languages and capable of killing a man in seven different ways (three of which involve a piece of uncooked spaghetti). But the one thing the Gallagher Academy hasn't prepared her for is what to do when she falls for an ordinary boy who thinks she's an ordinary girl. Sure, she can tap his phone, hack into his computer, and track him through a mall without his ever being the wiser, but can Cammie have a normal relationship with a boy who can never know the truth about her?

REVIEW
Cammie and her friends go to an exclusive school for exceptional girls. But really, it's a cover for a school for SPIES. Whilst on her first training mission shadowing a teacher, Cammie meets a boy that she can't stop thinking about. How can she risk blowing her cover for a boy she doesn't know?

I put off reading this series for so long because the cover made me think they were going to be shallow stories about girls who are obsessed with makeup, clothes and sneaking out to see boys. I was so wrong. It is a smart, witty novel that made me totally jealous that I had to go to a normal boring school for normal boring non-spy people.

The female characters are fantastic role models: they are serious about their schoolwork, are ambitious  about their careers and make the most of each particular skill set they have. I liked that although they had to be privileged  and of a good background to attend the school, the don't squander it. They recognise how lucky they are and know that their lives will never be normal or safe. They're also really loyal friends, which is what a girl needs when you have to spend the whole of you life looking over your shoulder for impending danger.

19 May 2013

GIRL, MISSING - SOPHIE MACKENZIE

SUMMARY
Lauren has always known she was adopted but when a little research turns up the possibility that she was snatched from an American family as a baby, suddenly Lauren's life seems like a sham. How can she find her biological parents? And are her adoptive parents really responsible for kidnapping her? A family trip to the US gives her the chance to run away and try and find the truth. But the circumstances of her disappearance are murky and Lauren's kidnappers are still at large and willing to do anything to keep her silent...

REVIEW
I bought this book earlier on in the year as one of the teen choices for World Book Day. I'd been meaning to getting round to reading it for years as it seemed to be one of the staple teen reads and I thought the premise sounded really good. I can see why it was chosen: it's accessible to anyone, definitely more aimed at younger teens - the narrator being just 14.

The whole premise of the story astounded me. I couldn't quite believe that anything of what I was reading was possible. Let me clarify: I know that there are cases like this around the world but it all felt too easy. Lauren comes up against no difficulty in travelling around the US and I was gobsmacked.

I'm completely torn over this book. I read it in a day and I'm kinda glad I read it. It's a good story, but it seems wholly impossible. I know you're thinking, well that's the whole point of books right? To experience the impossible? Well, yes. But. Seriously? A 14 year old girl allowed to run off and travel through several different states. 

It seems to mix its messages. Don't go off with strangers, they will kidnap you. At the same time it tells you there are people who will give you all the kindness in their hearts. As a young teen which of these are you supposed to believe? The book seems to straddle between a real lawful and psychological exploration of a girl who wants to find out where so comes from, but at the same time its wants to be an adventure story and for me the two subjects just can't mix for such young readers. It deals with the difficult subject of adoption or unknown heritage too easily. It's too neat and tidy.

REQUIEM - LAUREN OLIVER

THIS IS THE FINAL BOOK IN THE TRILOGY AND MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS OF THE FIRST TWO.

SUMMARY
The final instalment in the internationally bestselling Delirium trilogy. It is the rule of the Wilds You must be bigger, and stronger, and tougher. A coldness radiates through me, a solid wall that is growing, piece by piece, in my chest. He doesn't love me He never loved me. It was all a lie. 'The old Lena is dead', I say, and then push past him. Each step is more difficult than the last; the heaviness fills me and turns my limbs to stone. You must hurt, or be hurt. Lena can build the walls, but what if there's no one left to take them down? The powerful, heartbreaking conclusion to one of the most eagerly awaited, talked-about series is here.

REVIEW
So the end of Pandemonium was awesome - Alex is alive! Who knew? The beginning of Requiem must be exciting, then, Lena will have to explain Julian's relationship and what happened to her after they parted. Won't she?

Apparently not. The final, most anticipated book opens nowhere, doing nothing. I was so disappointed. I wanted answers, damn it! I wanted to know how Alex would react, what had happened to him while he was away but you never really find out. It's so frustrating! I felt like I'd invested so much in this series. I persevered when the writing was flat in the first book, I held my breath when the second book delved into the characters, finally building them up, and then I gave in when the third book undid all of this. 

I enjoyed the alternate chapters between Lena and Hana, though I found Hana's much better. She had more of a development over a few chapters than Lena had for most of the books. I liked her sense of conscience and hopelessness at the same time. She is a tribute to the callous strength of normal people when we feel trapped like animals. Everything happens at breakneck speed, which I have to admit was my favourite bit - I think I read it over a day.

27 Apr 2013

THE ELITE - KIERA CASS

THIS IS THE SECOND BOOK IN THE SELECTION SERIES AND MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS OF THE FIRST.

SUMMARY
The Selection gets fierce as rivals stake their claim on the prince. Six girls, one life-changing prize...America Singer will leave her pre-destined life for a world of glamour and luxury, if she wins...But surviving The Selection is tough. Rivals are battling to become Prince Maxon's bride as the threat of rebel violence just beyond the palace walls escalates into war. Only six girls are left and sworn friendships are tested to breaking point. America's feelings for Maxon grow stronger, but she suspects darker mysteries in his royal past. With ex-lover Aspen waiting for her in the shadows, where do her loyalties truly lie?

REVIEW
What is it that I love about this series? I can't quite put my finger on it. On one level it's reality TV trash. It's over obvious in the comparisons its trying to draw, even down to calling the protagonist America Singer. But on a level it's absolute entertainment and I love it. As soon as it came up on NetGalley I snapped it up and devoured it in a couple of sittings.

This 'episode' isn't so much a sequel as an extension of the first book, there's not much of an overlap and it jumps straight back in to the plot. There are some episodes, like the hosting of the foreign royalties that are so sickly sweet but this is not why I read it. The real reason?

Maxon.

No, I don't read him and think "OMG he's so hot she'd be mad not to go with him", no, I'm sucked into America's way of thinking. As soon as he goes away I too am doubting everything that comes out of his mouth and thinking 'why are you bothering? At least you know that Aspen is true'. But then you think, isn't it better to be in a position where you can change the world? Even if it means sacrificing your own happiness?

I could never guess what was going to happen next, or who was going to be eliminated, and every time I think I've got it all pinned down and realigned my expectations, I'm proved wrong. These are the things that I love. If you haven't read the first book, The Selection, then I hope I haven't ruined too much and you want to read it. It's great entertainment and although it's not a long read and there probably isn't too much under the surface I think you'll find enough in it to keep you thinking about what you would do long after you've finished reading.

7 Mar 2013

SKULDUGGARY PLEASANT - DEREK LANDY

SUMMARY
Meet the great Skulduggery Pleasant: wise-cracking detective, powerful magician, master of dirty tricks and burglary (in the name of the greater good, of course). Oh yeah. And dead. Then there's his sidekick, Stephanie. She's...well, she's a twelve-year-old girl. With a pair like this on the case, evil had better watch out.. Stephanie's uncle Gordon is a writer of horror fiction. But when he dies and leaves her his estate, Stephanie learns that while he may have written horror, it certainly wasn't fiction. Pursued by evil forces intent on recovering a mysterious key, Stephanie finds help from an unusual source - the wisecracking skeleton of a dead wizard. When all hell breaks loose, it's lucky for Skulduggery that he's already dead. Though he's about to discover that being a skeleton doesn't stop you from being tortured, if the torturer is determined enough. And if there's anything Skulduggery hates, it's torture...Will evil win the day? Will Stephanie and Skulduggery stop bickering long enough to stop it? One thing's for sure: evil won't know what's hit it.

REVIEW
Skulduggery Pleasant is the coolest, smoothest, most awesomest (and probably the deadest) Detective around and you may not know he exists, but he saves you from some of the evilest supernatural people and creatures around on a daily basis. And it's not easy, no. In fact it's most dangerous. 

Made-up words aside, I am thoroughly in love with this series already - don't let anyone tell you that 'grown-ups' can't enjoy reading books for younger kids. It just proves that done well books can be accessible to anyone. It has an incredibly spot-on humour: kind of dark in places and completely sarcastic. Its straight up my street. I don't know what took me so long to actually get round to reading it but now I'm completely hooked.

Stephanie, our main heroine and guide, is a great character. She is down to Earth, tough and really funny. She has a fantastically dry sense of humour and finds a great, loyal friend in Skulduggery who shows her the world that her beloved late Uncle had inhabited. And more importantly he sweeps her away from her humdrum ordinary life. I love Skulduggery for that ironic reason of how 'fleshed out' he is. He is so set in his ways, like his love of his Bently and his noir-style crime fighting dectection. He's a brilliant father figure and semi-moral compass for Stephanie. He also has a really interesting, if not grim, backstory that is eeked out in this book:

“I woke up, a bag of bones. Literally. They had gathered up my bones and put them in a bag and thrown the bag into a river.”

THE BUNKER DIARY - KEVIN BROOKS

SUMMARY
Room meets Lord of the Flies, The Bunker Diary is award-winning, young adult writer Kevin Brooks's pulse-pounding exploration of what happens when your worst nightmare comes true - and how will you survive?

I can't believe I fell for it. It was still dark when I woke up this morning. As soon as my eyes opened I knew where I was. A low-ceilinged rectangular building made entirely of whitewashed concrete. There are six little rooms along the main corridor. There are no windows. No doors. The lift is the only way in or out. What's he going to do to me? What am I going to do? If I'm right, the lift will come down in five minutes. It did. Only this time it wasn't empty . . 


REVIEW 
The Bunker Diary appeared one day in my pigeonhole. I hadn't requested it, didn't know anything about it, and I've never read anything by Kevin Brooks before. Odd. They say that the right books find the right people in the end and if that's the case this book should find everybody. It is truly incredible. 

Linus is abducted and put in an old bunker, soon to be followed by 5 other people from completely different walks of life. No one knows why they're there but they're stuck. In each cell is a notebook, and the story is a transcribe of the day to day diary that Linus keeps. Linus is an incredible narrator. He is strong and humble and really likable. You will root for him against a faceless enemy. Its a cruel, horrible book in places. Its cold and nasty, but it will makes you understand how the human psyche reacts to these things. It will make you ask yourself how you would cope, what you would do. Would you give up and wait to die? Hope for rescue? Plan your escape? 

2 Feb 2013

HIDDEN - MARIANNE CURLEY

SUMMARY
Ebony has always known that she is different. Her violet eyes mark her out, and her protective parents have kept her in a gorgeous valley, home-schooled, safe from everything - almost as if she's being hidden. But she's changing: glowing, getting more and more beautiful, and stronger than anyone knows. Ebony can't stay hidden for ever, and when she meets complicated, intense Jordan, something explodes inside her - something that can be seen from the heavens; something that changes everything. Ebony is a stolen angel, concealed on Earth. Now the heavens have found her, they want her back.

REVIEW
Hidden tells the story of violet-eyed Ebony. After her over-protective parents go crazy at her for sneaking out of her house to go to a party, Ebony demands to know why they are always so evasive about why she is not allowed to leave the area around the house or why they wont tell her much about when she was born. What she find is something that she never expected. Ebony is an Angel, stolen from her home realm soon after her birth.

I found Ebony a little bland as a character, although I did like the fact that she denies that she could be an angel for as long as she can, I hate it when characters accept these unbelievable things straight away. After being informed about how she came to live with the couple she considers her parents, they disappear, and Ebony is left living with her best friend and trying to track them down. I wanted to see the quest part of the narrative developed more, but it falls a little flat when Jordan brings the answers to her.

The secondary main character, and alternate narrator, is Jordan. I kinda liked him. He is supposed to be your hard-act kid - life spent on the street or between foster homes - but he didn't come across like this. He's fairly level headed. I did like the extra layer he brings to the story though, even if he is achingly cheesy at times. In fact the whole story felt sugarcoated. I think it's good for the younger audience but older readers won't find much to get their teeth in to. It's a little predictable and even the Angelic characters felt like stock personalities, there to provide background noise. I didn't even find myself remotely interested in the mythology of the realms and the Angels, even though that is something that would usually catch my attention.

25 Jan 2013

VIRALS - KATHY REICH

SUMMARY
Fourteen-year-old Tory Brennan is as fascinated by bones and dead bodies as her famous aunt, acclaimed forensic anthropologist, Tempe Brennan. However living on a secluded island off Charleston in South Carolina there is not much opportunity to put her knowledge to the test. Until her and her ragbag group of technophile friends stumble across a shallow grave containing the remains of a girl who has been missing for over thirty years. The question is, did whoever was responsible for the girl's death have anything to do with the sick puppy they rescued from a secret laboratory on the same island? With the cold-case murder suddenly hot, Tory realises that they are involved in something fatally dangerous. But events take a turn for the bizarre when they escape some would-be attackers by using physical powers more akin to a dog than a human...Could the puppy hold the key not only to the murder, but also the strange changes that are taking place in their bodies?

REVIEW
Kathy Reich's is the author of many adult crime novels, and her character Tempe Brennan and co. are the subject of the TV show BONES.

I absolutely loved Virals! I think bringing the crime genre to the younger reader is fantastic, and having the protagonist as the niece of an already well loved forensic anthropologist is just genius. Its the perfect pathway for anyone wanting to graduate to the gritty adult world, and even brilliant for parents who read adult crime to share with their children.

The best way to describe Virals is like a modern day Famous Five adventure. You have all the elements you loved in those adventure stories as a child: a bright and colourful group of friends, an island off the beaten path, a suspicious medical facility and the group even have a dog! (well ok, a wolf). It even has the supernatural elements that modern kids seem to love just threaded subtly through.

Essentially Virals is a murder-mystery. The group of kids, headed up by Tory, are the children of scientists working at the secluded research facility on Loggerhead Island. After trying to determine what is happening to the island's wolves as one goes missing, the group come across remains buried on the island and, because of her familial links, Tory tries to 'CSI' the crime scene. When their remains are stolen and Tory's discovery discredited the group exhaust every possibilty to try to find the bones and what happened to the person they belonged to. At times its a little like the pesky kids from Scooby Doo but it never feels unreal. Even the supernatural elements. I loved all the characters and got so sucked in to the story and the cliffhangers that I went straight out and bought the second book (and now also have the 3rd!). There are so many more intricate details pertaining to the case that I don't want to spoil things too much.

DEPARTMENT 19 - WILL HILL

SUMMARY
In a secret supernatural battle that's been raging for over a century, the stakes have just been raised - and they're not wooden anymore. DEPARTMENT 6 IS THE ARMY, DEPARTMENT 12 is MI5, DEPARTMENT 19 IS THE REASON YOU'RE ALIVE. 

When Jamie Carpenter's mother is kidnapped by strange creatures, he finds himself dragged into Department 19, the government's most secret agency. Fortunately for Jamie, Department 19 can provide the tools he needs to find his mother, and to kill the vampires who want him dead. But unfortunately for everyone, something much older is stirring, something even Department 19 can't stand up against...

REVIEW
Department 19 is the coming of age story of Jamie Carpenter, descendant of John Carpenter - valet to the legendary Abraham Van Helsing. When Jamie's dad is shot by men in black, his mother is kidnapped by Alexandru, one of the 3 oldest vampires in the world. While trying to get her back Jamie is introduced to Blacklight, Department 19 of the British government, that deals with the supernatural dangers in the world. Unfortunately someone keeps giving away Jamie's whereabouts...

I really wanted to like this book. It has absolutely everything that I love: Dracula, Vampire, Frankenstein and a good bit of gore. But it really fell flat. I wrote my dissertation partly on Dracula and Frankenstein so I think there are grounds for arguing that I am just grumpy because of how much Department 19 takes liberties with the original stories. I think that if you were excited to read the classics after this you might have a bit of a shock. However, had those classics be written today perhaps this is what they would be like. I liked the idea of something major coming out of Dracula's world, even with the little addition of Vlad Tepes' background,  but I have read reworkings that work so much better than this.

12 Jan 2013

SISTER ASSASSIN - KIERSTEN WHITE

SUMMARY
She never chose her deadly gift but now she's forced to use it. How far would you go to protect the only family you have left? Annie is beset by fleeting strange visions and a guilty conscience. Blind and orphaned, she struggles to care for her feisty younger sister Fia, but things look up when both sisters are offered a place at Kessler School for Exceptional Girls. Born with flawless intuition, Fia immediately knows that something's wrong, but bites her tongue...until it's too late. For Fia is the perfect weapon to carry out criminal plans and there are those at Kessler who will do anything to ensure her co-operation. With Annie trapped in Kessler's sinister clutches, instincts keep Fia from killing an innocent guy and everything unravels. Is manipulative James the key to the sisters' freedom or an even darker prison? And how can Fia atone for the blood on her hands?

REVIEW
Sister Assassin follows Fia, a special girl who's unfaltering instincts make her a dangerous weapon, and Annie, her blind sister who has visions of the future. They're both virtually imprisoned in a school, their special abilities being manipulated by the Foundation that set up the school on the pretense of helping girls with their talents. Their are other types of special abilities in their world, such as Feelers, who can feel the emotions of anyone around, but they only affect women. Fia is used as an assassin, killing enemies of the Foundation, and on the last mission she decides the unthinkable - she is not going to kill her target. The problem is that the Foundation are using Annie as leverage over Fia and she knows that by not killing the boy she is risking Annie's life. However, in saving him she may have given herself the opportunity to escape from people who are holding her, but it will come with sacrifices.

I loved Sister Assassin. Simple as that. It has stuck in my head ever since I read it and I couldn't tear myself away. The writing is perfect, bittersweet and beautiful; it's simply poetic. Fia's perfect instincts mean that her imposed occupation as assassin forces her to go against every feeling she has and then leaves her to deal with the devastating emotional consequences. She is constantly heart broken. Beaten down by everyone in her life she lives for the soul purpose of supporting her blind sister, whom the Foundation have promised to work on ways to give her back her sight.

HYSTERIA - MEGAN MIRANDA

SUMMARY
Mallory's life is falling apart. Her boyfriend was stabbed. He bled to death in her kitchen. Mallory was the one who stabbed him. But she can't remember what happened that night. She only remembers the fear ...When Mallory's parents send her away to a boarding school, she thinks she can escape the gossip and the threats. But someone, or something, has followed her. There's the hand that touches her shoulder when she's drifting off to sleep. A voice whispering her name. And everyone knows what happened. So when a pupil is found dead, Mallory's name is on their lips. Her past can be forgotten but it's never gone. Can Mallory live with that?

REVIEW
Hysteria is the story of Mallory, dealing with the aftermath of being acquitted of stabbing her boyfriend. Even though she did it, it is ruled that she acted in self defense. Eager to move her away from home, where the incident happened, Mallory is sent to her fathers alumni boarding school. There the horrors of her past follow her and haunt what few hours sleep she gets. 

For a long time I was waiting for something to happen in Hysteria. I felt like the story started after the good stuff had happened - you miss the murder, the trial and are left with almost your typical boarding school clique drama. However I was pleased to be proved wrong. When the narrative moves to the school and Mallory realises that she can't outrun her demons the story starts to become more of the psychological thriller that it should be. One thing that I couldn't quite grasp is that, unless I missed it, you're never really told that Mallory doesn't remember what happened on the night of the stabbing, you only really know this from the blurb. There are frequent flashbacks but they're the fragmented type that you would expect from a traumatic experience. Fortunately this doesn't really matter much for most of if, it just meant that for me the narrative jarred slightly as it begins to heat up in the final climax.

2 Jan 2013

SHUTTER ISLAND - DENNIS LEHANE

SUMMARY
US Marshal Teddy Daniels has come to Shutter Island, home of Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane, to find an escaped murderer named Rachel Solando. As a killer hurricane bears down on the island, the investigation deepens and the questions mount. How has a barefoot woman escaped from a locked room? Who is leaving them clues in the form of cryptic codes? And what really goes on in Ward C? The closer Teddy gets to the truth, the more elusive it becomes. And the more he begins to believe that he may never leave Shutter Island. Because someone is trying to drive him insane...

REVIEW
Shutter Island is a book I picked to challenge myself to something outside of what I normally read. I loved the film of this and although I already knew the massive twist I wasn't disappointed. It's the type of perfectly crafted story that you will see something in the second or third times you read it. That's the sign of an amazing book that I look for. 

It's really hard to write this review and gush about it without giving the game away. It's narrated by a US Marshal sent to Shutter Island to investigate a missing patient. Whilst there Daniels and his partner meet massive resistance to their investigation and soon find themselves in deeper than they could ever imagine. Leads force them further out in to the island only to be driven back to the beginning. In between the investigation Daniels has horrific flashbacks of the death of his wife in a fire. He starts to understand that he has been given the chance to go to the island to get revenge on the man he believes to have started the fire, who is incarcerated in isolation in a high security ward. As a storm hits the island he feels like he is never gonna get off the island and feels like some conspiracy is trying to keep him there. Determined to return home Daniels is forced to face his fears and realise that he can trust no one.

You take so much for granted in a story sometimes that it almost feels like Lehane is saying "tut tut, you've not been watching closely enough, have you?"

UNDONE - CAT CLARKE

SUMMARY
Jem Halliday is in love with her gay best friend. Not exactly ideal, but she's learning to live with it. Then the unspeakable happens. Kai is outed online ...and he kills himself. Jem knows nothing she can say or do will bring him back. But she wants to know who was responsible. And she wants to take them down. A searing story of love, revenge and betrayal from a bestselling author.

REVIEW
Undone is a heart-wrenching story about a girl who is trying to cope with her best friends death, and also comes to understand the devastating cost of grief and revenge.

The narrative follows Jem who is trying to get over the death of her best friend Kai. Jem and Kai have known each other since they were little and Jem has always been in love with him. Even though Jem knows Kai is gay she doesn't see this as a problem, but when a house party goes wrong and Kai is videoed being openly gay with an unknown man his life takes a turn for the worst. Kai receives hate mail and decides that he can no longer live with the embarrassment and shame he feels the video has caused him and believes his only option is to take his own life. Jem's narrative is interspersed with cleverly written letters from Kai, written in the days before he kills himself. There is one for every month for a year and are meant to help Jem come to terms with his death. 

Unfortunately Jem finds it hard to cope. She thinks her only option is to avenge Kai's death and seek revenge against those that she sees as taking him away from her. Jem is a great character to watch and is usually completely oblivious to almost everything that goes on around her. She becomes totally obsesses with the idea of revenge that she begins to construct a whole new life for herself, starting with following Kai's suggestions in his letters. While the outside world sees Jem as recovering and moving on, her narrative shows that she is in turmoil  becoming more focused on her endgame and ignoring the little voice that tells her moving on isn't so bad.

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