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.

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