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was so desperate to know what had happened, what he had done or what had happened to him, that made him become quite so withdrawn.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.

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