Monthly Archives: November 2014

Book #133 – We Were Liars

16143347We Were Liars has been blowing up the bestseller lists all year – it’s the hottest thing in YA in 2014, and is making it onto all kinds of lists of best books of the year. Thus, naturally, I had to try it out and see what all the fuss was about.

And, while I can see why many people are lauding it, I wasn’t particularly impressed.

We Were Liars – E. Lockhart

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart.

Read it.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

This book is surprisingly short – I read it in less than two days, over a few train journeys to and from Uni. It’s a really evocative book – the pages are laced through with imagery and artistic sentence constructions and I can see why some people would think it beautiful. For me, though, it pushed all the wrong buttons. I didn’t like the choppy sentence style, I didn’t like the heavy use of metaphor which was occasionally difficult to distinguish from reality, and the imagery just didn’t work for me.
The characters were incredibly disagreeable. This, of course, was how it was supposed to be, that the reader doesn’t really empathise with the spoiled, rich, judgemental, horrible Sinclairs. I will give E. Lockhart points for that – she certainly knows how to write a collection of thoroughly dislikeable characters, most of whom are women.

Throughout the book, I disliked the characters, disliked the style of writing, didn’t really believe the love story, disagreed with the motivations of the characters and generally wasn’t really enjoying it at all – but that ending!
The ending of We Were Liars packs a punch which rocketed the book from a one-star to a three-star as it was just – beautifully executed. Incredibly well-done, I was floored by it. I’d say more, but the ending is where, in my opinion, all the strength of the book lies. It’s worth slogging through the first 90% just to get to the payoff at the end.
Not a fantastic book, in my opinion, and certainly not a book I’d be putting on my Goodreads choice list, but I can see why other people would.

Three Stars
***

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Book #139 – Of Heroes and Kings

Of-Heroes-and-Kings-amazonI had a substantial amount of feelings about this book – it’s one that I felt I had to review pretty much as soon as I finished it. Well, with a three or four day delay, because I’m lazy and I waited for the weekend, but hey, it’s pretty fast, for me. There are books I read in January that are still awaiting review.

So this book, I should probably mention, is written by a woman who plays in the same community orchestra as I used to, and is also a facebook friend of mine. Thus, I’ve been pointed towards it on facebook, so I downloaded it onto my kindle.

At first glance, it seems like the kind of book which I’d love – I really enjoy books set in Ireland, written by Irish people (if not written by Irish people or people with an understanding of Ireland, I’m less enthusiastic, see here). I love mythology – you only have to look at how much I enjoyed the Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus series, as well as the Starcrossed trilogy. Equally I enjoyed the Ink Exchange series (and not just because a major character had my name) and its depiction of fairy courts. Mythology (and not just Greek mythology) is something which has always interested me, and fiction about the crossover between modern and ancient mythology is right up my alley. Thus, the blurb for Of Heroes and Kings seemed equally suited for me to love it.

Of Heroes and Kings – Elaine Nolan

When Rían Breasel, a promising Irish journalist, attracts the interest of Seth Morand, a successful American businessman now living in Ireland, she initially rebuffs his attentions. But it’s not only Seth who has his sights set on her. Brehon McCormac, a Druid of an ancient Celtic order reveals her heritage and her ancient royal bloodline. Yet, despite dismissing the old man’s claims, she finds herself pulled into his world, also discovering Seth is not who he initially appears to be. In an effort to prove the old man wrong, Rían agrees to go with him to the Lia Fáil, the Stone of Destiny, at Tara, Co Meath to perform the ancient ceremony of the Ard Rí (High King). Here Rían and Seth’s lives are changed completely… Of Heroes and Kings is an urban fantasy, intertwining Celtic mythology with the modern world, setting ancient enemies on a collision course.

The thing was, though, while the story of this was pretty interesting, and had a lot of plot points from Irish legends, notably the Rúraíocht, the Ulster Cycle, which means Cú Chulainn, the Morrígan, Nemain and Badb, etc etc, as opposed to Fionn, Oisín, etc. It pulled in points which I remember from primary school legends, like the curse of Macha and lots about Cú Chulainn. Plot-wise, while not stunning, it was thoroughly enjoyable, and if I were basing this review on plot alone, it would’ve been a four star review. Probably. I might have deducted one for the throwaway line at the end which is clearly a setup for a sequel a generation later.

I had a massive, massive issue with this book, though, and that was the editing. The book was, no joke, so badly edited that at times it was hard to read. Dangling clauses were treated as full sentences, points of view changed mid-sentence, personal pronouns were used without distinction between characters of the same gender, and so many more things. At times, I genuinely struggled to read this book, because the standard of writing was poor.
Perhaps to say that the standard of writing was poor is unfair. In fact, it is unfair. There was lots of beautiful imagery in this book, and when it hit its stride, the writing was smooth and flowing, and really gave me no pause for thought beyond adding to the story. The problem was that this didn’t happen half as often as it should have.
It’s rare that the editing of a book is so poor that I’ll knock a star off, but in this case, I really feel like it detracts wholly from the story. It irritated me to no end – there shouldn’t be instances where a sentence changes point of view midway through, or where the subject changes mid-sentence. There were several instances where I had to re-read entire paragraphs trying to distinguish one ‘he’ from another ‘he’ and it was truly frustrating.

I wasn’t entirely convinced on the translations of some of the Irish either, although it’s been so long that I can’t be particularly picky on that.
Also, the author, a born-and-bred Irishwoman, referred to the Irish language (via an Irish character) as Gaelic, which is just unacceptable. I absolutely cannot countenance that – no Irish person would ever, ever say ‘nice touch with the Gaelic’ to another Irish person. It’d be ‘nice touch with the Irish’, or ‘nice touch with the Gaeilge’.

Lastly, far too much time was given over to describing how people got places – I don’t need to know that Heuston is two kilometres away from O’Connell street, while Connolly is just down the road, and Bus Áras (which was also misspelled) is next to Connolly. I already know these facts, and if I didn’t, it wouldn’t affect my enjoyment of the book. Reading descriptions of how to get from O’Connell Street to Bus Áras, though, is dull and detracts from the plot.

I would love to give this book four stars. The story was almost up to that standard. However, the poor standard of editing, the slightly unrealistically fast falling in love, the lengthy descriptions of directional boredom and the occasional oddly non-Irish phrase in a book written by an Irishwoman (sidewalk? Gaelic??) combined to make me sorely disappointed in what could’ve been a really excellent offering. I’m afraid it’s a two and a half star review for me. Unfortunately, I don’t really give half stars, so it gets bumped up. Also, the book isn’t on Goodreads. That’s just odd.

Three Stars
***

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Sarah Dessen Mega-Post

I’ve reviewed two Sarah Dessen books already – here and here – but I’ve read lots of them over the course of the year, so I decided that I’d do one big post to round up the other six I’ve read so far this year.
So!

sarahdessenbooks-1
Book #91 Someone Like You
Book #110 The Truth About Forever
Book #121 This Lullaby
Book #122 Keeping the Moon
Book #124 Dreamland
Book #132 Lock and Key

It’s probably worth noting at this point that I’ve really enjoyed all of Sarah Dessen’s books so far (I’ve two more to read, yet, but I’m sure they’ll be similarly strong), so it’s sort of a given that all of the books in this post are getting thumbs ups (thumb ups? Thumbs up?) from me!

Someone Like You

Halley has always followed in the wake of her best friend, Scarlett. But when Scarlett learns that her boyfriend has been killed in a motorcycle accident, and that she’s carrying his baby, she was devastated. For the first time ever, Scarlett really needs Halley. Their friendship may bend under the weight, but it’ll never break–because a true friendship is a promise you keep forever.

This is, as far as I’m aware, one of Dessen’s earlier books. It’s certainly a stronger offering than That Summer, but it hasn’t quite reached the peaks of later offerings. Halley takes center stage this year, supporting her best friend Scarlett, who’s dealing with an unexpected pregnancy, and developing a relationship with bad boy Macon (how is that pronounced, though? Like Bacon?), while struggling against her overbearing mother. Characterisation of a teenage girl was spot-on here, as Halley deals with a relationship which might not be as perfect as it seems in the beginning. Lovely book, some really good spots, and a pretty good midpoint between That Summer’s dullness and the strength of later offerings.
3.5 stars, but I can’t do that, so it got bumped to four!
****

The Truth About Forever

A long, hot summer…
That’s what Macy has to look forward to while her boyfriend, Jason, is away at Brain Camp. Days will be spent at a boring job in the library, evenings will be filled with vocabulary drills for the SATs, and spare time will be passed with her mother, the two of them sharing a silent grief at the traumatic loss of Macy’s father.
But sometimes, unexpected things can happen—things such as the catering job at Wish, with its fun-loving, chaotic crew. Or her sister’s project of renovating the neglected beach house, awakening long-buried memories. Things such as meeting Wes, a boy with a past, a taste for Truth-telling, and an amazing artistic talent, the kind of boy who could turn any girl’s world upside down. As Macy ventures out of her shell, she begins to wonder, Is it really better to be safe than sorry?

Very strong offering, showing Macy’s development as she tries to deal with the grief of losing her father and her mother’s subsequent retreating into her shell, leaving Macy feeling very alone. Combined with her super-brain boyfriend being away for the summer, she has a lot to gain from her new catering job and the eclectic collection of workers she meets there. Even characters whose vocabulary consists of no more than three lines – donneven! – are fleshed out as Macy begins to open up and admit how deeply losing her father has hurt her.
Four Stars
****

This Lullaby

When it comes to relationships, Remy doesn’t mess around. After all, she’s learned all there is to know from her mother, who’s currently working on husband number five. But there’s something about Dexter that seems to defy all of Remy’s rules. He certainly doesn’t seem like Mr. Right. For some reason, however, Remy just can’t seem to shake him. Could it be that Remy’s starting to understand what those love songs are all about?

Remy has it all figured out – she’s in the interim between high school and college and come the end of the summer she’ll go off to college without any ties left behind, a fresh start and no lingering ties holding her back. But her cold and sometimes standoffish method of dealing with people is turned upside down by Dexter and his rag-tag band of misfits who rock into town at the start of the summer, as Remy learns that you can’t cut the ties which bind you as easily as you might think. This is a cute one, where Remy, who has it all figured out, develops something of a heart in the eight weeks of summer.
Four Stars
****

Keeping the Moon

Colie expects the worst when she’s sent to spend the summer with her eccentric aunt Mira while her mother, queen of the television infomercial, tours Europe. Always an outcast — first for being fat and then for being “easy” — Colie has no friends at home and doesn’t expect to find any in Colby, North Carolina. But then she lands a job at the Last Chance Cafe and meets fellow waitresses Morgan and Isabel, best friends with a loving yet volatile relationship. Wacky yet wise, Morgan and Isabel help Colie see herself in a new way and realize the potential that has been there all along

One of Dessen’s earlier offerings, while there’s nothing wrong with Colie’s story of a former fat girl realising how beautiful she is and how much she has to offer, with the aid of a rag-tag bunch of people she met at her new job, it’s just lacking the power of later offerings.
Three Stars
***

Dreamland

Wake up, Caitlin

Ever since she started going out with Rogerson Biscoe, Caitlin seems to have fallen into a semiconscious dreamland where nothing is quite real. Rogerson is different from anyone Caitlin has ever known. He’s magnetic. He’s compelling. He’s dangerous. Being with him makes Caitlin forget about everything else–her missing sister, her withdrawn mother, her lackluster life. But what happens when being with Rogerson becomes a larger problem than being without him?

Caitlin (nice Irish name there, I approve) has always lived in the shadow of her sister, but when her model sibling ups and runs away from home, Caitlin is left adrift and seeks solace in the arms of bad boy Rogerson Biscoe. But things are sometimes exactly as they seem, and Rogerson is a bad boy through and through. The trouble is, Caitlin’s in too deep before she realises it, and leaving could be far harder than staying.
Dreamland is deep and complex and satisfying, painting a portrait of how people can end up in a situation that’s far beyond their control without realising how badly they could get hurt. Caitlin is interesting and relatable, and her relationship with Rogerson is beautifully portrayed so it’s not hard to see how she got to where she ended up. I really enjoyed this book, although it was hard going at times, and would rank it very highly among Dessen’s offerings.
Four Stars
****

Lock and Key

Ruby, where is your mother?
Ruby knows that the game is up. For the past few months, she’s been on her own in the yellow house, managing somehow, knowing that her mother will probably never return.

That’s how she comes to live with Cora, the sister she hasn’t seen in ten years, and Cora’s husband Jamie, whose down-to-earth demeanor makes it hard for Ruby to believe he founded the most popular networking Web site around. A luxurious house, fancy private school, a new wardrobe, the promise of college and a future; it’s a dream come true. So why is Ruby such a reluctant Cinderella, wary and defensive? And why is Nate, the genial boy next door with some secrets of his own, unable to accept the help that Ruby is just learning to give?

Best-selling author Sarah Dessen explores the heart of a gutsy, complex girl dealing with unforeseen circumstances and learning to trust again.

For once, in this book, Sarah Dessen turns her normal dynamic of girl meets boy, boy saves girl, on its head, and Ruby very much saves herself – in learning to trust her sister and brother-in-law and settling into the opportunities she’s been handed, while also accepting the damage that her mother has done, Ruby puts herself on the right track, and is certainly not saved by a knight in shining armour. I found this really refreshing especially since the guy who would be the knight is actually in need of a little saving himself. This book was really powerful, in showing Ruby’s fractured relationship with her sister and mother, and also in showing how the issues between Nate and Ruby develop over the course of the book. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and it might be my favourite Dessen so far, although it’s vying for top spot with Just Listen.
Four Stars
****

I’ve read six Sarah Dessen books now, and I really enjoy the way she writes sisterly relationships. I was surprised to find out that she’s actually an only child, as a lot of what she writes rings true for me – and I would know, having two sisters. I have the same sort of feelings about To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before – the interpersonal relationships, especially between family members, are a really strong part of Dessen’s writing. I’m thoroughly looking forward to the last two Dessen books I have to read (and as I read more and more, I’m spotting more of the nods to different characters in later books, e.g. Annabel from Just Listen’s radio show is mentioned in another book (maybe Lock and Key), Scarlet from Someone Like You is a love interest for a minor character in This Lullaby, Rogerson from Dreamland is mentioned in Lock and Key as having been in prison previously) and will be sorely disappointed to have to wait like everyone else for her newest arrival next year.

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