Monthly Archives: November 2016

Rebel of the Sands – Alwyn Hamilton

Challenge Criteria: A book recommended by someone you’ve just met.

24934065A few weeks ago, when I went to An Evening With Garth Nix, I was chatting to the girls sitting around me as we waited for the evening to start. One of them (I can’t even remember which) commented that Rebel of the Sands was an enjoyable and unpredictable middle-grade fantasy which I might enjoy.

Now, one might say that you’re likely to get a recommendation for a book at an event where the author is there to promote the aforementioned book, but I’m still counting this as a recommendation by someone I’ve just met, as she could easily have recommended instead one of the books by the other authors there.

And so! I purchased it (and got it signed) that evening, but didn’t actually pick it up until I was on my way home from my weekend in Ireland. I read the entire thing over the course of a single day (largely because I spent a lot of it on a plane/trains/etc) and actually really enjoyed it.

 

She’s more gunpowder than girl—and the fate of the desert lies in her hands.

Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there’s nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can’t wait to escape from.

Destined to wind up “wed or dead,” Amani’s counting on her sharpshooting skills to get her out of Dustwalk. When she meets Jin, a mysterious and devastatingly handsome foreigner, in a shooting contest, she figures he’s the perfect escape route. But in all her years spent dreaming of leaving home, she never imagined she’d gallop away on a mythical horse, fleeing the murderous Sultan’s army, with a fugitive who’s wanted for treason. And she’d never have predicted she’d fall in love with him… or that he’d help her unlock the powerful truth of who she really is.

This was also one of the books that I’ve been meaning to read anyways, as mentioned in my to-do list, so two birds, one stone!

I really quite enjoyed this desert fantasy novel, inspired by a fusion of 1001 nights and the cowboy western. Although at times a little clunky, and interesting main character and a love interest who, okay, was set up really early and obviously, but still had some surprises, made for some good chemistry which pulled me through the rollicking ride of the book.

There was a fair amount in the book which stretched the imagination, or seemed entirely predictable – who’s going to run away with a stranger they’ve only met once before? – but there were also a few moments in the book which made me go ‘huh’ and surprised me.

So although the recommendation I got wasn’t all that enthusiastic, I was actually pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book, and am certainly looking forward to getting the sequel, Traitor to the Throne, when it publishes next year.

Four stars
****

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Little Women – Louisa May Alcott

Challenge Criteria: A book more than 100 years older than you.

Little Women – Louisa May Alcott

Little Women, being published in 1868, is 122 years older than me, pushing it well over the mark for this particular challenge category.

51aqv8-u1tl__sx345_bo1204203200_Despite having read this book last week, and consulted with my sisters, I am still not entirely sure if I ever read Little Women in its entirety before. Published in two volumes, marketed in the UK as Little Women and Good Wives, but in the US as Little Women vol 1 & 2, this review is really only of Vol 1, because I’m still plodding through Good Wives.

Following the lives of four sisters on a journey out of adolescence, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women explores the difficulties associated with gender roles in a Post-Civil War America.

Surely everyone knows the story of Little Women – four sisters growing up during the Civil War, with their father away ministering to the soldiers and the story of their friendship with wealthy neighbour Theodore “Laurie” Laurence.

I’ve mentioned before that we had a VHS of Little Women which we watched regularly when we were small. It belonged to my older sister, specifically. I wasn’t half as enamoured with it as she was, although that doesn’t mean that I didn’t watch it enough times that I was well familiar with it.

A few years ago, my sisters, mother and I went to see a stage production of Little Women in the Gate theatre which was really wonderfully done, and on top of that, I’ve seen the film version with Gabriel Byrne, more than once, I think.

Little Women is out of copyright, so I downloaded a Gutenberg version of it, and started reading about a week ago.
Midway through Part 1, though, I realised something – I wasn’t at all sure whether or not I had read this book before. I was clearly very familiar with the story, the four girls, and certain specific scenes – Amy and the pickled limes comes to mind, and Beth and the piano – but lots of other bits were almost like new.

I pondered this for a while, certain that when we were small, we had had a copy of Little Women in book form (again, belonging to my older sister), but I couldn’t remember if it was the full thing or an abridged version. I kept reading, in any case, and finished Little Women Part I a few days ago.
I was home in Ireland that day, actually, and went looking for the edition of Little Women I was almost certain we had had, and found it in Aoife’s bookcase. Worn and well-loved, the orange hardback and cover illustration were like stepping back fifteen or twenty years to my childhood – but I still don’t actually know if I read it the whole way through. It may well be that I read partway through and then abandoned it, as most of the scenes I remember very well were in the first half of the book, and I could have simply imagined the later ones from other versions of the story I had experienced.
Incidentally, the Little Women we had in hardback was only the first volume, and doesn’t include Good Wives, which is why I’m counting Little Women as an entire book on my list this year, as the text I read on my Kindle, despite being half of the eBook, is the same as the actual hardback I found the next day. =)

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This is possibly one of the most faded and bashed-up of our books, because Aoife clearly loved it so much.

 

As for Little Women itself? It’s a nice story, and I love the multiple different female characters in it. Four sisters, all so different, but all struggling to find their place in the world, all very different, but bound together by the inextricable ties of family, love, and loyalty, there was lots in this book that I really did enjoy. Little Women, for me, is tied up with nostalgia about my childhood, experiences with my sisters and my mum, and, interestingly enough, Chopin, and I find it very hard to extract all the good feelings I have about those experiences from the book itself.

It is, at times, annoyingly preachy, and has explicit religious overtones and undertones which I found moralising at times. But when you consider that this was a book written for children in the mid 19th Century, it is clearly a product of its time. And beyond the religious convictions which I find slightly annoying, the themes of love, of friendship, of sisterly bonds, of trying to find your place in the world, and overcoming your own weaknesses (I empathise greatly with Jo struggling with her hot temper) are timeless, classic, and do still evoke all kinds of good feelings within me. Little Women is far from the usual rip-roaring fantasy YA adventure I usually tear through, so I found it slow going at times, but it’s definitely a classic for a reason.

Three Stars
***

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PopSugar Reading Challenge 2016

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I realised midway through last week, after I posted my To-Do List for the rest of 2016, that I haven’t actually posted an update on how my PopSugar Reading Challenge 2016 is doing in ages. So that’s what I’ve decided to do today, and I can see how well I’m getting on, and how many categories I still have left to complete!

Anything that was discussed in my first post is just crossed off. Anything new I’ve put a little comment on!

  • A book based on a fairy tale
  • A National Book Award winner
    • Errrr… dunno what’s going in here.
  • A YA bestseller
  • A book you haven’t read since high school
    • I decided to fill this in with The Princess Diaries (possibly the fourth or fifth one) because I know I only read them once before, and I think it was when I was in high school.
  • A book set in your home state
  • A book translated to English
    • I re-read The Night Watch earlier this year. Sergei Lukanyenko’s series about vampires and other magicians in Russia has a new instalment out this year, which may well fulfil another category for me soon! It’s translated from Russian to English, and I love the whole series.
  • A romance set in the future
  • A book set in Europe
  • A book that’s under 150 pages
  • A New York Times bestseller
  • A book that’s becoming a movie this year
  • A book recommended by someone you just met
  • A self-improvement book
    • Bleh. No idea how to do this one. Not a category I’m fond of. This might be one I don’t manage.
  • A book you can finish in a day10572
  • A book written by a celebrity
  • A political memoir
    • Another one I’m pondering unhappily.
  • A book at least 100 years older than you
    • Currently working on this by reading Little Women. I am entirely unsure whether I am reading or re-reading this book. It all seems very familiar, but not quite familiar enough. It’s hampered by the fact that I’ve seen stage and screen versions of it too, so I really am confused by whether or not I’ve read this.
  • A book that’s more than 600 pages
    • I think I had Winter on here originally, but that’s also in the prequel category, so I’m replacing it with A Clash of Kings
  • A book from Oprah’s Book Club
    • Nothing in this appeals to me. I’ll pick something eventually!
  • A science-fiction novel
    • Hollowgirl is sitting in my to-read pile, and I will get around to it eventually!
  • A book recommended by a family member
  • A graphic novel
    • 28588125I love the follow-up graphic novels to Avatar: The Last Airbender, and read Smoke and Shadow earlier this year. This is in spite of the fact that graphic novels are really not a medium that appeals to me.
    • This is possibly a lot to do with the fact that I actually just really loved Avatar the Last Airbender as a series, and will actually lap up anything which continues in that world. See, for example, my rabid consumption of The Legend of Korra, which I watched obsessively as it came out, and the fact that I’m desperately impatient for the follow-up graphic novels of Korra to come out next year also. I wish I lived in a bending universe.
    • =(
  • A book that is published in 2016
  • A book with a protagonist who has your occupation
  • A book that takes place during Summer
  • A book and its prequel
  • A murder mystery
  • A book written by a comedian
  • A dystopian novel
  • A book with a blue cover
  • A book of poetry
    • One is written in free verse. That counts, right?AN78152238One
  • The first book you see in a bookstore
    • I’m gonna get this one done soon. I’m walking into a bookstore this weekend, hopefully, and picking something.
  • A classic from the 20th century
    • Currently frantically googling lists of 20th century classics. No idea what to do with this one!
  • A book from the library
    • I really need to visit my local library!
  • An autobiography
    • Ugh. Not excited about this at all.
  • A book about a road trip
  • A book about a culture you’re unfamiliar with
    • Hopefully I’m gonna fill this category with The Sixth Watch, the newest of Lukanyenko’s Watch books, but if I don’t get that done, I’ll replace it with Afterworlds, which is about an American Gujarati girl living in New York. Despite my sister-in-law being Gujarati, I know very little about the culture. So I count this one as half done.
  • A satirical book
    • I don’t really know what counts as a satirical book, so this will require some further googling as well before I decide whether or not I can cross this off.
  • A book that takes place on an island
  • A book that’s guaranteed to bring you joy

25950053Given that it’s very nearly the end of November, I really need to pull my socks up and get cracking on the harder categories in this challenge. I’m currently slogging through Little Women, but I need to start lining up books to fulfil the other categories because for a lot of them I have absolutely no idea what’s going in there.

Lots to do still before the end of the year!

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Crooked Kingdom – Leigh Bardugo

27840861Returning to the dark and twisted streets of Ketterdam was something I was hugely looking forward to. After how much I enjoyed Six of Crows, I was really looking forward to the second volume in this duology, waiting to see how Kaz and his motley crew would bounce back from the blow they were dealt at the end of 6oC and hoping that they would end up rich as kings and living happily ever after.

Well, Ketterdam is a dark and dangerous place, and even the best-laid plans of master criminal Kaz Brekker were bound to go awry, as happens so often.

When you can’t beat the odds, change the game.

Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn’t think they’d survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and badly weakened, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz’s cunning and test the team’s fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city’s dark and twisting streets―a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of the Grisha world.

I really loved this book. It’s shot up onto my favourites list, accompanied by Six of Crows, and will stay there for a long time, I’d say. It’s really stunning the difference in quality between this duology and the Grisha trilogy – I said it in my review of 6oC, but it bears repeating – the Grisha trilogy was good but forgettable, but these two books were superb, and will linger for a long time.

All six of the main characters were distinct in how they were drawn, damaged and broken, both by the circumstances before the book started, and the trauma they went through in the Ice Court and at the end of the last book. Double-crossed and betrayed, they’re a man down and trying to claw back the respect (and the cash) that they were expecting after the feats of their adventures in Fjerda.

Crooked Kingdom takes place almost entirely in the city of Ketterdam, and the close and dark streets add greatly to the atmosphere of the book – that the city itself is turning against them. Each character has their own motivation and aims, and they’re not necessarily always the same as the rest of the crew, but they’re all compelling, and I was enthralled from start to finish.

The mood of Crooked Kingdom is very different to what came before. Kaz and the crew are out for revenge, out to destroy, and not out to save the world the way they were with the first book. There’s a lot at stake here, and nobody can be trusted – plans collapse as easily as they’re made, and there’s a hell of a lot going on.

This entire book was like a breathtaking ride through Ketterdam, with a blindfold on, while someone was shooting at me. But I really loved it. Lots of gorgeous little snarky moments, some beautiful romances, and one particularly heart-rending scene (although not the one I’ve seen people talking about online) combined to make this, for me, a really superb conclusion to the story of the Dregs.

It was left with plenty of scope for follow-up, but the story was complete in a way that I found very satisfying. Definitely my favourite book this month. In fact, when I finished it, I was suddenly torn in how I had voted in the GoodReads Choice Awards for YA Fantasy and Science Fiction – I really loved A Torch Against The Night, but was Crooked Kingdom enough to knock it off the top spot?

In the end, no, I didn’t think it was, but it was still absolutely superb.

Five Stars
*****

 

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To-Do List for the Rest of 2016

Now that we’re midway through November, I need to start looking at the challenges I set myself for the year, and what I want to get finished before the end of the year.

I’ve completed my GoodReads challenge, which was set at 100 books, quite a long time ago actually. I’m currently on 178 books for the year, so I’m hoping to hit 200 by the end of the year, but I won’t worry too much about it.

The Modern Mrs Darcy challenge, which I posted about a few times already this year, has started flagging in the last few months. I’ve still got four categories to check off:

  • a book you should have read in school
    • I don’t know HOW I’m going to do this one, considering I read everything I could find. I suppose I could re-read one of my assigned texts from Uni… I’ll consider this one..
  • a book that was banned at some point
  • a book you previously abandoned
    • It’s been several months, so those abandoned books are looking all the more abandoned now. I’m gonna have to pick one up soon. One of the abandoned books was abandoned because it’s in my sister’s house in Ireland, but I’m visiting next week, so maybe I’ll pick it up then.
  • a book you own but have never read
    • This is still looming large also.

 

Even worse than the Modern Mrs Darcy challenge is the PopSugar challenge. I’m flagging badly on that one, and I have loads of categories still to fill:

  • A book that’s becoming a movie this year
    • I went with Room for this one. Although, after writing it down on the page, I suspect that Room might actually have been released in 2015. I’ll have to consider whether or not this counts. It is subject to change.
    • I still haven’t decided if Room fits in this category, so I’m marking it up as still to be done, if I can find a better book to fit this category.
  • A murder mystery
    • Although I put Local Girl Missing in here, I’m still not sure it counts, so it’s staying on my to-do list.
  • A National Book Award winner
  • A book recommended by someone you just met
  • A self-improvement book
  • A political memoir
  • A book at least 100 years older than you
  • A book from Oprah’s book club
  • A science-fiction novel
  • The first book you see in a bookstore
  • A classic from the 20th century
  • A book from the library
  • An autobiography
  • A satirical book

That’s eighteen different categories I still have to fill over the two challenges! I really need to get cracking on these!

As well as that, I still have loads of books I want to read that I’ve picked up over the year. Hollowgirl, by Sean Williams, has been sitting at the top of my pile for ages. Haunt Me, by Liz Kessler, and Caraval, by Stephanie Gerber, are taunting me. The Versions of Us is sitting in my bedside locker, looking accusingly at me for not having read it yet. I want to get in at least one more of A Song of Ice and Fire before the end of the year, and The Graces and Rebel of the Sands are high up there too. So many books. Only six weeks until the end of the year! I won’t have time to do anything but read between now and Christmas. If I don’t get anyone any Christmas presents, this will have been why!

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A Diamond From Tiffany’s – Melissa Hill

26771780The other day when I was going to visit a friend, I ended up being a few minutes earlier than I had thought, and said friend was still in the shower. So to kill a few minutes while I was hanging around (and get out of the cold), I headed into the nearest charity shop to have a look at their books.

Having intended only to browse and kill a few minutes, I ended up buying seven books, because I have impulse control problems. One of them I started reading immediately – a collection of short stories by Melissa Hill, it looked Christmassy and cheerful, light and fluffy, so was just the thing I wanted to read. A Diamond From Tiffany’s has gotten some pretty bad Amazon reviews – possibly because the blurb only mentions one of the short stories, so readers would be surprised and somewhat disappointed to realise that midway through the book, they’re losing the story they might have chosen. In fairness, it does say ‘and other stories’ on the cover art, but in very, very small print.

I managed to figure out that it was a collection of short stories – although not until after I had bought it – so I wasn’t surprised as I was reading, but I still wasn’t particularly impressed with this offering.

A Diamond From Tiffany’s – Melissa Hill

It’s been two years since Ethan Greene and Gary Knowles collided one fateful evening outside Tiffany & Co on Fifth Avenue. A mix-up with their shopping bags sent each man’s life on an unexpected trajectory, and while Gary and his fiancée Rachel are heading for the altar, Ethan’s love life is not so settled.

Rachel’s dreams are within her grasp; her restaurant is going from strength to strength and she and Gary are set to be married amongst family and friends at an idyllic New York location. But when they arrive in the city only days before the ceremony, Gary seems distracted and restless. Could he be having second thoughts?

Ethan is anxious to see Terri again at the wedding; he truly felt they had something special, and plans to use the time in New York to prove to her that their relationship deserves another chance.

Will the romance of New York and Tiffany’s work its magic on the couples once more?

The main story in this collection – taking up roughly 50% of the page count – is the titular ‘A Diamond From Tiffany’s.’ I started reading it the day I got it, actually, and finished that story within a day or so, but was left distinctly disappointed. Everything that might have been interesting about this book, as far as I was concerned, seemed to have happened two years earlier, and wasn’t really discussed at all. The circumstances of how Ethan and Gary collided, how Ethan and Terri ended up together and subsequently breaking up, and Gary’s fake first proposal and real second proposal – these were the things I was interested in, but they were only alluded to in passing, and I really felt like this story was focusing on all the wrong things. Rachel was a serious bridezilla, Terri cold as ice, and both men were insipid, and I wasn’t at all impressed with how the story went. It was seriously lacklustre.

Having googled and looked the book up on GoodReads after I finished, it turns out that this short story was actually the followup to Hill’s full-length novel, Something From Tiffany’s, wherein you can find out all the things I was wondering about which seemed more interesting than the actual story I was reading. So perhaps I would have been better advised to read that, as it seems much more interesting than what I actually read.

As for the rest of the stories in this collection? Some were barely three pages long, and had no real substance or character warmth in them. One was, frankly, bizarre, about leaving letters in a tree which didn’t seem in any way romantic to me. About the best story in the book was the final one, which talked about three couples (or I guess really two couples and a single) spending a romantic weekend in Venice, but it, too, felt like it might have been the followup to a book (or maybe several books) that Hill had written before.

Overall, this collection was lacklustre – it had none of the warmth or sparkle that I would have expected from a collection of Christmas romances set around New York. I don’t think this was the first Melissa Hill offering I’ve read, as I’m sure I’ve picked up one of her novels which might have belonged to my mother, but I certainly won’t be rushing back to try another.

Two Stars
**

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A Clash of Kings – George RR Martin

10572.jpgAfter reading A Game of Thrones at the start of last month, I decided to keep going with the A Song of Ice and Fire series and move on to the next in the series, A Clash of Kings.

Lots of the issues that I had with A Game of Thrones persisted – I just found it hard to keep track of all the characters, since so many names were reeled off at a time. Battle scenes were often just lists of House names and sigils, and I had no idea which side they were even on.

There’s a big river battle scene in ACoK, and each ship’s name is given. Within about half a page, though, I had forgotten which ships were on which side, which made for a very confusing battle where I had no idea who was winning or losing, or in fact if anyone was attacking their own side.

Time is out of joint. The summer of peace and plenty, ten years long, is drawing to a close, and the harsh, chill winter approaches like an angry beast. Two great leaders—Lord Eddard Stark and Robert Baratheon—who held sway over an age of enforced peace are dead…victims of royal treachery. Now, from the ancient citadel of Dragonstone to the forbidding shores of Winterfell, chaos reigns, as pretenders to the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms prepare to stake their claims through tempest, turmoil, and war.

As a prophecy of doom cuts across the sky—a comet the color of blood and flame—six factions struggle for control of a divided land. Eddard’s son Robb has declared himself King in the North. In the south, Joffrey, the heir apparent, rules in name only, victim of the scheming courtiers who teem over King’s Landing. Robert’s two brothers each seek their own dominion, while a disfavored house turns once more to conquest. And a continent away, an exiled queen, the Mother of Dragons, risks everything to lead her precious brood across a hard hot desert to win back the crown that is rightfully hers.

A Clash of Kings transports us into a magnificent, forgotten land of revelry and revenge, wizardry and wartime. It is a tale in which maidens cavort with madmen, brother plots against brother, and the dead rise to walk in the night. Here a princess masquerades as an orphan boy; a knight of the mind prepares a poison for a treacherous sorceress; and wild men descend from the Mountains of the Moon to ravage the countryside.

Against a backdrop of incest and fratricide, alchemy and murder, the price of glory may be measured in blood. And the spoils of victory may just go to the men and women possessed of the coldest steel…and the coldest hearts. For when rulers clash, all of the land feels the tremors.

Audacious, inventive, brilliantly imagined, A Clash of Kings is a novel of dazzling beauty and boundless enchantment;a tale of pure excitement you will never forget.

I did enjoy A Clash of Kings. Possibly more than I did A Game of Thrones, actually, because at least I had managed to keep the Lannisters, Starks, Baratheons, and Targaryens straight in my mind from the first book, so that was a head start on when I was trudging through A Game of Thrones.

It did drag, though. One day last week I was on the phone to my sister, moaning about how long it was taking me to get through this book. It was exacerbated somewhat by the fact that I have a kindle bundle of all five books, so I don’t have a percentage/time guide as to how long is left in the book. It turns out that this actually really irritates me, as I like to know how long is left. Similarly, it infuriates me if the last twenty pages of a book are actually a short story, or a preview chapter from another book. I like to know how much actual book I have left, not be tricked by extra content tacked on at the end!

In any case, in the course of my moaning about how the book was dragging, I laid out the major plot points that I had already read, only to be informed that this was, in fact, the entire book, and she didn’t understand how I was still reading it.

Making the same complaint to someone else, I can’t even remember who, they suggested that perhaps I had accidentally moved on to the next book without noticing, but thankfully that wasn’t the case. I would worry for myself if it were.

In actuality, after I got off the phone with my sister and settled down to read again, I realised that I was, in fact, on the last chapter, and finally finished this trek through the Seven Kingdoms.

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the book. I actually did. I just think in places it was overblown, and too much was stuffed into a seriously hefty book. I’ll leave it a few weeks before I venture on to A Storm of Swords. But, as I liked the second better than the first, I’m hopeful that I will continue to like this series more as it progresses.

Four Stars
****

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Trouble Makes A Comeback – Stephanie Tromly

Trouble Is A Friend of Mine was one of my favourite books last year – its weird and hilarious appeal came largely from the caricature that was Philip Digby and Zoe playing the straight man to his detective skills as they stumbled their way through a missing-girl mystery and a drugs bust. It made me laugh more than any other book I read last year, so when I saw that Hot Key had made the sequel available on NetGalley, I was on it like a car bonnet.

I read Trouble Makes A Comeback in less than 24 hours which, if you’ve noticed how big a slump I’ve been in lately, is a pretty strong recommendation for how enthralling it was.

Trouble Makes A Comeback – Stephanie Tromly

31821019‘A funny, realistic teen crime caper. This book sings.’ Jesse Andrews, author of ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL (praise for TROUBLE IS A FRIEND OF MINE)

A brilliantly funny romantic comedy – with infectious characters, wry humour, and breakneck dialogue, this sequel to Trouble is a Friend of Mine is perfect for fans of John Green, Jesse Andrews and Ally Carter.

After a fall semester of fiascos: getting arrested, then kidnapped, then blown up in an explosion (all thanks to the weird, but brilliant Philip Digby), Zoe Webster is looking forward to a quiet spring. Now that Digby has left town, she’s finally built a regular high school life for herself. She’s dating Austin; she knows girls she considers friends; she’s learning to enjoy being normal and semi-popular. Which of course is when Digby comes back: He’s got a new lead on his missing sister and he needs Zoe’s help. Suddenly Zoe is tussling with a billionaire archvillain, locking horns with armed goons, and digging into what makes the Digby family tick, even as she tries to navigate the confusing and emotionally fraught world of high school politics and locker-room drama. After all, it’s hard to explain Digby to a boy like Austin, especially when Zoe isn’t sure how she feels about Digby herself – or how he feels about her.

Now that Digby’s back, get ready for another hilarious whodunit filled with razorsharp dialogue, ridiculously funny action, and the most charismatic, dynamic duo you’ve ever met. And just try to stay out of trouble. We dare you.

Because I really enjoyed Trouble #1, I came into Trouble Makes A Comeback with high expectations. And the majority of those expectations were satisfied. Digby is just as irritating and amazing as he was in the first book, and Zoe has developed from the new girl in town to someone with friends and even a boyfriend on the football team. Her life is suddenly something which might even be classified normal, as the biggest issue on the horizon is the looming SAT.

But, predictably enough, Digby comes back into town and everything goes haywire. Lots of the things that I really liked about Trouble #1 were present here. The quick dialogue and ridiculous plot, Digby’s recklessness and ingenuity, Zoe’s bewilderment, the sharply drawn love/hate relationship between Zoe and Digby and the other supporting cast are all there in spades, which made this book a strong follow-up to a quite frankly hilarious debut to the series.

The one thing that I felt was missing from this book was the laugh-out-loud slapstick moments. There was a scene in Trouble Is A Friend of Mine with an epipen which almost made me cry with laughter, and a recurring mention of a pair of shoes which was similarly stomach-shaking. I didn’t have any of those moments when reading Trouble Makes A Comeback. It was slightly more serious than its predecessor.

But that said, it was still excellent, and I devoured it almost as soon as I got my hands on it. A very strong follow-up to a series which I’m beginning to really love, the set-up for a third book is clear, so I’ll just have to wait impatiently for that now!

Four Stars
****

Trouble Makes A Comeback is published in December 2016. Perfect Christmas present!

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Lost Stars – Lisa Selin Davis

31328363.jpgThis one was a Hot Key bloggers list find, and it was a lyrical, sometimes moving story of a girl lost after the death of her sister. I didn’t really love it though, as it kind of felt like I had read it before.

I’ll be your mirror, reflect what you are, in case you don’t know…

In the aftermath of her older sister’s death, sixteen-year-old Carrie is taken under the wings of her sister’s friends, and finds herself forsaking the science nerds of her former life and slipping into a daze of cheap beer and recreational drugs. Carrie – a talented guitar player and obsessive tracker of the coming Vira comet – is partying hard and fooling around with boys she doesn’t even like, even though she’s desperate for a boyfriend.

Her mother, enveloped by grief at the loss of her eldest child, has retreated to a monastery in the Catskills that requires a vow of silence. With her family splintered apart, Carrie is overcome at times by uncontrollable rages and her father decides to send her to a boot camp for wayward teens. Compounding the shame, and to her horror, she is forced to wear work boots and a hard hat – boy poison.

Then she meets Dean, a fellow musician and refugee from his own dark past. Throughout the summer Carrie learns more about Dean, about her sister’s death, about her own family’s past, and about herself…as well as about the Bee Gees, disco and the difference between wood and sheet-rock screws. Through love, music and her precious comet – and no small help from Lou Reed – Carrie fumbles her way through the complex web of tragedies and misunderstandings, to the heart of who she is and who she wants to be.

(This is the song from which the lyrics at the top of the blurb are taken)

When I was reading Lost Stars, there was nothing I could really put my finger on that was wrong with it. I definitely think it’s the kind of book that someone would really love if they were in the right mood when they were reading it. There was a lot of great stuff about Carrie, her sister Ginny’s death, and how Carrie and their other sister Rosie, dealt with the aftermath, as well as the bounds of love and forgiveness after a trauma like their loss of Ginny. All of these things were really beautifully portrayed.

But for some reason, this book didn’t click with me. Perhaps I’ve read too many books about dead sisters (Love Letters to the Dead, The Sky is Everywhere, All The Bright Places, to name but three), but I didn’t connect with the characters or the setting of this book.

There was a huge amount of music in this book – Carrie lives her life to the soundtrack of the eighties, and music is a huge part of her life, but it felt sometimes like I was just reading lists of names, without any real connection with the music they were talking about, and I got very bored of it very quickly. Perhaps if I had a better musical knowledge base, I would’ve gotten more out of the musical aspects of this book, but I don’t, so I was left quite cold.

Carrie herself isn’t exactly a sympathetic character most of the time – she drinks and smokes and is on a massively self-destructive path which she either can’t or won’t see. Her self-centred approach to her life neglects to acknowledge that everyone around her lost Ginny, too, and her spiralling self-hatred is hard to read at times. But over the course of the book, she does become a lot more sympathetic, and I almost liked her by the end of it.

I also had something of a problem with the love story in the book – Dean is four years older than Carrie, an adult midway through college where she’s only starting her second-last year of high school, but this is never mentioned, not even once. While parts of their relationship were cute and enjoyable, I couldn’t quite get over that big an age gap – and life experience gap – being completely sidestepped.

I’m still not back into the swing of things, and I seem to have not enjoyed any books lately as much as I might in normal circumstances, so perhaps I’m being overly harsh on Lost Stars. There was a lot in it that I could have liked, and that I’m sure other people would like, but for me it was a decidedly mediocre read.

Three Stars
***

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GoodReads Choice Awards

Every year, GoodReads open up their Choice awards for Goodreads users to decide what they think are the best books of the year.

There are twenty categories and three rounds, and voting lasts all month, but the first round is open now.

I haven’t read books in every category, but here are my picks for things I think should definitely win awards:

Best Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction

A-Torch-Against-The-Night-TahirA Torch Against The Night

I LOVED this book. It was one of my favourite things from YALC this year, and I definitely feel like it deserves accolades. Returning to the Empire as Laia and Elias try to escape the power and threat of the new Emperor and his Blood Shrike.

Best Debut Goodreads Author

25950053The Girl From Everywhere

Heidi Heilig’s Hawaiian time travel pirate adventure swept me up and taught me that this unexpectedly wonderful book was everything I was looking for and didn’t even know I wanted.

Best Young Adult Fiction

24529123This Is Where It Ends

It’s been so long since I read this book that it almost doesn’t feel like it was a 2016 release, but this beautiful, moving depiction of a school shooting as it happens absolutely swept me up and left me reeling at the end of its gorgeously depicted and tragically beautiful portrayal of the loves and losses of a diverse group of American teenagers.

These are just my picks for the Goodreads awards, but obviously everyone would have their own ideas. So I can only encourage you to head over to their site and vote for recognition for the books you feel deserve it!

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