Tag Archives: teen fiction

The Rest of Us Just Live Here – Patrick Ness

I 29229799picked this book up for my sister for her birthday, and then demanded that she give it back to me so that I could also read it, because I’m selfish like that (and also that’s how our book-buying works). So although I bought it in May, I didn’t actually get to read it until July, because I had to wait for someone to go home to visit my sisters and collect the book from them. But that’s okay. I could cope with that kind of delay.

So Patrick Ness is my friend Kellie’s ultimate celebrity crush at the moment. He was at YALC, talking about his book A Monster Calls, of which the film is coming out soon. When I told Kellie this, I’m pretty sure she started hyperventilating, and begged me to send her a picture of him. Ness’s books have won pretty much every award going, and his Chaos Walking trilogy, which I read earlier this year, was quite engrossing. The Rest of Us Just Live Here, though, I was not so enamoured with.

A new YA novel from Patrick Ness, author of the Carnegie Medal and Kate Greenaway Medal winning “A Monster Calls” and the critically acclaimed Chaos Walking trilogy, “The Rest of Us Just Live Here” is a bold and irreverent novel that powerfully reminds us that there are many different types of remarkable.

What if you aren’t the Chosen One? The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions.

So here was my major complaint about The Rest of Us Just Live Here: in a book where there are fantastical things going on and blue lights killing people, giving sparse details about the fantasy things happening while concentrating mainly on the boring, ordinary struggles of the rest of the class makes their lives seem, well… boring and ordinary.

And here’s the thing: I love YA realism. I really love books which deal with teenagers trying to get around being normal teenagers, dealing with life, falling in love, anxiety, depression, family issues, all the normal things that everyday people have to deal with. So if this book had been about that – about a group of kids who were just trying to get along and deal with graduating and getting out in to the real world, I totally would have been on board with that. Not everyone has a major magical life crisis to deal with before they turn eighteen, and not everyone needs to save the world.

But this book just set Mikey and his friends up to be the most boring people ever, simply by virtue of their not being the Indie kids. And it constantly, constantly framed them as this, again and again.

The start of every chapter gave a brief synopsis of what the Indie kids were up to as they tried to solve the mystery of the blue lights and what was going on in the town. And that was funny, in a snarky kind of way, as they all had unique names and melodramatic reactions. Then there were the few digs at the tropey nature of YA – vampires were the next big thing, and then kids dying beautifully of cancer, etc. I won’t disagree that there were a few funny moments in this book.

Plus there was a beautifully diverse group of main characters, with struggles of normal teens like anxiety, OCD, relationship woes, school difficulties, and being the descendent of the Goddess of Cats, which was nice. A lot of this book was about friendship, about growing up, about family, and about finding who you are and where you belong. I just think that setting it against the backdrop of the exciting and life-changing events of the indie kids was setting it up to seem boring.

So that’s what I left the book feeling – like I had seen the less interesting side of the town. I know that the whole premise of the book was that not everyone has to be special and sometimes life is just ordinary, even in the middle of the fantastic, so perhaps I’ve missed something crucial here, but this book just didn’t do it for me. A book about the ordinary kids was, to me, very ordinary.

Three Stars
***

Perhaps A Monster Calls, which is apparently the best thing since sliced bread (or so Kellie says) will be more my style. It’s gone on my to-read list anyway!

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Nothing Tastes As Good – Claire Hennessy

^ This has to be one of the longest blog post titles I’ve written in years.

2016-07-14 18.58.15Claire Hennessy is an Irish author who’s been on my radar since I was quite young. Roughly the same age as my older sister, Hennessy’s first books were written and published before she left school (the first, I believe, was written when she was still in primary school!), meaning that they were published before I left school, too. I hadn’t read any of her stuff in years, but saw last year that she had been picked up by Hot Key books to make her UK debut. That came in the form of this – Nothing Tastes As Good.

Don’t call her a guardian angel. Annabel is dead – but she hasn’t completely gone away. Annabel immediately understands why her first assignment as a ghostly helper is to her old classmate: Julia is fat. And being fat makes you unhappy. Simple, right?

As Annabel shadows Julia’s life in the pressured final year of school, Julia gradually lets Annabel’s voice in, guiding her thoughts towards her body, food and control.

But nothing is as simple as it first seems. Spending time in Julia’s head seems to be having its own effect on Annabel . . . And she knows that once the voices take hold, it’s hard to ignore them.

I had a lot of thoughts about this book – I thought the structure was pretty interesting. The idea of an afterlife where you act as a spiritual guide to troubled people is an interesting one – a little bit like that tv show Teen Angel which used to be on the Disney Channel. After messing up your own life, you get the chance to help someone with their life. Except, of course, Teen Angel was mostly about Marty messing up his friend’s life, whereas Annabel doesn’t know Julia, and is trying to help her in order to get a chance at redemption.

The premise of the book was good. The topic was good. It tackled eating disorders from an unswervingly honest perspective – they can, and do, kill, and have that insidious effect of making the sufferer feel like they’re not actually unwell, but rather that everyone trying to help them is wrong.

NTAG was, I felt, a really good book, but not a brilliant book. It tackled tough issues with an unflinching, honest approach, and came from a grounded feminist perspective. I really liked Julia and her driven, obsessive nature, her struggles with the pressures of school and her extracurriculars, and the details which came out slowly over the course of the book about her life before Annabel appeared. I also liked Annabel and her attitude, her stubborn insistence that the way to help Julia was to make her thin.

And yet. There was something missing, for me, from this book. It was missing something like the punch which underlines every word you read in Asking For It, or the unsettling feeling which lingered about me after I finished reading Wintergirls, by Laurie Halse Ansdersen. It felt, to me, from the first page, that this was a redemption story. I knew from the moment we met Annabel that she would slowly realise over the course of the book that she was sick, and she needed to accept that, and it resulted in her death, and Julia was just a background story to help Annabel come to this realisation. By the end of the book, everything felt like it had been wrapped up neatly with a little bow, and happily ever afters would ensue. Except, of course, that Annabel was still dead, but even that felt a little unreal.

I don’t know quite why I felt like the book missed that impact factor. On the surface, it should have had it. The stark reality which hits you from the first page, that Annabel died from her disordered eating, should have been enough to make this an important book in the same way I think that Asking For It is important, and Wintergirls is important – even the way I think All The Rage by Courtney Summers and Speak, also by Laurie Halse Anderson, are important. I don’t know what it was. Perhaps it’s that eating disorders have never been a topic that resonates with me the way that Asking For It and All the Rage did.

That said, though, NTAG is still a very good book. It’s strongly drawn and the characters leap off the page. There was a lot that I identified with, and I really enjoy reading books which are set in Ireland and written by Irish authors. This is a book which will resonate with many, and it’s easy to read, engaging, and even sometimes fun. It’s a good book, it really is. It’s just not quite up there as a brilliant book.

Four Stars
****

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Birdy – Jess Vallance

birdyWhen checking out this month’s ARCs from Hot Key Books, I was instantly struck by the synopsis of Birdy. It really sounded like something that I’d like, especially given how much I really enjoyed Dangerous Girls and Far From You.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to review Dangerous Girls yet, but just know that I loved it, and have recommended it to a few people already.

In any case, for me, Birdy looked like a winner, given that it deals with the same kind of close female friendship that plays such a prominent role in Dangerous Girls and Far From You, one which verges on obsession. Thus, when I got it, and tore through it in two days, I was far from disappointed.

Birdy – Jess Vallance

A darkly compulsive tale of friendship and obsession.

Frances Bird has been a loner for so long that she’s given up on ever finding real friendship. But then she’s asked to show a new girl around school, and she begins to think her luck could finally be changing.
Eccentric, talkative and just a little bit posh, Alberta is not at all how Frances imagined a best friend could be. But the two girls click immediately, and it’s not long before they are inseparable. Frances could not be happier.
As the weeks go on, Frances finds out more about her new best friend – her past, her secrets, her plans for the future – and she starts to examine their friendship more closely. Is it, perhaps, just too good to be true?

I seriously enjoyed this book. I knew I would, from the synopsis, as I enjoy the darkly gritty examination of where friendship crosses the line into something more sinister than that, so when I sat down with Birdy on the tube one morning last week, I had pretty high expectations. But they were met.

To read that this is Jess Vallance’s first novel was a little surprising, because the skill and depth of writing is immensely satisfying to read. Birdy and Bertie’s friendship is intense, compelling, and incredibly realistic – I can remember being a teenage girl and developing that same kind of incredibly strong bond which you think nothing will ever sever.

Vallance’s depiction of the English high school is also satisfyingly accurate, with the resonating descriptions of being the nothing girl on the sidelines resonating strongly in my heart, before depicting the heady thrill of having a best friend who you think really connects with you in every way that matters.

Birdy as a narrator was unreliable and reassuring at the same time in a way which I really enjoyed in Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, and Dangerous Girls – as the novel rushed toward its spine-chilling climax, I was eagerly turning pages to see if I had pegged who was behind the increasingly cruel tricks, and the disastrous consequences.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, from its quiet, unassuming beginning through its increasingly intense middle, and up to its obsessive climax and startlingly cold finale – Birdy and Bertie were two really well-written, if not always enjoyable or likeable characters, and the feeling of really being inside Birdy’s head was one which I couldn’t help but enjoy.

A tense, creepy, and thoroughly enjoyable account of the intense and unsettling nature of teenage friendships and obsessions, I thoroughly recommend Birdy.

Four Stars
****

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Book #154 – The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

11408650This is my last book review from 2014, I think. Since we’re now almost two weeks into January, I’ve decided to not bother review the rest of the books on my list (most of which were chick-lit borrowed from my mother, or re-reads) and start moving on to review the books I’ve read this year (which, admittedly, have been all chick-lit or re-reads, but, uh, that’s different. Somehow).
Thus, my last review from the 2014 list! This was a Christmas present from my little sister, which I read in the space in a day, because I was left all alone on a plane while my two sisters and brother-in-law sat together across the aisle from me. Nobody would sit with me, I had three seats all to myself. Tragic.
Anyways. This book, yes, it was a Christmas present from my sister, although I’ve been meaning to read the trilogy for a while, since I saw Girl in the Pages‘ review of it. Anyways. I got it eventually, and consumed it on that lonely plane ride. The next two will be read before too long, I assure you.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer – Michelle Hodgkin

Mara Dyer doesn’t think life can get any stranger. She wakes from a coma in hospital with no memory of how she got there or of the bizarre accident that caused the deaths of her best friends and her boyfriend, yet left her mysteriously unharmed. The doctors suggest that starting over in a new city, a new school, would be good for her and just to let the memories gradually come back on their own.

But Mara’s new start is anything but comforting. She sees the faces of her dead friends everywhere, and when she suddenly begins to see other people’s deaths right before they happen, Mara wonders whether she’s going crazy! And if dealing with all this wasn’t enough, Noah Shaw, the most beautiful boy she has ever seen can’t seem to leave her alone… but as her life unravels around her, Mara can’t help but wonder if Noah has another agenda altogether…

I don’t know what it was that drew me to this book – maybe the strange cover, with a floaty girl with no head. Maybe the idea of an amnesiac heroine, which I quite enjoyed in What Alice Forgot, at the start of 2014, or maybe the rave reviews it’s gotten on other blogs. Whatever it was, I knew I wanted to read this, so I was pleased when it showed up under my Christmas tree, and I had it finished before the year was out.

It’s a weird and sort of eerie-feeling atmosphere throughout the book, as the protagonist struggles with PTSD, moving to a new area, settling into a new school, and all of the usual teenage drama which everyone has to deal with. Throughout the book I was wondering whether or not it was a paranormal thriller or a psychological thriller, and you were kept guessing until quite near the end.
The character of Noah wasn’t, for me, a swoon-worthy hero, but perhaps I’m just not romantic enough for that kind of reaction, since I never seem to have it. Oh well. He was certainly interesting, and there was, eventually, justification for why he instantly took a shine to the loner new girl at his school.
Jamie, the best friend, seemed to me like a walking cliché, thrown in for the sake of some diversity, although it was done in such a tongue-in-cheek way that I’d nearly forgive that.

The book doesn’t really conclude, though, rather just setting itself up for the rest of the trilogy. Although a frequently-employed plot device for selling more books, it never fails to get my heckles up, and was the thing which caused me to drop this book from a five-star rating to a four-star. It won’t stop me getting the second and third in the trilogy, though.

Four Stars
****

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Books #141, 146 & 148 – Sarah Dessen (again)

After my Sarah Dessen mega-post, I did manage to get my hands on the last three Sarah Dessen books I was missing. Most of what I’ve said about Dessen before still applies, so this will be a short-ish post on all three books, with blurbs and stars, really.

5664985Along for the Ride – Sarah Dessen

It’s been so long since Auden slept at night. Ever since her parents’ divorce—or since the fighting started. Now she has the chance to spend a carefree summer with her dad and his new family in the charming beach town where they live.

A job in a clothes boutique introduces Auden to the world of girls: their talk, their friendship, their crushes. She missed out on all that, too busy being the perfect daughter to her demanding mother. Then she meets Eli, an intriguing loner and a fellow insomniac who becomes her guide to the nocturnal world of the town. Together they embark on parallel quests: for Auden, to experience the carefree teenage life she’s been denied; for Eli, to come to terms with the guilt he feels for the death of a friend.

In her signature pitch-perfect style, Sarah Dessen explores the hearts of two lonely people learning to connect.

This book is set in Colby, the beach town which was the setting of Keeping the Moon, and has throwbacks to the characters and places we saw in that. Auden is a high-maintenance, perfect, pretty dislikeable girl who’s ‘not like other girls’ and I was all poised to hate her from the off. Dessen, however, has a way of making even the most judgemental girls seem humanised and get under their skin in a way that makes me love them. I loved Auden and I really, really liked Eli – I think he might’ve been my favourite character of any Dessen book – and the journey they went on together. This book did, to a degree, follow Dessen’s normal character arc – girl heads toward redemption during the summer until, near the end, something goes wrong, and then it’s all fixed at the climax of the book but, to be honest, I don’t care. I really enjoyed this book, and didn’t find it formulaic at all.
Four Stars
****

8492856What Happened to Goodbye – Sarah Dessen

Who is the real McLean?

Since her parents’ bitter divorce, McLean and her dad, a restaurant consultant, have been on the move-four towns in two years. Estranged from her mother and her mother’s new family, McLean has followed her dad in leaving the unhappy past behind. And each new place gives her a chance to try out a new persona: from cheerleader to drama diva. But now, for the first time, McLean discovers a desire to stay in one place and just be herself, whoever that is. Perhaps Dave, the guy next door, can help her find out.

Combining Sarah Dessen’s trademark graceful writing, great characters, and compelling storytelling, What Happened to Goodbye is irresistible reading.

What Happend to Goodbye is back in Lakeview, home of most of Dessen’s books, and it’s a quiet, unassuming sort of book. McLean is on her fourth school in two years, and has taken on a new persona in each of them so far. But in Lakeview, something happens, and she suddenly starts to be McLean again. Making new friends and finding a guy all come together as she finds who the true McLean is and starts to get past her parents’ divorce – it all sounds wonderful, but this one didn’t sit as well with me as lots of others. There was nothing really happening in the book, just a gentle sort of exploration of self, which was fine by me, until it all went wrong at the end. Things blew up really fast, and settled down again equally fast in a way which I thought was pretty damned unrealistic – it soured a book which I was quite enjoying up until then.
Three Stars
***

16101126The Moon and More – Sarah Dessen

Luke is the perfect boyfriend: handsome, kind, fun. He and Emaline have been together all through high school in Colby, the beach town where they both grew up. But now, in the summer before college, Emaline wonders if perfect is good enough.

Enter Theo, a super-ambitious outsider, a New Yorker assisting on a documentary film about a reclusive local artist. Theo’s sophisticated, exciting, and, best of all, he thinks Emaline is much too smart for Colby.

Emaline’s mostly-absentee father, too, thinks Emaline should have a bigger life, and he’s convinced that an Ivy League education is the only route to realizing her potential. Emaline is attracted to the bright future that Theo and her father promise. But she also clings to the deep roots of her loving mother, stepfather, and sisters. Can she ignore the pull of the happily familiar world of Colby?

Emaline wants the moon and more, but how can she balance where she comes from with where she’s going?

Sarah Dessen’s devoted fans will welcome this story of romance, yearning, and, finally, empowerment. It could only happen in the summer.

Knowing this was my last Sarah Dessen book for a while (until she publishes again, what?!), I was prepared to give extra stars to this one for the sake of it. As it turns out, though, I didn’t need to. This book was enough of a departure from Dessen’s normal relationship arc that I found myself enjoying it for its own sake and not just because I wanted to enjoy it – Emaline’s relationship with Luke, with her dad, her brother, her sisters, her mom, her friends, and Theo, all enthralled me – I think this is one of Dessen’s best books, a perfect example of a gentle summer read about a girl finding herself and enjoying life along the way.
Four 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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Book #89 – That Summer

This was the second Sarah Dessen book I read , and it was more the flavour of what I had been expecting from the first. That said, though, it lacked something of the power that Just Listen did, and so I found myself disappointed in this account of Haven during that summer. On the plus side, though, it didn’t upset me the way Just Listen did, so I guess that’s a plus for That Summer!

That Summer – Sarah Dessen

For fifteen-year-old Haven, life is changing too quickly. She’s nearly six feet tall, her father is getting remarried, and her sister—the always perfect Ashley—is planning a wedding of her own. Haven wishes things could just go back to the way they were. Then an old boyfriend of Ashley’s reenters the picture, and through him, Haven sees the past for what it really was, and comes to grips with the future.

That Summer is Sarah Dessen’s first book, and it shows – the writing isn’t as powerful as in her later offerings, the characterisation is weaker, and the book is just less interesting. That Summer lacks any real conflict, and is just about a girl coming to terms with the changes in her life. While it’s sweet, and there’s nothing really objectionable about it, That Summer just doesn’t have any real distinguishing characteristics. If Sarah Dessen’s books were ice cream, That Summer would be vanilla – and not the rich, creamy, Devonshire or Cornish vanilla, but just your bog-standard with nothing to really recommend it. The characters aren’t that interesting, or indeed really believable, it’s never explained why, exactly, Ashley thinks getting married at 21 is a good idea, and Haven doesn’t really grow up in any real way – plus, when her sister’s impending wedding was such a major plot point, you would think that the relationship between the sisters would have been explored more, but it really wasn’t – Ashley was just a stressed out bride-to-be, with no time for her younger sister. Haven’s idealism and struggles with the changes of the summer are at times understandable, and relatable, but this doesn’t really feel like a coming of age book, which is what it’s certainly supposed to be. Besides that, lots of threads are left unresolved, including Haven’s father, stepmother, impending half-sibling, etc. Refreshing, though, to see a coming of age book which doesn’t revolve around a boyfriend – although it does revolve around a boy friend.

Not a bad book, but I know Dessen is capable of much more, so it gets a very middling score.
Three Stars
***

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Book #64 – Fangirl

19174917_zpsfc098c7bAfter reading all six books in the Gone Series, along with Before I Die – none of which are light or cheerful matter – I thought I’d have a look at a book by an author who tumblr seems to love – Rainbow Rowell. It was kind of an eenie meenie miney moe which to read first, so I ended up picking Fangirl, and thus, this was my introduction to Rainbow Rowell.

Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell

So, blurb. From Goodreads:

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.
Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan…
But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.
Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.
Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.
Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words… And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.
For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?
Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?
And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

So that’s the blurb. Simon Snow is clearly a Harry Potter-alike, which is fine, but the book actually mentions Harry Potter as well, which is a bizarre departure from the analogy, which really frustrated me.

In any case. This book in general frustrated me. There’s nothing wrong with being a fangirl. In fact, while I was in school, I was a very enthusiastic fangirl, and I read HP FF with gusto (Dramione, I just couldn’t get enough of it), went to midnight launches of books, etc. I say this to point out that I have no issues with fangirling (although reading back over it, I have to admit it sounds a lot like my exclaiming – I’m not a homophobe! Some of my best friends are gay! – but I digress) but I do have an issue with Cath in this book.

It’s not just that she’s a fangirl. It’s not just that she clearly has social anxiety. It’s that she is the absolute epitomy of both those things. Her anxiety is so bad that she can’t go to the cafeteria for the first month in university because she doesn’t know where it is. And she’s a fangirl with a 40,000 strong fanbase of her fanfiction. And yet – you never see her interacting with the fandom. She doesn’t appear to read any other fanfiction. She doesn’t engage with other fans, except for one girl in the library, and there’s no real sign of her engaging in the fandom [despite the blurb saying that she posts on forums to discuss Simon Snow] other than writing this hugely popular fanfiction. Her anxiety and social difficulties are, of course, magnified by comparison to her twin sister, who feels like a plot device inserted specifically for that purpose – Wren has left Simon Snow behind! – Wren has made friends in college! – Wren is making contact with their estranged mother! – look how awkward Cath is by comparison! It’s just all a little bit contrived.

But if you can get past that, it’s a typical coming-of-age story, which is really quite nice. The boy is nice, and he embraces Cath’s social awkwardness, although they hit some ruts along the way, naturally, and Cath slowly comes out of her shell and comes to terms with who she is as both a writer, a college student, and – yes – still a Simon Snow fan.

It’s not a disagreeable book. It was just a little frustrating in that it magnifies everything. Cath isn’t just a fangirl. She’s the biggest fangirl. She’s not just suffering from anxiety. She’s suffering from really bad anxiety. Her twin hasn’t just spread her wings and separated from her a little – she’s made an almost complete break and become a totally different person.
But that said – when you’re a teenager – doesn’t everything feel like it’s massive and basically the end of the world? And don’t you feel like you’ll always be as obsessed with whatever the current fad is? Rowell does seem to have captured that pretty elegantly.

All-in-all, a pleasant and diverting read which passed a plane journey home for me quite nicely.

Three Stars
***

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Books – a lot of books

I got a Kindle Paperwhite for Christmas.
It’s brilliant. Honestly. I love books. and I think there’s nothing like the look or the feel or the smell of a good quality, beautiful book.
But for distraction and ease of reading, a Kindle or other eReader is hard to beat.

Since I moved here, three weeks ago, I have an hour-long commute to college. I don’t go in every day, but I do head in probably three or four times a week. So on the train journey, when I’m underground and the phone signal dies, a Kindle is incredible. Not only can I read the million and one PDFs I’m supposed to be reading for college (which I do… sometimes), I can lose myself in any one of the multiple books stored on this little tablet, and wander into another world for a few days.
I’ve read more in the last month than for a long time previously, even though I was basically unemployed for the last four months or so and had plenty of time to kill.

In any case, what I thought I’d do today, because I’ve read so much recently, would be to run through the books I’ve read this January and do a little review of each. I could review each one separately and make this a whole bunch of different posts, but to be honest, I’m too lazy to do that.
Rankings out of five in asterix in case you’re too lazy to read everything!

Looking-For-Alaska-John-GreenLooking for Alaska – John Green
I can’t recall whether I read this before or after Christmas, because I borrowed my mother’s kindle for a while in December. I may possibly have read this on her Kindle but either way –
John Green writes very accessible prose. Looking for Alaska is quite the easy read, and you really can get into the head of the main character. Alaska herself is a strange, inaccessible character – personally I really disliked her. Green, though, is immensely quotable, but I find it to be lacking… something. I don’t know what. His characters are easy to get into, but I don’t really connect to them. This book was a nice, easy read, but similar to The Fault in Our Stars, which I have yet to review, it didn’t grab me with the same emotional tug which most books will get me. And by that I mean it didn’t make me cry. And it’s not hard to make me cry. So, I don’t know. Good book, but there’s something… insubstantial about it.
***

hate-list-second-book-cover-httpwww-jenniferbrownya-comhatelist-htm1Hate List – Jennifer Brown
This book was one which I actually put off reading for ages. I had meant to read it right after I read We Need to Talk about Kevin, because it also deals with the aftermath of a school shooting, but I got distracted, and it languished on my hard drive for longer than I intended. When I eventually did get into reading it, it sucked me right in, gripped me the whole way through and took me on the emotional journey of the main character. It wasn’t quite as tough or gritty as I thought it would be, and it’s not half as bleak as Kevin. It’s still well worth the read, though.
****

perksThe Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chobsky
This one was kind of ruined for me, because my sisters went to see the film and their opinions of it meant that I had an idea of how the book went before I actually read it. But either way, it’s still a classic tale of first loves, growing up and accepting who you really are.
My sisters’ complaints about the film were right, though – the ending really jars and is quite unsatisfactory. It might be a classic, but I don’t think it’s one I’ll be reading again.
***

190px-Funny_Story_frontIt’s Kind of a Funny Story – Ned Vizzini
I don’t even remember why I have this book – I think it was Sinéad wanted to read it, so I just hopped on the bandwagon.
I’m glad I did, though. This one was very enjoyable. Another story about growing up, accepting who you are and accepting your limitations, there was something of a ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ vibe about this book, except without the trying to break out. Definitely an interesting one, but suffering from the same difficulty as Looking for Alaska, for me, it didn’t pack any emotional punch, so rather than being sad to finish the book and leave the characters behind, I was rather cold about them. Still worth the read, though.
***

13493463Eve and Adam – Michael Grant and Katherine Applegate
When I was younger, I was a huge fan of Applegate’s Animorphs series. They were light, insubstantial books, but easy to read and the overarching theme of an alien invasion was quite interesting – the constant conflict in each book made them fairly entertaining. This book was written by Applegate and her husband, who’s also a writer. I had big problems with this book, though. It was quite… dull. The first 80% of the book builds, and if the proportions were different, I’d probably have quite enjoyed it. But the problem was, all the action happened in the last portion of the book, which for me came to about twenty minutes. It was too fast, it didn’t feel like there was any real conflict and everything was resolved too neatly. The idea was good, but unless you’re really a fan of dystopian books, I’d give this one a miss.
**

tumblr_ltxzyfftjG1qe0xj3o1_1280The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins
This trilogy has been massive for the last two years or so – I read it only because Sinéad told me to, but I did enjoy it. This was a re-read, I think my second or third re-read, but it still stands up well.
The Hunger Games trilogy is very, very good. The second and third are weaker than the first, but they’re still well above most of the other books on this list, in my opinion. I’m sure there are billions of reviews out there, and this is only short but – I liked it. I liked that it was real, that it accurately depicted the raging PTSD Katniss had to deal with, and the huge costs of a rebellion/new order. At times it was a little predictable, but other times it came up with twists that left me reeling. And – most importantly – it had me in floods of tears several times.
***** for The Hunger Games,
**** for Catching Fire and Mockingjay.

landofstoriesThe Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell – Chris Colfer
This book was another one that Sinéad read before me. But I decided I’d give it a go, and put it on my Kindle to read on my way to college last week.
My main complaint about this book is that it’s very obviously a children’s book. But then, it was written as a children’s book, so that’s not really a complaint. It was predictable and a little dull in places, which I don’t think was just the fact that it was a children’s book. The idea, though, of visiting fairytale characters ten years after all their tales were finished was incredibly interesting. A good idea, but not pulled off as well as it could have been.
And do you know what really annoyed me about this book? The fact that Conner’s name was spelled with an e. That’s just weird, okay? Nobody spells Connor with an E! It’s one n, or two ns, whatever, but it’s always an O at the end!
**

CursedCursed – Jennifer Armentrout
This was a random book I saw in Easons last year and decided that I liked the look of it. I only got around to reading it this week, and I was absolutely right to judge it by its cover – it was interesting, dark, slightly twisted and mysterious the whole way through. The murkiness of the book was intriguing, and I actually didn’t manage to figure out what I should have done before the ending. Very enjoyable and engaging, but no tragedies here, so no tears streaming down my face. Would recommend it, though.
****

tumblr_leccxeKTvM1qav9ywo1_500Uglies, Pretties, Specials – Scott Westerfeld
This is a dystopian trilogy which I read when I was younger – not long after Leixlip Library opened, so I’d hazard a guess that I was about fifteen. There’s actually a fourth book, Extras, that I have yet to read, but it’s next on my list. It’s told from a different perspective, though, so it’s not a quadrilogy. In fact, the website refers to it as a trilogy plus one. I’m only talking about the trilogy though.
This is a really good dystopian trilogy. It reminds me very strongly of Lauren Oliver’s Delirium books. Or, actually, Delirium reminded me very strongly of this trilogy, since I read this first. They have very similar themes – an operation which fixes people turns out to be more sinister than it seems and civilization is found to exist outside of the strictly regulated cities the main characters grew up in – there’s even love triangles which are very similar – Alex and David match up closely to each other.
Having re-read this trilogy some seven years after its first outing with me, it hasn’t lost any of its appeal. I still thoroughly enjoyed romping through Uglyville, New Pretty Town and the Rusty Ruins with Tally Youngblood. I would thoroughly recommend this to anyone who enjoys dystopian fiction.
*****

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All of the Books

On Facebook today, a friend of mine made a comment about her thoughts on the book she was reading at the time.
Since she’s studying for exams, she’s obviously decided this is the right time to start reading everything she possibly can, rather than studying, Much like Sinéad, and indeed myself. I don’t have exams at the moment, though, so I can read whatever I want and not feel guilty. Unfortunately, that means I’m not actually reading that much, because it’s always more alluring when you should be doing something else, isn’t it?

In any case, I put my brain to work and decided to give her a run-down of a few books in the genre that I had enjoyed.
It turned into something rather more than that, though, so I decided I’d cross-post it here so that I can look back on it, rather than have it lost in the ether of facebook.

So when it comes to supernatural teen fiction, everybody knows that the birthplace of the current vogue was the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer. Having read all four books, the novella, the draft of the first novel from the other main character’s point of view and the official illustrated guide, seen all five films and carefully contemplated the entire saga, I can safely say I don’t like it. That which it created, though, I have more mixed feelings about.

The immediate followers of the Twilight craze were largely bandwagon jumpers. You can see that in some of the books mentioned below.

So in what I consider the ‘Twilight-type stuff’, there’s the Fallen saga, by Lauren Kate, which is in the vein of Twilight, but of similar quality, so I don’t recommend it much.
In an extraordinarily similar story, Ann Brashares, author of the travelling pants series, wrote My Name is Memory. I’ve written about that on this blog before.
I really enjoyed Angel by LA Weatherly, and its sequel. There’s a third, but I haven’t read it yet.
Alexandra Adornetto’s Halo dealt with angels as well, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as LA Weatherly’s series.
The Hush, Hush series by Becca Fitzpatrick is also angels, and is okay, but only if you’re really bored and can get a loan; I do not recommend paying for them.
Elizabeth Chandler’s Kissed by an Angel series is garbage, don’t touch it. Similarly her Dark Secrets series is pure tripe.
Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini was quite entertaining, but it’s not angels, it’s Greek gods.
The Percy Jackson series is quite well-received, but I haven’t read it yet. It’s also Greek gods, which is why it snuck onto the list, despite being the only one I haven’t read yet.

If I had to pick ONE series of the above, I’d definitely go for the Weatherly ones.

In terms of older (meaning released less recently, not for older people) YA fiction which you might not have read before, I strongly recommend the following:
The Old Kingdom trilogy, by Garth Nix, (Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen)
The Wind on Fire trilogy, by William Nicholson, (The Wind Singer, Slaves of the Mastery, Firesong)
The Guardians of Time trilogy by Marianne Curley, (The Named, The Dark, The Key)
The Keys to the Kingdom Series (there are seven, so I’m not listing them)
The Inkheart trilogy by Cornelia Funke (Inkheart, Inkspell, Inkdeath)
The Doomspell trilogy by Cliff McNish (The Doomspell, The Scent of Magic, The Wizard’s Promise)
The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini (Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr, Inheritance)

Dystopian, but not necessarily fantasy, series:
Uglies by Scott Westerfield (Uglies, Pretties, Specials, Extras)
Delirium by Lauren Oliver (Not finished yet… Delirium and Pandemonium, plus two novellas, Hana and one I forget the name of)
The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins (although you’ve probably read it?)
Eve and Adam, by Michael Grant and Katherine Applegate is a standalone, but was entertaining.

Non-fantasy and non-dystopian books which I read and think you might like:

These are all about dying, thematically linked and whatnot:
If I Stay, by Gayle Forman
Where She Went by Gayle Forman
Before I Die by Jenny Downham
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Here Lies Bridget by Paige Harbison, (BUT I read this, and it was like a not as good version of Before I Fall, so I don’t recommend it that much. I just associate them together.)
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Books about school shootings:
Nineteen Minutes, by Jodi Picoult (also most of her books are quite good, albeit melodramatic; I particularly enjoyed My Sister’s Keeper and Handle With Care)
Hate List by Jennifer Brown
We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Other books:
Before I Go to Sleep by SJ Watson
Looking for Alaska by John Green
Ultraviolet by RJ Anderson (although it wasn’t as good as it could have been)
I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore (part of a series, but I haven’t read the rest)
You Against Me by Jenny Downham

If that’s not enough recommendations to keep you entertained, then I don’t know what is.
A word of explanation. Not all of these are YA books. Some are adult. Some are children’s. Most, however, are YA.

So that’s my massive list of books.
If you take out the section at the top, which deals specifically with supernatural teen fiction, then I recommend everything else on the list. It’s by no means all the books I’d recommend, and as you can see by the links scattered throughout the later list, they’re books I’ve read fairly recently.
But I still think they’re worth reading, or re-reading.
That’s my thought for the day anyways.

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