Tag Archives: YA books

August Round-Up

So for all that I said that August wouldn’t be a mega book month, since I was supposed to be doing my final corrections, I still managed to get a fair few packed in. I guess I’m just much lazier about doing the corrections than I thought – although I did do them, and send them on to my examiners. Now I’m stuck in the interminable purgatory of waiting for the examiners to either approve them, or seek further corrections. I’m inclined to believe it will be the latter, because I’m pessimistic, but I’m hoping with a tiny part of my brain that it will be the former, and I will finally (finally!) be finished this doctorate. I never expected it to take such a long time, and I’m more than burned out with it.

In any case, today is the last day of August, and it was a month filled with books, as well as stress. I started off the month with Goldenhand, my most-anticipated read of the year, and the rest of the month has been similarly good.

Books

  1. Goldenhand – Garth Nix
  2. What Remains of Me – AL Gaylin
  3. A Torch Against The Night – Sabaa Tahir
  4. Royal Tour – Amy Alward
  5. Holding Up The Universe – Jennifer Niven
  6. What We Did’t Say – Rory Dunlop
  7. Yours, Faithfully – Sheila O’Flanagan
  8. Stealing Snow – Danielle Paige
  9. Changing Places – Colette Caddle
  10. Frostblood – Ally Blake
  11. The Memory Book – Lara Avery
  12. Sabriel – Garth Nix*
  13. Glass Sword – Victoria Aveyard
  14. Finding Audrey – Sophie Kinsella
  15. One – Sarah Crossan
  16. Night Study – Maria V Snyder
  17. 13 Minutes – Sarah Pinborough
  18. Happily Ever After – Kiera Cass
  19. Say You Will – Kate Perry
  20. All The Bright Places – Jennifer Niven
  21. Sing – Vivi Greene
  22. My Sister’s Keeper – Jodi Picoult*
  23. The Fairy Tale Bride – Scarlet Wilson
  24. Throne of Glass – Sarah J Maas*
  25. The Unexpected Everything – Morgan Matson
  26. Lord Brocktree – Brian Jacques
  27. The Assassin’s Blade – Sarah J Maas*

Short Stories

I only read two short stories this month, but somewhat confusingly, the single short story I read from the collection To Hold the Bridge was, in fact, the story To Hold the Bridge, so I kept trying to put it in the books list instead of this list.

I also, technically, read two collections of short stories/novellas – The Assassin’s Blade and Happily Ever After, but since they’re sold as packaged books, they did actually make it onto the books list.

So my two short stories were

  1. The Creature in the Case
  2. To Hold the Bridge

Cover Art

Favourite Book This Month:

Without a doubt, this has to be Goldenhand. The only book which might have beaten it was Sabriel, but Goldenhand wins this time on novelty. In any month without new Garth Nix (or old Garth Nix) there would have been a lot of contenders for favourite book – A Torch Against the Night was superb, and All The Bright Places was heartwrenching, but I really, really love Garth Nix, so he wins this one, no questions asked.

Favourite Cover This Month:

Frostblood wins it this month for me, although Glass Sword was a close second. Just look at those ice-coated petals! My proof copy doesn’t have that cover art, but I think I’m going to have to buy a copy when Frostblood publishes, just so I can look at it!

Other Thoughts:

I continued my Redwall Reread with Lord Brocktree. Thirteen books in and I’m still loving this series. Incidentally, since my sister is currently reading Marlfox, and I’ve finished Lord Brocktree, our rereads have caught up with each other. From the next book in (Taggerung), we’ll be going in the same order.

I’ve also started rereading the Throne of Glass series, in preparation for the release of Empire of Storms next week. I’m really looking forward to Empire of Storms, but I have to keep reminding myself that it’s not the last book in the series, so it will probably end on some massive cliffhanger and then I’ll have to wait an entire year for the next one again. But in the mean time, I still have three more Throne of Glass books to get through before I even start Empire of Storms!

Sing, by Vivi Greene, I found to be quite forgettable, and I don’t think I’ll write a post reviewing it. But I have to admit that every time I looked at the cover, Ed Sheeran popped into my head. This was compounded by a clip from the Great British Bake Off, in which Val danced around her kitchen to that song while making cakes.

I also spent a substantial amount of this month sobbing into my books. All The Bright Places made me cry ugly tears, Glass Sword had a few heart-wrenching moments, The Memory Book took my breath away, One had my boyfriend checking if I was quite alright, Holding Up the Universe made my eyes burn, Sing gave me happy damp eyes on the final page … actually, maybe it’s not the books. Maybe I’m just too easily given towards tears. But All the Bright Places and The Memory Book should come with warnings on them for the risk of damp pages!

One other slightly odd thing which happened this month – the Sheila O’Flanagan book I read, Yours, Faithfully. I actually have no idea whether or not I’ve read it before. Parts of it seemed incredibly familiar – specifically that the guy had several mobile phones – but parts of it felt entirely new. So I was really torn on whether or not to put an asterisk on it in the list. I decided not to as, on balance, I probably read the first half of it, and didn’t finish it. But it’s a strange sort of anomaly in the list. I may well have read all of it before, but I’m just not sure.

Eight months in, I’ve read 146 books. That’s well over my GoodReads target of 100, and also well on track to beat 2014, when I read 154 books altogether. I really need to start looking again at the book challenges, to make sure that I tick off as many categories as I can in the next four months. Here’s hoping!

 

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Free Verse – about One and Two

AKA Do They Have To Be About Twins?
Also AKA One – Sarah Crossan

AN78152238OneThis year’s YA Book Prize winner, One, is by Sarah Crossan, and is a widely-acclaimed bestseller which follows the lives of conjoined twins Grace and Tippi. Written in free verse, the whole book is a series of poems which describe the lives of the two girls as they venture out of their home-schooled bubble and into the (frankly, terrifying) world of the American high school.

Grace and Tippi are twins – conjoined twins.

And their lives are about to change.

No longer able to afford homeschooling, they must venture into the world – a world of stares, sneers and cruelty. Will they find more than that at school? Can they find real friends? And what about love?

But what neither Grace or Tippi realises is that a heart-wrenching decision lies ahead. A decision that could tear them apart. One that will change their lives even more than they ever imagined…

From Carnegie Medal shortlisted author Sarah Crossan, this moving and beautifully crafted novel about identity, sisterhood and love ultimately asks one question: what does it mean to want and have a soulmate?

Funnily enough, One isn’t the first free verse book I’ve ever read. It’s actually the second. And that other free verse book I read – Identical, by Ellen Hopkins – was also about twins. Although admittedly, they were identical, not conjoined, twins. Even still. Do all free verse books have to be about twins?

I didn’t really enjoy One. Having thought about it for a few days, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not a style which works for me. I think the story, characterisation, etc of One would have been much more effective, for me personally, if it had been written in prose, not free verse. But I think that does actually just mean that I’m judgemental. I also didn’t like Identical.

Beyond the free verse element of One, there was one other big thing I didn’t like – specifically, that I found the plot predictable. I saw from the beginning where it was going, and therefore went through the whole book with the expectation that this would happen, which rather marred my enjoyment of the story as it developed. I was always waiting for the plot to get to where I assumed (correctly) it was going. Again, that might be my fault.

Even with my dislike of free verse, and my disdain for the predictability of the story, it packed a powerful punch. Perhaps it was because it was about sisters. I’ve mentioned several times that I’m close to my sisters, enjoy reading books about sisters, and am affected badly by emotional books about sisters (The Alphabet Sisters, which I have read several times, never fails to make me bawl ugly tears). For that reason, One did manage to still pack an emotional thrust that left me crying as my boyfriend looked at me in bemusement.

Even with that, though, this wasn’t a book that I’d go back to. It has won numerous awards and accolades, but it absolutely didn’t do it for me. I do think, though, that it was mostly down to my own personal reactions, and it’s still a very powerful book.

Three Stars
***

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Frost and Fury

I realised last week, as I finished off Frostblood, that it was the third book I had read within the space of about a month (although not within a calendar month, admittedly) that featured frost and snow prominently. So I thought then, why not group them together and have a little post about all three of them. Some competition, one might say!

So! Here are the competitors:

Snow Like AshesStealing Snow, and Frostblood

The covers:

A little bit about each book:

Snow Like Ashes – Sara Raasch
The first in a trilogy. It follows the story of Meira, one of the last survivors of the massacre of her country, Winter. Raised in hiding with the rest of her fellow countrymen, Meira longs to be able to fight and protect her lost country against the forces which orphaned her and forced her out of her home. Desperately in love with her best friend, the future king, Mather, she embarks on a dangerous quest to rescue half of the locket which will bring power back to her country – discovering things about herself along the way.
Snow Like Ashes and the sequel, Ice Like Fire, are both already out. Frost Like Night, the third in the series, is due to be published in September.
Three Stars. ***

Stealing Snow – Danielle Paige
Also the first in a series (I think a trilogy as well, but definitely at least two). Snow, a seventeen-year-old inmate of a high-security mental facility, has been there since she was five years old. She has known no other life. So when a strange boy appears from her dreams and helps her to escape, she jumps at the chance. She finds herself in icy Algid, a land covered in snow and frost, and her true home. She discovers that she is the long-lost princess of Algid, and the key to stopping – or keeping forever – the winter that has trapped her subjects. River witches, thieves, shape-shifters and magic combine as she tries to navigate her way to making the choices which will shape not only her future, but that of her whole country. Presented as a retelling of The Snow Queen, this reads to me more like Wicked – the story of the villain(ess) and how she came to be.
Stealing Snow will be published in October this year, with the as yet untitled sequel slated for 2017.
Three Stars
***

Frostblood – Elly Blake
Yet another first in a series, Frostblood tells the story of Ruby. A fireblood, with the ability to manipulate heat and light, she is on a quest for revenge against the ruling Frostbloods for the murder of her mother. Helped by rebel Frostbloods, Ruby must learn to control her gift and make her choices – not least about the icy young man she has come to care about. In a world where frost and flame are deadly enemies, affairs between Fire and Frost rarely end well.
Frostblood is published in January 2017, and the sequels (Fireblood and as yet unnamed) will follow.
Four Stars
****
I had a big quibble about the blurb of Frostblood though – one of the things it mentions doesn’t actually happen until more than 200 pages into the book. I felt like it was too big a reveal for the blurb.

In any case, now that you know a little bit about each of the books, let’s get into the competition!

Best Cover

This was a tough one. I had to think for a while whether I should use the proof covers which I actually read of Stealing Snow and Frostblood, or the officially-released cover art. But when I went looking at the art of Frostblood, I knew I couldn’t leave that out, and the broken mirror in Stealing Snow is so atmospheric, so I had to include them. I love that the cover of Snow Like Ashes has Meira’s chakram on it, and icy white of Stealing Snow is really eye-catching. But in the end, I was sucked in by the beautiful frosted petals of Frostblood!

Best Use of Snow

The MC in Frostblood is actually a fireblood, so all the use of snow and frost is by other characters, but they do lots with it – fighting enemies, picking locks, smashing chains! Very little snow magic is in Snow Like Ashes until near the end of the book, although Winter is a country of eternal Winter (shockingly…), similarly to Algid. Stealing Snow, however, has not only ice tornadoes and snowstorms, but also an eternal winter, and Snow Beasts, as well as freezing people and snow projectiles, so for sheer versatility (and snow-on-snow battles), Stealing Snow takes this crown!

Best Main Character

Ruby’s hot-headedness gives her a tendency to run off and make decisions without thinking, while Snow’s general cluelessness (although not really her fault) makes her incredibly frustrating to read. Meira, on the other hand, is not only tough and a great fighter, but also resourceful and clever, and she embraces her heritage and love for her country with panache, so this round goes to Snow Like Ashes!

Best Love Interest

There were so many options to choose from here. Frostblood provides the enigmatic and icy Arcus, while Meira has been in love with her future king Mather since forever. But the entry of the Crown Prince of Cordell, Theron, throws an extra choice and mystery into the game. Snow, on the other hand, has not one, not two, but THREE separate love interests. There’s Kai, the mysterious and cranky boy mentioned in the blurb (so that’s a big sign that he’ll be important), and Bale, the boy she travels to Algid to rescue, as well as Jagger, the literal man of her dreams. I know Snow has led a sheltered life, living in a secure facility, but come on, can’t she interact with a boy without kissing him?? For me, the winner of this category has to be the icy-hearted Arcus, who slowly warms to Ruby’s fiery appeal, and may be far more than he originally seems… So the winner here is Frostblood!

Best Blurb

I already mentioned above that I really didn’t like the blurb of Frostblood, because of major spoilers, so that knocks that one out of the running. Stealing Snow’s blurb annoyed me because it framed the book as a retelling of The Snow Queen, and it’s really more of a prequel, so the winner of this category by default (although it is an intriguing blurb!) is Snow Like Ashes.

So after five tense questions, Snow Like Ashes and Frostblood are neck and neck. Snow Like Ashes has the main character, but Frostblood has the love interest and that truly beautiful cover. Snow Like Ashes is pulling you in with that blurb though. That means it’s time for a …

Tie-Breaker!

So I was going to go with ‘If both books were caught up in a fire, which would you save?’, but then I realised that Winterian magic would put out the fire, and Firebloods can’t get burnt, so I had to go back and think some more.

My second thought was flipping a coin, but then I forgot to assign a book to each side, so I just ended up with a coin on the floor and no idea what it meant.

So my third idea (third time’s the charm!) was to ask myself the question: if I could only buy the sequel to ONE of these books, which would it be? And then my answer was clear to myself.

Which means, that after a protracted battle of ice and snow, the winner is…

Frostblood!

 

 

 

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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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Book #131 – The Blood of Olympus

UK BoOIn anticipation of The Blood of Olympus coming out, I re-read the Heroes of Olympus books which precede it last week. I decided not to re-read the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, because ten books in a row by the same author would probably be too much, but there’s no point re-hashing anything I have to say about the first four Heroes of Olympus books, because I’ve posted about them before.

So I was more than a little excited about The Blood of Olympus. I’d been looking forward to it coming out since I finished The House of Hades last year (this is the problem with binge-reading series of books) and thus I had very high expectations of it. I was ready for Blood of Olympus to be a five-star book, and satisfy all my nagging concerns, and wrap up the Percy Jackson threads forever, allowing me to leave Camp Half-Blood and Camp Jupiter one satisfied and sated reader.

And I nearly managed that. Nearly. I was pretty pleased with how BoO turned out, and had only a few niggling complaints.

Like the rest of the books in this series, the perspective was shared between several demigods. For the first time, we got to see inside Reyna and Nico’s heads, which was a brilliant addition, I felt, as well as getting outside of the seven demigods of the prophecy. Although we already know Reyna and Nico, the chance to get into their perspectives and learn how they’re seeing things is a welcome addition, as the two most important demigods outside of the Seven of the prophecy. The other perspectives belong to Leo, Piper, and Jason, meaning that four of the seven demigods (Annabeth, Percy, Hazel, and Frank) are left silent, and we only see their actions. For Annabeth and Percy, I wasn’t so pissed about this, because they had a massive adventure in the House of Hades, although I have to say that it was a little misleading to label it ‘Percy Jackson’s final battle begins’ when you don’t even get inside his head. Frank and Hazel, though, I was a bit pissed about – I think they both have more to tell us, and I was kinda disappointed that we didn’t get to see it.

The Blood of Olympus is, as expected, a sweeping epic, bringing in a huge number of gods, giants, monsters, goddesses, demigods and, as usual, a whole swathe of Greek (and Roman) mythology. The action was exciting, the demigods were adventuring wildly, blood was flowing (which is a dangerous thing in these areas), the gods were split between their Greek and Roman aspects and Leo (oh, poor Leo) is still heartsick as anything.

Leo irked me in this – he was the only character who did. Even though we got chapters from his perspective, he was still, essentially, a mystery. I can understand why this was necessary for the construction of the book, but if you want to keep Leo a mystery, don’t have us inside his head – what we got from Leo in this book felt like only a half a character, who was deliberately keeping things hidden for the sake of the story.

Leo was my main complaint about this book. I have other, spoilery, complaints, but they’re not massive, and I can understand why things worked out the way they did.

The Blood of Olympus also leaves some loose ends – far more than Percy Jackson and the Olympians, actually. The path is clear for another series of books, in which other demigods from Camp Half Blood or Camp Jupiter (or both) could take centre-stage, with a new mission concerning Apollo.

It certainly doesn’t look like the end for Camp Half-Blood, and certainly, why would Riordan give up on a world which has been so fruitful, and spawned so many extras? I wouldn’t be upset to see an announcement of another series, certainly not if the quality is as good as Heroes of Olympus was, but I think wrapping up loose ends in the Heroes series would have served Riordan better than leaving them as danglers for more books.

Four Stars
****

 

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Books #93-95 – The Infernal Devices

InfernalDevicesAlthough this was the second trilogy of Cassandra Clare/Shadowhunter books I read, I’m reviewing it first, mostly because The Mortal Instruments is actually a hexalogy, so I’ll review all six books once I’ve read them all (although I’m not sure how you can justify a hexalogy, since everything was resolved in the first trilogy of books. But I’m getting off topic).
The Infernal Devices is a trilogy of books by Cassandra Clare which is set in Victorian London, and is set in her alternate reality where ‘Shadowhunters’, demon hunters blessed by the angels, fight to keep the world safe.
As I’ve said, these were actually the fourth, fifth, and sixth Shadowhunter books that I’ve read, so I was pretty familiar with the lore. Plus, I went through a period of angel/nephilim interest when it was really big in YA fiction, so I’m pretty familiar with angelic lore. I did actually chuckle a little at the fact that the Shadowhunters’ powers came from the angel Raziel, who was the main villain in LA Weatherly’s Angel trilogy. But that, again, is off topic.
So, review proper!

Clockwork Angel
Clockwork Prince
Clockwork Princess – Cassandra Clare

As I’ve mentioned, The Infernal Devices is a Victorian steampunk trilogy with added demon hunting. In that way, it’s a little more interesting than the first three Mortal Instruments – you know, automatons which can’t be killed just tick a box for me. As well as that, I really enjoy books which are set in older English times, in which the characters are far more concerned with propriety than nowadays, so that was a thumbs up for me.
I was looking forward to a fast-moving, action-driven trilogy with some character drama thrown in along the way, and I wasn’t disappointed.

What did disappoint me, though (and I know this doesn’t make sense without having reviewed the Mortal Instruments, but I don’t want to split the six books in case they are all properly interconnected) was that the character archetypes just seemed so… already done.
I understand that most stories need an archetype, but the Infernal Devices set up the exact same three main characters as the Mortal Instruments – the girl who’s new to the world and apparently impossible to ignore, the boy with the tortured past who blows hot and cold, and the gentle, reliable, sweet and surprisingly powerful alternative. And then the love triangle between the three of them. It was just so… already done.

That was the main reason which turned two four-star books into two three-star books, for me. It felt a lot like I was reading another story about the characters from the first three Clare books I had read. And, you know, if I wanted to read three more books about them, I would have gone straight on to read City of Lost Souls. I understand that, as the ancestors of the characters in The Mortal Instruments, it would be expected that they would be somewhat similar, but still, it was disappointing.

For the first two books of the trilogy, while the action of the story really intrigued me, and I was totally caught up in the wonder of who and what Tessa was, how she had gotten her powers, what was going to happen to the automaton army, Tessa’s brother’s situation and all the rest of it, I was just disappointed in the love triangle to the fore of the character drama. I felt it had been done.

By the third book, though, the triangle was resolved in a way which I hadn’t expected, and I was actually really pleased with how it worked out.

On its own, this trilogy would’ve been a solid four stars the whole way through, and I would’ve happily recommended it. But, having read it immediately after I started The Mortal Instruments, it suffered much the way Trudi Canavan did, for me, in that I felt like I was reading a re-hashing of the same story for the most part. Unlike Canavan, though, Clare managed to save the end of the trilogy by coming to a totally different resolution which I thoroughly enjoyed – it even squeezed a few tears out of me – not that that’s hard. So, a solidly enjoyable trilogy, with a surprisingly good third installment which pushed the resolution far ahead of its preceding two books.

Clockwork Angel, Clockwork Prince
Three Stars
***

Clockwork Princess
Four Stars
****

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Books #98 and #100 – Just One Day/Just One Year

1003489_459333330828702_1494189768_nGayle Forman’s If I Stay is one of my favourite books, basically, ever, and Where She Went isn’t far behind, so her new duology of books was always going to be on my must-read list. Sinéad bought them before I did, so I waited until I was home to get my hands on them.

Over the first week, I think, that I was home, I read them both, and enjoyed them both immensely.

Just One Day
Just One Year – Gayle Forman

Far more than If I Stay, these two books are two sides of the same coin.

Just One Day

Allyson Healey’s life is exactly like her suitcase—packed, planned, ordered. Then on the last day of her three-week post-graduation European tour, she meets Willem. A free-spirited, roving actor, Willem is everything she’s not, and when he invites her to abandon her plans and come to Paris with him, Allyson says yes. This uncharacteristic decision leads to a day of risk and romance, liberation and intimacy: 24 hours that will transform Allyson’s life.

A book about love, heartbreak, travel, identity, and the “accidents” of fate, Just One Day shows us how sometimes in order to get found, you first have to get lost. . . and how often the people we are seeking are much closer than we know.

and Just One Year

Just One Day. Just One Year. Just One Read.

Before you find out how their story ends, remember how it began….

When he opens his eyes, Willem doesn’t know where in the world he is—Prague or Dubrovnik or back in Amsterdam. All he knows is that he is once again alone, and that he needs to find a girl named Lulu. They shared one magical day in Paris, and something about that day—that girl—makes Willem wonder if they aren’t fated to be together. He travels all over the world, from Mexico to India, hoping to reconnect with her. But as months go by and Lulu remains elusive, Willem starts to question if the hand of fate is as strong as he’d thought. . . .

The romantic, emotional companion to Just One Day, this is a story of the choices we make and the accidents that happen—and the happiness we can find when the two intersect.

These books are not a novel and a sequel, not at all. They’re two novels which are inextricably linked, and really, they should be read together.
I thoroughly enjoyed both novels – the romance was ‘meant to be’ without being cheesy, and the struggles they went through in the year following their magical one day felt real – the little coincidences between them were sweet, and the cast of supporting characters felt, if not quite three-dimensional, at least two-dimensional. The two books together paint one story of two people trying very hard to achieve the impossible, and find the other half of their heart, even when it seems like a ridiculously crazy thing to do.

Without ruining anything of the story, which I would happily recommend, the ending (of both books) felt a little like a lingering chord which hasn’t been resolved. You know where things are going, and certainly all the elements are there for you to make your own conclusions, but it feels a little cut off. I wasn’t particularly disappointed in this – it wasn’t left as a mystery or anything, just that we left our characters at the beginning of something new, something which could be left to the imagination. Lots of reviews, however, were pretty disappointed that there wasn’t something more concrete for them to hold on to.

I realised why this was today, actually, when I was looking for links for the GoodReads profiles of the two books. It turns out there’s a third installment – or, rather, a book number 2.5. Just One Night is an e-novella which was released last May.
I hadn’t realised this until today and, to be honest, I’m a little disgusted with it. I know lots of books have novellas which fit into the story, which add to or flesh out minor plot points. That’s nothing unusual.
However, what happened here is that the major resolution of both books has been siphoned off into a 40-page novella which costs, on Amazon, £2.48. That’s compared to £2.62 for Just One Day (weighing in at a hefty 385 pages) and £2.99 for Just One Year (shorter at 337 pages). I’m actually disgusted at this – I can’t believe such a cynical ploy. It’s really tainted my enjoyment of both books and, although I won’t change my rating for either book, I’m certainly hesitant to recommend either. I thought the ending was an artistic choice, a writing decision to let the reader imagine how things work out for Willem and Allyson, but from here, today, it looks more like a deliberate, cynical decision to tempt readers into shelling out for what should have been the conclusion to one or both books. I’m seriously disappointed.

Just One Day / Just One Year
Four Stars
****

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Book #66 – Eleanor & Park

9781409157250Darling of Tumblr and widely praised for her accurate portrayal of what it is to be a teen, this was not the first Rainbow Rowell book I read. Having been very so-so on Fangirl, I decided to give Rowell another go, as Eleanor & Park was consistently popping up in my tumblr feed with rave reviews, and, to be honest, I was glad I did.

Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell

Two misfits.
One extraordinary love.

Eleanor… Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough…Eleanor.

Park… He knows she’ll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There’s a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises…Park.

Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.

Eleanor & Park is a first love story set in 1986 between awkward misfit Eleanor and quiet comic book nerd Park. It’s a tender and poignant first love story, where two teenagers bond over comic books and mix tapes. Little snatches of what it was like to be a teenager in the eighties were wonderful – things like the batteries running out on your walkman just aren’t an issue for modern teenagers, but the retro feel just added to the sweetness of the story.

Eleanor & Park is no insta-love story – they bond slowly, and awkwardly, and face multiple issues along the way. At only 16 each, they’re still navigating the rocky waters of adolescence, but trying desperately to make it easier for each other.
Rowell really captured the intense feelings of falling in love for the first time, and really got inside the heads of both characters as they faced issues with both his and her families, in school and out of school, and all the while fell deeper and deeper in love with each other.
It’s also far deeper and more poignant than I thought it would be, and deals with some pretty heavy issues. The climax of the book is almost inevitable, but it still hurts.

My only disappointment with this book was that it lacked just a little of the emotional punch for me. Perhaps, though, I’m just stone-hearted, as I know my reaction is the complete opposite to most of what I’ve seen on Tumblr.

Nonetheless, an achingly sweet, sad, and beautiful teenage love story.

Four Stars
****

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Clariel Sneaklet

Today was one of the best days I’ve had in ages.
Anniversaries, boyfriend, nephew, whatever to all that stuff….!

Today, I met Garth Nix. And it was fantastic.

Nix’s Old Kingdom trilogy was the first high fantasy series I read, and one of the first fantasy, and it has remained lodged in my consciousness ever since.
Although I don’t tend towards favourites, if pressed for a favourite author, Nix would probably be it, and he has been for the last ten years, or possibly more.
I know that when Abhorsen was published, it was very close to my birthday/Easter, and we had taken a trip to Achill (I think). I don’t remember properly, because I spent as much of the trip as I could buried in the book, devouring every word on the page.

That was probably nine years ago? Although I don’t hold his Keys to the Kingdom or standalone books in the same excessively high regard as the Old Kingdom, I’m very fond of them. I also thoroughly approve of the KttK because they managed to stay in the same format for the entire publishing run, making them one of the only full sets of books I have which match.

So last week, when I realised that Garth Nix was going to be in London doing a book signing, and giving away sneak previews of Clariel, which is an upcoming Old Kingdom book, I knew I had to be there.
I was afraid briefly that I was going to have to skip out on lectures, but thankfully it didn’t come to that. I queued up for about half an hour to meet this man, and I was quite honestly delighted. He’s a gentleman and a lovely man, who signed my new book (A Confusion of Princes, being one of the few Nix books I didn’t already have) and engaged in lovely banter with me for a few minutes. I don’t think anyone could have a bad word to say about him.

Equally exciting, though, is the fact that he gave me a preview of Clariel. I’ve been waiting for this book since before I knew it existed, and to get a sneak preview of the prologue and first three chapters is beyond exciting.
I devoured it on the way home, and am only upset that there’s not more than three chapters there. I’ll just have to try and get my hands on an ARC next year.

So yes. I will discuss the Clariel excerpt maybe another day. Today I’m just full of squealing and fangirling.
My only regret is that I didn’t get there earlier – the first four people in line got bell charms. I would LOVE to have gotten one of those.

Also signing at Forbidden Planet was Sean Williams, who has cowritten a series with Nix. I bought his book Twinmaker, which looks really good. He was really nice and really friendly, but he’s not Garth Nix, so I wasn’t as star struck at the sight of him.
I’m still crazy happy with how today went, though.

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