Sunday 29 January 2012

Review: Dark Parties by Sara Grant

In One Line: One girl struggles for freedom from life under a restrictive dome.
Genre: Dystopian-thriller-romance!!!
The Gist:
We first meet Neva at the Dark Party of the title - it’s where rebellious youths get together and maybe get it on (bow chicca wow wow) in complete darkness. This is how rebellious youths get to know each other in this world, because when everybody looks kinda similar, so similar that many chose to mutilate their bodies to distinguish themselves, it’s only in the dark that someone can discover the Real You. But something bad happens to Neva at this party: instead of getting it on (bow chicca wow wow) with her Actual Boyfriend, she only goes and pulls the bad boy boyfriend of her BFF!!! 
Neva’s entire world exists under the Protectosphere, a super-massive dome that cuts society off from whatever is beyond. The people under the Protectosphere are supposedly safe, but it’s apparent things are going wrong. The youth are rebelling, there is so much in-breeding that everyone looks the same, food is running out, and most significantly, people are going missing. Anyone who dares rebel, or show any remote sign of being unpatriotic, is quickly shuffled away, never to be seen again. Neva writes all their names down in a book secreted to her by her Awesome Grandma. She is desperate to know what has happened to these people. The truth will destroy her entire world. 
The Cover:
If you love girls in red party frocks, and pick this book up thinking “Yo, there is going to be some heavy-going winter debutante ball action happening in here!” then you will sorely disappointed. This may be possibly the most bizarre and random cover for a book I’ve ever seen. It actually makes NO SENSE. There is a lot of snowflake symbolism in the book, so I appreciated the tiny silver flecks (you can’t see them in the photo), but otherwise I was mostly like “what the hell?” and “did the cover designers read the book AT ALL?”. I’m particularly disappointed with this cover because there is SO MUCH to go on in this book: snowflakes, domes and young people groping in the dark - why not go for one of those things?! Putting all this stuff to one side, it is a pretty cover. Unfortunately just not a relevant one. 
Why You’ll Love This Book
  • Dark Parties. DARK PARTIES. As a grown up reading this book, I read the opening dark party scene as basically being an excuse for an orgy. In the dark. I’m not complaining about this. Not one bit. These particular teens aren’t necessarily into the sexy-times, but my goodness is this an opening to a novel!
  • I want Sanna to be my best friend. That would be a-maz-ing. Her voice is particularly distinctive, and she has all of the issues and all of the angst. I read quite a bit into Sanna - I saw her as this hot mess of a tortured soul. But I loved her. She felt real. And it was probably down to her that I ended up hating on Braydon, because I knew how cut up she would be when she found out about Braydon and Neva’s face eating in the dark. 
  • This book is on the risqué side of teen - and me likey! Don’t worry, I’m not going to spoil any of the twists for you, but rest assured there are some truly jaw-dropping shockers going on here.
  • Braydon’s masks. Didn’t like the boy, but what the boy does with his hands is HOT. He makes all these arty masks, which is a metaphor for the fact that everybody looks the same in this world, but is really different underneath. 
  • This book has acres of potential, and my imagination was having a riot. There are so many ways to go, so many elements of the world in this novel that I want to explore - and then once you’ve explored the Protectosphere, there’s also presumably an outside to go explore too! I’m really looking forward to future novels in this series, and hopefully more boundary pushing.
  • Sara Grant’s brain would be a fascinating place to go on holiday. There is a lot going on there. It would be like going to one of those theme park resorts with added waterslides. She has ideas and she knows how to use them! I also like to imagine that she has a really dirty laugh. 

Why You May Not Love This Book:
  • There is lots of BIG LANGUAGE going on in this book. I don’t mean big vocabulary wise, but big in terms of melodrama. Our narrator is a little fond of making things sound epic. I know that her world is falling apart, and she’s a trapped soul desperate for control over her life, but even so, sometimes I just wanted to go: Calm Down Dear. 
  • Girl, get yourself off of that Braydon bloke (who you know NOTHING about) and get yourself back into the arms of that lovely Ethan boy, who is clearly desperately in love with you and who you’ve been with for years and years. I felt so sorry for Ethan. He kinda gets his heart trampled over (multiple times, on purpose) by Neva. Also, while we’re on the topic Neva, whilst that red-booted Braydon guy has been leading you on, he hasn’t broken up with your best friend. If he’s so into you, and if he was a nice guy, he wouldn’t promise your best friend marriage and babies. Braydon’s inability to act just made him a tad douchey for me. I didn’t fancy him. And I’m still not sure if I was meant to. 
  • The title says Dark Parties. PARTIES - plural. I counted only one Dark Party. And I wanted MORE!!!
  • For me, dystopian fiction has to do something important. It should satire something, or protest something, or at least make you realise that your own real life has a dark and cynical underbelly. Neva’s world totally sucks, but I found it hard to link her life to my own. Essentially I just wasn’t entirely sure what the writer wanted to say. Maybe I missed something. Maybe I’m trying to look too deep into this. But having finished the book, and really liking it, I’m still finding that I have this aching need for it to be something more. It’s a something that I can’t put my finger on necessarily, but unfortunately it stops this book from transcending to the upper levels of Awesome Teen Fiction. 

The Hypersomnia Test:
It didn’t pass. Most of that was my fault though, because I have been particularly tired this past week and I didn’t even attempt to try letting this book keep me awake. As soon as I sat on the tube train on my way to work, I was halfway to the land of nod. But I am seeing my neurologist on Wednesday, so hopefully he can give me a tiny clue as to why I need so much sleep. 
Final Verdict:
I really liked this book, I was really gunning for it, but it just stopped a tiny bit short of being incredible. Saying that, I think that there is a great opportunity for Sara Grant to up her game in the sequels, and she has definitely made her mark as a writer to watch! 
Further Reading:
1984 by George Orwell
Delirium by Lauren Oliver
Matched by Allie Condie
Buy your copy of Dark Parties by Sara Grant HERE!!!

Sunday 22 January 2012

Review: The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

In One Line: In 1996, two teens go on the internet for the first time and find themselves on Facebook 15 years in the future!
Genre: Contemporary uber-awesome
The Gist:
Welcome to small-town America, 1996. Emma and Josh have been best buds and next door neighbours their whole lives (we don’t mention the fact that Josh made a move on Emma six months ago. You hear that? We Don’t Mention It). Emma gets a computer and a CD that allows her some free hours on some new thing called the Information Super Highway (I don’t think it’s going to last). She logs on, and some weird website comes up on her screen called Facebook. You ever heard of it? No, me neither. What she discovers is that she’s looking at her own profile fifteen years in the future! Told in alternating He Said, She Said chapters, Emma and Josh realise that by dabbling with the present, they can change the entire course of their futures. Mostly this involves interfering with their own love lives, because it appears Emma has a particularly bad run of future husbands. Meanwhile, Josh apparently ends up married to the school hottie! But is what they see in the future what they really want?
The Cover:
This cover is a holy-moly suckerpunch of fantastic! Which is handy, because it means when I shove the book in people’s faces (as I have done quite a bit over the last couple of days) I don’t necessarily have to shove it right to their eyeballs to get them to notice it. 
Why You’ll Love This Book:
But seriously...
  • The concept is just genius, especially as I have this image of Mr Asher and Ms Mackler getting really drunk somewhere, reminiscing about their pasts and then going “Hang on....” *hiccup* “I have an idea!”
  • I love Emma. I didn’t love her so much in the beginning of the book, but by the end I wanted to be her best friend.
  • The line about Pluto made me laugh out loud on a packed tube train. Poor Pluto!
  • Super sidekick friend alert! Secondary characters Kellan and Tyson pull a superb performance here. They are just So Real and So Amazing and I want to hang out with them always.
  • This book made me let my pizza get cold so that I could finish it. 
  • I’m thinking about BIG THINGS. I’m thinking about my future, and about my present, and how even the tiniest little steps in one direction or another can make everything turn out completely differently. Everything you do in every single moment creates ripples in every single direction. 
  • The soundtrack! The soundtrack! Seriously, there is a point in this novel where you actually will end up humming Walking on Sunshine by Katrina and the Waves in real life. Just embrace it and everything will be fine. 
  • I'm hugging Facebook. You can't see me doing this, but I am. I am actually hugging Facebook.

Why You May Not Love This Book:
  • Not for technophobes. If you are going “what is Facebook?” right now as you read this, then don’t read this book. It’s not for you. 
  • I’m scared about how this book will do in the long run. Will it date? Will it look stupid in ten years time when society has moved on and we all have hoverboards? I hope not, but I have to admit that this is a book very much ‘of its time’.
  • This is me being incredibly and probably unnecessarily harsh, but Josh didn’t ‘ping’ for me. Not that it actually mattered much, but I found myself drawn to Emma much more.
  • The voices are a little too similar. To the extent where I had to sometimes flip back a couple of pages to check the chapter heading to see which character was talking. I don’t think I should have had to have done that.
  • Running. Why does everyone run in America? I just don’t get it. Loads and loads of female characters in books I’ve been reading over the last few years seem to run. Perhaps even all of them. Except Bella Swan. I don’t think she runs. I think she just falls down a lot. But I digress... 
  • When you really think about it, Facebook is kinda weird.

The Hypersomnia Test:
PASSED with flying colours in all realms of the spectrum. Even ultravoilet. I would quite happily put my entire life on hold (and very nearly did) to read this book. 
Final Verdict:
So have I emphasised enough how much I loved this one? It filled my tummy with rainbow bubbles and made me sparkle. And after a few mediocre reads in a row it is so refreshing to find something that makes me want to explode with excitement. I know it’s only January, but it is the best book I have read this year so far, and will take some topping! Read it and you will not regret it. 
Further Reading:
Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn
Paper Towns by John Green

To buy The Future of Us click HERE!!!

Thursday 19 January 2012

In Which Nicole Rants About Stalkers...

In the last month I’ve read three books that all feature something that has made me think. I have been thinking away for about a week on this something, and the results are below, for your bemusement.  
But first, let’s set the scene:
You’re the new girl in high school. You think you’re kind of plain looking, but generally ok, and you’d prefer to keep yourself to yourself. You keep your head down and avoid the obviously mean and super-pretty popular kids, because you don’t want trouble, and they’re mean to you anyway. But there is a boy. He’s a loner, an outsider, and maybe someone has warned you about him because either a) he’s been with a lot of girls, none for longer than a night or two b) he’s been with no girls, and he has no friends either or c) he’s just bad to to bone, ok? This boy. He stares at you sometimes. You may have to pair up with him in class, or work together on a history project, and even though he may have been a little abrupt and rude with you, you can’t help but think about him. All. The. Time. He’s a tantalising secret in hot boy-form, and you need to know more. But you’ve got secrets of your own that you can’t share with anyone. So you resist. You stay away. And you tell yourself Do Not Think About the Boy - who still stares at you, from time to time. 
Then one night, when you’re awake and listening to the house sounds when you should really be sleeping because you’ve got an important midterm in the morning, you notice a figure at the window. It’s him. It’s the dark and brooding and mysterious (and possibly slightly mean, and definitely with a crooked smile) boy who you just can’t stop thinking about. And he’s been watching you. Turns out he’s been watching you sleep every night for the past week. 
If this is a teen romance novel: you open your window and let him and his tortured soul stay over. You may not even kiss, but you definitely will at some point. It depends how long the writer wants to draw this out. 
If this is real life: YOU CALL THE POLICE. Because the boy is seriously deranged, has fixated on you and will probably smother you with a pillow before defiling your virginal corpse. 
What I want to talk about is this: STALKING. And why for some reason it seems to be an extremely sexy quality in novels that are primarily read by young ladies. 
In three recent reads the sexy love interest turns up at the bedroom window uninvited (after copious amounts of staring and/or following and/or unwanted flirting) and I’m struggling to see the romantic plausibility. I’m scared that young girls reading these scenarios will think it’s ok for boys to behave this way, or worse, expect boys to behave this way. Because the reality is that boys don’t sparkle, they probably aren’t your soulmate and it’s really not ok for them to be at your bedroom window uninvited. It’s weird, it’s creepy and they probably expect something that you’re not ready to give up. 
So now I ask myself a question: why is the stalker fantasy so appealing?
I will admit that I once had my own stalker fantasy. I must have been about thirteen, possibly slightly older, and I used to have it when I was walking home from school. I used to imagine that there was a boy following me. That he was mysterious and perfect, possibly slightly older than me and definitely more knowing. Sometimes he was a time traveller, sent back in time to protect me. Sometimes he was a psychic spy who wanted to recruit me to his psychic spy organisation. He was always in love with me. Completely and utterly besotted - and of course I was already in love with him, in my head. He was my Edward Cullen years before Edward Cullen existed. 
I think the reason I was in love with my imaginary stalker was because I was in the throws of teenage hormones and every other film seemed to feature Leonardo Dicaprio in absurdly romantic roles, but I wasn’t the type to get infatuated with a real life person. I wanted a Romeo of my own to peer through the fish-tank at, but all the boys around me weren’t nearly good enough. Nobody could match up to the perfection that was my imagination. So he’d follow me home from school, and when I got to my front door I would turn around and look longingly down my street, but he was never there. And then I grew up. And realised that my fantasy was just that, a fantasy. And that boys were mostly stupid. And then teen novels were incredibly fun to get lost in as a singleton adult because they recaptured that stalker fantasy for me without me even having to try. 
Why a stalker fantasy? Why do so many of us long for our own secret person who loves us, no questions asked, no matter what? 
Perhaps I’ve answered my own question there. 
Us ladies, and especially the younger ladies with their floods of hormones, don’t want to do the work. We want love to be instant, and more importantly, easy. We want to sit all cosy in our bedrooms, with our bed hair and our schlubby pyjamas, and quite literally have the perfect boy come to us. He taps on our window, and the most we have to do in terms of exertion is open it. It’s a tantalising fantasy, for any gender at any age. 
In this scenario you don’t have to be a cover girl to have a boy obsessed with you - in fact I find it rather telling that most narrators of this style of fiction think themselves to be generally plain (when the reader knows they’re blatantly not). Obsession is an interesting concept when it comes to teenage fiction. I don’t think there are many of us out there who didn’t have a teenage obsession (I’ll come clean here, mine was Star Trek!) and to have this rejection mirrored directly back at us must be alluring. Here’s a boy who doesn’t care what you look like, he loves you anyway! Not only will he never reject you, he will do the opposite - he will actively pursue you!
I’m not saying that the stalker fantasy is unhealthy - I suspect we all had one in one form or another - but as an adult reader of Young Adult fiction I do find it worrying at times. Especially when I encounter it in book after book after book. I worry that it may become too prevalent, and seen as acceptable or even wanted behaviour. 
Let’s have female heroines who instigate relationships. Let’s have some male love interests who aren’t unrealistic knights in shining armour. It’s been eight years since Twilight was published, let’s give the boy a break and make the girl do some work. Let’s make it real.  
Boys knocking at your bedroom window is only ok if:
  • You are already in a relationship with them
  • He’s Peter Pan
  • He’s Doctor Who

I realise that this is an impassioned blog post and that some of you won’t necessarily agree with me - but that’s ok! I’d love to hear your feedback, am always up for a discussion. 
Hugs and high fives,

Wednesday 18 January 2012

Review: Switched by Amanda Hocking

In One Line: Very similar to lots of other teen paranormal romances, but with TROLLS!!!
Genre: teen paranormal romance
The Gist:
Wendy has had a tough life people. Her mother tried to kill her when she was six, all because she didn’t like the chocolate cake at her birthday party. Which, I suppose is kinda freaky, because what kid doesn’t like chocolate? So Wendy’s brother Matt and her aunt Maggie look after her (whilst her mother languishes in a psych hospital), and move home a lot because Wendy gets into trouble so often and has to switch schools so much. One of Wendy’s biggest issues is that she has the Power of Persuasion, which means she can make people do whatever she wants (which is AWESOME) but Wendy seems to think this is a bit of a drag.
In her latest school she meets Finn, who is really creepy because he keeps staring at her and then he’s mean to her at the school dance (but the reader blatantly knows that this is actually totally romantically endearing and not at all weird). And then in practically no time at all Finn has revealed that Wendy is in fact a changeling, and was SWITCHED (geddit?) at birth with a human baby. Finn has come to take Wendy back to her real family (who, incidentally are TROLLS) and because Finn is really hot, Wendy goes with him. They go to a place with a Scandinavian name that’s actually in America and once there Wendy discovers that she’s no ordinary changeling, but a freaking princess! But is Wendy cut out to be a glorious royal troll? And will she be allowed to be with Finn (who is essentially little more than a servant)?
The Cover:
It’s really pretty and fairy-tale like, which is nice. It’s also very generic and plain, which is nice too. I get the impression that this is a cover designed not to offend anyone. Which is nice. There are two editions in the UK, one for teens (with pink touches) and one for adults (with orange touches). I prefer the orange. My only concern is that the cover girl appears to be fair-headed (and certainly straight-headed), despite there being quite a lot of talk about Wendy’s dark, curly hair in the book. So if this isn’t Wendy, who is it? And why is she on the cover?
Why You’ll Love This Book:
  • This is the kind of book where you know exactly what you are getting. And sometimes that is exactly what you want. Guilty-pleasure-tastic. 
  • Trolls!!! And who knew that they’re not the stubby naked creatures with lots of freaky coloured hair? There’s a great little mythology here and a nice bit of world-building. 
  • I might be a troll!!! Trolls don’t like wearing shoes, and whilst I have nothing against shoes exactly, I do have really big feet and sometimes find it hard to find shoes that fit. A world where I don’t have to wear shoes would be awesome. Plus I have frizzy, unruly hair, just like troll people!!! Whilst I understand that this may have a lot to do with my Jewish ancestry, it does seem that the troll people know how to work their conditioning product, and this is a good thing. Also, it’s seen as ok to be in a bad mood a lot, because this is a troll thing. Sign me up!!! 
  • Palaces and dresses and chandeliers oh my!!! This book is rocking the secret princess motif. And there is nothing wrong with that. 
  • Evil mothers (plural!). Call me twisted, but I love this concept. It reminded me of something out of a fairy-tale. Did you know that in the original version of Grimms’ Snow White, it was a mother and not a step-mother who wanted her daughter dead? There is definitely something psychologically juicy in this. 

Why You May Not Love This Book:
  • It’s very predictable. Especially if you’ve read a lot of teen paranormal romance before (as I possibly have). All the usual tropes are there, and unfortunately so are all the usual clichés. Moody awkward heroine? Check. Handsome brooding bad boy? Check. Secret powers? Check. Discovering that you’re not awkward and plain but really kinda awesome? Check. Bad guys out to get you so your handsome brooding bad boy has to save the day? Check. A lot of you will have seen all of this before and get a little annoyed at the lack of originality in the narrative.
  • Oh Wendy with your deluded desires for Finn. I feel sorry for you. I’m sure many of you will love Finn, which is understandable (he’s all foxy and everything), but I had major problems with him. I mean, sure there’s that whole ‘I can break through your brooding exterior and fix you’ thing happening, but Wendy, once you get through that tough shell how do you know you’ll like what you find? Also, even if you do actually ‘fix’ him, how will you stop yourself getting bored once there is nothing left to fix? I feel that all of their passion comes from him having to save her all the time - and this a long term relationship does not make. Also, we know NOTHING about him. Like, actually nothing. Wendy’s entire infatuation is based on him looking good in dark jeans and that little thing of saving her life once in a while. I’m just not convinced in how this is going to play out long term. 
  • Unnecessary and flippant use of the word ‘foxy’. I used it above, just to test it out, and I will not be using it again. Amanda Hocking should heed this. There is never a good excuse to use the word foxy when referring to an attractive male. 
  • Trolls get greenish skin when they’ve been living among other trolls for a while. Me no likey. 
  • Overuse of ball gowns. I think I’ve read too many books lately where girls get glammed up and don ball gowns for a big party, and then admit that they feel truly beautiful when they are in their ball gown. Personally, having actually attended a few balls, I must say I feel pretty unsexy when all dolled up. Pretty dresses never reflect the real you, but the idealised version of you (according to patriarchal society - but I’ll leave the feminist thing alone, for now) and what happens when all the glitz comes off? You’re just left with plain old boring you. I wish some writers would show a heroine who is happy with herself no matter what she wears, not just when she’s been buffed and preened. 

The Hypersomnia Test:
It passed! Just about. There were some moments in the beginning where I could feel the sleep pressing on me, but that was mostly because I had a distinct sense of ‘here we go again’. But once Wendy arrives in the Scandinavian-sounding place, I was much happier and much more with it. 
Final Verdict:
This is a book you’ll hate to love. A little like Twilight. It has a very readable quality and a new take on an old mythology. A little like Twilight. It will also hugely appeal to young readers who don’t read an awful lot, therefore won’t recognise the clichés. A little like Twilight. I think you see what I’m getting at. 
This book, and the whole series, has already taken the e-reading network by storm. Hocking was a millionaire before she even got a proper book deal. I think there are a few reasons for that:
  • She’s a new voice in an under-saturated online market.
  • She’s written a simple story that’s easy to tap into and get lost in.
  • She put this first novel out there for cheap to get readers hooked.

Is she a great literary sensation? No. Is she a great example of how to market to a brand new internet/e-reading audience? Yes. 
I don’t think you’ll be missing much if you choose not to read this, but I will admit something that’s completely bugging at me - I WANT TO READ MORE. 
Further Reading:
Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr
Wither by Lauren DeStefano. 

If you want to buy Switched click HERE!!!

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Review: Night School by CJ Daugherty

In One Line: Girl goes to creepy boarding school. Mystery and romance ensue!
Genre: Nearly paranormal guilty pleasure reading, but NOT paranormal!
The Gist:
Allie’s a bad girl, ok? She goes drinking and vandalises her school and dyes her hair red and everything. So her exasperated parents send her to Cimmeria (unsure of correct pronunciation: ‘Kem-aria’? ‘Simm-eria’?), a grand and gothic boarding school in the middle of English nowhere, but possibly in Surrey. Once there Allie makes some friends and attracts the attention of hot public school boys, and she learns a lot about poetry and ball gowns. But Cimmeria has a secret. A secret that you think for most of the book may be werewolves or ghosts or demons, but apparently is NONE OF THESE THINGS. But it does have a lot to do with the super secret Night School, a society that the top students belong to. As bad things start to happen around her, Allie attempts to discover the secret of Night School, and why she might be involved!
The Cover:
Look everyone! It’s definitely Allie because she has dyed red hair and looks troubled. This trouble may be something to do with friends dying, or her brother disappearing, or the fact that she has far too many hot boys pursuing her. My only issue is the pinky finger. At the risk of going all Tyra on you, girl needs to relax. Sometimes it’s a good idea to shake that hand out before posing with it.
Why You’ll Love This Book:
  • It’s trashy good fun. We’re not dealing with a literary masterpiece here people, but I’m ok with that. Sometimes you need some good old escapist fun with hot boys thrown in for good measure. This book is about entertaining and giving you a nice boarding school fantasy to ponder. 
  • BOYS BOYS BOYS. If you’re male, apparently you can only go to Cimmeria if you are hot. There is some serious swooning going on in this book: first we have Sylvain (who is French, but I totally missed the fact that he was French until the last third of the book - oops!) who is big and posh and may nibble on your ear, and then we have Carter West. Go on, just say it. Say it out loud. Carter. West. Possibly the hottest name for a love interest ever. He’ll tell you to trust No One in Cimmeria, but when he says it he is actually implying that you should definitely trust him. 
  • Midnight skinny dipping!!! To be honest this scene was far too short with not nearly enough descriptions of blatant nudity or implied sexy-times, but still, how often do you get mass nocturnal nudity in teen literature? Let your imagination run rampant. 

Why You May Not Love This Book:
  • The fatal flaw: Allie. This one point is the main reason I didn’t get on with this book. In chapter one, Allie is completely badass and I was really excited to read about what happened when a bad girl goes to posh school. But the bad girl quickly disappears. And an annoyingly good girl crops up very quickly. For most of the book Allie’s personality takes a back seat to the action and I couldn’t help but think “what would actually happen if a tortured, broken bad girl got sent to boarding school?” Now that would be a good book. As soon as Allie dons the strict uniform and lets the henna fade out of her hair, I just didn’t care about her. She became horribly normal and just like every other main character in every other teen trash-lit. Where is the attitude? Where is the secret punk? I just wanted to shake Allie and say BE SOMEONE. So frustrating was this issue for me, that it pretty much ruined the entire book.
  • This is not a book for feminists. In fact it’s abhorrently chauvinistic in places. Boys are described by how strong and tough they are, whereas girls are fragile creatures liable to fall off roofs. There are a number of times when Allie comments on the strong arms of her male suitors and how attractive a quality this is, whereas the girls get lots of pretty dresses to play with. And go unconscious after bumping into things. Stupid girls. 
  • The lost best friend: Mark? Are you there Mark? Do you actually exist? Or is Allie just fickle?
  • The school has no fire alarms!!! For a super posh school for the hyper-rich, this strikes me as being incredibly stupid and ridiculous. But it’s essential for the plot you say? Oh, ok. 
  • Lack of technology, like mobile phones or laptops. Are you seriously saying that these kids have to type their essays by hand? No wonder they spend so long doing homework. This makes me seriously wonder how they could ever cope in the real world. But it’s essential for the plot you say? Oh, ok.
  • There is one more thing that seriously concerned me about this novel, but to talk about it would give away a big spoiler. But it outraged me. Feel free to DM me on twitter to discuss. 

The Hypersomnia Test:
Against my better judgement, it passed. Mostly because potential sexy-times always get me going and stop me falling asleep. And there is a lot of boy action in this book. But the potential sexy-times never really amounted to much and I was always unsatisfied. 
Final Verdict:
This may be the perfect book for you, and I gather that lots and lots of people have loved it. But it was not for me. I just couldn’t get past the characterisation flaws and plot holes. Also the boy obsession. Maybe it’s because there is nothing else to do or think about at Cimmeria (unless you are in Night School), but the constant obsessing over the other gender really got to me. And it made me angry. At the end of the day it means I know nothing about Allie, except that she likes obsessing over boys. 
I really wanted to like this book, and it does have definite pros that I’m sure will make it a great seller, but I hope that Allie gets to grow up a bit in book two. I want her to have more spunk and independence and return to her tortured teen roots. And maybe not have to rely on getting rescued by the boys. Perhaps she can rescue them?
Further Reading:
Marked by P.C. and Kristin Cast
Fallen by Lauren Kate

To buy Night School click HERE!!!

Friday 13 January 2012

The Hunt for Cover Girl

I have seen her face countless times now, peering out from the book jacket with hope in her eyes, or is that sadness? Or courage? There is definitely something in her eyes, an emotive quality that speaks to the reader and says "know me and you will understand!" No wonder then, that so many jacket designers have seen her and stuck her on their books.


Who are you mysterious Cover Girl, with your chocolate drop eyes, freckled nose and slightly pouty lips? She seems rather lovely, if a little pensive. I wonder if she has seen terrible things in her tender years; whether she doesn't smile, not because the photographer asked her to be that way, but because she knows things that no young person should know?

Come forth little Cover Girl - I will be your friend! We shall tumble in autumn leaves on the heath! We shall make snow angels and then wrap our mittened hands around mugs of hot chocolate! And then, as the night grows dark we shall huddle up in our sleeping bags and talk about make-up and boys! 

Oh Cover Girl. I hope you are real and not the crazy whacked out imaginings of some nerdy teen with too much time on his hands and access to photoshop. 

If you are out there, find me. 

Wednesday 11 January 2012

Review: The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan

In One Line: Minimalist snapshots of a troubled young teen.
Genre: Poetry in motion
The Gist:
Kasienka has moved from relative normality in Poland to a bedsit in Coventry as her mother attempts to track down her estranged father. Life is hard and Kasienka struggles to fit in, finding her only solace at the local swimming pool and the boy who hangs out there. 
The Cover:
It’s by Oliver Jeffers! It’s by Oliver Jeffers!!! This therefore means that the cover can do no wrong. At all ever. Unless it’s the hardback cover for John Boyne’s Noah Barleywater book, which was a tad too brown for my taste. Oliver Jeffers is an illustrator extraordinaire, and I adore his picture books. My only wish was that the cover could be a tad more adventurous. 
Why You’ll Love This Book:
  • It’s written entirely in poems! And so beautifully.
  • Kasienka is such a stunning, vivid and alive character that reading this novel feels like reading the diary of a real person.
  • It makes you want to reach out and make someone happy; life affirming without being saccharine. 
  • The romance plot is subtle, which works, because if Kasienka got completely obsessed with the boy and the book just became about that, it wouldn’t work. The underlying theme of this book is Being Yourself, and just as importantly, Believing in Yourself. 

Why You May Not Love This Book:
  • It took me just over two hours to read. Does that even qualify as a book? For some this will be frustratingly short.
  • As subtle and carefully drawn as the romance plot was, it wasn’t very believable for me. William is just a bit too distant and out of reach - I can’t picture him, and I certainly can’t picture him being a swim-geek.
  • I think the biggest problem with this novel is that the style makes it so personal to Kasienka, that the other characters become very distant. You become so engrossed and involved with her thoughts and feelings, that everyone else isn’t quite real - they’re more like vague, blurry characters than fully formed ones. This is especially true for William and Kasienka’s father. 
  • It’s written entirely in poems! Some of you just won’t get this. And that’s ok. 

The Hypersomnia Test:
No chance to test it against my sleepy brain - I had read it far too quickly!!!
Final Verdict:
A thought provoking and beautiful read, but frustrating too because I Just Wanted More. 
Further Reading:
My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher
The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan
Crank by Ellen Hopkins

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Review: In Darkness by Nick Lake

In One Line: Past meets present in this heartbreaking story set in Haiti.
Genre: Serious stuff
The Gist:
On Tuesday 12th January 2010 an earthquake devastated the island of Haiti. Shorty is fifteen, trapped beneath the rubble of a collapsed hospital, and desperate to survive. As he finds himself slowly dying in the darkness, he recalls his life growing up in what has been referred to as one of the most dangerous places on earth. His father was killed before his eyes and his twin sister kidnapped, and seeking revenge, Shorty finds himself embroiled in the world of gang warfare. 
Running parallel to this modern day story is that of the Haitian revolutionary Toussaint l’Ouverture, a former slave who came to be the leader of his people in the late eighteenth century. Despite a distance between them of over two hundred years, the lives of Toussaint and Shorty, with the help of some mystical and ancient voudou, become entwined.
The Cover:
This is a bright and bold cover that ultimately doesn’t detract from the story, which is perfect as I don’t think this is a book that wants to be sold by cover alone. Some books you grab from the shelves because the cover compels you - with this book I want it to be the opposite. I want people to talk about this book, to tell their friends about this book, so that the cover doesn’t even matter. You just have to read it no matter what image is on the front. And I think the publishers understand this too - presenting an image that’s all about symbol and colour. 
Why You’ll Love This Book:
  • I have a theory that there are two main types of reader - those who prefer style, and those who prefer plot. The former is gripped by the power of words and all the delicious ways they can be arranged on a page, while the latter is a sucker for twists, turns and a darn good story. Not to say there isn’t a huge overlap between the two categories, but it seems to me that people tend to be one more than the other. I am a style person. And this is a style book. 
  • Nick Lake writes less sentences, more spells. Paragraphs read like incantations. Reading this book is a magical experience. 
  • Shorty is an honest and compelling protagonist. You are on his side absolutely, even when he reveals the horrible things that he has had to do. His voice is startlingly authentic, at least it seems so to me (I await a young Haitian knocking on my door to tell me I’m wrong). Having met Nick, I know for a fact that he isn’t a Haitian kid from the wrong side of the tracks, so the fact that he is able to write Shorty so convincingly is amazing.
  • Voudou!!! Wouldn’t you know, this isn’t all about sticking pins in dollies?! The sensitivity and understanding of ancient African mysticism that is presented here is wonderful. 
  • Zombies!!! And not the imminent apocalypse kind. The zombi is a big part of voudou culture, and in this book we learn that being a zombi isn’t all about eating brains and starring in Michael Jackson videos. 
  • The range and understanding of historical perspective is thrilling as a reader. Not only do we get a modern day perspective of Haiti through the eyes of Shorty, but we also learn about the formation of the country through the story of Toussaint. 

Why You May Not Love This Book:
  • It’s emotionally heavy-going. I like my trashy guilty pleasure reading too - as most of you already know, but if that’s all you read and you’re quite happy about that, then this isn’t the book for you. This book is wordy and intense, and therefore not for everyone (I think this applies mostly to younger teen readers).
  • Likewise if you’re a reader who needs a thrusting plot to make you turn the page, then you’re going to struggle with this. Shorty is stuck underground throughout the novel, and it’s not hard to find out what happens in the true-life story of Toussaint, so if it’s tension and suspense you’re after, with heady twists and turns, give In Darkness a miss.
  • I found it hard to adjust to the Toussaint story in the beginning. Shorty’s story is told with such pace and drama that I found myself missing it when I was faced with a Toussaint chapter. But this went away as the two stories started to line up and entwine. 
  • This book is being published in both the adult and the YA sections in book shops (the covers differ only by the colours used), so if you are a slightly sensitive younger reader, be aware of violence and adult language throughout.

The Hypersomnia Test:
Alas, it didn’t pass. Mostly because I had to put the book down every now and again as it was disturbing to read in places. It takes an emotional commitment to read this book, and when I was feeling rather sleepy on the tube or lazy in the staff room at work, sometimes it was just easier to have a nap or pick up a magazine! 
Final Verdict:
This book is an astounding feat and truly incredible. It is honest and sincere, and I dare any of you not to get to the end and not feel truly lucky to live where we do, in a part of the world that sees relative peace. At the same time I was left with an ache to Do Something important, but I’m not sure what that is. Having met the author a few times, what I’m most struck with is how different the voice in the novel is from his actual voice. I would never expected this type of novel to come out of him, and I’m intensely jealous as well as completely in awe all at the same time!
Further Reading:
Beloved by Toni Morrison
In the Sea There Are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda
Refugee Boy by Benjamin Zephaniah.