The opening paragraph of The Metamorphosis is one of the most famous of all literary beginnings. I have read it many times in this guise, but have somehow neglected to read the story in its entirety up until now.
It's hard to review a book that can be read in so many ways. Is The Metamorphosis simply a surreal or fantasy story that provides entertainment on a shallow level? Or is it a complex allegory, commenting on human relationships and the nature of disability and long-term physical or mental illness? The Metamorphosis works brilliantly on either level, which is something that few literary works manage to do.
Franz Kafka expertly depicts Gregor's metamorphosis as a descent into something less than humanity. Gregor's changes are juxtaposed with the more subtle changes that are experienced by his family members and the reader is left wondering whether it is Gregor or his family who are the true monsters in this story.
Kafka's language (in translation) is elegant and unadorned. His matter-of-fact style and the dry humour that infuses The Metamorphosis lighten what might otherwise have been an overly-depressing read. As it is, the book remains sad in a quiet sort of way, its impact lingering long after the final page is turned.
The Metamorphosis is an excellent piece of writing that deserves its reputation as one of the most important works of twentieth century literature. (less)
This is not going to be a proper review, because WOW did I struggle to finish this book. I've been liking or loving most of the books on my 100 Books...moreThis is not going to be a proper review, because WOW did I struggle to finish this book. I've been liking or loving most of the books on my 100 Books To Read Before I Die list so far, but I just couldn't stand Treasure Island. I had to force myself to sit down and read a mere ten pages every night, because otherwise I was never going to finish it. The most amusing part is that a children's story was the novel that almost spelled doom for my list!
It's only fair to say that I was biased against Treasure Island from the beginning, because I am just not a piratey person. I can't stand it when they're raised up as wonderful, fun-loving characters for kids, because it goes in the face of the actual reality of piracy but, more relevantly to this novel, I also find them really dull when they're playing the baddies.
I took exactly six months to read Treasure Island, which says it all when it's only 160 pages long. I found the dialogue grating and convoluted, the action not very active and the backstory far too long compared to the actual journey and time on the island. What's more, I didn't like the protagonist at all. My favourite part of the book was when the ship's doctor took over as narrator for a while.
Treasure Island is a much-loved classic, so obviously there are a lot of people out there who hold very different opinions about this book to my own. I'm interested to read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde later in my 100 Books journey, to see whether I'm more fond of Robert Louis Stevenson's style when pirates are not involved.
Cold Hillside is the kind of book that demonstrates just why self publishing is beginning to really take off in the current publishing climate. With the bigger publishing houses currently focussing on genres and ideas that are proven best-sellers (the Dan Brown-style thriller, the supernatural teen romance), there is little room for books that deviate from the fashions of the moment. Self publishing allows books like Cold Hillside, which don't fit so easily into genres and sales patterns, to find a readership. And this book deserves a readership.
Martin Cooper is a very capable writer with an easy, literary style. He has an obvious flair for description, with his locations all being so well-sketched that it is impossible not to envision them in your mind while reading. Cold Hillside employs regular flashbacks to flesh out its backstory, and these are integrated in a skilful manner, so that the reader rarely struggles to identify the time-period of each section. I think that this fragmentary style works perfectly for the story that Cooper has chosen to tell. There is an air of reminiscence that is important for the reader's understanding of Simon's loyalty to and love for his brother, especially as more and more of Giles's life is revealed.
One thing that didn't work as well for me, however, was the use of tense changes to indicate flashbacks. It didn't feel entirely consistent to me and I think I would have preferred if the time changes were indicated solely through the content – which does an excellent job of signposting this without the need to do so through tense as well.
The plot of Cold Hillside is extremely engaging. From the very beginning of the book, I found myself caught up in the mystery of the story, becoming only more enthralled as the story progressed and the true depth of Giles's dealings began to become known. While, at times, the literary style of the novel can detract a little from the feeling of urgency that I would usually associate with a crime novel, the plot kept me interested from start to finish.
Giles is a cleverly-drawn character. A good amount of skill is needed to combine the shown aspects of his character in a way that feels genuine, and Cooper succeeds totally when it comes to this. Bridie, too, is well-characterised. She is likeable and impulsive and works as a good foil to Simon, providing energy where sometimes he seems to lack it. Indeed, as a protagonist, Simon often felt a little too understated. By the end of the book, I still felt unsure about who he really was. We learn of his career and his parts, but he remains at an emotional distance from the reader, which is unusual given the first-person perspective. A lot can be revealed of Simon through the people around him – but there was a sense of disconnection for me nonetheless.
Such things, however, detract little from what is an interesting and well-written novel. Cold Hillside combines crime and family loyalties with a touch of music – and does so with style and genuine skill.(less)
It's hard to believe that today marks the tenth anniversary of September 11th. The horrors of the tragedy still seem so fresh in people's minds. The world has changed greatly due to the events of that day, with the repercussions stretching far beyond New York's city limits. For those who were there, however, those who experienced the scenes of terror and destruction at first hand, the changes and consequences were much more personal in nature.
Artie Van Why was one such witness and That Day In September is an honest, powerful work relating his experiences on that fatal date. The book opens with the personal path that led him to New York, allowing the reader to learn a little about the man behind the account. Then, the tragedy itself is described. Van Why manages to sketch the horror of the events he witnessed without the scenes he depicts ever feeling gratuitous. As an author, he is very respectful of those who died, of those who lost loved ones and of the many people who reached out to offer help and comfort to those who needed it.
That Day In September also deals with the aftermath of the tragedy – both in a personal sense and in a broader one. It speaks of the way the citizens of New York supported each other through the subsequent days and weeks and of Van Why's own struggle to come to terms with the event. Throughout, however, there is an emphasis on the good that can be found in humanity, something that cannot be underestimated in a book dealing with such a collection of evil and incomprehensible deeds.
The language of That Day In September is not particularly elegant, and the grammar in the book could have been more refined. However, while this often detracts from my enjoyment of a book, in this case I found that the opposite was true. Van Why's writing style gives a real immediacy to his account. It somehow feels more raw, more emotional, to read about the events of that day in language that is not made impersonal through too much attention to form and style. I was on the brink of tears for much of the time it took me to read this – a sign that any flaws in the writing do little to diminish the power of the piece.
That Day In September was not an easy book to read, but I am very glad I did so nonetheless. As an Australian, I have only been affected by September 11th in a peripheral fashion, and it was good to be able to read a personal and first-hand account of the events I witnessed on television. Horrific events of this scale can all too easily become about numbers rather than individuals. But Van Why's story is just one of so many – and I thank him for sharing it.(less)
I Loved You First is an easy, enjoyable read with a positive underlying message. Its stand-out feature is the strong character voice of Alex, which remains consistent and appealing throughout the book. The first person narrative quickly draws the reader into Alex's world and encourages them to empathise with her situation.
Alex herself is a likeable character. While, at times, her choices were frustrating, I never resented her for making them. She is flawed, certainly, but this is the story of her growth from an invisible sidekick into an independent young woman, and change rarely occurs without a few mistakes to be learnt from. At times, I wanted to reach into the book and shake Alex out of her unflappable loyalty to Seth, especially when he was being particularly belligerent and she was being particularly submissive. Such a response shows both my fondness of Alex as a character and my total absorption in the book!
In contrast, Seth is a difficult character to like. I understand why he acts the way he does, but it doesn't make his behaviour any easier to stomach. I found that I mostly felt sorry for him – not so much due to the attitudes of others as due to his own attitude towards himself. Indeed, Alex, despite harbouring her fantasies of being the one woman who can overcome Seth's sexuality, is far more accepting of his identity than he is. There is a self-destructive aspect to Seth's behaviour that is almost as difficult to witness as a reader it is for his best friend.
The minor characters in I Loved You First are well-drawn, with Trinity being a fun and likeable late addition to the ensemble and Bruce offering the right amount of villainy to the plot. Dink is multi-faceted and provides an important alternative to the black-and-white portrayal of Bruce. I changed my opinion of him several times throughout the book, as various aspects of his character were revealed.
For me, the best part about I Loved You First is the personal growth that Alex experiences as the novel progresses. While much of the action of the book is centred around Seth, the heart of the book is Alex's struggle for emotional independence. Always a realistic character, she evolves into a truly strong young woman.
Jacobs's style is chatty and unforced. The writing could have been a little tighter in places but this is well-masked by the casual nature of her protagonist's voice. I also found the overwhelming homophobia shown by many of the book's characters out of keeping with my own experiences with university educated young adults, but am aware that my nationality and the educational circles I've moved in may be a key factor here.
While I Loved You First focusses on university-aged characters, the subject matter and content are appropriate for all young adult readers. It is a light read dealing with heavy subjects – homophobia and the emotional (and physical) damage it causes – and is a very solid young adult debut by Jacobs. (less)
In a young adult market that's quickly filling with urban fantasy and paranormal titles, Rippler is refreshingly different. There are no fated romances, no improbably perfect characters and no nagging thoughts of having read it all before. Instead, Cidney Swanson has crafted an enjoyable story with likeable characters and an intriguing mystery that helps it stand apart from many other examples of the genre.
From the beginning of Rippler, I enjoyed the fact that Sam's ability is not without its negatives. The fact that she is unable to control her rippling makes her a lot easier for the reader to identify with. She's not a super-powerful demigod who has never had a bad hair day and can save the world before breakfast while never breaking a sweat. She's an ordinary teenager who just happens to have an extraordinary genetic make-up. Her insecurities endear her to the reader, while her determination to learn about herself and to take charge of her ability show an inner strength that is far more attractive than the external strength that can often be the focus of special ability narratives.
Will is an equally interesting and likeable character and one of the most natural love-interests that I have encountered in this year's reading. His friendship with Sam feels genuine and the romance between them develops at a realistic pace – to the point where it's not entirely a romance at all. It is always so refreshing to read a young adult novel where romantic attraction is based upon characters sharing interests and life experiences. Swanson's use of Sam and Will's mutual interest in running supports the development of their relationship – as well as providing some of the most absorbing passages in Rippler.
Will's relationship with his sister, Mickie, is also artfully portrayed. There is a clever co-existence of sibling fractiousness and interactions that mirror those of a parent and a child, as would be expected from their family situation. Mickie herself is an intriguing character. Responsible, fearful and bereft of a sense of humour, she nonetheless exudes a surprising amount of warmth.
Mickie and Will form one of three key family structures that are shown in Rippler, none of which follow the traditional nuclear form. I am always extremely fond of novels (and especially novels for young people) that portray families in all of their different forms. Sam's friend Gwyn lives alone with her mother, while Sam herself lives with her father and stepmother, Sylvia. The positive relationship between Sam and Sylvia was one of the highlights of the book for me.
The plot of Rippler is both clever and engrossing. At first, it seems like the novel will focus on Sam's struggle to control her ability, but it quickly becomes clear that she is caught up in something a lot bigger. There is an interesting interplay between history and the present, and an underlying feeling of danger that heightens towards the end of the book; Sam's enemy is unseen and the reasons for his animosity are unknown.
My one great difficulty with the book was the way in which Sam's abilities are explained to the reader. The second chapter consisted largely of obvious exposition, in the form of a conversation between Sam and Will. While outlining back-story and explaining universe elements to a reader is always very hard to do without it seeming clumsy, the expository section here seemed particularly noticeable to me, possibly because it was so condensed into one conversation. It meant that my initial impressions of Rippler were clouded and thus entirely different from my perception of the novel once I had read further.
It is definitely worth reading through that second chapter. Rippler is a thoughtful, entertaining young adult novel with strong and appealing characters who interact in realistic ways. I think that Cidney Swanson has a strong future as an author. My only complaint is that the second Ripple book is yet to be released. I want to know what happens next! (less)
I nabbed a review copy of Drink, Slay, Love from Simon & Schuster's Galley Grab because the premise sounded ridiculously entertaining, especially as a counter to the hundreds of deadly serious paranormal romances that are flooding the teen market at the moment. I wasn't disappointed. The key descriptor for this novel is "fun". Sarah Beth Durst seems to have written it with her tongue firmly planted in her cheek.
That said, there is plenty to find here for even the most dedicated of paranormal aficionados. While Durst has fun with the usual clichés, it never feels like she's mocking the Twilights of the world. What's more, there's still a potential love-interest to champion and plenty of vampires to get your teeth into. (Pun completely intentional. I do apologise.)
Pearl is a fantastic protagonist. Even once she's been afflicted with a conscience, she's still delightfully strong and arrogant and in-control. What's more, she's presented as being just as capable (if not more so) than her male counterparts.
The other female characters are also well-drawn. I wasn't sure about Bethany at first, but her character is fleshed out more fully as the book goes on, and I appreciated the depths that weren't, at first, apparent. I also enjoyed the school's Mean Girls, who turn out to be far more layered than expected, and the fairly minor character of Sana, who is more interested in whether Pearl can beat her at track than whether she has fangs or not.
While Pearl's boyfriend, Jadrien, grated a little on me, I enjoyed Evan as the boy who makes Pearl consider whether humans can be tasty in a whole other way. Those who love bad boys will undoubtedly prefer Jadrien, but I appreciated Evan's respectful manner and his unfailing belief in Pearl.
While there is an overarching plot surrounding the Fealty Ceremony in Drink, Slay, Love, I think the sections I enjoyed the most were those that were less concerned with moving the action along and more focussed on describing Pearl's experiences with attending a human high school for the first time.
All in all, Drink, Slay, Love is an extremely entertaining novel that's sure to gain a big following – and deservedly so.
Mirror Shards: Extending the Edges of Augmented Reality is a science fiction anthology comprising thirteen short stories by new and established authors. Augmented reality, for those readers who are looking a little confused right now, deals with the idea of using technology to expand upon (augment!) the real world. Think GPS, but implanted into your eyes. The authors of the collected stories, however, have envisioned the implementation of augmented reality in a broad spectrum of ways, ensuring that readers will not grow bored as they make their way through the anthology.
"El Mirador" – Alex J. Kane A tale of a tech-filled bounty hunter on the trail of a murderer. The second person narrative in this piece unfortunately made it difficult for me to get into it.
"Music of the Spheres" – Ken Liu An engaging and thought-provoking exploration of the creation of disability through technology that is not available to everyone.
"These Delicate Creatures" – Melissa Yuan-Innes The use of tech-enhanced theatre as political dissent is the focus of a clever tale of family and priorities.
"Bellow the Bollocks Line" – T D Edge A short, but well-imagined, tale of a society in technological overload.
"The Sun is Real" – George Page III One of my two favourites from the anthology, this piece looks at the use of augmented reality in a prison situation.
"A Book By Its Cover" – Colleen Anderson One of the two definitely-not-for-young-readers stories in the compilation, this is a creepy tale of immersive entertainment and a woman who wants to be a part of it.
"Of Bone and Steel and Other Soft Materials" – Annie Bellet An artificially-sighted woman takes on a boy's kidnappers. A much better story than the title led me to expect!
"Witness Protection" – Louise Herring-Jones In a futuristic version of the police-based crime story, a new spy device falls into the wrong hands.
"Stage Presence, Baby" – E.M. Schadegg A singer alters her stage presence through technology in alien-occupied Earth.
"Gift Horses" – Karen Able In this story, North America is controlled by OverSight, an augmented reality technology manufacturer. Unfortunately, I was left wanting more, as the story seemed to end just as it started getting interesting!
"The Cageless Zoo" – Thomas G. Carpenter My other favourite, this piece is reminiscent of Jurassic Park. A family attends a futuristic zoo where predators are held through augmented reality instead of cages. Of course, something goes wrong.
"More Real Than Flesh" – Grayson Bray Morris The other not-for-minors story in the compilation, this piece looks at sex slavery in the future.
"The Watcher" – George Walker This engrossing piece tells of a DisneySub caught in border skirmishes between India and Pakistan. I felt that this story could easily be used as the basis of a much longer work.
With Mirror Shards, Carpenter has managed to put together a satisfying collection of science fiction writing that comprises a pleasing range of topics, ideas and literary styles. A professional and interesting anthology, it should be enjoyed by both regular readers of speculative fiction and those who like to dabble from time to time. (less)
The Solstice Conspiracy is a fantasy novel for young readers that breathes new life into the old idea of fairies living at the bottom of the garden. Although it draws a lot from the tradition, it is firmly placed in the present, meaning that readers will be better able to identify with the challenges faced by the protagonist, Beth, and her brother, Chris. Beth, in particular, finds it difficult to make friends at her new school, and also struggles with a family who still views her as a child, despite her feeling as though she is becoming quite grown up.
Beth herself is a very likeable protagonist. Caught between life stages, she occasionally experiences frustration, but never comes across as being whiny or petulant. She is generally kind and empathetic, but will stand up for herself when necessary, meaning that she never becomes annoyingly 'good'. Chris, as seen through his sisters eyes, can occasionally be a little less sympathetic, but he experiences growth as the book progresses and his character is elevated through the changes in his and Beth's relationship.
The fairies, imps and other magical beings within the novel will be familiar to readers of Enid Blyton and other masters of the genre. Of the individual characters, Maeve is the most memorable, and her personal story provides a strong dramatic counter to the good deeds being carried out by the children.
While The Solstice Conspiracy is a fun story that should prove engaging to young readers, I would have liked to see the situations that Rawn introduces being expanded upon a little more, to truly carve a niche within the genre. Several times, the reader is presented with the possibility of danger, only for it to prove easily overcome. In particular, I felt that the climax of the book moved a little too swiftly – so much so that I became confused due to the suddenness of certain events. Of course, brevity is the key when it comes to junior fiction, so there is an understandable struggle to balance content and length.
The Solstice Conspiracy was introduced to me as a novel for young adults, but I would personally recommend it for a younger audience. The plot and issues faced, along with the age of the protagonist, will possibly lack appeal for teenage readers – especially those who like their fantasy in the form of paranormal romance! As a junior fiction offering, however, I think it hits its mark perfectly, and primary school-aged children should find a lot to like in Rawn's novel.
With The Nightmare Within, Glen Krish shows the world what good indie publishing is all about, offering a tightly written horror novel that holds its own against the works of big name authors such as King, Koontz and Herbert. Fast-paced from beginning to end, it skilfully juggles the stories of multiple characters whose lives eventually intertwine, and provides genuine moments of violence, repulsion and sadness. It is the sign of a well-characterised horror book when the reader is dismayed by the death of a member of the ensemble cast, and I experienced such an emotion twice while buried in The Nightmare Within's e-pages.
While the novel is written using the perspectives of many characters, those that dominate the book are Maury, Kevin and, to a lesser extent, Gage. The latter is a highly sympathetic character. Devoted to his comatose daughter, it would be difficult not to hope that he will receive the substitute that he desires. The other two, however, are particularly well-drawn and developed.
When he chose to focus on a young boy as one of his major characters, Krish took the risk that he might alienate readers by either rendering Kevin as being unrealistically mature for his age or too young to be interesting. Instead, however, he capably shows the movement of Kevin from a naïve innocent to a battle-hardened survivor due to the trauma he experiences. Kevin's motivations are appropriate and his actions in keeping with those of a boy of his age, but the forced coming-of-age that is engendered by the novel's events enables him to remain of interest to Krish's adult audience.
Maury, on the other hand, is something of an antihero. While sympathetic, he is not likeable. The reader is quickly introduced to his bad deeds, and he is presented as a man who has difficulty with many human interactions. I didn't much care for Maury as a person, but very much enjoyed him as a character. Life is rarely about the extremes of good and bad, or innocent and guilty, and it's always good when novels follow suit.
The Nightmare Within is a strong addition to the horror genre, with a good mix of character development, action and destruction. In a way, it's a pity that it is currently only available as an e-book. It would fit very nicely into my horror bookshelf – perhaps somewhere near the earlier writings of Dean Koontz.
Warning: There are brief references to animal cruelty in the beginning of the book. (less)
Between The Land And The Sea is the perfect book for YA readers who enjoy paranormal fiction but are getting a little sick of vampires, shifters, demons and angels. There have been a few books published recently that focus on mermaids, but the market is nowhere near the kind of saturation-point that has been reached in hot-vampire circles. Mermaids have always appealed to me because they combine the Disney innocence of The Little Mermaid with the power and fear of the ancient Sirens, and Derrolyn Anderson has done a great job of combining both of those popular images in this first instalment of the Marina's Tales series.
Although Between The Land And The Sea involves a lot of scene-setting and character-introducing and is, by no means, all action from start to finish, Anderson's pacing is such that the reader is nonetheless tugged from one chapter to the next. Just as Marina is enticed towards the sea, so the reader is drawn into the book through a combination of likeable characters and the mystery of Marina's experiences. Anderson is a master of the slow reveal, feeding information to her audience at just the right pace to hold the reader's interest.
Marina is a likeable protagonist, even if she is probably a little too perfect for most readers to be able to identify with. I think that her travel-heavy upbringing was an inspired character choice on the part of the author, because it gives her the self-awareness and adaptability necessary to swiftly incorporate each new revelation about the mermaids and her connection to them into her world view.
Ethan is just as likeable as the sexy surfer who Marina falls for at first sight. Although his looks make him the most popular boy in school, his appeal is not a shallow one, as he is depicted as being hard-working, ambitious, down-to-earth and caring as well. By the end of the book, a few of my questions about Ethan remained unanswered, but I am sure we will learn more about him later in the series.
I also enjoyed Cruz and, in particular, the fact that Anderson allows him to be a talented fashion designer without feeling the need to make him stereotypically camp – or even to make an issue of his sexuality (one way or the other) at all. Indeed, I think that gender is dealt with very well in Between The Land And The Sea, whether in terms of Cruz's interest in fashion and manner of dressing or the representation of the mermaids as both protectors and physically powerful beings.
My only real issue with the novel was the fact that a lot of the main characters were a little too-good-to-be-true, meaning that I found it difficult to identify with any of them. Marina is beautiful, smart, talented and spoilt rotten by her honorary aunt. Cruz is an exceptionally talented designer, while Megan's abilities lie in the field of music. Even Ethan is fantastically good looking and a talented surfer. (And as for Marina's father and the prize he wins in the latter half of the book...) In some ways, the mermaids feel more realistic than the humans! But I know these things come down to personal taste and, while I might prefer my characters to be a little more ordinary, I know there are a lot of readers out there who enjoy the fantasy of characters who go beyond the lives that most of us will live.
Between The Land And The Sea is an enjoyable and entertaining novel with an exciting plot and a strong sense of location that leaves the reader feeling as though they'll need to brush sand off their clothes once they're done. I shall definitely be checking out more of Derrolyn Anderson's work.
4.5 Stars - rounded up, rather than down, for a change ;) (less)
Although Over My Head is really a sequel to Marie Lamba's What I Meant (Random House), it reads perfectly as a stand alone novel – which is good, given that I've not read the original! It's an entertaining contemporary YA offering, which has a generally light tone but nonetheless manages to deal with some very big issues in a particularly sensitive manner.
Sang is the daughter of an Indian-American (Sikh) father and an American (lapsed Catholic) mother, and this heritage informs much of the novel's plot and the issues that Sang encounters within the book's pages. Sang herself is represented as being very much American, despite her strong ties to the Indian side of her family, and much of the novel's action centres around the conflict between Sang's American sensibilities and her father's traditional Sikh values. Lamba does an excellent job, however, of ensuring that the father remains a sympathetic character, even when he is most at odds with Sang.
In fact, all of the members of Sang's family are well-drawn and pleasantly three-dimensional. The embarrassingly nicknamed Doodles felt a little young for her age, but that could well be a result of her over-protective upbringing. Hari is, at turns, caring and frustrating, much like a big brother should be, and their mother felt particularly well-developed to me. The reader is given several poignant glimpses into her own, personal story as someone who has married into a different culture.
Raina, Sang's cousin, who is visiting from India, is very likeable, although she sometimes feels more like a foil to Sang than her own person. It is her story that felt the most unfinished at the end of the novel and I would have liked to see more of her adjustment to teenage life in America and any conflict that may have existed between the world Sang was drawing her into and the values that had been instilled in her by her parents. Another sequel, perhaps!
Of the three boys who influence Sang's summer, Cameron is the most thoroughly-developed. I'm still not entirely sure what to think about him, though. As the love-interest of a fairly naïve sixteen-year-old, he makes perfect sense, but there's something about him that rubbed twice-as-old me up the wrong way from the very beginning. In contrast, I really liked Dalton and wished that we'd had the chance to see a little more of him in Over My Head. While he (understandably) becomes frustrated with Sang at times, he is kind, loyal and dependable and is a great friend to her whenever she needs it – and regardless of whether she deserves it. Team Dalton all the way.
Finally, Sang herself is wonderfully realistic. She's passionate and impulsive and sometimes thoughtless, but she has a good heart, which is always obvious, and a strong love for her family. She doesn't always get things right, but the reader is left feeling that she will learn from her mistakes and grow into someone admirable in the end.
Over My Head is a strong contemporary offering, with an interesting, multi-layered plot and a likeable cast of characters. Marie Lamba deals with cultural conflicts with warmth and sympathy, while accurately representing young love, with all its accompanying mistakes and embarrassments. A solid read. (less)
Something Witchy This Way Comes is a great escapist read. Veronica Blade has an easy style that swiftly carries the reader from start to finish and lovers of romance will greatly appreciate the will-they-won't-they tension between her two main characters.
The novel is written using alternating first-person perspectives, meaning that readers are able to see into the minds (and motivations) of both Tessa and Hayden. The up-side of this is the fact that both characters end up being well fleshed out and three-dimensional. The down-side is that sometimes I ended up wanting to knock their heads together in the hope that they'd finally realise the information that I was already party to!
I enjoyed the fact that, although Tessa is the good girl of the story, she is never presented as being a goody-goody. She makes mistakes, like most teenagers do, and she is happy to have fun and let loose every now and again. Ultimately, though, she is responsible and thoughtful and – most importantly – has the self-awareness and strength necessary to put her own needs before those of the boy she likes.
In contrast, Hayden is represented as being the consummate bad boy, and lovers of his archetype should find plenty to smile about here, from his not-so-happy background right through to his begrudging attraction to Tessa. I have a feeling that Hayden is going to end up with a lot of fans, and if you're the type of person who tends to fall for the bad boys with hearts of gold, you should probably brace yourself for a new literary crush before picking up Something Witchy This Way Comes!
Together, the two main characters have great chemistry and, indeed, it is their budding romance that forms the centrepiece to this novel, not the paranormal aspect of the plot. I was a little disappointed by this, as I very much enjoyed each new revelation about the witches' world and loved the tension of Tessa's situation, but I know that there will be many other readers who will be pleased that the paranormal action doesn't steal too much page-time away from the romance. I very much felt that Something Witchy This Way Comes is a romance lover's romance. Often, a love plot will feel like it has only been added to a book to capture a larger audience. Here, however, there is a kind of gleeful focus on every moment of sexual tension between Hayden and Tessa.
(There is quite a lot of discussion about sex in this novel, as well as scenes involving underage drinking, so I would suggest it for an older teenage audience.)
Something Witchy This Way Comes was a light and enjoyable read, which ably held my attention from start to finish. While I personally found myself wishing for a little more action and a little less romance, other readers will undoubtedly think the opposite. A promising debut from Veronica Blade. (less)
I was drawn to Breaking Fellini because it's a book about music in a sea of books about mythological creatures. But music can contain just as much magic as fantasy and M.E. Purfield has done a great job of writing a novel that fits with the music it describes.
Breaking Fellini is set in the late 1970s and depicts a New York that is struggling with a climate of unemployment and the fear surrounding the Son of Sam shootings. Amidst the poverty, however, the music scene is thriving. Disco and rock are ruling the mainstream, while the No Wave movement is beginning to turn all of the rules of blues-based music on their heads.
It is this New York that Joni moves to, and which greatly influences the feel of the novel. Purfield does not succumb to overly wordy descriptions, but there is, nonetheless, a strong sense of place and time that pervades every aspect of the story.
Breaking Fellini is a book about music, but it is also a coming-of-age story. Joni's growth as a musician echoes her growth as a girl moving into adulthood and her independence in one aspect of her life is reflected in the other. Her relationship with her father is complex and often awkward. In many senses, she is the adult, and this only becomes more evident as the book progresses.
Indeed, at times I wondered whether Joni felt a little too mature for sixteen. I wasn't a teenager in the 70s (or even born by the year in which the book is set), so it's possible that things were different then, but I can't imagine a sixteen-year-old musician being taken so seriously these days! On a similar note, I think that Breaking Fellini might actually resonate more with an adult audience than the Young Adult market, because the music scene it describes may prove more attractive to those who remember it. Certainly, there is definite crossover appeal here.
One thing I particularly enjoyed was the fact that Purfield has created a lesbian protagonist whose sexuality is secondary to her love of music. There is no romance here and no coming out process. Joni is simply a musician, daughter and friend who happens to be a lesbian as well.
Due to drug content and other adult themes, I would recommend Breaking Fellini to an older teen (and adult) audience. Strongly atmospheric – and yet firmly plot-driven – it is a clever examination of the growth of a musician and a musical movement. (less)
There has been a lot of talk recently about people being sick of love triangles in YA fiction. I'm not one of those people. The love triangle has been a staple of romance since long before it started involving vampires and werewolves, as Reinhardt herself shows with her reference to Sense and Sensibility at the end of Double Clutch. The love triangle is perpetuated in literature because it works as romantic conflict – and there should be no need for it ever to be boring if an author treats the cliché with expertise (and provides two fanciable alternatives for the protagonist to choose between)!
In Double Clutch, Liz Reinhardt does just that. In Jake and Saxon she has created two potential love interests who will charm readers just as much as they charm Brenna. Better still, there are enough similarities between the two boys that it feels feasible that Brenna should be attracted to both of them, even if Jake is generally portrayed as the bad boy gone good, while Saxon is still hanging on to his share of the bad. There's an edge to Jake that is evident underneath his politeness and chivalry, and a soft centre hidden beneath Saxon's insinuations and cigarettes.
Brenna is a likeable and interesting protagonist, even if she is a little too perfect for my liking, as is the norm when it comes to YA romance. Her beauty, creative talent and athletic prowess are important, however, to establishing the believability of the strong (and lasting) attraction that both Jake and Saxon feel towards her. For me, the best thing about Brenna is her relationship with her parents. I love it when parents in YA fiction are represented as being present and caring, even if that sometimes means the protagonist doesn't get her own way.
Despite the fact that Brenna is not yet sixteen, there is a fair amount of sexual content in Double Clutch, and I wouldn't recommend it for younger readers. The sex scenes (although other readers will not consider them to be such, given different opinions on what counts as sex) are more frank and detailed than one would usually find in a YA novel. Although they are unusually well-written – and I personally feel that sex scenes generally aren't - they will undoubtedly be a little too steamy for some younger readers.
Double Clutch is a fun read, because it feels a little bit like treating yourself to a family block of chocolate and a DVD when you've homework that you could be doing instead. It's easy to get caught up in the feeling of living in Brenna's head and world and having two boys falling over each other to gain your her favour. The boys themselves are more eloquent and more willing to talk about their feelings than any teenage boy I've ever known, but therein lies the appeal of romance!
The Moon Coin is a fantasy novel for junior to young adult readers. It boasts a richly envisioned and detailed universe and a strong plot that perfectly complements the novel's genre and setting. Although Richard Due's Moon Realm debut is long for the middle grade market, the fast moving action found in the latter three quarters of the novel should ensure that younger readers remain engaged despite its length.
In fact, one of the things I particularly enjoyed about The Moon Coin was the way that Due does not talk down to his young readers. The book employs a rich vocabulary, giving its audience opportunities to learn new words in context. Despite this, the language is not pitched too high to be age-appropriate.
Due to the vastness of the universe depicted in The Moon Coin, it is not surprising that the reader is introduced to a good number of characters within the pages of the novel. As a protagonist, Lily is certainly easy to identify with, as an outsider thrust into a fantastic realm. My difficulty lay in the fact that she seemed a little too ordinary, once shown against the more-interesting inhabitants of the Moon Realm, and I tended to be more interested by their stories than her own. I imagine, however, that she (and Jasper) will become more rounded as the series unfolds.
There is certainly no shortage of intriguing characters in the novel, from Ebb himself through to the mysterious Ember. I personally loved the Rinn; they fit right into one of my favourite fictional archetypes. In particular, I greatly enjoyed the noble Nimlinn and the dedicated Roan, and hope that they will both feature more in later Moon Ream books. For those who aren't quite as interested in giant cats, the moon of Dain provides such intriguing characters as master swordsman Dubb and the cursed Tavin.
It would not be right to review The Moon Coin without at least a brief mention of Carolyn Arcabascio's lovely illustrations. As well as illustrating the cover of the novel, she has provided images at the beginning of every chapter. They are rather wasted on my Kindle but, luckily, I was able to view them on my computer as well, and they add a great deal to Due's work. I particularly appreciated having a visual reference for the appearance of the Rinn. (That's one on the cover, for those who aren't in the know.)
While I enjoyed The Moon Coin once Lily was in the Moon Realm and I had grown accustomed to the universe, I did struggle a little to get into the novel at first. The chapters leading to the discovery of Ebb's pendant felt a little drawn out to me, and I had a little difficulty understanding all of the unusual creations within Ebb's house. It is once the setting changes, however, that Due's true abilities as a storyteller become evident, and the intricately described universe of the Moon Realm is the highlight of the book.
Young fantasy lovers should greatly enjoy The Moon Coin - and adult fans of the genre might be well-served by picking it up as well. The next book in the series, The Dragondain, is due out in 2012.(less)
Hot Ticket is an extremely fun novel for younger readers. It's been a while since I've read a book that has felt so perfectly pitched towards an audience. I would have lapped this up in upper primeary school – and loved every moment of it as an adult as well.
One of the things that makes Hot Ticket work so well is its great cast of characters. In Juliet, Tracy Marchini has created an entertaining, and yet realistic, protagonist. She is clumsy, overly-spontaneous and often thoughtless, but it is such faults that make her so easy to identify with. She's also creative, tenacious and quick to attempt to right any wrongs she may become aware of, and I think it would be difficult for any reader not to like her. She has an incredible energy that's very well portrayed.
The supporting characters are similarly well drawn. Lucy is the perfect foil to Juliet's bold nature, providing a little calm where needed. She is definitely given a personality of her own, however and, although she isn't as large on the page as her best friend is, she's very likeable nonetheless. Crammit is great as the former victim of Juliet's loud mouth turned friend (and possibly more). Any hint of romance is perfectly played out for the young audience of the book, which I definitely appreciated. I'm not a fan of junior fiction that shows kids acting like teenagers or adults when it comes to romance.
The best thing about Hot Ticket, however, is the plot. It's a mystery concerned with exactly the kinds of things that its audience cares about. It explores ideas of popularity and exclusion, of peer influence and self-esteem, and does it in a way that can't help but hold the reader's attention. There is no obvious moralising here, but there are good messages to be gleaned amongst the humour of the situations that Juliet gets herself into. Young readers will love Hot Ticket because they'll care about its storyline and will be able to fit it into their own world. They'll be able to understand Juliet's frustration and anxiety because they'll have experienced similar situations themselves.
The only negative for me was the fact that there were a few grammatical errors and typos within the text. The book wasn't full of them, by any means, but there were enough for it to be noticeable.
Despite this, I would have no hesitation in recommending Hot Ticket to young readers. It's wonderfully age-appropriate and just so much fun. (less)
Practice Cake is a light-hearted contemporary YA novel with an underlying message about growing up and discovering your worth as a woman. For some reason, I'm an absolute sucker for novels that focus on workplace settings, so I loved the idea of a book set in a bakery, even if it did make me hunger for baked goods far too much while I was reading it! Angelo's bakery is not just set-dressing, either. By the end of the novel, the reader really learns to care about the bakery and its survival.
As a protagonist, Maddie is extremely realistic. She really does feel like a young woman caught on the cusp of school and the real world. She's still trying to work out who she is and where she wants to go in life, and is easily distracted by boys in the meantime. The fact that she's still trying to work things out means that sometimes Maddie's decisions can be extremely frustrating for the reader to witness. There are a few points during the novel where I wished I had the ability to poke my head into the action and send Maddie on a different direction. It's Maddie's mistakes that make her so human, though, and they're only so frustrating because I remember making a few similar ones myself at that age!
Most of Maddie's mistakes have something to do with the boys in her life. I have to admit, I didn't really like Drew much even from the very beginning of the novel. He is super flirty and good looking, so I understood Maddie falling for him so quickly, but that flirtatious nature rubbed me up the wrong way a little. It seemed particularly frivolous in comparison to Angelo's quiet and hard-working nature. Likewise, I didn't understand what Maddie saw in her boyfriend, Parker. He seemed completely wrong for her, and didn't value her enough at all. Indeed, a good deal of Practice Cake involves Maddie putting up with boys not giving her the value and respect she deserves and I particularly enjoyed the way that Dalya Moon highlights this through Maddie's own frustration at her sister's romantic choices. It's only once Maddie grows stronger in herself that she falls into a relationship worthy of her time.
Some of the more minor characters in Practice Cake are the most memorable. Jaslene is completely over the top and yet somehow very realistic and I enjoyed the contrast between her obvious vulnerability and outward actor's ego. (Bonus marks to Moon for the matter-of-fact mentions of Jaslene's mothers.) Likewise, Roxanne is a great character who I enjoyed in all of her guises. She's not immediately likeable, but she's good people underneath.
One thing I wished, while reading Practice Cake, was that the novel had spent a little more time on Maddie's family situation. We only meet her mother at the very end of the book and it turned out that I'd made quite a few incorrect assumptions about Maddie's reasons for living with her sister. I loved that Moon created a background that supported the sisters' romantic choices and would have liked to learn a little more about it. Then again, I guess that would be a novel in itself.
Practice Cake is an enjoyable novel with a carefully constructed universe and plot. It should strike plenty of chords with young adult readers. (less)
Hushed is a tense novel that will have its readers hooked from the opening pages right through to its conclusion. It presents themes of love and loyalty and explores the aftermath of trauma and the choice to follow a particular path. While its content and focus are definitely gritty, Hushed doesn't feel unduly dark. Indeed, I came away from the book feeling almost uplifted; for every depressing or sordid occurrence, there is a helping of love or hope.
The thing that really makes Hushed is the artful depiction of its protagonist, Archer. Multiple times within the novel, Archer is referred to as a "monster", but somehow he is also extremely sympathetic and, amazingly, highly likeable. If someone were to tell me about a book with a loveable murderer, I would scoff, but that is exactly what Kelley York has produced. The reader can't help but hope that, in spite of his crimes, things will work out well for Archer.
In contrast, Vivian is very difficult to like. Although we are given reasons for her behaviour, we are also shown that there were other paths that she could have followed. There is just something about her character that made me wary from the start. Archer's devotion to her is perfectly plausible, however. She is cleverly described as just the sort of person who possesses that kind of hold over people.
Evan is sugar where Vivian is poison. He is perfectly understanding, perfectly devoted... and fairly perfect all round, for that matter. He offers the kind of unconditional care that Archer needs to start to break free of Vivian's hold over him. The difficulty I had with him as a character, however, was the fact that he mostly is shown as being a positive force in Archer's life. We don't learn as much about Evan himself as I would have liked – just glimpses of the way he fits into Archer's world.
The romance here is very nicely done, with little focus on the genders of the people involved. While there is definitely a place in YA literature for tales of coming out and the establishment of sexual identity, I think they tend to dominate the market more than they should. It was refreshing to read a book where the romance plays out much as it would with a heterosexual couple, but without ignoring the social implications of a same sex romance.
As mentioned, some of the content in Hushed is quite dark, and I would recommend it to readers from the late teens upwards. While the main characters are in their first year of university, I think that the plot and execution of the novel will endear it to adult readers as well. An engrossing and though-provoking read.(less)
The Caldecott Chronicles is a fun novella that combines two of my favourite things: the Victorian era and zombies. They actually fit together surprisingly well, due in part to the fantastic voice of R.G Bullet's protagonist, Radclyffe. As well as being full of wonderfully dry humour, Radclyffe's letters are written in a style that feels surprisingly authentic, given the subject matter of the book.
Radclyffe is portrayed very much as the lord of the manor, although his character grows and becomes less snobbish as the book progresses. Always very aware of his position in society, he is also taken to brief reminiscence about his military past. The epistolary style of the novella cleverly allows for Radclyffe to award the reader a glimpse of personal and family history without an overwhelming backstory.
The development of Saffy's character is limited a little by The Caldecott Chronicles's strong focus on Radclyffe's perspective, but the reader is nonethless shown a spirited and interesting girl who seems to thrive in the unusual conditions into which she is thrust. In age, nature and class, she is the perfect foil for Radclyffe and adds a good deal of life to what might otherwise be a narrative-heavy book.
The undead themselves are wonderfully described. Squeamish readers may shudder a little at Radclyffe's accounts of shattered bones and splattering bodies, but I personally enjoyed the particularly gruesome detailing of the decay the creatures have undergone. What can I say – I grew up on horror!
Although this is the first of several 'excerpts' from Radclyffe's letters, the story is left at an appropriate point and doesn't leave the reader feeling disgruntled. They will want to read on, but this is due to the clever voice and fun universe, not to a frustrating cliff-hanger.
Overall, The Caldecott Chronicles is a quick read and an enjoyable one. Recommended for lovers of zombies in unexpected places.(less)
Notes to Self is a moving and yet enjoyable novel about a teenager's slow recovery from the traumatic incident that completely changed her life. While the content of the book is emotive and sometimes confronting, as Robin deals with the intellectual and social consequences of her injury, it is never cloying nor melodramatic. Robin is not represented as a victim to pity, or the archetypical Brave Invalid, but rather as a very normal teenager who is just trying to learn about who she is. In this way, Notes to Self is as much a coming-of-age story as it is the tale of Robin's slow recovery.
Robin's voice is cleverly crafted by Avery Sawyer. Her confusion upon regaining consciousness and the intellectual struggles of the ensuing weeks are very well portrayed. I'm not an expert on acquired brain injuries, so can't attest to the accuracy of Robin's experiences, but they certainly felt very real and it seemed like a lot of research had informed Notes to Self's plot and characters.
It would be very easy for Emily to remain little more than a name, given the circumstances described in the novel, but Sawyer does an excellent job of fleshing out her character. At first, it is a little hard to understand what Robin sees in a best friend who encourages her to do unsafe things but, through flash backs, the reader is introduced to Emily's supportive side, and thus becomes a lot more invested in her waking from her coma.
In contrast, Reno is likeable from the moment he enters the text. A little bit nerdy and a whole lot caring and thoughtful, he is one of my favourite types of Potential Love Interest – the best friend, seen in a new light. He is the perfect steadying influence for Robin, while she's in the process of dealing with everything that has happened, and I can see him being a firm favourite with Sawyer's readers.
Notes to Self is a strong novel about a topic that is rarely focussed upon in the world of YA fiction – disability, injury and illness – and it explores this topic in a thoughtful and sensitive manner without ever feeling too much like an 'issues' piece. Robin is a likeable and sympathetic character whose personal journey will appeal to many, and Sawyer has produced a tight and engaging novel that was a pleasure to read.(less)
Marie Lamba has proven herself to be a very proficient author of realistic young adult fiction, with her first novel, What I Meant... being published...moreMarie Lamba has proven herself to be a very proficient author of realistic young adult fiction, with her first novel, What I Meant... being published by Random House in 2007 and its sequel, Over My Head being much enjoyed by me when I reviewed it for my blog last year. I was intrigued, therefore, to discover that her next offering would be a paranormal offerings. There are no vampires or werewolves here, however. Instead, Drawn explores a connection across the centuries with a romantic interest who appears in Michelle's life like a ghost from the distant past.
Michelle is a likeable protagonist, whom readers should find it very easy to identify with. Her isolation in her new home makes her immediately sympathetic and her determination to ensure Christopher's safety is admirable. More importantly, she doesn't fall into that all-too-common paranormal trap of losing herself in order to be with her love interest. She is willing to make sacrifices for Christopher, but will not stand for too many of his dated ideas about women.
Indeed, the best thing about Christopher, in my opinion, was the fact that he isn't just a modern character in historical dress. He does not react to Michelle like someone from her own era and nor is his behaviour modern – especially when it comes to modesty! Lamba prevents him from ever seeming boorish, however, even at his most unrefined, which makes Michelle's feelings for him believable – and will probably ensure he earns a lot of reader fans as well.
For me, however, the most fascinating character was William, son of the town's most influential man. His depiction had so many different facets to it and his nature was so complex that I couldn't help but be intrigued by him. He's never entirely likeable – but that's rather the point! In contrast, I wished that we had seen a little more of Constance. I found her character very interesting and a good foil to William and I would have liked to see how things worked out for her.
With a little help from Back To The Future, Drawn looks at the troubles associated with time travel to the past, in terms of changing the present, but also deals with the difficulties of a a romance where the two lovers' worlds and lives are not just separated by states or oceans, but rather by time itself. While I thought that the novel's ending was possibly a little too perfect (or perhaps that should just be enormously lucky!), I enjoyed the way that Lamba presented Michelle's struggle to balance family ties and romantic love and thought her conclusions were very appropriate.
A clever and enjoyable paranormal romance with a love affair that fans of the genre are sure to swoon over.
1. It is set in a well-constructed and interesting future universe. Marissa Meyer has given thought to the history of...moreFive Things I Loved About Cinder
1. It is set in a well-constructed and interesting future universe. Marissa Meyer has given thought to the history of her world and to how this history influences the present time and the fears and actions of those who inhabit it.
2. It uses the Cinderella fairytale as inspiration, not as a blueprint. Often, retellings are just that, with no real creativity or innovation involved. Here, you can see the elements of the original story, but they're used in a way that feels authentic within the setting.
3. It has a strong female lead. Cinder has plenty of insecurities, but she just gets on with her life despite these and despite her less-than-wonderful living situation. She's a talented mechanic, devoted to the people she cares about and selfless when it matters, rather than as her standard.
4. It's entertaining and well-plotted. The pacing is good and there is a strong mix of characters who do not feel like unaltered archetypes. Better still, the romantic lead has a lot more going for him than his looks - and he treats Cinder with respect.
5. It's about a CYBORG OMG. Cyborgs are essentially my science fiction thing.
Two Things I Didn't Love About Cinder
1. It contains a "twist" that is readily apparent almost from the very beginning of the book. Regardless of whether Meyer wanted her readers to be aware of this before Cinder, I always feel a bit duped when the big reveal is something I've known all along.
2. It is not a fully-contained novel, but rather the first quarter of a complete story. This is my biggest gripe with Cinder. I know series are the big thing right now, but every novel within a series should be able to be read and enjoyed as a book in its own right. I didn't feel that with Cinder. It's good enough that I will read Scarlett anyway, but the lack of any closure is annoying nonetheless.
The Duplicate was introduced to me as a story that had been inspired by Carrie and Frankenstein. With that first impression, I just had to read it! Th...moreThe Duplicate was introduced to me as a story that had been inspired by Carrie and Frankenstein. With that first impression, I just had to read it! The author, Helen Fitzgerald, refers to it as her "short, dark, weird one" and I was pleased to find that both the literary references and the promise of weirdness were supported.
Although written for the young adult market, The Duplicate should prove equally pleasing to adult readers. What teenagers will consider an entertaining read, will likely provoke greater thought in an older audience. There are many ethical and philosophical questions raised here, albeit in a black and quirky manner, and the things that are left unsaid nonetheless stick with the reader for a while.
My introduction to Fitzgerald's work was Amelia O'Donohue is So Not a Virgin, which wowed me with its understated style and ability to convey character and plot without shoving them in the reader's face. The Duplicate goes even further, with much of the story being implied, rather than outwardly told, especially in the sections told from the perspective of Barbara. It's a stylistic choice that I'm always a big fan of, and it works particularly well with the science fiction edge to the novel.
I think the key similarity to King's Carrie lies, not in the depiction of an unpopular girl who is tormented by the popular crowd at school (because, let's face it, that's a common theme in YA and real life), but rather in Barbara herself. It's easy to feel sympathy for her as a character, but also easy to dislike her. It's not that she's weird: that's actually a mark in her favour. Rather, it's her overwhelming determination to buy the favours of the very people who make her life hell, changing her appearance and losing her dignity in the process.
In comparison, Rowena is likeable, surprisingly well-adjusted and, well, normal. The build-up of tension during her section of The Duplicate is very cleverly done, to the point of me being on the edge of my seat expecting a ghastly murder to eventuate at any moment! Sometimes I find dual protagonists unnecessary and a little irritating, but here they are used authentically, and I think Rowena's voice forms a positive contrast to that of Barbara. I don't think the book would have been nearly as effective if it had been told solely from the latter's perspective.
The Duplicate is a clever, engrossing story, with a concept that I loved. The ending is fantastic, and my imagination is still running wild, thinking about what happened after the final page. A quick read, but an enjoyable one.