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Kat (Netherlands)

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The Spectacular Now
The Spectacular Now
by Tim Tharp
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Spectacular Now, 1 Nov. 2014
This review is from: The Spectacular Now (Paperback)
Despite the fact that The Spectacular Now is also a movie, I’d heard of neither the book nor the movie when I randomly came across it whilst looking for new YA realistic fiction books. And it was only when I heard that it touched on teenage alcoholism that it actually got my attention. I’m always on the look out for realistic fiction that covers different or less often written about subjects and that’s the main reason why I picked it up.

Sutter Keely is apparently the life of the party. And this is where my first issue came jumping and screaming into the spotlight – I didn’t understand him as a character. I didn’t get why everyone liked him, why he was supposedly everyone’s best friend and, most importantly, why he is considered a hero. Sure, he’s snarkily amusing, rather cool and unbothered by the plethora of issues that surround his life, but he wasn’t the type of character that I would either be drawn to or fascinated by.

And perhaps I missed a screamingly obvious point somewhere along the way, but his repeated references to his kinda-ex-girlfriends weight just really rubbed me up the wrong way. I’m not sure if it was intended to show that he was open minded, or that society is accepting of fat girls, but none of it felt real or believable to me.

The subject of Sutter’s alcoholism is glaring – he’s continually drinking – but there’s no real consequence to it, and that’s probably what disappointed me the most. Other than one particular intervention incident, it felt so glossed over that it made me quite angry – it almost felt romanticised.

The Spectacular Now IS different from many YA realistic fiction novels, and in that way it is certainly memorable. It’s just a rather big issue for me that it was memorable for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps for some readers Sutter is likeable, the situation is taken as seriously as it should have been, and there’s some kind of morality lurking in it’s pages. In the end, it was totally underwhelming for me – and it’s a shame as there was so much potential in the plot.

Zelah Green: Who Says I'm a Freak?
Zelah Green: Who Says I'm a Freak?
by Vanessa Curtis
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Zelah Green, 1 Nov. 2014
I picked up Zelah Green on a complete whim. I’m a total sucker for realistic fiction, and OCD is a topic that I always feel drawn to for some reason. Coupled with the fact that it’s set in the UK, I was always going to have to read this one.

Although it’s aimed the younger end of the YA target age group, and therefore perhaps some of the issues are watered down a little, I thoroughly enjoyed the way that Curtis created her characters. Their problems are real, their personalities are big and distinct, and I loved all of them – whether they were lovable or not.

Zelah is obsessed with cleaning. She also has a few other little rituals to start and end the day. But it’s not really a big deal – her stepmother obviously disapproves but can’t do anything about it, and her best friend totally gets it. It’s only when her stepmother sends her to hospital that she really stops to look at what she is doing – but only because she has to.

What I particularly liked about Zelah is that although she has a lot going on, she never really loses her sense of humour, nor her sense of self. She attempts to relate to the other people in the house where she ends up for treatment as much as possible, even if she doesn’t quite understand why she is there – she doesn’t get bratty or resentful, and is really very open to other people.

Zelah Green is a super-quick read (I read the whole thing in less than two hours) but it’s also quite impactful – all of the characters begin to confront their problems and start to work towards a better life, and although there are some cute moments, there are also some very serious moments.

Perhaps the one and only turn off was the Happily Ever After ending – it almost felt a little condescending and stereotypical. However if you don’t always like your contemporary fiction to be really gritty and dark, this may just be a book you’ll love.

My Life After Now
My Life After Now
by Jessica Verdi
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars My Life After Now, 1 Nov. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: My Life After Now (Paperback)
Whenever I see a YA book that is a little different or unusual from the norm, I can’t help but be attracted to it. My Life After Now is exactly that type of book, because it deals with an issue that many of us are probably guilty of not even thinking about in 2014. And although the synopsis doesn’t reveal what it’s about, it’s not exactly a spoiler but I’m going to try and avoid it nevertheless.

Lucy is a character that’s easy to feel sympathy for and an affinity with – she makes just one bad judgement call and it changes her life completely, and her journey to come to terms with her condition, to break the news to her family and to try and move forward with her life are so well written it was almost impossible to put the book down.

My Life After Now has one of the best parent-teen relationship I’ve encountered in YA for a long time – as well as the fact she has two fathers, they are prominent in Lucy’s story and are very individual characters with fantastic personalities. There are also a whole bunch of secondary characters that support Lucy in dealing with her condition – her two best friends and her romantic interest (although the romance thankfully isn’t the main focus of the plot), her school nemesis and her dropkick ex – all of them are very distinct and loveable or frustrating (or both). In fact, all of the characters in My Life After Now feel like real people – they have their flaws but their personalities are so distinctly different.

My Life After Now deals with a difficult subject, but Verdi does a good job in covering all the bases, from Lucy’s parents’ reaction, her relationship with different people in her life, and her actions all felt completely plausible and realistic. If you like contemporaries that cover slightly unusual subjects with a strong parental influence (which, let’s be honest can be quite rare in YA), I definitely recommend My Life After Now.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children Book 1)
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children Book 1)
Price: £4.79

4.0 out of 5 stars Miss Peregrine, 1 Nov. 2014
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar children reads like a fairy tale – a dark, spooky story combined with curious, mysterious photographs that took me a little by surprise. I went into this one uncharacteristically blind – normally I’m all over a synopsis, but for some reason although I was very much aware of the book, I didn’t really know what it was about.

Jacob was incredibly close to his grandfather and as a child was enchanted by his tales of growing up in a remote orphanage populated by children with curious and varied abilities. This was the first thing I loved about Miss Peregrine – the closeness between Jacob and his grandfather really stood out. I love family relationship dynamics, and it very much reminded me of how close I was to my grandmother as a little girl.

After his grandfather’s untimely death, which Jacob struggles to deal with, he travels to the island where his grandfather grew up in an attempt to get some closure by finding out more about his time at the orphanage. Although not a great deal happens in the first part of the plot, it was more than enough to keep my attention, because I really really wanted to know more about the children in the pictures.

Jacob is a bit of an odd character – he doesn’t seem to have any particular personality and is a pretty generic YA character in some ways, but his distance from the real world actually translates quite well into the plot as he doesn’t have a great deal of difficulty suspending belief.

The secondary characters were a lot of fun, but I did find them a little numerous in the beginning and although Riggs refers back to their key characteristics frequently, I was still confused as to who was who and what their place in the story was at times.

I enjoyed Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children more than I thought I initially would – although there are slower parts in the plot it kept my attention pretty consistently, and I loved that the ending was so perfectly paced. It was short enough to feel like a climax but not so rushed that I didn’t feel satisfied.

It’s a book for lovers of fantasy and fairy tales with a darker vibe, and it is one of the most unique books I’ve read in a while. I’m going to try and read Hollow City without knowing what the blurb says and hopefully it’s going to be just as much of a success for me.

The Merciless
The Merciless
Price: £7.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Merciless, 1 Nov. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Merciless (Kindle Edition)
The synopsis of The Merciless got me curious, but it was the physical book that actually made me pick it up and read it as soon as I took it out of the packaging. It’s a hardback, without a dust jacket, bright pink and deckled edged – it practically screamed at me to open it, and once I did, I was pretty much hooked.

Sofia is an experienced new girl, and has perfected the art of slipping seamlessly into a new school. But she unexpectedly finds herself part of the popular crowd and although not completely comfortable, she’s so expert at not making waves she just goes along for the ride. I’m a little ambivalent as to how I feel about her as a character – I didn’t particularly like her, nor dislike her. The disadvantage of The Merciless is that there isn’t a massive amount of initial character development, so I wasn’t particularly invested in them.

What Ms. Vega does in The Merciless however, is write a pretty disturbing plot – it’s pretty damn scary and downright addictive, despite the fact that a few times even I, the gore loving horror addict, internally flinched at some of the things that go down inside the inside the house. In that respect, it’s a compelling plot, but it’s also one that I wasn’t entirely convinced of, especially at the end. It just felt like there should have been something MORE, but I can’t really elaborate without giving away major parts of the story.

However, the first thing I did when I finished was try and find out when the next book will be published, not just because it ends on the most horrible of cliffhangers, but I’m so intrigued with where the story goes next.

Overall The Merciless has a lot of great points for horror lovers, and it’s a very quick, engrossing read. Definitely not for the faint hearted but the storyline and Ms. Vega’s twisted imagination promise a lot more to come…

Kiss of Broken Glass
Kiss of Broken Glass
Price: £4.50

4.0 out of 5 stars Kiss of Broken Glass, 1 Nov. 2014
I’ve never been the hugest fan of books written in verse, but I must have overlooked that fact when I requested Kiss of Broken Glass. However, it’s one of those happy oversights, because apart from being extremely good, Kiss of Broken Glass has opened up my mind to another style of writing.

Set over just seventy two hours, Kiss of Broken Glass tells of Kenna’s experience in psychiatric ward after being caught at school cutting herself. Although I’ve read a fair amount of YA realistic fiction, this is the first book I have read about self-harm, and it really opened up my eyes.

Although it’s difficult to get to know a character over such a short period, it was very easy to feel her pain and confusion. Her home life isn’t exactly happy, she compares herself constantly to her half-sister and it’s obvious that she has a lack of self confidence, which made me feel very sympathetic towards her. The reasons behind her cutting and the obvious pain she was in felt very realistic – even though it’s not something I have experienced or been exposed to, Kenna’s story made logical sense – obviously Kendrick has done her research.

The upside of a story being set over such a short period is the intensity – it begns with a bang and completely sucked me in – if it wasn’t for work the next morning I would definitely ahve read it one sitting. Kuderick has an obvious talent for writing, and Kiss of Broken Glass is an impressive debut.

Kiss of Broken Glass is intense, moving and a book that I could completely lose myself in. Although the subject matter is dark and could have been difficult to relate to, I was suitably impressed.

In a Handful of Dust
In a Handful of Dust
Price: £6.99

5.0 out of 5 stars In a Handful of Dust, 1 Nov. 2014
In a Handful of Dust is a powerful, character-driven follow up to Not a Drop to Drink. I do disagree that it is a companion novel, for me it read far more like a sequel, but it was definitely sequel-worthy.

Lucy has grown up since the events of Not a Drop to Drink, and Lynn has become more and more like her own mother. Although their personalities are very different, right from the beginning, the strength of their relationship is obvious, and is a combination of mother-daughter but also sisterly love. It’s a dynamic that I loved, and what will stand out most for me when I think back on In a Handful of Dust. Lynn has become more sarcastic and mistrusting, but she has also adopted the dedication to those that she loves that her own mother had.

It is also very different from Not a Drop to Drink plotwise – whereas NaDtD was more focused on building relationships in a difficult yet static environment, IaHoD is a journey – the relationship is already well established so the focus is more on intimacy, support, love and sacrifice.

What I had hoped for was that In a Handful of Dust would expand on the world-building of Not a Drop to Drink, but it is rather limited. However, I actually didn’t care – and for someone who is all about the world-building, it’s a real testament to the strength of this novel that although there are still some questions regarding what happened to the wider world, it didn’t disappoint me that it wasn’t there.

There’s a rather western feel to this book, but that shouldn’t put anyone off. I could draw comparisons to a certain famous post-apocalyptic journey book, but I don’t think that’s fair as In a Handful of Dust stands out on it’s own due to the strength and depth of the characters.

As in Not a Drop to Drink, McGinnis does some very brave things with key characters, and it’s just another reason why I enjoyed this book so very much – as with the first, it’s a refreshing angle for a YA novel and it stands out from the slew of post-apocalyptic and dystopain novels because it is so brave and different.

Price: £3.98

4.0 out of 5 stars Blackbird, 1 Nov. 2014
This review is from: Blackbird (Kindle Edition)
Blackbird took me completely by surprise, in the very best of ways. The opening scene sets the feeling for the whole book – mysterious and intense, and it pretty much never lets up from beginning to end. It’s been a long long time since I read a book written in second-person narrative, and not because I specifically avoid them, they just don’t seem that prevalent in the types of books I read. In Blackbird however it works almost flawlessly because it’s so easy to connect the narrative style to the plot line.
Perhaps the only downside to Blackbird being written in second-person narrative is that it’s more difficult to connect with the main character because it’s assumed that you know yourself. On the flip side however, the MC doesn’t know herself or her past, so it does really fit with the plot.
There are a few flips in perspective that shift to third-person narration, and they are perfectly placed to offset the intensity of the second-person and also to give little glimpses of the plot from different sides, and I really appreciated the insight that I gained with each one.
I want to say so much about Blackbird’s plot, but it would be a minefield of spoilers so I’m just going to say that I thought the mystery element was fantastically done – I didn’t see anything coming until it was literally being spelled out for me, and it kept me reading because the twists were so bloody addictive. The plot the mystery is based around is also fascinating – and I’ll definitely be reading the next book because I have to know what happens next. The ending is indeed a cliffhanger, and quite a brutal one at that.
There is a lot jammed into the 250-ish pages of Blackbird, but it’s so readable – I could have easily devoured it in one sitting, and it completely held my attention the whole way through. The action is non-stop, the mystery is hard to predict and although it’s hard to get to know the characters, at times I actually did feel like I WAS the MC myself. I’ll definitely be waiting impatiently for the next book – I’m so curious about where Carey will take the story next, and what surprises will be lurking.

The Darkest Hour: A Novel
The Darkest Hour: A Novel
Price: £3.66

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Darkest Hour, 1 Nov. 2014
When I think about World War II, it’s hard to imagine any other outcome than the Allies winning. But in The Darkest Hour, Tony Schumacher imagines the opposite – that Germany invaded England, and continued their persecution of the Jewish people, using the British themselves to help ostracize, round up and deport them to the European continent. It’s a shocking, and difficult idea to accept, but The Darkest Hour is scarily convincing in it’s imagination.

John Rossett is the damaged hero – his family are dead, he himself suffered greatly during the war, and now he finds himself working for the SS. Outwardly he doesn’t believe that anything terrible is happening to the Jewish people he works to round up and deport back to the European continent, but he obviously has strong suspicions. Despite the fact he was a rather closed character, I found it very easy to like John Rossett. He still retains a strong sense of right and wrong, even if he doesn’t always act immediately on his feelings, and I really liked that he had doubts and changed his mind at certain times – it made him more human than if he had been completely sure and confident.

The Darkest Hour also delves into the idea that there would be a resistance in Britain as well, and it’s all very convincingly explained and written, even if some of the lines between right and wrong are also blurred by the resistance themselves.

My favourite part of The Darkest Hour however, was the relationship between Rossett and Jacob, the young Jewish boy he finds hiding in a house that has recently been emptied by the Nazis. As they spend more time together, their relationship grows stronger, and more is revealed about Rossett’s own past – I loved the layers that Schumacher had written into the characters.

Perhaps my one and only real issue with The Darkest Hour was there is a relationship formed between Rossett and another secondary character quite late in the book that felt a bit awkward and rushed. I didn’t quite feel their connection to each other, especially considering the risks that were being taken.

The pacing of The Darkest Hour is quite gradual. Schumacher spends a lot of time setting up the story, exploring various characters and scenarios, all whilst subtly ratcheting up the stakes for the characters and the pace of the plot. By the last quarter of the book, I was in full unputdownable mode, and it wasn’t a disappointment.

If an alternative history book sounds like your cup of tea, I can definitely recommend The Darkest Hour. It’s scarily convincing, with characters that it’s impossible not to care about, and a storyline that really made me think.

the mortis
the mortis
Price: £1.50

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Mortis, 1 Nov. 2014
This review is from: the mortis (Kindle Edition)
As I sit here writing my review of the The Mortis, I’m incredibly conflicted. On one hand, there are so many things about this book that I found absolutely fascinating – the premise, the setting, the ideas, and yet some things that I found really, well, awkward.

Although the exact location of the story is never really disclosed, by picking up on some clues in the story I’m pretty certain that it was set in Madagascar – which in itself is pretty cool for a post-apocalyptic novel, which are normally set somewhere far more generic or familiar. There’s a fancy hotel complex, jungle, ocean and some truly fascinating backdrops – it’s pretty much any holiday-maker’s worst nightmare after everything goes to pot. The plot is also interesting, in that a mysterious disease breaks out that doesn’t kill people and it’s definitely not zombies in the traditional sense – it’s much more mental than physical. But that is also one of the reasons that stopped me loving The Mortis, coupled with a gap between outbreak and the majority of the story – I felt like I was missing context and build-up.

Focusing on two main characters, husband and wife Park and Lee, who are on vacation when the other tourists start to act strangely, The Mortis is primarily a survival story – and is equal parts character and plot driven. Sadly, the characters fell a little flat for me – there’s next to no information about their backgrounds, no personality and a distinct lack of chemistry. And yes, they are in an incredibly stressful, uncertain situation, so I wasn’t expecting romance and unicorns, but I did want them to have some kind of connection to each other, either positive or negative. Rather, it felt almost mechanical – and not even in the survival sense that all the other priorities fell understandably to the wayside – simply that I couldn’t imagine them as real people, and that stopped me from forming any kind of emotional attachment.

The Mortis is told through the perspectives of both Park and Lee, but not alternating – Park narrates the first half, and Lee the second, which meant that I got to see events through both their eyes, but it didn’t feel like they had particularly distinctive voices – for the most part they could have been interchanged and it’s possible that I wouldn’t have even noticed.

What The Mortis lacks in characterisation, the pacing goes a long way towards making up for. Despite the gap between outbreak and the start of their survival, there’s very little down time, and some seriously freaky things happening. Despite my love of fast pacing, it’s almost a little overwhelming at times – and although the synopsis insinuates that C„lo plays a large part in the story, far more time is spent in the wilderness and the hotel complex.

A unique setting, fast plot and interesting premise certainly held my attention, the atmospheric yet distant writing style was memorable, however the coldness of the characters and the lack of more information on the disease and it’s wider effect left me feeling rather undecided about The Mortis, yet incredibly curious about Jonathan R. Millers work.

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