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We Were Liars
We Were Liars
by E. Lockhart
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An imperfect family that keeps its secrets close., 9 May 2016
This review is from: We Were Liars (Paperback)
Our protagonist, Cadence Sinclair (Cady), along with her same-age cousins Mirren and Johnny, spend every summer of their childhoods at Beechwood Island, the private island that Cady’s grandfather owns near Cape Cod off the coast of Massachusetts. One day, Gat, Johnny’s step-brother, joins them, and he captures Cady’s heart. There are also, Granddad, the three mothers, Penny, Carrie, Beth, and younger siblings. Gat is the interloper, the outsider, the boy of colour with a capital C.

The Sinclairs are ‘old money’ and all that connotes: having privilege, beauty, and thinking themselves a cut above the rest. However, all of this doesn’t make for perfect lives, or made-in-heaven marriages for the mothers, or the best way to perpetuate their riches. But that would be telling.

Summer 15 was a crucial year, the year that everything changed. The source of the mystery for Cady, and hence the reader. The turning point of the story is the secret around 15-year-old Cady being found alone and half-naked in a sheltered bay, with a head wound and memory loss. E. Lockhart’s voice also keeps the reader hooked. The poetry, short sentences, similes, fairy tales – all make for an unusual voice. I, for one, was hooked.

I didn’t see the reveal happening. Alongside Granddad facing dementia, the intolerance for people who are not of their privileged class, the shopping trips, the endless trays of food and drink served by pliant servants, created a kind of haze.

The reveal was stunning, bringing out emotions I hadn’t experienced from reading a book in a long time. Would I, as the reader, have ended the story the same way? No. Then this is what makes for a beguiling story of an imperfect teenager in an imperfect family that keeps its secrets close. No comeuppance for anyone of them for that would be telling. That’s I guess the part that grates, particularly in a YA novel.

by Holly Bourne
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Needed more chemistry, 3 May 2016
This review is from: Soulmates (Paperback)
The idea behind this novel, teenagers falling in love and finding they're Soul Mates, had promise. But it fell short in my view. Very short

The story needed actual chemistry between the leads, more likeable characters, and a plot line. There was none that I could tell, other than a mystical experiment that took up less than 15 percent of the book. What there was, was hokey, and lacked both credibility and suspense.
I could not finish Soul Mates. It was mostly about the lack of plot and the voice, more that of a child than a thoughtful teen, a teen with a story worth telling.

It was also about the obvious statements, as if every obvious thought had to be expressed. Like going to bed and falling asleep. [You don't say!* ] Or that the sun rose in the morning as it has a habit of doing. Really?!

I try to finish the books I start but I could not in this case.

Silence is Goldfish
Silence is Goldfish
by Annabel Pitcher
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £5.97

4.0 out of 5 stars Silence as a way of protest., 25 April 2016
This review is from: Silence is Goldfish (Hardcover)
Tess Turner is 15. Despite having loving parents, she has the same pains and feelings of inadequacy as every other teenager; until that is, she peeks at her father’s computer screen, and her world is turned upside down. What do they say about not spying or eavesdropping, or you will sorely regret it? Well, every one of Tess’ self-professed inadequacies came to light in her own mind: her weight, height, looks, not least her square jaw, which she regards as being unflattering. (Other teen authors talk about square jaws in flattering terms.)

Then, all the differences, both physical and emotional, between she and her loved-up parents come to light in her teenage head, and drive a huge chasm in the filial relationship.

Silence is golden, but in this case, silence is goldfish, for the author’s authorly imaginative reasons. And it works. We have a teen novel that turns on the foundation of the protagonist seeing words she was not meant to see, and building a mountain of stories in her head about them, on which she takes the actions that form the narrative of this 363-page novel.

There were episodes from the 25% to 75 % points of the novel where the repetitions of Tess’ personal self put-downs, bullying episodes and those words, forbidden to her eyes, made a soggy middle. Yet, Annabel Pitcher’s voice made me turn the pages to find out what Tess did do, and how it all ended up. And it was a satisfying ending.

Tess is unique in Young Adult literature. She is not a swan who thinks she is an ugly duckling. The author lets us think she is an ugly duckling. She does not hanker for the hot guy, like the other girls do. These things help give the story its pulling power. What I wished was for Tess to have more backbone. But then the story is not written by me. The author can do whatever she wants, and she has done so, very well for the most part.

The humour that went with the goldfish was laugh-out-loud in cases. And the Jack versus Jack as father was poignant. Two sides of the spectrum in a novel is rare, and this is what makes “Silence is Goldfish” enjoyable.
Now to the best part. 17-year-old Henry Richardson is one of my favourite teen characters in Young Adult books, ever. Not only the best-looking boy in the world, but also wise in an old-head-on-young-shoulders kind of way, empathetic, not frightened by silences, aware of the world and of its shortcomings but not in a didactic way. In a ‘I am a vulnerable 17 year-old, and I am trying to make sense of my place in the world’ way. And he is clean-thinking. Move over Edward Cullen.

The Enchanted Island
The Enchanted Island
Offered by Audible Ltd

3.0 out of 5 stars Enchanted or not?, 10 April 2016
This is another book by Ellie O'Neill that has magical realism at its core.

Maeve O'Brien is a modern city girl, who had more means than her mother's generation to get into overdraft, and as a twenty-something, she uses them all. A bunch of credit cards on online and store purchases is still not enough, however. So Maeve makes a bad choice. A very bad choice.

For Maeve is also extremely vain, and doesn't social media give her numerous opportunities to showcase her looks. Which must be maintained. At a cost.

Ireland in a recession after the global financial crisis is portrayed well. The threat of joblessness and the corporate politics in Dublin feel very real, right down to dirty tactics for climbing the corporate ladder.

In contrast, Hy Brasil, a little magical isle, is lovingly depicted. Ellie seems to miss her beloved Ireland.

There is a mystery about the island, its resources and most of all its alienating, unfriendly people. Maeve's task places her at odds with the island's inhabitants, a perfect plot device, and page turner.

Though there is much repetition from one chapter to the next, Ellie's conversational style of writing, and the suspense about the island, keeps one interested. The humour is less so here than in Reluctantly Charmed.

There are a few quibbles. There is inane detail, eg repetitive tellings about making tea and getting to sleep. And Maeve's gorgeousness. But mostly, it seems yet again, the author is reluctant to make a call on the turning point of the whole story. I won't give any spoilers away. But who is the banshee? The story would have been much enhanced by a resolution. What makes the isle tick? Is there magic? What's the source?

There's a place and time at the end of a fantasy book where an author has to make a call. Yet again, Ellie O'Neill has fallen just short in her world building. To have built it would have created a more powerful magical novel.

What was good was the love interest, Killian. And some of the characters were idiosyncratic and eccentric.

An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes, Book 1)
An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes, Book 1)
by Sabaa Tahir
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Relentless, 25 Mar. 2016
Seventeen-year-old Laia is a Scholar, whose domestic life with her grandparents and brother is turned upside down early in the novel. Her life path is shattered when she fails to save her brother, Darin, or follow him to his fate, but runs away as he instructs her to do. Laia finds the Resistance, which she is determined Darin joined, even though he had repeatedly told her he hadn’t. Their parents, the head of the Resistance, were killed by the enemy, who rule the Empire in a brutal fashion under their Emperor. It is to release her brother that Laia is sent as a spy to the vicious school, Blackcliff, where the Empire’s soldiers are trained.

The book is told in Laia’s and Elia Veturius’ voices in alternate chapters. Where Laia is weak, scared, passive and receptive to every horror that is perpetuated on her, Elia has been trained at Blackcliff as a ruthless soldier since he was five years of age. For him, it was either fight or die since he was brought to the school, where most of the story is set.

But this is no Heathcliff and brooding castle. Nor is it Hogwarts, a school where innocence meets sorcery, and good wins over evil. And it isn’t Mockingjay, where intellect can outwit evil intent.

That was my problem with the novel. It was relentless physical abuse and torture, even meted out to a child near the beginning. It depicts sadism, where the victim has no recourse, no ability to use his or her brains or brawn to come out on top.

All Laia does is accept timidly, if not willingly, the physical harm dished out to her. Where is the noble and firm mind-set bent on outsmarting the vagaries of a brutal, sadistic Commandant? There is none. For Elias, the Mask, with the best martial training and best swords in the Empire, can do nothing but commit murder, with the only excuse being it was to save his life.

There is no storyteller’s or reader’s delight in telling us of a poetic justice, or revenge by plotting or even by chance. No, this is a story where the power is held at the top, and the book’s purpose is not to overturn that power, or to turn the tables on the torturers, or even to show that good can win over evil. For every good person bends her or his will to the purpose of the Empire, so murders even of kindred souls are committed in the name of the better end.

And both Laia and Elias are told by an augur, one near the beginning and one near the end, that he or she is an ember in the ashes, a person who will burn things up. To what better end? Did the augurs get it wrong when they foretold of the “greatest emperor” and of the empire being “made whole”? It seems so to this reader who finished the last page.

The author’s attempt to hold the augurs responsible for the way things turned out at the end certainly wasn’t how the plot played out, either during or at the end of the final scenes. It all seemed like a lot of good luck for the perpetrators, finding the resources to conduct what they did without being found out. It didn’t seem like it was assisted or created by a bigger force than them. And it didn’t feel satisfying or like poetic justice. Instead it was just a plot outcome. I for one am not much interested in reading the sequel.

Reluctantly Charmed
Reluctantly Charmed
by Ellie O'Neill
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.04

5.0 out of 5 stars Want to see more of Pauda O'Shea!, 20 Mar. 2016
This review is from: Reluctantly Charmed (Paperback)
There are many good-looking men in this witty Popular Fiction (like Bridget Jones) cum Fantasy story, set in Ireland. Kate McDaid has a lot of eye candy to pore over. There’s her friend and colleague, Matt, both at the bottom the heap of copy writers at a large Irish advertising agency. There’s Jim, who reminded me of Jim Morrison of the Doors. And finally, there’s big Hugh Delany, an agency client. Another main attraction of the show is the town of Knockamee itself, which is painted with authorly brush strokes in attractive designs, colours and textures, and its inhabitants.

The other women are sprinkled like sugar, except two who feature alongside Kate: Maura ni Ghaora with the delightful Irish name and quirky nature, and Kate’s hateful colleague Marjorie. The wonder couples are Kate’s parents and Mavis and Martin of the pub, who are fleshed out as characters with humour to boot. Lest we forget the main reason for the novel, there’s the enigmatic Red Hag herself.

I tremendously enjoyed reading this funny book, with its hopeful note about fairies, nod at corporate politics, Bridget Jones-like experiences in love, and its poke at fame and the celebrity-cum-social-media lifestyle. It was all very much fun.

Minor quibbles? The clutches of mixed metaphors and similes made the mouth splutter. Also, we could ignore the odd grammatical lapses, e.g. “… the Hell Fire Club were about to perform …” That’s the job of the proof-readers and editors, not the author’s, surely. The resolution was so not Hollywood – in a good way. A bigger, broader display of fairies and fantasy at the end would have been more pleasing for me. There’s nothing wrong in my view, to hint at and then exhibit the paranormal in a ‘magical realism’ novel.

There’s a sequel hinted that I would love to read, especially if we saw more of Pauda O’Shea.

The Sleeper and the Spindle: WINNER OF THE CILIP KATE GREENAWAY MEDAL 2016
The Sleeper and the Spindle: WINNER OF THE CILIP KATE GREENAWAY MEDAL 2016
by Neil Gaiman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.49

3.0 out of 5 stars The Sleeper, the Queen and the Spindle, 20 Mar. 2016
The main of two stories retold here is the Sleeping Beauty, which Neil Gaiman turns on its head. It would be too facile to call it a feminist version, as the story is literally retranslated from its core characters and elements. We see, not the young princess about to be put to sleep for the simple and crass reason of a lack of invitation by a would-be fairy godmother, but the outcome after several decades. And we see another reason altogether for the sleep trance, a better reason.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs crashes into the Sleeping Beauty party, or rather, anti-party. The princess is now a Queen, albeit a single queen.

The visuals are unexpected and therefore, spot on and wonderful: the turning heads being something I can imagine time and again. It’s an interesting retelling of the two fairy tales, one of my favourite in Trigger Warning, by this author.

The Silent Wife
The Silent Wife
by A. S. A. Harrison
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The silent bed sore, 21 Feb. 2016
This review is from: The Silent Wife (Paperback)
Jodi Brett is the silent wife, but really she isn’t because she has been the domestic partner of Todd Gilbert for 20 years but never married him. Handsome, larger-than-life, charismatic Todd Gilbert, who picked her up after she had a car accident that clipped his car. That should have warned her about him, but it didn’t. How he could be so smooth. Maybe her accident should have warned him about her; her distractedness. Is she all there, all present mentally? But it didn’t.

And they had 20 years of accommodating the others’ faults and weaknesses. Making space when overtaking the other in their day-to-day lives. Never asking questions. Every good marriage, or cohabitation, is arguably full of accommodations. Give and take. How much give is too much, one asks themselves. How much is too much too take, one wonders. Every bad marriage in the same vein, is full of not enough accommodating the space the significant other takes up, and either demanding or expecting too much, leaving both parties feeling dissatisfied.

But at least it’s out in the open right? No one outside the marriage knows. And there lay the crux of the problem between Jodi and Todd, until the seams split open by one transgression too many. The fragile harmony cracked.

The psychology, the irony of the shrink unable to heal herself, the delicate analogies of psychological problems throughout, all made this a comfortable read. By the three-quarter mark, I was fair galloping along. I picked up the hint – not a clue exactly – given around halfway through the book, of the untreated sore in Jodi’s life (I am avoiding giving too much away). It let me know that Jodi’s own sessions with a shrink, during her studies, were largely a major cover-up. Then came Alison, and I would have like the outcome to have been more fleshed out, to avoid spoilers.
A fast read. A satisfying read? Not entirely. Did it make me think? Sure.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories (Puffin Books)
Haroun and the Sea of Stories (Puffin Books)
by Rushdie Salman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Haroun fixes the sea, 31 Dec. 2015
Haroun lives in the sad city of Alifbay with his storyteller father and mother until the day his life turns upside down. He goes on a quest that results from him accompanying his father, Rashid, to another political rally as the best storyteller. Any underlying allegory to why Alifbay is sad is not clear. This is one of the main problems I found with “Haroun and The Sea Of Stories” – references that were meant to be part of a fairy tale, or funny or meaningful, but which weren’t to me. They only slowed down the story’s flow.

Another thing that slowed the story down was the repetition of people and descriptions. The pronouncements seemed to be more Salman Rushdie saying, “Look at me! I’m a good children’s storyteller,” than of an author talking to children at their level. Such repetitions and attempts at humour seem directed to 7-9 year-olds level of reading. The best children’s books reach out to adults and children alike, e.g. Harry Potter. Not this one. Not in my books.

The other characters that populate this book include Water Genies, Butt the bird, Princess Batcheat and her adoring Prince Bolo, Plentimaw fish (there are plenty more fish in the sea), a gardener called Mali, and politicians who are measly and cheating.

What I think would have made the story more entertaining would be, in addition to less repetition, actual stories similar to the “Thousand Nights” of the Arabian Tales, more plot, a point to the fantasy elements to the story having a bearing on Haroun’s life and a less expedient resolution to the plot.

Dark Corners
Dark Corners
by Ruth Rendell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.99

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Unlikeable protagonists, 31 Dec. 2015
This review is from: Dark Corners (Hardcover)
I love reading Ruth Rendell. I have found that no one does what she did as well – write gripping whodunits with deep psychological insight.

However, Dark Corners didn’t do it for me. I didn’t find it page-turning at all. The two main protagonists were unlikeable, while the third, Tom, I found insipid and mildly boring, which didn’t compel me to return to the book quite as quickly as a book I like.

• Carl Martin, who starts as a bumbling but greedy guy, who becomes more unpleasant as the book goes along
• Lizzie, dumb and outrageously entitled and materialistic, who takes on a new persona by stealing; and pays the price
• Tom, Lizzie’s father, who is not quite the doting Dad, and enjoys a new past-time only to fall prey to street goons.

The antagonist, Dermot McKinnon, is nicely complex, a religious man who doesn’t practice what he preaches at all. Are there occult overtones in how Dermot finds out each of Carl’s indiscretions? It certainly seems expedient.

The violence on several of the characters – undetailed to avoid spoilers – didn’t link to a coherent satisfying conclusion for me. I find that when I have to read between the lines to discern the reasons for a whodunit that only the novelist holds, then it makes the experience less-than-whole for me. It’s a thriller writer’s role to tie up the loose threads. This is the reason I didn’t enjoy the book.

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