Thursday, 12 July 2018

Review: All These Beautiful Strangers - Elizabeth Klehfoth

All These Beautiful Strangers by Elizabeth Klehfoth, published by Penguin on 19th July 2018

Goodreads synopsis:
Charlie Calloway has a life most people would kill for - a tight-knit family, a loyal set of friends, and top grades a privileged boarding school. But Charlie's never been interested in what most people want. Like all Calloways, she's been taught that she's different, special - better. So when her school's super-exclusive secret society extends a mysterious invitation, Charlie's determination to get in is matched only by her conviction that she belongs there.

But their secrets go deeper than she knows.

Charlie finds herself thrust into the centre of a decades-old mystery - one that implicates her family in not one terrible crime, but two. Uncovering their past may destroy everything she knows - or give her the answer she's always craved: Who or what was behind her mother's disappearance ten years ago?

'All These Beautiful Strangers' is described as Cruel Intentions meets Gossip Girl with a hint of The Secret History.  It sounded exactly like the kind of book that I love.  I'm a big fan of YA thrillers and I was even more intrigued after reading the blurb which hinted at a hidden mystery waiting to be unravelled.

The story is set at Knollwood Prep, an exclusive boarding school. I can never resist the lure of a boarding school setting which I think dates back to my days of enjoying the Chalet School books. It adds a sense of suffocation and claustrophobia, as well as functioning almost as an exclusive society with it's own set of specific rules.  The main character, Charlie Calloway, is one of the privileged pupils and appears to have it all.  At the beginning of the story she is invited to try joining the school's secret society which involves having to complete a series of almost impossible challenges. As she attempts to gain her place within the society, she also becomes embroiled in the secret of her mother's disappearance ten years ago.  As she begins to connect the dots, long-buried secrets finally threaten to become exposed.

The plot switches backwards and forwards between Charlie in 2017 and her mother Grace in 2007.  It was interesting to see her mother's life unravelling as Charlie begins to realise that the events of the past and the present are linked together.  I actually think I enjoyed the Grace chapters more than the ones from Charlie's perspective.  Probably because Charlie wasn't immensely likable and there seemed to be a lot of flaws in her character.  She definitely matures a lot throughout the book though and there's hope that she will be a better person by the end of the story.  I also wasn't madly keen on any of the male figures which was a shame because there were one or two who had real potential.

I enjoyed the mystery element to the plot and finding out what really happened to Grace so many years ago.  I definitely didn't have any inkling about who was going to be involved, so it was nice to feel completely surprised when the big reveal finally came.  This is a pretty long book at nearly 500 pages and while I thought that the mystery was well written and plotted, it was possibly a bit too drawn out and a tad long in places.  It felt like some of the suspense was slightly lost owing to the length of the story and the pace might have benefited from a few cuts here and there.  Saying that, the ending fell a little flat because it all seemed a bit rushed in the final chapters.  Suddenly everything was wrapped up quite quickly and I was still left with a few unanswered questions.

If you enjoy YA thrillers and you're looking for mystery and suspense then this could be your kind of book.  I would have liked it to have been more fast-paced but overall it was very good and I didn't find it easy to put down once I'd started it.  Overall, a terrific debut and I look forward to reading more by Elizabeth Klehfoth in the future.   

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Review: Nobody Real - Steven Camden

Nobody Real by Steven Camden, published by HarperCollins Children's Books on 31st May 2018

Goodreads synopsis:
Marcie is at a crossroads.  Finished with school, but unsure what she wants to do next. Abandoned by her mother when she was tiny – but drifting further and further from her dad.

Marcie is real. With real problems.

Thor is at a crossroads too.  Soon, if he doesn't make a decision, he's gong to face the fade. Years ago, he was Marcie's imaginary friend – then she cast him out, back to his own world.

Thor is not real. And that's a real problem…

But Marcie and Thor need each other. And to fix their lives, they're going to have to destroy everything… and then build a new world.

The author Steve Camden is a spoken word artist and it definitely shows in the poetic narrative style of 'Nobody Real.  There are a lot of short, detached words and sentences which have a lyrical sway but which didn't make the book particularly easy to read.

The story is told by teenager Marcie and her imaginary friend Thor, who she cast away several years ago and whose time is now running out for good.  We see Marcie struggling with family issues and decisions about her future, as she tries to make up her own mind about the path she wants to follow, rather than just trailing in her friend's footsteps.  Marcie is facing choices that many young people have to make which makes the story more relatable to it's contemporary YA audience.

I think this is actually the first book I've read which features an imaginary friend.  I've been racking my brains to think of another but nothing has come to mind.  The chapters from Thor's perspective were intriguing but I struggled to wrap my head around a part-boy part-bear whose day to day life consists of demolishing buildings. 

My main problem with the book was that in theory I liked the idea of the novel but in reality, I found it quite a disjointed and difficult read which I never really connected with.  It wasn't my kind of book at all, but I have already passed this onto a friend who I think will love it.  Not every book can be everyone's cup of tea and this just wasn't for me.   

Monday, 4 June 2018

Review: Little Guides to Great Lives - Isabel Thomas

Little Guides to Great Lives by Isabel Thomas, published by Laurence King Publishing on 4th June 2018

From artists to aviators and scientists to revolutionaries, Little Guides to Great Lives is a brand new series of handy, accessible guides, each beautifully depicted by a different illustrator.  The guides introduce children to the most inspirational figures from history.

This beautiful series of little books showcases the lives of some of the most significant figures in history.  It's a gorgeous set of hardbacks, aimed at children of ages 7-11 and would make the perfect present for an inquisitive child.  The set includes books about Frida Kahlo, Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie, Leonardo Da Vinci and Nelson Mandela.  I think it's great that three, such influential women are featured, as it shows how significant their achievements were.   

The guides contain a perfect blend of information and facts, alongside a timeline, glossary and index.  They are each illustrated by a different artist and the drawings and illustrations are absolutely charming.  They're fun and colourful and really bring alive the person who the book is written about.  I particularly liked the illustrations about Frida Kahlo.  I hadn't known a lot about her previously but I found her life story fascinating.  Although these are fairly short guides, you could spend ages poring over them and they would definitely keep children occupied as they find out about such wonderfully colourful and interesting figures.

I hope that there will be further additions to the series as there are so many other historical figures who I would like to see included.  I also think that this would make a great set for any library collection as it's both educational and entertaining and would be lovely for parents to read with their children.     

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Review: All Of This Is True - Lygia Day Penaflor

All Of This Is True by Lygia Day Penaflor, published by Bloomsbury on 31st May 2018

Goodreads synopsis:
Miri Tan loved the book Undertow like it was a living being. So when she and her friends went to a book signing to meet the author, Fatima Ro, they concocted a plan to get close to her, even if her friends won’t admit it now. As for Jonah, well—Miri knows none of that was Fatima’s fault.

Soleil Johnston wanted to be a writer herself one day. When she and her friends started hanging out with her favorite author, Fatima Ro, she couldn’t believe their luck—especially when Jonah Nicholls started hanging out with them, too. Now, looking back, Soleil can’t believe she let Fatima manipulate her and Jonah like that. She can’t believe that she got used for a book.

Penny Panzarella was more than the materialistic party girl everyone at the Graham School thought she was. She desperately wanted Fatima Ro to see that, and she saw her chance when Fatima asked the girls to be transparent with her. If only she’d known what would happen when Fatima learned Jonah’s secret. If only she’d known that the line between fiction and truth was more complicated than any of them imagined.

This is a hard review to write because I found 'All of This is True' to be quite a strange book.  I'd heard lots of good things about it prior to starting it and I was expecting suspense, intrigue, excitement and a twist to end all twists but...I didn't get any of that.  I read about a third of it and then briefly stopped to review what had actually happened so far and it wasn't much at all!  I wasn't sure where the shocks and spills were going to come so I carried on and yet I still didn't understand what was so puzzling about it.  Now to me, there was a very small, teeny tiny twist in the plot but I thought it was so obvious that I can't understand how anyone could be fooled by it. 

The story centres around four teenagers, Miri, Soleil, Jonah and Penny, plus author Fatima Ro. They all came across privileged teens with too much time on their hands and with more money than sense. I didn't like any of them and they came across as just a bunch of rich kids, wasting their time on foolish and trivial pursuits.

I also didn't enjoy the format of the book which was pretty unusual and felt jarring and disjointed. It takes the form of interviews, diary entries, magazine articles and excerpts from a novel.  The unique narrative meant that I never felt that I could get fully absorbed into the story and that, combined with shallow characters, really put me off.

I found the ending a complete disappointment and the whole novel slow and uninspiring.  Not for me I'm afraid.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Review: Not If I Save You First - Ally Carter

Not If I Save You First by Ally Carter, published by Orchard Books on 27th March 2018

Goodreads synopsis:
After Maddie's Secret Service dad takes a bullet for the president, he takes Maddie somewhere he thinks they'll be safe - far away from the White House and the president's son, Logan.

But when Logan comes to Alaska, so does the danger.

If there's one thing Alaska has taught Maddie, it's how to survive. And now her best friend's life depends on it ...

Ally Carter is one of my go-to authors when I want to read something that is pure escapism and a whole lot of fun.  I have adored all of her books and 'Not If I Save You First' may just be my new favourite.  I devoured it in one sitting and loved absolutely everything about it.  If I didn't have a humongous toppling to-be-read pile, then I would probably immediately begin reading it all over again.  Trust me, it's that good.

This book literally had everything I love and more.  Features a member of the Presidential First Family, tick.  Set in the Alaskan wilderness, tick.  A kick-ass teenage heroine, tick. A life and death situation, tick.  It's like Ally Carter reached inside my brain, scooped out all of my favourite things and put them into her story.  I could not have enjoyed this book any more if I'd tried.

The opening couple of chapters are set in the White House and set up the scenario which unfolds throughout the rest of the book.  The action then jumps forward six years and we see our protagonist Maddie, living with her father, formerly the President's bodyguard, in the middle of Alaska.  Maddie used to be best-friends with the President's son Logan, but that's before he never answered any of her letters and she lost all contact with him.  She's never forgotten him though and when he reappears in her life after so many years, she doesn't know whether to be happy or angry. And when he ends up getting kidnapped, it's up to Maddie to rescue him and keep them both alive.

I absolutely adored Maddie.  She came across like a female Bear Grylls.  Her father (and Alaska) have taught her how to survive and so she's not afraid to go after the kidnapper when he disappears with Logan.  She's constantly two steps ahead and is not to be messed with.  I thought her relationship with Logan was adorable, although she spends most of the book pretending to hate him!

Featuring tons of action and adventure, I never wanted the story to end.  I was constantly kept on my toes and the excitement just kept on coming.  One of the best books I've read so far this year.  Ally Carter has most definitely done it again!     
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