Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Review: Now You See Me - Emma Haughton

Now You See Me by Emma Haughton, published by Usborne on 1st May 2014

Goodreads synopsis:
Three years ago, thirteen-year-old Danny Geller vanished without trace.

His family and friends are still hanging on to every last shred of hope. Not knowing if he's alive or dead, their world is shrouded in shadows, secrets and suspicions.

This is the story of what happens when hope comes back to haunt you. When your desperation is used against you. When you search for the truth – but are too scared to accept the reality staring you in the face...

'Now You See Me' is a psychological thriller by British author Emma Haughton.  This is her first novel for young-adults which is inspired by a true story.  I was actually already familiar with the real events behind the book which slightly spoiled things for me because I knew what one of the big plot twists was going to be.  This meant that I didn't find the story quite as suspenseful as it might have been but readers who approach the novel with no prior insight would probably find it quite gripping.

The story is narrated from the point of view of Hannah, whose best-friend Danny went missing three years ago.  No one has seen him since then and the police investigation failed to uncover the truth behind his disappearance.  Hannah has always wondered if she could have done something to stop him from vanishing but she's over the moon when he eventually turns up after so many years.  The only problem is that Danny can't remember anything about his missing years and seems somehow different to the person who used to be her closest friend.

The majority of the story is about what really happened to Danny, as well as focusing on Hannah and Danny's families and the impact of his reappearance on everyone involved.  I found it interesting to see the impact on each individual but I think I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't already guessed the main twist.  There was another surprise thrown in near the end of the book and I thought that was an intriguing and well chosen change of direction.

It's nice to read a British YA book but I wasn't completely hooked by this title as I would have expected to be from the blurb.  That said, I think a lot of readers will enjoy 'Now You See Me;, particularly if you're a fan of this type of genre.         

Monday, 28 April 2014

Review: Always Emily - Michaela MacColl

Always Emily by Michaela MacColl, published by Chronicle Books on 8th April 2014

Goodreads synopsis:
Emily and Charlotte Brontë are about as opposite as two sisters can be. Charlotte is practical and cautious; Emily is headstrong and imaginative. But they do have one thing in common: a love of writing. This shared passion will lead them to be two of the first published female novelists and authors of several enduring works of classic literature. But they’re not there yet. First, they have to figure out if there is a connection between a string of local burglaries, rumors that a neighbor’s death may not have been accidental, and the appearance on the moors of a mysterious and handsome stranger. The girls have a lot of knots to untangle—before someone else gets killed.

This book reminded me why I love the Bronte sisters so much.  Their lives are absolutely fascinating and Michaela MacColl has done a superb job of incorporating biographical facts with fictional events to create a story which provides both mystery and romance. 

The story focuses mainly on Charlotte and Emily Bronte, the two older sisters, although their brother Branwell and their father both feature.  Charlotte is definitely my favourite Bronte.  She is torn between her practical and artistic sides and feels a great sense of responsibility to look after her siblings.  The book opens with her elder sister being buried and this has a huge impact on the decisions she takes in her own life.  She assumes her position because she has to and you definitely get a sense of the worry that hangs over her about her father's precarious financial standing.  Emily is more of a wild spirit, drawing inspiration from the beauty of the moors which surround her.  She is headstrong and impetuous and often disappears for hours at a time while she explores the rugged hills and moors.

The setting of the book makes it easy to understand where the sisters draw their inspiration for their own stories, which at this point they haven't started writing yet.  Certain events that transpire could almost have come from the pages of Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights.  'Always Emily' definitely made me want to pick up the latter two books for a re-read as they are big favourites of mine.

Well researched and with an intriguing plot, MacColl has captured the spirit of the Bronte sisters.  This title will appeal to YA readers who are looking for something different to all the dystopian and paranormal books out there at the moment. 

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Review: Purity - Jackson Pearce

Purity by Jackson Pearce, published by Hodder Children's Books on 6th March 2014

Goodreads synopsis:
Before her mother died, Shelby promised three things: listen to her father, love as much as possible, and live without restraint. Those Promises become hard to keep when Shelby's dad joins the committee for the Princess Ball, where girls must take a vow of purity - no "bad behaviour", no breaking the rules, and definitely no sex.

Torn between Promises, Shelby makes a decision - to exploit a loophole and lose her virginity before taking the vow. But somewhere between failed hookup attempts and helping her dad plan the ball, Shelby begins to understand what her mother really meant, what her father really needs, and who really has the right to her purity.

There were a lot of things that I liked about this book but there were also some aspects of the story which didn't completely gel with me.  I'm a big fan of Jackson Pearce and I've read and loved all of her previous books, so I was very much looking forward to starting this title which sounded so different to her other work.  I enjoyed the fact that she's written a contemporary YA and I found it a quick read but one which contained real depth and honesty.

The main character Shelby narrates the story of her challenge to honour three promises that she made to her dying mother, while also trying to do the right thing for herself.  Shelby has a fresh voice which I enjoyed listening to and I thought it was equally refreshing that she doesn't always make the right decisions but she learns by her actions and discovers more about herself in the process.  I found the whole concept of the Princess Ball and Shelby's problem with having to vow purity to her father quite American and I couldn't understand why she was so desperately set on losing her virginity beforehand as it seemed such an extreme solution. 

I enjoyed seeing the interactions between Shelby and her father.  They are not particularly close and don't always know how to talk to each other but they are both willing to work at it.  One of my favourite scenes in the book is the cake tasting they go to together, as it's the beginning of them trying to mend their fractured relationship.   

The book raises philosophical questions about God, as well as exploring how to live your life in a way that's honest and true.  Although I was surprised at some of the events which happened near the end of the story and things didn't necessarily unravel the way I would have chosen, I still thought that 'Purity' was a great contemporary read which deals with a lot of the issues that young people face today.      

Monday, 21 April 2014

Review: The Fearless - Emma Pass

The Fearless by Emma Pass, published by Corgi on 24th April 2014

Goodreads synopsis:
The Fearless. An army, powered by an incredible new serum that makes each soldier stronger, sharper, faster than their enemies. Intended as a force for good, the serum has a terrible side-effect - anyone who takes it is stripped of all humanity, empathy, love. And as the Fearless sweep through the country, forcing the serum on anyone in their path, society becomes a living nightmare.

Cass remembers the night they passed through her village. Her father was Altered. Her mother died soon after. All Cass has left is her little brother - and when Jori is snatched by the Fearless and taken to their hellish lair, Cass must risk everything to get him back.

'The Fearless' by British author Emma Pass is pretty much awesome from start to finish.  I was in a bit of a reading slump until I picked up this book and it was just what I was looking for, a fast-paced story which led me on an exhilarating, terrifying and nail-biting journey.  I haven't actually read Emma Pass's first book 'Acid' yet so I wasn't sure what to expect from her writing, but I loved it.  The characters and the story concept were both brilliant and had me completely hooked. 

I could definitely see the story transferring well to the big screen because everything was so well depicted and it had all the right ingredients to make anyone a fan of the series.

The plot is about a society which has been taken over by the Fearless - people who have been injected with a serum which takes away their emotions: fear, hate, love and their empathy for other human beings.  Super strong and fast, they begin to destroy everything in their path, leading to families literally fleeing for their lives.  The main character Cass lives on the island of Hope, where she and her younger brother Jori seek shelter from the horrors of the world.  With her mother and father dead she is determined to protect Jori no matter the cost. 

Packed full of suspense, the story hurtles along, hardly giving you time to breathe as Cass finds herself in some desperate and dangerous situations.  I really, really enjoyed it and found myself unable to put it down. I was gripped by the adventure that unfolded but also liked the touches of romance and the strong bond between siblings that came across so well.  It's nice to come across a British author who can more than hold her own with some of the most popular YA series in bookshops at the moment.

I'm extremely impatient to find out what lies in store next for Cass as the ending of the book signals more action still to come (I hope this isn't a standalone).  I will definitely be along for the ride!    

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Review: Don't Look Back - Jennifer L. Armentrout

Don't Look Back by Jennifer L. Armentrout, published by Hodder on 10th April 2014

Goodreads synopsis:
What if you had the chance to start again...but only if you promised never to look back? Samantha is popular, rich, and seemed to have it all...until the night she and her best 'frenemy' Cassie disappeared and only Sammy resurfaced, with no recollection of who she is or what happened. Sammy's a stranger in her own life - a life she no longer wants any part of. Losing her memory is a chance to start again. Then Sammy begins receiving mysterious notes warning her about that night, urging her to not look back. But she can't let it go. As she starts poking around in her past she begins to remember...and something sinister begins to surface.

This is my first book by Jennifer L. Armentrout in one of my new favourite genres - psychological thriller.  The combination made for a superb read and I will definitely be seeking out more books by this author in the future.  I'm a huge fan of this particular genre because it's gripping, compulsive, addictive, dark and twisty.  It makes for a story which you have to read in one sitting because there's no way you're going to be able to sleep until you know the outcome.  I know I couldn't!

The main character Samantha is suffering from amnesia after an accident involving her best-friend Cassie, who has disappeared.  With no trace of Cassie anywhere and Samantha unable to remember what happened, she has to try to piece her fragmented memories back together before suspicion falls squarely on her shoulders.  The problem is that creepy notes start appearing and it seems that someone else desperately doesn't want her to remember the events which led to her friend's disappearance. 

I enjoyed this story so much.  I had my suspicions about what had happened and who was involved and I always have fun with these kinds of books in trying to follow all the clues but in this case I was way off the mark and completely taken by surprise when the truth finally emerged.  I thought that Jennifer L. Armentrout did a great job of adding in lots of little things which threw me off the right path and made the ending even more exciting.    

I loved lots of the secondary characters in the book too, in particular Samantha's twin brother Scott and her childhood friend Carson.  I fell head over heels for Carson from the very first moment that we were introduced to him.  He's so sweet and I loved the fact that he and Samantha had shared so many wonderful childhood moments together.  I was definitely rooting for them to end up with each other. 

'Don't Look Back' was a thrilling read which had me glued to my seat.  I can't wait to get my hands on more titles by Jennifer L. Armentrout in the future and I would highly recommend this book to other readers.  You won't be able to put it down! 


Sunday, 6 April 2014

Review: A Kiss in the Dark - Cat Clarke

A Kiss in the Dark by Cat Clarke, published by Quercus on 3rd April 2014

Goodreads synopsis:
When Alex meets Kate the attraction is instant.

Alex is funny, good-looking, and a little shy – everything that Kate wants in a boyfriend.

Alex can’t help falling for Kate, who is pretty, charming and maybe just a little naive…

But one of them is hiding a secret, and as their love blossoms, it threatens to ruin not just their relationship, but their lives.

One of the things I like about Cat Clarke books is that they always make me question my own opinions.  I may not always feel comfortable with some of the scenarios and situations she puts her characters in but I think that's a good thing because Clarke often shows that things are not always as clear cut as they may first appear to be and this makes you think twice about your own feelings and standpoint. 

'A Kiss in the Dark' throws up a lot of questions about identity which will resonate with teen readers.  At a time when a lot of young people are just starting to work out who they are and who they want to be, I think the character of Alex is one that readers will find some sympathy for.  A question mark hangs over many of the decisions that Alex makes throughout the story - were these made intentionally or unintentionally and this is something that I thought a lot about as I was reading.  I have to admit that I still wasn't entirely sure of how I felt about things by the end of the book.

Based on a real life set of events, I'm going to avoid talking about the storyline at all because there is the potential to accidentally reveal a huge spoiler.  Although this is revealed after only a few chapters, it is one that completely took me by surprise and turned everything on it's head.  I can't imagine anyone would be able to guess what happens.  This secret forms the structure of the book which is split into a before and after the reveal. 

Although 'A Kiss in the Dark' isn't my favourite Cat Clarke book, I still thought it was an extremely thought-provoking read which was brilliantly written and absolutely fascinating in terms of the very different storyline.   

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Review: Deadfall - Chris Ryan

Deadfall by Chris Ryan, published by Red Fox on 10th April 2014

Goodreads synopsis:
Zak Darke is sent on what seems like a straightforward surveillance op in South Africa but it soon turns into the toughest, most dangerous mission he has ever faced. An old enemy has teamed up with a terrifying gang of child soldiers and Zak is caught in the middle. Having travelled to the heart of the African jungle, will he make it out alive?

I'm a massive fan of the Agent 21 series by Chris Ryan, so I was extremely excited about getting to read the newest instalment.  Teenage agent Zac Darke is one of my favourite male characters and I couldn't want to dive in and find out what adventure he was going to become embroiled in next.

This time around Zac's old nemesis, Cruz Martinez, rears his head again.  Zac's former friend, he is now his sworn enemy due to the death of his father.  Cruz's movements lead Zac, along with Gabs, Raf and computer whiz Malcolm, to Africa, where they uncover a shocking conspiracy which will endanger the lives of innocent citizens unless they can stop it.  

The story is set mainly in the African jungle, which was a brilliant backdrop because of all the natural dangers which awaited Zac and co.  I thoroughly enjoyed seeing them having to survive in the wilderness and struggle against the elements, as they face dehydration and exhaustion, as well as the threat from other animals in the jungle.  It was nice to see Zac's training really kicking in now.  He's able to use all of his new skills and abilities in the field and he never stops thinking two steps ahead.  He even, on occasion, surprises Gabs and Raf with his ingenuity and quick thinking. 

Each chapter in the book was fraught with danger and the story was tough and gritty.  A real page turner, I found it hard to put it down as it was so gripping.  Zac hurtles from one tense predicament to another which was extremely thrilling. 

'Deadfall' was an adrenaline pumping rollercoaster ride of adventure and suspense.  This is a top series and I love reading about Zac and his missions.  I hope there are lots more books to come in the future!      
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