Friday, 30 January 2015

Review: What If - Rebecca Donovan

What If by Rebecca Donovan, published by Penguin on 22nd January 2015

Goodreads synopsis:
What if you had a second chance to meet someone for the first time?

Cal Logan is shocked to see Nicole Bentley sitting across from him at a coffee shop thousands of miles from their hometown. After all, no one has seen or heard from her since they graduated over a year ago. Except this girl isn't Nicole.

She looks exactly like Cal's shy childhood crush, but her name is Nyelle Preston and she has no idea who he is. This girl is impulsive and daring, her passion for life infectious. The complete opposite of Nicole. Cal finds himself utterly fascinated and falling hard. But Nyelle is also extremely secretive. And the closer he comes to finding out what she's hiding, the less he wants to know.

When the secrets from the past and present collide, one thing becomes clear: Nothing is what it seems.

'What If' is a wonderfully captivating book which will touch your heart and make you treasure life and each and every step you take on your journey.  The book's message is about living life to the full and living the life you want.  This really resonated with me and made me want to be more bold and carefree and to appreciate happiness, rather than waiting for happy to come along.  

A young-adult standalone from Rebecca Donovan, author of the Breathing trilogy, I have been waiting to read this book ever since I first heard about it. I now want to recommend it to everyone for the very positive message it contains, as well as for it being such a fantastic contemporary read.  It made me laugh, smile and cry.  It tugged at my heartstrings and had me reading long into the night.  

It has an intricately layered narrative structure which took a bit of getting used to.  It switches narrators and the time frame jumps backwards a lot but it was so cleverly executed that I soon found myself not taking much notice of this.  Plus, the events that the story takes us back to are extremely central to the plot and the motivations and actions of the characters.  

The characters themselves are warm and real and flawed and really leap off the page.  There's Cal, the main narrator of the story, along with childhood friends Rae, Richelle and Nicole.  I'm not always so keen on male narrators, but I grew to like Cal immediately and I think Rebecca Donovan wrote him exceptionally well. Cal is at college when he meets Nyelle Preston - a girl who looks exactly like Nicole but acts in a completely different way.   Their personalities are polar opposites.  I don't want to say anything else about the plot except to say that this is a story you will want to puzzle out on your own.  It has a surprising twist at the end but it's a treat to try and unravel.  

'What If' is a brilliant romance that will make you question your actions and the what ifs of your own life.  Gorgeously written, it will take you on an incredible journey that you will not want to miss. 


Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Blog Tour: I Was Here - Gayle Forman

Today I am hosting a stop on the blog tour for Gayle Forman's new book 'I Was Here'.  You can read my review here


Inspiration for writing I Was Here

I met Suzy Gonzales about six years ago when I was profiling her for a magazine article. She immediately struck me as charismatic and bright, one of those people who had that spark. She was the kind of person I’d normally profile for doing something amazing at a young age: writing a novel or directing a movie or releasing an album before she hit 20. But instead, I was profiling Suzy for killing herself.

It was jarring. I kept having to reconcile this amazing girl that friends and family had told me about, one whose future seemed infinite with possibility, with the girl whose future was already in the past.

Shortly after I finished the article, I began to taper off doing journalism, focusing more on novels. But Suzy’s story burrowed somewhere in my brain because several years later, she emerged, or rather, a version of this bright charismatic young woman, emerged.

I began to imagine not what led Suzy – or, Meg, the fictional character she inspired – to kill herself (suicide is the ultimate unsolvable mystery, the victim dies with the perpetrator). Instead, I began to think about what it would be like to receive an email suicide note (as Suzy had sent her) from someone you loved, someone you were close to, someone you thought you knew everything about.

And that was how I found Cody, my heroically flawed heroine in I Was Here. The novel may open with Meg’s suicide note, but it is Cody’s journey that is the centre of the novel. Her search for the reason Meg chose to end her own life, and her own complicity in this decision, pushes her to the boundary of love, friendship, forgiveness and redemption.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Review: Talon - Julie Kagawa

Talon by Julie Kagawa, published by Mira Ink on 15th January 2015

Goodreads synopsis:
Ember and Dante Hill are the only sister and brother known to dragonkind. Trained to infiltrate society, Ember wants to live the teen experience and enjoy a summer of freedom before taking her destined place in Talon. But destiny is a matter of perspective, and a rogue dragon will soon challenge everything Ember has been taught. As Ember struggles to accept her future, she and her brother are hunted by the Order of St. George.

Soldier Garret Xavier Sebastian has a mission to seek and destroy all dragons, and Talon's newest recruits in particular. But he cannot kill unless he is certain he has found his prey: and nothing is certain about Ember Hill. Faced with Ember's bravery, confidence and all-too-human desires, Garret begins to question everything that the Order has ingrained in him: and what he might be willing to give up to find the truth about dragons.

'Talon' is the first book in a brilliant new Dragon series.  I'm absolutely convinced that Julie Kagawa can turn her hand to any paranormal/supernatural subject and weave a captivating story around them.  Faeries, vampires and now dragons all get her special treatment, making this an extremely hard to put down title.  I thought it was going to be gripping and exciting and boy, it certainly was!

The central heroine, Ember, is sent to Crescent Beach along with her twin Dante to assimilate themselves into the human world.  Ember and Dante are both dragons but in their human forms they get to experience a sense of freedom for the very first time.  Although Talon keeps them on a tight leash, Ember gets to enjoy sun, sea and sand, as she makes new friends and begins to question the organisation that she has always obeyed. 

Ember's point of view alternates with that of Garrett, a St George Soldier who is tasked with hunting and killing dragons.  He and Ember are both used to following orders, but after they meet, Garrett's long-held beliefs start to waver.  I liked the way that we got to see the perspective of both the hunter and prey but before long I was starting to question which might be which. 

Love may be on the cards between Ember and Garrett but then there's a rogue dragon on the scene who might just come between them.  Yes, there's something of a love triangle in the book but don't worry because it's not your typical boy loves girl, who loves other boy.  This is a love triangle with a twist which will keep you guessing.  I'm not sure who I wanted Ember to end up with more as there are elements to both male characters that I liked.  I'm sure other readers will be equally torn.   

Fast paced, exciting and with a strikingly gorgeous cover, this was a fantastic paranormal read to kick off the new year.  The sequel, 'Rogue' is due out later in 2015 and I shall be queuing up to get a copy.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Review: Marly's Ghost - David Levithan

Marly's Ghost by David Levithan, published by Electric Monkey on 8th January 2015

Goodreads synopsis:
When Ben’s girlfriend, Marly, dies, he feels his life is over and the prospect of Valentine’s day without her fills him with bitterness. But then Marly arrives – or at least, her ghost does – along with three other spirits. Now Ben must take a journey through Valentines past, present and future – and what he learns will change him forever.

A remix of 'A Christmas Carol' which is one of my favourite Christmas stories but with a twist.  David Levithan has added a Valentine's Day setting and given the story a set of contemporary characters and a protagonist who has closed himself off to love and life after his girlfriend Marly dies. 

This was a really quick read.  I finished it in about an hour but it was nevertheless extremely well told and I enjoyed the fresh take on a well loved classic.  Ben is visited by the ghosts of love past, present and future, warning him of what will happen if he gives up on a life without Marly.  I loved the overall message about appreciating life and the people you have around you, as well as enjoying each day because you never know what will happen to you next.  It's something that I think we all should try to remember.   

There are some other familiar faces in the book, including Tiny and Tim, as you've never seen them before!  I thought it was so clever how David Levithan really brought the story and characters up to date and made it much more relevant to readers today. 

Throughout the book there are some lovely illustrations by Brian Selznick.  These are also adapted from the original drawings, giving 'Marly's Ghost' a real spin on the old and the new. 

I think this was my favourite David Levithan book so far.  It contained a truly heart warming message all wrapped up in a treat of a story.   

Monday, 19 January 2015

Review: There Will Be Lies - Nick Lake

There Will Be Lies by Nick Lake, published by Bloomsbury on 1st January 2015

Goodreads synopsis:
In four hours, Shelby Jane Cooper will be struck by a car.

Shortly after, she and her mother will leave the hospital and set out on a winding journey toward the Grand Canyon.

All Shelby knows is that they’re running from dangers only her mother understands. And the further they travel, the more Shelby questions everything about her past—and her current reality. Forced to take advantage of the kindness of unsuspecting travellers, Shelby grapples with what’s real, what isn’t, and who she can trust . . . if anybody.

This was an extremely unusual book. A thriller unlike anything else I've read before.  It's not my first Nick Lake book but the subject matter was extremely different to his other works.  I'm actually quite torn on my feelings about it, although after a shaky start, I did end up really enjoying it. 

The opening page, a prelude to the story, was mystifying but definitely make me eager to find out what was going to happen next.  I really had no clue in what direction the story was going to go and that meant that I could approach the book with an open mind. 

'There Will Be Lies' is literally a book of two halves.  In one, the main character, Shelby Jane Cooper is on the run with her mother.  She knows that she will be told two lies and then the truth but what lies she will discover and how these will impact on her, is left to Shelby and the reader to puzzle over.  In the alternative chapters, Shelby is in a strange world called the Dreaming.  She is guided by a mysterious coyote who takes her on an incredible journey.  What happens in the Dreaming is a reflection on her own life but I have to admit that I often found these sections of the story difficult to follow.  The Dreaming was quite confusing and I was not always sure what was happening.  I know this is a big part of the book but personally, I was more interested in Shelby's reality than this strange other world and I was tempted at times to skip through some of these parts of the story.  I'm glad I didn't, but I still felt that these sections slowed the narrative down a lot.  

Shelby's story is unbelievably shocking and events didn't unfold in a predictable way.  The ending in particular took me completely by surprise but I think it's a real credit to Nick Lake that you have no idea where he is going to take the story next.  From chapter to chapter I was in doubt that just about anything could happen to the characters.  He certainly puts Shelby through quite an ordeal!

If you are looking for something a bit different, then I think 'There Will Be Lies' may just be the book for you. 

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Review: I Was Here - Gayle Forman

I Was Here by Gayle Forman, published by Simon and Schuster on 29th January 2015

Goodreads synopsis:
This characteristically powerful novel follows eighteen-year-old Cody Reynolds in the months following her best friend's shocking suicide.

As Cody numbly searches for answers as to why Meg took her own life, she begins a journey of self-discovery which takes her to a terrifying precipice, and forces her to question not only her relationship with the Meg she thought she knew, but her own understanding of life, love, death and forgiveness.

Gayle Forman books are always deeply moving and emotional, reflecting on the ups and downs of the choices we make in life.  'I Was Here' was no exception.  A dark and serious story dealing with some strong themes, such as teen suicide, mental illness and self-harm, it was a difficult read at times.  There are moments of light and hope but overall I found it pretty hard-going in places.  I had to put the book down a couple of times and then start again when I'd composed myself.

Cody's best friend Meg commits suicide.  Cody wants to know why and struggles to understand why she knew nothing about Meg's thoughts prior to her death.  Gradually she begins to unravel the truth about the best friend she thought she knew so much about, discovering a side to Meg that was previously hidden.  I liked the realism of friends being split up by the university experience.  We got to see how Cody felt about being left behind, as well as how it must have been hard for Meg having to try to build a new circle of friends, while dealing with the ups and downs of university life.    

I would have liked to have felt more connected to the character of Cody but the whole plot is so centred around her trying to find out about Meg that at times, I felt like I didn't wholly understand Cody herself.  She is desperate to find out the truth but I wasn't wholly convinced about the eventual outcome of this part of the story.

There is some romance in the book but this seemed to take a backseat to other aspects of the story and I didn't feel invested in it at all.  In fact, I would have been quite happy if it had been stripped away.

Sensitively written, 'I Was Here' addresses topics which will resonate with teen readers.  Although it wasn't my favourite Gayle Forman book, I took a lot of positive messages away from it and will be looking out for more from her in the future.   

Monday, 12 January 2015

Review: Heir of Fire - Sarah J Maas

Heir of Fire by Sarah J Maas, published by Bloomsbury on 11th September 2014

Goodreads synopsis:
Lost and broken, Celaena Sardothien’s only thought is to avenge the savage death of her dearest friend: as the King of Adarlan’s Assassin, she is bound to serve this tyrant, but he will pay for what he did. Any hope Celaena has of destroying the king lies in answers to be found in Wendlyn. Sacrificing his future, Chaol, the Captain of the King’s Guard, has sent Celaena there to protect her, but her darkest demons lay in that same place. If she can overcome them, she will be Adarlan’s biggest threat – and his own toughest enemy.

While Celaena learns of her true destiny, and the eyes of Erilea are on Wendlyn, a brutal and beastly force is preparing to take to the skies. Will Celaena find the strength not only to win her own battles, but to fight a war that could pit her loyalties to her own people against those she has grown to love?

As a Christmas treat to myself, I managed to avoid reading this a few months ago when it was first published and I saved it to read when I was on my Christmas break.  To do that, I had to bury it under a pile of other books so that I wouldn't be tempted to delve into it immediately.  Boy, was that hard!  This meant that I could sit reading it for as long as I liked without any interruptions.  And what a stellar book it was!  This is shaping up to be one of my favourite YA series of all time. 

The story got off to a slow start but not in a bad way.  It gave me a chance to remember all the things that had happened in 'Crown of Fire' and to become reacquainted with lots of familiar and well loved faces.  Although it was very strange not to see Celaena, Dorian and Chaol all together and I did really miss that, it was also interesting to see them forging their own paths and having to stand alone.  All of them have their own demons to face before they can get a happy ending. 

I really, really missed the romance between Celaena and Chaol and I'm still hopeful that they will get back on track in the next book.  I'm firmly of the opinion that they make each other a better person and that their best qualities definitely compliment each other.  All the best romances have to overcome adversity first!   

Celaena is an incredible hero.  She is self-less, determined, brave and unbroken and I've enjoyed joining her on every step of her journey towards redemption and self-discovery.  There are lots of new sides to her character in this book and I like the fact that there are so many different aspects of her personality still to explore. 

As well as all my favourites there were some great new characters added to the story.  Rowan was amazing and I loved learning all about him but I also enjoyed seeing Sorscha the healer and Manon the witch.  Be prepared for plenty of surprises when it comes to these guys.   

This is the kind of book that you can get lost in and wish that you'll never have to find your way out of again.  Brilliantly written, Sarah J Maas has a lifelong fan in me (and I'm sure other readers too!)

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Review: Before We Fall - Courtney Cole

Before We Fall by Courtney Cole, published by Hodder on 4th November 2014

Goodreads synopsis:
Sometimes, one dark moment is all it takes to turn your world black...For 24-year old Dominic Kinkaide, that moment took place on the night of his high school graduation. One dark incident changed him forever. He's a hardened actor now, famous in the eyes of the world, but tortured in his own. He doesn't care about much of anything, except for losing himself in the roles that he plays.

23-year old Jacey Vincent doesn't realize how much her father's indifference has affected her. She is proof that sometimes it isn't one specific moment that wrecks a person, but rather it's an absence of moments. She's like a bird with a broken wing-strong yet fragile, as she tries to float through life, finding acceptance in the arms of random guys, one after the other... to fill the void that her father left in her.

Until she meets Dominic.

This is the third book in the Beautifully Broken series by Courtney Cole.  I've enjoyed both of the previous two titles in the series but I wasn't sure about this one because it focuses on Gabe's sister Jacey who I wasn't a big fan of previously.  However she really did win me over.  I came to see that yes, she had made a lot of mistakes in the past but she was strong enough to realise that and to make a conscious decision to try and put her life back on track and build a better future.  She learnt to respect herself and to not take any crap from anyone else. 

As Jacey is trying to turn her life around, handsome actor Dominic Kinkaide is still haunted by a traumatic event in his past.  Although he may be broken inside, Jacey could be just the one to put him back together again.  I love Courtney Cole's characters.  They are not perfect but that makes them much more real and human.  They slip up a lot and sometimes I didn't like the decisions they made, but they always keep on going and that is an admirable quality to have. 

Sexy Dominic wasn't necessarily my kind of guy in the beginning but he opens up a lot as the story progresses and I came to see quite a different side to him.  Some of his lifestyle choices are questionable but when you begin to find out more about him, I began to see why he had closed parts of himself off. 

'Before We Fall' turned out to be another great instalment in what is a thoroughly enjoyable series about men and women finding love against the odds.  Although it wasn't my favourite, I still found it a great read and I loved hearing titbits about Gabe and co.   

I would love to read a book about Gabe and Jacey's friend Brandt in the future.  He is definitely boyfriend material!  

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Blog Tour: Books that influenced The Year of the Rat - Clare Furniss

Today I'm taking part in the blog tour for 'The Year of the Rat' by Clare Furniss. I have a wonderful guest post from Claire all about the books that influenced the writing of her novel.  If you haven't read this title yet then you are in for a treat but have some tissues handy too as this is a real weepie!

It’s hard to know where to begin when thinking about the books that influenced the writing of The Year of The Rat. To some extent every book I’ve ever loved has played a part in inspiring me to write. But these are five books that stand out as having an obvious influence:

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

This may seem like an unlikely choice – it wasn’t until I re-read it a while after finishing The Year of The Rat that I realised what an influence it had been. I loved this book as a child, and I remember listening to an audiobook of it over and over again. Mary Lennox is a very interesting main character for a children’s book: we know she’s been through a terrible ordeal losing both her parents, but she’s hard to like, unsympathetic. It always struck me that because of this she felt real. This was something I wanted to try to achieve in writing The Year of The Rat; I wanted to be honest about the effects of grief. It can make people difficult to be around and I didn’t want to shy away from that. Mary’s cousin Colin has a difficult relationship with his father because his mother died when he was born. Again this complicated relationship fascinated me as a child, and I think that was probably in the back of my mind somewhere when I thought about Pearl’s relationship with her baby sister Rose, whose birth caused her mother’s death. Mary’s redemption comes through growing to love and trust those around her and this is reflected in the discovery of the garden and Mary and Dickon’s efforts to bring it back to life. In a very small way I used this imagery in my own book too, through Pearl’s growing relationship with the boy next door, Finn. It’s amazing how your writing brings things out that have been stored in your subconscious for years!

Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now

This was a big inspiration. It’s a book with a teenage protagonist that speaks to readers of any age because it doesn’t limit itself. It deals with big, serious issues, it’s funny and moving and clever, and it has such a strong, charismatic voice. I read it before I had any serious thought of becoming a writer and it inspired me to give it a go!

Enough Is Too Much Already by Jan Mark

I read this book as a teenager in the 1980s when it first came out and I absolutely loved it. There wasn’t really ‘YA’ then in the way there is now – books specifically for teens were a pretty new idea and there weren’t too many of them around, and many were written by US writers. This was a book showing the everyday lives of British teens, told entirely in dialogue. It was quick, funny and felt completely fresh and different from anything I’d ever read. It was the first book I’d ever read that seemed to show something resembling my own life. This book showed me the power of strong dialogue, the humour and pace you can inject into a story by using it, and how it can reveal character. This was a big part of what I tried to do in The Year of The Rat.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

This is one of my all-time favourite books and I went back to it for inspiration while I was writing The Year of The Rat. It shows the power of an utterly convincing, quirky voice and it’s so funny. The characterisation is brilliant, we love every character despite – or perhaps because of – their flaws. The setting is vividly drawn and the relationships are so real and touching. It’s one of those books I will always go back to in the hope that somehow some of its magic will rub off on whatever I’m writing. I think the thing it showed me as a writer was not to hold back. Every idiosyncrasy of every character is celebrated. I really tried to do this in my book. Reading it reminds me of the joy of writing, the reason I want to do it.

Dear Nobody by Berlie Doherty

I read this book many years ago and fell in love with it. It tells the story of Chris and Helen, A Level students whose lives are turned upside down when they discover Helen is pregnant. The story is beautifully written and it deals so sensitively with the relationship between the two teenagers and Helen’s relationship with her unborn baby. It doesn’t shy away from how complicated the emotions of the characters are, and how it makes them act in ways they don’t necessarily want to, or even understand. This was something I really tried to do in The Year of The Rat.

Skellig by David Almond

This is such an extraordinary book. It tells the story of Michael, who finds the mysterious Skellig in the garage of his new house, an ancient man with wings on his back and a love of Chinese takeaways. As Michael’s family struggles with the fact that his prematurely born baby sister may die, Michael’s relationship with Skellig and with Mina, the precocious girl next door, develops. I love how it unquestioningly mixes the mysterious magic of Skellig with the very real, ordinary life of a schoolboy in Newcastle and this was something I tried to achieve in my own book. I think it showed me that if you believe what you’re writing, your reader will follow. Like The Year of The Rat it’s a story of a family under intense emotional pressure as they all deal with the fact that they may lose Michael’s little sister, and it perfectly captures the strain this puts on their relationships and the complexity of what they are all feeling. David’s writing is so spare and poetic and beautiful – everything he writes is an inspiration for me.

Don't forget to check out the rest of the stops on the blog tour for 'The Year of the Rat'.  

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