Monday, 29 July 2013

THE LYING GAME

The Lying Game by Sara Shepard

This book is about a girl and her long lost twin sister.

I'm gonna say that again. Long lost twin sister.

And it's not The Parent Trap. The Parent Trap was cute and funny and came out when I was a kid and the idea of somebody having a long lost twin sister didn't seem all that bizarre. Now that I think about that film properly, it's ridiculous. And kind of evil. (Seriously, who gets a divorce and decides they'll take one twin each and hope nobody ever finds out? That's twisted, right?)

Yeah, so, The Lying Game. Essentially, boring foster kid Emma finds out she has a long lost twin sister named Sutton, and decides to go and find her. The only problem is, by the time Emma gets there, Sutton's been murdered. Now her murderer is blackmailing Emma into pretending to be Sutton, presumably so that nobody finds out she's been murdered, and Emma really has no choice but to go along with it, seeing as how nobody believes she's not Sutton anyway. (It is at this point that you might like to bang your head against a wall).

I'm not sure why I picked this book up. I knew before I bought it that it featured a long lost twin sister, and I didn't really think anything of it. Then I started reading and realised just how rubbish a concept that is. It doesn't make any sense to me. None. It's also pretty much lacking in story, which again I should have been able to predict. The Lying Game is the first in a series, which is currently six books long. Shepard's other series, Pretty Little Liars, has a running total of 14 books. She writes series, and that's not something I can get along with well. I don't mind a book being expanded on and turning into a series, but this was set up as a series from the word go, and to my mind that means that nothing happens for a long time. Book one is like a long and excruciating prologue. So, really, the miserable experience I had reading this book was my own fault, because I should have seen it coming and saved myself.

What I didn't expect is that I wouldn't like any of the characters. Not a single one. Not a single aspect of a single one. And then there was the writing. Take the first paragraph of chapter one (I'm skipping the prologue because prologues are there to be skipped):

Emma Paxton carried her canvas tote and a glass of iced tea out the back door of her new foster family's home on the outskirts of Las Vegas. Cars swished and grumbled on the nearby expressway, and the air smelled heavily of exhaust and the local water treatment plant. The only decorations in the backyard were dusty free weights, a rusted bug zapper, and kitschy terracotta statues.

So many details, none of which I actually need to know. Emma went out into the yard of her new foster family's home on the outskirts of Las Vegas. Done. That's all. And this went on and on and on through the book. I had to wade through the usually unnecessary and often boring details to find the bits of story, and as I've mentioned they were hard to spot anyway, given that there's very little plot.

The last thing I'll say - because I could bitch about this book all day long - is that the odd mix of first and third person narration bothered me. The vast majority is third person from Emma's perspective, but then dead Sutton chips in in the first person. Is she able to tell what Emma's thinking, and so everything in third person is just being relayed to me by Sutton? In the end, yes, I think that's what was happening, but it was horrible to read. Just horrible.

I can't think of anyone I'd recommend this book to, but, saying that, I've got a copy if anyone wants to take it off my hands??



Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Microscope Required

I am an extraordinarily picky reader. Actually, I'm an extraordinarily picky person, but let's just stick to the books for now. The thing is, I very rarely open a book before I buy it.

I know that probably sounds crazy - the other big readers I know always read part of the book, whether it's a few paragraphs, pages or the entire first chapter, before they commit to buying it. I don't. I don't even like when the blurb is inside the front cover instead of on the back where it is supposed to be.

Part of the problem is fonts. If a book has too small a font or it's been printed on cheap paper so the ink bleeds and everything looks like it's supposed to be in bold, I won't buy it. I don't have the patience for it. It's not difficult to have your font be of a reasonable size and on reasonable paper (sure, the latter makes production costs higher, but I don't care about that). If a book looks like it will be hard to read, hard on my eyes, I'm not interested.

And I think I've probably missed out on a lot of great books by dismissing them like that. I'm sure I have. It's one of the key reasons I'm yet to purchase a George RR Martin book - I've never stumbled across one that didn't make my eyes want to bleed. However, once I've bought the book, I'll probably read it anyway. Sure, I'll be disappointed when I open it, I'll sigh and bitch and moan, and the book will have to do a lot more work to win me over, but I'll read it.

I've also read a lot of books that I really didn't like and would never have wasted my money on them if I'd read the first page or two. So it's a tricky habit for me to live with. What about you? Do you dismiss books based on something - some would say trivial - like the font?



Monday, 22 July 2013

SPEECHLESS

Speechless by Hannah Harrington

Everyone knows that Chelsea Knot can’t keep a secret

Until now. Because the last secret she shared turned her into a social outcast—and nearly got someone killed.

Now Chelsea has taken a vow of silence—to learn to keep her mouth shut, and to stop hurting anyone else. And if she thinks keeping secrets is hard, not speaking up when she’s ignored, ridiculed and even attacked is worse.

But there’s strength in silence, and in the new friends who are, shockingly, coming her way—people she never noticed before; a boy she might even fall for. If only her new friends can forgive what she’s done. If only she can forgive herself.


Okay, before I start reviewing this book, I have to mention the cover. That utterly hideous cover. I walked straight past this book about four times before I realised it's something I've wanted for months, because previously I'd only seen the US cover online. You can see that here, and there's another version here. So, yeah, I hate this cover. I think it's horrible. But don't let it put you off the book itself, because actually, it's really good.

I was intrigued by the idea, but I had my concerns about how it would actually work as a book. I mean, a main character who never speaks? That's got to be tricky. I worried for nothing because Harrington cheats and lets Chelsea have a white-board. I know that's not technically talking, but I feel like a vow of silence only means something if nobody knows what you're trying to say, if you're unable to communicate. I don't know, maybe I'm just being difficult, but I think it would have been more meaningful if Chelsea hadn't been able to communicate with anyone, although it would have been more difficult from a technical aspect.

One thing I really liked, though, was how realistic the situation leading to Chelsea's vow of silence was. I read a lot of high school books, many of which come across as completely unrealistic (I'm currently reading about a girl who ends up impersonating her long-lost twin sister, who's been murdered. Seriously.) but this was very good. I don't want to spoil how things progress for anyone, but there was never a moment when I thought this would never happen. Sure, there are a couple of things that seemed extreme to me, but it never crossed the boundary into ridiculous.

Chelsea is a really interesting character, who discovers a lot about herself across the book. By the end, I did feel like she'd made a genuine change, and one that was for the better. The other characters aren't as well drawn, they don't really stick out to me. I think Harrington tried to create the typical group of fake, very similar people and then a contrasting group of misfits. They were all a bit so-so - nothing wrong with them that I could point at and say that's what's wrong with this character, but they don't stand out either. But honestly, I enjoyed Chelsea's 'voice' and the story of this book so much that honestly, there was only one thing that kept me from loving it.

It's pretty sappy. Now, I accept that some people like sappy, and I accept that it does have its place. The problem is, I don't really do sap. Sure, I've read all four Twilight books, but I think they had enough sap in them to see me through for a lifetime. This book was just too much for me. I really liked it, but I would have loved it if it had had just a little more edge to it.



Saturday, 20 July 2013

FALL FOR ANYTHING

Fall for Anything by Courtney Summers

When Eddie Reeves’s father commits suicide her life is consumed by the nagging question of why? Why when he was a legendary photographer and a brilliant teacher? Why when he seemed to find inspiration in everything he saw? And, most important, why when he had a daughter who loved him more than anyone else in the world? When she meets Culler Evans, a former student of her father’s and a photographer himself, an instant and dangerous attraction begins. Culler seems to know more about her father than she does and could possibly hold the key to the mystery surrounding his death. But Eddie’s vulnerability has weakened her and Culler Evans is getting too close. Her need for the truth keeps her hanging on...but are some questions better left unanswered?


Once again, Courtney Summers has delivered a very unique read. That sounds like a critcism, and it's not supposed to. I devoured all of her work in a matter of days, and, though this was my least favourite, it's still not a bad book. Flawed, yes, but not a bad book overall. 

Eddie is probably the most likeable of Summers' characters - she's not a former mean girl, whether by choice or external forces, for a start - but I found her the hardest to get along with. I couldn't engage with her, I found it very difficult to understand her and honestly, I found her a bit annoying. And not in a fun, she's about to do something really awful so I'm really glad she's not my friend kind of way. She's quite normal. Her defining characteristic is the mark left on her by her father's suicide. 

It took me a really long time to get into this book, I found it a much slower-paced read than the others. I don't know if that's because I was waiting for the ending, for the answer to Eddie's questions, which I knew we wouldn't get until the end, if at all. Unlike the other books, I was less interested in the journey than I was in the destination. I did reach a point where I was utterly engrossed, but it took a while to get there. 

[This part may be a bit spoiler-y, so you should stop reading here if you're like me and hate to know anything about a book before you start reading it. Also, if you are like me and don't like to know anything about a book before you start reading it, you probably should avoid this book.]

Okay, it's hard to put into words what I want to say here. Something happens in this book and I'm pretty sure it's meant to be a surprise to the reader - I hope so, otherwise the whole book is just confusing - but I wasn't surprised by it. In fact, I saw it coming from very early on. I don't have my copy to hand or I'd give you the exact point where I realised what was going to happen, but it was stunningly obvious, I thought. And, honestly, I think the title played a huge part in that. I'll say no more.

As I said at the start, this book is my least favourite of Summers' four, but it has in no way diminished my anticipation for her next, All the Rage, due out next year. In fact, I honestly can't wait to get my hands on it.



Friday, 19 July 2013

SOME GIRLS ARE

Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

Climbing to the top of the social ladder is hard—falling from it is even harder. Regina Afton used to be a member of the Fearsome Fivesome, an all-girl clique both feared and revered by the students at Hallowell High... until vicious rumors about her and her best friend's boyfriend start going around. Now Regina's been "frozen out" and her ex-best friends are out for revenge. If Regina was guilty, it would be one thing, but the rumors are far from the terrifying truth and the bullying is getting more intense by the day. She takes solace in the company of Michael Hayden, a misfit with a tragic past who she herself used to bully. Friendship doesn't come easily for these onetime enemies, and as Regina works hard to make amends for her past, she realizes Michael could be more than just a friend... if threats from the Fearsome Foursome don't break them both first.


This was quite a strange book to read. It followed another of Summers' books, Cracked Up to Be, which I really liked. This book, in my opinion, wasn't quite as enjoyable. There were some excellent parts, truly excellent, but then there were others that suffered in comparison. It was a little patchy. I've been trying to figure out exactly why that is, and I'm struggling. 

One area I think it might come down to is the escalating actions of the girls involved in the story. I don't want to tell you what any of those actions are, because I don't want to ruin the read for you if you decide to pick it up (and you should, despite the negative review I seem to be writing, because overall I did like it, even if that's not coming across. I'm not great at praise) but suffice it to say that there's a revenge battle going on here - Regina makes a move, her former friends retaliate, Regina comes back at them a little harder, they come back even harder. It got to a point, for me, where it stopped feeling realistic. I started to think, no real person would do that. Even if they had the idea, I'm sure they'd never go through with it. Maybe I've led a sheltered existence, I don't know, but I worry that Summers went too far.

Regina is an interesting character, though, the ousted popular girl who now has to deal with hatred from all sides instead of being feared by the entire school. Her reactions and journey are totally understandable, and I really felt for her. She lost a little sympathy by being so determined to fight back - because I was pretty sure if she'd just ignored the girls, they'd have gotten bored and moved on (so not the point, I know, but I'm one of those people who would put up with quite a lot just for an easier life) but she gained my respect when she started standing up for other people. She knows why people hate her, she understands it and knows that she deserves it, but she struggles to accept it, and it made her a compelling character to read.

I have to address the ending, because I keep reading that Summers 'doesn't do endings' and because I was critical of the one in Cracked Up to Be. This one was a lot better. It wasn't what I was expecting - although I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting - but it fit. It was...well, it was really the only sensible way for the story to end, and it was just right. A perfect fit.



Thursday, 18 July 2013

CRACKED UP TO BE

Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers

When "Perfect" Parker Fadley starts drinking at school and failing her classes, all of St. Peter's High goes on alert. How has the cheerleading captain, girlfriend of the most popular guy in school, consummate teacher's pet, and future valedictorian fallen so far from grace?

Nobody would have guessed she'd turn out like this. But nobody knows the truth.

Something horrible has happened, and it just might be her fault.


Last year, I read Courtney Summers' most recent novel, This is Not a Test, an unconventional take on the zombie apocalypse. I didn't love it, but I liked it enough that I wanted to read her other books. But I decided to wait for the bind-up edition of this book and one of her others, Some Girls Are. That decision got thrown out of the window two weeks ago when, on the spur of the moment, I ordered this book, her debut. I was halfway through it when I decided to order her other two novels. So it's fair to say that I quite liked this.

It's a cracking read - fast and sharp, but also thought-provoking. I genuinely could not get it out of my head during the hours I couldn't read it. Seriously, I spent a whole afternoon at work checking my watch every five minutes waiting for my lunch-break so that I could finish it off. It's that good. 

Every review I've read of this book mentions Parker being an unlikeable character, and I'm not going to break with convention by skipping over it, however much I'd like to. I never found her unlikeable as a character, though I get that she's not the kind of person that you'd want as a friend. But I think that's what I love about Parker - she doesn't need other people to like her, she doesn't even want them to like her. There seems to be this trend in YA books where the main character, if it's female, has to be sweet, and nice, and likeable. If she's not popular, it's because she's quirky and different to the popular kids. It's not because she's a nasty piece of work, or even just someone who doesn't want to be a part of the popular crowd. Parker is snarky and mean and just an absolute pleasure to read about. Honestly, I found her a lot easier to relate to than most main characters, though I'm not sure that says good things about me.

The only issue I had with this book was the ending. I'm not going to spoil it for you - because I want you to go and read it and experience it for yourself - but the ending didn't sit right with me. The reveal of Parker's secret was a little disappointing to me, because I'd built it up to something else in my head - something that I considered to be so much worse - but that made what really happened a surprise, and you know how much I like being surprised by a book. But after that, after the revelation...I don't know, I just didn't feel like the ending fit with the rest of the book, with the characters. It just didn't seem right, and that bothered me a little bit. Not enough to keep me from adding Summers to my auto-buy list from now on, but still, it did bother me.



Thursday, 11 July 2013

June Mini Reviews

So I've spent the last month trying to edit my manuscript, and so I've not really had a lot of time to blog, though I somehow made time to read several books! So, I was thinking that what I'd do, instead of doing full reviews of each one, I'd catch up by doing a one-sentence review of each one.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Not my favourite of his by a long shot, but still undeniably good.

We Are Here by Michael Marshall
A few interesting paragraphs out of four hundred miserable pages wasn't enough for me and I just couldn't enjoy this book.


Angelfall by Susan Ee

Not a bad story, but if I was the publisher, I would definitely have hired an editor to take a quick look.

Look Into My Eyes by Lauren Child
The spin-off of the Clarice Bean series, but with none of the wit or charm of the original - a big disappointment for me.

Honestly, not a great reading month for me overall, since the only one of these books I actually liked was the Gaiman one (and even then I wasn't a huge fan, I felt it tailed off a bit towards the end) but I've just finished Courtney Summers' debut novel, Cracked Up to Be, and utterly loved it, so I'll be posting a full review of that in a few days. Here's hoping July turns out to be a bit better for me. I hope so, I've bought something like twelve books in the last fortnight!