Friday, 31 January 2014

PIVOT POINT

Pivot Point by Kasie West

Addison Coleman’s life is one big “What if?” As a Searcher, whenever Addie is faced with a choice, she can look into the future and see both outcomes. It’s the ultimate insurance plan against disaster. Or so she thought. When Addie’s parents ambush her with the news of their divorce, she has to pick who she wants to live with—her father, who is leaving the paranormal compound to live among the “Norms,” or her mother, who is staying in the life Addie has always known. Addie loves her life just as it is, so her answer should be easy. One Search six weeks into the future proves it’s not.

In one potential future, Addie is adjusting to life outside the Compound as the new girl in a Norm high school where she meets Trevor, a cute, sensitive artist who understands her. In the other path, Addie is being pursued by the hottest guy in school—but she never wanted to be a quarterback’s girlfriend. When Addie’s father is asked to consult on a murder in the Compound, she’s unwittingly drawn into a dangerous game that threatens everything she holds dear. With love and loss in both lives, it all comes down to which reality she’s willing to live through . . . and who she can’t live without.
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I've been hearing about this book for months. Probably longer than that, in fact, but I waited for the paperback to come out. A decision I now regret, because I really liked it and I want the sequel but it's only available in hardback and I can't have the first book in paperback and the second book in hardback because I am just not that kind of person. So, yeah, good book. 

I'm not sure what it was about this book that sucked me in so much, but I was completely hooked after just a handful of chapters. The weirdest thing about it was that I kept kind of forgetting that none of it was actually happening, that it was all just potential until Addie made a choice one way or the other. This didn't detract from my enjoyment, but it did lead to a couple of slightly jarring moments that made me realise just how well West had written it. Both futures seemed completely plausible, and they were equally interesting to me, which I definitely didn't expect. I've always been quite decisive about books with multiple main plots or POVs, there's always one that I prefer. By quite a massive margin, usually. Here, I was just about as torn as poor Addie was.

And speaking of Addie, I found her a really interesting character. She's not what I'd call distinctive, exactly. In fact, looking back a week or two after having read it, there isn't actually a lot I could say about her character. The people around her were a lot more sparky, but I don't think that this is necessarily a bad thing. Addie was a subtle character, dealing with lots of things but most of them internal. She's quite shy, she likes to read, she's always done as she's told. And yet, in the two different outcomes, her personality was subtly different - she was a lot more outspoken in Trevor's world, a lot more submissive in Duke's. But at the same time, she was quietly rebellious in Duke's. I don't know if what I'm trying to say here is coming across, but to sum up, I liked Addie and thought she was well-written.

The only thing that dampened my opinion of this book was the ending. I thought it was a little rushed, and honestly, I started to skim the action sequences, which I often do. I think a little editing would have helped a lot here, but I think part of the problem was the fact that I was suddenly faced with Addie having to make a choice and perhaps I wasn't ready for that. I don't know. The ending was interesting, but I thought the pacing of it was off. Honestly, my biggest issue with the end of this book is the fact that I found out that the second book, Split Second, is a direct sequel. I don't know what I was expecting, exactly, perhaps a similar story about another person in the Compound with an ability, but it wasn't a direct continuation of the story. I'll try to reserve judgment until after I've read it, but I'm really not convinced. This book, however, comes highly recommended by me.



Sunday, 19 January 2014

THROUGH TO YOU

Through to You by Emily Hainsworth

Camden Pike has been grief-stricken since his girlfriend, Viv, died. He’d give anything to have just one more glimpse of her. But when Cam visits the site of Viv’s deadly car accident, he sees an apparition. Her name is Nina, and she’s a girl from a parallel world. When Cam follows her there and makes an unbelievable discovery, it’s as if all his wildest dreams have come true. But things are very different in this other world. Nina is hiding a secret, and the window between the worlds is shrinking every day. As Cam comes to terms with the truth, he’s forced to make a choice that will change his life forever.
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I seem to be stuck in a little bit of a rut at the moment in terms of reading. I just seem to be picking up books that I expect to be really good, and then winding up disappointed. Now, this is not a bad book, it just isn't an especially good one either. 

Cam's girlfriend Viv died in a car accident a few months prior to the start of the book, and he's been struggling to cope ever since. Which isn't surprising, because he's been struggling to cope ever since his parents split up and he wrecked his knee and had to quit the football team. Cam's a bit boring and whiny, which is fair enough because his girlfriend just died, but there's nothing else to him. He's kind of boring. And I don't want to read about a boring main character. Honestly, Parallel World Viv is the most interesting character here, and, sadly, she's the one we get to spend the least time with.

Why does that keep happening?

The only other thing I really feel the need to say about this book is the fact that I picked it up because it's about parallel worlds. The blurb specifically mentions parallel worlds. Do you have any idea how long it takes for anyone to figure out that there are parallel worlds and the eerie green light is the portal between them? Too long. Way too long. By the time we got there, I'd almost given up on the book because the simple fact that I knew a lot more than the characters about what was going on was so infuriating to me. 

I know this is a pretty negative review, but I didn't hate this book. I really didn't. Honestly, I kind of liked it. I just didn't think it was anywhere near as good as I was expecting it to be, and my disappointment tainted my enjoyment of the book.



Saturday, 18 January 2014

NO ONE ELSE CAN HAVE YOU

No One Else Can Have You by Kathleen Hale

Small towns are nothing if not friendly. Friendship, Wisconsin (population: 689 688) is no different. Around here, everyone wears a smile. And no one ever locks their doors. Until, that is, high school sweetheart Ruth Fried is found murdered. Strung up like a scarecrow in the middle of a cornfield.

Unfortunately, Friendship’s police are more adept at looking for lost pets than catching killers. So Ruth’s best friend, Kippy Bushman, armed with only her tenacious Midwestern spirit and Ruth’s secret diary (which Ruth’s mother had asked her to read in order to redact any, you know, sex parts), sets out to find the murderer. But in a quiet town like Friendship - where no one is a suspect - anyone could be the killer.
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(I originally posted this review on Goodreads. I don't have anything more to add because I'm still not really sure how I feel about this book, but I thought I ought to have a review of it here too)

I'm not giving this one a rating because I really don't know what to give it.

I was really not happy about some of the comments made relating to mental illnesses. Take this excerpt from page 158 for example - "Libby Quinn = sociopath? Reasons: I know she has some kind of serious learning disability but she really seems to have it out for Colt."

What does that even mean? Why is the fact that she has a learning disability in any way relevant to anything? I don't see any reason for that to be dropped in here, if anywhere, and it just really bothered me.

There are numerous examples of this happening but, otherwise, I did actually enjoy the writing. I liked Kippy, her slurs against various others aside, and found her actually quite relatable. The story was interesting enough as well, until about 100 pages before the end. I didn't enjoy where the plot went after that, and the resolution wasn't especially satisfying for me.

I did enjoy chunks of this novel, I really enjoyed parts of it, but there was just too much other stuff going on that was an issue for me. The way Kippy talks about Davey's PTSD was a problem, for example. I'm not going to rate it today because I'm not sure how it fits with the ratings I'd usually give, but I might come to a decision later on.



Friday, 17 January 2014

DARE ME

Dare Me by Megan Abbott

There's something dangerous about the boredom of teenage girls. Coach said that once. She said it like she knew, and understood.

When Collette French arrives at school one fall and takes charge of the cheer squad, she brings a hint of threat. Sleek, remote and careless, she transforms the girls into warriors - and rivals. Addy and Beth find that for the first time they have secrets from one another. But their mentor is playing her own deadly game, and there is everything to lose.
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I have literally no idea who this book is for. To me, it felt like the story was for teens, but the writing was for adults. It's not a cross-over book, I've read a lot of those, this was just an odd mix and once I'd gotten used to that, I'd actually started to get bored. Because this is a very long, very slow book. 

And, actually, for a thriller, it wasn't especially thrilling. I didn't care who had done what, or why, and the resolution didn't cause any kind of reaction. The most interesting thing about it, to me at least, was the relationship between Addy and Beth, and then the group of cheerleaders as a collective. Addy and Beth's relationship is tested by the arrival of the new coach, but I wanted to know more about them. I wanted to see them getting along, since that might have made me care when things started to fall apart. I think my favourite moment between the two of them was when they "shared" a chocolate muffin towards the end of the book - enjoying the taste but then spitting out mouthfuls before swallowing. It was a tiny little scene, hardly worth mentioning, but it stuck with me because it told me so much about the two of them.

The other cheerleaders interested me, too - RiRi and Emily and Tacy. I wanted to spend time with them, watching them interact with each other. Sadly, they were sidelined in favour of Coach French, who, frankly I found quite boring after the first few chapters. She was interesting when she was aloof and distant and unreachable. Then she started to open up a little and she just became dull.

I really think part of the reason I didn't enjoy this book is because I thought it was going to be a young adult thriller - fast-paced, interesting, snappy. It wasn't. It was pretty dull overall, and that's a shame because it could have been so good. Just strip back some of the prose, shift the focus from the adults to the teens, and you've got it. This is what happens when I read adult books - they bore me and I spend more time than I should thinking about how much better they'd be if they'd been written for teens.




Saturday, 11 January 2014

INEXCUSABLE

Inexcusable by Chris Lynch

"I am a good guy. Good guys don't do bad things. Good guys understand that no means no, and so I could not have done this because I understand." Keir Sarafian knows many things about himself. He is a talented football player, a loyal friend, a devoted son and brother. Most of all, he is a good guy.

And yet the love of his life thinks otherwise. Gigi says Keir has done something awful. Something unforgivable.

Keir doesn't understand. He loves Gigi. He would never do anything to hurt her. So Keir carefully recounts the events leading up to that one fateful night, in order to uncover the truth. Clearly, there has been a mistake.

But what has happened is, indeed, something inexcusable.
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This is one of those books that had the potential to be something really great, but ended up being just meh. That's really the only word I can think of to accurately describe it. I was going to go for boring, but the beginning was quite good and I have to admit there were parts that I enjoyed, but they were few and far between.

My real problem was that this book didn't deliver what I was expecting. This is true of many books I read, but this was particularly galling for me. I love an unreliable narrator, but this wasn't quite that. I was under the impression, given the synopsis, that Keir's girlfriend accused him of rape and he said it was consensual. The whole he-said-she-said nature of rape accusations is what drew me to this book, the implication that it would explore the grey areas of the subject intrigued me. That's not what this book is.

It opens with Gigi accusing Keir of rape and him denying it.

Then we get Keir's whole life story in excruciating detail. Occasionally, we go back to Keir and Gigi in the hotel room (I think it was a hotel room) having the exact same conversation over and over again. That's basically it. And although we can't rely on Keir to tell the truth about himself, I think it's actually very clear what he's really like, he just can't see it. Part of the greatness of an unreliable narrator, for me anyway, is not actually knowing what's true and what isn't. Having to make your own judgement about what could have happened. Keir was clearly a jerk - to put it lightly - but thought he was fine.

What might have helped this book is if Gigi had been given a voice. It's all told from Keir's boring perspective, but I think to hear from Gigi might have been interesting. How she saw what happened that night, and in the weeks leading up to it. Honestly, this book just made me even more intrigued to read Christa Desir's Fault Line, which I might have to bite the bullet and just buy in hardback now, rather than waiting for the paperback edition.



Friday, 10 January 2014

POPULAR

Popular by Alissa Grosso

Meet the clique that rules Fidelity High: Olivia, Zelda, Nordica, and Shelly, each one handpicked by ├╝ber-popular Hamilton Best. You know you're "in" when you make the guest list for one of Hamilton's parties. And in the thralls of senior year, everyone wants to get noticed by Hamilton.

But Hamilton's elite entourage is coming apart at the seams. Olivia fantasizes about finally having a boyfriend, Zelda dreams of ditching high school, Nordica wants to be alone with her photography, and Shelly's plotting to dethrone Hamilton. Lies and secrets are ripping away the careful ties that have kept them together for years. But Hamilton has the biggest secret of all, one that only her boyfriend Alex knows. If the truth got out, it would shock everyone and destroy Hamilton's fragile world—and she'll do anything to protect her secret and keep her clique together.
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This is a tricky book for me to talk about, because things happen in it that you really have to just experience for yourself if you're going to really appreciate it. All you really need to know is what it says in the synopsis - Hamilton has a secret and if it got out it would destroy her world. Oh, the other thing you need to know is that I really, really liked this book. A lot. It probably helped that I didn't like the book I read before it at all (The Lipstick Laws by Amy Holder), but I think this one stands up on its own merits, too.

Hamilton is easily the most interesting character, and I enjoyed reading her chapters the best. It's a multi-viewpoint narrative, switching between Hamilton, Olivia, Shelly, Nordica and Zelda. Honestly, I got endlessly confused between Nordica and Zelda, their voices were similar and I had to keep flicking back to work out which of them was a year younger, which of them had the scrapbook, that kind of thing. Still, I enjoyed Shelly and Olivia's chapters, too, but I always looked forward to a Hamilton chapter.

The other character worth mentioning here is Alex, Hamilton's boyfriend, but the less said about him the better. For plot purposes. I had very mixed feelings about Alex, I never quite knew what I was supposed to think about him, or even what I actually thought about him. By the end, I had a whole new perspective, but I still had my doubts.

And speaking of the ending, that was the only thing other than the similar voices that kept me from loving this book. When we find out Hamilton's secret (which I did guess, but I won't even tell you what gave me the hint because I don't want you looking out for it), the book rattles on for a bit longer, but it's lost its spark. Its intrigue. That's not to say that I didn't care what happened to Hamilton after it was revealed, but I thought the book suffered for it. There needed to be something else at the end, perhaps. The revelation feels like it should have been the ending, but it wasn't. And in fact, I would have been livid if it had been. I just think that the continuation doesn't really work either.



Thursday, 9 January 2014

THE LIPSTICK LAWS

The Lipstick Laws by Amy Holder

At Penford High School, Brittany Taylor is the queen bee. She dates whomever she likes, rules over her inner circle of friends like Genghis Khan, and can ruin anyone’s life with a snap of perfectly manicured fingers. Just ask the unfortunate few who have crossed her. For April Bowers, Brittany is the answer to her prayers. April is so unpopular, kids don’t know she exists. One lunch spent at Brittany’s table, and April is basking in the glow of popularity. But Brittany’s friendship comes with a high price tag, and April decides it’s not worth the cost. Inspiring and empowering, this is the story of one girl who decides to push back.
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I think it's probably very telling that I read this book no more than two weeks ago, but could not have named a single character from it if I hadn't had the synopsis posted above. Seriously. Not one thing from this book has stayed with me since closing the cover and setting it down, which is a shame, because I think it had the potential to be really good.

Since I'm writing contemporary YA at the moment, I've been reading quite a lot of it, a lot more than I usually would. By comparison to some of the other things out there, including the book I read directly after this one, this was really quite poor.

None of the characters was particularly interesting to me, and there are just so many of them. You've got April and Brittany, the recently popular and the Queen B of the school respectively. Then there are Brittany's friends, her close circle which if I remember correctly consists of three girls whose names escape me. Then there's April's best friend Hayley, who moved away for reasons I don't remember, leaving her all alone to make friends with the popular kids. Then there are the formerly popular girls who April befriends after being ousted from Brittany's group. I think there's another three of them. Plus the various boys, teachers, parents etc that also inhabit this universe. I didn't care about any of them. I can't even remember their names and I only read it two weeks ago. I couldn't tell the voices apart, not one of them seemed to have any personality, anything to spark my interest.

The thing that annoyed me most about this book, though, is kind of hard to explain. It's just so naff. I refuse to believe real, live teenagers actually talk like this. I was a teenager not that long ago and I work with quite a few of them. Nobody actually talks like this, do they? I'll use the Lipstick Laws as an example. I liked the idea of them, I liked it as a title. I did not like the fact that the girls constantly referred to them as the Lipstick Laws in conversation. Something about that just didn't sit right with me. It sounded really awkward and clunky and ugly. 

In summary, I won't be recommending this book to anyone. I mean, if you're looking for a particularly quick and shallow read, maybe you'd like it, but even then I'm not sure. There's just nothing in it to hold interest - cardboard characters, a weak plot and a voice that didn't stay with me for a moment after I finished reading.



Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Happy New Year!

It's weird to think it's 2014 already. I know that's a really cliche thing to say, but seriously, where did 2013 go? The last three or four months have flown by. Anyway, this is just a post to say happy new year to everyone and to let you know that I may not be around much this month, as I'll be doing Flash 31 again. Basically a bunch of us get together and write a flashfiction every day for thirty days, all of us using the same prompt. We've done paint colour names and song titles, and this time around we're doing film titles. Check out the website here, and it's not too late to join us if you're interested!