Saturday, 24 May 2014

HOW TO SAVE A LIFE

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

Jill MacSweeney just wishes everything could go back to normal. But ever since her dad died, she’s been isolating herself from her boyfriend, her best friends—everyone who wants to support her. And when her mom decides to adopt a baby, it feels like she’s somehow trying to replace a lost family member with a new one.

Mandy Kalinowski understands what it’s like to grow up unwanted—to be raised by a mother who never intended to have a child. So when Mandy becomes pregnant, one thing she’s sure of is that she wants a better life for her baby. It’s harder to be sure of herself. Will she ever find someone to care for her, too?

As their worlds change around them, Jill and Mandy must learn to both let go and hold on, and that nothing is as easy—or as difficult—as it seems.
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I apologise in advance for the fact that you'll probably have the Fray song stuck in your head for the next few days, but really I'm not that sorry. I've had it stuck in mine for about two weeks now and I'm getting pretty damn sick of it. Infuriating title aside, I really liked this book. 

Jill's grouchy and grieving. Mandy's scared and determined. The girls are very different, but I had the same reaction to both of them - sometimes I wanted to shake some sense into them, sometimes I wanted to hug them and promise that everything was going to be okay. By the end, I loved both of them. I was worried all the way through that things would end badly for one of them, purely because of the nature of the story, but I wasn't rooting for one of them more than the other. I wanted both of them to have a happy ending, and I never wish for a happy ending, so this was quite an achievement on Zarr's part.

Also an achievement by Zarr was the way she managed to pull off alternating first-person viewpoints for two girls of the same age. She made it seem almost effortless. I never had any concerns about which girl was speaking to me, and it's rare for me to be able to say that. Even in books with characters of different ages or genders, I can still get confused. Both girls have very different voices, so it was easy to tell them apart, and I never found myself enjoying one more than the other, which is the other problem I frequently find in books with multiple points of view - I'll have a favourite and always want to be getting back to it.

I have to address the ending, because it was the only thing I think let the book down in any way. While I did want a happy ending, what happens seems a little bit too convenient. It was foreshadowed, so it didn't just come out of nowhere, but at the same time it kind of did. And it was a chapter longer than it needed to be. If you're going to read it, I'd recommend just lopping off the last chapter and leaving it at that. It doesn't add anything, it's just a little bit cheesy.



Friday, 23 May 2014

WE WERE LIARS

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We are the Liars.

We are beautiful, privileged and live a life of carefree luxury.

We are cracked and broken.

A story of love and romance.

A tale of tragedy.

Which are lies?

Which is truth?
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Oh, dear. We Were Liars was one of my most highly anticipated reads of the year. And I think that was the problem. If you haven't heard about this book then I have to assume that you don't have access to the internet, although if that's the case then how are you reading this review? But seriously, this book has been raved about online for months. Months. I've been dying to get my hands on it since the first review of it that I read, something that mentioned a twist ending and utter devastation. Now, that should have been a red flag for me, but we'll get to that in a minute.

I want to point out that I don't think this was a bad book, I just didn't enjoy any of it. Like, at all. I thought the characters were boring and vapid. I thought the writing was fairly average. And the plot just didn't work for me. I know I'm a nitpicky person, there's no getting around that fact, but I strongly suspect that the hype surrounding this book killed it for me. My expectations had been built and built and built - no book was going to satisfy them. This is a problem I have so often that I almost expect it now, but it doesn't keep me from getting excited about books. Especially books with twist endings. 

I love a twist ending. I do. Except I called it halfway through the book. A random thought about how something was being written occurred to me and that was it. Boom. Ending ruined. The thing is, I wouldn't have spotted it if I hadn't been looking for the twist. I don't do it on purpose, I swear I don't set out to ruin books for myself, but if someone tells me there's a twist ending, I'll try to figure it out before it happens. My brain just works on that in the background while I'm reading. It's like if I told you not to think about elephants, you'd think about elephants (thank you, Inception.) You just can't help it. And every single review I've seen mentions the shocking twist ending. It's the first sentence on the back of the book:



It's the second sentence inside of the book:


Can it really be a twist ending if you're waiting for the twist to occur? If you're totally, one hundred per cent prepared for something shocking, can you actually be shocked? (This has happened to me before - I knew something big was coming and had a theory about what it might be. My theory was a lot more shocking than what actually happened, leaving me disappointed. And wondering if I ought to consult a psychiatrist.)



Thursday, 22 May 2014

DEAD TO YOU

Dead to You by Lisa McMann

Ethan was abducted from his front garden when he was just seven years old. Now, at sixteen, he has returned to his family. It's a miracle. At first. Then the tensions start to build, and his family starts falling apart all over again. If only Ethan could remember something, anything, about his life before, he'd be able to put the pieces back together. But there's something that's keeping his memory blocked. Something unspeakable...
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If you're a regular reader, you might have noticed a little bit of a theme recently with the books I've been reading/reviewing, and I think that affected my experience with this book. I was writing a manuscript about a girl whose sister disappeared when they were children, but was found several years later. So, naturally, I was reading a lot of books around the subject. This one had been on my list for a long time, before I even had the idea for my manuscript, before I was looking for books about missing children, so I was eager to read it.

And it was really good. Mostly. Ethan's struggling to fit back in with his family, something made especially difficult by the fact that his brother isn't buying Ethan's story. He remembers Ethan getting into a car with two strange men - why would he do that? Ethan can't come up with a satisfactory response, and Blake isn't happy about that. I really liked all the family stuff, the different ways that Ethan interacts with his siblings - fighting with Blake and coming to love Gracie, even though he sees her as the replacement child and resents her initially. Even the interactions with his parents were great, as they fluctuate between being totally sure of him and suffering from a few doubts.

I was less enamoured with Cami and the whole storyline around her. It all seemed a little bit forced and I couldn't honestly see why Ethan needed to have a love interest. She was completely unnecessary and, honestly, kind of incredibly irritating to me. I would have much rather seen Ethan building a platonic friendship with someone, of either sex, than hear him talk about how hot Cami is all the time.

That aside, my only real problem with this book was the ending. I do not buy it. I was not on board with it one bit, not one single bit. I liked the way it was built up to but nope. Not impressed. Not happy at all. I can't discuss it much here for fear of spoiling it for people, but I had something quite specific in mind for the ending (which was probably the problem!) There was another outcome I could have accepted, and I even liked the way in which certain things were...discovered, shall we say? But the things that were discovered...no, thank you.



Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Top Ten Tuesday (7)

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created/hosted by the Broke and the Bookish. You can find out all the important stuff here.

Top Ten Books About Friendship

Can I just say that I found putting this one together really difficult? A lot more difficult than I probably should have done. There must be hundreds of great books out there about friendship, but I was kind of scraping around to come up with ten. So hit me up in the comments with your suggestions!




































Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Author Quotes

I've been thinking about author quotes, the kind that appear on book covers. You know the ones I mean, the ones meant to convince you that you'll like a book because a different author, one whose books you already like, says it's really good.

A while back I blogged about this topic, specifically covering how I feel about authors writing these cover quotes for friends of theirs. I think I used a Maureen Johnson book as an example because it features a very nice quote from Cassandra Clare and I know that they're friends. That is an issue for me, because I can't take that quote seriously. Sure, I want to believe that no author would make up a quote for someone just because they're friends - and after reading and loving the book in question, I'm sure Clare didn't do that - but I can't assume that's the case. I give absolutely no credibility to statements from authors about their friends' work.

A couple months ago, on the other hand, I picked up a book and saw a quote from an author that rang an alarm bell. I don't know if the two authors in question have any kind of personal relationship, if they've ever even met. What I do know is that I hated the book written by the author giving the quote. I didn't just dislike it personally, I genuinely thought it was dross. That there was literally nothing good about it. Which raises the question of how should I approach a book praised by an author whose book I loathed? I don't trust her opinion, the quote actually put me off a little bit. And it shouldn't, not really. Just because I don't like her writing one bit does not mean she doesn't have perfectly good taste in books.

I don't want to name the book in question or the author giving the quote for it, because that just seems mean. I will say that I read the book and really liked it, so I shouldn't have worried about the praising quote at all. When I really thought about it, I realised that my opinion of these quotes doesn't really matter, because the quotes themselves are essentially meaningless. No publisher is going to put bad or even lukewarm reviews of a book anywhere near it. Of course they only print the glowing ones, so what's the point in having them at all? Has a cover quote ever convinced you to buy a book? It's never swayed me. Most of the time, I don't even read them. I hate when they're on the front because it ruins the aesthetics of the cover, and my eyes just glaze past the ones on the back in favour of just reading the actual book blurb.

In fact, the only ever time review quotes have had even a remote impact on me is when I read Ian Banks' The Wasp Factory. Inside the first few pages are a ton of negative quotes about the book, and that intrigued me. Since the book was assigned for a class, I can't say whether these quotes would have impacted my decision to read the book or not, but they have stayed with me. And not just because the damn book has haunted me for several years.



Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Top Ten Tuesday (6)

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created/hosted by the Broke and the Bookish. You can find out all the important stuff here.


Top Ten Book Covers I'd Frame as Pieces of Art

I thought this was going to be a really hard category, but then I started browsing covers on Goodreads and found myself having to narrow this down. So I cheated and have twelve on the list. So sue me. Some of them books I love, some of them I hate and some of them I've never read, but the covers are all beautiful in their own way.