Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Review: Along for the Ride

Dear Blog,
yet another review I wrote while I was away.

Summary (from Goodreads):  It’s been so long since Auden slept at night. Ever since her parents’ divorce—or since the fighting started. Now she has the chance to spend a carefree summer with her dad and his new family in the charming beach town where they live.
A job in a clothes boutique introduces Auden to the world of girls: their talk, their friendship, their crushes. She missed out on all that, too busy being the perfect daughter to her demanding mother. Then she meets Eli, an intriguing loner and a fellow insomniac who becomes her guide to the nocturnal world of the town. Together they embark on parallel quests: for Auden, to experience the carefree teenage life she’s been denied; for Eli, to come to terms with the guilt he feels for the death of a friend.

  Review: I am a BIG fan of Sarah Dessen's, as you may or may not know. Despite the fact that most contemporary fiction holds few thrills for me, I could easily devour one of her books in a matter of hours. Her books are deep yet fun, realistic and easy to relate to yet a perfect piece of summer escapism.   Along for the Ride was no disappointment. 

I really liked Auden, perhaps something to do with the fact that she was, well, unusual.  She never had a chance to be a child, she spent all her nights awake, and  best of all (call me shallow if you like), she was called Auden.  I know you're not meant to judge people, but if the main characters have names like Auden, Eli and Thisbe (yes, I said Thisbe), how can you not love them instantly?!  Anyway, as well as having an awesome name, Auden's seriousness, dry wit and backbone make her likeable.  I can forgive her over-achieving, for I suppose that's just her way of being perfect and making things right, not unlike Macy.
While on the subject of characters,  I had high expectations for Eli. He was a Sarah Dessen boy after all, and he was no anticlimax as a mysterious, enigmatic, and utterly charming sort of person. And he rode a bike!  Few male love interests seem to do that in books nowadays, and while it wasn't as huge an element as I thought it might be, it was still refreshing to read about. 

One of the things that makes this my favourite of the Sarah Dessen books I've read is the relationship between Auden and Eli. They just seem to be so complete and so right together, as if they were lacking without the other.   Eli helped Auden on her quest to become a teenager, and she helped him to recover following the death of his best friend.  Although, call me shallow if you like, I was slightly dissapointed by their first kissed.  It was sort of, "oh.  That's it?" Unlike, say, The Truth About Forever, which is all "ta-da!" and makes you want to punch the air.  Not to say that they weren't perfect together, which they were absolutely. 

The writing style is as ever fabulous.  It's like Sarah Dessen is still a teenager just recounting the day's events.  Her voice in the book is so clear and realistic, you have to ask yourself if this is actually a grown adult's work or the voice of an eighteen-year-old insomniac.  The two seem to sort of blend together as one, until even that is irrelevant and you are Auden, as if it were being told in the second person or you're looking back through one of your journals.  Such is the awesomeness.

As my one single criticism, I'll quote from  my review of The Truth About Forever:

"this is the closest I will ever come to criticising a Sarah Dessen novel: if you took all the pages out, threw them up in the air, and put them back in any book, you wouldn't really notice. There. That is the only bad thing you will hear in this review.
Anyway. I don't know a single Sarah Dessen fan who actually complains about the similarity between her books. It's true, when you've read one, you've sort of read them all, but I DON'T CARE! I don't think that any of her other fans do either. She is the master of such fiction: the sort you read on perfectly sunny day or at the beach, with an ice cream while wearing shorts and a t-shirt."

Criticism explained.  As well as this being a lazy excuse for me to not  have to rephrase that in this review, my explanation from that review seemed good enough.  If it wasn't, I'm sorry, but you've probably heard it before in some shape or form.

Along for the Ride was set mostly in the seaside town of Colby, the town that Colie stays in for the summer in Keeping the Moon/Last Chance, depending on which side of the Atlantic (in Germany it's called Crazy Moon. Maybe I just missed something, but I think it got a little lost in translation). Also, Jason from The Truth About Forever made a small appearance, and he was just as annoying and mean to Auden as he was to Macy. I wanted to hit him around the head with my four-hundred paged copy as much as I did in his last appearance. Although in some respects having one of Satan's minions whose only intention in life seemed to be Having these small similatirites in Sarah Dessen's books makes the characters' world even more familiar- sort of like meeting an old friend and catching up with them after weeks of not seeing them.

In three words: romantic, fun, wonderful.
Reccomended for: Sarah Dessen fans old and new.
Rating: 5. My favourite of her books so far.

Monday, 30 August 2010

I'm back! and, Review: Fallen by Lauren Kate

Dear Blog,
I'm back from the depths of the Italian countryside, with many reviews.  First off, Fallen by Lauren Kate.

Summary (from Goodreads):  There’s something achingly familiar about Daniel Grigori.
Mysterious and aloof, he captures Luce Price’s attention from the moment she sees him on her first day at the Sword & Cross boarding school in sultry Savannah, Georgia. He’s the one bright spot in a place where cell phones are forbidden, the other students are all screw-ups, and security cameras watch every move.
Even though Daniel wants nothing to do with Luce–and goes out of his way to make that very clear–she can’t let it go. Drawn to him like a moth to a flame, she has to find out what Daniel is so desperate to keep secret . . . even if it kills her.

Review: Despite the fact that in truth I struggle to buy all the hype surrounding paranormal romance at the moment, as I read when I discovered Hush, Hush, there is sometimes awesomeness behind the covers.  And  Fallen is one such book-and there is even more awesomeness than in Hush, Hush.  The cover is deliciously gothic and really fits in with the atmosphere of the book. 
While I'm on the subject, I liked the setting of Sword & Cross, the reform school Luce goes to after the mysterious death of her boyfriend Todd.    It seemed fitting to the plot, and made everything seem even more dark and spooky.  All it needs now is a thunderclap and a voice-over booming "it was a dark and stormy night..." when Luce first turned up there.  S&C isn't exactly the riot that is Hecate Hall, but the hilarity of Hex Hall would probably not work as well in Fallen.

There are, I guess, several similarities between Fallen and Twilight, but one thing I prefer from Fallen is the characters.  As well as a backbone, Luce had hobbies (swimming) and annoying habits (cracking her knuckles).  I've read reviews of Fallen where people dislike Luce because of her obsession with Daniel, but, honestly, ask yourself: if such a creepy yet fascinating person was at the same school as you, somebody who you were sure that you had seen before, would you not be the least bit interested in him? 
Daniel and Cam were both pretty awesome characters.  Cam was deceptively nice for much or the book, and Daniel was as every mysterious, supernatural love interest seems to be.  He had a past, more of which I cannot say because it's prety important to his relationship with Luce, he was dark and brooding,  loved her without being overly stalkerish, and, well, he was an angel. 'Nuff said.
The supporting characters were equally likeable.  I particularly liked  Miss Sophia, while Penn and Arrianne too seemed like great people to have as friends.  So in short, they were all unique, 3-dimensional and had their own story to tell.  There isn't really any character that I can think of from the top of my head who I think could have been more developed. 

And the romance?  That was one of the best things about the book.  And I'm not a big fan of romance novels, which is saying something.  All aspects of the romance between Luce and Daniel was  described brilliantly, from the tension at the beginning between the two of them and the passionate kissing and such towards the end of the book.  Even the strange relationship between Luce and Cam was charming, until he turned out to be evil. 

One thing I didn't get was the ending. It was a pretty satisfactory conclusion, leaving things open for the second book, Torment, which I believe is being released in September.  The plot reached a terrifying and exciting climax, but...it didn't make much sense.  Sure, the action scenes were thrilling, but why?  Why are the two different sides of fallen angel fighting, who or what for, etc.?  As exciting as it is, it's never properly explained and seems sort of  rushed and leaves you slightly confused and "huh?  What just happened there?"
That said.    Fallen is a very intriguing book and keeps you guessing for much of the novel.  It pulls the reader in right from the mysterious prologue and carries them along with the story until the last sentence in a compelling sort of way.  The book has an air of mystery to it, and there are twists and turns everywhere.  It certainly keeps you guessing. 

So, well, despite the rushed and somewhat unexplained ending, which I can forgive because I'm sure (or I hope) it'll be described more in the next book, it was a really enjoyable read.   Move over, Hush, Hush, for there is more originality and awesomeness here. 

Oh, and check out the book trailer.  There are several versions depening on which country you're in, but this is the UK one:

Reccomended for: teenage girls who like fallen angels, love and all things paranormal.
in three words: creepy, romantic, compelling.
Rating: 4.5  It would be five, but for the confusing ending.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Holiday. I have one.

Dear Blog,
I better mention that I'm going on holiday for three weeks.  Hence,  there shall most likely be no blog entries until my return (August 28th), seeing as I'm not sure that there's going to be any internet access.  I'm going camping for a week and then to Italy for a fortnight.  What fun.  It's killing me that while Mockingjay is released, I won't be able to get my hands a copy until my return. Also, who knew that volume 4 of Translucent came out on the 1st and not the 15th as I had been told? Meh.  To think that I could have taken it on holiday with me and now I'll have to wait for my return.  Thank God I'll still be able to get The Fences Between Us a.s.a.p, seeing as that doesn't come out until September 1st.
Anyway, that's all from me for a couple of weeks.  Ciao, as they say. 

Saturday, 7 August 2010

In My Mailbox 13

Dear Blog,
IMM returns, hosted by Kristi over at The Story Siren.
This week was awesome for many reasons.  Firstly, I got loads of books  I'd been wanting for aaages.  Secondly, Books and the Universe recieved its first review copies.  Which was somewhat (okay, very) exciting.  Big, big thank you to Random House.
For Review
Fallen by Lauren Kate
The Necromancer by Michael Scott

So I Know What's Happening In The Series From Which My Review Copy Is From So I'm Not Hopelessly Confused
The Alchemyst by Michael Scott
The Magician by ^^
The Sorceress by ^^

Along for the Ride by Sarah  Dessen
The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
Tears of the Giraffe by ^^

From the Library
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater (wanted this for ages. *happy squeal*)

So that was my week.   What about yours?

Friday, 6 August 2010

Foreign Language Friday: Through a Glass, Darkly by Jostein Gaarder

Dear Blog,
This is going to have to be a really, really short review because I'm going on holiday soon and I've hardly packed anything.

Name: Through a Glass, Darkly (originally published as I et speil, i en gåte)
Written by: Jostein Gaarder
Originally Published in: Norwegian
Translated by: James Anderson
Summary (from Goodreads): As Cecilia lies ill in bed and her family prepare for Christmas, knowing she will not recover, an angel steps through her window. But Ariel is no ordinary angel - at least, he does not conform to conventional ideas of what an angel looks like and says. He likes nothing better than to sit around and chat about life, death and the universe. Through a Glass, Darkly is a springboard for a spirited and thoroughly engaging series of conversations between Cecilia and her angel.
As the weeks pass and winter turns to spring, subtle changes take place in the relationship between Cecilia and her family, as she swings from feelings of anger and denial, hope and despair, to a calm acceptance of her lot. She is preparing to leave...

Review: Jostein Gaarder is probably my favourite non-English language author.  With good reason.   He writes about  life, (occasionally) love, and the universe with such wonder and excitement it really opens your eyes.  In some of his books you can almost tell, "ah, yes, he's thinking about this as he writes." and Through A Glass, Darkly is one of those such novels.
The book is almost entirely made up of dialogue between Cecilia and an angel named Ariel. Cecilia's ill and, although you never actually find out what disease it is that keeps her in bed all the time, with nothing much else to do she and Ariel spend night after night talking about the mysteries of heaven and Earth.  Anyway, it's as if Jostein himself is asking these questions, just thinking them himself, and then answering them.  It makes for an interesting read. 

Through A Glass, Darkly is to my mind what bridges the gap between Jostein's books  Hello? Is Anybody There? and Sophie's World.  Even though I read the latter when I was ten and really liked it, by the 1800s my brain felt like it had been in a blender on the most powerful setting and I couldn't remember who had said what when and who had disagreed with them.  Anyway, Through a Glass is very vague as to who it was actually written for- kids? teens?  Adults?  Maybe all three.  It's pretty family-friendly, I guess, without any violence, bad language or anything overly sexual (sorry if you picked this up expecting those things).  Don't let that put you off- it still makes you think.

So it doesn't really have a plot as such; Girl meets angel.  Girl and angel talk.  Girl dies (which we sort of know she will from the very beginning).   Despite that, in a quiet and gentle sort of way, it leaves you with a lot to think about.    I think it would make an excellent play;  made by one of those indie theatre companies, with just five people or so performing in a tiny little theatre, with just one set of scenery.  I can imagine it now.  When my Norwegian improves further than   "Jeg forstår ikke, jeg bare snakke litt norsk, men jeg lærer " * I shall have to write a letter to Mr. Gaarder and suggest this. 

I don't know why but Cecilia got on my nerves a bit at the start of the book.  Perhaps it was just because her exact age wasn't given, and I just imagined her older than she really was, but she seemed slightly immature.  Ariel, though, was a great character, and I liked him more than some other angels I could mention *cough* Patch from Hush Hush *cough cough* .  Mostly because he was friendly, and not a scary violent stalker.  If you're ill in bed at Christmas time, Ariel is the sort of angel you'd like to meet and to discuss life and the universe with. 

So, well, although it isn't my favourite Gaarder book, I still enjoyed it.  It reminds me a little of The Book of Everything in that everybody and anybody from nine to ninety would like it.  Hmm. What was lacking, then?  Well, it wasn't as "ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in Space!" as Sophie's World, and not as romantic as The Orange Girl.  It was kind of short, and, well, call me bitter when I say that the ending was predictable if you like.    I'm still glad I read it though, and of a dark winter's night it will keep you busy.

In three words: curious, eye-opening, sweet. 
Recommended for:
Rating: 3.5

*and sorry if I said that wrong or that sentence posesses more grammatical errors than stars in the sky, but honestly, how much Norwegian does a British teenage girl normally speak?  Unless they have Norwegian relatives of course.

Book Blogger Hop

Dear Blog,
it's Friday. It's the Book Blogosphere.  Which means the Book Blogger Hop (yay!) , hosted by Jennifer over at Crazy For Books.  Every week, as well as the Linky, those participating suggest questions for you to answer in your Hop post.  This week the question is:

Do you listen to music when you read? If so, what are your favorite reading tunes?

My answer: I don't tend to intentionally listen to music and read at the same time.  This is mostly because I'm one of those people who likes songs with meaningful lyrics, and to my mind they're the best part.  if I'm reading, I can't listen properly to the words, and if I'm listening  to music then I sort of get distracted from the book.  That said, I quite like classical music (a teenager who likes classical music? Who isn't the fictional imagining of an author?  Can this be true? *gasps*), so occasionally I put a bit of  Carulli or Vivaldi on my iPod speakers and listen to their music.

Anyway.   Enough of my ramblings.  Hop forth, book bloggers!

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Review: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Dear Blog,
Summary (from Goodreads): Melinda Sordino busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops. Now her old friends won't talk to her, and people she doesn't even know hate her from a distance. The safest place to be is alone, inside her own head. But even that's not safe. Because there's something she's trying not to think about, something about the night of the party that, if she let it in, would blow her carefully constructed disguise to smithereens. And then she would have to speak the truth.

Review: Before I go onto my review, I have to just write a few pointless, shallow sentences about the cover, so skip foward to the next : Even though I read the UK edition, I much prefer the US of A cover, which is pictured, just because it's prettier and, I think, more relevant to the book, e.g there's a tree on the front and the girl on the cover's mouth isn't pictured (because, well, she chooses not to speak).   Also, I think the font and size of the word "Speak" on the American cover  are more symbolistic (is that a real word?) of the whole speaking thing.  The title on the British cover is in VERY BIG CAPITAL LETTERS and the word looks more like a demand than, well, a lack therof.  Perhaps I analyse covers too deeply.

Even though she had been through some pretty terrible stuff, I really struggled to like Melinda, especially at the beginning. I know there was some big terrible incident that occured before she started high school (which actually wasn't that she called the police, though that sort of had something to do with it) which was the cause for the reason she was so withdrawn and emo, but even so I struggled to like her, even after The Event which made the whole school hate her was revealed. 
Despite the fact that I wasn't too keen on Melinda throughout much of the book, it was a completely compelling read that sucked me in and kept me turning the pages.  I guess I just wanted, above all, to find out if she would eventually speak.  She did eventually make herself heard, but for the preceding 225 pages or so her total word count for the book is about 40 (I didn't actually count, but if somebody could provide me with some rough numbers, that would be great).  Anyway, it was a relatively easy read, easily devoured in one sitting, but the subject matter, which I won't reveal, and the emo-ness made it difficult to read at the same time.   

So even though I wasn't Melinda's biggest fan, I disliked the people who disliked her.  Heather From Ohio, Mr. Neck, her parents, Rachel/Rachelle all made me slightly angry in the way that they treated Melinda.  Especially her parents.  I wanted to scream, "wake up, wake up! your daughter needs you!!"  But I guess because she never spoke, they never really listened.  I particularly didn't get it when Melinda cuts herself (with a paperclip? a coathanger?  I forget), and all that her mother says is something along the lines of, "you really don't need to."  So by the end of the book, I guess I really was rooting for her and was happy when she spoke up for herself.

This isn't the first Laurie Halse Anderson book that I've read, actually. I read Chains back in February and now having read Speak, I'm pretty impressed at how she can switch from the story of  a 20th (seeing as this was first published in 1999) century girl in a typical (and, undoubtedly, clichéd) high school to a young black slave at the height of the revolutionary war, is pretty impressive.  Admittedly, I'm not big on the former, because I've been home educated since I was eight and I really can't relate. However, it's hard to find any contemporary novels with home-eddie protagonists (if you can name me some which don't involve them returning to the mainstream education system, I love you), so I read them anyway.  Anyway, that's aside from the subject. What I mean is, this ability to skip over 200 years back and forth from the past to the present is, well, clever.  Speak is certainly very gritty and doesn't hide from dark stuff.

I think the writing style itself really adds to the stark, empty nature of the story.  It's broken up into little vignettes, with dialogue being narrated like a script in a play, and when Melinda says nothing it's just written as "Me:      ", the Me being followed by emptiness to indicate nothing being said.   The book is divided into the four marking periods of the school year, which is interesting because you can see her grades drop as time goes by.   Alas, at the end of the fourth marking period, her grades aren't actually shown so you can't tell what became of them at the end of the year. Oh well.  You would hope that eventually they would rise again.

In three words: depressing but compelling. 

Recommended for: teenagers who don't mind the overall emo-ness. 
Rating: 4

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Review: Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff

Dear Blog,
before I start, I better give an explanation for why I didn't do a Foreign Language Friday post on Friday.  The answer is, I couldn't get through the book I was going to read for it last week, a.k.a Perfume by Süskind, and I realised it was better to not review it at all than just half of the book, a.k.a all that I read of it.  If that is a feeble enough excuse, then I hope you forgive me.  I have a couple of Jostein Gaarders on my shelf I need to read, so hopefully I'll enjoy one of those a little more.
Anyway.  Onwards and upwards, as they say.

Summary (from Goodreads): LaVaughn needed a part-time job, something she could do after school to help earn money for college. Jolly needed a babysitter, someone she could trust with two kids while she worked the evening shift.
It didn't matter that LaVaughn was fourteen, only three years younger than Jolly. It didn't matter that Jolly didn't have a husband or a mom and dad, because LaVaughn gives Jolly and her two babies more love and understanding than should be possible for a fourteen-year-old, because if she doesn't no one else will.

Review: You don't know how long I've waited to read this book, a.k.a a very long time.  I first saw it while scouring Goodreads for good verse novels and the cover, which is to be frank absolutely awesome and one of my favourite book covers of all time, caught my eye.  Anyway, when I found a copy in the darkest corner of my local library I checked it out and was out the door before you can say "lemonade".  Anyway, now that I've read it, how glad I am that I did!

The novel is told in spare free-verse poetry, complete with grammatical and spelling errors, as if LaVaughn is talking directly to you.  Speaking of which, how are you supposed to pronounce that name? La-Vawn? La-Von? Either way, she was to my mind the true hero of the story; determined, hardworking, funny, caring, and just so ordinary.  The aforementioned writing style including spelling errors that imitate somebody actually talking seemed to make her seem all the more realistic. Also, it made me happy that she started to correct her "ain't"s and "don't got"s and such by the end of the book.  What's not to like about her?  She tries hard to break the cycle of poverty, go to college and leave where she and her mother have lived in the inner city.  Speaking of which, it's a very gritty book, but not unpleasant; it's strangely light-hearted, and the end of the book is hopeful.

However, I wasn't sure at first what to make of Jolly, the teenage mother whose two kids LaVaughn babysits. In some respects, she was caring, determined and such, but now and again I wanted to shake her and exclaim, "come on, Jolly, pull yourself together!" In that respect I guess I'm much like LaVaughn's mother, who even though seemed kind of strict, just wanted the best for her daughter. Anyway, I know it must have been really hard for her, but her lack of doing anything, i.e when her boss sexually harasses her and then fires her, going back to school, and so  on.  Thankfully, LaVaughn's determination helped her get back on her feet and by the end of the book, they were both, as the title suggests, making lemonade.  All I can say is to quote from the title of a review on Amazon which is titled "make me more lemonade!"  I don't even like lemonade.  Well, Make Lemonade makes me like lemonade, even though I can't stand to drink it, if that makes any sense.   

One thing that got on my nerves slightly was the lack of description.  I know that this is is told in a stream-of-consciousness sort of way, but I had no idea of what any of the characters looked like, and when LaVaughn first met Jolly, Jeremy and Jilly, it seemed very sudden and seemed to sort of throw the reader into the deep end.  Which was strange, because even though it's only 170 pages or so, by the end of it I felt like the characters were my best friends, even though I didn't have the faintest idea of what any of them looked like.

It's a pretty easy read, easily devoured in one sitting, but along the way there are such tender and powerful moments that make you sort of do a double take and go back  to re-read the last sentence/poem/page/whatever.  In that respect it reminds me of Jinx by Margaret Wild- don't let the simplicity fool you.  As soon as you finish, you want to a) read it all cover to cover again, and b) order the next two books in the trilogy, True Believer and This Full House, off Amazon and to read them with the same enthusiasm as well. 

In three words: hopeful, powerful, and moving. 

Recommended for: teenagers everywhere and anywhere.
Rating: 4.5