Friday, 27 May 2011

Armchair BEA: Blogging About Blogging

Dear Blog,
The last day of Armchair BEA (Alas). Today's the day of the Book Blogger Convention in New York, so the focus of the Armchair BEA posts today is focused on the blog part of book blog.
I thought today I would take a  few of the questions in the link-up post and answer them myself.
Note: I'm sat in an armchair today.  Whooo.
Oh, before I start: Sorry I missed out on yesterday's post.  I was kind of too busy to think about blogging yesterday, what with lots of Russian homework, various musical escapades and the fact that I was entirely engrossed in reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
So, anyway.

Create a "rule list" of things you should and shouldn't be doing on a book blog.  
  • Be yourself.  That's the best thing you can do.  I'd rather read a blog where the writer sounds at ease with themselves and their audience than someone who tries to be overly uptight and takes themselves entirely seriously. Blogging is meant to be fun. 
  • Don't feel like you have to post every day.  Post when you have something to say. Though it's true you should post regularly because otherwise you'll lose interest from your readers, I'm less inclined to read a blog that's updated every day when it doesn't really need to be. 
  • When talking to other people in the literary and publishing worlds, be polite.  Bloggers/authors/publishers are friends. Not food. 
  • As for blog design: I know I'm not the only blogger who dislikes music players on blogs.  I'm also not the only one who feels put off from things like glittery text and a black background with bright text.  Make sure your blog is easy to read in terms of layout and format as well as content.
  • Be honest. Yes there is a way of being honest without being mean.
  • Don't forget to be awesome.  There's no need to be shy (*cough*likeme*spluttercough*) when the blogosphere is such a fantastic place. 
What are your tips for balance life and blogging?    There are, alas, some things that take priority over blogging  for me (schoolwork, music practise, etc).  I try and do three book reviews a week, but it changes depending on what else I've got on that week and how much I've read.  One thing I would suggest, though, is to read a few books, write a review as usual and then just save it, so that you can just post at those times when you haven't read any new books.

What genre do you blog about and why? My blog's a bit of a weird mix at the moment; probably about 70% young adult fiction and 30% classics/literary fiction.  Doing the Foreign Language Friday series has really got me into some more adult books I might not have found otherwise if I hadn't been purposefully searching for some good translated fiction.

How do you keep your blog fresh and interesting to your readers & yourself? This is something I'm struggling with at the moment, actually, and I'd totally appreciate suggestions.  I don't feel bored with what I'm doing at the moment: I'm quite happy rambling on in my way talking about books as I do. After all, it's what I'm here for.  But it would be better, certainly, if my blogging life had more variety to it.

So, there you go.  What about you?  Have you got any essential blogging tips?  How do you manage to keep your blog consistently interesting? 

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Armchair BEA Interview: Gwen @ Chew And Digest Books

Dear Blog,
Today's  Armchair BEA topic/event is interviewing:  I interviewed  Gwen over at  Chew And Digest Books
She mostly reviews nonfiction on her blog, and says that she dreams that "one day, people would stop turning up their nose at nonfiction and finally embrace the goodness that those treasured pages contain."
I've only ever interviewed one other blogger before, and that was for last year's interview, so forgive me for being slightly nervous.

What originally drew you to book blogging, and what are your favourite things about it? I started blogging about relationships in 2006 and I was already reviewing books on other more general sites and a couple of print publications. One day in 2008, it hit me, wouldn't it be nice to have just one place where I could find all of my reviews? I didn't even know there were other book bloggers out there for quite a while.
Once I found the whole book blogging community I was amazed. There were other people out there, just like me, who still read constantly and liked to talk about books! Even better, they were really involved in building a community. In my off-line life, I just never came across people that read for pleasure and I felt like I finally found my people.

What book are you reading at the moment? Thoughts so far? I am reading a biography of Fredrick Law Olmsted by Justin Martin, called Genius of Place. Most people know that Olmsted is the man that designed Central Park, but he did so much more! He was a sailor and went to China, a farmer, a reporter that chronicled life in the south before the Civil War, etc. I get excited when a biography really immerses me in the period that a person lived, not just their life in it. Justin Martin has already made me look at the pre-war South in a whole new way and I am not even halfway through yet.

If you could have dinner with any four people, living or dead, who would they be?Tough question and I am sure if you asked me tomorrow, I would give you another answer....
Edgar Allan Poe. He was the man when I was a teenager and his work and life story continues to touch me so many years later. Most likely, because we dealt with/deal with depression.
Ronald Reagan. He was the President of my childhood and later, he was suffering from Alzheimer's, the disease that took my grandfather from me. I would love to have an unscripted conversation with him. There are times that it was hard to know if he really felt what he was saying or if he just thought it was the right thing to say at the time.
Erik Larson. The author of The Devil in the White City, Issac's Storm, Thunderstruck, and now In the Garden of Beasts. I cannot think of one other non-fiction author that has the ability to tell a factual story in such a way that you lose yourself in it. Every time I read his work, I am amazed to find myself unable to put the book down because I want to know how it turns out. The thing is, since it is non-fiction, we already know how it turns out, but he has a way of making it come alive.
Frank Lloyd Wright. The architect of some of my favorite buildings. Much that I have read about him makes me seem like a great man ahead of his time or a completely unlikeable selfish person, or both. I find myself wondering if I would have had the "right stuff" to work under him as I walk around his homes and buildings. Last year, walking around Taleisin West, I pondered applying for their Masters program, but the thought of living in a tent in the Arizona heat was a bit much for me.

What are your three favourite fictional novels? Last year, I bought 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, so I have been on a classics kick as I trudge through that list. I loved the emotions I felt when I read Howard's End by E.M. Forster and Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser. In both, I just wanted to shake the main characters and say take control of your lives, say what you really think!

What are your three favourite non-fiction books?
Anything by Erik Larson and I read a great memoir by Emily Plaicdo last year called Julita's Sands. Total tear-jerker about her relationship with her mother later in life. Think The Notebook, but about a mother-daughter relationship.

Pancakes or Waffles?
If I am not the cook? Waffles with strawberries and Cool Whip.

Do you read much poetry? If you do, what's your favourite poem?
I don't read current poetry, but do find solace in some of the old poems. Poe stand out with Alone.   I have often felt like an outsider.
From childhood's hour I have not been
As others were; I have not seen
As others saw; I could not bring
My passions from a common spring.
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow; I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone;
And all I loved, I loved alone.

When you're not reading, what are some of your other hobbies?  Currently, I am going through a major health issue, so most of my hobbies have taken a back seat to ovarian cancer. I like to paint, garden, cook, sew, and refinish furniture when I am running at 100%. This year it has been about keeping my proverbial head above water with freelance writing assignments, school, and two blogs when I am up to it.

Well, there you go.  Thank you, Gwen! 

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Armchair BEA: Best of 2011 [so far]

Dear Blog,
so, today's Armchair BEA topic is your favourite books read in 2011 so far.
A lot of the books I've read in the last few months have been pretty awesome, so this hasn't  been a very easy list to make.  I tried my best.
Oh, and another slightly-relevant note: I have access to wi-fi today, which means I am in fact spending day two of Armchair BEA sat on a sofa.  Not quite an armchair, alas, but the power lead to my laptop won't stretch to the armchair. 

 This is All by Aidan Chambers
Even though I'm not making this list in any kind of order, I believe it should go at the top.  This book.... I have no words. I love it I love it I love it.  All of you have to go and buy a copy this very instant and sit down and read it all in one go even though it's insanely long. That's why it's so good.   *flails*

After Dark or South of The Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami
Haruki Murakami is turning out to be one of my favourite authors.  He just creates characters that are so real and ordinary and throws them into the surreal, and the results are absolutely fantastic. 

Anthem by Ayn Rand
Yeah, I know, Ayn Rand was pretentious and  her characters are varying degrees of hero depending on how much they comply with her beliefs, but philosophy intrigues me and dammit she does tell a good story.   I came about Anthem because it's set in a dystopian-type world à la We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, and original perceptions of the future of humankind make me a very happy bookworm.  Speaking of which; We holds a similar place on this list. 

Pink by Lili Wilkinson
There's lots of LGBTQ fiction about characters who are in the process of coming out, and while I still think it's entirely awesome that fiction with gay protagonists is more available these days, it's kind of refreshing to read a book like Pink, where the main character has a long-term girlfriend and is actually wondering whether they're not gay. This probably sounds really corny, but it's a celebration of identity and love and being yourself.  Proper review to come.

Impulse by Ellen Hopkins
I have much, much love for Ellen Hopkins. There are a lot of writers aspire to write books that are entirely *edgy* in a forceful way, like that's the only way a YA writer could sell. And it's entirely true that her books, of which I've read four, are entirely dark and not for the faint-hearted, she seems to write about them in such an effortless, flowing way. Impulse is no different.  It's dark and twisted but in an utterly compelling sort of way, and the voices of her characters could totally resonate with anyone.

So, there you go.  They're among the best books I've read in the last five months; We'll see about the rest of the year.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Armchair BEA: So Who Am I, Anyway?

Dear blog,*
So, like last year, for all the bloggers who can't make it to New York City for the Book Expo America and the Book Blogger Convention, Armchair BEA exists. Alas live in England, I'm entirely poor and am legally a minor, which means my chances of going to New York in the near future are as big as, uh, something very small. 
Still, that doesn't mean I can't join in the fun to be had in cyberspace. 

 The question/post theme for today is "Who are you and how do you Armchair?"   So I guess I'll tell you a bit about myself, but be warned: I find talking about myself entirely awkward.

My name's Tesni.  I live in south-west England, where I spend my days driving tractors, shouting at trespassers and talking like Samwise Gamgee. 
If that isn't a good enough explanation, if perhaps you find it too stereotyped or suspect it's possibly not true, here are ten facts about me:

1. As you might expect, I read a lot. Young Adult fiction is mostly my thing, as long as there are no vampires/werewolves/angels or anything.  But at the moment I read a lot of literary fiction, and books by people like Irène Némirovsky, Anaïs Nin, Yevgeny Zamyatin, Ayn Rand etc.
2. I play the classical guitar and double bass.  And sing.
3. I'm also a laughable attempt at a pianist.
4. I'm trying to finish a novel at the moment.  Described by someone on Inkpop as "Bookception.", id est, a story within a story O.o 
5. Я изучаю русский и также немецкий.
6. I like photography.
7. I'm so bad at maths it's not even funny.
8. I love watching films, even though I haven't seen one in English for a couple of months. Most of the films I watch are subtitled, black and white or best of all both.
9. I will love you forever if you can name all five of the Moguchaya Kuchka.
10. I have run out of interesting things to say about myself.

As for How Do You Armchair,  I'll mostly be spending Armchair BEA sat on a hard dining-table chair at a desk, alas, unless I can access wi-fi,  at which point I shall be hiding in my evil cave  bedroom. And as I blog I'll be listening to everything from Edward Elgar to Seabear to Hoven Droven.
  Let the fun begin.

*note for Armchair BEA newcomers to the blog: Yeah, I always start posts like this.  It's something I first started doing on my first ever blog a few years ago, and it's kind of stuck ever since. 

Sunday, 22 May 2011

In My Mailbox 24

Dear blog,
IMM is hosted, as ever, by Kristi over at The Story Siren.
This week I got way more books than I actually needed to, because I own so many books that I haven't  actually read yet.  I really need to stop going to the library until I've gotten through some of them.

Collected Poems by John Betjeman
An anthology of Yeats poetry that doesn't actually have a title...

Molloy by Samuel Beckett
Tokyo by Graham Marks
After Dark by Haruki Murakami (read.  *fangirl flail*) 
Under a Glass Bell by Anaïs Nin  (read. Really interesting, if not slightly pretentious)

So, there you go. How was your bookish wek?

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Dear blog,
Summary (from Goodreads): Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they've known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin's orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.
Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously—and at great risk—documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.

Review: Before I read this, it had been the longest time since I'd read some actual proper young adult historical fiction.  Things like  A Dead Man's Memoir and Le Bal and such don't really count because they were written in that era.  So Between Shades of Gray was a refreshing change from the stuff I've been reading at the moment.  It is also what can only be described as an epic literary win because it's set in the Baltic states and Russia.  The deportation of thousands of Latvians, Estonians, Lithuanians and Finns is probably something that I only know about because I've been an utter history geek since I was like five.  But it's such an important part of eastern European history, it totally shouldn't go unread about. 

It's heart-wrenching from the first chapter, jumping straight into the story. The last sentence of the first chapter is some intense foreshadowing; "We were about to become cigarettes"... I just...when I read that, I wanted to burst into tears, put the book down and seek out some fluffy shojo manga as fast as I could.  But then on the other hand, once you've seen Lina's terrible journey begin, you have to follow it through to see if she's strong enough to emerge at the other end.   Lina's experiences are in turn humiliating, disturbing, terrifying and harrowing, and Ruta Sepetys shields the reader from nothing.

The characters.  Every one was valuable, as if each of them was meant to be there, and served a purpose, even if it was ultimately do die.  I quite liked the way that some characters were never given names; like the man who wound his watch, for instance.  I wondered at first if this would become quite annoying if Lina kept referring to people by their distinguishing features as opposed to their real names, but in a way it seemed very real, and such characters still had real personality and depth to them. 

I liked Lina, of course I did.  How could I not? She was an entirely ordinary teenage girl, her reactions to the nightmare that she was thrown into were so...natural, complete with actual fear that radiated off the page and everything.  If I said that the whole way through that she was strong and brave and willing to do whatever she could to keep her family together, that would be lying, because she wasn't always like that; there were points where she was scared, where she'd done things that she had regretted.  But that made her all the more human, to my mind.

Lina's mother Elena was also pretty awesome, for lack of a better word. I totally admire how she managed to keep her chin up for her children all the way through like that. And her brother Jonas was so sweet.  He was an interesting character to observe throughout the story, because at the start he seemed very much like a boy and then by the end, a young man.

I also liked the writing style. It was very spare, but in an entirely flowing way.  I haven't read many books recently that have been such an ideal balance of simplicity and poetry; at some points it seemed very relevant to the harsh Russian landscapes, and not a word is wasted.   Throughout the book, at the end of some of the chapters, there were little flashbacks to Lina's past life in Lithuania that were somehow relevant to the present plot.  In turn it was kind of a relief to detract from the present events, but on the other it just seemed to make the contrast between her past and present life all the more saddening.  Some of the flashbacks were kind of foreshadowing to their deportation.

So, this is an entirely essential read for anyone, whether history is in general something they're interested by or not.  I look forward to seeing what Ruta Sepetys writes next.

In three words: heartbreaking, enlightening, haunting.
Recommended for: Everyone with a box of tissues to hand.
Rating: 5

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Review: The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove by Lauren Kate

Dear blog,
I'm sorry I haven't posted anything for like a week.  Two reasons: 1) I've been kind of busy this weekend, and 2) I haven't actually been reading much YA recently, so haven't really had an awful lot to review.

Summary (from Goodreads): Natalie Hargrove would kill to be her high school’s Palmetto Princess. But her boyfriend Mike King doesn’t share her dream and risks losing the honor of Palmetto Prince to Natalie’s nemesis, Justin Balmer. So she convinces Mike to help play a prank on Justin. . . one that goes terribly wrong. They tie him to the front of the church after a party—when they arrive the next morning, Justin is dead.
From blackmail to buried desire, dark secrets to darker deeds, Natalie unravels. She never should’ve messed with fate. Fate is the one thing more twisted than Natalie Hargrove.  Cruel Intentions meets Macbeth in this seductive, riveting tale of conscience and consequence.

Review:   This is Lauren Kate's debut novel, but [as far as I know] it was only released this year here in the sceptr'd isle.  It's a retelling of Macbeth, but because I've never read any Shakespeare, I didn't realise this until about twenty pages from the end.  So the first thing that struck me about it is how different it is from the Fallen books.  There are no fallen angels to be found, no love triangles (which I was kind of relieved about because I swear, they lurk between the pages of whatever I read these days).  The only things that are the same are the fact that it's narrated by a girl, and the fact that both are set largely in and/or around a school.

Even though I found it pretty impossible to warm to Natalie, I still think she was a great  character.  She was cold, shallow and cunning, and knew how to get exactly what she wanted.  She just...didn't go about it the right way, and as she gets caught up in reaching her goal and becoming the Palmetto Princess things spiral entirely out of control. 
Still, even though her characteristics and such weren't really a big hit with me, she was fantastically created. I loved the parts of the book that went back to her past, and how more and more of her story was gradually revealed, because that really gave depth to a character who otherwise I wouldn't have been so keen on.  She's an entirely perfect example of proving the point that just because a main character isn't a genuinely good person, they should still be well-rounded and three-dimensional.

The setting of Palmetto High was pretty ideal for such a story, even though the school itself was questionable. There are next to no references to exams, homework etc., and one of the characters spends so much time hanging out in the bathrooms she has a beanbag there.  Really?  From my experience of secondary schools, the toilets are not nice places, and surely a library is a much better place to hang out..?

The pacing was pretty perfect all the way through, and the tension gradually built up throughout the book until the conclusion.  At some points it felt almost slightly suffocating or claustrophobic, and Natalie and Mike made me facepalm a couple of times as they went to more and more dire lengths to try and shift the blame and rid themselves of the crime that they had committed.  It was like there was no way out for them, and whatever they tried to to they just got further and further entangled in messing with their fate.

I'm not sure what  I made of the ending, which was entirely open and left a lot of questions to be answered.   Natalie and Mike's actions certainly seemed very desperate when you consider how it all started, and it was kind of sad how much their social status and such depended on being the Palmetto prince and princess and how far both of them were willing to go to get it.   But then if I had to try and end what they had started, I don't know what I would have done. 
But to conclude; power is entirely over-rated anyway, especially if you have to mess with other people's lives to get it.

In three words: Superb characterisation.  Intriguing.
Recommended for: Girls who like Macbeth. Also fans of books like Private, Gossip Girl and such.  This book is like a twisted amalgamation of the two.
Rating: 3

Thank you to Random House UK for sending me a copy for review.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

In My Mailbox 23 or In Which Tesni Is Ecstatic Beyond Words

Dear Blog,
In My Mailbox is hosted, as ever, by Kristi of The Story Siren. 
I got three books this week. 

Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton

Anthem by Ayn Rand
Where She Went by Gayle Forman  [You have no idea how happy I am.  I totally danced around the living room when this came]

So I didn't really get many books, but I'm entirely happy with what I did get.
And now there's only one afternoon left of the weekend, so I had better post this and cram in all the unlimited reading time I have while I can.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Foreign Language Friday: We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

Dear Blog,
note: This review is going to have to be way too short and undeserving of such an awesome book. Sorry.

Original Title:  It was originally published in English, then in Czech, but the Russian is Мы/Miy.
Original Language: ^^
Translated by: Natasha Randall
Summary (from Amazon UK): In a glass-enclosed city of absolute straight lines, ruled over by the all-powerful ‘Benefactor’, the citizens of the totalitarian society of OneState live out lives devoid of passion and creativity – until D-503, a mathematician who dreams in numbers, makes a discovery: he has an individual soul. Set in the twenty-sixth century AD, We is the classic dystopian novel and was the inspiration for George Orwell’s 1984. It was suppressed for many years in Russia and remains a resounding cry for individual freedom, yet is also a powerful, exciting and vivid work of science fiction.

Review: So unless you have been hiding in a cave, or the nonfiction section of your library, you are probably away that dystopian fiction in young adult literature is like the new paranormal vampire-werewolf-fallen-angel thing.  With reason.  We fear the unknown, but at the same time it's something entirely, morbidly fascinating.  But recently I've been kind of tired of that, and all these apocalypses have blended into one.  However, the one dystopian novel I've still wanted to read for a long time is We.
  We is like the grandfather of the dystopic, but totally gets the short end of the stick because so many people have read Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World, and seem to believe that's where things got startedI haven't read either of those yet, so I shouldn't say that We is the most influential book in the genre or anything, because I wouldn't really know. 

It's both at the same time fantastically forward-thinking from something of its time and gloriously kitsch.  It reminds me a lot of the film Metropolis in that respect.  You've got to admire Zamyatin for constructing what was then such a groundbreaking world, which was apparently supposed to be relevant to the political regime in Russia at the time, so it was pretty controversial too.  There's some interesting foresight- id est, Zamyatin foresaw electric toothbrushes.  Yes, ELECTRIC TOOTHBRUSHES.  Therefore Zamyatin wins. 
The book is only about 200 pages or so, but it's surprisingly hard to get through.  The writing style is very, very strange.  It's almost dream-like in a way, and in some parts it seems almost hysterical, and then because of that kind of vagueness, the perception of things feels kind of skewed and unclear.   It's pretty fragmented, as well, and seems to jump around a lot.  This can be kind of irritating if there's some particularly interesting scene, or thought,  and then suddenly the subject changes. 

D-503 was, in a word...a strange character.  The emotional journey he went through in the book was pretty similar to that of the characters in other dystopic novels I've read; at the beginning of the book his belief in his society is totally unwavering and almost darkly amusing, but then he falls and love with someone who doesn't buy into the society, and is then entirely confused.  But I think the way that confusion of feeling love, that emotion which D-503 had never really encountered before, was fantastically portrayed. 

I-330 was a pretty interesting character; I wish there had been more to her, or that there had been a better picture of her personality, if such a thing exists in the One State.  I knew she was supposed to be mysterious and beautiful and intelligent; that was it.  There was so much focus on the emotion, and the scenario, and the confusion when the two collided, that things like descriptions seemed almost disregarded.    I quite liked O, too, bit in a pitying sort of way. I think she meant well, but in the entirely unindividual manner of the One State, and hence when D-503 was presented with the Exciting World Outside the state, he had to kind of abandon her.  Their relationship was pretty interesting, too; were they in love? Weren't they?  They would get together for the designated hour in which they could lower the blinds in their glass houses know... anyway, good on her for appearing now and again to try and get D-503 back, even though it was pretty futile.

So, I'm glad I read it.  Though it isn't entirely flawless, you have to admit it is pretty damn awesome for being so subtly influential.

In three words: under-rated, clever, convincing.
Recommended for: all fans of science fiction. 
Rating: 3.5. 

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Review: Junk by Melvin Burgess

Dear Blog,
note: this is published as Smack in the US. 

Summary (from Goodreads): Like so many teenagers, Tar and Gemma are fed up with their parents. Tar's family is alcoholic and abusive, and Gemma feels her home life is cramped by too many restrictions. The young British couple runs away to Bristol in search of freedom, and finds it in the form of a "squat." This vacant building is also occupied by two slightly older teens who share everything with Tar and Gemma (including their heroin habits). For a while, everything is parties and adventures, but slowly Tar and Gemma find themselves growing more and more dependent on the drug--whose strict mandates are even less forgiving than those of the parents they fled. As Gemma says, "You take more and more, and more often. Then you get sick of it and give up for a few days. And that's the really nasty thing because then, when you're clean, that's when it works so well."

Review:  You know when you read those books that are set at another point in time, or in another country, but still feel like they could totally happen to you, right here and right now?  Yeah, Junk is one of those books.   Even though it was published in 1996 (?) and is apparently set in the early to mid 1980s , it feels like that it's still set in the present day.  It's so contemporary, and so much of it entirely universal.  The desire to get away from your parents and stand on your own two feet, and  the urge to have a good time.  Alas, though, you know that it's inevitable that Gemma and Tar aren't going to go about it the right way. You have to watch on as gradually things go from bad to worse and worse than that.

For much of the first part of the book, I didn't really like Gemma.    I mean, I pitied her, and I wanted her to emerge from her nightmarish experiences alive, but that doesn't necessarily mean that I liked her.   Especially at the beginning of the book, I often wanted to slap her.   She was so frivolous and shallow, and so careless and thoughtless for others, it was entirely frustrating.
About two-thirds of the way into the book, though that seemed to change, and by the end of the book she seemed to be the stronger character; determined to get clean of her heroin addiction.  The book is set over the course of about five years, so you could certainly see how she had matured from a bratty child to a woman.

Tar's character seemed to be the reverse.  At the beginning I thought he was the stronger of the two, more rational and thoughtful.  Plus I pitied him for the tough time he'd had at home;  he had reasons for running away from his family, and Gemma was just along for the ride. But in the latter part of the novel he seemed less likeable and weaker.  One thing stayed the same; I still felt sorry for him, but in a different sort of way, and I still wanted him to try and turn his life around.

If you've put up with my rambling for a while you'll know I am quite the fan of multiple-narrative novels.  Done well, they work fantastically.  Forbidden, Finding Cassie Crazy, Monsters of Men and so on are amongst my favourite books, and I probably wouldn't have liked them as half as much as if there had only been one of the principal characters telling the story.  Also, it particularly pleased me that some of the secondary characters like Vonny, Richard.  The look into Lily's mind was particularly creepy  insightful. 

The plot was pretty nightmarish. It's one of those books that you want to just keep reading into the small hours of the morning, and put it down and run as far away from it as possible.  It's dark stuff. Heroin, prostitution, homelessness, abuse, heroin, alcoholism, teenage pregnancy, drunken all-night parties, and did I mention heroin?  In some respects you could think of it as overkill, like an overload of issues, but you can see how one leads to another.  It's pretty claustrophobic in parts, like you're in a dark tunnel, and you want to run to the end and get out into the daylight as fast as you can.  The ending to the book isn't entirely without hope, though, so you're left wondering how and if Gemma and Tar turned their lives around.
It's certainly not a book that I'll forget easily.

In three words: dark, hard-hitting, nightmarish.
Recommended for: older teenagers.
Rating: 4.5