Saturday, 23 June 2012

Book Review: When You Were Mine by Rebecca Serle

First published in Great Britain: 26th April 2012
By: Simon and Schuster UK

What if your love story didn't have a happy ending? What if you were the girl Romeo loved – before he met Juliet? 

Meet Rosaline. She’s in love with her best friend Rob and, when they finally kiss, she knows it’s meant to be. 

But then her cousin Juliet moves back to town. Beautiful, intriguing, and a little bit crazy Juliet – all the boys love her, and Rob doesn’t stand a chance. 

Like her namesake, Rose is about to find out that while being written out of your own story might feel like the biggest tragedy of all, being alone isn't the worst fate in the world.

Because the greatest love story ever told might not be the right one, but we all know how it ends.

My review:

This is Romeo and Juliet, 90210. And by that, of course I mean the peerless original series, and not the remake. Brenda, Kelly and Donna - sorry, Rosaline, Charlie and Olivia are the Queen Bees at their high school. Charlie's the beautiful and bitchy one, Olivia's the sweet but ditzy one and Rose is the normal, down-to-earth one:  
Olivia said, "It's the theory of collective hotness. One pretty girl alone is okay-looking, but, like, five pretty girls together, even if one of them is not that pretty, look way hotter."

I swear she looked right at me when she said "one of them."

The three girls drive around Southern California in a red Jeep, drinking sparkling water, dating surfer boys and generally having the kind of life 16-year-old me would kill for. To make things even more perfect, Rose's lifelong best friend, Rob, looks like he's finally reciprocating the crush she has on him. But then cousin Juliet comes back to town...

Juliet is introduced like a classic high school villainess; you know the one, who was head cheerleader and homecoming queen at her old school and has totally come to take the crown away from our main characters. If Juliet's plan was to take down Charlie, I would have been cheering her on, but alas, she's got a vendetta against Rose, who really doesn't deserve to be ditched for another girl. 

When You Were Mine walks the line between being fun summer fluff and having a more serious side. These are the boyfriend dramas of pretty rich people, but Rose's voice is well done and I found her to be likeable and sympathetic. I think it was a smart move on the author's part to make Rob and Rose childhood friends, so Rose is not just pining after some guy; she's hurt and humiliated that her best friend has treated her this way. Teenage humiliation - I remember it well and could relate.

As this is Rose's story, not Rob and Juliet's, after the latter two get together they drop to the periphery of the story and When You Were Mine focuses on Rose's tentative new relationship with school slacker Len. In truth, this book has been inaccurately sold as a Romeo and Juliet retelling. Apart from similar names and a feuding families plot point, When You Were Mine is really just a romance, with more in common with Jennifer Echols and Stephanie Perkins than Shakespeare.  

Luckily those are my favourite kind of books to devour in summer, so I wasn't disappointed. This is an easy-breezy read that I finished in a couple of sittings. It makes use of a fair few clichés and archetypes (of course Len is really a genius in slacker clothing! Of course Juliet is secretly hurting and vulnerable!) but it has a relateable main character, some funny lines, a few swoony kisses and even some moments of real depth at the end. What more do you want to bring to the beach?

Rating: 3.5 stars

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Book Review: The Selection by Kiera Cass

First published in Great Britain: 7th June 2012
By: HarperCollins Children's Books

In a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels THE SELECTION is the chance of a lifetime: to compete for gorgeous Prince Maxon's heart. But for America Singer it means turning her back on her secret love, and leaving home for a prize she doesn't want.

Then America meets Maxon and all her plans start to crumble. Can the life she's always dreamed of compare to a future she never imagined?

My review:

In the acknowledgements for The Selection, author Kiera Cass thanks the reader in a way that is so happy and sweet it instantly brought a smile to my face. The exuberance she feels about another person reading her novel is palpable through her words.

Which is why I can't put my finger on the reason why The Selection itself seems to be missing that sense of thrill and excitement. In the future, the US has become Illéa and its people are ruled by a monarchy and separated into castes. Once a generation, the girls of Illéa compete in front of the entire nation to marry the prince of the royal family and become its future Queen. Anyone who's seen The Bachelor, America's Next Top Model or Toddlers and Tiaras knows how much crazy, addictive drama you can get from the mix of reality TV and female competition. In comparison, the shenanigans in The Selection are really mild and it never feels like it's all that important or the girls are really desperate to win. The worst thing anybody does to get ahead is tear someone else's dress sleeve. Everything's so...nice.

Nice isn't bad, of course. Nice is, well, nice. Main character America is like something out of a 1950's Girls' Romances - when she's in love with Aspen, her face just glows and she feels like singing, but when he breaks her heart, oh, she'll never love again. The novel pays lip service to America having some sort of inner fire or spirit, but the ways she asserts herself are fairly tame. While not typically the kind of character I love, I did find America, together with Prince Maxon, so anodyne as to be quasi-endearing and impossible to hate. If Illéa were Hogwarts, they'd both be in Hufflepuff. I also liked that time was spent showing the two of them becoming friends, before the romance.

The Selection is really about America, rather than the competition it's titled after. There doesn't seem to be much to it; there are no challenges or heats and girls are eliminated with little fanfare and we barely know their names, anyway. America has friendships with a couple of other girls and with her maids and these friendships are also...yep, I'm going to use the word nice again.

Look, this is not the most exciting novel. But it is readable and pleasant and I really didn't mind reading it at all. It reminded me of some of the paperback teen romances I read twenty years ago and I can easily imagine another young girl greatly enjoying this now, as I would've back then.

Rating: 3 stars

This book was provided to me by the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Summer TBR List

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish.

Top Ten Books on My Summer TBR List

10. The Summer Series by Jenny Han

I read the first book last summer, so the next three months are the perfect time to finish off this series. Jenny Han gives readers the perfect summer fantasy: a house on the beach, with a plethora of hot boys next door.

9. Pizza, Love and Other Stuff That Made Me Famous by Kathryn Williams

This looks so cute. Released in August, the combination of food and reality TV has me looking forward to a quirky read.

8. Changeling by Philippa Gregory

Philippa Gregory's books are always great beach reads; I'm hoping her first YA novel is no different.

7. The Dairy Queen trilogy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

I only recently discovered this fabulous series and plan to finish it in the next few months. They're perfect summer books: Who wouldn't want to spend summer with a great gal like D. J Schwenk?

6. The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen

I've read great reviews of this and just picked up a copy from the library. Royalty, castles, treasonous plots - I'm looking forward to getting stuck in.

5. When You Were Mine by Rebecca Serle

Surely summer is the time for a love story? I'm a bit apprehensive about this Romeo and Juliet retelling, as I know it turns Juliet into a villain. But a lot of people love it, so I'm willing to give it a try.

4. Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

How bad-ass does this book look? It's released in August and I can't wait.

3. Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake

I really enjoyed Anna Dressed in Blood and the great reviews for the sequel have me counting down the days until the 7th of August.

2. The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

I bought a copy of this a couple of months ago, but it's quite a long book and I've been waiting for the right time when I can take my time with it and enjoy it uninterrupted. I think summer is the right time.

1. For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

Diana Peterfreund is one of my favourite current authors and Persuasion, one of my favourite Jane Austen novels. Because I've followed Diana's development of this book on her blog, I feel like I've been waiting a long time for this retelling and am so glad it's finally been released, just in time for summer.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Waiting on Wednesday #15

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill @ Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake

It's been months since the ghost of Anna Korlov opened a door to Hell in her basement and disappeared into it, but ghost-hunter Cas Lowood can't move on.

His friends remind him that Anna sacrificed herself so that Cas could live—not walk around half dead. He knows they're right, but in Cas's eyes, no living girl he meets can compare to the dead girl he fell in love with.

Now he's seeing Anna everywhere: sometimes when he's asleep and sometimes in waking nightmares. But something is very wrong...these aren't just daydreams. Anna seems tortured, torn apart in new and ever more gruesome ways every time she appears.

Cas doesn't know what happened to Anna when she disappeared into Hell, but he knows she doesn't deserve whatever is happening to her now. Anna saved Cas more than once, and it's time for him to return the favor.

Published: 7th August 2012

WoW because: I only finished Anna Dressed in Blood a few days ago, and although I really enjoyed it, I just read it, so you'd think I'd be able to wait a while for the sequel, right? Wrong! The early reviews I've read of Girl of Nightmares have left me desperate to have it in my hands right now. Reviewers are loving this book and I want to read it and love it, too. Alas, I must wait until August, but I am very much looking forward to the day I can.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Book Review: The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa

First published in Great Britain: 24th April 2012
By: Mira Ink/Harlequin UK

My vampire creator told me this: 

'Sometime in your life, Allison Sekemoto, you will kill a human being. The question is not if it will happen, but when. Do you understand?' 

I didn't then, not really. I do now. 

In a future world, vampires reign. Humans are blood cattle. And one girl will search for the key to save humanity. She must decide what - and who - are worth dying for.

My review:

I had a very mixed reaction to The Immortal Rules. Reading it, there were times when I was very gripped and just whipped through it, and times when I didn't care much at all and had to force myself to keep reading. 

I can't think of a supernatural creature that's harder to come up with a new premise for than the vampire. The Immortal Rules gets around this by meshing together parts of lots of other vampire tales. It's not new, but it is kinda interesting. I really liked the world the story is set in, because it reminded me of the Buffy episode 'The Wish'. After a virus wiped out most of the world, vampires have taken over; humans eke out their existence in vampire cities, where they either willingly offer up their blood in exchange for food and supplies, or they are 'Unregistered' and live on the fringes, scavenging for food and always in danger of starvation. Allie is one of these Unregistered; she hates vampires and would never willingly give to their blood bank. Instead, she's part of a gang with other kids her age and together they hunt for food where they can. Making this harder is that as well as having vamps to contend with, there is also the danger of 'rabids', zombie-like creatures who roam outside the city.

As a main character, Allie walks that line between being tough and being harsh and mean, but I liked her. I think it's pretty clear from her actions that she's a very good person even if she doesn't bother with niceties; right from the start, she looks after others and puts their well-being ahead of her own. It's when she's protecting a friend that Allie's life takes its first major turn in The Immortal Rules and she becomes a vampire.

The next part was my favourite bit of the story - Allie learning how to be a vamp. These were also my favourite storylines in The Vampire Diaries and True Blood, with Caroline and Jessica respectively. Allie is turned and taught by the vampire Kanin, and, despite the cliché of the dark, handsome, mysterious vampire, with the tortured past - well, there's a reason this cliché endures. It's freaking cool.

Unfortunately, Kanin's past rears its ugly head and he and Allie have to part. Allie falls in with a group of travelling humans and must hide from them her vampire nature. Thus began my least favourite part of the story; it really dragged for me. I didn't really care about the human characters - they were either nice in a really dull way, or nasty in a really dull way. Because I didn't give two hoots about them, it was hard for me to buy that Allie really cared about them and I wasn't particularly interested in Allie's struggle to save them from her bloodlust. I was like, "Yeah, whatever. Feed on Ruth, what do I care? When's Kanin coming back?"

The last part of the story does pick up again and amps up the gruesome violence in a gee-that's-really-horrifying-but-I-can't-look-away way. I also liked that there's a link that ties the traveling humans part of the story and the Kanin part of the story together.

Despite that drag in the middle and a lack of great supporting characters, I think there is a lot of good in The Immortal Rules, so I do still recommend it to those who like vampire books - and scary vampires, not sparkly ones. This is a book with a lot of blood, a lot of fights and a lot of action: I can see someone who really wants those things forgiving its other flaws. But the two I mentioned stopped it from being a favourite for me.

Rating: 3 stars

This book was provided to me by the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Book Review: Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

First published in: 2006
By: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company

When you don’t talk, there’s a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said.

Harsh words indeed, from Brian Nelson of all people. But, D. J. Schwenk can’t help admitting to herself that maybe he’s right. Because it's obvious that no one is talking about why D. J.'s best friend, Amber, isn’t so friendly anymore. Or why her little brother, Curtis, never opens his mouth. Or why her mom has two jobs, or why her college-football-star brothers don't call home. And certainly no one is talking about how D. J.'s dad would go ballistic if she tried out for the football team. There's definitely a lot not being said. And that's not even mentioning the many reasons that Brian Nelson is out of D. J.'s league.

Welcome to the summer that fifteen-year-old D. J. Schwenk of Red Bend, Wisconsin, learns to talk, and ends up having an awful lot of stuff to say.

My review:

The best thing about book blogging is all the great books I've been introduced to; there are so many books that I never would have even heard of, that have become absolute favourites. To this happy list, I add Dairy Queen.

Like the Jessica Darling series and the Ruby Oliver series, a simple description of Dairy Queen doesn't make it sound like anything special: It's just the story of a teen girl, trying to grow up and deal with family and friends and boys. What makes these books special is the refreshingly authentic character voice they are each written in. D. J. Schwenk is another heroine who won me over immediately. D. J.'s atypical of most YA heroines - she's not real book smart and she doesn't know fancy words or use poetic turns-of-phrase, but her plain-speaking style never seems flat; it's honest, charming and extremely witty in its own way. Example:

"If there ever was a TV show called People Who Are Crazy and Need to Have Their Heads Examined, I'd be the very first guest. They'd put me on one of those couches and a guy with a beard and funny accent would ask me questions, and the audience would ooh and aah as they realized this girl was crazy. What else would explain what I had just done?"

I love D. J. lots and lots. She's so self-deprecating and down-to-earth, not to mention hard-working - she's running her family's farm almost single-handed and just reading about the 5am starts and the heavy lifting made me shudder. In addition to that, D. J.'s helping to train rich kid Brian Nelson for the next season of football, when she really wishes she could be the one playing. D. J.'s basically doing everything for everybody else and nothing for herself.

The defining things in D. J.'s world - American football and farming - don't interest me one iota, but they don't have to. D. J.'s family revolves around football; her father used to play, her brothers play and she wants to play, but it's like Friday Night Lights, where you don't have to care about the game, only care about the characters and what happens to them. I was really impressed by the way Catherine Gilbert Murdock takes a cute coming-of-age tale and weaves in deeper themes. As you can probably tell from the synopsis, communication is the key one and pretty much all the conflict in the story comes from the characters not saying what's on their minds. So Dairy Queen is not really a story about how much D. J. wants football, but how she learns to express what it is she wants.

There's also some interesting exploration of gender roles, too. I almost teared up at the moment when it becomes apparent that even the adults are hopelessly trapped by gender expectations and don't feel free to be themselves.

And D. J. and Brian! They have shot up the list of my favourite YA couples ever. They're friends, they're equals and they 'get' each other. I ordered the next book straightaway because I have to know what happens between them.

I hope I'm selling Dairy Queen. I don't know how to get across everything that it is: funny, serious, light, deep, sad, uplifting, romantic, of YA's great heroines, a unique writing style and a book you really must read now.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Rewind

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish.

Many times I have looked at the great past topics for Top Ten Tuesday and been sad that I discovered blogging and the meme so late and never got to do them. But now Rewind week has come along! This week we can do any past topic we choose and I have chosen:

Top Ten Characters That I'd Name My Children After

I've always thought it would be so cool to be named after a book character and be able to read about the adventures of your namesake. So, of course, I would like to give that coolness to my own children.

10. Daenerys from A Game of Thrones
Do I want to give birth to the Mother of Dragons? Hell yes!

9. Brandon from Sense and Sensibility
It feels like the Mr Darcys and Mr Knightleys are the Austen men who get all the love. Of course, I've swooned over them like any red-blooded female, but if I had to choose only one Austen hero to have in my life, it would be the quietly supportive Colonel Brandon from Sense and Sensibility

8. Briony from Atonement and Chime
I love this name - it somehow sounds both soft and sharp. So it's fitting that it's been given to two of the most complex characters I've ever read about. OK, so I hope that no child of mine (or anyone I know) would make as big a mistake as Briony from Atonement does, but as a lover of books, I've always been intrigued by the central idea of Atonement - that stories can take the place of real life, in both good and bad ways. And Briony from Chime? Well, she's convinced she's wicked, but she's really a good egg underneath it all: Intelligent, witty, loyal and kind.

7. Alanna from Song of the Lioness
I've already pledged to give any daughter of mine this as at least a middle name. For what little girl wouldn't want to be Alanna, the fearless girl who competes against every noble boy in the kingdom and bests them all? I can imagine the child now, begging me for amour and a sword.

6. Lucy from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
I'm from a family of four: two boys and two girls and when we were kids, we thought it was so great that we matched up perfectly with Pevensie family, so The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was our favourite game to play together. As the youngest girl, I got to be Lucy. My siblings thought this was very fitting, as I would totally be the one to go exploring round an old house and find a magical wardrobe. So in a way, naming a daughter Lucy would be a cool way to name her after myself.

5. Nalia from The False Princess
Isn't this such a pretty name? But I can't reveal the meaning behind it without revealing the major twist of the book! I'll just say that it's a name that unites people.

4. Cassandra from I Capture the Castle
One of my favourite heroines of all time, I'm sure a daughter of mine would be honoured to bear the name of Cassanda Mortmain. I cannot promise her a castle, though.

3. Jude from Jude the Obscure
Jude is my favourite boy's name, with or without this Thomas Hardy novel. I wouldn't want a son of mine to have the life of unrelenting misery that most Hardy characters do, but I also can't help but love Hardy's protagonists and Jude Fawley is no different.

2. Éponine from Les Misérables
What is it with me and hopelessly tragic characters? But I adore Éponine with all my heart. She is just so headstrong and independent and brave and would do anything for the people she loves.

1. Matilda from Matilda
Matilda will always be such a special character for me, as she was the first one I ever recognised myself in, and it was in reading about her, that I discovered I could find a friend in books. I thought Matilda was just like me: a quiet, book-loving misfit and I can't even describe the jubilation I felt to see her become powerful and achieve all her dreams. My child will get a stack of Roald Dahl books to read and I hope that, like me, Matilda will be her favourite. If she manages to develop telekinetic abilities? Well, that could be useful.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Book Review: Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

First published in Great Britain: 7th February 2012
By: Atom

Worlds kept them apart. Destiny brought them together. 

Aria has lived her whole life in the protected dome of Reverie. Her entire world confined to its spaces, she's never thought to dream of what lies beyond its doors. So when her mother goes missing, Aria knows her chances of surviving in the outer wasteland long enough to find her are slim. 

Then Aria meets an outsider named Perry. He's searching for someone too. He's also wild - a savage - but might be her best hope at staying alive...

My review:
Surprisingly, I ended up really enjoying this. The surprise was because the first 100 pages are a bit lacking - not bad, but it takes that long for the story to really click. 

Under the Never Sky is told in a third person restricted narrative style, each chapter alternating between Aria and Perry's PoVs. When we first meet Aria, it's difficult to feel a connection with her for a couple of reasons. One is that a lot of major events - her mother going missing, her friend dying, leaving her home - either happen before the start of the book or in the first few pages. We don't really get a feel for who Aria is normally, and therefore, probably don't care as much as we should, that 'normal' has been taken away from her: Every thing, every person in her life, we only hear about second-hand. Another reason is that Aria, at the start of the book, is kind of annoying. She's been very sheltered in Reverie and told a lot of half-truths and exaggerations about life outside, so she reacts stupidly and hysterically to the real world. She toughens up and becomes a pretty cool character, but she's difficult to like at first.

Perry's early chapters are much better and I'm convinced it's because we actually get to see his life in his tribe. We see him interact with his brother, his nephew, his friends, so the relationships and dynamics are much more interesting for the reader. The story starts to take off, however, when Perry and Aria finally meet and, united by a common goal, begin to travel together.

The strength of Under the Never Sky, for me, is the relationship between the two main characters. Perry and Aria have it all: Hepburn/Tracy-style banter (or Ron/Hermoine-style if you don't get that reference), hot chemistry (the fact that Perry is ripped and shirtless helps this along significantly) and most importantly, true friendship that's built up gradually over the pages. I totally believed in them as a couple and by the end was a soppy fool over their love: "They make each other better people! It's just so beautiful!"

Don't let this make you think Under the Never Sky is all romance. It's not; the romance works so well primarily because it's not allowed to overtake all the other character and story development. The novel is very action-packed; every step Aria and Perry take leads them into higher stakes and greater danger and there are some very well done fighting and battle scenes. The end reveal is a triumph, too, managing to both make perfect sense and be truly shocking.

I think most readers who like sci-fi/dystopia/apocalyptic stories will end up liking Under the Never Sky. For its genre, it pretty much does everything right: Well plotted, lots of action, with strong characters to pull it off. Get through the imperfect beginning and you'll be rewarded with a solidly entertaining read.

Rating: 4 stars