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rustysummerTITLE: Rusty Summer
AUTHOR: Mary McKinley
EDITION: Kensington
PUBLISHED: May 26th 2015

The synopsis of this book on Netgalley pulled me in. Talk of a small clique of misfit teens, a rescue dog and a road trip sounded like a nice light read that would be perfect for the beginning of warmer weather. Coupled with the sentence “there will be wild animals, and hot guys, and adventures and lies and heartbreaks”, I thought I’d got myself an awesome new YA in a similar vein to Paper Towns. When I discovered that it was a sequel, I bought the first book Beau, Lee, The Bomb and Me on my Kindle and read it, in order to be able to review it properly. Unfortunately, I wasn’t a huge fan of the first book and I was nervous for Rusty Summer as a result.

Rusty Winters is an overweight roller derby girl with a keen wit. Her best friends are Beau, an awkward and endearing gay boy and Leonie, a beautiful aspiring model. In the first book on their first road trip, they rescued an old husky dog who they name The Bomb. Together, they embark on another road trip, this time to Alaska to find Rusty’s father who left when she was young. Through the many dramas that befall them, they eventually arrive at their destination where Rusty discovers secrets about her father that hadn’t even crossed her mind.

Anyone who has read my book reviews before may have noticed that the previous paragraph should have been an in-depth analysis of the plot. However, with Rusty Summer, I struggled to do that. In all honesty, not an awful lot happened. Road trip books have never really interested me all that much unless something else in the synopsis jumps out at me but this isn’t the book to read if you want to get into them.

I also have mixed feelings about Rusty as a protagonist. At some points, I really liked her sass and maturity. She really carries her friendship group and comes across as the mother hen who is grown up enough to traverse the length and breadth of America without a moment’s thought. However, at other times, I wanted to slap all the silly slang words out of her mouth. This was a problem I had with the first book too. It’s packed full of irritating slang that I’m not sure is authentic to modern day teens -“whatevs” anyone? Beau is my favourite character and I was really rooting for his romance. I didn’t like Leonie but I actually thought she was one of the most realistic characters. I went to school with a lot of girls like her who were all just as irritating as she was.

The romance element of Rusty Summer was the most annoying part for me. Shane is described in such a way that I melted. In my mind, he was this beautiful, interesting god-like guy and Rusty’s reaction to him confirmed this. The finale of this thread actually made me snort with laughter. It was so unrealistic, I couldn’t help but giggle. Unfortunately, I can’t say much more due to huge spoilers but I would actually say that it might be worth trawling through 80% of silly drivel for that moment.

This is actually the first time I’ve written a largely negative review of a book and I feel pretty bad about it. However, I’ve always vowed to be honest and it’s important to any readers who might be considering picking it up. If you liked Beau, Lee, The Bomb and Me then you might enjoy Rusty Summer. However, don’t pick it up expecting another Paper Towns-esque novel like I did.

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boobookTITLE: Boo
AUTHOR: Neil Smith
EDITION: William Heinemann
PUBLISHED: May 21st 2015

On receiving an arc of this on Netgalley, I was quite excited. The synopsis sounded very unique and heartwarming and I had to read it right away. Boo is the debut novel by Canadian writer Neil Smith who is best known for his short story collection Bang Crunch, published in 2007. Bang Crunch was named the best book of the year by The Washington Post and received rave reviews from The Guardian.

Boo follows the protagonist Oliver “Boo” Dalrymple who finds himself in a heaven reserved specifically for dead American thirteen-year-olds. Having died in a high school shooting, Boo wakes up to discover that heaven is split into ages and nationalities, where spirits must remain for fifty years. Although they do not age during this time, after fifty years of being suspended in a thirteen-year-old’s body, the spirits re-die and disappear to somewhere no one knows. Whilst discovering his new surroundings and making new friends, Boo learns the true nature of his death and the terrifying realisation that his killer may also be in heaven. With his friend Johnny Henzel, who also died in the same tragedy, Boo embarks on a journey to uncover the identity of the mysterious Gunboy.

Boo is a very endearing and lovable character. He reminded me of a younger version of Don Tillman in Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project, as Boo is obsessed with science and the chapter titles are named after the chemical elements. He is incredibly bright, very mature for his age and I learnt a lot from him. His friends Thelma and Esther are also great characters, portrayed as strong feisty women who live independently and stand up for what they believe is right. Seeing thirteen-year-old girls depicted like this is really refreshing and I commend Smith for doing that.

The concept of heaven is highly original too. The idea that there is a different heaven depending on your nationality and age at the time of death is really interesting and I did find myself thinking of all of the other heavens that must coexist with it. I haven’t read a YA that has really kickstarted my imagination in the way that Boo did.

I also loved the almost letter-structure of it. The entire story is Boo narrating his afterlife to his parents and it gives it this heartbreaking dynamic that makes the reader want to reach into the pages and give him a warm hug. There are moments when he drops in memories of his parents and he often mentions how much he misses them. It’s devastating but heartwarming at the same time, as it really shows his deep love for his family, which again is quite unusual for a kid in their early teens. However, Boo is far from usual!

I would highly recommend Boo to anyone who is looking for a story about teens told in an adult fashion. It fits into the YA genre but there aren’t any frustrating love triangles or unrealistically attractive characters. The characters are very genuine and relatable and the plot is perfect for anyone who wants a story that is simultaneously tragic and uplifting.

 

techbitchTITLE: Techbitch
AUTHORS: Lucy Sykes, Jo Piazza
EDITION: Penguin
PUBLISHED: May 19th 2015

I won an arc of this book in a Goodreads giveaway and I was pretty excited because I rarely win them. Techbitch is an adult contemporary chick-lit novel written by two journalists. It isn’t my normal taste and I possibly wouldn’t have picked it up had I not received a free copy but as an editorial assistant, it is about an industry that I know very well and as a result, reading a fiction book about it is very enjoyable. I guess you could call media industry-set chick-lit my guilty pleasure!

Techbitch follows editor-in-chief Imogen Tate who is at the helm of Glossy magazine, a leading New York fashion title. At least she was until she took time off to recover from breast cancer. When she returns, she is shocked to discover that her former assistant Eve Morton is back from Harvard business school and taken over the magazine. Worse than that, she has completely revamped Glossy into an app, which is something that Imogen has no idea about.  Suddenly the years of experience and friendships with top designers doesn’t matter and Imogen feels out-of-place and very old amongst these social media addicted twenty-somethings. However, determined to get on board with the changing times, Imogen teaches herself to tweet and find the best Instagram filter to bring herself up to speed. Meanwhile, power seems to corrupt Eve and the girl who was once Imogen’s naive assistant becomes a work-obsessed superbitch with a secret much darker than Imogen could ever imagine.

Both authors have spent time on high-profile fashion magazines and that really shows when reading this book. It really gets to the dark truths of fashion journalism and you get a sense that the authors have based the characters on real people they know in the industry. Lucy Sykes is a London-born journalist who works in New York and says that she is currently learning new media -she IS Imogen! As a result of this real-life experience to draw on, the characters are very strong and realistic.

Imogen is a protagonist who you really root for. As well as a successful editor, she is also a down-to-earth mother and loyal wife and friend. Her marriage to lawyer Alex is very solid for a middle-aged married couple and the scenes with her children are heartwarming. When her daughter Annabel is having problems with cyberbullying, a darker subplot is planted. Unfortunately I guessed the ending of this subplot fairly early on in its development and therefore, I didn’t get the full impact of its climax. However, there is another plot thread with Aerin Chang, expert Instagrammer and CEO of upcoming shopping site Shoppit. I didn’t guess the outcome of this strand and I’m glad I didn’t because it’s what leads us into the happy ending.

The plot itself isn’t the most exciting I’ve ever read. It’s not a particularly fast-paced page-turner but it was easy reading. There was nothing that I desperately hated about the book except perhaps Eve. However, as I’m now used to the action-packed drama of YA fantasy, Techbitch did leave a bit to be desired. Chick-lit isn’t a big love of mine but I did feel an affinity with Imogen and could relate to a lot of the themes. It would be a great summer beach read for The Devil Wears Prada fans!

NB: Techbitch will be released as The Knockoff in the US

untitledTITLE: Only Ever Yours
AUTHOR: Louise O’Neill
EDITION: Quercus
PUBLISHED: July 3rd 2014

Dystopian, young-adult and feminist literature are three of the biggest current trends in books, so a novel that sits in all three genres is bound to be a big seller. Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours is exactly that. Last week, it won the first ever YA Book Prize and here’s why.

Frieda lives in a world where baby girls are not born but bred in schools. They spend their first 16 years training to be companions to men. Frieda and her classmates are about to take their final test to prove that they have achieved the ideal level of beauty required to be chosen by the sons of influential men. For the girls who don’t make the cut, life as a concubine or chastity awaits. Frieda and her best friend Isabel are among the highest ranking girls in their year and destined for companionship with the highest ranking boys of their age. However, the pressures of final year kick in and Isabel begins to gain weight, letting her rankings slip. Frieda leaves Isabel behind and joins forces with the other high-ranking girls and catches the eye of beautiful Darwin but at graduation, some dark realities materialise. Talking about her inspiration behind it, Louise said:

“When I re-read Only Ever Yours, I could see how a myriad of my life experiences had influenced the book. I was educated in a single sex convent from the age from 4 to 18 so I was very familiar with that dynamic. It was when I spent time in India in 2006 that I became aware of a gender imbalance favouring men due to a high rate of death in female infants. I read a book called May You Be the Mother of A Hundred Sons and I think that was a huge influence on me. I didn’t have the idea for the book until January 2011. I was in a Starbucks in New York reading a trashy gossip magazine that had red circles of shame drawn around cellulite or muffin tops on female celebrities. A vision flared in my mind – it was of a young girl in a bikini standing in front of a classroom of about 30 girls. An older woman was drawing around her ‘defective’ body parts with a red marker. And it came to me – a world in which women are bred for their beauty. A world in which women are unable to bear daughters naturally.”

It has been described as a cross between the Lindsay Lohan film Mean Girls and Margaret Atwood’s dystopia The Handmaid’s Tale and anyone who knows of these creations will notice the similiarities. Anyone vaguely well-versed in today’s pop culture will also notice numerous references to recognisable figures. Several characters in the novel are clearly based on supermodels and actresses of today. Cara has distinguishing eyebrows much like supermodel Cara Delevingne, Angelina has an enviable pout reminiscent of Angelina Jolie and queen bee Megan bears a striking resemblance to actress Megan Fox. Even Frieda herself has brown skin and long dark hair like Slumdog Millionaire actress Frieda Pinto. The boys are named after philosophers and great thinkers such as Darwin (Charles), Abraham (Lincoln) and Isaac (Newton) which illustrates how society
perceives men (strong minds) and women (beautiful faces).

Many issues are brought up in the novel, namely feminism and offers a dark but sadly realistic look at how women are typically seen. To some, it may seem an old-fashioned view to have in 2015 but we still live in a world where women are judged chiefly on their looks. Celebrity magazines and
tabloid newspapers are still ‘rating and slating’ outfits and their weight is still scrutinised. Women may be writing revolutionary books and speaking out against issues that affect them but Only Ever Yours reminds us that fundamentally, all some readers care about is what diet these women are on.

The link between social media and having unattainable goals is also addressed in Only Ever Yours. The girls are obsessed with a social network called ‘MyFace’ and use it to post mundane updates about every detail of their lives. They constantly compare each other’s photos and seethe with jealousy if one of them is looking better than they are. Sadly, this is straight from reality. These girls exist and it’s only when you realise this that the true tragedy of Only Ever Yours resonates. It is a work of fiction firmly embedded in reality.

On what’s to come from this exciting new YA author, Louise said: “My next novel is called Asking For It. It will be published by Quercus on September 3rd. It’s set in a small town in Ireland and deals with rape culture, victim blaming, and the fixation our society has on female sexuality, particularly in young girls.”

theirontrialTITLE: The Iron Trial
AUTHORS: Holly Black, Cassandra Clare
EDITION: Doubleday
PUBLISHED: September 9th 2014

As two of the best-selling and most talked about YA fantasy authors, the collaboration series of Holly Black and Cassandra Clare was always going to make big waves in the teen book lovers community. I’m going to a signing for it at the beginning of next month and wanted to get it read before then, so that I’d have something to talk about with both authors. Although I have a fair few Holly Black books and Cassandra’s The Infernal Devices trilogy, The Iron Trial was my first dip into the worlds of both of their minds and I have to say that I am looking forward to reading more from them.

The Iron Trial is the first book in a new series, Magisterium, a prestigious magic academy that only takes the very best young magical minds. All his life, our protagonist Call has been told by his father that the Magisterium is dangerous and that he should never trust magicians, due to the tragic fate of his mother when Call was just a baby. When the time comes for Call to take The Iron Trial which will judge his ability to make it into the Magisterium, he tries his hardest to fail miserably and he does indeed come bottom of the rankings. Yet the mysterious Master Rufus selects him as one of his apprentices and Call is thrown into the dark magical world that he and his father have tried so hard to avoid. Making friends, uncovering secrets and learning his true power, Call eventually becomes attached to the alluring academy and the ominous shadows that surround it.

Although it may seem obvious even from the synopsis, it wouldn’t feel right not to draw on the comparisons between The Iron Trial and Harry Potter. There are a lot of similarities and the world that the Magisterium inhabits does definitely have an echo of Rowling’s infamous series. In fact, there are even character similarities between Rowling’s three heroes and The Iron Trial’s -Aaron is Harry, Tamara is Hermione and Call is perhaps a version of Ron. However, although these reflections do scream at me, I wouldn’t really say that The Iron Trial is like Harry Potter but with Ron as the main character. Call is not Ron. Although Call and Ron do have some common traits, Call is a brave, intelligent character in his own right and watching him grow over the course of the book is both exciting and heart-warming. Both Aaron and Tamara are much more like Harry and Hermione than Call is like Ron and I think it was seeing the characters that I’ve loved for so many years within them that caused me to connect with these new faces.

While it’s clear that the authors have drawn on inspiration from other successful fantasy series, the events and characters of The Iron Trial are unique. Despite being very familiar with series of this nature, I was taken by surprise on several occasions and it didn’t feel like I was reading a story that I’d read before. Being able to write a series that is ultimately similar to something that is already popular and yet still managing to keep it original must have been no mean feat and I wholeheartedly congratulate the authors on that. The writing style is fresh, engaging and on point while the story draws you right in just as Call is drawn into the Magisterium.

The level of mystery and secrecy is insane. There were so many twists in this book and I found myself gasping at so many points at something completely unexpected. Revealing so much in the first book of a series is something that isn’t often done and it was perhaps a smart move by the authors. We now at least think we know the true nature of the main characters and are merely anticipating trouble to ensue in light of that but are there yet more secrets to be revealed that we haven’t even considered? Judging by the amount of mystery and intrigue that The Iron Trial contained, I can only imagine that there is yet more of that to come.

 

queenofthetearlingTITLE: The Queen Of The Tearling
AUTHOR: Erika Johansen
EDITION: Bantam Press
RELEASED: July 17th 2014

This book was an instant buy for me as soon as I heard of its existence. Being a huge fan of Emma Watson who apparently couldn’t put it down, I simply had to give it a go. Despite it being a very new release, a film adaptation is already confirmed with Emma as the star and Harry Potter producer David Heyman in the director’s chair. Having read it, I’m positive that it will be a blockbuster not to be missed.

Set in the 24th century, the story follows Kelsea, the heiress to the throne of the Tearling, who has been raised in a woodland cottage by her foster parents after the death of her mother Queen Elyssa. On the evening of her nineteenth birthday, the remainder of the Queen’s Guard arrive to take Kelsea back to the Keep where she will rule as queen. For the last eighteen years, the Tearling has been ruled by her uncle, the Regent who is controlled by the evil Red Queen of neighbouring kingdom Mortmesne. Protected by the Mace and an army of men who were fiercely loyal to her mother, Kelsea embarks on the journey to rescue her kingdom from the tyranny that it’s under while dodging the forces that are out to kill her.

Kelsea is a wonderfully funny and endearing protagonist. Johansen has created a heroine that is strong-willed, down-to-earth and extremely easy to relate to. She isn’t the typical beautiful princess, as she is repeatedly described as plain and overweight and her attitude is indeed far from queenly. She is constantly being told how different she is to her mother who was spectacularly vain and stupid. Kelsea’s love of books and knowledge stems from her childhood in the woods and it’s this upbringing that no doubt gives her the humble personality that so astounds her Guard on first meeting her. Her naivety is countered by her growing maturity throughout the book as she learns more about the situation she has been born into and what she can do to rectify it.

Although the book is supposedly set in the very distant future, it has an overwhelming medieval theme running through it. There doesn’t appear to be any technology or futuristic elements but the mention of doctors and such remind us that this isn’t the medieval time that we know of. The idea that the 24th century will actually be very much like the 15th and 16th is incredibly original and interesting to consider. What implications would that have and what happened to cause the world to reverse so dramatically? There is the feeling that some sort of apocalypse or global revolution occurred and there are brief mentions of the time before but the reader is left to come to their own conclusions about that, opening it up to multiple interpretations.

Scattered with smile-inducing one-liners, a fast-paced fantasy plot and a main character going through both the physical journey to her throne and the emotional journey of growing up, The Queen Of The Tearling is a must read for Game Of Thrones fans, particularly female ones. Like George RR Martin’s epic series, there is plenty of debauchery and threat but with much more likeable characters and an undeniable feminist slant. I’d love to see more kick-ass female protagonists in fantasy series and Kelsea more than satisfies that. I’m very much ready for the sequel already!

 

 

 

Landline-Rainbow-RowellTITLE: Landline
AUTHOR: Rainbow Rowell
EDITION: Orion
RELEASED: July 8th 2014

When I went to YALC at Earl’s Court last month, I knew that Rainbow Rowell would be there but I didn’t know that her latest novel Landline would be available to buy and then get signed by the lady herself. So of course, I picked up a copy and queued up to get it signed. I noticed that Rainbow had written “Meow!” on the title page along with her signature. Anyone who knows me personally will know only too well how much I love cats and so I was delighted but a little confused about why it belonged within Landline. Having now read the book, I fully understand!

Having not read her debut novel Attachments yet, Landline was my first adult Rainbow Rowell novel. It follows comedy TV writer Georgie McCool who is married to both her husband Neal and her exciting career. One Christmas, she is forced to sacrifice joining Neal and their two young daughters on a festive trip to Neal’s mother’s home, in order to work on one of her shows that looks set to make all of her dreams come true. Before Neal and the girls Alice and Noomi leave for Omaha, Nebraska, tensions between Georgie and her husband are high and they part on shaky terms.

While her family are away, Georgie spends most of her time at her mother’s house with her mum, stepdad and younger sister Heather. Finding a mysterious yellow landline phone in her old bedroom, Georgie rings Neal at his mother’s house. Instead of the Neal she married, she reaches the Neal from fifteen years ago. After getting over the initial shock of owning what appears to be a magic phone, Georgie realises that she has the power to mend their fraying marriage and rekindle the love between herself and Neal.

Landline is both hilarious and emotional in equal doses. Georgie and her best friend/writing partner Seth have a great dynamic relationship that produces countless jokes and is the perfect example of a grown-up, platonic friendship. Although there are moments when you wonder if Georgie and Seth do have a sexual attraction to each other, it’s always clear that Georgie is madly in love with Neal and cannot imagine being with anybody else. Even in the chapters which look back to their college days, it’s always obvious that she only ever has eyes for her future husband which causes the reader to urge them to work out their issues.

A message that Landline leaves you with is the mantra that true love will always win out in the end. It has a tearful but beautiful ending that leaves you on a cloud of hope that no matter how bad things may seem to get, they’ll work out as long as the love remains. I saw so much of myself in Georgie even though I am a good 10-15 years younger than her. It says a lot about Rowell as a writer that she has managed to make a connection between me, a 23-year-old British girl and Georgie, a 30-something American mother and wife.

I’d recommend Landline to both Rowell’s YA readers and adults alike. The characters in Landline are so easy for anyone to relate to and will provide you with the perfect mixture of laugh-out-loud moments and a tearjerking conclusion with plenty of philosophical asides about life and love thrown in. Give it a go, whoever you are because I guarantee that it will become a favourite!