Tuesday, 26 August 2014

REVIEW: The Awakening Of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera

They Say:
In this #1 international bestseller, a young woman leaves everything behind to work as a librarian in a remote French village, where she finds her outlook on life and love challenged in every way.

When Miss Prim, an independent, accomplished young woman, reads an ad in the newspaper seeking a feminine spirit to work as a librarian in the lush countryside of France, she finds herself compelled to apply. Little does she know what kind of world she is about to step into.
Miss Prim dutifully accepts the job and begins organizing her employer's vast library. A knowledgeable, mysterious gentleman with very specific opinions about life, he challenges Miss Prim's seemingly unshakeable disposition. And as she becomes familiar with the other townspeople, she begins to realize that the surprising lifestyle of the town awakens amazement, perplexity, and even disdain in her. For in this tiny corner of the world, a flourishing colony of exiles have settled into a simple, rural existence, living around great literature, intellectual discussions, family, and sweet indulgences. Their peculiar and unconventional ways slowly test Miss Prim's most intimate ideas and fears as well as her most profound convictions. She quickly comes to realize that her advanced degrees did little to prepare her for the lessons she's being taught the least of which is a lesson in love.

Set against a backdrop of steaming cups of tea, freshly baked cakes, warm fires, and lovely company, The Awakening of Miss Prim is a delightful, thought-provoking, and sensitive novel that gives rise to theories about love and companionship, education, and the beauty of every passing moment

Published: 2014, Atria Books
Source: eBook, NetGalley

I Say:
Meh. This book promised so much. I was expecting an idyllic, whimsical tale and was instead given something that failed to live up to its promises in so many ways. The main character was dreadful - I couldn't warm to her in the slightest and found her 'quirks' to be horrendously forced. The banter and back-and-forth between the characters also fell short. I finished it, but it was a struggle. Would not recommend. However, there is potential in the writing and perhaps with a better editor or a better premise, the author can deliver a sturdier second book.

2 out of 5

REVIEW: The Broken Heart Diet by Tom Formaro

They Say:
A sweet, sexy, and magical comedy... Time heals a broken heart. But can a plate of pasta puttanesca? San Francisco chef Dante Palermo is on the broken heart diet: he's lost the love of his life and twenty-five pounds. Can a visit from the ghost of his Sicilian nonna change all that? Not if Dante can't master his melancholy. In the midst of his emotional free fall, Dante opens a restaurant in North Beach, San Francisco's famed Italian neighborhood. As he clashes with his ill-tempered business partner, he begins a journey to career success beyond his imagination. With his heart, however, the struggles endure. On an enchanted odyssey that takes him from San Francisco to Des Moines to Rome, Dante tries to overcome his heartache and win the heart of his inamorata. Full of magic, lighthearted fun, and romance, The Broken Heart Diet tells the story of one lovelorn man's attempt to find true love

Published: 2014, Tramonto Press
Source: eBook, NetGalley

I Say:
And what's this we have? A 'chick lit' written by a dude? Indeed, and it is AWESOME. Whoever said men couldn't write romance for women needs to take a long, hard look at their thoughts and acquaint themselves with this book.

I wasn't expecting much from this, given that it's a pretty breezy read, but I'm glad I didn't go in with huge expectations. For what it is - a lighthearted, easy read - it's brilliant. Full of wonderful heartwarming scenes and practically bursting with delectable food (seriously, the San Francisco food scene is so brilliantly described that I was practically salivating), The Broken Heart Diet is a wonderful debut.

Yes, I could see the ending coming a mile away, but that's exactly what you get with this genre. What I loved about this and its' formulaic predictability is that it was delivered in such a clever, funny way. I look forward to reading more from Tom Formaro.

4 out of 5

Monday, 23 June 2014

REVIEW: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

They Say:
Private investigator Cormoran Strike returns in a new mystery from Robert Galbraith, author of the #1 international bestseller The Cuckoo's Calling.

When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, Mrs. Quine just thinks her husband has gone off by himself for a few days--as he has done before--and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.

But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine's disappearance than his wife realizes. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were to be published, it would ruin lives--meaning that there are a lot of people who might want him silenced.

When Quine is found brutally murdered under bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any Strike has encountered before...

A compulsively readable crime novel with twists at every turn, THE SILKWORM is the second in the highly acclaimed series featuring Cormoran Strike and his determined young assistant, Robin Ellacott.

Published: 2014, Sphere
Source: Hardback, Waterstones

I Say:
I LOVED The Cuckoo's Calling. I thought it was a brilliant introduction to JK Rowling as a detective writer and loved how intricately my city was described. Because I loved Cuckoo so much, I was terrified that The Silkworm wouldn't live up to my expectations but, wow, it blew me away.

Our favourite rockstar spawn Cormoran Strike is approached in his office by a Rose West lookalike who informs him, quite matter-of-factly, that her writer husband has upped and disappeared and she would quite like him home, thank you very much. A combination of tiredness and pity spurns Strike into taking on Leonora (or Rose West Jnr as she shall henceforth be known) as a client and dives head first into the seedy world of book publishing.

Over the course of a few chapters, the story of Rose West Jnr's husband, Owen Quine, comes to light. And dudes, that light is not favourable. Quine is a much-ridiculed, sub-par writer who has finally written what he deems to be his masterpiece. Turns out, said masterpiece is a vulgar, heavily symbolic tale that exposes several murky secrets of his friends and foes. Almost no one has a kind word to say about Quine, and virtually no one cares about his disappearance, making Strike's job depressingly difficult. Eventually, Quine is found brutally murdered and it becomes a race between Strike and the laughably inept Metropolitan Police to find the killer before they strike (haha!*) again.

*I'm an awful person. Ignore me.

It was at this point where The Silkworm really comes into its own, rather than just being a successor to The Cuckoo's Calling. Rowling was given a wonderful opportunity to flex her full writing skills and we were taken further into the life and mind of Strike and his glorious assistant/secretary/potential future love interest (the signs have always been there, people!) Robin. Once again, no stone is left unturned, as Rowling takes us deep behind the scenes of London's publishing world in a bid to discover the truth behind Quine's disappearance. The story had me guessing right up until the big reveal and certainly didn't disappoint. Perhaps my only complaint is that it seemed to wrap up fairly quickly. The subplots of finding out more about Robin's fiancé Matthew and Strike's brother Al were also great and didn't distract from the main plot in the slightest.

As with The Cuckoo's Calling before it, The Silkworm features a wonderful array of supporting characters and once again London is described so beautifully and perfectly that I could picture every single location in my mind. Rowling/Galbraith is a brilliant crime writer and, if there really are five more books in this series, I cannot wait to get my hands on them.

5 out of 5

Friday, 20 June 2014

REVIEW: Rich Kids Of Instagram: A Novel by Rich Kids Of Instagram creator with Maya Sloan

They Say:
Based on the wildly popular blog "Rich Kids of Instagram," a dishy and hilarious novel about the intersecting lives of the world's most extravagant, unapologetically uber-rich teenagers.

The "Rich Kids of Instagram" are not your typical well-to-do brats. These "kids" drive Ferraris, fly to their weekend getaways in private jets, and post self-indulgent photos of themselves online as frequently—and as wantonly—as they blow wads of cash. Not to mention that they're more involved in sex, drugs, and power plays than most people twice their age.

Drawing from the ten most frequent contributors to the popular blog of the same name—which receives an average of 850,000 unique visitors a month and has been featured on 20/20, The New York TimesThe Washington PostForbesThe AtlanticBuzzfeedGawker, and others—Rich Kids of Instagram revolves around a core group of spoiled young people, from a Southern Belle poultry-empire heiress to a media mogul's driven daughter and an old-money rifle heir with a Mayflower legacy; to a nouveau riche outsider who is thrust into the members-only universe of the .1%, with scandalous results.

In a world that is smaller, more connected, and more competitive than ever, where nothing is off limits, some kids are just trying to make a buck—or ten thousand. Prepare to be wowed by this saucy, compulsively readable book about the hilarious display of extravagant wealth and the teenagers who have fallen into it

Published: 2014, Gallery Books
Source: eBook, Netgalley

I Say:
I kind of wanted to hate this. I thought the mere premise - several rich kids bleating on about their lives - would be enough to make me want to cry. And yet... you may colour me surprised. I'd vaguely heard of the blog this novel was based on but dismissed it as a parody. It was only about twenty pages in that I realised... well, damn, these kids actually do exist. And what do ya know, they're not all that bad!

Taking the original blog premise and running for the hills with it, Rich Kids Of Instagram was surprisingly humorous, intelligent and wildly compelling. The different story arcs all combine with several overlapping events, individuals and, of course, privilege. But unlike so many vapid reality television shows that focus solely on the young and rich, Rich Kids Of Instagram didn't have me rolling my eyes and hating the brats. Instead, I actually *gasp* found myself liking some of these kids (especially Annalise; girl has determination, I'll give her that).

It is by far the type of book that is easily consumed within one sitting as it doesn't require much brain power to process (except for the alternating multiple POVs which, admittedly, were a little bit confusing at times). Taken for what it is - a fun, somewhat silly bit of fun - Rich Kids Of Instagram was thoroughly enjoyable and absolutely exceeded my expectations.

4 out of 5

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

REVIEW: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

They Say:
Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers thirteen cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker, his classmate and crush who committed suicide two weeks earlier.
On tape, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he'll find out how he made the list.
Through Hannah and Clay's dual narratives, debut author Jay Asher weaves an intricate and heartrending story of confusion and desperation that will deeply affect teen readers.
Published: 2007, Razorbill
Source: Paperback, Waterstones

I Say:
This book. This fucking book. I liked it so much; I liked the idea, I liked the plot, I sort of liked one or two of the characters, but love it I did not. And yet, I didn't hate it. Not quite.

I've heard and read so much about Thirteen Reasons Why ever since it's publication but never quite managed to get around to reading it. Now that I have, I can fully understand the love and the hate. I can't fully go into why I didn't love it, because that would just spoil so much of this story and I'm not down with the spoiler crew. Take that as you will.

One day, our main dude Clay comes home to find a shoebox full of cassette tapes (how very retro) which the first tape promises him will lay out the reasons behind school friend Hannah's suicide. So far, so original. Until we find out that Clay is just such a good guy, y'know. And was totally in love with Hannah to boot. So, y'know, pass the sick bucket. Clay sets out to discover the truth behind Hannah's totally-unexpected-and-yet-not-really-that-unexpected suicide in just one night, determined to listen to all thirteen sides of Hannah's story in one night.

Initially, it was quite easy to feel somewhat sorry for Hannah. There are so many teenage girls who fall victim to casual sexism at school, fail to live up to the 'slut' moniker they somehow find themselves with and plunge head first into even more bullying, sexism and godawfulness. Thirteen Reasons Why could have made a solid point about slut shaming, bullying, depression and isolation in teens and could have proven Hannah's point in a much more concrete way. Instead, there's a revelation a few tapes in that made me want to scream. I actually had to put the book down and walk away from it for a few hours because one scene in particular made me feel physically sick. Yes, it's inclusion was necessary. But the characters' responses? Sickening. Truly sickening.

If there's one thing I can commend Jay Asher for, it's capturing the frustration behind teen suicides so brilliantly. He doesn't use it as a way out from the bullying for Hannah, nor does he use it as a cry for attention from Hannah. Instead, we're presented with a character who, truthfully, just gave up. A girl who just simply decided that life was not worth living. Yes, her reasons may seem flimsy at first but, combined, they show the snowball effect that things can have in the lives of not just teenagers, but everyone.

One main criticism I do have is that it could potentially glamorise suicide. Hannah isn't shown to have put any real thought into her decision to end her life. Instead, she just records her audio tapes and says goodbye to the world. And she's suddenly revered by everyone, even those who contributed to her depression. I can't get on board with that.

4 out of 5

REVIEW: Severed Heads, Broken Hearts (or The Beginning of Everything) by Robyn Schneider

They Say:
Golden boy Ezra Faulkner believes everyone has a tragedy waiting for them—a single encounter after which everything that really matters will happen. His particular tragedy waited until he was primed to lose it all: in one spectacular night, a reckless driver shatters Ezra’s knee, his athletic career, and his social life.

No longer a front-runner for Homecoming King, Ezra finds himself at the table of misfits, where he encounters new girl Cassidy Thorpe. Cassidy is unlike anyone Ezra’s ever met, achingly effortless, fiercely intelligent, and determined to bring Ezra along on her endless adventures.

But as Ezra dives into his new studies, new friendships, and new love, he learns that some people, like books, are easy to misread. And now he must consider: if one’s singular tragedy has already hit and everything after it has mattered quite a bit, what happens when more misfortune strikes? 

Robyn Schneider’s The Beginning of Everything is a lyrical, witty, and heart-wrenching novel about how difficult it is to play the part that people expect, and how new beginnings can stem from abrupt and tragic endings.

Published: 2013, Katherine Tegan/Simon & Schuster
Source: Paperback, Waterstones

I Say:
This book feels like it was written solely to be turned into gifsets on Tumblr.

That isn't to say it isn't a good book - it's a nice enough story, although predictable. But at it's core? This book is just cliché, after cliché, after stolen tidbit from other, more successful YA books.

The story is told from the viewpoint of golden boy Ezra, who has gone from being a SuperAwesomeAthlete into a SuperAwesomeNerdGuy by way of an horrific incident that leaves him hobbling, broken and at the bottom of the high school food chain (although not, seeing as he is still universally revered by all and sundry). At the pinnacle of Ezra feeling sorry for himself, in walks our mysterious manic pixie dream girl Cassidy. Not only is she just, like, SuperAwesomeMysteriousGirl, she's also just, like, the complete opposite to Ezra's TotalBitchExGirlfriend. 

We're approximately two chapters in and I've already lost count of how many YA tropes we've covered...

So. Ezra, Ezra, Ezra. Dude has got one MAHOOSIVE superiority complex. In his previous life, he was untouchable due to his status as Super Star Tennis Player and All Around Enviable Good Guy. Girls wanted him, guys wanted to be like him and blah blah blaaah. He spent a good chunk of the novel whining about losing his whole loss of identity, before moving on to becoming friends with the VERY KIDS HE USED TO MOCK. Because personal growth, y'all. When he's not knee-deep in self-loathing and existential crises, Ezra finds himself falling further and further for the even more unlikeable Cassidy. 

Cassidy - who, lest you forget from her totally unnecessary speech - is TOTALLY NOT A MANIC PIXIE DREAM GIRL. She's just an oh-so-wounded special snowflake who acts like she's above those who seek external verification and yet spends her entire story arc doing the same damn thing. Girl, authenticity. It does not mean what you espouse. 

In addition to the YA TropeAThon, we also get a metric fuckton of slut shaming throughout. Ezra likes to consistently remind the reader that Cassidy is totally abstinent and definitely does not put it around or wear short skirts like every other girl in his vicinity who doesn't read poetry or wear glasses. Because we all know that virgin = inherently good person and sexually active = the devil. (Or whatever. I don't really know where I was going with that point).

The plot, in itself, never wraps up. There's no 'eureka' moment of clarity for the characters. It just all sort of fizzles out in the last chapter, with no build up and no pay off. It's the type of twist that, although done to death, could have been done beautifully, intelligently and with a ton more suspense. Instead, it feels like everyone (bar the reader) has forgotten all about it by the time we finally get our resolution. It made me feel icky, and cheated. 

Robyn Schneider is a talented writer but she's fallen into the trap so many others have done before her. She's dissected a library's worth of young adult novels, figured out exactly why they were successful and then just copied ad nauseum into her own story. Her target audience (Tumblr) screams and shouts desperately about wanting authenticity... they won't find it here.

2 out of 5

Sunday, 15 June 2014

REVIEW: Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach

They say:
A chilling and intense first novel, the story of a solitary young woman drawn into an online world run by a charismatic web guru who entices her into impersonating a glamorous but desperate woman.

When Leila discovers the Web site Red Pill, she feels she has finally found people who understand her. A sheltered young woman raised by her mother, Leila has often struggled to connect with the girls at school; but on Red Pill, a chat forum for ethical debate, Leila comes into her own, impressing the Web site's founder, a brilliant and elusive man named Adrian. Leila is thrilled when Adrian asks to meet her, flattered when he invites her to be part of "Project Tess." Tess is a woman Leila might never have met in real life. She is beautiful, urbane, witty, and damaged. As they e-mail, chat, and Skype, Leila becomes enveloped in the world of Tess, learning every single thing she can about this other woman—because soon, Leila will have to become her. An ingeniously plotted novel of stolen identity, Kiss Me First is brilliantly frightening about the lies we tell—to ourselves, to others, for good, and for ill

Published: 2013, Picador
Source: eBook, Amazon

I say:
This book pissed me off.

I don't need a likeable protagonist in order to enjoy a book. I don't need a magical, wonderful, NICE character in order to like a book. But I do need a protagonist who doesn't make me want to scream obscenities at an eReader.

I'm not going to get into a debate about euthanasia or assisted suicide, or any of the other 'philosophical' questions the novel tries to ask. But I will say that the premise - whilst intriguing - left me enraged.

Our lead loner Leila has no friends, no family and absolutely no redeeming qualities. She finds herself taken under the wing of the King of Losers Adrian, who runs the philosophical website that Leila devotes all of her time to. Adrian offers Leila the opportunity to participate in party girl Tess's grand master plan, that of ending her life without letting her family know. Leila agrees to study Tess's life obsessively so that she can eventually take over her online persona because, for reasons known purely to the author and the author alone, Tess wants to commit suicide without letting her family know. Yeah, I don't understand it fully either.

Things take a disastrous turn for the worse when Leila begins to go full on weirdo on us. Rather than simply impersonate Tess through emails and Facebook updates, Leila develops a bizarre attachment to one of Tess's ex boyfriends, going as far as to convincing herself that he LOVES HER and wants to BE WITH HER. Because, of course, WHY WOULDN'T HE?!?! 

SPOILER - He doesn't want to be. Because, logic.

In addition to basically stalking Tess's ex boyfriend, Leila takes matters into her own hands and decides that a virtual Tess isn't good enough. Nope, Leila decides to cross into even weirder territory by starting to make phone calls and becoming somewhat overly attached with Tess's despairing mother. Leila went from being slightly unlikeable in chapter one to downright creepy as the book progresses.

One good thing about Kiss Me First was the way it kept me reading, even when I didn't want to. But that left me even more frustrated because the twist ending I could see coming from a mile away? Totally didn't happen. There was no twist ending. There wasn't really any real ending to speak of, everything just fizzled out.

I will say that Moggach obviously has a flair for writing and will no doubt continue to thrill readers for years to come. I just can't say I'll be one of them.

2 out of 5