Thursday, 13 September 2012

Noughts and Crosses

Malorie Blackman
10 / 10

From the blurb: Callum is a nought - an inferior white citizen in a society controlled by the black Crosses. Sephy is a Cross - and the daughter of one of the most powerful, ruthless men in the country. In their hostile, violent world, noughts and Crosses simply don't mix. But when Sephy and Callum's childhood friendship grows into passionate love, they're determined to find a way to be together. 

And then the bomb explodes...

I know, I know! It shouldn't have taken me this long to get around to reading this book. But I finally saw it on offer in the supermarket and bought both this and its sequel, 'Knife Edge'. 
And then I devoured them both. 

Usually when a book is so highly spoken of, I'm a little wary. But Noughts and Crosses deserves every kind word. Callum and Sephy are fascinating. How they managed to grow up to be thoughtful and fierce in a world that teaches everyone to hate... it's basically a miracle. Much like their relationship, which flourishes even under extreme strain. But, like the blurb says, then the bomb explodes. 

Callum and Sephy are slowly, agonisingly torn apart, and their lives take completely different directions. One makes the wrong choices, one seems to make no choices at all. And yet I felt they couldn't have done anything else. Like Katniss, they are the unwilling heroes of this book, thrust into the centre of attention when they'd rather be on a desert island. You'll find yourself rooting for them even when it seems impossible to get out in one piece, wanting them to do whatever they must to survive. 
Even as they separate, Sephy's attempts to broach the gap and Callum's rebuffs will make your heart ache. 

And Jude! Callum's family are as compelling as he is. His brother, Jude, is a ball of hate, desperate for revenge. I loved him, both in this book and its sequel. His sister ghosts through life, a reminder of the injustice done to noughts every day. She almost serves to justify Jude's anger. His parents, Ryan and Meggie, are struggling to raise children that will make the right decisions without knowing what right is. Seeing the flashes of recognisable family life in this world made the whole thing worse, somehow - I could imagine my own parents fighting the way Ryan and Meggie do. 
Sephy's parents, on the other hand, you love to hate. Her father has as much power as one man can, but does nothing good with it. Her mother copes in the only way she can, drowning her sorrows. And her sister, Minnie, is completely removed from the plight of noughts. It's as though she lives in her own dream world. 

The storyline is fast-paced and riveting. It felt as though the world got shaken up entirely every few chapters, often enough to leave me breathless. One twist in particular, involving the star crossed lovers themselves, felt like a punch to the gut. And the ending... well, don't do what I did, and read the last page! If you don't see it coming, it'll just about kill you. Even knowing it was coming, it still felt horrible. 

Each chapter alternates between Sephy and Callum's point of view - it jumps from one to the other a little too often for my liking, sometimes feeling a bit jarring. But most of the time it works really effectively, and at one point in particular it works a bit too well. Nearly broke my heart, this book. 

My copy also included the short story, 'Callum'. It was nice enough, but I didn't really feel like it added anything. 

Teaser quote: 'I grip Sephy's letter in my hand, lying on the ground, listening to the sound of all my hopes and dreams moving further and further away. Like listening to the sound of a door being slammed in my face.'

An Abundance of Katherines

John Green
9 / 10

From the blurb:When it comes to relationships, Colin Singleton's type is girls named Katherine. And when it comes to girls named Katherine, Colin is always getting dumped. Nineteen times, to be exact. On a road trip miles from home, this anagram-happy, washed-up child prodigy has ten thousand dollars in his pocket, a bloodthirsty feral hog on his trail, and an overweight, Judge-Judy loving best friend riding shotgun - but no Katherines. Colin is on a mission to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which he hopes will predict the future of any relationship, avenge Dumpees everywhere, and may finally win him the girl.   

I loved this book!

For a while I've been picking John Green's books up, reading the blurb, and putting them back. Partly because I have a million other books to read, and partly because the price never seems to drop. However, I've finally read three of his books, and loved each one. 

Colin is a compelling protagonist - he's decided that having graduated from high school, he is washed up. He was a child prodigy, but has never managed to make the leap to genius and will therefore never make a valuable contribution to anything for the rest of his life. 
Until he discovers that relationships seem to follow a curve. Then it becomes all he can think about - can he predict any relationship's progress? Can he know how long it will last and who will dump the other person? 

I loved Colin's mixture of sadness and anger, and his need to rationalise everything. Hassan, on the other hand, barrels through life without thinking of the future. His father is rich, he reasons, so why put effort in? He has decided the same thing Colin has: he will never be remembered for a great invention. But his reaction is decidedly different - he enjoys this feeling, the lack of responsibility. Compared to these two, many of the characters are a little underdeveloped. Lindsey is a stupid, slightly wry teenage girl (though with a surprising softness, a vulnerability that I didn't expect when we meet one of the older residents of the town) and The Other Colin is a typical teenage jerk. I've met a dozen people like them in my own life, and it's almost disappointing to see them in the pages of a John Green book. 

This is by far the cleverest book I've read in a long time. The anagrams, the science of predicting relationships, it all blew my mind and instead of bogging down the story as I'd expected, it produced the same fervour in me that it did in Colin. 

Green's sense of wit shines in this book, more so than the others I've read, in his footnotes and also throughout the story. 
However, the ending was not what I expected. Overall, I found this book a bit too saccharine. Everyone's basically good, there's no real horror or pain. And the ending... well, I don't want to ruin it. But it made me want to wince. I put the book down knowing that I'll read it again, but I'm glad there's no sequel. 

Try this if you liked 'Perks of Being a Wallflower' by Stephen Chbosky, 'One Day' by David Nicholls or Jeffrey Eugenides' 'The Virgin Suicides'.

I'm Back!

It's been a while since I was last on here!
My summer holidays have been much busier than I expected - I've been to Taunton for a music festival, London and Birmingham to visit family. I've had my nineteenth birthday (and got a Kindle! Yay!) And now I'm getting ready to move back to my student house to start my second year of university. So expect a load of reviews of books I've read in the last two months; I've got a lot of catching up to do!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012


Anna Carey
7 / 10

From the blurb: Sixteen years after a deadly virus wiped out most of Earth's population, the world is a perilous place. Eighteen year old Eve has never been beyond the heavily guarded perimeter of her school but the night before graduation, Eve learns the shocking truth about her school's real purpose - and the horrifying fate that awaits her. 
Fleeing the only home she's ever known, Eve sets off on a long, treacherous journey, searching for a place she can survive. Along the way she encounters Caleb, a rough rebellious boy living in the wild. Separated from men her whole life, Eve has been taught to fear them, but Caleb slowly wins her trust... and her heart. He promises to protect her, but when soldiers begin hunting them, Eve must choose between true love and her life.

I have to say this before I can even think about the rest of the book: the ending is abominable. Seriously. Any reader will see it coming a mile off and still hate it when it happens. It's clichéd and horrible, and goes against the whole journey of the book. 

Also, the relationship between Eve and Caleb is sweet, but overly fast. They're suddenly planning their whole lives together when they barely know each other. At least Caleb has enough sense to apply the brakes. I would have liked to know more about the Plague that created this dystopian world. 

Anyway, onto why I liked this book. Eve is a smart, strong woman struggling against the brainwashing that's been going on since she was five. Though on the other hand, she's somewhat careless when it comes to other people, and when she breaks down she does it properly! She says she's slow to trust, but once that barrier's crossed the first time she's basically fine. The King, the ruler of this terrible new world, wants Eve. Supposedly so she can carry his children. But he puts a great deal of manpower onto tracking her down, and Eve doesn't stop to question this the way I did. Why is one girl so important? I hope we find out in the next book.
 And Caleb is the angry but gentle product of horrible conditions for young men. But my very favourite character is Benny, the serious but lovely six year old who concentrates so fiercely when he reads or writes and who clings to Eve. When he meets her he asks, "Are you my mother?" and it's heartbreaking. Leif, too, makes a fantastic villain, a guy impossible to understand and great to hate. And just when you think all of the characters are damaged, there's a reminder of Pip and Ruby whose innocence is refreshing, but will destroy their lives. 

The pacing in this book is great; the action moves ahead at a pace maybe a shade too slow but not so much that it becomes sluggish. The only slight problem there is that high-action scenes are slightly clumsily written, becoming a little muddled. The way Eve surveys remnants of the old world, our world, is hilarious - look out for her description of a television. And though I may hate the cliffhanger, it has made me desperate for the sequel. 

Teaser quote: 'My,' he crooned, his voice completely out of tune, 'balls are sweating, my balls are sweating, I can't keep my balls from sweating, noooo, noooo, noooo!' 
'Why is that funny? What are "balls"? Like the ball of your foot?'

You'll probably like this book if you liked 'Immortal Rules' by Julie Kagawa or 'Crossed' by Ally Condie, the road-trip sequel to 'Matched'.

The sequel, Once, was released in June 2012.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Manga - Shutterbox

I try to read manga when I can because usually the artwork is beautiful. One fantastic feature of manga are the sidebars written by the authors - they're like a mini-blog, so you get snippets of information about the books and the writers themselves. In this section, I'm going to show some of my favourites when I can.

Rikki and Tavisha Simons

From the blurb: On the surface, Megan Amano seems like a typical Los Angeles girl, attending college and spending a good time of her afternoons in therapy. However, when Megan dreams, she travels to a place unlike any other - a supernatural and surreal college, one any recent high school graduate would die to attend. And usually they must... for Merridiah University is the afterlife's premier educational institute. But for Megan a great exception has been made. 

I have to say, this series is incredibly difficult to get hold of. It seems to be out of print despite being a fairly new series, but if you can find a copy, buy it! It is available on e-readers, though. Now I just need to get an e-reader. It's an American manga so it reads left to right. 

This series is deliciously quirky, with a bird acting as someone's conscious, a "camera ghost" and a skeleton who puts the scare in scarecrow. There are flying rabbits called Beebos. But it's Megan who gives the books their charm as she stumbles through this mysterious world in  her pyjamas. There she meets the enigmatic brothers Dane and AJ who seem to neither like or dislike each other. Each acts as a guide of sorts (though one does so kind of reluctantly) but they only give her very select information - not even enough to survive at first. In a world that seems lush but can be deadly, how can she trust the personifications of the beautiful, dangerous environment?

I'm only on the third book of five published so far, but it's a great story from the start. 

Friday, 13 July 2012

Friday, I'm In Love! - Until I Die

This is the first of what I hope will become a weekly post called 'Friday, I'm in love!' (is the link to The Cure song too tenuous? Will people hear that when they read this? I hope so.) The point is to cast a spotlight on book characters who seem specifically designed to fall in love with. Whether they're gentlemen, nerds or bad boys, I want to show you some of my favourites! (I'm also hoping to twin it with a weekly Wednesday post tentatively titled 'Wednesday's Women')
First up is... 
Jules from Until I Die by Amy Plum.

To look at he's described as "cute": wiry build, curly brown hair and often sporting a sunburn. More importantly, though, he's "animated" if you watch him smile or tell a story to send his friends into peals of laughter. He has a studio he likes to escape to, and that's where he creates his paintings, or he hides in the nearest art museum. 

But the most appealing part of Jules's personality is his gallantry. He's a gentleman, always showing concern for Kate's well-being. He died in the war to save another soldier and since then he's thrown himself into awful situations to save lives. He holds doors open, bows playfully and listens before speaking. And my favourite facet? The way he flirts with Kate. I can never tell for certain if he really fancies her or not - is he just trying to make her feel special to cheer her up, or is he letting her know he's there should she decide she wants him without pressuring her? 

I adore him even though he's not the main man, maybe more so because of that. He's content to be supporting and doesn't always need the attention to be on him. 

So who're your book crushes? Do you prefer leading men to background boys? And are you a Vincent fan, a Jules fan... or an Ambrose fan? Let me know!

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Sweet Evil

Wendy Higgins
8 / 10

From the blurb: What if there were teens whose lives literally depended on being bad influences? This is the reality for sons and daughters of fallen angels. 
Tenderhearted Southern girl Anna Whitt was born with the sixth sense to see and feel emotions of other people. She's aware of a struggle within herself, an inexplicable pull toward danger, but Anna, the ultimate good girl, has always had the advantage of her angel side to balance the darkness within. It isn't until she turns sixteen and meets the alluring Kaidan Rowe that she discovers her terrifying heritage and her willpower is put to the test. He's the boy your daddy warned you about. If only someone had warned Anna. 
Forced to face her destiny, will Anna embrace her halo or her horns?

Anna was surprisingly likeable for such a good girl. She struggles against the lure of alcohol and drugs, stronger in her than other people. Once she lets loose, the effects are terrifying and hilarious. And the friends she makes along the way are even more compelling. Kope is a sweetie, if a little safe - hopefully we'll see him truly explode in the next book. I adored Blake, though I wish he'd done a little more. And the twins, Marna and Ginger? One you love to hate, the other you want to protect. 

I never truly fell for Kaiden, though. Some of the moments between him and Anna were truly heartbreaking, but I couldn't bring myself to root for him. Partly because I was reading as an English girl, I think; he's the epitome of clichés that Americans apply to Brits. Some of the things he said sounded so forced or old-fashioned that I found myself wincing. 

The idea of Nephilim has been approached in a lot of books I've read lately, though Wendy Higgins adds another fresh twist. I love stories that examine the differences between each demon, and there's a whole cast of fallen angels in this book - that will only expand in the sequel! 

However, it's only now that I'm thinking back that I realise the plot was maybe a little thin. There's a high school party, a road trip, another party and then... the end. It also felt like it was cut off rather suddenly and harshly, as though it was too long and the end was lopped off to become the beginning of the sequel. It's mostly a novel of character exploration - which, I like, don't get me wrong, but it didn't have the same fierce intensity of similar books. 

Teaser quote: We were damned for simply being born. So why was I holding fast to rules that didn't really apply to me anyway? Why shouldn't I take from this life what I could in the time I had? This had nothing to do with what Pharzuph demanded of us, and everything to do with what Kaiden and I had become to each other. 

This was reminiscent of Brenna Yovanoff's 'Smoulder' and Nephilim also star in Becca Fitzpatrick's series, the first of which is titled 'Hush, Hush'. 

The sequel, tentatively titled 'Sweet Hope' is under consideration with the publishers. Check for up-to-date news.