Book Review: A Song for Ella Grey (David Almond)

Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books

Pages: 276

Release Date: October 2nd 2014

Summary (from Goodreads):

“I’m the one who’s left behind. I’m the one to tell the tale. I knew them both…knew how they lived and how they died.”

Claire is Ella Grey’s best friend. She’s there when the whirlwind arrives on the scene: catapulted into a North East landscape of gutted shipyards; of high arched bridges and ancient collapsed mines. She witnesses a love so dramatic it is as if her best friend has been captured and taken from her. But the loss of her friend to the arms of Orpheus is nothing compared to the loss she feels when Ella is taken from the world. This is her story – as she bears witness to a love so complete; so sure, that not even death can prove final.

Review:

A Song for Ella Grey is a contemporary retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice, a myth I’m vaguely familiar with. When the mysterious Orpheus appears on the beach, everyone is enchanted by him but it’s Ella Grey he falls for, and their whirlwind romance sets off a chain of events that will end in tragedy.

I thought this sounded wonderful and the cover was simply gorgeous. I’ve not read very much by David Almond but he has an excellent reputation and I had high hopes. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t wowed by it.

The writing is very stylistic, almost poetic and while in some places it was beautiful, in others it just felt confusing. It didn’t flow well for me: sometimes I wasn’t sure what was going on, and the odd way everyone spoke just brought me out of the story. Everything felt disconnected and I didn’t really feel emotionally invested in any of the characters. While Claire and Ella’s friendship was strong and lovely, everything else felt a little underdeveloped.

The story itself was kind of odd. It’s only a short book but it didn’t feel like a lot really happened. It felt like there was a lot of ‘we went to school, we worked hard, time passed’ etc and it just didn’t really do anything for me.

My favourite bit was when Orpheus went into the underworld. The pages were black with white writing on, the prose was carefully places across the page and the poetic style really worked there. It was definitely the highlight of the book.

Overall I don’t think this one was for me. I didn’t get on well with the style and just felt at a disconnect with the whole book. The writing is beautiful though, and different from most of the YA I’ve read, so if you’re looking for something unusual then give it a try.

3

Book Review: The State of Grace (Rachael Lucas)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books

Pages: 224

Release Date: April 6th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

Sometimes I feel like everyone else was handed a copy of the rules for life and mine got lost.

Grace has Asperger’s and her own way of looking at the world. She’s got a horse and a best friend who understand her, and that’s pretty much all she needs. But when Grace kisses Gabe and things start to change at home, the world doesn’t make much sense to her anymore.

Suddenly everything threatens to fall apart, and it’s up to Grace to fix it on her own.

Review:

I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump lately and struggled with reading this. It wasn’t bad but I just didn’t want to pick it up a lot of the time. That is, until the ending, when I couldn’t stop reading and had to find out what happened.

Grace is a girl dealing with all the usual teenage girl problems – family drama, bitchy girls at school, boys – while also feeling like she’s on the back foot as she has Asperger’s. I’m not autistic and don’t have anyone close to me who is so I’m no expert on the subject, but I thought Grace’s depiction was handled really well. She was a sympathetic character and showed the frustrations of trying to fit in when you feel you weren’t made to.

I struggled with the book at first because it just felt like nothing was happening. There was some general day to day stuff, some disruption as Grace’s mum’s old friend Eve appears and starts messing with their routines, but I felt like I was waiting for it to get going for a really long time.

The relationship with Gabe was sweet but he felt a bit nothingy to me – there wasn’t much personality there. It was a shame because Grace was such a well fleshed out character that a lot of others seemed to fall flat around her.

I was really conflicted with how I felt about Grace’s mum. On the one hand, I could see from Grace’s point of view that her mum wasn’t being there for her or understanding her as she usually did, but on the other, I understood her need to be something more than a stay at home mum looking after a couple of teenage girls. I really felt for her having to do everything while her husband worked away for so long as well.

The ending was where the book really wowed for me. Everything that was bubbling away throughout the book suddenly boiled over into a tense climax that kept me reading late into the night.

This is a short read and I felt that maybe too many things were covered in not enough detail. While I loved all of Grace’s bits and the romance was sweet, her sister Leah’s storyline seemed to erupt out of nowhere and the absent father bit was tied up quickly at the end. Still, Grace was a great character to read and I’d still recommend this book.

3

May Wrap Up

I’ve stuck to my word this month and been alternating between my books and review books. I like reading a mix of new and older books and it’s nice to see each pile finally going down!

What I Read

Like Other Girls by Claire Hennessy

The Sign of One by Eugene Lambert

This Careless Life by Rachel McIntyre

Release by Patrick Ness

The Fallen Children by David Owen

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

The Wildings by Nilanjana Roy

The State of Grace by Rachael Lucas

A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond

Book Post

I’ve realised I’ve not been including my NetGalley books on this list so I’m adding all my NetGalley TBR onto this month’s new books.

Release by Patrick Ness

(Thanks Walker YA!)

This Careless Life by Rachel McIntyre

Monster by Michael Grant

Flight of a Starling by Lisa Heathfield

(Thanks Electric Monkey!)

City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson

(Thanks Rock the Boat!)

And on NetGalley…

STAGS by M. A Bennett

(Thanks Hot Key Books!)

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

(Thanks Hodder and Stoughton!)

Now I Rise by Kiersten White

(Thanks Penguin Random House!)

What I Wrote:

I’m still reading through my first draft and making scene notes. While the beginning was better than I remembered, the end is just as terrible as I thought and the amount of work needed there makes me dizzy! Slowly starting to chip through it though and I’m looking forward to making some big changes.

What I watched:

TV

Tragedy struck our Green Wing rewatch when I found one of the discs missing 😮 I was so gutted we stopped and went on to Kimmy Schmidt instead, in preparation for the new series (which is excellent). We’ve also started watching The Office (US) boxset, which I got for my birthday and is one of my favourite series. I’ve also finally started watching American Horror Story: Roanoke. It’s been on my to-watch pile for ages and it’s pretty creepy so far.

Films

I don’t think I watched a single film this month, which is not like me! Planning a horror film sleepover with my sisters for June though so should be watching some interesting things soon.

What I Did

This month I’ve finally plucked up the courage to start driving lessons again. It’s been a while and I’m pretty rusty, but it’s not as horrendous as I feared and I’m hoping to take my test this year. My little sister turned 17 this month and has also started lessons and I’m determined to pass before her!

What Little Moore Did

Little Moore now has six teeth and is still toddling around using his walker/various parts of the furniture. He’s not confident enough to walk on his own yet, and while I can’t wait to see him do it, I’m trying to enjoy the time we have left of him only being able to crawl! He also got his first bike this month and he loves going for a walk around the block before dinner in these warm summer evenings.

Book Review: One of Us is Lying (Karen M. McManus)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Penguin

Pages: 300

Release Date: June 1st 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

Pay close attention and you might solve this.
On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.
Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.
Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.
Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.
Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.
And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.

Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose?

Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.

Review:

I loved the sound of this when I saw it on NetGalley. A dead classmate, fours suspects who were in the room when he died, each with their own secret to hide and own reason for maybe wanting him dead. What’s not to like?

I did really enjoy this one. The pace is a little slow: I was expecting fast paced revelations and action but instead, it was a bit more leisurely, with new secrets being leaked out bit by bit and lots of character and relationship developments.

Simon is a pretty unlikeable character right off the bat. He has an app which circulates gossip about fellow classmates. Sounds toxic enough, but he’s pretty much always right, so the school puts a lot of faith in his words. But he’s still not popular: people are just afraid of him. It means there’s a lot of people who could potentially wish him harm, aside from the four main suspects.

Of the four, Nate is the most suspect as he already has a criminal record. From just reading the summary I was expecting him to be the red herring and one of the girls to be the real culprit: the ‘brains’ or the ‘beauty’ as the least likely to first be suspected.

The books keeps you guessing a lot. As the police investigation unfolds, things surface from the past which makes you doubt each of the four in turn. There’s a pretty decent red herring in there who was my first suspect. When the first clue dropped about the real murderer I latched onto it and worked things out in my head, but that didn’t stop me enjoying the journey everyone else took to get there. It was a good twist and an original idea.

The characters in this book all develop and change as the situation takes it toll on them. I liked Addy’s transformation the best: she goes from probably the least likeable to one of the most and it was great to see her stand up for herself. The love story was quite sweet and I was rooting for them, even though that would probably be the last thing on my mind if I was being investigated for murder!

This was a really enjoyable book, a good slow burner with an interesting twist and great, believable characters. I’d recommend reading and seeing if you can guess the killer before the end!

4

Book Review: The Wildings (Nilanjana Roy)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Pushkin Children’s Books

Pages: 336

Release Date: July 7th 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

A small band of cats lives in the labyrinthine alleys and ruins of Nizamuddin, an old neighbourhood in Delhi. Miao, the clan elder, a wise, grave Siamese; Katar, a cat loved by his followers and feared by his enemies; Hulo, the great warrior tom; Beraal, the beautiful queen, swift and deadly when challenged; Southpaw, the kitten whose curiosity can always be counted on to get him into trouble… Unfettered and wild, these and the other members of the tribe fear no one, go where they will, and do as they please. Until, one day, a terrified orange-coloured kitten with monsoon green eyes and remarkable powers, lands in their midst—setting off a series of extraordinary events that will change their world forever.

Review:

I’m a pretty big cat lover so when this was offered to me to review I couldn’t say no. It was also compared to Watership Down, a childhood favourite of mine, so it felt like I was destined to love it. And I did…but not right away.

I was about to write that this took me nearly a month to read, as that’s what it felt like, but after consulting Goodreads, it was only 10 days. Still, that’s slow reading for me and I think there were times when I just didn’t want to pick this book up. I’m not sure if it was a bit of a reading slump or if it took me a while to get into it.

The Wildings tells the story of a group of stray cats living in Nizamuddin in Delhi, whose world is disrupted one day when a new kitten with extraordinary powers appears in their city. Mara is a Sender, a cat with powers who often appears in times of trouble. She’s also a house cat and afraid to go outside, which alienates her from the wildings. While she learns to control her powers, a group of feral cats threaten the harmonious living of not only the wildings, but all the creatures of Nizamuddin.

As mentioned, it took me a little while to get into this. I think it was just getting used to the style: it feels a close in style to classics such as Watership Down and The Wind in the Willows in the way it’s written, and I guess I just wasn’t expecting it. It slowly grew on me and the ending was really tense and I raced through it then.

It’s hard sometimes to write a story about animals that’s interesting and gets you emotionally involved without making them too human-like, but Roy does this perfectly. Each cat had its own distinct traits and personality and I never forgot that they were cats. The idea of the link the animals used to communicate was really different and I loved how it was used throughout the book.

The ‘villains’ of the story made a bit of a late appearance but I thought they were excellent. There was a real sense of dread around the Shuttered House, and when one cat accidentally stumbled inside, the scenes with the feral cats in there were genuinely creepy. I could really hear Datura, their leaders, voice and it sent shivers down my spine each time.

While this took me a while to get into, I really enjoyed it in the end and am looking forward to picking up the sequel soon. If you’re a cat lover like me or looking for a modern classic then this is for you!

4

Book Review: This Careless Life (Rachel McIntyre)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Electric Monkey

Pages: 272

Release Date: June 1st 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

Four best friends with perfect lives. A once in a lifetime opportunity. Who can resist the call of fame and fortune?

Liv, Hetty, Jez and Duffy are auditioning for a new reality TV show. Producer Cassandra has warned them the process might be tough, but they are excited and keen to get on with things, confident that they can handle anything.

But when Cass produces a photo of a body, everyone realises that they may have something to hide after all…

Review:

I’ve really enjoyed Rachel McIntyre’s last two books so going into a new one I had high expectations. And I wasn’t disappointed!

I didn’t know the inspirations for this book when I started reading it but, being a fan of the play, I saw the An Inspector Calls themes early on. I love the idea of doing a modern version of this for teens and I think it really worked.

Liv has got her friends Hetty, Jez and Duffy to audition for a new reality TV show. They all come from privileged backgrounds and they all have secrets they’re hiding. Producer Cassandra warns them that the audition process is tough and anything they’re hiding might come to light…

The book is really fast paced and I just wanted to keep reading. There was always a new little revelation that kept me turning the pages. The book’s loosely split into sections for each character as they face Cassandra and the camera for their audition.

The characters were all clearly flawed: they all came from money, were all a bit selfish and insecure in their own ways and they all had a secret they were hiding. As the story progressed they were forced to think about what they had done, not just in terms of how it could affect them if it got out, but how it had affected the people they hurt.

I wasn’t sure the last chapter was really needed: it explained a little bit more about where Cassandra came from but I preferred the mystery of her just coming and going.

It’s hard to say too much without spoiling key plot details so I think I’ll leave it at that. If you know An Inspector Calls then this is an interesting new take: if you don’t then this modern YA version could introduce you to the classic play. Either way, give it a read – it’s sure to intrigue you and I really recommend it.

4

Book Review: Thirteen Reasons Why (Jay Asher)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Penguin

Pages: 288

Release Date: June 1st 2009

Summary (from Goodreads):

You can’t stop the future. You can’t rewind the past. The only way to learn the secret . . . is to press play.

Clay Jensen returns home from school one day to find a mysterious box with his name on it, outside his front door. Inside he discovers a series of cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker – his classmate and crush. Only, she committed suicide two weeks earlier. On the first tape, Hannah explains that there are 13 reasons why she did what she did – and Clay is one of them.

If he listens, Clay will find out how he made the list – what he hears will change his life forever.

Review:

Thirteen Reasons Why is everywhere at the moment: the new TV show on Netflix has made it spread all over Twitter and into the news as well. So when this popped up on Netgalley I decided to see what the fuss was about.

I’m really conflicted about this one. I’ve been watching the series on Netflix around the same time so some of that is probably going to bleed into this review.

I think my problem with this book – and the show too – is how cool Hannah comes across. I know a lot of people have said it glamourises suicide and I tend to agree. Hannah has made herself immortal by recording her life story and forces others to listen to it after her suicide. I think it makes it sound like an attractive option to impressionable young people, rather than the last desperate act of an unhappy girl.

I also hate the fact that Hannah does this at all. Yes, she does acknowledge that ultimately it was her choice to end her life. But sending out tapes saying everyone on there is a reason she died is pretty cruel, especially to Clay. I understand that people need to be held accountable for their actions and to understand how everything they do can affect someone, but I felt this was a selfish way to get her message across. It’s a bit ‘eye for an eye’ – you ruined my life so now I’m going to ruin yours.

So I had some pretty big problems with the plot and theme of the book. But I also didn’t really like the format. I’m not sure the tapes really worked. I kept wondering how Hannah recorded them: did she write everything down and plan what she was going to say beforehand? Or did she just do everything off the top of her head? Either way, it just didn’t read naturally to me: it as too stylistic and that brought me out of the story.

I also didn’t feel like the present day story was particularly interesting. In fact, I could basically have done without it. It was more distracting than enlightening to have the occasional interruptions from Clay. I don’t feel they added much to the story: if they were needed, I think there should have been more happening than Clay just walking around listening to tapes.

This has all been pretty negative so far but I’ve still given three stars, mostly because it kept me reading. I did want to know what happened to Hannah and what all her reasons were, even if I didn’t agree with what she was doing. The book also made some interesting points on the treatment of women’s bodies: a small, seemingly insignificant (to other people anyway) action sets off a chain of events that turns Hannah’s body into a commodity to be talked about and used by others. There’s an important message there but I think some of it got lost in everything else. I feel the book was kind of style over substance, with the idea of using the tapes coming before everything else.

3

Book Review: The Fallen Children (David Owen)

Publisher: Atom

Pages: 240

Release Date: May 4th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

Young people on the Midwich Estate don’t have much hope for their futures. Keisha has lived there her whole life, and has been working hard to escape it; others have just accepted their lot.

But change is coming…

One night everyone inside Midwich Tower falls mysteriously unconscious in one inexplicable ‘Nightout’. No one can explain what happened during those lost hours, but soon afterwards Keisha and three other girls find they’re pregnant – and the babies are growing at an alarming rate.

As the news spreads around the tower its residents turn against them and the situation spirals toward violence. Keisha’s life unravels as she realises that the pregnancy may not have just ruined her hopes for the future: she might be mother to the end of the world.

Review:

I haven’t bought many books lately (I have such a backlog to get through as it is) but whenever I heard about this one on Twitter I knew I had to get it.

I didn’t realise where it took its inspiration from (The Cuckoos of Midwich/The Village of the Damned) until my partner watched the latter and told me I should write a book telling the story from the women’s point of view. The next day I went out and bought The Fallen Children and realised David Owen had already beaten me to it – and done a hell of a job.

I really love the idea of updating this story to make it reflect challenges young people face today. There’s an introduction by the author that had me loving the book before I even started it. I don’t really fall into the young person/16-25 category anymore but I am part of the millennial generation and we do get a bad rep. I’m sick of being told we don’t work hard enough or it’s our fault we can’t buy houses because we buy too many avocados, and any of the other ridiculous things that come up.

Rant over, on to the book.

We see the story from several points of view: Keisha, Morris and Siobhan in the first half, and Keisha, Morris and Maida in the second. It was interesting to see the different ways they all reacted to the unexpected pregnancies, especially the girls. While Keisha and Siobhan feel violated over what happened to them and how they’ve lost control of their lives, Olivia is torn because she always wanted a child and Maida feels she is part of something special. I think I’m more on Keisha and Siobhan’s side, but it was good to get a different perspective on things.

Morris, on the other hand, takes it all in his stride, after the initial shock. I found it odd how much he wanted to play happy families and ignore how and where these babies came from. His character frustrated me so much: sometimes he was so sweet and I knew he was trying hard to do what’s best, and other times his actions made me want to scream at him. I found Maida’s story one of the most interesting, especially after the children are born. She’s the one who really appreciates their powers, loves them and believes they’re special.

While I appreciated the message, I thought it was delivered a little heavy handedly sometimes, with a lot of speeches and ‘moments’ towards the end. But it does make you think about the expectations put on you, and that you put on others. I loved the diverse range of characters and felt it really reflected, in a positive way, a part of society that is often looked down upon. The sci-fi element of the book is tense and keeps you reading but it’s the reflections on real life that really hit home.

I loved this book and I hope you’ll read it and love it too. As an added piece of awesomeness, it’s available in over 360 different colours and they’re all beautiful.

4

Book Review: Like Other Girls (Claire Hennessy)

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

Publisher: Hot Key Books

Pages: 288

Release Date: May 25th 2017

Summary:

Here’s what Lauren knows: she’s not like other girls. She also knows it’s problematic to say that – what’s wrong with girls? She’s even fancied some in the past. But if you were stuck in St Agnes’s, her posh all-girls school, you’d feel like that too. Here everyone’s expected to be Perfect Young Ladies, it’s even a song in the painfully awful musical they’re putting on this year. And obviously said musical is directed by Lauren’s arch nemesis.

Under it all though, Lauren’s heart is bruised. Her boyfriend thinks she’s crazy and her best friend’s going through something Lauren can’t understand… so when Lauren realises she’s facing every teenage girl’s worst nightmare, she has nowhere to turn. Maybe she should just give in to everything. Be like other girls. That’s all so much easier … right?

Review

Ah where to start with this one?!

I guess right at the beginning, which would be the title. Plenty of people have ranted about the ‘not like other girls’ cliche that pops up a lot in YA and real life. The blurb admits it’s a problematic thing to say, but I don’t think it’s enough to just admit it. Lauren really annoyed me in her attitudes towards other girls. In one of the opening scenes, she describes the girls around her as either make up obsessed bitches or nerds. It’s such a stereotype and got my back up straight away. Girl’s school isn’t that black and white (trust me, I’ve been there).

Secondly, Lauren’s transphobia really put me off her. I tried to be understanding of her point of view, and I know it can be hard to understand when someone close to you comes out as trans (especially someone you fancied) but her attitude just sucked. I get that this was addressed in the book towards the end but I’m not sure it was enough. I appreciate that a lot of characters did call her out on it but she never seemed to see how awful she was being.

On to the pregnancy storyline. This was brutal. I know things work differently in Ireland but I have to say, I had no idea how bad it is. It’s insane to me that a woman can’t choose what happens to her body, especially in terrible circumstances (Lauren’s incest-rape thing being a prime example). This is such an important story to tell, especially with how things are in Ireland at the moment. This fictional account is heartbreaking, but it’s even more heartbreaking to think women are going through this in Ireland right now.

So, slightly conflicted on this one. Despite my problems with it, I did speed through it and it does deal with some important issues. I’m all for flawed characters, I’m all for unlikeable characters, but I think Lauren just wasn’t for me.

3

Book Review: Release (Patrick Ness)

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

Publisher: Walker Books

Pages: 287

Release Date: May 4th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

Adam Thorn is having what will turn out to be the most unsettling, difficult day of his life, with relationships fracturing, a harrowing incident at work, and a showdown between this gay teen and his preacher father that changes everything. It’s a day of confrontation, running, sex, love, heartbreak, and maybe, just maybe, hope. He won’t come out of it unchanged. And all the while, lurking at the edges of the story, something extraordinary and unsettling is on a collision course.

Review:

It’s no secret that I’m a huge Patrick Ness fan and I was incredibly grateful to receive a proof copy of Release. I’m always so happy to get proofs but for one of my favourite authors, it felt even more special. Massive thanks to Walker Books for the copy!

Release follows one day in the life of Adam Thorn, a gay teenager from a religious family with a pervy boss, a wonderful boyfriend and best friend, and a guy who once broke his heart. We see him move between these people in his life as they day takes unexpected turns with news, confrontations and revelations. Alongside this, there’s a kind of odd, magical realism story happening about a ghost, whose quest for release touches Adam’s day.

Patrick Ness just writes YA so well. Adam is a character I could read so much about, it’s kind of sad we only get to see one day in his life. It shows the kind of things a young gay teen can come up against, especially when coming from a very religious family. Adam struggles with comparisons to his brother, who is infinitely better than him because he’s definitely straight, whereas the family have a worried question mark hanging over Adam. It’s so sad to see religion get in the way of their relationships, especially when it makes Adam question if his love is true love, or if he’s even capable of true love.

There were a few terrible things that happened to Adam throughout the day and it really made me feel for him and root for him. He received blow after blow and I couldn’t help but feel angry on his behalf, or blink back tears at some scenes. Ness’s writing is just beautifully sad and each scene tugged at the old emotions in one way or another.

The storyline with the Queen, the spirit and the faun were a bit harder to follow. While I enjoyed them, it’s the kind of thing that I always worry I’m not getting, that it’s too deep for me to understand and I’m only reading it on some shallow level. I tried not to worry about that and just enjoyed it for what it was, and I loved the way everything came together at the end. It was a perfect moment and made me smile.

To criticise, I really want to know what happens to Adam next! There are so many questions around his future and I want to see where he goes, how he deals with the obstacles this book threw up, if his parents can put everything aside and love him for who he is. It’s frustrating not to know, but it shows what a wonderful character he’s created for me to care so much.

This is another winner from Patrick Ness. He constantly surprises me with the books he writes: they’re all so different from each other, but all written with beautiful prose and compelling characters. This is a wonderful addition to my Patrick Ness collection and I hope you all enjoy it too.

 Copy of an art exhibit