Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Reviewed by Arianne: Extraordinary Means by Robin Schneider.

Product details:
Publisher: Simon & Schuster.
Paperback, 336 pages.
Release date: June 4th 2015.
Rating: 2 out of 5.
Ages: 13+
Source: Received from publisher for review.
Reviewed by: Arianne.

 A bitter-sweet, coming-of-age novel that's perfect for fans of John Green and Stephen Chbosky.

When he's sent to Latham House, a boarding school for sick teens, Lane thinks his life may as well be over.
But when he meets Sadie and her friends - a group of eccentric troublemakers - he realises that maybe getting sick is just the beginning. That illness doesn't have to define you, and that falling in love is its own cure.

Extraordinary Means is a darkly funny story about true friendships, ill-fated love and the rare miracle of second chances.

 Robyn Schneider’s particular brand of all-American sick-lit is a strange phenomenon to behold. On the one hand, it has all the features that seem to keep readers coming back for more: carefully delegated ‘quirky’ characters, a sense of the everyday hero with just a touch of I-liked-it-before-it-was-popular hipster snobbery, and the kind of true love so perfect and tragic it can only be placed against the backdrop of an American high school or outsider clique. On the other hand, fans of young adult have been looking for much more than this in their fiction as of late, and you have to wonder how long Schneider can keep it up. I really enjoyed her début – published as Severed Heads, Broken Hearts in the UK and The Beginning of Everything in the US – but this book was a let-down. 

Extraordinary Means is told in alternating narration by overachieving Lane and wildfire Sadie, two diametrically opposed teenagers who come face-to-face for the first time in years at the same secluded residential medical facility, known as Latham House. Theirs is a story of first love, spectacular odds and second chances, but it's not quite so romantic when the fated words you're saying are "Of all the sanatoria for total-drug-resistant tuberculosis, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine..."

Extraordinary Means promises drama, emotion and characters you’ll adore. Unfortunately it isn’t very good at actually delivering on these promises. It’s dusty, predictable and doesn’t push as many boundaries as it thinks it does. I liked Sadie and Lane to begin with, and was intrigued by the group dynamic of their friends and the little community which has sprung up among the teenagers at Latham House, but the huge potential flickers fast. In the end, Extraordinary Means is yet another story of wealthy, privileged, too-cool-for-you American teenagers, only half-disguised as a novel set in a sanatorium for a strain of tuberculosis so handily resistant and incurable that the idea of recovery couldn’t possibly appear before a sufficient amount of capital-letter Plot and Angst has happened. 

The plot itself is comprised mostly of vague incidents of ‘walking on the wild side’ and ‘stick it to the man’ pseudo-rebellion, but in truth Extraordinary Means lacks heart and spontaneity. Between prose which turns dull and characters whose forced ‘quirkiness’ will have you weeping with gratitude the next you read a good, lush, laugh-out-loud Non Pratt or Holly Bourne novel, the sheer constructedness of Schneider’s writing – as jarringly concerned with being #ontrend as it is with being old-fashioned and ‘timeless’ – is almost painfully prominent. It may hook you in, but it lacks the substance to really keep you reading.

The book is a well-researched and straightforward read, but I can’t help feeling that YA fans – particularly teen girls, who should never have to see themselves swept aside just to add to the character arc of a rich white boy – deserve better than this. I thought we’d thrown out the damaging, archaic ‘girl dies to give boy insight into Life and His Very Important Journey’ cliché with the arrival of a renewed desire to do actual teenage readers justice, but judging by Extraordinary Means, it's still hanging around. Extraordinary Means sees the line between toying-with-tropes and becoming-a-trope Severed Heads, Broken Hearts played with - and jumps headlong over the wrong side of it. It’s in such a rush to be seen as cool that it slips into a formulaic approach, losing any potential for charm and magic.

In short: I had high expectations for the second book from the author of Severed Heads, Broken Hearts – a five-star read and one of my favourite books of 2014 – but Extraordinary Means is more scaffolding than substance. Hollow, predictable and a little dull, this is a book even an overused (and overrated) John Green comparison can’t save.


Monday, 8 February 2016

Author Interview: Catherine Doyle talks all things INFERNO!

Inferno by Catherine Doyle || Release date: January 7th 2106

Romeo and Juliet meets The Godfather in the second installment of Catherine Doyle's Blood for Blood series.

Sophie's life has been turned upside-down, and she's determined to set things right. But Nic, the Falcone brother who represents everything she's trying to forget, won't give up on their love - and it's Luca's knife she clutches for comfort. Soon another mafia clan spoils the fragile peace - and with her heart drawn in one direction and her blood in another, Sophie's in deeper than ever.


Q&A: Catherine Doyle talks all things INFERNO

1. Could you describe INFERNO in ten seconds? 

Inferno is the story of one girl, two warring mafia families, and a dangerous decision between heart and blood. Vendetta was Sophie's beginning; Inferno is her transformation.

2. Did you have the series planned out from page one, or did INFERNO develop organically as you wrote it?

I had very loose ideas for Inferno, but when I sat down to write it, certain twists and turns emerged organically and I just ran with them. All I knew at the beginning of the story was where I wanted Sophie to end up, what would happen to Luca and Nic, and who would die along the way. 

3. Sophie and Millie's relationship is so authentic. Was it important to you that Sophie have a female best mate to counteract all those brooding mafia types?

Yes. As I always say, romantic love is not the most important kind of love, and there is more than one kind of soul mate. I love female friendship – I think it's the most nourishing, important and supportive kind of relationship you can have. It was important to me that the series would not only be about love but about friendship as well. I wanted to show that the two themes are not mutually exclusive, that one doesn't have to suffer for the other to thrive. 

4. There seems to be one Falcone that is everyone's fave. Do we see more of Luca in INFERNO?

Oh, yes. Luca really comes into his own in Inferno. We learn more about him, and we see his relationship with Sophie develop, too. 

5. How many books will there be in the Blood for Blood series?

Three is the magic number!

6. Without giving too much away, do you have a favourite scene?

The doughnut scene ;)

7. Hogwarts houses: Sophie, Millie, Luca, Nic and yourself!

Sophie - Gryffindor
Nic - Gryffindor
Luca - Ravenclaw
Me - Ravenclaw
Millie – Hufflepuff

8. What other YA reads would you recommend for fans of INFERNO?

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater! That series is everything. Also, The Wrath and the Dawn, not because it necessarily shares the same themes as Inferno, but simply because I recommend it to people as much as I possibly can. 


Friday, 5 February 2016

Reviewed by Arianne: Inferno by Catherine Doyle.


Product details:
Publisher: Chicken House.
Paperback, 416 pages.
Release date: January 7th 2015.
Rating: 4½ out of 5.
Ages: YA
Series: Blood for Blood #2.
Other Books in Series: Vendetta.
Source: Received from publisher for review.
Reviewed by: Arianne.

 Romeo and Juliet meets The Godfather in the second installment of Catherine Doyle's Blood for Blood series.

Sophie's life has been turned upside-down, and she's determined to set things right. But Nic, the Falcone brother who represents everything she's trying to forget, won't give up on their love - and it's Luca's knife she clutches for comfort. Soon another mafia clan spoils the fragile peace - and with her heart drawn in one direction and her blood in another, Sophie's in deeper than ever.

Vendetta – Catherine Doyle’s début novel - was a real statement: a full-throttle collision of first love, family ties and ferocious blood feuds, written with surprising skill and remarkable confidence. Inferno has a very different feel. It’s darker, edgier and more dangerous. There is no innocence here: gone is the shaky start, the wistful naïveté, the old adage to love against the odds. This time, the skill is as sharp as a knife, and the confidence comes armed to the teeth. 

Bound by omerta and lucky to be alive, Sophie is seeing the dark side of Cedar Hill everywhere she goes, and with a rival Mafia clan baying for blood and a long-held feud stirring once more, the lost secrets of the Falcone family threaten to leave more carnage in their wake. Sophie is slowly realizing the danger she’s in, but what she’s seen can’t be unseen. Her fate is tied with that of the Falcones – which isn’t ideal, what with them being friendly neighbourhood Mafia-trained killers – and with trouble brewing, even her good heart may not be enough to save her.

Sharp, sensational and utterly addictive, Inferno plunges us headfirst into a story overflowing with drama. It twists so fast I almost got whiplash – it keeps you guessing and will have you racing to find out what happens next. It’s a deliciously sizable read at over four hundred pages, and Doyle’s pacing is near-perfect. The prose itself oozes cool - Doyle’s modern, sleek writing style makes a thundering, pacy tale feel easy as well as exciting – and it’s full of little Easter eggs for eagle-eyed readers, including now-iconic scenes involving flowers and a doughnut that already seems to have gone down in series history.

Heroine Sophie started out very much as a relatable, every-girl, cardboard-cut-out choose-your-own-adventure protagonist, but here she reasserts herself as conflicted; she’s stubborn, rash and deeply feeling. Inferno for her is wave after wave of experiences which will undoubtedly leave their mark. For me, however, the real revelation of Inferno was just how much I found myself rooting for her. Luca may be hot and Nic may be the boy who first caught her eye, but with danger lurking in every shadow, first and foremost I think I ship Sophie with survival! There is romance in the book, but it definitely takes a backseat to thrilling chases and heart-pounding discoveries.

Sophie’s best friend Millie is the only character in the book with any common sense, bringing much-needed light relief to an otherwise heavy drama with her resourcefulness and humour. Millie and Sophie’s friendship takes fantastic prominence, too: traditionally female friendship is swept aside in favour of spectacle in YA like this, but Doyle makes a concerted effort to give their camaraderie the attention it deserves.  The introduction of secondary characters is handled fantastically: we finally get to see more of matriarch Elena, but the big surprise is Sara. This is a book which pulls at your heart and your loyalties, and it keeps you hooked from the start.

The Falcone brothers are great characters, but they’re terrible people. This series isn’t about loveable rogues or moral ambiguity: even Nic knows his life is one of hideous crime and sickening cruelty, and he chooses it anyway. Much has been made of Vendetta’s star-crossed romance and sizzling quintet of Mafia brothers, but as ever there is more than meets the eye to this story. There’s a sense that Doyle is writing with a very different intent here; her focus has shifted to revealing characters – for better or worse - for who and what they really are.

As Sophie is dragged deeper into the web of horror hatched by Doyle’s début, there are distressing scenes that will cause even the toughest of readers to flinch. Inferno is incredibly dark and horrifically violent. The world of the book is sick and twisted, full of sickening atrocities, and the characters do some pretty unforgivable things; it really isn’t for the faint of heart. You’d think the trilogy couldn’t possibly get any more explosive than this, but Doyle will undoubtedly ratchet up the tension for the series finale: with the stakes higher than ever, the stage looks set for a thrilling showdown next year. 

In short: Dark, defiant and utterly engaging, Inferno is an electric, unputdownable read. It’s Romeo and Juliet meets The Sopranos (with the emphasis on The Sopranos) and not for the faint of heart, but if you liked Vendetta then you’ll love this sequel. It reads like a gut-punch and remains one of the most unique YA series on the shelf.


Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Five Books to Read if you Love Golden Age Movies and Old Hollywood Glamour.

Watching old movies and reading about the glamorous -and always scandalous- lives of the stars of Hollywood's Golden Age is a favourite hobby of mine. I also love to listen to the You Must Remember This podcast which is all about the secret and/or forgotten history of Hollywood's first century.  Go listen. It's really interesting stuff. 

Here are some books that you might like to read if you love Old Hollywood just as much as I do. I'd also love to hear your recommendations other books such as these that detail the interesting lives of Hollywood's scandalous elite.

Platinum Doll by Anne Girard || Release date: January 2016

Set against the dazzling backdrop of Golden Age Hollywood, novelist Anne Girard tells the enchanting story of Jean Harlow, one of the most iconic stars in the history of film.

It's the Roaring Twenties and seventeen-year-old Harlean Carpenter McGrew has run off to Beverly Hills. She's chasing a dream;to escape her small, Midwestern life and see her name in lights.In California, Harlean has everything a girl could want;a rich husband, glamorous parties, socialite friends;except an outlet for her talent. But everything changes when a dare pushes her to embrace her true ambition :to be an actress on the silver screen. With her timeless beauty and striking shade of platinum-blond hair, Harlean becomes Jean Harlow. And as she's thrust into the limelight, Jean learns that this new world of opportunity comes with its own set of burdens. Torn between her family and her passion to perform, Jean is forced to confront the difficult truth;that fame comes at a price, if only she's willing to pay it. Amid a glittering cast of ingenues and Hollywood titans: Clara Bow, Clark Gable, Laurel and Hardy, Howard Hughes, Platinum Doll introduces us to the star who would shine brighter than them all.


A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott || Release date: January 2015

When Julie Crawford leaves Fort Wayne, Indiana for Hollywood, she never imagines she'll cross paths with Carole Lombard, the dazzling actress from Julie's provincial Midwestern hometown. Although the young woman has dreams of becoming a screenwriter, the only job Julie's able to find is one in the studio publicity office of the notoriously demanding producer David O. Selznick —who is busy burning through directors, writers and money as he begins filming Gone with the Wind.     

Although tensions run high on the set, Julie finds she can step onto the back lot, take in the smell of smoky gunpowder and the soft rustle of hoop skirts, and feel the magical world of Gone with the Wind come to life. Julie's access to real-life magic comes when Carole Lombard hires her as an assistant and invites her into the glamorous world Carole shares with Clark Gable—who is about to move into movie history as the dashing Rhett Butler. 

Carole Lombard, happily profane and uninhibited, makes no secret of her relationship with Gable, which poses something of a problem for the studio as Gable is technically still married—and the last thing the film needs is more negative publicity. Julie is there to fend off the overly curious reporters, hoping to prevent details about the affair from slipping out. But she can barely keep up with her blonde employer, let alone control what comes out of Carole's mouth, and--as their friendship grows - soon finds she doesn't want to. Carole, both wise and funny, becomes Julie's model for breaking free of the past.
In the ever-widening scope of this story, Julie is given a front-row seat to not one but two of the greatest love affairs of all time: the undeniable on-screen chemistry between Scarlett and Rhett, and off screen, the deepening love between Carole and Clark. Yet beneath the shiny façade, things in Hollywood are never quite what they seem, and Julie must learn to balance career aspirations and her own budding romance with outsized personalities and the overheated drama on set.


All the Stars in the Heavens by Adriana Trigiani || Release date: January 2016

Clark Gable, Loretta Young, Spencer Tracy, David Niven, Carole Lombard lead a magnificent cast of characters, real and imagined, in Adriana Trigiani's new novel set in the rich landscape of 1930s' Los Angeles. In this spectacular saga as radiant, thrilling and beguiling as Hollywood itself, Trigiani takes us back to the golden age of movie-making and into the complex and glamorous world of a young actress hungry for fame, success - and love. With meticulous, beautiful detail, she paints a rich landscape, where European and American artisans flocked to pursue the ultimate dream: to tell stories on the silver screen.


Marlene by C.W. Gortner || Release date: May 2016

A lush, dramatic biographical novel of one of the most glamorous and alluring legends of Hollywood’s golden age, Marlene Dietrich—from the gender-bending cabarets of Weimar Berlin to the lush film studios of Hollywood, a sweeping story of passion, glamour, ambition, art, and war from the author ofMademoiselle Chanel.

Raised in genteel poverty after the First World War, Maria Magdalena Dietrich dreams of a life on the stage. When a budding career as a violinist is cut short, the willful teenager vows to become a singer, trading her family’s proper, middle-class society for the free-spirited, louche world of Weimar Berlin’s cabarets and drag balls. With her sultry beauty, smoky voice, seductive silk cocktail dresses, and androgynous tailored suits, Marlene performs to packed houses and becomes entangled in a series of stormy love affairs that push the boundaries of social convention.

For the beautiful, desirous Marlene, neither fame nor marriage and motherhood can cure her wanderlust. As Hitler and the Nazis rise to power, she sets sail for America. Rivaling the success of another European import, Greta Garbo, Marlene quickly becomes one of Hollywood’s leading ladies, starring with legends such as Gary Cooper, John Wayne, and Cary Grant. Desperate for her return, Hitler tries to lure her with dazzling promises. Marlene instead chooses to become an American citizen, and after her new nation is forced into World War II, she tours with the USO, performing for thousands of Allied troops in Europe and Africa.

But one day she returns to Germany. Escorted by General George Patton himself, Marlene is heartbroken by the war’s devastation and the evil legacy of the Third Reich that has transformed her homeland and the family she loved.

An enthralling and insightful account of this extraordinary legend, Marlene reveals the inner life of a woman of grit, glamour, and ambition who defied convention, seduced the world, and forged her own path on her own terms.


West of Eden: An American Place by Jean Stein || Release date: February 2016.

An epic, mesmerizing oral history of Hollywood and Los Angeles from the author of the contemporary classic Edie
Jean Stein transformed the art of oral history in her groundbreaking book Edie: American Girl, an indelible portrait of Andy Warhol “superstar” Edie Sedgwick, which was edited with George Plimpton. Now, in West of Eden, she turns to Los Angeles, the city of her childhood. Stein vividly captures a mythic cast of characters: their ambitions and triumphs as well as their desolation and grief.
These stories illuminate the bold aspirations of five larger-than-life individuals and their families. West of Eden is a work of history both grand in scale and intimate in detail. At the center of each family is a dreamer who finds fortune and strife in Southern California: Edward Doheny, the Wisconsin-born oil tycoon whose corruption destroyed the reputation of a U.S. president and led to his own son’s violent death; Jack Warner, the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants, who together with his brothers founded one of the world’s most iconic film studios; Jane Garland, the troubled daughter of an aspiring actress who could never escape her mother’s schemes; Jennifer Jones, an actress from Oklahoma who won the Academy Award at twenty-five but struggled with despair amid her fame and glamour. Finally, Stein chronicles the ascent of her own father, Jules Stein, an eye doctor born in Indiana who transformed Hollywood with the creation of an unrivaled agency and studio.
In each chapter, Stein paints a portrait of an outsider who pins his or her hopes on the nascent power and promise of Los Angeles. Each individual’s unyielding intensity pushes loved ones, especially children, toward a perilous threshold. West of Eden depicts the city that has projected its own image of America onto the world, in all its idealism and paradox. As she did in Edie, Jean Stein weaves together the personal recollections of an array of individuals to create an astonishing tapestry of a place like no other.


I think West of Eden sounds like such an interesting book! I can't wait to read it. I'm just about to start reading Platinum Doll, and I also have Marlene for review; both Jean Harlow and Marlene Dietrich have episodes of the You Must Remember This podcast dedicated to them, so I suggest those as reading accompaniments. 

I read All The Stars in the Heavens when it released in the US last year (it's a January 2016 release in the UK) and while it kept me interested throughout -mainly because the author had such a compelling cast of characters to work with - it's not a favourite of mine. I definitely felt like the story dragged a little at times, when it could all have been so exciting.

I've stuck to biographical fiction here -and one non-fiction book since West of Eden is a new release and I'm excited to read it, but I have also read a bunch of movie star biographies and tell all's, so I have a couple more recommendations:   If you're looking for something really fun and totally scandalous, I suggest you check out: Bette and Joan: The Divine Feud by Shaun Considine and if you'd like to read a truly absorbing movie star memoir, look no further than: By Myself by Lauren Bacall. 

Monday, 1 February 2016

Book News: Teen Imprint Atom Gets a Whole New Look!

Teen imprint Atom (Twilight, Die For Me) has a whole new look and a host of great books coming your way in 2016. Want to skip to news of shiny new books? Scroll down...

But here's what the people at Atom have to say about their great new look which includes a new eye-catching logo and a new look website.

Publisher James Gurbutt said: "Last year marked the tenth anniversary of Twilight. A perfect time to celebrate how far Atom has come since then, and signal how we hope to develop in the future, with a newly designed logo. Our commissioning now has a clear focus on fresh, engaged, brave contemporary new voices, writing for young adults but telling stories for absolutely everyone, without exception."

Editor Sarah Castleton said: "Our new website – a Tumblr – is inherently more interactive because we want Atom to be at the heart of a community of YA readers, of all ages. We don’t just want to talk about ourselves; we want to make connections, explore conversations, and keep moving, developing, adapting in response. I am proud as punch of this year’s Atom list, which is really the result of our first year of commissioning for what we’ve been calling 'Atom 2.0'."


Consumed by Abbie Rushton || Release date: April 2016

Myla used to love spending long, hot days on the beach with her sister, Asha. Until the day Asha was taken from her and the sun went out. Forever.

That was two years ago. Myla hasn't been down to the beach - or even left the house - since. Crippling agoraphobia and panic attacks keep her locked inside a nightmare of the day she can never forget. Her main contact with the outside world is online - until she meets Jamie.

Jamie is new in town and also struggles with things most people find easy. Nobody gets why it's so hard for him to eat. But, like Myla, Jamie is trapped by his fears and feels anxious, awkward and alone.

Gradually the pair begin to trust each other. Are they willing to reveal their secrets - and risk discovering the truth? Or will they let their pasts consume them for good...


My Favourite Manson Girl by Alison Umminger || Release date: June 2016

Published in the US as American Girls

Anna has had a miserable year. Everything feels wrong with her life. And rather than stay and face the mess, she steals a credit card and books herself a seat on the first flight out of town to Los Angeles, to crash with her sister. But soon after she lands, cold reality soon dawns on her: Hollywood isn't the escape she needs. She is trapped in a town full of lost souls and wannabes, with no friends, no cash and no return ticket.

When she's offered a job researching the murderous Manson girls for a dubious film, she reluctantly accepts - she needs the money. But soon enough, among the fake smiles and glitter-fuelled parties, things turn from strange, to dark, to dangerous . . .

This is not going to be the summer Anna had in mind.


When Everything Feels Like the Movies by Raziel Reid || Release date: Feb. 2016

School is just like a film set: there's The Crew, who make things happen, The Extras who fill the empty desks, and The Movie Stars, whom everyone wants tagged in their Facebook photos. But Jude doesn't fit in. He's not part of The Crew because he isn't about to do anything unless it's court-appointed; he's not an Extra because nothing about him is anonymous; and he's not a Movie Star because even though everyone know his name like an A-lister, he isn't invited to the cool parties. As the director calls action, Jude is the flamer that lights the set on fire.

Before everything turns to ashes from the resulting inferno, Jude drags his best friend Angela off the casting couch and into enough melodrama to incite the paparazzi, all while trying to fend off the haters and win the heart of his favourite co-star Luke Morris. It's a total train wreck!

But train wrecks always make the front page.


2016 will also see new releases from UKYA faves Keren David and C.J. Daugherty. So much to look forward to!

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