Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Reviewed by Arianne: Solitaire by Alice Oseman.


Product details:
Publisher: Harper Collins Children's.
Paperback, 400 pages.
Release date: July 31st 2014.
Rating: 2½ out of 5.
Ages: 13+
Source: Received from publisher for review.
Reviewed by: Arianne.

In case you’re wondering, this is not a love story.

My name is Tori Spring. I like to sleep and I like to blog. Last year – before all that stuff with Charlie and before I had to face the harsh realities of A-Levels and university applications and the fact that one day I really will have to start talking to people – I had friends. Things were very different, I guess, but that’s all over now.

Now there’s Solitaire. And Michael Holden.

I don’t know what Solitaire are trying to do, and I don’t care about Michael Holden.

I really don’t.

This incredible debut novel by outstanding young author Alice Oseman is perfect for fans of John Green, Rainbow Rowell and all unflinchingly honest writers.



Before I read this book, I was in a reading slump. When other books failed to draw me in, Solitaire – swathed in hype long before release – seemed like the perfect book with which to break the cycle. And in a way, it did. It made me realize that good books still exist – it’s just a pity that Solitaire isn’t actually one of them.

Let me explain. You know when you read a book that’s almost universally loved, and it just doesn’t click with you? The feeling of guilt that crashes down as you wonder what you’ve missed, if somehow a chapter got left out of the edition you were reading, a chapter that would have changed your opinion of the story entirely? All of those things happened to me while reading Solitaire. I didn’t want them to, but I just can’t ignore the fact that I really did not like this book.

If you’ve read my reviews in the past, you’ll know that I’m an overwhelmingly positive rater – I always try to be generous with stars because no matter what I think of a book, I know it was a labour of love for the author. Someone somewhere poured months, maybe even years, of their life into this project and, for me, that in itself deserves a handful of stars. I don’t like writing negative reviews, but I have to write honest ones.

Tori Spring is a cynical Sixth Former whose life motto seems to be one of general contempt towards the world and everything in it. She’s brutally pessimistic, scornful and cruel. I appreciate the importance of having unlikeable heroines, but Tori’s not just unlikeable, she’s unbearable. I tried to understand her, I really did. School peers who are just blind clones of each other? We’ve all had them. Family strife? We’ve all been there. People who are just plain idiotic and need a good slap? We’ve all met one or two. These things, I could understand – I could even understand disliking these things. But Tori takes her hatred of everyone and everything to a whole other level. This book tries so hard not to be cool, to not care, when really it’s the story of someone desperate to be popular, of a girl who ignores her own problems and who embodies the ‘play-pretend teenage apathy’ stereotype. Every character in this book is labelled and categorised. They are either too cool to care or incapable of controlling themselves – they are not complex or even memorable. Attempts to force them into the reader’s sympathy with tragic backstory and inane conversation fail grow particularly tiresome. However, in this review, I’m going to do the one thing that Tori never does, and that’s look on the bright side.

Alice Oseman is a teenage author, and as a teenage reader, I automatically go out of my way to support young authors in any way I can. I think it’s fantastic that agents and publishers are willing to take a gamble on YA writers who truly know what it’s like to be a modern teenager. In fact, the way Oseman describes what it means to be a teen in today’s world is one of the saving graces of the book. She details teen life in ways I haven’t seen in other contemporaries on the shelf. Exploration of tough issues like mental health, eating disorders and depression is particularly prominent and it’s something I’d love to see more of in YA.

Oseman’s writing style is solid and reliable, and I have no doubt she’ll go far in in the UKYA scene. It’s peppered with teen and pop culture references, which was fabulous - at first. I think it was supposed to make the dialogue and narrative more interesting but if I’m honest, it started to drag after a couple of chapters. I have no problem with references to movies and TV shows, and I particularly liked that fandom got a mention or forty, but it’s overdone. Not every teenager’s existence is defined by brands, and even when Tori ties to distance herself from it, all we get is a wannabe hipster narrator instead. Like many other aspects of the book, this element constantly swings between two extremes. On the upside, Michael Holden – the only character I really liked – brought enough entertainment to the tale that I could overlook the narration and focus on the story itself. The much publicised ‘realism’ of the book is somewhat undermined by the melodramatic and distracting introduction of a ‘mysterious’ and ‘secret’ cyber society who cause insult and injury by playing dangerous pranks around Tori’s school but there had to be some kind of plot in there somewhere.

I stuck with Solitaire because I was hoping for some magnificent twist to make it all worthwhile – and also because I was still wondering if I was actually reading the book I’d seen nothing but praise for in recent weeks – and it just didn’t happen. I now understand why the blurb, which made me want read the book in the first place, is so scarce on the detail; because Solitaire has a lot of potential, but that’s probably the best thing about it. I also got the sense that it will date very quickly, what with the social media undercurrent and all the name-dropping, so it lacks any sense of timelessness. Most importantly, it fails to show that teenagers can be positive and constructive and self-aware as well as intellectual and sarcastic and biting, so it’s not a book I’ll be eagerly recommending to YA readers or otherwise.

In short: Solitaire helped me get out of a reading slump in that it made me want to read another – better – book as soon as I’d finished. I’m not saying others won’t enjoy it, but with such an eviscerating main character, harsh narration and a disappointing overall standard of execution, it really wasn’t for me.



--Arianne.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Reviewed by Arianne: The Neptune Conspiracy by Polly Holyoke.


Product details:
Publisher: Puffin.
Paperback, 352 pages.
Release date: June 5th 2014.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Ages: 8+
Source: Received from publisher for review.
Reviewed by: Arianne.

Nere has always felt at home in the sea. But she never imagined she'd have to leave the land behind forever, until she finds out she's part of the NEPTUNE CONSPIRACY. She has been adapted to survive underwater.

Under the careful watch of Dai, Nere is chosen to lead a group of kids across miles of treacherous ocean.

Her survival skills will be put to the ultimate test. Guided by their faithful dolphin pod, Nere and her companions face the ocean's deadliest creatures. And close behind the government's savage dive team are determined to capture them, dead or alive...



If there’s one thing I have to talk about when it comes to The Neptune Conspiracy, it’s the world-building, because it is fantastic. Not only is it well-drawn, it’s perfect for an adventure. There’s also a really strong, original sci-fi twist which makes the book stand out: the fact that it’s based on the consequences of climate change makes it even more engaging. It’s all too easy to see how the world of The Neptune Conspiracy could become a reality. The damage caused to the planet by humanity is a very present threat and Holyoke doesn’t hold back on the detail of how exactly that might affect us in the future. Throw in an authoritarian society and almost constant danger, and you’ve got perfect conditions for a story.

Nere is an ordinary teenage girl with some extraordinary abilities. She may talk about having ‘weak lungs’ but she can communicate telepathically with creatures of the sea – namely dolphins. What’s more, the vents of The Neptune Conspiracy see her discover that her parents altered some of her genes so she can live underwater. The creation of a new undersea civilization appears to be the only option for Nere – and other genetically modified Neptune kids – and others who wish to escape the Western Collective and live in peace. Nere’s underwater journey could probably be best described as ‘finding her feet’ – or should that be sea-legs? – as she starts out with little confidence and low self-esteem, but this story sees her become braver and more resourceful than ever before.

The dolphins were one of my favourite elements of the book. Conservation is another of The Neptune Conspiracy’s themes and while the dolphins in this book may seem tame because of their telepathic connection with Nere, but they’re also wild animals and that’s made apparent as the conflict and adventure unfolds. The dolphin’s voices are written with stilted grammar and little punctuation – I’m still debating over whether that was necessary or not – but each dolphin character, particularly matriarch Mariah, has a strong bond with Nere and a very important role in the novel. Holyoke doesn’t try to make them human; she simply tries to make them feel real.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have as much of a connection with some of the other characters. They tended to feel flat and blur together; it was hard to tell them apart, even as fight scenes and the struggle to survive took centre stage in this exciting tale. This a book where research and evident knowledge are essential to the story but sometimes the facts and figures overwhelmed the characters. The dialogue wasn’t up to scratch and there were just too many discrepancies in the characterisation for me to warm to any of the protagonists.

For me, The Neptune Conspiracy is an ideal upper middle grade read. There’s practically no romance and for all its violence, it’s almost innocent in a way. It’s more about the journey than the destination, with no real showdown to finish. It deals with serious issues but the writing style is straightforward and clear. The main character is a teenager, but only just. The book wraps up quickly but there will be a sequel - titled The Neptune Challenge – so you can expect to see Nere do even more growing up in the second book and maybe even beyond.

In short: a solid start to a great new series with a fantastic premise and brilliant world-building, The Neptune Conspiracy suffers when it comes to characters and emotion, but is a novel clearly born from a love for the sea. Occasionally disappointing but highly recommended for upper-level readers of middle-grade fiction.




--Arianne.

#PenguinJourneys Invites You To Find Your Perfect Holiday Read!


HOLIDAY READING MADE EASY: A STORY FOR EVERY JOURNEY THIS SUMMER 

Share your #PenguinJourneys and receive a recommendation for the perfect audiobook to transport you to your summer holiday destination

Travellers will see long, boring journeys become a thing of fiction this summer thanks to #PenguinJourneys – a summer campaign to give holiday reading recommendations from Penguin Random House UK and its much-loved authors.

Any traveller looking for a recommended read can tell the experts where they’re going and how they’re getting there, and they’ll recommend the perfect audiobook, podcast or ebook to keep them occupied for the duration of their journey. 

Making the 22-hour flight from Melbourne to New York? Why not listen to Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Travelling closer to home with around two hours to kill? Let the Bloody Valentine audiobook from James Patterson transport you there. 

Readers can tweet using the hashtags #AskaPenguin and #PenguinJourneys every Friday lunchtime to receive a summer recommendation.

As part of the initiative, #PenguinJourneys is teaming up with authors including Clare Balding and Graeme Simsion to take readers on a literary odyssey around the world. Readers can visit Pinterest (http://www.pinterest.com/penguinukbooks/pack-your-bags-for-a-literary-odyssey-with-penguin/) to explore famous literary journeys, listen to extracts from the audiobooks that have been have mapped to each voyage, and be inspired by stories from their holiday destinations.

Clare Balding, whose forthcoming book Walking Home will take readers on a tour of Britain, will also be giving fans an exclusive insight into her favourite literary journeys and top recommended summer reads as part of the campaign.

Clare Balding said: “Journeys and reading go hand-in-hand. I like to take a different book on each journey so that I associate that place or adventure with a specific book. At the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, I'm reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. It's a great way to escape into a different world and then I come back to sport prep feeling fresh and energised. The #PenguinJourneys campaign taps into some of our greatest literary journeys and is a great way of inspiring people to read something different while they travel.”

Layla West, Consumer Engagement Director at Penguin Random House UK, commented: “#PenguinJourneys is the perfect summer reads campaign which does what we like to do best: recommend stories. The campaign has readers at its heart and is both useful and fun - helping anyone anywhere find the perfect book for their journey. 

“Audiobooks are such a growing market and we have an amazing catalogue at Penguin Random House, so it made sense to make this our focus. By partnering with Pinterest, Rough Guides and our dedicated crime community, Dead Good, we hope to inspire even more readers to pack their bags and join us on literary journeys around the world.”

Follow #PenguinJourneys on Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, the Penguin blog and the Penguin Podcast through to the end of August - with a special #PenguinJourneys programme featuring Clare Balding.





*********


Source: Press Release.



Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Read All About It: News, Deals and Cover Reveals from Emery Lord, Gayle Forman, Lauren Oliver, Cynthia Hand & More!

Here's a round up of the latest book news, deals and some cover reveals that I've discovered over the past while.  It's also basically a digest of all the exciting news stories that come my way and which I've mostly already posted on my twitter and Facebook feeds, so if you want up-to-the-minute book news and you don't want to have to wait around for me to type this up, you can follow me on those sites!

 Like DaisyChainBookReviews on Facebook  ||   Follow  @daisychainbooks on Twitter and then you'll never miss a thing!



The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord || Release date: March 2015

Following her pitch-perfect debut Open Road Summer, Emery Lord pens another gorgeous story of best friends, new love, & second chances.

It’s been a year since it happened—when Paige Hancock’s first boyfriend died in an accident. After shutting out the world for a year, Paige is finally ready for a second chance at high school . . . and she has a plan. First: Get her old crush, Ryan Chase, to date her—the perfect way to convince everyone she’s back to normal. Next: Join a club—simple, it’s high school after all. But when Ryan’s sweet, nerdy cousin, Max, moves to town and recruits Paige for the Quiz Bowl team (of all things!) her perfect plan is thrown for a serious loop. Will Paige be able to face her fears and finally open herself up to the life she was meant to live?

Brimming with heartfelt relationships and authentic high-school dynamics The Start of Me and You proves that it’s never too late for second chances.


********** 


I Was Here by Gayle Forman || Release date: January 2015


Cody and Meg were inseparable.
Two peas in a pod.
Until . . . they weren’t anymore.

When her best friend Meg drinks a bottle of industrial-strength cleaner alone in a motel room, Cody is understandably shocked and devastated. She and Meg shared everything—so how was there no warning? But when Cody travels to Meg’s college town to pack up the belongings left behind, she discovers that there’s a lot that Meg never told her. About her old roommates, the sort of people Cody never would have met in her dead-end small town in Washington. About Ben McAllister, the boy with a guitar and a sneer, who broke Meg’s heart. And about an encrypted computer file that Cody can’t open—until she does, and suddenly everything Cody thought she knew about her best friend’s death gets thrown into question.

I Was Here is Gayle Forman at her finest, a taut, emotional, and ultimately redemptive story about redefining the meaning of family and finding a way to move forward even in the face of unspeakable loss.

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Monday, 21 July 2014

Book Review: Lobsters by Tom Ellen & Lucy Ivison.


Product details:
Publisher: Chicken House.
Paperback, 336 pages.
Release date: June 5th 2014.
Rating:  4 out of 5.
Ages:13+
Source: Purchased.


Sam and Hannah only have the holidays to find 'The One'. Their lobster. But instead of being epic, their summer is looking awkward. They must navigate social misunderstandings, the plotting of well-meaning friends, and their own fears of being virgins for ever to find happiness. But fate is at work to bring them together. And in the end, it all boils down to love.




A laugh-out-loud tale of first times, friendship, and festivals, Lobsters by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivision is the latest ‘keeper’ on my UKYA bookshelf. I’ve heard a lot of great things about this book from my fellow bloggers since its release in June – such good things, in fact, that I bumped Lobsters right to the top of my humungous summer reading pile. And I’m glad I did, because Lobsters does not disappoint.  I read a lot of US-set contemporary fiction, and while I love those books dearly and have lots of favourites, I always find the many differences between US and UK contemps quite interesting: Most US contemporary fiction is quite tame in relation to its UK counterpart, and it can be sugar-coated at times too, quite sweet and thoughtful in its way.  UKYA in my experience, and certainly in this book, is quite the opposite; I always find it refreshing that UKYA never fails to tell it like it is, right down to the often cringe-worthy nitty gritty.  I can’t recall a US-set Contemp that made me laugh out loud (although many have made me swoon!), but that happens all the time with UKYA, and just as a warning, if you read Lobsters in public, you’ll laugh so much that people will definitely stare and wonder if you’ve completely lost the plot!

It’s the summer before Uni, and Hannah’s main goal in life is to ‘lose it.’ Her virginity, that is. It seems like all her friends are doing it, well, except for gorgeous Stella who is keeping her intact, not because she can’t lose it, but because she wants to hold onto it. That’s Stella all out, though, she always has to be different to everyone else.   Not so Hannah, who is determined to get it over and done with –the sooner the better. Hannah meets Sam at Stella’s end-of-summer party, and the two immediately connect over a conversation about warm Ribena.  Hannah believes she has found her ‘lobster’ a.k.a ‘The One’ in Sam while he feels the same – Sam’s never had all that much luck with girls, but talking to Hannah is easy; Sam feels like he’s known Hannah forever – he feels like he wants to get to know her a whole lot better.

It should all be plain sailing from here for Sam and Hannah, but the course of true love rarely runs smooth, and our two lovebirds face many, many obstacles over the course of the summer:  Hannah doesn’t get Sam’s name and so he becomes known as ‘Toilet Boy’ amongst her friend, from here she loses track of him because she can’t find him on Facebook, there’s a problem with Hannah’s always-out-for-herself-friend Stella, a beautiful boy called Pax who Hannah meets in Kavos, and a girl named Miranda who calls herself Panda, because it rhymes and she likes Pandas. Okaaaay.  Will Hannah and Sam ever get it on? Or are they destined to remain apart forever due to a serious of unfortunate events – and a rather large dose of jealousy coupled with way too much alcohol.

Well, I guess you’ll just have to read Lobsters to find out.

I want to give a special mention to the supporting characters in Lobsters. As far as I know, this is a standalone –at least I haven’t heard otherwise- but I really, really think that this could be the start of a great series. And the reason for that: the secondary characters. Now, I know that sometimes I harp on about secondary characters, but it’s my opinion that well-written secondary characters can really add a whole lot of depth to a story. That happens here. Not only do both Ellen and Ivison write pitch perfect teenage voices, but they’ve also developed some really great characters in this book who pretty much deserve their own stories. First up, Stella. Stella is Hannah’s beautiful, but very bitchy friend. I’m not saying I’m a fan of Stella’s at all, but does she intrigue me? Yes. I want to read more about her. Then, there’s Robin, Sam’s all-knowing, Harry-Potter obsessed BFF. This guy totally deserves a book all of his own. Too funny!

But I don’t know if that’s happening. I really think it should.

If you love Ali Cronin’s Girl Heart Boy series (the last book of which I haven’t been able to find anywhere!), Skins, or The Inbetweeners, then add Lobsters to your summer reading list. You won’t be disappointed!
 
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