Friday, 19 December 2014

Arianne's Top Ten Reads of 2014!

NUMBER ONE


The Kiss of Deception was by far my favourite book of the year. It’s an extraordinarily captivating high fantasy, full of action as well as detail. 
It reads so effortlessly and the characters are divine.



NUMBER TWO


Fangirl is one of those rare books that not only lives up to but surpasses all expectations. The story is more serious than you’d expect, but the romance is fantastic. 
Levi is perfection!



NUMBER THREE



I just can’t stop recommending this book. I’ve loved it since the day I first read it.
The writing is incredible and it stays with you long after you’ve finished reading.



NUMBER FOUR



So many young authors were published for the first time in 2014,  but when I try to think of a favourite,Take Back the Skies is the one that springs immediately to mind. It’s a fantasy-steampunk adventure which heralds the arrival of a six-book series, and I can’t wait to read 2015’s The Almost King.



NUMBER FIVE



What can I say? In the world of contemporary YA fiction, Stephanie Perkins is without parallel. I still love Anna and the French Kiss best, but Josh and Isla’s story is a great finish to a wonderful trilogy readers will want to return to time and time again.



NUMBERS SIX-TEN




The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith: I will read anything Jennifer E. Smith writes, and it’s the little things in The Geography of You and Me - the chapters set in Scotland, the bittersweet missed-opportunity feeling, the independent spirit fostered in both leading characters - that make the difference.

Famous in Love by Rebecca Serle: this book makes the list simply because it surprised me so much. If you’re looking for a light, fun, page-turning read to round out the year, Famous In Love is ideal for you.

Eternal Night by Carina Adly MacKenzie: another surprise hit for me this year. There is only one way I can describe Eternal Night, and that is as Gossip Girl meets Revenge meets Percy Jackson. It’s packed with glamour and there maybe is a little too much time spent choosing outfits and going to high society parties, but it’s incredibly cinematic and totally enjoyable.

And finally, some honourary mentions to books I only got around to reading this year but were published in 2013:

The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes: The Naturals is definitely the most original and unique book I read this year. I’ve never seen anything like it in YA before and I loved it. I need more, and soon!

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas: I can’t believe I waited so long to read Throne of Glass. You guys, it’s a marvel. Celaena Sardothien is the heroine we’ve all been wishing for. It’s ridiculously well-written and the intrigue is immense – and it’s only going to get more complicated from here. Easily one of the best young adult fantasy series of all time.

What about you? Do you agree with the titles on this list? What were your favourite books of 2014?

Reviewed by Arianne: The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski.



Product details:
Publisher: Bloomsbury.
Paperback, 368 pages.
Release date: July 3rd 2014.
Rating: 3½ out of 5.
Ages: 12+
Source: Received from publisher for review.
Reviewed by: Arianne.

Winning what you want may cost you everything you love.

As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions. One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction.

Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin. But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.

 Kestrel has grown up on a knife edge, caught precariously between her father’s role as a feared general and the privilege that encapsulates her life because of it. Raised far from the front line, she has no intention of following in her father’s footsteps, but neither will she settle for a sedate existence locked away from the world – and buying a rebellious, defiant slave is certainly one way to complicate things.

I’ve been looking forward to this book all year. I’ve heard so much praise for it, and theoretically it sounds like the perfect book for me – it’s a complex fantasy about war, love and freedom; it’s been hailed for its world-building; the cover is fantastic. My thoughts about the cover are still intact, but unfortunately it lacked the wow-factor I was expecting.

Don’t get me wrong, the writing in this book is beautiful, lyrical and descriptive. In fact, it’s some of the most beautiful writing I’ve ever seen in YA – but so much of it in one place, with the plot hanging in such a delicate balance, bored me.  There are whole chapters, particularly in the first half of the book, where very little happens. I love slow-burn romances, but I needed more twists and turns. I wanted more unpredictability, more thrills that would hook me in and give me a real reason to keep reading.

As for the characters, I loved that Kestrel was a strategist, but she seemed to have so few flaws. She’s beautiful, glamourous, and filthy rich – she’d fit perfectly into a book like We Were Liars by E. Lockhart if she wasn’t so busy trying to control slave revolts. That said, I really warmed to Arin over the course of the book, and by the ending, my heart was breaking for him. I wish we could have seen more from his perspective. I wanted to love them both, but he’s just more memorable than Kestrel.

The secondary characters – including Kestrel’s general father - are as flat as the paper they appear on. Most of them have motive, but they only serve to add to the plot. It’s painfully clear that they've only been invented to further Kestrel’s story, instead of being given the freedom to grow naturally as characters, and a perfect example is Rutkoski's use of the "ditzy best friend serves to make lead character look better" trope.

Of course, there were plenty of things that were good about The Winner’s Curse. I’ve already mentioned the world-building – which centres on Kestrel’s Valorian society and the oppression of a race known as the Herrani – but there’s also clear, thorough research behind the book, particularly when it comes to the prominent focus on war. I would have liked something different added to the narrative, magic or myths maybe, but it’s a solid introduction to pseudo-historical fantasy in a traditional, straightforward style.

The thing is, The Winner’s Curse gives you the feeling that it wants to be referred to as a ‘novel’, and not just a ‘book’. It’s the kind of story that says, “I’m better than all the other YA fiction out there! I have serious themes and deep dark issues!” but for most readers, that’s not the way it works.  This is a ‘novel’ that’s afraid to get a little rough around the edges, that’s afraid to indulge in its grittier, more engaging side. It chooses theme over action, and it’s the wrong decision. I liked the insight into class warfare, but I wanted story. I wanted heart. And while I loved the concept and the scope of the world featured, when I looked for a moment that would turn The Winner’s Curse into a five-star read for me, I was let down.

In short: The Winner’s Curse is a good book. The writing is stunning and the research is clear. It just wasn’t an incredible read for me. I can see why others have enjoyed it, but when it comes to high fantasy on the young adult shelf, I’d choose Throne of Glass or The Girl of Fire and Thorns over this book every time.


Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Book Reviews: Famous Last Words by Katie Alender, Say Her Name by James Dawson & Ashes to Ashes by Jenny Han & Siobhan Vivian.

You’d think that living in the Hollywood Hills in the sumptuous former home of a famous (dead) Hollywood actress would be a dream come true for most seventeen year old girls. Not so the protagonist of Katie Alender’s Famous Last Words.  Haunted by her father’s death two years previously, Willa is not impressed by the glitz and glamour of Hollywood and she’s also not looking forward to playing happy families with her mom’s new movie-director husband, Jonathan. Willa is still wracked with grief over the circumstances of her father’s death, and even though her mom has clearly moved on – Willa just can’t - so much so that she repeatedly tries to contact her dad’s spirit. Uh, bad idea. Willa, then, is not your typical teen. Not until she meets Jonathan’s hot assistant, a guy called Reed. These two connect from the off and it’s safe to say that Willa has an almighty crush on this older guy. Reed just seems to get Willa, and he totally gets that going to a school full of Hollywood brats when you’re the new kid in town is not so much fun. 

One of those brats is Wyatt, the school weirdo – according to Marnie, a sometime mean girl who has taken Willa under her wing – who seems unhealthily obsessed with a spate of murders that have recently occurred in which wannabe actresses are lured to their deaths and forced to re-enact ‘kill’ scenes from a bunch of famous movies (e.g. The Birds) What does all of this have to do with Willa? Well, she’s got Wyatt’s attention, for one, and oh yeah, there’s a ghost haunting her house; a ghost that wants her to find out the truth about the Hollywood Killer before it’s too late.

I have to say that the premise of this book is AMAZING!  A Hollywood setting and a serial killer whose calling card is to re-enact famous scenes from old movies. I’m all about movies and I especially love old Hollywood, so I have been itching to read this book for a while. And it’s good. Famous Last Words gets off to a little bit of a slow start, but once it picks up, it’s is an action-packed and multi-layered mystery that makes for a fun reading experience. The reasons that I liked but didn’t love this book. Well, those are two-fold: first up – the identity of the Hollywood Killer is far too obvious. And I mean glaringly obvious right from the start, so the book loses points for that. Also, the character of Willa. Now, I don’t have to like everything about a character, but Willa is a really hard sell. The only time I came close to liking her at all was near the end of the book. Otherwise, I didn’t much like her at all. Also, the romance/s were a miss for me.

I was also hoping for a better explanation as to the Hollywood Killer’s motivations. Such a backstory might have bumped this one up to a four – especially after a certain very interesting remark the killer made, which was never explored any further. Instead, the killer’s motivation was all wrapped up in a throwaway one-line explanation, which just didn’t cut it with me. 

Famous Last Words gets top marks for setting and premise, but the execution was just a little lacking at times.


Famous Last Words by Katie Alender.  Publisher: Scholastic.  Release date: Sept. 30th 2014.  Ages: 12+.  My Rating: 3½ out of 5. Source: Purchased.

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It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of horror and I especially love a good urban legend. I love the nineties movie Urban Legend too. Have you seen it? It’s all good, scary fun. Check it out.  Say Her Name by James Dawson, which updates the ‘Bloody Mary’ myth for a contemporary audience – and is set at a spooky old boarding school to boot –introduces us to no-nonsense-but-keen-to-keep-her-head-down-and-never-cause-a-fuss Roberta ‘Bobbie’ Rowe. One night, Bobbie, along with her exuberant best friend Naya and a cute guy call Caine decide to summon the ghost of ‘Bloody Mary’ by saying her name five times in front of a candlelit mirror – the story goes that Mary haunts the halls of Bobbie’s school, and if you call her, then she’ll appear.

Really bad idea guys!

Soon enough, strange things start happening, and when a girl at her school – who also summoned Mary – disappears, Bobbie soon learns that she has only FIVE DAYS in which to stop the same thing happening to her. Bobbie feels that Mary is trying to tell her something. But what? She’s determined to get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding Mary, because Bobbie is pretty sure she doesn’t want to disappear from this earth: especially not now that she’s crushing madly on Caine. And surely she can’t die having never been kissed. That really would be a tragedy.

Say Her Name is all about the scares, but it’s also infused with Dawson’s trademark wit, which makes for a fun –often laugh-out-loud -reading experience. I’d love to see this on the big screen: Say Her Name would make a great teen horror movie, with its dash of romance, general creepiness and some deliciously wicked twists. That said, I liked rather than loved this book, mainly because I didn’t really connect with any of the characters, but also because I felt that it borrowed quite heavily from certain horror movies at times – namely The Ring. Here we have five days instead of seven – and Mary very much resembles that little bundle of fun, Samara.

Say Her Name is Urban Legend meets The Ring: a fun reading experience and a good addition to the ever-growing YA horror scene. There is so much more to Mary’s story than first meets the eye; and I’d love to read an origin story somewhere down the line.


Say Her Name by James Dawson.  Publisher: Hot Key Books.  Release date: June 5th 2014.  Ages: YA.  My Rating: 3½ out of 5. Source: Received from publisher for review.

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BEWARE: BIG SPOILERS FOR PREVIOUS BOOKS IN THE SERIES IN THIS REVIEW!

From one scary Mary to another in Ashes to Ashes the final book in Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian’s hit-and-miss Burn for Burn trilogy.

First up, before I even start this review I have to admit that when I started reading this book I drew a complete blank as to what had happened in the previous book Fire with Fire. OK, so not a complete blank: I remembered the MAJOR TWIST right at the end of Fire with Fire when it’s revealed that Mary, is in fact, not just a really weird girl, but an actual ghost. If you think about it, the signs were there all along. I liked that twist. It was well played and basically saved Fire with Fire for me, because other than that twist and Lilia’s trip to Boston with Lindy, I didn’t really enjoy the second instalment in this series. Maybe that’s why my recall was so sketchy.

So, we’re back with the girls, and Rennie is dead (I did not remember that happening at all! Ooops!), Lilia is crazy in love with Reeve, but obviously feeling the guilt, and Kat is super stressed and smoking a lot of cigarettes. As for Mary, well, she’s nowhere to be found.  We know that she’s still around –her spirit stranded on Jar Island- but Lilia and Kat are oblivious to the fact and Mary thinks they should try harder to find out what’s going on with her. She disappeared from their lives and here they are carrying on as normal. Were they ever really her friends at all? Mary’s ghostly worldview is warped; if she’d just learn how to let it go, then she could possibly rest in peace. But she won’t do it. And what really irks her is that Lilia is hooking up with Reeve. In Mary’s eyes, that’s a betrayal. She wants revenge on Reeve –the boy who ruined her life – and this time she won’t stop till he’s dead. Eeek!

What started as a game of revenge has suddenly taken the deadliest of turns. Can Lilia and Kat stop Mary before it’s too late? And how many times can Lil reject Lindy before he’ll finally give up on her?!  FYI: I’m a big Lindy fan. That guy, so sweet. Le sigh.

Ashes to Ashes provides all the answers and more in what is an action-packed ending to the series. There’s also an epilogue which jumps into the future lives of all the players here. I liked the ending to this book; it was maybe not the sugar-coated happily ever after for everyone here –and not the ending that everyone expected or hoped for- but it definitely rang true to these characters for me.


Ashes to Ashes by Jenny Han & Siobhan Vivian.  Publisher: Simon & Schuster.  Release date: Sept. 16th 2014.  Ages: 14+.  My Rating: 3½ out of 5.  Other Books in Series: Burn for Burn, Fire with Fire. Overall Series Rating:  3 out of 5. Source: Purchased.

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Monday, 15 December 2014

UKYA Round-Up: Best of 2014 and What to Watch Out For in 2015!

Another day, another best of list!
2014 was a great year for UKYA with a lot of great titles from authors established and debut hitting the scene. Here's a round up of some of the best UKYA of 2014 along with some great UKYA titles you should check out next year.

Carry On Reading!

UKYA BEST OF 2014




Lobsters by Tom Ellen & Lucy Ivison -- This was my personal favourite UKYA of the year  and one of the biggest hits on the UKYA scene last summer. Lobsters is all about first times, fun, friendships and festivals and is laugh out loud funny at every turn –right down to the often cringe-worthy nitty gritty as is the wonderful way of UKYA. This is one book guaranteed to give you a good time! >>Read my review of Lobsters.

The Year of the Rat by Clare Furniss -- The Year of the Rat caused some enormous buzz on the UKYA scene both pre and post release. Heck, it's still making waves here, there and everywhere. Last week, I was sent a copy of the paperback along with a pack of tissues for all the tears I'll cry when I read this book.  Here's what Arianne had to say about The Year of the Rat: " Raw and honest, this heart-breaking tale of loss and anger is one of the most unique and compelling novels I’ve read so far this year." >>Read Arianne's review of The Year of The Rat.

Trouble by Non Pratt -- I've yet to read this one, although it is on my TBR and I hope to get to it very soon. Meanwhile, Arianne has it covered, and if you missed her review of Trouble earlier today, here's what she had to say about Non Pratt's buzzworthy debut novel: "I’d like to start by saying this: in future, if anyone ever needs a definition of classic UKYA, I’ll be handing them a copy of Trouble by Non Pratt. It’s sharp, funny, blunt and devastatingly engaging. It reels you in and doesn’t let go." >>Read Arianne's review of  Trouble by Non Pratt.

Salvage by Keren David -- OK, so, Arianne has not stopped talking about this book since she read it way back at the beginning of the year. I'm serious. She talks about this book almost as much as she talks about her crush on those Braxton brothers from Home & Away. #BraxtonsForever Anyway, Arianne labeled this book "better than chocolate" and we really wanted to see that quote on the cover of the paperback. Instead, the publisher went with 'Heart-rending' from Bliss magazine. Personally I prefer 'Better than Chocolate'. What do you think?  >>Read Arianne's review of Salvage by Keren David.

A Kiss in the Dark by Cat Clarke -- If Cat Clarke's Undone left me a sobbing wreck (maybe I'm exaggerating - just a little, though) then A Kiss in the Dark made my jaw hit the floor. That twist. I'm still in shock now and I read this book back in March or April. Cat Clarke's books are always a bit of a treat. I said it in my review of this book, and I'll say it again: YA doesn't get much better than this. >> Read my review of A Kiss in the Dark by Cat Clarke.


-- These are in no particular order by the way, but if you're wondering Lobsters was my personal fave UKYA of 2014 while I think it's a safe bet that Arianne loved Salvage the most. 

We both read lots of other great UKYA books in 2014. I couldn't include EVERYTHING in this quick round-up but if you hit the UKYA tab at the end of this post you'll find lots more great books to check out!


UKYA - TITLES FOR YOUR 2015 WISH LIST

Now, onto what's in store for 2015. I've narrowed this down to five titles, because, let's face it, if I didn't I could be here ALL NIGHT typing this thing up. There are so many awesome UKYA titles coming your (and my) way in 2015. The titles I've picked are five of my most wanted UKYA in 2015. You should check out >>THIS LIST>> if you want to see all the other brilliant UKYA titles that are releasing next year. (Also, vote for your faves while you're there!)

>>Clicking on book titles will lead you to Goodreads where you can read about each book in greater detail. 


The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich  -- Part-psychological thriller, part-urban legend featuring a ruined school, twin sisters and a lost diary. I want this book NOW!! Seriously this sounds like such a 'me' book and I cannot wait to read it. Goodreads doesn't list a release date for this one, but Amazon says it'll be out in August 2015. August! Argh! I have a long wait ahead of me!

The Lost and the Found by Cat Clarke -- A new book from Cat Clarke is always a cause for celebration and The Lost and the Found which 'marks a new direction for Cat,' according to the press release - is a taut psychological thriller. Nothing better than a taut psychological thriller, is what I say. This one is out in May 2015 according to Amazon.

For Holly by Tanya Byrne -- This book sounds wicked - wicked as in wicked evil and twisted. Ha! So, we've got this girl, Lola Durand who hates her stepmother and it sounds like she's going to TAKE. HER. DOWN. How?  Lola knows her stepmother's secret. And she's going to share it. I can't wait to find out what it is! Share, Lola, Share. June 2015 for this.

This is Not a Love Story by Keren David -- Well, after all of Arianne's 'Better than Chocolate' talk regarding Salvage, I just had to include Keren David's new book on this list. Also, this book sounds pretty damn awesome. This is Not a Love Story has an Amsterdam setting, features a grieving girl called Kitty, and two enigmatic boys, both with their secrets, called Ethan and Theo. Broken hearts or a happy ever after? You'll have to wait until May 2015 to find out. 


Conspiracy Girl by Sarah Alderson -- Two things guaranteed to be in every Sarah Alderson novel: A action-packed plot and the hottest guy you've ever encountered in a YA book. It's true: Sarah Alderson writes some of the hottest book boys around. And the hottest make-out scenes. Her foray into NA with  Come Back to Me (writing as Mila Gray) was a favourite of mine last summer, and I cannot wait to check this one out - and meet Finn Carter - "hacker, rule breaker, player" - reads the blurb. This one is out in February 2015 so not too long a wait. Also, it's on Netgalley for anyone who wants to go grab!



2014 was a great year for UKYA and 2015 is shaping up to be just as good- if not better.
I'd love to hear all about the UKYA you loved in 2014 (feel free to include Irish YA too!)
And let me know what UKYA you can't wait to read in 2015. Who knows, I might find some more books to add to my UKYA wish list!

*****








Reviewed by Arianne: Trouble by Non Pratt.


Product details:
Publisher: Walker Books.
Paperback, 384 pages.
Release date: March 6th 2014.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Ages: 14+
Reviewed by: Arianne.

 In this dazzling debut novel, a pregnant teen learns the meaning of friendship—from the boy who pretends to be her baby’s father.

When the entire high school finds out that Hannah Shepard is pregnant via her ex-best friend, she has a full-on meltdown in her backyard. The one witness (besides the rest of the world): Aaron Tyler, a transfer student and the only boy who doesn’t seem to want to get into Hannah’s pants. Confused and scared, Hannah needs someone to be on her side. Wishing to make up for his own past mistakes, Aaron does the unthinkable and offers to pretend to be the father of Hannah’s unborn baby. Even more unbelievable, Hannah hears herself saying “yes.”

Told in alternating perspectives between Hannah and Aaron, Trouble is the story of two teenagers helping each other to move forward in the wake of tragedy and devastating choices. As you read about their year of loss, regret, and hope, you’ll remember your first, real best friend—and how they were like a first love.

I’d like to start by saying this: in future, if anyone ever needs a definition of classic UKYA, I’ll be handing them a copy of Trouble by Non Pratt. It’s sharp, funny, blunt and devastatingly engaging. It reels you in and doesn’t let go.

 Non Pratt is a hugely talented new voice in British teen fiction. Trouble has a relatively straightforward concept, but it’s also a brave book that doesn’t hold back – and I think that’s right, partly because of the subject, but mostly because main character Hannah is so ridiculously gobby! Naturally, the dialogue is spot-on throughout, too.

 Hannah and Aaron’s relationship makes for a fantastic centrepiece against a backdrop of very serious and poignant issues. Hannah is assured in who she is and she owns her choices no matter what, but spending time with Aaron also brought other sides of her character (and vice versa), which I loved. The book reads at a fast pace and it’s a very strange time for them to get to know one another – which really serves to make the book’s humour stand out. This is a book that says “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” and I adored that.

 Unfortunately, I didn’t find the rest of the plot as captivating as I’d expected it to be. The ending is quite abrupt and there are certain aspects of Hannah’s life that really need attention from some kind of outside source – someone aside from parents, teachers and regular gatekeepers who can show her that those who betrayed her trust should and will be held responsible for their actions. I don’t know if that’s a narrative decision the author would change if she could, but with consent and accountability being such an important and topical issue, I just wish the book had given a stronger message that the way certain characters act around Hannah is wrong, not just on a person-to-person basis, but also on a pretty serious legal level, too.

 In short: I read all kinds of books, from middle grade to YA to adult, and I can’t think of a single book that compares to Trouble. It’s bold and brazen and states its purpose from the very first page. It’s not perfect, and I’d probably advocate an age restriction just this once because of some of the content, but it is well-written and totally memorable, so it’s definitely worth a read. 

--Arianne.
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