Saturday, 26 September 2015

Review: Tonight the Streets are Ours by Leila Sales

Published by: Macmillan Children's Books
Release date: 24th September 2015
Series:  n/a

I got it from: Netgalley
Goodreads summary:

From the author of This Song Will Save Your Life comes a funny and relatable book about the hazards of falling for a person you haven't met yet.

Seventeen-year-old Arden Huntley is recklessly loyal. Taking care of her loved ones is what gives Arden purpose in her life and makes her feel like she matters. But she's tired of being loyal to people who don't appreciate her—including her needy best friend and her absent mom.

Arden finds comfort in a blog she stumbles upon called "Tonight the Streets Are Ours," the musings of a young New York City writer named Peter. When Peter is dumped by the girlfriend he blogs about, Arden decides to take a road trip to see him.

During one crazy night out in NYC filled with parties, dancing, and music—the type of night when anything can happen, and nearly everything does—Arden discovers that Peter isn't exactly who she thought he was. And maybe she isn't exactly who she thought she was, either.

My Review:
I was a huge fan of This Song Will Save your Life, so I was inordinately excited to have a chance to read Tonight the Streets are Ours. I tried not to expect to much from it, after all no two books are the same and although I generally enjoy works by the same author who penned one of my favourite books, this is not always the case (see my review of Maggie Stiefvater's Scorpio Races for an example of this). I have to say, TTSAO didn't leave me with the same feeling of euphoria that TSWSYL did, but it did leave me with a smile on my face.

TTSAO is the kind of book that you can't appreciate fully until you reach the end. The journey is a good one; it's interesting and somewhat whimsical yet full of feeling. But the ending is what made me smile. I would have to say, trite though it is, that this is a story of self-discovery. Which is an important and worthy thing, particularly at the age of 17. TTSAO was a reminder, for me, that you don't always have to be the person that other people and circumstances have made you into. Sometimes you have to carve your own way, and sometimes you have to let other people do the same. It's not always easy, but it tends to be worth it.

I can't tell you much about the story that's not already in the blurb above, without getting spoilerish. I can tell you that Sales' writing is just as delightful and insightful as it was in This Song. I can tell you that although written in the third person, her characters are particularly alive, knowable and full of the little things that make us human. They're not all nice, or even especially likeable, at least not all the time, except for Arden. I found myself liking that girl more and more as the book went on. And seeing as I already liked her from the start, I guess by the end I was half in love with her. The thing about the characters in general, is that they're not the same people at the end as they are at the start. As Arden discovers this, so do we. I can also tell you that while not as happy-making as This Song, TTSAO was thought-provoking, smile-provoking and insurance that I will read whatever Sales throws at me next.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Review: Night Owls by Jenn Bennett

Published by: Simon & Schuster UK
Release date: 13th August 2015
Series:  n/a

I got it from: Netgalley
Goodreads summary:

Since school had let out in May, gold graffiti had been popping up around San Francisco. Single words painted in enormous golden letters appeared on bridges and building fronts. Not semi-illegible, angry gang tags, but beautifully executed fonts done by someone with talent and skill...

Meeting Jack on the Owl—San Francisco's night bus—turns Beatrix's world upside down. Jack is charming, wildly attractive...and possibly one of San Francisco's most notorious graffiti artists.

On midnight rides and city rooftops, Beatrix begins to see who this enigmatic boy really is. But Jack is hiding much more - and can she uncover the truth that leaves him so wounded?

My review: 
I haven't read any of Bennett's adult fiction, and I know this is her first foray into YA, but I really hope it isn't her last. Here is a writer who knows her stuff. With a style reminiscent of Maggie Stiefvater and David Levithan (high praise indeed coming from me), she enchants and ensnares the reader with cunningly-placed descriptions and meaningful yet pithy dialogue.

Bex is an infinitely complex character, an artist with an obsession for the somewhat macabre subject of human anatomy. She has removed all colour from her life, working only in monochrome, a habit that has overflowed into her clothing choices too. She studies hard, and leaves the drinking and partying to her brother Heath.

Then she meets Jack. He's her opposite - mysterious, a law-breaking graffiti artist, bold and sexy. Turns out they have a couple of things in common though - a tenacity that verges on stubbornness, and the chemistry that flows easily between them. Before long, Bex is defying her mother and sneaking out (challenging the rules for all the best reasons), while Jack is finally letting someone in to the biggest secret in his family.

I love that Bex wants to draw cadavers for a living. Right away, that tells you something about her character. She's precise, brave, strong, single-minded and not afraid to live outside of the norm. She is the unusual combination of artistry and science. When we first meet her though, she's stagnating. She's too focused on the scientific side, not allowing her artist's heart out. Jack changes that, challenging her and coaxing out her packed-away heart. As always, the best relationships bring with them a synergy, strengthening each party so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Bex and Jack definitely bring out the best in one another, and the pull of attraction between them is palpable from the very start. The banter between them is a joy to read as well.

Bex is a straight-talking type, and I loved the honesty in her voice. The physical pull that Jack holds for her and her worry over the unconventional start of their relationship were evident in her thoughts, and as things progressed, along with other issues and influences in her life, us readers get the full scoop of what's going on in her head.

Night Owls is contemporary romance that feels like a fairy tale at times, in all the best ways. Dealing with family issues and touching on mental health problems in addition to the usual teen dramas, it's a story that's packed full of life. It's set in San Francisco, and Bennett's descriptions of the city made me feel like I was right there. Bex and Jack slammed their way into my heart and mind, and when the book ended it was a wrench to let them go.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Review: Never Always Sometimes by Adi Alsaid

Published by: Harlequin Teen
Release date: 4th August 2015
Series:  n/a

I got it from: Netgalley
Goodreads summary:

Never date your best friend

Always be original

Sometimes rules are meant to be broken

Best friends Dave and Julia were determined to never be cliché high school kids—the ones who sit at the same lunch table every day, dissecting the drama from homeroom and plotting their campaigns for prom king and queen. They even wrote their own Never List of everything they vowed they'd never, ever do in high school.

Some of the rules have been easy to follow, like #5, never die your hair a color of the rainbow, or #7, never hook up with a teacher. But Dave has a secret: he's broken rule #8, never pine silently after someone for the entirety of high school. It's either that or break rule #10, never date your best friend. Dave has loved Julia for as long as he can remember.

Julia is beautiful, wild and impetuous. So when she suggests they do every Never on the list, Dave is happy to play along. He even dyes his hair an unfortunate shade of green. It starts as a joke, but then a funny thing happens: Dave and Julia discover that by skipping the clichés, they've actually been missing out on high school. And maybe even on love.

My review:
Male YA authors are a rare breed, and ones that do romance are even rarer. The few that exist though, are worth reading. Men do romance in a different, less showy way to women. I don't want to lump all male authors in together, but when I look at Adi Alsaid, John Green, David Levithan etc, they do have similarities. A certain feeling, a way with words that doesn't rely on over-dramatic emotions and unlikely detailing (although Never Always Sometimes does feature a girl who smells of honey, which I find improbable yet sweet). Dare I say it, these male authors have a tendency towards realism that I find myself charmed by. They also do really good dialogue. But this isn't a review of male authors in general, this is a review of one particular book.

When two cliche-busting best friends get decide to enact a list of cliches, you're have certain expectations. Alsaid goes against those expectations though. Not all of them - you have to allow a certain amount of cliches through the net. But things start to subtly alter, the story starts to turn in a different direction and you're no longer stuck in the cliche-driven story that you expected. And that's what makes Alsaid so great. He takes a bunch of high school cliches and he twists them into something else.

Dave and Julie are both masterful characters. They shun their high school society, preferring each others company. They have a clique of two, and it's easy to see why when you see how the interact together. But when the Nevers list is put into action, they are required to widen their social circle, and that's when you begin to see differences in their characters. If it wasn't for Julia, Dave would probably be a fairly popular guy. He's likeable and personable, easy to talk to and get along with. But he prefers to spend every minute he can with Julia, and Julia prefers not to mix with other students. Julia is the prickly one. Always with something funny to say, a certain disdain for the rest of the school population, a fixation on her absent mother and a desire to be different. Alsaid has done a top-notch job in developing two wholly real people here. It has to be said, the lesser characters suffer a little. They don't have the same 'reality glow' about them that the two MCs have, but that just makes Dave and Julia glow all the brighter.

I'm not going to go into the whole story - the goodreads summary does enough. Any more and I'll be leaving spoilers lying around, and I don't do that. I do have to mention the ending, but I will endeavour to do so without any important reveals. As you probably know if you read my sporadic blog, I have a thing about endings. I'm very picky and derisive of the standard-style ending. I loved the end of Never Always Sometimes though. It was perfect. The whole cliche-but-not-a-cliche story comes to fruition in a way that is unexpected but completely right.

Never Always Sometimes is a very different creature to Alsaid's hit Let's Get Lost, and I loved it in different ways. The bare bones of Alsaid's style still come through though - his ability to paint a scene so that you become wholly ensconced in it; the way he builds characters up until they become so real you could touch them; the journey that the story provides, and the ways in which it makes you think. I really can't wait to see what comes next.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Review: I Followed the Rules by Joanna Bolouri

Published by: Quercus
Release date: 2nd July 2015
Series:  n/a

I got it from: Netgalley
Goodreads summary:

Rule 1: Never ask him on a first date. Rule 2: Laugh admiringly at all his jokes. Rule 3: Always leave him wanting more.

. . . wtf?!

Have you heard of The Rules of Engagement? It's a book that promises to teach you to find the man of your dreams in ten easy steps. Unsurprisingly, I don't own a copy. What is it, 1892?

But I'm a journalist, and I've promised to follow it to the letter and write about the results. Nevermind that my friends think I'm insane, I'm stalking men all over town and can't keep my mouth shut at the best of times.

My name is Cat Buchanan. I'm thirty-six years old and live with my daughter in Glasgow. I've been single for six years, but that's about to change. After all, I'm on a deadline.

I Followed the Rules and this is what happened.

My review:
I totally fell in love with Bolouri's debut The List, so I had high expectations for this one. Thankfully, I was not disappointed. Bolouri's distinctive voice shines through loud and clear in this brilliant, sweary rom-com, making it an absolute joy to read. Somehow she's managed to come up with a story that's practically the opposite of The List. Where The List was all about having sex (well not all about that, but there was a lot of it), I Followed the Rules spends a good deal of its time not allowing sex. Despite that though, it still manages to be sexy. Bolouri is a literary wizard.

Cat Buchanan is a wonderful, complex character. I have to say, I don't often pick up books where the MC is a mum, because even though I'm of a similar age to our heroine, I have no children, am the least maternal person in the world, and do not enjoy reading about other peoples' children. Cat is that rare thing though - a single mum who still manages to act like a normal adult. We hear enough about young Grace to make it clear that she is a major fixture of Cat's life, but not enough to bore. She's an important character, but she doesn't get a huge amount of page-time, which works out perfectly for me. Cat is, apart from a successful single mum, a writer, and a brilliant woman who I want to be my best friend. In fact, she reminds me very much of my best friend, which must be why I loved her so much.

There something about Bolouri's books that has me constantly smiling while reading. Her voice is so full of humour and realism, that it's like a boozy night in with your best mate. I love the fact that she puts in lots of shouty capital letters. I love the fact that Cat has a voice in her head shouting inappropriate things at awkward times, the same way I do. I love the fact that it's frank and real and downright hilarious. I know I keep saying how funny it is, but I can't help emphasizing that point. I don't think any other author has had me in such a great mood while reading their books as Bolouri. I could read her writing all day, every day. But enough fan-girling. Just go and read it, I promise you won't regret it.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Review: Lying Out Loud by Kody Keplinger

Published by: Hatchette Children's Books (UK)
Release date: 2nd July 2015 (UK)
Series:  Hamilton High #2

I got it from: Netgalley
Goodreads summary:

Sonny Ardmore is an excellent liar. She lies about her dad being in prison. She lies about her mom kicking her out. And she lies about sneaking into her best friend's house every night because she has nowhere else to go.

Amy Rush might be the only person Sonny shares everything with— secrets, clothes, even a nemesis named Ryder Cross.

Ryder's the new kid at Hamilton High and everything Sonny and Amy can't stand—a prep-school snob. But Ryder has a weakness: Amy. So when Ryder emails Amy asking her out, the friends see it as a prank opportunity not to be missed.

But without meaning to, Sonny ends up talking to Ryder all night online. And to her horror, she realizes that she might actually like him. Only there's one small catch: he thinks he's been talking to Amy. So Sonny comes up with an elaborate scheme to help Ryder realize that she's the girl he's really wanted all along. Can Sonny lie her way to the truth, or will all her lies end up costing her both Ryder and Amy?

My review:
There's something so delicious about reading a new book by an author you love, and if you've been waiting for it for a while it feels especially indulgent. I find myself having to force myself to slow down, to not tear through it. A new book by an author I love deserves to be savoured, like a scrummy chocolate dessert. Lying Out Loud is most definitely one of those books. I adored The Duff, and this return to Hamilton High is a most welcome one.

Sonny is one of those rare but brilliant characters - she's not too good to be true. She's average in some ways, incredible in others, and a bit of a bitch in yet others. She's so real, so relateable, I desperately want her for my friend.

And of course, because Keplinger is such a talented author, Sonny isn't the only brilliant character. Each and every character is well-developed and full of those little touches that turn them into real people. Amy perhaps most of all, because she's up there with Sonny sharing the limelight in this book. Yes, Lying Out Loud is a book about friendship, along with a few other things. Now I'm not normally a huge fan of friendship stories. But LOL has enough other stuff going on (including a rather charming romance full of witty banter), that the main story arc is perfectly acceptable, nay, it's better than acceptable. It's wonderful. The whole book feels wonderfully familiar, like putting on your favourite worn clothes and snuggling up on the sofa. It's a comforting sort of feeling I get while reading this, and I really didn't want it to end. It's going straight on my shelf of books I read when I need a lift. Thank you, Ms Keplinger.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Blog Tour: The Summer After You and Me by Jennifer Salvato Doktorski

Welcome to our stop on the The Summer After You and Me tour for Jennifer Salvato Doktorski. This tour is hosted by Sourcebooks Fire.

Published by: Sourcebooks Fire
Release date: 5th May 2015

I got it from: Netgalley



Will it be a summer of fresh starts or second chances?

For Lucy, the Jersey Shore isn’t just the perfect summer escape, it’s home. As a local girl, she knows not to get attached to the tourists. They breeze in during Memorial Day weekend, crowding her costal town and stealing moonlit kisses, only to pack up their beach umbrellas and empty promises on Labor Day. Still, she can’t help but crush on charming Connor Malloy. His family spends every summer next door, and she longs for their friendship to turn into something deeper.

Then Superstorm Sandy sweeps up the coast, bringing Lucy and Connor together for a few intense hours. Except nothing is the same in the wake of the storm, and Lucy is left to pick up the pieces of her broken heart and her broken home. Time may heal all wounds, but with Memorial Day approaching and Connor returning, Lucy’s summer is sure to be filled with fireworks.

About the Author:

Jennifer Salvato Doktorski is the author of two YA  novels and is a freelance nonfiction writer. Her first paid writing gig was at The North Jersey Herald & News, where she wrote obituaries and began her lifelong love of news and coffee. She lives in New Jersey with her family.

My Review:

Ahh... there's just something about a really good YA contemporary read, especially if it features a beach town, summer, and a quirky MC. TSAYaM has all of those, plus a whole lot more. Now I'm not usually one for making comparisons, but I have to mention that this did have a bit of a feel of Sarah Dessen to it, which I loved about it - she's one of my favourite authors. TSAYaM has similar themes of new and old loves, new and old friends, getting off track and finding your way back again. Plus the whole beach town thing. There are a lot of summer romances out there, but just a few that are special enough to rise to the top of the pile, and this is definitely one of them.

Lucy is a wonderful character. She's intelligent, a bit of a geek, slightly socially awkward, but in possession of good morals. Her mother says of her: 'One of the things I admire most about you, honey, is that you're as responsible as you are fearless. It's a rare combination.'. And it's true. Aside from the social awkwardness, Lucy is the kind of person who knows what she wants and sets out to get it. She's good at school, she knows what she wants to major in at college, she has plans for interning through the summer, she has her boyfriend and her friends and her job - everything seems perfect. Or is it? Of course it isn't. Life doesn't work like that.

What I loved about TSAYaM is that we get to see Lucy's whole life. So many books focus on just one romance, maybe with a bit of friend or family action thrown in. But with Lucy, we're involved with her friends, her boyfriend, her family, her job, her interests - it's all there and it makes it all so much more real. And when Lucy loses her way somewhat in her perfectly planned life (or, in some cases, the way is dragged out from under her feet), that means we get to see all the knock-on effects. Doktorski has created a full and complex life for Lucy, but she's also done a top job with the other characters - each and every one of them, from Lucy's twin brother Liam, to her boss at work, feels wonderfully real.

I have to mention Sandy too - not another character, but the superstorm. TSAYaM is set a few month after Sandy tore up the coast, and it was really interesting to read how it Lucy and her family and friends. Lucy and her family were lucky - they had to stay with her grandmother for a while, while their house was repaired, but they didn't lose everything the way some people did. It still affected them in a big way though. The way Lucy hates the smell of newness - the new flooring, furniture and decor in her house; the newly patched and painted walls at her work - really gives feeling to the devastation that Sandy left behind. Everything is a bit different and unfamiliar, and home doesn't quite feel the same anymore. Lucy doesn't feel the same either - she's going through the motions in her relationship with Andrew, which has turned from best friend to 'more', but she can't stop thinking about Connor, the summer boy next door who she shared a moment with on the day of the storm, only to be ignored by him in the following months. Now it's nearly summer again and Connor is back, and she doesn't know how to react.

Although the romance is not the whole story in this book, it does play a big part. I'm not going to say too much more about it, as I don't want to give anything away. I will just say that I think Doktorski has written this aspect of the book just as brilliantly as she has all aspects. It feels realistic, age-appropriate, and it went the way I wanted it to. All in all, I really enjoyed this book, for lots of reasons. I got totally drawn into Lucy's world, and I didn't want to leave it. This is my first Doktorski read, but I'll definitely be looking up her other books now.

Here's an excerpt from the book:

Connor opened the gorgeous double doors, each with half-moon stained-glass windows on the top, and motioned me inside. “After you.”
The house had that distinct yet hard-to-describe smell of a beach home that had been closed up for a while. I walked to the center of the high-ceilinged foyer and immediately pic­tured pine garland and twinkling white lights wrapped around the sweeping banister.
“Wow. I’d love to spend Christmas here,” I said and immedi­ately regretted being so sappy.
Connor smiled. “You could fit a twelve-foot tree in this hallway.”
I admit, over the years I’ve had my share of Connor-centric fantasies. However the image of him watching his children pad down the stairs on Christmas morning had never been one of them…until that very second. I liked thinking about Connor that way.
“Come on. You’ve got to see the master bedroom.”
The wholesome image of a Malloy family Christmas van­ished. Aha, I thought. That was the Connor I knew.
“Uh-uh,” I said. “The widow’s walk. I want to go there first.”
“Race you,” he said and took off running.
He beat me up the two flights and was waiting for me in the third-floor hallway toward the back of the house. Off the hallway was an art studio, with a drafting table and a bookcase. There was also a telescope standing near the window.
“Follow me.” He crossed the studio and unlocked the dead­bolt to the narrow door leading outside.
“You’ve already been up there?”
“First thing I did when I got here,” Connor said.
“Not the master bedroom?”
“Nah, that’s the first thing I wanted to do when you got here.”
I thought it was just more flirty banter, but Connor’s flushed cheeks looked as warm as my body felt. He stared at me for a beat too long and my throat constricted. I was suddenly aware that I’d left the house with slept-on hair and no mascara. The look on Connor’s face told me he hadn’t noticed. His eyes never left mine.
Finally he said, “Come on, Luce. I’ll follow you.” The space was tight when I passed in front of him, and the closeness of his body gave me the shivers. I opened the door and stepped outside onto a small patio. I walked toward the wrought-iron spiral staircase that lead to the widow’s walk on the roof and placed my hand on the railing. My knees felt shaky as I began the climb, but I never looked back. 

And here's where you can buy it:


And here's what you've been waiting for: the Giveaway!

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Same Old Story: A Rant About the Lack of Originality in Romantic Fiction

I read a lot. I read a lot of romance. I love the stories of first love, boy meets girl, drama and lust. But what I don't love at the moment is the sheer number of books I'm reading that all follow basically the same story. Girl meets boy. Girl and Boy fancy each other. Girl and Boy dance around one another for a while before (hurrah!) getting together. Something terrible/tragic/confusing/annoying happens; Girl and Boy break up. Girl and Boy realise that one or both of them have been idiots and get back together. The End.

It's not a new story. It surely must happen a lot in real life in order to have spawned quite so much fiction following this plot line. But it sure does get boring sometimes. It's got to the point where I start to lose interest at the point where something happens to split the lovely couple up. It's not like I hate all books that use this story - there are plenty out there that are still really good in spite, or even because, of it. But I do need a break from it now and again. It's one of the reasons why I enjoy urban fantasy novels. Lots of these use the same basic story, but the addition of magic or monsters spices it up and makes it more interesting.

Many of the worst offenders are Young and New Adult romances. I think these books suffer the most from the curse of unoriginality because the main characters are young, and they often don't have much going on in their life apart from school, friends and romance. Don't get me wrong - that can make for a wonderful book, but it doesn't always. It pleases me greatly when the young MC has something else in her life to make it more interesting, be it a sport or hobby, a werewolf or a witch. Adult novels are also guilty of the common trope, but older characters tend to have more going on in their lives which makes for a fuller, better-rounded story.

So what books have bucked the trend? Here are a few examples of some of my favourite books - all stories that veer off the well-beaten love-tragedy-love path:
Everything by Maggie Stiefvater, but specifically the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy
Stiefvater is far too clever to give in to YA cliches. She works hard at making her writing tricksy and intelligent, but vastly enjoyable at the same time.

Kiss Him Goodbye by Victoria Routledge
Not a YA though it could be classed as NA, an old-time favourite and my go-to book whenever I feel down. Kate Craig is new to London and she hates it, but she's a stubborn thing and determined to see the challenge through. What she didn't bargain for was flatmates who invade her life and the ways in which the big city subtly changes you.

Saving June by Hannah Harrington
A road-trip story, a coming-of-age yarn and a poignant tale of loss and growth all rolled into one.

Soulmates by Holly Bourne
Poppy and Noah's romance is incredible, wonderful and beautiful to read. But. There is a But. I just can't say what it is. Sorry. Read it if you're feeling brave, and love it for its beauty.

Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton
Buckets of blood, magic that could be real, and an atmosphere so thick and dark that I found myself completely drawn in.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Review: Paradise City by CJ Duggan

Published by: Hatchette Australia
Release date: 28th April 2015
Series:  Paradise #1

I got it from: Netgalley
Goodreads summary:

There's bound to be trouble in Paradise . . .

When her parents decide a change will be good for her, seventeen-year-old Lexie Atkinson never expected they'd send her all the way to Paradise City. Coming from a predictable life of home schooling on a rural Australian property, she's sure that Paradise will be amazing. But when she's thrust into a public school without a friendly face in sight, and forced to share a room with her insipid, hateful cousin Amanda, Lexie's not so sure.

Hanging out with the self-proclaimed beach bums of the city, sneaking out, late night parties and parking with boys are all things Lexie's never experienced, but all that's about to change. It's new, terrifying . . . and exciting. But when she meets Luke Ballantine, exciting doesn't even come close to describing her new life. Trouble with a capital T, Luke is impulsive, charming and answers to no one. The resident bad-boy leader of the group, he's sexier than any boy Lexie has ever known.

Amidst the stolen moments of knowing looks and heated touches, Lexie can't help but wonder if Luke is going to be good for her . . . or very, very bad?

My review:
It's not often I get the opportunity to read books by Australian authors on Netgalley, something I wish they would rectify if Paradise City is anything to go by. Billed as 'a seriously sexy New Adult series you won't want to miss. For fans of Abbi Glines, Sarah Dessen and Colleen Hoover', I'd say they've got it spot on. I am indeed a fan of Sarah Dessen and Abbi Glines, and Paradise City reminded me of both, in all the best ways.

First up there's Lexie - part sweet and innocent, part sassy and brave, she makes a wonderful MC. Lexie has a lot to learn when she arrives in Paradise City - her cousin isn't at all what she expected, school is nothing like her dreams, and boys want to do a lot more than hold hands. The wide-eyed country girl learning how things work in the big city makes for an endearing start to the story, and it makes her different enough to catch the attention of the school heartthrob, surfer bad-boy Luke Ballantyne.

Ah, Luke Ballantyne. Definitely a great addition to the book boyfriend list. He's hot, mysterious and confident, yet there's definitely a nice boy lurking underneath all that. I wish we'd had Luke's point of view as well as Lexie's, as I'm guessing it would have made for very interesting reading. There's a lot about this boy that I still don't know and really want to.

Duggan's writing is addictive, and I really didn't want to put this book down. It's a decent size though and I do require sleep in order to function, so this definitely wasn't a one-sitting story, which is a good thing - a book I can read in a couple of hours is all well and good, but I like to sink my teeth into something a bit meatier most of the time. Duggan provides that and more, with steamy scenes, titillating romance, and a fast-paced plot. And if that's not enough, it's funny, awkward, charming and entertaining too. One thing the story seemed to be lacking however, was any mention of the future. These kids are 17 and 18, and not once did they mention what they might do with their future. Are any of them going to university? If so where? Or are they going to get jobs locally, apprentice, go travelling? At that age the subject of what you're going to do when you leave school is a pretty major one, and I found it strange that Duggan didn't think it worth including. Hopefully all will be revealed in the sequel, which, by the way, I really can't wait for. I nearly cried when I got to the end and realised I'd have to wait until the autumn to get the end of this story. In the mean-time, I'm off to read every CJ Duggan book I can get my hands on!

Friday, 27 February 2015

Blog Tour: Thoughtful by S.C. Stephens

Published by: Little, Brown Book Group
Release date: 24th February 2015
Series:  Thoughtless 1.5

I got it from: Netgalley
Goodreads summary:

Every story has two sides, and in this new book, the epic love story between Kiera and Kellan is shown through his eyes.

All Kellan Kyle needs is his guitar, and some clean sheets of paper. Growing up in a house that was far from a home, he learned a hard lesson: You're worthless. Now his life is comfortably filled with passionate music, loyal band mates, and fast women...until he meets her.

Kiera makes him ache for more. Makes him feel for the first time that he's worth more. But there's one problem - she's his best friend's girl.

Just when Kellan thought his emotional defenses were rock solid, Kiera's indecisive heart wreaks havoc on his soul, changing him forever. Losing Kiera is not an option.

My Review:
Wow, that was an emotional rollercoaster ride of a book. I feel like I need a week off from reading to recover from it! Okay, so for starters you should know that I haven't actually read Thoughtless, Kiera's side of the story. However I've been assured that Thoughtful can be read as a standalone, and after reading it I have to agree - Kellan's story works really well on its own, and after reading it I'm not actually sure if I want to know Kiera's side of things - a lot of the time I really wanted to scream at the girl. Now I know there a lot of huge fans of this series who may not like my review but please imagine you've never come across any of Stephens' work before, then read on.

I've never been in love with two people, and I really hope I never am, because it sounds horrific. I'm not usually a fan of love triangles in books - so many are shoehorned in just for the sake of it - but this is the love triangle to end all love triangles, and as it's basically what the whole book is about I can't argue with it.

It took me a few chapters to really get into Kellan, but once I did I really fell for him. I have to say, I thought he sounded a bit girly to start with, but the more I got to know him the more I liked him. Stephens does a brilliant job of bringing to life this deep, tortured soul. He pours out his heart on the pages of this book so many times that you can't help but feel for him. He certainly makes a compelling book-boyfriend. I love a guy who isn't afraid to cry and admit how he feels. I felt for Denny too, but he doesn't get much page time as a character. It was actually Kellan's band-mate Evan who was the main side-character for me. I really want to get that guy's story, so I might just have to get the next book in the series to see if I get to find out more about him.

This is a long book, and in no way is it an easy read. There's a heck of a lot of angst in those pages, though it is tempered by some smokin' hot scenes. Stephens is definitely one of those writers who throws all the feels at you - she makes you feel EVERYTHING along with Kellan. And that's a whole lot of feelings. Don't go near this book if you're recovering from a recent heartbreak, you might not recover from it. I'm in a happy relationship and I had to steel my heart against this book and not let it affect my mood to much for the sake of my poor real-life boyfriend. Whether you've read Thoughtless or not, wrap a duvet around your heart and dive in - it's not always fun but it is an amazing read.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

UKYA Review: Mind Games by Teri Terry

Published by: Orchard Books/Hachette Childrens
Release date: 5th March 2015
Series:  n/a

I got it from: Netgalley
Goodreads summary: 

Luna is a no-hoper with a secret: in a world of illusion, she can see what is real. But can she see the truth before it is too late?

Luna has always been able to exist in virtual and real worlds at the same time, a secret she is warned to keep. She hides her ability by being a Refuser: excluded by choice from the virtual spheres others inhabit. But when she is singled out for testing, she can’t hide any longer.

The safest thing to do would be to fail, to go back to a dead-end life, no future. But Luna is starting to hope for something better, and hope is a dangerous thing...

My Review:
Where to start? This is an incredible book. As always, Terry has created a world so complete that it's hard to believe it's not real. In Mind Games, it's a world of the future, where virtual reality has become the norm. Kids are taught via virtual lessons, they meet and date in virtual rooms, they spend all their free time playing in virtual worlds. Adults work in virtual offices, their bodies held in a life support system. But Luna is a Refuser. Her mother died because of the virtual world, her Nan insists she should stay away from it, and every time she tries to enter it she feels sick and disorientated. When Luna is selected for intelligence and rationality testing, with a chance to go to university and get a good job, but also a chance at being marked as irrational and put under watch for the rest of her life, she discovers that all is not as it seems in the virtual world.

That's a pretty basic premise. I could write pages of it to be honest, because Terry's world is so complex and there is so much going on. Yet despite all this, she somehow still manages to make Mind Games an easy book to read. It's just a lot more interesting and fulfilling than a lot of the fluff out there. Be ready for scientific and political questioning, in fact pretty much everything will end up in question. At the same time, Luna is a girl coming of age, dealing with a difficult family life, being persecuted for her beliefs and trying to discover who she really is. Then introduce a doctor who seems good but might be evil, a boy with a whole ton of secrets and a flirty smile, and a whole secret world. Mind Games is a brilliant read that will make you think.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

UKYA Review: Mary Hades by Sarah Dalton

Published by: Entangled Teen
Release date: 4th May 2014
Series:  Mary Hades #1

I got it from: Netgalley
Goodreads summary: 

Not many seventeen year old girls have a best friend who’s a ghost, but then Mary Hades isn’t your average teenager.

Scarred physically and mentally from a fire, her parents decide a holiday to an idyllic village in North Yorkshire will help her recover. Nestled in the middle of five moors, Mary expects to have a boring week stuck in a caravan with her parents. Little does she know, evil lurks in the campsite…

Seth Lockwood—a local fairground worker with a dark secret—might be the key to uncovering the murky history that has blighted Nettleby. But Mary is drawn to him in a way that has her questioning her judgement.

Helped by her dead best friend and a quirky gay Goth couple, Mary must stop the unusual deaths occurring in Nettleby. But can she prevent her heart from being broken?

The first in a series of dark YA novels, Mary Hades follows on from the bestselling Kindle Single 'My Daylight Monsters'. A spine-tingling tale with romance, readers will be shocked and entertained in equal measure.

My review:
It's a while since I've read a good ghost story, and I don't thing I've ever had the pleasure of reading a good YA Brit ghost story, so Mary Hades was a delight for me. Set on the windswept moors of North Yorkshire, it's full of atmosphere, spooky as you like and a real page turner. It's also refreshingly British - so good to have a really great addition to the UKYA family.

I don't like comparing books but I know some readers find it helpful, so I will say that this had a bit of a feel of Anna Dressed in Blood to it. Where there are ghosts there will always be comparisons to other books with ghosts, and I think Anna is a pretty good book to be compared to. Strong characters, whether they're corporeal or not; a twisty plot to keep those pages turning; and with healthy doses of both mystery and romance there's something to keep everyone happy. Mary Hades is deep, dark, eerie, mysterious and spine-tinglingly gorgeous - everything a great ghost story should be.

Mary is a wonderful heroine - she's been through a lot but has come out of the other side stronger for it. If you get a chance it's worth reading the novella My Daylight Monsters which is a prequel to Mary Hades, but it's not essential. Dalton does a fine job of explaining everything that's happened so far without any annoying info-dump. Mary is coming to terms with the fact that she can see not just ghosts, but freaky ghouls that seem to appear just before something terrible happens. They might be frightening and horrific but those monsters have saved Mary's life more than once, so she's learning to pay attention to them, despite the fact that they landed her in a mental ward not so long ago. So she's also learning to keep quiet about the things she sees. This includes her best friend Lacey, who happens to be a ghost. 

Mary might be the main character here, but for me it was Lacey who really made the book. She's a bit scary, a bit funny and very loyal - everything you should expect from a spectral best friend. She's not been dead long, and I really want to read the next book to see how she continues coping with her place in the afterlife. This looks to be the start of a very promising new series.  

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Review: How (Not) to Fall in Love by Lisa Brown Roberts

Published by: Entangled Teen
Release date: 3rd February 2015
Series:  n/a

I got it from: Netgalley
Goodreads summary:   

Seventeen-year-old Darcy Covington never had to worry about money or where her next shopping spree was coming from. Even her dog ate gourmet. Then one day, Darcy’s car is repossessed from the parking lot of her elite private school. As her father’s business hit the skids, Dad didn’t just skip town, he bailed on his family.

Fortunately, Darcy’s uncle owns a thrift shop where she can hide out from the world. There’s also Lucas, the wickedly hot fix-it guy she can’t stop crushing on, even if she’s not sure they’ll ever get out of the friend zone.

But it’s here among the colorful characters of her uncle’s world that Darcy begins to see something more in herself...if she has the courage to follow it.

My review:
This is one of those brilliant contemporary romances - one that deviates from the norm, just enough to make it interesting. It's a YA/NA cross-over I'd say - Darcy is only 17, but the events of the story force her to act a lot older and that gives it a bit of a NA feel. It's not full of steamy sex scenes though so it's perfectly suitable for a YA audience.

Right, classification out of the way, what about the writing? This is a debut, so there's no past books to go on, but judging by this one I'd say Lisa Brown Roberts is an author to watch out for. Her characters are brilliantly lifelike and eminently likeable. Her world is realistic and interesting, her pacing is excellent and her dialogue is just the right mix of heart-felt, snarky and irreverent.

Darcy is a wonderful character and I fell for her in a big way. Brown Roberts has created such a realistic life for her that I could definitely see myself with this girl as my best friend (if I were 20 years younger and lived in the US!). She's not the only brilliant character though - all of the people we're introduced to in this book feel real. I'm reminded a little of Sarah Dessen's writing - the mix of family, friends and first love is where Brown Roberts really excels, topping it off with a hint of mystery and a life-changing situation. I really want to see what she brings out next.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Review: Stung by Joss Stirling

Published by: Oxford University Press
Release date: 5th February 2015
Series: Struck #2

I got it from: Netgalley
Goodreads summary:   

Stung by Joss Stirling is a breathtaking romantic thriller from the bestselling author of Finding Sky.

Sixteen-year-old Kate has a talent for disappearing. Framed for murder, and hunted by a violent gang, she's running for her life...

Nathan is the young recruit tasked with finding Kate before her enemies track her down. He's determined to stay detached no matter what.

But when Nathan and Kate's paths collide, neither is prepared for the electricity that sparks between them.

As the net tightens, can they trust each other long enough to stay alive? Or will their next kiss be their last?

My Review:

I somehow missed Storm and Stone/Struck, the first book in Stirling's new Struck series, but after reading Stung and adoring it I really need to go find it now. I was a huge fan of Stirling's Benedicts series, and when I got the chance to read Stung on Netgalley I was so excited (and mad that I missed the start of the series!). Happily, the book lived up to my high expectations. It has all the action and adventure you expect from a Stirling book, with just the right mix of danger, friendship and romance.

Stirling isn't afraid to introduce her characters to intense hardship or even death, and that makes her books that much more exciting. She treats her readers as intelligent adults, giving no quarter where complex plotlines and high-tech toys are involved. Yet she also has that great author knack of making it so that you can stumble across a series at any point. I wish I'd read Storm and Stone first, simply because I want to know Kieran and Raven's story, but I didn't have any trouble catching up with things. A steady trickle of pertinent information ensures that you can keep up, without any annoying info-dumps. I can't wait to see which of the YDA gets the next story. Damien's has got to be a good one. Just sayin'.