Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Top of the Books 2014

It's that time again to shout about the best books I read this year. I've split my lists into adult and young adult, not because I think one can't stand up to the other, but it's an excuse to include more books! Don't forget to enter the giveaway at the bottom of this post if you fancy winning one of these.

Top Adult

#1 Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

#2 Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

#3 The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

#4 The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

#5 Saga by Brian K. Vaughan + Fiona Staples

#6 The Three by Sarah Lotz

#7 The Unfinished Symphony of You and Me by Lucy Robinson

#8 No Harm Can Come to a Good Man by James Smythe

#9 Visions by Kelley Armstrong

Top Young Adult

#1 Glaze by Kim Curran

#2 Our Lady of the Streets by Tom Pollock

#3 She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick

#4 Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang

#5 Vivian Versus America by Katie Coyle

#6 Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas

#7 Solitaire by Alice Oseman*

#8 Stray by Monica Hesse

#9 This Book is Gay by James Dawson

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

The Door That Led to Where

AJ’s failed all his GCSEs except one; English. He loves disappearing into worlds other than his own. His mother, the Red Lizard, couldn’t care less about him unless he’s bringing money in. When AJ lands an interview at a top law firm, he can’t believe it, it must be a mistake. But soon he discovers a link between his father, who he never knew, and the firm, not to mention a mysterious door that leads to the past.

I would not live in your world, Mr Jobey. It smells of something far worse than unwashed bodies; it stinks of loneliness.

Sally Gardner does a wonderful job of portraying both modern day and 19th century London, the similarities and differences. Everyday life in 1830 is tough but for some it holds more promise than now. Sometimes all people need to get on in life is a blank slate. With no preconceptions and prejudices, a young man has more hope even when there is little.

Human beings are basically all the same, it’s only the gadgets that have changed. His world was cluttered with emails, texts and mobile phones and still, he thought, we don’t know how to communicate.

All too often, young adult protagonists come from middle class background, or have at least one loving parent in the wings. It’s important to see characters like Sally's, who do represent a lot of teenagers today. Many are facing futures with little prospects, even minimum wage jobs being hard to get and with families that don’t love them unconditionally. AJ’s adventure might be fantastical but there’s a lot of reality within the pages.

It really emphasises how bad it’s getting for the latest generation of teenagers that a life in the past offers greater potential than the present. However the story is also a well-paced murder mystery and a tale of friendship.

The Door That Led to Where is published by Hot Key Books and is available in hardback and ebook editions from 1st January 2015. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Incoming: Christmas Edition

AKA Showcase Sunday

I hope everyone's been enjoying the holidays! I'm half-way through my time off and have been reading like a demon to meet my goal for 2014. I'm nearly there! Amongst my presents from Josh were some books, of course, and I got a lovely box of goodies from Bloomsbury Kids (which I put under the tree like a good girl).

Stay tuned for my top books of the year and some great giveaways coming up in 2015...

For review:
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas (Bloomsbury)
The Death House by Sarah Pinborough (Gollancz)
Weathering by Lucy Wood (Bloomsbury)
The Door That Led to Where by Sally Gardner (Hot Key Books)
The Vagrant by Peter Newman (Harper Voyager)
No Other Darkness by Sarah Hilary (Headline)
Marly's Ghost by David Levithan (Electric Monkey)
The Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkoski (Bloomsbury)

The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil by Stephen Collins
Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep? by Timothy Verstynen + Bradley Voytek
Empire State by Adam Chrisopher
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan
The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman

Showcase Sunday is hosted by Books, Biscuits & Tea.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Love Letters to the Dead

When Laurel receives an English assignment to write a letter to a dead person, she chooses Kurt Cobain. He was her sister’s favourite musician and they both died young. When it comes time to hand it in, Laurel suddenly finds it’s all too personal but she does continue writing letters; not just to Kurt. Can those who can’t reply help her come to terms with the loss of her sister?

Her letters are to those who died before their time. People with troubled lives, family break-ups and hard childhoods but also those who could express their feelings or showed bravery. As the letters continue, you find more in common with Laurel and the people she chooses to write to.

Laurel tells the dead the things she cannot tell her friends and family. They start off small, like her trouble making friends at her new school and the boy she stares at. But as time go on, the letters get more and more personal, and we start to learn she has buried a lot under the surface.

Maybe we didn't have the words for it then, but when we found out you'd died, it's like the first time that we saw what could happen to innocence.

I wasn't sure I was going to like it at first though. I'm not a huge fan of books about music. I like listening to music but not talking about it or hearing people talk about. And there seems a trend for young adult books where the kids all like old bands as some sort of statement. Fortunately, it's more the lives of the musicians that are the important part to the story. She starts talking about how their music affected her but goes on to think about how they lived and died, and the tragedy left behind.

I’m not sure the letters consistently feel like letters though. Especially where speech is concerned, they just read like normal narrative. There are other places where it feels like too much information is given, that some historical background was required but why would you write that in a letter to the person? As a book aimed at young adults, plenty of the people mentioned may be new to them, so it’s tough to get across enough solely in letters. Maybe a mix of letters and some other narrative would have worked a bit better for me.

However it’s a strong debut. Her narrative reminds me a little of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. You know there’s something wrong through her actions and thoughts without being too direct. The revelations of her past come slowly and I didn’t find it predictable. Once I got caught up in her life, the last few letters were really rather moving.

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Also reviewed @ Alexa Loves Books

Shelve next to: My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher + The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Book Source: Purchased

Monday, 22 December 2014

A Christmas Carol

There’s more of gravy than of the grave about you!

A Christmas Carol needs no introduction. Having watched many an adaptation every Christmas, this is the first year I’ve actually got round to reading the book. It’s novella length and pretty easy going, so I do recommend picking up a copy over the holidays if you haven’t read it already!

So my favourite adaptation is A Muppet Christmas Carol, of course. I was quite surprised at how faithful the Muppets are to the original. A lot of the dialogue is identical and most the scenes are straight out the book. This meant that I read it thinking of Michael Caine, Kermit and Fozzie and singing the songs in my head. It’s hard to read the book of such a well-known story; I imagine it would have more of an impact the first time round.

I’ve got an edition which is a collection of Dickens’ festive writing. I don’t think I’ll read it all this year but I did get through The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton which has some similar themes. Basically, don’t be a grumpy, selfish bastard at Christmas or you’ll get your comeuppance!

If anyone else was wondering, humbug was originally a slang word for a trick, jest, hoax or deception. This has got me wondering about those mints…

What's your favouroute version of A Christmas Carol? Have you read the book yet?

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

An English Boy in New York

An English Boy in New York is the sequel to Boys Don't Knit and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous book.

Ben had almost forgot his prize included a trip to KnitFair USA in New York. Now he only needs to decide who to take and clear it with his probation officer, then make it through immigration which is harder said than done when you’ve got a record and are a member of an activist group. Poor Ben just wants a rest, but his trip is turning into PR meeting after PR meeting. The he opens his mouth on radio and says something he is soon going to regret.

An English Boy in New York is a fun follow up to Ben’s knitting adventures. The hoopie is taking off and he’s convinced he’s allergic to the colour cerise. Knitting with it makes his head hurt. So of course there’s a plot which leads him to cerise wool and the discovery of Canadian paracetamol. I thought his opinions on the differences between US and UK teeth were adorable. And it kinda made me want a Philly cheesesteak sandwich even though I don't like steak. Honestly, these books are such fun and distracting reads, more please!

I don’t really want to say who Ben ends up taking to New York, but let’s just say it isn’t his girlfriend, Megan. It does say on the blurb but I didn’t read that first and I liked the suspense of him going through his contacts. Being separated from his girlfriend makes Ben paranoid of course, maybe her gran isn’t sick after all…

New York provides many an opportunity for Ben’s anxiety to show through. There are plenty of books that make things like paranoia and anxiety into dramatic centrepieces but I like the reality of it in this. It’s the silly little things that makes Ben worry, exactly the sort of things that can make living with anxiety into a daily struggle against logic.

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Book Source: Gift from Ellie @ Book Addicted Blonde

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Returning to his childhood home for a funeral, a man’s memories are stirred by the farm at the end of the lane. A place with a pond that the youngest Hempstock swore was an ocean. He remembers the three women who lived there all those years ago and the creatures that lived in the world beyond.

This is one of those stories that can be read one of two ways. Perhaps it is a fantastical tale of things from another world. On the other hand, there is enough in the way it is told to suggest that this is something the narrator has made up, a story more acceptable than facing childhood abuse. He had forgotten it ever happened until he returned many years later. The mind might try and forget abuse but would you forget such unusual events?

The narrator’s childhood equilibrium is broken when his parents find themselves struggling financially. They rent out a room to bring in more money, inviting strangers into a child’s safe place. When one of those strangers is trusted by the parents but isn’t worthy of their trust, it places the child in an awful situation. He witnesses things he shouldn’t see and feels he can’t turn to his own family for help.

It feels like a world a small, frightened boy might create past the pond at the end of the lane. A childhood world of make believe masking events he was too young to face. Didn’t we all make the landscape we played in more than it was?

The worm in his foot was terrifying. I think creepy crawlies getting into your body is a real childhood fear. I remember thinking earwigs would actually crawl into my ears and eat my brain (or maybe it was Star Trek that instilled that fear). I even felt a bit sick reading how a bit broke off. Bad things are bound to happen…

I’m always a bit nervous picking up a book everyone seems to love. I liked The Ocean at the End of the Lane, but I didn’t love it. The rest of my book group felt the same at least, though some of them felt they wanted it longer, with more fleshed out characters. I liked the fairy tale feel to them and I’m not sure I would have been engaged for a whole full length novel.

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Book Source: Purchased

Monday, 8 December 2014

The Year of the Ladybird

In the searing heat of the summer of 1976, David sets off to Skegness in search of work. He had never known his father, but had one photo of them together on the beach there. He soon lands himself a job in “entertainments” at one of the holiday camps. As the summer wears on, he starts seeing a man on a beach with a child, a man in a blue suit.

A darkened backstage is a place full of ghosts. You expect silence, but things creak.

There’s something about seeing things on a hot summer’s day on the beach that makes it more sinister. However I don’t think the fact the cover says it’s a ghost story needs to be taken literally. Maybe David did see a ghost, or maybe his mind is playing tricks on him as his suppressed memories try to break through.

Graham Joyce’s writing is so evocative, you can practically feel the oppressive heat of the holiday camp. The place is starting to fray around the edges, both in the physical sense and in the tired acts that no longer appeal to the young. It’s like a time warp. It’s strange to think the seaside camps were starting to fade back in the 70s considering they’ve managed to cling on and stay in business even now.

Long hours of the happy face. It's dangerous. Doing a happy face when you really want to scream.

The plague of ladybirds is only a small part of the book. In fact it’s been released under the title The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit in the US (although that might be because they don’t know what ladybirds are). The plague did actually happens and 1976 is known as the year of the ladybird. So it’s about David experiences of that year, where reality became surreal.

If you’re looking for horror or a ghost story, you may be disappointed, but the writing is superb and it’s a wonderful peek into a different time and place. From the simple pleasures of a British seaside holiday to the uncomfortable presence of the National Front, gaining force amongst the working classes in the north, who felt immigrants were to blame for their hardships.

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Book Source: Gift from Ellie @ Book Addicted Blonde

Sunday, 7 December 2014

The Islanders

Following the death of his mother, Olivier is stranded in a snowy Versailles over Christmas. When he goes to ask his neighbour for the phonebook, an old flame opens the door. He hasn’t seen his high school love Jeanne in twenty years. But their past hides secrets, and her blind brother Rodolphe soon works out who Olivier is…

Was Jeanne still Jeanne? Why should life, which spares no one, make an exception for her?

The Islanders is the perfect antidote to saccharine Christmas tales. As with Pascal Garnier’s other books, the tone is dark and the characters on a varying scale of dislikeable. What seems like a straightforward, if a little inconvenient, Christmas soon starts to go downhill. It’s a reminder that Christmas isn’t a time of cheer for everyone and the already cynical may appreciate the dark humour at this time of year.

Olivier is a recovering alcoholic, but he is soon lured back to the drink with devastating consequences. Rodolphe has become bitter at the world, overweight and blind, he might as well be invisible. Something that his sister and Olivier never were at school. But they wanted to be on their island, alone and separated from the world.

Someone had once told him you became an adult the day you started avoiding puddles.

There's a lot of observations about growing up, about getting older. Their imaginary island is a symbol of their youthful naivety. A place they expected to be when they grew up. Instead Jeanne is trapped with her disabled and manipulative brother and Olivier is unfeeling in his marriage but brought alive by drink. Is there any way for them to get back to their island or has it been submerged forever?

I liked the little slice of this Paris suburb at Christmas. How all the shops and cafes seemed to remain open and you could just wander down for fresh croissants on Christmas morning. The book is a little dated, I’m assuming this was written quite some time before it was published, or Garnier never embraced modern life. There’s phonebooks and videotapes and a world in which you can disappear easily by not answering the door. Though sometimes it’s good to be reminded of the days before technology took over our lives.

The Islanders has been translated from the original French by Emily Boyce for Gallic Books and is available now in paperback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.