Book Review: Before I Die by Jenny Downham

Publisher: David Fickling Books

Published: 29th April 2010

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Genre: Contemporary,  YA

Recommended Reading Age: 14+

Rating: 6.5/10

Amazon/Goodreads

Tessa has just months to live. Fighting back against hospital visits, endless tests, drugs with excruciating side-effects, Tessa compiles a list. It’s her To Do Before I Die list. And number one is Sex. Released from the constraints of ‘normal’ life, Tessa tastes new experiences to make her feel alive while her failing body struggles to keep up. Tessa’s feelings, her relationships with her father and brother, her estranged mother, her best friend, and her new boyfriend, all are painfully crystallised in the precious weeks before Tessa’s time finally runs out.

I almost feel like it’s wrong to say I didn’t really like this book, or to admit that I simply didn’t care for the main character. Tessa is sixteen and her cancer treatments have finally stopped working. She’s dying. And she isn’t handling it all that well. Continue reading

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Book Review: This Is Not Forgiveness by Celia Rees

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

First Published: 2nd February 2012 (expected)

Format: Paperback

Pages: 280

Genre: Contemporary, YA

Recommended Reading Age: 16+

Rating: 7.5/10

Amazon/Goodreads

‘Everyone says that Caro is bad …but Jamie can’t help himself. He thinks of her night and day and can’t believe that she wants to be his girlfriend. Gorgeous, impulsive and unconventional, she is totally different to all the other girls he knows. His sister, Martha, hates her. Jamie doesn’t know why, but there’s no way he’s going to take any notice of her warnings to stay away from Caro. But as Jamie falls deeper and deeper under her spell, he realises there is more to Caro – much more. There are the times when she disappears and doesn’t get in touch, the small scars on her wrists, her talk about revolutions and taking action, not to mention the rumours he hears about the other men in her life. And then always in the background there is Rob, Jamie’s older brother, back from Afghanistan and traumatized after having his leg smashed to bits there. Jamie wants to help him, but Rob seems to be living in a world of his own and is increasingly difficult to reach. With Caro, the summer should have been perfect …but that isn’t how things work out in real life, and Jamie is going to find out the hard way.’

This isn’t the kind of book where you fall in love with the characters and follow their story because you care about what happens to them. This is more of a psychological glimpse into some very real, very flawed characters. This Is Not Forgiveness focuses around war, terrorism, extremism, loyalty and love. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it certainly is compelling.

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Book Review: Ashfall by Mike Mullin

Publisher: Tanglewood Press

Published: 11th October 2011

Format: e-book

Genre: Post Apocalyptic, YA

Recommended Reading Age: 16+

Rating: 8/10

Amazon/Goodreads

‘Under the bubbling hot springs and geysers of Yellowstone National Park is a supervolcano. Most people don’t know it’s there. The caldera is so large that it can only be seen from a plane or satellite. It just could be overdue for an eruption, which would change the landscape and climate of our planet.

Ashfall is the story of Alex, a teenage boy left alone for the weekend while his parents visit relatives. When the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts unexpectedly, Alex is determined to reach his parents. He must travel over a hundred miles in a landscape transformed by a foot of ash and the destruction of every modern convenience that he has ever known, and through a new world in which disaster has brought out both the best and worst in people desperate for food, water, and warmth. With a combination of nonstop action, a little romance, and very real science, this is a story that is difficult to stop reading and even more difficult to forget.’

Make no mistake, Ashfall is more than a slightly depressing novel. It’s dingy and bleak and bloody terrifying when you consider Mullin has done his best to create as realistic a picture as possible if the super volcano at Yellowstone National Park were to erupt, which, theoretically, could happen in our lifetime.  Continue reading

Illustrator Spotlight: Jim Kay

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A recently published YA book that deserves an award for both the story and the illustrations is A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. This is all-round storytelling at it’s very best. Once read, it’s almost impossible to imagine experiencing this book without the illustrations.

I’ve always been drawn to darker, edgier illustration and I’ve always particularly loved the texture and markings that come from traditional printmaking. The composition, energy and use of space in these drawings is stunning, but I personally find it is the use of shadows and lighting that really makes these. Continue reading

Mini Book Review: Fallen Grace by Mary Hooper

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

First Published: 7th June 2010

Format: Paperback

Pages: 320

Genre: Historical, YA

Recommended Reading Age: 14+

Rating: 7/10

Amazon/Goodreads

‘London, 1861. Grace Parkes, a pale but determined figure, clutches a precious bundle closely to her. Grace has a heartbreaking duty to carry out…Each day Grace must find a new way of earning enough money to pay the rent for the bleak, cold room that she and her sister live in, and to buy them enough — just — to eat. But there is a another danger threatening Grace, a danger linked to an event in her past that she is desperate to forget. Grace has caught the eye of the Unwins, an unscrupulous family whose shady business dealings are those of death and mourning. The Unwins will stop at nothing to defraud Grace of what is rightfully hers…

I’ve haven’t had much luck with the two Mary Hooper’s books I’d read previously before picking this one up. She writes about such fascinating periods with such interesting subjects to anchor her story that I should love them, but I always find myself slightly disconnected, usually from the main character. I’m happy to say that wasn’t the case with Fallen Grace. In fact, I really enjoyed this book and am eagerly anticipating Hooper’s next release, Velvet, because of it. Continue reading

Book Review: Cold Kiss by Amy Garvey

Publisher: Harper Teen

Published: 20th September 2011 (expected)

Pages: 336

Format: ARC e-book

Genre: Paranormal

Recommended Reading Age: 16+

Rating: 7/10

Amazon/Goodreads

‘When her boyfriend, Danny, is killed in a car accident, Wren can’t imagine living without him. Wild with grief, she uses the untamed powers she’s inherited to bring him back. But the Danny who returns is just a shell of the boy she once loved. 

Wren has spent four months keeping Danny hidden, while her life slowly unravels around her. Then Gabriel DeMarnes transfers to her school and somehow, inexplicably, he can sense her secret. Wren finds herself drawn to Gabriel, who is so much more alive than the ghost of the boy she loved. But Wren can’t turn her back on Danny or the choice she made for him—and she realizes she must find a way to make things right, even if it means breaking her own heart.’

I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy Cold Kiss or not. A few bloggers had piqued my interest about it, but to be honest, I am not a zombie kinda-gal. It also sounded a bit too much like every other paranormal romance out there. But Cold Kiss really is something a bit different. It’s not really a zombie tale, or another ‘destined’ romance. At it’s heart, it’s a story about grief and about living. Continue reading

Book Review: Hate List by Jennifer Brown

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

Published: 5th Oct 2010

Pages: 416

Format: Paperback

Genre: Contemporary

Recommended Reading Age: 14+

Rating: 7/10

Amazon/Goodreads

 ‘Five months ago, Valerie Leftman’s boyfriend, Nick, opened fire on their school cafeteria. Shot trying to stop him, Valerie inadvertently saved the life of a classmate, but was implicated in the shootings because of the list she helped create. A list of people and things she and Nick hated. The list he used to pick his targets.

Now, after a summer of seclusion, Val is forced to confront her guilt as she returns to school to complete her senior year. Haunted by the memory of the boyfriend she still loves and navigating rocky relationships with her family, former friends and the girl whose life she saved, Val must come to grips with the tragedy that took place and her role in it, in order to make amends and move on with her life.’

Hate List both succeeds, and fails, at being the novel I hoped it would be. This isn’t really about a school shooting, or even really about the shooter. Hate List is about the girl in the background – the shooter’s girlfriend, who may, inadvertently, have had more to do with the death of her classmates than she first realises.

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Mini Book Review: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

‘In a single moment, everything changes. Seventeen year – old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall riding along the snow-wet Oregon road with her family. Then, in a blink, she finds herself watching as her own damaged body is taken from the wreck… ‘

Everyone told me two things about this book. Firstly, that I would love it, and secondly, that it would make me cry.

Well, while neither turned out to be exactly right, If I Stay was an engaging and touching read nonetheless.

This is a lovely, haunting short story which asks the question – what would you do, if you had the choice between life and death? If you had to choose whether to let go or cling on? Would you fight to stay? Continue reading