Sunday, 28 August 2011

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

 Life can change in an instant.
A cold February morning...
A snowy road...
And suddenly all of Mia's choices are gone.
Except one.
As alone as she'll ever be, Mia must make the most difficult choice of all.

Recently, I seem to be into books about people dying but continuing to live their lives either in the afterlife, or in some kind of weird coma-ghost-like way. Sounds morbid, huh? But I've always found that these kinds of books are usually amazing because of how they show a totally different take on life. This book was definitely no exception. It was utterly brilliant! I could barely put it down, it was so good. Throughout the book, the reader learns more and more about Mia's past and about her options for the future, should she choose to continue living. By doing this, Forman really puts the reader in Mia's shoes, and you feel like you, yourself, are making the hard decision alongside her. But the best bit I found? It was the fact that as you read, you don't get a single clue about which way she will go - whether she will stay or go. At points, you think she will give up...and then at different points, you think she won't. This novel is an absolute rollarcoaster of emotion - you have highs, lows, and everything inbetween. It is a beautiful story not only just about death, but about life, family, and love. I highly recommend it and I cannot wait to read the sequel, Where She Went.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

How Beautiful The Ordinary: Twelve Stories of Identity edited by Michael Cart

A girl thought to be a boy steals her sister's skirt, while a boy thought to be a girl refuses to wear a cornflower blue dress. One boy's love of a soldier leads to the death of a stranger. The present takes a bittersweet journey into the past when a man revisits the summer school where he had "an accidental romance." And a forgotten mother writes a poignant letter to the teenage daughter she hasn't seen for fourteen years.
Poised between the past and the future are the stories of now. In nontraditional narratives, short stories, and brief graphics, tales of anticipation and regret, eagerness and confusion present distinctively modern views of love, sexuality, and gender identification. Together, they reflect the vibrant possibilities available for young people learning to love others—and themselves—in today's multifaceted and quickly changing world.

A Word From The Nearly Distant Past by David Levithan
The whole reason this book caught my eye is because I saw Levithan's name on it. After reading Will Grayson Will Grayson, which was co-written by Levithan, he has become one of my favourite authors. He has a unique style of writing that I loved - and still love! His story of identity was confusing at first, but as I read more of it, I understod it. The narrator is basically a group of deceased homosexuals who are looking down on what life is like today for gay teens. There isn't really a storyline to the short tale - it is just looking at a few different relationships, and how fate can draw two people together. At the end, it was short and sweet, and very heartwarming.

Happily Ever After by Eric Shanower
When I read that Shanower was a graphic novelist, I didn't realize that meant his contribution was a cartoon strip - but I loved it! What I really liked was how you could just tell what the characters were feeling like from their different facial expressions. I was also surprised at how much I liked the storyline - the narrator and Mark find a genie in a bottl, and both make wishes. I thought I wouldn't like this part - it would make the story unrealistic. But I was wrong; despite the magic involved, the story seemed very real, and teens everywhere will still be able to relate to it.

My Life As A Dog by Ron Koertge
Honestly? I didn't enjoy this story quite as much. Yes, it was unique - but it was very confusing, and throughout half the tale you don't have a clue what is going on. But once you get past that confusion, it is good. Unlike the previous two tales, this one starts to deal with the prejudice and discrimination towards the gay community, and how it can end up with someone being put in hospital. It is actually quite hard-hitting, and makes you sit back and think for a bit about why people would do that, and why are homosexuals and transgenders viewed in this way by a lot of people in the world.

Trev by Jacqueline Woodson
This story was very emotional and hard-hitting. It showed how difficult it is for transgender's coming out to their family and friends, and how they can react towards them. Some people will take it well - others, like Trev's father and brother, don't. In this story, you really feel sorry for Trev, because he has next to no one who are behind him and his choices - and he is so young, too. This, again, shows a different aspect to things - like how people can know they are a boys in a girls body or vice versa, from the age of, what, six? Woodson's use of langague  and detail really make the reader able to understand and relate to Trev, even if they aren't transgender themselves. It is a really moving and eye-opening story, and you may even find yourself in tears.

My Virtual World by Francesca Lia Block
As a person who does have a few online friends, I can understand with Garret and Rebecca feeling like they can only speak to people online about their problems, because they seem to understand better than the people they know. Through the different messages exchanged between the two, the reader really gets under the skin of both characters. Not only does this story talk about life after having a sex change, it also talks about self-harm. This story was short and simple, but moving, and you couldn't help but fall in love with both characters. The happy ending was the cherry on the cake for this story, showing that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.

A Dark Red Love Knot by Margo Lanagan
I didn't like this story as much as some of the others - but I liked the message it was trying to send across. It was a strory about a homosexual called Tom, and how when the king's men last came to his work place, one of the soldier's had sex with him. This story is less about the homosexuality, and more about love - how it is the same no matter what sexuality you are.

Fingernail by William Sleator
I really enjoyed this story. It was a tale about a homosexual Thai man's  experience of his first love, with a foreign French man. This story indulges a bit about how homosexuality is seen outside the English/American culture, and how despite this, he still sees his farang. However, it is mainly about the difference between a loving relationship and an abusive one, and how the main character deals with the different events that happen. It is a heartwarming tale, and the happy ending is the perfect cherry on the top.

Dyke March by Ariel Schrag
I wasn't as impressed by this story as I was with others, to be honest. It was a short comic strip basically showing a 'Dyke March'  from a tourists point of view. I liked the idea of it, but it was so short I don't have much of an opinion on it.

The Missing Person by Jennifer Finney Boylam
I really enjoyed this story, and got really engrossed in it. It was a short story about a boy named Jimmy going out to a horse riding show wearing his sisters clothes and make-up. It is lovely, because it is her first time venturing actually outside and seeing life through a girls eyes, in the way that people treat her differently. Honestly, I would have loved to have read on! I really think it would be an epicnovel on its own.

First Time by Julie Anne Peters
A year ago I borrowed Keeping You A Secret from one of my friends, and it is probably one of the best teenage coming out stories I have read. This short story was just as excellent. It was short and sweet, showing two girls' first time together. By the way the POV switches back and forth so easily, it allows the reader to really get under the skin of both characters, and you can't help loving them as a couple. It was a lovely story to read, and again, I reckon it could be turned into its own novel.

Dear Lang by Emma Donoghue
I cried! This story is one of the best in the whole book. It is a mother writing to her sixteen year old daughter, who she hasn't seen for about 15 years. This is because her girlfriend left her - and since the girlfriend was the actual mother of her daughter, she had no say in the matter. Unlike all the other stories, this one shows a POV of an older woman, which opens up some new issues to the reader.  The only critisism I have is that I really wish the story had continued a bit further so that the reader would find out at the end whether Lang wrote back to her mother or not. But then again, I suppose that is the whole mystery of the story.

The Silk Road Runs Through Tupperneck, N.H. by Gregory MaGuire
This story was the longest in the whole book, going on for about 100 pages or so, give or take a few. I wouldn't say it was the best story in the whole novel, but I really enjoyed it. This tale is told from the same POV, but it alternates between when he is a teenage boy, and when he is a grown man, with a husband and two kids. By doing this, the reader really gets to know the main character, and as you read on, you an feel his joy, his pain, and his longing. But honestly, my heart really went out to the two main characters. Although I ideally wanted Farouhk and Blaise to get together, I knew that they couldnt - because honestly, life is way more complicated than that. It was a great story, and the ending was utterly brilliant.

I honestly do not think there are enough books out there that home in on sexuality and gender identity - so when I saw this, I was delighted. Each of the authors use different and unique ways to tell the different stories, which keeps the reader hooked throughout the book. I would say it is definitely un-put-downable. Most of the stories are so uniquely written that even a straight reader can at least identify with parts of it. It is honestly a brilliant book, and I cannot give enough credit out to each other the authors.

My Favourite Stories:
  •  A Word From The Nearly Distant Past by David Levithan
  • Trev by Jacqueline Woodson
  • Fingernail by William Sleator
  • First Time by Julie Anne Peters
  • Dear Lang by Emma Donoghue

Monday, 22 August 2011

Exchange by Paul Magrs

Following the death of his parents, 16-year-old Simon moves into his grandparents' claustrophobic bungalow, which quickly becomes a refuge from his bullying peers. United by their voracious appetite for books, Simon and his grandmother stumble across the Great Big Book Exchange—a bookshop with a difference. There they meet impulsive, gothic Kelly and her boss, Terrance—and the friendships forged in the Great Big Book Exchange result in startling and unsettling consequences for all of them.

At first, I wasn't keen on this book - there was just something about the blurb that sounded...boring, I guess. But I was curious about the Great Big Book Exchange. I mean, being a book worm myself, the GBBE sounds like a kind of heaven to me - limitless books which you can chop and change whenever you like. Anyway - even though I wasn't too interested at first, it really proved me wrong. I actually got quite hooked - I wanted to find out what happened next, so I barely put it down. But in all honesty, even though I enjoyed it, it was a bit bland and...simple. There was a storyline but it was like you didn't notice it. The book is basically Simon and his grandmother going to and from this book exchange place. Will Simon get with Kelly? Will Winnie leave Ray and get with Terrance? I don't want to spoil it for anyone, but nothing exciting happens. It's just a story about a part of a sixteen year old's life. So, even though I did like it...I also didn't. The idea of the GBBE is a brilliant idea, and I personally think that if Magrs improved on the characters and the storyline, it would have been a brilliant novel.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Dragon's Oath by P.C. and Kristin Cast

In early 19th century England, long before he’s a professor at the Tulsa House of Night, Bryan Lankford is a troublesome yet talented human teen who thinks he can get away with anything… until his father, a wealthy nobleman, has finally had enough, and banishes him to America. When Bryan is Marked on the docks and given the choice between the London House of Night and the dragon-prowed ship to America, he chooses the Dragon – and a brand new fate.
Becoming a Fledgling may be exciting, but it opens a door to a dangerous world.... In 1830’s St. Louis, the Gateway to the West, Dragon Lankford becomes a Sword Master, and soon realizes there are both frightening challenges and beautiful perks. Like Anastasia, the captivating young Professor of Spells and Rituals at the Tower Grove House of Night, who really should have nothing to do with a fledgling…
But when a dark power threatens, Dragon is caught in its focus. Though his uncanny fighting skills make him a powerful fledgling, is he strong enough to ward off evil, while protecting Anastasia as well? Will his choices save her—or destroy them all? 

If I'm being honest, I was growing tired of the House of Night series, purely because it started to drag out, and it was like Zoey and her friends were simply going around in circles. But I really enjoyed this novella - it was great to get an insight into the life of a less involved character. From the last previous books, I had taken a dislike to Dragon because of how he behaved towards Stevie Rae and Rephaim. But as I read this book, I absolutely fell in love with both Dragon and Anastasia. Although the story was short, it was sweet and simple, and did help us understand a bit more about how Dragon had reacted to different things in the other novels. The only thing I found disappointing was that I wanted more. When Anastasia and Dragon got together, it took barely any time at all. In the other novels, she had come across as sweet, but that she held her morals. Since she was a professor and Dragon was a fledgling, I doubted they would have fallen in love so quickly and easily. But then again, falling in love is different in the vampyre world.

Dreaming of Amelia by Jaclyn Moriarty

Amelia and Riley have transferred to Ashbury for their final year of school, and everyone is completely obsessed with them. Glamorous, talented and totally devoted to one another, the two of them drift through school in their own world. But there's more to the couple than meets the eye - they have secrets. And some of them are dangerous to share. As Riley starts to lose his grip on Amelia, the repercussions affect everyone around them.

A couple of years ago I read Moriarty's 'Becoming Bindy Mackenzie', and although I don't remember much about the storyline, I remembered how she had unique ways of telling the story, and that the storyline was very interesting. So I thought I would see how this book faired - and I was not disappointed. Throughout the story, the characters of Emily, Lydia, Toby, Riley, amd Amelia tell the tale through English exams, blogs and letters. By using this style, Moriarty keeps the readers hooked, even through the dull bits. Although some bits of the story seemed completely random and unimportant, in the end the reader finds out how every bit of the story is connected, so you finish it with a sense of satisfaction. My only criticisms are that some parts of the story - like the parts about Tom and Constance's letters - were boring, and that some of the writing fonts Moriarty used were hard to read. But apart from that, the storyline was brilliant, and her use of sarcasm was hilarious!

Elixir by Hilary Duff

Clea Raymond has felt the glare of the spotlight her entire life. The daughter of a renowned surgeon and a prominent Washington DC politician, she has grown to be a talented photojournalist who takes refuge in a career that allows her to travel to the most exotic parts of the world. But after Clea’s father disappears while on a humanitarian mission, Clea’s photos begin to feature eerie, shadowy images of a strange and beautiful man—a man she has never seen before.
When fate brings Clea and this man together, she is stunned by the immediate and powerful connection she feels with him. As they grow closer, they are drawn deep into the mystery behind her father’s disappearance, and they discover the centuries old truth behind their intense bond. Torn by a dangerous love triangle and haunted by a powerful secret that holds their fates, together they race against time to unravel their pasts in order to save their lives—and their futures.

I am sure I am not the only one who saw this book and went "LIZZIE MCGUIRE HAS WRITTEN A BOOK?!" When I saw who the author was, I was immediately curious as to what it would be like, because I have grown up watching her in movies as a teen and young adult. But it was really good. Duff has written it so that the reader really feels like they know the characters of Clea and Rayna personally. As you read you can feel yourself cringing as the girls cringe, laughing as the girls laugh, and so on. However, despite how good it was, I do have a few critisisms. As an author myself, I know that when you're writing a book, you immediately want to get to the exciting bits. In this book, the exciting bits almost occur immediately, which keeps the reader hooked, but can lead to disappointment because there was no lead-up. Also, the mystery with Sage is solved early on, which does keep the book alive, but I would have preferred for it to have been a mystery for a bit longer, because Elixir appears to be the first novel in a series, and I think if the mystery of Sage was not revealed so early on, it would prove as fuel for the forthcoming books. But nevertheless, it was a great read, and it took me about a day and a bit to finish because I was so hooked. I think the plot line is original and I can't wait for the next book to come out.

Just In Case by Meg Rosoff

What would you do if you thought fate was out to get you?
If you're fifteen-year-old David Case, you might decide to change your name and the way you look.
You might reinvent yourself as an athlete, to try and outrun the terrible things that could happen any second.
You might leave home and find yourself caught up in a series of strange misadventures.
You might even fall in love.
But is David Case really in control of his life? And if he isn't, who is?

I thought this book was both good and bad at the same time. Portraying Fate as a conscious living thing is really interesting, and plays a major part in keeping the reader reading, because the book itself isn't the most captivating I have read. If you get bored easily by books, this definitely isn't the book for you. In my view, it wasn't written that well, and the way it kept randomly changing from character to character and sometimes without use of punctuation made it really confusing about what was going on at what time. I reckon that if it had been written better, with the character descriptions improved, then it would be a really top quality book.  Also, the characters of David/Justin, Agnes, Boy and Dorothea were really interesting and mysterious - but at the end of the book, those mysteries are still unsolved, so the ending can be quite anti-climatic and disappointing.
However, the book did have its good points. The inital storyline is good, and the scenary description is good - especially at the plane crash. During that part in the book, you really feel like you are there, watching the havoc unfold right before your eyes. And even though the ending was anti-climatic, it was sweet, which was - in a way - a nice way to end the book.

Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

"You've always been my best friend, my soul mate, and now I've fallen in love with you too. Why is that such a crime?"
She is pretty and talented - sweet sixteen and never been kissed.
He is seventeen, gorgeous and on the brink of a bright future.
And now they have fallen in love. But...they are brother and sister.

I have so much praise for this book. Of course when I first read the blurb I was curious - I mean, as it often says in the book, falling in love with a sibling is taboo. Any other kind of sexual incest relationship is more socially accepted than this. At first, I thought the siblings had been seperated at birth, and then reunited when they were older - or that they were half-siblings, or even step-siblings. But no - Maya and Lochan are pure brother and sister, and they have grown up together side-by-side, looking after their family of five children while their father is with his new family in Australia, and their mother has abandoned them for her boyfriend. It is understandable how they fall in love, and you cannot help but practically befriend the characters themselves. Suzuma writes in such a way that it feels like you are literally right there with them, living their lives alongside them. You feel yourself developing a bond and a soft-spot for the two main characters, as well as their other siblings Kit, Tiffin and Willa. However, the only fault I find is that although it was better with two POV's, it got incredibly confusing sometimes, because of how alike the characters are portrayed. I sometimes found myself thinking I was reading a Maya chapter, but found out a couple of pages in that it was actually Lochan. But despite this, the book was beautiful and heartbreaking, especially at the last 50 pages, where everything seems to go downhill for not just the two characters, but for the whole family, and you will find yourself in tears as you read the last two or three chapters. But despite the sad finish to the book, it is also sort of happy, and leaves you with a mildly satisfying feeling that for the characters, everything will be okay. I strongly recommend this book, because it is not only a good story, but it will really change how you view certaint things in your life.

The Spook's Curse by Joseph Delaney

"You've been Mr Gregory's apprentice for six months, so you've had long enough to see things for yourself," Mam said. "And by now the dark has noticed you and will be trying to hunt you down. So you're in danger, son, and for a while that danger will keep on growing. But remember this... when you're a man, then it'll be the dark's turn to be afraid. Because then you'll be the hunter not the hunted. That's why I gave you life."
The Spook and his apprentice, Thomas Ward, have travelled to Priestown on some unfinished business. For deep in the catacombs of the cathedral lurks a creature the Spook has never been able to defeat, a creature so evil that the whole County is in danger of being corrupted by its powers. They call it 'the Bane'.
As Thomas and the Spook prepare for the battle of their lives it becomes clear that the Bane isn't their only enemy in Priestown. The Quisitor has arrived, searching the County for those who meddle with the dark - witches, warlocks and spooks! Can Thomas and his master survive the horror that follows...?

The Spooks Curse is the sequel to The Spook's Apprentice, as well as being the second book in the Wardstone Chronicles. Now, one of my best friends suggested to me to read the Spook's Apprentice, and I have been hooked ever since. Although the book may at first appear to be for younger readers, it is not. It isn't as gruesome as any of Darren Shan's novels, but parts of it may still give you a bit of a fright. Like the book before it, the Spook's Curse lived up to its expectations, and was full of twists, turns and mystery which literally had you hooked for start to finish, as you waited to see what Thomas, the Spook, the Bane and the Quisitor would do next. After you have finished, the book leaves you wanting to find out more about the secrets revealed in this book, so you will be itching to grab the next one!

Entangled by Cat Clarke

The same questions whirl round and round in my head. What does he want from me? How could I have let this happen? AM I GOING TO DIE? Seventeen-year-old Grace wakes up in a white room, with a table, pens and paper - and no clue how she got there.
As Grace pours her tangled life onto the page, she is forced to remember everything she's tried to forget. There's falling hopelessly in love with the gorgeous Nat, and the unravelling of her relationship with her best friend Sal. But there's something missing.
Grace must face the most important question of all. Why is she here?
I have to admit that the book was far more depressing than the blurb gave away. It hits on some very pressing and sensative topics - self-harm, depression, sex, suicide and more. As I first started reading it, I thought that the characters were a bit confusing and twisted - especially the narrorator and the main character, Grace, who is a bit like marmite: you either love her or hate her. But, as I read on, the story became clearer and my doubts about the characters and the storyline passed. Once you finish the novel, you are left with a sense of satisfaction and understanding. In this book, Clarke has really captured the speech and thoughts of an average teenage girl, and there are many situations in the book that other teenagers can associate and identify with. The novel will really get you thinking about yourself, the people around you, and the world in general.