Friday, 25 March 2011

The French Edition: Stephanie Perkins-Anna and the French Kiss

book cover of   Anna and the French Kiss   by  Stephanie Perkins

I bought this book after seeing glowing reviews for it on tons of my favourite blogs and reading on Twitter than John Green was recommending it too. I then proceeded to put off reading it for several months as I thought it couldn't possibly be as good as everyone was saying, right? I WAS WRONG. This book is absolute perfection. I consumed is as quickly as I possibly could and haven't stopped thinking about it in the few days since, despite going on to read what seems like another great book.

In case anyone out there hasn't come across this book then here's a quick summary. Film geek Anna is forced by her super-tanned but not super-Dad Father to spend a year at school in Paris to broaden her horizons. Leaving everything she knows behind in Atlanta, including a possibly maybe romance, Anna goes to a country where she knows no-one and doesn't speak the language.

On her first night at school she is befriended by her next door neighbour and introduced to one of her friends, an English boy with the lyrical name of Etienne St. Clair. Anna's meeting and subsequent friendship with St. Clair forms the basis of the book and is a fantastically realised event. 'Anna and the French Kiss' isn't a plot-driven book and is all the better as a result. The development of the relationship between Anna and St. Clair progresses and evolves at a realistic pace and towards the end I was practically shouting at the characters to express their real feelings!

Anna is a great character and one I could really relate to. I love characters who are given a tangible personality and real interests and aren't just a series of physical attributes. Anna loves the movies and I loved reading the details about the films she sees and how Anna scribbles reviews in her notebook. I also love the 'Anna Banana' nickname, her obsessive cleanliness and Batman pyjamas... this is a girl after my own heart and one who feels noticeably real.

Now for St. Clair...well he's so perfectly written if there's any justice in the world he should immediately transcend to the top of the 'YA Hearthrobs' tree. Forget Edward Cullen this guy is a cupcake with sprinkles on top. He's funny, infuriating, loyal and loveable. He's the perfect best friend and possible boyfriend a girl could ask for, if only he'd just stand up and shout out his feelings.

I found much of the later part of 'Anna and the French Kiss' really touching, particularly when Anna describes a person rather than a place as home, I thought that was a really lovely sentiment. I also loved how Anna switched from calling her amour St. Clair to Etienne which not only has a noticeable effect on him but seems really intimate. I also found the way the relationship between them changes when St. Clair's Mom gets ill was really sweet, and although it's kind of inappropriate I loved his clandestine nights spent with Anna because he couldn't be alone.

In summary, this book is a treat of the highest order and will leave a smile on your face afterwards. The only things I even slightly less than loved about this book was the cover (which I find presents the book as rather cheesy and isn't how I imagine Anna would look at all) , and also the title for similar reasons. Those slight detractions aside if you love a believable romance that will leave your heart racing as well as making you laugh and cry then this is for you. I wholeheartedly LOVED it.

Five Stars

Friday, 18 March 2011

0.4-Mike Lancaster

book cover of   0.4   by  Mike Lancaster

This was a book I purchased after seeing the cover online and being intrigued by the ideas behind it. I generally really enjoy dystopian fiction but I was a little unsure what to expect from this one as it's described as 'sci-fi' on the back cover, and sci-fi is one of the few genres I tend to avoid.

I'm really glad I decided to pick this one up a few days ago as it's a gripping and rather disturbing look at a possible future. This review is hard to write because I went into this book not knowing much about it and I think this is the best way to approach it. What I will say is that the book consists of 3 tapes narrated by Kyle Straker after events in his village take a very strange turn...

I really enjoyed the set-up of the tapes and the 'missing' parts from the blank space at the beginning and end of every tape. I also loved the footnotes added explaining popular culture references like Coldplay, and these really added some humour to the book. Although the characters could have been more developed, this may will be a necessary limitation of the 'tapes' set-up, meaning the events of the novel are filtered through Kyle's experiences alone.

This book is so current in its references to Twitter and the like that it succeeds in making the version of the future it presents that much more chilling and believable. The reader can only discover what the characters do which does make for some unanswered questions at the end of the book, although I gather a follow-up is planned.

'0.4' is a great introduction to dystopian fiction and one that reminded me of Michael Grant's 'Gone' series. It reads like a 'Brave New World' lite and would be ideal for teens not quite ready to tackle classics such as '1984'.

A thoroughly enjoyable and thought provoking novel that raises the question: how many advances in new technology or too many?

Four Stars

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Fell in Love With A Band:C.J. Skuse-Rockoholic

Every so often a book comes along that seems to tick all boxes and give me exactly what I wanted,sometimes things I don't even consciously know I want from a book. After trying to read 'Sing Me to Sleep' by Angela Morrison and getting nowhere 'Rockoholic' arrived in the post and I immediately loved the manic collage of the cover and dived right in. I bought this book based on good reviews I'd seen elsewhere and my awareness of the author's previous book, which I'm yet to read.

Straight-away I was hooked by Jody's story of obsessive love for her rock star Jackson Gaitlin. Not only did I think C.J. Skuse had captured spot on the feelings of a young girl with a big habit I felt like I was reading about the internal feelings of my own youth. It's worth adding a disclaimer here that I felt such an affinity with Jody because I was that kind of girl. An awkward teen with an all-encompassing love for a certain Manic Street Preachers, I spent my teen years eating, sleeping and breathing their music and much of my emerging personality and indeed person I am now was shaped by those years.

Essentially this book is about what happens to Jody when she goes to see her favourite band in the world and comes home with more than she bargained for. I loved the fact I didn't know much about this book before I read it so I don't want to reveal too much here.

I could picture myself when I read about Jody queuing for the Regulators gig in her 'special t-shirt that shows she is a real fan' and one of my favourite scenes in the book was her description of her thoughts and feelings while she waits for the gig to begin. The crushing disappointment that follows after she misses the ending and then later meets Jackson and sees the reality behind the persona were brilliantly realistic and very touching.

This book encompasses so many themes for me it's really awe-inspiring in its achievements. The maturity that comes to Jody with the realisation that the Jackson she fell in love with is nothing more than a myth was well-developed and runs alongside the gradual dawning of her feelings for Mac.

All of the characters here are realistic and well-developed but I think Jody's Grandad deserves a special mention. The fallout from her grief is very touching and I love that as a reader you get to gradually learn more about such superbly cool and rebellious man. The evolution of Jackson is at the heart of the story and I went through despising him at the beginning for crushing Jody's dreams to admiring him by the end when he takes massive risks in order to really make his own decisions.

In YA terms I tend to read a lot of American books and while these are fab, one of the many things I loved about 'Rockoholic' was its inherent Englishness. I loved the endless cups of tea and mentions of Asda and Waitrose, all of which meant I could relate to the story even more. Jody's madcap turns of phrase were really refreshing and hilarious and her 'thank Cobain' mantra made me smile every time. The dullness of being confined to a small town really comes to life and I love that Jody's hometown is only ever referred to as 'Nuffing-On-The-Wold'.

I actually find reviews this positive much harder to write than the more critical ones as I feel like no words will possibly do justice to how great I think this book is. Although the issues of grief and drug addiction form much of the basis to the story there is also masses of humour to be had and the curly wurly incident alone had me laughing out loud. If you've ever had an obsessive love for anything and found that other people fail to understand your wavelength then this book is for you. It's sad, laugh out loud funny and has characters that will really stay with you. The ending was pitch perfect and for me only made more so by turning to the acknowledgements page and seeing that one of C.J. Skuse's band dedications was the Manic Street Preachers, holy hell that was the icing on an already delectable cake!

So that's it. I've tried to put into words how much I love this book and I hope that somewhere amongst this fragmented review that comes across. If you want something fresh and exciting then look no further, this book will give you more than you even knew you wanted.

Five Stars!

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Chelsea Cain-The Night Season

Until about eighteen months ago crime fiction didn't really appeal to me, something that was swiftly changed by the arrival of a certain Chelsea Cain in my life. A friend of mine had read 'Heartsick'and sang its praises, so when I found it in a 3 for £1 sale I scooped it up. It may have been destined to stay on one of my ever higher piles neglected and unread had it not been for the fact that I had a sick day and wanted to be distracted.

The twisted relationship between Archie and Gretchen that develops throughout this series is certainly distracting, not to mention both fascinating and downright wrong. I quickly consumed the second book and later the third, leaving me well and truly hooked.

With a wait of nearly two years for the latest installment anticipation for 'The Night Season' was high...Firstly, the fact that this is billed as the latest Gretchen Lowell book is a bit misleading. Gretchen appears only briefly at the end and the book focuses much more on series regulars Archie and Susan.

The book has a solid beginning with the discovery of a 60 year old body in a river, a discovery which soon becomes entangled with the bodies being discovered in the present day. The backdrop of the novel is the massive and merciless floods attacking Portland and the scenes of chaos and destruction are described vividly and memorably.

As always Cain's writing is gripping and sparse and her characters are loveable and ones I always want to cheer for. As I neared the end of this book though I couldn't help but think things fell a little flat. It just seemed too short to tie the three threads of the story (the old corpse, the present day corpses and the mystery of a missing child) together adequately and the resolution of the story seemed a little too neat. Overall, although I enjoyed this book and read it quickly I felt like it was something of a stop gap while the ongoing enigma of Gretchen Lowell is left to develop in the background. I'll still greatly anticipate the next book in this series but I really hope it will go back to the twisted dynamics I fell for in the first place.

Star rating: 3.5 Stars

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

My Reviewing Policy

This is something of a housekeeping post to let anyone reading know what to expect from this blog. I will mainly (at least initially) be focusing on reviewing books that are either bought or given to me via work. In light of this I intend any reviews to be constructively critical and honest, and to provide a quick reference I will also include a star rating out of 5.

Once I'm more in the swing of posting regularly I hope to introduce other features including author profiles and spotlights on my all-time favourite books. Please bear with me while I find my groove!