The Power by Naomi Alderman

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Published by Penguin, April 2017, 340 pages, £3.99

5 stars

This book blew me away. A world in which young women develop electric powers to zap and kill. It was a truly thunderous read which left me feeling shocked and singed. The remnants of the story are still crackling in my thoughts, so much that I’m not sure how to convey all of them in this review.

The book follows 4 main POVs: Margot, an American mayor who acquires the power from her daughter and fast tracks her way to the White House. Alison, who runs away from an abusive foster system to a convent where she forms a new religion. Roxy, a British teen who is the daughter of a mobster and takes over his business. And Tunde, a young Nigerian man who is one of the first to record the phenomenon on his phone and quickly becomes a revered journalist, travelling everywhere to document the growth of the power.

I found this eclectic mix of characters very engaging, although at times some were more interesting than others. As the power awoke in more girls and gained momentum we see a very fascinating shift in society, cleverly traced by the author. Some are dramatic but some are subtle changes that overthrow years of social conditioning. Rape on men grew, men’s rights activists begin bombing women’s health centres and when a young man is found dead it is usually assumed a woman is behind it.

I enjoyed how a male news anchor was replaced by a young handsome man, leaving the female to assume the distinguished role. I also found it interesting when girl’s blamed boys for ‘secretly liking’ the zap (a reversal of the ‘asking for it’ culture) and how girls would ridicule others who can’t or won’t use the power, calling them names that suggest weakness.

I had heard a lot of buzz about this novel, before it won the ‘Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction’ ( the kind of prize that is ironically subverted in the book’s message- there are no ‘Men’s prizes’ after all…). But I was worried it would be too scary or violent and I wasn’t wrong. This book contains scenes of graphic rape and killing. However, at that point I was too far invested into the story, so it didn’t feel jarring or unnecessary, just a sense of grim acceptance.

I was hooked on the plot which follows the power as it snows balls into what feels like a final showdown- wars, primal cults, weapons of mass destruction, drugs, new laws… Nothing really out of the ordinary or otherworldly if you think about it. Alderman writes in an article about this book that: ”Nothing happens in this book that hasn’t happened to a woman”, which is true. It’s not a dystopia, but a reversed image of our own reality. It’s only truly disturbing in the way it exposes us, not just through division of gender but race and other forms of inequality.

And yes, I would really love to have the power.

#Passionthepower

Thank you Penguin for my review copy xxx

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One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus

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Published by Penguin, 1 June 2017, 368 pages, £5.99

4 stars

Penguin cleverly sent around press releases daring me NOT to like this book. They boldly claimed that there was not a single reader who disliked the book. So of course I had to accept the challenge, even though I knew it was a marketing bait. I knew that my weakness for high school murder mysteries (a la Pretty Little Liars) will guarantee a base interest. This novel has a bit of everything, intense sleuthing, teen drama and romance. Its attempts to handle darker elements like death and mental illness might be its one flaw.

This is one of the most exciting YA books I have read so far. Five different characters collide in one detention session, all with secrets. Like those who didn’t grow up in the American school system, I have a fondness for their (damaging) stereotypes: the brain, beauty queen, jock, drop-out and outcast. None of these students know why they had detention and at the end of it, Simon the outcast is dead. The rest of the group become suspects. With each day the police are increasingly determined to bring them down. And get this, Simon’s gossip blog continues to post, the topic being the famous four and their secrets. So who is determined to ruin their lives, some elusive stranger or one of them?

If I do say so myself, I had started to get an inkling of who the culprit was. But I do applaud the many twists and turns the plot leads you down. Despite their different worlds, the characters bond with motivating results. They shed their stereotype shells, help each other’s problems and embrace their real selves. There are transformations, society challenges and an additive unlikely romance. However, the story navigates shakily with the topic of depression. The illness was clumsily explained for the rage and revenge that fueled death. But I think the author means to highlight it as a condition partly caused by the school cliques and separations (ones that we in turn find so appealing) in which the main characters ultimately take apart.

Many thanks to Penguin for my review copy xxx

Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

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Published by Mira Ink 2012, 395 pages, £3.49

4.5 stars

It’s been a Katie McGarry week and I never want it to end. Thankfully, there are about five more (plus a novella) in this Pushing the Limits series. I have no idea why it has taken me so long to start it. The drama, passion and fiery energy the author brings to her characters warms me from each page. Unlike the Thunder Road series, there are no biker gangs, but focuses on domestic drama, bereavement and mental illness.

Echo and Noah are from two ends of the social spectrum (McGarry is at her best with opposite attraction). Echo was once popular girl, dance team member and on track for an art scholarship. But after the death of her older brother and a traumatic episode involving her mother, she becomes withdrawn and distant from everyone, hiding her inner and outer scars. She is also repressed by her controlling father and his new wife, who was embarrassingly her childhood babysitter.

Noah is the labeled ‘dodgy’ boy who sits at the back of class and lunch, involved with violence, drugs and hook-ups. After the death of his parents and the painful separation from his younger brothers, he has been through the mill of abusive foster care. He is someone who has given up on trust, especially from authority figures, and fights tooth and nail to get his brothers back. Both Echo and Noah’s days are filled with anger and silence. When a guidance councilor brings them together, their initial impression of each other- impressions created by gossip and stereotyping, gradually sift away to make room for their consuming attraction.

Their romance is so fierce, but the wounds from their problems are so raw, McGarry creates an exiting struggle of wanting and never wanting to be the characters. The plot is driven by the mystery of Echo’s memory, as she fails to remember the detail of her trauma. Echo’s mother suffers from bipolar disorder and she fears that she will also loose control and be accused of ‘craziness’. The story deals with the lack of understanding mental illnesses and how it is dealt with. As Echo’s memory comes back in fearful shards, she tries to loosen her father’s safety grips, while Noah does battle with society to reclaim his brothers. Everybody’s limits are tested as the characters challenge those that restrict them as well as pushing their inner scars to extremes. Long at times, the novel was an addictive whirlwind of fatal build-ups and made me look forward to my train journey after a trying day at work.

xxx

Long Way Home by Katie McGarry (Thunder Road #3) – and Red At Night (novella)

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Published by HQ, Feb 2017, 448 pages, £3.99

4.5 stars

Ever since Walk the EdgeI now seek Katie McGarry for addictive reads and fierce teen romances. This is the third book (hopefully not the last) in her Thunder Road series- think small town America, decaying diners and rival biker gangs. It’s necessary to read the earlier books as many events and characters are continued into this installment.

We follow the journey of Violet and Chevy, integral characters since the first book. They were childhood friends turned sweethearts, turned tense exes. After the death of her father, who was a member of ‘The Terror’ biker gang, Violet has had enough of the club who had been her home and family. Despite their vow to protect her, she wants nothing to do with them, their rules and way of life. The only problem is Chevy, her first love. He is devoted to the club, they mean family to him. A place where he belongs. And to prevent him from choosing between her and The Terror, Violet breaks it off with him, severing both their hearts.

The book opens with a chance meeting on an open road, which quickly turns into chaos when they are kidnapped by rival gang ‘The Riot’ and a plunged into a dangerous war between the two clubs. Mysteries of the past, secrets and betrayal spill out like heavy streams. Violet and Chevy try to navigate between these troubles whilst trying to control the flood of their own feelings for each other, which the author conveys so powerfully.

Violet and Chevy were not initially my favourite characters in the series, but McGarry encouraged my deep attachment to them. Her writing is punchy, honest and to the point. When a couple is confused about each other, it usually becomes tiring. This didn’t happen here. Passion pulsated out of each character’s thoughts and dialogue whether they were arguing or otherwise… Their relationship was continuous building, rather than a back-and-forth game.

This is the most dramatic book of the series, with a measured dose of danger and violence. The book also covers the sexist foundations of the club, which Violet challenges fiercely. Despite the club’s best intentions, Violet opens their eyes to double standards and unequal treatment. It is suggested that with her influence, Razor, Oz and Chevy are encouraged to become the new generation of the club, with a new set of rules. I think more could have been explored in this area as it transformed the book from a simple trouble-rescue plot to one about progression and change.

I need more Thunder Road books xxx

 

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Published by MIRA INK 2014, 83 pages, FREE

5 stars

As a free novella this is an amazing read. It had all the depth of a full length novel. Stella and Jonah are from different worlds. Stella is poor and has no choices in life than to drop out of school and take on a full-time job. Jonah is popular and college bound. He was part of a group of bullies who would torment her since she was young. Sometimes he laughed, sometimes he didn’t- still classified him as a bully. When a sudden accident and loss consumes him, he finds Stella as the only person who can help him. The two are drawn together with consequences and uplifting moments.

This novella is for charity and showcases The Goodie Two Shoes Foundation, which provides under-privileged children their own shoes of choice. It’s an inspiring cause that proves that something most people take for granted makes a huge difference to a child’s life and their future.

The Boy is Back by Meg Cabot

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Published by William Morrow, October 2016, 400 pages, £4.49

3 stars

Meg Cabot is my ultimate hero. She has a gift for creating vibrant characters in insanely hilarious scenarios within the stroke of a few sentences. Her romances are deep-felt and effortless. Her plots are fast-paced and addictive. The Boy is Back incorporates most of these qualities, but unfortunately falls short of being Cabot’s best work.

Cabot takes us to her favourite setting, small town Bloomville Indiana, where there is homely but close-knit chaos. The main characters are the boy who left and the girl who stayed. Reed Stewart is a pro golf star who turned his back on his past, including the parents that pushed him away and the girlfriend he let down. Becky Flowers is a successful business woman who worked hard to take over her father’s moving company. Her life revolves around organisation and control, especially when trying to forget a high school heart-break. When Reed’s parents run into financial trouble and alarming elderly episodes, he is pressured by his siblings to return for support. His reappearance triggers a rupture in the small community, who have already been buzzing about the Stewarts’ problems.

It’s a satisfying ‘confront the past’ story. There is all round fun with the siblings, their kids and citizens causing drama during an emotional period. As Reed tries to reconcile with his parents, old feelings for Becky get unlocked. Despite her control, Becky falls again for the boy who left and secrets are revealed.

This novel is written entirely through social media messages, emails, diary entries and letters. This creates a light read and upbeat pace, with each chapter being an energetic change. However, much of the depth to develop the romance and character growth is lost. The reader only experiences things on the surface and are prevented from being entirely involved. The Boy.. is the ideal read to unwind and amuse yourself, but nothing too deep.

A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

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Published by Macmillan, 12 Jan 2017, 320 pages, £4.00

4 stars

This was a very sweet story which I will remember for a while. A few months ago I read The Problem With Forever by Jennifer L. Armentrout, which was about a girl who had trouble speaking caused by trauma during an abusive childhood. That was when I realised the explosive power that rested in a story covering the topic of speech and the deep hold it had for me as a reader. As a naturally quiet person, as I am sure many readers are, I engaged with some of the mania and the injustice that shakes a character who is unable to express themselves through speech. Sara Barnard’s heroine, Steffi, is diagnosed as a selective mute with social anxiety. She begins the novel in silent but courageous agony against the mean girls, which was when I knew I was going immerse myself in her world.

The author’s writing flows very easily, her characters blossoming effortlessly that I had trouble switching off the kindle. You know you have a winner when you’re reaching for the book with just 5 empty minutes to fill. In fact, this book stole my attention from another, one that I was anticipating for a few months.

The MCs clicked well. Steffi is introduced to Rhys, a new student who is also deaf. She has been asked to look after him as she had some basic knowledge of sign language. They are immediately drawn to each other. Their romance isn’t as powerful as many of the current YAs out there, and especially if I am comparing it to The Problem with Forever. It was sweet and sensitive.

He thinks you’re sunshine.

Rhys is certainly an appealing, mature and witty love interest. The story focuses on happens after they share their first kiss and how they navigate themselves through a world that is clearly against their condition. When things get tough Steffi finds herself being pulled back into a internal wormhole that she suffers during the darker days of her uncontrollable silence. This book is about her being able to find light to pull herself out and the power of love certainly contributed.

Steffi and Rhys’ relationship wasn’t about finding a cure for Steffi, but more about two young hearts against the world as it would be for any pair strong willed teenagers whether they are deaf, mute or not.

Many thanks to Macmillan for a review copy xxx

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett

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4 stars

This book is fantastic! Its illuminating, delicate and quite haunting. I was impressed by this story about an alienated teenager who hates her small town life with its mean and mediocre inhabitants. Hawthorn Creely, a cleverly memorable name, sees the world differently believing in the extraordinary and the unbelievable. She has such a strong voice with a mix of angst, sorrow and dry humour, it immediately hooked me from the first few sentences. The extreme loneliness she feels, as she tries to reconnect with her former football star brother and battle the high school beauty queens who bully her relentlessly, effectively consumes the reader.

When a former popular girl disappears in the woods, Hawthorn feels contempt for how much it affects the town. Everybody comes to a stop, becomes obsessed and begins to mourn for this beautiful girl who once made Hawthorn feel like dirt. She sees Lizzie Lovett as her complete opposite. Even their names are different, Lizzie’s spells light, carefree, happy and most importantly adored. When the police struggle to find a trace, Hawthorn becomes curious, just as everybody starts to ‘move on’. Through some uncontrollable urge, she takes Lizzie’s old job as a waitress and becomes drawn to Enzo, Lizzie’s boyfriend. Despite everybody believing him a murderer, they form a connection as outcasts. Hawthorn tries to learn as much as she can about the former queen bee, and becomes fascinated and confused about how unspectacular Lizzie’s life had been before her disappearance.

Out of a jokey whim, Hawthorn wonders if Lizzie had turned into a werewolf. But the idea starts to become less impossible the more she thought about it. She manages to enlist Enzo’s help and they both start looking in the woods for any traces. This idea is so messed up, but slightly wondrous, because Hawthorn truly believes in magic. Even I started to believe. Not so much the actual werewolf, but the possibility of there being more answers in the world.

Enzo, artistic, grief-stricken and broken, was not the usual love interest. He remained elusive and didn’t convince me of his innocence. The dangerous path Hawthorn takes with Enzo and the mystery of Lizzie, which became stronger at each turn, truly enticed me. When we finally find out what happened, Hawthorn’s world turns upside down. Everything she believes in immediately unravels. She may believe in fantasy but she was too focused on her own unhappiness and social isolation that she was blind to the experiences of those around her. The ending is uplifting as she comes to terms with this realisation.

I can see this being a movie.

Many thanks to Sourcebooks for my review copy xx

 

Holding up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

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Season Greetings

Published by Penguin, April 2016, 391 pages, £3.99

3.5 stars

This is another precious story from Jennifer Niven. I was a little apprehensive, because I saw some mixed reviews. If you were an avid worshipper of All the Bright Places (who wouldn’t be), you would also enjoy this, but it isn’t of the same calibre. We can all agree All the Bright Places is an incredibly special and powerful story. Holding up the Universe is just as endearing, but lighter. It will touch you, but won’t knock you out.

Again, Niven hands to us two stellar characters with moving problems. Libby is a girl who used to be ‘America’s Fattest Teen’ and had to be cut out of her house and hospitalized. After years of isolation and recovery, she returns to high school and tries to get her life back on track. When I say ‘recovery’, I don’t mean that she becomes sparkly thin and all is well. She has reached a size where most still call over-weight, but she is comfortable, has climbed over her eating disorder and doesn’t plan on losing anymore. She continued to surprise me. Her rock hard integrity and courage, the way she stands up for herself when the trolls inevitably descend, demands respect. She is a natural friend to the reader and at times I found myself laughing with her. Niven addresses all the dimensions of weight-shaming and bullying with clarity and taste. This is obviously someone who understands that moment when you are confronted with a dark irrational force of hate, or people who are just plain shitty.

Jack is a boy who seems to cruising through high school smoother than most. He’s popular, has the on-off girlfriend others fear, and is friends with the loud guys. He is fairly fetching, as fictional boys go. His fierce determination and confidence switching to tenderness at perfect moments echo Finch, but unfortunately doesn’t outshine him nor exist solidly on its own.

His story begins with trouble for making out with his girlfriend’s cousin. It was dark, he was drunk, he wasn’t ‘technically’ attached and ‘boys will be boys’ right? The problem is, he really could not recognise whether it was his girlfriend or not. Jack has face-blindness, a condition I never knew existed and feel so enlightened that Niven has introduced me to it. Realising what he had when he was younger, Jack has tried to live with it and put up a fake bravado. I wondered why he never wanted to share his problem, but then realised it came from a scarier, deeper rooted issue of mistrust and fear in his society:

Better to be the hunter than hunted.

Soon, Jack’s walls of survival begin to crumble, and a secret of his father’s threatens to shake the bonds even more. It is clear he is entirely alone until he runs into Libby. A cruel joke brings them crashing together, and finally he begins to let down his guard. The two connect in a satisfying way. Their relationship developed very quickly for those who hate frustrating teases, but I wish there was more of a crackling tension. Unfortunately, their romance falls a little flat at the end where the plot was in need of harsher conflict and a swoonier reunion.

But the way Niven writes is amazing – her prose is scattered with pockets of soul-affirming dreams and hopes, but also whirl-pools of endless darkness. This isn’t just a story about weight and cognitive disorder, it’s about alienation, trust and acceptance. We dance with the characters, struggle with them, and strive with them to achieve wholeness and enough strength to hold up a universe.

Chasing the Stars by Malorie Blackman

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Published by Penguin, April 21st 2016, 496 pages, £5.99

3.5 Stars

Ever since I read a positive review in Guardian Books a few months ago, I had wanted to get my hands on a copy.  A teen spin on Othello set in space really it hit the right note. It had a tall order, so I was curious to see if it lived up to the challenge.

Unfortunately, the beginning almost put me off. Why oh why does the Asian friend have to be a plant geek?? And the dated slang made me cringe- ‘fit’, ‘out of order’. To the non-Brits, I had heard these words when I was in high-school, ten years ago. And the universal post-apocalyptic greeting was ‘Nihao’ which I found unoriginal and slightly offensive. I know it was meant to be profound but we get it the Chinese might be taking over... But thankfully there wasn’t too much of this and the cliche character didn’t feature very often, so I was able to ignore him. I concentrated on the rest of the book which I turned out to be quite thrilling and thought-provoking.

Olivia and her twin brother Aidan have lost their family from a deadly virus and are travelling alone back to Earth. They spot some people in a zone controlled by the Mazon, a cruel and violent species who are determined to destroy anything foreign, especially humans. This is the first time Olivia has had any contact with other people for three lonely years. She is determined to help them, despite Aidan’s caution. But when they join her ship, things get uncontrollably sticky. For one thing they were running away from Earth and ‘The Authority’ which is its supreme ruler and refuse to explain anything. This suggests that there all may not be as it seems for the home Olivia is returning to. Despite Olivia’s help, a few members fail to recognise her as captain because of her being a teenage girl. As they are still within Mazon territory, they have to work together until the threat passes. But throughout the journey, members mysteriously die. Blackman kept me guessing the whole time who the murderer was. I love a good whodunnit.

Olivia instantly develops a bond with Nathan, the son of their leader. Their relationship may have happened a little fast, but I found it convincing and warming. I was quite surprised at how steamy the scenes were, so it is only suited for older teens and above. Aidan becomes naturally jealous of them, but there is something odd about him as well- something else I wanted to get to the bottom of. I really admired Olivia’s character. She is someone who places integrity as a priority, reacts quickly to disaster and is strong in resisting discrimination. Nathan is more of a standard love interest who is handsome, athletic and passionate.

There are many compelling conflicts all leading to the issue of prejudice and equality: the Mazon and their racial hatred, the Authority and its class system, the ageism and sexism towards Olivia. Blackman cleverly plots these topics into a slightly cheesy teen romance, transforming it into a novel essentially about what it means to be human.

This worked as a stand alone novel, but I really hope there is a sequel.

Something in Between by Melissa de la Cruz

 

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Awesome!

Published by Harlequin Teen, 4th Oct 2016, 384 pages, £7.99 

4.5 stars

Fellow bloggers will agree with me that this book has come at perfect time. Immigration is now the capital I-word that is boiling up a lot of tensions and unease. Here in the UK, it was one of the main issues that pushed for Brexit and I can’t even begin to imagine the madness of #TrumpAmerica. I think its great to have a YA novel that tackles this issue, helps young readers understand and relate. Because technically we are the future- just saying. Melissa de la Cruz writes about her own experiences growing up in America as a Filipino. I really felt she covered all the complexities and antagonisms of being multi-racial with touching depths.

Jasmine de los Santos has worked hard. She’s captain of the cheer-leading team, volunteers twice a week, has top grades and won a full scholarship to the college. This is everything she has dreamed of, the reason she cancelled all those plans with friends, didn’t have time for boys- everything that would make her parents proud. They have sacrificed so much, worked menial jobs to build a new life in America for their children, and this was how she would prove to them that’s its all been worth it. But when she tells them the news, instead of being joyful, they acted grim.

It turns out that they are living in California illegally, and so her life spirals through her finger tips. She might get deported, let alone not be able to go to college. I really felt for her and there were some teary moments. Jasmine goes through many levels of anger, sadness, fear, guilt, injustice and confusion. She questions her identity and what it means to be American. She starts to rebel a little, go to the parties she always turned down and meets a boy along the way. Royce Blakely is handsome, confident and kind. However, he is also the son of a senator who is passing a law that makes it even harder for her family to get citizenship. Their worlds collide with exhilarating but painful outcomes.

As her family struggle to fight for belonging through a twisty plot, things become tougher but also more motivating. Racism begins to seep into her life, but is combated by the great love and support from her family, friends and the new people she has met during this period. The author punctuates the intensity of the context with light and funny moments, such as typical teenage musings and flirty texts. At times, Jasmine did seem too annoyingly perfect, in a Rory from Gilmore Girls case. But I didn’t think this for very long. Her character has a lot of integrity and strength that is to be admired.

I can see readers who might look at Jasmine’s example and ask why she should have the scholarship if she’s not ‘really’ American and deprive someone else of the chance? Jasmine calls California her home, she shares the same values of law-abiding citizens, believes in the American Dream that you can be anybody you want to be if you just work hard enough. The only thing she doesn’t have is a piece of paper confirming this. As Jasmine ends with a kick-ass valedictorian speech, she urges not just her peers, but the reader to look beyond what papers, offices and people say about you. The only person who knows you is you. I make it sound corny, but the book is not- well its a little bit mushy but in a satisfying way.

I really related to this book, being the daughter of immigrants myself. I wish there are more books like this, especially from Asian perspectives. I totally got Jasmine’s confusion, worried about how her friends might think of her, the pressure to be both races but not quite managing it, just ending up as something in the middle. I’m glad this has been published, and hopefully it would help sway opinions about race and immigration.

Many thanks to Cara from HQ Stories for my copy

xxx

About the Author

Melissa de la Cruz is the author of many best-selling novels, including the Blue Bloods series; the Au Pairs series; the Ashleys series; and Angels on Sunset Boulevard. She is also a frequent contributor to Glamour, Marie Claire, Teen Vogue, and Cosmopolitan. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter, and is hard at work on her next book.

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