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

 

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

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Published by Macmillan Children’s, 9th February 2017, 464 pages, £5.59

3 Stars

I was so excited when I got my ARC of this, but unfortunately I did not enjoy it as much as hoped. I read the entire Lunar Chronicles this summer and it blew me away, bumping Marissa Meyer up as one of my favourite authors. The premise of Heartless seemed interesting enough- an origin story of the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. I’m not a huge Lewis Caroll fan. I love the Jabberwock poem, but I haven’t read Alice in Wonderland in years and I vaguely remember the Disney movie. So I haven’t been interested in reading Caroll adaptations in the past. I was only reading this because of the author. I thought it was going to be like Fairest, the origin story of the evil Queen Levana in the Lunar Chronicles, tragic and fascinating.

Before she became a blood thirsty loon, Catherine Pinkerton was once a young vivacious woman who dreamed of opening her own bakery. But being the daughter of nobility, she was forced into a marriage with the tiny air-headed King of Hearts who was unfortunately besotted with her. She meets Jest, the King’s new mysterious court entertainer, who introduces her to new ideas, worlds, and most importantly, freedom. They enter a secret romance despite the inevitable danger. Meanwhile the Kingdom is being terrorised by vicious monsters with no hope of being vanquished.

I was quickly enchanted by Meyer’s world building which was beautifully and cleverly written. Magic, wonder and intrigue filled each description, from lemon trees that grow from dreams to dancing lobsters. There are so many allusions to Caroll’s creation, which was a nice unearthing of my childhood memories. Familiar and new characters slip in together naturally. Catherine is a very passionate and warm character. Her struggle for independence, which evokes Victorian female oppression, is very endearing.

However, I’m afraid this is where my interest ends. My reading of this book took two months, way longer than I anticipated. Instead of racing through to the end as I did the Lunar Chronicles, I kept getting distracted by other books. I had to ask myself why it almost went into a slump pile, despite having so much promise? I think at the end of the day, when you take away all the beautiful (and sometimes heavy) descriptions, which is primarily adapted from other works, you are left with a singular story line: a young girl with a dream who is forced to abandon it. I’m not saying this story is too simple, but in this case it doesn’t survive. The romance between Catherine and Jest developed too slowly and just wasn’t strong enough. This resulted in the shift in Catherine’s character at the dreaded ending being quite displaced.

Perhaps it belongs to more devoted Caroll fans. The only reason I am not giving it 2.5 stars is because of the beautiful writing which is undeniably impressive. I will, of course, still look forward to more of Marissa Meyer’s work.

 

 

 

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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Walk the Edge by Katie McGarry (Thunder Road #2)

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Seriously good

 

Published by Harlequin Teen, March 29th 2016, 448 pages, £7.99

When I was reading this, I tweeted that it was The Business. And I meant it. A few pages in and I was already going weeeeeheeeee! When I read Nowhere But Here, the first book in the Thunder Road series, I slipped into Katie McGarry’s style very easily. The story was exciting, the couple addictive to follow and crackling with attraction. Walk The Edge is just as good, if not better. This is a sequel/ spin-off. We pick up where we left off, but following one of Oz’s best friends Razor- silent, slightly scary, moody with issues, but totally smoldering at the same time. The reason I say spin-off is that I think it’s possible to read this without having read the first book. I actually forgot a few things that have happened and I still enjoyed it. If you want to be good, I would recommend reading Nowhere But Here first, because you get introduced to all the characters and the general background. All you need to know is that Snowflake is a small-town with an infamous biker gang called Reign of Terror, reputed for violence and debauchery. The gang freak the hell out of everybody and good girls are told to stay away. We are constantly reminded that the gang is ‘legit’, as they are hired as protection for delivery companies. But they are at war with another gang called The Riot, who are not so legit. So a lot of secrets and dodgy things have gone down in the past and since the first book.

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Razor runs into Breanna, one evening after school as she waits to be picked up. Breanna is the invisible, smartest girl in school. She is desperate to leave to a place where she can fit in. But there is also something special about the way her mind works. Her brain is forever solving a problem, and it won’t rest- not even to sleep- until it cracks it. She has always been taunted for her abilities to the point where she is sick of who she is. She is also 1 of 9 siblings who all bully her for being ‘perfect’- the injustice of it all really got me loving her.

The couple start off curious of one another. Despite being raised to fear the Terror gang, Breanna can’t stay away from Razor- of course she can’t. And in that first evening they meet, Razor sees something about her that he wants to protect. (Its pretty swoony that he already knows her name). That’s because Breanna becomes the target of some more bullying that starts off small but intensifies out of control. Razor is thrown into the mix and Breanna asks for his help. In return, Breanna will help him figure out the mysterious death of his mother- something else that keeps you hooked to the end. The couple are so unlikely but they work so well. They are the stereo-types everyone talks about at school but no-one really knows.

The book is all about image and prejudice; who you are and where you belong. And not forgetting powerful love! It will get you dizzy and sighing (inner-sighing if you’re in public like I always seem to be during the good bits). It’s also about unfair double-standards. Yet again, girls are the victims of cyber-bullying- to the point where they are branded and ruined. Breanna learns to turn her back to all the whispers and embrace who she is.

I’m still not sure if I am a fan of the Terror gang. I mean, the women of the members are part of a club called the Terror Gypsies, which sounds like a groupie. They can’t join and take part in the serious stuff- even though it affects their families. The members are part of a brotherhood which means they have mutual respect and protection, but there are strict rules so it also sounds like a cult. Also, we never find out what happens to Addison, Breanna’s friend, who is getting abused at home..?

Thanks to Cara at Mira for my review copy! Yay for book 3 coming up with Chevy and Violet’s story.

xx