The Graces – Laure Eve

The Graces; Summer, Fenrin and Thalia. A mysterious family that live in a small town. Everyone wants to be friends with them or sleep with them, or both. The legend says that they are magical. That their family possesses powers that stretch back over centuries. They are rich, live in a beautiful house and have everything and everyone they want.

Enter River. This isn’t her real name and we never find out what it is because she is the narrator and decides that River is the name she wants to be known by and Summer persuades her that she can call herself whatever she wants. River is the new girl in town. She’s a loner,  spends all her time in the library, keeps herself to herself and doesn’t invite attention. She’s recently moved to town with her mum, her dad has disappeared.

Until one day, Summer invites River to participate in a magical ritual with some other girls in the  copse behind the school. Summer is two years younger than the twins and all the girls want to be friends with her.  This is the beginning of a connection between Summer and River (with the help of Fenrin) that leads to disaster.

The story is told from the POV of River so we can never be sure whether the family are actually magical or if River just believes they are. Does she just  really want them to have this power, or she just in awe of them and the way they live? It also feels a little bit like they have everything they want because they are rich, not because they have magicked it up! River is hopelessly in love with Fenrin but desperate not to show it, Summer befriends her because she finds it refreshing to meet someone who doesn’t want to get with her brother. River is then stuck and can’t tell Fenrin how she feels. When she eventually does, the consequences are epic.

A really well written story with a wicked twist at the end. The sequel has been delayed but should be published in December. My only criticism of it is that it’s sometimes hard to follow exactly what’s going on. All is explained at the end which is kind of clever as you go along thinking one thing, and then its not exactly as it seems! Can’t wait for the sequel – The Curses – which is due out in September.

 

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Lost Boy – Christina Henry

This is the second Christina Henry book that I have read and it was recommended to me by a student in my book group, they are twins and I can’t remember which one it was so, apologies!!

If you have read my review of Alice then you will know that the author likes a bit of gore. This one is not as violent as Alice but is still pretty dark and there is a lot of death and blood in it, it’s just not as twisted!

Jamie is the original Lost Boy. He was Peter’s first and  best and he loves Peter best of all. Jamie also looks after all the other  boys when Peter wants to play. He’s been with Peter for a long time and buried many boys. Then along comes Charlie. Charlie is the youngest boy that Peter has ever brought to the island, and he cannot play like the other boys, he needs looking after; Peter doesn’t like it, he thinks Charlie is boring and keeps trying to leave him somewhere to be eaten by a crocodile or one of the many-eyed (big spider like creatures) or stabbed by a pirate.

The island is a huge playground for boys who just don’t want to grow up, and as long as they love Peter, they never will. But what if Peter Pan was a little bit mean? What if he didn’t care if the boys got eaten or burned or killed? They weren’t fun if they didn’t play and they certainly aren’t fun if they can’t fight and kill. Neverland can be a dangerous place for those boys.

The boys attack pirates and fight the many eyed and have Battle, where they sometimes fight to the death in an arena. When Jamie fights the pirates he always wins, then he takes their right hand off so they don’t forget him. There is some casual violence that makes you feel that the boys don’t really understand the difference between playing and reality. But then, they are children. When Peter brings back Nip from the other place everything changes. Jamie knows that Nip is a threat to the  group, especially Charlie, and that he needs to get rid of him, but is Nip working for Peter? When the lines become blurred and loyalties are questioned, nothing on the island will ever be the same again.

This book is kind of like Lord of Flies meets Neverland. It’s a good twist on the original book (Fan fiction?) and has the right amount of adventure and fighting to make it good. I thought that Alice was a bit too dark to be a YA novel (especially the bit in the club) so this one is better. Some bits are a slightly too rushed but there is a good twist at the end. Henry does a good job of making us love and hate Peter in equal measure but ultimately, we all have to grow up don’t we??

All These Beautiful Strangers – Elizabeth Klehfoth

This is a pre publication proof courtesy of Netgalley. The book will be published in July 2018.

Charlie Calloway is many things. She is a studious daughter of the rich and powerful Alisdair Calloway, of the Calloway Group. She’s best friends with Drew, her room mate at an exclusive boarding school, she is an initiate for the extremely secretive and elitist A’s. She is the daughter of Grace Calloway, a woman who married way above her and then disappeared, leaving her two young daughters behind.  She’s good at poker and doesn’t date. She keeps herself to herself and is described by her counsellor as a narcissist with a borderline personality disorder.

Until she is contacted by her uncle who has found some photos hidden at the family lake house that imply that there is more to her mothers disappearance then it was thought. Charlie goes back to visit her mother’s family and starts investigating what happened. She is also trying to pass the three tests to make sure that she gets a place in the A’s, if it’s discovered she will be expelled immediately.  As the story unravels Charlie becomes more convinced that something has happened to her mother. She enlists the help of her old friend Greyson, while fending off the charms of Dalton, the school player. The book is written in a split narrative so we also hear from her mother and her father just before she disappeared. Her father’s brother, Uncle Teddy is also in the mix.

There were parts of this book that I really enjoyed. I thought that the storyline was good, the character of Charlie could have been a bit more fleshed out but I kind of got where she was going. The split narrative was confusing because we knew more about what was going on then Charlie, which led to some jumping around. She was also quite happy to believe everything everyone told her and didn’t really question stuff until afterwards, which was frustrating. Some bits tied up at the end but it was all a little too neat. There was also a big question mark over one of  the main characters which was never fully explained. It may be because I had a proof copy and the final version will be a clearer but, the narration was jumpy and a little annoying.

I think that if the book was just about the disappearance, or just about the school initiation (there is a link to an old suicide that turns out to be connected to her mother and father) then it would have  been easier to follow, but it was all a bit too convoluted.  Well written and enjoyable if you stick with it.

 

Beyond the Bright Sea – Lauren Wolk

 

Beyond the Bright Sea is on the Carnegie 2018 shortlist and is a worthy contender. It begins with a baby, floating on the  sea in a skiff (small boat, people!) . The baby is found and taken in by a man called Osh. Osh lives in a house on a small island off the coast of Massachusetts. Osh is not his real name; he decides to call the baby Crow. It isn’t really clear why but as the novel progresses it seems to be because Crow is a different skin  colour, I’m still not sure which! She may be  Chinese but it’s not really explained.

So, Crow and Osh live in Osh’s house on a small island. The group of Islands is called the Elizabeth’s and is a real place, so some of the story, although fiction, has a real setting. I am the type of person that likes to google stuff so I watched a video about Penikese, a leper colony that the state of Massachusetts set up on one of the Elizabeth Islands in the 1920s. It took in local residents with the disease as well as foreign people who had it, including Chinese and African people.  Crow thinks  that she has some link to the leper colony, and the other residents of the Elizabeth’s seem to think so as well , they don’t touch her or speak to her. She isn’t allowed to go the local school in case she infects the other children. Even though she has never shown any signs of having the disease, she is treated as though she has.

The other character in the book is Miss Maggie. We had a discussion in book group about how old Miss Maggie is. The name conjures up an older lady, and she certainly behaves like an old lady sometimes, but I think she’s probably in a her 30s. She lives on a neighbouring island and has a farm. She teaches Crow her letters and some maths and generally looks after her as well.

When Crow reaches the age of 12 she decides that she wants to find out more about her real parents and where she came from. This leads to a chain of events that puts all three of them in danger. Penikese is now inhabited by a bird keeper, the inhabits and the doctor and nurse from the leper hospital have moved away and the hospital partially  burnt down. Crow writes to the doctor to ask for information about any babies born on the island. He writes back to tell her that two babies were born there, one was  taken to an orphanage on the main land and the other died. Crow decides to investigate anyway.

This book is delightful. It has history, adventure, thrills and spills and some really interesting facts about island life. There is definitely something strange about Osh which is never explained, he comes from a different land, speaks a different language and has given up everything to retreat to the island. Miss Maggie tells Crow that when he arrived, he smashed the  hull of his boat so that he couldn’t leave. He is also very shifty when the police arrive to question Crow about an incident on Pekinese. This is never explained however and it would have been more satisfying to finish the book with all the information about the characters; unless the author is planning to write another book!

I liked it, I haven’t read Wolf Hollow, which was on the Carnegie Shortlist last year and is by the same author, but would recommend this one if you are looking for something not too challenging but hugely interesting.

Release – Patrick Ness

I have read and reviewed a few Patrick Ness books now, and there is no doubt that he is an incredibly talented and engaging author. I really loved More Than This, enjoyed The Knife of Never Letting Go (which is being made in to a film with an amazing cast) and was intrigued by The Rest of Us Just Live Here (amazing concept and an alternative view on superheroes!) This book is no different, but I am feeling a little uncomfortable about recommending it to you and I will explain the reasons why as we go along.

The main story centres around a day in the life of Adam Thorn. He is 17 and lives in a small town in middle America. His father Bob Thorn, is a local pastor for a church called The House Upon the Rock. For English readers I imagine him as one of those evangelical priests who walks up and down at the pulpit and shouts a lot about Jesus loving you, I think that these are a more regular occurrence in America then they are here. His mother is in denial that they are poor and his brother Marty is the prodigal son who has gone off to Christian college to learn how to be a preacher like his dad. Adam is the black sheep in the family because he is gay. Not that this is ever discussed in the Thorn household, ever. Marty has all the commitment but none of the personality and Adam has all the personality but, according to Big Bob Thorn, is morally corrupt.

Adam’s best friend is called Angela Darlington and she is the adopted daughter of a Dutch lady and her American husband. She is originally from Korea I think and has a sharp wit and an open heart. She loves Adam and worries for him and has decided that she is bi or gay or not, it doesn’t matter. She supports Adam and is more family to him then his own crazy lot. He also has a boyfriend called Linus but is still in love with his ex, Enzo who is moving out of town. Today is his leaving party (or get-together as they keep calling it) and the book is leading up to this event. Adam also likes cross country running but isn’t very fast, which is incidental to the book but shows a little of his  personality.

The other  section of the book centres around the drug fuelled murder of another local girl, Katherine van Leuwen. She is murdered by her boyfriend while they are both high and her body is dumped in the local lake – where the get together is taking place later on. Her spirit inhabits some kind of Queen of the Lake who is now wandering the town looking for her murderer to exact revenge. Or rather the queen has reanimated Katherine’s body and when people see her, they are shocked to see the dead Katherine wandering about. She is followed by her faithful servant who is a fawn. She visits Katherine’s mother and friend and the murder scene trying to figure out why she is there. If the Queen cannot reconnect with her body by the end of the day then the world (hers and ours) will be destroyed. No pressure there then – the poor fawn is working overtime to erase everyone’s memories of his Queen in Katherine’s body. You all still with me?

There are several things that I really loved about this book. The writing style for one always makes me marvel at how people  can be so clever. I almost doubt my own cleverness because there is no way I could come up with a concept so clever. Ness writes with passion and depth. His descriptions, the scene where Adam is sexually assaulted by his boss, is so good you feel like you are sitting in that cramped office with them. I felt the shame of both of them, and the anger. The story is engaging, I liked Adam and Angela and Linus, wasn’t too keen on Enzo and Marty but I can understand them. Adam’s parents are struggling with their faith versus the love for their son and I can see, as a parent, how this would be difficult. I wanted it all to work out in the end but I guess life isn’t as neat as all that. I also love the concept of all the action taking place on one day, so many changes occur in Adam’s life that the supernatural element could be the only explanation.

Here is my problem. According my goodreads profile I have read nearly 1000 books. I have been reading for 40 years (give or take my childhood years!) and I have travelled all over the world, time travelled and gone in to the future in fiction. I have experienced things  through many fictional characters and have loved and laughed,  hated and felt angry, violent and heart broken. All of these emotions are brought on by the written word. I love reading and it is my job and my passion to make as many people as possible feel the same way that I do about it. I have never told a student not to read a book when they have asked me. I have recommended books that are controversial, touch subjects they may not understand or agree with but, they all make you think about what it might be like to live in another person’s skin.

I finished this book last week and have really struggled with how to review it. This book is written for the teen market or YA audience. This is classified as 11 to 18 years old. This market has blown up over the last few years and is amazing. The wealth of subjects that it writes about make it easier for young people to experience and accept things that they have not experienced yet, and I think this is a great thing.  There may be things that they cannot talk about with anyone else but they can read about and not feel so alone in the world. Which is why I think that YA authors have an obligation to educate as well as produce great fiction – no mean feat. The sex scenes in this book are some of the most graphic I have ever read. The description of Linus and Adam in bed together are both unnecessary and so descriptive that it made me uncomfortable, and I am no prude. I have never read another YA book where any sexual descriptions, straight, gay or bi are so intimate. I’m not sure why Ness decided to make them so, or why his publisher then decided to go ahead with them. There is a fine line between educating and shocking and I think this one crosses it.

That’s just a personal opinion and you may go on and love it and think I’m a silly old lady but, I want you to know what to expect and, as an educator (!) I need to do that. I loved this book but I struggled with it. You decide what you think.

 

This Careless Life – Rachel McIntyre

If you  saw an advert asking if you wanted to be famous, would you do it? This is the premise of this interesting book about four friends who sign up for a reality type TV show over their summer holidays before they go off to university. The main driver of the project is Olivia Dawson-Hill, or Liv to her friends Hetty, Jez and Duffy. Well I say friends, they don’t seem very friendly to me, except Liv and Hetty  and even they don’t seem too keen on each other!

They have all just left their posh boarding school and are waiting for their A level results before heading off to separate lives. Liv is not confident about hers but its ok because a. her parents are mega rich and b. she has her own blog Miss Olivia Loves and she is going to be famous anyway. This programme will just make that happen a bit quicker. She lives in a big house in an annex that her parents have built for her which is super swanky and which she has designed herself. This is where all the action takes place.

Cass arrives to make some audition tapes of the four from the production company Pretty Vacant Productions. The reality programme they are auditioning for is called This Careless Life. I love the cleverness of these two names, and the fact that none of the kids get it! Liv is not expecting Cass, she is expecting a guy called Tony but, she has a business card and it all seems legit so they get started. All of them have to sign a disclaimer saying that they are allowed to take part and that none of the footage used in the audition tapes will be used on TV (if they make it that far). They also have to turn their phones off and make sure that none of the auditions are recorded. This is important for later. Liv goes first. They all watch her audition tape and then Cass starts asking some uncomfortable questions. She seems to have knowledge about each one of them which no one else seems to be know. All of the kids are connected to their local country club and all have a big secret to hide.

Hetty is obsessed with her boyfriend Duncan (control freak!) who works for her mum, a local far right councillor. Jez is trying to get publicity for a charity that he has set up, Duffy is a bit of a playboy who seems to think that all women should fall at his feet. All of them have done something that they think  no one else knows about. All of them are wrong.

The clever thing about this book is that you are never quite sure whether these things happened or not and what the connection is. It all becomes clear at the end but, although you get to know the characters, you don’t really invest too much in them. They are all a bit shallow and a little bit morally dodgy but, can you agree that they made the decisions they make for the right reasons or to protect themselves?

There a little bit of supernaturalness going on as well (is that even a word? it is now!) and I’m not sure it’s strictly necessary, although it does add to the mystery and explain a couple of twists at the end. I would have liked Cass’ character to have been explored a bit more but I can see that that could turn into another book on it’s own so maybe the author has kept that story in reserve.  Quite a short read but a good plot and a page turner that will keep you guessing until the end. Can they all redeem themselves and come out the other side as better people, or they all just living a careless life, exploiting people along the way? You’ll have to read it to find out!

The Thousandth Floor – Katharine McGee

thousandth

This is the first in a series. The book is set in New York in 2118. Not sure what has happened to the world but the main characters all live in a tower block that is, you’ve guessed it, 1000 floors high! The richer you are, the higher up the block you live. The character that we first meet, Avery Fuller, lives with her parents and her adopted brother, Atlas, who has disappeared. The family are obviously mega rich and super powerful. Avery and her family live in a penthouse on the 1000th floor.

The book is written from five different POVs. Avery, Lena, Eris, Watt and Rylin. One of these is a boy…. Rylin lives down on the lower levels with her sister. Her mum is dead and she is  trying to make ends meet. She goes to work at a party hosted by another rich kid with a trust fund and she ends up involved in a murky world involving her current boyfriend and the rich boy she is falling in love with. Avery and Atlas have a secret that will blow all their world’s apart and there is a lot of unrequited love and drug usage going on. Watt is a super hacker and has created a computer that he has placed inside his head. This is highly illegal but he uses it to make money by spying on people and selling information. In a world where everyone does everything online this is a powerful tool, but could land him in prison for the rest of his life. He lives quite far  down the block as well.

At the beginning of the book we learn that one of the main characters will fall from the top of the tower to their death. The build up and who it might be will keep you guessing all the way through and this is a clever plot device. It makes you want to read on. All of the characters are pretty shallow and the only one who seems to value their life (eventually) is Eris. Leda is hiding an addiction and a spell in rehab, Rylin is trying to protect a boy she realises she n longer knows and Watt gets in way too deep when he discovers that he is falling for the very person he shouldn’t. Even though there is much made of the fact that Leda, Avery and Eris are all such great friends, when it all comes down to it, they leave each other to save themselves. It is also an interesting exploration of friendship amongst kids who think they have everything, but at the end of the day having everything doesn’t always make you happy.

All of them have secrets and some of them are more desperate to hide them then others. I liked the twist with Eris and Lena and it’s all nicely set up for a sequel. A good futuristic book that will make you want to go and read the next one, but if you like a fantasy book with a bit more action and adventure then this probably won’t float your boat.

There are also a few bits in there which are morally questionable and may make you think which of the main characters (if any) you actually like by the end of the  book! I will go on and read the next one, but it might take me a while to get to it. I didn’t invest too emotionally with any of them as they all have dislikable traits. Maybe we aren’t meant to…. Am interested to see where the author takes them all next though.