Review: A Street Cat Named Bob

Review: A Street Cat Named BobA Street Cat Named Bob: How One Man and His Cat Found Hope on the Streets by James Bowen
Published by Hodder & Stoughton on March 1st 2012
Genres: Contemporary, Social Issues
Pages: 279
Format: Paperback
Source: Borrowed
Goodreads

The moving, uplifting true story of an unlikely friendship between a man on the streets and the ginger cat who adopts him and helps him heal his life.

In 2017, I joined a book club.  It’s a pretty tiny club, but just like all book clubs, the whole idea is that we take turns choosing books, read them and then discuss them.  A Street Cat Named Bob was our book club choice for January, and although not something I would normally pick up, I decided to give it a chance.

James Bowen is a recovering drug addict who is trying to get his life together when he comes across Bob, an injured and apparently stray cat.  He takes Bob in for a little while while his injuries heal, but to his surprise, Bob seems to have no desire to leave, and soon the two are pretty much inseparable.

To be honest, I don’t feel like there’s a huge amount I can say about A Street Cat Named Bob.  I got pretty much exactly what I expected.  The story is touching, and life-affirming, and if you’re an animal-lover, it’s impossible not to be charmed by Bob.  It’s great to see James’ perspective of life on the streets and trying to get things back on track, as well as the hurdles he has to overcome in order to do so.  The writing isn’t great, but it didn’t bother me to the same extent as a lot of other reviewers.  It’s a very quick, simple read that only took me a couple of hours, and while I enjoyed it, there were definitely moments that grated.  A lot of Ellie’s review resonated with me.  I felt like James was trying really hard throughout the book to break prejudices and assumptions about homeless people, Big Issue sellers and those recovering from drug problems, and that he made quite a few comments determined to prove his own good nature, but then had his own prejudices and judgements against others.  For example…

By far the most annoying people to work the streets around me, however, were the bucket rattlers: the charity workers who would turn up with large plastic buckets collecting for the latest cause.  Again, I sympathised with a lot of the things for which they were trying to raise money […] they were all great worthwhile charities. But if the stories I had heard about how much of the money disappeared into the pocket of some of these bucket shakers were true, I didn’t have much sympathy.

In all honesty, it’s a lovely, touching, uplifting story, and of course all the Bob moments are great, but I wonder if perhaps I would have enjoyed the film more.

One StarOne Star

Review: This Is Where It Ends

Review: This Is Where It EndsThis Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on January 5th 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 292
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads

10:00 a.m. The principal of Opportunity, Alabama's high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

10:02 a.m. The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

10:03 The auditorium doors won't open.

10:05 Someone starts shooting.
Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student's calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.

Plot: ★★★
Characters: ★★
Addictiveness: ★★★★

When I read it…

I read this book from start to finish on January 5th 2016.

What I’d heard before I read it:

Mixed things: mostly I’d heard a lot of raving and positive reviews, but I had also heard a few negative reviews, mostly regarding the shooter’s motivations.

What worked for me:

  • The pace: I found this fast-moving, gripping and easy to get engrossed in
  • The links between characters: I’m a big fan of storylines that tie in with other characters, such as often appears in Liane Moriarty and Nora Roberts’ books, so I enjoyed seeing the way the characters interlinked.
  • The diversity: I loved that there was lots of diversity, and that I didn’t feel like the book was defined by it.  It’s a story that feels like it just happens to feature LGBT teens, teens from different backgrounds etc, because that’s what reflects real life.  It was diverse without making a big deal of it and that was something I really loved!

What didn’t quite work for me:

  • The depth/length: the fact that This Is Where It Ends is so short means it can keep up the constant fast pace, but for me, I wouldn’t have minded having a longer story if it meant we got to delve into some of the backstories a bit further.  I liked what we got to see but I definitely wouldn’t have minded seeing more.
  • The lack of grey: there were clear ‘bad’ guys and ‘good’ guys in this, which is something I didn’t like. With such a realistic and timely issue, with a cast that aims to reflect real world diversity, the fact that there wasn’t more ambiguity or blurring of the lines between good and bad disappointed me.  (“The world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters”!)
  • The ‘issues’: while I loved that the diversity felt natural and not like marketing, some of the issues felt like they’d been squeezed in.  There were some serious issues, but I felt like they weren’t handled with the gravity they deserved.

Overall thoughts:

This Is Where It Ends is not actually the first story about school shootings I’ve read and it’s difficult not to compare.  While I really enjoyed This Is Where It Ends, it unfortunately didn’t live up to either Jodi Picoult’s 19 minutes – which I felt gave a much better portrayal of the shooter and motivations, or Heather Gudenkauf’s One Breath Away, which I felt brilliantly showed the impact outside the school as well as within.  For me, I’d have loved This Is Where it Ends to be longer – I’d have loved to see more of Fareed in particular, or more of the motivation behind the shooting, or more of the impact some of the issues the characters were facing.  All in all, it was gripping, but it didn’t have the emotional impact I was expecting.

Other Reviews of This Is Where It Ends: A World Between Folded Pages | Curiosity Killed the Bookworm | Death, Books & Tea

One StarOne StarOne Star

Panic (Lauren Oliver)

Panic (Lauren Oliver)Panic by Lauren Oliver
Published by HarperCollins on 04-03-2014
Genres: Friendship, Girls & Women, Love & Romance, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 416
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
Amazon
Goodreads

Panic began as so many things do in Carp, a dead-end town of 12,000 people in the middle of nowhere: because it was summer, and there was nothing else to do.

Heather never thought she would compete in Panic, a legendary game played by graduating seniors, where the stakes are high and the payoff is even higher. She’d never thought of herself as fearless, the kind of person who would fight to stand out. But when she finds something, and someone, to fight for, she will discover that she is braver than she ever thought.

Dodge has never been afraid of Panic. His secret will fuel him, and get him all the way through the game, he’s sure of it. But what he doesn't know is that he’s not the only one with a secret. Everyone has something to play for.

For Heather and Dodge, the game will bring new alliances, unexpected revelations, and the possibility of first love for each of them—and the knowledge that sometimes the very things we fear are those we need the most.

Plot: ★★★★
Characters: ★★★★
Readability: ★★★★★

Panic is one of those books that seems to have confused people’s expectations. I’m not sure whether it’s because people had preconceptions of Lauren Oliver, or whether the blurb was too vague, or whether it was a bit like a game of chinese whispers, but I saw so many people who tagged/referred to Panic as dystopian.

Panic is most definitely not dystopian. It’s a contemporary story of a group of teenagers who push themselves to their limits (and beyond) to try and win a jackpot that would change their lives forever.

For Dodge, Panic has always been on the cards. He has a secret, and Panic is a key part of that secret, and coping with it. For Heather, Panic is a spur of the moment decision, fuelled by anger, unhappiness, and a desire to prove herself. For Nat, Panic is about the money. For Bishop, Panic is a risk, one he wishes his friends wouldn’t get themselves into. The teenagers each have their own motivations, but all four are drawn into a world of secrets, drama, and danger.

Panic is of course, about the game, and once the game began, I was hooked. I wanted to know what the next challenge would be, who would go through, who would drop out, and above all, who would win. The game keeps you hooked: it’s the dramatic, high intensity plot-line that has you flicking through pages feverishly, up until 2am dying to know what happens next. Despite that, it’s definitely not all the book is about, and Panic is a truly multi-layered story.

As well as the game itself, there’s also romance, which I enjoyed. Perhaps most brilliant is the way Lauren Oliver has written the characters, the insight into their personalities as they cope with the psychological toll of the game, and the way they grow throughout the story. Whether you like the characters or hate them, I found all four to be three-dimensional, and completely realistic.

I found I had to suspend my disbelief a few times in the story, because in a tiny dead-end town like Carp, where everyone knows everyone’s business, there were an awful lot of secrets. The banned game of Panic is not particularly discreetly played, there are relationships and associations people know nothing about, and a fair amount of law-breaking. In that sense, Panic felt a bit unbelievable, but once I suspended my disbelief, I enjoyed it.

My only real issue with Panic was the ending, which I was slightly disappointed by. Obviously I can’t say much about that without spoilers, so all I’ll say is that I felt it was a little too neat for me. If you’re curious, there’s a spoiler-laden paragraph further down the page!

Buy it? This is one that’s worth buying for me (but probably on a deal).
In a nutshell: Great characters, and a quick, gripping read, but this didn’t live up to Delirium.

Other Reviews of Panic: Miss Page-Turner’s City of Books | Little Birdie Books | It was Lovely Reading You

SPOILER ALERT

I have a few thoughts on the ending that I wanted to share, so don’t read on if you haven’t read the book yet!

Continue reading

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always (Elissa Janine Hoole)

Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always (Elissa Janine Hoole)Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always by Elissa Janine Hoole
Published by Flux on 08-11-2013
Genres: Bullying, General, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 349
Format: ebook
Source: NetGalley
Amazon
Goodreads

Cassandra fears rocking the family boat. Instead, she sinks it. Assigned by her English teacher to write a poem that reveals her true self, Cassandra Randall is stuck. Her family's religion is so overbearing, she can NEVER write about who she truly is. So Cass does what any self-respecting high school girl would do: she secretly begins writing a tarot-inspired advice blog. When Drew Godfrey, an awkward outcast with unwashed hair, writes to her, the situation spirals into what the school calls "a cyberbullying crisis" and what the church calls "sorcery." Cass wants to be the kind of person who sticks up for the persecuted, who protects the victims the way she tries to protect her brother from the homophobes in her church. But what if she's just another bully? What will it take for her to step up and tell the truth?

Plot: ★★★
Characters: ★★
Readability: ★★

Cass Randall doesn’t know who she is, or where she fits in and she is absolutely baffled by an assignment in which she has to write poem celebrating her true self.

I found it really hard to write a review about Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always because I had some quite strong, personal opinions about it.  I felt like it had great potential, and the blurb sounded amazing, but unfortunately the execution just didn’t work for me.

Firstly, Cass is not particularly like-able.  The author herself has talked about that, and how that’s okay, because she hopes that Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always is a story of redemption. (And also because at the end of the day, sometimes we aren’t particularly likeable, especially at seventeen).  I get that logic, I really do.  I think about myself as a teenager, and I’d like to think I’ve come a long way from there, because it’s true that teenagers sometimes make stupid choices but eventually (we hope) they grow up.  Unfortunately, while I understood the logic, Cass’ growth in Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always didn’t work for me, perhaps because I felt like she got further away from herself as the story went on.  It felt like we started with a quietly rebellious teenager, who grew increasingly easy to dislike, before she had a (somewhat sudden) change of heart.  While I can see what Hoole was trying to do in terms of Cass’ character growth, and why, it just didn’t work for me.

The plot for Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always was so interesting.  You knew it couldn’t possibly end well, and yet I still loved reading about Cass’ rebellion away from her family with the Tarot cards, the increasing popularity of her blog, and the anonymous comments that grow increasingly mean.

I really liked the format of the novel.  The first thing that sets off Cass’ identity crisis is when she tries to fill in one of those quizzes (you know, like you had on myspace a few years ago!).  She can’t really think of anything that’s hers – everyone and everything she likes, is someone else’s ‘thing’.  She likes the music her friends like, rather than the music she likes; she doesn’t even really know what it is that she likes.  Each chapter of the book starts with one of the questions from that survey, which is a really nice touch, because it lets you see what it was that Cass couldn’t figure out about herself, in a natural feeling way.

Thinking about that survey, I think I may have identified why I couldn’t connect with Cass.  Obviously, one of the reasons was as I’ve outlined above, that she becomes less likeable as the story goes on; more bitchy, more like a bully, etc.  I think another part of the problem though, may be that she’s sort of an anti-geek – because she doesn’t know what she likes, she isn’t really excited or enthusiastic about anything.  As a very definite geek, I found it hard to connect with Cass, because I don’t see how anyone (geek or otherwise) could have no passions at all; for books, music, films, games, animals, anything!

As the book goes on it becomes clear that the one thing Cass is devoted to is her brother, and I loved seeing the two of them interact.  Cass’ love for her brother is her most redeeming quality and once we start seeing that passion it became slightly easier to connect with her.  She worries for him and desperately tries to protect him, even when it becomes clear that Eric wants to stand up and face his problems.  Whilst I didn’t necessarily feel like Cass’ personal growth was gradual enough, Cass and Eric’s relationship grows in a lovely believable way throughout the story.

I much preferred the supporting characters in Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always.  Cass’ brother Eric, her English teacher, her crush, her best friend and even Drew, the girl who’s so mercilessly cyber-bullied, are much more likeable than Cass, and I really enjoyed reading about them.

While I enjoyed the plot there are so many issues tackled in this book it began to feel cluttered.  Throughout the course of the book we have the religious family and the cyber-bullying mentioned in the blurb, but we also have homophobia and a suicide attempt.  I feel like tackling a lot of issues is really tricky to get done right, and in this case I feel like it would have been better with a few less issues.

 Buy it? This is a library borrow for me, but it wouldn’t be top of my request list.
In a nutshell: This was an okay read, but ultimately didn’t live up to my hopes.

Other Reviews of Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always: Much Loved Books | Alexa Loves Books | Dandelion Dreams

One StarOne Star

The Truth about You and Me (Amanda Grace)

The Truth about You and Me (Amanda Grace)The Truth about You and Me by Amanda Grace
Published by Flux on 01-09-2013
Genres: Adolescence, Dating & Sex, Love & Romance, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 229
Format: ebook
Source: NetGalley
Amazon
Goodreads

Smart girls aren't supposed to do stupid things.

Madelyn Hawkins is super smart. At sixteen, she's so gifted that she can attend college through a special program at her high school. On her first day, she meets Bennett. He's cute, funny, and kind. He understands Madelyn and what she's endured - and missed out on - in order to excel academically and please her parents. Now, for the first time in her life, she's falling in love.

There's only one problem. Bennett is Madelyn's college professor, and he thinks she's eighteen - because she hasn't told him the truth.

The story of their forbidden romance is told in letters that Madelyn writes to Bennett - both a heart-searing ode to their ill-fated love and an apology

Plot: ★★★
Characters: ★★
Readability: ★★

Maddie Hawkins is a 16 year old in a fast track programme, attending some college classes early. Whilst there she meets, and falls in love with, Bennett…her teacher. Afraid of owning up to the fact she’s only 16, she deliberately avoids mentioning her age to Bennett, who nonetheless says they have to wait until he’s no longer her teacher, regardless of the fact he believes she’s of age.

The Truth About You and Me had the misfortune to be read very soon after I first read Drowning Instinct.  I say unfortunately, because I really liked Drowning Instinct so I had really high hopes for The Truth About You and Me.  While I didn’t dislike The Truth About You and Me, it didn’t live up to my hopes, and I found it virtually impossible not to draw comparisons between it and Drowning Instinct, which I much preferred.

The Truth About You and Me is written in the format of letters from Maddie to Bennett, in second person, so it reads as if you are Bennett.  It’s an unusual format, and I really liked the novelty at first.  Unfortunately, once the novelty began to wear off, the format didn’t really work for me.   The past-tense letter format made it a little more difficult to get really caught up in the story, because it’s hard to feel any urgency.  There’s an awful lot of telling rather than showing, which makes it hard to get lost in the story.  The second person format also began to feel a little awkward at times, because Maddie’s telling Bennett about events he would have known about (having been there).

Maddie was ultimately a frustrating character.  She’s pushed academically by her parents, and we’re told often how smart she is.  Unfortunately, that just didn’t come across to me.  She falls in love with Bennett, and from there it’s hard to see her as smart at all.  She becomes quite stereotypical and vapid, and despite the fact she claims to love Bennett, she knowingly puts his career at risk by hiding her age.  Bennett was nice enough, and I liked the way it ended, although I felt the conclusion was written in such a way as to be skewed against Bennett.

Although I found the characters and the format lacking, I did enjoy the plot, and Amanda Grace’s writing is beautiful.  I easily finished The Truth About You and Me in a day.  It wasn’t really that I disliked The Truth About You and Me so much as that I just didn’t overly like it.  It was an okay read, and I’m not sorry I read it, but it isn’t one I’m likely to re-read or purchase.

 Buy it? This is a library borrow for me.
In a nutshell: This was okay, but ultimately disappointing.

Other Reviews of The Truth About You and Me: Little Book Star | WinterHaven Books | Lose Time Reading

One StarOne Star