Apple and Rain (Sarah Crossan)

Apple and Rain (Sarah Crossan)Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan
Published by A&C Black on 14-08-2014
Pages: 336
Source: NetGalley, Purchased
Goodreads

When Apple's mother returns after eleven years away, Apple feels whole again. But just like the stormy Christmas Eve when she left, her mother's homecoming is bittersweet. It's only when Apple meets someone more lost than she is that she begins to see things as they really are.

A story about sad endings.
A story about happy beginnings.
A story to make you realise who is special.

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

The storyApple has spent the last eleven years wishing for her mother.  Wandering why she left and why she never came back, all Apple wants is for her mum to come home.  She loves living with her nan, but she’s also beginning to chafe at being picked up from school and generally not being let out of sight.  She also wishes she had her mum to just talk to about things she couldn’t discuss with her nan, things like boys, petty arguments at school and make up.  When Apple’s mum does show up out of the blue though, it isn’t exactly the seamless family reunion Apple expected, and she has to face up to the reality of a mother she’s only ever imagined until now.

I found the story a bit predictable but very enjoyable and VERY hard to put down! Between how quick the story moves, the very short chapters and the easy-to-get-lost-in voice of Apple, I told myself ‘just one more chapter’ for far too long when reading it.  The fact that the story was a little predictable didn’t particularly bother me, because it’s just as much about the journey and the character development as it is about the end result.  In that respect, and with Apple’s clear voice, it reminded me a little of something like Thirteen Reasons Why.

Apple tries to build a relationship with her mother as she fears her relationship with her best friend is disintegrating, she goes through so many upheavals, and then on top of all that she’s also given a new English teacher, who tries to engage the class with poetry.  The poetry in Apple and Rain is used really well, and it really helps to see exactly how Apple feels – although her voice is very clear, she’s not always upfront with herself about how she feels, so the poetry gives you that little bit of insight beneath the mask.

The characters

I don’t want to say too much about the characters because learning about them was one of the highlights of the story for me and I don’t want to take that away if you haven’t read it yet!  So just a few quick thoughts from me on each of them.

Apple is great – although she’s only 13 she comes across as more mature.  At the start of the story Apple definitely comes across as younger and more naive – she idolises her mother, she worries about Nana making her look uncool etc but she grows brilliantly throughout the book.  Sure she makes mistakes, but what teenager human doesn’t?!

Rain and Del are both brilliant characters.  I couldn’t decide on an overall favourite character but it’d definitely be one of these two!

Apple’s mother Annie is really well developed.  I loved the fact that she was shown as making mistakes and having flaws without being the villain.  Unfortunately for me this was overshadowed a little by Apple’s issues with her dad, who she seemed determined to see as the bad guy and which I found a little frustrating.

 

 

final thoughtsApple and Rain was a quick, cute, enjoyable read, but it wasn’t the emotional rollercoaster I was expecting.  It can be a little bleak at times, but it’s fundamentally a heart-warming story about families, relationships, and growing up.  I’ve seen so many great reviews for Apple and Rain, and I really enjoyed it, but it wasn’t as deeply emotional as I was expecting, so I liked it but wasn’t overwhelmed unfortunately.

 

Buy it? This is one I’d borrow or pick up on a deal.
In a nutshell: All in all a good read, but didn’t have the impact I was expecting.

 

Other Reviews of Apple and Rain: Fluttering Butterflies | YA Midnight Reads | Reading Lark

One StarOne StarOne Star

Saving June (Hannah Harrington)

Saving June (Hannah Harrington)Saving June by Hannah Harrington
Published by Mira Books Limited on 01-06-2012
Genres: Contemporary, Love & Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 322
Format: ebook
Source: NetGalley
Amazon
Goodreads

‘If she’d waited less than two weeks, she’d be June who died in June. But I guess my sister didn’t consider that.’

Harper Scott’s older sister has always been the perfect one — so when June takes her own life a week before her high school graduation, sixteen-year-old Harper is devastated. Everyone’s sorry, but no one can explain why.

When her divorcing parents decide to split her sister’s ashes into his-and-her urns, Harper takes matters into her own hands. She’ll steal the ashes and drive cross-country with her best friend, Laney, to the one place June always dreamed of going — California.

Enter Jake Tolan. He’s a boy with a bad attitude, a classic-rock obsession and nothing in common with Harper’s sister. But Jake had a connection with June, and when he insists on joining them, Harper’s just desperate enough to let him. With his alternately charming and infuriating demeanour and his belief that music can see you through anything, he might be exactly what she needs.

Except June wasn’t the only one hiding something. Jake’s keeping a secret that has the power to turn Harper’s life upside down — again.

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

I really wanted – and expected – to love Saving June, but unfortunately, I just didn’t.  I started my review for Saving June back when I read the book in January 2013, but I couldn’t really pinpoint why I didn’t love it, so I left the review in my drafts to refine it later.  Over a year later I literally remember only the barest details of the book (good job I had that draft!) which sorta sums up Saving June for me.

I did really enjoy Saving June when I read it, and one of my favourite things about it was the writing style.  Harrington’s writing style is so easy to get lost in, and Harper’s voice comes through so clearly, which makes it easy to empathise with her from the very first page. Harper’s grief at the start is so emotive, but her conflicted feelings, as well as her anger and her frustration, also come across really well, which makes her feel so much more real – how often do you just feel happy or sad, without also feeling excited, frustrated, angry, nervous, worried or anything else? Never!

I also absolutely loved the friendship between Laney and Harper.  The two have plenty of sarcastic banter, but they also stand by each other.  Jake was a likeable enough character, but I’ll admit that his music obsession felt a little frustrating at times.  I did enjoy his and Harper’s relationship too, though my feelings towards him were a little less clear after the ending!

All in all, I enjoyed Saving June, but for me, only the writing style really stood out, and it wasn’t as powerful as I expected it to be – although there were emotional parts, the book didn’t stay with me the way I would have expected.  Having said that, a lot of bloggers (and I mean a lot!) absolutely loved it, and I did enjoy it, so maybe this was just a case of the wrong book at the wrong time for me.

Buy it? This is a library borrow for me.
In a nutshell: Beautiful writing, and I enjoyed this, but ultimately it wasn’t as powerful as I’d expected.

Other Reviews of Saving June: A Good Addiction | Young Adult Book Haven | Lauren Reads YA

One 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

Early Review: Heartbeat (Elizabeth Scott)

Heartbeat by Elizabeth Scott
Published by Harlequin Books on 28-01-2014
Genres: Love & Romance, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 304
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Amazon
Goodreads

Life. Death. And...Love?

Emma would give anything to talk to her mother one last time. Tell her about her slipping grades, her anger with her stepfather, and the boy with the bad reputation who might be the only one Emma can be herself with.

But Emma can't tell her mother anything. Because her mother is brain-dead and being kept alive by machines for the baby growing inside her.

Meeting bad-boy Caleb Harrison wouldn't have interested Old Emma. But New Emma-the one who exists in a fog of grief, who no longer cares about school, whose only social outlet is her best friend Olivia-New Emma is startled by the connection she and Caleb forge.

Feeling her own heart beat again wakes Emma from the grief that has grayed her existence. Is there hope for life after death-and maybe, for love?

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

Heartbeat was my first Elizabeth Scott novel, and although a lot of people loved it, it wasn’t really for me.  Emma, the main character, is trying to cope with her mother’s sudden death, a reality made even more difficult by the fact that she has to see her mother every day.  Emma’s mother Lisa was pregnant when she died, and Emma’s stepfather, Dan, elected to keep her on life support in the hope than the baby can live.

Ethically, morally and legally this is a really interesting storyline.  In the past, women in Texas have been kept on life-support for exactly this reason. Unfortunately, while the plot makes for a great debate, the novel itself felt slow, frustrating and in some ways, unbelievable.

Emma is grieving for her mother, and the way her grief is manifesting is through anger.  While I know everyone deals with grief in different ways, Emma’s anger was relentless, and it didn’t make much sense to me.  She’s furious that she wasn’t consulted on the decision, which makes sense, but she’s also furious about the decision itself.  She’s angry at Dan, she’s angry at herself, but most of all she’s angry at the baby.

It’s clear that Emma’s mother desperately wanted a baby, and was terrified of losing it, but Emma has herself convinced her mother never wanted a baby, that Dan selfishly ‘forced’ her to get pregnant.  Emma seems to think her mother got pregnant just to please Dan.  She’s also convinced her mother suspected getting pregnant would kill her.  It felt a bit odd to me that Emma is so angry at everyone, but isn’t even a tiny bit angry at her mother.  She thinks her mother is so weak-willed and easily swayed that she would voluntarily get herself pregnant (despite the risks she’s well aware of) just to please her new husband – that doesn’t sound to me like Emma particularly respects her mother.

I also just couldn’t understand the idea that Emma would have wanted the baby to die.  Even with her anger, and the fact she felt the baby had killed her mother, it just didn’t feel believable.  We’ve been told over and over that Emma was always smart, but her desire to switch the baby off felt completely irrational.  It’s almost a little like seeing a car crash caused by a passenger having a fit/a baby crying/a kid yelling distracting the driver, and saying ‘Well they didn’t mean to but it’s their fault the driver died so we won’t bother pulling them out of the burning car’.

Emma goes round in circles with Dan and her thoughts about her mother. There were so many times during Heartbeat where it felt like she’d had a breakthrough and was going to realise that her mother wanted the baby all along or that Dan was trying to salvage something beautiful from a horrible situation, but then didn’t.  Logically I know that makes sense – I know Emma was grieving, that she wasn’t always thinking clearly, that she was blinded by anger and not ready to face the fact she had things so wrong.  The problem is, while logically I understood why she kept going around in circles, that didn’t make it any easier to read and Heartbeat just felt repetitive.  When Emma did finally begin to see sense, it felt rushed – there was nothing different to suggest she would take this particular realisation to heart whilst she’d ignored every other one so far.

The enjoyable part of Heartbeat for me, was the supporting characters.  I loved Olivia, Dan and Caleb.  Dan is desperately trying to do what he thinks his wife would have wanted, but Emma makes it so hard for him.  We see how excited he was to have the baby and how much he loved Emma and her mother.  He thinks he’s doing the right thing, but it’s so hard a decision, and it’s one he’s had to make completely on his own.  Emma makes it beyond difficult for him, and yet he’s trying to supportively deal with her anger just as much as his own grief.  Dan must be in a truly awful situation, and Emma is quick to portray him as heartless whenever he feels a moment’s hope for the baby.

Olivia was nice enough, and was trying to be supportive for Emma, whilst her own life continues on as normal.  Caleb was really sweet, and I liked him.  The romance was a welcome reprieve from Emma’s circular thoughts.   Although it did feel a little forced for two people who’ve not even really acknowledged each other to be brought together by grief, I actually quite liked the romance.  I liked the idea that before Emma would never have given Caleb a second glance, but when she finally sees he’s grieving too, they begin to connect.  Yes, it does feel a little convenient, but it’s also true that you can see someone every day without ever really knowing them.

This review from English Teachers’ Desk Reference talks about how books that are about grief, can also be about more than just grief, and I think she’s exactly right.  I do think it’s possible to have a book about grief that also has funny moments, hopeful moments, lustful moments…moments about something (anything) other than grief, but Heartbeat didn’t really manage that in my opinion.   I could have got past disliking Emma’s character, if there was something else to keep me hooked.  Unfortunately, while I was keen to know what would happen in the end regarding Lisa and the baby, we spent so much time just listening to Emma’s thoughts it felt almost like nothing happened throughout the story.  I think it’d make a great book club pick but all in all, Heartbeat wasn’t really for me.

Buy it? For me, Heartbeat was just okay, and it’s probably one I’d borrow from the library.
In a nutshell:A really interesting premise but an unlikeable main character and a slow feel meant it didn’t really work for me.


Other Reviews of Heartbeat:
A Lot like Dreaming | The Book Babe’s Reads | Anna Reads

One StarOne Star