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

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Prisoner of Night and Fog (Anne Blankman)

Prisoner of Night and Fog (Anne Blankman)Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman
Series: Prisoner of Night and Fog #1
Published by Headline Book Publishing on 22-04-2014
Pages: 384
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
Amazon
Goodreads

In 1930s Munich, danger lurks behind dark corners, and secrets are buried deep within the city. But Gretchen Müller, who grew up in the National Socialist Party under the wing of her "uncle" Dolf, has been shielded from that side of society ever since her father traded his life for Dolf's, and Gretchen is his favorite, his pet.

Uncle Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler.  And Gretchen follows his every command.

Until she meets a fearless and handsome young Jewish reporter named Daniel Cohen. Gretchen should despise Daniel, yet she can't stop herself from listening to his story: that her father, the adored Nazi martyr, was actually murdered by an unknown comrade. She also can't help the fierce attraction brewing between them, despite everything she's been taught to believe about Jews.

As Gretchen investigates the very people she's always considered friends, she must decide where her loyalties lie. Will she choose the safety of her former life as a Nazi darling, or will she dare to dig up the truth—even if it could get her and Daniel killed?

From debut author Anne Blankman comes this harrowing and evocative story about an ordinary girl faced with the extraordinary decision to give up everything she's ever believed . . . and to trust her own heart instead.

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

I was really anxious about starting Prisoner of Night and Fog because I’m still working my way out of a reading slump caused, in part, by reading The Book Thief at a time when I wasn’t feeling it.  While I’ve loved a few historical fiction novels (most notably Conn Iggulden’s Conqueror series) I’m not a huge fan of the genre, and so I was worried Prisoner of Night and Fog would send me spiralling back down into my slump.  To be honest though, I think it’s helped boost me back out!  Prisoner of Night and Fog hooked me from the very first page, and I couldn’t put it down – something that hasn’t happened with a book in weeks!

 

The storyGretchen Muller lives in 1930s Munich, the daughter of a martyr who died to save her Uncle Dolf – Adolf Hitler.  She worships her Uncle Dolf, the charismatic man with the voice like chocolate, the man who always looks out for her and the one adult she knows she can trust.  When a Jewish reporter seeks her out, telling her that her father was in fact murdered, Gretchen is still shaken up from watching a brutal beating of a Jew, and just about unsure enough to listen to what he has to say.  From that moment on, Gretchen begins to see things in a different light and to wonder about the views of a man she has always loved and followed.

Now first of all, I have to say I’m not a huge history buff, and I don’t speak a word of German, so in terms of technical accuracy, I couldn’t comment.  What I can say is that I loved the characters and the plot, and the writing took a story that could have been dark and depressing to twisted but gripping.

There are a lot of different threads to this book, but it never felt cluttered.  Obviously, the story follows Adolf Hitler, and Gretchen’s slow doubt of his manifesto.  As well as that, there’s a budding romance, the mystery surrounding the death of Gretchen’s father and the difficult relationships Gretchen faces at home. The threads flowed seamlessly throughout the book, and there was no one thread that dominated – I was curious about them all!  My only complaint about Prisoner of Night and Fog was that I felt the resolution of Gretchen’s father’s death was a bit anti-climactic.

 

The characters
There’s quite a cast of characters, and they aren’t all likeable but they are all fascinating. Gretchen Muller, our protagonist, is a feisty young girl who has been through her father’s death and a difficult home life but is fundamentally a survivor. Daniel Cohen is the dedicated young Jewish journalist, determined to root out the truth. As well as those two, we also have Gretchen’s mother, her cruel elder brother, her best friend Eva and Hitler’s niece Geli. The characters are a mixture of real historical figures and fictional, but the two blend together seamlessly.

Blankman’s portrayal of Hitler is brilliantly done. Although you know the reality, the beginning of the book manages to portray him as Uncle Dolf, the charming, devoted family friend Gretchen loves. As Gretchen slowly begins to question him, more and more of his other side is revealed, and the way his portrayal changes is fascinating. Although in this case we’re reading about a character who thinks of moving away from Hitler, the slow gradual way this is done makes it easy to imagine in reverse.

 

final thoughtsPrisoner of Night and Fog is not exactly a beach read – although the writing makes it very easy to caught up, the story is still fundamentally dark and creepy. A sense of fear, mystery, and urgency permeate the writing, and had me flicking through quickly, desperate to reach the end. Although I raced through it on first read, I can imagine re-reading it more slowly, really savouring the story and looking more carefully for key moments.

Buy it? This is one worth buying for me.
In a nutshell: A fantastically atmospheric, desperately gripping debut.

Other Reviews of Prisoner of Night and Fog: Dark Faerie Tales | Inspiring Insomnia | Book Blog Bake

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Echo Boy (Matt Haig)

Echo Boy (Matt Haig)Echo Boy by Matt Haig
Published by Random House on 06-02-2014
Pages: 398
Format: eARC
Amazon
Goodreads

Audrey's father taught her that to stay human in the modern world, she had to build a moat around herself; a moat of books and music, philosophy and dreams. A moat that makes Audrey different from the echoes: sophisticated, emotionless machines, built to resemble humans and to work for human masters. Daniel is an echo - but he's not like the others. He feels a connection with Audrey; a feeling Daniel knows he was never designed to have, and cannot explain. And when Audrey is placed in terrible danger, he's determined to save her. The Echo Boy is a powerful story about love, loss and what makes us truly human

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

In a world dominated by technology, and changed almost beyond recognition by global warming, echoes have almost become part of the landscape.  Enhanced flesh and bone robots built to look and sound like humans, echoes are used for anything from household chores to manual labour.  Finally, after much coaxing, Audrey’s famously anti-echo father agrees that they can have a household echo of their own, to help with Audrey’s schooling mostly.  Audrey has always been a little creeped out by echoes but she has no idea just how much her world is about to be changed by one.

I really really wanted to love Echo Boy. I raved about Matt Haig’s last novel, The Humans, to anyone who would listen and it was one of my favourite books of last year.  Even without knowing Echo Boy was written by Matt Haig though, it was a blurb I would have been unable to resist.  So, a great blurb and an author whose work I’d previously loved – sounds like a guaranteed winner right?  Well…yes and no.

I loved Daniel – an echo who isn’t quite like the other echoes.  He shouldn’t feel anything, he should just obey orders, pretty much mindlessly.  Despite that, he can’t quite defy his need to protect Audrey, to save her from the danger he knows she is in.  Although the bulk of the story is from Audrey’s point of view, we have a few chapters from Daniel’s which really help you get inside his head.

Audrey is a fifteen year old girl, facing grief and fear, forced to question everything she believes.  She’s been raised by a very publicly anti-echo father who believes that eventually there will be an echo uprising.  She is now faced with her uncle, who profits substantially from echoes and believes they are a great thing.  But for the first time, Audrey is now beginning to question her own feelings about echoes, and I loved reading about her struggle to find her own opinion.  Despite the terrible events throughout the book, Audrey is a pretty normal teenager – she makes mistakes, she takes a while to figure things out, she has mood swings and self-confidence issues.  Those little flaws made her feel three-dimensional and easy to relate to.

Whilst I really liked Audrey and Daniel separately, I wasn’t sold on the romance in Echo Boy.  It felt almost like there was no real relationship and then a sudden tipping point, and although I could believe the bond between the two, I didn’t really feel like there was any chemistry.  The two go through a lot in the book, but the relationship almost felt just like a devoted friendship.

From Rosella to the Neanderthals, from Iago to 15, I loved the supporting characters.  Matt Haig managed to create a diverse background of individuals, with their distinct personalities and flaws, each of whom had their own parts to play, rather than feeling like random extras.

The world-building is fantastic in some areas – the effects of climate change for one thing are wonderfully done.  I could perfectly picture Audrey’s stilt-house, Alex Castle’s home, the Resurrection Zone and the protestors.  Whilst those physical elements were clear, I found it difficult to exactly quantify the echoes, and a lot of my complaints are the same as those in Ellie’s review.  Are the echoes androids or cyborgs or something else altogether? As Ellie pointed out, the echoes seem almost identical to humans, but the abuse of echoes is pretty much just accepted.  I guess I’m just not quite sure why, in a world with such advanced technology, the echoes would have been created. It seems as though advanced androids could have been made to do the same job (or near enough) without causing the protests and moral debates that must have cost echo manufacturers money and generally been a PR disaster.  I’m not sure how the first echo designer would have been given ethical approval, and I would have liked to hear more about how and why the echoes were implemented. I expected more of an ethical/moral dilemma based on the blurb, and felt like this could have been explored more, but perhaps the action was focused on more because Echo Boy is YA.

I did enjoy Echo Boy, but I also think it’s a prime example of how hype can do a book a disservice.  For me it was a solid three-star read, so it wasn’t a bad book by any means, it’s just that, because I so loved The Humans, I had such high expectations that I can’t help feeling a little disappointed.  Sadly, this fell into the same category as Pawn – one of those dystopians with a great premise that just fell slightly flat.  Still well worth a read and if a sequel is announced, you can guarantee I’ll be reading it.

Buy it? This is one I’d either buy on a deal or borrow.
In a nutshell: An intriguing premise and great characters, I liked it but found it slightly disappointing.

Other Reviews of Echo Boy: Being Anne | Mab is Mab | Ashley James

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Sea of Shadows (Kelley Armstrong)

Sea of Shadows (Kelley Armstrong)Sea of Shadows by Kelley Armstrong
Series: Age of Legends #1
Published by Harper Collins on 08-04-2014
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Horror & Ghost Stories, Love & Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 416
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
Amazon
Goodreads

In the Forest of the Dead, where the empire’s worst criminals are exiled, twin sisters Moria and Ashyn are charged with a dangerous task. For they are the Keeper and the Seeker, and each year they must quiet the enraged souls of the damned.

Only this year, the souls will not be quieted.

Ambushed and separated by an ancient evil, the sisters’ journey to find each other sends them far from the only home they’ve ever known. Accompanied by a stubborn imperial guard and a dashing condemned thief, the girls cross a once-empty wasteland, now filled with reawakened monsters of legend, as they travel to warn the emperor. But a terrible secret awaits them at court—one that will alter the balance of their world forever.

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

I was really intrigued by Sea of Shadows, because the blurb sounded amazing.  I was a little apprehensive too though, because while I loved Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series to begin with, I’ve yet to make any progress with Haunted because I found it quite slow to begin with.

Moria and Ashyn have grown up knowing that their role is to quiet the souls that live in The Forest of The Dead.  After chaos erupts in their village, Moria and Ashyn are separated, and the two set off on a quest to find each other – and to figure out just what happened to their village.

The premise of Sea of Shadows was amazing, and I absolutely loved the beginning.  I loved the Forest of the Dead, learning about the twins, and the truly eerie atmosphere Armstrong created when the village is found devastated.  I found some of the middle a little slower going, but the story soon picked up again, and overall I really enjoyed the plot.

Sea of Shadows flicks back and forth between Moria and Ashyn’s point of view, but as the twins are so very different in personality, it’s easy to keep track of who’s chapter it is.  Moria is the feisty, short-tempered Keeper.  She scares the children with tales of mythical monsters – and they love her for it.  Ashyn is the quieter, more responsible Seeker.  It’s her job to go into the Forest of the Dead, locate bodies of the dead and put their spirits to rest.  I enjoyed both characters, and the two had a really interesting relationship – not too sugary-sweet, but still fundamentally loyal and good.  I also especially loved the girls’ pets.  Moria’s wildcat Daigo, Ashyn’s hound Toga, were great and the girl’s relationship with their pets made them that much more likeable.

I found Sea of Shadows a little strange genre-wise at first, because the beginning is pretty damn creepy (for me at least, though I admit to being a wimp!), whilst the rest is more of a standard fantasy-adventure.  Although I found the mix a little strange to begin with,  I enjoyed it overall – think a YA fantasy adventure with some creepy elements in the same sort of vein as the  Game of Thrones White Walkers.

My only real complaint with Sea of Shadows was the world-building, which I found a little lacking.  For a long time, I had only the vaguest sense of what Ashyn and Moria were supposed to do, or how.  Whilst some mystery can be a good thing, this went on a little too long so instead of feeling like intionally building intrigue it sometimes felt more like an accident.   While I found the world-building a little disappointing, I enjoyed the plotline and the characters, and I think the series has great premise, so I’ll definitely be checking out book two.

Buy it? This is one worth buying for me, but I’d probably buy it on a deal.
In a nutshell: Great premise and interesting characters – a very promising start to an exciting new series.

Other Reviews of Sea of Shadows: Dark Faerie Tales | My library in the making | The Diary of A Bookworm

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Fangirl (Rainbow Rowell)

Fangirl (Rainbow Rowell)Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Published by Macmillan on 10-09-2013
Genres: Contemporary, Girls & Women, New Adult, Young Adult
Pages: 448
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Amazon
Goodreads

A coming-of-age tale of fan fiction, family and first love.

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . .But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to. Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?  Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

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

Cath and Wren are twin sisters, who until now have done everything together, including write hugely successful Simon Snow fanfiction.  Now that they’re going off to college though, Wren wants them to be a little more independent.  She’s slowly become less of a Simon Snow fangirl and she wants to go and have the college experience – and that doesn’t mean sharing a room with her twin.

While Wren bonds with her new roomate Courtney, settles in to the party lifestyle, and generally loves college so far, Cath is finding it a little harder to adjust.  She’s always been the quieter twin, and she’d really rather stay in her room and write than try to figure out the chaos that is the dining hall.  Not to mention that her roomate sort of seems to think she’s a freak, and that Cath is worried about her father, who’s alone for the first time and hasn’t always had the most stable mental health.

“There are other people on the Internet. It’s awesome. You get all the benefits of ‘other people’ without the body odor and the eye contact.”

Do you know how sometimes, a book just clicks with you, and you aren’t quite 100% sure why?  When you love a book, but can’t decide on the exact thing that takes it from a four or five star read to “Keep, recommend, re-read a thousand times” status?

When I first finished Fangirl, it was one of those books, but I think I’ve decided what it is that makes Fangirl a new favourite.  It’s not the plot, the characters, the romance or the writing (all of which I loved) – it’s the combination of those things, and the way that Rowell makes everything so easy to relate to.  I texted countless quotes from this to my partner and friends.  I want to buy everyone close to me a copy and say “THIS. THIS IS HOW MY BRAIN WORKS!”. 

Rainbow Rowell has managed to capture the fears of starting college perfectly.  She manages to include the little things like worrying about proper dining room protocol and the endless train of what ifs – like what if my roomate wants her boyfriend to stay here overnight?  On top of the little things, there are the bigger concerns, like her relationship with her sister, worrying about her father, and keeping up with both her work load and her Simon Snow stories.  And of course, there’s the romance!  Rowell has perfectly encapsulated Cath’s fears, and I think they’re something everyone (even those not as anxious as Cath) can understand.

“I’d rather pour myself into a world I love and understand than try to make something up out of nothing.”

The plot line is basically a coming-of-age story, with Cath adjusting to college, worrying that Wren is maybe adjusting a bit too enthusiastically, the twins’ relationship, their new love interests, and their’ father’s instability.  What really makes the story, is the characters.  Cath and Wren are very relatable, in totally different ways.  Although there will be times when one or the other baffles you (as their behaviour is sometimes pretty opposite, logic says you won’t always love both!), there will also be moments you can completely relate to.  Whether it’s hitting the party lifestyle or holing up in your bedroom, Rowell has captured the sometimes slightly skewed adjustment of first year students.

I freely admit, not only did I love Fangirl, but it also reminded me how much I love fanfiction, and being a crazy fangirl about the things that are important to me.  You know those quotes people always pin about being a geek? (You know the ones, the John Green and the Will Wheaton quotes and so on).  Fangirl is like an entire book that says the same things: that being enthusiastic is okay.  Not just okay in fact, but fun.  That being a geek makes you you, and the important people will understand if you absolutely need to go to a midnight release or spend hours reading every Game of Thrones conspiracy theory or whatever else it is you want to do to celebrate whatever you’re passionate about.

 

“What’s that thing you wrote about Simon once, that his eyes followed Baz ‘like he was the brightest thing in the room, like he cast everything else into shadow’? That’s you. You can’t look away from him.”

While I liked Eleanor and Park, I loved Fangirl. I loved the characters, the slow-building romance, the snippets of Simon Snow stories that made it feel like a real fandom.  I loved that Rowell had included sex, and partying hard, and plagiarism concerns, that the girls didn’t always get along perfectly and that Cath was anxious and geeky without being a pushover.   It’s never explicit, and yet it doesn’t shy away from those real concerns, those things that happen at college.  I think the reason Fangirl stands out, to me, is because it doesn’t feel like a cookie cutter version of something else; it’s unique, and it’s relatable.  It reads like it could literally be a story about one of the bloggers you follow.

Buy it? Definitely one worth buying – a new favourite.
In a nutshell: Fantastically relatable characters, a perfect reflection into starting college and the mind of a fangirl.

Other Reviews of Fangirl: Wondrous Reads | Daisy Chain Book Reviews | Recovering Potter Addict

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