The Clasp by Sloane Crosley These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik

Our House...somewhere in Westeros

Friday, March 29, 2013

Game of Thrones fans (is 'Thronies' the  correct term for the fandom?) have you created your sigil in preparation for Sunday/Monday? If not, have a go here

I thought I'd honour Bob and the island in the sun with mine:

Things I Can't Forget by Miranda Kenneally

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Format: Kindle edition
Rating: 5/5

Kate Kelly has finally finished her turbulent senior year at high school - a year filled with injury, taunts of 'Jesus freak', and the loss of a best friend. To top it all off, Kate has signed up to be a counselor at church camp for the summer - something she was supposed to do with her former best friend. Needless to say, when she arrives, she is not her best self. However, a blast from the past in the form of Matt Brown signals a change in Kate's luck and things start to look up. Gradually, with the help of Matt and Parker and Will (of Stealing Parker!), Kate  discovers more than she could ever imagine about faith, love and friendship.

I believe I have said it before but I really do love Miranda Kenneally's books. She has such a gentle way of exploring really big topics without preaching or judging. This is my favourite of the Hundred Oaks series because it struck a personal chord with me - I think it's hard to give a book five stars unless this happens. Kate's character goes through so much that I think will resound with many who are (or have) grown up in a devout Christian household and a predominantly Christian community. In the beginning, she is very judgemental, quite closed off and set in her ways, which makes her completely unapproachable. However, by attending a camp filled with many different types of Christians, Kate realises that at the end of the day, it's personal and just because someone doesn't believe exactly the same as you, doesn't mean they're any better or worse than you. By the end of the book, she really figures out the foundations of her beliefs and on these points she cannot be swayed but at the same time she understands that everybody else has different opinions forming their foundations. I think Kate's journey really shows that closing yourself off is not helpful to anybody - you have to be in the world, but not necessarily of it. 

So, as well as dealing with faith in the 21st century, Miranda Kenneally also delicately handled the topic of guilt. Kate helped and then lost her best friend Emily over something that conflicted with her core beliefs. Even though time had passed, even though Kate wasn't the one who actually did the thing that caused this clash, she still carried with her a great burden of guilt. It dragged down her mood and made her question all of the things that were happening to her. This part of Kate's story was heartbreaking and the scene where she finally unloads her baggage is beautifully written. 

I thought all of the characters were well written - perhaps with the exception of Megan, the camp leader, because it wasn't fully explained why she was so uptight but perhaps she'll turn up in another novel more fully formed? After all, I think Kate has been in the other Hundred Oaks but in the background. All of the teen voices sounded so authentic and genuine and I thought Kate's parents seemed lovely; it was nice to read about parents who only wanted the best for their daughter without any ulterior motives or suspect parenting methods. 

Overall, I really loved this book. It will definitely join the small group of books I re-read on a regular basis- probably when I need a little pick me up. I'd love to read another story focused on Kate- particularly Kate at college. How do you keep that foundation during those important, formative years? I think that's a story a lot of high school seniors or freshman college students might need in their life. I also enjoyed the little bit of Greek life that cropped up now and then due to Matt's frat brothers (I miss Greek! If you're looking for a new box set and have never watched Greek, I highly recommend it). I also loved the camp setting. We don't have summer camp over here in the UK - not like in the US anyway. The closest I ever got to camp was my Summer @ Brown session (which was AWESOME) but I never did the whole cabins and s'mores and art class shebang, which I regret because my favourite television show as a child was:
Gosh, even now I'm getting a lump in my throat just thinking about the theme song!

Anyway, I recommend Things I Can't Forget to anyone who is looking for a sweet but real story about faith, first loves and good friends. Oh, and camp! 

Things I Can't Forget by Sophia Danielle on Grooveshark

You, Yes, You

Monday, March 25, 2013

Does anyone know if the Sloppy Firsts movie is still in the works?

I was just scrolling through some of the Kids Choice Awards red carpet photos (as you do) and came across Bella Thorne. I think she's on a Disney show. Ok, I know she's on a Disney show- I watched Shake It Up A LOT with my cousins last year (and occasionally without them). However, that's all beside the point- I think she could be Jessica Darling.

Take out those hair extensions, give her a chin length bob and voila - Jessica Darling. These images completely convinced me too (here, here and here). She's fifteen, so by the time this project gets off the ground, she'll probably be sixteen- maybe nearly seventeen- which is the perfect age. Also, she could grow with the characters, providing they make the sequels too. Better still, why not just turn it into a television series (although not on The CW)? Goodness knows we're all in need of a quality teen drama.

Anyway, that's my two pence. Fans of the Jessica Darling books, what do you think?  

The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd 
Format: Hardback
Rating: 3/5

Alex Wood has had an extraordinary life and things seem to get stranger and stranger as time goes on. As a child, he defied one in a billion trillion odds when he was struck on the head by a meteorite. Needless to say, this event turned him into somewhat of a mini celebrity. On the downside, it also left him with severe epilepsy. As a result, Alex felt compelled to learn more about both his condition and meteorites. In the meantime, he learnt to deal with bullies and placate his clairvoyant mother. However, Alex is forced to majorly grow up when he befriends the grouchy, grizzly, weed loving, Clint Eastwood-esque OAP, Mr Peterson. Through Mr Peterson's experience, Alex has to make a big decision- a decision that could get him in a lot of trouble.

I really liked the beginning and the end of this book but the middle, not so much. There wasn't much meat in between two slices of delicious bread. However, I appreciated that this book dealt with Issues. Yes, Issues with a capital I. I can't really write a proper review if I don't reveal this issue, so if you don't want to know, look away now. 

Ok, the issue is euthanasia - physician assisted suicide. I think the author handled the topic quite well, although I would have liked more of a debate. I don't know...if you are going to centre a whole book around such a controversial topic, shouldn't you provide both sides of the argument? Even if you come down strongly on one particular side? Or put it this way: if you have strong feelings towards a particular side, shouldn't you highlight the other side to at least strengthen your own argument? 

Another Issue dealt with was bullying - lower school teasing as opposed to severe systematic bullying, although a victim would most likely say 'bullying is bullying'. Either way, I think this was also handled quite well, as the bullies - and Alex- were shown to move on and mature as they aged and found other activities to preoccupy themselves with. I also liked the commentary on the failures of our education system and the move to teach children to pass exams rather than exploring a subject properly (I am a product of this system and could wax lyrical for days about the pitfalls of this style of teaching- although I know this is the fault of our curriculum NOT our teachers). 

However, something that got in the way of me enjoying the book even more was the number of religious profanities. Although, in reality, there was only one religion denegrated in this way - Christianity. Now, I am usually quite open when reading (or watching a film) and can overlook the odd few G-D's and such like but I have a line. This book went too far for me personally. There was a general dislike (maybe even hatred?) towards Christianity that came through now and then. Fair enough if that's what you believe but if you're an atheist or someone who strongly dislikes religion, why not treat all religions equally then? Strongly dislike them all. Better still, for the good of the world, treat everyone with a little bit of respect. Especially if you know your work is going to end up in the hands of young people. Deriding people for their beliefs- and the actual beliefs themselves- is not funny, is not intellectual and is not cool. 

Overall, I appreciated the author wanting to explore such a controversial issue. I was relieved to learn from my friend (a bookseller and giver of this gift to me) that this is a cross-over novel, as whilst reading, I was under the impression it was one hundred per cent YA. It was a big project to undertake and I think it was halfway there but it could have been refined a little more. However, it is evidently a topic close to the author's heart, so good for him for getting his point of view out there. 

The Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spalding

Friday, March 15, 2013

Publisher: Entangled Publishing
Format: Kindle e-book
Rating: 3/5

Sixteen year old Devan's life is thrown upside down when her dad passes suddenly and she finds herself on a plane bound for Los Angeles where she is due to meet her mother for the first time. Devan knows very little about her mother who just happens to be Reece Malcolm, a bestselling author and a bit of a recluse. So, she starts to compile a list of facts about Reece found through snooping and Googling. In the meantime, she must adapt to life at a competitive performing arts school. 

This was a nice, good old fashioned YA story. I don't think I've read one this young in a while and it was refreshing. The premise was solid and the characters were well thought out. Reece was spiky and unpredictable enough to increase reader sympathy towards Devan- even though she was quite annoying at times but in a cute way like most sixteen year olds. Brad, Kate and Vaughan all provided a sense of humanity and grounding to the story- I wish they had been in it a little more. Finally, Devan's new friends were interesting enough to keep the story going but did not overshadow Devan. I like that they called Devan out for her 'aw shucks, little old me?' routine. I'm of the Rachel Berry school of thought - if you have such a great talent, don't be afraid to let it shine. Be a little precocious, especially when you're sixteen at a performing arts school! The only problem I had was with Sai. I didn't get his character -perhaps if we met his dad it would have been easier to understand where his angst was coming from but he came across as a bit of a wet blanket to be honest. 

However, I mostly enjoyed the fact that half of the story was structured around the school musical. I think this was very brave on Amy Spalding's part because it could be hugely alienating but musical theatre is obviously close to her heart. If you dislike Fame/Glee/Smash et al. I would suggest giving this one a miss. Yet, in the wake of the success of Les Mis on the big screen, I guess this couldn't have come out at a better time - I'm sure there are lots of young people who got their first taste this way (although hopefully they went home and bought an original cast version of the soundtrack). Oh and to pick a Sondheim musical too, like I said, very brave Amy Spalding. I salute you. 

When I finished this book, I felt the way I do after watching something like Monte Carlo (with Selena Gomez) or The Princess Diaries. It was a solid, proper teen book with nice characters. Brava, Amy Spalding. 

Now You Know by Leslie Kritzer, Erin Mackey, Vanessa Williams, Barbara Cook on Grooveshark

Scores and Scores

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The brilliant Michael Giacchino has been posting pictures from the scoring session, and subsequent editing/mixing and all that jazz, of Star Trek Into Darkness (here - look out for Dermot Mulroney on the cello). I cannot wait to hear it!

I loved the score for Star Trek- it fit the movie perfectly in that it was bold and memorable and modern but respectful of the history of Star Trek. This is my favourite:

The first minute and a half or so is poignant and delicate and reminds me a lot of Lost, which is not unusual considering Michael Giacchino wrote that too. Even if you haven't seen Star Trek (where have you been?!) you can imagine the slow mo shots etc. At 2.14, that catchy theme makes a reappearance. I love those bass note steps at 3.16. Then the tip of the hat to the original theme at 3.31. Overall, I think this is the best track from the official soundtrack. If you have the bonus DVD, there's a really good feature showing this track being recorded. 

However, whilst we wait for the new Star Trek score (and film, of course), I want to talk about another score I have been listening to of late: Zero Dark Thirty by Alexandre Desplat. I think it should be noted that Mr Desplat scored Zero Dark Thrity AND Argo, which is pretty impressive, no? The Argo score was Oscar nominated but I think ZDT was much better. Maybe because I thought it was a better movie... but that's a debate for another day. Anyway, these tracks were my favourites:

The beginning of Maya on Plane always reminds me of the intro to Jay-Z's Public Service Announcement, which is appropriate beacuse Maya is badassness personified. However, I think this track really reflects her state of mind at the end of the film (there's no need for a spoiler warning because we all know how it ends, right?), which is: when you've done the impossible what do you do next? It sounds like the end of the beginning- sadness for all that happened before mixed with relief and anticipation that there's a whole new act just waiting to start. 

In contrast, Seals Take Off sounds almost noir-like to begin with (I am reminded of Inside Man) but then the timpani and the strings start up and anticipation builds. Then the horns add their uneven punctuation, which is not helpful to an already nervy audience. Honestly, considering it isn't a horror film, I was surprised at how jumpy we all were in that cinema. Finally, Ammar has the Middle Eastern feel that you would expect from such a score. The little bass motif that starts one minute in really reminded me of Homeland when I was in the cinema. Whenever this was heard we, the audience, knew something was about to go down. Overall, the score for Zero Dark Thirty was every bit as nerve shredding and menacing as the film itself. 

Ben and Kate- Take Two

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

At the beginning of the year ITV2 decided to show Ben and Kate and Up All Night. However, no sooner did the episodes start airing, we found out Ben and Kate had been cancelled! I watched the first episode of Ben and Kate on Hulu when I was on holiday last year and fell in love with it and judging by the forlorn comments floating around, I wasn't the only one. 

Why wouldn't you like Ben and Kate? It's a sweet, inoffensive, often chuckle worthy family sitcom- something that doesn't seem to be around too much these days. "What about Modern Family or Raising Hope?" I hear you cry. Yeah, I guess but they're not quite like the sitcoms of old are they? Over at Vulture they are doing a battle of the sitcoms (a must read if you love television- here) and it got me thinking about times gone by when we would sit down at six o'clock and switch on BBC2 or Channel 4 for Malcolm in the Middle or Friends. Or when Friday nights were for Will and Grace. Now the airwaves are jam packed with quiz shows, rolling news and reality shows. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for television equality- I rarely discriminate. I might never miss an episode of Question Time or Mad Men but I will just as easily switch over to Big Rich Texas. However, moderation is the key. Besides, sitcoms were like family bridges- something everyone could watch at teatime before the little ones started plodding up to bed and the not so little ones got on with homework and whatnot. 

Anyway, enough of my rambling and back to the case at hand. I think there's a lot of scope with the Ben and Kate premise (brother moves in with single mother sister and takes on some child care responsibilities) however I think it could do with a bit of star power. I enjoy the rapport between Dakota Johnson (Kate) and Nat Faxon (Ben), however they are often overshadowed by Lucy Punch (BJ) and the adorable Maggie Elizabeth Jones (Maddie). Sooooo I think it should be recast with...

That's right- Joey and Pacey. They are both in need of new projects, right? I believe Fringe has finished and I don't think Katie Holmes' play is still running. I'm sure they don't want to play love interests again and both of them do their best work on the small screen sooooo... a cute, kooky, brother and sister show would be perfect, no? 

Anyway, that's my two pence. Next week we'll do Smash because Katharine McPhee as Karen is killing me. 

In other television news, glad to hear New Girl and The Mindy Project have been renewed. Fingers crossed for Hart of Dixie. Make that double crossed. I've really become addicted to the goings on in Bluebell (we need to talk about Wade. What was that?!) and I would pay good money to read Dash's blog. 

RTW: Quarterly Check In

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

This Week's Topic: Quarterly check-ins! We're already 1/4 of the way through the year--where are you on your reading and writing goals?

Reading Goals
Well, after successfully meeting my goal of 70 books last year I considered going for 75 this year. However, at the last minute I decided on 80. It was stressing me out to begin with because I hate feeling behind in anyway but over the past few weeks I've decided to ignore the little Goodreads update bar and just enjoy my books. If I make it to 80 (which is unlikely) then that's great but if not, no big deal. 

Writing Goals
I didn't set any writing goals. When I first found YA Highway over Christmas I just jumped in and did the RTW. However, after nosying around a little more I realised that the commenters were REAL WRITERS! As in authors of books I have read or heard of. So, I decided not to post my link in the comments anymore! I am not a real writer. I only write for fun. I wrote my first MS (see, I've learnt the lingo a little though) because I couldn't find anything to read that was similar to Adrian Mole or Angus, Thongs. This was just before I received Gossip Girl as a Christmas present, which opened up a whole new world of reading. Anyway, I continued working on that MS up until I finished sixth form but I still read it at least once a year. I've never finished another but I have a couple of ideas that I work on now and then and of course there's NaNoWriMo. Mainly, I just like filling out the little prompts in Scrivener and making PowerPoint presentations full of character and setting pictures.Anyway, back to the original question...I don't have any goals but I have recently changed the time frame and tweaked the setting for one of the ideas and it has made such a difference. Suddenly there's life again! So, I'm quite happy with this one at the moment. 

Summer Dreams Ripped At The Seams

My last two reads were very similar despite being set in different time periods. Both centred around a rich girl who falls in love with a not so rich boy during those long summer months. Needless to say, everything is not hunky dory for the star crossed lovers. 

The Last Summer by Judith Kinghorn

Publisher: Headline
Format: Paperback
Rating: 4/5

Clarissa is the youngest of the four Granville children. She is also the only girl, therefore she is used to a life of cotton wool wrapped privilege as she frolics around the grounds of her beloved estate, Deyning. However, everything changes during her seventeenth summer when she gets to know Tom Cuthbert who is the son of the Granville's servant Mrs Cuthbert. They have a whirlwind (albeit quite chaste) romance and then BOOM all the young boys are signing up to join the Army because it's 1914 and war has been declared. The remainder of the book deals with life on the homefront from the more privileged perspective until the war ends giving way to the swinging twenties and a new Britian. 

This book was extremely well written. At first, with the whole falling in love with 'the help' thing and the big house and the loveable dad, I thought 'oh here we go, Downton Abbey 2.0'. However, I was pleasantly surprised because once the war began the tone shifted and if I had to compare it to anything else I would say Atonement. Judith Kinghorn manages to convey such a sense of loss and hopelessness- paritcularly around halfway through- but it never feels pitiful or melodramatic. I also learnt a lot and was forced to consider aspects of WWI that I'd never thought about before. For example, getting all surviving soldiers back to England at the end! It sounds so simple yet...nope, never thought about it before. 

Also, the characters were well developed, particularly Clarissa. Again, it might sound like a given considering she is the main character but I have read many books of late where the main character is criminally two dimensional. This meant that the love story played out nicely too. 

With the exception of perhaps Charlie's final actions, I think this book was a solid piece of work. I am looking forward to whatever Judith Kinghorn puts out next and would reccomnned The Last Summer to anybody who enjoyed (if that's a word one can use in relation to such a tragic story) Atonement. 

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick

Publisher: Dial
Format: Kindle e-book
Rating: 4/5

I had been putting off purchasing this e-book because it continually seemed to be priced at £9.20. However, in the end I decided to just go for it because I've been wanting to read it since last year. I am glad to say I was not disappointed. 

Samantha is the privileged daughter of a single mother and politician. Jase is one of eight (I think?!) children and also Samantha's neighbour. Samantha has always watched her fun loving, rowdy next door neighbours from afar but one day Jase decides to tip the balance by talking to Samantha. Then BOOM. No, there's no war in this one but they begin a very sweet (and not so chaste) relationship amidst the turmoil of country clubs, re-election campaigns with managers who would put Eli Gold to shame, and a bunch of little kids who need babysitting. 

I really liked this book. It was just bursting with love and it was really obvious that Huntley Fitzpatrick poured something of herself into her work. Some things just can't be made up. Sometimes the writing was a little clumsy and I had to re-read sentences (perhaps it was something to do with the Kindle version?) but the story overshadowed all of that. All of the characters were so vividly written- it was one of those books that breathes. I was pleasantly surprised when things took a turn in a more serious direction in the final third with the message of dealing with the consequences being hammered home in a harsh way. Again, I really liked Samantha (even though I couldn't get Quinn Fabray out of my head whenever she spoke) and I thought she carried the mantle of 'leading lady' very well. I hope there''s a sequel in the works. If not, I want to read whatever is next from Huntley Fitzpatrick now. Right now. 

I can't think of any comparisons but I urge you to read this- even if it still costs £9.20 on Kindle- right away. 

Summer Dreams Ripped At The Seams by Sophia Danielle on Grooveshark