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

YA Book Club: Allegiant by Veronica Roth [Contains Spoilers]

Monday, November 18, 2013


Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books 
Format: Kindle e-book
Rating: 3/5

Synopsis from Goodreads:
The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.

But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and of herself—while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love. 
Oh dear. I really don't want to write this review but I said (in my head) I would do YA Book Club this month and I like to think I'm a woman of my word. I'd been putting off reading Allegiant anyway because I've been craving good old contemporary YA a lot these days (a craving that was substantially satisfied by Fangirl but I need more!) I also heard about - but tried to avoid - the furore that occured when the book was releasd and people disagreed with the ending. However, I finally dove back into Veronica Roth's world this week and settled down, ready to find out how it all ends. 

My first thought was: dual narration, hmmm ok then. I started to doubt myself thinking it had been a long time since I read Insurgent, maybe that was dual narration too. I checked and was glad to realise I was not going mad because it was not. I usually love dual narration - and I'm not even that hard on writers who make their characters sound similar because hey, they're one step ahead of me being published and all. However, my first thought here was: I don't care what Four thinks. Not in a horrible way - I think he's a great character - it's just, this is Tris' story, isn't it? I found her character to be riveting in Divergent - maybe a little bit iffy in Insurgent - but nonetheless a wonderful, strong, female protagonist. However, with the introduction of Four's voice, Tris' voice became diluted. Her whole character slipped away into the shadows and by the end you could tell she just had nowhere to go, which is why Veronica had to do what she did. Tris died when Four started talking to us. 

Now onto the story as a whole. The world was set up really nicely in Divergent. It was different to the other books I was reading at the time. I even got a little Harry Potter like and sorted myself into a faction (Candor). Overall, the first book was on point, the second book was a little messy but still engaging. However, this one just seemed to flail and then flatline. There was so much potential, so much build up, and then like a firework from your local corner shop (unless you're from East London) it just fizzles out. It got too darn complicated. Too many serums, too many worlds within worlds, too many characters. There was also too much romance. Maybe I don't remember the previous books very well but it always seemed that Tris and Tobias had their thing but that was just filler to the greater story arc. However, this time they went full on Edward and Bella and I just wasn't feeling it. 

However, when we got into the Evelyn/Marcus storyline, I kind of understood why Veronica Roth wanted to use Tobias' voice. Obviously, he would be the only one who truly understood their drive and motivation to act in such a way. The war of the self always makes for an interesting and rich story, so Tobias' battle with his Marcus vs Evelyn genes - his very own nature vs nurture story- was quite fascinating. It made me think that Veronica Roth had fallen in love with Four's story and therefore had to abandon Tris - it happens to us all, doesn't it? The breakout supporting character who suddenly takes over. Had this been Four's story from the beginning, perhaps it would have been a completely different series. Perhaps it would've been stronger. Perhaps we wouldn't have needed the extra serums and extra people. Tris could have still been in it but the story would be more of an inner battle and a family saga. Overall, I think that's what was lost in Allegiant - a focus. Like shattered glass, all the pieces were there for an EPIC end to a brilliant series but it just needed to be fit together properly with some superglue. 

So, what will this mean for the film franchise? I can't see a trilogy now, can you? I mean, Shailene Woodley and Theo James don't look like my Tris and Tobias (for those interested, these are my Tris and Four) but that's fine, Jennifer Lawrence didn't look like Katniss but her acting was superb, rendering looks irrelevant. However, adaptations from solid books are often messy affairs, so an adaptation from a messy book probably won't cut it. Not with such cutthroat fans and critics (speaking of said crazy fans, why can't people just chill out? You can dislike a piece of work without threatening the life of the author. Gordon Bennett, get a grip!)  

So, I hate to say it but I was not down with this series closer at all. It's difficult to end a series - very few can do it well. Remember, Mockingjay? I think that will have the same issues film wise but that's a conversation for another day. Anyway, I will end this review by saying I really admire Veronica Roth, I think she's suuuuuper talented and the overall story is still brilliant but I think the ball was dropped with this one.

The Crash Reel

Sunday, November 17, 2013

For those of us in the UK, Sky Atlantic are showing a series of documentaries - probably HBO documentaries because mostly HBO shows are shown on Sky Atlantic. Anyway, the series launched with The Crash Reel, which is about Kevin Pearce, a former pro-snowboarder, who suffered a horrendous accident just before the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. The documentary chronicles Kevin's early life, the build up to the crash - including Kevin's rivalry with Shaun White- and then his rehabilitation and struggle to accept that he probably would not become an Olympian. 

I certainly was not prepared for how heartbreaking the documentary would be. Lucy Walker does an excellent job of showing how lovely the Pearce family were, how close the brothers were, and how much fun they had snowboarding and just being boys. As a result, by the time the crash is shown in all its horrific goriness, it's just completely gut wrenching. Then it seems like Kevin is making really good progress and you start thinking perhaps it is one of those miraculous sporting tales. However, once again you're hit in the gut as you realise, along with Kevin, that he's not going to be able to board like before. That he's not even really the same Kevin as before. It's difficult to watch because he seems like such a good person and his family seem like good people too.  I think his brother David - who has his own battle of acceptance to deal with - especially steals the show. What a remarkable young man. In fact, they all are. Overall, the documentary showed what a difference having a strong, supportive, positive family has on rehabilitation and moving on after a life altering accident. 

Most importantly, this documentary brings to light the important issue of head injuries in sport - particularly extreme sports. I had no idea extreme sports professionals were not covered by insurance. If J Lo can get her bum insured or Gillette can foot the cost of insuring Rihanna's legs, why can't these guys get cover? Sarah Burke's fatal crash was featured in this documentary and was a sobering moment. After her death, her family were still left with her medical bills and many fans and well-wishers donated to cover the cost. This was completely baffling to me (not least of all because I live in a country with a wonderful National Health Service but that debate is for another day). What about her sponsors? How can Gillette fork out to insure Rihanna's legs but certain companies can't protect the wellbeing of those shiling their products? Well, answers are given here but it still doesn't make much sense to me. Then again, I am not a business person, so what do I know?

The Crash Reel is a brilliantly moving documentary (kudos to Matt Biffa for great music choices). Hopefully this documentary can help raise greater awareness of head injuries and also serve as inspiration for those going through similar experiences. I was definitely inspired and I will be sure to wear a helmet next time I ski because trying to look cool is for fools where your health is concerned - love your brain

Reading Mutiny Challenge: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books
Format: Kindle e-book
Rating: 5/5

Cath and Wren have done everything together their whole lives - it sort of comes with the twin territory. However, Wren dropped a bombshell and decided they should room separately at college, leaving Cath with an older roommate and said roommate's ever present supposed fancyman. Cath's only solace is her writing - most notably, her much loved Simon Snow fan fiction. Cath has to choose whether to step outside and embrace college life or stick to the comfort of her online world. 

First of all, let's get this out the way [if you can't see the video click here]:

Ok, Rainbow Rowell is officially on my go to authors list now. Fangirl was seriously laugh out loud funny and when I wasn't laughing, I was smiling to myself - even though I was on a packed train every time I read it because it was my train read for the week. There were so many funny quotes and witty observations, oh and Kanye West! I won't spoil them for you though.

Cath was such a sweet character. She was the perfect vehicle for showing what the first year of college is like for mostly everyone. We all had that moment of wanting to quit, didn't we? Except mine came in the penultimate term of the final year - ha! Better late than never. It was such a joy to see Cath uncoil and - corny as it sounds - blossom. I felt like cheering out loud for her to believe in her writing Matilda to Bruce Bogtrotter style.

We all have a Wren type person in our lives (I love the name Wren by the way). Rainbow Rowell did a great of not turning her into a villain. Even though the story was from Cath's point of view, I still felt sympathetic towards Wren who was desperate to break away and have that full college experience - partly as escapism and partly because that's her personality. She's the fearless one.

Fangirl also dealt with the issue of mental illness without making it an 'issues' kind of book. No teaching or preaching, just poignantly handled. Art was a wonderful character and he had some great lines too.

Levi was a ray of sunshine! In the beginning, by the way he was described, I couldn't help but think of him like Kenneth the Page from 30 Rock. This changed a little as he became more involved in the story but still, it was nice to have such a positive character. He was like a mini Lincoln from Attachments! Reagan was also perfect as the worldly, older roommate (did anyone else picture Kat Dennings?) I really enjoyed the Cath-Reagan-Levi dynamic. Oh and I can completely relate to the door-kicking thing as I have been scolded more than once for flinging open a door. Apparently, despite being a wee thing, I have Incredible Hulk like strength.

As for Simon Snow - well that was just the icing on an already pretty delicious cake. I laughed every time I read that they were in Watford. Yes, Watford is the home to the Harry Potter Studio Tour but Watford is the gateway to the North and Londoners often joke that the furthest 'oop north' they've been is Watford Junction. I don't know what the US or Canadian equivalent would be so I can't really explain it... it just tickled me. Anyway, the Simon Snow madness made me nostalgic for Harry Potter mania. I love The Hunger Games but nothing has really come close to the HP hysteria. I started the series when I was about ten and was always smugly gleeful that Harry seemed to be growing up with me. I devoured the fan fiction - and beta'd too!- , went to the midnight launches (I'll never forget the final book release party I attended in Georgia and will always be grateful to my cousins and their friends for indulging my obsession), I queued in sweltering heat and got sunstroke at the opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (we didn't even get in that day!)...and the list goes on! In that respect, Fangirl was a wonderful ode to all of us who are a bit - ok a lot - nerdy about something (and we've all got something).

I wish there were more books set in college like Fangirl. It seems as though most of the college stories these days fall into that now dreaded category 'New Adult' and seem to almost always consist of the protagonist 'losing it' or being violated in someway - which I'm glad Sarah at +Clear Eyes, Full Shelves pointed out the other day [here]. It is disturbing. Contemporary YA is all about coming of age. Well, college (or gap year, or anything post school) still counts as coming of age and it is here that the genre is severely lacking. Or perhaps I'm not looking in the right places. What do you think?

Anyway, for now, Fangirl was fantastic and I'm on the Rainbow Rowell train for life!

Keep On Surviving: Beauty Queens and The Maze Runner

Monday, November 11, 2013

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

WHAT'S THE DEAL? The Miss Teen Dream pageant turns into a living nightmare when the plane carrying the finalists crashes and the survivors are forced to try and stay alive on a tropical island. However, something seems a little off and the girls band together to figure out what is going on and how they can escape. 

ANY GOOD? Lost meets Survivor (make that a Survivor All Stars season where everyone is extra competitive) meets Miss World. A satirical roller coaster that was an absolute perfect read to tie with all the feminist debates that seem to have pushed to the forefront in the online world this year (thanks Robin, Miley, and creepy Uncle Terry). The best way to describe the heart of this book is Ms Norbury's quote in Mean Girls:

In other words, we're all in this together and we need to have each others' backs! The girls are all from different backgrounds and cultures but they had to put their differences aside in order to survive. The girls had a lot of time on their hands to discuss their place in the world. One of my favourites was when they were talking about women always apologising for saying something - even when what they're saying is an important contribution to a debate!

"'Why do girls always feel like they have to apologize for giving an opinion or taking up space in the world? Have you ever noticed that?' Nicole asked." [Page 151, Beauty Queens by Libba Bray]
I see this constantly - I am guilty of it too! This is at the crux of Sheryl Sandberg's advice in Lean In - you have a right to sit at the table, so sit your butt down at the table and speak up! 

The girls also speak about their imaginary alternative to beauty pageants - Girl Con. How amazing would that be? I'm sure there are similar events that occur around the world and I know there's International Women's Day but wouldn't it be great to have a Girl Con every year? Ahhhh, there's just so much to dissect and discuss when it comes to Beauty Queens. I wish I'd read it for a book club or something because it's the kind of book you want to have a conversation about rather than review. So I'll just finish here. 

ADD TO BASKET? Yes - everyone should read it! 

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

WHAT'S THE DEAL? Thomas wakes up in a box of sorts to find a group of boys staring at him. He has no idea who they are and cannot recall anything except for his name. The boys soon begin to explain he is in The Glade, which is a space surrounded by what seems to be an unsolvable maze, and he can't go home - wherever that might be. Life as a Glader means doing chores until the doors close at night, keeping out the terrifying Grievers. Thomas begins to accept his new life but the boat is rocked again when a girl arrives. No other girls live in The Glade. The girl - and Thomas - signal the end and they need to figure out what they have to do in order to save their new friends. 

ANY GOOD? This book had kind of escaped my notice until I came across something about the film adaptation. It started off a little slow but by the time I reached the middle, I was completely absorbed in this strange world. By the end, it was actually quite sinister, particularly with the introduction of certain new characters. I've never read Lord of the Flies (I know, terrible isn't it?) but I suspect there are parallels. I thought the revelation about their names was an interesting twist and helped add another layer to an already fairly complicated group of characters. It was also nice to have a diverse set of boys too. Overall, I was impressed with The Maze Runner and it will make an excellent film. I can't wait to see what the Grievers look like! 

ADD TO BASKET? If you want to get ready for Catching Fire with another survival, dystopian story. 

This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales

Monday, November 4, 2013

Publisher: Macmillan Children's Book
Format: Bound proof (thank you Georgia if you ever read this!)
Rating: 4/5

Elise Dembowski is a bit of a precocious clever clogs. Needless to say, this does not make her too popular with her classmates. After trying everything to  navigate and perhaps infiltrate the complicated social hierarchy of her school,  Elise thinks perhaps it would be better if she just gave up. However, her plan fails and she still remains friendless. So, to combat the constant noise in her head over the situation, she begins to take nighttime walks and happens across two best friends who convince her to accompany them to a club night. It is here that Elise begins to find herself and begins the journey of becoming who she wants to be. 

I'm not very good a writing synopses, so that sounds a lot more melodramatic and cheesy than it is in reality. In fact, there's definitely more to it than a girl becoming who she wants to be through her love of music. First things first, there was a whiff of MTV's Awkward here, which wasn't a bad thing but it meant I heard Jenna's voice and I don't know if I was supposed to. 

The characters were...complicated. I can't work out if they were unlikeable, unknowable or a little underdeveloped in certain cases. Now, we have this debate about unlikeable characters often. Of course you can write unlikeable characters but there has to be something extra there to make the reader keep reading. Obviously, in this case there was more than something extra because I rated it 4/5! Elise calls herself precocious and she certainly is, which is occasionally endearing but mostly annoying. There were occasions where her actions didn't always match up to her character. For example, would someone who was so obsessed with making friends, fretting about what other people thought of her, be so aloof when her dalliance with another character started? Then again, YA is all about teenager's 'finding themselves', so maybe that was more Elise's true nature but it still bothered me a bit. 

And then there was Char (even though it was his nickname, I still didn't like it). I just could not get a handle on who he was supposed to be and I guess that was his purpose. He represented the older guy who the younger girl projects all her expectations onto but in reality he's just a boy wanting to make the most of his college days. 

On the flipside,Vicky was the fun, bubbly proof of what lay in wait on the other side of high school for Elise if she could just hold on a little longer. I wish there had been more of Vicky in this story. I also wish there had been more Pippa! Perhaps Leila Sales wanted to avoid the triangle of doom (we're all a little bit tired of the love triangle, aren't we?) but still, Pippa was such a laugh. It was also refreshing to have a British character from a Northern city too. After all, London is not the only 'cool' place on this little island.

As for the remainder of the characters, Elise's 'uncool' friends were reminiscent of Tamara and Ming from Awkward again but proved fairly useful in the end. Also, Ellie's parents, whilst very civil and liveral, seemed extremely preoccupied with their own lives, which allowed Elise to escape at nights and live her double life. 

Now, onto the most important aspect of this story - the music. This story was an ode to music - indie music and the 'scene'. There was nothing to fault where the music was concerned. I head the songs as I read each title, which really helped bring the book to life, particularly the club scenes. Leila Sales did a great job of describing that frenetic, pulsing energy created when a good DJ is at the helm. There's an accomanying playlist and most of these songs mean a lot to me too - songs I grew up with, songs that are woven into the fabric of our culture. In that respect, it reminded me of the film version of Starter for 10, which used music so well! I could talk for hours about what these songs mean to me (because we all love to reminesce, right?) but for now it is enough to say that the songs are the beating heart of this book. 

Overall, it is a book about self discovery and the fact that once you find your thing, your schtick, all the rest will follow. This Song Will Save Your Life has a lovely message and off the chart kind of brilliant music, so go on, give it a try!

Have you read This Song Will Save Your Life? What songs from your school/college days hold a special place in your heart?

This girl is on fire

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Are you all looking forward to the release of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire?! I can't wait! I'm in the process of re-reading the book and it's just as exciting as I remember. 

Anyway, have you seen the tracklist and heard some of the tracks from the official soundtrack? Alexandra Patsavas, music supervisor extraordinaire, is at the helm so of course it's a great tracklist.  I absolutely love the Coldplay song. The choice of Atlas is perfect to parrallel with Katniss, who indeed is burdned with so much she might as well be carrying the world on her shoulders. It sounds a bit Muse-y, don't you think? Still a great song!

[Click here if you can't watch the video]

I will admit my eyebrows shot up when I saw Diplo and The Weeknd next to Sia's name but this is also a brillaint song!

Here are a few other samples that have been released. I can't wait to get my hands on the actual album because the last one was excellent.