Friday, 29 August 2014

My Thoughts On: The Manifesto On How To Be Interesting by Holly Bourne


With its bold cover and beautiful design, The Manifesto on How to Be Interesting screamed 'buy me' in book shops. So that's exactly what I did. Hope you enjoy!

Bree is a loser, a wannabe author who hides behind words. But when she's told she needs to start living a life worth writing about, The Manifesto on How to Be Interesting is born. Six steps on how to be interesting. Six steps that will see her infiltrate the popular set, fall in love with someone forbidden and make the biggest mistake of her life.

The concept was another reason decided to read. Because of my odd and typically teenage attitude recently, I've felt a little lost in the world where socializing, looking good and doing things outside of school to be accepted are important. Often I question whether I'm interesting enough, and feel a bit lonely. Seeing an author fathom this creation shows she recognizes those feelings, which made me feel better. Right away I thought things would go wrong, but as Bree transformed herself, I couldn't help smile for her. It's something I've imagined doing many times, reinventing myself. I also often think if I did more interesting things, I'd have more to write about, so this was a concept and plot line I could partly relate to. It was a welcome, refreshing read that I enjoyed immensely.

Bree’s narration was an interesting one. She could perhaps be called unreliable - but I also felt sad for and disliked her in equal measure because she felt the need to change herself - even though I relate. Although she lives in luxury, has a great best friend in the form of Holdo at the beginning, and seems to live comfortably, Bree's insecure. The self-harm references throughout showed this.  Especially at the start, she gave the impression of a spoilt rich kid who’s dissatisfied with her life, blaming her parents. However I warmed to Bree as the book progressed. Some of the stuff she goes through with Holly Bourne’s silky yet raw writing had me crying because of the memories it brought up. I think this shows how good it was.
I read somewhere that the writer’s ultimate goal is to emotionally affect the reader, and that’s exactly what Bourne did. Applause for making me feel things, Holly.  

Another strong point was Holdo. He was excellent, even though Bree promptly abandons him. It’s like he was waiting in the shadows or behind a stage curtain, waiting for his dramatic entrance, and that’s exactly what happens. Their friendship is so strong, despite them spending the majority of the book separated. Each character was recognizable, as I think Hugo and Jassmine are well known breeds of human all over the place. Maybe it was the names, but the ‘perfect posse’ as they’re known, reminded me of Made in Chelsea characters. Mostly unlikeable twats, sometimes human. I guess that’s the way to describe them.  

On a more negative side, I did question Mr Fellows’ relationship with Bree. I won’t go into detail for fear of spoilers, but it’s not the conventional student-teacher one. While I found it plausible, at times it got a little melodramatic and the believably wavered. It was clear Bourne did her research but I wanted to cringe at certain parts, especially when Bree uses his first name. Some scenes were beautiful, like in the art gallery, which Bree returns to twice in the novel, but there were a few metaphorical bumps here and there in this aspect of Manifesto.

My second slight criticism I think would depend on my mood. If I was feeling self-indulgent and going through a ‘adoring fluffy books’ phase - I probably would have loved the ending. I mean, I did love it. It was heart-warming and touching and brilliant, but there was a tiny cynical part of my mind that went ‘that’s convenient.’  I was happy for Bree, even though the ending’s not perfect and she does experience her fair share of trauma, and again it was plausible. Maybe just a little unrealistic. I’m not sure. I think that one's down to personal opinion; I doubt there’s a unanimous answer.

In summary: The Manifesto On How To Be Interesting is the perfect book for anyone feeling a little lost, and came along just at the right time. Sometimes beautiful, sometimes teary, sometimes cringe-y. Overall however, a largely enjoyable and uplifting tale. 4.5 stars.


Friday, 22 August 2014

Finished Kindle Books (Part 1)

Hey there! 

(Apologies for not uploading last week, I was on holiday and have been busy. A slightly different post for you today, hope you enjoy!) 

I have to admit it: I’m one of those annoying technology obsessed e-reader people. I received one of the first generations of Amazon’s ‘Kindle’ for my birthday in 2010 and now own a Kindle Fire. While e-readers have been fatal in me falling into the ‘buying books then never actually reading them’ habit, I do have a large number of finished titles stored up. This is in no way a review of the device itself, more a short summary of each book. If however this post does inspire you to try out an e-reader, do let me know!

So - without further ado - and in no particular popularity order:  

'Thirteen Reasons Why' by Jay Asher – one of the first books I read dealing with suicide, maybe I was a little too young to fully ‘get’ this one. A gripping concept nevertheless, well worthy of giving a try!  

'Shift' by Em Bailey – a goose bump inducing, psychological thriller and a window into schizophrenia. Strong characters and a punchy twist.  

'Flip' by Martyn Bedford – a slightly odd and unnerving read, about a boy who finds himself in someone else’s body, having to live a strange double life!

'Boys Don’t Cry' by Malorie Blackman – a twist on the conventional teen pregnancy. This time the boy’s left holding the baby. The first book I read on my kindle which definitely didn’t disappoint.

'Double Cross' by Malorie Blackman (forth in the popular ‘Noughts and Crosses’ series) – This installment of the racism based story gives an insight into Callie, growing up in a twisted world.

'The Manifesto on How to Be Interesting' by Holly Bourne (review coming soon) – this one reduced me to tears in some parts. Certainly relatable and for anyone who’s feeling a little bit lost. Contemporary YA that gripped me throughout.

'Inside My Head' by Jim CarringtonA multi POV book looking at bullying, realistic and raw. The characters really shine through in this heart-warmingly British novel.

'Cherry Crush,' 'Marshmallow Skye' and 'Summer Dream' by Cathy Cassidy (the first three of the Chocolate Box Girls series) – Personally I think these are for younger readers, so when I read them when I was 13 or so I was enthralled. Typically Cathy Cassidy with friendships, love etc, but still addressing some darker issues too

'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' by Stephen Chbosky – I’d go as far as to say this is one of my favourite books of all time. Set in the ‘80’s following shy boy Charlie as he makes his journey through high school, it’s relatable and sweet and sometimes dark. A must read.

'Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist' by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan – a typical American whirlwind romance. It takes place all in one night and features 24 hour Waffle Houses and indie music. A guilty pleasure.

'The Hunger Games' by Suzanne Collins (first in the Hunger Games trilogy) – Most people would have heard of this one. One of the finest dystopian thrillers with the expected romance and rebellion. Might not live up to the hype some have built however.

'Matched' by Ally Condie – I’ll be blunt and say I didn’t enjoy this at all. Another dystopian, but I found the characters one dimensional and the story slow. Didn’t live up to expectations for me, unfortunately.

'Strictly Friends' by Jo Cotterill (second in the Sweet Hearts companion novels) Similar to Cassidy, Cotterill gripped me a young teen. Another for younger readers but as I remember a sweet story that tells you to not give up on your dreams.

'Just Listen'by Sarah Dessen – This was a surprise in a big way. Yes it was a little cliché but I found myself learning and taking everything in from the mysterious Own as Annabel does.  

'Room' by Emma Donoghue – You could describe this as a psychological thriller, or brilliantly disturbing. Narrated by five year old Jack, we get his view of his mother being kidnapped by Old Nick. His naivety works so well and his voice is charming. Recommended.  

That’s about half of my finished kindle collection documented for your enjoyment. If you’ve read any of these and have shockingly conflicting views to me, I’d love to hear your opinions!


Thursday, 21 August 2014

It's A Disease


(Warning: this post includes some serious cheese, and 'inspirational' quotes... I'm feeling particularly sentimental right now...) 

Earlier today, my dad was talking about his recent trip to Alaska he took to fish. He said, 'Fishing isn't a hobby unfortunately, it's a disease,' and it was one of the rare occasions where I actually agreed with him wholeheartedly about something. Obviously I don't have strong opinions on salmon or anything, but it did make me think. I was really glad he came out with that metaphor; it sparked something in me.

I hate to admit it, but I've been in a bit of a writing slump recently. At the beginning of the summer I had grand plans to start editing a full length piece of writing, but sadly I've had little success. I had a burst of inspiration thanks to a work shop or two, and some kind words, but other than that my attempts have been fruitless. I don't know what my issue's been. 

It could be my lack of time: I have actually been abnormally social this summer, so have been enjoying the time I have with friends. 

It could simply be lack of ideas: I might just be brain dead and have block... which would suck. Alot.

Or it could be fear: Fear of things being bad. Fear of being disappointed in myself or disappointing other people. 

What I can say though, is it's not a lack of motivation. Some might argue that if I really was that motivated, I would find time and ideas and not be scared about something so small. But there has been so many times when I've tried to write but nothing has transferred onto the page. When I've tried to plan but my mind's been a big empty space. It's very annoying, but today I realized something thanks to my father spouting random poetry. 

As cliche as it sounds, writing is kind of like a disease to me. Even when I've pointlessly felt like I'll never write another good word in my life, the stories haven't left my mind. I still think about the characters, and even when I listen to certain songs they remind me of plots. I haven't lost enthusiasm for any of the worlds I've created and it's still one of the things I love most in the world (except cats, cats always win...) and I know that one day I'll sit down to write and snap out of it. The words will come like they used to. Hopefully.

I know I'm not special. I know this is probably just a stupid case of writer's block. Or laziness. Or or lack of time, heightened fear. But from now on, I really need to push myself in the right direction, and get some damn words written. Power through it, rather than sitting on my arse and wishing. Otherwise I'll never forgive myself. 

Is anyone in a similar situation? Do you have ways to get out of a writing slump? Let me know!


Friday, 8 August 2014

My Thoughts On: Trouble by Non Pratt


Another long awaited read... Trouble by Non Pratt! 

Hannah’s smart and funny ... she’s also fifteen and pregnant. Aaron is new at school and doesn't want to attract attention. So why does he offer to be the pretend dad to Hannah’s unborn baby? Growing up can be trouble but that’s how you find out what really matters.

I heard about 'Trouble' through BookTube (the bookish side of YouTube) and after reading a number of articles and writing tips by Non Pratt, I decided to give this a go. I knew - of course - what was going to happen. A teen pregnancy and everything in between, the cover told me right away. But 'Trouble,' while a little predictable, was mostly refreshing, way more than your average pregnancy story. Each component was well crafted and executed, and it was certainly an easy read. When you're up until almost 2am still reading on more than one occasion, you don't question whether it's a good book or not.

While the plot was a little overused (although some could argue everything has been done by one person or another) what Pratt definitely made up with were her characters. Hannah and Aaron. Aaron and Hannah, these two were well fleshed out and seemed like the person everyone has met at least once in their own school. They each enter the story with some sort of front. Hannah has this bravado that's initially hard to see through, whilst Aaron's playing the shy boy in order to forget his darker past. On the sidelines is also Hannah's best friend Katie, who I considered her 'partner in crime' when it came to guys and the meetings in the park that went hand in hand with Friday nights. Pratt's done especially well at having both Hannah and Aaron put up this facade, and knocking it down subtly as the book progresses. In reality they're both quite vulnerable and take comfort in each other's company. Aaron is a particularly complex character who I enjoyed learning about. It broke my heart when he finally started opening up to people because that was what he found so difficult. See, real people. You could meet them anywhere and that's why 'Trouble's' characters were a definite win for me. 

Aside from the characters, one of Trouble's main highlights was that it wasn't all about the pregnancy. There is alot of sex and various people getting with each other - which obviously eventually leads to Hannah's pregnancy - but there are so many other threads that bring the story together and make it far more realistic than other pregnancy novels. We've got Aaron's past, Hannah and Katie's friendship, views on relationships, family matters on both sides. The pregnancy, in some senses, took a back seat. It was always there, as a catalyst for many of Hannah's problems, but Pratt was able to cleverly and smoothly transition between different threads. The plot all fitted together seamlessly. It really did feel like I was reading someone's diary; none of it was contrived or melodramatic, and I would say Trouble is an emotionally charged book - the atmosphere fluctuating with Hannah's hormones and Aaron's disturbing dreams. Mostly realistic and seamless.

The teenage culture of meeting in a park on Friday nights, parties etc, was a little new to me. [Note: I come from an all girls school so haven't had much interaction with the male species, nor am I popular so don't go to house parties sorry not sorry] but I was able to believe it and bought right into the atmosphere. It was a tiny bit cliche, but alot of stuff seems to happen at parties so I wasn't irritated by it. The dialogue surrounding these gatherings was natural, and at some points I felt as though I was right with the characters, huddled in a cold park or in someone's dimly lit living room. I guess this is partly down to the natural voices; I got two perspectives - Hannah full of confidence towards the beginning and Aaron just trying to fit in. The atmosphere was genuine, something I highly value. 

Questions to who fathers Hannah's baby were the main thing that kept me going while reading 'Trouble.' While this worked well and the twist was unexpected, personally I think Pratt could have done so much more with the idea. The complex relationship Hannah has with the father had so much potential. It came as such a shock that I feared the plot could've taken a much darker turn, but this wasn't the case. Maybe this was my naturally disturbed brain, and this clearly wasn't the direction Pratt wanted to go in, but I think this could have shown a different side to teen pregnancy and made the plot slightly more original. You'll know what I'm on about if you do decide to read - which I'd definitely recommend - but that's all I can really say without throwing spoilers everywhere. Sorry.

In summary: While not groundbreaking, with a slightly overused plot, Trouble makes up for it with extremely realistic characters and genuine atmosphere. You won't want to put this one down - 4 stars. 


Friday, 1 August 2014

My Thoughts On: We Were Liars by E Lockheart

Hello my dear readers,

'We Were Liars' is subject for review today! Hope you enjoy. 

We are the Liars. We are beautiful, privileged and live a life of carefree luxury. We are cracked and broken. A story of love and romance. A tale of tragedy. Which are lies? Which is truth?

Like many of the reads I've reviewed recently, there was a certain mysterious hype surrounding this book. I knew very little about it - but had heard several good reviews - so was naturally eager to throw myself into it. Having never had much luck with American authors in particular, I had high expectations for a likeable voice, largely free of cliches that packed a punch at the end. With a 'wow', I closed the book (or shut down my Kindle, whatever floats your boat) satisfied I'd found it - bar a few tiny details.

There was something 'Famous Five' esque about 'We Were Liars.' A large, seemingly rich and perfect family holidaying on a private island every summer for decades. Of course, the premise doesn't mean you should mistake it for a light, summery read. Don't let the short 228 pages fool you. What I especially liked about the setting though, was the atmosphere that came with it. As I reader I felt as though I'd been visiting the island for many summers with the Sinclair family. It felt homely, despite being very different to how I usually spend my own summers, and had an old fashioned feel I loved. Perhaps the upbringing and views of the family had something to do with it; for example, Cadence calling her mother 'Mummy' despite being seventeen. I definitely felt the traditional values of the older characters contrasted effectively with the hints of modernism there to remind  me of the present setting. Things such as the iPads or Lego made the whole thing a little more relatable, so I welcomed the details Lockheart paid close attention to.

The perfect family facade was also effective. Instantly I knew something wasn't quite right with the Sinclairs and that mystery kept me reading almost from the outset. Coupled with the motive of finding out what happened regarding Cadence's 'accident,' Lockheart drew me in with several mysterious threads. The horror Cady experiences as she discovers what happened that fateful summer along with the reader is palpable and that harvested a great deal of sympathy from me to her. Lockheart's struck a good balance between characters and plot here, another reason to give 'We Were Liars' a try.

As I say, the driving plot wasn't the only stand out - the characters shine too. Each member of the large family are clearly defined, with each 'Liar' (the four teenagers) having particularly fleshed out personalities. We had Johnny: the high flying athlete who never took himself too seriously. Mirrem: the anxious, motherly figure, and Gat: the dark and mysterious 'odd one out.' There were all easily identifiable, as were many of the secondary characters such as the aunties or Cady's grandfather. Even some of the younger children occasionally stole glimmers of the spotlight. I could especially picture Taft, freckled and mischievous, often bordering on annoying. Lockheart's characterization was well crafted. There wasn't one who was simply there to bring up the numbers, they were all real people to me - a rarity in alot of today's YA.

Lastly, when I heard the ending of 'We Were Liars' described as both devastating and heartbreaking, it compelled me to see if this was true. After the disappointment of 'The Bunker Diary' I was wary this book might have a similar fate, but fortunately it lived up to high expectations. Although my brain needed a little time to catch up with my eyes, We Were Liars had the shock factor I'd been looking for. I wasn't expecting the twist - the final realization as to what happened during summer fifteen, a step further than other reveals of family secrets. Lockheart's been clever here. At some points, as a reader you believe you're in control and know exactly what's going on, when it reality it's the complete opposite, rather like Em Bailey's 'Shift' which packs a similar punch.

[Apologies if I've explained that clumsily while trying to avoid spoilers. Basically what I'm saying is, read 'We Were Liars,' for the ending if nothing else!] 

If I had to point out any criticisms, I'd have to mention what I have as 'mildly confusing' in my notes. This I believe is down to two factors, as well as the ending. One, being the sheer number of characters to keep track of. It didn't take away from the plot necessarily, but as with any large family, I often found myself forgetting who were whose children, or who was divorced from who for example. However, I soon got over this, which probably gave merit to the gripping plot. Furthermore, while Lockheart's managed to clearly distinguish between memories of summer fifteen and the present of summer seventeen, I occasionally found myself wondering what was happening in each time frame. Maybe that's down to my brain not being one for complicated plots of huge numbers of characters. More sophisticated readers may be able to keep up more easily.

Despite minor crits however, We Were Liars was thoroughly enjoyable - worth many more pennies than the 99p I paid for it!

In summary: A compelling, mysterious and atmospheric read with well-crafted characters and a heart breaking ending. A balanced, 'wow' inducing YA mystery. 4.5 stars.