Thursday, 31 May 2012

Review: Fly On The Wall, E. Lockhart

Fly On The Wall

E. Lockhart

Corgi, 2008 (2006)

At the Manhattan School for Art and Music, where everyone is "different" and everyone is "special", Gretchen Yee feels ordinary. She's the kind of girl who sits alone at lunch, drawing pictures of Spider-Man so she won't have to talk to anyone; who has a crush on Titus but won't do anything about it; who has no one to hang out with when her best (and only real) friend Katya is busy.

One day, Gretchen wishes that she could be a fly on the wall in the boys' locker room - just to learn more about guys. What are they really like? What do they really talk about? Are they really cretins most of the time?

Fly On The Wall is the story of how that wish comes true.

Fly On The Wall could have gone horribly wrong. I was actually reading this at the same time as Meg Cabot's Avalon High, which also has a literary underpinning translated to a high school setting. The Cabot book I am still struggling with. This, on the other hand - a kind of high-schooled Metamorphosis - was a delight.

Gretchen Yee is an ordinary, awkward teenager who attends a prestigious school for the arts in New York, where she pursues one of her big loves: drawing. Except her art teacher isn't very impressed with Gretchen's obsession with comic books, her parents are getting a divorce, her mum is making her throw all her collectibles away, and the boy she likes is far too cool to be thinking about Gretchen. Added to that, Gretchen's best friend is avoiding her, and isn't around to help Gretchen decipher the mysteries of boys (or parents).

I warmed to Gretchen as a character immediately. She's funny and geeky and trying desperately to make sense of things around her, even though she feels increasingly on the outside of everything. Lockhart has a knack for writing believable characters struggling with pretty normal things, without either making everything into a drama or belittling those things that in school seem like the most important things in the world.

The solution to Gretchen's problems lies in a daft, never-quite-explained twist that somehow just works. Don't ask me how, it just does. The middle section of the book is given over to events in the boys' locker room, where Gretchen learns a lot of things about the boys she sees everyday. During this period, Gretchen also re-evaluates her attitude towards a lot of things in her life. Essentially, Fly On The Wall is not only about being yourself, but about being confident to be yourself, and by the end of the book Gretchen starts to take on a much more proactive approach to her life.

This is a short read with lots of funny bits and a brilliant main character that holds together an unconventional but inventive plot. Once again, Lockhart weaves a story around boys and all their complications, whilst keeping the female protagonist front and centre as Gretchen begins to piece herself together.

Overall rating: 7/10

Book source: Borrowed from the library.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: 30 years from now...

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the lovely ladies over at The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic is: Top ten books published in the last 10 years that you hope people will still be reading in 30 years' time.

This exercise has mostly just convinced me of how old I am getting. :)

1. The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth (2005)

My favourite Roth book, and such a powerful comment on history and tolerance.

2. Naive. Super, by Erlend Loe (2005)

A book that appears on these lists a lot, because it's so simple and so heartbreaking and so uplifting all at the same time.

3. The Little Friend, by Donna Tartt (2002)

Mostly this is here because I love Donna Tartt, and I hope people will still be picking up her books in 30 years.

4. The Ruby Oliver books, by E. Lockhart (2005 - 2010)

Growing up, a lot of the YA books I read were from the 1980s, but the good ones always stuck in my mind, and the less-than-contemporary setting never bothered me. Teenagers are teenagers, and good YA is good YA.

5. Mary Ann in Autumn, by Armistead Maupin (2010)

Because if they're reading this, then they're probably reading the rest of the "Tales" series too...

6. The Sorrows of An American, by Siri Hustvedt (2008)

I am a big fan of Hustvedt's novels, and this is probably my favourite of hers.

7. The Unit, by Ninni Holmqvist (2007)

Feminist dystopia for the win!

8. The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins (2006)

Not for everyone, granted, but this is an important book to me.

9. Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides (2002)

Just sneaking in at ten years old... I love Eugenides' novels, and I would hope that they'll still be popular in years to come!

10. Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins (2010)

Another excellent bit of YA that I think deserves to still be on shelves in a few years time!

What's on your list?

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Weekly roundup: Showcase Sunday #2

I'm linking up with Vicky at Books, Biscuits and Tea again this week, to take part in Showcase Sunday.

From the library:

This week, I picked up two books from the library, following on from some recommendations I got from some other lovely bloggers!

Fly On The Wall by E. Lockhart

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen


I also went second-hand book shopping and picked up a couple of things in Oxfam:

Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie

This weekend I've also managed to update my Reviews page and cross-post some outstanding reviews to Goodreads that had been piling up!

Happy reading!

Friday, 25 May 2012

Fangirl Five Friday

Fangirl Five Friday is hosted by the awesome EvilEva over at Nancy Drew Is My Homegirl. After a rather hectic week and a half, I thought I'd put the time before settling down to watch Have I Got News For You (with guest host William Shatner!) and embark on a list of things that are floating my boat this week!

1. Katzenjammer

I think I've spoken about this band here before, but I went to see them play in Birmingham last weekend, and they were amazing. These four Norwegian women play a whole range of instruments (often switching instruments and places during the set) and they make noise that ranges from Balkan-inspired gypsy punk to folk to pop and back again. I think they're awesome. :) Here is a video of the gig I was at:

2. Eurovision

Tomorrow is the Eurovision Song Contest, otherwise known as the tackiest, cheesiest, most musically suspect night of the year. And I love it. My friends and I are having a Eurovision gathering, involving pizza, some newly discovered vegetarian jelly beans, and a lot of alcohol. I am looking forward to Graham Norton's snarky commentary most of all. (Last year, my favourites were Bosnia-Herzegovina. I'm excited to see what madness our European neighbours field this year.)

3. E. Lockhart

Back to books briefly... I have read the first two Ruby Oliver books, and I just today finished another of her books, Fly On The Wall. It was a short book with an odd concept that just... worked, somehow. I love her characters, and I'm excited to read more!

4. The Bridge

I know I have definitely mentioned The Bridge before, but I just watched the final two episodes last night and... wow. A lot of reviews of this show have been dogged by the "it's not as good as The Killing" line, but I think it has a lot of charm in its own right. I love Martin and (especially) Saga, the two main characters, and the last episode, especially the final fifteen minutes, was edge-of-the-seat, heart-in-mouth (and eventually heart-breaking) stuff.

5. Skindred

A favourite band of mine, who I just found out are playing on the second stage at Hard Rock Calling, the same day that I am there seeing Soundgarden!

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Review: Appointment With Death, Agatha Christie

Appointment With Death

Agatha Christie

Harper Collins, 2007 (1938)

"You do see, don't you, that she's got to be killed?" Strange words to float in through a hotel window. Stranger still that Hercule Poirot is the man who overhears them. Later Poirot identifies the voice and his attention is drawn to the Boynton family. Even then he appreciates the psychological forces at work and the terrible emotional strain the Boyntons are undergoing.

We got with them on their journey--from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea and onward into the desert. And there, in the rose red city of Petra, the appointment is kept--with Death...

A perfectly natural death, so it would seem, but Colonel Carbury is worried. He appeals to Poirot who promises him the truth within twenty-four hours. Poirot keeps his word.

After reading Hallowe'en Party and being reasonably disappointed with the whole affair, Appointment With Death was a welcome return to some kind of form. I have seen the David Suchet adaptation of AWD, and the book's blurb was such that I didn't realise this was the same story until I was a couple of chapters in. Luckily, I didn't remember 'whodunnit' - but with Poirot/Christie, that's only half the fun anyway. More thrilling is the untangling of clues and Poirot's determination not to take anything at face value, to work the "little grey cells" until he's unravelled the whole mystery.

In AWD, the first half of the book is told through the eyes of Sarah King, who is holidaying in Jerusalem and becomes transfixed by the Boynton family, presided over by the monstrous matriarch Mrs Boynton. The murder takes place at the end of the first half of the book, and only in the second half does Poirot make his entrance. I much prefer those Poirot novels where he is involved from the beginning, but this was still an enjoyable read. (Sarah King, though, displays what may be the fastest case of insta-love I have seen in a while.)

Poirot abroad is always interesting, and the lengthy denouement (one of my favourite things about Christie's novels, and the character of Poirot in particular) is enjoyable and somewhat surprising. Poirot's list of events and pertinent facts (as requested by the Colonel) also made a return. And you know how I like a list.

This is not classic Poirot blasting alibis to pieces on the Nile, but it was a good, solid read that fixed the damage done by Hallowe'en Party and has whet my appetite for more Belgian crimesolving!

Overall rating: 7/10

Book source: Borrowed from the library.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Review: Hallowe'en Party, Agatha Christie

Hallowe'en Party

Agatha Christie

Harper, 2001 (1969)

At a Hallowe'en party, Joyce - a hostile thirteen year old  - boasts that she once witnessed a murder. When no one believes her, she storms off home. But within hours her body is found, still in the house, drowned in an apple-bobbing tub.

That night, Hercule Poirot is called in to find the 'evil presence'. But first he must establish whether he is looking for a murderer or a double-murderer...

Hallowe'en Party is a late Poirot novel, set sometime around the late 1960s. In it, Poirot is called to investigate the murder of a young girl by his friend, the writer Ariadne Oliver, who was in attendance at the party when the body was found. Handily, the small village that the murder takes place in is also the home of a retired superintendent and old friend of Poirot's, and Poirot soon sets to work finding out all her can about the village's inhabitants.

All the usual elements were there: the suspicious murder, the cast of likely and not-so-likely suspects, the red herrings and Poirot's ability to piece it all together miles before anyone else. Unfortunately, Hallowe'en Party felt more like Poirot-by-numbers than an engaging crime novel. I found the 1960s setting jarring, not only because I am much more accustomed to the Poirot of the pre-war period, but because the references to the time period seemed so laboured: "secondary moderns" and "LSD" and much talk of a lenient justice system. The preoccupation with sexually-motivated child murderers and psychologically unsound individuals was distracting, too - Christie seemed to want to make a definite point about the numbers of psychologically troubled young people and a failure to keep them away from the rest of society. She made it. Numerous times.

All this I could have overlooked if it weren't for the lacklustre mystery that accompanied it. The Poirot of old seemed largely erased: no "little grey cells", no smart offices in London, and no classic denouement. The motivation for the whole thing seemed reasonably weak, and all in all, although I appreciate Christie's ability to put together a crime better than anyone else, this one just didn't do it for me.

Overall rating: 4.5/10

Book source: Borrowed from the library.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Review: Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death, M. C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death

M. C. Beaton

Constable & Robinson, 2004 (1992)

High-flying public relations supremo Agatha Raisin has decided to take early retirement. She's off to make a new life in a picture-perfect Cotswold village. To make friends, she enters the local quiche-making competition - and to make quite sure of first prize she secretly pays a visit to a London deli. But alas, the competition judge succumbs after tasting her perfect quiche, and Agatha is revealed as a cheat and potential poisoner. Definitely not the best start. So Agatha must turn amateur sleuth - she's absolutely got to track down the real killer!

This is the first book in the Agatha Raisin series, and it does pretty much exactly what it says on the tin: newly retired Agatha Raisin moves to Carsely, a village in the Cotswolds, hoping for a relaxing life in the English countryside. Instead, she stumbles upon what I can only imagine is the first in a long line of murders. Feeling lonely and at a loose end since leaving London, Agatha takes it upon herself to solve the mystery and clear her name after her quiche apparently poisons Mr. Cummings-Browne, fellow villager and judge.

This was an undemanding read, but a fun one. Agatha isn't the most likable character to begin with: she's rude to her neighbours, pushy, unsympathetic and almost entirely without friends. She also has a good nose for a mystery and an inability to let things go. Always a sleuthing bonus. With the help of her ex-colleague Roy and the local policeman, Bill Wong, Agatha engages in a lot of light investigating until she eventually discovers the origin of the deadly quiche. The story moves between Carsely and other corners of the Cotswolds, and a handful of trips back to London, during which Agatha begins to realise that perhaps she isn't so eager to return to city life after all.

In between investigating the mysterious death of Mr. Cummings-Browne, Agatha attends village fetes and meetings of the Carsely Ladies' Society, she learns to cook, puts on weight, and discards her sophisticated London wardrobe for sandals and dresses. The subplot of Agatha becoming comfortable in her new home and gradually finding her place in the village was a nice accompaniment to the mystery itself.

The characters are broadly drawn but easily recognisable and the pace is gentle but constant. As a quick, light crime read, it was enjoyable and I'll definitely be picking up another one in the series in the future.

Overall rating: 6.5/10

Book source: Borrowed from the library.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Weekly roundup! Showcase Sunday #1

I'm linking up with Vicky at Books, Biscuits and Tea this week, to take part in Showcase Sunday for the first time. I haven't picked up any new books in a while, but on Friday afternoon I took myself off to the library, desperate for a bit of light reading! 

(Epic fail story: there are two branches of my city library in walking distance. Walking home from uni on Friday, I went to the first one, only to discover it had closed three days earlier for a 12-week refurbishment. Cue VERY long walk to visit the other library. Dedication or madness, I haven't decided.)

I picked up the following four books:

A week of Agathas.
1. Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by M. C. Beaton
2. Hallowe'en Party (Poirot) by Agatha Christie
3. Appointment with Death (Poirot) by Agatha Christie
4. Avalon High by Meg Cabot

I have been in a bit of a reading slump lately, but within minutes of getting home I was already a few pages in to the Agatha Raisin book. Evidently a bit of ridiculous English village crime was just what I needed!

Reviews posted this week:

The Boy Book (Ruby Oliver #2) by E. Lockhart

The second installment from Roo. More Meghan! More Noel! More Hutch! Hurray! :)

I would like to say a big thank you to Britt at A Not So Teen Reader, Mandee from VeganYANerds, Linny at Linny's Literature and Hilda at Catch the Lune for their awesome contemporary YA recommendations this week. (If you want to suggest anything, the post is here.) I have already requested Just Listen by Sarah Dessen and Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart from the library, and I have a long list of others to add to that list later!

Have an excellent Sunday, everyone :)

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Recommend to me! Contemporary YA

I haven't posted many reviews lately, and that's because my current reading looks like this:

There's nothing like a pile of books.
I am a huge, huge fan of George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series, as a lot of you are probably aware by now. Yet I confess I have been struggling a little with A Feast For Crows. There are a lot of things I like about it, but the swathes of new characters are giving me a little bit of trouble, and I'm struggling to read more than a chapter a day, especially as the chapters seem to be getting longer!

My other book on the go at the moment is Mark Yarm's Everybody Loves Our Town: A History of Grunge, which is a great book detailing the inner workings of the Seattle scene in the 1980s and 1990s. It's a huge book, however, and one that I've been dipping in and out of since Christmas.

(The academic books in between are the current source of most of my frustration. Unfortunately they are also the source of my current thesis chapter.)

My library reservations have dried up and the only other book on my TBR pile at the moment is Patrick DeWitt's The Sisters Brothers, which I have no doubt will be excellent, but I'm looking for something a little lighter to balance out the epic politics of Westeros right now!

So I'm looking for some recommendations for some awesome contemporary YA fiction to brighten the "summer" (ha!) and lighten my reading a little. Let's all go and fall in love on a beach. :)

Leave me your recommendations in the comments! (Or tweet them at me here.)


Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The lyrical, the meaningful, and the downright ridiculous: Top Ten Book Quotes

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week, the theme is Top Ten Quotes from Books.

I am quite bad at remembering book quotes, mostly because I read fast and I read a lot, and even when something leaps out at me at the time, there's not much chance of me holding on to it for long afterwards. However, after some deliberation and some searching, here are a selection of my favourite quotes:

1. "We tiptoed around each other like heartbreaking new friends." - Jack Kerouac, On The Road

2. "I'm not afraid to die. I'm not afraid to live. I'm not afraid to fail. I'm not afraid to succeed. I'm not afraid to fall in love. I'm not afraid to be alone. I'm just afraid I might have to stop talking about myself for five minutes." - Kinky Friedman, When The Cat's Away

3. "The pleasure isn't in owning the person. The pleasure is this. Having another contender in the room with you." - Philip Roth, The Human Stain

4. "Old age isn't a battle. Old age is a massacre." - Philip Roth, Everyman

5. "I have just realised I have never seen a dead body or a real female nipple. This is what comes of living in a cul-de-sac." - Sue Townsend, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 and 3/4

6. "Better never means better for everyone. It always means worse, for some." - Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale

7. "She was already learning that if you ignore the rules people will, half the time, quietly rewrite them so that they don't apply to you." - Terry Pratchett, Equal Rites

8. "Fear cuts deeper than swords." - George R. R. Martin, Game of Thrones

9. "If a man opens a novel, he likes to have a masculine name on the cover; it's reassuring somehow. You never know what might happen to that external genitalia if you immerse yourself in imaginary doings concocted by someone with the goods on the inside." - Siri Hustvedt, The Summer Without Men

10. "Oh, and one other thing. Mallory is white and Jessi is black. But we don't care about that." / "Dawn is from California." / "Stacey is definitely the most fashionable of all of us." / "Claudia likes junk food and Nancy Drew mysteries." / "Kristy's stepfather is a millionaire." And so it goes. - Ann. M. Martin, The Babysitters' Club series

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Review: The Boy Book, E. Lockhart

The Boy Book

E. Lockhart

Corgi, 2007 (2006)

Oy with the boys. The Boy Book is the second in the Ruby Oliver series, and after reading The Boyfriend List a couple of weeks ago, I requested this from the library. If you read my review of The Boyfriend List, you’ll know that I started to warm to Ruby considerably as the book drew to a close, and this time around I had a lot of sympathy for her situation. It might be a new school year, and there might be some new friends on the horizon, but Ruby is still dealing with a) her bad reputation, b) her ever-present ex, and c) her lack of BFFs.

And, of course, boys. Lots of them, although not quite so many as in book 1. I was gratified to find that Noel took a bigger part, as did Hutch. I could take or leave Angelo, and I could certainly leave Jackson, who has no redeeming qualities in my eyes, and every time he appeared (in person or in thought), I wanted to shake Ruby until she realised he was in the running for moron of the year.

On first putting the (very short) book down, I was a little disappointed in the lack of romance (a brief dalliance with Angelo aside, which I remember mostly for the sitting-on-the-labrador moment). But having thought about it, I actually appreciate the path that book 2 takes. The structure follows The Boy Book first mentioned in the first book, a kind of how-to guide too boys that Ruby and her friends write a year or two before. By the end, however, Ruby has begun writing The Girl Book, which is actually a more accurate description of this book as a whole. There are still boys on the horizon, and all the confusion they bring, but what I enjoyed most was Ruby’s tentative forging of new friendships, her patching up of old ones, and her letting go of others. This was the part that felt the most authentic, whereby growing up is less about having some boy boob-grope you and more about figuring out who you are and where you stand.

This book made me smile a lot; Ruby’s parents are a nice touch of comic relief, and I enjoyed Ruby and Noel’s protracted plans to save Nora’s embarrassment over the photographs. I am looking forward to reading the rest of the Ruby Oliver series, although my citywide library system doesn’t have the other two books in the series (!) so I might have to wait a while!

Overall rating: 7/10

Book source: Borrowed from the library.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Fangirl Five Friday #4

Fangirl Five Friday is an awesome weekly meme hosted by Evil Eva at Nancy Drew Is My Homegirl, in which bloggers list the five things they're fangirling over this week.  

Game of Thrones, series 2

I spent the week with The Boy, and we finally caught up on the cluster of episodes we’ve missed. I am much more excited this time around, because I am fully immersed in the book series and so enjoying seeing it come to life, particularly as the map expands and we get to see the Iron Islands and Beyond the Wall. (Long titles often annoy me—vis Dexter and Boardwalk Empire—but the GoT titles I watch through every time.)

The Calling

Ah, post-grunge pop-rock. How edgy I thought you were when I was 16. My friends and I indulged in a retro-sleepover last weekend (hence the lack of FFF last week!), complete with Clueless and Coyote Ugly on DVD, and a whole swathe of 90s music videos. (I wrote about the whole she-bang here.) After most of Five’s back catalogue, some dodgy ‘N Sync videos, and a surprise win from B, who discovered that she remembered all the words to PJ and Duncan’s “Let’s Get Ready to Rhumble”, we had a blast of this for old 
times’ sake:

Bonus points: The Calling also featured in Coyote Ugly, playing in the club near the beginning.


Deserving an entry of their own, just for being the most fun you can have with your pyjamas on.

The Bridge / Broen / Bron

via (BBC/ZDF)
Whatever you want to call it. This is the latest Danish/Swedish import snapped up by BBC4, after The Killing (Forbrydelsen) 1 and 2 and Borgen, both of which I enjoyed immensely (not forgetting Wallander!). The Bridge follows Swedish cop Saga Noren and Danish cop Martin Rohde as they attempt to solve a very tangly mystery involving severed bodies, shady journalists and some rather ingenious ways of offing people. Fantastik.

Dino Lego!

I love dinosaurs. I love Lego. Venturing into the Lego shop in Brighton this week, I discovered that someone has stuck the two things together to create Dino Lego. Not since I discovered the wonders of houmous and Pringles a couple of months ago have I been this excited by an unexpected pairing.

What's on your list this week?