Friday, 28 June 2013

Review: Confessions of an Almost-Girlfriend, Louise Rozett

Confessions of an Almost-Girlfriend (Confessions #2)

Louise Rozett

Harlequin UK, 2013

[New release: June 18th, 2013]

If you’re not true to yourself, why should anyone else be?
In her second year of high school Rose Zarelli is determined to become Rose 2.0 - as in, innovative...superior...improved.
Improved how? Well, Rose is setting some ground rules. This year she absolutely most definitely will NOT:
1) do things just because other people want her to
2) randomly shoot her mouth off
3) worry about whether she’s someone’s girlfriend—or not.
And most important of all she determined to tell off Jamie Forta, the boy who might just have broken her heart, once and for all and move on.
After all she’s older and smarter now. She can totally pull this off.
How hard can it be? Right? Right?

This book reignited my faith in contemporary YA, after a couple of dud books recently. It didn't totally blow me away, but it was smart, realistic and the ending made me do a little mental dance along the lines of YESSSSSSSS. THIS.

I haven't read the prequel to this, and although I think it might be better to read them in order, it was easy enough to pick up the basics - Rose had a pretty crappy freshman year, got socially ostracised and lost out on the boy she liked, and made a couple of enemies along the way. Now she's preparing for her sophomore year, and she's trying hard to think positive. This is, of course, easier said than done, not least because Rose is stuck in therapy with her mother, is still grieving her father's death (and lacking many people to share that with), and has a deteriorating relationship with her older brother. And if she was hoping for a low-key school year, that's pretty much shattered when she interrupts a vicious initiation at an end-of-summer party, marking her out yet again as public enemy number one.

Rose was a great main character. She seemed realistic and multi-faceted, and although she has a lot of issues she always felt like more than just those issues. There were shades of grey to everything, which I appreciated. Ultimately, she's a good-hearted person trying her best to do the right thing, without always knowing how to figure out what the right thing might be.

Although there is a significant romance plot, it rarely felt like the driving force. Rose has a confusing non-relationship with Jamie, full of contradictions, mixed messages and confusion on both sides. Rozett acknowledges that high school relationships aren't always simple, and they certainly don't always run from A to B without a hitch. There was a nice subtlety to the evolution of their relationship, which again was another strong point for me.

Instead, there is a focus on Rose's burgeoning singing talent and her quest to find a style and performance that works for her. (You might be relieved to know that this metaphor of 'finding her own voice' was in no way tortured, which could have so easily made me throw the book across the room.) I wasn't entirely convinced by the introduction of this storyline at first - I was worried Rose was suddenly going to become the star of the high school musical ("Who knew she was such a STAR?!"), but instead there were a few false starts and some credible soul-searching from Rose.

I really liked Angelo (although we get some palpable relief that Angelo got rid of his "long, greasy", "crazy" hair and "transformed" - seriously YA authors, long-haired boys aren't all dope-fuelled slackers who need a good wash) - he and Rose had a cool friendship and I liked how he played a part in making Rose see she could be good at something and stand out from the crowd in a way she wanted.

Confessions of an Almost-Girlfriend is a fast, smart slice of contemporary YA with a believable, conflicted protagonist and plenty of strands of story to keep you hooked. Although if you don't like unresolved endings, you might want to wait until the release date for #3 before you dive in... ;)

Overall rating: 6.5/10

Book source: ebook ARC received from Netgalley.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Top Ten Books of 2013 (so far)

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's Top Ten Tuesday topic is Top Ten Books of 2013 (so far), and I decided to participate and share some my favourites since January! Some of these are 2013 releases, but for the most part they're just my top reads.

1. Life In Outer Space - Melissa Keil
Quirky Australian YA with a great, believable trio of teenage boys at its centre.

(The US edition of this book looks to be currently 'Read Now' on Netgalley, if you're interested!)

2. The Dinner - Herman Koch
Dutch novel that busies itself skewering the middle classes over appetisers.

3. Steal My Sunshine - Emily Gale
More Australian YA, this time focusing on an uncertain teenage girl and the secrets of her grandmother.

4. Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn
Twisty, genuinely gripping thriller that everyone and their aunt seems to have read by now!

5. Lola and the Boy Next Door - Stephanie Perkins
A worthy follow up to Anna, and another YA novel from Perkins with real, heart-warming characters and one of the coolest protagonists I've met in a while.

6. Speechless - Hannah Harrington
This one totally exceeded my expectations - bratty girl is transformed by her pledge to remain silent after a horrifying incident.

7. Geek Girl - Holly Smale
Fun British YA - smart and daft and highly recommended.

8. Nemesis - Philip Roth
Roth's final novel, and a poignant one at that, focusing on the polio epidemic in New Jersey in 1944.

9. Be Awesome - Hadley Freeman (review coming soon!)
Friends with kids, terrible dating advice, magazines that do nothing but tear women's bodies apart - and how to deal with it all. Extremely funny.

10. My Mad, Fat Teenage Diary - Rae Earl
It's 1989, and 17 year old Rae is writing her diary in the depths of Lincolnshire, agonising over boys, analysing shitty friendships and writing bad poetry. A wonderful, hilarious book.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Showcase Sunday: The one where the butler definitely (probably) didn't do it

Hello! After last week's Birthday Edition, I just have a couple of books to share this week, picked up from the library. Both of these are contemporary crime thrillers that promise lots of twists and turns - definitely not cosy, and definitely not straightforward.

The first of these is Gillian Flynn's debut novel, Sharp Objects. I saw that this was only £1.99 on Kindle, and I almost bought it before realising that my library had two copies on the shelves.

When two little girls are abducted and killed in Missouri, reporter Camille Preaker is sent to her home town to investigate. Camille has been estranged from her neurotic mother for years. Now she finds herself installed in her family home, reacquainting herself with her half-sister, a precocious thirteen-year-old who holds a disquieting grip on the town. (from the blurb)

The second book was a reservation - The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino, a Japanese thriller and the first in the Detective Galileo series. Although the cover of this one has it marketed up to the eyeballs as the 'Japanese Stieg Larsson' (imaginative), I've heard some great things and I'm looking forward to starting it!

Yasuko lives a quiet life, a good mother to her only child. But when he ex-husband appears at her door without warning one evening, her comfortable world is shattered. When Detective Kusanagi of the Tokyo Police tries to piece together the events of that night, he finds himself confronted by the most puzzling, mysterious circumstances he has ever investigated. Nothing quite makes sense...

This book will also count towards my 2013 Translation Challenge. An update on that challenge is coming soon!

Reviews posted this week
Potter Redux: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (part of my Harry Potter Re-read)

Thanks for stopping by!

Showcase Sunday is hosted by Vicky at Books, Biscuits and Tea.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Potter Redux: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, or why a summer at the Burrow sounds like the best thing ever

This post is part of my Harry Potter Re-read 2013.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

J. K. Rowling

Bloomsbury, 1998

Previous reads:
I seem to remember claiming for a while, after reading the first three or four books, that this one was my favourite, but on subsequent re-reads it's fallen further and further down the list. Of all the monsters lurking in Harry Potter, I don't think you can beat the Basilisk - certainly not as someone who is terrified of snakes, anyway. I imagine that as with the first book, I have read this four or five times before, at least.

Arrrrrgh Dobby. He aggravates me in this book (and I always will him not to drop that bloody trifle at the beginning...). I like the fact that we get a glimpse of The Burrow at the beginning, and all the Weasleys together. The trip to Diagon Alley was most memorable for Gilderoy Lockhart, who I always think is a good addition to this story, useless as he is. His apparent obliviousness is pretty funny.

There are glimmers of the future Ron/Hermione storyline here, if only on Ron's part, as he is much more interested than Harry in Hermione's crush on Lockhart. I never really saw the Ron/Hermione pairing coming when I first read the series, but it does have some roots here.

Speaking of Hermione, it's a shame she is confined to the hospital wing for a good portion of this book - it was much more Ron and Harry as a duo, and I missed Hermione's input and her scathing comments, even if she did still solve the mystery.

Again, like book 1, the final battle between Harry and Tom seemed quite short this time around, and quite easily rectified. I like that Harry finally addresses his concerns over where the Sorting Hat put him, and his discussion with Dumbledore is one of the stand out moments in the book: "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."

Pick a quote:
"However," said Dumbledore, speaking very slowly and clearly, so that none of them could miss a word, "you will find that I will only truly have left this school when none here are loyal to me. You will also find that help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it."

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Showcase Sunday #27

Showcase Sunday is hosted by Vicky at Books, Biscuits and Tea.

Lots of exciting books this week, mostly because it was my birthday! I haven't had much time to read this week - a combination of birthday celebrations (including a weekend at the beach, where I celebrated with pizza on the beach and Icelandic beer), applying for jobs, preparing for my viva examination, and just generally saying yes to too many things...

But I am looking forward to an unspecified time at which I will be able to read freely again. (!)

From the library

Last Rituals - Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

Icelandic crime fiction, the first in Sigurðardóttir's series about the detective Thóra Gudmundsdóttir. This book counts towards my 2013 Translation Challenge goal.

The Body in the Library - Agatha Christie

Another classic, early Marple mystery. After thoroughly enjoying The Murder at the Vicarage, I am giving Miss Marple another chance!

Received as gifts

Be Awesome - Hadley Freeman

Hadley writes for the Guardian, and this book covers lots of topics, from beauty standards and sex to working in an office, being an unannoying vegetarian (!) and dealing with all those married friends. Have dipped into the first couple of chapters and enjoying it so far - reminiscent of Caitlin Moran's How To Be A Woman, in a way.

The Purity Myth - Jessica Valenti

I have been looking for a copy of this book for ages, and my housemate bought me it for my birthday! The subtitle (if it's unclear in the photo) is "How America's Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women". I first heard about this when Jessica Valenti was still editor of, and I'm looking forward to starting it.

The Hive - Gill Hornby

I saw Gill Hornby being interviewed on the breakfast news a couple of weeks ago, and her book sounds really interesting - it centres of a group of women who know each other from the school gates, and how the hierarchies of their "friendship" develop.

All The Summer Girls - Meg Donohue

My brother sent me this as a gift - I've seen some good reviews, and again it looks at female friendship, focusing on three women who return to the beach they used to visit as children.

Thanks for stopping by - hope everyone has a good weekend!

Friday, 14 June 2013

The Murder at the Vicarage, Agatha Christie

The Murder at the Vicarage

Agatha Christie

Harper Collins, 2007 (1930)

Nobody was surprised when Colonel Protheroe was found shot to death. He had earned the hatred of almost everyone in the village. After three suspects confess, Miss Marple unravels the knots.

After the disappointment of The Moving Finger (a Marple without much Marple, a bit like a chocolate cake where you forget to put the cocoa in), I decided to give Christie's unassuming amateur detective one more try. As a Poirot fan, I have never warmed to the Marple mysteries so much, but this one was classic Christie.

Narrated by the vicar of St. Mary Mead, events begin to unfold after a body is found in the vicarage's study. As with any Christie novel worth its salt, there are numerous suspects - the second wife, the flighty daughter, the handsome artist, the poacher, a whole raft of housekeepers and clergy and mysterious newcomers to the village.The vicar, by virtue of his good standing in the village, manages to get in on most of the police investigation (like you do), but it is Miss Marple who holds the key to this crime, using nothing but her skills of logic and deduction - not to mention her knowledge of human nature. Miss Marple isn't affiliated with the police, and neither is she a professional detective. Instead, she is simply a study of other humans, using her experiences with real people to fathom out the likely solution to this mystery.

I thought I'd figured out this mystery quite early on, which is a thought I normally have when reading Christie, only to be proved devastatingly wrong at the end. This time, I had actually figured out an aspect of the mystery correctly, but the perpetrator of the actual crime still eluded me. This is the first mystery featuring Miss Marple, and on the back of this I have warmed to the character somewhat, and am looking forward to more of her (sedate) adventures.

Overall rating: 7.5/10

Book source: Borrowed from my stepmum.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Review: My Mad, Fat, Teenage Diary, Rae Earl

My Mad, Fat, Teenage Diary

Rae Earl

Hodder, 2007

It's 1989 and Rae is a fat, boy-mad 17-year-old girl, living in Stamford, Lincolnshire with her mum and their deaf white cat in a council house with a mint off-green bath suite and a larder Rae can't keep away from. This is the hilarious and touching real-life diary she kept during that fateful year - with characters like her evil friend Bethany, Bethany's besotted boyfriend, and the boys from the grammar school up the road (who have code names like Haddock and Battered Sausage).

My Fat, Mad Teenage Diary evokes a vanished time when Charles and Di are still together, the Berlin wall is up, Kylie is expected to disappear from the charts at any moment and it's £1 for a Snakebite and Black in the Vaults pub. My Fat, Mad Teenage Diary will appeal to anyone who's lived through the 1980s. But it will also strike a chord with anyone who's ever been a confused, lonely teenager who clashes with their mother, takes themselves VERY seriously and has no idea how hilarious they are.

Rae Earl is 17 and living in Stamford, Lincolnshire. If that wasn't bad enough, she's just had a spell in a mental health facility, and she's addicted to food. Hence the title: my mad, fat, teenage diary. It's 1989, and Rae is juggling mock A levels with nights down the pub, crumbling friendships, and boys. Not to mention - can a Sagittarius really ever get off with a Scorpio without it all going to pieces?

Rae's diary is a joy to read - not because it's particularly happy, and not even because it's jammed full of entertaining events, but because it is undeniably real throughout. And of course it's real - this is Rae's real diary - but more than that it's full of that strange and yet completely relatable teenage minutiae: lists of boys and their current status with regard to Rae (friends? more than friends?); conversations rendered in exquisite detail, a few lines imbued with the hefty weight of meaning; lines of poetry; rants at her mum.

I have read a few reviews that have been disappointed with the lack of things happening in this book, with the unresolved ending, with the repetitive diary entries, and I was a little bit apprehensive going into this - having really enjoyed the TV series that was made recently for Channel 4 - but all I can say is: give it a try. There were some proper laugh out loud moments - one of my personal favourites was the list Rae made of illnesses and conditions she could expect to suffer from in later life, courtesy of her mum (my mum does this to me, too). Rae's diary isn't trying to be anything, because it already is something: a year in the life of a teenager dealing with bitchy friends and ridiculous boys and that awkward point between childhood and adulthood (no, Britney, no).

In Rae's case, everything is made that much harder by the fact that she is fat - fat enough that a group of boys will routinely chant "Jabba" at her when she passes, and her best friends will suggest that if only she could lose some weight, a boy might like her in more than a pitying way. Rae's struggle with her weight and her self-image was all the more powerful for not being an easy fix: this is not fiction, and Rae does not suddenly transform just by willing it to be so. Those reviews I have read that appear frustrated with Rae - "why doesn't she just stop eating biscuits?" - seem to miss the point. This is not a redemptive piece of teenage fiction: this is real life, where the narrative isn't always just going in one, better direction.

Overall rating: 8/10

Book source: Borrowed from the library.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Potter Redux: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, or why Dumbledore is awesome

This post is part of my Harry Potter Re-read 2013.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (Harry Potter #1)

J. K. Rowling

Bloomsbury, 1997

My version of the book has the same cover, but it's only won the Smarties Gold Award once on mine - it seems so low key now! I don't think I ever imagined Harry looking quite like this, but nowadays I do tend to see the film actors when I read the books.

Previous reads: 

I started reading the Harry Potter series in about 2001, when I was about 16 and starting college. I made friends with a girl who recommended them to me and, as my brother was reading them around the same time, borrowed the first three and sped through them. I remember we had them in paperback until Goblet of Fire, which we bought in hardback on its release.

I have read HP&TPS around five or six times now, I imagine. Visiting the Harry Potter Studio Tour a few weeks ago, I was discussing HP with the group of friends I went with, and declared that one of my favourite parts of the whole series is when Harry finds out he's a wizard for the first time, and the way in which Hogwarts quickly becomes his home. A lot of the magic in book one isn't to do with spells and wands, but just in the building up of the world that Rowling creates, and the way Harry comes to life on the page.


Once again I really enjoyed reading about Harry's life with the Dursleys and the incident with the snake, before he realises he's destined to go to Hogwarts. The first glimpse of Diagon Alley and the school itself was as fun as it always was!

One of my favourite things about the book this time around was Dumbledore - his penchant for sherbet lemons, his calm, worldly vibes, his claim that he sees himself with a pair of woolly socks in the Mirror of Erised, to name a few of my favourite moments. I had forgotten how involved Neville is as the fourth member of their gang, and although I always liked the line about the bravery needed to stand up to your friends (which sees Neville awarded those crucial 10 house points at the end), it always seemed a little too convenient that Harry got 60 points, rather than the 50 awarded to everyone else.

The final battle comes surprisingly late, with most of the book given over to Harry's experiences at his new school, giving time for his relationships with Ron and Hermione to build up, which I liked. HP&TPS could almost stand alone in some ways, and I don't think there are so many hints in this one about what is to come, apart from the prophecies of the centaurs in the Forbidden Forest, but it's interesting to see that even in this book, there are threads that will recur in later books as the series becomes more sophisticated and complex.

Although the world and the events only continue to layer up and create a more complex and (often) more frightening series, this first foray into Hogwarts will always be one of my favourite parts of the series, simply because as a piece of writing for children, capturing their imagination, I think it's pretty, magically awesome.

Pick a quote:

[Dumbledore] "Would you care for a sherbet lemon?"
"A what?"
"A sherbet lemon. They're a kind of Muggle sweet I'm rather fond of."
"No, thank you," said Professor McGonagall coldly, as though she didn't think this was the moment for sherbet lemons.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Potter Redux: The Harry Potter Reread 2013

Ever since visiting the Harry Potter Studio Tour a few weeks ago, I've been itching to get back into the wizarding world. My housemate and I watched a handful of the HP films before we visited the Warner Bros. studios, and although I don't mind the films, they generally make me want to dig out the books again and really immerse myself in the Hogwarts experience.

So... after raiding my mum's loft and finding mine and my brother's copies of the books, I have dragged them all the way back to Birmingham and have set about reading them from the beginning again. I won't be posting reviews as such, because I've read some of them four or five times before (certainly the earlier books), but I will be posting my thoughts, favourite quotes and anything that I've noticed or particularly enjoyed the second third fourth time around...

Feel free to join in or just leave a comment telling me what you liked most/least about each of the books, and at the end of the reread (which I imagine will run up to the end of the summer, if summer indeed ever starts) I'll do some round up posts and maybe finally have a chat about why McGonagall is the shiz.


Sunday, 2 June 2013

Showcase Sunday #26

Showcase Sunday is hosted by Vicky at Books, Biscuits and Tea.

If you follow me on Goodreads, you might have noticed that I have launched into a reread of the Harry Potter series, so this week's Showcase Sunday is a little bit Potter-heavy...

I picked these up from home when I went to visit my family last weekend. I also picked up Agatha Christie's The Murder At The Vicarage (borrowed from my stepmum), which is my second attempt at a Miss Marple mystery this year. I normally prefer Poirot, but I decided to give Marple a go for a change. Unfortunately, the first Marple book I picked up from the library a while ago was The Moving Finger, which hardly features Marple at all - this is meant to be more of a classic!

I also got My Mad, Fat, Teenage Diary by Rae Earl from the library. This is the actual diary of Rae, and was the basis for the recent E4 programme My Mad Fat Diary.

Recent reviews:
All That I Am - Anna Funder (7/10) - based on the true story of German citizens who resisted Hitler's rise to power in the early 1930s
Dare You To - Katie McGarry (DNF for making me go ARGGGGH throughout the first few chapters)
The Whole of My World - Nicole Hayes (6.5/10) - Australian YA with a footie backdrop
Twerp - Mark Goldblatt (7/10) - funny MG featuring Julian and his journal

Thanks for stopping by!