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Froi of the Exiles (Lumatere Chronicles #2)

Froi of the Exiles (Lumatere Chronicles, #2)Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You know how authors say that once in a story the two main characters get together there is no point in continuing because nobody is interested in reading about them getting married, having babies and discussing about who takes the kids to school?

Well, with Marchetta it doesn't work that way. Because, in fact, in this book she does tell us about the Happily Ever After. She also switches the focus of attention to some OTHER interesting characters and that's where it gets tricky, for the new characters have to be unique and interesting.

So this is how, in Froi of the Exiles we find all the characters of Finnikin of the Rock, especially Finnikin and Isaboe happily together, yet we never get bored. Because this story is mainly about Froi, a trait d'union between our old, well acquainted set of characters and a whole new one, just as amazing as the others and possibly more.

The story picks up exactly three years after the events of Finnikin. All is well in the kingdom of Lumatere and people are starting to build new lives for themselves.

But it's time for retribution. Froi, who's become an expert assassin trained by the Guard, gets sent to Charyn to kill the King, the real culprit of the curse that's plagued Lumatere for 10 years.

Little did the Lumaterans know that Charyn has a curse of its own and Froi is just a pawn in a scheme that goes well beyond the assassination of its King. By meeting Quintana, that half-mad Princess who's believed to be the holder of the key to break the curse, Froi will finally discover his origins and the truth that flows in his own blood.

I always forget how Marchetta's books successfully manage to unsettle me every time. It happened with Jellicoe, with The Piper's Son and to be frank, even with Finnikin. The stories confuse me at first, their whole force revealing itself well into the narration. So it was for Froi. This book is quite a tome, let me tell you. With more than 600 tightly written pages, it's quite a brick to digest. I don't know how Marchetta managed to keep my attention for so long.

Actually, I do. The plot is quite twisted, revelations ensue one after the other and with two story lines going on at the same time, there is no TIME to get bored. The reader constantly travels from Lumatere to Charyn and viceversa, an intelligent strategy in my opinion to keep the story engaging and never dragging.

So as my head started to ache for all the court intrigue and politics of the kingdom of Charyn, I was thrown back to some beloved characters of which I knew almost everything there was to know in Lumatere. This is how you digest a 600 and counting page book.

The characterization is simply amazing, as usual. Not only we get to know Froi better - and the guy has come a looong way from the street rat we met at the beginning of Finnikin - but the reader will be mesmerized by his sidekicks as well, each and every one well developed and unique. Marchetta manages to make fictional people come alive like no other author does. Quintana is, without a doubt, her greatest success. I loved her. I truly cannot wait for the next book to come out and see more of this amazing creature.

And as in Finnikin, the message this book holds within itself is always of outmost importance. Even with the barbarities, the injustices and the abuse that take place within one country, the underlying message contained in the book is undoubtedly one of love and hope. Hope in the generations to come, to learn from the mistakes of the fathers, never to repeat them again:

"If your people meant no offence, they should not speak their thoughts out loud in front of their children. Because it will be their children who come to slaughter us one day, all because of the careless words passed down by elders who meant no harm."

This kind of story, although taking place in a fictional, fantasy world, can truly be valid universally, transcending everything: race, religion, politics, beliefs. It will never grow old and its actuality will resonate for years and years to come. That is how you make a book "immortal", I think.

Eagerly, eagerly awaiting the final chapter of this amazing story.

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Lola and The Boy Next Door

Lola and the Boy Next DoorLola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The thing about Lola and the boy next door is that, since it's a companion book, it's inevitable to make a comparison with Anna and the French Kiss which, in this case, comes out as a disadvantage because, as far as I am concerned, Anna is the absolute winner.

Lola is a really cute story: she is a quirky, raised by gay parents, unique teenage girl.
When her first crush and ex-neighbor, Cricket, reappears on her doorstep after two years, things get complicated because Lola already has a boyfriend, Max, five years older than her, much more experienced.
As Cricket slowly worms his was back into her life - and into her heart - Lola will have to learn how to be honest with herself - and she will learn it the hard way.

I'll admit I had high expectations for this book and while it's certainly enjoyable and relaxing, it failed to deliver repeatedly for me.
Whereas Anna's story, while still being fluffy, was more believable, less shallow and more charming, Lola's story was definitely more clichéd, more puerile and felt forced in more than one occasion.

The most striking example of this "forcedness" is Max.
I didn't like how he first gets presented as an awesome boyfriend and then, quite conveniently, ends up being the asshole in a total unreasonable way. It was done unreasonably and felt so contrived, that when he does become an asshole and I was supposed to despise him I just couldn't bring myself to and I still liked him from before!

I wonder if it all has to do with the fact that the 5 years of difference in age between Lola and Max are taken as a big NO NO right from the start, because frankly, I didn't buy it. I had a 22 years old boyfriend when I was 17 and it was NOT a big deal. But, since it's taken for granted here that Max is too old for Lola, let's just make him the EVIL guy. The way the author deals with his character royally pissed me off. It wasn't smooth AT ALL.
But the same goes for the other characters: basically, they were just too black or white, they lacked depth and originality: Cricket was just too damn good for his own sake, Max too damn bad (kind of in a beautiful and damned way), Lola too damn in self denial: what she says to Max when she goes to his apartment? So not cool, girl. My eye was twitching madly during that passage.

Still, it's a book I'd recommend if you're looking for something quite readable and relaxing AND you loved Anna. Perkins certainly knows how to write a story and make her dialogues interesting. It's a colorful book, as colorful as its cover, despite the psycho-looking girl there.
I just wish there had been a little more to it, a bit more substance. Anna was definitely more fun for me.

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FingersmithFingersmith by Sarah Waters
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to admit that throughout almost all of Fingersmith the main random thoughts sweeping across the desolate land of my mind were along the lines of: WTF? WHAT? WHAT DID JUST HAPPEN?

This is an intricate, ambitious, original, jaw-dropping, gut-punching, heart-wrenching plot for which I will NOT give you a synopsis. First, because I wouldn't know where to start from and second because it's better for you if you know NOTHING about it. Then you'll have my same random thoughts, as stated above.

I'll just give you a few fundamental points: you need to know it's set in Victorian England, it's about thieves, an elaborate scam and it is not for people who don't tolerate gratuitous cruelty, mind games and deceptions in their books.
Actually, I'd say its main theme is just that: DECEPTION.

This is not what I would usually pick up: books that keep continuously on edge, anxious, oppressed, frustrated, puzzled, even nauseated at times are so not my cup of tea. So while on the one hand I gave it 4 stars because I did like it, on the other hand I cringe when I look at it, even now, a few days later. But I guess it's just what I am meant to feel, for such a book. So yes, a success in its genre.

My main complaint is its length. Its change of pace unsettled me, starting off as dull, then giving you a big punch in the face around one third in, then lulling again for quite a long chunk to finish off with a great epilogue. So while some parts where breath-taking and put me in a frenzy (I swear I was tachycardic), some other parts kind of put me in a stupor (while monsoons where still blowing my mind and I was trying to figure out what could possibly happen next.)

All in all a great read but not for the faint of heart. I'm pretty sure I want to read something else by this author, once I get over the persecutory delusions I developed with Fingersmith.

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A Straight Line to My Heart

A Straight Line To My HeartA Straight Line To My Heart by Bill Condon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Straight Line To My Heart is a cute, little book.

It's a snapshot of a week of Tiff's life, right after she graduates. She lives in Gungee Creek - a place where nothing ever happens - together with her foster father, Reggie, and her foster brother, Bull. For the foreseeable future, Tiff is going to start a sort of internship at a local newspaper, hoping it will lead to a cadetship and then to a proper job.

But it's not so much what happens in this book that really matters because truly, you might find the plot too simple, even a bit banal and certainly predictable.

What makes this book worth reading are the clever dialogues and the characters we meet in the course of the story.

Case in point: the dialogue.

I originally wanted to rate this book 3 stars until I got to this passage where one of the characters shows up at the MC's door and gives her this note:

I like you but you mightn't feel the same way about me, and I wouldn't blame you. To save us both from any awkward moments I've figured out an easy way to do this. Nod if you're even slightly interested in getting to know me. Write a ten page explanation if you're not.

I laughed for half an hour and I think it's brilliant. I wish it had happened to me.

Also, even though I am not Australian - but I have read my fair share of Aussie YA lately - I can feel this book as truly Australian. Not only in the settings, but mainly in the dialogue, the banter and the sense of humor. It's not about kids who plan to go to Harvard, it's about kids who finish high school and don't have a clue about what job they'll end up getting.

Or, in Tiff's words:

I'm not into class, I'm into people.

As is this book.

It's into people. It focalizes mainly on family, friendship and love with a pleasantly realistic insight and with a good sense of humor. It's a light read, but definitely not shallow in any way. Tiff's voice is very distinctive and real and what is all the more interesting is that the author of this voice is a man. I don't think I have read many books where a male author was successful in portraying a female voice like in this one.  

My main complaint with A Straight Line To My Heart is that it's far too short. I loved the characters and I wish I'd spent more time with them and got to known them a bit better.  It definitely left me wanting for more, even though I have to confess, the ending is just brilliant as it is.     

Definitely recommended, as far as Aussie YA goes, this is one of the good ones.

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Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Daughter of Smoke and BoneDaughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Laini Taylor has really put me in my place this time.

I was very eager to read Daughter of Smoke and Bone, so much so that I ordered it as soon as it came out. To say that reviews for this book are gushing is a real understatement; they are, in fact, stellar.
Truth be told though, I was more than a bit biased. Lips Touch: Three Times, her short stories collection had collected the same kind of reviews. Not from me.
I'm not crazy about that book. I suspect it has a lot to do with the short story format but I just wasn't convinced by it.
My lukewarm feelings were actually confirmed when I started Daughter of Smoke and Bone and I met Karou and Akiva.

On a merely thematic level, at first I thought it was highly unoriginal.
Angels/fallen angels? Where had I read that before?
A girl who doesn't fit in, has a secret, feels she's meant for something else and falls in love with the worst possible candidate? Where have I read that before?
Star-crossed lovers? Duh.

Your average paranormal YA romance story, in a pretty package (the package being Taylor's writing.)
Ever since Lips Touch, my impression has been that Taylor takes tropes of YA which many, many authors have developed before her, and just makes them better. Because she certainly does.

BUT. I take it all back.
While the impression I had lasted for the first half of the book, as soon as the story started to unravel and to make sense, EVERYTHING changed.
First, I was shocked at how she smoothly, impeccably passed from said paranormal, average YA story to a more traditional fantasy novel. I didn't even notice it, if not after. I was reading about Prague and then, all of a sudden, I was wondering: how did I get here?
Furthermore, this is a book that goes beyond the normal scope of a fantasy novel, transcending its genre and making us readers think: it's a book about discrimination, be it religious or ethnic, about racial superiority and it's a book about acceptance with a message of hope, that things can really change if we really, really want it.
It made me think: How is beauty always good and ugliness always evil?
I love books with a message and this certainly has a deep, profound one. In this sense, I couldn't help but comparing it to Finnikin of the Rock and associate its fantasy setting with a deeper message.
Also, Taylor's worldbuilding is spectacular. I had already glimpsed as much in the third short story of Lips Touch, Hatchling, but here, yet again, its complexity and detail are taken to a whole different level. Very dark, gothic, innovative, Laini takes elements of mythology and makes them hers, constructing a world that is not only fascinating and scary at the same time, but enriches it with new elements making the imagery so sophisticated I was awed.
As her imagery is sophisticated, so is her writing style. I don't think there are many the likes of her out there at the moment. Her usage if language is so confident, so stately smooth, she is so much in her element that she uses it as a medium to plunge us into elsewhere, manipulating it to her needs.
Ultimately, this is a book about hope. It says so repeatedly during the course of the story and I felt this feeling was beautifully conveyed.
In Brimstone's words:

"Hope is the real magic."

I'll be eagerly waiting to read the continuation to this story and I can't recommend it enough. For lovers of fantasy and all its sub-genres this is a must-read.

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I'll Be There

I'll Be ThereI'll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars

I'll Be There is a modern fairy tale.
It reads like a fairy tale and it's got the tropes of a fairy tale, though revisited in a modern key.

It is the story of Sam and Emily.
Sam, our modern male Cinderella, has been on the road with his little sick brother for as long as he can remember, obliged by their psychotic father to live a miserable life, not going to school, kept out of society.
Emily is just a regular small town girl, reserved, introverted.
But when Emily is obliged by her father to sing a solo in church and sees Sam sitting on the back pew, something in the cosmic order of things shifts and their encounter will trigger a series of events which will change, once and for all, not only Sam, Riddle and Emily's lives profoundly but the lives of all people who will get caught in this devastating snowball effect.

I'll admit straight away that I liked this book against my better judgement.
Said judgement was purely based on emotional reasons, namely on the character of Riddle Border. If I had to choose a kid to adopt, this kid would be like him. His thoughts, his story, his drawings, the world seen through his eyes were the best part of the story for me and the main reason why I liked this book. I recommend you to read I'll Be There if only for Riddle.

When I look at it  with my analytical skills though, there are various things which didn't convince me or didn't care for.

The first, is the writing style. To tell you the truth, it is pretty much in line with my first statement, that is that this is a fairy tale. Simple, concise, direct. But it unnerved me. I felt like the author was trying to talk to me like you would to a little kid, presenting facts in a linear order, making it simple for my simple mind. I am sure this might appeal to some people but I really didn't care much for it. Now, had the story been narrated from Riddle's point of view, it would have made sense. But for a third person omniscient, I felt like I was talked down to.

Second, Sam and Emily's story. You can call it heart-breaking, touching, whatever you want but the truth is that, like in fairy tales, it was insta-love and not even well developed, at that. I would have loved for the author to have written more scenes for them, to justify Emily's heartbreak or Sam's attraction.
Same goes for Emily's parents. What made them literally fall in love with the two kids? Was it only because Sam has a natural talent for the guitar?

Third. The I'll Be There theme. It was way, way, way, way too corny for me.

Finally, the villain. Well, there were two villains actually. Clarence Border is well portrayed and believable. He is a psycho and as the story unfolds, I really wanted him to burn in hell. He scared the crap out of me, but that means emotional involvement on my part and that is a good sign.
But what about Bobby Ellis? The more subtle villain? He is ok in the first part of the book, ok meaning I can understand his behavior. What happens to him on Prom Day was just downright childish though, like a deus ex machina taking revenge on him for his bad behavior.

So, if I consider how I feel towards this story, I can probably say this book succeeded in its effort: in the second part, it won me over and I felt my eyes getting misty. The story is sad, touching, heart-breaking if you will, and enjoyable all in all. Many will like it.
BUT keep in mind this is a FAIRY TALE, don't look for too many logical connections or overused clichés, let yourself be taken from the flow of emotions and you'll love it.

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WanderloveWanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If right now, at age 35, I had to choose my nostalgia book of all times, I'd choose Wanderlove.

It was almost physically painful to read.

A forewarning though: if you are not the adventurous type, are not and never were interested in traveling with a backpack, but on the contrary think it's highly dangerous and unhygienic and are not interested in the nuances of this bohemian life, this might not be the book for you.

Bria Sandoval has just turned 18. It's the summer between her graduation and her college entry.

Only, there is no college. She has applied at the renowned Art School in California but, for some reason she is not going. Because you see, Bria is an artist who's lost the passion to draw. To make things even worse, she's just been dumped by her (artist) boyfriend, Toby.

In an attempt to snap out of this impasse, Bria decides to travel to Guatemala with a tourist group called Global Vagabonds. But once there, she meets Starling and her enigmatic brother Rowan, who convince her to ditch her group and her suitcase and travel with them as a backpacker for the remaining days of her holidays.

On the road from Guatemala to Belize, jumping from a chicken bus to a water taxi, lost in a market or simply lost in translation, Bria is forced to put to the test her confidence, her trust, her talent but most of all she will need face all her issues, free herself of her constrictions and of her past and just live the moment.

The reason why I loved this book is pretty obvious: it took me back in time. The places were not the same but the narration has such an unmistakable taste of reality that I really connected. Clearly, the author is speaking from personal experience, or she wouldn't know about wrapping backpacks with garbage bags, chicken bus ride (my worst one was from Maracaibo, Venezuela to Barranquilla, Colombia) or described a central/south American bus station so accurately. As a consequence of that, I connected well also with the characters, the "traveled" backpackers Starling and Rowan, for whom is valid the saying that "the smaller the backpack, the bigger the ego".

As for the MC, Bria, she is not very likable at the beginning. She comes out as a bit of a whiny, spoiled brat - though she kind of won me over with her "gutter water" Windbreaker - but she grows, she matures in the course of the story and, even though I wanted to kick her and her backpack straight into the Caribbean sea at one point, the dock scene with Rowan? What the f*ck was that about? Are you mad, girl?I took away 1 star only for that idiotic passage she eventually comes to her senses by the end of the book, making her a decent MC and a believable character.

I thought this book was really enjoyable, light but with a bit of depth - even social - and with a touch of exotic that makes it the perfect read for people who are looking for a bit of adventure, love, folklore and a decently written story.

Oh, and I loved the illustrations by the author in the book, an added bonus that make this story even more dreamy.

My favorite quote, which is actually a quote within the quote:

" A painting doesn't have to have a profound meaning. It doesn't have to "say" something. We fall in love for simpler reasons."

Harley Brown

A copy of this book was kindly provided by the publisher.

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Six Impossible Things

Six Impossible ThingsSix Impossible Things by Fiona Wood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It is not exactly pleasant to wake up one day and find out that:

- your father has declared himself gay and ditched you and your mother;

- your dad's business has gone bankrupt  and you and your mother are on your own without a penny to your names;

Add to that the fact that your house has been taken over by creditors along with furniture, clothes, personal belongings, EVERYTHING. You have to leave your good, private school, your friends, and swallow the bitter humiliation.

This is what happens to Dan and his mom. They would have probably ended up like bums on a road if, unexpectedly, mom's old aunt Adelaide hadn't died of old age and left them with the use of her huge house/museum.

Dan has to face a new school, new friends and new "broke" status, as well as his blooming obsession with Estelle, a girl who lives next door. All this while his mom desperately tries to start a new job to make to make ends meet and put the pieces of her life back together.

Dan is 14 going on 40. This book and I, because of him, were off to a bit of a bumpy start.

First, I had difficulties relating to his boy's voice.

Then I had difficulties with him being so young.

Then I had difficulties with him being so old inside.

Then I had difficulties with him being such a hopeless loser and a dork, then with him being a liar.

And then, after about 70 pages in in the book, I realized I had no difficulties with him at all.

Dan is an amazing voice, with a great self-deprecating sense of humor, witty, extremely intelligent and so, so mature for his age. He finds himself in a situation which would put to the test even an adult. It's not fair for a kid tormented by teen age and raging hormones to be burdened by so many responsibilities but Dan manages pretty well eventually. He completely conquered him and I ended up liking him a lot.  He's so cute I want to ruffle his hair.

And not only him. The thing about this book is that I realized I liked all the characters, they are all so well portrayed, each with their own quirks. I wish I could be Dan's mom's friend. I wish I had a dog like Howard, with a psychotherapist look.

So don't be fooled by the girly cover or by the MC's young age. Ultimately, this book is about getting your shit together when you don't see the light at the end of the tunnel, possibly with a bit a of a sense of humor.

Very funny, fresh, well written and just downright amiable, it will be hard to resist the charm of Six Impossible Things' cast of characters.

Highly recommended!

And if you're still in doubt, I forgot to mention this is Australian YA. Enough Said.

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Guitar Highway Rose

Guitar Highway RoseGuitar Highway Rose by Brigid Lowry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I WISH this were my favorite quote from the book:

Some ideas are not born of logic and good sense. They are made of clouds and cobwebs. They sprout from nowhere and feed on excitement, sprinkled with adventure-juice and the sweet flavour of the forbidden. The psyche moves from the realms of the ordinary and takes a delicate step towards the territories of the unknown. We know that we shouldn't and that is exactly what we do.

However. Unfortunately.

It is this:

Sometimes you think you know where you're headed. You think you know what each day will bring you. You think there will be a breath to follow this breath. It has always been that way before. You think that lunch will follow breakfast and sometime later dinner will naturally appear. You think you know that the sky is blue and the trees are green, that cats are furry and that life will go on smoothly forever like an infinite ripple of turquoise ribbon. But sometimes you are wrong.

This is to say that I might be a tad too old for this book.

It's good, don't get me wrong, and I completely understand all those 5 and 4 stars reviews.

It is perfect for teens, 14 to 16/17 y.o., I'd say.

It is perfectly appropriate for adults who have read this book in their teens and are feeling nostalgic.

It is a celebration of striving to leave the parents' nest and become your own person/identity/personality.

It is a book about fathers/mothers and children and cutting the umbilical chord.

It is a book about a roadtrip.

It is a truly Australian book.

Too bad I related more to Rosie's mother than to Rosie.

Too bad I didn't much care for the stream-of-consciousness format, or the experimental style with lists and doodles and continuous switching of point of views.

What I am trying to say is that this book is far, far from being bad and it would have been perfect for a younger me. *sigh*

Younger teens will surely love it, a mix of rebellion, angst, romance, adventure, a swoonworthy guy and hippies.

And actually, my favorite passage is this:

Dear Asher, 

[...] Grandpa and I are both well except for his new choppers. They look quite good but they don't fit properly. About three times a day I find him out in the shed rasping away at them with a file. He has to see the dentist again next week, if he has any plate left. He is persevering but I wouldn't be surprised to find the teeth shoved in the drawer one day soon.

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Suicide Notes

Suicide NotesSuicide Notes by Michael Thomas Ford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What struck me most about this book - and unsettled me, to be honest - is the brutality of it, sugarcoated by Jeff's self-deprecating irony, witticism and sarcastic outlook on adolescence. He is one of those characters I particularly appreciate in teen lit for their no-nonsense attitude, for just telling things how they are. An honest, non-emo voice.

The themes approached in this book are not light, despite seemingly narrated in a light-hearted way: teen suicide, familial dysfunctions, personal identity. The story starts with Jeff waking up in the psych ward of an hospital, after having attempted suicide. He's supposed to spend 6 weeks being treated there and to understand the reasons why he hurt himself.

Despite being told in 1st person POV, Jeff is in self-denial and does not want to acknowledge the origin of his problems or what really happened that led to him taking such a definitive and desperate action. So we, the readers, are completely left in the dark about pretty much everything that took place before him being hospitalized.

But slowly, as Jeff gradually comes around and faces the bitter consequences of what he's done, we discover bits and pieces of the puzzle that eventually will give him, and consequently us, realization of his real problem. I know this sounds really vague but it's better to discover Jeff's motives by reading this book. I really liked this narrative strategy, it spurs the reader to go on keeping the interest high and makes the discoveries all the more dramatic.

Aside from the heavy theme of the book, be warned that there are some sex scenes which put this book in the more adult section of the YA genre. Pretty graphic and raw, too. Yet, I wish this book were read by all teens and I hope by the time my kids will grow up I will still remember this book, so that I can give it to them to read.

Highly recommended.

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Saltwater Vampires

Saltwater VampiresSaltwater Vampires by Kirsty Eagar
My rating: 2 of 5 stars


So, Saltwater vampires.... as opposed to freshwater vampires?

Kirsty Eagar's Raw Blue was probably one of the best YA fiction I read this year but this book is just a NO for me.

First of all, it is unclear to me what this book exactly wanted to be: did it want to be a dark, paranormal novel à la Anne Rice where some rebel bad-ass vampires try to become all-powerful?

Did it want to be YA fiction about some kids who love surfing but who end up in a big, messy trouble?

Or did it want to be a thriller where a secret society plots to annihilate said bad-ass vampires and to restore peace and perpetuate its secrecy?

There were three distinct plot threads going on at the same time and let me tell you that the whole thing was complicated and distracting.

The parts where the book wanted to be a paranormal novel reminded me a lot of one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, except the pirates, in this case, were vampires. The whole book is about them stealing a flask of super ancient vampire blood in order to perform a ritual and be able to:

a - walk in daylight again, so basically being nostalgic of the time they were humans;

b - travel through time to go back to the time of the shipwreck of the Batavia and look for Lucretia. WHAT? A bloodsucking predator with a romantic heart? Did I miss something there?

The parts were the book wanted to be YA fiction were certainly the best, we know Eagar excels in the field. Lots of surfing, like in Raw Blue, and a set of quirky, funny characters trying to solve their inner conflicts and, simultaneously, fight off the horde of monsters come to town. I loved those scenes, the surfing and the dialogue but it put a lull in the building-up of the plot, making the pauses excessively long. Midway through, it lost momentum and it started to get tedious.

The final scene is really adventurous and spectacular but I'm not sure if readers will actually get that far in the book. I did, out of sheer stubbornness.

The part where it wanted to be thriller and the secret society was involved were fairly predictable, both in regard to Clifford's motives and as to how it would end for him. And how could said centuries-old secret society be so inept at locating the bad guys?

The writing is, true to Eagar's style, flawless, although this book could surely have been (should have been) shorter, in my opinion.

It is its hybrid character that really didn't sit well with me.

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Past Perfect

Past PerfectPast Perfect by Leila Sales
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As far as YA chick lit goes, Past Perfect is a really fun book.

Chelsea, 16, comes from a family of historical re-enactors,. She lives in the town of Essex, where this kind of practice seems to be the bread and butter of the population. In fact, not only Essex has a Colonial time reenactment village, but a Civil war one as well. And they're bitter, bitter enemies. So when summer begins and Chelsea, as every year before, starts to work in the village, the time for war between the factions is on.

Torn between her unwillingness to let go of her past - namely, her former boyfriend - and her unsettling attraction to a rival re-enactor who could finally signify her moving forward, Chelsea, through a trial and error process, will be forced to put her memories and herself under scrutiny and realize what is the value of honesty and friendship.

First of all, the main idea of the book is stunningly good. Historical reenactment, how original. Well, at least for me. You see, I come from a country which holds a certain importance on the historical global scene, what with us having been here practically forever and having gone through numerous empires, barbaric hordes, a variety of popes, republics and so on and so forth.

Yet, NEVER in my life have I had the pleasure to witness a reenactment. I don't think we have them here or if we do they're very much under the radar, mine at least. I really liked that.

Secondly, the idea that our memories work selectively according to what we actually want to remember or not of an event really appealed to me. I've done (and do) that, sadly, a lot of times, just like Chelsea did with Ezra. Maybe the majority of us do it automatically, in a effort to romanticize our lives. Considering the sheer number of books I read in a year to my "escapist syndrome", I certainly have a tendency to do it.

It is exciting when you're telling someone about your recent trip to Burma or to Ushuaia, skipping the part where you got gastroenteritis or puri-puri ate you alive on a beach in Cuba, it is a bit more pathetic and not very healthy when you're talking about a relationship with your former or - even worse - present boyfriend.

Chelsea, like some other female characters that I've encountered lately (Ava in Pink for example, is not a very likable character. I really could not understand her adoration to Ezra, why she idolizes him. I did not like how she dealt with being left out of the flock. And when she finally pulls the wool away from her eyes, I did not think she deserved people forgiving her.

Yet, the book is so funny and the dialogue so brilliant that the story just sucks you in and keeps you laughing till the very last page. Chelsea, despite her feeble personality in relation to other kids her age, has an honest voice and her relationship with her father is really hilarious. The trampoline scene in the back of her yard was one of the best of the books, in my opinion.

So, if you're looking for a fresh, funny, unpretentious read spiked by historical reenactment, Past Perfect is definitely a good choice. Just make sure to tear off the completely unrelated cover first.

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PinkPink by Lili Wilkinson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

2.5 stars

It all starts with a pink cashmere sweater.
That's what Ava wants to wear instead of her usual goth all-black attire. Because, you see, Ava is a lesbian and a feminist and does not wear pink. Or maybe she isn't. What is sure is that Ava is in the middle of a crisis, with her girlfriend, with her beliefs, with her sexual orientation.
By applying to a posh private school, she hopes to get a fresh start and be able to experiment being someone else from whom she is usually expected to be.
Things don't work out exactly as Ava expected though, and soon enough she is caught in a spiral of lies, betrayals and humiliations which she will have a hard time disentangling herself from.
Will Ava eventually find her true self?

There is one specific reason why I thought this book was just above ok but could not completely like it: it really, really goes against who I am.

I do NOT like parents (Ava's) who, under a faux intelligentsia liberalism, really mask their snobbish, compartmentalized elitism and constrict their children in this overachieving, supposedly progressive but really just... discriminating lifestyle.

I do NOT like supposedly emancipated lesbian bitches girlfriends (Chloe) who want to stand out so much from the flock, that they fall right back into it as a caricature.

Most of all I do not like a spineless MC, who not only is close to being devoid of personality - actually a natural result of being subjected to the pressure of my two above-mentioned dislikes - but who is unable to stand up for herself and needs to lie, hurt other people and just be hypocritical for a good part of the book.

Much less do I like to read about them.

These were my biggest problems with Pink.

Add to that the fact that the school Ava decides to move to is really a joke, populated by these unrealistically clichéd students such as Ethan and Alexis OR that I found the turn of events with Alexis and the moviethon fairly unbelievable and you got yourself the explanation for my rating.

What I did like though was the writing, smooth and effortless, and some of the characters, namely the Screws, who were the most likable and the most believable, in my opinion.
The dialogues between Ava and Sam were pretty brilliant and I liked Sam quite a lot. Actually, part of my enjoyment started when Ava's castle of lies began to miserably crash and, end in end, she got a - partial - redemption. In fact, I quite liked her closing speech. But it was way, way too late for me to take back my general annoyance.
I don't know if the author made all the characters purposefully so unlikable in order to build a climax and then give us a long-agonized happy ending, but if it is so, it was too stretched and too... agonized, for me at least.

But you know what? In retrospect, I should have known it wouldn't work for me. When I read the dedication at the beginning of the book to David Levithan and then the author pulls a musical in the plot, I should have suspected.

Book, are you Australian? Because I really didn't notice.

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VirtuosityVirtuosity by Jessica Martinez
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5/5 stars

When my good friend Maja mentioned in her review of Virtuosity that she recommended it for fans of Where She Went, I knew I couldn't possibly skip this book.
And she was right, if you like Gayle Forman, you will most probably like Jessica Martinez and this stunning debut as well.

In Virtuosity, Carmen is an accomplished violinist at only 17. Not only is she a child prodigy about to start Juilliard in the fall, but she might probably be the best out there with a Grammy award to her merit.
She is now getting ready for the most prestigious competition of all, the Guarneri, which will give the final boost to her career and consecrate her as a member of the virtuosos elite in music.
There is only one obstacle standing in her way to the fulfillment of her life dream: Jeremy King. British, just as talented, just as determined to win. Possibly more. Because Carmen has long lost the confidence she needs in her abilities or her joy for playing. Her stage fright has transformed into anxiety attacks and the only thing that keeps her from freaking out is Inderal, a medication.
But when Carmen finally meets Jeremy, she discovers that the one person she should hate is worming himself a way into her heart.
With the finals inching closer and her neurotic and overachieving mother breathing down her neck, Carmen will finally come to understand the cost of fame and decide whether she is willing to pay it or not.

In this book, for me, it all comes down to Carmen and how well Martinez managed to portray her, her life, her anxiety, her insecurities. Carmen has lived in a golden cage all her life because that's what being a child prodigy does to you. Despite living under the wing of her career oriented, manipulative mother/manager, yet Carmen manages to make all the right choices and be true to herself. I like this kind of strong heroine. No weird feminist crap (hello Pink!) but just honesty, coherency and taking responsibility for one's actions. She doesn't lie, she doesn't manipulate and despite being in a difficult situation which would have put to the test even the most virtuous of us, she manages to come out of it clean without being a wonder woman. If I had to make a comparison again to Where She Went, I'd say she is better than Mia, in my opinion.

As for the other characters, Carmen's mother is a real piece of work. Again, I was very pleased at how Martinez managed to make my dislike for her escalate gradually towards full blown hatred. I don't think I've felt so negatively strongly towards a fictional character in a long time.

One detail that made me very happy in this book was also how the author managed to keep up the romantic side of the story with close to zero sexual tension between the characters - yeah, that thing that usually keeps us romantic readers glued to the book. I was glued nonetheless.

So if you want a beautifully written book about music, love, a bit of mystery and choices that define you as a person, you should definitely pick up Virtuosity, enjoy it and then hope that Martinez will soon present us with something just as good.

Highly recommended for lovers of good YA realistic fiction.

An advanced copy of this book was kindly provided by the publisher.

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Hunting Lila

Hunting LilaHunting Lila by Sarah Alderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars

This is what I can tell you about Hunting Lila:

don't go into it with too many profound, life-changing expectations. A dialogue concerning the two chief World systems it is not.

What you should expect is a lot of fun, in the form of a lot of action à la X-men,  a good deal of mystery, a paranormal element, some forevah and evah love and a swoonworthy guy.

When somebody murdered her mother five years earlier under unclear circumstances, Lila and her father moved back to England, his home country, leaving behind Lila's brother, Jack, but most of all Jack's best friend, Lila's crush of all crushes, Alex.

Lila is now 17 and gifted with some "abilities" which she barely controls. After an attempted mugging risks to turn into tragedy, Lila finally loses it and takes the first plane back to California, to her brother Jack and Alex.

But from the frying pan, Lila jumps straight into the fire.

In a whirlwind of action, Alex, black ops, Alex, kidnappings, Alex, guys with "abilities" and... well, Alex, Lila will uncover the stunning truth about her mysterious gift and the secret behind her mother's death.

So... Alex.

As I was saying, I really liked this book, it's a lot of fun. But to say that this girl is plagued by raging teen hormones would be a serious understatement. By half book, I was kind of smiling benignly at Lila for spending 99.9% of her time, while in absurdly dangerous situations, lusting after Alex. They're trying to kill you girl, get a grip, for chrissake. He's hot, I agree, but she describes his eyes with stroboscopic effects.

Also, I thought Lila was very puerile to be 17. She really did not sound like a girl that age but much more immature. A tad whiny and with serious concentration issues.

Still, this is a book I'd recommend because you will find it hard to put down, fast-paced and funny. The perfect read to kick back on your couch after a long day of work and relax, for a few hours of thoughtless, unadulterated fun.

Will surely pick up the next book, I want to see how she keeps up the romance.

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Saving June

Saving JuneSaving June by Hannah Harrington
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the past year, at least for me, all the rage in YA contemporary fiction can be condensed in one word: Australia. Marchetta, Buzo,       Cath Crawley, Eagar were definitely my favorite reads this year.

Hannah Harrington is the exception that proves the rule. This lady is American and what is more, Saving June is her debut novel.

Harper's life is in pieces. Her sister June unexplainably committed suicide a few weeks before graduating and her family is, quite understandably, a wreck. There's no rhyme nor reason to what June did and while Harper's mother is having a breakdown and her father blissfully ignores them, too busy with his own new life, Harper is the one left to pick up the pieces and try to cope with her terrible, profound grief. The only person that supports her 100% is her best friend Laney. When a mysterious and unbearably annoying guy appears at June's funeral wake, things start to unravel in an unexpected way: with Jake's help, the two girls embark on a road trip through America, on a symbolical mission to June's final salvation, which eventually will turn into an experience that will change each and every one of them to their very core.

As for everyone else, some books strike me more than others. Sometimes it's even without a concrete or logical reason, I just get involved in the plot more. And then, sometimes, rarely, there are books that fit me like a glove. I become so engrossed in the story and identify so much with the characters that I realize that I would have uttered the same words in the same situations.

It happened with me and Harper.

Harper is not what you would call a really likable character. Aside from being unable to cope with her grief, she is bad-tempered, complex, full of anger, shuts out others, hides her insecurities behind a mask of snark and backtalk, constantly controls her emotions by denying herself the luxury to feel.

Yet I loved her honest voice, her no-nonsense attitude which I really much share to the point of sounding cynical and callous, her complete loyalty to her friend and how she relates to her sexuality. She is a tough one, not invincible, but a survivor.

This is how I like my contemporary fiction: a more adult type of YA literature, where there's no excessive taboo about underage sex, drinking or smoking (because that's what teens do, don't they?), where painful and complex themes are touched but coated with a bit of humor, where fragile family dynamics are analyzed but with a lot of great dialogue and banter.

Add to this a truly memorable soundtrack of songs which I grew up with (no unknown pseudo-intellectual indie niche music, just plain good old rock) and an incredible adventure (how cool would it be to cross the US with a van?) and you got yourself a winning combination.

Oh, did I mention the totally hot guy? + 10 points

And did I mention there is no instalove? + ∞ points

An emotional roller coaster which will make you laugh out loud but most probably shed a few tears too. People who have dealt with the death of loved ones will certainly relate to Harper and the Saving June amazing cast.

To Harrington I'd like to say: keep up the good work. Truly amazing.

An advanced copy of this book was kindly provided by the publisher.

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Flat-Out Love

Flat-Out LoveFlat-Out Love by Jessica Park
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Have you ever...

-got a crush on a penfriend you never or barely met?
-pined a whole year - or more - for your summer crush?
-fallen in love with the idea of someone, idolizing him/her and thus making him/her perfect?

In other words:

Have you ever fallen in love with LOVE?

If you've recognized yourself in any of these questions, then this is the book for you.

Julie is from Ohio but she's starting college in Boston. When she arrives to find the apartment she thought she rented to be a total scam, her last resource is to call her mother's long lost college friend, Erin, to help her out and give her a temporary roof while she looks for a solution.
This is how Julie meets the Watkins family: Erin and Roger, the academic and self-involved parents, Finn, the fascinating older brother on a backpacking tour around the world, Matt, the middle brother, a math and physics nerd with a fetish for smartass T-shirts and Celeste, the 13 year old quirky sister of the family.
The Watkinses seem to be a regular enough family on the surface but Julie soon realizes that all is not well with these people's familial dynamics. What irks her the most is that she can't point her finger at the exact cause: everything seems to rotate around Celeste but there's just something that they are not telling her and that she is determined to find out...

This book would have normally received 4 stars from me.
If you're wondering to which genre it belongs, I'd categorize it as a more-adult-than-young YA college chick lit. And a very, very good one. Aside from being well written, it pushed all the right buttons for me.
It made me laugh out loud frequently, and not in a silly way but in a I-wish-I was-there-to-laugh-with-you way.
It took me back in time, wishing I could have back my late teenage years and the butterflies in the stomach feelings of my first crush(es). It really was a trip down memory lane for me.
It's got every good characterization and aside from Julie and Matt, I dare you not to be completely engrossed by Celeste and her personality.
Finally, it's got a very good plot and it's not very often that I can say that I was totally oblivious as to what would be missing piece of the jigsaw to understand the Watkins family.
I would have taken away a star, or maybe half a star, for the ending which I found excessively cheesy and slightly awkward.

That is, if this book were a regular book.
But this book is self published. Now, my - somewhat limited - experience with self published books has been disastrous to put it mildly. Bad editing bothers me a whole lot. There are already many, many published books which are badly edited, I don't really see the point in subjecting myself to books which have not undergone the scrutiny of professional eyes and been polished.
But this is NOT and I was really and very pleasantly surprised. THIS is how it's done. For me, this book is close to perfect and if only for that it deserves the final missing star.

Especially recommended for first crush nostalgics and hopeless romantics.

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BloodlinesBloodlines by Richelle Mead
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Today I'd like to hone some of my (poor) mathematical skills and entertain you with some simple but self-explaining equations:

Bloodlines: Richelle Mead= x: Cassandra Clare

Hint: Spin-offs? Bad idea. You either planned them from the very beginning or anybody in this solar system can see that you're clutching at straws here.

Lissa : Rose = Adrian : x

Hint: Spirit users have a most peculiar ability. If you're familiar with Aladdin like I am, you'll know it's one of the wishes that the genie cannot grant. The gifted Moroi can, but with, uhm, side effects.

Rose : Dimitri = Sydney : x

Hint: Ah, forbidden love. While in VA we followed the illicit affair of a then underage student and her infinitely hot professor, we are now presented with the blossoming affection between a (racist) human and a Moroi. It's not declared yet but there are 5 more books to go, can't waste it all in the first one, can we?

Should I go on? Not necessary? I'll give you one more:

Mia Rinaldi : the b!tch in VA = x : the same b!tch in Bloodlines.

I could go on and on but then I'll be spoiling all the book for you, in case you want to read it.

Have you guessed all the unknowns of my very simple equations? If you have, then you also have figured out that, in Bloodlines, Richelle Mead has taken a lot of Vampire Academy, given it a touch up and presented it to us AGAIN.

Sub plots differ, of course, but the general idea? The same.

And possibly worse. One element that really, really infuriated me in Bloodlines is the underlying motif of racism and discrimination that permeates the whole book.

I could not decide whether to compare Alchemists to the Holy Inquisition or to KKK. This hate group's radicated belief (including Sydney's) that vampires are untouchable, disgusting and revolting unnatural beings did not sit well with me. The way it was developed and treated sounded very discriminatory and backwards (and a bit unbelievable too, IMO), you could just take out the word vampire and insert any other ethnic minority that has been persecuted in history and it would have fit perfectly.

Hence, I did not like Sydney. I was pulling my hair out when she was naming her car and complaining about its color. I was scratching my nails on a blackboard when she got miffed because the freakin' fitter of the school gave her a size 4 instead of a 2 and she started getting paranoid about being fat. I was trying gouge my eyes out when she came out with stuff like not accepting food from vampires, checking that the water bottles were sealed not to drink from where they drank and stuff like that. I DESPISE RACISTS. Enough said.

Not to mention the fact that this book is like a DIESEL car. VERY slow to warm up. The action picks up at about... yeah, 80% into the book. Before that it's a whole lot of racist comments, car rides around Palm Springs and mini-golf. Yes, you read correctly.

So... are my 3 stars justified? Probably not.

Yet, after being infuriated for about 80% of the book, when it finally started to take off, I have to say I quite enjoyed myself. Mead sure knows how to write some good action scenes and I foresee, in the far, far, far horizon, character development and possible redemption.

Also, I liked Adrian. He's such an ass I cannot help it. His sarcastic and cocky comments were the highlights of my reading experience. And frankly, after the way he got treated by Rose in VA, I could not help but feel indulgent towards him.

So, mathematical rant aside, I will pick up the next book in the series. This book is not as good as any of the Vampire Academy series but it MAYBE got potential, to be determined by further installments and consequent agonizing wait.

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Imaginary Girls

Imaginary GirlsImaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

2.5 stars

This is the first time that I've considered NOT rating a book. I felt, and still feel, like whatever number of stars I might give are not going to truly reflect my opinion nor do Imaginary Girls any justice.
So keep in mind that my rating in this case is just the result of a mathematical addition of factors, of things I liked and didn't like.

The story is, in a nutshell, a mystery. It's difficult for me to give you a synopsis of the plot, but suffice it to say it involves a mysterious reservoir, two sisters morbidly obsessed with one another, a dead girl in a rowboat and a series of unexplainable events.

This is one of the most distressing books I have read this year or, probably, ever and all I feel is that I just did not get it.
Let me make some comparisons that might help you out:
If it were an artistic movement, it would be Surrealism.
If it were a movie, it would be a David Lynch movie.
if it were music, it would be jazz.

Disturbingly creepy, oneiric, harrowing and full of suspense, it kept me on the edge until the very last pages. The word predictable does not exist in this author's dictionary, I'll give you that much.
But that the long awaited climax was, in the end, so anticlimactic distressed me very much.
For about 80% of the book I could not figure out, for the life of me, what was happening and why. I was expecting some paranormal element to give an explanation to all my questions but, in the end, there wasn't. It was just all surreal.

The strong points of this book are, objectively, the amazing writing style and characterization. The writing is exceptional and evocative and, thanks to that, some of the characters, Ruby in particular, come out well formed, palpable and yes, disturbing.
The fact that I could not find one likable character in this book though, really detracted from my enjoyment. Not only I could not justify the absurdity of some of the actions of the characters, but I could never, not even at the end, sympathize with any of them with the exception, maybe, of London, whose sole guilt in the whole process was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Least of all Ruby.

The obvious deduction of all these ramblings is that this book, evidently, was really not for me. I can see why it might appeal to other readers but it really didn't happen for me. I just didn't get it. It was all over the place, and it defies logic.

Definitely recommended to people who do not recognize themselves in this review, you won't be disappointed.

*** added points for the beautiful, completely relevant cover.

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Venom (Elemental Assassin #3)

Venom (Elemental Assassin, #3)Venom by Jennifer Estep
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It is a truth universally acknowledged that...

-  Gin Blanco, aka The Spider, professional assassin, always carries at least five silverstone knives on her at all times: two up her sleeves, two down her boots and one in the small of her back;

-  Finnegan Lake drinks a lot of chicory coffee and the supposed caffeine content does not affect him;

-  the symbol for Northern Aggression is a heart with an arrow through it;

-  Mab Monroe's rune is ruby with wavy rays all around;

-  Gin Blanco's eyes are grey whereas Owen Grayson are violet (and by the way, I still have to meet in my life somebody with violet eyes);

You might have guessed from my remarks what kind of problem I had with this book.

If there was ever a GoodReads' contest for Queen of Repetitions 2011, I would vote Estep.

Because she not only recaps events of previous books in the series, she recaps CHAPTERS within the same book. If we took away all the repetitions the book would probably be half its size.

And it is with great chagrin that I say this irritated me and distracted me quite a bit. It feels like like the author suffers from short-term memory loss OR she thinks that it's ME suffering from it.

The plot is good. I enjoyed it quite a bit and that is why I am giving this book 3 stars anyway. The writing is smooth. Characters have become familiar to me, they are well formed and interesting. I liked how she introduced Bria in the story, I liked that she got rid of donovancaine and I give my blessings to Owen Grayson. I WANT to know how the story goes on. But can I take another or multiple books of continuous recappings?

I am baffled: who edited this book?

This could be easily a five star book if not for the fact that my intelligence feels insulted by it.

If you're a lover of UF this is definitely a series I recommend reading. If you can stomach the recappings.

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Finnikin of the Rock (Lumatere Chronicles #1)

Finnikin of the Rock (Lumatere Chronicles, #1)Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Everything is evil that humans can't control or conquer"

What kind of book is Finnikin of the Rock?

It's a fantasy book. Evidently.
It's a love story. Certainly.
But not only.

It all starts with three friends, a prophetic dream and a blood pledge.

It continues with an invasion, a terrible curse and the struggle of one people to take back what they lost.

For me Finnikin of the Rock is a book about identities. About a people, the Lumaterans, losing their national identity and fighting to get it back, about a man who's been imprisoned for 10 years and has lost his identity, about a girl who is concealing hers to save her country and about a boy who really doesn't know who he is.

In unmistakeable Marchetta's style, we are presented with a book that not only has got an intriguing plot, is full of action scenes, adventure, amazing and detailed worldbuilding, and as usual,  characterization like only Marchetta can do, but also with a book with an underlying message that goes beyond our mere entertainment as readers.

It is a condemnation of war and of its horrors, it denounces persecutions for political, ethnic or religious reasons, it opens a window on people, at any latitude and climate, whose dignity has been taken away together with their homeland.

The words mass graves and ethnical cleansing are words which will be stuck in your throat during some passages of this book and I dare you not feel compassionate for the Lumateran people.

So, end in end, this is a book that is only disguised as fantasy but that, in reality, is well above that.

It's probably superfluous to say that I really loved this book and I can't wait to read its sequel coming out in October.

My favorite passage:

"Because without our language, we have lost ourselves. Who are we without our words?"

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Blood Red Road (Dustlands #1)

Blood Red Road (Dustlands, #1)Blood Red Road by Moira Young
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

2.5 stars

There are many successful books that get turned into movies. Not necessarily good movies. Actually, it is very rare for the movie to be better than the book. But not impossible.
Blood Red Road might be one of such rare cases.
I read somewhere that this book was optioned to be become a movie even BEFORE being published. That's where the problems lies: Blood Red Road is trying too hard to be a movie before even being a book.

That means that while it's got some elements that would be of stunning effect on screen - cage fights, killer worms, a battle à la Braveheart - it falls a bit short on the elements which are needed to make it a good book. I am talking about a solid plot, characterization, worldbuilding and... well, common sense, actually.

Set in a post-apocalyptic world, we meet Saba, her twin brother Lugh, her sister Emmi and their father living in Silverlake, a place which reminded me a bit of the movie Mad Max. The mother is dead and they are experiencing a terrible drought that is making their lives really hard. When some mysterious men on horses kidnap Lugh and kill their father, Saba sets off with her little sister to rescue him.
It is during this quest that she becomes involved in spectacular cage fights, a jail breakout, a race across the desert and killer worms. With the aid of a team of rebels, Jack - a guy to who she seems to be unexplainably attracted to  - and his friends, will they succeed in their mission and save Lugh from a terrible destiny?

The beginning of the story is really promising. It has a certain The Reapers are the Angels feeling which I really like. Both the use of the language and the lack of quotation marks enrich the book and the rhythm is so fast-paced that it is pretty difficult to put it down. The narration is engrossing, the scenes spectacular and very imaginative. As I said before, it is probably going to make a nice movie. Up until about 70% I would probably have given it 4 stars.

But then things started going downhill and even the little flaws that I had spotted before and was willing to overlook - because the book was fun - started to add up and become one too many.

My first problem is with world building. In this book it's so basic that if I had to draw it on a map, it would look like one of my 4 y.o. daughter's drawings.
We set off in SilverLAKE, we pass through CrossCREEK and reach HopeTOWN. We then take horses and go meet people under some DarkTREES, cross the DarkMOUNTAINS and after a battle in the FreedomFIELDS we go live happily ever after to the BigWATER. There is no mention of other towns, of other people even existing outside of Hopetown, no hint at how this world is structured. Take the King. What is he king of? It feels like this world is populated by just a handful of people who live in a bunch landmarks.

The plot had too many holes, there are too many things which don't add up and which include - but alas, are not limited to:
-Saba's ability to fight like a pro wrestler with no prior training whatsoever;
-the unlikeliness of the all-knowing crow;
-the use of telepathy on various occasions between characters;

I was constantly asking myself questions which belong to the sphere of common sense:
-why would one take a 9 year old on a suicide rescue mission?
-why would one shoot a clearly already dead person and NOT the source of all her problems who only SEEMS to be dead?
-why would a king hold a celebration that takes place once every six years and which testifies his power in front of a bunch of slaves and not of all his subjects?
and most of all:
WHY does Jack like Saba?

Which takes me back to the last problem: characterization.
With the exception of Saba, who is a well formed, albeit unlikable character, I thought the other characters fell a bit flat. I felt that JUST AS they started to become interesting, something happened and they were interesting no more.
Take Jack for example: from cocky bastard he turns into besotted idiot. And for the life of me I could not understand why he became so enamored of Saba. She is so inconsistent and fickle, so apparently unexperienced, rather morbidly fixated with Lugh... I admired her stubbornness and her ability to hold her own but why Jack would be so in love with her... not a clue.
And I won't even talk about Lugh.

I am sure all my questions will be answered in the sequel(s) to this book, but I need them NOW. Their absence is enough not to make want to pick up the sequel to this.

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Good Oil

Good OilGood Oil by Laura Buzo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It is always pleasant when you approach a book with certain expectations and then, after reading it, you realize these expectations were widely exceeded.

That's exactly what happened to me with Good Oil. I knew the book is Australian (always a good sign), that it is YA and I thought it would all be about fluff - this theory supported also by the cover that reminded me of a billboard for a Kate Hudson movie. Doesn't the girl there remind you of her?

I also suspected that this would be a coming-of-age story because, let's face it, isn't YA lit almost all about coming-of-age?

And Bildungsroman it was, although, and this pleasantly surprised me, it was the coming of age of TWO characters, a teen and a not-so-teen anymore.

Of course I am talking about Chris and Amelia.

Amelia is a just turned 15 y.o girl. She is part of a pretty shitty family, of which she seems to be the more mature member. Mature, not experienced. In fact, while on the one hand she is well ahead of her age in her interests and ruminations, she is hopelessly inexperienced and naive on the social skills front.

Chris is 22. He is in that phase of his life which he defines purgatory. He's on the verge between the lingering end of his teen - a jolly good time with no responsibilities - and manhood, time to take action, move out, do something with his life, GROW UP. At the same time though, he doesn't seem to be able to. He studies Arts at Uni, works in a supermarket and spends his time and money drinking a lot, chasing the mirage of a perfect girl and pitying himself.

When Amelia decides to get an after school job at a supermarket and meets Chris, her life - and her hormones - get shaken up well and turned upside down. While Amelia hopelessly falls in love with Chris who can't help but see her as a youngster, these two develop a friendship from which they will both benefit and that will spur them to take their lives in their own hands: Chris by being decisive and Amelia by overcoming her awkwardness in socializing.

The story is told in alternating POVs a bit à  la Cath Crowley. Both characters recounts the same events, Amelia through simple narration, Chris by writing in his diary. So while, on the one hand, we have Amelia's teen point of view and her struggle through the pains of first love, angst and adolescence, Chris' side is definitely more suitable to the adult side of the young adults category, there being sex, lots of drinking and a fair amount of drugs.

I loved Chris. His personality is explosive, charming, full of life. His voice in the book is so much more vibrant than Amelia's you wonder whose coming-of-age is more fundamental in the book.

He is such a dork. I wanted to stab myself when I read the poem he wrote to a girl, I am so thankful I never received something like that in my life.

Chris, to me, is basically what Tom MacKee should have been but never managed to. I related to him on so many levels, cheered for him, laughed at his jokes and nodded my head at both the way he eventually manages Amelia at the end and at the choice he makes.

The story is well written, realistic, and I loved the way it ended, I wouldn't have had it any other way. First love, unrequited love, family dynamics, friendship, you have it all, with a generous sprinkle of Australian slang . I strongly recommend this book, it is certainly representative of that stunning phenomenon which we have come to observe lately in YA literature that is the Australian movement. (ok, this one I made it up, but doesn't it sound nice?)


On a side note, checking out the Australian Slang Site that Arlene mentioned in her nice review, I finally found out that UGG - as in Ugg boots - means ugly and they were boots worn by surfers in the 60s to keep their feet warm while out of the water. Now everything makes much more sense in my life. Thank you Arlene.

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Eye of the Tempest (Jane True #4)

Eye of the Tempest (Jane True, #4)Eye of the Tempest by Nicole Peeler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 stars

Take a look at the Jane True series cast:

- a half selkie who constantly engages in  conversations with her libido;
- an attractive shapeshifter with a rather canine sense of fashion;
- a powerful gnome who always carries her rocking chair with her;
- a kelpie named Trill who turns into a pony;
- a satyr with a loincloth problem;
- a former porn star turned lesbian heiress socialite;

if you feel the corners of your mouth turning up by now, the Jane True Series might be just the thing for you.

Then, if you think you might want your story peppered with:

- incredibly funny and incredibly bad jokes (obviously complementarily);
- obscure and not so obscure pop culture references;
- an action packed urban fantasy plot populated by all kinds of supernaturals;

then you HAVE to read this series.

This book has been, so far, the very best in the series and I can't wait for the next book to come out - alas, next year.

I'm hacking off half star because of the rather huge plot hole in the middle of the book. Mr. Peeler, how could two of your most experienced characters act in such an amateurish way?

Nonetheless, a great funny UF series which doesn't get enough credit but I hope more people - with the right sense of humor - will read.

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The Glass Lake

The Glass LakeThe Glass Lake by Maeve Binchy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

2.5/3 stars

Well,  this should at least serve as an admonition to all women on how a MAN should never ever be the fulcrum around which a woman's life rotates, making him the centre of her universe.

The story - my first Maeve Binchy book ever -  is set in the 50s and revolves around the lives of various families in the small village of Lough Glass, Ireland, during a span of about 10 years. Among this rather extensive set of characters, stars Helen McMahon alias Lena Gray, a desperate woman whose actions, bad judgement and wrong choices in life reverberate throughout the existence of so many people, and with rather unsettling outcomes.

It is basically a book which deals with the concept of MISTAKE and how your actions may or may not reflect on other people's lives and with which consequences.

This, per se, is a rather interesting theme to be treated in a novel, if not for the fact the the gloomy approach and the disastrous ways in which the characters messed up their lives didn't make this book relaxing or enjoyable at any time. It would be actually pretty safe to say that this book is exhausting, emotionally and physically. First, it is well above 700 pages and the action is so slow at times that I felt like I was trying to slowly make my way through quicksand. You won't fall asleep, I swear, and you won't be bored by long descriptions about the nuances of color of the lake in November or on the types of plants growing around it, but you will feel the progress of narration so slow and uneventful, so much so that, if not for one cardinal point which I will explain below, it would have been enough to make me shut the book at page 50.


She is, without a doubt, the most conflicted character of the book. Throughout the story I couldn't help but despise her for her weaknesses and for what she brought upon herself and her family because of her stupidity but, at the same time, I couldn't help but admire her.

And this is where some things about her actually don't add up. I was baffled by how she seems to be two persons. First we meet a ghost of a woman who once was, then we meet the monster who did what no woman on her right mind would ever do and, then we meet the stakhanovist working woman and eventually the remorseful mother. So, what's it going to be? Who is Lena? How can a woman who seems to be able to organize everybody's lives so perfectly and be the catalyst to their happiness, simultaneously be a wreck and helpless about her own life? How can she live her life almost as vegetable for 12 years and then, because of/thanks to a man, run away and become an entrepreneur and go on as if her past never happened? How am I supposed to feel sympathy for a woman who abandoned her children (and let's not forget that even if she makes contact with Kit, she never does with Emmet)? I just can't. I can admire her qualities and her skills for building a career for herself out of nothing, but I cannot justify or forget her horrible actions and selfishness. As you sow, so you shall reap. I think Helen/Lena even collected too much for what she did.

And last but not least, the reasons for Lena's love for Louis were extra feeble, if not inexistent. WHY does she love him? Because he's good-looking? Hardly. You can't base your love on appearances, take a look at the celebrities. That is left unanswered.

Amazingly enough, very few of the rest of the characters were likable. Even Kit, Lena's daughter, makes an enormous mistake early in the book which changes everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. Clio, Emmet, Martin, Ivy, Kevin... they all love in the wrong way, forcing love on the one hand, or confusing it with lust on the other. This book is en emotional disaster, slowly developing in front of your eyes.

The only ONE character whom I found remotely likable, Sister Madeleine, makes a mistake, gets taken out of the book in 2 pages, never to return again. We never discover her past, her background. A bit wasted, if you ask me.

Finally, Kit and Stevie. That relationship smells like a week old dead fish. Kit the virtuous manages to reform the village rake? Mh. Sorry, but life taught me that a leopard cannot change its spots. There might be exceptions but I thought it was all very abrupt, there was not enough development of the matter to justify such undying love on both parts.

Ah, did I mention that the story is incredibly predictable?

On to the good parts:

I am still marveling at the writer's ability to write a 700 page book with no descriptions. THIS is the reason why, earlier on, I said you won't fall asleep. This book is 80% dialogue, no tedious long paragraphs about the crickets or whatever. And it totally works. I was there, in Lough Glass, with the characters, taking walks around the lake or on the streets of Dublin, picturing everything. Picturing something the author actually barely describes. So either I have a fervent imagination or there must be some skill on the author's part.

And to conclude, this book gets 2 1/2, barely 3 stars from me because of my involvement in the story. Even though I hated half the characters, thought the plot was predictable and the image of woman portrayed in these pages is so terribly wrong on so many levels, I could not close the book and set it aside. The plot is engaging and once I read the last page, I really felt emotionally drained. That alone must count for something.

Thanks to Maja and Flannery for suggesting this as my first Maeve Binchy book. Now I know you hate me. :D

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