Review: One of us is Lying by Karen McManus

image

Picture credit: http://www.netgalley.com

I’d heard about this book on social media and thought that it sounded like a pretty cool premise. Not only was the initial set up reminiscent of The Breakfast Club (a nerd, a princess, a jock and a rebel all find themselves in detention together) but it was promised to be a big hit. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy it as much as some others, but then I left school nearly 20 years ago (before the internet was really A Thing – can you imagine?) so I’m not really the target demographic. I thought some bits were good, other so-so.

Let me explain… 

Bronwyn, Nate, Addy, Cooper and Simon all go to the same school. Bronwyn is a stereotypical high achiever, Nate a part time drug dealer barely attending school, Addy the beautiful blonde whose boyfriend is the most important thing in the world and Cooper, whose life revolves around baseball. Seemingly with nothing in common, they all find themselves in detention together for having a mobile phone with them in class. The problem is, none of them know where the phones came from – they appear to have been planted on them to purposefully get them into trouble. But why?

Then there’s the fifth member of the group, Simon. Universally loathed and revered in equal measure, Simon is the owner of the About That app, where school rumours end up…except somehow Simon always manages to make sure that they’re true before publishing them. An incident during detention leaves all of the characters under suspicion and as the story unfolds it seems that they all have something to hide – just not what you were expecting.

See, it sounds like a good premise, right? I was definitely intrigued. However, the way that the book was written kind of spoilt the story for me. For a start, the chapters are short and broken up by character, where each in turn is the narrator. I found this quite confusing, especially when the two girls are quite similar in character – Addy is fairly bland for the most part of the book so it was easy to forget where her storyline was going when you had immersed yourself in the world of Nate. I found it quite jarring sometimes when I had to swap between them all.

The other problem was that it was quite easy to work out what had happened. For me, it was very obvious that certain people had nothing to do with the incident, so by process of elimination I had worked out the culprit before half way through. There was also Cooper’s big secret that I worked out way before it came out. Because of this, I found that the book dragged a bit. It seemed quite long for a YA novel, especially when not much goes on for chunks of pages (I didn’t really care about Addy’s hair or what films Bronwyn and Nate were watching). If the main characters were a little more secretive or had more to loose then it would have given them better motives and cast more doubt about them, which would have added to the intrigue.

In saying that, there was some fast paced bits and it had enough going on to keep me interested. I did enjoy reading One of us is Lying but the story could have been so much better if it were just a little less bland. As I previously mentioned though, I’m not the target demographic for this book and so if you’re into YA fiction then you might get more out of it.

Overall rating: 7/10   

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley!

Review: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

image

Oooh, this is a pretty book. Look at the oh-so-Instagrammable cover! The dust jacket alone was enough to make me want to read it. Luckily enough, the story was pretty good too. Bonus points for looking great on a bookshelf.

Rebel of the Sands is written like a western but set in alternative universe that feels like a magical version of the middle east. The desert setting, real life spirits and mercenary characters add to the Arabian Nights feel to make the premise of the novel totally unique. The story involves Amani, a young girl living in the backwater desert town of Dustwalk. Unaware of her father and with a mother who was killed by the authorities, Amani is a rebellious tomboy whose lightning fast reflexes make her handy with a gun. Her main aim in life is to leave her repressed existence behind by saving enough to get on the first train to the big city – and never look back. When she dresses up as a man to enter the town shooting competition she encounters a mysterious stranger and their unlikely friendship leads to a magical, terrifying and life changing adventure.

I really enjoyed the magical realism in this book. The desert is depicted as a mysterious place where spirits roam free and magic can be practiced by a lucky few. Sometimes I find that in certain books the ratio of magic to realism is too unbalanced and the storyline descends into the ridiculous but in Rebel of the Sands the magical elements were cohesive and weren’t used to simply get characters out of otherwise impossible situations (a pet hate of mine). These supernatural elements were seamlessly woven into the storyline and helped to create a truly evocative story. If you’re old enough to remember the Fry’s Turkish Delight advert then that’s exactly the kind of feel that is created (if you don’t know what I’m on about – Google it).

The storyline was very fast paced and had so many twists and turns that it was hard to guess what was going to happen next. The main character, Amani, had a number of difficult decisions to make, some of which were really heart wrenching. I loved her braveness and ability to beat the men at their own game and I really enjoyed her relationship with Jin, as there was just the right amount of will-they-won’t-they romance to add another interesting angle to the story. There was plenty of action, drama and suspense as Amani and Jim become embroiled in a political war and although it was sometimes hard to keep track of who was on which side their constant ability to evade the authorities kept me on the edge of my seat throughout.

The book ended with very little resolved so I’m guessing it’s part of a wider storyline. However, it still had a clearly defined start, middle and end so it could be satisfactorily read as a stand alone – although I definitely want to find out what happens next!

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys suspenseful fantasy, particularly if they find the idea of a fantasy western an intriguing idea.

Overall rating: 7/10

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley!

Review: Saturday, 3pm by Daniel Gray

image

Picture credit: http://www.Netgalley.com

I have to admit, I’m not the target audience for this book. At best, I am a casual supporter of football (the English sort, what the Americans call soccer) – I’ve been to a few games, vaguely know how my local team are doing and occasionally catch a bit of Match of the Day (although the theme tune usually signals bedtime). Therefore, I approached this book with a little bit of trepidation. Honestly, I chose it because it fitted in with a reading challenge category (that was then superseded) so I almost sacked it off entirely, but it’s short and it has a nice cover so I thought I’d give it a go.

So, you know, all of the initial enthusiasm.

Saturday, 3pm is a love letter to football. In the book, Gray chooses fifty (fifty!) different aspects of the game that he enjoys and writes a beautiful little essay about it – everything from slide tackles to the man selling pies outside the stadium. I have a theory that if you meet someone who is genuinely passionate about a topic – ANY topic – they make it interesting just by talking about it with love and enthusiasm. That’s exactly what Gray does in this book. His love for football is so evident that he makes even the most mundane subjects come to life.

I’ll be honest, some bits didn’t grip me as much as others and I found that this was the sort of book I had to read in short chunks, but luckily the way that it’s written lends itself to this perfectly. It made me look at football in a completely different way and I loved how evocative the writing was.

I had one small gripe: there’s absolutely no mention of the women’s game. Perhaps the author has a personal preference for the men’s game but I thought that as such a fan he might have enjoyed at least watching England ladies – especially as they are one of the top teams in the world. Gray writes some lovely passages about how his young daughter is showing the first signs of being interested in the beautiful game so in no way is his writing sexist, but if you’re going to write about the joy of seeing kids have a kickabout in the park you could probably mention the heart breaking own goal during stoppage time in the quarter finals of the 2015 Canadian World Cup that saw England out of the tournament.
Overall, this book wasn’t exactly for me, but I still found it enjoyable. It would make the perfect present for any football fan, and could be a good choice for a Father’s Day gift.

Rating: 6.5/10

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #34 Read a book with a month or day of the week in the title.

Review: Leap In by Alexandra Heminsley

image

Picture credit: http://www.netgalley.com

I really do love Alexandra Heminsley. I read her last book (Running Like a Girl) a few months ago and found it so completely inspirational that I started jogging a couple of times a week. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm for running faded pretty quickly (injury plus having an already dodgy leg) but the book was great and I think it really improved my technique. So, I was expecting great things from Leap In – the story of Heminsley’s journey from could-manage-a-few-laps-of-breaststroke to hard-core sea swimmer. I thought I would immediately be googling wetsuits and finding out where my nearest pool was. I thought I would be filled with confidence at the thought of wearing a swimming costume. I thought I would basically become a part time mermaid. Unfortunately, none of these things happened – which I suppose is good for my bank balance (and legs) but not so much my BMI. It’s a good book, but it just didn’t grab me in the same way that Running Like a Girl did.

Perhaps it’s the slightly less accessible subject matter. Anyone can shove a pair of trainers on and go for a run, but going swimming is a much more considered act. There’s the swimming costume, the hair removal, the finding out when the pool is open…you can’t just put this book down, grab a towel and head off to the baths. Added to this is the fact that  Heminsley is not a natural water baby. She gets claustrophobic in a wetsuit. She’s scared of standing in mud. She doesn’t understand goggles. I just didn’t feel that she utterly, thoroughly loved swimming in the same way that she loved running – and as someone who would happily become semi-aquatic I just didn’t engage with these minor concerns.

Luckily, Leap In is brilliantly written. It’s told in Heminsley’s  usual hilarious manner and includes some excellent descriptions of what it’s like to wear sportswear when you don’t have a “sporty” physique (not that there is such a thing – what I’m trying to say is – when you have boobs and a bum). Her description of the first time she had to wear a wetsuit is knicker-wettingly funny and the phrases “arse-shelf” and “arse cleavage” will stay with me for a long time. Mixed in with the humour are some very candid passages about being scared to walk out in a swimming costume, being intimidated by men training for triathlons and being paranoid about what is lurking beneath the waves. Heminsley is unfailingly, bravely honest about her own insecurities and foibles which make the story much more interesting and human.

There’s a lot of technical information about such things as  techniques for front crawl (seemingly the best stroke for long distance/open water swimming) as well as Heminsley’s own experiences with a range of kit. This might sound a bit dull but she weaves it into her personal narrative so well that it’s easy to get sucked in. At one point I actually found myself acting out front crawl arms as I was reading and quickly had to stop myself from looking like a lunatic. Luckily I was on my own at the time – thank God I wasn’t on public transport!

As a novel, Leap In Is split into two parts – the first being Hemingsley’s own story about learning to swim and the second regarding advice and support for everything from finding out about adult swimming lessons to kit, events and practical advice on everyday swimming issues. This section is really comprehensive and provides a plethora of information. Even if you have no interest in going swimming it’s written in a jovial, friendly tone and is still worth a read (how else will you find out how to conceal a spare tampon if you’re only wearing a wetsuit?)

Leap In really is a snapshot of Heminsley’s life during the time that she learns to swim. She includes some very personal passages about her struggles to conceive, her attempts at IVF and the impact that this has on her body. Far from being just a book about swimming, this is a really touching and intimate portrayal of life as a 30 something woman who just happens to have taken up a new sport. Not as inspirational as Running Like a Girl, but still a great book to read. And if you take it on holiday, who knows – maybe you will just grab a towel and head for the pool.

Rating: 8/10

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley!

Review: The Devil’s Prayer by Luke Gracias

image

So, dear readers, here comes my very negative review of The Devil’s Prayer, as promised in my last post. I’ve tried to find some positives within the story, but honestly, its been a struggle.

The book is written out of sequence, beginning with the present day; initially it’s about the story of a silent nun breaking into a concealed room hidden deep within a monastry whilst some weird creepy ritual goes on outside. This first part (alas – it only lasts a few chapters) reads a bit like a Dan Brown novel and immediately had me gripped. Unfortunately, it went downhill from there.

The next part of the book was written as a letter being read by the nun’s daughter, which alternated between the present day (when the daughter was reading it) and the past (when the letter was obviously set). The letter explained the events that led up to the nun abandoning her family, joining a convent and trying to track down some centuries old religious documents. Unlike a Dan Brown book, there was no attempt at plausibility when the reason for this was revealed. Seriously, it’s ridiculous. I won’t say too much in case you’re some kind of masochist who actually still wants to read this book, but it really is a stupid premise.

Anyway, the book then goes on to explain that the quest was never completed and in order to save the world, the daughter must pick up where her mother left off. Which she does. Without question.

Cue an awful lot of pointless travel around Europe while the daughter continues to read what her mother had been up to. She’s being chased by some evil monks (all wearing bright red robes, luckily. I mean, surely they would have disguised themselves? Anyway…) so she literally arrives in one place, reads a bit of the letter, a monk turns up, she gets on a train, they follow, she goes somewhere else…pointless.

The story ends completely arbitrarily after literally nothing is resolved and it looks like the whole thing was a waste of time. I couldn’t believe that the story just stopped in the way it did. I mean, I was thankful that it was over, but it made no sense. Is there a sequel? (please God don’t let there be a sequel).  

Apart from the storyline, there were many, many other things that I disliked about the Devil’s Prayer. It’s incredibly simplistically written and the grammer is terrible; really clunky and awkward. I think that the book has either been edited by a child or the author simply bypassed this stage altogether. It looks like it hasn’t been proof read either – at one point something is described as spartan but it’s written ‘Spartan’ (noun) like the inhabitants of Sparta.

The characters are either completely, unequivicably good or downright evil. There are no shades of grey. Everything is completely black and white. If someone is jealous, they say ‘I always hated you, with your perfect life’. If they’re rich (female) they buy designer clothes and handbags. If they are rich (male) they have a bright red sports car. If they’re good, they fail to notice these glaringly obvious, stereotypical signals of wealth and struggle on to pay the medical bills, never once questioning whether anyone could help them out. At one point, the devil appears and just in case you were in any doubt, utters the phrase ‘Hello? I am the devil’. Aaaargh! Quite why he is talking like a California Valley girl is anyone’s guess.

The story itself, apart from being utterly unbelievable, is terribly written. It’s obvious what has basically happened from the beginning (you’re literally given this information as a recollection) and the only vaguely intriguing part is trying to work out which of the poorly outlined characters were responsible for which bit. You know they’re all in it together and you know why, so this held little interest for me. This endless interrogation of each character took the vast majority of the book, and was extremely tedious.

There were also huge, gaping, obvious holes in the story as it emerged. The main character massively implicates herself in various crime scenes; her car is found by the police, she has visible marks on her body like she’s been in a fight, a woman matching her description is seen, the scenes involve all of her friends – but the police just keep confirming that it can’t be her because she’s a bed bound quadraplegic. Plausible, you might think – until the next day when she makes a miraculous recovery and starts walking around as though nothing has happened and the police still don’t think to question her (or, you know, arrest her immediately).      

There are other, appalling incidents in the book that are frankly ridiculous – the main character appears to have been chosen by the devil for no discernible reason, she has consensual sex the day after she is brutally raped, she decides that someone she has known forever is the love of her life just because she sees some good in him. Nonsense.

So, just in case you think I’ve been overly harsh, I’d like to finish with my favourite quote from the book, which I think encapsulates all of my criticisms quite nicely:

“Standing next to the turtles on the beach…was a green dragon, which looked a lot like a T-Rex.”

I thank you.

Overall rating: 4/10

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley!

Reading Challenge Update

Hello lovely readers!

Now that we are over a third of the way through the year (where did THAT go) I thought I’d review the two reading challenges that I’m taking part in to check my progress and also to look at my Netgalley account to see what percentage my feedback ratio is.

Incidentally, does anyone else get a bit obsessed by their reading stats or is it just me? I digresss…

Ok, so first up I had a look at the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. This challenge compromises 24 categories, so 2 books a month to be identified and read.

Current progress:

23/24 books identified (with an idea for the remaining novel).
9 books completed.
3 further books started but currently incomplete.

Verdict – winning!

I then looked at the Popsugar Reading Challenge – 40 categories so just under 4 books per month to be identified and read.

Current progress:

35/40 books identified. Struggling to think of a book with career advice and a book from a non-human perspective. Can anyone help?
16 books completed.
1 further book started but currently incomplete.

Verdict – on track.

Finally I had a look at my Netgalley account. Netgalley recommend that you have a feedback ratio of 80% or above. I have 11 books which have already been published that I haven’t reviewed – basically that I’m behind on. I have a further 5 books that are due to be published from June onwards that I’m not worrying about yet but that drags my overall feedback ratio to 54% which is quite frankly rubbish.

Verdict – must try harder. 

So overall I think I’m doing ok, I’ll be concentrating on getting my Netgalley score up which will also mean reigning myself in when requesting new titles *sad face*. On a positive note I’m not going to worry about the reading challenges because I seem to be doing quite well in those *happy face*.

How are you getting on with your reading challenges, Netgalley scores or TBR lists? Do you have any suggestions for the two Popsugar categories that I’m struggling with?

Lucinda xxx

 

Review – How to be Happy by David Burton

image

Don’t be fooled by the title – this is not a ‘How To…’ guide, nor is it the story of someone who figured out the secret to living a fabulous, meaningful life. It’s the story of a young man coming to terms with his own insecurities, sexual confusion, depression and general angst that I’m sure anyone thinking back to their teenage years can relate to on some level. The story Burton tells is interesting, funny and heartbreaking in equal measure, with periods of pretty severe depression and suicidal thoughts thrown in for good measure. Oh, and the bit about it being a memoir of sex is also misleading – rarely have I read an autobiography where the author is so truthful about how they found pulling someone completely, painfully difficult.

A lot of what I read in this book reminded me of the way that some of my friends seem to be constantly searching for some external thing that will make them happy – whether that’s a hobby, a partner, a successful career etc. when really what they’re doing is projecting their own insecurities. At some points I just wanted to hug David Burton and tell him that it was ok to be sad and confused, and that it would get better. Luckily, Burton comes to this conclusion on his own and How to be Happy has plenty of great examples of how building a support network is soooooo important for anyone who is suffering from depression/anxiety/low self esteem.

Burton is also very honest about his experiences and initial negativity towards therapy. I think it’s incredibly important to discuss this issue because I know that a lot of people still feel that they’re admitting defeat by seeking professional help for their problems. Happily, Burton finds a therapist that he’s comfortable with and the book shows how perseverance with counselling can have life changing results – but only if you’re prepared to really work at it.

The other thing that I really liked about this book was the way that Burton experienced confusion about his sexuality (to the point where he came out as gay to his parents) but then ended up having to rethink this. I’ve never seen this mentioned in a book before and it was really refreshing to see someone being so open about their changing feelings. This is clearly a very emotive topic and I applaud Burton for his honesty in saying ‘this is what happened to me and how I felt at the time’. I guess some people will see it as fuel for the ‘you’re too young to know how you feel…this is just a phase’ argument but I saw it as an example of how nuanced sexuality and sexual attraction can be and how completely confusing and difficult to understand it often is.

I did, however, find How to be Happy a little tedious in places. As a memoir of a fairly ordinary (albeit depressed) teenager/young adult there aren’t any explosions, zombies or natural disasters and the book is set in Australia, not in a post apocalyptic future.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book and applaud Burton’s honesty in portraying a very difficult period of his life. I think that anyone suffering from depression could benefit from reading it as it is ultimately an uplifting tale of triumph over
personal demons.

Rating: 7/10

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 #15 Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+.