Library Scavenger Hunt: June

This month’s Library Scavenger Hunt challenge was a pretty easygoing one – read a book with a one-word title – and I managed to find my book quite quickly, but it’s taken me a little while to finish reading it, due to various preoccupations (i.e. video games, mostly 😅)… But I’ve finally finished, so here’s my review:

HURT
Tabitha Suzuma

Mattéo Walsh is Britain’s star diver, and everything looks to be on track for him to enter – and have a good shot at winning – the next Olympics. But then disaster strikes: something happens at the National Championships in Brighton, and it’s not something that Mattéo comes out of unscarred. Physically, emotionally, and mentally, he seems to be falling apart – and worse than that, telling anyone what happened could mean losing everything he cares about…

My feelings on this book are somewhat mixed. I genuinely liked and felt for Mattéo, and Suzuma’s evocative writing helped a lot with that. I also really love the way she portrayed family relationships in this book; the friendship and trust between Lola and her father Jerry was wonderful to read, and the affection between Mattéo and Loïc provided a wonderful contrast to the strained distance between them and their parents. The plot was also very engaging, and the various twists and turns kept me guessing right up to the end of the book; there was a really good balance of hints and red herrings, and although I did end up being right about the “what” of what happened in Brighton (which I was less than certain about), the “who” (of which I had been utterly convinced) came as a huge surprise.

On the other hand, I wasn’t massively happy with Lola’s role in the book; I found the intensity of her romance with Mattéo a little unrealistic, and I really didn’t like her part in the novel’s conclusion, though I suppose I kind of understand why Suzuma had the book end the way it did. And I also felt that the story as a whole (and particularly the second half) was drawn out for far longer than it needed to be.

Hurt is a book that I’ve been meaning to read for a long time now, and I’m glad that I finally made the time for it, though it didn’t quite live up to my (admittedly high) expectations. I’d say I liked it about as much as I did Forbidden (the only other one of Suzuma’s books I’ve read), which was similarly hard-hitting, but a little more problematic in terms of its subject matter.

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

Library Scavenger Hunt: May

Sorry for the lack of posts recently, guys! I’ve been so preoccupied with first Persona 5, then Fire Emblem Echoes, that I’ve barely even been reading, let alone writing… 😓 That said, I did finally manage to finish this month’s LSH challenge – read a book with a monochrome cover – for which I picked a book I’d been super-excited about…

THE UNLIKELY HERO OF ROOM 13B
Teresa Toten

Adam Spencer Ross’ life is turned upside-down when the amazing Robyn Plummer joins his OCD support group. She’s beautiful, she’s fun, and she gets him in a way that almost nobody else ever has; it must be love! Now all he has to do is fix himself ASAP, so that Robyn will love him back… How hard could it be?

I’m sad to say that this book ended up being a huge let-down. 😞 I was really excited to pick it up, and I really wanted to like it – and there wasn’t exactly anything about it that I specifically disliked… it was just really, really boring. Most of the characters (with the exception of Adam and, to a lesser extent, Robyn) were completely bland; we were given a brief, fairly shallow description of each of their personalities early on in the book, and none of them developed even slightly as the story progressed. And the romance between Adam and Robyn was entirely unconvincing. Adam decided that he loved Robyn before she ever opened her mouth, and that love was unshakeable the whole way through the book. I don’t have a problem with instalove in books, as long as there’s some kind of subsequent relationship development, but The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B decided to take love-at-first-sight along its dullest possible path.

Which brings me round to Robyn, who had more than a little of the manic pixie dream girl to her, in the sense that she her only real importance to the story was the effect she had on Adam. Granted, the way her presence influences Adam was interesting, but, similar to most of the side characters, she had very little in the way of character depth or development, despite Toten’s efforts to make her seem mysterious.

A couple of minor irritations before I move onto the things I did like about this book: Firstly, the characters’ adoption of superhero identities in their support group seemed at best gimmicky and pointless – an excuse to use the phrase “Batman and Robyn” far more than was necessary – and at worst a reason to get out of having to flesh out the characters any more. After all, knowing that Iron Man (whose real name I can’t remember) identifies with Marvel’s Iron Man makes him fully developed already, right? What more do we need to know? 😑 Secondly (and I’m aware that this is petty), I found the constant use of the word “superior” (as a  substitute for “awesome” or “amazing”) really grating. Is this slang that people actually use? Maybe, but every time a character used it, it still made me like them a little bit less.

On a more positive note, Adam himself was a great character. He was likeable and sympathetic, and although his life experiences were so far removed from my own that I didn’t find him particularly relatable, people who’ve been through similar things probably would relate to him quite well. And Toten has also done a really great job of portraying his OCD as something that affects his life in a way that is serious, and at times quite sinister. There are two moments in this book where the OCD, plus everything else that he’s going through just become too much for Adam to deal with, and both of these scenes were powerful and emotional.

And if half of the plot revolves around Adam’s romance with Robyn, then the more interesting half involves his relationship with his equally (if differently) messed-up mother, who has been receiving threatening letters. I wouldn’t say it’s quite the whodunnit that I’ve seen it pitched as, but I did find it intriguing, and probably would have enjoyed it even more had I not guessed who the letter-sender was so early on.

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

Library Scavenger Hunt: April

This month’s challenge was to read a book that was published the year you were born – 1989 for me – and required a lot more research than I’m used to having to do for the LSH, as well as several different library trips, since several times over, I wasn’t able to find the books I was looking for… :/ Luckily, I eventually managed to find this list, and a couple of the books on it were available in my local library! 😀 The one I eventually picked (which was originally published in 1989, although I actually read a more recent edition) was…

SEEING VOICES
Oliver Sacks

An exploration of Deaf culture and identity; of the history of Sign language (and American Sign Language in particular); of how languages (both visual and auditory) effect the brain; and many other related topics – from the perspective of somebody who is not part of the Deaf community, but clearly has great admiration for it.

This was a difficult book to review (and to rate) for a number of reasons. Firstly, I have no connection to the Deaf community whatsoever; in twenty-seven years of life, the only exposure I’ve had to Deaf culture is in the occasional (and usually not particularly prominent) deaf character on TV, and pretty much everything I know about the community (or deafness in general), I’ve learnt from this book. So I am entirely unqualified to make any argument concerning Sacks’ right- or wrong-ness. Secondly, I read fiction almost exclusively, and have never before reviewed a book that was not a novel (or short story), so many of the things that I’ve trained myself to think about when I read (plot progression, character development, world-building, etc.) really don’t apply here. Nevertheless, I will do my best to produce something coherent.

In regards to the content of the book, I will say this: Much of it was completely over my head, but I progressed through it feeling interested, and ended it feeling informed – if not as informed as I might have been, had I understood more of it. Sacks’ lack of objectivity is evident, but I don’t think it was trying to be an entirely objective scientific/sociological study so much as a documentation of Sacks’ own journey into the world of the Deaf, and all the interesting things he learnt along the way. And – as an outsider myself – his outsider perspective made the book relatively easy to follow.

My main problem with the book was actually the way it was formatted. Around a third of the main body of text (i.e. discounting the bibliography/references/etc.) was notes – many of which were extremely long – and constantly having to flip back and forth between sections meant that I was continually losing track of what Sacks was trying to say (and losing my place). True, there’s no need to read the notes if you don’t want to, but I found that they contained some of Sacks’ most interesting observations.

The rest of the text was divided into three sections (A Deaf WorldThinking in Sign, and The Revolution of the Deaf), the first two of which had previously been published as self-contained essays, and therefore reproduced much of the same information. Reading A Deaf World, of course, this information was all new to me, but Thinking in Sign (the longest section of the book) dragged quite a bit in consequence. The Revolution of the Deaf – a documentation of the Deaf President Now protest at Gallaudet University in 1988 – was the only part of the book that was written specifically for Seeing Voices, and was very different to the rest of the book; less scientific, and more sociological. It’s also the most easily accessible part of the book, though when I was reading it, I appreciated having the background information provided by A Deaf World and Thinking in Sign.

As a final note, I’d like to suggest that anyone who’s unsure about reading this book check out some of the other reviews on Goodreads, which are, for the most part, considerably better-informed and better-articulated than my own.

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

Library Scavenger Hunt: March

I had a few different books in mind as potential fills for this month’s challenge – a book with a map in it – but sadly my library didn’t have any of them in stock, so even though I ended up coming home with three books, I was still feeling rather uninspired, and not at all certain which one I was going to read (or even if I would just go back to the library later in the month). :/ Of course, I did manage to pick just one eventually, and that book was…

FEARLESS
Tim Lott

Little Fearless lives at the City Community Faith School, which claims to be a place of redemption and reform for troubled young girls. In actuality, the school is a prison for 1000 girls who have been taken from their families, and are forced to work in awful conditions and with no hope of ever leaving. But Little Fearless never gives up hope of one day being rescued, and always does her best to inspire all the girls around her to do the same.

What I saw in this book was something that was trying to have the emotional impact and level of social commentary as books like The Handmaid’s Tale (by Margret Atwood) or Nicholas Dane (by Melvin Burgess), but which failed utterly at every turn. The characters were all one-dimensional; they each had a single characteristic, and you can identify that characteristic easily just by hearing their names (there’s Beauty, who is beautiful, Tattle, who talks all the time, and so on, and so on).

But even apart from the characters, the story and setting were both so over-simplified as to sacrifice realism entirely (even though the power of good dystopian fiction lies in the horrifying thought that it’s not completely impossible), and the big twist at the end was both clichéd and predictable. Additionally, although I found this in the YA section of my local library, it really ought to be aimed at younger children, as the reading level is really quite low, and the story not captivating enough to make up for it.

This all comes across as quite damning, but for the record, nothing about this book actively annoyed me, which is the only thing that’s saved it from a one-star review (a book has to be really bad for me to only give it one star)… it’s just boring. There’s a huge amount of dystopian fiction out there these days, and I’d be hard put to it to find one that’s less worth your time than Fearless.

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

Library Scavenger Hunt: February

In a hilarious turn of events, this month’s challenge was to read a book with the word “heart” in the title… to celebrate Organ Donor Day! ^^’ I was initially hoping to pick up a copy of either Pig Heart Boy or Heart Break Girl (both by Malorie Blackman – though Heart Break Girl seems to be some kind f weird ghost book; I can’t find it anywhere! 😦 ), but much to my surprise, there was no sign of either of them. Title challenges aren’t too difficult, though, so it didn’t take me too long to find something else suitable, which ended up being…

CRUEL HEART BROKEN
Emma Haughton

Emma Haughton//Cruel Heart BrokenLaurie, Charlie and Maya used to be best friends; they did everything together, and kept no secrets from each other. That’s changed recently though – Laurie has a big secret that she’s too ashamed to confess to, and it doesn’t help that Charlie’s inexplicably started dating her sister Katy. But Charlie’s newfound interest in Katy is only a small part of something much bigger that’s going on with him… and may somehow be tied to a sudden death in the local community.

My favourite thing about this book was probably the relationships. I loved how much Laurie and Charlie clearly still cared about each other, despite their distance, and the cause of the strained relationship between Laurie and Katy made perfect sense when it was eventually revealed. And it’s pretty rare in YA fiction to find a main character with really great parents, but Laurie’s mum and dad were fantastic (especially when contrasted with Charlie’s very discomfiting relationship with his own mother, Nicole); in particular, there’s this amazing scene towards the end of the book where Laurie’s mum walks in on a conversation between her and Nicole – and I’m sure that anyone who’s read the book will have shared in my feeling of triumph at that moment. 😀

Also, Maya was a wonder: My brain wandered in the direction of Fiesta and Soulmates while I was reading this (the former because it was also a LSH pick, & the latter because the two are permanently linked in my brain by how much I hated them), and my main takeaway every time that happened was just how nice it was to be reading a contemporary novel featuring a best friend who actually behaves like a best friend! Maya obviously knows that Laurie is going through something awful and can’t bring herself to talk about it… and she responds by just being there for Laurie, and not pushing the issue. ❤

In terms of the plot, it was slow-building, but I liked it a lot more than I expected to (my expectations, for the record, were middling). The story dealt with several difficult topics in a way that was both interesting and respectful, and – particularly in the case of Laurie’s dilemma – managed to portray the characters’ inner conflicts excellently… and these conflicts, and the way they effected the characters’ relationships, were the main driving force of the book. The blurb on the back of the book suggested a lot more mystery than it actually delivered on (Laurie’s dark secret was revealed fairly early on, and Charlie’s could at least be partially figured out not much later, without too much sleuthing involved), but this actually worked in its favour, as far as I’m concerned, as it left a lot more room for the aforementioned (and excellent) character development.

Overall, I’d describe Cruel Heart Broken as hard-hitting, but hopeful, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I’d probably recommend it to fans of Jandy Nelson’s writing, as well as anyone who liked We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King, or even Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson.

4 stars

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

Library Scavenger Hunt: January

This month’s LSH challenge was to read a book with a drink on the cover, which turned out to be so much more difficult than I was expecting! After about an hour at the library, the only books I could find that fit the theme were all vampire books with blood on them – and I could hardly pick one of those after the joke I made about it on the challenge thread! ^^’ Luckily I chanced upon something else, just before the library closed, and I think it kind of fits… potions are drinkable, after all. 😉

THE POTION DIARIES
Amy Alward

Amy Alward//The Potion DiariesIn an attempt to gain some kind of control over her own future, Princess Evelyn of Nova decides to create a very illegal love potion, and use it to dose her best friend, Zain. Unfortunately for her, a mix-up of cups means that Evelyn is the one who actually drinks the potion, and she falls madly in love with her own reflection… prompting a contest between all Nova’s potion-makers to find a cure. Sam – our main character – is one of those potion-makers, along with Zain Aster, and the King of Nova’s exiled sister Emilia, who hopes to take advantage of the princess’ condition and seize the throne for herself.

I went into The Potion Diaries assuming that it would be a lighthearted, fluffy story, with an interesting modern-day-but-magical backdrop, and it definitely lived up to that expectation… which was not a bad thing in and of itself; it was a fun book, and I enjoyed reading it. On the other hand, I did find myself disappointed that it never seemed to make an effort to be anything more than that. The story was remarkably linear, and I spent a great deal of the book waiting for a dramatic twist that never came. Sam did, of course, suffer a lot of set-backs in the contest (called a Wilde Hunt), but all of them were overcome fairly quickly and easily, usually with the power of a spontaneous eureka moment on Sam’s part, which didn’t always make the most sense…

But my main gripe with this book was actually the potion-making itself. It makes sense to me that you’d need to recreate the love potion first, before being able to start working on a cure (my expectations of magical medicine were shaped primarily by The Healing in the Vine by Tamora Pierce – a great book, by the way), so I didn’t notice this problem straight away, but… how on earth is dosing Evelyn with another love potion supposed to help?! Wouldn’t it just make her fall obsessively in love with someone else? I was able to suspend my disbelief for a lot of the book, but the clearer it became that there wasn’t going to be a secondary, trying-to-create-an-atidote phase to the Wilde Hunt, the less immersed in the story I felt.

In terms of characters, I liked Sam, but never felt particularly connected to her, Zain made for an unobjectionable but ultimately bland love interest, and Emilia was clichéd and unthreatening as the book’s main villain. The most interesting character was probably actually Evelyn, whose perspective we saw from time to time as she fell deeper and deeper into the haze that the love potion created, but since the only version of Evelyn we were shown was this besotted one, it’s not really an indication that she’ll remain interesting as the series goes on.

Overall – as I’ve already said – this was a fun book with an interesting setting and premise that it didn’t really use to its full potential, and from what I’ve seen, the sequel looks like it’ll be telling a very similar story… I enjoyed reading this, but I doubt I’ll be continuing on with the series.
3 stars

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

Library Scavenger Hunt: December

The very last Library Scavenger Hunt challenge of the year was to read a book with a tree on the cover, several of which I managed to locate fairly easily – trees being a reasonably popular thing to put on book covers – though I didn’t have a specific book in mind when I first went off to the library. And, much to my surprise, one of the books I found was one I’d been meaning to read for a while, but wasn’t sure enough that I’d like to justify buying it outright; exactly the kind of books the Scavenger Hunt was designed to encourage people to read! 😀 That book was…

WINTERKILL
Kate A. Boorman

Kate A. Boorman//WinterkillIn a small, remote settlement, surrounded by walls and woods, lives a community beset by the mysterious malmaci – a terrifying monster that lurks outside the walls, stealing away and devouring anyone foolish enough to leave their safety. Inside the walls, life is safe but harsh, especially for people like Emmeline, who is tainted in the eyes of the community – and the draw she feels to the woods doesn’t help matters in the slightest.

This book actually reminded me a lot of All the Truth that’s in Me by Julie Berry (which was my LSH pick back in February), and in tone, the two books are quite similar; both set in small, isolated communities, threatened by some mysterious danger that nobody really understands, but everyone is afraid of; both with the same wintery, oddly unsettling atmosphere; and both featuring protagonists who are ostracised, and who – at least to an extent – believe that they deserve to be ostracised. The major difference was that, in my opinion, Winterkill did much better with its pacing and plot. The mystery of Emmeline’s “Stain” was actually revealed fairly early on in the story, which made room for the much more tantalising mysteries of the malmaci and the Lost People to take precedence, while the slow build towards their eventual solutions kept me invested right to the end.

Character-wise, there wasn’t a huge amount of character development, but there was an interesting mix of people and personalities, none of whom felt at all fake. Emmeline was a great lead characters, with both strengths and flaws that felt realistic and relatable, and although Brother Stockham came across as a very obvious villain even at the very beginning of the book, the way that his story arc progressed was really interesting. Kane and Tom were the other two main characters, and while both of them seemed to fit into the love interest and best friend moulds (respectively) pretty much perfectly, the roles that they actually ended up playing were quite unexpected. I would’ve liked to have seen a bit more of Edith (Tom’s little sister), but perhaps she’ll have a more significant part to play in the sequels.

Winterkill wasn’t the most impressive thing I’ve read by far, but it does do very well at setting up what looks like it’s shaping up to be an interesting series, and I definitely want to read more.

3 stars[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]