December 2014 Chrissi Cupboard Month

All posts tagged December 2014 Chrissi Cupboard Month

Legend (Legend #1) – Marie Lu

Published August 25, 2015 by bibliobeth

9275658

What’s it all about?:

What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths—until the day June’s brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias’s death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.

What did I think?:

Legend is another one of those YA novels set in a dystopian future where the world we know it is at war with each other and a vile, corrupt government is responsible for a host of bad decisions that leave a vast number of people in poverty or danger. I’m glad to report that I felt it held its own against rivals such as The Hunger Games and Divergent and it’s one of those books that I can easily see on the big screens like its predecessors. Our two main characters – a heroine and a hero, are vastly different in the obvious ways i.e. June, who has lived a privileged life and is the Republic’s darling, set to shine brightly as a military genius when compared to Day who is the Republic’s most wanted criminal and barely manages to scrape enough together to make sure his family does not go hungry. However, when their paths inevitably cross, both June and Day have some striking similarities but have to decide whether the other can be trusted.

So the world has gone a little crazy, to put it mildly and what we know as Los Angeles is dominated by the Republic, ruled over by an Elector Primo who can re-elect himself time and time again (where did democracy sneak off to?!). By the age of ten, each child who lives in the state must take a test known as The Trial composed of both written and physical examinations. If they pass they are practically guaranteed a nice life with a well-paid job for the rest of their years and if they fail, well they can say hello to Poverty Central. I wasn’t too enamoured with the world-building here, mainly because I was so curious about how exactly the world came to be in this state and wouldn’t have minded a bit of history or background information. This may be what the author is working up to and I hope that the next books in the series will explain all of this in a bit more detail.

I really loved the characters of both June and Day and as we get both points of view in alternating chapters, it gave a nice glance into both sides of this peculiar world where the flu is killing off the poor in their hundreds yet the rich are automatically guaranteed a vaccination. Hmm….interesting. We see Day suffering every day as he tries to hide himself from the authorities while still trying to sneak ways to visit and look after his family, especially when one of them becomes desperately ill with the dreaded flu. June’s suffering on the other hand only begins when her beloved older brother Metias is killed in action while trying to apprehend a dangerous and notorious criminal – yes, that would be Day! Hell-bent on revenge and with all the right skills at her disposal, the Republic uses her grief for her brother as a weapon so they may finally get their hands on the Republic’s Most Wanted. When the two finally meet, they are both startled to realise neither is who they thought they expected them to be and if they join forces, they just might be able to make a stand against a government with evil on its mind.

I have to admit, I was pretty gutted when the author decided to kill off June’s brother Metias, as in the short time we get to know him, he is instantly likeable and I loved the strong bond between brother and sister that was portrayed. This gave June so much more strength and believability as a character though and it was exciting/sad to see how much she developed in maturity without her brother there to hold her hand. At times she did seem hopelessly naive in her beliefs over the Republic but on the other hand, if it is all she has known and she has never come across anyone who would tell her otherwise, it wasn’t surprising.

Legend is a fast-paced and thrilling read and it steps up level by level as the story continues to a nail-biting finale where we finally begin to understand just how low the Republic would stoop in order to keep their little world just the way they like it. I’m definitely looking forward to reading the next book in the series and I have high hopes that we will see some more world-building, more “kicking ass,” more anticipation and terror and probably even more questions that I will in no doubt want immediately answered by the final book!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

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She Is Not Invisible – Marcus Sedgwick

Published August 24, 2015 by bibliobeth

17839197

What’s it all about?:

The feeling that coincidences give us tells us they mean something… But what? What do they mean?

LAURETH PEAK’S father has taught her to look for recurring events, patterns, and numbers – a skill at which she’s remarkably talented. When he goes missing while researching coincidence for a new book, Laureth and her younger brother fly from London to New York and must unravel a series of cryptic messages to find him. The complication: Laureth is blind. Reliant on her other senses and on her brother to survive, Laureth finds that rescuing her father will take all her skill at spotting the extraordinary, and sometimes dangerous, connections in a world full of darkness.

From acclaimed storyteller Marcus Sedgwick, She Is Not Invisible is a gripping contemporary thriller threaded with unsettling coincidence and a vivid and convincing portrayal of a young woman living without sight.

What did I think?:

I’ve wanted to read a book of Marcus Sedgwick’s for so long after hearing many positive things about him so She Is Not Invisible seemed a great place to start. It it essentially a short-ish YA novel told from the point of view of a sixteen year old female protagonist called Laureth, but the difference with this character is that she is blind. Her father is a successful author and is in the middle of researching his new book in Europe which sees him investigating coincidence, the theories of people like Einstein and Jung and the peculiar significance of the number 354. Laureth has not heard from him in a while and is quietly concerned (unlike her mother who doesn’t seem to give two hoots) but alarm bells start ringing when she receives a mysterious email from someone in New York who claims to have possession of her father’s beloved notebook and as proof, he sends a copy of a few of the pages.

Her mother is going away for the weekend and entrusts the care of Laureth’s seven year old brother Benjamin on her. Instead Laureth, now desperately worried, decides to use her mother’s credit card to get her and Benjamin from the UK to New York in search of her father. A tough mission for any ordinary sixteen year old girl but imagine when you have to consider being blind as one of your challenges? I found myself absolutely thrilled by both the character of Laureth with her strength, resilience and determination and the adorable Benjamin who just leapt off the pages for me as someone I could give a giant hug to! Benjamin has a stuffed raven (called Stan) who he won’t be parted from and constantly whispers to as if he is bringing the toy up to speed on their current situation. Benjamin also has hidden strengths within himself that come to light as the novel continues and he plays a crucial part in guiding his sister around the melting pots of sounds, smells and noises that is New York, allowing her to see the city through him.

Another important part of this story is Mr Peak’s notebook which we see glimpses of from time to time as the two children try to find clues about where their father may be. It is very philosophical and often had me wondering about the nature of coincidence… it all became a bit spooky. Several reviewers didn’t really enjoy this part of the novel and some found that the excerpts from the notebook didn’t really add much to the narrative but personally I really enjoyed it as something a bit different from the usual manner of story-telling. I was especially excited about the parts written regarding the number 354 and then guess what page She Is Not Invisible finishes on? Yes, 354. There are many other instances, including the ending where the author shows just how meticulous he has been in writing the novel, everything adds up just right and although I was surprised, I think it was a nice way to end the book.

I do think that this book will probably split some people and it seems to have done just that by the reviews I have read already. Some may find the philosophical bits not to their taste, others may have been expecting something different from the ending. For me, it was a unique and exciting tale that shows YA characters can have disabilities and still be strong (in some cases, stronger) characters too and I hope that other authors will be inspired to step up and promote/recognise disabilities in their work also. From an absolutely brilliant first line:

“One final time I told myself I wasn’t abducting my little brother.”

to when I turned the final page, I was engrossed in Laureth’s story and didn’t want it to end. I will definitely be looking out for more work by Marcus Sedgwick, he has an undeniable talent for beautiful prose and a thought-provoking plot.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

This Book Is Gay – James Dawson

Published August 22, 2015 by bibliobeth

22074335

What’s it all about?:

Former PSHCE teacher and acclaimed YA author James Dawson gives an uncensored look at what it’s like to grow up as LGBT. Including testimonials from people ‘across the spectrum’, this inclusive book explores everything anyone who ever dared to wonder wants to know – from sex to politics, how to pull, stereotypes, how to come-out and more. Spike Gerrell’s hilarious illustrations combined with funny and factual text make this a must-have read.

What did I think?:

With its bright rainbow cover and “look at me” title, This Book Is Gay is no shrinking violet. Thank goodness for that! This is a frank and humorous look at sexuality across the LGBT* spectrum that is surely a godsend to teenagers in today’s world who are confused or curious about their gender preference and even as a heterosexual female, I found this book to be an entertaining and fact-filled journey where there is always something to be learned.

James Dawson is brutally honest about the fact that despite his experience in sex education for youngsters he is by no means a complete expert, he just talks about what he knows. I’ve read some reviews on this book and the main criticism seems to be that he doesn’t really explore other types of sexuality, for example asexual and pan-sexual preferences. Yes, this is the case but sexuality in general is such a huge topic and I feel if he was to explore everything in detail the book would lose something of its undeniable charm.

Most of the information I read I was aware of before but I was also surprised to learn a few things as well. There are also certain things I have a mental image of thanks to James that I don’t think I will be able to get rid of for a while! e.g. how to pleasure a man – DO NOT shake it like a tomato ketchup bottle! The author also covers a wide variety of topics from how to come out and the ins and outs of gay sex to gay icons and stereotypes. The most important message he covers through the novel however is that it’s okay to be yourself, to be unique and to fancy whoever floats your boat be that man, woman or both. This is a fantastic statement to send to all teenagers as we all remember how tough adolescence is, regardless of sexuality and I have to applaud James Dawson for this.

As well as this, the author provides testimonials from real teenagers across the globe as they talk about their own experiences with sexuality. And if this wasn’t enough, a comprehensive list of places to go to for more information, phone numbers and websites is provided at the end of the book so people can make use of the services that are provided but perhaps little known about. Finally, the illustrations by Spike Gerrell which accompany James’ hilarious and honest text are just the icing on the cake and provided quite a few laugh out loud moments for myself and the people that I immediately thrust this book upon. I highly recommend this book for anyone curious about sexuality and especially for those struggling teenagers out there. It’s a hugely important read that I can only hope will be stocked in school libraries and be referred to in sex education classes for years to come.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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thisbookisgay

Knife Edge (Noughts And Crosses #2) – Malorie Blackman

Published August 19, 2015 by bibliobeth

21423238

What’s it all about?:

This thought-provoking and often provocative look at racism is a sequel to the award-winning Noughts & Crosses.

Persephone (Sephy) Hadley, now an 18-year-old single parent, is raising her biracial daughter in a sharply divided alternate England, where black Crosses suppress the white Noughts. She faces pressure from both her less-than-understanding Cross family and her disintegrating Naught family, and everyone in between. When her brother-in-law’s violent behavior leads to murder, Sephy provides a false alibi to save Jude, but doing so irreparably damages other lives.

What did I think?:

I’ve only dipped my toe so as to speak into Malorie Blackman’s excellent young adult reads so far, starting with the brilliant Noughts And Crosses (read my review HERE) and now with the follow up Knife Edge. Well, I might be a bit of a latecomer to the party but blow me down with a feather she is a superb writer! I always worry with a series that it might suffer from “second book syndrome,” or tail off and lose my interest but I enjoyed the sequel just as much as I did the first. I’m going to try my hardest not to spoil things for those of you that haven’t begun the series yet but it might be better if you go off and read the first book then come back and read my review!

Okay, so where the first novel focuses on two Romeo and Juliet-esque characters who are fated never to be together purely because of the difference in their skin colours, the second tends to focus and hone in on a couple of these characters – Persephone (Sephy to her friends) and Jude. After the nail-biting and shocking ending of Noughts & Crosses, Sephy has a hell of a lot more to be worried about then just relationships. She now has a whole new life to be responsible for in the form of Callie Rose, a daughter named for her father and more precious to her than anything else. Life never runs smoothly for Sephy sadly and she ends up moving in with Callum’s mother Meggie who is not completely delighted to have her there but begins to dote on her little grand-child. Poor Sephy is also suffering from what happened in the last novel along with a bout of post natal depression which begins to threaten her relationship with her daughter.

As well as Sephy’s viewpoint, we also get one from another familiar character – Jude, Callum’s brother who is on the run after being wanted as a member of the Liberation Militia, a violent organisation seeking equal rights for Noughts in a world ruled by inequality. He is absolutely furious with Sephy (and with all Crosses in general) for what he believes she has put his family through and when something happens to him that shakes his whole belief system, their paths cross again. Will she help him or will it be daggers at dawn?

I’ve got to admit I had no idea about which way Malorie Blackman was going to take this story after the ending of the first novel (which was pure fireworks for me, by the way) and I’m really pleased she dug down a bit deeper into her characters mindsets. We have suffered with Sephy from the very beginning of the series but in Knife Edge we see her becoming a mother, overcoming obstacles and really growing as a person. But Jude – what can I say? He is a vile, disgraceful and embarrassing piece of humanity but by the author exploring his character in more depth and allowing for a tiny glimmer of good that he might possess, I even started feeling a bit sorry for him! Only a bit, mind you. Once again, I also loved the way in which the author presented this dystopian world not too far removed from our own, where skin colour can mean everything in life is granted or taken away from you. And the ending? Oh dear Lord, she’s done it again….it’s one terrific cliffhanger that will have you grabbing for the third book in this four book series Checkmate immediately!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Half Bad (The Half Bad Trilogy #1) – Sally Green

Published August 13, 2015 by bibliobeth

18079804

What’s it all about?:

Wanted by no one.
Hunted by everyone.

Sixteen-year-old Nathan lives in a cage: beaten, shackled, trained to kill. In a modern-day England where two warring factions of witches live amongst humans, Nathan is an abomination, the illegitimate son of the world’s most terrifying and violent witch, Marcus. Nathan’s only hope for survival is to escape his captors, track down Marcus, and receive the three gifts that will bring him into his own magical powers—before it’s too late. But how can Nathan find his father when there is no one safe to trust, not even family, not even the girl he loves?

Half Bad is an international sensation and the start of a brilliant trilogy: a gripping tale of alienation and the indomitable will to survive.

What did I think?:

Half Bad was a book I chose for Chrissi Cupboard month way back in December and one I was really looking forward to after an enthusiastic recommendation from my sister, Chrissi. As a result, I had very high expectations for the story and am pleased to confirm that these expectations were fully met! Some reviewers have mentioned that they felt the first half of the novel was the stronger half and I concur with this for the most part but it hasn’t dampened my excitement in any way for the rest of the trilogy.

Our story is set in England in contemporary times with a serving of magic and fantasy thrown in for good measure. In this imaginative world that Sally Green has created there are three types of individuals co-habiting the planet: humans and two opposing sets of witches, Whites and Blacks i.e. “goodies” and “baddies.” Our main character is a sixteen year old boy called Nathan whom when we first meet him is shackled in a cage and being tortured on a daily basis. You see Nathan is not your average “half code” (someone who has both a White and Black witch for a parent). His father, Marcus just happens to be the most dangerous, frightening and unpredictable Black witch on the planet. He is also not too good at the whole parenting malarkey having been absent from his son’s life as long as Nathan can remember.

Nathan is raised alongside his half-siblings by his grandmother who attempts to make his childhood a happy one but is thwarted at every opportunity by the White Witch council leaders who unfortunately don’t give Nathan much of a chance based purely on who his father is. As a result, Nathan is constantly made to feel that he is different, has “bad” blood and must be closely monitored. His awful half-sister Jessica is particularly cruel to him and appears to feel tainted merely by his presence if they are in the same room together. Things could be about to get a whole lot worse for Nathan as his seventeenth birthday looms – a special time for any young witch when they receive three magical gifts from their parent(s) and discover what their magical superpower/speciality will be. This is a huge concern for the bigwigs in charge of the White Witches as: 1) Nathan has only one parent who could give him his gifts, currently on Britain’s Most Wanted list and 2) there is a potential for Nathan to become just as dangerous as his father if his powers are allowed to develop.

This novel has everything you could possibly want from a book – intriguing plot, characters you love to love (or love to hate!) and jam packed full of action. The opening sequence of Nathan being tortured in the cage is tense and powerful not to mention fairly violent and it was the perfect way for the author to open the book. After all, who can resist reading on after a prologue that packs such an almighty punch? Then there are the characters starting with our hero/anti-hero Nathan whose conflicts and troubles in childhood will surely melt even the hardest of hearts and of course, the ever enigmatic Black Witch Marcus, a character so mysterious that I instantly needed to know everything about him but was denied on this count. This is something I’m not too bothered with however, it only has the effect of making him even more captivating. I also feel that the author has taken a genre and encompassing many themes that a lot of people have written about and made it both fresh and contemporary which is no small feat. Of course, as this is the start of a trilogy I finished the book with a lot more questions than answers, something I admit I was expecting and although some readers may find this frustrating I think it’s a brilliant ploy for building the drama ready for the second instalment, Half Wild which I’m now very excited to get to.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

The Wrong Boy – Suzy Zail

Published July 23, 2015 by bibliobeth

13338887

What’s it all about?:

The story of a Jewish girl sent to Auschwitz with her family. She falls in love with the wrong boy – the German son of the camp commander.

Hanna is a talented pianist, and the protected second daughter of middle class Hungarian Jews. Relatively late in World War II the Budapest Jews were rounded up and sent to Auschwitz. Hanna and her mother and sister are separated from her father. Her mother becomes increasingly mentally ill until she too is taken away somewhere. Her sister Erika is slowly starving to death. Hanna is quite a naïve 15-year-old but when presented with the opportunity to play piano for the camp commander, she is desperate to be chosen. She goes each day under guard to the commander’s house and stands waiting in case the commander should want some music. Also living in the house is the commander’s son, Karl. A handsome young man who seems completely disengaged from what is happening around him. Hanna hates him as he sits drawing in the music room. But the longer Hanna goes to the house, the more she realises there are other things going on. Secret things. Karl may not be the person she thinks he is. Before she knows it she has fallen in love with the wrong boy.

What did I think?:

The Wrong Boy was one of my must-read picks for Chrissi Cupboard Month back in December 2014 after once again my sister and fellow blogger Chrissi Reads begged me to read it. By the end, I think I loved it more than she did. I’m very interested in anything Holocaust related and a book from the point of view of a Jewish girl that is sent to a concentration camp instantly appealed. The story begins near the end of World War II where our main character Hanna is living in a Jewish ghetto with her parents and older sister, Erika. However, it is not long before German soldiers come to the ghetto, round up the entire Jewish community and ship them off to the terrifying camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The family barely have a chance to gather up some belongings but Hanna manages to take one of the black keys from her beloved piano as she is a talented pianist and had recently been offered a place at a prestigious music school.

Not only is the journey to the camp bad enough as hundreds of people are packed into trucks like cattle but Hanna, her mother and her sister are separated from their father with no idea if they would ever meet again. Before he is led away, Hanna’s father manages to extract an emotional promise from her – that she would fight her hardest to survive this process so that she can tell people in the future exactly how they were treated. Once inside the camp the family are reduced to a pitiful and almost animal-like status where their heads are shaved, they are kept in uncomfortable and very cramped living quarters and are worked back-breakingly hard in the fields. They survive on meagre portions of food that reduce their bodies to mere skeletons where the tiny portions of bread that they eat are mould-infested and hard as bricks. Then there are the constant threats that they could be killed instantly just for not being able to stand up during the roll call every morning. What makes things worse is that Hanna’s sister Erika who is normally an outspoken and strong character seems to be fading away a little more each day while Hanna’s mother is sinking deep into the realms of insanity.

One day, Hanna’s music teacher spots her amongst the prisoners and manages to engineer the chance for Hanna to audition to be the official pianist for the Commander of the camp. She secures the role and as a result is guaranteed to be in warm surroundings and to have a pair of shoes to wear. Although playing for the Commander and his silent and intimidating son Karl disgusts her Hanna sees it as a good opportunity to procure extra bits of food so that her sister can be encouraged to survive. However, Hanna isn’t expecting the effect the Commander’s son is going to have on her, especially when she discovers that he may be sympathetic to her situation. Soon Hanna finds herself in a very dangerous predicament of being in love with the wrong boy and, in a world where even playing the wrong note could be a death sentence for her Hanna is walking on a very thin tightrope if she is going to survive Auschwitz.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It is an achingly beautiful and heart breaking account of a terrible period in our land’s history that we can only hope will never ever be repeated. I didn’t realise until the end of the book that the author’s father had actually survived the horror of Auschwitz himself. This gives a startling authenticity to her words and one can only imagine the brutality that the prisoners of the camps had to endure. Hanna is a wonderful, strong and incredibly brave heroine and I was rooting for her throughout the book as she falls in love for the first time in the worst possible circumstances with the most unsuitable partner at the wrong time! I don’t want to say too much about the ending but for me it was a perfect finale that still holds that glimmer of sadness. This is a really thought-provoking and thrilling read and I’m looking forward to picking up The Tattooed Flower which is a non-fiction account of the author’s fathers’ time in Auschwitz.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Rooftoppers – Katherine Rundell

Published July 13, 2015 by bibliobeth

17350491

What’s it all about?:

Everyone thinks that Sophie is an orphan. True, there were no other recorded female survivors from the shipwreck which left baby Sophie floating in the English Channel in a cello case, but Sophie remembers seeing her mother wave for help. Her guardian tells her it is almost impossible that her mother is still alive, but that means still possible. You should never ignore a possible. So when the Welfare Agency writes to her guardian threatening to send Sophie to an orphanage, she takes matters into her own hands and flees to Paris to look for her mother, starting with the only clue she has – the address of the cello maker. Evading the French authorities, she meets Matteo and his network of rooftoppers – urchins who live in the sky. Together they scour the city for Sophie’s mother before she is caught and sent back to London, and most importantly before she loses hope.

What did I think?:

This fantastic children’s novel won the Waterstones Children’s Books prize for 2014 and after reading it myself as part of Chrissi Cupboard Month for December last year I heartily concur that it was a most deserving winner. It is Katherine Rundell’s second novel after her debut Girl Savage and was heavily influenced by her own night-time walks and adventures on the roof tops of Oxfords colleges whilst at university. The story opens beautifully, almost like a fairy-tale where a baby is found after a shipwreck floating in a cello case and wrapped in some manuscript. A gloriously eccentric but wonderfully kind man called Charles rescues her and brings her up as if she was his own child and she grows up as a fiercely independent and much loved little girl who knows her own mind from a very early age.

Unfortunately for Sophie and Charles the big wigs from Social Services don’t quite see it the same way. Sophie is often dresssed very oddly which perturbs them slightly but not as much as when the social worker, Miss Eliot pays a visit and discovers that they write each other notes on the wallpaper. Not “normal,” or “healthy” in her books although I tend to agree with Charles when he informs Miss Eliot that:

“On the contrary,” said Charles. “The more words in a house the better, Miss Eliot.”

Well said Charles! Miss Eliot however, has more to find fault with than just that and it is decided that Sophie must be taken away from a man that loves her dearly and whom she loves in return. Sophie has already been asking questions about her mother and she is determined that she is still alive and living in Paris, going by the label on the cello case where she was found as a baby. This gives Charles a marvellous opportunity to take Sophie and flee to Paris, where they hope to search for her mother. What Sophie is not expecting is to find a new life high up on the roof tops above the hustle and bustle of the capital with a courageous young boy called Matteo and his gang of orphaned children who may also be able to assist in finding her mother.

This is such a gem of a story that I think will appeal to adults as well as children and would be fantastic read aloud. I fell in love with Charles instantly and really enjoyed all his eccentric little ways, how he takes care of Sophie whist allowing her to be her own person and how he supports her without quarrel when she wants to find someone she has only dreamed about and who may be her only living blood relative. Katherine Rundell creates a magical world on the roof tops of Paris that will appeal to anyone with a sense of adventure and draws a strong character in her heroine Sophie that children will adore. I just know this book will become an instant classic that will continue to be enjoyed for years to come. Personally, I just can’t wait to see what the author does next, I’m certain it’s going to be great.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0