Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Book review: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

What would you do if the bubble you’ve lived in all your life, is no longer big enough to contain all that you hope for?

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon (first published in 2015 by Corgi)

Purchase a copy on Raru.co.za

Everything, Everything is a book that has been talked about and celebrated worldwide and it’s easy to see why.

The book ticks all the right boxes in terms of diversity, concept and beautiful writing.  And yet, for all the fuss that’s been made about the book, I found myself merely liking it, as opposed to falling madly in love with it the way the rest of my fellow bookish peers have.

Well, someone’s got to be the black sheep amongst the glow-y reviewers. Guess it just so happens to be my turn.

Oh, there was the beginning flutterings that I assume most people feel when they first fall in love, but the more I read the book, the more I realised that sometimes you need more than a suspension of disbelief to be wholly invested in a novel.

That, and the fact that this book has been hyped to the max, has probably not helped its cause.  I was promised fireworks; what I got was the mere flickering of a lone sparkle in the dark of the night.

But, having said that, Everything, Everything is not an altogether bad book.

In fact, one of the best aspects of this book is that it has a pretty jaw-dropping plot-twist - one that I totally did NOT see coming.  The dialogue is also filled with lots of banter, snark and witty rapport between the characters and the format of the book is an utterly delightful razzmatazz filled with quirky asides that will appeal to bibliophilic nerds at heart.

It’s cute, quirky and adorable and threads together themes of loss and love, abandonment and discovery. In short, it’s a book that will appeal to many and one that has already gained a massive fan base.

So, just what is Everything, Everything about?

Well, imagine if you suffered from a disease that affected your immune system so badly that even walking outside could potentially kill you. And imagine if you had to spend all of your days observing the world from a contained room, in a sterile house with just you, your mother and your designated nurse.

This is essentially the sum of Maddy’s life.

When the new neighbours move in, Maddy can’t help but be intrigued with the boy next door and his family. And Olly, well, Olly can’t help but be intrigued with the girl who never goes outside. So what do two youngsters, each with their own family intrigues, do to communicate?

Cue IM messages, e-mails, window screen messages and soon you have a budding and epic romance in the making.

Here’s my thing though: I get that young love is supposed to be this impetuous, heady and tempestuous wave of unending romantic feelings, but I, as much as I liked the characters, just simply wasn’t on board with the way this romance played out.

To me it felt the intensity of the emotions experienced were at odds with the time frame in which the two of them got to know each other. I’m not dismissing the fact that teens fall passionately in love at all – quite the opposite, really – but in this instance, I felt like the execution of the romance was a little too over the top to be sincere.

The actions of Maddy towards the middle and end of the book in a specific situation (being vague, sorry) only cemented this fact for me.

While I certainly liked Olly and Maddy, I didn’t particularly LOVE them or find them very memorable. There’s nothing about them that really stood out for me, and I guess, for me, well, Maddy could have just has well fallen in love with some random dude as much as anyone else.

And that, in essence is the whole problem that I had with this book. I know plenty of people who absolutely adored this book (and I’m really happy they love it in a way that I couldn’t), but the major points in this book was just something I couldn’t ignore, thus downgrading the book from a love, to a mere like.

However, don’t let my cynicism put you off. Perhaps I’m too jaded to appreciate the love story of this (I do wish there was more focus on the medical aspects of her illness, although I also kind of understand why it was so vague), but hopefully you’ll have more luck with this book than I did.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Top 5 books I love but haven’t spoken about in a while

Gosh, it’s been a while since I’ve done (much less remembered to do) a Top 10 Tuesday feature, but when I saw this week’s topic, I just simply couldn’t resist. Brought to you by the fabulous bloggers over at The Broke and the Bookish, Top Ten Tuesday (I’m choosing to do a top 5 this time around) is a weekly meme featuring different bookish topic each week.

This week we’re chatting about books we’ve loved by haven’t spoken about in a while – a subject that brings me so much joy because as fabulous as it is talking about all the new releases we love, there’s nothing better than potentially introducing a reader to a backlisted title that still deserves to be spoken about.

So, in honour of this week’s topic, here’s my list of top 5 books I love, but haven’t spoken about in a while.

1. The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler

I’ve loved Sarah Ockler’s books since I first read Twenty Boy Summer and over the years that love for her writing has only increased.

The Summer of Chasing Mermaids, a book I view as a contemporary retelling of The Little Mermaid, is an absolute gem of a book and features a diverse cast of characters, magical realism and tells the story of a girl who has to figure out how to find her inner voice and strength after losing her physical voice. 

This book, inspired by mermaid lore and Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, is a novel about family, friendships, and learning to let go.

It’s a novel about learning to let people in and it’s a book about learning to accept the things that you can’t change. Beautifully written, it’s a multicultural read that ticks all the diversity boxes without any of the characters ever feeling like they’re token caricatures.   

2. All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry

Quite possibly one of the most beautiful and heart-breaking reads I’ve read to date, Julie Berry’s All the Truth That’s in Me is a novel that, by all accounts, shouldn’t work, but does.

With its disjointed narrative structure, second person point of view and snippets shifting between past and present, this is certainly a book that doesn’t work for everyone, but boy, oh boy, did it work so very beautifully for me.

Our protagonist is Judith, a girl who can’t speak as a result of an incredibly traumatising event in her past. Isolated, and ostracised, Judith is a girl whose silence has set her apart from the community.

Notice how I seem to love books about heroines finding their voices in the midst of darkness? All the Truth That’s in Me is a book that is all that and so much more. 

It’s a novel that also explores prejudice, the narrow-mindedness and mob mentality prevalent in some small-town communities and examines how easy it is to form an opinion based on what you see and not what you know. It’s a beautifully written and heart-breaking read, and one I’ll recommend until my dying day.

3. The Apple Tart of Hope by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald
Another contemporary gem with splashes of magical realism is Sarah Moore Fitzgerald’s The Apple Tart of Hope.  A boy gone missing, a girl who refuses to believe he’s dead and a misunderstanding that nearly ruins it all.

Exploring themes of love, loss, family and friendship, this little read is that pick-me-up you need when you feel like giving up. 

It’s an exquisitely written novel that is filled with characters whose stories will grip you to your core and have you rooting for them.

This novel is also not so much an instant recipe for hope, but is rather a journey that takes you there – one that helps you to meld through the tangled mess that is life and take down the obstacles one by one. 

Oscar, Meg and Stevie are three characters who are unforgettable, not just for their quirkiness, but also for their strong bond that pulses throughout the book.

You can read my review here. 

4. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

I’m well aware that this standalone from Maggie has a lot of divisive opinions about it, but I, for one absolutely adored it. 

From my review:

“Based on a combination of Scottish and Irish mythology, Maggie brings to life a world that's deadly, untamed and indescribably beautiful.

Take deadly flesh-eating, blood-hungry water horses, add a horse whisperer who is as part of the horses as he is part of the sea and include a feisty, snappishly abrasive but incredibly brave heroine who dares to defy convention.”


It’s a luscious read that’s all the more worth it for its slow and languid pace.

Read more here.

5. Revolution by Jennifer Donnolly

Jennifer Donnolly’s Revolution is one of those books that I find myself including in so many lists. Favourite novel of all time? Check. Gorgeous historical fiction reads? Check. Books featuring ridiculously courageous teens fighting in the midst of a revolution? Double check.

You name the list, I’ll probably find a way to feature this book in it.

Combining music and history, this gorgeous read employs a dual-narrative structure and is narrated by two very different heroines whom, at first glance, have nothing in common. 

One lives in modern day New York and makes a new life for herself in Paris, while the other lives in France in the midst of the French Revolution.

Two opposite sides of the coin, yet connected by more than they’ll ever know.  The last bits of my review sums it up:

“ It's a beautiful, brutal and bloody tale of music and ghosts of the past. It’s a tale of guillotines and massacres, and a tale of romance and catacombs.

It’s a story where the dead come alive and history is relived through the eyes of an angry, sad girl who, in the midst of her downward spiral, finds that sometimes the biggest revolutions that happen are the ones that occur within.”


You can read my full review here.

What are some of the books that you love but haven’t spoken about in a while? Leave your link in the comments section so that I can check out your list!


Monday, March 7, 2016

Author guest post & giveaway: Misfits and Freaks by Joanne Macgregor (Giveaway now closed)

Hiya lovelies

Today I’d like to welcome SA YA author, Joanne Macgregor to my blog today. 

I’m pretty excited for today’s post because Joanne not only touches on a subject that is close to my heart and one that is relatable on every level, but Jo’s also generously made up a swag package filled with all sorts of goodies (including a signed copy of Scarred, her latest contemporary YA novel) and is offering one lucky reader the chance to win the entire hamper.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent the majority of my teenaged years feeling like I don’t belong.  To me I was the ugly, fat and mostly friendless girl who was socially awkward and generally inept at anything relating to the development of any life skills whatsoever.

And, truth be told, adulthood hasn’t changed my perception about myself much. I know. I know. We’re so ridiculously cruel to ourselves, aren’t we?

Which is why I’m so glad for the post that Jo’s written today.

Her book, Scarred features a protagonist who is emotionally traumatised after an accident leaves her disfigured, and in today’s post Joanne talks about how many of us feel defined by the crippling voices inside of our heads.

Before I hand over to Jo, here’s some more info about the book, followed by her guest post and giveaway details.  

About the book (Add it to your TBR pile here):
Sloane Munster had the perfect life, until she didn’t. Now seventeen year-old Sloane is trying to reboot her life after a serious accident left her badly scarred and emotionally traumatized.

Starting her senior year at a different school, she recognizes Luke Naughton, a swimmer whom she once had a crush on, in her new class. But when she smiles at him, he glares back with revulsion and she’s sure he’s disgusted by her ugly scar.

No matter how hard she tries to keep out of his way, life keeps bringing them together and despite misunderstandings and guilty secrets, the chemistry between them sparks.

Meanwhile, tensions are mounting at their school where bullying is rife and Sloane is not the most deeply scarred person.

Sharp with bittersweet humor, Scarred is an intense, beautiful, compelling story of life, death, damage, and fighting for love against all the odds.

Over to Joanne: Misfits and Freaks

Hey Tammy and YA-lovers, thanks for giving me some airtime on your blog!

I’ve just finished writing the first draft of my latest manuscript – a standalone YA romance about a girl with a standout physical feature that makes her feel abnormal, ugly and freakish.

When it came to writing the last chapter, I wanted several examples of the different things that could make teens feel odd, so I thought I’d crowdsource it.

I posted this question on Facebook: What about yourself, when you were a self-conscious teen, made you feel like a freak?

I was astounded by the response.

Everybody – everybody! – felt weird because of something.

Some felt like misfits because of physical features – they felt too tall (or too short); too plump or too skinny; or had curly hair, or red hair and freckles, bad skin or physical anomalies; had to wear braces or spectacles; or developed (boobs and periods) too early or too late, or had boobs that were too big or not big enough.

Others felt set apart by their behaviour not matching the norm (coming later to dating and kissing, for example, or preferring reading to sports or clubbing) or having odd parents (poor or eccentric or with mental health problems or just plain embarrassing).

Many felt that they just couldn’t get it “right” – they wore the “wrong” fashions, or lived in poor areas, or listened to music that wasn’t cool, or their identity didn’t match the usual way of being for their gender (tomboy girls, sensitive boys).

Each commenter felt like everybody else had been staring at their oddity, even though some of these were so obscure and minor as to be nearly invisible.

One woman confessed that she had been obsessed by not having the usual sort of indentation at the knee crease when she sat cross legged – she had a bulge instead of a hollow and thought it just looked “wrong!”

It seems like anything (good or bad) that made you seem (or even just feel, to yourself) different, made you feel like a freak and a misfit. Anything that made you stand out set you up as a target for bullies reacting against their own inadequacies and inferiorities.

It’s almost as if the end goal of adolescence was to become a boring, mediocre average that matched some imagined and elusive statistical norm so that you would blend entirely into the background and disappear.

As if average was a camouflage that would protect you from being singled out and targeted.
Maybe it would have. But it would also have robbed us of the things that make us distinctive, irreplaceable and exceptional, the things that make us uniquely ourselves.

All the comments, bar one, were from women. Is that because societal standards of “acceptable” and “beautiful” are tougher for us, or because boys turned their anger outwards in aggression rather than inwards in self-critique, or just because men find it less comfortable to share their feelings and experiences publically?

Your guess is as good as mine.

The bottom-line is, the secret conviction that you were abnormal or ugly or weird in some way, seems to be a near-universal experience. Certainly it was more common than each of us, so obsessed with trying to hide our skew teeth or fat bums, ever believed.

While you were agonizing about your knock-knees, the girl sitting standing in front of you at school assembly was worrying whether you were judging her calves for being too big.

I think nobody felt fully comfortable in their skin. Nobody really felt confident, some just faked it better than others. We all felt like freaks and misfits at that time of our lives, and for many the feeling never quite went away.

For most, the memories of being teased and taunted and bullied don’t fade – you never truly leave high school.

As I read comment after comment, a massive sense of regret filled me. All that angsting and obsessing, all that time and energy spent comparing ourselves to others and finding ourselves wanting, inferior, defective – what a sad waste of time and youth.

When I look back at how beautiful we were back then, I wonder how we never realised it at the time, how we never understood that what makes us beautiful has much less to do with how we looked, and much more to do with who we were.

There’s a part in my book, Scarred (also a YA contemporary romance) where the facially scarred heroine’s therapist tells her to “take back your eyes!”

“You’ve stopped seeing,” she said. “You’ve stopped looking at anything or anyone else. It’s like your eyes have rolled back inwards and all you can see is yourself and that scar. You’ve reduced yourself to a three inch red line!”

“It’s actually closer to four inches.”

Shrinks aren’t supposed to let their emotions show, but I guess she was pretty frustrated with me by then, because her ears went red and she banged the palm of her hand on the arm of her chair.

“It’s ridiculous! Take back your eyes and look around you at the world. Look at a sunset, watch ants walking in a line on the sidewalk, look at other people – and not just to see how they notice and react to your face!”

“Okay, okay! I’ll try.”

“Either do or do not – there is no try!” she said in a Yoda voice which made me smile – a real smile, not my scar-smirk – but it disappeared with her next words.

“This week, I’m giving you homework.”

“You get homework in therapy?” Figures.

“You do. Take some of that money you feel so guilty about having, and buy a nice new digital camera.”

“My homework is to buy a camera?”

“Your homework is to take pictures. I’m hoping,” she said “hoping”, but from her expression it looked more like she was begging and pleading, perhaps even praying, “that it will force you to look outside of yourself. To look at other people, other things, and to stop focusing so obsessively on your own face. You’re more focused on your appearance than a beauty queen – it’s a kind of reverse vanity!”


 Sloane, the main character in the book, feels ugly and abnormal, and part of her growth as a character is to learn to accept herself, scars and all. I’ve collected a couple of goodies around that theme for the swag bag giveaway and I hope the winner takes them to heart.

Last word: When I look back to who I was at sixteen, I have one more regret: I wish I’d worn a bikini!

Huge thanks for stopping by today Joanne!

And now time for a giveaway!

The lovely Joanne has compiled the following hamper for one lucky reader:
1. Signed print copy of the book,

2. Tissues (for when you cry in the sad parts)

3. A soothing therapy gel eye-mask (to reduce eye puffiness after crying at the sad parts)

4. A nail file (for when you bite your nails in the tense parts)

5. Revlon scarlet nail polish and heart-shaped mirror compact (for beauty repairs)

6. An inspirational magnet (to remind you how beautiful you are, and how you should just be you)

7. A Mani (The Lucky Cat) "courage" charm (to remind you to be brave, because it takes courage to be different)

Want a chance to win? All you need to do is leave a comment and tell me which novel helped you coped through some of the worst times in your life.

Giveaway is open until Monday, 21 MarchOpen to SA readers only (but don’t fear, an international comp is on the way soon).

UPDATE: Congratulations to Shanice Singh, who has won the swag bag, which includes all of the above-mentioned items. Shanice, please contact me as per instructions in the comment section below.

For more information about Joanne, check out her Goodreads profile and follow her on Twitter.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Book review: After the Woods by Kim Savage

An unsettling tale that details what happens in the aftermath of a kidnapping gone wrong.

Book summary: Goodreads
First published in 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Macmillan
Source: Review copy received from the publisher via Netgalley

Purchase a copy from Raru.co.za

Julia knows she beat the odds. She escaped the kidnapper who hunted her in the woods for two terrifying nights that she can't fully remember. Now it's one year later, and a dead girl turns up in those same woods.

The terrible memories resurface, leaving Julia in a stupor at awkward moments-in front of gorgeous Kellan MacDougall, for example.

At least Julia's not alone. Her best friend, Liv, was in the woods, too. When Julia got caught, Liv ran away.

Is Liv's guilt over leaving Julia the reason she's starving herself? Is hooking up with Shane Cuthbert, an addict with an explosive temper, Liv's way of punishing herself for not having Julia's back?

As the devastating truth about Liv becomes clear, Julia realizes the one person she thinks she knows best-Liv-is the person she knows least of all. And that after the woods was just the beginning.

Review:

"Statistically speaking, girls like me don't come back when guys like Donald Jessup take us."

With a tagline like that, how could one not want to read Kim Savage’s After the Woods?

Given what we know about abductions, the likelihood of someone surviving a kidnapping is more likely a mere possibility than it is a probability. There are too many stories in the news, and too many statistics for us to ever believe otherwise.

I’ve always been fascinated by stories that feature protagonists coping with the aftermath of a traumatic event – survivalist stories, if you will – since these are the stories that shouldn’t exist. 

These are the stories that defy the odds and the ones that prove that the will to survive is a force to be reckoned with.

When I first started reading After the Woods, my first thought was that I was reading a book about dealing with the aftermath of trauma and the impact it has on the friendship between Julia and Liv, the two girls who found themselves in the woods one fateful day.

The truth is, while the book certainly does revolve around a lot of that, it’s so much more than a story about a lucky break and even luckier escape. In fact, all my presuppositions about this novel went out of the window as this book went in a direction I wasn’t quite expecting.

There were layers and depths to this novel that has certainly me thinking very hard about the way we treat crimes and victims of crimes: from media scrutiny, reporting and sensationalism, to critique about police investigation and the finely-tuned nuances in the manner that speaks volumes about how victims are treated; this novel proved to be immeasurably compelling and thought-provoking.

After the Woods is a beautifully written book with interesting characters whose motives and actions you won’t always understand. Kim Savage has a marvellous way of toying with the readers when it comes to exploring the friendship dynamic between Julia and Liv.

Here you have two very different characters who are each battling their own demons, one dealing with the amnesia her trauma has resulted in, while the other dealing with her own set of conflicted emotions following the sacrifice her friend made for her.

The friendship between these two girls is one I certainly wouldn’t call symbiotic and it quickly becomes clear that the psychological damage inflicted on both of them, albeit in different ways, has left more of an impact than ever.

There is also an element of parental abuse that plays a huge part in the ever-widening breach that has followed the kidnapping and one which finally allowed me to understand the machinations behind the actions of the friend who got away.

It was all rather very twisted, if you ask me.

My one criticism of the novel would be the romance, I guess? To me it felt like a plot device created to act as a filler and came rather out of left field. It’s not really a big deal, but what I’m trying to say is that this novel could have worked just as well without it.

Either way, despite that niggle, Kim Savage has written a psychological YA novel filled with mystery, suspense and enough bizarreness that will make you question everyone and doubt your own conclusions.

A solid debut from an author whose work I’ll definitely be reading more of.

Give it a read. You’ll be thinking about it long after you’ve turned the last page.