‘The V Girl’ – Mya Roberts

The V Girl

 

 

The first thing that has to be said about ‘The V Girl’ is the subject matter is definitely not going to be to everyone’s tastes. It comes with strong recommendations for over-18s only and although I don’t generally agree with this practice, in this case I think it is prudent.

When I first came across this book on NetGalley I was really intrigued as to how the author would manage the subject matter. The fact that it clearly states this is set in an America of the future where rape and sexual slavery is legal means you go into it knowing it will not be anything other than a challenging read.

It was certainly a challenging read for me, for a number of reasons.

When we first meet Lila we are told that she is desperate to lose her virginity before the soldiers come and she runs the risk of being selected and having her virginity forcibly taken from her. Her attempts to achieve this start with an attempted seduction of her best friend, Rey. The way this was described felt very close to a description of the very thing she was trying to avoid.

From there on in we have to contend with Lila’s obsession with the mysterious Prince Alexsey. I understand that this is meant to be the ‘romance’ of this coming-of-age novel, but I just didn’t get it. I couldn’t believe in either character particularly, and found myself frustrated by their relationship and the way it played out.

While I found the writing about the emotional impact of the situations these characters often found themselves in touching, I really did not like the level of detail given. It’s an unflinching look at a very unpleasant subject, but I felt the writer was taking the theme of voyeurism a little too far on so many occasions. This was particularly noticeable in the scenes involving the characters of Duke and Azalea, and the awful account of the Selection towards the end of the book.

My main grip with the novel though is my view that the writer couldn’t decide if she was writing a hard-hitting dystopian novel or an erotic fantasy. The number of times I was stifling giggles at the over-the-top writing regarding Lila and Alexsey’s sexual relationship undercut the impact of the more sombre focus of the remainder of the novel for me.

Having read so many glowing reviews of this novel I’m really wondering what I’ve missed!

A difficult book to rate.

‘Lies We Tell Ourselves’ – Robin Talley

Lies We Tell Ourselves

 

Sometimes a book comes along that makes you want to grab strangers in the street, thrust it under their noses and urge them to read it. This was one of those books.

‘Lies We Tell Ourselves’ is featured on the Carnegie 2016 Short-list, and deservedly so. It tells the story of Sarah, one of the first black students to be enrolled in the all-white Jefferson High. While the details are fictionalised, they are heavily rooted in fact and this, for me, was what gave the book its main impact. Reading about the traumas faced by the students enrolled on a daily basis was deeply disturbing – and it really makes the reader question their beliefs and attitudes.

Upon first finishing the book I was awash with emotion. My initial thoughts veered between disgust, frustration, anger, respect and outrage. Talley highlighted just how amazing what some people go through to experience a basic human right is. As I read I felt more than little ashamed to be part of a cultural group that could ever think this kind of behaviour is acceptable.

Alongside the issue of racism, the story also focuses on the emotional impact on both female characters of coming to terms with their sexuality in a deeply religious context. Sarah was, for me, the stronger of the two main female characters. From the first time we see her trying to get into school to the day she leaves she shows compassion, intelligence and bravery. However, Linda was the character who seemed to grow and develop as she is challenged to question everything she has believed to be the truth.
Such an important book, in so many ways. I feel honoured to have read it.

‘Book of Lies’ – Teri Terry

Book of Lies

 

They are trapped, frozen. Waiting. Straining against the wood that holds them. The unwary catch a glimpse now and then – feel their desperate hunger, see a glint of red eyes – and scurry out of the shadows of the wood, back to the light.
She’s coming; it will be soon.
They will run free on the moors again. The Hunt will return.
And the ground will run with blood.

An ancient curse placed on a family of witches foretells that twins will be born – one good, one evil; and one will destroy the other. But who can be trusted when no one is as they seem?

 

With a blurb like that, how could you fail to be intrigued?

A compelling read,this tells the story of Piper and Quinn who were separated at birth. After the death of their mother the twins find each other and end up learning more about the strange bond between them.

Though the initial section was not particularly exciting, it set up well the characters and the relationship between them. I felt this book came into its own when the action moved to Dartmoor and we got to see Grandmother. Within this section there were some beautiful descriptions and the constant fluctuating between the two viewpoints added to the sense of unease.

This was an interesting concept and I felt things were resolved well at the end.
Copy received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest opinion.

‘We Were Liars’ – E. Lockhart

We Were Liars

 

The cover for this novel creates a wonderful sense of nostalgia, and I definitely felt that creating this sense of yearning for things that had been was prevalent throughout.

What struck me first about ‘We Were Liars’ was the brusqueness of the narrative voice. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get past this; I never really felt like I warmed to Cadence  as a character, and I think this impacted on my emotional engagement with the book.

As we are told more about the summers spent on the island with her fellow Liars, we gain more of a sense of what drives Cadence. Her inability to remember key details of her past does, however, mean we are left floundering a little as she tries to make sense of the memories she has. The interactions that she describes with the other members of her family give little away.

The focus on the slow deterioration of the family as they squabble over their inheritance was painful to read, but it kept nudging us towards the moment where Cady finally connects her various memories. In the sections where she explores her family, I was reminded of ‘King Lear’ and wondered if these parallels were intentional.

All in all, this was one of those books in which I could recognise the quality of the plotting and writing, but it just didn’t quite do it for me.

 

‘Crush’ – Eve Ainsworth

Crush

 

I loved ‘7 Days’ when I read it, so when I knew this was due out I was more than a little excited.

The cover is very similar to ‘7 Days’ and I think it gets the reader focused on the idea of looking beyond the surface to try and explain the actions of some of the characters. The striking image also gives a very clear indication of the nature of the relationship that we are going to read about.

When we first meet Anna, her vulnerability is evident. She seems like a fairly typical Year 9 student in this day and age, but her willingness to desert her friends and interests the minute Will, the Year 11 heart-throb, turns his attention to her was really concerning. As an adult reading this, alarm bells were ringing pretty early on and I could not believe that Anna’s friends would have backed away from her in quite the way that they did.

Though he is a thoroughly unpleasant character in so many ways, Will himself is also revealed to be as vulnerable as Anna – perhaps more so. Allowing us these glimpses into his mind during the novel was something that I feel is quite a brave move. I think that having these shades to the characters made them so much more credible, though I wonder whether it will be seen in quite the same way by teen readers.

This was a book that I raced through. It was not what I’d call a comfortable subject to read about, but it was done very much with young adults in mind. It felt like a book that would give someone things to think about. If it manages to get just one person to move away from this kind of toxic relationship then I would say it’s a good thing.

‘Feed’ – Mira Grant

Feed

 

The common cold has been cured, but the after-effects are horrendous and the world has become plagued by zombies. The most obvious thing to say about ‘Feed’ is that this will not be to everyone’s tastes. If you like zombies, you’ll be disappointed by the lack of action; if you’re not that interested in them, you’ll find (as I did) large chunks of the book seem to drag.

Teenagers Georgia and Shaun Mason are part of the popular blogging community. In this futuristic setting, it is the bloggers that people turn to in order to find out what’s happening.While trailing the Presidential campaign, these two  uncover some awful information. Information that they are prepared to die for if it means they can ensure the truth comes out.

On the whole I found this a difficult novel to get into. The exploration of how power corrupts, and the concepts of truth and the media were fascinating – but I’m not sure the zombie setting really added much to this for me. Perhaps I’m missing out, but there wasn’t enough here to tempt me to sample the rest of the Newsflesh trilogy.

 

Carnegie Short-list 2016

So…the results have been announced.

The short-listed titles are:

  • Sarah Crossan – ‘One’
  • Francis Hardinge – ‘The Lie Tree’
  • Nick Lake – ‘There Will Be Lies”
  • Patrick Ness – ‘The Rest of Us Just Live Here’
  • Kate Saunders – ‘Five Children on the Western Front’
  • Marcus Sedgwick – ‘The Ghosts of Heaven’
  • Robin Talley – ‘Lies We Tell Ourselves’
  • Jenny Valentine ‘ ‘Fire Colour One’

An interesting selection, and definitely something for everyone on this list. Given the success of ‘The Lie Tree’ in the Costa Awards earlier this year, I’ll be interested to see how this fares in the process.

I have to admit to finding one or two of the novels on this list less interesting than others (it’s always the way), and I’m disappointed that one or two of my favourites from the long-list didn’t make it on here. Though you’ll find individual reviews for each book on my site, I think that Sarah Crossan’s touching verse about conjoined twins, Francis Hardinge’s bold exploration of attitudes to truth and women in science and Nick Lake’s intriguing exploration of identity are likely to be the ones battling it out. Our Shadowing group was totally wrong with the 2015 winner, so we’ll have to wait and see this year…

‘The List’ – Siobhan Vivian

the list

 

On paper, this novel sounded like one I would love the moment I picked it up. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

The idea behind the novel is that at the start of every year a list is published, giving the names of the prettiest and ugliest girl in each grade. We follow the thoughts and actions of the eight named girls during the week building up to their final Homecoming dance.

Perhaps it is the obviously American bias that made this hard to get into, but I don’t think so. The issues these girls face are ones that could be experienced by teenage girls anywhere, so what made it so hard to like?

For me, the book starts with the main characters all seeming quite unlikeable. We never really get to see them let their guard down and show a little more than the surface until a long way into the novel. By which time, for me, it was a little too late.

While this wasn’t, for me at least, a book that got me remotely excited, I can see it being a book that will have its appeal.

‘The Night in Question’ – Laurie Graham

The Night in Question

 

This is the first book of Laurie Graham’s that I’ve read, and I think it helped hugely that it was set in a time period that interests me.

First and foremost, I must say that the character of Dot Allbones was intriguing. A woman of advancing years, I found Dot was a character that I enjoyed listening to. Having moved to London to pursue a career in the music halls, we can see that Dot is part of what we might consider a bygone time. Things are changing around her, and, though she is reluctant to accommodate some of these changes, she is a keen observer of those she comes into contact with.

For the first part of the book, Graham takes her time to establish Dot as a character and to help us see the full details of her daily life. There’s a lot of information given in the novel about what life on the stage would have been like, and some of this felt more like background details given to establish the historical context than details that were relevant to the story.

In my mind, the book got interesting at the point that we start to hear of gruesome murders in and around the Whitechapel area. Thankfully the details of the crimes committed by Jack the Ripper are limited, but there’s enough to convey a sense of the horror that would have been around at the time.

I’m not entirely sure how close to the facts the novel remains, but it’s an entertaining story that keeps you engaged.

‘Evil Librarian’ – Michelle Knudsen

Evil Librarian

 

Cynthia has a huge crush on her classmate, Ryan, though they’ve never spoken. Her good friend, Annie, mocks her for this crush – but Cynthia thinks she can get her own back when Annie develops a serious crush on the new school librarian, Mr Gabriel.

From the outset it’s clear that this is not a serious read. Packed full of humour and with more than a nod to shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I was gripped from the start.

As soon as Cynthia works out that Mr Gabriel is, in fact, a demon, the book veers into something akin to a Scooby Doo episode. I love Scooby Doo. Without giving away plot details, this is not particularly fast-moving but it is such good fun. Thoroughly enjoyable, if a bit daft.