Saturday, 27 May 2017

House Rules - Jodi Picoult; Review

  

Book Details:
Paperback: 640 pages
Publisher: Hodder (10th Oct 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1444754424
ISBN-13: 978-1444754421

Summary:

When your son can't look you in the eye...does that mean he's guilty? 

Jacob Hunt is a teen with Asperger's syndrome. He's hopeless at reading social cues or expressing himself well to others, though he is brilliant in many ways. But he has a special focus on one subject - forensic analysis. A police scanner in his room clues him in to crime scenes, and he's always showing up and telling the cops what to do. And he's usually right.

But when Jacob's small hometown is rocked by a terrible murder, law enforcement comes to him. Jacob's behaviors are hallmark Asperger's, but they look a lot like guilt to the local police. Suddenly the Hunt family, who only want to fit in, are directly in the spotlight. For Jacob's mother, Emma, it's a brutal reminder of the intolerance and misunderstanding that always threaten her family. For his brother, Theo, it's another indication why nothing is normal because of Jacob.

Links To Buy:




Rating:
Review: mild spoilers ahead. 

On a mission to read more of Picoult’s books, rather than re-reading my favourites of hers, I recently picked up Plain Truth (review here) and House Rules. Though sadly Plain Truth left me disappointed, I continued on with House Rules, hoping for the amazing story and amazing writing that the last book deprived me of. This was more like the Picoult I had come to love - but still, it wasn’t her absolute best work, which I believe adamantly to be Keeping Faith, Second Glance, Small, Great Things and Nineteen Minutes. 

We follow the story of Jacob; a teen diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome who suddenly looks to be the main suspect in the murder of his tutor. With information that only the murderer would know, and Jacob’s blanket wrapped around the victim’s torso - could it really be anyone else? 

We get the usual we expect from Picoult; alternative viewpoints between Jacob, his mother, his brother Theo, the lawyer defending him and of course, the policeman. This is one of my favourite aspects from any Picoult novel, in the hands of most authors, this may seem like an overwhelming number of viewpoints with the threat of it being too crowded. But with Picoult she does a wonderful job of making each voice distinct and providing so many individual viewpoints to one main event. Also, there are the somewhat lengthy court scenes which are a love/hate aspect of her books and though sometimes I can do without it, it is something I have come to accept and skim past. When you’ve read so many Picoult books with so many court scenes, you come to get tired of them - but a new reader would appreciate the detail and precision and level of research gone into these things to really make it authentic. 

The author really does know how to do her research and I was fascinated about the details we learn in regards to Asperger’s Syndrome as well as the forensic analysis information. I have a bachelors degree in Criminology (which I guess, would make me a criminologist?) and I am totally fascinated with crime scene investigation. My desire in life at one point was to be a forensic analyst, and crime is one of my favourite topics ever. So I totally loved this aspect of the book as it was one of the main reasons I picked this book up and the author manages to dish out this information without making it too heavy-handed. 

The writing was great and allowed me to whizz through the book in a couple of sittings, with the sole question revolving around my mind; was it Jacob or was it Theo? See, both Theo and Jacob were at the scene of the crime on that day, albeit at different times. Both seemingly have a motive - Jacob, for having an argument with her, and Theo for being caught accidentally seeing her naked as she came out the shower. As the book progresses, we question each of these individuals but for me at least, there was no doubt in my mind as to who did it. The author, as always, raises some good questions through her story; in this case, about issues regarding autism, social stigma, being ostracised from society, personal identity and helps us questions our own ideas and thoughts on the topic. 

The characters were great and Jacob especially was my favourite - his character and voice was so distinct, his humour and personality really shone - the way he couldn’t lie, the way he takes things literally, both of which are markers of Asperger’s but is also traits of a normal teenager. I loved the parallels that were drawn in this book in the court scenes; being secretive, not being able to make eye contact, being distant and cranky - things that were markers of Asperger’s, but also markers of being a regular teenager. Jacob’s mother - a lion, doing any and everything for her child, reminded me of another character who is an all time favourite of mine - Sara, from My Sister’s Keeper. The Mom that kept on giving, kept on fighting, no matter what, even if sometimes this was at the expense of her other children. The author does a great job in bringing together some great characters and giving them their own distinct voice in this book. 

The one thing that really stopped me from giving this book a 5 star was the ending - OH GOOD LORD. Why why why whyyy WHYYY. The ending really killed the book for me; after ALL that, to have it end so quickly and conveniently, didn’t sit well with me. Overly rushed and not at all what should have been the outcome in my opinion. A little more work on the ending really could have bumped this up into a 5 star book. My grievance with that aside, this was a really good book that I enjoyed reading - but if you’re looking for an EPIC read from Picoult, I would still recommend my all time fav books ever - Keeping Faith, Second GlanceSmall, Great Things and Nineteen Minutes. 

Saturday, 20 May 2017

I'll Be Yours - Jenny B Jones; Review


Book Details: 
Paperback: 342 pages
Publisher: Sweet Pea Productions (16th Mar 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0692665463
ISBN-13: 978-0692665466

Summary:

The day Andrew Levin arrives at Washington High, Harper O’Malley knows he’ll make the perfect starter boyfriend. The school’s newest band geek is totally in Harper’s league, yet completely out of this late-bloomer’s reach. Between fitting in with a new family, scoring the first chair in band, and rescuing dogs for the local animal shelter, Harper’s never had the opportunity to hone her dating skills. But even though Harper’s love life is far from perfect, she’s got the perfect plan.

Harper knows she’s insane to agree to tutor Ridley Estes, a notorious heartbreaker and the star of her high school’s football team—but in exchange, he’s offered to school her in the game of love. Just when she sees promise with her crush, a football scandal rocks her family, her town, and Ridley’s entire future. Harper suddenly has everything to lose—her family, friends, and even her heart. When the dust of the scandal settles, nothing will be the same. Including the girl who asked the most popular jock to teach her about love. 

Links To Buy:


Rating:
Review: mild spoiler alert.

I NEED ME A RIDLEY ESTES, ASAP PEOPLE, ASAP. THIS IS NOT A DRILL… *takes rapid breaths in quick succession.. calms down slightly*. This was such a fun, CUTE and lovely read - with a deeper message embedded… not so deep that it shifts the story, but enough, woven in with the beautiful story and characters, that you just finish reading it, and nod to self. Well done book, well done. 

There is, given my five start rating, MANY things I loved about this book. Ridley Estes I hear you murmur? Ehhh, he was okay *shifty eye look as heart starts beating deceptively* uhm yes we shall get on to that later. I’ll start with the writing - my first Jenny Jones book and I’ve come to love her already, for the story she brought to life, with her epic group of characters and her great writing, full of fun, humour and romance. The totally cute, squee with glee and blush type romance. 

The story is one, I’m sure many of you have read before. Nerdy girl, wants to get a guy, enlists the help of oh so handsome jock. Two fall perilously in love. Oh no, what do I do now?! Ensue mistakes galore as she comes to realise who she really wants. Cliche? TRUE. But I’m the biggest believer in cliche’s and tropes that are repeated throughout YA - when done right. This is when the writing is good, fun, great characters, and the feels are all there. I’ll Be Yours ticked all those boxes. 
I loved loved loved the array of characters in this book. My favourites probably *aside from Ridley, obvs* being Harper’s parents. Harper was adopted by the O’Malley’s when she was 9. Her past was a traumatic one.. something she never talks about, and has worked hard, alongside her adoptive parents, to move past it. The love these parents have for her, the way they show it, the way they speak about it - granted this is a fictional book, but it moved something deep within me. Hey hey, I’m not adopted myself or anything like that *despite what my brothers kept telling me up until the age of 7* but the parental love, the support, the fierce protectiveness, was something I really enjoyed reading. 

Her Dad.

“I could be in the midst of my own court battle, but I’d still get to that parole hearing. We could live across the country, and I’d still be in that courtroom to remind that judge of what happened to my daughter.”

Her Mum.

“Do you have any comment about the recent photos of your husband with his former employee, Josie Blevins?”

At that Mom stopped. She spun around on the reporter so fast, he tottered backward, and for one hopeful second, I thought he might hit the sidewalk.

Mom poked her finger right in his bloated face. “Since you know who I am, let me remind you who these three individuals are—they’re my children. And they shouldn’t have to be subjected to someone so low as to make catcalls ten feet away from the Lord’s house.” 
She stepped so close she was surely breathing his same air. 

“This is sacred ground you’re standing on, and I don’t mean because we’re at church. I mean because I’m standing on this ground. And who am I? I’m a mother. And these are my children. And if you get near them again, I will go full-on Mama Bear, throw down my handbag, and rip out your throat until it comes out your big mouth. Are we clear?”

Wide-eyed, the man nodded.
“Oh, I don’t think I heard you.” Mom reached for her purse strap.”
“Yes, ma’am! Yes, Mrs. O’Malley.”
“Good.” She exhaled loudly and found a cool smile. “You have a blessed day now. Come on, kids.”

Great stuff, eh? *claps hands* now we move on, nuh uh uh, not yet to Mr Ridley. Few more characters and things to go before I talk about him. Let’s talk instead, about how totally ADORABLE Harper’s relationship with the football team was? Her Dad being the coach and all, the boys came over every weekend to have lunch, and tradition of sorts, and they became part of the O’Malley clan. You can’t not love these boisterous boys who dote on Harper. The proof .. is in the pudding.

“No.” Humiliation was my drink of choice this weekend, so I just tipped it back and guzzled even more. “I asked him to a dance, and he turned me down.” Ten heads swiveled in my direction, chicken suspended before open mouths. “Actually he didn’t even answer.”

Hand grenades exploding in the house couldn’t have been louder than the reaction of the team.

“Gimme dat kid’s address.”
“I’m gonna punt him into Georgia.”
“I’d like to throw that freak over the goalpost.”
“That fool ain’t fit to kiss the soles of your little bitty girl shoes.”
“He gonna talk to my friends Righty and Lefty!”
“Beside me Marcus laughed and pulled me against his sweater-vest for a catch-and-release hug. “Say the word, and we will find him now.”
Dominic Vago pushed up his sleeves. “Yeah, we can call that dessert.”

I love that kind of dynamic, the sense of family and loyalty that’s earned over time. So so cute. Harper herself, to me, was such a loveable character, a genuine one that lifted from the pages. Her wit, her awkwardness, her personality, I really liked her. She has a messy past, scars that run really, really deep - but it wasn’t a show and tell thing in this book.. but instead you kinda felt it, in the way she reacted to people, to touch, to situations. She was very much a real character to me, with the realisations that dawns on her near the end, her courage in talking about her past, about her acceptance that nothing is ever perfect - it’s just reality. Her desire to rescue abandoned dogs, her banter with Mavis, her big heart - all drew me to her. I liked her a lot. 

Now.. on to the finale. LADIES AND GENTLEMAN, TAME YOUR WILD STALLION HEARTS, AS I AM NOW INTRODUCING, MR RIDLEY ESTESSSSSSSS *draws out name like they do on wrestling with that booming voice* you get the gist though eh? Man oh man, I loved Ridley. Just everything about him in this book, captured my heart. Sure, he comes across as your typical jock, arrogant, good looking, mean - but we all know how that plays out in YA right? The thing I liked most about his character, as lame as this may seem - was what a gentleman he was. The way he would put his hand lightly on Harper’s back to guide her when walking. The countless times he’s shrugged out of his jacket and draped it on her. The way he opens doors and pulls out chairs for her. His manners, the way he checked if Harper was 110% comfortable moving forward with things she had no experience in. The simple things, really make a character. This has to be one of my fav parts of the book, which is saying a lot, given how many parts I do adore. Brace yourself ladies. *and guys* the full passage will be found at the end of this review. You can thank me later. 

Is this review getting too long? I think it may be. You know me.. me and my ramblings. Let me summarise so it gives you time to go and pick yourself a copy of the book. With great writing, great characters, depth, and steamy chemistry between the two leads, I couldn’t have asked for anything more from this lovely YA contemporary.. except maybe that I wished it was longer, just so I get more dosage of Ridley, the O’Malley’s and the football boys. Jenny B Jones - I need more. But for now.. enjoy the scene below. 

___

“Here.” Before the evening chill swept over me, Ridley shrugged out of his jacket and eased my arms into it. I tried to imagine it was Andrew’s, but for some reason I couldn’t even bring up a memory of his face. All I could see was this boy in front of me.

“If the guy is the right one”—I sucked in a breath as Ridley pulled me to him—“and if he’s holding you right, you won’t be thinking about stray dogs.”

“This seems to be more your thing,” Ridley said, his voice near my ears as we swayed to the slow-moving song. His body was warm, and I had the strongest urge to rest my head on his shoulder, to shut my eyes and let all my problems disappear in the fog that swirled around me. The terrace was empty, save for the two of us. Gaslit lamps stood on iron stands, giving the look of rustic candlelight. ”

His laugh tickled my ear. “I think it’s time we took the next step . . . in your tutorial.”
Ridley leaned closer. His face hovered inches from my own. His eyes searched mine, and his challenge levitated in the sliver of space between us. “Kissing.”
“Kissing,” I repeated dumbly.
“That’s right.” His gaze dropped to my lips. “You’re going to want to take notes.”
“Is that so?” I wondered if he could hear my heart thudding in my chest.
“The lesson’s already started, in case you’re wondering.”
“I don’t know that this is really necessary.”
“Oh, kissing is very necessary. And I recall it being your idea.” Ridley had yet to retreat. If anything, he had somehow gotten closer. His left hand reached out, slid up my stiffened arm. It slowly journeyed back down. Rested on my hand. 

"I’m not going to hurt you.” He gave my fingers a squeeze. “Do you believe that?”
My answer left my lips before I had time to think. “Yes.”
“Have you noticed you don’t totally recoil anymore when I touch you?”

I had noticed. He had somehow made the short list of people who could handle me without making me want to barf on their shoes.
“Do you want to proceed?”
I nodded. Then let out the air I didn’t know I’d been holding.
“You stay stop, I stop. Got it?” His smile was kind, heartbreaking even. “It’s just a kiss.”

“Let us continue.” That gentle smile turned a little wicked, lifting his cheeks, lighting his eyes. He picked up my hand, and his skin, roughened from football, was an electric abrasion on mine. He waited a long moment, as if letting me adjust to the feel. Lifting my fingers to his lips, his eyes now on mine, daring me to look away, he turned over my palm. And pressed his lips in the warm center.
“Lesson twelve.” His breath was a caress on my hand. “An amateur goes straight for the lips, stays there.”

Good heavens, I couldn’t move if a tornado screamed into the room and spun us about.
“But someone who knows what he’s doing,” Ridley continued, his voice gravelly and deep, “he knows there’s more ground to cover. To explore.” Ridley’s gaze dipped to my hand then back to me. “Just part of the fun.” And with that, he pressed his open mouth to my palm again. As if the nerve endings were directly connected to my heart, my chest fluttered and jumped. My thoughts tripped over themselves, caught as a new heat wrapped around me and filled my every cell. I couldn’t think.”

All I could do was . . . feel. This was so going in the diary.
“And then,” he said, “you might use that hand to pull the person in.” He did just that. So close my hand landed on his chest to keep my balance. A prayer couldn’t have fit between us. “You getting this?” Words eluded me, sentences beyond possibility. “Yes.”
He looked at me as if I were a mystery he wanted to solve, a present he wanted to unwrap. “Then you focus on your target.”

His attention on my mouth had me sucking in my bottom lip, worrying it with my teeth. With a faint laugh, Ridley framed my face with his hands. He rubbed his thumb over that same lip. “You might say something complimentary at this point.” That thumb teased my lip again in a slow, excruciating slide. “Like how I love the scent of you. Or how I think about your lips. Too often.” 

He began to close the distance again, his head tilting, leaning.
“Ridley—”
He lazily lifted his eyes to mine, his mouth hovering so close. He quirked a dark brow in question.
“I . . . I don’t know where to put my hands.”
His thumbs now aimlessly caressed my cheeks. “Lots of places for hands. It’s like a multiple choice test you can’t get wrong.” He waited. Smiled. Watched. “Give it a try.”
“Right,” I breathed.
I thought of every romance novel I had ever read, every movie makeout scene I’d watched.
My hands seemed to be detached, almost robotic as I lifted them.
Started at Ridley’s chest.
Wondered about his back.
Considered his neck.
Stayed away from his butt.

“You’re thinking too hard.” Then, as if trusting me to figure it out, he pressed a featherlight kiss to my cheekbone. Then two more just like it, creating a trail of shivery sensations. “Go with what you feel.” He continued to kiss. And when his lips closed on my neck, I sucked in a breath and slinked my arms around his waist and pulled him tight. Whatever he was doing, it was heaven.
His laugh vibrated against my chest. “Good girl.”
Was it okay to move my hands? What were the rules? I hesitantly walked my fingers up his back, felt the muscle, traced it through his shirt.
“O’Malley?”
“Yes?”
His lips moved from my neck to the space near my ear. “I’m going to kiss you now.”
“I thought that’s what you’ve been doing.”
“Just the warm-up.”

Ridley’s mouth descended, and I lost all sense of time and space. Gravity eluded me, and my heart floated about. I felt just the slightest touch, his lips on mine, his—
He stopped. “You’re not breathing.”
What was with all this talking? “Of course I am.”
“Do you want me to stop?”
“No.” The single word came out a little too loud.
“I don’t want to push this.”
“But it’s just a tutorial,” I said. The stars flickered overhead, the night breeze sang all around. “It means nothing. Right?”
A wayward strand of hair escaped, and Ridley reached out and slid it behind my ear. 
"It’s okay to tell this dude to go slow. It’s okay to say you have . . . boundaries.”

Ridley was worried about me. Me and my odd assortment of mismatched baggage. “Maybe I’m tired of the boundaries.”
“Not in this department. Do not make it open season for this guy.”
I laid my hand on his chest, felt the rapid beat of his heart. “You’re a good guy, Ridley Estes.”
Then he crushed his smiling lips to mine.

Good heavens. Ridley Estes kissed like a Beethoven symphony. It was power and beauty, a crescendo of fire and grace. His lips on mine, his hands now holding my face, angling it to draw me closer. His tongue traced my bottom lip before capturing it again. “Close your eyes, O’Malley.”
And I did.

But not before seeing that hard face soften, his features relax as if completely unguarded.
Then Ridley seemed to pull back, slow it down. As if he’d decided to savour and take his time. I knew I was awkward. My nose hit his more than once. But he didn’t laugh, didn’t say a word. Just held me tight and kept his mouth fused to mine. My hands slid up his chest and around his neck. I marvelled at the heat of his skin. The heat within me.

He drew his lips away from mine, and I heard him sigh heavily before pressing one final kiss to my forehead. “You think you’ve got it?”
While I willed my legs to keep me upright, my eyes drifted open to find Ridley watching me, an unreadable expression on his dark face. “Not bad,” I said.
He grinned at that. “You’ve had better?”
“Danny Jacobson’s kiss did come with nachos.”



Monday, 15 May 2017

Love and First Sight - Josh Sundquist; Review


Book Details:
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown (3rd Jan 2017)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0316305359
ISBN-13: 978-0316305358

Summary:

Love is more than meets the eye.

On his first day at a new school, blind sixteen-year-old Will Porter accidentally groped a girl on the stairs, sat on another student in the cafeteria, and somehow drove a classmate to tears. High school can only go up from here, right?

As Will starts to find his footing, he develops a crush on a sweet but shy girl named Cecily. And despite his fear that having a girlfriend will make him inherently dependent on someone sighted, the two of them grow closer and closer. Then an unprecedented opportunity arises: an experimental surgery that could give Will eyesight for the first time in his life. But learning to see is more difficult than Will ever imagined, and he soon discovers that the sighted world has been keeping secrets. It turns out Cecily doesn’t meet traditional definitions of beauty—in fact, everything he’d heard about her appearance was a lie engineered by their so-called friends to get the two of them together. Does it matter what Cecily looks like? No, not really. But then why does Will feel so betrayed?

Links To Buy:




Rating:
Review:

I had no idea Josh Sundquist was a Youtuber. Now how is that possible? But nonetheless, I was so excited about this book, it had been on my to-be-read list for ages. Blind kids starts to see and the world isn’t quite up to scratch. Epic stuff, eh?

Sadly this just wasn’t my kind of book. There were a few elements of the book I did enjoy, but overall, I struggled to actually finish this book in the first place. Granted, I was reading two other books at the same time, but there was nothing in this book that made me want to speed-race to the end, nothing really to pull me through the story. The writing, though good, especially for a Youtuber as his debut book, the story itself was lacking. 

The beginning few chapters were good and really got me interested, and I enjoyed (probably not the best word to use) reading about the kind of life someone blind leads; the everyday struggle with basic things that I really do take for granted. What I found really cool was the concept of perspective which our main character explains, isn’t something he actually gets. How can you have perspective for something when you have nothing, no visual markers, to compare it to? For someone who was born blind, how exactly are you suppose to understand the concept that some things look smaller when far away and get bigger as you get closer? That was so fascinating to me and I appreciated the author did loads of research to make this as authentic as possible. But for me at least, there’s a stuff a huge leap between writing authentically from something you yourself have experienced, to writing about something you have no experience with. It’s not the same thing, but still, I will say, the author did a good job with this and it was respectfully done. 

The characters however, felt really underdeveloped to me. Even the main character, though this is all told through his narrative, felt lacking in depth and true emotion, it was all explained and not really something felt, you know? Does that even make sense? I just felt like as I was reading it, that this was just a book and not really a story that I was getting invested and interested in. There was no chemistry between the main character and the love interest either, despite understanding what drew them together, I didn’t really feel anything for either of them. 

The story kind of went off track for me too; we see that Will decides to go after Cecily, but in between that mission, there’s a detour for him to see as many things as he can, while he can, with the impending possibility that his newfound eyesight after surgery might be relapsing. I get it in theory; this is his chance to see what he can just in case this does all fall through, but again, I didn’t feeeeel it. There should have been angst, a certain level of fear and vulnerability to have found something only to have the threat of it going hanging over you. But I felt none of it. In that sense, given it is YA, this was a very amateurish YA book; there surface elements were all there, but I feel like it may have been too much of a stretch to write this as a first book. In the hands of a more experienced author, this story could have had real depth. Don’t get me wrong, having said that, Josh made a great effort with this book. Just for me, I struggled to find something really engaging to get me to the end and went weeks without reading it - only to pick it up and finish it just to finish the book off. Great pun with the title and great fun with the cover - but this book just wasn’t for me.