Monday, February 13, 2017

Review: This Beats Perfect by Rebecca Denton

Firstly, thanks to Hachette Australia for this review copy <3

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Date Read: January 29 - February 1 2017
Date Released: February 2nd 2017
Publisher: Atom Books
Source: Review copy via publisher
Genre: Contemporary
My Rating:

Synopsis:
"Amelie Ayres has impeccable taste in music. Bowie. Bush. Bob. So when she finds herself backstage at The Keep’s only UK gig she expects to hate it; after all they are world’s most tragic band. In fact she feels a grudging respect – not (obviously) for their music, but for the work that goes in to making them megastars. And when lead singer, ‘Maxx’, is not dressed up as a cross between Elvis and a My Little Pony, he is actually rather normal, talented and has creative struggles not too dissimilar to her own.

But the next morning she wakes up rolls over and discovers a million new @’s on social media. Overnight a photo of her backstage has made her a subject of global speculation. Suddenly the world needs to know #Who’sThatGirl? – but for all the wrong reasons.

All Amelie wants is to play her music. She’s got the guitar, the songs, the soul and, in the safety of her bedroom, she’s got the voice. But when it comes to getting up on stage, she struggles with self-doubt.

Immaculate’s a concept. Flawless is fake. But just sometimes music – and hearts – can rock a perfect beat."

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It’s been a while since I’ve read such a fun book but This Beats Perfect is up there with some of my favourite contemporaries. Swoony, light hearted and sweet, Denton has put together the perfect contemporary.

It all starts when Amelie goes backstage to see her dad who’s the sound engineer for a boyband concert that Amelie actually has no interest in. Nek minnit she’s Twitter famous because one of the boyband members has @’d her.

I love a relatable MC and Amelie is one flawed, yet real teenager. She felt like a 17 year old girl to me, not too immature but not wise beyond her years. Her worries are those of the present, of making it through high school – oh the innocence of teenage years haha. She’s sweet but also fiery, I liked the way she got slightly intimidated in front of famous people (I mean who doesn’t?!) but at the same time she could still hold her own. The poor girl has really bad stage fright (not uncommon I mean I liken performance stage fright to lpublic speaking, which is the 2nd biggest fear in the world) and she’s trying to get over it so she can finally perform her music. I admired her persistence because she tries and fails and fails again and it’s a long and slow journey to the end where I swear I was praying she could do it. She doesn’t exactly have the best support – her dad is busy in the music industry but doesn’t always make time for her, I found her mum selfish, and while her best friend is wonderful, I got the feeling she didn’t get Amelie. But the growth is slow and real - I grew to really love Amelie and cheer her on.

The range of secondary characters were all interesting and I liked that they were relevant to the story and Amelie’s journey. Her parents love her and have a good relationship but they’re both lost in their own worlds, in their dreams and she sort of gets left behind. It was interesting to see a dynamic where the parent doesn’t always put their child first. Don’t get me wrong, I could see them try, but their lives would always get in the way and Amelie would sort of stand back and let it happen. There are the friends she meets working with her dad who give her tips and support her who I found really nice and fun. Her best friend though I thought was the typical best friend trope – gorgeous and doesn’t know it, outgoing, is kind of perfect – and it kind of annoyed me. On the bright side said best friend is a great person so that’s a plus.

In comes Maxx from The Keep whose broody on stage demeanour actually goes deeper. He’s struggling with his place in the band, with what he really wants and questioning how he even got there and what he’s doing with his life. I like the tentative initial connection Max and Amelie have that slowly grows as they see more of each other. I found that Amelie was able to impart more advice on Max than vice versa, but Max helped boost Amelie’s confidence. The romance is slow burn and sweet but totally swoony. Not gonna lie, if a hot guy from a boyband took an interest in me I’d be swooning too, especially when he’s being legit! Buuuuut of course it’s not that easy (when is it ever?) and there’s misunderstandings and obstacles along the way. A girl can dream though right?

As contemporaries go, the plot is Amelie’s journey from the moment she’s in the spotlight, dealing with fame she doesn’t want (I liked seeing that aspect - the scary fangirls who result to bullying, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns) and trying to get over her stage fright to get the fame she does want. It’s a journey of self-discovery for both her and Max – wow do I ever sound clich├ęd. Can’t stop won’t stop LOL.

I really liked the way Denton injects the story with her musical expertise, it shows through in the politics of the musical industry woven throughout, in the bits and pieces like the way Amelie records her music and her studio setup. I would have liked even more of this detail because all we ever see elsewhere is the glitz and glamour; to see the nitty gritty would have been different and given the story an even more genuine feel. Denton’s style is easy to follow and immersive – I fell right in to Amelie’s world.

If you’re looking for a sweet and heart-warming contemporary, then you’ve got to pick up This Beats Perfect.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Review: Valentine by Jodi McAlister

Firstly, thanks to Penguin Teen Australia for this review copy <3

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Date Read: January 19 - 26 2017
Date Released: January 30th 2017
Publisher: Penguin Australia
Source: Review copy via publisher
Genre: Paranormal
My Rating:

Synopsis:
"Four teenagers – all born on the same Valentine’s Day – begin to disappear. As the bodies mount up, Pearl Linford has to work out what in the supernatural hell is going on, before it happens to her. 

Finn Blacklin is the boy with whom Pearl shares a birthday, the boy she has known all her life and disliked every second of it, the boy her subconscious has a totally annoying crush on. Finn is also the Valentine: a Seelie fairy changeling swapped for a human boy at birth. The Unseelie have come to kill the Valentine – except they don’t know who it is. And now both the Seelie and the Unseelie think Pearl is the Valentine, and if they find out she isn’t, she’ll disappear too.

Pearl must use all her wits to protect herself. Finn must come to terms with his newfound heritage. And then there’s the explosive chemistry between them that neither of them know quite what to do about..."

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Contrary to its seemingly romantic name, Valentine is a fun yet increasingly dark tale.

The story is told from the first person perspective of Pearl, one of the four teenagers born on Valentine’s Day. I really liked Pearl. She’s got a very strong personality and is opinionated which I respect. She’s the type of person that has really close friends that like her but also people that she hates (and hate her back) but gives no fucks. She values the relationships she has with people and it really came through in the way she keeps talking about the people around her – her best friend Phil who is logical and practical, her crush Cardy who she admires for his academics and all-roundedness. I enjoyed reading her funny and sarcastic voice so much, she made the story seem authentic.

There’s a lot of secondary characters and friendships explored but my favourite was Pearl’s relationship with her brother and sister. Shad and Dise are twins seventeen years older than Pearl and they basically raised her. I freaking adored the dynamics these three had. Shad the computer genius is laid back but loves his little sister (well both sisters) so much while Dise is more opinionated and kind of like an aunt to Pearl. They’re both more laid back than parents and yet manage to do the parenting thing perfectly. Pearl obviously respects them in the way she talks to them, in the way her siblings share their opinions with her but still joke about their youth days. Best. Sibling. Relationship. Ever.

The romance was an interesting one. She’s got this crush on Cardy but her hate towards Finn is also some like unresolved sexual tension me thinks. She also has weird fantasies about him and for a moment I was scared it was going to an Alice in Zombieland moment (in that one, the girl has hot daydreams about the guy and this is their excuse to get together WTF) but thankfully it’s not! The romance is slowburn and Pearl respects herself so much I was like YES YOU GO GIRL. She’s rational (ok at times angry) and isn’t lovesick or mopey. She knows there’s more important things than romance when you’re a teen!

Okay so the plot wow. Teenagers start disappearing guys. Friends and classmates. There are black cats everywhere and black birds attacking people. Everybody seems to find it odd but Pearl seems to be the only that notices. When one of her best friends goes missing she’s the only know who takes a step back to check up on her and things really start to get freaky from there. The blurb clearly says this is a story of Seelie/Unseelie but how this unfolds is fantastic. McAlister has done it in such a believable way – the way a normal human being might go down a detective path when things around them start getting weird. The level of disbelief, scepticism and research required is perfectly balanced with the way things happen. It’s slow, but to me that’s how to make it seem real.

McAlister’s writing style is casual yet descriptive. She has Pearl talk with abbreviations “TBH”, “FA” which I think enhanced Pearl’s voice as this is the lingo of the generation. There’s Pearl thinking in all caps which really helps with seeing her freak out or get excited about something. There’s also the one word sentences on each line and this makes it really seem like I’m experiencing things from Pearl’s POV – her drowning and blacking out at the right moment as her thoughts and consciousness dwindled. It’s superb. Then there’s the freaky scenes that had me texting my friends at like 12am and going on full freak out mode because I WAS FREAKING SCARED. I nearly started crying not even lying I had to go watch some K-pop to calm down. McAlister is really good at creating atmosphere.

My only gripe with the book was that at times it was a tad too slow and the ending really left me wanting. It wasn’t as fey as I wanted and the conclusion felt rushed. However, I hear this is a series and Ironheart already has a cover – PLEASE BE A SEQUEL.

McAlister’s debut has established her as a strong writer in Aussie YA. I enjoyed Valentine so much with its strong protagonist, dark plot and engaging writing style.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Review: Caraval (Caraval #1) by Stephanie Garber

Firstly, thanks to Hachette Australia for this review copy <3



Date Read: January 1 - 2 2017
Date Released: January 30th 2017
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Source: Review copy via publisher
Genre: Fantasy
My Rating:

Warning: this review contains mild spoilers for the plot of the book.

Synopsis:
"Welcome to Caraval, where nothing is quite what it seems.

Scarlett has never left the tiny isle of Trisda, pining from afar for the wonder of Caraval, a once-a-year week-long performance where the audience participates in the show.

Caraval is Magic. Mystery. Adventure. And for Scarlett and her beloved sister Tella it represents freedom and an escape from their ruthless, abusive father.

When the sisters' long-awaited invitations to Caraval finally arrive, it seems their dreams have come true. But no sooner have they arrived than Tella vanishes, kidnapped by the show's mastermind organiser, Legend.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But nonetheless she quickly becomes enmeshed in a dangerous game of love, magic and heartbreak. And real or not, she must find Tella before the game is over, and her sister disappears forever."

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Again, warning, this review contains mild spoilers. Stop here if you haven't read the book.

Caraval has got to be one of the most hyped YA releases of 2017. Pitched as having Night Circus vibes (which I haven’t read) I wasn’t sure what I was expecting going into Caraval. I can say it definitely wasn’t what I expected and I don’t think it’s really what I wanted either.

Firstly, I’d like to say that I expected Caraval to be circus-y. A week long performance where participants are a part of the magical show - this is what the blurb tells me. Not sure what those performances would be but like I said I thought it’d be like a circus cross carnival with acts. Instead, Caraval is more like a game of Cluedo. The story is literally a search for Scarlett’s missing sister Tella. It’s a thriller more than anything.

I’m just going to be blunt and say Scarlett was not a character I liked. She was not a character I could relate to and this greatly affected how much I enjoyed Caraval. As frustrating and annoying protagonists go, she’s up there. Scarlett thinks she’s all that, being the bigger sister she’s soooo selfless and sacrificed soooo much for her selfish and immature sister who doesn’t love Scarlett as much as Scarlett loves Tella. I mean yes I could tell that Scarlett loved her sister and I admired how she was willing to die for Tella with the dangerous goings on of Caraval but really, every other page was her going on about how Tella didn’t care for anybody but herself and that Scarlett was the considerate one. This grated on my nerves so much. Then there’s the way Scarlett thinks she’s always right and because she’s braved her father’s abuse all these years, she’s such a great judge of bad character and getting out of trouble. Um no. Repeatedly throughout the book she’s proven to be wrong and gets herself into so much shit. I’m fine with that, if the character grows and learns from their mistakes. BUT SHE DOESN’T. LIKE OMFG SDJHFNSFJDS. My rage at this girl. She even acknowledges that she’s wrong but she doesn’t change. She’s so stubborn, constantly wallowing in self-pity that by the end I swear she had no character growth.

Hands down Tella stole the show for me and I loved this girl so much. While absent through the majority of the book, her presence resonates through snippets of memories and clues left throughout Caraval. She’s fiery, passionate, lives life on the edge. At first, seemingly selfish but bits and pieces slowly reveal just which sister is the more considerate and loving one. By the end I was kind of in awe of this girl and what she was capable of. My kind of girl.

How do I feel about the romance? I don’t know. Y’all know I’m a hopeless romantic but in this case I could have gone without the romance. Like either or it didn’t really matter. The romance didn’t give me lots of feels but I did kind of like the love interest. To me the romance was a plot device for Scarlett to grow and change and listen to her sister’s advice to take risks. I liked that but at the same time it kind of killed me that Scarlett needed a guy for her to change instead of her own personal journey to finding her sister, does that make sense? I don’t know haha.

The plot… like I said it’s literally Scarlett finding clues through Caraval to find her sister. That IS Caraval. It’s not a circus or a carnival of any sort. The show is a lost girl and the quest to finding her. The magic is vague and it’s all kind of like mind games. Honestly felt like real-life Cluedo. Where were the mazes or the trapeze artists, the fantastical elements of intrigue? I wanted chases through labyrinths of mirrors, being tricked into shooting water in a clown’s mouth for a clue, running through flaming rings OR SOMETHING. I felt let down in that regard. Someone tell me my perception of a circus/carnival is wrong because that’s what I expected.

The build up to the ending was mind blowing though. It felt like inception, games within games within games. The plot twisted round and over and I was left questioning every single one of the characters and their motives. Through it all, the illustrious Legend, creator of Caraval, oversees everything that’s going on but we never see him (or do we?). How much of it is orchestrated by Legend, is he truly evil? Or are those the actions of the players and their desire to win. It was chilling, thrilling and a real page-turner! I lived for that ending.

There is no denying that Garber is a talented writer though. I sped through Caraval, finishing it in 1 day. I didn’t want to put it down and I desperately needed to know what happened to Tella and how much of Caraval Scarlett had taken too seriously despite the warnings. Garber’s descriptions are lush and detailed and the story is grand in that regard. She really sets the atmosphere, creating an exotic and mystical nighttime when the game is alive versus a washed-out and empty daytime.

With gorgeous writing and an intriguing plot, Caraval is a real page turner! I guess I was left wanting a bit more though. I can say that I’m the black sheep with regards to this book though because looking at the Goodreads ratings, EVERYBODY loves Caraval, so I would say check it out!