If you’re looking for a novel for teen and young adults which deals with real-life issues in a realistic, fun and respectful way, look no further!
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A Work of Art by Micayla Lally (She Writes Press)
Review copy provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Genres: Drama, Women’s fiction, Romance
Letting go after her abrupt break-up with Samson is harder than Julene thought it would be, especially since her ex has wasted no time in burying himself in the local dating scene. But during an extended visit to her parents overseas, Julene rediscovers her love of art, and a burgeoning career develops. Samson, on the other hand, after trying valiantly—and unsuccessfully—to forget Julene, has settled instead on his own new career. When Julene returns home to Australia, a coincidental meeting leads to an emotional reunion—but her love and patience will be tested when she finds out just how busy Samson has been in her absence. Yes, they have both made mistakes they can work through and move past—but when a spectre from Samson’s past looms, Julene wonders: Can she trust him again?
This is one of the most frustrating novels I’ve read in a long time, and the reason for that is simple. The story is great, but the telling is distinctly not. The novel is very fast paced, but there is little detail in any of the scenes. What’s more, when there is detail, it seems to occur during the most inane occasions. There are some quite dramatic moments in this novel which have the potential to be extremely emotional and involving, but they are written about with the air of an afterthought. The most important aspects of the story are glossed over, whilst mundane conversations about rice pads are dealt with in great detail.
Now that I’m at the end of the novel, I still don’t feel that I have a good grasp of who the characters really are, what their motivations are and how they feel about anything that’s happened in the book. I think part of this is down to the dialogue. The conversations don’t seem realistic, and the writing style brings the phrase ‘hoity-toity’ to mind.
Focusing on the more positive aspects of the novel, the story is a very relatable and realistic. What happens in this novel could easily happen to anyone, and yet there are enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. Unfortunately, you don’t have to guess for very long.
For example, the beginning of the novel is involving, as the two main characters, Julene and Samson, have ended their relationship but we don’t know why. Rather than use this as a way to keep readers interested, the tension is broken a few chapters later when the author reveals the reason for their break-up. I would have loved for her to have drawn this out a little more, as the majority of the book is much less interesting. 70% of the novel could perhaps could be entitled ‘the Sexcapades of Julene and co.’, but sadly this is nowhere near as fun as it sounds. In some cases, her circumstances actually make it feel a bit ‘icky’.
If I could turn back time and read this novel again, I’m not sure I’d bother. I did read it until the end (the story was interesting enough for me to persevere through the bad writing) but maybe it would make a better movie?
A Work of Art is released on 2nd May 2017.
The Kicking the Bucket List by Cathy Hopkins (Harper Collins UK)
Review copy provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Genres: Drama, Women’s fiction, Family
Three estranged sisters have a shock when they attend the reading of their mother’s will – in order to receive their inheritance, they must complete a list of tasks together, spanning a year. For sensitive Dee, being close to her sisters seems like an impossible dream. Fleur, the free spirit and Rose, the control freak, think it’s a waste of time. The feud between these women can’t be fixed in a few weekends. For the sake of their mother, they’ll give it a go, but none expect the program to succeed. What they don’t know is that the next year will change their lives and relationships forever.
The Kicking the Bucket List is a wonderfully unique concept. How many of us would kill to have such a legacy from a parent who has passed on? An entire year of activities to bring a family closer together. Some say that love cannot be controlled, but this novel shows it can, at the very least, be manipulated.
The three sisters, Dee, Fleur and Rose, are distinct, well outlined characters. At time they can be a little two-dimensional, but some elements of their different personalities are sure to resonate with most, if not all readers. The majority of the novel is written from the perspective of Dee, however Fleur and Rose do get a bit of personal narration themselves. Although I believe it’s important for the story that each sister has ‘their say’, at times I felt that Hopkins struggled to strike the correct tone or style. Whilst Dee’s narrative is just that, a first person narrative like that found in many novels, the other two were harder to pin down. Sometimes they read like a diary entry, sometimes like a prayer, sometimes like a conversation with their deceased mother. I would have preferred if each sister had their own distinct narrative style, to provide context and individuality to their thoughts and feelings.
Nevertheless, The Kicking the Bucket List is for the most part a beautifully handled tale of sisterhood, touching on themes of grief, loss, love and happiness with great tenderness and respect. There were points during this novel were I was on the verge of tears, and many more when they were free flowing! Having siblings myself, I found it so easy to relate to the struggles these sisters were experiencing. Misunderstandings can cause so many difficulties and frustrations, and oftimes during the book I was close to yelling at them “JUST EXPLAIN YOURSELF!”. If everybody was honest, at least the world would be simpler.
Dee was the main focus of the novel. An artist and single mother of a grown-up daughter, she had a peaceful life down in the countryside of Cornwall, but the death of her mother alongside the passing of her landlady threw her life into turmoil. Many would crumble under these circumstances; her mother was the only member of her family she really spoke to, and she was being evicted from the home she had rented for over 25 years. I was really intrigued to see how Dee would handle these situations, and I can’t say I was disappointed. Although I don’t usually enjoy escapades of sensitive, big-hearted characters (I find them a bit unrealistic, weak and dreary), Hopkins has written a woman with backbone and integrity which is extremely admirable. The same goes for Dee’s sisters – although they all have dislikable traits, there was also something sympathetic about all of them.
My favourite parts of the novel were definitely when the three sisters were interacting on their weekend excursions. With a host of activities including colonics, cat sanctuaries and perfume palaces, Hopkins exploited many wonderful opportunities for laughs and tender moments. Often funny, always meaningful, The Kicking the Bucket List has to be one of the more unique novels of friendship within families. It’s an issue which affects us all, and I think we could all learn something from this book. I know I did.
The Kicking the Bucket List is published TOMORROW, 9th March!
The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison (Thomas & Mercer)
Unlike my other reviews, this was not provided by Netgalley. I simply read it and felt it deserved some advertisement.
Genres: Thriller, Trauma, Abduction
Near an isolated mansion lies a beautiful garden.
In this garden grow luscious flowers, shady trees…and a collection of precious “butterflies”—young women who have been kidnapped and intricately tattooed to resemble their namesakes. Overseeing it all is the Gardener, a brutal, twisted man obsessed with capturing and preserving his lovely specimens.
When the garden is discovered, a survivor is brought in for questioning. FBI agents Victor Hanoverian and Brandon Eddison are tasked with piecing together one of the most stomach-churning cases of their careers. But the girl, known only as Maya, proves to be a puzzle herself.
As her story twists and turns, slowly shedding light on life in the Butterfly Garden, Maya reveals old grudges, new saviours, and horrific tales of a man who’d go to any length to hold beauty captive. But the more she shares, the more the agents have to wonder what she’s still hiding.…
WOW. Loved this book. Just going to put it straight out there. Original, thrilling, enthralling, horrific, un-put-downable. I can’t decide whether it’s an extremely tragic story, or an ultimately uplifting one…maybe it can be both?
This novel is not for the faint of heart. It deals with neglect, abduction, rape, torture and murder. Why, you ask, do you want to read about that? Because Hutchison also writes about hope, love, family, bravery and heroism. The Butterfly Garden is a story about courage in the face of extreme adversary, people coming together just when they feel like they want to fall apart, and the power of one’s own convictions to see justice done.
The heroine of this story is Maya. She’s sassy and doesn’t take crap from anyone, but is also loyal to a fault, fiercely protective of those who need her help, and has a streak of charm that I’d challenge any reader not to fall for. She is extremely relatable and sympathetic, but with enough hard edges that I believe every bit of her story.
Speaking of the story, I love how it plays out. The novel opens with the discovery of the garden – most writers would leave this until the end. What Hutchison does is take us through Maya’s story along with the FBI investigators, unravelling each tantalising clue to her experience through detailed questioning. There is nothing chronological about the telling, and I love that. It’s very refreshing, and definitely keeps me engaged as a reader.
Alongside Maya is a brilliant supporting cast. It would be far too easy for Hutchison to create carbon copies of Maya for all the victims of the garden – after all, some people may think that there’s only so much variety to be had in a group of 16-21 year old females. The author, however, uses hobbies, speech and personality traits to create very distinct characters who each have their own roles to play in this story.
I must also praise Hutchison for her male characters. There are a lot of horrible men in this novel, but she doesn’t make a sweeping generalisation that all men are dangerous. In fact, I believe one of the kindest people is Agent Victor Hanoverian, who questions Maya relentlessly but also with compassion and understanding.
Even the Gardener isn’t black and white. He may be a fundamentally evil person, but even he has moments of softness – she gives him a humanity other authors may not have deigned to bestow, but that’s what makes this novel so great. It is firmly grounded in reality. According to Parents.com, every 40 seconds in the United States, a child becomes missing or is abducted. There are thousands upon thousands of people all over the world with stories like Maya’s, and it’s important that we hear about them. Whether fact or fiction, it is important that the world never forgets the dangers children face in this world. Stories like The Butterfly Garden prompt us to remember those who are lost and bolster the search for those who may still be found.
This novel is a triumph.
The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli (Penguin Random House UK, Children’s
Review copy provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Genres: Romance, Teen, Young Adult, Coming-of-Age
Molly is on the cusp of womanhood, though she doesn’t feel like it. She’s never been to a house party, never had alcohol, and never kissed a boy. That’s not to say she hasn’t wanted to; in fact, she’s had 26 unrequited crushes in her 17 years. But no matter what advice her twin sister Cassie has for her, Molly never has the courage to speak to boys. In fact, the only one she can speak to is the nerdy guy at the store where she works, but she doesn’t crush on him so that doesn’t really count, right? When Cassie begins dating Mina, Molly is pushed into a circle of friends she’d never normally hang out with, and she makes a pact with herself to let go of control and be daring. Speak to the boys. Especially Will, who might be the coolest guy Molly’s ever been friends with.
The Upside of Unrequited is a delightful look at the trials and tribulations of an almost-adult. It’s never easy to find love, but that doesn’t mean it won’t find you, in the most unexpected of places.
What strikes me most about this novel is that it made me remember. I’m 25, which I admit is not very old, but 17 still feels like a lifetime ago. Molly’s story reminded me about that time in my life, where everything was more emotional, more dramatic, more important. When I look back on my memories I don’t know whether to laugh or cringe, but I expect both is in order. Becky Albertalli has managed to successfully inhabit the teenage voice without being patronising, minimising or childish. Molly was someone I could relate to, and I understood her struggles.
As well as being a great example of how to write for teenagers, about teenagers, The Upside of Unrequited also reads like a love-letter to nerds. Being a self-proclaimed nerd myself, it’s nice to see them win every once in a while. Pinterest lovers will enjoy the crafty side to Molly’s personality, whilst LOTR geeks like myself will also find nods to their particular brand of interests.
The novel centres around Molly’s quest for love, but it also has a strong vein running through it concerning sisterhood, and the problems which can arise between siblings during young adulthood. All siblings grow apart a little as they transition from teenager to adult, but with twins this experience can be even more difficult. Molly and Cassie clearly have a very close relationship, but they are also distinct characters with their own ideals and aspirations. Albertalli handles this with care and realism. I completely feel for Molly when she feels that Cassie is drifting away, but I also totally understand Cassie’s desire for more independence.
I’m very impressed with this novel. What could have been a by-the-numbers story of a teenager wanting to find love is actually a thoughtful and accurate portrayal of what it is to be a teenager in today’s society. I think The Upside of Unrequited can give hope to those who feel like they’re always going to feel alone and unloved. There’s someone out there for everyone. I’ve also got to add that I love the subtle way Albertalli promotes LGBT relationships in this novel. Because it is such an important issue, I think that sometimes authors can shove it in your face a little too much. With The Upside of Unrequited, all the LGBT relationships just seem right. There are no ‘token gays’. It’s just real life.
The Upside of Unrequited is released on 11th April 2017.