The story is in five parts – the novel opens and closes in Manella, a small Victorian country town and home to the titular three young women. These sections beautifully frame the story, leading into (and subsequently bringing together) each of the girls’ parts. Written in first person, each portion has such a distinctive voice and really allows us to get in the heads and hearts of Carmel, Jude and Katrina. Whilst each of the three parts is written from a specific characters point of view, I love being able to watch their perceptions of each other change and develop throughout the novel.
Onto the girls themselves: there’s Carmel, a large girl with a big heart and an even bigger voice (which she keeps hidden for the first half of her book). Out of all the characters, it’s arguable that Carmel undergoes the biggest transformation during the course of the novel and (for me) had the biggest impact on the reader. Carmel’s lack of confidence, thwarted self-perceptions and her close-knit family makes her easy to relate to. Then there’s Jude, the daughter of a Chilean doctor killed amidst political unrest in Latin America – she’s hugely passionate about social justice and is determined to follow in her father’s footsteps by studying medicine. I think I really loved the idea of Jude, but overall ended up finding her a tad self-righteous and had trouble connecting with her. I felt from Jude’s section that I learned more about her father and her heritage than Jude herself. Katerina, like Jude, is a bit harder to like. Wealthy and beautiful (yet also cold and condescending), Katerina could easily fall into “poor little rich girl” territory, however McCarthy is able to elicit sympathy from the reader for her (and if you’re like me, will also have you banging you head on the wall in frustration at her naivety and thoughtless actions) and by the end of the novel, Katerina is redeemed.
Something that really struck me about this second reading was the relationships between the girls and their mothers. McCarthy has written three very different mothers, and as much as the story is about three young women dealing with entering adult life and independence, it’s very interesting to note how greatly you can pick out the way the influence of their mothers has shaped them as individuals.
My full review of Queen Kat, Carmel and St Jude Get A Life can be found here.
Our heroine, Bee, is definitely a girl after my own heart. Incredibly observant and a lifelong fan of detective novels, Bee is not only very smart, but has a brilliant, wry wit to her that makes her very endearing. Like Ava in Pink, I loved that Bee is slightly flawed and allowed to make mistakes through the course of the novel - in the way she navigates through the museum murder mystery and the changing relationships with both Toby and her mother, making her very real and relatable to a teen reader.
One of my favourite things about A Pocketful of Eyes is the way that Lili has successfully blended the elements of a traditional whodunit mystery with a contemporary Australian setting (another book set in Melbourne!) and the light-hearted, enjoyable style of a YA rom-com. Whilst aspects of the mystery genre are often incorporated in paranormal and dystopian YA, it was great to work nicely in a contemporary story (and I loved the way Lili references preceding literary sleuths from Poirot to Encyclopaedia to Trixie Belden).
Like any good mystery, this one had me guessing until the very end, and like any good YA, A Pocketful of Eyes has clever, fun characters, an engaging plot and a healthy smattering of pop culture references. As you can probably tell by my overuse of adjectives in this review, it's was one of my favourite reads of 2011.
My full review of A Pocketful of Eyes can be found here.
So let's start with our heroine Willow Cartwright. Despite coming from family money and having ex-druggie-turned-religious-zealot parents, Willow has somehow managed to keep a fairly level head (thanks in large part to her grandparents). She's independent, thoughtful and into social justice (without coming across as preachy) and has a major crush on best-friend’s brother. I found Willow to be quite a relatable character with a quick, sharp sense of humour and distinctive voice.
While I don’t normally read supernatural YA, I have to admit I’m kind of partial to the odd ghost story, and Dead, Actually worked for me as the paranormal aspect is really played for comedic purposes.
Dead, Actually will definitely be a big hit with fans of the Gossip Girl, It Girl and Pretty Little Liars series. It's a really fun read (perfect for by the pool or a lazy afternoon) and Kaz has certainly hit upon the right balance of snark and supernatural.
My full review of Dead, Actually is here.
Wheelchair bound after a traumatic accident, Dan is (understandably) pretty down when his parents force him onto a family holiday at a remote island. The island features a lighthouse with a mysterious past (how very Round the Twist!), and having found a logbook, Dan begins to lose himself in the history of the island. Pegler has done a brilliant job with two well-developed stories (Dan’s in the present – with flashbacks of the night of his accident and that of the lighthouse’s inhabitants). Also, this story features a graphic car crash scene that (hopefully) brands into the minds of all readers and reminds everyone of the horrific effects of drink-driving.
Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares is a charming and festive YA scavenger hunt/teen romance. The story alternates between Dash (snarly, articulate hipster with a love of language) and Lily (an enthusiastic carol-singer, cookie-baker and all-round lover of Christmas, like myself). Whilst I liked reading both characters chapters, I did prefer Lily a teensy-weensy bit more (she shares my enthusiasm for all-things Christmas and has this lovely naivety and hopefulness about her which I found to be really endearing). Not that Dash is less-loveable – though I felt he could come across as a little bit arrogant, he still manages to be this great mix of persnickety and bookishly charming. As usual, the protagonists are aided by a dynamic supporting cast of characters (I’m rather partial to Boomer, though I also thought Langston and Benny were great).
I did find some similar elements to Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, which I most connected with in Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares:
- The ongoing journey style of the narrative (though instead of being set over one epic night, Dash and Lily covers the just before Christmas and up until New Year) – the way this is told in alternating chapters, which slowly fill in bits of back story
- The hint and promise of a romance, without it necessarily being a 'love story'. Also, without trying to give anything away, I do like that the majority of the novel is spent developing a relationship between the characters without them meeting (I suppose, in a way Norah feels like she knows Nick through the mix-CDs .... am I stretching too far here?)
- Of course there’s also the snark and the spot-on pop culture references – not to mention, the part that make me squee a little, references to other Cohn/Levithan collaborations (again, I’d like to think that maybe Lily goes to the same school as Norah and Caroline)
- I really enjoyed the correspondence between Dash and Lily, and watching them slowly reveal their secrets and holiday wishes to each other. Then of course, the treasure hunt with the moleskine journal (I’m a total sucker for things like this – just love it!) was brilliant – and getting all these glimpses of a New York Christmas was definitely appealing to me (especially for someone who has never had a white Christmas, the sound of winter coats and snow sounds so nice).
I honestly can’t really think of anything I was unhappy with. Whilst I didn’t have the same ‘oh my gosh, this is changing my world’ reaction I did to Nick and Norah, this is certainly a fun and very sweet read. Fans of the earlier collaborations will certainly enjoy Dash and Lily (and appreciate the familiarity of the Cohn/Levithan dual-narrative style) and I highly recommend Dash and Lily's Book of Dares as your must-read title for the holiday season. Get on it!
It’s easy to fall in love with the Parisian setting – Stephanie Perkins swirls us around on a (slightly touristy) journey through the city of light. For me, this aspect was really appealing and having been to Paris myself (though only for two days – not long enough!), it was fun to hear Anna and her friends visit places I had been to, and made me realise I really, really want to travel again!
Anna and the French Kiss is an engaging debut novel and whilst it’s super sweet and lovely, it also handles serious issues with sensitive. It's perfect for a Sunday afternoon read - preferably whilst nibbling on some macaroons!
My full review of Anna and the French Kiss is here
The basic structure of the anthology is that each chapter alternates between a unicorn and a zombie story (and each chapter is marked with a handy-dandy logo in the corner, so you can skip through and read all the stories of one team if you wish). All of the stories are introduced by the captain of the appropriate team, with some banter between the two editors. Now here are some of my thoughts on the two teams and the stories of the anthology:
Unicorns: I was actually kind of surprised by how much I enjoyed the unicorn stories. Prior to reading, I was curious as to how these stories would stand apart as I had thought that unicorns don’t lend themselves to as many potential readings/covering as many issues as zombies. However, each unicorn story is engaging and an enjoyable read, and whilst themes such as purity are common in the unicorn stories, there is also a great mix of coverage (from the poetic, to the bloodthirsty, to the just damn funny). My favourite was probably Meg Cabot’s Princess Prettypants (c’mon, the name is enough to be a winner!). It’s just pure silly, enjoyable fun (I don’t want to give anything away because it is a great read, but I will say that Meg Cabot’s unicorn can *** rainbows – now surely that is teaser enough to make you want to read it!).
But of course, it was the zombie stories that really captured my attention. They too range from the laugh-out-loud funny to the quietly haunting. Though I thought each story was strong, my personal favourites were Carrie Ryan’s Bougainvillea, Maureen Johnson’s Children of the Revolution and Libba Bray’s Prom Night (which by the way, is a kind of perfect story to end on). My only complaint is that some of the stories were so good, that I would have loved to read a full-length novel about them (especially Carrie Ryan’s Bougainvillea), and similarly, I felt like Scott Westerfeld’s Inoculata was almost a tease, and could have definitely been part of a larger work.
Overall, the anthology is a very entertaining read. I think it will go down well for fans of either team (or (or for fans of any of the contributing authors), I also think this book would be a fun way for those who don’t normally read zombie stories (or who haven’t pledged allegiance to either team yet), as it’s definitely a nice ‘taster’ with a variety of different perspectives. For unicorn skeptics like me, the book showed me that unicorns can be funny (and also rather gruesome – thanks Diana Peterfreud!) and for people who find our living-impaired friends a bit creepy, hopefully these stories will show that there is more to zombies than a hankering for braaaaaains
My full review of Zombies vs Unicorns is here.
This is the most comprehensive and contemporary guide to protecting yourself from the living dead. Max Brooks has extensively researched everything from zombie physiology to modern weaponry and warfare in order to prepare this practical manual to ensure your survival in the event of a zombie attack.
The Zombie Survival Guide is broken down into six distinct sections, all made up of meticulous research, extensive testing, lab reports and first-hand accounts and designed to prepare readers against any kind of zombie attack. Brooks starts by giving an excellent rundown on the history of the zombie, the (fictional) virus that creates them and examines a number of zombie myths (there is also an excellent comparison between the voodoo zombie and the Hollywood zombie – an excellent resource for anyone interested in writing zombie fiction). There is also a great, in-depth (and amusing) section on the benefit of being on the run during an outbreak. Brooks ends with a record of (fictional) zombie attacks throughout history (which is again, very well-written and engaging) and gives you an outbreak journal – for you to use to record any suspicious events.
Ok, so whilst this is a work of fiction, Brooks has filled this handy-how-to guide with a lot of common sense ideas and good survival tips (almost every character from any apocalyptic or zombie film could have benefited from reading this!). Whilst Brooks is faux-serious about potential zombie outbreaks and The Zombie Survival Guide is centred on what is essentially a pop-culture trend, he does manage to address many contemporary fears and concerns, which I think gives the book a wide appeal.
I can highly recommend The Zombie Survival Guide as a must-read for anyone interested in the living dead!
My full review of The Zombie Survival Guide is here.