All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Mortal Remains – Kathy Reichs

This was the 3rd novel I read for the Read-A-Thon.

I quite like the Temperance Brennan novels. I’ve read all of them and so far there had been only 1 that I really didn’t enjoy at all, which I think is a pretty good strike rate when there’s 12 novels to the series. Well unfortunately, my toll now stands at 2/13. I didn’t get into this book either.

Like Brennan, Reichs herself is a forensic anthropologist and she always claims that she never writes a novel and puts Temperance in a medical situation that she herself hasn’t been in personally. She’s obviously very smart, very knowledgable in her field but for the average layman who doesn’t have a science brain (like myself) the long winded descriptions of procedures, tests, etc can, very occasionally, feel like a lecture. Even when Temperance is supposed to be using “dumbed down” language in this novel, it often doesn’t feel like that. Or maybe I’m just more dumbed down than the people in the book she’s explaining things to? Anyway, it sometimes leads to me flicking pages in boredom until the pages of scientific descriptions stop. And that happened quite often in this novel.

Firstly – the abbreviations. There are oh so many of them and my brain can only keep track of so many acronyms at a time. It’s even harder because I’m not American and don’t have even a passing knowledge with some of these organisations. But I’m getting ahead of myself…plot first.

A floater is found somewhere in Quebec, Canada and due to being in the water, the body isn’t easily identifiable so Tempe is called in to do her thing. Fingerprints identity the man as John Lowery which is a slight problem, as it’s 2010 and apparently, John Lowery was declared dead in 1968 in Vietnam after a Chopper crash. Everyone is much confused – if Lowery was a Vietnam soldier killed in action, how did he come to be in Canada? Tempe exumes the grave of John Lowery in North Carolina and finds that there is a partial skeleton inside that is supposed to be Lowery. Tempe decides to head to Hawaii to the headquarters of JPAC (one of those acronyms!) an organisation who dedicates itself to recovering American soldiers killed in conflict and bringing them home. Soon after arriving in Hawaii there turns up another body and this one has John Lowery’s dogtags. So 3 bodies, all supposedly the same man. Which is the real Lowery and who are the other two? Tempe as always, is determined to find answers and justice for the fallen. Add in a threat on her life, her daughter Katy in a depression and Ryan and his daughter Lily and that’s about the ballgame.

The plot was actually kind of interesting but I’m used to more action within these novels. There’s always lots of creeping around and questioning people and Tempe usually getting herself involved in all sorts of things that she shouldn’t be involved in and a pretty decent climax. This book lacked…a lot of things. Okay there was an attempt on Tempe’s life but it was pretty lame, came out of nowhere and then totally fizzled out and was related to some random side case that Tempe got pulled in on out of no where. There was so much talking and explaining of organisations and DNA and other sorts of procedures and it was boring. The idea of an organisation that works to bring fallen soldiers home to their families for a proper burial was nice but there were some glaring errors made by an incompetent employee that led to remains being identified incorrectly which has potential disaster written all over it. I’ve no idea if that sort of thing occurs in real life, it probably does. Mistakes are made every day, I know it sometimes can’t be helped, but you’d have to feel for people who were told remains were those of their son/father/brother/husband/etc and then later it turned out that they weren’t.

Tempe’s daughter Katy features more prominently in this one than she does in other novels and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Katy is a selfish and often immature 24yo who is best left to just being the voice on the end of the phone whining about how much she hates her boring job now that she’s graduated from university after a whopping 6 years. Ryan’s daughter Lily appears more in this book too, mostly just to squabble with Katy. They both act like they’re 12 years old for most of their time together and it’s mostly just irritating. I think both of them could do with a good slap. Even Ryan was a nothing character this time around. And yes, she’s still calling him Ryan! Can’t she call him Andy even once? Or Andrew? Anything other than his last name, which, for a guy that she’s slept with on and off for years now, is fairly ridiculous. It bugs me probably more than it should but hearing her refer to him as Ryan was confusing because I started to think his name was Ryan for a while, forgetting about the whole Andrew bit. At least this book laid off the devotion to describing his eyes twenty-seven different shades of blue.

I usually don’t mind the fast pacing but the sentence fragments in this novel were very offputting and a bit reminiscent of the other book in this series I didn’t enjoy, Cross Bones. At least Tempe and Ryan weren’t acting like 4yos although I swear at the end of the previous book, 206 Bones that they were just about back together. However when Mortal Remains opens up it’s pretty clear that they are most definitely at an ‘off’ stage of their relationship. Ryan does a bit of half-hearted trying to get things going again but that mostly just involves him making vaguely suggestive remarks about getting back into Tempe’s pants and Tempe pretending that she doesn’t hear/understand what he’s saying. Usually there’s a bit of sexual tension between them but in this novel it was completely absent! I think the time has come for Tempe to make a decision about Ryan and if Reichs has no intentions getting them back together than they need to move him into the background. And if they are going to get back together, well then they need to do it. Without them having issues and breaking up in like every book from here on in. It’s just getting really old.

Choppy disjointed writing, far too much explanation and lecturing on details of everything, lack of character development/growth, lack of sexual tension between anyone, confusing plot with far too many bodies and too many peripheral characters, not to mention what felt like hundreds of acronyms. It was confusing – I had trouble remembering what organisation did what, what they used to be called before X happened, or they merged with Y, etc. If I hadn’t of been reading this for the read-a-thon it’s quite likely I might never have finished it. That’s kind of sad, because I normally like these books quite a bit.

** Please note: In the US (and probably everywhere else) this novel goes by the name of Spider Bones. I have no idea why it has a different name here, all previous 12 books have all had the same name as international versions. The title of Spider Bones actually makes much more sense, as John Lowery, who the whole novel is basically about, goes by the nickname of Spider.

4/10

Book #75 of my 75 Book Challenge. Wow, I’m so pleased that I reached the second leg of my challenge so quickly. I was going to upgrade my challenge from 50 Books for 2010 straight to 100 but I changed my mind thinking that I might not have enough time. I’m going to have a go now, of getting to 100 novels for the year before 31st December.

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Forget You – Jennifer Echols

This was the second book I read for the 24hr Read-A-Thon. I’m just going to get this out of the way right now – I love Doug. Love him utterly as a character, wish I could kidnap him and keep him sort of love. Okay now that I’ve got that embarrassing fangirl moment out of the way, let’s go.

On the outside, it looks like Zoey has it all. She’s attractive, popular, rich, the captain of the high school swim team. Her father owns a water slide park and she works there over the summer and has used that to get most of her swim-team friends summer jobs also. Unfortunately, look a bit below the surface and you’ll see that Zoey’s life is about to hit meltdown point. Her dad has knocked up his 24yo girlfriend who works at the amusement park and Zoey and her mother have had to leave the family mansion and live in a rental apartment. To top  it off, Zoey came home and found her mother unconscious from a dose of pills and she is rushed to the hospital.

Zoey’s dad – pretty much a douche. Not only was he cheating on her mother and seems to keep everything in the separation despite Zoey’s mother coming from money, but when he arrives at the hospital after Zoey’s mother has had her overdose, all he seems to care about is bullying everyone who knows. He threatens Zoey, the police officer who arrived on the scene etc – to keep quiet so that no one finds out the ex-wife he left has tried to top herself and had to go to the loony bin. Zoey has noticed in the waiting room that the cop’s younger brother has turned up with food for him. Aah, enter Doug. Doug who is on the swim team with her, Doug who asked her to the year 9 dance just before he disappeared into juvie, Doug who has seemed to loathe her ever since he got back. Zoey realises with horror that if Doug knows, then soon enough everyone is going to know.

After leaving the hospital, Zoey is feeling reckless enough to go down to the beach for one of the swim team parties where she hooks up with Brandon, who works at the amusement park with her and who is on the football team. Inexplicably, especially after listening to and giving Brandon advice on all his summer conquests, Zoey seems to think that her and Brandon are going out after they seal the deal in his Buick at the beach. I don’t quite understand why she thinks that, but she does. They have sex, then they basically go back to the party and go their separate ways.

Zoey has to move in with her dad while her mother is in a psychiatric ward getting diagnosed and treated and her father and his girlfriend are planning to elope to Hawaii. Zoey goes to yet another party (a record for her!) and she has a wreck in her Bug on the way home which Doug pulls her out of. She can’t remember anything for a couple of hours prior to the wreck or anything after Doug pulls her out of the wreck until she wakes up in her bed the next morning. When her dad realises that she can’t really remember what happened, his reactions is something along the lines of “oh God, we’ll have to cancel Hawaii because someone else is loony now!”. He is a lovely person, yes? Zoey quickly realises that pretending that she remembers everything is the only way to go here, so that’s what she does. To everyone. And that is why she is massively confused when Doug comes over to see how she is and seems to be under the impression that they are together…. And where is Brandon? He’s no where to be seen. Zoey needs to find out what the heck happened that she can’t remember but the only person who seems to know is Doug. And is she ready to hear it?

Firstly, Zoey irritated me just a little. I can understand why she didn’t want her father to know why she couldn’t remember but the way she went about getting Doug to tell her what happened was a bit silly. I understand that she thinks that she can’t trust him because of the whole thinking-he-hates-her thing and the juvie thing but honestly, he does nothing for her to think that and she must realise pretty quickly that he’s not going to tell anyone about her mother. And the whole “but Brandon is my boyfriend” when clearly he was not was just ridiculous. For a smart girl, when it comes to Brandon, Zoey really is quite stupid. But despite that, I liked her as a character. She was flawed, she allowed herself to read more into a hook up than there really was, which I found very real. She was obviously under a lot of mental stress with not being able to see her mother while they were treating her (this turns out to be pretty important) and the callous disregard for her welfare shown by her own father and she made decisions that I think she would probably not have made if she wasn’t under so much pressure.

Brandon is a bit of a cliche (do people really act like that? maybe they do) but as previously mentioned, I did love Doug. Yeah he starts off looking a bit 2D – the bad boy who has been to juvie who apparently hates our main character. But the more we get to know him we realise that he is so much more than just the bad boy. It was a really wonderful journey, learning all the little intricacies and personality traits of Doug and I almost started to think he was too good for Zoey when she couldn’t see what was right in front of her face! But Zoey’s journey is one of discovery too and there are several things she must learn and see for herself before she can make the decisions that are right for her.

I really enjoyed this book. It was a nice, easy read that I flipped through in probably under two hours but it wasn’t silly or vacuous or anything like that. I have heard pretty good things about Jennifer Echols and if all her books are like this, I can well understand why. I’ll definitely be looking for some more of hers because I really think she can write a story. She sucks you in and gives you characters you can relate to (or dream about!) and a plot that is as interesting as it is easy to read. This book is like fresh strawberries rather than candy- sweet but not saccharine and it leaves you satisfied.

9/10

Book #74 of my 75 Book Challenge

Looking for another review? Check out Shannon’s over at Giraffe Days

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Before We Say Goodbye – Gabriella Ambrosio

This was the first book I tackled for Dewey’s 24hr Read-A-Thon. I picked it up from the Book Depository in the first order I did with them after reading a review on The Book Whisperer. I’ve mentioned before I have a long standing interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that comes from my studies in political science and international relations. I’ve written a couple of papers on it and although I’ve slacked off in recent years on keeping up with the issues as much as I did, I still take an interest. So I wanted to read this book the moment I heard about it.

Before We Say Goodbye is written as a third person narrative switching between quite a few people in the lead up to a terrorist suicide bombing. Dima, a Palestinian girl of eighteen who is thinking of her future – marriage to her cousin Faris, further studies, quite a lot of freedom. Myriam, a Jewish girl of the same age has yet to recover from the loss of her best friend Michael, who himself was the victim of a bombing recently. They had plans to return to America, where they had both lived at various times in their lives, looking to return to the land of the free. That plan has been cut short now and Myriam is lost. She doesn’t know what she wants to do. Abraham is a store security guard, possessed of an uncanny ability to know when someone is walking into his store with plans. Plans that could be deadly. He receives a call in the morning and is given the choice of two locations and he chooses the supermarket so that he may get home early to spend time with his younger wife and their two sons. It is a choice that will end his life. Ghassan is 23, a Palestinian and explosives expert who is co-ordinating the next attack. He is meeting with the young girl who has made the choice of self-sacrifice.

Before We Say Goodbye is a tiny novel, clocking in at just 145 pages. Each ‘chapter’ is an hour out of the eventful day, clocking in with each character so that we can see what they are doing. Starting at 7am and ending at 2pm when the bomb goes off, the author manages to pack the small novel full of thoughts, emotions and actions. There is no judgement here, there is no preaching. There is no Israeli propaganda, there is no Palestinian propaganda. That isn’t the point. You are given just a snippet of this conflict, just an insight into the lives of two similar girls – same age, who live near each other and study, who have seen terrible things as a part of their everyday lives. Who have faced losses and felt anger. One of them makes a choice, to fight back against the injustices she has seen, to bring about the kind of suffering she has experienced. She is determined to take out many – her life is worth a hundred lives!

This novel has been made required reading for high schoolers in the author’s native Italy and in universities in countries like Australia. It has been published in both Hebrew and Arabic and is used in both Israel and Palestine as an education tool which I think is just an incredible thing.  If you’re interested in reading a wholly non-judgmental book free of opinions and bias then this really is a book you should pick up. It’s so many things – engrossing, insightful, balanced and the translation, by Alastair McEwan, is perfect . I’ve already moved it to the top of Rob’s TBR pile!

8/10

(Book #73 of my 75 Book Challenge)

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The Dead-Tossed Waves – Carrie Ryan

Okay, so I cracked. Well actually I went and got another book from the library and I had to take this one too as it was in the requested pile. I decided to give it a go, after all a writer often improves with each book they write so I thought that I had nothing to lose.

Gabry lives with her mother Mary (the protagonist from The Forest of Hands and Teeth) in the town of Vista, where Mary ended up at the end of the previous novel. Mary mans the lighthouse and the beach, decapitating the Unconsecrated (or Mudo as they call them in Vista) as they wash up on the beach with the tide. Gabry has been raised to believe in the sanctity of the fences, to be safe, to be secure. Mary has stressed the importance of safety but as a result Gabry feels cowardly, and that she could never be like her brave mother. So when some friends decide to go over the fences up to an old fairground, Gabry is reluctant. It’s forbidden to go over them and she’s frightened. She’s talked into it though by Catcher, the brother of her best friend who has caught her eye and so over the fence she goes, up to fairground. Of course it ends in disaster with a run-in with a Mudo. Several of the group are bitten and fall including Catcher. He urges Gabry to run before the Militia catches her and after some token protests, she does.

The rest are caught and burdened by guilt from Cira, her best friend, Gabry risks it to go back up to the fairground to look for Catcher. On the way there she meets a mysterious boy named Elias who assists her when she runs into some Mudo and takes her to where Catcher is holed up, waiting to turn. Some stuff happens that I won’t give away and then before you know it, it’s four teenagers, 2 girls and 2 guys, running through the forest again. Sound familiar? Well yes, it kind of is….right down to the love triangle.

While I think that technically this is a better novel than The Forest of Hands and Teeth, quite a good chunk of it is just a rehashing of that novel, but with different characters and in a slightly different section of the forest. Some scenarios are so familiar they’re almost identical and the wishy-washy thoughts of the narrator are all too recognisable. She vacillates between two boys just like Mary did with a “Oh I love X, I love his body, his warm kisses but wait! Y is also kissing me and I quite like this too…yes I think I want to be with Y… But there’s X! He’s drawing my thoughts again, I can see myself with him. But then again….Y….” And then when she finally chooses at the end it’s kind of like what the? where on Earth did that come from?

The male characters are for me, not in any way fleshed out enough for you to get behind any of them and want them for Gabry. They have very little depth, you know almost nothing about them, the type of people they are and no real explanation is given for her attraction to them other than their warm kisses. Well that’s all very well and good but you can’t build a life on some warm kisses! And apparently they both kiss equally warmly and well, so how she comes to make her final decision is really quite baffling.

Although this novel does provide us with some answers to questions and wrap up some mysteries posed in The Forest of Hands and Teeth, it in itself also raises more questions and leaves more mysteries dangling at the end of the novel – presumably to rile everyone up for the third novel, The Dark and Hollow Places, due out March 2011. If this is the last book in the series, then I presume it will wrap up most, if not all, of the loose ends.

Over all I like Gabry a little better than I liked Mary although I still felt that Gabry also made some very questionable choices. But then again, teenage girls do that, so I found Gabry’s choices (apart from one, which I didn’t particularly get or like at all, regarding Daniel) mostly more palatable. I’m still not very creeped out by the Unconsecrated/Mudo though. I think that because they’re always there pushing at the fences, moaning, shoving their fingers through that they lose a little bit of their threat. I’d find them much more menacing if they just kind of turned up out of no where without announcing their arrival and the characters never knew when the threat might arrive.

Mary undergoes no character growth in this novel either. She’s just as selfish as she was in The Forest of Hands and Teeth, if not more so and her actions in this novel are just as self-involved and infuriating as they are in the first one. I know that some novels can be successful if they’re plot driven rather than character driven but weak uninteresting characters seem to be a recurring theme in this world. The female protagonists are so similar in their indecisiveness regarding men, and also their selfishness. Cira is just Cass reincarnated and Catcher and Elias are just as bland as Harry and Travis with no real personalities. They’re just like Generic Male Love Interests constructed to fill Requisite Love Triangle.

I think that Carrie Ryan actually had a really good idea with these novels. I found the actual bare bones of the plot very workable and it could’ve been an amazing story. As with in the first novel though, we don’t get much of a feel for the day to day life in the village, of growing up with this ever-present threat on their doorstep. I think that could’ve been explored a lot more thoroughly.

6/10

(Book #72 of my 75 Book Challenge)

This novel also counts for my YA Dystopian Challenge, hosted by Darren over at Bart’s Bookshelf. I think I’m going to upgrade my level and go for Level 3, which is a minimum of five YA Dystopian novels during the time between October 1st – December 19th, 2010. I’ve already read 3 and I still have the first 2 novels of the Chaos Walking series and all the novels of The Hunger Games trilogy to read.

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Mini Shopaholic – Sophie Kinsella

I love the Shopaholic books. I reserved this one at my Library a little while ago, a month or six weeks, well before it came out in Australia and they just got it in on Tuesday. So I went and picked it up and tucked myself up on the couch yesterday with my sinus infection and read it. And laughed.

I think this one just might be my favourite!

It’s been two years since Shopaholic & Baby and the Arcodas mess has finally settled which means Luke and Becky have cash freed up to once again make an offer on a house. They’re still living with Becky’s parents, although it’s not for want of trying to find their own place. They’ve had four or five properties fall through but after the court case with Arcodas settles they feel like they can finally move on and start afresh.

Minnie is now a precocious two year old who is starting to take after her mother in many ways. She loves shopping and going to Starbucks for a muffin. After an incident in Santa’s Grotto, Luke starts to wonder if well, maybe Minnie is a little spoiled. Becky is horrified. Of course Minnie isn’t spoiled, she’s just high spirited. Becky was thinking it might be time for them to give Minnie a little brother or sister but Luke’s reaction to the idea is lukewarm at best, stating that they can’t even control Minnie, how would they go with another baby as well.

And from that disappointment, things sort of snowball. Luke becomes preoccupied with a huge financial crisis and everyone is in a state of panic. Becky’s dad declares that everyone has to Cut Back and now Becky faces the challenge of curbing not only her own spending, but Minnie’s too! Having worked out a system where Minnie can spend only her pocket money and justifying it only as Becky Brandon can, Becky issues Minnie with an overdraft just so she can have something. With Luke thinking that Minnie should be seen by a child behaviour expert and not allowed to buy anything, Becky is a bit depressed. However, she comes up with something to do to cheer herself up.

It’s Luke’s birthday soon and Becky decides to throw him the ultimate surprise party. She wants him to relax and enjoy himself and as always, everything snowballs until it’s out of control and Becky has no idea how to bring everything back under her control. Will this party be a disaster of epic proportions? Or will Becky pull it off at the last minute?

While the formula of Becky’s overspending has been kept, the spending in this book mostly revolves around Minnie, which is pretty typical for the mother of a 2yo. Becky doesn’t buy herself that much at all, but she lavishes her daughter with toys, clothes, shoes and trinkets, often with hilarious justification and results. As always Luke is often preoccupied with a crisis although this time thankfully it’s no big disaster at Brandon Communications. I was beginning to wonder how Luke kept managing to get into so much financial strife for a bloke that runs a multi-million pound company!

As always in these novels, Becky’s good heart shines through as she tries to throw Luke his surprise birthday party and make him forget about work and enjoy himself. Some of her diversions so that he won’t check his email/answer his phone/etc are truly hilarious. She lurches from one disaster to the next as only she can – from the ‘Supernanny’ type that comes out to assess Minnie, to a crisis at work, to crisis after crisis with the party, Becky always ends up to her neck in it. This book contained none of the frustrating moments of some of the previous ones where I always just wanted to scream at Becky to tell whoever she was keeping a secret from (usually Luke) what was going on before she gave herself a stroke. The drama in this novel, while entertaining and over the top and funny is somehow a bit more contained than the previous novels and for me, less infuriating! I think it’s because the secret Becky is keeping is a fun one, rather than one that can have some real serious consequences, like the one she keeps in Shopaholic Ties The Knot and the one Luke keeps in Shopaholic & Baby.

It seems like the ending paved the way for yet another Shopaholic novel and I can’t wait! They’re a perfect way to pass an afternoon, they’re so feel good and funny that I always end up immensely cheered, just from reading one. Actually after reading Mini Shopaholic last night I went and downloaded Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic for my Kindle because I’ve only ever listened to it on audiobook and I’ve never actually read it. I wanted to go back and see how it all started again. And that’s proved to be a dangerous exercise because now I just want to load the rest of them onto the Kindle and settle down for the afternoon!

9/10

(Book #70 of my 75 Book Challenge)

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The Declaration – Gemma Malley

Imagine a world where no one ever dies. Old age and illness are no longer a problem, you can stay a youthful 40 or 50 for all time. So long as you keep taking the magic Longevity drugs that is. Naturally with pretty much no one on the planet dying anymore, some adjustments have to be made. Overcrowding and use of energy and resources are massive problems, so citizens must sign The Declaration and have no children. Anyone who breaks this rule and has a child anyway –  the child is deemed illegal, a Surplus and sent to a facility where they are to be trained to be Useful. Being Useful or being a Valuable Asset is how they must make up for the fact that they never should’ve been born. They are trained to be servants to the Legal’s, to reduce their consumption, their impact on the overcrowded Earth. And naturally, they don’t get the Longevity drugs.

Fifteen year old Anna is such a Surplus. Taken by the Catchers when she was just over 2, she has been living and training at Grange Hall under the watchful malevolent eye of House Matron Mrs Pincent. Anna is determined to be a good Surplus, to become a really Valuable Asset and make up for her Parents Sins in having her. She is classed as Pending, almost ready to go out and take up a position with Legals, ready to try and make up for the gross error that is her very existence. Her parents are nothing but a disgrace to her now. They are taught at the Surplus Houses to hate their parents for breaking the rules, for bringing them into the world when they shouldn’t be there, for burdening the Legal population even further. Anna cannot remember a time when she wasn’t supposed to hate her parents. She bears the shame of being a Surplus and the only way she can make up for that is to be a very Valuable Asset.

All is well in Anna’s world until fifteen year old Peter is brought to Grange Hall. He has just been Captured, having survived out there for longer than most. He claims to Anna that he knows her parents, he uses her last name when speaking to her (Surplus children don’t have last names as they are nothing and should not exist). He tells Anna that he’s here for her, that he can take her away from Grange Hall and back to her parents, who love her and miss her and have been trying to figure out how to find her for all these years. That there’s an Underground Movement, hiding Surpluses, trying to fight the regime, trying to fight for the right to exist. At first Anna resists, not willing to believe him. But soon, she can’t help her curiosity and she is asking him questions about the outside. When she learns something sinister about Mrs Pincent, Anna decides that she is going to go along with Peter’s escape from Grange Hall and try and find a better life on the Outside.

Could you give up the right to have children in order to live forever? For some it might be an easy question either way. For those that can’t give up the desire to have a child, you can Opt Out – that means not signing The Declaration. You get to have a baby but you don’t get the Longevity drugs. You forfeit your right to immortality so that the resulting child is not as much strain. As stated in the book though, not many people choose to Opt Out. The authorities make it hard for people to do so, and for many, the lure of being able to exist forever but without the negatives of old age and illness is too attractive. Also the choice must be made at 16 whether to Opt Out or sign The Declaration. That seems like a tactic by the authorities to ensure more signatures, particularly males as it’s not likely that many 16yo boys are going to feel passionately about having children. By giving people the choice before they are really old enough to make it, while they are still young, impressionable and easily malleable seems a surety that almost all people tow the line and sign The Declaration. Opt Outs are looked down upon, and pitied as they age and get sick.

I’ve read that some believe that although they are ridiculed and belittled and harrassed, it can be argued that the Surplus children are a necessary part of the society because of the service they provide. If you’re going to live forever, you’re probably not going to want to be doing your own cooking, cleaning, ironing, gardening, etc for all eternity and these Surplus children are really nothing more than free slave labour to do all of that. They have no rights, no freedoms, not even a last name.

The control that the authorities have is absolute, even over the Legals – even over the Legals that are high ranking. When questioning a Legal on the disappearance of Peter and Anna, they threaten her with incarceration for up to three months just for questioning and withholding of the Longevity drugs. What that does to a person within about 10 weeks is really quite horrific. It’s the kind of authority that makes not co-operating with them on anything at all a death sentence. And the Catchers, employed to track down Surplus children have powers that far exceed those of the normal police force. It is not unusual for a Surplus from one of the Halls to escape and not make it back due to “force” used by the Catchers when they are tracked down.

The way the Surpluses were treated was I think, the most jarring thing in this book. The level of abuse and degradation that they are exposed to on their journey to become Valuable Assets is really quite mind-boggling, especially in the case of the Smalls. The Smalls are the children captured below 2yrs of age. They all live on one floor and Anna mentions quite often that the incessant noise of the Smalls crying penetrates into the girls dormitory rooms of a night. The Smalls are taken care of in that they are fed probably just enough to live and clothed but they are never held or played with, lest they ever think that anyone loves them or cares for them.

The sight of a two year old comforting itself  by rocking silently on a mat, or a three year old gently banging its head against the floor was more than she could stand. She had been that three year old, she realised.

That kind of cruelty towards children, whether they were supposed to exist or not, was pretty hard to take. After all, it’s not the children’s fault that they exist. They didn’t ask to be born. But they are punished far longer and far harder than most of the parents that decided to break the rules and have them. They are subjected to a lifetime of cruelty and service with their only chance the slim one that they might maybe get a kind Legal to work for.

This novel was a nice, easy, quick introduction to my YA Dystopian Challenge. I read it yesterday afternoon, laying on the couch in the sun – our first really beautiful spring day! Doors and windows open, shorts and bare feet. It was a imaginative work and even though there were a few little plotholes, I learned when I reached the end of the book that it’s the first in a series so I won’t say think much about them as it’s quite possible that they’ll get resolved in the subsequent books! I certainly enjoyed this book enough to try and track down the rest of them, after the rather dramatic ending I am very interested in what happens to Anna and Peter.

7/10

The Declaration, by Gemma Malley is Book #1 of the YA Dystopian Challenge hosted by Darren over at Bart’s Bookshelf! The challenge runs from 1st October – 19th December and has a couple of different levels.

1 down…3 to go for me!

(Book #69 of my 75 Book Challenge)

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The King’s Mistress by Emma Campion

Apparently Alice Perrers is some sort of notorious figure of her time but given my lack of knowledge on Yorks and Lancasters and Tudors and whatever, I’d never heard of her. I read a highly praising review of The King’s Mistress on a book review blog and given my enjoyment of both The Other Boelyn Girl and The White Queen I ordered this in from my local library.

When the book opens Alice is barely 12 but ready to be paraded in Church in a pretty gown ’emphasizing her body’s readiness to bear children’ to acquire a husband. As often as I read novels set in this time, I can never really get my head around marrying off 12 and 13yo girls, often to men significantly their senior, as in this novel. Alice’s first husband, Janyn Perrers is about 33 and she just 13 when they wed -and connsumate that marriage. Luckily for Alice, this is a match that shines well on her. She loves Janyn and he loves her and it seems to be a mostly happy and prudent match, despite the overshadow of the patronage of the Dowager Queen Mother, Isabella. Often referred to as the ‘she-fox’ due to a plot where her and her lover overthrew her husband the former King, Isabella is a notorious figure of this time and is feared and reviled by much of the population. Mother to the current King, Edward III, she lives in a sort of exile (but seems to mostly move around however she wants) after the King beheaded her lover for treason against his father, King Edward II. Isabella is very generous to Janyn and his family, something that worries Alice, and with good reason. Although the bulk of the reason for the Queen Mother’s generosity is mostly hidden from her nearly her whole life, she still feels the weight of it and the fear that it will bring danger.

She’s right of course, because what sort of novel would this be if there weren’t a few dead husbands and political plots along the way? Widowed at 18 or 19, she is taken into the household of Queen Philippa, the wife of King Edward III as an advisor in her wardrobe. Alice’s father was a merchant cloth dealer and he taught her well about fabrics and weaves and cuts and what is suitable. Her husband Janyn, also a merchant, furthered her education and Queen Philippa comes to respect and court her counsel. She works as a servant to Queen Philippa and is taken into her protection, sacrificing her infant daughter to a royal household so that she may be raised safely, and not become a victim of the danger that claimed the life of her husband.

Although in mourning for her husband, Alice soon finds herself drawn to the charismatic King Edward III. Although significantly her senior (somewhere in his late 40s, Alice is about 19 or 20) he apparently possesses a great charm and vitality which draws her eye and excites her. He too seems interested in her, spending time with her. Queen Philippa soon draws her further into her confidance and she becomes one of her favourite ladies in waiting. Alice’s relationship with her own mother was tenuous and disintegrated into nothing and Queen Philippa is almost looked upon by Alice as a maternal figure. She praises many time Queen Philippa’s class, grace, patience and elegance. She fails to see at first that she is being groomed as a mistress for King Edward III until she is moved into private apartments.

Although wracked with guilt at betraying Queen Philippa, she cannot deny her attraction to the King and the two become lovers. It seems an unconventional relationship, based on more than just a bored King’s wanderlust. Queen Philippa had a horse riding accident which injured her pelvis, meaning no more relations (or babies) and although King Edward obviously still loves and respects her, he does the whole ‘man with needs’ spiel and enjoys the benefits of being a man in charge having both his diplomatic, well liked and respected Queen and his beautiful (very) young lover at his beck and call.

Despite the disappearance of her husband and his eventual death, life is still considered dangerous for Alice and she is considered to be under the King and Queen’s protection. Her daughter Bella is removed from her and raised in a royal household for her own protection. The secret that her late husband’s family bore for the former Queen Mother was so big that her safety was still threatened. So she lives out her days accompanying the Queen, choosing her wardrobe, concealing the Queen’s growing physical problems with clever cuts and stitching and being the King’s mistress. She bears him several children and that goes on for about 15-odd years until the death of the King, which comes several years after the death of the Queen.

From then on life is a while different ball game for Alice. The common people loathe her for being the King’s mistress and for rising above her station, usurping their beloved Queen (or so they all believe) and it is alleged that she used her position with the King to obtain huge amounts of property and jewels. She is forced to fight for what is rightfully hers, the legacy she has for her daughters and the way in which she will have to sacrifice herself in order to at least try and have a chance to keep her property is heartbreaking for her.

While this novel was basically quite enjoyable story, my biggest problem with it is that it absolutely crawls along pace-wise. It’s called The King’s Mistress so right away you know that she’s going to be exactly that but it doesn’t happen until about halfway, perhaps more, throughout the book. You get so bogged down in the details of the dresses, fabrics, cuts, cloths, the social intricacies of the royalty and those beneath them that at times it feels like there is no story. It’s just Alice saying ‘And I woke up and then I did this and then the Queen summoned me and then we did this and then I went hunting and falconing and then it was time to eat and then I went to the King and then I went to sleep”. And it feels like pages and pages of that, over and over. And the big secret that Alice’s husband and his family were keeping for the Queen Mother? Well, I don’t know a whole lot about the royal family and the uprisings and overthrowings and the family backstabbing but when the secret all finally came out I found myself thinking Huh? Is that it? Seriously? Which given the whole novel is kind of build around this secret, is probably not a good thing. At all.

For me, this novel is at best a social dictation on the times of 1350-1400. I didn’t feel at all invested in the mystery and danger surrounding Alice and most of the time I forgot it was there until Alice moaned about missing her children or someone reminded her that she was in grave danger and had to remain under the protection of the King. But for a portrayal of the times it it is set in, I feel it has great strengths. Alice was a gifted social observer and although she mentions many times that she feels a fish out of water at Court and with all its intricacies, she gives a great insight to what life must’ve been like for any young female plucked from obscurity and given a place to serve in Court at the whim of the Crown. I didn’t really -get- the charisma and aura that was made much of regarding King Edward III and his apparent irresistability to a young and pretty woman such as Alice. Alright, he was the King and he seems to have been portrayed as quite kindly and likable and not at all creepy but I still couldn’t see the great attraction for Alice. In contrast, I did see Alice’s love for Janyn and I was a bit sorry he died actually because I enjoyed their marriage far more than I enjoyed her liason with the King, which was mostly uninteresting to me. He could’ve been any older man, the fact that he was the King didn’t really add much to the story other than him tossing her a few jewels each time she gave birth to one of his illegitimate children!

A novel that was enjoyable enough so that I kept reading until the finish, but not something that I would read again, nor did I ever really feel like I had to keep turning those pages. So-so.

6/10

(Book #68 of my 75 Book Challenge)

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Before I Fall – Lauren Oliver

I’m back! Back home in the southern state after a week away attending my brother’s wedding. My parents live on the north coast and for the week we were there we had 2 truly beautiful days, 1 being the day of the wedding thankfully and the other being the last day we were there (of course!). Now it’s back to grey skies, the threat of rain and temperatures a good 7-8 degrees colder in the day time!

While we were away I managed to only read 1 of the 3 books I took! I know, bad effort on my part but I was sick for 3 of the days we were there (the best man had pneumonia and about 20 guests from the wedding came down with various bugs/viruses in the day or 2 after it, which was a bit of a bummer especially as one of those was me!) and the rest of our time was filled with seeing family and taking our son to the beach. But I did get through this book and I had severe mixed feelings about it.

Firstly, I think the premise is excellent. Groundhog Day – reliving  the day you die over and over again trying to change things, trying not to die, trying to get it right so that everyone ends up okay. Sam Kingston is a popular girl in her high school having worked her way up the ladder from relative obscurity in middle school. Her and her three best friends are the ‘in’ clique at school – the girls that everyone wants to have on their side, the girls that everyone wants to be. It’s Cupid Day and Sam and her friends are dressed in cute matching outfits and expecting to get many roses, fitting of their popularity. That night there is a party and Sam attends, expecting a fun night culminating in perhaps the consummation of her relationship with the very popular Rob. However the night ends in tragedy (and Samantha’s death). However, she wakes up in bed to find that once again it’s Cupid Day. This time she knows she’s going to die. So she tries to alter the course of events – which leads to a death of a different kind for her, or death for someone else. We go through this Cupid Day and all the different scenarios Sam tries to enact in order to save herself many times. Each time she gets it wrong, she dies (or someone else does) and then she wakes up in bed again to find out that it’s Cupid Day.

To be honest, almost none of the characters are likable. Sam and her friends are shallow, bitchy, typical mean girls overly concerned with their popularity, themselves and precious little else. Sam, who didn’t start out as popular and was drawn in by the group’s ringleader Lindsay. They’re the sort of girls I can’t relate to on any level really and I spent a good portion of the book rolling my eyes at their sheer arrogance. I don’t particularly know the intricacies of New England schools but in one scene where Sam says something about how a sophomore shouldn’t even be looking/talking at or to her I couldn’t help but laugh.

Sam starts out the novel as being shallow and self-obsessed but I think by the end we’re supposed to believe that she has grown as a person and matured in the 7 days she has to live over again and again in trying to find a solution. I don’t really know if that’s the case, as the first 6 times it’s all about trying to save her life and although she does feel remorse when changing her actions cause other things to happen, they’re not things she can control or stop happening so really, she’s just along for the ride most of the time. She doesn’t even know she’s got it wrong until she wakes up again on Cupid Day sometimes. And naturally, her actions are all about self-preservation dominantly. Whose wouldn’t be? I don’t know how you would go but if I died and then woke up to start the day over again you bet I would be doing anything I could to change the course of events and try and save my own life. And although Sam does try and right some wrongs she’s done to people in being one of the ‘Mean Girls’ it’s not through any true remorse or regret, in my opinion. She’s simply trying to make sure she doesn’t die.

So far, the book was so good. I was enjoying it despite the ridiculousness of the main characters and I was liking the different scenarios and the different things Sam does to try and avoid her death and some of the severe consequences of those new actions. Then we got to the last day and the final scenario (apparently the ‘right’ one, because it’s the one time she doesn’t wake up to start the day over again and everything ends that way) and I just didn’t get it.

Some **SPOILERS** from here on

I didn’t like the ending at all. I’m not sure what sort of message the author was trying to send here, and it appears that I am alone because this book has many favourable reviews around. But I didn’t approve of the ending, nor did I think it made much sense. In trying to prevent her own death during one of the 7 days, her and her friends receive the news that a classmate has committed suicide. The classmate has been bullied and outcast, particularly by Lindsay and to a lesser degree, Sam and the other girls also. Several of the scenario’s deal with the death of this character and somehow by the end of the book Sam comes to the epiphany that it’s not about saving herself it’s about saving this girl.

Well okay. But why? Because everyone bullied her and made her life experience hell at school? That was all started by Lindsay, so why isn’t Lindsay’s death the right ending? Why is it Samantha’s death, her sacrifice of herself to save this girl, that’s the right ending? It’s not really Sam’s fault that the girl, Juliet is driven to suicide and in one of the scenarios (not the final one) she tries to convince her not to do it, drawing on how she will devastate her family. But in the ending, Sam basically commits suicide herself! She sacrifices herself in order to save Juliet, apparently without a second thought for how it will devastate those left behind her – her parents and sister, her friends, the rather likable Kent (actually the only real likable character in the novel). How can it be so wrong for Juliet to end her life but in the end, Sam ends hers? Argh, I don’t get it! And I suppose you can argue that Sam is going to die anyway, because that’s how the novel starts, with the day ending in her death. But how then, is any death better than the other? How is any scenario any better? Why go through the whole damn thing 7 times? Maybe I’m just too cynical or skeptical to read a novel like this? I was annoyed by Sam’s final death. I felt that everything she learned was in vain, as she just died anyway. And how would her death make life any better for Juliet? Sam barely had anything to do with her. And yet now that she’s gone, Juliet will also bear the guilt of the fact that she was going to commit suicide herself and then someone else did it in order to save her. In someone who is already obviously of fragile mind state, how would this added weight help?

If you read this book and loved it, please tell me why you loved the ending so much. I would really like to understand other opinions and other views and maybe come to terms myself and accept the ending a bit better. I suppose it’s good in a way, that the book got me so fired up, because you don’t have to love a book to discuss it and have it stick in your head. And this book has stuck in my head – a lot. I’ve thought about it a lot in the week or so since I finished it and even though it annoys me, I’m still thinking about it. Still mulling it over, still trying to find a way in my head to change the ending. If there was a scenario that could’ve saved both Sam and Juliet. And that’s got to count for something, doesn’t it?

I’m not rating this book out of 10 for that reason. I didn’t like it as such, but yet I found it very thought provoking. To give it a low number would be unfair as it wouldn’t take into consideration the lasting effect. So I can’t rank it.

(Book #67 of my 75 Book Challenge)

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The 19th Wife – David Ebershoff

It’s not often I’m daunted by large/long novels. I’ll happily sit down with a brick and devour it without feeling intimidated or like time is dragging. And this novel is a hefty 500+ pages hardback, so I wasn’t too bothered when I checked it out of the library. I had heard such amazing things about it around the blog world. I was quite looking forward to diving into it.

The 19th Wife is more than just one story. In present-day we have excommunicated First Latter Day Saint Jordan, who is compelled to return to Utah after more than five years away from the place when he finds out that his mother (who is wife #19) has been charged with murdering his father. When Jordan was a teenager, his mother left him by the side of a road (at the insistence of the ‘Prophet’) at 2am after he was caught holding hands with his stepsister Queenie. It was an entirely innocent situation (Jordan is not of the liking-girls persuasion, something else that probably would’ve gotten him kicked out at a later date) but male-female mixing is barred in the community beyond a certain age. Despite still being furious at his mother for what she did, Jordan knows that he’s all she has left so he leaves his new life in California to go back and see her and he hits the road in his van with his dog Elektra, back to the place where he grew up, back to the place that turned its back on him. Technically members of the Church aren’t even supposed to ‘see’ (acknowledge/talk to) excommunicated members and once he figures out that his mother didn’t pull the trigger, he starts trying to clear her name. That proves to be a fraction difficult when everyone is reluctant to talk to him and he is escorted (or run off) the compound.

Tied in with this story is that of Ann Eliza Young – another 19th wife. Married to Brigham Young (the 2nd President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) in about 1868 when she was 24 and he was 67, she was actually around the 52nd woman to marry him but the way in which the wives were numbered (this is very important later on) means that she is mostly referred to as Wife #19. She filed for a divorce from Young and later travelled around the country lecturing against polygamy and raising awareness of the situation of hopelessness and poverty for polygamous wives. She penned a memoir named Wife No.19 which this novel draws upon for bare facts – the fleshing out of Ann Eliza’s story is a work of fiction from the mind of Ebershoff.

This novel was an education in many things, particularly the Church of the LDS. I admit that my knowledge of most religious organisations is sketchy at best – religion isn’t something widely taught in Australia unless you attend a school run by one of the churches and then they teach only  that religion’s beliefs and ways. The most I knew about Mormon’s was that they practiced polygamy and weren’t averse to knocking on your door at inappropriate times to discuss your possible salvation. It was fascinating to be presented with both sides in this story – firstly through David Ebershoff’s imaginative writings of Ann Eliza Young as she is a young child, seeing her mother’s devoutness and being devout herself. She does after all agree to marry Brigham Young even when she doesn’t want to as she believes that it is what God wishes for her. Eventually though her faith leaves her and we see also Jordan’s disillusionment with the faith and how it failed him and many other youths. Those whose faith is not true are discarded from the sect without a second glance and parents also often sacrifice their children in order to escape when their faith leaves them.

I enjoyed this book but I do have to say, it took me far longer than I expected to complete it. I was bogged down a lot of the time, particularly in the writings that focused on Ann Eliza. I often found my concentration slipping and I’d have to go back and re-read passages just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. I did enjoy the present-time story also. The background was well done, I liked Jordan as a character and the offsiders he collected along his way. It was a bit of a shame the way it wrapped up, it felt as though the ending was just out of left field and produced at the drop of a hat – maybe I’m just slow! But I didn’t feel it was executed smoothly, it felt a bit hasty and clunky. And a bit disappointing.

I liked this novel enough to keep reading and I enjoyed it but I didn’t really love it enough for it to hold my undivided attention.

6/10

(Book #66 of my 75 Book Challenge)

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Beautiful Malice – Rebecca James

Wow. This book was way more intense than I expected! 17 year old Katherine Patterson has moved to Sydney and enrolled in a large high school where she can be anonymous after fleeing a tragic past in Melbourne. She keeps to herself, making no friends until the beautiful, impulsive Alice seeks her out and invites her to her 18th birthday. Unwilling to take no for an answer, Alice manipulates Katherine into going. Katherine, although at first reluctant, realises that as she spends time with Alice getting ready, that she has missed having a friend. Missed having someone to hang out with, to talk with. To enjoy life with. Enjoying life is something Katherine hasn’t done in a while.

The book is told in 3 timelines: present day Katherine, the time of her friendship with Alice and the time before she moved to Sydney and the tragic event that changed her life forever. We know early on in the piece that certain events occur, like the tragic murder of Katherine’s younger sister, the child prodigy Rachel. The drama isn’t so much the what things will occur, but the how and the when. It’s surprisingly effective and even though I knew it was coming, when the descriptions arrive, they’re still shocking.

A year go, Katherine took her younger sister Rachel to a party against her better judgement. Rachel, a talented pianist insisted on going to hear the band and eventually, tired of arguing with her, Katherine agreed. Together with Katherine’s friend Carly, they set off for the party drinking vodka and lemonade (and later, just vodka) and then beer at the party. 14yo Rachel isn’t used to alcohol and after a couple of hours spent at the party with Will, her boyfriend, Katherine figures she’d better go and find her drunk younger sister. When she finds Rachel, she’s in a car, barely conscious, with older guys who look like trouble. Against her better judgement, but seeing herself as having no other real options with the drunken Rachel, Katherine accepts a lift home from the boys. Where the boys take the girls is very decidedly not their home. They lock Katherine in a shed while they rape and ultimately, murder, Rachel.

Wracked with guilt that the murder was her fault, and also, that she lived when Rachel died, Katherine goes through the motions in life, and is ripe for the picking of a personality like Alice to manipulate and insert herself into Katherine’s world. Although Katherine does get inklings early on that Alice isn’t quite ‘right’ and shares these feelings with Alice’s on-again, off-again boyfriend Robbie, she is naive, or perhaps desperate enough, to brush these feelings aside and focus on the fun that Alice can be and can bring to her life.

Although there are a few YA cliches (everyone is apparently quite wealthy, money is no object and comes from some indeterminable source, everyone’s parents are mostly conveniently absent, no one seems to require ID in bars/pubs/clubs, everyone is always out until about 2 in the morning, etc) the book is still a pretty riveting read. You know where it’s going most of the time, but you still want to be along for the journey. Rebecca James nailed the beautiful ugliness of Alice’s personality. She is the quintessential toxic friend, albeit with an ulterior motive, but thousands of teenage girls out there will relate, on a lesser level, to the “frenemy” idea. Everyone has one at some stage of their life. That girl that is supposed to be your friend but can also make your life exceedingly miserable at will.

Also done well was Katherine’s grief and guilt and the subtle dangers of attending such a party and accepting a lift home in those circumstances. That could’ve easily been preachy, a ‘see this is what happens when you are bad girls’ kind of thing but it wasn’t. It was exceedingly well done actually and you could see how a slightly drunk 16yo who had left  her mobile phone behind to avoid her parents trying to contact her could see that accepting a lift was the only viable option. She didn’t want to get into trouble, and in trying to avoid getting probably grounded, she got herself into a whole bunch more than that. And at 15, you might not see that just getting grounded for being drunk and getting your 14yo sister drunk isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you. I’ve certainly accepted lifts from people I didn’t know when I was a teenager, older guys, guys I’d never met before that day. Luckily for me they always turned out to be mostly decent, and at the most, were probably just stupid tools who thought they were cool. Not over-confident criminals with a chip on their shoulder against the wealthy. But this was a good reminder that you can always be the unlucky one.

Overall a well crafted psychological thriller with a nice, steady state of underlying unease that escalates into tension as Alice gets more and more out of control. I would’ve liked a bit more of a feel for living in Sydney and what that was like for Katherine, versus what living in Melbourne was like. Although Sydney is mentioned, and a couple of other towns, it really could’ve been set anywhere in the world with other town names substituted in for Coffs Harbour and Merimbula. I read the Australian version, so I expected a little bit more feel for the culture and lifestyle. That’s a personal nitpick of mine though and it doesn’t detract from the novel. I’ll definitely be checking out further novels by Rebecca James.

7/10

(Book #65 of my 75 Book Challenge)

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