Sunday, 20 July 2014

Audiobook Reviews: The Too Far Series by Abbi Glines

Do you ever read the first book in a series and not particularly like it, but you keep reading the series anyway? And then you read the second and you still don't really enjoy it, but for some reason that you can't quite explain you keep going? Until you reach the third in the series, or worse even the fourth? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Yeah so that's what happened with the Too Far series for me. I picked up the first one, Fallen Too Far, when it was for sale on Audible. The sample sounded OK and I had a vague impression that Abbi Glines is an author I'd enjoy. People I follow seemed to like her. So I listened and look, it was entertaining. The narrator was quite good and the story itself was a bit of trashy fun. It's about Blaire, an innocent girl (coz there's no other kinds of girls in romance apparently) who goes to stay with her new step-brother after her mother passes away. You can see where this is going, right? There were parts that annoyed the crap out of me (hello, insta-love, characters not acting their age, guys acting possessive, ridiculous melodrama, etc), but I can admit I still enjoyed the book overall. The chemistry between the two main characters was pretty sizzling and the sex scenes were hot. With the exception of one which was distractingly annoying but also significant to the plot which in turn made me want to bang my head against the wall...

So yeah. The first book was fun enough but also annoying and I knew the series would probably get more annoying as it went on. But maybe a small part of me hoped it would get better, I don't know, because I continued anyway. Next I went with Rush Too Far which is Fallen Too Far told from the perspective of the love interest, Rush. It is testimony to how hot the chemistry is that I endured the exact same story, with the exact same dialogue and only a few new scenes, all over again. Rush annoyed me more here than he did in Fallen Too Far, what with being in his head the whole time. He showed the first signs of hardcore possessiveness, and I should have known it would only get worse.

Boy, did it get worse. Never Too Far and Forever Too Far, the second and third books in the series (technically Rush Too Far is the fourth I think), alternate between Rush's and Blaire's points of view. Blaire is annoying as hell and does some really really silly things, but Rush was just unbearable. He is so freaking possessive and controlling, handling Blaire like a doll, obsessing over what she eats, what she wears, who she talks to... and Blaire is all "lol aw so cute and caring". HONEY NO. This is some fucked up shit right here. And ugh, all the family drama was so tedious, and the way each character handled said drama was ridiculous and unrealistic and plain stupid.

All that being said I was still tempted to continue the series because the focus shifts to other characters and I'm nothing if not optimistic/a masochist apparently. But after reading reviews and seeing the other guys in the following books are even MORE possessive than Rush I just couldn't do that to myself.

I am now pretty baffled by the popularity of Abbi Glines. A few hot scenes does not make up for all the idiocy and awfulness that surrounds them. And there is so, so much. Blergh.


Fallen Too Far: 3/5
Rush Too Far: 2.5/5
Never Too Far: 2/5
Forever Too Far: 1.5/5

Mini Reviews: Snow, Life Was Easier When Boys Were Stupid And Boys And Toys

Snow by Maxence Fermine, translated by Chris Mulhern
This is a gorgeous book both inside and out. The cover is simply stunning and the writing itself is elegant and lyrical. It's about a man who is obsessed with poetry and snow, and the prose really embodies both of these themes. It is bright, stark, and sparkling. The whole thing has a whimsical, fable-like quality. It's a short, beautiful read, however I didn't really connect to it emotionally. It's a pleasure for the eyeballs but doesn't really reach a deeper level.
Rating: 3.5/5
Life Was Easier When Boys Were Stupid by Sarah Billington
I knew this was a short story but I didn't realise just how short until I finished it in under 10 minutes. It is the kind of story that belongs in a bigger anthology, I'm not sure how I managed to get it on its lonesome. It's been on my kindle for so long I thought I'd finally get to it. It was OK, but seriously it's one scene - a girl thinking about kissing this hot guy but he seems jerky so she walks out and sees this nerdy guy and THAT'S IT. The writing was fine but I didn't get anything from reading this. I mean I know it's only a short story but short stories should still make you feel something. Anything. Not nothing.
Rating: 2/5
Boys and Toys by Cara Lockwood (via Netgalley)
Liv's super conservative parents can't find out she sells sex toys for a living. So things get super awkward when a colleague of her dad's requests a private show. Cue sexy times, awkward times, sexy times, really awkward times, kinda romantic times, drama times, sexy times and happy times. This wasn't terrible but it wasn't particularly good either. The emotional and family issues were probably the best part, the main relationship didn't really grab me and the sex scenes weren't all that sexy. The whole "private party" thing was just a bit ooky to be honest. Overall this left me feeling "meh".
Rating: 3/5

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Top Ten Fave TV Shows I'm Watching Right Now

1. Orphan Black. Tatiana Maslany plays a group of clones trying to find out where they come from - and who is murdering them. She is amazeballs and this show is amazeballs.

2. True Detective. The first season was amazing. I am so excited for the new season I just hope the cast is a bit more diverse.

3. Game of Thrones. Because duh.

4. The Mindy Project. I love Mindy, I love Danny, I love everyone and everything on this show.

5. Catfish. I just binge-watched all three seasons. It was great.

6. Teen Wolf. It has romance, horror, comedy, drama, hot guys, hot girls... in other words, everything.

7. The Vampire Diaries. It has its ups and downs but it's always a lot of fun.

8. American Horror Story. Every season is a different story so it can be a bit hit and miss but I really enjoyed Coven and am looking forward to Freak Show

9. Adventure Time. It's silly and weird and it makes me so happy.

10. Once Upon a Time. Sometimes it's amazing and sometimes it's pretty terrible but I always love it.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the Broke and the Bookish.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Review: Amy & Matthew - A Love Story by Cammie McGovern

I was immediately drawn to the bright, textured cover of this book in the bookstore, and when I read that it was about a boy with OCD and a girl with cerebral palsy falling in love I knew I had to buy it. These are not the kind of characters you often see in YA, and I was curious about how they would be handled. Having anxiety myself, I was especially interested in seeing how Matthew's condition was explored.

I have to say initially it made me really anxious. Matthew's worries are not my worries, and yet they did spike my anxiety a bit. It's probably impossible not to feel a little anxious if you're putting yourself in the shoes of such an anxious character. Once I got more lost in the story I stopped worrying so much and started appreciating the way Matthew's OCD had been written. It was really well done, very realistic without being completely over the top. There were lots of little things that people with no experience with such a condition probably wouldn't even notice, but for me it was incredibly validating.

As far as Amy is concerned, I don't know a great deal about cerebral palsy, so I couldn't judge how accurate the depiction of her situation was, but it certainly seemed authentic. More than anything, you really get the sense of how frustrated Amy is, and how incredibly isolated and lonely she can be at times. Through both her and Matthew's points of view, the novel explores the notion of control - or lack thereof - over your own body and actions and how that impacts your emotions. Both of these characters are trapped in their bodies in very different ways, and as they connect with each other their own worlds begin to expand and it's quite wonderful to follow.

But this book is about so much more than disabilities. Indeed, as Amy and Matthew strive to be seen as something other than disabled or disordered, they become some of the most complex and fully realised characters I've read in YA in a long time. They do amazing things but importantly they also screw up really really badly. They love each other, but they also hurt each other. It can be frustrating to read but it's also an important part of their growth, and part of what's make them great as characters. They're not martyrs or symbols, they're people. People make mistakes. And sometimes you love them all the more for it.

The secondary characters are also incredibly well developed in this book, and I especially loved the changing relationships Amy has with her peer helpers (of which Matthew is one), and Matthew has with his new co-workers at the local cinema. Their families also play important parts, and while it's hard not to hate them at times, you also sympathise with them.

The dual third person narration is really effective in telling both Amy and Matthew's individual and interconnected stories; it's great to be able to see how they see themselves and then how they're seen by others. Ultimately the book is about finding yourself and growing into the person you want to be,  as well as the important relationships you forge along the way. Beginning in the last year of high school and going through to the first year post-high school for Amy and Matthew, it is a true coming of age story - unique, emotional, messy and beautiful.

Rating: 4/5

I was inpsired by Mands to have a go at matching nails with this fun cover, so here's my crappy picture of that!

Fine Print
Published: MacMillan Children's Books, March 2014
Get It: Book Depository

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Mini Reviews: Take Me On, Flirty Dancing And The Kissing Season

Take Me On by Katie McGarry (via Netgalley)
I was pretty excited to read this one because I've enjoyed McGarry's Pushing the Limits series so far. It's not amazing but it's entertaining, and this book pretty much followed suit. Although I have to say it's probably my least favourite in the series. I don't know if I just wasn't in the right mood, but while I liked it I didn't enjoy it as much as I thought I would. I didn't particularly connect with any of the characters and I didn't find the romance very swoon-worthy. It did have some cute moments but I just wasn't rooting for these guys as much as I have for other characters and couples in the series. I am not really into fighting sports or stories based around them, so that didn't help as that's the main focus of this book. But if you're a fan of McGarry I'm sure you'd enjoy this.
Rating: 3/5

Flirty Dancing by Jenny McLachlan (via Netgalley)
The title and cover initially drew me to this book, and when I read the synopsis I knew I had to read it. I love dance stories with a bit of romance thrown in (hello, Dirty Dancing!), and the whole awkward girl entering a dance competition with the popular guy sounded too fun to resist. It IS very cute and fun but, unlike a lot of YA, it doesn't really transcend the age bracket to provide a satisfying read for not-so-young adults. Instead of reading a good book about teenagers, I felt like I was reading a good book FOR teenagers. There's nothing wrong with that, of course. That's what it IS. And if I was 15 I would have loved the pants off of this book. I'd definitely recommend it for actual teens, but not necessarily adult YA fans.
Rating: 3/5

The Kissing Season by Rachael Johns (via Netgalley)
I've had this book on my Kindle for so long and I finally got around to reading it. Although it's a Christmas story, it was still fun to read in the middle of the year. It's set in a small coastal town, where the children of two families have come home for the holidays. Hannah has sworn off men for the moment but Matteo really gets under her skin, and playboy Matteo meanwhile finds he can't stop thinking about her. Their early interactions were kinda ridiculous and unrealistic in my opinion, but they had some really cute and hot moments too, and I quite liked both characters. This was a fun, quick read, and definitely makes me want to try more of Johns' books.
Rating: 3/5

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Top Ten Classics I Love

1. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. I adore the characters. They're all so wonderful and memorable.

2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Because duh.

3. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. I love it almost as much as Pride and Prejudice. Almost.

4. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Beautiful and haunting.

5. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I love the guts out of Jane and yes Rochester makes me swoon.

6. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery. Anne Shirley is one of my favourite characters of all time and her story makes me happy (except when it makes me really really sad).

7. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It's such a lovely story about growing up and grieving and healing.

8. Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie. Magical. Sad. Scary. Fun. The best.

9. The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy. It's a fantastic decade-spanning story of the morally grey and always compelling Forsytes.

10. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. A wonderful mystery that's just a lot of fun to read.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. 

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Mini Reviews: Five Romance Novellas

Only With You by Cecilia Gray (via Netgalley)
This is the fifth book in the Jane Austen Academy series, a modern adaptation of Austen's stories that sees all the heroines attending the same school. This book focused on Emma. I quite liked it. I liked the relationship she had with Knight and I thought it was a pretty accurate portrayal of Emma in a modern setting. It doesn't adapt the whole book, instead picking up a couple of incidents to cover within its limited space, and I think that's for the best. As I've said before, this series is by no means a perfect adaptation of Austen's novels, but it is a fun and easy read and obviously written with a lot of affection.
Rating: 3/5
Red at Night by Katie McGarry
This novella tells the story of Stella, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, and Jonah, a rich, popular guy who of course isn't without his own issues. They keep meeting at the cemetary and soon form a connection. This book was OK, it wasn't bad but it didn't blow me away either. It's quite short so of course you don't spend much time with the characters but I don't think that was the reason I didn't really connect with them. They just didn't feel particularly real to me, I suppose. Stella especially seemed to have been created just to deliver a particular message - this book was inspired by the Goodie Two Shoes Foundation as part of the "More Than Words" series after all, so her story relates to that and it just felt like the "lesson" was piled on a bit thick. But I think fans of Katie McGarry would enjoy it anyway.
Rating: 3/5

The Wicked Confessions of Lady Cecelia Stanton by Viveka Portman (via Netgalley)
This book is in the same series as another novella I read recently that I hated, but I'm trying to get through some of the many books I've requested on Netgalley in overexcited moods, and since it was only short I thought I'd read it anyway. I liked it a little better than the other story, but it still wasn't great. The olde worlde language wasn't quite as bad here and the characters were slightly less annoying. But only slightly. Basically, this book focuses on the newly married Cecelia, who gets "lessons" in how to please her husband (and actually just pleases herself) from her best friend and maid. So yeah it's a lot of sexytimes, but... meh. It's just not very good.
Rating: 2/5

Hero Duty by Jenny Schwartz (via Netgalley)
Jessica is a billionaire who gets bullied by her family. After the recent death of her father, she has to face her wicked step-mother and step-brother, who are trying to take the company that she's inherited away from her. Not feeling strong enough to face them alone, she hires ex-soldier Brodie to be her "emotional bodyguard". The whole premise just made no sense to me and it didn't really become clearer as I read the book. I feel like Jessica didn't even know what she wanted out of Brodie (well, other than sexytimes and love within five minutes of knowing each other), but if you ignore the weak reason they've been thrown together there is some nice scenes between the two. But I didn't actually like either of them, and Brodie in particular was a complete douche multiple times and behaved in completely unrealistic ways. So I didn't love this one. It was a quick read but very underwhelming.
Rating: 2.5/5

It's Love, Dude by Jenny Schwartz (via Netgalley)
This book actually came out before Hero Duty but I didn't realise it was part of the same series until I started reading the latter. It's about Brodie's brother, Zane, a world champion surfer who is back in his hometown for a press event. He quickly falls for Molly, who works for the local MP and is friends with Zane's granddad. I liked this book a lot more than Hero Duty, the characters were way less annoying. I still didn't love it because I'm not a fan of instalove, and it also didn't make sense that Zane and Molly didn't know each other at all considering they grew up in the same smalltown and apparently knew everyone else, but it was entertaining enough. It would make a good beach read.
Rating: 3/5

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Quick Audiobook Reviews: About a Boy, North and South and The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde

About a Boy by Nick Hornby, narrated by Julian Rhind-Tutt
Will is an awful, self-centred, lazy, unemployed, rich, bored, philandering 36-year-old man child. Marcus is a sweet, weird, bullied, lonely 12-year-old boy with a suicidal mum and an absent dad. The two don't have anything in common but when Marcus latches on to Will, both their lives change forever. I wasn't sure that I would like About a Boy, because the only other Nick Hornby I've read was High Fidelity which I sadly hated. I had the impression Hornby generally writes the same type of unlikeable anti-hero, and while that was certainly the case here, I found the book overall to be very charming. I think it helped that the chapters were split between focusing on Will and on Marcus. It was Marcus' story that particularly got under my skin. I felt for the little weirdo, and I loved watching the development of his relationship with Will and the way they affected each other. The one drawback for me was that it seemed like Marcus had almost changed TOO much by the end. But I liked the way these two damaged characters helped and healed each other. The narration by Julian Rhind-Tutt was very good, and his voice for Marcus was particularly well done. It had the right touch of wonder and childishness without sounding ridiculous. About a Boy was a really great audiobook - I might even have to give Hornby's other books a go now.
Rating: 4/5

The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde: In Aid of the Royal Theatrical Fund, narrated by Judy Dench, Jeremy Irons, Joanna Lumley, Sinead Cusack et al.
I remember when I was a kid The Happy Prince was my least favourite fairy tale. It is just so bleak and depressing. This audiobook provided my first experience of Oscar Wilde's other fairy tales and yep, bleak and depressing is the theme for all of them. I don't think there's one with a happy ending. It got a bit much by the end of the book, frankly. Of course, the writing is exquisite and the pairings of some of the narrators - most especially Judy Dench, Joanna Lumley and Jeremy Irons - was divine. But after the first few beautiful but awful stories I found myself growing very impatient to get to the end of the collection. As wonderful as the prose it, it doesn't provide for a pleasant experience. I actually found The Happy Prince to be one of the LEAST depressing stories, and that is saying something.
Rating: 3/5

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, narrated by Juliet Stevenson
Oh I just adore this book. You know how it goes. Two people from different worlds meet and piss each other off but are secretly attracted to each other and the tension grows and ahhh it's amazing. But what's great about Gaskell is there's so much more to her stories than romance (although the romance is brilliant). North and South is about class divides and the struggles of life and faith and grief and love and friendship and learning and growing. It's truly wonderful. I don't love the religious parts myself but everything else I could connect with and relate to so much. Gaskell's characters are still as vibrant and three dimensional today as they were in their own time. Her third person narration allows insight into the minds of more than just the heroine, and this is particularly valuable for the perspective we get of the hero, John Thornton. The passion that simmers underneath his stiff exterior, which we actually get to READ about unlike in so many other classics, is extroadinary and oh-so-swoon worthy. I think I may even love him more than Mr Darcy. And THAT is saying something. As for the audio aspect, Juliet Stevenson is absolutely the best narrator I've experienced. She is SPOT ON with all the character's voices, absolutely perfect. I can't praise her highly enough. Outstanding.
Rating: 4.5/5

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Top Ten Books On My Winter TBR Pile

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. I didn't make headway into my Autumn TBR AT ALL sadly, so hopefully I do better this time around.

1. Night Beach by Kirsty Eager. I haven't read any Kirsty Eager and everyone tells me how amazing she is, and this one has been sitting on my bookshelf unread for far too long.

2. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. I have heard good things about this from reviewers I trust so I'm excited to see what it's like.

3. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. I have wanted to read this for so long and I recently bought it on Audible, I'm hoping the audiobook is good.

4. The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth. I picked this up at the Sydney Writer's Festival last week and I'm really keen to read it soon - I loved Forsyth's take on Rapunzel in Bitter Greens.

5. Girl Defective by Simmone Howell. I started reading this recently but I've been in a bit of a funk so I decided to put it aside until I can really enjoy it.

6. Petals on the Wind by V.C. Andrews. Yes, I'm going to continue on my recap journey. First I finish Flowers in the Attic, then it's on to Petals.

7. The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp. I have this on audiobook and I'm really curious about it but I
m worried it will be totally depressing.

8. Searching for Sky by Jillian Cantor. This book sounds kinda bizarre but I'm definitely intrigued.

9. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I feel like the last person in the world who hasn't read this book, and I want to get to it before I see the movie.

10. The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. I got the Audible edition and it sounds like a really great way to experience it.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Audiobook Reviews: Revisiting Melina Marchetta

I've been wanting to reread some of my favourite Melina Marchetta books for a little while, and decided to give the audiobooks a try, because I don't feel so guilty about rereading if I'm at least experiencing the books in a different way. These are some notes on the audiobooks themselves, as I've already addressed the overall books in my original reviews.

On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
Narrated by: Rebecca Macauley
Available at: Audible
I really loved this audiobook. Macauley's narration was great and felt authentic to the characters and the story. I didn't love a couple of the male voices, like Griggs, but they weren't bad - just not totally how I thought they should sound. Overall it was a solid performance from Macauley though, and it was a wonderful way to experience the story again. It made me ugly cry on the train, which looked even weirder than it usually does when reading, because I wasn't actually reading - I had headphones in and it probably just looked like I was listening to a really sad song or something. But it was worth it. 
Rating: 5/5 story, 4/5 audio.

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta (Book 1 in The Lumatere Chronicles)
Narrated by: Tom Wren
Available at: Audible
I have really mixed feelings about this one. The audiobook was so, so good in some ways and really not good in others. Wren's narration was well done for the most part and some of his voices - like those of the older men in particular - were brilliant. But other voices were awful - Froi's was one that was very grating. And certain words and names were so badly mispronounced it drove me batty every time I heard them. I could also hear him swallowing at times which wasn't very pleasant. But I found myself loving the book perhaps even more than I did the first time, nonetheless. Still, I probably wouldn't recommend this as a way to experience Finnikin - certainly not for the first time.
Rating: 5/5 story, 2.5/5 audio.

Froi of the Exiles and Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta (Books 2 and 3 in The Lumatere Chronicles)
Narrated by: Grant Cartwright
Available at: Audible 
The final two books in this series are narrated by a new voice actor from the first one, and although he doesn't have any really standout character voices like Wren did, he is also much better overall. He gets the pronunciation of everything right, the pacing is good and the emotions he infuses the dialogue with are incredibly moving. There was one section in particular that I relistened to about five times before I moved on because it was so powerful - part of that was the amazing writing, but the narration really enhanced it. I still don't know if I'd recommend listening to the audiobooks if you haven't actually read the series first, but maybe that's because I adored the experience of actually reading them so much. Basically, no matter how you get them, they're going to be good.
Rating: 5/5 story, 4/5 audio.