Book Review: Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy

Side Effects May Vary

Title: Side Effects May Vary
Author: Julie Murphy
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Realistic Fiction, Cancer, Young Adult
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: 26th March 2014
Pages: 335
Rating: 4.5 stars

Synopsis (from goodreads):
Written from the perspectives of both Harvey and Alice, in Side Effects May Vary, Julie Murphy weaves a compelling story of friendship, relationships and love, with a little bit of death thrown in for good measure; at least for a while.

When sixteen-year-old Alice is diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia, she vows to spend her final months righting wrongs. So she convinces her best friend Harvey, who’s loved her forever, to help with compiling a crazy just-dying-to-do bucket list, that’s as much about revenge as it is about redemption. But just when Alice’s scores are settled, she goes into remission. Now she must face the consequences of all she’s said and done and discover just what happens when we say our ‘final’ words, only to find that life isn’t through with us yet.

Sharp, witty and poignant – this is a book written for all ages.

My Review:

Alice has been battling leukaemia for over a year but she’s getting weaker all the time. She’s sure that her time is coming to an end and as a result enlists her oldest friend, Harvey, to help her complete her unfinished business.  But this is a bucket list with a difference. Alice wants to get revenge on those who have wronged her before it’s too late. Harvey knows that what Alice is doing is wrong but he’s loved her since before he knew what love was and can deny her nothing. When Alice gets the news that she is in remission it should be a happy time but now she has to deal with the fall out of her actions.

I loved reading this debut novel by Julie Murphy. I started reading it thinking that I’d read a few chapters before bed and before I knew it – I was finished the book and only a few hours until I was supposed to wake up.

Alice isn’t like a lot of characters I’ve read before. She’s angry and mean but I felt like she was a very honest character. Life has wronged her and she wants to get her own back. She’s bitter what life has thrown at her. Having cancer hasn’t changed her – she hasn’t all of a sudden become a better person. I loved reading about her. There were times when I wanted to shout at her (What are you doing Alice?!) but as much as her actions didn’t always make sense to me – it made sense for her. They felt authentic for the girl I had gotten to know over the course of this novel.

Harvey is Alice’s partner in crime as she completes her revenge list. He was a character I wasn’t a fan of for a huge part of the novel. He’s a bit of a doormat and whilst that is good for Alice’s plan – I wanted him to stand up for himself. For him to be worthy of loving and to stand up and be someone Alice couldn’t walk over and ignore. That said, he did grow and change over the course of the book and by the end he started to be a character I enjoyed reading.

This is a book about life. About being hurt and surviving. Alice has a lot going on in her life. There is parents drama, the fickleness of friendship, relationship problems and her medical crisis. And whilst I don’t approve of how she dealt with it all – she did manage to cope and come though it all. Her actions all had consequences and no matter what she had been though – she didn’t get an easy out. I admire how Julie Murphy handled the situations she put her characters though and loved this different view of a teenage cancer story.

Side Effects May Vary was one of my most anticipated reads of this year and it did not disappoint. It’s not just a romance but a touching and compelling story about a girl coming to grips with what life throws at her – and the consequences of getting even.

Thanks to Penguin Australia and NetGalley for the review copy. 

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Book Review: The Fiery Heart by Richelle Mead

The Fiery Heart (Bloodlines, #4)

Title: The Fiery Heart (Bloodlines #4)
Author: Richelle Mead
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Vampires, Boarding School
Publisher: Razorbill
Publication Date: November 2013
Pages: 432
Rating: 5 stars

Synopsis (from goodreads):
In The Indigo Spell, Sydney was torn between the Alchemist way of life and what her heart and gut were telling her to do. And in one breathtaking moment that Richelle Mead fans will never forget, she made a decision that shocked even her. . . .

But the struggle isn’t over for Sydney. As she navigates the aftermath of her life-changing decision, she still finds herself pulled in too many directions at once. Her sister Zoe has arrived, and while Sydney longs to grow closer to her, there’s still so much she must keep secret. Working with Marcus has changed the way she views the Alchemists, and Sydney must tread a careful path as she harnesses her profound magical ability to undermine the way of life she was raised to defend. Consumed by passion and vengeance, Sydney struggles to keep her secret life under wraps as the threat of exposure—and re-education—looms larger than ever.

Pulses will race throughout this thrilling fourth installment in the New York Times bestselling Bloodlines series, where no secret is safe.

My Review:

It’s no secret that the Bloodlines series is one of my favourites. And despite my reservations about the cover (I’m not a fan of Sydney’s hair….), The Fiery Heart is my favourite so far! There’s a lot going on – romantically, magically – and the extra pressure of family dynamics are wearing on Sydney. Things seem to have finally worked themselves out with her and Adrian having admitted their feelings for each other and attempting some kind of relationship. But when Sydney’s little sister now inked as an Alchemist and being tasked with helping Sydney with the vampires, the new couple are going to have to keep their romance under wraps. Adrian has his own problems – it seems impossible for him to find a happy medium between being spirit and sanity.

I was impressed with how well the dual point of view between Sydney and Adrian worked. I wasn’t sure I’d like changing things up from how the series had been going so far but it was a refreshing change to get to see what was going on from someone different. Not only that but it’s the first time in the Vampire Academy/Bloodlines series where we have had a narration from a Moroi and I liked getting to see the impacts of spirit first hand. Getting to see Sydney from Adrian’s point of view was lovely. For all the cockiness and sarcasm he may try to project to world, it was clear to see just how much he loved her and how hard he was trying to be the best person he could be – not just for her but for himself as well. We may have had to wait three books for these two to get together but it was worth it to get the interactions and beautiful dynamic that we get to see in The Fiery Heart.

There’s a lot going on but all the different story lines manage to fit together perfectly. In this book, Sydney is feeling the pressure of her family. Her sister wants her to spend more time together but between discovering her witchy magic, spending time with Adrian and sorting out the antics of her vampire charges, there never seems to be time for Sydney to breathe never mind have some girl time with Zoe. It’s never apparent to me just where Ms. Mead is going to take things next – from romantic relationships to just what the different sects of society (the Alchemists, the Warriors, the Coven)  are up to. I loved the ties in with characters we have not seen much since Vampire Academy – with Lissa asking Adrian for help and getting to see the rest of the group now a little older and wiser interacting with a more evolved Adrian.

This book has everything that I love about this series. Chemistry between the leads, interesting plots, a secondary cast of characters who add to the overall story and are entertaining to read, and dialogue that makes me feel so many different emotions. I’m eagerly awaiting the release of Silver Shadows (July 2014) and am desperately eager to find out what happens to Sydney next. This book does end on a cliffhanger that’s left me anxious to see what’s ahead for these characters.

Favourite Quotes:

“Escape plan number seventeen,” I told her. “Run away and open a juice stand in Fresno.”
“Why Fresno?”
“Sounds like the kind of place people drink a lot of juice.”

“It’s Adrian Ivashkov logic. Don’t try to understand it. Just roll with it.”

“An image of Sydney’s face appeared in my mind’s eye, calm and lovely.
I believe in you.
My anxiety faded.
I took a deep breath and met the gazes of all those watching me in the room.
Who was I to do this?
I was Adrian Ivashkov.
And I was about to kick some ass.”

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Book Review: Cress by Marissa Meyer

Cress (The Lunar Chronicles, #3)

Title: Cress (The Lunar Chronicles #3)
Author: Marissa Meyer
Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Dystopian, Fairy Tale Retelling,
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: February 2014
Pages: 550
Rating: 5 stars

Synopsis (from goodreads):
Rapunzel’s tower is a satellite. She can’t let down her hair—or her guard. 

In this third book in the bestselling Lunar Chronicles series, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they’re plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and her army.

Their best hope lies with Cress, who has been trapped on a satellite since childhood with only her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker—unfortunately, she’s just received orders from Levana to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice.

When a daring rescue goes awry, the group is separated. Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a high price. Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing stop her marriage to Emperor Kai. Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up to save the world, but they may be the only ones who can.

My Review:

In the third instalment of the Lunar Chronicles, Cinder is still on the run. In a stolen ship captained by the handsome yet criminal Caswell Thorne, Cinder and her motley crew (Wolf, Scarlet and the ever effervescent Iko) are trying to stay one step in front of the Lunar Queen. When they get contacted by a girl imprisoned by one of the Queen’s thaumaturges, they change their plans to rescue the technologically skilled, Cress. When things don’t go as smoothly as expected, the group gets separated. All of them have to survive as best they can whilst still trying to come up with a way to thwart the Lunar Queen from enslaving Earth.

Cress has been one of the books I’ve been most anticipating this year. I adore Marissa Meyer’s storytelling and this book did not let me down. Cinder has a lot of pressure on her shoulders. She knows that she is the only chance Prince Kai and Earth have against Queen Levana. She’s brave and intelligent but what I like most about her is that she’s logical. She thinks things though and doesn’t rush in just because. The way she cares about her crew is a plus and I enjoy her differing to others when she needs help.

The other characters all get their chance to shine in this novel too. Scarlet and Wolf are great together but still get their chance to show what they are made of as individuals. Iko is the funniest most loveable artificial intelligence that I have ever encountered. Cress was a pleasant surprise. There’s mystery surrounding her – some of which is revealed in this book – and I love how Meyer wove her Rapunzel likeness into the plot. Finally – there’s my favourite character of this series, Captain Caswell Thorne. He may initially come across as somewhat superficial and vain (and I’m not saying he’s neither of these things) but he really shines in Cress.

There are a lot twists in this novel as well as a lot of action. One of the highlights is how well the ensemble cast work together and apart. This series really is coming together and its one of those stories that I could picture in my mind as a film. There’s a Star Wars-esque vibe as the plot switches between following different characters. I never feel as if I know what is going to happen next but when the action unfolds it feels right for the characters and circumstances.

Cress cements The Lunar Chronicles as one of my favourite series. I thought the relationships were more developed than in the previous books and the plot was a lot more exciting. I cannot wait for the fourth book in the series, Winter, to be released early 2015.

 

 

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Graphic Novel Review: Frostbite by Richelle Mead

Frostbite: The Graphic Novel (Vampire Academy: The Graphic Novel, #2)

Title: Frostbite (Vampire Academy Graphic Novel #2)
Author:
Richelle Mead
Adapted by: Leigh Dragoon
Illustrated by: Emma Vieceli
Genre: Paranormal Romance, Young Adult, Vampires, Urban Fantasy, Graphic Novel
Publisher: Razorbill
Publication Date: April 2012
Pages: 164
Rating: 4 stars

Synopsis (from goodreads):
The drama and romance continue in this 144-page full-color graphic novel adaptation of the second Vampire Academy novel, Frostbite, which was overseen by Richelle Mead and features beautiful art by acclaimed British illustrator Emma Vieceli.

When love and jealousy collide on the slopes, winter break turns deadly.

A Strigoi attack puts St. Vladimir’s on high alert, and the Academy whisks its students away on a mandatory holiday ski trip. But the glittering winter landscape and posh Idaho resort only provide the illusion of safety. When three students run away to strike back at the Strigoi, Rose must join forces with Christian to rescue them. Only this time, Rose—and her heart—are in more danger than she could have imagined.

My Review:

Rose may have saved Lissa’s life in Vampire Academy but there are more threats on the Moroi Princess’ life. With the entire vampire world on guard, the school sends students to a luxury ski resort to try to keep them safe. Whilst St. Vladamir’s might be trying to protect their students it seems that trouble always seems to find Rose and her friends. With fantastic new characters and all the old favourites, Frostbite picks up right where Vampire Academy ended and continues with a lot of action and drama.

I’m not a graphic novel person. I’ve read perhaps one in the past three years. But with the Vampire Academy movies being released soon and the slight withdrawal I seem to go though in between instalments of the Bloodlines series, I couldn’t resist buying a copy of Frostbite last week (and I know I could have bought the first book but I was curious to see an artist’s recreation of Adrian).

Frostbite is the second book in the series but since I’ve read the original books I felt confident that I would be able to follow the graphic novel. And I did. This is a gorgeous visual adaptation of the series I love. There’s a fantastic recap at the start of the book which runs down the different characters that were introduced in the first novel as well as events which took place. If you have read the novel series then you will have no problems picking up this second book in the graphic novel series and there is enough details included that I think even people unfamiliar with Vampire Academy would be able to pick up on what’s going on.

I loved this adaptation. The illustrations are beautiful – and you can tell that the artist is very familiar with the source material. These pictures are fantastically true to the original story! Plot wise – all the important scenes are included. We get to see Rose’s uneasy relationship with her mother, the danger surrounding the Moroi as well as the uneasy political situation with the vampire royalty. Dimitri is around and his slightly inappropriate feelings for Rose are evident in the few pages devoted to it. Lissa and Christian are learning how to use their powers and we get to meet a new enigmatic Spirit user named Adrian (although at times I did get Christian and Adrian confused it was clear via context who was who).

I’m delighted that I decided to check out this graphic novel series. I am absolutely going to go and get the rest of the series that have been released so far. I think this series is a must have for fans of the novels as it gives an extra dimension to the story and characters.

 

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Book Review: Easy by Tammara Webber

Easy

Title: Easy
Author: Tammara Webber
Genre: New Adult, Contempoary Romance, 
Publisher: Razorbill
Publication Date: May 2012
Pages: 330
Rating: 4 stars

Synopsis (from goodreads):
Rescued by a stranger.
Haunted by a secret
Sometimes, love isn’t easy…

He watched her, but never knew her. Until thanks to a chance encounter, he became her savior…

The attraction between them was undeniable. Yet the past he’d worked so hard to overcome, and the future she’d put so much faith in, threatened to tear them apart.

Only together could they fight the pain and guilt, face the truth—and find the unexpected power of love.

A groundbreaking novel in the New Adult genre, Easy faces one girl’s struggle to regain the trust she’s lost, find the inner strength to fight back against an attacker, and accept the peace she finds in the arms of a secretive boy

My Review:

This is one of those books that I’ve heard a lot fantastic things about. So many that it made me incredibly nervous to read it. I’ve heard that it’s THE book in the New Adult genre and that Lucas is the ultimate book boyfriend. So what did I do? I bought it then put it on the shelf never to think of again. Until a few months ago when I got given an audiobook copy from a friend.

For the past month, I’ve been listening to Jacqueline and Lucas’ story one hour at a time whilst running around my neighbourhood. And I can see what all the fuss is about. Tammara Webber wrote a story with characters who have a lot of depth to them. They’re flawed and interesting and for the most part entirely believable. I wasn’t sure I was going to like Jacqueline at the start. She’s a little mopey and heartbroken but there’s so much more to her than her first impression. She’s brave and intelligent and very hard-working. She’s not one of those people who jump to conclusions and blame you for what’s going on inside their own heads but she does give people the benefit of doubt. Her relations with her friends are real and relatable and the e-banter between her and Landon is rather entertaining. Lucas is the perfect kind of bad boy and I loved the way he treated Jacqueline however I didn’t love him as much as I expected to.

This is a book with some fairly heavy themes – abuse, victims, rape and reputation – but I thought they were dealt with beautifully. I liked that it didn’t go the stereotypical route – Jacqueline is no helpless heroine but she’s an everyday woman. Abuse is something that can happen to anyone – and I admired her for how she dealt with the aftermath. She’s stronger than I first thought and manages to fight back – not just in a physical way but equips herself with the skills necessary to not be put in the same position again. Girl power! 😀

Easy is a book I’m so glad that I actually decided to read! It’s got realistic characters, a lot of romance and great storyline about female empowerment. I’m definitely going to read more books by Tammara Webber.

Audiobook note:

I’m not usually an audiobook person but I really enjoyed listening to this one. When reading exciting parts in a novel I tend to read very quickly just to see what’s going to happen next but having to follow where the narrator was taking me was good in this instance. I got to stay within this world for a while and the speed definitely drew out the anticipation. The version I listened to was narrated by Tara Sands who read at a great pace and did a fantastic job at distinguishing between characters are well as dialogue, to text messages, to email without there being any confusion.

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Book Review: Across the Universe by Beth Revis

Across the Universe (Across the Universe, #1)

Title: Across the Universe (Across the Universe #1)
Author: Beth Revis
Genre: Science Fiction, romance, dystopian, young adult
Publisher: Razorbill
Publication Date: January 2011
Pages: 398
Rating: 2.5 stars

Synopsis (from goodreads):
AMY
has left the life she loves
for a world 300 years away.

Trapped in space and frozen in time, Amy is bound for a new planet. But fifty years before she’s due to arrive, she is violently woken, the victim of an attempted murder. Now Amy’s lost on board and nothing makes sense – she’s never felt so alone.

Yet someone is waiting for her.
He wants to protect her – 
and more if she’ll let him

But who can she trust amidst the secrets and lies?
A killer is out there – and Amy has nowhere to hide…

My Review:

I’ve not thought much about cryogenic freezing before. And I never imagined it quite like Beth Revis described it. But from the first scene  – she had my attention and I was with Amy as she left everything she knew to travel three hundred years away to a new life on a new world. But not everything goes according to plan. Somehow Amy gets awakened fifty years before the ship is set to land on the new planet. Attempted murder by non-proper defrosting techniques aside, Amy is made to feel an outsider by inhabitants of the spaceship and ends up in the psychiatric ward. Amy has no one but her new friends Harley – a tortured artist – and Elder – the next leader of the ship – to help her stop the murders of her frozen kindred and work out just why the people of the ship are acting so oddly…

The novel switches point of views from Amy – an Earth girl labelled as “unessential cargo” travelling to a new world with her parents – and Elder – a sixteen year old boy on the verge of manhood who has known his entire life that he is going to be the next leader of Godspeed  and all its people. It’s a time of change for both of them with Amy having to assimilate to a brand new world on board the spaceship and Elder starting to question the decisions of his life-long mentor, Eldest. They do a good job of showing what life aboard the ship is like for a stranger and someone innately familiar with the set up. There’s some interesting/barbaric things about ship life and I found myself liking how things progressed.

Most sci-fi I’ve read is set in the future and what I loved most about this book is how the main character – Amy – is a child of the present. By having her being taken to another place in time and space we get a great mix of the contemporary times in which she came from and the futuristic spaceship she’s now forced to survive in. The ship – Godspeed – is the perfect mini civilisation with many mysteries and diabolical schemes taking place. There’s a great mix of characters and I loved the creative licence that Ms. Revis used to create the environment Across the Universe is set in. There’s nice little differences like the language and technology whilst keeping things similar to the present day.

There’s a bit of a murder mystery and a great set up for the next books in the series. I enjoyed the characters and the plot but I didn’t really connect with either Amy or Elder and found my attention drifting. I had a few problems with the romance angle of the book – it’s a little forced and whilst I know it’s only the first book it felt a little irrelevant and convenient.

Overall I liked the journey that this book took me on and I’ll most likely be reading the second book – although I think I’ll be borrowing it from the library just in case.

 

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Book Review: The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

The Sky Is Everywhere

Title: The Sky Is Everywhere
Author: Jandy Nelson
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Realistic Fiction, Grief
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 2010
Pages: 288
Rating: 5 stars

Synopsis (from goodreads):
Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker, bookworm and band geek, plays second clarinet and spends her time tucked safely and happily in the shadow of her fiery older sister, Bailey. But when Bailey dies abruptly, Lennie is catapulted to center stage of her own life – and, despite her nonexistent history with boys, suddenly finds herself struggling to balance two. Toby was Bailey’s boyfriend; his grief mirrors Lennie’s own. Joe is the new boy in town, a transplant from Paris whose nearly magical grin is matched only by his musical talent. For Lennie, they’re the sun and the moon; one boy takes her out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it. But just like their celestial counterparts, they can’t collide without the whole wide world exploding.

My Review:

Gram is worried about me. It’s not just because my sister Bailey died four weeks ago, or because my mother hasn’t contacted me in sixteen years, or even because suddenly all I can think about is sec. She is worried about me because one of her house-plants has spots.

Those are the first lines from this book. I think I fell in love with Lennie Walker on the first page. She’s grieving and confused but manages to keep a slightly sardonic tone throughout it all. Her sister – and best friend – Bailey dies without any warning and Lennie is left to try to move on without her. Her grandmother is slightly eccentric and her uncle perpetually stoned but somehow they are all trying to muddle though. When it seems like no one knows what she’s feeling, Lennie finds a kindred spirit in Toby – her sister’s boyfriend – and she knows it’s wrong but he understands what she’s feeling in a way that no one else seems to. If that wasn’t confusing enough, Lennie meets Joe, musical genius Joe… If ever Lennie needed her big sister it was now…

This book is beautiful. The writing and feeling that Jandy Nelson manages to infuse her words with is amazing to read. Lennie is a typical teenage girl who has somewhat extraordinary circumstances. Her mother dumped her sister and her on their grandmother’s doorstep when Lennie was a year old, her uncle, Big, is in love with falling in love and had been married – and divorced – numerous times. And her gram is a garden guru who goes around and prunes other people’s plants but refuses to let anyone touch her own. These are characters that I enjoyed reading about. They’re vibrant and three-dimensional in their imperfection. And that’s how I view Lennie too. She’s heartbroken and makes mistakes. Her behaviour regarding her romantic life may be somewhat unconventional and I can see why other readers may have a problem with it but to me, Lennie’s actions are what I would expect of someone who is human and hurting. Not always logical but what I admire about Lennie is that she does take responsibility for what she’s done.

One of my favourite things about this book was the character of Joe Fontaine. He’s so enthusiastic and in the moment that it’s hard not to fall a little in love with him. He wears his heart on his sleeve and his happiness is palpable – as is his heartbreak. Nelson describes his smile as if the way it makes Lennie feel like it’s a physical sunbeam. It’s kind of incredible. He contrasts nicely against Bailey’s boyfriend, Toby – who is slightly damaged but well-meaning.

Another highlight of this book for me was the little notes and poems that Lennie writes. She leaves her mark wherever she goes leaving little notes and thoughts on leaves, flyers – anything she can get her hands and a pen on. I thought it was a beautiful way for her to be able to have a conversation with her sister when talking was no longer option. The is one that Lennie writes about grief being a house that really made me feel for Lennie. Her guerrilla poetry was a great way to give Lennie’s relationship with Bailey a voice without Bailey saying a word.

This book is definitely one I recommend for fans of heartfelt and touching young adult literature. It’s moving and beautiful with character that made me laugh and broke my heart. I loved reading it and it makes my list of top five YA books I’ve ever read. Five stars!

Thanks to The Reading Room for the review copy

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