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. 

Purchase the novel from:

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Book Review: Secret by Brigid Kemmerer

Secret (Elemental, #4)

Title: Secret (Elementals #4)
Author: Brigid Kemmerer
Genre: Paranormal Romance, Magic, Young Adult, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Allen & Unwin (Australia), Kensington Teen (US)
Publication Date: January 2014
Pages: 375
Rating: 4.5 stars

Note: The Australian edition of Secret contains Nick’s novella, Breathless, which introduces the dynamic between Nick and Quinn as well as Adam.

Synopsis (from goodreads):

Nick Merrick is stretched to breaking point. He’s trying to keep his grades sky-high or he won’t get in to college. He’s trying to keep his brother’s business afloat or the Merricks will be out on the street. He’s trying to keep the secret of where he’s going in the evenings from his twin brother Gabriel – or he fears he’ll lose his family. And he’s trying to keep his mind off the hot, self-assured dancer who is his ‘girlfriend’s’ partner.

And then Quinn takes to hanging around his sworn enemy, and an Elemental Guide is counting the hours until he can try again to kill the Merrick brothers. Storms are brewing. On all sides.

SECRETS IN THE WIND. DANGER IN THE AIR.

My Review:

Nick Merrick has been keeping a secret. He’s been having feelings for his girlfriend’s male dance partner and Quinn is the only one who knows. But Quinn has a secret of her own. Her homelike has been getting worse by the day and she feels like she can’t tell everyone just how bad things are with her mother and older brother. The Guides are getting closer and the threat to the Elemental Merrick brothers is imminent. With Tyler, a local teen who has been torturing the brothers for years, popping up and Nick’s secret growing heavy on him, Nick needs to decide who he can trust before things get out of his control.

I’ve been a fan of this series since I read the first book, Storm, and I get more attached to the Merrick clan with each new instalment. This book focuses on the romantic relationships between Nick and Adam as well as Quinn and Tyler. I do enjoy the romance in this series and it felt like it was going back to the start where more of the focus in the novel was romance and less drama. However I found myself missing some of the action and excitement that the Guides bring. In many ways the prologue felt slightly out-of-place – with a discussion between the Guide which caused Hunter so much pain in Spirit but then not being addressed for the rest of the novel.

Whilst the title of this book doesn’t follow the Elemental aspect of previous books, Secret is a perfectly fitting title. Near all the characters in this novel have secrets that they don’t know how to handle. From Nick’s sexuality to Quinn’s family and the part of himself that Tyler is keeping hidden from the world – the theme of secrets was beautifully reiterated throughout the book. One of the things I liked most about this book was how supportive the majority of characters were when faced with other’s secrets.

Overall I enjoyed this book. This novel was a pleasure to read and with a few surprises that I was not expecting (I can’t wait to see the fallout from the ending).  With the focus being more on romance and relationships as opposed to the Elementals vs. Guides battle, Secret felt like it was laying a lot of ground work for the next book in the series. There’s a lot up in the air (no Air Elemental pun intended!),  I can not wait for Michael’s story, Sacrifice.

 Thanks to Allen & Unwin for the review copy.

Purchase the novel from:

Amazon | Booktopia | Book Depository | BookWorld

Check out my reviews for the other books in the Elemental series:

Storm (Elementals #1)

Spark (Elementals #2)

Spirit (Elementals #3)

Novellas: Elemental (Elementals #0.5), Fearless (Elementals #1.5), Breathless (Elementals #2.5)

Book Review: These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

These Broken Stars (Starbound, #1)

Title: These Broken Stars (The Starbound Trilogy #1)
Author: Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Dystopia, Romance
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publication Date: 1st December 2013
Pages: 374
Rating: 4.5 stars

Synopsis (from goodreads):
It’s a night like any other on board the Icarus. Then, catastrophe strikes: the massive luxury spaceliner is yanked out of hyperspace and plummets to the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive. And they seem to be alone.

Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a young war hero who learned long ago that girls like Lilac are more trouble than they’re worth. But with only each other to rely on, Lilac and Tarver must work together, making a tortuous journey across the eerie, deserted terrain to seek help.

Then, against all odds, Lilac and Tarver find a strange blessing in the tragedy that has thrown them into each other’s arms. Without the hope of a future together in their own world, they begin to wonder – would they be better off staying in this place forever?

Everything changes when they uncover the truth behind the chilling whispers that haunt their every step. Lilac and Tarver may find a way off this planet. But they won’t be the same people who landed on it.

The first in a sweeping science fiction trilogy, These Broken Stars is a timeless love story about hope and survival in the face of unthinkable odds.

My Review:

Lilac is the richest girl in the universe. Tarver is a soldier from humble beginnings. Set aboard an enormous luxury ship making its way across the universe, I expected These Broken Stars to be a futuristic Titanic story. But Lilac and Tarver’s story is so much more. Neither of them are just what they appear to be – they are so much more. Lilac, the rich girl in the fancy outfits is brave and willing to do whatever it takes to survive. Tarver, a young war hero who wants none of the fame or prominence that it affords him. When their cruise liner comes into some trouble, quick thinking from the pair helps them avoid immediate catastrophe but that is only the start of their worries.

One of the strengths of this novel is the dual narration. The switching point of view from Lilac to Tarver was fantastic to read. Their interactions were great  and the characters were well-defined. I loved how they viewed the same situations differently but both felt fully justified for feeling the way they did. Both Lilac and Tarver are incredibly strong characters. Lilac is completely out of her comfort zone but refuses to give up and Tarver is patient and refuses to leave a man (or in this case heiress) behind. I felt like they brought out the best and worst in each other and that made the novel realistic despite the futuristic setting.

Plot wise – this book is amazing. I thought I knew what was going to happen and then so much more happened. The journey following Lilac and Tarver is heartbreaking and beautiful. I loved being a part of their adventure and the tragedies they faced. There were many times when I found myself shocked by the events and blind sighted – but despite not expecting these twists they felt natural to the story and not just put in for added drama. The story is beautifully crafted and I loved every minute I spent reading this novel.

I have no idea how two people could come together and write a novel which is as wonderfully put together as These Broken Stars. Lilac and Tarver’s narrations fit together perfectly and the story flows well. There’s suspense, a gorgeous love story and an interesting plot all wrapped together in an otherworldly setting. As the first book in a trilogy – this novel has done a fantastic job. I can not wait to read the next two books and see just what happens next.

Thanks to Allen & Unwin for the review copy

Purchase the novel from:

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Novella Review: Blood Phantom by Rhiannon Hart

Blood Phantom (Lharmell, #0.5)

Title: Blood Phantom (Lharmell #0.5)
Author: Rhiannon Hart
Genre: Young Adult, Vampires, Fantasy, 
Publisher: Curtis Brown Digital
Publication Date: 9th December 2013
Pages: 15
Rating: 4.5 stars

Synopsis (from goodreads):
Life in tatters and far from home, Rodden Lothskorn struggles to cope with the harming menace and his own harming nature. When an offer of marriage reaches his friend, Prince Amis, Rodden discovers that the bride’s inhospitable homeland might contain one part of the harming poison he would dearly like to get his hands on. But if summoned northwards, will Princess Lilith bring something – or someone – he dreads most with her? Locked in a years-long struggle with the Lharmellins, Rodden senses the battle is only now about to begin.

My Review:

This short novella gives us a brief glance into Rodden’s life before Zeraphina. I’ve always liked Rodden and I’m so pleased that Rhiannon Hart gave us this short story from his point of view. From the castle as Amis’ best friend and advisor right up till finding Zeraphina and learning what she is – this is a great addition to the Lharmell series. Roddin is the same amazing character that I liked from Blood Song and Blood Storm but seeing the world from his eyes – just made him more well rounded and enjoyable for me.

At only 15 pages, Blood Phantom is just enough to whet my appetite and I am now eagerly anticipating the release of Blood Queen that much more! This remains one of my favourite series and I recommend this novella to all fans of Zeraphina, Rodden and Lharmell!

Note:

I have to say that I adore the new style of cover that Blood Phantom and Blood Queen (expected publication is April 15. 2014) have compared to those of Blood Song and Blood Storm. I feel like this darker theme are more fitting to the amazing story within their pages than the first two books – which whilst gorgeous never seemed to fit for me.

Blood Song (Lharmell, #1) Blood Storm (Lharmell, #2) Blood Phantom (Lharmell, #0.5) Blood Queen (Lharmell, #3)

 

Thanks to the author for the review copy.

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Book Review: Angelfall by Susan Ee

Angelfall (Penryn and the End of Days, #1)

Title: Angelfall (Penryn & the End of Days #1)
Author: Susan Ee
Genre: Angels. Dystopia, Young Adult, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication Date: May 2013 (first published May 2011)
Pages: 325
Rating: 4.5 stars

Synopsis (from goodreads):
It’s been six weeks since the angels of the apocalypse destroyed the world as we know it. Only pockets of humanity remain.

Savage street gangs rule the day while fear and superstition rule the night.

When angels fly away with a helpless girl, her seventeen-year-old sister Penryn will do anything to get her back…

My Review:

Angels have descended down to earth but they’re not the heavenly creatures people may have expected. Ruthless and lacking any trace of humanity, the Angels are ruling the world and treating humans no better than animals. When an angel takes her little sister Paige, Penryn plans to do the unthinkable. She wants to go into the Angels’ aerie – their home base – to save her. With an injured angel, Raffe, as her guide, Penryn tempts fate to save Paige and bring what’s left of her family back together.

I can understand why this book was an Internet phenomenon. Penryn is such a strong character. The angels have ruined the world. Millions are dead, modern civilisation all but demolished but there are still a few humans left struggling to exist in this new angel ruled world. In a post-apocalypse California, Penryn has been learning how to survive and taking over the parent role in her family. Her mother can not be relied upon for anything and has some strange ideas. But Paige keeps Penryn from getting too serious. Paige, although in a wheelchair after an incident when she was younger, would give up everything she had to help someone else. Penryn needs her little sister and when she’s taken, Penryn risks life and a fate worse than death to bring Paige back.

This is a book with a quest, deadly angels, magical weapons and characters I adored. Penryn is intelligent and focused – if not a little too single mindedly obsessed – with getting her sister back. The angels are ruthless and I loved how different they were from how I usually imagine angels. These angels are beautiful and breathtakingly formidable. They murder humans and think nothing of it. But they’re not invincible. They have politics of their own and a hierarchy that may not be as stable as the humans may believe. I liked Raffe the angel. He’s every bit as intimidating as his fellow angels but due to circumstances beyond his control he finds himself having to rely on a human. The dynamic of Penryn and Raffe was great to read and I enjoyed the lack of an overt romantic relationship between the two.

I really enjoyed this book and for me it lived up to the hype. The gorgeous cover, brilliant take on angels and a heroine who I wanted to read more about. The second book in the series, World After, was released a few weeks ago and I can’t wait to immerse myself once more in Penryn’s world.

Purchase the novel from:

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Book Review: Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith

Wild Awake

Title: Wild Awake
Author: Hilary T. Smith
Genre: Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Young Adult, Music, Romance, 
Publisher: Hardie Grant Egmont
Publication Date: October 1st, 2013
Pages: 375
Rating: 4.5 stars

Synopsis (from goodreads):
Things you earnestly believe will happen while your parents are away:

1. You will remember to water the azaleas.
2. You will take detailed, accurate messages.
3. You will call your older brother, Denny, if even the slightest thing goes wrong.
4. You and your best friend/bandmate Lukas will win Battle of the Bands.
5. Amid the thrill of victory, Lukas will finally realize you are the girl of his dreams.

Things that actually happen:

1. A stranger calls who says he knew your sister.
2. He says he has her stuff.
3. What stuff? Her stuff.
4. You tell him your parents won’t be able to—
5. Sukey died five years ago; can’t he—
6. You pick up a pen.
7. You scribble down the address.
8. You get on your bike and go.
9. Things . . . get a little crazy after that.*
*also, you fall in love, but not with Lukas.

Both exhilarating and wrenching, Hilary T. Smith’s debut novel captures the messy glory of being alive, as seventeen-year-old Kiri Byrd discovers love, loss, chaos, and murder woven into a summer of music, madness, piercing heartbreak, and intoxicating joy

My Review:

Kiri Byrd is the daughter parents can depend on. To water plants, to practice her piano and not to get into any trouble. And Kiri is fine playing the role because she’s convinced that her perfection is the only way to keep her family together after her older sister, Sukey, died in an accident a few years ago. But a strange phone call one night when her parents are away on a cruise leads to Kiri questioning everything she believes to be true.

“It’s amazing how quickly the things you thought would make you happy seem small once you stumble on something true.” 

This book is both beautiful and bizarre. Kiri is in the midst of discovering things about Sukey, her parents and herself that she never even considered. It’s an emotional story with Kiri falling apart. Her sister may not have been the role model Kiri had on a pedestal and her parents dismissal of all thing Sukey may not have been the most healthy thing to do. Kiri is locked in a world where she lives in denial. Watering the azaleas and perfecting complicated piano pieces is the way she is holding things together. But when she finds out there’s more to Sukey’s death than she ever considered, Kiri is thrown – especially considering her brother and parents knew the truth all along. Kiri tries to hold on to the perfect life she’s living whilst at the same time starts to resent it. She’s beautiful in her confusion and reading her was a pleasure. Her awkwardness regarding love and sex was endearing to read and her passion – albeit slightly fanatical – for music was a joy.

And then there’s Skunk. Have you ever heard a more attractive name for the hero of a story? Probably not. Skunk is one of those characters that I adored from the first time Kiri met him.
“He’s huge. Hagridesque. A bulldozer crossed with a  gorilla.”

Romantic, right? His relationship with Kiri is one based on friendship first and contrasts perfectly with the relationship Kiri has with bandmate Lukas. Both boys couldn’t be more different and they do a great job of representing Kiri’s perfect past and confused present.

I loved the writing in this novel. If I were to underline my favourite lines most of the book would be marked. Kiri’s spiral downwards was oddly wonderful to read – one of those things that feel like they should be entirely uncomfortable were written in a way that made me want to read more and anticipate how Kiri would react to the next bombshell in her life. Her relationships with everyone are declining and it’s awkward yet enticing.

The ending wasn’t quite what I was expecting but I felt it was perfectly fitting for both the plot and the characters. I wasn’t expecting to like this book as much as I did – the recreational drug use on page 1 nearly turned me off but this is so much more than a teenage stoner story. It’s an emotional and lovely debut novel with amazingly flawed characters and some beautiful prose. I adored this book and will definitely be looking out for more books by Hilary T. Smith.

Favourite Quotes:

“His smile is a jar full of fireflies”

“The wired feeling that started when I left my house has grown into a thrumming, crackling, electrical field. I want to kiss Lukas. I want to dance down the street. There’s a reason people get drunk after funerals, and I suddenly know what it is: the flip side of sadness is a dark, devouring joy, a life that demands to be fed.”

“I want to kiss you,” I say, “but I seem to be holding this cat.”
Skunk lifts his hand and touches it to the side of my face. His fingers are warm from carrying the hot skillet to the table. He regards me very seriously, and for a moment I wonder if he’s about to tell me we should Focus on Bicycle Repair. Instead he just looks at me for a very long time.
“You’re beautiful,” says Skunk, “and completely batshit.” 

Thanks to Hardie Grant Egmont for the review copy.

Purchase the novel from:

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Book Review: Crash Into You by Katie McGarry

Crash Into You

Title: Crash Into You (Pushing the Limits #3)
Author: Katie McGarry 
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publication Date: December 2013
Pages: 464
Rating: 4.5 stars

Synopsis (from goodreads):
The girl with straight As, designer clothes and the perfect life-that’s who people expect Rachel Young to be. So the private-school junior keeps secrets from her wealthy parents and overbearing brothers…and she’s just added two more to the list. One involves racing strangers down dark country roads in her Mustang GT. The other? Seventeen-year-old Isaiah Walker-a guy she has no business even talking to. But when the foster kid with the tattoos and intense gray eyes comes to her rescue, she can’t get him out of her mind.

Isaiah has secrets, too. About where he lives, and how he really feels about Rachel. The last thing he needs is to get tangled up with a rich gira stl who wants to slum it on the south side for kicks-no matter how angelic she might look.

But when their shared love of street racing puts both their lives in jeopardy, they have six weeks to come up with a way out. Six weeks to discover just how far they’ll go to save each other.

My Review:

NOTE: Whilst this book is part of a series it can also be enjoyed as a standalone.

Isaiah and Rachel couldn’t be more different. He’s struggling to make rent in a budget apartment and is facing getting sent back to his foster parents. She’s the perfect daughter of wealthy parents and wants to please everyone. He’s rough around the edges, covered in tattoos and isn’t unfamiliar with the darker side of life. She feels the need to please everyone even when it’s hazardous to her own health. But they both share a love of cars. When they meet by chance at an illegal street race, they feel a spark. They put aside their preconceived notions of the other get to know each other on a deeper level. But real life gets in the way and tries to tear them apart just as they’re falling in love.

I have to admit – I was annoyed at Katie McGarry. After reading Pushing the Limits, I wanted Isaiah and Beth to be together. Then I read Dare You Too and I started to think maybe the author knew better than I did what was best for her characters… Now, after reading Isaiah and Rachel’s story – I know I was wrong. I adored this novel. From the start I could see that these two brought out the best in each other.

Rachel is fragile. But she surprised me by being tough as nails on the inside. She doesn’t like conflict and does whatever she can to avoid it. She’s living her life in her sister’s shadow and whilst they may not mean to – her parents never let her forget it. But she’s more than the society princess. She’s passionate about cars – and her love of mechanics is heartfelt and believable. Isaiah on the other hand is damaged. Life hasn’t been kind to him and he doesn’t think enough of himself to get him out of the hole that he’s in. Noah, his best friend and the main character from Pushing the Limits, tries to do what he can but he’s got his hands full with college, Echo and his brothers. It’s an interesting time for Isaiah – because as well as Rachel coming into his life he gets a case worker who wants more than just to wash her hands of him.

There’s a lot of excitement in this book – illegal street racing, money hungry bookies and a romance that is absolutely beautiful. I thought McGarry did a brilliant job of melding the different worlds her characters live in whilst at the same time being believable. There are some surprises in this book with some amazing new characters being introduced and some old favourites from the series reappearing. I thought it was great that characters like Beth are still prickly and (dare I say) a little bitchy despite having her happy ending – it felt authentic that she’s the same girl despite the changes her life has been through.

I’m looking forward to the fourth book in this series. I love the characters and can’t wait to see what Katie McGarry come up with next!

 

Thanks to NetGalley and Harlequin for the review copy.

Purchase the novel from:

Amazon| Booktopia | Book Depository | BookWorld