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: Forever by Karen Ann Hopkins

Forever (Temptation, #3)

Title: Forever (Temptation #3)
Author: Karen Ann Hopkins
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Contemporary, Romance, Culture, Last in a series
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publication Date: January 2014
Pages: 336
Rating: 2 stars

Synopsis (from goodreads):
All I want is my happily-ever-after.
That’s all I’ve wanted since meeting Noah Miller.

From the day we met, the world has tried to keep Noah and me from being together, but now that I’m carrying his child, no one will be able to tear us apart. Or so I hope. But Noah and I have made some mistakes along the way, and the consequences are impacting the people we love. Worse, there’s a storm on the horizon, and it’s sure to cause serious devastation.

If we can get through this, we’ll finally be Rose and Noah; a family, forever.
But first we have to survive the road ahead. And happily-ever-after is a long way off.

My Review:

Rose and Noah have overcome so much – their cultural differences, their families and now they may have a chance at happily ever after. Except that for these young lovers, the course of true love never did run smoothly. It might seem a little odd that after the low rating I gave the previous book (Belonging) that I have continued on with this series but there is something oddly compelling about Rose and Noah’s story. They may have a selfish and tumultuous relationship with a lot of emotion however I couldn’t wait to find out what happens next for the star-crossed pair.

With Rose finding out she’s pregnant, everything is different. She is confused. After experiencing Amish culture for six months she’s not sure that it would be the best place for her baby. Trying the keep the secret from her father and Noah isn’t easy but at least she has her big brother Sam and her best friend Summer to help her though. With the point of view shifting between Rose and Noah and the occasional chapter being told by Sam and new narrator, Noah’s sister Sarah, Forever is an interesting read.

I wasn’t entirely happy with Rose finding out she was pregnant. And for the most part I found Rose’s story in Forever to be fairly boring because of this. She spends a lot of time trying to hide her pregnancy and apparently considering her options. But I never really felt like she was weighing up any decision. She was understandably scared but I doubt anyone was the slightest surprised by what Rose finally decides. Noah’s story was more interesting with a lot of drama unfolding from his decision to break his engagement with Constance – an Amish girl he courted and proposed to just to hurt Rose. I’m still not a fan of his actions in the previous book but I liked that there were repercussions. And not just for Noah – but for his entire family and friends.

This novel has heartbreak and I was shocked by one of the storylines. I was surprised by how much I had grown to anticipate a certain relationship and was a little devastated when events came to pass. However for the most part I thought this book was fairly predictable but I was never quite sure when the things I was expecting to happen would occur.

Overall – this hasn’t been one of my favourite reads. The characters are overwrought by emotion and the idea that no sacrifice is too large when it comes to love. The two main characters spend most of the series trying to convince the other to give up their family and beliefs for their relationship and neither seem to be all that understanding about anyone else’s’ feelings. The ending of the series is a little… too happy with everything somehow working out so very neatly and somewhat unbelievably. I don’t believe that this book shows off Amish culture in the best light and I’m still curious about this group of people. If you are looking for an emotional read about all-consuming young love and who will do anything to be together then I recommend this series. On the other hand if you like a bit more realism to your relationships and don’t enjoy selfish characters maybe this series is not for you.

 Thanks to Harlequin Teen and NetGalley for the review copy. 

Purchase the novel from:

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Other books in the Temptation series by Karen Ann Hopkins

Temptation (Temptation #1) 

Temptation (Temptation, #1)

Belonging (Temptation #2)

Belonging

Book Review: Anything to Have You by Paige Harbison

Anything To Have You

Title: Anything to Have You
Author: Paige Harbison
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publication Date: February 2014
Pages: 303
Rating: 3.5 stars

Synopsis (from goodreads):
Nothing should come between best friends, not even boys. ESPECIALLY not boys.

Natalie and Brooke have had each other’s backs forever. Natalie is the quiet one, college bound and happy to stay home and watch old movies. Brooke is the movie—the life of every party, the girl everyone wants to be.

Then it happens—one crazy night that Natalie can’t remember and Brooke’s boyfriend, Aiden, can’t forget. Suddenly there’s a question mark in Natalie and Brooke’s friendship that tests everything they thought they knew about each other and has both girls discovering what true friendship really means.

My Review:

They may seem like opposites but party girl Brooke and homegirl Natalie have been best friends for years. With only a few months left of their senior year of high school, Brooke is determined to make sure Natalie lets loose and enjoys herself before college. They may not see eye to eye on everything but they have always been there for each other. But life gets in the way and suddenly the two girls who used to tell each other everything are now keeping secrets. Is their friendship strong enough to last the distance?

I wasn’t expecting this book to switch point of views from Natalie to Brooke and back. It was a bit of a shock the first time it happened as I was a third of the way into the novel but I like the rounded view point that getting to hear how certain events transpired and just how both the girls were feeling about situations. Natalie is the solid best friend. She has always had Brooke’s back but she can’t help the feelings that she has for Brooke’s longterm boyfriend, Aiden.

I liked the realism of this novel. You can feel how jealous both of the girls are of the other for different reasons. There’s also a genuine feeling of confusion for them both as their lives take them places they weren’t expecting. Popular Brooke never thought she’d be jealous of Natalie’s camaraderie with Aiden and Natalie can’t help but be envious that the boy she has so much in common with is dating her friend. And the problems they face regarding their feelings towards Aiden are only the beginning. We get to see how the girls deal with conflict and deal with some hefty life altering decisions.

There wasn’t a lot in this book that I wasn’t expecting. But it was interesting to see how everything played out. Brooke isn’t nearly as well put together as she would like the world to see and Natalie is someone who usually just goes with the flow and she has to face up to a few things. I would have loved getting to see a bit of this story from Aiden’s point of view. There are questions about his actions and thoughts regarding the two friends that I would love some more insight into but I understand why he doesn’t get to share his POV. Because at heart – this is a book about female friendship. How there are voids in a girl’s life that can only be filled with her friends. I like the bond that Brooke and Natalie have and how it’s stretched and tested throughout the course of the novel.

Overall I enjoyed Anything to Have You. Paige Harbison has a great style and reading the stories of Brooke and Natalie felt authentic. There are some great characters facing real teenage issues. I will be reading more from Paige Harbison in the future.

 Thanks to Harlequin Teen Australia for the review copy.

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Book Review: The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

The Impossible Knife of Memory

Title: The Impossible Knife of Memory
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Text Publishing
Publication Date: January 2014
Pages: 304
Rating: 5 stars

Synopsis (from goodreads):
For the past five years Hayley Kincain and her father, Andy, have been on the road, never staying long in one place as he struggles to escape the demons that have tortured him since his return from Iraq.

Now they are back in town where he grew up so Hayley can go to a proper school. Perhaps, for the first time, Hayley can have a normal life, put aside her own painful memories, even have a relationship with Finn, the hot guy who obviously likes her but is hiding secrets of his own.

Will being back home help Andy’s PTSD, or will his terrible memories drag him to the edge of hell, and drugs push him over?

My Review:

Hayley has been helping her dad, Andy, fight the demons inside his head for years. But when things start to get even worse, Andy moves them both back to the town he grew up in to give Hayley some kind of a normal life. Preferring to be on the road than stuck in public school, Hayley tries to make the most of it for her dad’s sake but things get more difficult when people from their past and the nightmares Andy face become unavoidable. And then there’s Finn – a boy who won’t let Hayley ignore him – pushes himself into her life. 

I’ve never read a Laurie Halse Anderson novel before and I’m so glad that I got the opportunity to read The Impossible Knife of Memory. It’s a beautiful story about a teenage girl with a lot of responsibility trying to keep her small family together. She has a lot of love for her dad but she’s also scared. Scared of what might happen to him and scared for herself when the past gets a hold of him and she can’t bring him back. Hayley is a great character. She’s tough because she has needed to be and isn’t an easy person for others to get to know. It makes a lovely contrast with the effervescent Finn who calls Hayley out on her prickly nature and brings out the best in her. Together they are one of my favourite fictional couples because they both have their own problems with neither one of them being perfect however they do make each other stronger. The development of their relationship throughout the book is a strength. I loved getting to see them interact as strangers then something more and finally seeing them support each other as a couple when life gets tough. 

This is a book about relationships and in addition to the romance between Hayley and Finn, there is also the father/daughter dynamic between Hayley and Andy. It’s a hard relationship because whilst as a reader it is evident that there is a lot of love on both sides, it’s also a relationship that is dangerous and destructive for both of them. Hayley is doing all she can but it’s not enough and both she and Andy know it. Dispersed throughout Hayley’s narrative are memories from Andy’s time as a soldier. There may only be short and few however they show where Andy’s head is. I really felt for Hayley – she’s trying to do so much and this part of the novel is heartbreaking. 

The Impossible Knife of Memory is a beautifully written book. I loved how the authors described memories and situations. The relationships are heartbreaking yet there is hope and I think that’s what makes this book so emotionally draining. There is so much love and yet there is the knowledge that it might not be enough. The supporting characters being drama, distraction but ultimately help the story and Hayley along. It’s only six weeks into the year but I have no doubt that come December this book will still be among my favourites for 2014.  

 

 

 

Thanks to Text Publishing for the review copy.

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Book Review: Belonging by Karen Ann Hopkins

Belonging

Title: Belonging (Temptation #2)
Author: Karen Ann Hopkins
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publication Date: May 2013
Pages: 432
Rating: 1.5 stars

Synopsis (from goodreads):
I left everything I knew behind.
But it was worth it. He was worth it.

No one thought an ordinary girl like me would last two minutes living with the Amish, not even me. There are a lot more rules and a lot less freedom, and I miss my family and the life I once had. Worst of all, Noah and I aren’t even allowed to see each other. Not until I’ve proven myself.

If I can find a way to make it work, we’ll be NOAH & ROSE  together forever.

But not everybody believes this is where I belong.

My Review:

Rose knows that what she has with Noah is forever. She’s given up her English ways and is willing to become a real Amish girl if it means she can be with Noah. Trading in her dancing shoes and family for a white bonnet and life without modern technology, Rose knows that things are not going to be easy. She has to impress the community Elders before the small close knit society will even consider letting Noah court Rose. But to be with the man she loves – Rose is sure all the change and sacrifice will be worth it.

This is was an interesting read for me because by the time I finished the novel, I wasn’t sure I liked any of the characters. Rose is trying to fit in with Amish society solely for Noah. She moves in with a family and learns the ways of the women – from cooking to cleaning, mending and social expectations – there is a lot for her to take in. With her formerly supportive family now behaving as if she has joined a cult and her interactions with Noah being severely limited due to dating customs, Rose is alone in a foreign world – one where she doesn’t even speak the language. I admired Rose for the choice she made to sacrifice a lot for love and Noah however I disagree with some of the decisions she made. Despite trying to toe the line as a good Amish girl, Rose still lives in the belief that she can change Noah and convert him to the English way of life. She uses her feminine wiles on him and goes as far as making vows to a church and a faith she doesn’t believe in. I understand that Rose is young (only sixteen/seventeen throughout this book), however I believe that is old enough to understand what she’s doing. She wants the world to take her relationship with Noah seriously however there are times when she acts incredibly childish and immature. Noah on the other hand is portrayed fairly badly throughout this book. The thing he loves most about Rose is the thing that he wants to change. He is unwilling to compromise regarding Rose and his Amish beliefs and I got the feeling that his main reason for wanting to be with Rose was to get her into bed. He does some pretty terrible things – goes as far as to potentially ruin an Amish girl’s entire life just as some kind of retaliation for how Rose made him feel. I could not believe that he was telling Rose to cut ties with her family and how he couldn’t stand Rose’s opinions and frequently kissed her to shut her up.

I was disappointed at how easily it was for Noah and Rose to give up on each other. For a love that was stronger than anything else in the world, it didn’t take much to break it. Rose’s family have seemed to have done a one-eighty since the first book. They were supportive of Rose and her choices and now they behave terribly and I don’t quite understand why. We do get to see some of Sam’s (Rose’s older brother) feelings about the situation from occasional chapters told from his point of view, but it felt fairly shallow (After two months of Rose living with the Amish, he continues to burst into laughter each time he sees her new clothing but apparently still wants her away from the cultists… it just didn’t quite feel authentic). Sam’s involvement with Rose’s new friend was an interesting turn of events however added little to the overall story.

I wanted to learn more about the Amish culture from this book however I felt like it wasn’t very well explored. I think the only things I learned were the clothes were dowdy, the weddings devoid of colour and the church services extremely long.

The author took a brave move with this book – she could have written another book about star-crossed lovers who always behaved perfectly and were flawless. But these characters all have their issues and in many ways that makes them more realistic. Everyone in this book makes mistakes and I admire the author for taking that route. There are a lot of problems that the characters in this book have to face and Noah and Rose have a tough road ahead of them.

The third book of the Temptation series, Forever,  was released last month and despite my problems with Belonging, I’m still eager to see what happens next. This book left us on a slight cliff-hanger and I’m curious as to the fallout in the Amish community and just how Noah and Rose compromise to find a happy ending.  

 

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Book Review: How They Met (and Other Stories) by David Levithan

How They Met, and Other Stories

Title: How They Met (and Other Stories)
Author: David Levithan
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Contemporary, Romance, Short Stories
Publisher: Text Publishing
Publication Date: January 2014
Pages: 256
Rating: 3.5  stars

Synopsis (from goodreads):
Eighteen stories, all about love, and about all kinds of love.

From the aching for the one you pine for, to standing up and speaking up for the one you love, to pure joy and happiness, these love stories run the gamut of that emotion that at some point has turned every one of us inside out and upside down.

What is love?

With this original story collection David Levithan proves that love is a varied, complicated, addictive, wonderful thing.

My Review: 

As David Levithan says in his introduction, How They Met (and other stories) is a book of stories about love rather than love stories. Each of the eighteen short stories gives a look into different types of love and relationships. With stories about the first sparks of attraction to tales of heartbreak and parental disapproval – this anthology covers a whole range of emotions and situations.

The stories contained in How We Met feature a variety of types of relationships – from two boys falling in love to a girl being heartbroken when her girlfriend moves on and heterosexual couples and their love stories. With many of the stories, the gender of the narrator is a little ambiguous for the first few pages and I liked the vagueness. Whilst sexuality is a theme in these stories, the unclearness of the narrator made it appear that the issues faced and situations the characters are in a universal (for the most part) regardless of sexual orientation.

For me, the sum is greater than the parts. I enjoyed many of the stories but I think the strength lies in how they fit together as a compilation. The variety is fantastic and yet they all manage to come together and feel like they each belong in the same collection.

Favourite Stories: Starbucks Boy, The Number of People Who Meet on Airplanes, Princes, A Romantic Inclination. 

Favourite Quotes:

“Every two people cause and intersection.
Every person alters the world.” from Intersection

“Sallie and James had both life and the laws of physics working against them. You see, Sallie Brown and James Helprin were good friends.
Which adds a certain friction to our equation.” from A Romantic Inclination

“You have to believe there are kisses and laughs and risks worth taking”

 

Thanks to Text Publishing for the review copy.

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Book Review: Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson

Suite Scarlett (Scarlett, #1)

Title: Suite Scarlett (Scarlett #1)
Author: Maureen Johnson
Genre: Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Chick Lit
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Publication Date: November 2013 (first published May 2008)
Pages: 368
Rating: 3.5 stars

Synopsis (from goodreads):
If living in a famous art deco hotel minutes away from Central Park sounds like your idea of a pretty sweet deal – you should talk to Scarlett Martin. Having a hotel for a home really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, especially when you’ve got no guests, no money and no prospects for any fun thanks to your parents putting you to work all summer. Luckily for Scarlett, the Hopewell is about to be shaken to its foundations with the arrival of Mrs Amberson, a glamorous travelling socialite who’s planning on putting down some roots for a while – and hiring Scarlett as her assistant. With a new job, new friends, and (maybe) a new boyfriend on the horizon, Scarlett’s summer is beginning to look a lot more interesting…

My Review:

If all the world’s a stage, New York City has the best scenery.

Scarlett Martin’s friends are all having the summer of their lives but she is stuck in working in her family’s run down and barely functioning hotel. When a slightly eccentric guest checks in and appoints Scarlett as her personal assistant, Scarlett’s summer starts to look up. She gets involved with trying to save her brother’s acting career and has a flirtation with a gorgeous North Carolinian named Eric. But things start to fall apart around her and Scarlett needs the help of her family to help everything from becoming a disaster.

I’ve not read a Maureen Johnson novel before but quickly found myself absorbed in Scarlett’s story. The book begins on her fifteenth birthday but Scarlett is fairly wise and mature for her age. She’s a little irritated that she doesn’t have the opportunities that her friend have but she is responsibly enough to understand that her family isn’t like others. Her older brother Spencer is trying to do everything he possibly can to become an actor however realistically he knows that if he doesn’t make it soon he will need to find a more sensible career path. Lola, Scarlett’s older sister, is facing a dilemma due to her family disliking her boyfriend and her little sister Marlene – well… Marlene is slightly spoilt and people are afraid of hurting her feelings. I really liked the family dynamic within this novel. The Martin family are tight but not without their problems. They are financially challenged and things are changing with Scarlett’s older siblings after having finished high school and are now moving in different directions. I liked how they interacted with each other and that Ms. Johnson didn’t give Marlene a free pass to do as she pleased just because of her past.

Scarlett is a great character. She’s a writer who, despite her tender age, isn’t lacking for life experience. Her encounters with Mrs Amberson are humorous with the hotel guest having a flair for the dramatic. Scarlett gets herself into some quite outlandish situations but somehow manages to handle them. I liked that Scarlett is genuinely a good person. She gets placed in situations – at times due to her own doing – that cause her to question her actions and as a reader you could feel the moral dilemmas she was facing. This is a book where I felt with 97% certainty that things were going to end up being okay for everyone involved but the fun was seeing just how everything turned out. The romance in this book wasn’t quite what I was expecting but that only added to the realistic nature that love doesn’t always play out how you’d like it to.

This book was highly enjoyable. It’s cute and fun and shows off New York City in a delightful way. The characters are quirky and a little off centre but there’s a lot of love in the Martin family. I’m delighted that Maureen Johnson has written a second novel, Scarlett Fever, that continues exploring Scarlett’s adventures.

Thanks to Hot Key Books for the review copy

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