April 29, 2014

The Children Green and Golden (Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart)

We Were Liars
E. Lockhart
Delacorte Press/Hot Key Books 2014

Candace is a Sinclair. One, indeed, of the Sinclairs. A child of one of three daughters, themselves the children of a rich, rich man, Candace has lived a life of privilege. Never more is that privilege obvious than in the summers that she spends at Beechwood, the Sinclair family island where her grandfather rules from his house on the hill and the children play in a golden world of sun and sea and friendship and wealth. It is heaven and Candace shares it with her cousins, Johnny and Mirren and her friend, Gat. As they grow older, they grow closer, becoming the Liars, an affectionate title that they revel in. Until the summer that Candace is fifteen, a summer where she is found nearly naked and soaking wet and alone with no memory of what has happened and a head injury that leaves her with searing headaches and a transformed life. Two years later she returns to Beechwood, to Johnny, Mirren and Gat, to the three sisters and the old man on the hill and begins to piece together what happened and what it means, and why, why, why...

Candace is a fascinating character. Her family name provides her with a foundation that seems unshakable, yet with her accident it is shaken. Unable, any longer to lift her chin and get on with things, she starts to question not only what happened to her but also her life as it has always been lived. This should make her sympathetic, but she isn't always. She's spoilt, self-pitying and needy yet also devoted and loyal and desperately confused. As a character study she is rather brilliant and her need to understand what has happened to her is palpably believable. 

Johnny, Mirren and Gat are also exceptional creations. Gat, in particular, is compelling as the outsider who says what is not to be said and thinks what is not to be thought while Mirren and Johnny illustrate rather beautifully what it means to be a Sinclair in entirely different ways. Meanwhile, Candace's mother and her two sisters vie for the attention of her grandfather, a character who is both kindly yet manipulative, powerful yet aged. Every character is exceptionally written and finely nuanced and each and every one will get under your skin.

While it is easy to talk about the characters in We Were Liars, it is impossible to talk about the plot as it is one that readers should discover entirely on their own suffice to say that it is utterly immersive and moves in ways that are both sinuous and sudden. It is, quite simply, an extraordinary book and E. Lockhart's writing is utterly unique. She has the ability to create incredibly vivid scenes using just snippets of dialogue and semi-sentences - like the Neverland that Beechwood appears to be, We Were Liars is shot through with its very own astonishing splashes of colour that are evocative and wondrous. 

Lockhart also uses fairytales throughout the book, both familiar and strange, to great effect and on finishing We Were Liars it is hard not to see it as a fairytale or fable with its own strangeness, its own message and its own terrible reality.  It is, quite simply, an extraordinary book - sharp and beautiful, clever and haunting. I devoured it in one, long, breathless gulp and am still thinking about it days after I turned that final page. Buy this book, read it and then come back so that we can talk because this is a book that you will want to talk about and share and remember. Highly, highly recommended.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird, who would like to note how utterly perfect that cover is. Really. PERFECT. We Were Liars will be published in the UK on 15th May and in the US two days earlier. Thank you to Delacorte, via NetGalley, for providing us with this title to review.

April 22, 2014

Dangerous Creatures and Why You Should Probably Read It.

We usually refuse to promote any book that we haven't actually read - the fact that we are even asked to do so usually baffles me - today we make an exception for Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl's Dangerous Creatures.

A new series returns to the world of Beautiful Creatures. Some loves are cursed...others are dangerous.

Ridley Duchannes will be the first to tell you that she's a bad girl. She's Dark. She's a Siren. You can never trust her, or even yourself when she's around. Lucky for her, Wesley "Link" Lincoln can never seem to remember that; quarter Incubus or not, his heart is Mortal when it comes to Ridley. When Link heads to New York City to start a music career, Ridley goes along for the ride-and she has her own reasons. As if leaving small-town Gatlin for the big city, trying to form a band, and surviving life with a partially reformed Siren isn't hard enough already, Link soon learns he has a price on his head that no Caster or Mortal can ever pay.

Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, the #1 New York Times bestselling coauthors of Beautiful Creatures, are back and casting another magical spell. Their signature mixture of mystery, suspense, and romance, along with a dash of fun and danger, will pull fans in and leave them begging for more. 

(Courtesy of Goodreads)

A spin off from the author's hugely successful Caster Chronicles, Dangerous Creatures follows Link and Ridley, taking these secondary yet hugely important characters out of the original series and sending them off on in their own story.  Both are intriguing, with boy next door Link being no longer your usual boy next door and Ridley, siren, sister and sometimes little girl lost. A winning combination, right?. The world that Garcia and Stohl created in Beautiful Creatures is amazingly vivid, beautifully written and hauntingly atmospheric and while Dangerous Creatures moves the action from the inimitable Gatlin to New York, readers can surely expect more of the same sharp and compelling storytelling in a universe that is immersively easy to inhabit.

If you haven't read The Caster Chronicles and want to know more, you can find our reviews by clicking the covers above - the last book in the series is missing a MOI review, something that we will be remedying before returning to talk about Dangerous Creatures. For lovers of urban fantasy and rather brilliant storytelling these books are a must - both fun and frightening, heart-rending and hilarious they are absolutely worth disappearing into as, we suspect, is Dangerous Creatures which published on May 20th and pre-ordable now!

This post originally went up with the wrong publication date, due to Splendibird being an idiot. Don't let that put you off - go and pre-order a copy anyway.

April 06, 2014

YAck Attack: Reality Boy

I am a bad, bad Lady YAcker.  I never remember to share our actual YAcks.  Except for today!  Our most recent YAck was on the excellent if disturbing Reality Boy by A.S. King.  

You can find the YAck here.  It contains Bad Language.  Which should surprise no-one.

April 04, 2014

Lord, I Want To Be In That Number (Review: This Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready)

This Side of SalvationThis Side of Salvation
Jeri Smith-Ready
Simon Pulse 2014

Life is just beginning for David Cooper.  He's is on the verge of a career in baseball, academically on the up and has, for the first time, a great girlfriend.  For all these good things, David thanks God, relying on his faith to get him through both the fun times and the not so fun.  And there are a few not so fun things going on - a past tragedy that echoes loudly in the present, a father whose mental health is deteriorating alarmingly and a mother who seems unable to steer her family to safety. Until she hears about the Rush. The Rush will swoop all believers up to Heaven where they will have front row seats for the Apocalypse and the Coopers will be up their with the best of them. But David doesn't want to be Rushed. He wants to stay where he is, surrounded by sinners or not. As life unravels before his eyes, David finds himself questioning his family, his friendships and his faith.

David is a nice bloke - kind, funny and thoughtful not to mention focused and driven. Life hasn't been particularly easy for him.  After the death of his brother he got angry - really angry... but then he got religion. Yet David doesn't have unquestioning faith.  He's a smart kid, with smart friends whose beliefs differ from his own and who is happy to examine what he himself believes.  Of all the aspects of his character this is by far the most appealing.  Being able to question ourselves and what we hold most dear is a hard thing to learn and watching David do this while simultaneously hold together a fractured family and lead a normal life is both compelling and moving. However, Smith-Ready hasn't written him as some existential philosopher but rather has presented readers with an utterly believable teenage boy who wants to play baseball and have sex and hang out with his friends. He is completely likable and his undercurrent of grief and desperation is palpably real.

Like David, all the other characters in This Side of Salvation are highly readable. Girlfriend Bailey and best friend Kane are particularly well written. Bailey is a strong proponent of evolutionary theory and Kane is newly out as gay.  Both could have come across as mouthpieces for beliefs and lifestyles that contradict David's own but instead Smith-Ready has created two characters who are completely three dimensional. David's sister, Mara, is fascinating and a bit of an enigma, holding her cards close to her chest while trying to keep David away from the fundamentalist line that she so clearly feels that he might cross. Of all the scenes in the book, the quiet moments between Mara and David hold most resonance and are the most heartbreaking. David's parents are almost frighteningly real in both the grief that they are so frantically trying to suffocate and in their close-minded belief in a rapturous end. His father is a character who is both incredibly sad and incredibly disturbing (and mad props to Smith-Ready for his dialogue, which is written almost entirely in biblical quotations). Finally, there is John, the brother whose untimely death is at the very heart of This Side of Salvation and whose sainted presence haunts each page.

Sport and religion. You won't find reviews of many book containing either in these here hills because I am disinclined to exercise and hate to be preached at.  Amazingly, Smith-Ready has written a title that contains plenty of both but which neither bores nor infuriates.  Yes, there's a lot of baseball, but David's love of the sport is so palpable that it becomes enjoyable to read. The religious aspect could have been trickier - David really does believe in God and it gives his him a great deal of comfort - yet I never felt that his character was A Message For Us All. In fact, Smith-Ready's great achievement in This Side of Salvation is that I came away from the book with absolutely no idea as to what she herself believes - something that I cannot say for any other YA book that I have dealt with where God plays a role. Rather, Smith Ready has taken the idea of religion being the great opiate and examined how this can be both positive and negative in a way that should, and will, make readers think. And hopefully encourage both believers and non-believers to consider or at least understand viewpoints which oppose their own.

This Side of Salvation is a gripping story starting on the night of the Rush and moving between the past and present as events unfold. Also, everyone loves a good cult, so there's that.  More than anything, though, it is a searing portrait of a family drowning in a grief that they cannot get move on from; of parents who are grasping at straws; of children who can do nothing but stand and watch as everything falls apart. It is at times extremely sad but, importantly, also carries a great deal of hope. This is Jeri Smith-Ready's first foray into contemporary YA fiction and it hopefully won't be her last. Her straightforward writing style and ability to create very real characters makes her as natural a fit in this genre as it has in her previously more paranormal outings.  This Side of Salvation is a book that will make you think and hopefully engender many conversations on the nature of faith, grief and family.  Highly recommended.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird. This Side of Salvation is available now.  Thank you to the publisher (via Edelweiss) for providing us with a copy of this title to review.