Book Review: Jet by Jay Crownover.

JetWith his tight leather pants and a sharp edge that makes him dangerous, Jet Keller is every girl’s rock and roll fantasy. But Ayden Cross is done walking on the wild side with bad boys. She doesn’t want to give in to the heat she sees in Jet’s dark, haunted eyes. She’s afraid of getting burned from the sparks of their spontaneous combustion, even as his touch sets her on fire.

Jet can’t resist the Southern Belle with mile-long legs in cowboy boots who defies his every expectation. Yet the closer he feels to Ayden, the less he seems to know her. While he’s tempted to get under her skin and undo her in every way, he knows firsthand what happens to two people with very different ideas about relationships.

Will the blaze burn into an enduring love. . . or will it consume their dreams and turn them to ashes?

Last week I reviewed Rule, the first book in Jay Crownover’s Marked Men series and mentioned that I ordered Jet the second in the series as soon as I finished reading. I made myself read another book in between, but was quickly back to the world of tattooed, pierced boys and strong ladies. Whilst there won’t be any specific spoilers for Rule in this review there are some similarities I will be drawing to the review so if you didn’t read it and are interested now might be a good time to read it – here.

Jet again follows a dual narrative structure, with the heavy metal bandleader Jet and Ayden, Shaw’s best friend and roommate, taking their turn in the limelight. The book begins partway through Rule – we get to see one specific scene from the book from Jet and Ayden’s perspective, this acts as a prologue and scene setter before the timeline jumps forward a year. I liked this a lot, whilst it was nice to get that look back at part of Rule the jump forward meant that the whole cast of characters continued to develop. The only slight niggle I had as a result of this was that initially Jet felt a little like he was info dumping, this passed very quickly and his voice then shone through clearly.

One of the things I loved about Rule was the tight knit nature of the group of characters, this holds absolutely true for Jet too. The group dynamic is brilliant, and I enjoyed seeing how the group had evolved over the year that had passed. Having the book from Jet’s perspective in particular was interesting, he doesn’t work at the tattoo shop like the majority of the male characters so his relationship with them is slightly different. Cora again stands out as a character I love, she plays a slightly more prominent role in this book – this made me very happy.

The relationship between Jet and Ayden is beset by difficulties. Both are characters who keep quite a lot of themselves hidden, this only results in miscommunication and frustration on both sides. Even when things are going well it is easy for the reader to see how fragile their relationship is – I found I was, like the characters, waiting for the other shoe to drop. At times whilst I was reading it felt like my heart was aching for both of them. I have to say too that whilst the more adult moments between them were well written and hot, it was the quieter moments that I loved the most.

Jet in particular spoke a lot to me as a character. He’s a hugely talented musician and as such everyone has an opinion on what he should be doing and achieving. They’re less keen on listening to what he wants and accepting that he might know himself better than they do. I think these sorts of assumptions are all too easy to make, if Rule focused on knowing who you truly are then Jet turns on the focus onto knowing what you want to be. These are both such huge themes that root the books firmly in the New Adult styling and both ask and attempt to answer the meaningful questions many people are still trying to answer much further into their grown up lives.

This book is another really excellent read, I loved it just as much as I did Rule though for different reasons. If this series is an indication of how the New Adult publishing world is evolving I may have to reconsider it completely.

Rule is published by Harper in the UK. My copy of the book is one I purchased myself.

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Book Review: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell.

EleanorAndParkEleanor is the new girl in town, and with her chaotic family life, her mismatched clothes and unruly red hair, she couldn’t stick out more if she tried.

Park is the boy at the back of the bus. Black T-shirts, headphones, head in a book – he thinks he’s made himself invisible. But not to Eleanor… never to Eleanor.

Slowly, steadily, through late-night conversations and an ever-growing stack of mix tapes, Eleanor and Park fall for each other. They fall in love the way you do the first time, when you’re young, and you feel as if you have nothing and everything to lose.

For the last twelve months or so everywhere I’ve looked I’ve seen people raving about Rainbow Rowell’s books. Well actually, I’ve seen as many people raving about how awesome Rainbow herself is as I’ve seen discussion about her books. Either way I knew I needed to finally get on and read her books. Eleanor and Park seemed like the perfect place to start. Now I’ve read it and loved it I find myself wishing my reviewing skills were better, this book deserves a far better write up than I have any hope of producing.

Eleanor and Park is set in 1986, and is told jointly by the characters named in the title. The setting was an interesting one, I was a young child in the UK during 1986 but much of the nostalgia that the time period evoked worked well for me. Whether it would work quite so well for today’s teen I don’t know, but I always managed fine with books set many decades in the past so I reckon it probably will.

Both Eleanor and Park have significant challenges within their lives. Eleanor’s are more obvious, living in poverty with an abusive stepfather and a mother who doesn’t seem able to provide the comfort or support Eleanor so desperately wants and needs, transferring to a new school . Park on the other hand has to manage a father whose expectations seem unreachable, and his own desire to simply get on with life and remain beneath the radar. The dual narrative, third person structure of the book means we really get to see inside the two characters’ heads – we get to understand how they feel, what they want, what they’re struggling with. I felt that this meant I could connect more deeply with them as characters.

This is definitely a love story, though I haven’t read many like it before. It’s slow and tentative and awkward, like so many real life burgeoning teen romances. Neither Eleanor or Park fit into the quintessential romantic lead pigeon holes and the book is all the better for it. The uncertainty that underpins their relationship again draws the reader further into it, and I’m sure will be something that many readers find they can identify with. So many love stories play out more like the Hollywood romance and whilst these occur in real life they’re not the only sort of romance and I really appreciated the authenticity of relationship found within this book. The Hollywood take on this story would also result in some neat, saccharine sweet ending. What we get is so much better, an untidy ending of hope and progress.

I loved the role both comics and music played within this book. The mix tapes element of the book was something I particularly found I identified with, whilst personal CD players were a feature of my teenage years mix tapes were still somewhat important – I still have a box which contains a few that meant most to me for one reason or another. Their differing circumstances means there is something of an inequity in the relationship between Eleanor and Park, her life has meant that in many ways she hasn’t experienced many of the cultural things that Park has. Music however is something she knows even if what she knows is different to what Park knows. He might know the stuff that’s current but she knows the greats that have come before. She is able to teach him in the way he is able to teach her – this is the power of music and something that moved me greatly as I read.

This book is hard to describe neatly. It’s quiet and yet huge, its story is simple and yet multi-faceted. Fundamentally this is a book that will claw its way under your skin, dragging you into its characters’ lives, staying front and centre in your brain even once you’ve finished reading. I absolutely loved it and am already looking forward to revisiting it.

Eleanor and Park is published by Orion in the UK. My copy of the book is one I purchased myself.

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PoP: Captain Brainpower and the Mighty Mean Machine by Sam Lloyd & Black Dog by Levi Penfold.

PoP Tuesdays on Juniper’s Jungle bring two reviews of picture books.

Captain Brainpower and the Mighty Mean Machine by Sam Lloyd. Harper Collins Children’s Books.
CaptainBrainpowerHoley moley! There’s a new superhero in town!

Meet two very special toys: Captain Brainpower and Mojo Mouse. They’ve been thrown away at the rubbish dump where the Might Mean Machine has snatched Mojo for breakfast! Can Captain Brainpower activate his amazing super power and save Mojo from becoming mouse on toast?

3, 2, 1… Captain Brainpower to the rescue!

I really wanted to enjoy this book, its bright colourful cover had grabbed my attention and I loved the idea of having brainpower as a super power. Unfortunately I was left underwhelmed by the book, despite its short length it felt like the time spent reading it dragged.

The book is as colourful as its cover, if anything I found at times it was a little too colourful – the pages filled with bold colour shades sometimes felt a bit too busy. Some pages have a huge amount of detail, there would certainly be lots to talk about if reading it with just one or two children.

The story itself has all the elements that make a good picture book, the action starts straight away, there’s sufficient peril to keep the reader’s attention. I personally found that the middle section fell a bit flat – I would have expected to love seeing Captain Brainpower in action but unfortunately didn’t. I also didn’t like the name calling there was going on throughout the book and Captain Brainpower’s repeated utterances of “Holey Moley” and “Blooming Brains” – this made the character feel a little on the twee side.

All in all this was a book that sounded great but unfortunately failed to deliver for me. I have every confidence that it’ll work well for some young readers but it’s certainly not one I’d be rushing to add to my collection.

Black Dog by Levi Pinfold. Templar Publishing.
BlackDogAn enormous black dog and a very tiny little girl star in this offbeat tale about confronting one’s fears.

When a huge black dog appears outside the Hope family home, each member of the household sees it and hides. Only Small, the youngest Hope, has the courage to face the black dog, who might not be as frightening as everyone else thinks.

This book won the Kate Greenaway Medal in 2013, awarded for distinguished illustration in a book for children. Having now read the book I can completely understand how it won, the illustrations are absolutely stunning. Every double page spread contains one large colour illustration and a number of small sepia toned illustrations. There is a real beauty and slightly unusual quality to the illustrations, they brought to mind the work of Shaun Tan – an illustrator whose work I adore.

The story is about a family who in turn see the black dog outside, each person who sees it describes it as bigger than the last person right up until Small, the youngest and tiniest member of the family, sees it and instead of hiding from it like her family members does exactly the opposite and goes to confront it. It shows how fear can be self generating, with each family member the fear of the dog becomes bigger and more exaggerated until Small refuses to be drawn into this, showing them that standing up to the thing they’re all afraid of is the way to conquer it.

Black Dog is a beautiful book which balances a big message with stunning illustrations, bringing a sense of whimsy to the whole reading experience. A definite new favourite book for me.

Both books featured in this post were borrowed from my local library.

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Book Review: Boys Don’t Cry by Malorie Blackman.

BoysDontCryYou’ve got it all planned out. A summer of freedom, university, a career as a journalist – your future looks bright.

But then the doorbell rings. It’s your ex-girlfriend, and she’s carrying a baby.

Your baby.

You agree to look after it, just for an hour or two.

Then she doesn’t come back – and your life changes for ever.

A gripping and original story about love, relationships and growing up the hard way.

Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses books were for me, like so many others, some of the first young adult fiction I read as an adult. I was blown away by them and passed my copies to others so that they too could read their brilliance. For whatever reason I hadn’t read any more of her books, I kept hearing great things about Boys Don’t Cry so I grabbed it when I saw it at my local library. Eventually I sat down to read it and devoured it in one slightly emotional sitting, and then kicked myself hard for not reading it sooner.

Boys Don’t Cry is Dante’s story, he is a bright teen waiting for the uni results that mean he can go away to university and pursue his dreams of becoming a journalist. His life is turned upside down by the discovery that he fathered a child, and is now entirely responsible for that child. At the same time Boys Don’t Cry is Adam’s story – he gets nearly half of the narrative duties – he’s the younger brother, his heart is set on a career in the performing arts and he’s openly gay even if his brother and father don’t outwardly do or say anything to acknowledge it.

Both boys are under a lot of emotional pressure, they feel the absence of their dead mother keenly, and whilst their father is trying his best to bring them up there are significant cracks in his relationship with them both. The addition of the baby into their family unit pushes the relationships even further, at times this made for painful reading – I found I could understand everyone’s perspective, there truly was no right or wrong between Dante, Adam and their father.

Dante’s reactions to his rapidly changing future feel both harsh and entirely genuine. Discovering he has a child and becoming responsible for her has a dramatic impact on his life in every way imaginable, I found myself wondering how I would have reacted to a similar thing at his age, it felt too big to even begin to consider. I realised as I was nearing the end of the book that we never hear about the Dantes of the world – there must be young single fathers out there, I can’t remember ever hearing about one though.

Adam’s story was somewhat unexpected in that I didn’t expect him to have such a strong presence or narrative within the book. He gets his own storyline, though it twists in and out of Dante’s, whilst this works well there were times when it almost felt like there was a little too much going on – I guess it’s that age old age of it never raining but pouring. I found that I could see relatively early on within his story where it was going, I was willing myself to be wrong but was proven right.

The final section of the book in particular has some beautiful, touching moments. I spent the last few chapters in a completely heightened state of emotions. The conclusions felt very true to the characters and the plot, and I closed the book feeling incredibly glad for the opportunity to read such a book. It deals with some huge issues but never feels like an “issues” book. It is instead a book about the value of communication and the power of family and of love. I have seen mention of a companion novel coming at some point, telling the story of baby Emma’s mother Melanie – I’ll certainly be reading this book far more quickly.

Boys Don’t Cry is published by Corgi. My copy of the book was borrowed from my local library.

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Book Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.

StationElevenDAY ONE

The Georgia Flu explodes over the surface of the earth like a neutron bomb.

News reports put the mortality rate at over 99%.

WEEK TWO

Civilization has crumbled.

YEAR TWENTY

A band of actors and musicians called the Travelling Symphony move through their territories performing concerts and Shakespeare to the settlements that have grown up there. Twenty years after the pandemic, life feels relatively safe.

But now a new danger looms, and he threatens the hopeful world every survivor has tried to rebuild.

STATION ELEVEN

Moving backwards and forwards in time, from the glittering years just before the collapse to the strange and altered world that exists twenty years after, Station Eleven charts the unexpected twists of fate that connect six people: famous actor Arthur Leander; Jeevan – warned about the flu just in time; Arthur’s first wife Miranda; Arthur’s oldest friend Clark; Kirsten, a young actress with the Travelling Symphony; and the mysterious and self-proclaimed ‘prophet’.

Thrilling, unique and deeply moving, this is a beautiful novel that asks questions about art and fame and about the relationships that sustain us through anything – even the end of the world.

It feels like I’ve been seeing buzz for this book online for months, though I’m sure it’s actually just been a few weeks. When the publisher offered advance eBook copies for the longest day of the year I jumped at the chance to find out for myself why everyone was so excited about this book.

The first part of the book feels a little like it’s telling a number of discrete stories from different time periods – whilst I knew they would come together at some point I had no idea how this would happen. This only added to my desire to keep reading, this book is definitely one that’ll glue you to your seat! There is no one main character, instead a number of characters are focused on throughout the book. I love ensemble casts when they’re done well, and this book definitely pleased on that front.

The book covers a number of time periods; you have the contemporary story set in year 20 (time is now measured post the flu epidemic that wipes out much of the world’s population), and then a number of past settings including the time just around the flu epidemic and then earlier in some of the characters lives too. I found this easy to navigate, it’s always clear when the events on the page are unfolding and I really liked the way reading another few pages would add a little more backstory to one or more characters and I would feel like I understood them that little bit more. I particularly enjoyed the way that seemingly small inconsequential mentions of things would reappear later in the story and gain more significance.

The non-linear nature of this book also gave me moments where I had to stop and think a bit about what I had just read, memory is such an important part of this book – some of the characters are old enough to remember what life was life before the flu whereas others aren’t. A number of the characters in the contemporary story have connections to the Museum of Civilisation – a collection of things that held importance to individuals, whether a gadget or a stunning pair of shoes. I thought this act of remembering was so interesting, civilisation has changed so completely yet there is this desire to remember what was and will likely never be again.

The arts also play a significant role in the book. The opening section is set in a theatre where a production of King Lear is underway, just prior to the flu epidemic. Much of the contemporary story telling focuses on a travelling band of performers, both classical musicians and Shakespearean actors. When we live in a time where funding for the arts is frequently in the first swathe of cuts to be made when savings are deemed necessary I found the emphasis on the enduring passion for an value of the arts to be really meaningful. There’s a definite exploration of what the arts mean to us, what they do for us and why we try our hardest to cling to them.

This book is a fascinating, thought provoking, gripping read that will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading. Definitely a book to look out for.

Station Eleven will be published on 10th September 2014. Whilst I was provided with a copy of the book by the publisher all opinions expressed are my own.

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Book Review: Double Crossing by Richard Platt.

DoubleCrossingIt’s 1906, and David O’Connor, newly orphaned and alone in the world, has had to leave his home in Ireland to go and live with his uncle and aunt in America. His journey to New York and his new life there are tougher than David could ever have imagined, especially when he is harbouring a dark secret which he must take with him to his grave.

Double Crossing is historical fiction, set in the early 1900s first in somewhat rural Ireland and then in New York City. It has an interesting structure, the story is told primarily through diary entries but there are illustrations and images of artefacts such as newspaper clippings and record cards dotted throughout the book. I really liked this about the book, the illustrations in particular. The structure also makes it a pacy read, the book spans less than 6 months but it feels as you read as though the time is zipping past.

The early part of the book, set in Ireland, is naturally set against the backdrop of the significant unrest between the Catholic and Protestant members of the community. The diary nature means that whilst this is described well there isn’t a huge amount of explanation of why (though that’s such a huge question I’m not surprised), it may mean that younger readers have some questions – I think historical fiction that leaves its readers wanting to learn more about the book’s setting is an excellent thing.

David’s journey to America, travelling in steerage class was really eye opening, and despite the fact I’ve visited the Ellis Island Immigration Museum I was shocked by his treatment. These shocks continued as his time in America unfolded – what started as a good story became increasingly gripping as time went on. I felt increasingly scared for David and the characters around him.

There are twists and turns throughout the book, with one fairly major one towards the end. Unfortunately I was expecting something along the lines of the major twist though there were still a number of details I wasn’t expecting so there were still little surprises for me. Regardless of whether I’d expected it or not it worked really well for me and provided a fitting end to the story. There’s a final twist at the very, very end of the book – I read the book a couple of weeks ago now and have to be honest and say I’m still not sure what I feel about it, but I’m enjoying the thinking it’s led me to do!

Whilst the author has written many books this is his first novel for young people. I certainly hope it won’t be his last, I see from his website that he is an expert on smuggling and piracy – I’d love to read a novel on these topics written by him.

Double Crossing is published by Walker Books. Whilst I was provided with a copy of the book by the publisher all opinions expressed are my own.

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PoP: When… by Emma Dodd & Where on Earth is the Moon? by Ruth Martin and Olivier Latyk.

PoP Tuesdays on Juniper’s Jungle bring two reviews of picture books.

When… by Emma Dodd. Templar Publishing.
WhenIn ‘When’, a little bear shares his dreams of his future with his mother.

This is going to be a pretty short review, the book is a pretty short book. Coming in at 24 pages (many picture books are 32) and 76 words long this is a simple, beautiful rhyme that will work wonderfully as a book to share. The book is narrated by the little bear, and is him telling his mother what he wants to be when he grows up. These aren’t ambitions like wanting to be an astronaut or a hunter, they are instead ambitions of the type of bear he wants to be.

The illustrations are as simple and beautiful as the text. Every illustration is a double page spread featuring the mama bear and baby bear together, the colours used are restricted to a small number on each page and gold foil is used to great effect on every other illustration. The bears themselves have texture added to their fur (I think by use of a sponge but I’m not particularly arty) that works very well.

The copy of the book I read was a paperback copy but it also exists as a board book. I think as a board book it would make a lovely addition to a present for a new baby, it’s certainly a book I’m going to be giving away plenty of times.

Where on Earth is the Moon? by Ruth Martin & Olivier Latyk (illustrator). Templar Publishing.
WhereOnEarthA bedtime adventure for sleepy little explorers everywhere.

Luna loves to look at the Moon each night before she drifts off to sleep, but she wonders where it goes during the day. While she dreams, her imagination takes her on a journey as she searches far and wide for where the Moon could possibly go when the Sun is out.

This is a really lovely picture book that will be enjoyed by young children with the attention span to sit and listen to a slightly more detailed story. It’s about a young girl, perhaps Reception year aged, who is fascinated by the moon and wonders where it is when she can’t see it during the day. I really enjoyed her attempts to stay awake all night and watch where it disappears to, and the various places she imagined it might be hiding.

The text itself is very detailed, it’s laden with adjectives and alliterations which result in a pretty rich read (ignoring the temptation to drop lots of alliterations into this review is surprisingly hard). I think if you were going to be reading this aloud you’d probably need a few practice runs as a result of the very detailed text.

The illustrations work really well with the text. They’re very modern looking, the lines and colours are crisp. This paired with the more handwritten style of font balance the detailed text very nicely. I was interested by the way rich turquoises and teals are used as a result of the many night time scenes and yet the book feels warm. The only thing I wasn’t completely sold on was the double page spread that paired turquoise text with a black page. It looks very striking but I found it wasn’t so easy to read.

A final thought I must share is how pleased I was to see a space / science themed story with a female main character. This was a really nice change and made me love the book even more.

Both books featured in this post were borrowed from my local library.

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