How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

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Title: How I Live Now
Author: Meg Rosoff
Series: N/A
Edition: Paperback, 194
Publication Details: November 30th 2004 by Wendy Lamb Books
Genre(s): YA; Dystopia
Disclosure? Nope, I borrowed it!

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“Every war has turning points and every person too.”

Fifteen-year-old Daisy is sent from Manhattan to England to visit her aunt and cousins she’s never met: three boys near her age, and their little sister. Her aunt goes away on business soon after Daisy arrives. The next day bombs go off as London is attacked and occupied by an unnamed enemy.

As power fails, and systems fail, the farm becomes more isolated. Despite the war, it’s a kind of Eden, with no adults in charge and no rules, a place where Daisy’s uncanny bond with her cousins grows into something rare and extraordinary. But the war is everywhere, and Daisy and her cousins must lead each other into a world that is unknown in the scariest, most elemental way.

A riveting and astonishing story.

How I Live Now has been a long time coming for me. Meg Rosoff has been on my radar for ages, and I really enjoyed her panel at YALC UK, but I’d not picked up one of her books until now.

And woah. I wasn’t expecting that. I kind of thought it was just going to be another YA dystopian romance, but it was so much more.

How I Live Now is about war, as seen through the eyes of Daisy.

Daisy is an American teen, who finds herself in the English countryside visiting her aunt and cousins, as she hasn’t been getting on with her step-mum. And whilst she’s happy to be away from them, there’s also a deep-rooted feeling of abandonment. She is a complex character, with a lot of issues, but I loved her sarcastic, moody personality, it felt very real. She was strong and weak all at the same time.

Daisy’s aunt, who is somehow involved in the government and the war, has to go away, just as bombs go off in London, leaving Daisy alone with her cousins, fending for themselves. But as the war intensifies, and the power is cut off, they are happily cocooned in their farm.

They make fires, gather food, and swim in the lake, and Daisy starts to enjoy herself. It’s like she feels content for the first time in her life, which has a lot to do with Edmund, whom she felt connected to from the moment they met.

I didn’t realise quite how controversial this book was until I read some of the reviews on Goodreads. People are welcome to their opinions of course, but I feel like a lot of them have missed the point. Yes, Daisy has an eating disorder. Yes, Daisy and her cousin, Edmund fall in love, and yes, they have underage sex and smoke cigarettes.

But How I Live Now doesn’t glamourise these things. The point isn’t that these things are OK. After being truly starving, Daisy realises how stupid she was to refuse to eat. It takes a war for her to be able to adjust her thinking, such is the strength of her mental illness.

And as for the romance and the sex, it’s not gratuitous. Daisy knows it’s wrong, she tries to not want Edmund, but they are drawn to each other too much, in almost a magical way. To me, all this says is, you can’t help who you fall for, and I think under different circumstances they would find it hard to be together. But being left to their own devices, the war brings them together, and inevitably tears them apart.

unicorn rating 4

How I Live Now is available in paperback from Waterstones now.

Friday Feature: Man Booker Prize Time Again

I’m pretty sure that last year I decided that no one really cares about the Man Booker Prize, but I still can’t help being intrigued as to what’s made the list.

Following last year’s controversy when it was announced that the prize was being opened up to International authors (with UK Publisher) after 46 years, it seems the longlist is not quite as overrun by American authors as some feared, although they do make up a third of the entries.

The most interesting thing about the nominees this year though, I think, is that one of the novels was funded entirely by its readers. The Wake, by Paul Kingsnorth is the first crowdfunded novel to ever be nominated for such a prestigious literary prize. And I must say, it sounds like one of the more interesting reads on the list.

thewakeEveryone knows the date of the Battle of Hastings. Far fewer people know what happened next…Set in the three years after the Norman invasion, The Wake tells the story of a fractured band of guerilla fighters who take up arms against the invaders. Carefully hung on the known historical facts about the almost forgotten war of resistance that spread across England in the decade after 1066, it is a story of the brutal shattering of lives, a tale of lost gods and haunted visions, narrated by a man of the Lincolnshire fens bearing witness to the end of his world. Written in what the author describes as ‘a shadow tongue’ – a version of Old English updated so as to be understandable for the modern reader – The Wake renders the inner life of an Anglo-Saxon man with an accuracy and immediacy rare in historical fiction. To enter Buccmaster’s world is to feel powerfully the sheer strangeness of the past.

The Longlist in Full

Joshua Ferris (American) – To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (Viking)

Richard Flanagan (Australian) – The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Chatto & Windus)

Karen Joy Fowler (American) – We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (Serpent’s Tail)

Siri Hustvedt (American) – The Blazing World (Sceptre)

Howard Jacobson (British) – J (Jonathan Cape)

Paul Kingsnorth (British) – The Wake (Unbound)

David Mitchell (British) – The Bone Clocks (Sceptre)

Neel Mukherjee (British) – The Lives of Others (Chatto & Windus)

David Nicholls (British) – Us (Hodder & Stoughton)

Joseph O’Neill (Irish/American) – The Dog (Fourth Estate)

Richard Powers (American) – Orfeo (Atlantic Books)

Ali Smith (British) – How to be Both (Hamish Hamilton)

Niall Williams (Irish) – History of the Rain (Bloomsbury)

The Shortlist will be announced 9th Sept

More info on the nominees and titles

Thoughts?

Coming Soon!

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Title: Let the Games Begin
Author:Niccolò Ammaniti
Details: Translated
Expected Publication: 1st August 2013 by Canongate Books

In Let the Games Begin, internationally best-selling author Niccolò Ammaniti, winner of the prestigious Strega Prize, fuses a riotous dose of anarchic absurdity with a clear-eyed critique of contemporary society caught in a narcissistic spiral of longing and striving.

It begins on the night of the most decadent party of the century. A rags-to-riches real estate magnate has planned an over-the-top weekend safari for the who’s-who of celebrities at his sprawling residence in Villa Ada—once a public park, now the largest private home in Rome. Starlets, politicians, soccer stars, and intellectuals all turn up to rub elbows. Among them is a neurotically charming author struggling to write his next literary tome and pining for renewed recognition. In an unexpected turn of events, he crosses paths with The Wilde Beasts of Abaddon, a satanic sect planning to ruin the evening’s festivities in order to go down in history as a world-famous cult. What was intended as the most spectacular fête of the year quickly descends into apocalyptic chaos. In this satirical tragicomedy, Ammaniti reveals a side of modern culture riddled with superficiality and vulgarity that nourishes our deepest dreams and insecurities.

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Title: The Wolves of Midwinter (The Wolf Gift Chronicles #2)
Author: Anne Rice
Details: Hardback
Expected Publication: November 7th 2013 by Random House UK, Vintage Publishing

It is the beginning of December and it is cold and grey outside. In the stately flickering hearths of the grand mansion of Nideck Point, oak fires are burning. The Morphenkinder are busy getting ready for the ancient pagan feast of midwinter. Everyone is invited, including some of their own who do not wish them well…

Reuben Golding, the newest of the Morphenkinder, is struggling with his new existence as a Man Wolf, struggling to learn to control his desires and bloodthirsty urges. His pure, luminous girlfriend Laura seems all set to join him in this new way of life, but Reuben is not at all certain he will love her if she becomes as he is. Beyond the mansion, the forest echoes with howling winds, which carry with them tales of a strange nether world, and of spirits – centuries old – who possess their own fantastical ancient histories and taunt with their dark, magical powers.

As preparations for the feast gather pace, destiny continues to hound Reuben, not least in the form of a strange, tormented ghost who appears at the window, unable to speak. But he is not alone: before the festivities are over, choices must be made – choices which will decide the fate of the Morphenkinder for ever.

I’m really excited about both of these!

Water (Akasha #1) by Terra Harmony: A Rant  Review

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Elemental powers in the palm of her hand…and it won’t be enough to save her. When Kaitlyn Alder is involuntarily introduced to a life of magic, she becomes part of an organization hell-bent on saving the Earth. Just as her new-found life holds promises of purpose, romance, and friendship, the organization divides and a rogue member holds Kaitlyn hostage. Now one of the most terrifying men the human race has to offer stands between her and Earth’s survival. Image and synopsis from Goodreads. Click the image to go there.

I was really fascinated by this book as it sounded new and different to me. I’ve also been a bit obsessed by the idea of eco-villages lately and part of me would love to just disappear somewhere, build my own hut and live a simple, non-materialistic existence so the eco part of this ‘Eco-Fantasy’ series excited me too.

Basically, Kaitlyn is harboring some serious elemental magic but doesn’t know it. Everywhere she goes, natural disasters follow which she was oblivious to until she is kidnapped by what can only really be described as a cult. A cult who want to save the save the world, no matter who gets hurt in the process. Excellent premise, yes? Well, yes, but unfortunately so many things didn’t work for me with this book.

For one, the way Kaitlyn was kidnapped was all good and exciting but she didn’t really seem to be that bothered about it. I mean, she had a bit of a rant, and was upset that they’d gone through her apartment and packed it up but she didn’t really hold it against them, and she definitely didn’t ever seem to want to leave.

If I’d been kidnapped by a cult who told me I was essentially their Goddess and they wanted to use me to help save the world I think I’d have a few more questions and doubts than she did. Maybe it was supposed to be a bit of the old Stockholm Syndrome going on, but she never really felt like a hostage, she just excepted that this was her life now. Odd.

Also, you can be forgiven for thinking this is a YA book because it certainly reads like one. The narration feels very ‘young’ which is pretty disturbing when the very non-sexy, sexy times start. I didn’t like that it was a given that Micah, ‘the love interest’ and Kaitlyn belonged together. They had barely said two words to each other and he’s kissing her to calm her down or something. Likely story. Plus, the fact that he’s just kidnapped her…oh it’s all a bit unrealistic really.

To me it sounded like all of the characters apart from Cato -the leader of sorts – were in their early teens. But at some point Shawn, the villain, is described and I realised that he was relatively old. I don’t want to give to any big spoilers away to those who don’t know but let’s just say that it was bad enough as it was, but then to realise that was pretty horrific. He was a great villain though, hats off to Harmony for that – it made for some very uncomfortable but riveting reading.

I really loved what a quick read Water was, and even with its faults it was interesting to say the least. It made me wish I knew more about elemental magic and the real science behind it so I could judge just how ‘fantastical’ some parts were.

There were a few laughs too – mainly from Kaitlyn’s quips – that I enjoyed, but then I also found myself laughing at parts that weren’t supposed to be funny. Like when Kaitlyn manages to make a whole coat (and shoes was it?) out of leaves from some candles. No really. Oh, and how after Shawn does the hideous thing they just seem too normal around each other.

And lastly (Wow, sorry I didn’t realise how many things I wanted to rant about in this book – I did enjoy it honest!) the way it ended left me a bit miffed. I felt like there were too many unsaid things, I needed closure. I needed Kaitlyn to spill all to Micah and see his reaction. But I guess that’s what book 2 is for….

After everything is said and done…I will definitely be reading the next in the series, Air. So Terra Harmony obviously didn’t do such a bad job. And I love a book I can rant about, if you haven’t noticed.

Details: Kindle Edition, 1st Edition, 279 pages. Published September 26th 2011 by Terra Harmony
My Rating: 3 out of 5 Unicorns
Is it a keeper? Hmm not sure. I want to read the next one and see, but at the moment I’m glad I didn’t buy the paperback.
If you liked this try: The Skulduggery Pleasant Series for a child friendly adventure with some elemental magic thrown in.

Favourites Friday #7: Speak – Laurie Halse Anderson

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The first ten lies they tell you in high school. “Speak up for yourself–we want to know what you have to say.” From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless, outcast, because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. As time passes, she becomes increasingly isolated and practically stops talking altogether. Only her art class offers any solace, and it is through her work on an art project that she is finally able to face what really happened at that terrible party.

In Laurie Halse Anderson’s powerful novel, an utterly believable heroine with a bitterly ironic voice delivers a blow to the hypocritical world of high school. She speaks for many a disenfranchised teenager while demonstrating the importance of speaking up for oneself.

Speak was a 1999 National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature. Image & Synopsis from Goodreads.

Speak is one of those books that doesn’t blow you away at first. It’s a slow burner but once you have read the final word you are left speechless. It is a dark and frank portrayal of the high-school experience that will speak to many, and move most. It’s harrowing and depressing but also intensely funny.

Anyone who has ever felt like an outcast or a victim can find solace in Speak, and all can learn from it. Pay attention to your kids, World.

Favourite Lines:
Opening line: ‘It is my first morning of high school. I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomach ache’.

OUR TEACHERS ARE THE BEST… My English teacher has no face. She has stringy hair that droops on her shoulders. The hair is black from her parting to her ears and then neon orange to its frizzy ends. I can’t decide if she has pissed off her hairdresser or is morphing into a monarch butterfly. I call her Hairwoman.

‘Sometimes I think high school is one long hazy activity: if you are tough enough to survive this, they’ll let you become an adult. I hope it’s worth it.’

When people don’t express themselves, they die one piece at a time. You’d be shocked at how many adults are really dead inside—walking through their days with no idea who they are, just waiting for a heart attack or cancer or a Mack truck to come along and finish the job. It’s the saddest thing I know’

You should probably read the book before you watch this video, just sayin.

A Scary Vision of the Future: Specials by Scott Westerfeld

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“Special Circumstances”: The words have sent chills down Tally’s spine since her days as a repellent, rebellious ugly. Back then Specials were a sinister rumor — frighteningly beautiful, dangerously strong, breathtakingly fast. Ordinary pretties might live their whole lives without meeting a Special. But Tally’s never been ordinary.

And now she’s been turned into one of them: a superamped fighting machine, engineered to keep the uglies down and the pretties stupid.

The strength, the speed, and the clarity and focus of her thinking feel better than anything Tally can remember. Most of the time. One tiny corner of her heart still remembers something more.

Still, it’s easy to tune that out — until Tally’s offered a chance to stamp out the rebels of the New Smoke permanently. It all comes down to one last choice: listen to that tiny, faint heartbeat, or carry out the mission she’s programmed to complete. Either way, Tally’s world will never be the same.Image and Synopsis from Goodreads.

Woah Long Synopsis. Some minor spoilers further down, nothing too ruin-making though.

So I read Specials probably about a year after reading the first two books Uglies and Pretties and I couldn’t really remember where it left off. But true to form Westerfeld went straight into this book all guns blazing.

I loved that the book started right in the action with Tally and Shay back together again and now both Specials, the cruellest and most modified of them all, up to their usual tricks as if they were Crims again. As it all started coming back to me I remembered where Pretties left off, how terrifying the Specials were and how much Tally had not wanted to look at them, never mind be one.

I found Specials quite creepy (and riveting) in that way, as we go along with Tally on this journey knowing that her mind and body has been altered once again without her permission. She knows something is not quite right but she can’t grasp what. She’s superhuman and can do almost anything; can kill with her bare hands; she feels great and she thinks she looks great but the whole time we know that if she could just snap out of it she would see what they have done to her.

All three of the books in this series so far have been imaginative, fun reads that have obviously kept me coming back for more, but I definitely have some gripes. Tally for one. I found her pretty annoying in the first two books, always changing her mind, always doing the wrong thing-apologising-doing it again, and in Specials she’s even worse. To be fair, that’s the way she’s supposed to be as Specials, especially this new ‘breed’ called Cutters that Tally and Shay are part of are supposed to see themselves as superior to everyone else. Even the normal pretties, who have already been modified to be perfect beauties look hideous and weak to them.

Shay doesn’t get away without a slagging off either. I mean, one minute her and Tally are BFFs and then she’s telling her how self-centred she is. I mean, she is, but don’t pick and choose when to like her in that case. Maybe their relationship was supposed to demonstrate a true friendship. As in you don’t always have to agree or like each other as long as you’re there for each other. Well even so, if that’s friendship I think I’m doing it wrong.

On the up side, the whole world that Westerfeld has created in these books is totally ballsy. It’s a huge comment on how we, as humans are destroying the world, the shallowness of society and also the cost of beauty and I absolutely salute him for that. Using this sort of sci-fi – bizarro world to get that message across is pretty damn awesome. I don’t think parents would be all that pleased for their kids to read this though, with all the cutting themselves to feel clarity, starving themselves, the general lack of morals…and that’s a thought, where the hell are all the parents? The only ones we hear about are David’s, who is a rebel through and through and has never had the Pretty Surgery. Hmm.

I was rooting for David btw, I mean Zane was OK too and I liked that he loved Tally enough to take the pill at the end of Pretties but David just seemed cooler. His parents had started their own colony and were single-handedly saving the world after all.

Despite a few plot issues towards the end such as Dr Cable and the whole of Special Circumstances being bought down so easily (why had no one tried to stop them before if they were really such small fish in a big pond like they turned out to be?) and there not being enough Andrew Simpson Smith (he was hilarious – loved him), I thought Specials was a good ending to the series. Tally stayed true to form in making herself the important one right to the very end, but at least she left us with an important message: Freedom has a way of destroying things.

I don’t know why Westerfeld felt the need to write another book after this one, but I suppose I’ll have to check out Extras too, pull my arm why don’t you.

One last thing, if you liked this series you should totally watch Antiviral. Some similar themes, MUCH more creepiness AND Caleb Landry Jones is such an anti-babe. Anti-babe…I like that!

I gave Specials 4 unicorns out of 5. It is published by Simon and Schuster.

Favourites Friday #3: Why I love James Frey, controversy be damned!

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Click to view on Goodreads.

I love James Frey. I love what he says and how he says it. There, I said it.

I thought I’d go for something a bit different for this week’s FF. It’s definitely not YA, or Paranormal, or Fantasy! But here are some of the reasons why James Frey is one of my favourite authors.

At the age of 23, James Frey woke up on a plane to find his front teeth knocked out and his nose broken. He had no idea where the plane was headed nor any recollection of the past two weeks. An alcoholic for ten years and a crack addict for three, he checked into a treatment facility shortly after landing.
-A Million Little Pieces (Goodreads synopsis)

I didn’t know anything about A Million Little Pieces before I picked it up. I didn’t know it had been marketed as a memoir rather than fiction so I totally missed the whole hype and scandal because I never thought it was anything other than fiction; Fiction that I fell in love with instantly. There’s something about Frey’s streamofconsciousness style that I just can’t get enough of. It’s simple and fierce yet really beautiful in some way. The idea that someone who is beyond broken is doing everything he can to stay alive, and still manages to find beauty in the world and some kind of hope and faith is what really beguiled me. This book is also completely and utterly heartbreaking. You’ve been warned.

I felt exactly the same about follow-up My Friend Leonard too. ‘A heartrending story of a friendship between a newly-sober James and the charismatic, high-living mobster he met in rehab, Leonard. I haven’t reread it as many times as AMLP but it’s still up there in my favourites list.

Then, when Bright Shiny Morning came out I bought the huge hardback edition and was so excited to read it, but it was such a let down. Sad Panda. I was so disappointed that I didn’t even finish it, (I should really give it another go though) so I didn’t know what to expect when I heard his next book was titled The Final Testament of the Holy Bible.

As I was waiting for the book to be released everything went a bit crazy.

He’s been called a liar. A cheat. A con man. He’s been called a saviour. A revolutionary. A genius. He’s been sued by readers. Dropped by publishers because of his controversies. Berated by TV talk-show hosts and condemned by the media. He’s been exiled from America, and driven into hiding. He’s also a bestselling phenomenon.

I have no doubt that the above quote (which is used on Goodreads as the start of The Final Testament synopsis) was just another promotional tool to create this ‘character’ of James Frey. But for a few weeks everywhere I turned, Frey was being called the most hated writer in America, which just made me want to love the book even more. And I did.

What would you do if you discovered the Messiah were alive today? Living in New York. Sleeping with men. Impregnating young women. Euthanizing the dying, and healing the sick. Defying the government, and condemning the holy. What would you do if you met him? And he changed your life. Would you believe? Would you? This is The Final Testament of the Holy Bible.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand why this book created such controversy. Having a protagonist who many perceive to be Jesus reborn who insists that he’s just a man and that religion does nothing but spurn hate and will be the ultimate undoing of the world will do that. He also sleeps with almost everyone he encounters, not forgetting the men…shock horror! But seriously, come on. James Frey is a writer. It’s fiction. If you don’t like the subject matter don’t read it, but leave the poor man alone.

The Final Testament has its flaws. It gets pretty ridiculous and it repeats itself a tad (love is all that matters, yadayadayada), but I felt the same way reading this as I did AMLP- It just spoke to me. I get what he’s trying to say and I like it.

‘I had spent my life worshipping death, fearing it, obsessing over it, and living my life according to what a book says will happen when it comes…I came to understand that it’s no way to live, and that living is all we have and all we will ever have, and that is not to be wasted. That love is life. That life isn’t worth living without love. And that the Catholic Church, filled with celibate men who have no experience with it, has no right telling other people how to love or who to love or what kind of love is right or wrong.’

True Dat.