Sunday, 20 April 2014

Midnight Crossroad - Charlaine Harris

Published: May 8th 2014, Gollancz
Pages: 320 pages, paperback proof
Standalone/series: This is book one in the Midnight, Texas series
Acquired: Kindly sent for review by the publisher

Summary (from Goodreads): Welcome to Midnight, Texas, a town with many boarded-up windows and few full-time inhabitants, located at the crossing of Witch Light Road and Davy Road. It's a pretty standard dried-up western town.

There's a pawnshop (where someone lives in the basement and runs the store during the night). There's a diner (although those folk who are just passing through tend not to linger). And there's new resident: Manfred Bernardo, who thinks he's found the perfect place to work in private (and who has secrets of his own).

If you stop at the one traffic light in town, then everything looks normal. But if you stay a while, you might learn the truth . . .


My review: 

The first book in an explosive new series from Charlaine Harris, Midnight Crossroad introduces readers to the teeny tiny town of Midnight, Texas, where things aren't quite as quiet as they appear on first glance.

In this installment we meet the residents of Midnight, learn about the history of the town and also uncover a number of secrets that the townspeople are hiding. We find out pretty quickly that when people move to Midnight, it's usually because they have a secret that they want to keep, well, secret and every member of town has a backstory. We learn a fair bit about the main residents but I can't wait to find out more and more about other characters in future books - especially Chuy, Joe and the Rev!

Newcomer Manfred is our main port of call in Midnight Crossroad; he operates an online psychic business out of his house and quickly adapts to life in Midnight. He's a likeable guy from the outset and, although we're not fully clued in on his backstory yet, I have a feeling there's a lot more to come from Manfred. He forms fast friendships with a number of people in Midnight, including Bobo and Fiji, who are two of my favourite characters. Man, do I love these two!

Bobo runs Midnight Pawn (best name for a pawn shop ever?) and serves as a landlord to a few of Midnight's residents, including the mysterious Olivia and Lemuel - I won't tell you too much about them right now, I'll just say that they provide some pretty kick ass moments and I cannot *wait* to see what they do in later books. Fiji, the wild-haired white witch, is a popular and kind member of Midnight. Well-liked by everybody, she looks out for Manfred from day one and is sweet to everyone she meets. Oh, and she's the owner of a prettyyy enigmatic cat, Mr Snuggly.

The plot of Midnight Crossroad focuses on the mystery surrounding Bobo's ex-girlfriend, Aubrey, who disappeared from town before the story begins. We're not quite sure if she left of our own accord or if something happened, but as the story pans out we learn more and more and suddenly things get very sinister indeed. Aubrey's disappearance pulls in almost every resident of Midnight and soon the town realise they'll have to work together to find out exactly what happened, and put the issue to rest.

Aside from the central mystery, there are so many little subplots in Midnight Crossroad that I adored - my favourite might have been the possible romance between Bobo and Fiji. Will they, won't they? Who knows, but I know I'm rooting for Fiji to get her man!

The omnipresent narrative voice was something a little different - I haven't read a book in months that uses this viewpoint and, usually, I'm not a fan but it works so well here. Having access to the thoughts of every character helps bring the book to life and it's the perfect narrative style. I almost felt as though the spirit of Midnight itself was narrating the story - I like the idea of an old, sleepy town keeping an eye on its residents and watching them come and go.

I haven't read all of Charlaine Harris' other books but I've heard that lots of residents of Midnight are present in her other series, which is very very cool if it's true. I love it when writers set their works in the same universe, so if this is the case I'll have to go on a hunt to find out who is featured in which book!

In case you couldn't tell, I was blown away by Midnight Crossroad. It's a wholly immersive, stunningly written adventure that I couldn't put down. The characters are spot on and unforgettable, the plot is exciting - the only negative thing is that I have to (very impatiently) wait for book two!!!

Bonus: In case you weren't sold by my review, check out the awesome trailer for the book:

Friday, 11 April 2014

The Break-Up Artist - Philip Siegel

Published: April 29th 2014, Harlequin Teen
Series/standalone: A second book is in the works!
Acquired: Via Netgalley

Summary (from Goodreads): Some sixteen-year-olds babysit for extra cash. Some work at the Gap. Becca Williamson breaks up couples. 



After watching her sister get left at the altar, Becca knows the true damage that comes when people utter the dreaded L-word. For just $100 via paypal, she can trick and manipulate any couple into smithereens. With relationship zombies overrunning her school, and treating single girls like second class citizens, business is unfortunately booming. Even her best friend Val has resorted to outright lies to snag a boyfriend.

One night, she receives a mysterious offer to break up the homecoming king and queen, the one zombie couple to rule them all: Steve and Huxley. They are a JFK and Jackie O in training, masters of sweeping faux-mantic gestures, but if Becca can split them up, then school will be safe again for singletons. To succeed, she'll have to plan her most elaborate scheme to date and wiggle her way back into her former BFF Huxley’s life – not to mention start a few rumors, sabotage some cell phones, break into a car, and fend off the inappropriate feelings she’s having about Val’s new boyfriend. All while avoiding a past victim out to expose her true identity.

No one said being the Break-Up Artist was easy.

My review: The story is what sold me on The Break-Up Artist. This was actually one of my 2014 debut author picks from 2013, and when I saw it go up on Netgalley I had my fingers crossed non-stop until I got approved. Thank you, Harlequin!

This is a truly unique story and Siegel has a lot of fun with it. The only thing I can think of that's vaguely similar is Allison Van Diepen's The Oracle of Dating - though her character's business is pretty much the polar opposite of Becca's! It's always a good thing when a novel has such a different story and it makes for a really refreshing read, which The Break-Up Artist definitely is. 

I do have a couple of quibbles with this one and they are both character-related, though the positives far outweigh the few problems I did have.

Firstly, I found Val's character arc a little over the top, to the point I found her becoming a bit of a caricature towards the end of the book. I get why she acted the way she did but I think it was a little too much - I feel like her actions could have been reined in but still had the same effect.

I had a bigger issue with the mysterious person who wants to orchestrate the break up of Steve and Huxley. Throughout the book I was trying to figure out who it might be and what their reasoning behind the request could be but when we did finally find out I was pretty disappointed. I do think it's asking a bit much to expect us to believe that particular person would have enlisted Becca's services and I did feel this was the only unbelievable part of the story, which up until that point had felt so real.

However, my two character issues are only little problems rather than huge issues with plot and neither of these quibbles are enough to make me dislike the book at all. The Break-Up Artist is a funny, entertaining and well-written debut that makes me excited to follow the author's future work. In the questions at the end of the proof he does mention he's working on a second book that follows Becca's life, which I'm really looking forward to. The Break-Up Artist ties up enough loose ends up that it would work well as a standalone but there are also a few questions I was left wondering about, so a second instalment is definitely something I'm excited about!

Final thoughts: I had a blast reading this novel, it feels like a classic contemporary YA and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it. 

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Tease - Amanda Maciel

Published: May 1st 2014, Hachette Children's Books
Series/standalone: Standalone
Acquired: Via Netgalley

Summary (from Goodreads): A gripping, controversial debut about the nature of bullying.

Emma Putnam is dead, and it's all Sara Wharton's fault.

At least, that's what everyone seems to think when Sara, along with her best friend and three other classmates, has been criminally charged for the bullying and harassment that led to Emma's shocking suicide. But Sara is sure she hasn't done anything wrong, because Emma brought it on herself. Sara is adamant that she was the victim - not Emma.

Inspired by a true story, TEASE is a thought-provoking must-read that will haunt you long after the last page.


My review: The summary for Tease says it's inspired by a true story; I'd wager Tease is based on numerous true stories, rather than one, as the issues in the book are becoming scarily commonplace. Bullying between teenagers that gets out of control and leads to suicide is something I find myself reading about on the news over and over again; it never becomes less shocking and it seems to be getting worse, rather than better.

It was an extremely bold move by Maciel to write about the issues from the point of view of the bully, rather than the victim, but I think it was an exceptionally clever one. We get to hear Sara defend herself and explain her actions, we get to hear about the events that led up to the bullying spree that (maybe, we'll never know) led Emma to take her own life and we get to hear firsthand how a mob mentality can desensitive people to what they are actually doing.

Would the bullying have been so severe if it wasn't a group of them doing it? If it was Sara on her own would she have ambushed Emma in so many different ways, or would she just have had bitchy thoughts in her head but never acted on it? It's an interesting thing that I took away from the book. Do bullies need company; does laughing about it afterwards with friends help ease any guilt that may be present? If it's a group of you do you feel like you're 'all in it together' and get carried away, numb to any repercussions?

There are so many questions that Tease raises and it puts us in these difficult situations without apology. Sara maintains from page one that it isn't her fault Emma committed suicide, that the bullying she subjected her to was not that big of a deal, that Emma brought it on herself by her own actions, that Emma was already ill so suicide was inevitable. And, of course, we never really know what drove Emma to suicide - which is why I think setting the book after her death was such a clever idea.

I really, really enjoyed this book, despite the morbid subject matter. It was a fascinating look at high school life, destructive friendships and personal responsibility. Sara's voice was sharp as a tack, whether she was talking about her love life or the part she played in Emma's death, and I found it impossible to dislike her, whatever her flaws may be. Warming to Sara made me consider Emma's death from all angles and, controversial as it may be, when we saw flashbacks of certain events, it wasn't too difficult to see why Sara took such a strong dislike to Emma. Of course, I'm not suggesting that bullying somebody is the way to go! Though, it wasn't impossible to see why Sara had it in for Emma and, when encouraged by her group of friends, got carried away and took things too far, to a climax that was earth-shattering for every character involved.

Sara, Brielle and the other bullies are definitely not characters you'd want to be friends with. They're selfish, spoiled and cold. But they do feel real. Their actions are awful but they are the cruel, detached type of teenager that we all experienced in some capacity when we were that age. I'm sure lots of reviews out there will criticise Sara's character but, honestly, when was it decided that all protagonists have to be likeable people who are kind and sweet and always make the right decisions? Sara might not be a great person but she feels real which, for me at least, is the most important thing.

Tease might not have you laughing out loud or swooning over the love story, but it will entertain you, it will make you think and it will leave you with questions that you'll find yourself pondering for days after you finish reading. It's a book that you'll want to talk about and it's a book that won't be ignored.

Monday, 7 April 2014

A Kiss in the Dark - Cat Clarke

Published: April 3rd 2014, Quercus
Pages: 384 pages, paperback
Series/standalone: Standalone
Acquired: Kindly sent for review by the publisher

Summary (from Goodreads): When Alex meets Kate the attraction is instant.

Alex is funny, good-looking, and a little shy – everything that Kate wants in a boyfriend.

Alex can’t help falling for Kate, who is pretty, charming and maybe just a little naive…

But one of them is hiding a secret, and as their love blossoms, it threatens to ruin not just their relationship, but their lives.

My review: This review is probably going to be shorter than my usual review length - simply because saying too much about this one will reveal too much about the plot and I don't want to post any spoilers, I just want you all to read it and discover the twists and turns for yourselves!

As you can see from the summary, lies and secrets are the two central themes in A Kiss in the Dark. We see Alex and Kate's relationship blossom from the beginning of the book and it's as we see their love develop that you begin to realise, at some point, one half of the couple's secret is going to come out and when it does, well, it's going to be earth-shattering for everybody involved.

A Kiss in the Dark has Clarke's trademark shocks threaded all the way through the story and this is a pacy read that you'll absolutely fly through. As soon as I found out what the secret was I could not put this one down, and I mean it when I say I didn't put it down. I was reading this while I was cooking dinner, while I was in the bath, while I was drying my hair - constantly. It's such a compelling story and it's the strength of the character development that makes it such a joy to read.

Our central characters, Alex and Kate, share a dual narrative and this was a stroke of genius. Letting us hear events from both Alex and Kate's points of view is what brings A Kiss in the Dark to life. Hearing about the secret from the relevant character themselves makes it much easier to understand the burning questions - the why, the how etc etc. I think if this had been written in third person it wouldn't be such a strong book, so Clarke's decision to bring us the story from both Alex and Kate's points of view was a winning one.

I loved A Kiss in the Dark, I really did. It's a realistic look at teenage love, even with some of the extraordinary situations that present themselves, and it's full of Clarke's usual wit, sharpness and spot on teenage dialogue. 

Final thoughts: She's done it again! That makes four books that absolutely knock it out of the park. Can we just bow down now and revel in Cat's talent? Yeah, let's do that.