Book review: Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

The book:

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin 
Published by Bloomsbury in 2007
Pages: 288

My copy: Secondhand copy


51ILb32sRbL._AC_US160_The blurb:

When Naomi tries to piece back the fragments of the last three and a half years of her life, she discovers a lot. She has a boyfriend but can’t remember him, her mother and father are divorced, and she has forgotten that she is supposed to hate her mother. She also has a group of friends which simply doesn’t seem that attractive any more and, despite having meticulously kept a diary, she only mentioned what she ate every day in it! But it’s not all bad, because when a girl loses three and a half years she gets a chance to reinvent herself. After all, who is to say that everything has to be the same?

My thoughts…

I absolutely loved The Stories Life of A.J. Fikry which I read earlier this year, and vowed at the time to check out more of Zevin’s novels. So stumbling across this for a mere 99p in a charity shop seemed like a sign!

I found this a really enjoyable look, which shares a lot of traits with other young adult novels. The novel was warm and humorous while dealing with a range of serious issues. Most interesting was our narrator Naomi’s memory loss – after a nasty fall she forgets the last four years of her life. While this sounds awful, in some strange ways it almost becomes a positive as Naomi is able to reinvent herself and become more like her true self.

The characters around Naomi also help to make the story feel three-dimensional. Her best friend Will is odd and quirky, and the friendship between them works really well, while having lots of ups and downs. James is the mysterious love interest in this novel, and his story was interesting and well handled too.

There was a lot going on here and lots of issues were addresses, but it never felt forced or heavy-handed and, if anything, the novel could have been longer so we find out how things pan out for all the characters, but then I think one of its strengths was that it left some loose ends and leaves the reader thinking about what might happen next. I liked that there wasn’t a soppy happy ending, and the characters were real, flawed people. 

My rating: 9 out of 10

Book review: Black Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

The book:

Black Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin
Published by Penguin in 2016
Pages: 416

My copy: Secondhand copy

61OcUOMDaiL._AC_US160_The blurb:

Seventeen-year-old Tessa, dubbed a ‘Black-Eyed Susan’ by the media, became famous for being the only victim to survive the vicious attack of a serial killer. Her testimony helped to put a dangerous criminal behind bars – or so she thought.

Now, decades later the black-eyed susans planted outside Tessa’s bedroom window seem to be a message from a killer who should be safely in prison.

Haunted by fragmented memories of the night she was attacked and terrified for her own teenage daughter’s safety, can Tessa uncover the truth about the killer before it’s too late?

My thoughts…

I had heard a lot of good things about this book and was looking forward to reading a scary, dark thriller. But I have to say that I was disappointed by the end of it.

The story is told in alternating chapters, so we have 16-year-old Tessie who is going through therapy after her ordeal, and then Tessa in the current day who is trying to find out who has started leaving flowers under her window.  For the first part of this book, this worked well and we started to build up a picture of what had happened to Tessa when she was a teenager. However, the novel continued in this style for far too long, with very little actually happening after a point. I also found the descriptions of the therapy sessions got really dull and monotonous, with the chapters being too short to really get in to either part of the story fully. 

Then we get to the ending, which I just found really unconvincing – and parts of it didn’t make sense. I felt disappointed overall as the story was too long, and it didn’t quite fit together for me.

My rating: 5 out of 10

Book review: Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson

The book:

Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson
Published 2015 by Simon & Schuster
Pages: 480

My copy: Secondhand copy


51wUrTb+NSL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_The blurb:

Taylor Edwards’ family aren’t close but when they receive some life-changing news they decide to get to know each other again, spending one last summer together at their old lake house.

But Taylor is faced with the past she ran away from. Her former summer best friend is still living across the lake and still as mad with Taylor as she was five years ago, and her first boyfriend has moved in next door . . . but he’s much cuter at seventeen than he was at twelve. Can one summer be enough time to get a second chance – with family, friends, and love?

My thoughts…

This young adult novel is set over one summer, with the Edward family packing their bags and spending summer at their lake house. The Edwards are quite a strange bunch and I found it hard to relate to any of them or really care about them. The dad is obsessed with work, brother Warren is a total nerd, sister Gelsey is a brat and the mum has barely any part to play at all. While this was clearly deliberate by the author, it did mean that I didn’t connect with them at all and found myself actively disliking them in the main. They had come to the beach house for the summer to spend some quality time together, yet they never spend any time together as a family, with all of them disappearing to do their own thing. It never quite rang true for me. Also our narrator Taylor is hard to like at times as she comes across as quite cold and unemotional, although I did warm to her as the book progressed.

Throughout the book we get hints about what happened five years ago, when Taylor was 12, that broke apart her friendships with Lucy and Henry. There were even a few flashbacks to help the reader along. I wasn’t sure how convincing I found these events to be, bearing in mind the characters were only 12 at the time – it seemed that they were a bit too young to experience what they did, although perhaps this is me being naïve.

It did take me a while to really get into this book. I found the start a bit slow and often repetitive, and I frequently felt that not much was really happening. But I really liked the setting of the book, and I could picture the lake house and the beach snackbar where Taylor worked. Some of the scenes between Taylor and her dad were touching, and these sections really helped me to warm to Taylor and relate to her a bit more.

I found the book picked up towards the end, and I did shed a tear at the end too. I liked some of the friendships between Taylor and her old friend Lucy, but the romance with Henry was predictable and it just didn’t quite do it for me. So mixed feelings overall, but still a well-written summer read.

My rating: 6 out of 10

Book review: Mr Mercedes by Stephen King


The book:

Mr Mercedes by Stephen King
Published 2015 by Hodder
Pages: 432

My copy: Paperback

5177c9a29UL._AC_US160_The blurb:

A cat-and-mouse suspense thriller featuring Bill Hodges, a retired cop who is tormented by ‘the Mercedes massacre’, a case he never solved.

Brady Hartsfield, perpetrator of that notorious crime, has sent Hodges a taunting letter. Now he’s preparing to kill again.

Each starts to close in on the other in a mega-stakes race against time.

My thoughts…

I haven’t read a Stephen King book for many years, but I was aware that he’d recently written a trilogy that seemed generally well-liked, so I chose the first book of the three for my August book group. The book is a kind of cat-and-mouse style chase between retired ex-cop Hodges and sick killer Brady. While Hodges was still working, Brady drove a stolen car into a crowd of people, killing eight of them. The case was never solved, but now he’s sent a menacing letter to Hodges, leaving the retired cop to think that Brady – dubbed the Mercedes Killer – is poised to strike again…

Both of the characters are introduced very early on in the novel, and we slowly build a picture of them. Hodges is retired, bored, and rapidly gaining weight, while Brady is elusive, weird – and basically a sicko! His relationship with his mother is truly disturbing.

I found the book very readable, but I wasn’t sure that I really liked it that much, if that makes sense! I think it is cleverly written, with the story developing well and the tension building nicely. But I didn’t really like any of the characters and it just felt dated and full of stereotypes, and the two main characters are both caricatures in the main. In some ways I liked that the characters were un-PC, as this of course reflects the real world, but I really could have done without Hodges perving at every blonde woman under the age of 50, and token black character Jerome’s street-talking alter-ego.

But despite this, I wanted to keep reading the story, and was intrigued to find out what would happen. I did expect it to be darker, and possibly a few more twists at the end would have been fitting, but overall I think I liked the book, without really liking it. which makes no sense at all!  And I probably wouldn’t read any of the other books in the trilogy – at least not for a while! 

My rating: 6 out of 10

This Week In Books – 17 August 2016

download (2)
This meme was set up by Lipsyy Lost and Found.

Here is what I am reading now, then and next!

Now…

41i8WJ8iiLL I have just started reading The Punch by Noah Hawley which I am really enjoying so far. I’m less than 50 pages in but already I’ve encountered strippers, a 60-year-old who likes a glass of Merlot for breakfast, and a man with two wives. I think it’s going to be a fun – but quite full on – read! Here’s the blurb…

The Henry brothers could not be more different. Scott is stuck in a dead-end job and has taken to hanging out in some of San Francisco’s seedier dives. David, on the other hand, is a successful travelling salesman, and has not one happy family, but two (one on each coast). Tensions run high as their father’s death brings them together on a road-trip to New York, especially when their alcoholic mother is along for the ride and thinks nothing of revealing a long-held family secret . . .

Then…

51ILb32sRbL._AC_US160_61OcUOMDaiL._AC_US160_Earlier this week I read Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin, who also wrote The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, which I read and adored earlier this year. And I really liked this one too. At the weekend I finished Black Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin, which sadly I didn’t like so much. I am massively behind with my reviews at the moment, but I hope to get these and other reviews written and posted up here as soon as possible!

Next…
muse_
123I have been saving The Muse by Jessie Burton, partly because I am so excited to read it, and also because the version I have is a big hefty hardback so I’ve been waiting until I have a few weeks off work so I don’t have to lug it with me on the tube every day! The burdens of London living…

I also have a few other hardbacks that I plan to read when I’m on leave, all of which I picked up in the library at the weekend. These are the new Mary Kubica, entitled Don’t You Cry, Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler and The Lauras by Sara Taylor – the latter of which I picked up simply because the cover is so pretty! I really don’t like reading hardbacks so I’m going to have a holiday blitz!

What are you reading now, then and next?

Science books for mighty girls

I just stumbled across this list of books designed to encourage young girls to show an interest in science. My daughter is suddenly obsessed with doing odd experiments (which at the moment tend to involve plastic pots, washing up liquid, sugar and water…) so I may well check out a few of these.

Has anyone read any of these – or can you recommend any other books for budding young scientists – boys or girls?

Young adult binge-read

I’ve been binge-reading young adult books recently, but since London Belongs To Us by Sarra Manning, which I loved, I haven’t had as much success! Here is a round-up of the ones I’ve read…
 

restThe Rest Of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
I have to confess I ended up abandoning this book as I just couldn’t get into it. On the surface was your normal YA novel – a group of teenagers dealing with the usual issues of unrequited love, confused sexuality and so on – but running alongside this was a slightly less ordinary tale of vampire invasions and a strange force currently kidnapping indie kids. It is very possible that this is a brilliant book but I just found it so hard to get into – and ultimately I just didn’t get it, but I feel like I was just missing something!

sugarSugar by Deirdre Riordan Hall
Sugar is a teenage girl who is vastly overweight, living with her dysfunctional family – her horrible brother Skunk and a mother who is so big she’s now confined to bed. She waits on them both hand and foot, yet they are hideous to her and she eats to make herself feel better. Life is bleak – and then in walks Even, the most perfectly lovely, sweet teenage boy you could hope to meet.

I did like this book to begin with. Sugar’s family was so horrible to her, yet she just takes it, and you could really feel her sadness and the way her family made her feel so hopeless that she couldn’t help binge-eating. But I did find that the book became repetitive, with little happening – until about ¾ of the way through when something so utterly unexpected happened that I was totally shocked – but I’m not sure it really helped the story. Also, I found Sugar’s submissive nature quite frustrating, and even at the end I didn’t feel she stood up to all the bad influences in her life quite as strongly as she should have.

This isn’t a bad book by any means – I found it very readable and overall I enjoyed it – but I did want a bit more from it, and found my interest had tailed off by the end.

outOut of Order by Casey Lawrence
This is a short story that I received from NetGalley, and read in just a few hours. We start with our narrator Corey surviving a brutal incident just after prom, before we skip back in time to find out more about Corey and her three best friends. This is really a tale about friendship and sexuality – but there is also the murder element which gives the novel a ‘whodunnit’ sub-plot. But it was the sub-plot that I didn’t feel worked well, and I found the identity of the killer, and their motives, to be pretty unbelievable. The relationship between the girls was very sweet but the novel needed to be a bit longer, with more about the aftermath, to really work that well for me in the end.

straGoodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
This was another YA novel that I didn’t enjoy as much as I’d hoped! The main character, Bridge, is cute and quirky, and spends most of her time hanging out with her friends Em and Tab. Into this set-up appears Sherm, who Bridge grows closer to throughout the novel as they work together on the production of the school’s talent show. Alongside this, there are short sections of the book told in the second-person narrative (which I have to admit I am not a fan of), and we have to try and fathom out who this mystery narrator is and how they fit into the main story.

This book would have worked better for me if it had focused more on Bridge, Sherm and their families – instead the other characters took over and there was never really a very strong or convincing plot. There were a few things going on here, but not enough of them were interesting enough to keep me very intrigued, and although I got through the book in just a few hours, I was never totally gripped by it. I liked the characters a lot, and I enjoyed the letters from Sherm to his grandad, but overall I felt it lacked focus and the subplots didn’t really come together or work for me.

I usually love young adult novels but I seem to have picked a bit of a hit-and-miss batch here! Feel free to recommend any others you think might restore my faith in the genre!!