Tag Archives: Contemporary Fiction

The Unwritten Rule – Elizabeth Scott
Book Reviews
September 11, 2010 posted by Nikki

The Unwritten Rule – Elizabeth Scott

He’s looking at me like – well, like he wants to look at me. Like he likes what he sees, and he’s smiling and his eyes are so blue, even in the faint glow of the porch light they shine, and I nod dumbly, blindly, then grope for the door handle, telling myself to look away and not yet able to do it.

“Sarah,” he says, softly, almost hesitantly, and my heart slam bangs, beating hard, and this is what it’s like to want someone you can’t have. To want someone you shouldn’t even be looking at.

Sarah is in quite the predicament. She’s riding that rollercoaster of first love – the pain, the exhilaration, the ups and downs. Only problem is, she’s doing it solo – unrequited style. She’s been in love with Ryan since the eighth grade, but now he’s dating her emotionally stunted best friend, Brianna, and Sarah is forced to stumble through each day, the pain of seeing them together pulling at her insides with every second that passes.

Brianna has crappy parents who clearly don’t want her around, and Ryan seems to make Brianna feel like she matters to someone. At least, that’s how it looks to Sarah, which is why Sarah is so hell bent on keeping her feelings completely and totally to herself. How could she take Ryan away from Brianna, when she has so little to start with?

Besides, there’s no way Sarah could compete with the sassy, sexiness that is Brianna – and Brianna makes sure Sarah knows it every single day. Brianna might have crappy parents, but that’s no excuse for the way she treats those around her. Its obvious to the reader that Ryan is nothing more than a self-esteem booster for Brianna, and while she might actually love Sarah, she doesn’t know how to show it. I couldn’t help but wonder if Brianna only kept Sarah around to make herself feel better.

But then, it seems, Ryan sees through Brianna’s dance, and decides to take his affections elsewhere – right into the garden of Sarah! Turns out, Ryan has kind of been in love with Sarah for ages, but got all caught up in the whirlwind that is Brianna and time just got away. But he wont stand for that anymore. He wants Sarah, and nothing – nothing – will stand in his way.

Not even Brianna, when she walks in on Ryan and Sarah lying curled up together in Sarah’s bed.

The Unwritten Rule is interesting exploration through the rules of dating and friendship. Were Ryan and Sarah wrong to pursue each other when Brianna was still so clearly caught in the middle. Did they consider her feelings enough? With the way Brianna was treating the pair of them, should they have considered her feelings at all? When is it okay to break the rules of friendship for matters of the heart? These are all questions I asked myself repeatedly throughout this story.

Sarah and Ryan are both likable characters, but I found Brianna to be shallow, callous and difficult to read. She’s clearly got some emotional issues, but the way she treats those around her makes my stomach squirm. You’d think, with her home life being so terrible and all, she’d value the love of her friends a little more.

The Unwritten Rule is a home run for Elizabeth Scott. This is a great, contemporary chick lit read!

Publication date: 2010

Pages: 210

Rating:: ★★★★☆

Teaser Quote: “I wasn’t happy with you? Brianna says. “Almost eight weeks, Ryan. And then you go and – ” she glares at me. “Is this my anniversary present? You could have at least picked someone decent. Someone I’d believe you want and not just who you used to make yourself feel better.”

Post Grad – Emily Cassel
Book Reviews
February 3, 2010 posted by Katie

Post Grad – Emily Cassel

What happens when your life doesn’t go according to plan?

Ryden Malby had a plan. Step One: Do will in high school, thereby achieving Step Two: Get a college scholarship. Step Three: Limit her beer intake in order to keep said scholarship (which wasn’t always easy). Now that she’s finally graduated, it’s time for Step Four: Move into a gorgeous loft apartment and land her dream job at the city’s best publishing house. So far, Ryden’s been three-for-three, but she’s about to stumble on Step Four…

When Jessica Bard, Ryden’s college nemesis – the prettiest, smartest, most ambitious girl at school – steals her perfect job, Ryden’s forced to move back to her childhood home. Stuck with her eccentric family – a stubborn do-it-yourself dad, an overly thrifty mom, a politically incorrect grandma, a very odd little brother – and a growing stack of rejected job applications, Ryden starts to feel like she’s going nowhere. The only upside is spending time with her best friend, Adam – and running into her hot next-door neighbour, David. But if Ryden’s going to survive life as a post grad, it may be time to come up with a new plan…

Ryden Malby seems to be on the up. College scholarship, best friend that she has known forever, and promising prospects at top publishing firm Happerman and Browning. It’s The Plan after all. Moving away from home and an eccentric family that Ryden wishes she weren’t related too is all Ryden has ever wanted. It’s graduation day, and if she can get through the ceremony without some form of disaster, tomorrow will be the start of her new life.

And to being with, everything seems to be going great. Until Adam, her best friend who is driving her to look at the gorgeous loft apartment and to her interview crashes. From there everything seems to fall apart. Being beat out for the dream job but perfect, valedictorian college classmate Jessica, being denied the keys to the apartment, Ryden is forced back to the last place she ever wants to be – home.

Facing countless months of un-employment when she can’t even keep a job at her own father’s luggage store, Ryden feels that nothing will ever be right again. A small light in that future however is David – her older and hotter next-door neighbour. Scoring her a small job as an assistant on the set of the commercials that he directs, Ryden finally feels like she has some to talk to. That is, until she messes up again, angering Adam to the point that he decides to take the offer of a law course in New York. Completely on the opposite side of the continent to Ryden, and it seems no amount of apologies will get Adam to talk to Ryden.

In a world with plans go off track, Ryden must work out exactly what it is she wants, and what she is willing to give up to get it.

Post Grad
by Emily Cassel is adapted from the screenplay of recent movie release of the same name, starring Alexis Bledel. I haven’t seen the movie from which the novel was adapted, but I have it on good authority that it was a fun, easy film to watch. Shame that the same can’t be said from the novel. I found the plot weak and that the characters lacked development over the course of the events. Nothing ever happened for a reason, things just happened. With an entirely predictable ending, there was nothing in this book that really got me caring about what actually happened to Ryden.

The most notable parts of the book were Ryden’s eccentric family. They at least, made it interesting to read – their bizarre and somewhat random acts breaking up the monotony of the rest of the plot.

To me, Post Grad was a concept that had a lot of potential, but was poorly executed in terms of plot and character development.

Pages: 243

Publication date: America 2009, Australia 2010

Rating:: ★★½☆☆

Teaser quote: If you ever truly want to be stared at, try driving down Wilshire Boulevard in your mother’s pink Le Baron with an enormous, half-shattered coffin strapped to the roof.

Beautiful – Cindy Martinusen-Coloma
Book Reviews
January 25, 2010 posted by Nikki

Beautiful – Cindy Martinusen-Coloma

Her friends once thought she was perfect. Now she must face the mirror–and herself–to discover what true beauty is.

Ellie Summerfield has everything a girl could want–she’s beautiful, she’s Senior Class President, has a calendar full of social engagements, volunteer commitments, and church activities. In short, she’s perfect, according to most of the students at West Redding High School. But something is bothering Ellie, like a loose string on a dress she can feel but can’t see. Does she really love her boyfriend, Ryan? Who are her true friends? And is she really happy in her picture-perfect life?

Then in the course of a few minutes, the loose string in Ellie’s life completely unravels. Forever changed, she must face herself as she discovers what it really means to be beautiful.

Ellie is that girl. You know the one I mean: the one with the hot boyfriend; the one with the flawless grades; the one that everyone admires; the one that is most likely to succeed in life. There’s one in every school, and although you’d love to hate her, there just isn’t anything about her to hate.

But then something happens, something bad. Ellie and her friend Stasia are involved in a car accident. Ellie suffers a lot of injuries and winds up in the hospital with severe burns to one side of her body.

Stasia doesn’t even make it out of the car alive.

The doctors assure Ellie, that after a few years and a whole lot of surgery, that she’ll recover and the scarring will almost definitely disappear. But a few years is a long time to walk through life looking like a mutant, and suddenly Ellie decides there is plenty about herself that’s worthy of hating.

In a fit of depression, she cuts herself off from her friends. Every single one of them, including her boyfriend, Ryan. She’s no longer beautiful, so what’s even the point?

Ellie spirals further and further into a pool of depression and self-pity until one day, an old friend from way back in her past, someone that she sees as imperfect and flawed in his own way, walks back into her life.

Will has always had a crush on Ellie, even when they were little kids, and nothing has changed now. Just because her face isn’t the same as it used to be, doesn’t make her any less beautiful, in his eyes. For Will, beauty isn’t something that’s just on the outside. For Will, beauty comes from within.

Will he be able to save Ellie before she hits the bottom of the barrel? You’ll have to read for yourself to find out.

Although Ellie’s horrible self-pity was hard to endure, it was not unrealistic. As a character, I found the way she responded to the events and issues thrown at her to be very believable. I felt sorry for Ryan and her friends when Ellie simply cast them aside, but I never once thought that she was being unfair, or that her character was unrealistic.
Of all the characters within Beautiful, I admired Will and Ryan the most. Although Ellie pushed Ryan away with everything she had, he never stopped loving her, and just like Will, believed that her beauty went far deeper than the scars on her face.

A solid read that I’m sure the girls will love.

Pages: 266

Publication Date: 2009

Rating:: ★★★★☆

Book Reviews
November 10, 2009 posted by Nikki

Ballads of Suburbia – Stephanie Kuehnert

Kara hasn’t been back to Oak Park since the end of junior year, when a heroin overdose nearly killed her and sirens heralded her exit. Four years later, she returns to face the music. Her life changed forever back in high school: her family disintegrated, she ran around with a whole new crowd of friends, she partied a little too hard, and she fell in love with gorgeous bad-boy Adrian, who left her to die that day in Scoville Park….

Amid the music, the booze, the drugs, and the drama, her friends filled a notebook with heartbreakingly honest confessions of the moments that defined and shattered their young lives. Now, finally, Kara is ready to write her own.

The blurb featured above doesn’t even come close to doing Ballads of Suburbia justice. This is not your regular dose of girl-meets-bad boy-but-finds-her-way-back-to-the-right-side-of-the-tracks kind of YA fiction. There is nothing censored, dusted over, or left out of this novel. I’m not even really sure you could classify this one as YA. Having said that, I think its something all angsty teens should read, and not because it has a ‘drugs are bad’ message, although it does, in a round about kind of way. Mostly, because it’s so real and I reckon there is a whole bunch of teens wandering around suburbs just like Oak Park, feeling just like Kara does, thinking there’s no escape. Ballads is a tale about choices and how those choices can affect us for the rest of our days.

Kara’s decent into darkness essentially starts when her parents split up. They moved to the suburbs so they could live out their happy all-American fantasy of being a perfect family, only it didn’t quite work out that way. Not even close.

Kara is hurting and she’s looking for someone, something to make it all stop. Her quest takes her to fairly innocent places at first. Alcohol, cigarettes, a bit of pot. And it works, for a while, but soon enough, the pain starts to push through the mask and she knows she’s going to need something new.

Enter Adrian. Who needs drugs when you’ve got Adrian? He’s sexy, badass, and he likes Kara. No one has ever liked her before, not in that way. Who wouldn’t be pulled in by his trance? Before long, though, it becomes obvious that Adrian is bad news. He’s into hard drugs and he’s unapologetic about it. Soon the high of being around him isn’t enough either, and Kara jumps on the junkie wagon.

What I loved about Ballads is that the narrative does not, in any way, lay blame on Adrian for Kara’s drug use. Although she goes through some seriously messed stuff, Kara makes a choice, a whole bunch of them actually, and the narrative recognises that the reason Kara becomes addicted to heroine is because she allowed herself to. She didn’t need Adrian’s influence – hell some could argue that he didn’t ever actually influence her to use, but he certainly never tried to stop her – her pain and despair was so great that if she hadn’t gotten it from Adrian, I’m certain she would have found it elsewhere.

Kara’s problems essentially started at home, though I don’t entirely believe its fair to blame her problems on her parents, either. For me, it seemed that Kara is the kind of girl that was always going to at least dabble in illicit substances. Would she have taken it to such extremes if her family life had been more stable? Who knows. It’s impossible to say, but there are plenty of kids from well adjusted families that end up as heroine junkies. For some, I think it comes from within. Ballads acknowledges this and lays it all out on the table, judgment free. I bet that every single person will take something different from this novel, and that’s why I think everyone should read it.

This one comes with one hell of a warning folks. If you’re looking for something warm and fuzzy, don’t read this book. If you’re looking for a teen romance that takes a walk on the wild side, don’t read this book. If you’re looking for something that ends up all good and well in the end, then don’t read this book. If what you’re looking for is a real life read that will break your heart, fill your eyes with tears, and force you to face the hard questions head on, then this is absolutely, most definitely the book for you. If you’re looking for a book with complex and deep characters, then this is the book for you. If you’re looking for a read that will keep you thinking long after you finish the last word, then Ballads of Suburbia is a must-read for you.

Kara’s tale is a raw, hard-hitting lesson on just how much guts it takes to fight your way from the dark side into the light. Stephanie Kuehnert’s effortless prose and outstanding imagery will leave you standing front and center, right in the middle of all Kara’s chaos.

Be prepared to have your beating heart ripped right out of your chest.

Rating:: ★★★★★

P.S – If you’ve never known someone that’s affected by drugs the way Kara and some of her friends in this book are, I hope that you can look upon her story in a non-judging way. And if you, or someone you love has been kissed by drugs, then I hope you can take something of Kara with you into your days. Her story is more than just a fictional tale.

In Ecstasy – Kate McCaffrey
Book Reviews
September 30, 2009 posted by Nikki

In Ecstasy – Kate McCaffrey

Ecstasy. I’d always thought I might try it one day. I’d heard kids at school talking about getting wasted on the weekends. They made it sound awesome. I pictured the roughly made tablets with their tiny butterflies. An amazing experience inside a tiny pill.

My body ached and my face was sore – I guess from smiling so much. I don’t remember ever laughing more. A new world had opened up for me, a place where I was confident and beautiful and a hot guy like Lewis wanted to be with me. That morning I figured life couldn’t get any better. How could something that made you feel like that be bad for you?

Meet Mia. She’s only just turned fifteen and she’s always been in Sophie’s shadow. Not that she minded, not really. Without Sophie, Mia wouldn’t have a social life. Without Sophie, Mia would probably be a nobody. So when Sophie takes Mia to a party one night and offers her an ecstasy tablet, Mia doesn’t even think about saying no. Before she even realises what is happening to her, Mia is flying high – and loving every minute of it. Armed with the artificial confidence the drug provides, Mia is invincible, and her newfound radiance does not go unnoticed.

Enter Lewis. Very hot. Sweet and charming as hell. Suddenly very interested in Mia. Lewis is no stranger to ecstasy. His parents are away a lot and Lewis is often left to fend for himself. It’s not hard to turn into a party animal when you’ve got no parental units to keep you in your cage. The more Mia hangs out with Lewis, the more ecstasy she takes. Before she even knows what is happening, Mia can’t socialize without it.

Slot in Sophie here. Sophie is supposed to be Mia’s best friend, but since she’s been hanging out with Lewis and his crew, she’s changed. Sophie can see what is happening to Mia, but when she tries to talk to her about it, Mia reckons that she’s just jealous and blows her off. Sophie has a whole lot of other stuff going on in her life and she really needs her best friend right now … but is that even Mia anymore?

In Ecstasy is all about the downward spiral. For Mia, its one that is fueled by drugs and an overarching need to fit in, feel popular and be loved. For Sophie, while it may have started like that for her, her painful journey takes a bit of a different turn. With both girls so disconnected, who is going to save them? Who is going to snap them back to their reality?

Kate McCaffrey’s portrayal of the drug scene is terrifyingly accurate.  If you’re thinking about taking drugs, or you know someone who may be thinking about it, reading something like In Ecstasy first might be a smart move. While Mia’s story isn’t applicable to everyone, and not everyone who takes drugs gets addicted, In Ecstasy is an excellent representation of what can happen if you do.

I can’t say that I enjoyed reading this, but I’m certainly glad that I did.

Rating:: ★★★★☆

Halfway to Good – Kristen Murphy
Book Reviews
September 14, 2009 posted by Nikki

Halfway to Good – Kristen Murphy

It’s the first day of Term One, and Luke and Anna are on opposite sides of the student-teacher divide. School is the last thing Luke feels like – how can he feel halfway to good when his father is sick, his mother is sad and his older brother is painfully present?

Anna’s life still revolves around love, friendship and homework, but she’s a graduate teacher now. Can she cope with a bullying co-worker, a persistent ex-boyfriend and a class of unforgiving Year Elevens, and still find time to help Luke?

Luke is one depressed teenager, but if you ask me, he’s got pretty good reasons to be so down. His dad is sick – really sick – and life at their place just isn’t as peachy as it used to be. But that’s not where it stops. Luke has other problems, too, he just can’t figure out what they are. He’s got this awesome girlfriend, but he doesn’t want to be with her anymore. Why? No one knows – not even Luke. He’s got these awesome friends, but he keeps shutting them out. Why? No one knows – not even Luke.

Anna is graduate teacher, fresh out of university. Of course she’s worried about her first full time teaching position, but she never anticipated as many stumbling blocks as she encounters. For absolutely no reason at all, one of Anna’s superiors takes an instant disliking to her and does everything she can to ensure Anna’s first year on the job is anything but easy. Luckily for Anna, she’s got a wicked mentor assigned to her, who becomes more like a best friend than a colleague.

Then there’s the whole thing with Anna’s ex-boyfriend. He left town – and her – a while ago, but now he’s back. He’s back, and he wants Anna back too. Anna’s head screams run but he heart… well her heart tells her to stay. What does one do, when presented with such a scenario, especially when he hurt her so badly before?

Luke and Anna’s worlds collide when Luke walks into English at the beginning of the year. She’s his teacher, but by the end of the novel, they’ll mean more to each other than simply student and teacher. In a bizarre twist of fate, Anna’s sister is marrying Luke’s brother. Being intimately linked like that is weird for them at first, especially Luke, but as he gets to know Anna more, he stops thinking of her as his teacher and starts thinking of her as someone he could grow to trust, someone he could grow to care about.

Halfway to Good is narrated through both character’s perspectives. The advantage that this novel has over singularly narrated novels is that the dual narration concept leaves nothing to the imagination. Readers don’t need to assume anything because both stories are sprawled on the pages for all to see. It’s fantastic to see how Luke and Anna impact on each other’s lives, and I loved not having to draw my own conclusions for once. Interestingly, because Anna is older than Luke, her perspective provides a different kind of slant to the story, adds a certain depth that is sometimes lacking in regular YA fiction. I still think that teenage readers will be able to relate to Anna, though. She’s only a first year teacher and her thinking patterns aren’t too ancient that the kids wont get where she’s coming from.

Halfway too Good is a solid read, and one that enthusiasts of general, contemporary young adult fiction will love. I fell in love with both Luke and Anna, and I wanted so badly to help heal their aching souls. Narrated through both a male and a female perspective, this is one of those universal novels that I reckon both boys and gals will get into. Can’t get much better than that.

Rating: : ★★★★☆

Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher
Book Reviews
January 3, 2009 posted by Nikki

Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher

I am speechless. Numb.

I just finished reading Jay Asher’s debut novel, Thirteen Reasons Why, and although my brain is buzzing, I can’t seem to find my words. So I’m going to ramble of a bunch of statistics, which hopefully, will highlight the gravity of the issue Asher deals with in his novel.

Did you know:

Approximately 8 in every 100 000 people aged between 15 and 24 in the United States commit suicide every year.

Among 15-19 year old Australians, suicide accounted for a total of 85 registered deaths in 2004, at a rate of 6.2 per 100,000 people (7.5 for males, 4.8 for females). Suicide accounted for 15.2% of total male deaths and 17.1% of total female deaths registered in this age group (source: Suicides, Australia, 1994 to 2004. ABS, 2006).

Teen suicide is often attributed to drug and alcohol abuse, poor family situations, extreme trouble at school, mental illness. Sometimes, pinpointing a reason why someone kills themselves is impossible and friends and family of the deceased live out the rest of their days wondering why, what – if anything – they could have done to help.

In Thirteen Reasons Why, readers are given a detailed blow-by-blow account of Hanna Baker’s journey towards death. Before she dies, she records her story on a set of audio tapes. She devises a plan to make sure that everyone featured on the tapes receives them, and listens to every single word she says.

When Clay receives the tapes, he doesn’t know what they are at first. But after listening for only a couple of moments, the realisation that he is in possession of Hanna Bakers last words, and that he is somehow part of her downward spiral is a sobering thought indeed. Clay listens, not just because he wants to learn about his role, but because it was Hanna’s last dying wish that everyone that receives the tapes, listens to them in full.

Clay always had a thing for Hanna Baker, but they’d only made out once, so what could he possibly have done to contribute to her decision to kill herself? As Clay is listening, often with tears streaming down his face, he realises that his failure was unavoidable. Sure, he could have tried harder to get through to Hanna in her time of need, but she pushed him away – and how can you help someone that doesn’t want to be helped?

Some of the events that unfold in Hanna’s tale are really quite horrific, and I found myself questioning the very essence of human nature over and over. How could these kids do these kinds of things to each other? Can’t they see that their actions, their words, all come with consequences? Or maybe they do know, but just don’t care? Reading Thirteen Reasons Why made me realise that I’m either a very naïve person, or I’ve lead a very sheltered life (quite possibly a combination of both). Teenagers can be the cruellest creatures on Earth.

Foresight is not a characteristic commonly employed by the characters in this novel. From the those that contributed to her demise, right through to Hanna actually committing suicide, no one looked past the now. Would Bryce have done the things he did if he knew it would lead to Hanna ultimately deciding that she couldn’t live with herself anymore? Maybe Clay would have stayed in the room longer, maybe Justin wouldn’t have started that rumor. Maybe. But maybe not, too.

Hanna herself was guilty of lacking foresight. She couldn’t see past her immediate problems, couldn’t see that her life wasn’t necessarily always going to be at the whim of the idiots she went to school with. But I argue that she couldn’t see these things because she didn’t try. She didn’t want to see a life beyond what she knew. The question then stands, then, if the combination of events Hanna blames as the source of her desire to die, hadn’t happened, would she have found other reasons to justify her death? Was it set in her brain, programmed from birth? It’s a difficult question to answer and one that often gets asked in the wake of a successful suicide attempt.

Teen Suicide is not an issue to be taken lightly, so I was happy to see Jay Asher dealing with Hanna’s death in a responsible, accurate manner. Thirteen Reasons Why is written in simple, straight-forward language. As this is Asher’s debut novel, it’s hard to tell whether such a technique was intentional or is just the product of his natural writing style. But it works, very well. Hanna’s story is profound enough that it does not need the help of colourful language to get the message across. Asher captures the essence of the teenage mind brilliantly, providing a captivating, raw tale with lessons about humankind for all.

Rating: : ★★★★½