Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Severed Heads, Broken Hearts - Robyn Schneider

Publisher: Simon and Schuster UK
Pages: 288
Published: September 2013


Robyn Schneider's book, originally titled Severed Heads, Broken Hearts is a witty and heart-wrenching teen novel that will appeal to fans of books by John Green and Ned Vizzini and novels such as The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Golden boy Ezra Faulkner believes everyone has a tragedy waiting for them—a single encounter after which everything that really matters will happen. His particular tragedy waited until he was primed to lose it all: In one spectacular night, a reckless driver shatters Ezra's knee, his career as a jock, and his social life.
No longer a front-runner for homecoming king, Ezra finds himself at the table of misfits, where he encounters new girl Cassidy Thorpe. Cassidy is unlike anyone Ezra's ever met— achingly effortless, fiercely intelligent, and determined to bring Ezra along on her endless adventures.
Together, Ezra and Cassidy discover flash mobs, buried treasure, secret movie screenings, and a poodle that might just be the reincarnation of Jay Gatsby. But as Ezra dives into his new studies, new friendships, and new love, he learns that some people, like books, are easy to misread. And now he must consider: If one's singular tragedy has already hit and everything after it has mattered quite a bit, what happens when more misfortune strikes?
With lyrical writing, nerdy humor, and realistic romance, Robyn Schneider's The Beginning of Everything is a story about how difficult it is to play the part people expect, and how new beginnings can stem from abrupt and tragic endings.


Severed Heads, Broken Hearts sat on my bookshelf and stared me down for a long time before I picked it up. I’m not completely sure it was worth my time in the end. I’m not sorry I read it, but I can’t help but think about all the other better books I could have been reading instead of this one.

SHBH reminds me of Paper Towns by John Green , and a lot of other YA fiction to be honest. In SHBH Schneider sets about dismantling the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, something Green does quite successfully in PT. The problem is Schneider doesn’t manage to pull it off the same way Green does. Ezra, the main character, was the golden boy of his clichéd high school in northern California. Cassidy, the MPDG, has a surname for a first name so obviously she is special af. Cassidy doesn’t give a shit about anything, but she’s horrendously clever, talented, spontaneous and of course, very beautiful. But most importantly she’s not like the other girls. In fact it is her “not like the others” ness that makes her the best!!! I’m actually just completely sick of this cliché, that you have to be weird and wonderful to be a love interest, that if you like sunbathing, lipgloss and trashy magazines you are vapid, shallow and deserving of the snotty debate girl looking down her nose at you. I’m tired of reading about this trope over and over again and I think  Cassidy might just be the straw that broke the camel’s back. I’m all for female empowerment and the right to wear men’s shirts and do public speaking, but that doesn’t mean you get the look down at the girls who choose not to. YA lit had better come up with something else to fill a book with because I’m pretty sure the genre is saturated with Cassidys.

Something that Schneider got right, however, is the whole idea of someone fixing you vs fixing yourself. I’ve always hated the trope of the main character being fixed by this cool new other person, because that’s not really a good example to set for young people. In the real world Cassidy isn’t going to come along and help you up, you’ve got to drag yourself up by your shoelaces. You can’t wait around for a saviour because you might be waiting forever. Ezra walks the fine line between fixing himself and being fixed by Cassidy, and it was quite interesting to see his development throughout the narrative.

Schneider also deals with the idea of tragedy, and how we are defined by and our lives are irreparably changed by events. Ezra loses his future, his friends and part of his identity when he injures his knee in a car crash that takes place before the book starts, and Cassidy experiences her fair share of life changing tragedy. This really resonated with me at the time because , completely coincidentally, I began reading this book just after the Berkeley balcony collapse in which six students were killed and countless others seriously injured. At the time I couldn’t help comparing the moments of tragedy experienced in the book to the students in Berkeley , whose lives were cut short or changed irreparably because they went out on a balcony to chat with friends or have a cigarette.

Schneider hit on a few interesting aspects of teenage dynamics as well. Usually in YA fiction all the cool kids are mean and the nerds a nice, but this was not the case in SHBH. Well all the cool kids are still mean, that’s a difficult trope to get away from, but not all the nerds are nice. I’ve always found this simplification of the social hierarchy in highschool a bit tiresome, and it was refreshing to see that the group of unpopular kids suffered from the same politics that the popular kids usually do. The relationships in this book are pretty good as well while we’re at it. Ezra and Cassidy’s relationship is pretty cute, but there’s nothing really new there. I loved Toby and Ezra’s relationship however. Toby and Ezra were friends as children, but they drifted apart as they grew older. However, when Ezra is in need of a friend with a bit more substance when he returns to school after the crash, Toby steps up to the plate and does a really great job. The other relationship I found really interesting was that of Phoebe and Luke, and Phoebe’s relationship with the rest of the group.

Schneider also touches on the idea of identity, and what happens when we lose what we feel is a large part of our identity through Ezra. Ezra is no longer the star tennis player, and when he can no longer play he feels lost, and not very like himself. He loses his friends and his main hobby, and no longer looks like himself. Instead of looking the perfect picture of health and athleticism, he looks skinnier and paler. Throughout the narrative he struggles to figure out who he is without tennis and his posse, how to fill his new spare time, his new image and his new future.

Even though this book had quite a few redeeming and interesting quality, I can’t help shift the feeling that I’ve read it before. If you’ve read a lot of YA fiction you can probably skip this one.

Three Stars ***

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

We Were Liars - E. Lockhart

Published: May 2014
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Pages: 225


A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.A revolution. An accident. A secret.Lies upon lies.True love.The truth. We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart. 
Read it.And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE. 


I came quite late to the We Were Liars party, so I had experienced all the hype surrounding it. I have to say it lived up to every expectation, and I recommend it to everyone. However due to the nature of the book, it’s going to be really hard to review without spoiling everything, so this review might be quite vague.

In my opinion this book is beautifully written, but a lot of people don’t seem to like the style it’s written in. It’s written in first person narration by the eldest Sinclair grandchild, Cadence. Most of the book is told from Cadence’s point of view, but sometimes it is told by the fairytales Cadence makes up to make sense of what is going on around her. I thought the stories were a really clever way to add to the fairytale quality of the book. And sometimes, while still being narrated by Cadence, Lockhart breaks into this kind of free verse style, which I loved but apparently not everyone did. If this sort of thing annoys you, this book mightn’t be for you. I loved Lockhart’s writing, her descriptions were beautiful and her dialogue flows. I’m really looking forward to reading other books by Lockhart because I love her writing.

One of the major themes of this book is memory. Cadence, who is an unreliable narrator, suffers from amnesia and severe migraines resulting from an accident. As she has nothing to go on herself, she believes everything her family tell her about the accident. A lot of the mystery in this story is tied in with Cadence trying to fill in the gaps of her missing memories.

Wealth and class are another huge aspect of this novel. The Sinclairs are an old ultra-white, super-wealthy family, and while the aunts and Cadence’s grandfather seem to be fine with their economic and class status, but it doesn’t sit well with Cadence and her cousins Johnny and  Mirren, and their friend Gat. The Sinclair patriarch goes on about how blonde and great and better than everyone else his grandchildren are. He looks down on people of colour like Gat and his uncle, an attitude that his grandchildren are not comfortable at all with.There’s also a Wuthering Heights Heathcliff parallel, which I probably would have understood better if I had read WH, but I got the gist of it. Lockhart also deals with wealth and how it can bring pain as well a joy. None of the aunts are able to support themselves without the help of their parent’s trust funds, they fight over their inheritance and it begins to tear the family apart.

I would recommend this to everyone. Seasoned readers would love it, but also those who find it hard to stick with a book. It’s short and utterly engrossing and perfect for anyone making their first foray into YA or trying to get onto the reading wagon.

Five Stars *****

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

The Happy Ever Afterlife of Rosie Potter (RIP) - Kate Winter

Published: 2014
Publisher: Little Brown
Pages: 298 Pages


Falling in love is never simple. Especially when you're dead.

When Rosie Potter wakes up one morning with what she assumes is the world's worst hangover, the last thing she expects is to discover that she's actually dead. With a frustrating case of amnesia, suspicious circumstances surrounding her untimely demise, and stuck wearing her ugliest flannel PJs, Rosie must figure out not only what happened last night, but why on earth she's still here.

Slowly the mystery unravels, but there are many other secrets buried in the quiet Irish village of Ballycarragh, and nobody is as innocent as they first appear. Aided by the unlikeliest of allies in her investigation, Rosie discovers that life after death isn't all it's cracked up to be, particularly when you might just be falling in love . . .

In this hilarious, life-affirming and romantic journey through Rosie Potter's afterlife, she shares the ghostly tale of how she lived, she died, and she loved (in that order).


I wouldn't usually read chick-lit, but there were a couple of reasons that made me read this book, despite the genre. Firstly, the book is written by a local ( you gotta support your own , HUP SLIGO), and secondly because this is no regular chick-lit. The best way to describe The Happy Ever Afterlife of Rosie Potter (RIP) , hereafter referred to as Rosie Potter , is a rom-com slapstick paranormal murder mystery, like a crossover between Father Ted and Bridget Jones’ Diary and that Reese Witherspoon film where she’s a ghost. If that doesn't convince you to read it, I don’t know what can.

The novel opens after Rosie wakes up dead,which she handles quite well actually. The narrative moves on from that point as Rosie tries to figure out who her killer is, but Winter occasionally jumps backwards to before Rosie’s death in a very anecdotal style in order to fill us in on things like Rosie’s relationship with her best friend Jenny, her boyfriend Jack and her childhood friend Charles. The mystery in this book is probably the best I've ever read, no exaggeration at all, and I've read my fair share of thrillers. Normally I can see the solution a mile away, but I didn't cop this one until it was explained to me. And even then I was totally surprised. Starting out I didn't think that the mystery would be the strongest part of the novel, but it turned out to be. Of course, there is a love story, and it’s a adorable and full of cheese. But that’s great because cheese is DELICIOUS. Seriously, if the romance wasn't cheesy, I would have asked for my money back. I can never understand why people complain about these things?

Rosie Potter has the best chick-lit characters I’ve ever read. Most chick-lit characters are no better than a damp dish towel, but Rosie and her cohorts were so real and leapt off the page at me. Rosie and her best friend Jenny were real, strong yet messy women, not the simpering idiots that you normally see on chick-lit and never ever in real life. Rosie are Jenny are equal parts hilarious and heart-warming. They have a great relationship, and while they might not get along all the time, they have genuine affection and love for each other.

Apart from Jenny, my favourite character is Jack Harper, but I love him for completely different reasons. We probably all know a Jack Harper, and somehow the Jack Harpers of the world get away with far more than should ever be allowed. Obviously he’s not my favourite character because I like him. It’s because there are a lot of people like him in the world,and I don’t see them a lot in books or films. Jack is one of those subtle bad guys, ( think Gaston from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast), the one’s you don’t figure out are bad news straight away because they don’t wear a long black trench coat or have suspicious scars, and then it’s too late. But also Jack is just ridiculous and made me laugh despite myself.

Finally, I absolutely loved the setting of the book in the rural west of Ireland. As someone who was raised in a slightly larger town than Ballycarragh, I found reading about Rosie’s life in the country gorgeous and familiar. It’s a nice change from the endless stream of books that seem to be set in London and New York. It’s nice to see rural Ireland portrayed in a more realistic way , especially because I feel like this is going to be an international hit!

The only thing I didn't like about the book was the Rosie being a ghost didn't make much sense. That seems like a really stupid grievance, but as a fantasy puritan I need my supernatural content to have rules and stick to them. That being said, if you don’t read a whole pile of fantasy or if inconsistency like that doesn't bother you, this book is flawless.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed this book, I devoured it in about two days. I would recommend this to everyone, especially people like me who don’t read a whole pile of chick-lit. I’ve a feeling I’ll be a lot more likely to read more of this genre after reading this book. The Happy Ever Afterlife of Rosie Potter (RIP) will make you laugh and cry in equal parts, and will grip you right until the very last page.

Five Stars *****

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Lola and the Boy Next Door - Stephanie Perkins (#2 Anna and the French Kiss)

Pages: 384
Publisher: Usborne
Published: June 2014


Budding designer Lola Nolan doesn't believe in fashion... she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit – the more sparkly, more wild – the better. And life is pretty close to perfect for Lola, especially with her hot rocker boyfriend.

That is, until the Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket return to the neighbourhood and unearth a past of hurt that Lola thought was long buried. So when talented inventor Cricket steps out from his twin sister's shadow and back into Lola's life, she must finally face up to a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door. Could the boy from Lola's past be the love of her future?


Lola and the Boy Next Door, like Anna and the French Kiss, is heart squelchingly adorable. It’s a quick, easy read that touches on a themes that are slightly more serious than just teenage love and heartbreak, and I feel like the characters are more realistic and the plot is more rounded than in Anna. Perkins is definitely not suffering from second-album-syndrome and the series seems to be improving with each book!

The main character Lola is one of my favourite aspects of the book. Lola is a budding costume designer(She doesn’t believe in fashion, she believes in COSTUME!), and I’ve never really read about a character like her before. Once again, it’s nice for the main character to have a passion that isn’t writing, like they seem to have in most YA novels.

Cricket, the love interest, is another of Perkins’ attempts to give the love interests in her books the worst names ever. But other than that I loved him. Cricket is an inventor, and possibly the sweetest guy in the entire world. Cricket’s main physical attribute, like Etienne’s, is his height, but he is also quite well-dressed which Lola is super into. In my opinion he’s less annoying than Etienne, and less of a cliché.

Through Lola and Cricket Perkins explores the whole “what happens if you fall in love with someone while you’re already with someone else” theme, except this time it’s the main character that is in the relationship. Lola and Cricket are childhood sweethearts, but when Cricket comes back to San Francisco after touring with his sister, it’s clear that there are some residual feelings between them. However Lola is already dating her boyfriend Max, who is a twenty-something year-old rocker, and we know from the get go that that one isn’t going to end well.

However the aspect I found most interesting is Lola’s relationship with her parents. This is the first book I’ve read in which the main character has gay parents, and I found reading about this relationship really interesting. In the lead up to the gay marriage referendum in Ireland, there was a lot of debate about whether or not gay couples should be allowed raise children, and if they did would the children turn out ok. As I suspected, if the children who are raised by gay parents in real life are like Lola, they will turn out totally normal and absolutely fine, and that there’s nothing to worry about. However Lola’s relationship with her birth mother is a lot more complex, and it was interesting and a little heartbreaking to watch their relationship unfold and develop.

Overall I really loved this book. If you’re looking for a cutesy romcom read with a bit of bite this is definitely worth checking out. And the cute cameos by Anna and St. Clair mean that fans of Anna will get to reconnect with it’s protagonists.

Five Stars *****