Running Girl

Garvie Smith is a smart kid. His IQ scores are way above his teachers’. He also has the worst grades of all the students in his school. When his ex-girlfriend Chloe Dow is murdered, it does nothing to help his disinterest in revising for his exams. Garvie Smith is determined to solve her murder.

Garvie Smith is a smart kid. His IQ scores are way above his teachers’. He also has the worst grades of all the students in his school. When his ex-girlfriend Chloe Dow is murdered, it does nothing to help his disinterest in revising for his exams. Garvie Smith is determined to solve her murder.

Detective Inspector Raminder Singh is a recently promoted police officer. He is not well liked. He isn’t mean exactly – just cold. He’s the type of guy who should be able to solve this pretty simple looking murder in within a couple weeks. Unfortunately it doesn’t turn out that way, and the police chief won’t get off his back as a result. If he doesn’t catch Chloe Dow’s murderer soon, his boss will demote him. And only adding to his woes is the persistent Garvie Smith, a rebellious teen he can’t stop from interfering with the case.

running-girl

This book was a random pick for me. I don’t usually shop like that much these days. There is so much YA and so many reviews online, buying blind just seems careless.

After reading Running Girl, by Simon Mason, I think I am going to advocate picking up a book just cause you like the look of it every now and again. It was a relieving experience to go into a piece of YA fiction without the weight of the internet’s opinions already skewing my view of characters I am yet to get to know myself.

This book is a murder mystery of many layers. Chloe Dow was one of those girls that everybody wants to be. She was beautiful, talented and driven. She was popular. And yet, as becomes evident after her death, nobody, not even her best friend, liked her.

Garvie Smith didn’t like her either. He broke up with after only a few weeks. Not that anybody else knows that. As far as the world is concerned, Chloe Dow dumped him. Which is fine, Garvie Smith doesn’t much care what other people think of him.

Garvie was an intriguing character to get to know. He has a photographic memory, so he can retain pretty much all of the information he consumes in a matter of seconds. He is frustrating, in that he really, truly doesn’t give a shit. Throughout the book his mother is trying desperately to get him to engage with school, to quit going out so late and to stop smoking weed. He’s always promising his mum that he’s going to be better. And every time he breaks that promise. Often the decisions he makes that are hurtful to his mum are because he is pursuing Chloe’s murderer, but it’s difficult to watch how damaged their relationship is by Garvie’s actions. They don’t understand each other at all, and it’s difficult to see how their relationship can progress.

Garvie is also a total charmer. He’s the kind of guy who would have me giggling like a girl in a minute. He runs rings around DI Singh. He uses humour as a defence mechanism in a way that I find instantly attractive. The great and annoying thing about Garvie is that how much you can get to know him is limited. He keeps his feelings back, even from the reader, which can make his personality a little hard to grasp. For the longest time it’s difficult to tell whether he is pursuing Chloe’s murderer out of some feeling of obligation because of their short lived relationship, or if he’s doing it because he’s just… bored.

My only criticism of this book is also my usual: the female characters kind of sucked.

The objectification of Chloe was what ultimately led to her death. It isn’t a spoiler to say that the murder was a sex crime. Chloe’s value was intrinsically linked to her beauty. She wasn’t a complexly imagined girl, instead ‘just’ a beautiful one. And it was this idea that allowed the people in her life to dehumanise her into a figure they could stalk, harass, abuse and then kill when they were done with her. I felt like in this storyline, Simon Mason had a solid grasp of the ingrained misogyny that is at the root of such crimes.

But then all the female characters in his book were either represented as victims or they were sexualised out of a personality. Chloe’s best friend, Jess, is constantly throwing herself at Garvie throughout. He talks to her with a clear attitude of disgust until she gives him the information he wants, and then he rejects her. Garvie’s mother is a desperate figure, clinging to the remnants of the relationship with a son she is terrified of losing. Garvie has no respect for her authority, and as I’ve already mentioned, it kind of hurts to watch. There’s this other girl, Hannah, who I won’t talk too much about because she’s pretty important to the case, but she’s another where it’s all about her beauty. She’s another victim of circumstance. She’s another girl who needs saving.

It’s just kind of a tired dynamic.

This is going to be a series however, so I will hold on to the hope that the sequel will bring a complexly imagined girl to mess with Garvie’s world.

Rereading The Princess Diaries #4

Mia is finally dating Michael! … sort of. The day after they got together Mia had to go to Genovia for a month to be introduced to the populace. And, little does Michael know, now that she’s finally back in New York she can’t actually go out with him Friday night for their first date, on account of Grandmere forcing her to go to the Contessa Trevanni’s Black and White Ball. Apparently if she doesn’t it’ll cause some kind of international incident. She’s sure that Michael will break up with her when she tells him the truth. What kind of girlfriend cancels on the first date?

Mia is finally dating Michael! … sort of. The day after they got together Mia had to go to Genovia for a month to be introduced to the populace. And, little does Michael know, now that she’s finally back in New York she can’t actually go out with him Friday night for their first date, on account of Grandmere forcing her to go to the Contessa Trevanni’s Black and White Ball. Apparently if she doesn’t it’ll cause some kind of international incident. She’s sure that Michael will break up with her when she tells him the truth. What kind of girlfriend cancels on the first date?

princess diaries #4

Mia learns:

– Always stick to the script when giving speeches to the populace. It turns out when introducing yourself as their heir to the throne of their country, people aren’t too interested in hearing your opinions on environmental issues. Even though the safety of the dolphins and turtles in Genovia is obviously way more important than yachting tourists.

– If you steal something from the Genovian museum, Grandmere will definitely notice.

Jane Eyre might not be such a great model for how to behave in your own romantic relationships (note: not all boys are like Mr Rochester (sadly)).

– It can be really difficult to tell whether your boyfriend loves you, like, romantically, or just as a friend. At least until you make out, that is.

– Sometimes it’s difficult to identify what your talents are. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have them. Your talent is probably staring you in the face, but you’re so busy doing it you haven’t even realised.

What Lillly’s Up To:

Despite being having her place in Mia’s heart usurped by the other Moscovitz, Lilly remains prominent. Her latest cause is to sue the production company that made the movie of Mia’s life for their unfair misrepresentation of her. She gets a meeting with them to discuss her potentially suing them, in which they instead offer to option her public access TV show, Lilly Tells It Like It Is. Whether she still plans to sue is unclear.

Michael’s best moment:

‘No, I don’t want to break up,’ Michael said, starting to look mad now – probably the way Mr Rochester looked when he heard Jane had been hanging out with that St John guy. ‘Mia, I love you, remember? Why would I want to break up with you? Now come and sit down and eat before it gets cold.’

Oh, Michael.

Grandmere’s Latest Crime:

Telling everyone at the Contessa’s Black and White ball that Mia is dating her cousin, Prince Rene. Seriously.

Not That Kind Of Girl

The tag line of Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl is ‘a young woman tells you what she’s learned’ – and I totally agree with that. Reading this book is kind of like one of those slightly drunken chats you have in the kitchen with a friend at 2 in the morning.

I like Lena Dunham. Get over it.

I think that she has fallen victim to what women in media often do – a lack of women in media. There are so few female voices that when one appears they are expected to represent all women. Obviously this is impossible, and it’s an idea that does a disservice to both Lena Dunham and women in general.

With that out of the way…

not that kind of girl

The tag line of Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl is ‘a young woman tells you what she’s learned’ – and I totally agree with that. Reading this book is kind of like one of those slightly drunken chats you have in the kitchen with a friend at 2 in the morning.

Lena isn’t afraid of sharing the darkest parts of herself. She throws herself into taboo topics that we often avoid – I guess to protect ourselves from them. Lena herself says that ‘it’s not brave to do something that doesn’t scare you’ – and this attitude is one she seems to have employed throughout the book, because she doesn’t shy away from anything.

• BUDAPEST •

Not That Kind of Girl contains some frank and entirely unromantic portrayals of sex that jar with me a little. It doesn’t make for comfortable reading. The hateful behaviour she describes in the men that she has dated is upsetting to read both for her sake and because of the depressing familiarity of it. I think most of us have moments we look back on with regret because of how we allowed ourselves to be treated.

She talks about her difficulties in connecting with other people, whether that’s friends, or boys, or even family. She talks about how her anxieties have often controlled her life. She talks about feelings of disassociation from herself, her sex life, her relationships and her work.

eveningskies

One of the most impressive aspects of the book was her discussion of her anxiety, and how it has affected her life. Talking about anxiety is hard because it’s difficult to see. In many ways, anxiety is one of the least understood mental health problems, because in general people don’t have a lot of patience for the fear or others. It is easy to see anxiety as self-indulgent because fear is so often irrational. As such talking about anxiety is so important. I feel that actually this is a book that I would have benefitted from reading when I was seventeen and in therapy because I got so socially anxious I was making myself sick on a regular basis. It felt like such an impossible thing to explain to anybody, and here Lena has explained it.

The central theme to the book is art as a means of connection, something familiar to any of us who have ever felt compelled to make things. It’s a pretty beautiful message, actually.

My Top Three Female Characters

I think the need to read about women I related to (and women I didn’t) was part of what drove me toward reading. The girls I read there were real. They made mistakes and they had complicated friendships. They weren’t simply the subplot to somebody else’s epiphany. They were my friends and the people I aspired to be like.

I love female characters. I love to read women with depth, women who are complicated and not a mess of gender characteristics stuck awkwardly together by a clueless author.

Often when I watch television, I find the female characters fall flat. They are so frequently pushed into the same boring gender roles and their friendships reduced to shallow one way streets where the only topic of discussion is dating. Or, worse, the female character is only there to facilitate some guy’s character development and has no storyline of her own.

Unfortunately on TV this can start to feel like the norm.

I think the need to read about women I related to (and women I didn’t) was part of what drove me toward reading. The girls I read there were real. They made mistakes and they had complicated friendships. They weren’t simply the subplot to somebody else’s epiphany. They were my friends and the people I aspired to be like.

So with that in mind, today I want to write about three of the women in young adult fiction who have stayed in my mind long after the end of the story.

Frankie Landau-Banks

From The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

frankie

This book should be required reading for all teenaged girls, I think. Frankie is a sixteen year old girl in the midst of a feminist awakening. She is keenly aware of what the people around her expect and want from her – a sweet, quiet girl who doesn’t want to cause any trouble – and she realizes more and more than she cannot be it for them. She’s smart and adventurous and she wants to be at the heart of the action even when it is in the end at the sacrifice of those things she always thought would make her happy. She is a girl in the process of figuring out who she is.

The ocean stirsthe heart, inspiresthe imgination&

Cather

From Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

fangirl

I so wish that Fangirl had been published in time for my first year of university, because me and Cath had pretty similar feelings going in and reading about hers would have gone a long way toward convincing me that I was not in fact going crazy.

Cath is the suspicious type. She doesn’t let people in much, apart from her twin sister Wren, but since they went to university together and Wren decided to get a roommate who wasn’t Cath they haven’t talked much. Cath is fearful. It takes her weeks to go down to the refectory in her dorm because she doesn’t know how the place operates. She doesn’t get out much. She isn’t a party person.

The reason Cath felt so real to me was that she never lost the deep reservations she had about life. Just because a lovely boy came along didn’t mean she instantly stopped being suspicious about relationships. Just because she made a couple friends didn’t mean she suddenly started going out to the kind of parties that she hated. Just because she left home she didn’t stop worrying about her dad, who has bi-polar and isn’t particularly stable at the best of times. Cath and her stresses came as a pair, and her journey to live her life in spite of them is what makes Fangirl such great reading.

Evie O’Neill

From The Diviners by Libba Bray

the diviners

In case it wasn’t obvious, I’ve recently got totally re-obsessed with The Diviners in anticipation of the sequel being finally almost here.

Evie is everything I wish I was. She’s extroverted, witty, brave and always up for a party. She is desperate to be famous, whatever the cost. She’s also… pretty haunted. She lost her brother in the Second World War and since her already frail relationship with her parents has completely broken.

Evie needs more than anything else to be noticed. She has been lonely ever since her brother died and tries to plug the gaping hole he left behind with the shallow attentions of… whoever she can get to listen. It goes without saying that the need for attention never ends.

But she’s also pretty selfless. She puts herself in positions of grave danger throughout the novel in pursuit of the murderer haunting the streets of New York. She almost dies chasing him, but she keeps going anyway because ridding the world of him is the only way to make people safe.

Did I mention I’m excited for the sequel?

Who are your favourite female characters and why? Let me know in the comments!

The Stars Never Rise

Nina has some problems right now. Her mum is a drug addict and hasn’t cared for Nina and her sister, Melanie, for quite some time. She’s constantly trying to figure out where to get the next meal from. She’s trying to get through school with decent grades. Then Melanie reveals that she is pregnant (she’s fifteen. It’s unfortunate). Oh, and both girls live under the oppressive regime of the church, brought in ever since most of the souls in the world where taken over by the demon horde.

Any perceived sin can be put down to demon possession, meaning that no one – even the innocent – are safe from the wrath of the church. As such, Melanie’s pregnancy puts both girls in danger of severe punishment.

the stars never rise

Nina has to figure out a way to keep them all – herself, Melanie and the baby – safe, fast. Keeping them safe seems to involve trusting a strange boy, Finn who appears to possess the exorcist powers only wielded by powerful members of the church. Nina quickly finds she has little choice but to embrace Finn as circumstances soon strip her of the little control she has over her life.

I read The Stars Never Rise, by Rachel Vincent in two sittings. This story is fast paced!

Nina lives in a world that has gone to hell. Literally. Her life is driven by basic survival needs. She doesn’t see any kind of self-determined future for herself. Instead she plans to join the church she doesn’t even believe in as a means to support Melanie and escape her mother. Reading a character with this self-sacrificing nature was kind of frustrating at times. She couldn’t really see a life beyond her current situation. Nina didn’t dream in a way that I could relate to. There was leaving her mother but there was no real escape from the misery of New Temperance, and while it was alienating it was also great writing from Vincent. She has created in Nina an interesting portrayal of a young person living in a regime from which there is no escape. It isn’t possible to even run to a different part of the world, as most of it was destroyed in the war with the demons. There is only the church and her crappy town and playing the limited system she is part of to the best advantage she can.

That is, until Finn and Co. show up. And then everything changes… a little too quickly. Nina throws herself into her new life with Finn and his groups of rebels a little too fast to be quite believable. In particular she throws herself into her relationship with Finn. I mentioned in another recent review that I’m not a massive fan of instant love in characters and that’s kind of what happened here. Nina’s Trust No One and Look After Your Own attitude just seems to evaporate when she’s faced with Finn. A part of me was left sort of thinking…. Really?

That said, I loved the rebels, or Anathema, as the group refers to themselves in the book. They are an interesting group of characters – particularly Devi (class mean girl) – and I am looking forward to how they develop through the rest of the series.

Overall this was a good series started. We are introduced to a troubled, hellish world in need of some good fixing. The characters are intriguing and screaming out for some development. Tantalising hints were drop as to the overarching plot of the trilogy. I think it’s likely I’ll be reading the sequel.

Rereading The Princess Diaries #3

Everything seems to be looking up for Mia. She’s raised her F in algebra to a D, she finally has a boyfriend and… well, she’s a princess. Her life should be perfect right?

Right.

Unfortunately the boyfriend is the wrong one. She’s dating Kenny, her sweet but ultimately unattractive lab partner, meanwhile, Michael Moscovitz – her best friend’s brother she has loved in secret for years – has started dating fellow computer club member Judith Gershner. Judith can clone fruit flies. As far as Mia is concerned – despite the D, algebra is a continual issue – she doesn’t stand a chance against a girl like that.

princess diaries #3

The princess thing is also a problem. She has to spend the coming Christmas in Genovia, the country she will one day rule. Preparation for this involves daily princess lessons with her evil Grandmere, the dowager princess of Genovia.

What Mia Learns

– Having a best friend who also happens to be a genius is hard work, and sometimes, when said best friend is planning a school-wide walkout (inspired by a teacher turning down her term paper proposal: How to Survive High School by Lilly Moscovitz (‘Students of the future will learn that the way to  settle their differences is not through violence, but through the sale of a really scathing screenplay – featuring characters based on individuals who tormented them all those years – to a major Hollywood movie studio. That, not a Molotov cocktail, is the path to true glory.’)) that will likely seriously hurt your algebra teacher, step-father and soon to be father of your half sibling’s feelings, it’s sometimes just best to pull the fire bell.

– Don’t allow boys who can’t ice skate backwards to ice skate backwards, they will pull the both of you over and the whole thing will be highly embarrassing.

– Your cousin might not be plotting your murder to steal your claim to the throne, but he probably is using your image without your permission to advertise his clothing designs.

– Advice from the empress of Japan: Always make sure your kimono is securely fastened before you raise your arm to wave to the populace.

Grandmere’s Best Moment

Grandmere is basically evil. She scares everybody she comes into contact with. At one point she tells Mia to keep dating Kenny until she finds someone better – for practice. That said, the lady has her moments.

‘You are not a loser, Amelia,’ Gradmere said. ‘You are a princess. And princesses do not run away when things become difficult. They throw their shoulders back and they face what disaster awaits them head on. Bravely, and without complaint.’

Lars

Lars is Mia’s bodyguard. He is present for basically everything that happens during the series. In general, I have no interest in reading existing books from alternative perspectives (I think it is a money grabbing move by lazy authors), but I would totally read this series narrated by Lars.

A Thousand Pieces of You

I wanted to enjoy Claudia Gray’s A Thousand Pieces of You a lot more than I actually did. It wasn’t that there were any elements I outright hated, it’s that somehow this book and I lacked a connection.

Marguerite Caine is on a mission of revenge. She has vowed to kill her father’s murderer and former protégé, Paul Markov. The main problem is figuring out which dimension he’s in. Marguerite’s mother proved the existence of other dimensions and together with Marguerite’s late father built the firebird technology that allows people to travel between them. Together with Theo, a PHD student working under her parents, Marguerite is determined to track down Paul and avenge her father’s death.

Sounds simple, right? Not so much. When Marguerite finds Paul, her certainty of his guilt starts to falter. It seems that her father’s death is part of a much more sinister plot in which Marguerite herself has a greater part than she ever knew.

a thousand pieces of you

I wanted to enjoy Claudia Gray’s A Thousand Pieces of You a lot more than I actually did. It wasn’t that there were any elements I outright hated, it’s that somehow this book and I lacked a connection.

First off, let’s go through the good stuff. The book takes place across four dimensions. Our own – pretty recognisable, if more technologically advanced (interdimensional travel), a future dimension (hover cars), old world-ey Russia and a post-climate change catastrophe world in which most people seem to live underwater.

Gray throws us right into the centre of the action. We enter the story at the point of Marguerite’s first jump into an alternate dimension, her grief totally eclipsing her ability to feel anything other than intense anger.

I enjoy playing catch up with characters and not having all the information. I don’t enjoy reading the final moments of the life of a character I already know from the blurb will be six feet under by the end of chapter two.

So far so good.

Marguerite’s exploration of the first futuristic dimension and the process of gathering information on the circumstances that led to her being there was interesting to read about. Theo and his flirtatiousness were pretty fun. The discovery that the situation with Paul wasn’t so simple intrigued me.

Then Marguerite and Paul arrive in nineteenth-century (or whenever) Russia, through a convoluted series of incidents that are slightly plot-holey lose their firebirds and therefore their ability to leave the dimension and are stuck there for a month. This portion of the book seriously drags. Marguerite decides that she is in love with the nineteenth-century Russia version of Paul (after like a week and a waltz. I can only assume he is an insanely great dancer) and this storyline really dominates the rest of the book. Even after they have left the dimension its ghost lingers, casting a dissatisfying shadow over the events following it.

It’s kind of like when you’re reading Jane Eyre and you skip over most of the St John part. Half way through, this book lost its Rochester.

From this point onwards the book limps toward its end, gradually gaining strength again the further it gets from the chill and bloodshed of the war torn Russian winter. By the time we reach the underwater dimension it has almost clawed its way back to being an interesting read. Almost.

Like I said, me and this book lacked a connection. I really don’t enjoy instant love. There is something exciting in that period of pre-relationship uncertainty I really miss when it’s skipped over. Plus I guess I’ve never managed to invest in couples who just tell me how much they care for each other (think Black Widow and Hulk in the last Avengers movie. What even was that?) Like my creative writing teachers always said, you have to show it to me. In this book, the weird instantaneous love was particularly disappointing because elsewhere Gray had done such a good job of developing relationships in a way that was totally believable.

A Thousand Pieces of You is the first in the firebird trilogy. Seeing as there is (spoiler alert!) little chance of Marguerite heading back to Russia any time soon, it might make a more interesting read.