In Which I Write a Poem

I had dinner with a good friend last night who has recently moved away from London. Luckily she hasn’t gone too far (Kent), but as I live in Surrey it seems particularly far to me. I always have really good chats over dinner with her and last night was as engaging as ever, so on my (tipsy) train ride home I pondered on the nature of friendship, particularly those special ones that remain strong in spite of distance and time. Here it is:

Two Hearts

Two hearts as one
Distant in time
Yet not in essence
Friends, old and new
Both, simultaneous
Helpful and helping
And selfish and selfless
Love, innocent, childish
Adulterous but pure
Necessary but wanting
Equally mutual
Forever
And for now

 

In Which I Announce Myself to the World … Again

I have had two blogs in the past, both which have fallen by the wayside. My first, called Blogger’s Block, reads pretty disappointingly. It starts with the hopes and dreams of a twenty-something English Lit and Creative Writing university student trying to find her way back to the love of writing that essays and deadlines had overborne. It was witty, with footnotes, and signing off with ‘Toodle pip’. I wrote once a month or so for over a year. Then I finished my Master’s Degree, decided I needed to ‘find myself’ and went to Australia for a month. In November. It was 40 degrees. In ‘new-year-new-you’ January I resumed blogging, writing about discovering publishing as a wondrous career option, and getting a post-graduate piece published on The Independent online (which I totally forgot about until I just re-read my last post – how did I forget that?), and then it stopped.

I’d begun another blog of book reviews called Behind the Words (recognise the name?). I got my own webspace and URL, personalised a blog template and tapped away bi-monthly reviews as I finished books (13, to be exact). I was doing work experience in the rights department of a non-traditional publishing company where I could get my hands on books from all over the world and my reading portfolio was expanding. I went to London Bookfair and proudly asked interesting stands if I could take photos ‘for my blog’, sharing the link enthusiastically and networking. Then I got a job. I saved the full website (with much help of my SO) in case I ever wanted to start it up again and let the URL go.

A year or so ago I rediscovered Blogger’s Block, which I’d managed to completely forget about, re-wrote the About Me section, explaining how I was going to try to start writing again and how the blog would be the place where ‘only you and I will discover if I fail or succeed.’ The last post is still February 2012. I failed.

But failure is a part of life, so I’m not going to pretend like this shiny new blog is going to be the savior of my creativity or the start of something long-lasting. It will probably not last very long at all, but if it does I’m not going to pretend like it was my first try. We all fail. We try again. We fail again. Then we try again. If we didn’t, we likely wouldn’t have many impressive inventions such as antibiotics, mobile phones and the internet (disclaimer: I have not looked this up, but it sounds legit). That’s why I’ve not deleted my old blog and have linked to it here – I’m not ashamed of having tried. I’d have kept the book review blog online, too, if it hadn’t cost money to host and I was earning near minimum wage in my first job.

I don’t know what this blog will be (if it comes to anything). I asked my SO what I should write about – writing again? (Because that worked out so well last time.) Cooking? Book reviews? He asked why I couldn’t write on them all, or anything else that I wanted, and he had a good point; it is my blog after all. So that’s my plan – I’ll write whatever I fancy writing about. Perhaps I’ll recycle my old reviews, too. If no one reads it, then that’s fine, because this isn’t a writing portfolio, or a blog I’m using to get a job (let’s face it – that’s why I started the book review blog and then stopped when I got a job), it’s a blog for me. (How cliché.)

Review: Slide by Jill Hathaway

Publisher: HarperCollins
Published: 2012
Format: paperback, 256 pp
Rating: 4/5

Summary
Vee Bell hates having narcolepsy.
But collapsing at school is nowhere near as bad as the truth – when Vee passes out she slides into other people’s heads and ends up seeing through their eyes. Then Vee find herself in the head of a killer, standing over the body of a cheerleader.


Now another cheerleader is dead, and everyone is a suspect. Struggling to understand her terrifying and unwanted ‘gift’, Vee is tangled in a web of
secrets,
lies and
danger…

Review
Slide is the kind of story you wish you’d written yourself. The idea of entering someone else’s mind is not a new one, but the angle Hathaway gives to Vee’s ‘gift’ is original. She is forced to take a back seat in other people’s lives unable to control where, when or who she slides into. Her sense of helplessness is only amplified when she is the only person who knows a girl’s ‘suicide’ is actually murder but has no way to prove it without putting the blame on herself. It’s this kind of uncontrollable situation that makes Vee likeable. Her resolution to uncover the truth never wavers, which is a great trait to aspire to, though this perhaps makes her less believable as a character.

Hathaway definitely knows how to spin a plot. Her red herrings are convincing, love triangles slightly deviate from the norm and insights into unseen eyes are tantalising. I must admit, the culprit was on my suspect list, though I never in a million years could have guessed their motive or connection with the victims.

Great concept, great book, just not as great as some, so this gets a solid four stars.

Review: Fracture by Megan Miranda

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Published: Jan 2012
Format: paperback, 272 pp
Rating: 5/5

Summary
A lot can happen in eleven minutes. Decker can run two miles easily in eleven minutes. I once wrote an English essay in ten.  No lie.  And God knows Carson Levine can talk a girl out of her clothes in half that time.

Eleven minutes might as well be eternity underwater.  It only takes three minutes without air for loss of consciousness. Permanent brain damage begins at four minutes.  And then when the oxygen runs out full cardiac arrest occurs. Death is possible at five minutes. Probable at seven. Definite at ten.


Decker pulled me out at eleven.

Review
Delaney Maxwell drowns in the first few pages on Fracture. This is no spoiler. This is the beginning of her story. In the few moments before she falls through the ice we discover the connection she has with her best friend Decker and how they are coming to a turning point in their relationship. At its heart Fracture is a story about relationships and growing up. A girl meets the new guy in town and mixed feelings and jealousy follow in their wake. Except in this story, they can sense death.

The characters are very absorbing and you can tell that even Delaney does not know what she wants. Troy Varga seems the perfect companion and the only person who understands what Delaney is going through. He is carefully measured to be both enticingly and frighteningly mysterious, but never becomes definitively either one. As with teenage friendships, one boy replaces another. But when Delaney and Troy’s encounters become increasingly sinister, who does she have left?

As with the most absorbing and satisfying of stories, Fracture makes you want to shout at the characters, but in a good way. You get so absorbed in their conflicts you can’t bear to watch them make mistakes. All stories ask you to invest your emotions, but only the really good ones make you give freely, just like falling in love.

Until the very last moment in this book I had decided it was going to get four stars. It was compelling and pulled at my heartstrings, but it hadn’t satisfied the extent of my emotions. There was something missing. Then came the heart pounding ending where smug guesses about what happens next are shattered and you get a real conclusion. Fracture does not pander to PG needs and parts nearly made me cry (and probably would have if I wasn’t standing on a train in rush hour), but it does give you hope.

Review: Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard

Publisher: Harper Teen
Published: 2006
Format: paperback, pp. 286
Rating: 4/5

Summary
Everyone has something to hide – especially high school juniors Spencer, Aria, Emily, and Hanna.

Spencer covets her sister’s boyfriend. Aria’s fantasizing about her English teacher. Emily’s crushing on the new girl at school. And Hannah uses some ugly tricks to stay beautiful.

But they’ve all kept and even bigger secret since their friend Alison vanished.

How do I know? Because I know everything about the bad girls they were and the naughty girls they are now. And guess what? I’m telling.

Review
Pretty Little Liars, adapted into an ABC Family show, reads like the kind of ridiculous stereotypical high school show you would find on American TV, but with a hint of thriller and decent writing. You follow the lives of preppy Spencer, jock Emily, queen bee Hannah, and alternative-but-still-cool Aria. Three years ago they found popularity through beautiful but vindictive (I would say that other ‘b’ words, but this is a PG website, so you’ll just have to guess) Alison, but when she mysteriously disappears they grow apart.

Despite the fact Pretty Little Liars has been turned into a typical American TV show (and I say that with the utmost respect being a fan of Gossip Girl, 90210 and the like, but it’s no BBC drama), the book is deliciously tantalising. The girls are pervaded by texts and emails from a mysterious A, about things they thought only Alison knew, but she’s been gone for three years, right? They cross paths but remain in their isolated new lives. More than once I felt like shouting at them to talk to each other about these messages, but of course that would spoil the game.

Sara Shepard knows her audience, but does not pander to them. She writes with a well developed style; this is not trashy chick lit. It reads as a thriller, but with a few references to designer labels.

Review: The Demon’s Watch by Conrad Mason

Publisher: David Fickling Books (ebook published by RHCB Digital)
Published: 2012
Format: ebook
Rating: 4/5

Summary
Captain Newton and his men keep watch over Port Fayt, where humans live in peace alongside trolls, elves and fairies. They’ve always kept the town safe from pirates and smugglers. But now Fayt is under threat from a much more powerful enemy – the League of the Light, who have sworn to destroy all non-humans. And to make matters worse, a dangerous witch has just arrived in town…

Half-goblin boy Joseph Grubb works in his uncle’s tavern, the Legless Mermaid, and has only ever heard stories of the Demon’s Watch. But when he runs away from his uncle and finds himself deep in a criminal underworld, Grubb might be the one person who could help the watchmen save Port Fayt.

Review
This debut novel from Conrad Mason reaches into the perspective of several characters, but primarily follows the story of Grubb, an orphan half-goblin raised by his racist uncle who escapes into an increasingly perilous world. I often have reservations about this technique, but I enjoyed the multidimensional quality and insights into characters’ motives. It’s like you’re being given a private viewing behind the scenes of the story. Mason never gives too much away and you engage with each character’s history as you gradually piece their intertwining storylines together.

The story sometimes reads as a thriller or mystery. Mason succeeds in the art of drip feeding information and leaving you wanting more. As soon as you discover the truth, every passing detail or seemingly unimportant fact slots together in a satisfying discovery.

One of my favourite things about this book is the humour. Some children’s authors try too hard to inject humour into their stories and it falls flat. Not here. Mason’s style is subtle and driven by the characters. Almost every character’s inner thoughts got a laugh. Quips like “He’s a podgy old soak, with a crazy left eye and not much use for baths,” are the kind of phrases that make children’s books universally enjoyable. But the thing that makes The Demon’s Watch a good book, rather than an average one, is the delicate balance between light heartedness and serious suspense. Mason is definitely one to watch.

A review of The Demon’s Watch can’t go without a mention of the ominous League of the Light. Though not an individual character, the League is so well developed it becomes its own entity. The faceless organisation looms over the relative peace of Port Fayt. Mason feeds rumours and passing statements about the League into the story, keeping it ever present in your mind. I eagerly anticipate the next instalment where I hope to discover more about this mysterious organisation.

Review: Skin Deep by Laura Jarratt

Publisher: Egmont
Published: 5 March 2012
Format: ebook
Rating: 4/5

Summary
Ugly people don’t have feelings. They’re not like everyone else. They don’t notice if you stare at them and turn away. And if they did notice, it wouldn’t hurt them. They’re not like real people. Or that’s what I used to think. Before I learned…

After the car crash that leaves her best friend dead, Jenna is permanently scarred. She struggles to rebuild her life, but every stare in the street, every time she looks in the mirror, makes her want to retreat further from the world. Until she meets Ryan.

Ryan’s a traveller. When he and his mother moor their narrow boat on the outskirts of a village, she tells him this time it will be different. He doesn’t believe her; he can’t imagine why this place shouldn’t be as unwelcoming as the rest. Until he meets Jenna.

But as Jenna and Ryan grow closer, repercussions from the crash continue to reverberate through the community. And then a body is found…

Review
Skin Deep tells the story of a young girl, Jenna, coming to terms with being ‘ugly’. In the prologue we first meet Jenna, sitting in the back seat of a speeding car, surrounded by drugs, trying to fit in, then burnt in a horrific car crash. As the story progresses, we see the consequences of this accident unfold in some ways you would not expect, including a mystery murder.

This book seems to end with the resolution that Jenna has to to tell her late best friend what she really thought of her. But this resolution wasn’t nearly as important as Jenna accepting herself. The story is much stronger when it is about Jenna coming to terms with her disfigurement. The real conclusion is for Jenna’s character to have grown so that she accepts herself as she is and that for her to learn to survive on her own.

The dual narrative was an interesting take on a title about self-image. While it did become confusing at times and the style of voice needed more differentiation, it gave us another point of view. It also added to the mystery of the story’s murder, as we are not with both characters at all times.

Jarratt did a good job of keeping me guessing who the murderer was. The story is so focussed on Jenna’s relationships you don’t think to look outside her immediate contacts. Her red herrings distract enough to hide the real killer until the big reveal.

Jenna struggles with the typical teenage image angst, but with the twist that her peers validate her ugly image. Her conflict is added to the struggle of mourning for her dead best friend. Ryan is a particularly interesting character. While you could say he fills to stereotypical ‘outsider’ role, what is most fascinating is that, after the initial shock of seeing Jenna’s disfigurement, he is completely indifferent. He is not the ‘bad boy’, but a sweet young man who loves his mother and absent father figure deeply, though he would be loath to admit it.