First Years – Piranhas in the Bedroom by Andy Dale

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This was a heart-warming coming of age story that made me laugh, smile and find meaning in the ‘student life’. Set in the anfractuous 80s, “First Years” was a cheerful read infused with a convivial, conventional vibe.

The book follows the story of Jonathon, a 19 year old student who goes off to university in Derby. Though initially worried about leaving home, he quickly gets into the swing of things and soon learns to embrace the trials (and parties) of university life.

I thought that Jonathon was an utterly adorable protagonist. As a timid, somewhat pedantic teenager, he commented on the mishaps of life with an amused to the point of cynical air. His funny observations and blunt statements of the truth (which he rarely repeated out loud) certainly made me smile.

The romance in this book was really intriguing to read about. I loved the mystery of who Jonathon was going to end up with, and how he would get with the girl of his dreams. Despite being a typical ‘boy meets girl’ story, “First Years” was unique in its cultural background. The 80s setting formed a vivid backdrop to the events on the page. In today’s modern society, everybody has different memories of the 80s – as a teenager myself, I have no memories at all. “First Years” was therefore a refreshingly funny, educational experience for me and I think that learning the meaning of the word “Showaddywaddy” only added to my overall sense of enjoyment. (Showaddywaddy was a pop group from Leicester formed in the 1970s, if anybody’s wondering!)

I especially loved the quaint atmosphere that this book seemed to exude. It was a genuinely pleasing read that made me laugh out loud on occasion. The pacing of the prose was slow but utterly methodical and I thought that this was very successful. Explaining a humorous event like a ‘war’ between two student houses in meticulous detail was necessary, I think, to achieve maximum comical impact. Jonathon’s personality was also explored to an admiral degree, and I found myself falling in love with all his strange little idiosyncrasies. A personal favourite was the way Jonathon compared every romantic event to football. When he kissed a girl, he felt as though Villa had won 6-0. A more endearing character I have yet to meet!

The only aspect of this book that wasn’t quite so successful was the cast of supporting characters. The two protagonists, Jonathon and Helen, were beautifully crafted to live in the student world of the 80s, but I found that the other boys in Jonathon’s house were very two dimensional in comparison. This was rather disappointing – though considering that there were six other boys in the house, it wasn’t very surprising. It isn’t possible to develop every single personality in a story, but as a character development hungry reader I would have preferred it if the boys had each been more unique and special.

That aside, I thought that “First Years, Piranhas in the Bedroom” was everything a romantic comedy should be: funny, heart-warming, sweet enough to be smile inducing. It certainly made me laugh, and despite the bittersweet ending I was left with that warm, fuzzy feeling one gets after finishing a first rate book. I would definitely recommend this story.

 

 

When Stars Die by Amber Skye Forbes

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I received a free advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, and I am very pleased that I did. “When Stars Die” was thoroughly enjoyable – a thrilling, mysterious read with compelling characters and an anfractuous plot.

From the very beginning, this book had a chilling, violent undercurrent that fuelled the sense of mystery and kept me constantly intrigued. I found that “When Stars Die” was very hard to put down. Whenever I convinced myself that, in the depths of the night, it was time to stop reading and sleep, I would be snagged by a devious plot twist and forced to read on. The prose was fast-flowing, told through the eyes of the heroine in such a way as to provide a natural tone that invited the reader to continue.

Amelia, the heroine, was a passionate, fiery protagonist. She certainly had her flaws, but that was what made her so intricate and relatable. The fact that she cared deeply for the people around her made for very interesting reading. When in the presence of Amelia, relationships between characters began to blossom in a way that wouldn’t be possible without her empathic personality. Amelia supported the rest of the characters in the story, and through her voice readers were able to understand the actions of supporting characters on a deeper level.

The plot of “When Stars Die” was complex, yet successful. It was composed of numerous, minor mysteries. Each small mystery led somewhere to become part of the overall story, and this strategy helped the author to build Amelia’s world whilst also creating an irresistible plot line.

As the story progressed, it grew darker and more sinister. The creepy undercurrent became more prominent and serious themes such as self-harm, rape and suicide were introduced. I think that this was quite a controversial decision. “When Stars Die” is a young adult novel, and in today’s current media culture, these topics are rife with controversy. Should they be discussed and explored openly, like in “When Stars Die”? Or should they be avoided, hidden, brushed under the rug? Self-harm, rape and suicide are very serious issues and should never be taken lightly. “When Stars Die” dealt with these themes solemnly and professionally, which made for profound, rather than enjoyable, reading in some parts of the book.

Not all the themes in “When Stars Die” were grim, however. The book was laced with some beautiful, philosophical ideas as well. References to the titular concepts of stars and death were touching and thought-provoking, giving the reader something to muse upon when not engrossed in the dialogue or action sequences.

Overall, I thought that “When Stars Die” was a compelling read. Though it had a somewhat gloomy vibe, it was rich in both characters and plot. A thoughtful book that I would definitely recommend.

Pros and Cons by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

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I found this book in the “recommended for you” section of the kindle store, and I decided to go for it. “Pros and Cons” is a novella-esque prequel to “The Heist”, a book I read a few months ago and thoroughly enjoyed. “The Heist” was a rubbishy, romantic crime flick that was strikingly similar to the TV show “White Collar”, and I read it simply for its “guilty pleasure” vibe. It wasn’t particularly fast paced or original, but I enjoyed it enough to download its (so called) “triumphant” prequel.

I’m going to start this review by saying that “Pros and Cons” was NOT triumphant. It was disappointingly short – the first 15% of the book was dedicated to mere acknowledgements. The novel, when it finally got started, was crude, lewd and ridiculously rude. There was no trace of the charm or sophistication that I had been led to expect from the blurb. The characters were unoriginal and frustratingly predictable; the plot held no surprises.

But for a short story, “Pros and Cons” was definitely interesting. It held my attention and didn’t let go, (though with 28 pages, it didn’t have to hold my interest for very long!). It’s impossible to deny that it wasn’t well written, and, all in all, I think that despite the numerous faults “Pros and Cons” was the perfect holiday read. It was exactly what one would want on holiday: a short, exciting, gritty book to read on the beach. I would recommend this book to anyone who fancies a rubbishy read – who’s willing to take a book at surface value and read for the pointless fun of it.