Monday, 29 February 2016

Book Review: How Hard Can Love Be? by Holly Bourne

How Hard Can Love Be? (Normal, #2)Title: How Hard Can Love Be?
Author: Holly Bourne
Series:  Normal, #2
Pages:  470
Publisher: Usborne Children's Books
Date of Publication: 1st February, 2016
Source: Bought
Synopsis from Goodreads: Amber, Evie and Lottie: three girls facing down tough issues with the combined powers of friendship, feminism and cheesy snacks. Both hilarious and heart-rending, this is Amber’s story of how painful – and exhilarating – love can be, following on from Evie’s story in Am I Normal Yet?

All Amber wants is a little bit of love. Her mum has never been the caring type, even before she moved to California, got remarried and had a personality transplant. But Amber's hoping that spending the summer with her can change all that.

And then there's prom king Kyle, the guy all the girls want. Can he really be interested in anti-cheerleader Amber? Even with best friends Evie and Lottie's advice, there's no escaping the fact: love is hard.


My Thoughts:
I am a huge fan of Holly Bourne, and so understandably I was super excited to read How Hard Can Love Be?. As soon as I finished my last exam, I headed down into town to Waterstones, where I bought myself two books (this and All The Rage) even though I am a poor student who can't really afford to be buying books (I did get a buy one get one half price offer so that makes it okay, right?). I started it as soon as I could, and quickly and easily fell back in love with the world and characters that Holly has created.

While it is the second in the Normal series, the books are not consequential. The first book, Am I Normal Yet?, follows Evie and her struggles with OCD and anxiety. This one follows Amber and the issues in her family, stemming from alcoholism.  Am I Normal Yet? hit me hard with the honest and unflinching portrayal of Evie's illness (you can read my review here) and this one once again made me consider things that I have never had to consider before. Two years ago, Amber's mum left her behind to move to America with her new husband, and Amber hasn't heard from her since. So Amber jets off to spend the summer with her, hoping to mend their broken relationship, and it is while she is on camp there, that she meets Kyle.

Don't be alarmed, this isn't one of those stories where a girl has all sorts of problems, then meets a boy who magically takes them all away, leaving everything fine and dandy. That just doesn't happen in real life.  Anyway.  The novel starts off with Amber, extremely hungover, boarding a plane and desperately trying not to vomit all over the children in front of her.  Therefore right from the start alcohol plays a pretty major part of the story.  As I'm living in student halls at the moment where it seems like everyone drinks far too much (the amount of vomit here is astounding sometimes), even though I myself don't drink very much, alcohol plays a pretty big role in my life.  There are people in my corridor and on my course whom if they carry on drinking the way they do, could quite easily be in the same position as Amber's mum in just a few short years, which made it all the more heartbreaking at times reading about how Amber was feeling at the brokenness of her family, and about her abandonment issues and mistrust and insecurity, all because of this.

Another huge issue that Holly expertly tackles in How Hard Can Love Be? is feminism.  This is a recurring theme throughout the trilogy so far and I expect it will only grow in the final book.  Despite Amber being in a whole different continent, she and Evie and Lottie still manage to hold their regular Spinster Club meetings, which they started in Am I Normal Yet?  These scenes are definitely some of my favourites, as Evie and Lottie set such good examples of female friendship which is so important, while at the same time discussing important feminist issues and just having a really fun time together, and so really it's just one big fat win for feminism. Yay!

The novel is set in a Camp America-like setting, and both the activities that they have to partake in and the characters Amber interacts with there are so much fun and were such a joy to read about.  I loved how the contrasts between American and British behaviour was brought out and Amber's uncertainty about being around the Americans, and how as she got to know them you could feel her loosening up.  I particularly loved Whinnie and I sincerely hope that she makes an appearance in future books.  Of course, Kyle was also fabulous, and I am very glad that he was because I noticed a distinct lack of genuinely nice male characters in Am I Normal Yet? (which was appropriate for the novel so it wasn't too big a deal, but it was good to finally read about one!).  Kyle also makes a great point about the label of 'nice guy' which I'd never considered before.  Finally I have a lot of love for one of the campers, Calvin.  He was just so cute.

How Hard Can Love Be? is a more than worthy follow up to the brilliant Am I Normal Yet? and I loved every minute of it.  I cannot recommend these books enough - they are always my go to recommendation whenever anyone asks for something good to read!  Holly Bourne is definitely on my auto-buy list and I can't wait for more from her and from the Spinster Club girls.  If you haven't read Am I Normal Yet? go out and buy yourself a copy and while you're there get this too.  You won't regret it!  All I have to say now is: Bring on book three! 


tl;dr: Thought-provoking, feminist, and at the same time both heart-breaking and hilarious. With a lovable cast of characters and a super-fun setting, you should just go out and buy it!



Saturday, 6 February 2016

Book Review: Waiting For Callback by Perdita and Honor Cargill

Waiting for CallbackTitle: Waiting For Callback
Author: Perdita and Honor Cargill
Series:  n/a
Pages: 346
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Children's Books
Date of Publication: 28th January, 2016
Source: Publisher for review*
Synopsis from Goodreads: When Elektra is discovered by an acting agent, she imagines Oscar glory can't be far away, but instead lurches from one cringe-worthy moment to the next! Just how many times can you be rejected for the part of 'Dead Girl Number Three' without losing hope? And who knew that actors were actually supposed to be multi-lingual, play seven instruments and be trained in a variety of circus skills?

Off-stage things aren't going well either - she's fallen out with her best friend, remains firmly in the friend-zone with her crush and her parents are driving her crazy. One way or another, Elektra's life is now spent waiting for the phone to ring - waiting for callback.

Can an average girl-next-door like Elektra really make it in the world of luvvies and starlets?

My Thoughts:
So I started reading Waiting For Callback in the midst of my first bout of university exams.  I had been MEGA stressed about these and could never escape the scary thoughts of what the stress was doing to my body and especially how it was affecting my mental health, and I needed to do something to distract myself, literally for my own sanity and well-being.  One night when I couldn't sleep I picked up Waiting For Callback and it was exactly what I needed.  Something fun, light-hearted and easy to read, and before I knew it I was 100 pages in and loving it (and thinking 'oh no it's 12:30am and I'm really tired but I don't want to stop reading').  It perfectly distracted me from my thoughts as I got lost in Elektra's story, and I loved it.

The book begins with Elektra dressed as a spider, impersonating a carrot onstage.  Yep, you read that right!!  I found this weird (who wouldn't?) but I decided to roll with it - why not, eh?  In the audience is an agent, who goes on to represent Elektra as she begins her career as a young actress.  From here on out the story is of Elekta navigating the scary world of child acting: prepping for auditions, the feeling of failure and disappointment when they are unsuccessful, the waiting, etc.  To top it all off she is also struggling with school, friendships and the emotional baggage that comes with first crushes and relationships.

Elektra's voice is super easy to read and get lost in, and also so authentic.  It's odd how when I started this blog I was younger than all these YA protagonists (I was thirteen, I think?), yet I realised as I was reading Waiting For Callback that now that I am nineteen, I am four years older than the main character, and older than most of the protagonists that I read about now.  Yet it didn't affect my ability to relate to Elektra, as I think that the feelings and experiences that you have when you are fifteen don't go away just because you're older.  Just because you're older doesn't mean you can't learn from a fifteen year old!  This was just something that I found myself considering as I read, and now more as I am writing this review.

I related mostly to what Elektra was going through with her friendships and school stresses, as these things are still happening to me now, if in a slightly different way: uni rather than school, and a lot of my friends are spread over the country at other unis or still at home.  One of my best friends has just got together with one of her best friends (I'm soooo happy for them) and while I don't at all feel like she's ditched me for him as Elektra does in the book, it was a tiny worry that crept into my head when she told me.  It's a thought I shouldn't have had (sorry if you're reading this, you know who you are) and I think Elektra feels the same- she knows it's silly, yet it's so hard not to listen to the thoughts in your head, no matter what age you are.  So yeah I know since a lot of the readers of my blog probably are adults reading YA I don't need to tell you this but I've done a lot of growing up very quickly in the last few months and it's scary, but it's a comfort to know that some things don't change.

The other major (actually probably the main) part of the book is obviously Elektra's auditions and blossoming career as a young actress.  I've never been interested in drama or acting (drama class at school was my second least favourite, only after PE), but I do like watching films and TV a lot so it was cool to see a little bit about how casting works and the background things that happen so far in advance of a film that you hardly ever or really never think about when you're sitting back and enjoying watching something.  I dunno how realistic they are but they fooled me if they're not!  Haha.  I felt Elektra's frustration right along with her, and found it just as upsetting when she missed out on parts or when things went mega wrong!  I was impressed by how much she didn't let it go to her head and by how mature she was (most of the time!) about it!  I was worried at first that she'd be a brat and while she did have some moments it wasn't over-the-top drama queen (that was all Flissy!) so I didn't mind.

Basically, go read Waiting For Callback.  It's light-hearted and doesn't take itself too seriously, yet still manages to deal really well with some mature themes.  I am so pleased I chose to read this in the middle of exams too, since it meant that I could easily escape from my own head even for a little while, giving me perspective.  To top it all off there was more than one Chuck Bass reference in there, and any book that acknowledges the existence and perfection of Chuck Bass is one that I want to read ;)  I will definitely be looking out for future books by this mother-daughter duo (and maybe a sequel?! I don't think it needs one necessarily but I definitely would not turn it away!) and you so should too!



*Huge thanks to Simon and Schuster for providing me with a copy of Waiting For Callback in exchange for an honest review.  In no way has this affected my opinion of the novel. 

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