Tuesday 20 October 2015

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

Publisher: Doubleday Children’s
Format: ARC**
Published: 4th June 2015
Number of Pages: 288
Book: For Review*
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Mental-Health Issues, Comedy, YA
Recommended Age: 11+
Contains: Swearing, Alcohol References
Author's Blog: Sophie Kinsella

Audrey can’t leave the house.  She can’t even take off her dark glasses inside the house – a house that her totally chaotic but well-meaning family fill to the brim with their (pig) personalities and (loud) voices.
Then her brother’s friend Linus stumbles into her life.  With his friendly orange-slice smile and his funny notes, he starts to entice Audrey out again – well, Starbucks is a start.  And with Linus at her side, Audrey suddenly feels she can do things she’d thought were too scary.
Even when it’s two steps forward and one step back, suddenly finding her way back to the real world seems achievable.
Be prepared to laugh, dram and hope with Audrey as she learns that even when you think you have lost yourself, love can still find you…

Ever since the... thing happened, Audrey Turner has worn her dark glasses, stayed inside and only had contact with her family and her psychiatrist, Dr Sarah.  You see, Audrey has Social Anxiety Disorder, General Anxiety Disorder and Depressive Episodes.  So, yeah.  Things most people wouldn't blink an eye at have Audrey running to hide.
And then her older brother, Frank's friend, Linus, comes into her house.  To start with, Audrey freaks - after all, the house seems small enough with her loud, boisterous family; add in a stranger and it becomes almost overwhelming.
But Linus... Linus is nice.  When he smiles, it looks like an orange slice and he calls her Rhubarb and talks to her in a soft, friendly voice.  He makes her feel brave, makes her able to do things that terrify her.
But when the world itself terrifies you so much you feel allergic it, can you even find your way again?
I'm really not good when it comes to reading contemp books.  But when my mother handed me the first Shopaholic book years ago, I fell in love.  So when I found out that Sophie Kinsella was branching out into YA, I cheered.  I was so excited for Finding Audrey and did a little happy dance when it landed on my doormat.  From that first, bonkers chapter, I fell in love – with Audrey, with Sophie all over again, and mostly with Audrey's nutty family!  Just a few sentences in and I was already in stitches!  I kept reading snippets out to my mum, who cracked up with me – she'll probably be borrowing this one from me when I'm done, something I shall fully recommend.  Y'know.  After rereading it a couple of times...  But the brilliant thing about Finding Audrey is that it's not just hilarious; it's so real too, so sad and poignant and deep.
Audrey was such an amazing character – she was so strong, even though she thought she was weak.  She was dealing with this awful, all-consuming illness and yet she still kept her wit and sense of humour.  She made me laugh, even when my heart ached for her.  I also totally related to her – I've not got any mental health issues, but I've been stuck at home, I've felt friendless, I've felt bad because I thought I was making my family miserable.  Audrey – I just totally got her and I absolutely loved her.
And Linus was the sweetest and the funniest.  That scene in Starbucks... God, I died laughing!   "Could I be like your shadow?"  OMG, hilarious!  But I loved how understanding and sweet he was!
I have a pretty bizarre and bonkers family who often make me laugh.  But even we aren't as brilliantly hilariously hectic as Audrey's family.  I mean, they were just... brilliant.  The Mum was addicted to the Daily Mail and always on the oldest son about his computer addiction.  The Dad was powerless against the Mum's Daily Mail-inspired schemes and routine changes.  The oldest son, Frank, was always on his computer – snarky, moody and occasionally crude (and always funny).  He actually reminds me of one of my younger brothers – annoying at times and hilarious at the other times, but always there if you need him.  And the littlest of the family, Felix, was adorable!  Seriously though, this is a family I'd love to know! 
The writing was brilliant – it felt totally authentic as a teenager's voice and described the troubles of living with depression perfectly.  It was also, of course, totally hilarious a lot of the time – I adore the Turner family – they're so mad and brilliant!  And I totally loved the film transcripts – how we saw what Audrey saw through these scripts.  It was brilliant and so original!
The plot was awesome – sweet and touching and funny and, at the end, a little worrying.  I was hooked as I watched Audrey's struggles, hooked as I saw her fall in love with Linus "Orange Slice".  The love story was just too adorable, by the way, as was the natural way the family evolved.  I just loved all of it!
I found Kinsella's balance between hilarity (via the brilliance of Audrey's family) and severity (because of Audrey's illness and struggle to cope, because of the bullying and depression – both serious problems amongst teens today) absolutely perfect and spot on.  Sophie never made light of what Audrey was going through, never, not once.  She handled everything – Audrey's 'episodes' and doctor appointments and difficulties – with care, so much care, that it was impossible not to empathise totally with Audrey, not to totally understand how utterly serious her condition was.  And yet there were also the most hilarious moments in the book too, bits that had me crying with laughter followed by bits about bullying and depression that were so serious I felt like crying for a whole other reason.  I just think so many teenagers will empathise with what Audrey was going through, and will appreciate the brilliant moments of comic relief.  Kinsella proves once and for all that you can tackle an issue as serious as mental health amongst teenagers with the care and respect it deserves, but without making the book as serious and grim as so many other books of a similar genre.  Because yes, this is a serious book about a serious topic, but it's also a funny book about a funny family.  It's a blend that could have gone wrong under any other author's care, but a blend that feels so right and perfect when put together by Sophie Kinsella.
I don't have mental health issues.  But I was teased when I was younger.  And I have a condition that people often don't understand.  I know what it's like to be judged because people can't see what's wrong; I know what it's like to be told to just get over it.  I think everyone will be able to empathise and relate with Audrey.  I mean, who hasn't been picked on?  Who doesn't know someone with mental health issues – or have them themselves?  This is a serious book dealing with real issues that still lets you have fun.  And I love that.
Oh, jeez, I've just talked your ear off about this!  Sorry.  I just can't get over the perfection of this blend and over the awesomeness that is Finding Audrey.  I adore Sophie Kinsella – she's amazing! – and her first YA book just further cements how awesome she is in my mind.  I can't wait for her next YA book!

Star Rating:
4 Out of 5

Read this book if you liked:
Shopaholic Series by Sophie Kinsella
One by Sarah Crossan

Happy Reading
* This book was received from Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest review

** Quotes used are from a proof copy and may have been changed in the finished book

Sunday 18 October 2015

Wolf By Wolf by Ryan Graudin

Series: Wolf By Wolf, Book One
Publisher: Orion
Format: ARC**
Published: 5th November 2015
Number of Pages: 400
Book: For Review*
Genre:  Historical, Science Fiction, Alternate History, Fantasy, Mystery, Romance, Thriller-Suspense, Action-Adventure, YA
Recommended Age: 13+
Contains: Violence, Death, Swearing, Smoking References
Author's Site: Ryan Graudin

Over ten years since the Nazis won the war, 18 yr old Yael has one mission: to kill Hitler - a captivating second novel from Walled City author, Ryan Graudin.
Once upon a different time, there was a girl who lived in a kingdom of death. Wolves howled up her arm. A whole pack of them-made of tattoo ink and pain, memory and loss. It was the only thing about her that ever stayed the same. Her story begins on a train. 
Germania, 1956. Over ten years since the Nazis won the war. 18-year-old Yael is part of the resistance, and she has just one mission: to kill Hitler.
But first she's got to get close enough to him to do it. 
Experimented on during her time at Auschwitz, Yael has the unique ability to change her appearance at will. The only part of her which always remains are the five tattooed wolves on her arm; one for each of the people she's lost. Using her abilities, she must transform into Adele Wolfe, Germany's most famous female rider and winner of the legendary Axis Tour; an epic long distance motorcycle race from Berlin to Tokyo, where only the strongest (and wiliest) riders survive. If she can win this, she will be able to get close enough to kill the Fuhrer and change history forever.
But with other riders sabotaging her chances at every turn, Yael's mission won't be easy... 

“Tomorrow the end began.  She was going to race from Germania to Tokyo.  She was going to win the Axis Tour and earn an invitation to the Victor's Ball.  She was going to kill the Führer and spark the death of the Third Reich. 
She was going to cross the world and change it.
Or die trying…”
What if Hitler and the Nazis hadn't lost WW2?  What would become of the world?  Where – or if – would Hitler stop?  What would become of his brutal, dreadful experiments?
The Nazis won – with the help of Emperor Hirohito from Japan – and have spread their control over Europe, bringing death and pain and destruction in their wake...
Taken to a concentration camp as a little girl, Yael is experimented on by an Angel of Death – a Nazi doctor.  The experiments change her and turn her into the ultimate weapon for the Resistance.  Using her unique ability, Yael goes undercover as Adele Wolfe, the poster-girl for the Nazi regime, who won the Axis Tour – a motorcycle race that goes from Germany to Japan, in honour of the Axis' victory: the winner receives an audience with the reclusive Hitler.
Yael must win the race.  She must meet with Hitler.
She must kill him for all he has done.
But when she meets the real Adele's brother and former boyfriend, Yael realises that reaching the Fuhrer and finishing the race might be more difficult than she first thought...  
I absolutely adored The Walled City and so I was deliriously excited for Wolf By Wolf – especially when Nina from Orion described it as 'The Book Thief meets X-Men'.  I mean, come on!  How's a girl meant to resist that pitch?  She just can't!  And when I heard Ryan talk about it, when she read us a bit of the first chapter, I just knew I would love Wolf By Wolf.  And when I started it on the train home, I was just swept up – completely hooked by this alternate world.  It was just... whoa.  I didn't think Ryan could top The Walled City and yet she managed to totally outdo herself.  Wolf By Wolf... amazing.  Incredible.  Breath-taking.  I have no words for how much I loved this book.
One of my favourite parts of this book was Yael: she was such a badass!  Clever, brave, smart, damaged and just... brilliant.  She didn't know her own face, but she knew she was strong and she had such strong morals, such strong values.  She still saw beauty and hope, just as much as she saw corruption and loss.  I was instantly rooting for Yael, right from the word go, and I adored her – and can't wait to see her grow and kick butt in the next book!  Why must it be so far away...?
Luka...  He was the real Adele's love interest (although their shared past was pretty unknown).  I wasn't sure what to make of Luka to begin with, but then... I started to love him.  All he wanted was to be with Adele, he risked himself to help others, he was snarky and prickly and funny.  And then he’d do something and I'd hate him all over again... I'm so conflicted!
Felix was just such an amazing brother – the best.  If I had a twin or older brother, I would want one exactly like Felix.  He was protective and brave and clever and always looking out for his sister (well, who he thought was his sister), no matter what she did.  I loved him so much!
The relationships were so brilliant – as brilliant as the characters themselves.  I know that Yael wasn't Adele, that she wasn't who the boys thought she was, but their relationships... they felt real.  They started off shaky, weak, and they grew and grew into something real and believable.  Felix was so protective of Yael, and she grew to trust him – care about him.  And Luka... yum.  The two really had some chemistry, despite whatever went on between him and the real Adele.
There were various supporting characters in the book, none as badass as Yael, confusing (and hot) as Luka or as wonderful as Felix.  But I did really like Ryoko, Henryka, Vlad and the Babushka.  I really did not like the doctor or other riders in the Axis Tour, though all of them were very well created.
Holy Scheisse, this world...  It scared the crap out of me.  Seriously, the research and world building was just phenomenal and so terrifying.  I mean, if just a few things were different during the Second World War, think what could have happened – all the Scheisse that could have gone down.  It's freaking scary as hell – and makes for such an amazing, brutal backdrop of a story.  
And the idea of what Yael could do was fascinating – the dreadful causes of the 'gift' even more so.  I mean, you're experimented on.  Changed.  Something – your identity, yourself – is taken away for ever.  And now Yael can't even remember her own face, what she really looked like.  It was heart-breaking!  And then there was her relationship with Luka and Felix: she truly cared about them, but she wasn't the girl they knew and loved.  
Though I'm not going to lie.  The Mystique quality of Yael's abilities was so cool.
Ryan wrote Wolf By Wolf in the third person, which can sometimes feel more impersonal.  In this case, however, I think the distance was a good thing: everything Yael had been through...  It would have been too much.  To hear what she went through as a child, growing up, how much pain her world put her through...  But, as always, Ryan's writing was phenomenal – exciting, action-packed, beautiful, sharp, gritty, bloody brilliant.  I loved this book so much! *jumps up and down hugging the book*
As for the storyline?  Just wow.  Thrills, spills, danger, spying, fighting, racing, trying to bring down a vicious fascist...  It was all just nonstop and so utterly addictive.  I read the book in one go (utterly shattering myself in the process, thanks to lack of sleep) and was left so hungry, so desperate, so needing for more more more!  The plot of Wolf By Wolf is utterly amazing and unpredictable and brilliant and exciting: there was just never a dull moment!
I adored and gushed about The Walled City.  It is a phenomenal book.  But Wolf By Wolf was, somehow, impossibly, even better.  It took uniqueness and magic and excitement and amazingness and brought it all up to a whole new level.  It was amazing, breath-taking and... I really just don't have the words to do it justice.  But I really believe that Ryan Graudin is the goddess of words, of creating unique and incredible books that I fall in love with so quickly, so desperately and so deeply.  Wolf By Wolf was just pure magic.  It was a book so good I was hooked from start to finish.  It was a book so good I slowed right down when I reached the last few chapters, because I just did not want the story to be over.  It was a book I began raving about when I was only a few chapters in and a book I will never stop recommending to everyone, everywhere.  It was a book I will never forget.  It was a book that left me absolutely desperate for the sequel (and a book that will drive me insane until I get my hands on said sequel).  It was a book so damn good that even with all of this rambling, I simply do not have to words to truly do it justice.  It was a book that was unique and magic and beautiful and horrible and exciting and terrifying and addictive and pure magic.
Please, just go and go now.  Buy it.  Read it.  Love it.  And then you will understand why I am so very desperately in love with Wolf By Wolf.
Because, yes, Wolf By Wolf's lead girl was a Mystique-like character, undercover and with special powers – it is a race, a battle, a supernatural-esque thrill ride.  But Wolf By Wolf is also about fear and pain and hope and survival.  About fighting against all the odds.  About making the world right after it went oh-so very wrong.  About fighting for what you believe in.  About how terrible the world could have been, if just a few things had gone differently during WW2.  And that is why everyone, everywhere simply has to read it.  Wolf By Wolf was beyond phenomenal and I honestly just cannot recommend it enough – to every single person who reads this review, who sees this book in Waterstones and who lives on this planet.  Read it.  Read it now.
I, meanwhile, will be going insane waiting for the sequel...  I just need it so badly.  Ryan Graudin is amazing and all powerful and I am well and truly hooked. 

Star Rating:
5 Out of 5

Read this book if you liked:
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
Grisha by Leigh Bardugo

Happy Reading
* This book was received from Indigo-Orion in exchange for an honest review
** Quotes used are from a proof copy and may have been changed in the finished book