Friday, March 18, 2011

Review: A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend by Emily Horner

For months, Cass Meyer has heard her best friend Julia, a wannabe Broadway composer, whispering about a top-secret project. Then Julia is killed in a sudden car accident, and while Cass is still reeling from her death, Julia’s boyfriend and her other drama friends make it their mission to bring to fruition the nearly-completed secret project: a musical about an orphaned ninja princess entitled Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad.

Cass isn’t one of the drama people. She doesn’t feel at home with Julia’s drama friends, and she doesn’t see a place for her in the play. Things only get worse when she finds out that Heather Galloway, the girl who made her miserable all through middle school, has been cast as the ninja princess.

Cass can’t take a summer of swallowing her pride and painting sets, so she decides to follow her original plan for a cross-country road trip with Julia. Even if she has a touring bicycle instead of a driver’s license, and even if Julia’s ashes are coming along in Tupperware.

A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend is a story about friendship. About love. About traveling a thousand miles just to find yourself. About making peace with the past, and making sense of it. And it’s a story about the bloodiest high school musical one quiet suburb has ever seen. (summary from author's website)

I'd seen the cover of this book around online but didn't really have much of a clue about what it was about. When I saw it at my local library I grabbed it, and after reading the blurb, instantly wanted to read it. I'm glad I did! This book is a touching read that I could hardly put down.

I was surprised by just how much there was to this story. In the span of just a few short months, Cass loses her best friend (and possibly her first love); takes on a harrowing journey; both begins and ends her first romantic relationship; realises she does have a place to belong; and finds herself falling in love with the last person she ever would have imagined! Through alternating chapters of Cass's NOW, back at school after her trip to California, and her THEN, detailing the events of that trip, readers really get a feel for Cass, and I couldn't help but become attached to her. Horner's writing allowed Cass's emotions to jump off the page. I found myself tense for her, sad for her, and literally cheering her on. Seriously, at times my stomach dropped and my heart seized! It was a story I just kept wanting more of with every page I turned.

As with most of the books I truly like, its the characters that grab me. As I said, I became emotionally invested in Cass. After losing Julia, the only person she felt she could be herself with, she's completely lost. The thing is though, I don't know if Cass was able to actually be herself even with Julia. As Julia died before the beginning of the book, readers never get the chance to meet her ourselves, but know her only through her friends. In this way, Cass's turmoil is all the more emotional as she too questions her place without the buffer of Julia. Cass really finds herself throughout this book, and it ended full of hope - which I especially enjoyed. I'm a sucker for the fulfilling happily ever after!

I especially enjoyed Cass's developing relationship with Heather. Their scenes together were truly sweet and provided many out loud "awwww" moments! Their friendship - and consequent romance - developed realistically, which is something I don't always experience in the books I choose to read. Heather's revelations were bittersweet and surprising, and much like with Cass, I felt for her.

I also loved the drama group - Ollie, Jon, Amy and Lissa were great supporting characters. They had me laughing out loud with their truly unique personalities. And can I just say, that I would give a lot to be able to see their full performance of Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad? Horner's imagination is brilliant - I look forward to reading more of her work!

Rating:

Publisher: Penguin Group Australia
Date Published: July 28th 2010
Pages: 272

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Review: Choker by Elizabeth Woods

Sixteen-year-old Cara Lange has been a loner ever since she moved away from her best and only friend, Zoe, years ago. She eats lunch with the other girls from the track team, but they're not really her friends. Mostly she spends her time watching Ethan Gray from a distance, wishing he would finally notice her, and avoiding the popular girls who call her "Choker" after a humiliating incident in the cafeteria.

Then one day Cara comes home to find Zoe waiting for her. Zoe's on the run from problems at home, and Cara agrees to help her hide. With her best friend back, Cara's life changes overnight. Zoe gives her a new look and new confidence, and next thing she knows, she's getting invited to parties and flirting with Ethan. Best of all, she has her BFF there to confide in.

But just as quickly as Cara's life came together, it starts to unravel. A girl goes missing in her town, and everyone is a suspect—including Ethan. Worse still, Zoe starts behaving strangely, and Cara begins to wonder what exactly her friend does all day when she's at school. You're supposed to trust your best friend no matter what, but what if she turns into a total stranger? (summary from Goodreads)

I was really intrigued to read Choker after reading about it's plot. It's not what I usually read but I wanted to give it a go as it's summary made me go "Oooh" and stuck with me until it's release. Unfortunately, by half way through it had lost most of it's intrigue.

Choker starts out well, with an introduction to Cara and Zoe as children that I found chilling. Right from the get go it's obvious that something is not quite right with Zoe. Then the book jumps some years ahead, to Cara in High School, a loner after having moved away from her only friend. She's essentially invisible, until an incident in front of practically the whole school - choking on a chunk of carrot in the cafeteria - garners her the new nickname and the increased attention of mean girl bullies, Alexis and Sydney. Right when Cara feels she's at her lowest, Zoe shows up in her room, having run away from home.

Cara and Zoe's friendship is interesting, and it's easy to pick up on their dynamic. Cara is quiet and unnoticeable beside the beautiful Zoe, who seems to thrive on Cara's need for her. Her simply being there has a confidence-boosting effect on Cara, who begins to open up more and be noticed, by her friends on the track team and Ethan. Being locked in Cara's room has an adverse effect on Zoe however, as she stops showering, creates mess, and says nasty things to Cara that have the same effect as Alexis' bullying. In the midst of this, Sydney is found dead in her pool, and Alexis goes missing - both soon after they bully Cara.

Woods' mystery, while offering a good start, unfortunately becomes predictable. It grabbed me at the beginning, but soon it became apparent just what the twist was, and so for me, it lost it's mystery and intrigue. Despite this the book still held my attention however, and so I was able to finish it in just one sitting.

It is Woods' writing that made me want to keep reading - her descriptions are scary good. Her words played with my imagination, so much so that sometimes they felt real. I could see everything as clearly as if it was right in front of me, and some of those stick with me even now. Seriously, when she describes Zoe's mess and general slovenliness, I wrinkled my nose as if I could smell exactly what Cara could. The twist may not have been much of a surprise, but Woods' writing still made it worth waiting for and reading!

Overall, I did like Choker, even though what initially drew me to it didn't hold up as well as I would've liked.

Rating:

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Date Published: January 4th 2011 (USA)
Edition: Kindle

Challenge: 2001 Debut Author Challenge and 2001 YA Contemporary Challenge