Book Chat: Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway

Posted March 4, 2016 by Hannah in Reviews / 2 Comments

Book Chat: Emmy & Oliver by Robin BenwayEmmy & Oliver by Robin Benway
Published by Simon & Schuster Australia, HarperTeen on 16th July 2016
Pages: 320
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought

"Oliver's absence split us wide open, dividing our neighborhood along a fault line strong enough to cause an earthquake. An earthquake would have been better. At least during an earthquake, you understand why you're shaking. "

Emmy and Oliver were going to be best friends forever, or maybe even more, before their futures were ripped apart. But now Oliver is back, and he's not the skinny boy-next-door that used to be Emmy's best friend. Now he's the boy who got kidnapped. A stranger - a totally hot stranger! - with a whole history that Emmy knows nothing about.
But is their story still meant to be? Or are they like the pieces of two different puzzles - impossible to fit together?

Can I just say, I have a keen interest in stories like Oliver’s. I find the psychological behind cases like Oliver’s fascinating. The why especially. Maybe there’s a certain aura of mystery that shrouds missing persons cases, especially when they stay missing (which is sad) that projects that fascination. Which is why I was really keen to read this cute contemporary novel.

One of the great, readable aspects about Emmy & Oliver s is that it is a novel that is centred around Emmy’s relationships not just with Oliver, but with her best friends as well as her parents. I find that sometimes in contemporaries the romance takes over the story to a point where the secondary characters feel like they are just there, without any purpose other than just to pop up every now and again. That was definitely not the case in this book. The witty banter she had going on with her friends was so refreshing. It didn’t feel forced, but rather natural. My only issue was how many times dude was used. Is that really a thing, Californians?

Even though the novel is solely from Emmy’s point of view, Benway gives us more than a glimpse of how Oliver’s disappearance and subsequent return affected Caro and Drew as well, and how those bonds of friendship were repaired. One of the reoccurring themes throughout the story was the notion that it wasn’t the past that made you who you were today, but how you are in the now, and that was something that resonated with me a lot. There’s a huge difference from being a child and a teenager, and to hold on to a idealistic view of someone from years ago rather than the person they are now just seems wasteful.

Another great thing was Emmy’s relationship with her parents. It was there. It wasn’t just a plot device. Emmy had an actual human relationship with her folks, and I loved it. Though it was infuriating at times that Emmy was quite stubborn in talking to her parents about certain things, like the surfing, you could understand her need to please them and how much she did respect them – even if she wanted to break away from the stifling clutches of being a single child who has been witness to the fallout of Oliver’s abduction, she still manages to have a genuine repartee with them. You can feel the love on the pages.

Sadly, for all the good, there was the bad. Not that it was necessarily bad, but more disappointing. I didn’t feel invested in the romance between Oliver and Emmy for one. I felt it was a bit contrived, and slightly over done. The friendship between the two felt forced just to make way for a romance later on when they were teenagers. And it wasn’t just believable to me that Emmy had been hanging out for a guy all these years that she had thought she’d never see again, and when she did see him again, it was more on a romantic level rather than platonic. Which was why the end of the novel was a bit of a let down, as the romance took over and the tests of friendships and family between Emmy and her peers seemed to be hastily set aside and resolved without much fanfare.

The same went for the darker tone of the novel – Oliver’s abduction. I felt like it went around in circles a bit with the repetitiveness when Oliver was describing his emotions and feelings, especially in the case of his mum. I guess it was hard, because the novel was from Emmy’s POV, which meant we only saw things from her side, but that fascinating aspect of missing persons that I thought was going to be great wasn’t really there – and even the resolution at the end between Oliver and his father was skimmed across, making the rest of the novel a bit lacklustre.

Overall, while I can see how Emmy and Oliver has become a favourite between many readers, certain aspects of the novel fell flat, taking away from the great parts of the book. Yet at the same time I found myself enjoying the witty banter and the friendships Emmy had with her family, Caro & Drew (and Oliver). Definitely a good book for a lazy afternoon read!

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Book Chat: What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

Posted March 1, 2016 by Hannah in Reviews / 1 Comment

Book Chat: What We Saw by Aaron HartzlerWhat We Saw by Aaron Hartzler
Published by HarperCollins Australia on 23rd November 2015
Pages: 336
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought

Kate Weston can piece together most of the bash at John Doone’s house: shots with Stacey Stallard, Ben Cody taking her keys and getting her home early—the feeling that maybe he’s becoming more than just the guy she’s known since they were kids.

But when a picture of Stacey passed out over Deacon Mills’s shoulder appears online the next morning, Kate suspects she doesn’t have all the details. When Stacey levels charges against four of Kate’s classmates, the whole town erupts into controversy. Facts that can’t be ignored begin to surface, and every answer Kate finds leads back to the same question: Where was Ben when a terrible crime was committed?

This story—inspired by real events—from debut novelist Aaron Hartzler takes an unflinching look at silence as a form of complicity. It’s a book about the high stakes of speaking up, and the razor thin line between guilt and innocence that so often gets blurred, one hundred and forty characters at a time.

A question that often pops up in the blogosphere – and beyond – is what we should be teaching teenagers in school when it comes to literature. Should we be using the Classics, like they did when I was at school, or other adult novels that are heavily dissected to a point where reading becomes a chore? Where every metaphor or theme is picked apart to a point that critical thinking isn’t actually critical anymore (another discussion topic not for today)?

Or should teenagers in high school being reading material that’s geared toward the demographic – the teen? Should we be giving teens books that not just give them an understanding of how the English language works, but also teaches them lessons beyond the classroom, that challenges them to think not just in a critical sense, but socially – and culturally, based on events that are shaping their world, their future?

After reading What We Saw by Aaron Hartlzer, my firm opinion on that is yes. Texts like this – like Courtney Summer’s All the Rage or Amanda Maciel’s Tease are the reading material I would want my own children to be reading at school and looking at in depth. Why? Because they provide not just a keen understanding and awareness of the trials teenagers face, but they provide an outlook of what the majority of teens face on a day to day basis in a way that is so raw and real it leaves you knocked for six.

Simply put, they have a shock factor. And in a day and age where so many lines are blurred and so many voices are causing the younger generations to be confused, especially by outdated values that no longer apply to us, we need reading material like this.

I’ll admit, I was wary going into this book. Highly intrigued, yes, but only because I had followed the case the book is based on, even though it didn’t quite reach the same levels of intensity here in Australia that it did in the US. I was wary over the fact that a man had written a book where the subject of sexual assault is the key theme had me a little worried. I’ve heard of other YA novels where similar topics were covered in a farcical manner, and wasn’t sure how I felt about this. Yet at the same time I was high intrigued, so a chance I gave it.

I’m so glad I did.

It’s hard to put into words exactly how this book left me feeling, except for the range of emotions that spilled out over the 24 hours I read it. Angry, frustrated, upset, disgusted. But between all those raging emotions, I was pleased. Pleased that there is finally a book out there that doesn’t sugar coat things. Most of the time when I review books, I find it hard to know exactly what to say that isn’t just a rehashed version of what everyone else has already said. Sometimes you feel like what you say is just a circle of blah blah blahs that you’ve already heard before to the point where in your mind you’re thinking, okay, we get it, enough already!

But the thing is, it’ll never be enough. Because even today, even now when we are more progressive as a society, we are still failing. Which is why it’s important to talk about books like this.

Kate is popular, smart and grounded. She’s got her head screwed on, and what I loved about her characterisation is how she remained true to herself the entire novel. She stuck to her guns while learning a lot – while questioning and growing as a person due to the events of the book. But each decision she made, you didn’t feel like screaming at her, or feel like the author was exploiting her for a plot line. The decisions she makes, the choices she chooses, every little thing is well thought out and has a reason behind it. She doesn’t let herself be swayed by others who are only thinking of themselves.

The main question hanging over the novel is the question of would you speak up if you saw something you knew wasn’t right? Hartzler puts to the reader that what we might see isn’t always the full story – the closer you look, the more you see. While there is a lot of focus on the way we have grown as a society to put the blame directly on women – for our actions, for the way we dress, for what we say and don’t say – this was the crux of the novel. And I think one of the most important themes out there.

A lot of the time, we are the Kates. The ones on the sidelines, who hang on this delicate precipice. It’s hard to relate to a story where the main character is the victim if you haven’t been in that position, which can screw with our way of thinking. What We Saw puts you into a mindset which is hard to escape from, where you are constantly questioning. It puts you directly into your mindset. Think about when you see girls out at parties, or at clubs, or in photos, in conversations etc. Working around young people, I see it so much of the time. Reading from Kate’s point of view, it really questioned the what would you do? scenario. There’s even a scene later on in the novel when one of the boys who was at party mentions that he wouldn’t be able to help himself simply because the victim was drunk (and according to his pea size brain, therefore “offering” herself up to be raped). The teacher goes fairly mental (one of the only adults who seemed to get it), and starts talking to the students about what they should be doing if they come across a drunk girl (or really, person). Everyone gave the right answers, but the whole scene was written in such a way that made you as a reader think, would they really? It’s so easy to say “Oh if I came across a drunk girl I wouldn’t take liberties, I’d make sure she’s safe.” But to put that in action is another, and I think that was also an important message that was sent across.

This book is just as poignant for adults to read as teens. Because the actions of most of the adults are what causes people – easily influenced teenagers especially – to be a certain way. I got so mad at Kate’s parents. At one point, her dad says that what’s more of a crime is that a hacker group has “stolen” a video of the rape that was circulated and quickly deleted. When your own father says that stealing a video is more of a crime than rape, it makes you sit up.

Idolisation is another important theme throughout the novel too, and is the one that parallels to Stuebenville – and so many other cases that have never garnered media attention – the most. These seemingly perfect young men who have talent in sports who are put on a pedal stool and worshipped to a point where they can do no wrong. Or at least if they do, a blind eye is turned. Nothing is left out in What We Saw, including how Kate’s younger brother, Will, is a perfect example of falling victim to the superstar complex. Caught rating girls in his class, Will doesn’t quite understand why Kate is so furious, since “everyone else” has done it. It’s not until the end of the novel, when Kate forces him to watch the video that he is able to grasp what is so wrong with what happened.

One of the things that really knocked me for six as well was how Hartzler explored Kate’s friendships in the novel. It really kind of makes you sit up and think when people who you think you know so well….suddenly you don’t so more. While it’s understandable to see where some of Kate’s friends got their perspective from (such as Rachel), it was hard to accept that Kate was friends with those who were quick to blame the victim, and by the end of the novel, Kate realised that too. One of the main questions that kept coming up was “If that was me, would you have stopped it?” and is where a lot of the slut shaming formed. When some of Kate’s friends answer with that would never happen to you because you are essentially a good person, you know that they aren’t. Being a good person doesn’t mean it will never happen to you. Wearing a lot of makeup and a short skirt doesn’t mean that you have it coming for you as well.

A lot about What We Saw will piss you off. It won’t be the writing, or the way the author handled the topic. It was all so beautifully done that it really made you sit up. That anger and frustration you feel isn’t because of how the book is posed, but because you are questioning how as a society we have reached a point where even children think that it’s okay to blame the victim. And that’s why What We Saw is a must read book.

I don’t know if I could call it a favourite, because favourite seems like the wrong sort of word to use when you think about the context. But it is probably one of the most powerful, thought provoking books I’ve ever read.

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Ever The Hunted by Erin Summerhill

Posted January 4, 2016 by Hannah in Reviews, Young Adult / 1 Comment

Ever The Hunted by Erin SummerhillEver The Hunted Series: Clash of Kingdoms #1
by Erin Summerhill
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children's Book Group on 27th December 2016
Pages: 400
Format: E-ARC, E-Book
Source: Netgalley
BooktopiaBarnes & NobleThe Book Depository

Seventeen year-old Britta Flannery is at ease only in the woods with her dagger and bow. She spends her days tracking criminals alongside her father, the legendary bounty hunter for the King of Malam—that is, until her father is murdered. Now outcast and alone and having no rights to her father’s land or inheritance, she seeks refuge where she feels most safe: the Ever Woods. When Britta is caught poaching by the royal guard, instead of facing the noose she is offered a deal: her freedom in exchange for her father’s killer.

However, it’s not so simple.

The alleged killer is none other than Cohen McKay, her father’s former apprentice. The only friend she’s ever known. The boy she once loved who broke her heart. She must go on a dangerous quest in a world of warring kingdoms, mad kings, and dark magic to find the real killer. But Britta wields more power than she knows. And soon she will learn what has always made her different will make her a daunting and dangerous force.

Ever The Hunted is actually a really hard book to review. Usually it’s easy to talk about what you like or didn’t like about a book, because one outweighs the other most of the time, but what about those times when you read a book and there’s…well, nothing?

That was my experience with Ever The Hunted. As a book, it just was. Nothing special, nothing amazing, but nothing terrible. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t. Reading Ever The Hunted felt like reading pretty much every single YA fantasy trope rolled into one, and as much as I love fantasy – that gets boring, and quick.

The plot and actually story is fantastic – Britta, our heroine, must track down her father’s supposed murderer with the help of the King’s Guard in order to secure her freedom. To add salt to the wound, the murderer is none other than Cohen, the boy Britta has loved who left after an accident gone wrong. Throw in kingdoms divided by the power and consequences of magic, and you’ve actually got a good story on your hands, however the execution wasn’t pulled off nearly as neatly as one would have liked, and while Ever the Hunted is a fairly easy and languid type of read – perfect for a hot summer’s day (or a cold winter’s night!), if you like your stories with a bit mores substance and character, it may not be for you.

As a character, Britta was someone you could take or leave. At times she was annoying and petulant, and her skills were sorely lacking for someone who was supposed to be fantastic at tracking (at times, the others with her would best her and we’d go through a few pages of Britta doubting her abilities until the next person told her how awesome she was). But then the loyalty she has to her father and even to Cohen, someone she thought betrayed her, is admirable. There wasn’t really one character who really shined though.

Would I read the second book? Most likely. A cliffhanger that seemed to have no connection to the rest of the book was intriguing, albeit it a little bit frustrating because cliffhangers, come on. But if you don’t like to be frustrated with a book…maybe wait until the second is out, and binge all at once.

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