Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Book Review: The Pact by Jodi Picoult

The Pact- Jodi Picoult


Emily Gold and Christopher Harte have known each other their whole lives, having grown up next door to each other in the small town of Bainbridge, New Hampshire. Virtually inseparable, the two are best friends and soul mates, with their friendship blossoming into a romantic relationship when they reach their teens. Their parents, Melanie and Michael Gold, and James and Gus (Augusta) Harte, are just as excited at the romantic union between their children- unsurprised at the turn that their friendship has taken- and impatiently wait for the day when they will be able to call each other in-laws, rather than just best friends.

But everything changes one night when Emily and Chris are admitted into hospital- Emily with a fatal gunshot wound to the head. The gun, belonging to Chris’ father, is found at the scene, with one unspent bullet still remaining in it. Chris tells police that the second bullet was intended for him, to complete the suicide pact he made with his girlfriend, but that he fainted before he could take his own life.

Doubting Chris’ story, the police decide to launch an investigation, naming Chris as the main suspect, and treating Emily’s death as a homicide…

What I gained from reading this book:

As with all of Picoult’s novels, The Pact raises some serious issues- most notably issues regarding teen suicide and love- and challenges the sincerity of the old saying, ‘Innocent until proven guilty’.

Chris’ life is irrevocably changed as he finds himself on trial for his beloved’s murder. His intense love for Emily, and his willingness to see her happy -whatever the cost- is his ultimate downfall. He learns who his true friends are, and discovers just how far his mother is willing to go to show her unwavering support for her son. Similarly, he sees how, despite his distancing himself from the problem, his father still tries to show compassion for Chris’ cause.

All of this is in direct contrast to Melanie Gold’s reaction to Chris’ involvement in her daughter’s death. Melanie, despite knowing Chris his whole life, is unable to comprehend that her daughter was suicidal, instead preferring to pin the blame on Chris, labelling him a murderer. She refuses to believe that her daughter wouldn’t talk to her about any problem that she may have had. This raises the question: How well do we ever really know our friends and family? There is always the perception that we should know when something is wrong, but in actuality, sometimes these problems can remain a secret until it’s too late to do anything about them. This book highlights the anguish faced by two grieving families, and serves as a lesson to readers that sometimes we don’t know people as well as we’d like to think we do.


This novel is beautifully written- Picoult makes it easy to understand and feel the conflict that Emily experiences in her relationship with Chris. Similarly, the tension and the emotion surrounding Emily’s death and Chris’ subsequent incarceration and trial, is extremely life-like, and draws us into the characters’ world.


This novel could be a little bit depressing for some people. Emily believes that all of her troubles will disappear if she can find a way to end her life, and as we progress through the book, we can see that this belief is what pushes her to make the decisions that she does- ultimately turning Chris’ life upside down. People who are looking for a light and fluffy read should steer clear from this novel.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Genre: Family/ Relationships

Recommended for: People who would do anything for love, even if the end result involves serious repercussions.

Australians can buy the book by clicking the picture below:

The Pact

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Book Review: Spirit Bound (Vampire Academy #5) by Richelle Mead

SERIES SPOILER ALERT. SERIES SPOILER ALERT. SERIES SPOILER ALERT. WARNING: The contents of this review may give away some of the major plotlines within the series. Do not continue reading if you want to be pleasantly surprised by the book.

Spirit Bound (Vampire Academy #5) - Richelle Mead

Synopsis: The last few years at St Vladmir’s Academy have been rough for Rose Hathaway, but the end is finally near. Graduation is approaching- and after all the love, loss, killing and heartache that have taken place- Rose is excited to leave the school and finally enter the real world as a renowned and successful Guardian. Although she has high hopes of guarding her best friend- and the last Dragomir princess- Lissa, Rose knows that her questionable behaviour record could be an issue. Having just returned from her failed mission to Siberia to locate and destroy her Strigoi ‘boyfriend’ Dimitri, Rose is feeling a little down about her chances of getting this highly coveted position. Making her feel even more ill at ease, Rose knows that Dimitri is still out there- biding his time until she leaves the grounds of the school so that he can attack her and make her into a Strigoi just like him- or die trying. But she also lives with a kind of hope, especially after learning that the Moroi power of spirit (which Lissa yields) could be the cure capable of changing a Strigoi back into its former self. Determined to find out more about this potentially incredible feat- which could mean the difference between killing Dimitri and turning him back into the Dhampir he once was- Rose enlists the help of her friends to uncover as much as she can about the only Moroi who has ever saved a Strigoi. But Rose’s mission comes at a cost, one that means danger for more than just her and her friends. It’s a race against time, as they try to find a cure for Dimitri- before he can find and destroy them…

What I gained from reading this book: Whereas the previous book was all about dealing with grief, this novel focuses more on redemption, forgiveness and winning back love lost. In Spirit Bound, many of the characters have to find ways to buy back the respect of their friends and, in turn, be forgiven for actions they have taken part in. They also have to find ways to heal the many fissures within their relationships. Due to Avery’s influence (spirit and otherwise) in Blood Promise, Lissa treated Christian harshly, and now needs to earn back his love and respect, while Christian needs to let go of the hurt that he felt at Lissa’s unkind behaviour. Meanwhile, Rose is in a sweet new relationship with Adrian, but she still has strong feelings for Dimitri, who she finds difficult to let go. These emotions cause some rifts within Rose and Adrian’s relationship- especially when Dimitri comes back into their lives- and Rose finds herself drifting between her feelings for the two men. Love is an extremely complicated thing, and both Rose and Lissa keenly illustrate this in the novel. Both girls are in love, yet they are unable to express how they feel without someone getting hurt or losing face amongst others. Spirit Bound teaches us that, while it may hurt sometimes, the best thing to do is take a chance- because you never know how things will turn out. Sure, you may get hurt, but at least you won’t regret not trying…

Positives: The action scenes in this novel are awesome (quite like they were in the other books of this series), and Rose is just as strong-willed as ever. Lissa, too, is starting to come out as a stronger character, and her daring actions take the storyline to new levels.

Negatives: There were a few questions left unanswered at the end of the novel, and, while I’m sure they’ll be answered in the next book, it’s quite irritating that we weren’t given at least some hints towards what may happen next.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Genre: Teenage Fiction

Recommended for: People who are desperate to find out what happens next for Rose, Lissa and the gang- especially since the next book is the last of the series!

Australians can buy the book by clicking the picture below: Spirit Bound (Vampire Academy)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Book Review: Girl In Translation by Jean Kwok

Girl In Translation - Jean Kwok

Kimberley Chang is only eleven years old when she and her mother move to America from Hong Kong.
Aunt Paula- the sister of Kim’s mother- who has lived in America for thirteen years, finances their entire journey and relocation to New York. She provides them with a dingy squat of an apartment, and a ‘good’ address so that Kim can attend a better public school than the one in her impoverished neighbourhood. She even gives Kim’s mother a job in the factory she manages- a sweatshop in Chinatown that pays its worker’s two cents per garment. Living in the vermin-infested apartment, with only an oven to keep the place warm, and speaking barely any English, the mother-and-daughter duo struggle in their new and unfamiliar surroundings.
To make matters even more difficult, Kim, who always got top grades at her school in Hong Kong, struggles to fit in and achieve similar results in her American school. Language barriers, poverty, and the need for her to work at the factory after school (helping her mother on the production line) means that she has little time to catch up with her classmates.
But Kim soon realises that if she wants to lead a better life than the one she has now, she has to apply herself at school, get into the best college she can, and make something of herself. She starts reading any English she can get her hands on, and before long, finds herself excelling at everything school-related. Kim is determined to make something of her life, leave poverty behind, and experience triumph over adversity. Along the way, she deals with love, heartbreak, mockery and challenges, but she is persistent in turning her dreams into a reality, and breaking free of the mould she has been put in.

What I gained from reading this book:
This novel, while fictional, focuses on appalling sweatshop conditions and child labour, which is still existent in America (and other, smaller countries) despite the ethical issues surrounding the problem. In Girl In Translation, the children help their parents in the factory every day after school so that they can make enough money to survive. Even though they are overworked, underpaid, and in dirty and dangerous conditions, many of the employees have no choice but to continue working there (either because they are illegal immigrants or because they don’t have any other skills to get them by in America). Kim’s mother speaks very little English, and is indebted to her sister for getting them out of Hong Kong, and paying for her tuberculosis medication while she was ill. She has no other real option but to work in those appalling conditions, and Kim feels obligated to help when she’s not studying. Because of this, Kim vows to use her intellectual gifts to go to college, get a great job, and help get her mother out of such terrible poverty.
This novel is a wake-up call to all people, especially when the lives of Kim’s rich classmates are contrasted with her own (living well below the poverty line).
This novel is also about courage, love and attempting to achieve the (perceived) impossible.

This is a fantastic debut novel by Jean Kwok, and it features amazingly realistic characters. At times the story is so lifelike, that if you picked this book up and started reading it, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re reading the autobiography of an impoverished- yet gifted- Chinese girl growing up in America.

The life that Kim leads as a kid in America is tragic, to say the least. No child should have to endure the difficulties that she faces- studying at school all day and then working at a sweatshop with her mother until late at night.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Genre: Family/ Relationships

Recommended for: People who want to read an inspiring story about one girl’s persistence to improve her life, and save those she loves, from a lifetime of poverty.

Australians can buy the book by clicking the picture below:

Girl in Translation

Book Review: China Lake by Meg Gardiner

China Lake - Meg Gardiner

Evan Delaney is a science fiction writer, legal researcher and guardian to her six-year-old nephew Luke, who remains in her care while his father- her brother, Brian- flies F/A-18 jets for the US Navy.
As far as good lives go, Evan is on top of the world- her new novel is a bestseller, her career is going from strength to strength and she has a fantastic relationship with her boyfriend Jesse. To make things even better, Brian has just relocated back to the China Lake naval base, which means that Luke will be able to move back in with the father he adores, and have a more stable childhood.
But then Luke’s mother, Tabitha, who abandoned Brian and Luke eight months earlier, arrives back on the scene, and she’s not alone. Having joined the cult religious group, The Remnant, Tabitha is determined to get her son back, and will stop at nothing to make that happen. The Remnant, who believe that the apocalypse is eminent, seek perverse pleasure in heckling people at the funerals of AIDS victims, as well as other ‘weaker’ people, and Evan knows that she has to keep them as far away from Luke as possible.
But when two deaths occur within a short period of time, and Brian is arrested as the murderer of one of the victims, Evan realises that The Remnant will not rest until they get what they want. Evan, along with Jesse and her friends have to protect Luke from the evil cult, who believe that the scriptures of the bible foretell judgement day, and who believe that Luke holds the key to their redemption.
With kidnap attempts, weapons dealing and biological warfare on the cards, Evan has to be as strong as possible to fight against The Remnant, protect her young nephew and keep him from danger.

What I gained from reading this book:
This book is mainly about family, and the lengths that some people will go to, to make sure that their loved ones remain safe and out of harm’s way. Evan is determined to make Luke’s life as pleasant as possible, considering the tough circumstances that surround his parent’s break-up, and when she learns that The Remnant is threatening his safety, she goes all out to ensure that no harm befalls him.
In a similar vein, Evan is just as determined to protect her brother Brian, who is jailed for a crime he didn’t commit, and help her boyfriend Jesse when the situation with The Remnant starts to get out of hand. She always appears to put her family and friends first, and this is something that all readers could aspire to.

While the concept of fanatic cults isn’t new, Gardiner has brought a new element to the idea, with the surprising demise of one of the main characters of the plot. This not only creates a sense of mystery, but it means that the storyline is also difficult to predict.

Some of the events of this novel can be a little hard to believe, simply because the characters seem to face few repercussions for their actions. In a more realistic world, there would be far more consequences involved, but this shouldn’t deter you from reading this otherwise absorbing story.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Genre: Crime/ Thriller

Recommended for: Anyone who wants to read a crime/thriller where the heroine has to fight against a religious cult to save her family.

Australians can buy the book by clicking the picture below:

China Lake

Yes... it's been a while...

Hi everybody!!

I'm back after my long and unexpected hiatus from the internet world, and I have plenty of new book reviews to share with you..

How was your Christmas and New Year break? (I know I'm asking two full months after the fact, but what can be done?) I hope you managed to read and enjoy plenty of new books over the time period, and that you get the chance to cross many more books off your list as the year goes by.

Remember, if there is a particular book you would like me to review then please let me know and I'll do my best to get around to it!!

Cheers, and happy reading!!

Cat xo

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Book Review: Annexed by Sharon Dogar

Annexed - Sharon Dogar

Peter van Pels is a Jewish teenager, living in Amsterdam in the 1940s.
With the ever-growing threat of the Nazi invasion, Peter and his parents are reduced to hiding away in the annexe of a factory building. Living with them, in close confines, are the Jewish owners of the building- the Franks- and their two young daughters, Margot and Anne. Pining for his ‘girlfriend’ Liese, who was taken earlier by Nazi soldiers, and wishing he could get out of the annexe and fight the Nazi’s like a man, Peter finds it difficult to adjust to his new life in hiding.
Adding to his frustrations, he finds himself increasingly annoyed by Anne and her constant know-it-all chatter. It gets to the point where his only escape is to sit in the warehouse (on weekends, when no one else is around) and carve wood.
But then Peter starts to notice small changes in Anne, and his tolerance for her grows. Soon, he begins to look forward to the time they spend with each other, and a mutual attraction forms. But does Anne really care about Peter in the way that he cares about her? Is she only spending time with him so that she has something to write about in her precious diary? And when the ultimate betrayal occurs, will he able to live, knowing that Anne is out there somewhere, trying to survive the horrors of the holocaust?
These are Peter van Pels’ (imagined) experiences, dealing with terrible circumstances that will hopefully never be repeated again.

What I gained from reading this book:
There are many themes scattered throughout this novel, but the main ones would have to be about tolerance, love and respect (both of the self, and for others). Peter initially finds it difficult to live in such a small space with people he doesn’t really know or like, but he soon comes to grow fond of his ‘neighbours’. From the start, he shows respect for Mr Frank, and tolerates Mrs Frank and quiet Margot, but he absolutely dislikes Anne. He thinks of her as an obnoxious loudmouth, and constantly compares her to his beloved Liese, a girl who is in all ways opposite to the kind of girl Anne is. It isn’t until he gets to know her, and realise how insecure and afraid she is (and how this shapes her behaviour) that he starts to appreciate Anne’s company. After this, his respect and love for her grows. At the same time, Peter battles with feelings of resentment towards the Nazis and the way that they are treating the Jewish people. He wishes that he could fight them, rather than hide from them, and, already a non-practising Jew, becomes disgusted with the negative status that his religion gives him.
It isn’t until he falls in love with Anne that these feelings gradually fade to the back of his mind, and he has new things to think about.
Readers can learn from Peter’s ability to be more open-minded about his experiences in the annexe, and put those motions into practice in everyday life by being more tolerant of other people.

It’s great how the author is able to piece together the Anne Frank story and tell it from Peter’s perspective, putting a different spin on the events that were made so famous in Anne’s diary. Dogar has managed to seamlessly weave real-life facts with fiction, making this novel particularly interesting to read. It makes you want to go back to the original source (Anne Frank’s diary), and read it again.

While it is interesting to read snippets of what Peter experiences in the camps- in between his experiences in the annexe- it can sometimes get a little repetitive reading the same thing over and over. I understand that Dogar is trying to paint a picture of the bleakness that Peter faces in the camps, and is attempting to show the repetitiveness of life for the Jewish prisoners, but it still doesn’t change the fact that reading almost-identical paragraphs at different intervals can get a little tedious.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Genre: Teenage Fiction

Recommended for: People who have always wondered about the relationship between Anne Frank and Peter van Pels, and don’t mind reading a fictional take on events.

Australians can buy the book by clicking the picture below:


Book Review: The Family Law by Benjamin Law

The Family Law - Benjamin Law

Benjamin Law- the third of five children, born to Chinese immigrants who settled in Australia- tells some of the stories of his childhood in this humorous, often cheeky biography. As one of the first Asian families to live in Caloundra, Queensland, in 1975, Law’s parents soon set up a popular Chinese restaurant, making the Law family an exotic household name for the white families living in the area. With the restaurant so popular, Law’s dad embarked on several business enterprises, which meant that while the family wasn’t poor, they also didn’t get to see their father that much. You could probably say that Law’s father is the absolute definition of a workaholic.
Regardless, Law recounts some memorable stories about life as a Chinese-looking, Aussie-speaking boy in Queensland.
Along with his three sisters and one brother, Law’s family life has been anything but ordinary- from hearing graphic accounts of birth and babies from his mother, to having the house raided when he was only four-years-old, by federal police looking for his illegal immigrant cousins.
In one chapter, Law tells of trying to learn Cantonese at a language school so he can better communicate with his extended family. While he understood some of the language, he found that he couldn’t actually communicate back, and hoped that lessons would help him improve, at least a little bit. He wasn’t terribly successful.
In another chapter, he recounts family holidays to the amusement parks in Queensland. His mother would act as a stereotypical Asian tourist, documenting everything on film, and he and his siblings would speak in loud, bogan voices so that other tourists wouldn’t think that they were tourists.
Law also tells of cockroach invasions, dangerous school camping trips, his Home and Away acting dreams, seeing his family naked, his mother’s aversion to technology, and gift-giving issues, among other unusual things…

What I gained from reading this book:
Family is an important theme in this biography, as anyone can tell simply from looking at the title! It’s obvious to anybody reading this book that Law shows deep respect and love for his family, even when they behave in seemingly dangerous (his brother, occasionally) or outrageous ways that would be considered out of the norm for most people. Even so, there is an underlying tone throughout the entire book that seems to say: ‘They’re my family- I have no choice, I have to put up with their wacky ways. But, boy, do I love them!’
This highlights the fact that although there can sometimes be friction between some family members, occasional bouts of stupidity and hilarity, and limited communication due to technology issues, there is nothing more important than the comfort of knowing that you have a loving family behind you.

This book is quite funny, written with trademark Law wit (not unfamiliar to those who have read his contributions to Australian magazines). This self-confessed ‘double-minority’ writer (he is gay, as well as Chinese-Australian), paints a hilarious portrait of his life, and really makes you wish that you could meet his family, simply to be a part of it all.

There is a little bit of swearing and indecent language in this book, which some people might not be too happy about. But if Law had left it out, the stories wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining. If you can handle a little bit of cursing, this book is well-worth reading!

Rating: 7 out of 10

Genre: Biography

Recommended for: People who enjoy reading Benjamin Law’s articles and anecdotes in Australian magazines like frankie, and want to learn more about him and his childhood.

Australians can buy the book by clicking the picture below:

The Family Law