Archive for the ‘Usborne’ Category

Review: How to Save a Life – Sara Zarr

Cover of How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

Title: How to Save a Life
Author: Sara Zarr
Publication date: September 1, 2012
Publisher: Usborne
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-1-4095-4675-7
Length: 412 pages
Genre: Contemporary
Age group: Young Adult
Source: Publisher
Add it: Goodreads
Buy it: Amazon US | Amazon UK | The Book Depository


Everyone knows how to live, be who they are, find their place. But I’m still waiting.

Jill’s life lost all meaning when her dad died. Friend, boyfriend, college – nothing matters any more. Then her mother drops a bombshell. She’s going to adopt a baby. Mandy is desperate for her life to change. Seventeen, pregnant and leaving home, she is sure of only one thing – her baby must never have a life like hers, whatever it takes.

Heart-achingly beautiful, How to Save a Life is about finding love, truth and your place in the world… all where you least expect it.

My thoughts

How to Save a Life was the first book I’ve read by Sara Zarr and I have to say, I’m really impressed.  Contemporary fiction is one of my favourite genres but at the same time, books like this can be quite tricky. Books dealing with the loss of a loved one can quite easily turn into something very cheesy and over-the-top. However, it’s definitely not the case with How to Save a Life. Not only is Zarr’s book frighteningly real, its concept is very unique and I love the message it conveys.

The book tells the story of two seventeen year-old girls with two completely different backgrounds. Mandy grew up in a single-parent family by her alcoholic mother – she dropped out of high school, never really had friends or a loving family. She’s desperately trying to get away from her old life and start it all over again, to build a better future for herself and the baby but doesn’t know how. And we have Jill, only child to a well-to-do mother, who has just lost her father in an accident and who’s been trying to go back to her old self ever since, without success. I didn’t really manage to connect to either of them at first: I found Mandy quite naive and ‘away with the fairies’, and Jill very rude and full of herself, but they both grew on me soon enough. And I loved the contrast between the two of them: the fact that apart from the baby, Mandy has nothing or no one else – not even a proper, loving family or a better future to look forward to, while Jill has a loving mum and friends she could count on and all she does is drive them away and completely alienate herself.


Review: The Truth About Celia Frost – Paula Rawsthorne

Cover of The Truth About Celia Frost by Paula Rawsthorne

Title: The Truth About Celia Frost
Author: Paula Rawsthorne
Publication date: August 1, 2011
Publisher: Usborne
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-1-4095-3109-8
Length: 342 pages
Genre: Contemporary / Thriller
Age group: Young Adult
Source: Publisher
Add it: Goodreads
Buy it: Amazon US | Amazon UK | The Book Depository

Celia Frost is a freak. At least, that’s what everyone thinks. Her life is ruled by a rare disorder that means she could bleed to death from the slightest cut, confining her to a gloomy bubble of ‘safety’. No friends. No fun. No life.

But when a knife attack on Celia has unexpected consequences, her mum reacts strangely – and suddenly they’re on the run. Why is her mum so scared? Someone out there knows. And when they find Celia, she’s going to wish the truth was a lie. A buried secret, a gripping manhunt, a dangerous deceit… What is the truth about Celia Frost?

The Truth About Celia Frost is without a doubt one of those books that grabbed my attention even after reading the synopsis. I don’t know why but I seem to like books where the main character has some sort of an illness – whether it’s a contemporary novel with a more emotional approach or a paranormal/thriller one with an element of mystery. Celia Frost belongs to the latter category. I had high expectations for this one and although it didn’t let me down, for me something was still missing.

What I liked about this book the most was the whole concept – I know I’m not the only one who’s getting fed up with all the zombie/vampire books out there. There are so many similar books nowadays that sometimes when I pick up a YA book, it’s almost as if I already read it before. Concept-wise, Celia Frost is nothing like that. I’ve never read anything like this before and even though I’ve heard about this illness before, I haven’t actually read any books about it. Rawsthorne certainly did a great job with the main idea: it’s unique, very clever and well-researched.

On the plot level, the book has everything you need for a gripping young adult novel: a cute male protagonist, tension within the family, action, great friendship, danger, you name it. I love the fact that it’s not one of those sappy, over the top stories where the cute guy falls in love with the cute girl and even though they go through a lot, they live happily ever after. Sol, the male protagonist is everything but over the top. He really is a nice guy and I would be really happy if he was my friend. I just love their friendship, the way he looks after Celia and tries to help her live a normal life. Reading about the time they spent together was definitely one of the best parts of the story.

As much as I wanted to love this book, there were still a few things I didn’t really like. As for the plot itself, even though I enjoyed it most of the time, for me it was a little bit predictable. You know that feeling when you’re watching an action-packed film where the good guy gets into trouble but you still know s/he will win in the end? Or when you’re watching a horror film and someone’s heading towards an alley on a deserted street (in the dark) and you already know what’s coming. That’s what happened to me a lot of times while I was reading this book. I don’t know whether it has something to do with the fact that it was written for a younger audience or not but most of the time I had an idea about what would happen next and it did. I loved the concept and the twist (i.e. the story behind Celia’s illness), it just didn’t WOW me as much as I think it would.

However, it definitely was a fast-paced story and all in all, I quite liked it. If you’re looking for something you’ve never read before, something with a twist then The Truth About Celia Frost is your best choice.

Rating:*Thank you to Usborne Publishing for sending me a review copy of this book*

Review: The Other Life – Susanne Winnacker

Cover of The Other Life by Susanne Winnacker

Title: The Other Life
Author: Susanne Winnacker
Publication date: February 1, 2012
Publisher: Usborne Publishing
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-1-4095-3608-6
Length: 314 pages
Genre: Dystopian fiction
Age group: Young Adult
Source: Publisher
Add it: Goodreads
Buy it: Amazon US | Amazon UK | The Book Depository

3 years, 1 month, 1 week and 6 days since I’d seen daylight. One-fifth of my life. 98,409,602 seconds since the heavy, steel door had fallen shut and sealed us off from the world.

Sherry has lived with her family in a sealed bunker since things went wrong up above. But when they run out of food, Sherry and her dad must venture outside. There they find a world of devastation, desolation…and the Weepers: savage, mutant killers. When Sherry’s dad is snatched, she joins forces with gorgeous but troubled Joshua – an Avenger, determined to destroy the Weepers. But can Sherry keep her family and Joshua safe, when his desire for vengeance threatens them all?

Susanne Winnacker’s The Other Life is the perfect example of a fast paced, action packed and cleverly written dystopian novel – something you pick up and find yourself breezing through the story in one day. I still consider myself quite new to the dystopian genre but Winnacker presents us such a devastating picture of a future Los Angeles, something so different from the world we’re living in now, that you simply cannot help but listen to every word she says.

The plot is just fantastic: there’s no introduction in the sense that we don’t have a clue about what happened Sherry and her family. They’ve already been living in this bunker for 3 years by the time the story starts. We learn little bits of information about them and how their life has been down there in the past few years, but we still don’t know why they’re there or what happens if they run out of food and have to go out of their hiding place. Winnacker gradually builds up the tension in her book and keeps you on the edge of your seat all the way until the end. There are short periods when she lets you relax, take a deep breath and hope that everything will be all right, everyone will make it to the end but you soon realize that just like the characters, you can’t let your guards down. When you think you’ve seen it all, Winnacker still manages to surprise you with another twist and make the suspense even more agonising than before.

On top of a gripping storyline, The Other Life has characters you probably won’t forget anytime soon. Sherry and Joshua are a perfect duo and I couldn’t tell you which one of them is more likeable or relatable – I just loved them both. I loved the fact that even though Sherry is only fifteen, she acts like an adult. She takes care of her little sister and she’s tough, just like Joshua. I really liked how mysterious and tough, but at the same time vulnerable he is.

Gut-wrenching, utterly riveting and still a little bit optimistic, The Other Life is definitely one of those books you need to pick up as soon as you can. I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s brilliant – believe me, you’ll find it hard to put it down. Without a doubt, it’s been one of my favourite books this year. The ending opened up many possibilities for the next book and I can’t wait to see what happens next. Can 2013 hurry up, please?


* Thank you to Usborne Publishing for sending me a review copy of this book *

Review: Mockingbird – Kathryn Erskine

Title: Mockingbird
Author: Kathryn Erskine
Publication date: January 2012
Publisher: Usborne
Format: Paperback
Length: 236 pages
Genre: YA / Middle grade fiction

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Caitlin misses her brother Devon. Since his death, she has no one to explain the world to her. And for Caitlin, the world is a confusing place, full of emotions and colours she can’t understand. Dad tries to help, but he spends a lot of time crying in the shower.

So when Caitlin reads the definition of “closure” in the dictionary, she decides that’s what they need. And as she struggles to find it, she learns how to let a world of colour into her black-and-white life…

Kathryn Erskine’s Mockingbird is a touching, poignant, but at the same time utterly hopeful story which will no doubt stay with you for a long time. Narrated by the 11-year-old Caitlin who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, the book deals with how people can deal with the loss of a loved one and how our lives might be different if we understood each other a little bit better. First person narration can be tricky and it can go wrong in so many ways but Erskine nailed it – seeing everything through Caitlin’s eyes is what makes this novel so special and gripping.

After finishing Mockingbird, all I could say was… WOW. Just wow. Even though it’s been a few hours since I put it down, I’m still in a complete awe – I just can’t praise it enough. It’s a beautifully written story that grabs you at the very beginning and makes you keep on reading until the very end.

What I loved about this novel the most was the first person narration. It’s interesting to see everything from Caitlin’s perspective. The author’s aim with this was “to have readers see the world the way she sees it. If they could live in her shoes, they could better understand why she talks and behaves the way she does” and it works. You cannot help imagining what life must be for Caitlin – or anyone else who has a similar illness. You see how each day is a battle for her – going to school and facing everyone when all she would like to do is to hide under the sofa cushions at home. You see how everyone is constantly making fun of her because she’s different and doesn’t behave the way other people do and it’s quite easy to emphasize with her throughout the story. Reading about how she was trying to make people understand her – or at least accept her or talk to her -reduced me to tears several times throughout the book.

Another thing I really enjoyed in the story was Caitlin’s relationship with her brother and her only friend, Michael. Erskine’s description of Caitlin and her brother’s relationship is just spot on. We learn that Devon, her brother who is a victim of a tragic school shooting, was the one who taught her everything. He told her what to do and what not to do at school so that people don’t laugh at her. He was there for her when she was terrified or confused and now that he’s no longer there for her… Caitlin is confused. Michael is a 6-year-old kid from Caitlin’s school who eventually becomes her friend. He’s the only one, after Devon, who gets her – someone who doesn’t laugh even if what she says or does doesn’t make too much sense.

To sum up, I would say that the author managed to get her message across and Mockingbird is a huge wake up call for everyone of every age. It teaches us to be more emphatic towards others and not to judge them since we don’t know what the other person is going through in his or her life. Mockingbirds is a beautifully written, powerful and poignant story which will stay with you for a very long time. Make sure to grab a packet of tissues before you pick it up because you’re in for an emotional ride. Brilliant. Unique. Something I’d be glad to recommend to absolutely everyone – you won’t be disappointed.

* Thank you to Usborne for sending me a copy of this book for review *