Book Review: Gossip Girl (Gossip Girl #1) by Cecily von Ziegesar

Title: Gossip Girl (Gossip Girl #1)

Author: Cecily von Ziegesar

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Genre: Young Adult, Drama, High School

Published: 12 September 2007 by Bloomsbury Australia

Format: Paperback, 208 pages

Synopsis: “Welcome to New York City’s Upper East Side, where my friends and I live, go to school, play, and sleep–sometimes with each other.

S is back from boarding school, and if we aren’t careful, she’s going to win over our teachers, wear that dress we couldn’t fit into, steal our boyfriends’ hearts, and basically ruin our lives in a major way. I’ll be watching closely…

You know you love me,
gossip girl” 

(Taken from Goodreads)

– – – –

So I basically needed a quick and dare I say  – trashy – book to get me through this assignment period. Something that didn’t require thinking and I could go through in a day. As I went through my bookshelf looking for just that, I came across my paperback copy of Gossip Girl, bought in store years ago. I don’t really remember having read it before (but at the back of my mind I felt like I have as well), shrugged my shoulders and started reading.

Let me just say, I’ve seen every season of the tv show, loved how glamourous upper east side life is portrayed, but trying to get through this book was like poking myself in the brain repeatedly. It felt a lot like trying to get through the last few seasons of the tv show – you knew it was trashy and not very well written, but you just had to know what happens!

I guess a lot of my dislike for this novel can be attributed to the my age. While I still read children’s fiction and coming-of-age stories, Gossip Girl portrayed characters that felt flat. I could not relate to them at all – not even little J. I understand von Ziegesar is attempting to portray the life of the rich within New York City, but her style of writing was choppy and her characters were so dull. I don’t recall anyone from high school being this bitchy, annoying or sex-driven at all. Perhaps it’s the different cultures (between Australia and America), but I just don’t understand their motivations.

I found the story flowed really weirdly as well. A lot of the time I found ‘Gossip Girl’ narrating a sentence or two here and there during each character’s perspectives. There was no plot at all either.

If you have been keeping up with my recent reviews, such as the one on The 5th WaveI have explained what I think makes up a good story. 1. Plot line. 2. Characters. This novel lacked both. I understand it is the first in the series, and both the plot and the characters will probably be more rounded out by the end of the series. But just like the tv show, this book needed a lot of tightening up.

It was a very quick read, and I’m glad to have ticked it off my TBR pile, but I probably won’t pick up the rest of this series.

Book Review: The S-Word by Chelsea Pitcher

Title: The S-Word

Author: Chelsea Pitcher

Rating: ★ ★ ★  ½

Genre: Young-Adult, Contemporary, High-School-Drama

Publication Date: 7 May 2013 by Gallery Books

Synopsis: “First it was SLUT scribbled all over Lizzie Hart’s locker.

But one week after Lizzie kills herself, SUICIDE SLUT replaces it—in Lizzie’s looping scrawl.

Lizzie’s reputation is destroyed when she’s caught in bed with her best friend’s boyfriend on prom night. With the whole school turned against her, and Angie not speaking to her, Lizzie takes her own life. But someone isn’t letting her go quietly. As graffiti and photocopies of Lizzie’s diary plaster the school, Angie begins a relentless investigation into who, exactly, made Lizzie feel she didn’t deserve to keep living. And while she claims she simply wants to punish Lizzie’s tormentors, Angie’s own anguish over abandoning her best friend will drive her deep into the dark, twisted side of Verity High—and she might not be able to pull herself back out.

Debut author Chelsea Pitcher daringly depicts the harsh reality of modern high schools, where one bad decision can ruin a reputation, and one cruel word can ruin a life. Angie’s quest for the truth behind Lizzie’s suicide is addictive and thrilling, and her razor-sharp wit and fierce sleuthing skills makes her impossible not to root for—even when it becomes clear that both avenging Lizzie and avoiding self-destruction might not be possible.” (Taken from Goodreads)

– – – –

The S-Word was overall a wonderful debut novel from Pitcher. The concept and execution of the novel was well done, interesting enough that I enjoyed it as a novel in its entirety. The issues the book brings up are not easy topics to talk about, especially for teenagers in high school. The death of a fellow classmate could very well shatter a person – and we see this happening through the main protagonist, Angie, whose best friend threw herself off the school’s clock tower following a series of bullying incidents.

The novel follows some cliche plots but breaks through the mould as well. It’s characters are more human than first expected with a story set in a high school environment. At first glimpse, when seeing ‘the s-word’, I thought, “Oh no, here we go again. A story about the popular people tormenting a girl into suicide…”, but this story was so much more than that. It is a story about survival, secrets and seclusion … well much high school. It is also a story about blame, revenge and forgiveness and about moving on from a tragedy.

We follow Angie as she tries to solve the mystery behind Lizzie’s suicide, laying blame on those that took part and most of all on herself. She spends the majority of the novel trying to figure out who exactly is responsible for pushing Lizzie to the edge and letting her fall to her death. I’ve noticed some reviews portray Angie as hypocritical in the sense that she herself played a major role in Lizzie’s death. This is definitely true, but Angie knows that – the person she blames the most is herself, for ignoring and abandoning her best friend when she needed her most, even when she believed Lizzie had betrayed her and broke her heart. I’m not sure how those reviewers could miss the many pages showing Angie’s torment, and blame on herself – so much so that she had carved ‘killer’ into her own skin for the part she believed she played towards her best friend’s suicide.

I found Angie to be a strong-willed and strong-hearted character. We watch with sadness as she falls deeper into the dark pit of loss and  holds our breath as we wait for her to finally snap and possibly self-destruct herself. If it wasn’t for the eccentric Jesse, she would probably have done so. His friendship and support played a major part in helping Angie get back on her feet. However, I thought the need for Jesse to become a romantic interest was unnecessary. I liked him the way he was in the beginning – free and individualistic. His friendship would have been enough to stabilise Angie’s state of mind, so the little twist of romance was unneeded in my opinion. But he was definitely my favourite character in the novel and it was nice to see a little glimpse of his backstory as well.

Another character that I liked was Kennedy. Portrayed as the most popular girl in school, her motives and actions depict a person that is completely different to the cliched queen bee. What we usually forget about the queen bees are the fact that they’re also people – with a past and their own memories. Readers usually jump to the conclusion that they’re the root of all evil in high school, but Kennedy breaks through this mould. That was refreshing to read about, even though her past was nothing short of horrific.

I think the one thing that kept me from giving this book a higher rating was the psych of its main character, Angie. Her need and thirst for revenge in bringing down everyone that played a role in Lizzie’s suicide was a little psychotic, to put it bluntly. I was surprised no one even suggested to her that maybe she should consider seeing a counsellor, especially when everyone knew she was Lizzie’s best friend. You would think that the school would at least hold a session for all of Lizzie’s friends, just to help them through this traumatic situation. But instead, we watch as Angie spirals downwards as all signs point to her going a little cray cray. And her parents, my god! I understand that she’s a neglected only-child, but jeez, there is bad-parenting and then there is what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-you parenting. Her mum seemed like she didn’t even know her daughter’s best friend had died. And her dad seemed like he was even worse off in stability of the mind than Angie did. With family that this, it was no wonder the girl was going a little cray cray.

/SPOILER/ I couldn’t help but wonder whether it was necessary to ruin someone’s life completely by ousting them as a rapist at their own graduation ceremony. While I know Drake deserved to be caught, I just can’t help but think the way Angie went about it was totally unfair and a little over the top. Everyone she went after for revenge was portrayed by her as evil-incarnate, but in reality they were just people who made a mistake, know they’re guilty and now have the live with the consequences. But with Angie, she was extreme enough to want to ruin their lives for it. I’m glad she kind of redeemed herself by not ruining everyone’s lives (just Drakes), but even so, it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth knowing that no one even bothers to think that what she’d been doing was wrong – especially the little twist revealed that she was the one behind the diary drop-offs and writing suicide slut in Lizzie’s handwriting. /SPOILER/

The S-Word is an overall very enjoyable read. It raises many issues for discussion and reveals a human side to many cliched characters that you wouldn’t expect in normal high school novels. I think Pitcher did a wonderful job in her debut novel and I look forward to her future work.

THANKS TO: Gallery Books on Netgalley for providing an eARC for me to read and review honestly.

Book Review: Rape Girl by Alina Klein

Title: Rape Girl

Author: Alina Klein

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Genre: Contemporary, Young-Adult, Coming-Of-Age

Synopsis: “Valerie always wanted to be the smart girl. The pretty girl. The popular girl.

But not the rape girl.

That’s who she is now. Rape Girl. Because everyone seems to think they know the truth about what happened with Adam that day, and they don’t think Valerie’s telling it.

Before, she had a best friend, a crush, and a close-knit family. After, she has a court case, a support group, and a house full of strangers.

The real truth is, nothing will ever be the same.” (Taken from Goodreads)

– – – –

A beautifully written story of survival during the aftermath of an event that can ruin a young person’s life forever.

Rape Girl was certainly a very quick read, but it resonated a strong message to all victims of rape: “Hold your head high even if you feel like your world is crashing down around you.” The story follows Valerie, a 16-year-old teenager that threw a party and got drunk while her mum was out of town. During the night, she was witnessed by many of her peers to willingly walk into a room to spend some time alone with her crush, Adam. What they didn’t witness was her throwing up all over his shoes and passing out, only to wake up the next day with a major hangover. Falling asleep on the couch once again, she wakes up to Adam having taken off most of her clothing and telling her he was back to pick up where they had left off the night before. Valerie tells him “no”, but we obviously know what happens next.

The book focuses mainly on the present, while we do get a glimpse into prior events during the beginning of the story. We go through the journey of being a victim of rape with Valerie, and watch as her world falls down around her. But we also see her pick herself up again. We see many victims of rape blaming themselves for what happened, and it’s no different with Valerie. She is fighting a battle within herself as well as with Adam. She experiences the loss of reputation for telling a truth no one believes, and watches as her ‘best friend’ leaves her, rather than staying loyal. Such is the world of high school.

I really, really enjoyed watching Valerie pick herself up through this mess of an event – even when her lawyers drop her case and charges against Adam. I understand the message behind Valerie’s story is not able winning against the raper, but to speak up and piecing your life together even when everything goes to crap. Reporting the incident is so important to turning your life around, because you realise who the supportive people in your life are. It is the first step to being able to move on from the incident.

I really loved this story and its messages, but what I would have liked to see was maybe an epilogue to really conclude Valerie’s story. I know her talk with Adam was supposed to be the point where she turns her life around, but it fell a little flat for me. But irregardless, this was a wonderful read, written really well by Klein. It’s a wonderful contemporary story I would recommend to everyone.

THANKS TO: Namelos for providing an electronic copy of the book on netgalley for me to read and review honestly.

Book Review: Matt Archer: Monster Hunter (#1) by Kendra C. Highley

Title: Matt Archer: Monster Hunter (#1)

Author: Kendra C. Highley

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Shelf: Read-in-2013, 4-out-of-5, Children-Fiction, Adventure, Paranormal, Released-in-2012, Author-Request-Review

Synopsis: “Fourteen-year-old Matt Archer spends his days studying Algebra, hanging out with his best friend and crushing on the Goddess of Greenhill High, Ella Mitchell. To be honest, he thinks his life is pretty lame until he discovers something terrifying on a weekend camping trip at the local state park. 

Monsters are real. And living in his backyard. 

But that’s not the half of it. After Matt is forced to kill a strange creature to save his uncle, he finds out that the weird knife he took from his uncle’s bag has a secret, one that will change Matt’s life. The knife was designed with one purpose: to hunt monsters. And it’s chosen Matt as its wielder. 

Now Matt’s part of a world he didn’t know existed, working with a covert military unit dedicated to eliminating walking nightmares. Faced with a prophecy about a looming dark war, Matt soon realizes his upcoming Algebra test is the least of his worries. 

His new double life leaves Matt wondering which is tougher: hunting monsters or asking Ella Mitchell for a date?” (Taken from Goodreads)

– – – –

Fourteen-year-old Matt Archer is out camping in the woods of Montana with his uncle Mike when they are attacked by a paranormal grissly bear with tusks. Not knowing what to do as his uncle is attacked, Matt grabs the first weapon he finds in his uncle’s bag – a sharp knife that glows at his touch. The knife takes out the monster and Matt is thrust into the mist of a mission to save the world from armageddon.

For a fourteen-year-old thrust into the tough ordeals of a military nightmare, Matt handles himself extremely well. He is a well-rounded character written unbelievable well by Highley. He acts as a fourteen-year-old would when faced with girl-troubles, but is also smart enough to obey command when necessary. Matt is not irrational and stubborn as most teenagers would be when told that they’re wielding immense power – and that is what I loved about him. Highley has created a person that all readers could root for – rather than another annoying kid given power they’re unable to comprehend.

I found the entire story very well written and paced. Most scenes were definitely filled with action and Highley does not shy away from the prospect of death, which I admire her for. While written for children, it is still to be expected that when you’re fighting a war with monsters, death would always be lurking around the corner.

I have only high praise for the character developments within this story. All the characters were well-rounded and felt completely real. I enjoyed the strong bond of friendship between Matt and his best friend Will, but what I loved most was his bond with his family. His sister Mamie is one tough cookie, even though she’s known as a nerd to people around school. While we don’t see much of Matt’s brother Brent, he is always there when Matt needs him the most. He has his back and that’s what counts the most. And how can I forget the relationship between Matt and his uncle Mike? With Matt’s father M.I.A, Mike is the closest father figure he and his siblings have. Being deployed to Afghanistan serves the family a huge blow, but it is because of Mike’s leaving that pulls the Archer family together. They’re all just so supportive of each other, and it’s such a great thing to read about.

While you may think that this book is just about hunting mosters in the dark, Matt is still a teenager in high school. He has problems just like any other adolescent boy full of testosterone, and the glimpses offered into his ‘normal’ life was quite enjoyable to read about. Not once did I get impatient and want to fast forward to the fighting, because Matt chasing after is dream girl Ella was fun to read about too.

Matt Archer: Monster Hunter was an extremely enjoyable read and I will definitely be reading the next one in the series – Matt Archer: Blades Edge. I hear it’s set in Australia, my home country, so I’m very, very excited!

THANKS TO: Kendra C. Highley for providing me an electronic copy to review honestly.

Book Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Title: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Author: Stephen Chbosky

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Shelf: Read-in-2012, Young-Adult, Contemporary, 3-out-of-5, Released-in-2010, Kindle-eBook

Synopsis: “Charlie is a freshman. And while he’s not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years yet socially awkward, he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it. 

Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mix-tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. 

But Charlie can’t stay on the sideline forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor. 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a deeply affecting coming-of-age story that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.” (Taken from Goodreads)

– – – –

I’m not sure I really understand the hype surrounding this story. Charlie was a character that I came to dislike throughout the book with his incessant whinging and crying. I get it, Charlie is meant to be autistic … but it got to a point where his character became so unbearable that I had to put down my kindle for a few hours so I wouldn’t throw it across the room.

While I’m not saying the whole book was horrible (I did give it three stars), the main character was what made my rating go down. Yes, I’m aware that I’m in the minority of people who do not love and worship this book like it’s the most amazing piece of literature on earth that defines our generation – and I don’t even care. While I understand that Chbosky created Charlie as a character that we’re meant to root for and relate ourselves to – I found it increasingly hard to because I found him to be a very 2D character.

For a 16-year-old boy, he sure didn’t act like it. [What 16-year-old boy does not know about masturbation. Did he just tune out completely during sex-education class every time? Please.] He was extremely emotionally unstable, and the reason was not explained until the very last part of the book. It just felt forced and unbelievable, like Chbosky realised at the last minute that Charlie’s actions needed to actually be explained.

BUT as I mentioned before, this book was not all bad. I did in fact enjoy it, even though its protagonist marred the reading experience. I did love his friendships with Sam and Patrick. (Side note: Did anyone realise that Charlie had said that Patrick’s nickname was ‘Nothing’ – except apart from saying it once or twice, no one ever brings up that name again? What was the point in introducing that name if it’s never going to be used?) What I did like about Charlie was how supportive of a friend he is. This redeeming quality made me like him a little better. I really like it when friendships just click together, and that happened in this book. (Apart from the times when Charlie kept whinging about his love for Sam.)

While not all bad, I was eventually let down by this book. I guess I was pulled in by the hype surrounding the movie, and went in with really high expectations. While not my favourite book of 2012, I did enjoy it overall (when Charlie was continuously whinging).

– – – –

The movie trailer on the other hand, makes Charlie seem completely different to his character in the book. I think I’ll give the movie a try.

Elections, elections!

What is it about this topic that just gets everyone so riled up? Whenever election time rolls around, it seems every bit of a candidate’s background gets thoroughly investigated and ‘revealed’ to the whole country. So, you couldn’t have done that a little sooner? Say, I don’t know, before they’ve secured the candidacy spot?!

Yes, I’m referring to America, but also to my own country – Australia. I know the political systems in both countries are vastly different, but there are many similarities as well. I’m not saying that I’m by any means an expert or avid follower of politics, but there are some areas that I want to bring up that really rub me in the wrong way. Especially when I do have the right to vote at the next election and will have to choose between two parties, with none that really stand out to me.

The one similarity that I can’t shake off in both candidates within America and Australia is that both opposition leaders do have a past of bullying. Yes, this information was revealed only recently, a few months prior to the election (it’s very sneaky to be honest), but I do stand by the idea that the public has the right to know about the past of anyone that is running for the power to make decisions for a whole country.

Let’s start with Mitt Romney shall we? If you do a google search of ‘Mitt Romney: Bully’, you will be bombarded with a variety of news articles that all say the same thing. He and his friends apparently pinned a boy down in high school, and cut off his long blond hair because Romney didn’t like it, and it felt ‘gay’ to him. His ‘friends’ from Cranbrook (the private high school where the incident occurred) have statements that the incident did occur.

From what I understand, Romney apologised for his ‘hijinks’ although he says that he doesn’t recall the incident. I’m not sure, but as a human being, I would say that a bullying incident like this would leave a pretty long-lasting impression on a person. I still remember when I was bullied in kindergarten! And I know that’s because I was a victim, but Romney wasn’t exactly a child. He’s old, sure, but surely if his friends from back then remember the incident, the actual instigator would remember it as well.

Now onto Tony Abbott. I don’t know about you, but I sure see some similarities here. Two weeks ago, the Australian media was all wild and frantic in reporting about Abbott’s good old days as a bully, which coincidentally, he also cannot recall. Wow, don’t you both just have some very good memories. I’m not worried about that memory retention or anything if you both win enough votes to become President or Prime Minister.

I’m not sure about you, but I definitely do not want a bully (although in the past) as a leader of my country. People may grow up, and yes, Romney’s incident was in high school (lessens the impact a little, but only just. Although you’re a ‘silly’ teenager, it still doesn’t give you a right), Abbott’s bullying incident occurred in university. After he lost  an election. I don’t exactly want to know what would happen if he lost the PM election next year, but I also don’t really want to win.

I know politically speaking, this post does not touch on any of the policies that the candidates raise – especially for all the issues regarding unemployment, our economy, a seat on the UN etc. But having studied psychology, management and public relations – I know quite well that to be a good leader, you first must be a good person. You must put the interests of others ABOVE yourself. In our neoliberal society, good leaders are coming to understand that people are a very important asset. And treating people with dignity and the rights they deserve will get you a long way.

So to Romney and Abbott, I really hope that you learn from your past mistakes. Sure, it may have happened a long time ago, but it’s better to confront and admit your guilt rather than hide behind the facade of memory loss. It fools no one. Why not play the empathy card, and legitimately apologise. Everyone knows people make mistakes, and no one will fault you for a mistake you made when you were in high school or university. But we will if your ‘apology’ is as believable as saying that a live elephant will fit into a car. I believe you can salvage your reputation much more if you just apologise sincerely for your past actions, and no-one will be able to say you weren’t regretful of them.

But right now, I don’t think I can vote for someone that doesn’t seem to care or be able to empathise with others. I want a leader that will do the country proud – someone that want to make the country better for its citizens. Not someone that assume they are better than others and will only care about one half of its citizens.

Get your priorities straight guys, you’re a leader, and every move counts. People will always be watching – even those who don’t follow politics closely.

(Disclaimer: Everything in this post is just my opinion. I am entitled to it. I respect that others also have their own opinions, and I will be happy to discuss them. But if you want to bash/troll, go make your own blog and do it there. I have no time for bullies.)