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Thursday, 13 January 2011

A Lauren Kate review and giveaway reminder!

Well well, this new year of reading is getting off to a fabulous start!  Over the course of three LibraryThing read-a-thons this week (two 24-hour marathons hosted by moi, and one hosted by someone else so I could read from work and drop in when I could) I've managed to devour a whole heap of books!  Not only that, but the prolonged periods of bookish concentration are doing wonders for my reading focus the rest of the time too...  So, without further ado, here's the first review owing from the latest one:

REVIEW: THE BETRAYAL OF NATALIE HARGROVE (3.5*)

by Lauren Kate (Corgi, 2011)

I really enjoyed Fallen and Torment, so I was thrilled to receive a copy of Lauren Kate's newly-published debut novel for review. For me, it wasn't quite as enjoyable as the Fallen series, with its complex supernatural world and intense characters and relationships, but it still had a lot going for it.

Natalie Hargrove, our protagonist, is sailing through each day at school with only one thing on her mind: securing the positions of Palmetto Prince and Princess for herself and her boyfriend Mike. Her crown is pretty much in the bag, but Mike just doesn't seem interested in their campaign and there is a fly in the princely ointment: Natalie's arch-enemy Justin Balmer. So when the opportunity arises to play a well-timed prank on him that will all but destroy his chances, she grabs it with both hands. To her horror, Justin is found dead the next morning and suddenly she and Mike are trying to get away with murder...

The first half of the novel didn't appeal to me very much at all. It was just too 'Mean Girls'. Natalie was a real Queen Bitch, wandering around making snide remarks about other people and glorying in her own popularity. The 'Bambies', a group of vacuous makeup-obsessed airheads who'll sleep with any boy that asks them, also feature heavily. Now, yes, patently the stupidity of this microcosm in which these girls imagine themselves to be mature, sexy and admirable is being ridiculed. But I really, truly hate girls like this and so it really put me off. Thank heavens for Mike, the laid-back rich boy, and Tracy, the hippie ruler of the junior girls' bathroom, who add a little personality to proceedings.

To my relief, the second half of the book really picked up. The other girls at school didn't feature so highly, and the novel zoomed in on Natalie herself, on her background and motives, and the experiences that had made her so ambitious. Suddenly her ruthlessness is exposed as desperation, her shallowness as naivety, and she becomes a little more likeable for it. As she and Mike struggle to keep their cool and evade the suspicion of the authorities and their schoolmates, the suspense and tension grow, and turn the novel into a real page-turner. The end was semi-expected but packed a hefty punch nonetheless, and although it provoked more questions than it answered, it closed the book on a high point.

I think I would have rated the book higher if I didn't have such a pathological aversion to the kind of characters that abound in Kate's school setting. Natalie's background story rounded her out as a person and redeemed her for me, and there were a couple of unusual characters and a slight hint of magical realism that added interest. I'd recommend this as a quick, light read for older teenagers - there are a fair few references to sex, drinking and drugs - and I'll be eagerly awaiting the release of Passion, the next in the Fallen series!

Note: Many thanks to Random House Children's Books, who sent this book for review.

... and a quick giveaway reminder!

Okay, so I forgot about my own giveaway.  What can I say, Christmas came, Christmas went, and all was busy!  Anyway, this is a final reminder that I am giving away a new copy of Dreaming Anastasia by Joy Preble, international entry, now closing at 12 noon GMT, Wednesday 19th January.  You can read my review of the book here, and enter the giveaway itself here.  Good luck!

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