Tuesday, 31 December 2013

My Top Ten Books of 2013

I meant to write this post a couple of weeks ago and even wrangled the 88 books I'd read at that point into a list of just ten to share with you all, but then I got busy. And now I'm faced with a struggle, because a book I've read since then feels like it deserves a place on the list but I don't know and now I'm struggling again and I think I'm getting a nosebleed. So I'm sticking to the original version of the list and hoping that the resulting stress will result in me getting my act together a little faster next year.

There is one thing I have to say before we continue, though. I reread the Harry Potter series this year, for the first time in a couple of years, for probably the twelfth time overall. I've decided to eliminate them from the running, because, frankly, they'd probably occupy the top six slots on this list (Chamber of Secrets wouldn't get a look in) and that would be boring.

So, in reverse order, we have...

10 - Burn for Burn by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian
I really, really enjoyed this book. In fact, it kind of set the tone for my reading year. I've always not-quite-avoided-but-I-don't-have-a-better-word-for-it YA contemporary novels. I consider myself to be much more of a fantasy fan, and I've never really been able to relate to the high school experience, given that I grew up in the UK and so never had that experience myself. Still, it kind of fascinates me. This book is about three teenage girls teaming up to get revenge on the classmates that have harmed them. It was funny, engaging and more importantly, the voices of the three girls were all distinct from one another. Hugely important. And actually, two of the main characters are not white, which is interesting considering how much I've read about the white-washing of young adult books in the last year. This book was a great read, and the only reason it's not higher up on the list is because it suddenly became a paranormal book towards the end, completely out of the blue, and that threw me. I think if I'd known that, I'd have had a much better experience overall. The second book was very enjoyable, too, and I have my fingers crossed that the final instalment of the trilogy finds its way into my hands in 2014.

9 - Ten by Gretchen McNeil
I was not actually expecting to like this book, which is possibly what elevated it to a spot on the list. Don't get me wrong, it's a really good book, but I'm always wary of thrillers. Ten teens alone and unsupervised on an island for three days and one of them is a killer - while this sounds great, I immediately start guessing who the killer is. Seriously, I read the back cover and was convinced I knew who it was. It's a problem. I simply have to guess, but I get mad if I guess right and I get mad if I turn out to be wrong. Thrillers just can't win with me, but this book managed to. I won't spoil it by telling you who the killer is and how easy or not it is to figure out, but I will say it's a hell of a ride. I mentioned in my review how much it reminded me of the TV show Harper's Island, one of the few other whodunnits I've enjoyed in the last few years. While I didn't connect very well with any of the characters, I did find the story gripping and I found myself staying up very late to try and uncover the culprit, then racing through the last chapters the next day at work because I really did have to go to sleep before I could finish. I'll definitely be checking out more of McNeil's books this year.

8 - Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson
Ohh, I loved this book. Again, it was a bit of a surprise to me. I'd heard lots of good things about it online and decided to take a chance on it, despite the fact that I've never read Peter Pan. The extent of my knowledge of Neverland comes from the Disney animated version and the scarring live-action Hook. Seriously, to this day I can't think about that film without feeling all strange. But that's not the point. The point is that Tiger Lily is a stunning book, with writing so beautiful that I found myself doing something I rarely do - rereading passages over and over again before I moved on, and flicking back to them from time to time to read them again. I was completely absorbed in this book, in this world populated by characters with familiar names but who I didn't know at all. My only slight issue with it was the lack of time spent with the pirates. Captain Hook fascinated me here and I wanted to see so much more of him and his crew, but sadly they were sidelined in favour of the Lost Boys, who just weren't quite as interesting. But then, I've always had a bit of an obsession with pirates. I had my pirate phase right before my vampire phase, and I don't think I'll ever fall entirely out of love with either one of them. I'm still not going to watch Hook, though.

7 - The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson
Hey, guys, I actually met Maureen Johnson this year, and she's just as mad and funny as you would expect from following her on Twitter. (Which you can do here, if you don't already) This book is actually the sequel to her modern-day Jack the Ripper thriller The Name of the Star, which I also read this year, but I preferred this book, even though I think the first instalment actually had a slightly stronger story. Let's just say that the two of them share this spot on the list. I love the character of Rory, and I think Johnson did an excellent job of portraying England, something a lot of American writers have failed at in my personal experience. I also read a couple of other books by her this year and enjoyed them as well, though this remains my favourite of them, and not just because it's the only one without a nauseating cover. Speaking of which, you should also look up her Cover Flip experiment, which featured covers designed for gender-swapped authors - think Nellie Gaiman instead of Neil Gaiman, Jane Franzen instead of Jonathan Franzen. This is another subject I read a lot about this year, along with the lack of diversity in YA books, and I found it fascinating. Still, regardless of the cover, I have to say that the ending of the second book was abominable. Truly, truly evil. So maybe hold off on reading these until the third book is released, because I promise you'll want to immediately get your grubby little hands on it.

6 - Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
This book has the rather dubious honour of being one of the four movie tie-in edition books I own. I do so hate movie tie-in editions, but I came to this book after loving the film and so I didn't actually have that many options. It was basically impossible to lay my hands on the original cover, without going to excessive effort. And I hate effort. As I said, I saw the film before I read the book, and I think I did enjoy the film just a tiny bit more. Maybe because it was fresh and new to me, maybe because it featured the supreme Jennifer Lawrence, who knows? The book is excellent, though. Honestly, if I'd read it first, I'm sure I would prefer it to the film. I know nothing about American football or dancing, I know next to nothing about mental illnesses and grief, and I never considered myself to be particularly interested in any of those subjects. And yet, I loved this book. I even cried over it. There really isn't much else I can say about it beyond that. It was funny and moving and just so damn interesting. I can't wait to read more of Quick's books. Actually, that's not true, I am in fact waiting to read them, because I've got my eye on Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock but it's not available in paperback yet. But you can bet I'll pre-order it just as soon as it is.

5 - Speechless by Hannah Harrington
Ugh. That cover. I hate it. I hate it so, so much. The book contained inside it, however, was brilliant. But that cover really is truly hideous. I genuinely considered not buying it because of that ugly cover, but I'm trying to be a better person about that. It's not going so well. I'm still very judgmental about covers. I'm really glad I gave this one a shot, though. It's another YA contemporary, another foray into the unknown, and I loved it. After spilling a secret that almost gets someone killed, gossip-loving Chelsea decides to keep her mouth shut. Literally. She takes a vow of silence, which makes for an interesting read, particularly as there are few books that I know of where the main character doesn't speak for two hundred plus pages. Of course, she finds ways to communicate with people and learns all sorts of lessons about herself. It all got a bit sappy towards the end, a bit too sappy for me, but I did enjoy it overall. Enough that it earned one of the highest honours I can bestow on a book - a spot on my bookshelf. (Seriously, I need to start getting rid of some books before I can no longer actually get out of the door!)

4 - Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers
Last year I read Summers' latest book This Is Not a Test, a book about a girl struggling with the zombie apocalypse that we all know is coming in the not-too-distant future. I liked it well enough and so this year, on a whim, I read her debut, Cracked Up the Be. And I loved it. I know I keep saying that and obviously I love all of these books, otherwise they wouldn't have made it onto this list, but I don't care. I rarely love things enough to express that feeling. Parker is a fascinating character, although she's one that divides opinion hugely. She is not a likeable person, which is actually why I like her as a character. I've never been particularly interested in heroes, I like villains. I like flawed, troubled characters, and Parker is the queen of flawed, troubled characters. She's sharp and snarky and pushes everyone away. She's not a character I'll forget in a hurry, even though I had issues with the ending of the book. This is easily my favourite of Summers' books (I bought the other two before I'd finished this one and then waited impatiently for them to arrive once I had) and she's made it onto my list of authors whose books I will buy automatically. Not even J.K Rowling is on that list.

3 - Immortal Beloved by Cate Tiernan
Speaking of snarky characters who push everyone away, Immortal Beloved and its heroine Nastasya who swoop in at the number three spot on the list. Actually, like with the Maureen Johnson books, this spot is shared by this book and its sequel, Darkness Falls, though not the final book in the trilogy, Eternally Yours, which I found bitterly disappointing. This is a slow, plot-light story that would normally have bored me to tears. A quick pace and strong plot are generally deal-breakers for me. However, Nastasya was engaging enough that I made it all the way through the book and actually loved it. There are flashbacks - a fair few of them - and I still loved it. That's high praise from me, indeed. I will say that this book wasn't what I expected - I read the word "immortals" and heard "vampires" - but I think that was part of its charm. It's nice to be surprised sometimes - as long as that surprise isn't changing genres halfway through for no apparent reason (I'm looking at you, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer). I do wonder if the reason I didn't enjoy the third book as much is because I had such high expectations, having loved the first two so much, but in the same breath I just have to say how much I'd like my own Reyn. I don't know about anyone else, but in my head he looks like Chris Hemsworth.

2 - Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
Just missing out on the top spot is Leigh Bardugo's stunning Siege and Storm, a book that I absolutely devoured. I don't have a whole lot to say about this one, for reasons that will become apparent shortly, but there is a reason it missed out on the top spot. An important reason that some people have rolled their eyes out when I've shared it because they just don't get it. There isn't enough of the Darkling here. There just isn't. There's also less kissing.

Disappointing.






1 - Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Yep, it had to be, didn't it? This year I discovered Leigh Bardugo, the Grisha, Alina Starkov, Ravka and, of course, the Darkling. Have you guessed who my favourite character is yet? This book is nothing short of phenomenal, the first high fantasy I've loved since Harry Potter. Any book you can mention positively in the same sentence as Harry Potter is something special indeed. (For the record, I didn't say it was better than Harry Potter, as a couple of friends have claimed, just that I hadn't loved a book this much since Harry Potter). The thing is, though, I don't really want to say anything about it. I knew very little about it and found myself completely immersed in the world that Bardugo has created, and I wonder if that added to the experience. I often think that the less you know about a book, the more you'll enjoy it, so I don't want to give anything away. The only thing I will say is that I loved the Russian influences here - I've been obsessed with the country since watching Anastasia as a child. It felt like this book had been written especially for me, but I've still forced it on as many people as I've been able to. And do you know what? Every single one of them so far has loved it. So it's not just me.



Friday, 20 December 2013

CARNIVAL OF SOULS

Carnival of Souls by Melissa Marr

In a city of daimons, rigid class lines separate the powerful from the power-hungry. And at the heart of The City is the Carnival of Souls, where both murder and pleasure are offered up for sale. Once in a generation, the carnival hosts a deadly competition that allows every daimon a chance to join the ruling elite. Without the competition, Aya and Kaleb would both face bleak futures—if for different reasons. For each of them, fighting to the death is the only way to try to live.

All Mallory knows of The City is that her father—and every other witch there—fled it for a life in exile in the human world. Instead of a typical teenage life full of friends and maybe even a little romance, Mallory scans quiet streets for threats, hides herself away, and trains to be lethal. She knows it's only a matter of time until a daimon finds her and her father, so she readies herself for the inevitable.While Mallory possesses little knowledge of The City, every inhabitant of The City knows of her. There are plans for Mallory, and soon she, too, will be drawn into the decadence and danger that is the Carnival of Souls.
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My opinion of this book is divided, but neatly. There are essentially three main characters - Aya, Kaleb and Mallory. Their chapters and lives intersect and become all tangled up, but I only enjoyed two of the characters. I couldn't stand Mallory or anything that happened when she was around. Really. I dreaded her chapters and forced myself not to skip over them to the next interesting part in case I missed something important.

The Mallory parts aside, I really enjoyed this book. A lot more than I expected to, which I feel is something I say far too often - why do I keep buying books I'm not sure I'll enjoy? I liked Aya straightaway and Kaleb grew on me as the story and his character developed, and there were minor characters that I enjoyed, too. I would have liked to see a lot more of Marchosias, the ruler of the city, but I suspect he'll feature more heavily in the second book when that's released. I hope he will, anyway.

The story revolves around a competition to the death with a great prize. This sounds quite a lot like some other books I've read recently - mainly the Throne of Glass books by S.J. Maas. I think I prefer this one, despite the bits with Mallory. The world-building feels better to me, that was something I had issues with in Throne of Glass and the sequel, Crown of Midnight. I could picture everything so much more clearly here, and I honestly found it a bit more interesting because there was more at stake. Perhaps that's because I didn't know this was intended to have a sequel when I started reading, whereas I accidentally bought the sequel to Throne of Glass first so I knew Caelena was going to survive. Here, I had no idea how it would end, and I love not knowing how things will end. I like to be kept guessing.

So, aside from Mallory, I really liked this book. Maybe if Marr kills her off in the next one in a really horrible, gruesome, torturous way, the next book will be perfect. That's not a weird thing to feel about a character.


Thursday, 19 December 2013

SCARLET

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She's trying to break out of prison—even though if she succeeds, she'll be the Commonwealth's most wanted fugitive.

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit's grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn't know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother's whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.
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Okay, this is just going to be a short one. I did not enjoy this book one bit. Seriously, not at all. It's my own fault. I didn't enjoy the first book in the series, Cinder, but then people were saying that this one was better and I somehow convinced myself that the reason I didn't like the first book is that I don't like the story of Cinderella anyway and so this one might be more up my street.

I was wrong. I didn't enjoy this one either. The story didn't particularly interest me and I couldn't get along with the writing style, which is littered with unnecessary words and just felt clumsy and horrible to me. I know people love this series and I don't think they're wrong to do so, it's just not for me. I promise I won't buy the third one. Although that one's about Rapunzel and I did so love the film Tangled...




Wednesday, 18 December 2013

LEVIATHAN

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

In an alternate 1914 Europe, fifteen-year-old Austrian Prince Alek, on the run from the Clanker Powers who are attempting to take over the globe using mechanical machinery, forms an uneasy alliance with Deryn who, disguised as a boy to join the British Air Service, is learning to fly genetically-engineered beasts.
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I wasn't really sure what to make of this book. It's pretty much my first foray into the elusive steampunk genre (please don't ask me to define it, the extent of my knowledge is Victorian-ish London and clockwork stuff) but I was drawn by the fact that I adore Westerfeld's Uglies series. I've been wanting to try a steampunk novel for a while now, and so this seemed like the logical choice.

It was okay. That sounds mean. I didn't have strong feelings about it, but it wasn't bad either. There were parts that I enjoyed, just not quite enough of them to sustain it. I think part of the problem is that it's the first book in a trilogy, and so there's an awful lot of stuff to set up before the story can really get going. Westerfeld's built an interesting and multi-faceted world here, one that I do want to spend more time in, I just didn't feel a strong connection to the characters and the story in this first instalment.

This may be because of the links between the story and the first world war, since war is something I have precisely zero interest in reading about. I knew what the book was about before I started it and the war stuff isn't a massive shadow over the rest of it, there was enough other stuff going on - like me really needing to know what is inside those damn eggs! - to keep my interest.

I am going to read the second book, and most likely the third, and I think I would recommend it to people with an interest in the steampunk genre or even people who just don't find war stories to be as interminably boring as I do. I can't end this review without mentioning the illustrations, though. They were a surprise to me, although the cover does name an illustrator, and they were beautiful. They were also incredibly helpful in cementing my mental picture of certain things, and they really did lift the book up.



Tuesday, 17 December 2013

SUITE SCARLETT

Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson

If living in a famous art deco hotel minutes away from Central Park sounds like your idea of a pretty sweet deal - you should talk to Scarlett Martin. Having a hotel for a home really isn't all it's cracked up to be, especially when you've got no guests, no money and no prospects for any fun thanks to your parents putting you to work all summer. Luckily for Scarlett, the Hopewell is about to be shaken to its foundations with the arrival of Mrs Amberson, a glamorous travelling socialite who's planning on putting down some roots for a while - and hiring Scarlett as her assistant. With a new job, new friends, and (maybe) a new boyfriend on the horizon, Scarlett's summer is beginning to look a lot more interesting...

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I think it's safe to say I've been a fan of Maureen Johnson's for a while now. I followed her on Twitter long before I actually read any of her books - though now I recommend the Shades of London trilogy to basically anyone who expresses a modicum of interest in books of any kind - and now I'm finally delving into some of her older books, now that Hot Key Books is reprinting some of them in the UK. Also, I met her this year and she's awesome in person, too.

Suite Scarlett is a fun read, filled with humour and surprisingly real characters. I wasn't expecting that in something I thought was going to be a bit fluffy. The cover doesn't really do it justice. Scarlett's family run a failing hotel in Manhattan, and on her fifteenth birthday she inherits a room of her own to take care of - along with any guests who might be staying there. Scarlett's less than thrilled by this, especially when the outlandish Mrs Amberson arrives and announces she'll be staying for the entire summer, but it soon turns into the most exciting summer of her life.

What I liked most about this book, aside from Scarlett herself, who is brilliant, was the relationships between her and her siblings. She has two older ones, Spencer and Lola, and an awful younger sister, Marlene. They get along and hate each other at times, there are clear loyalties and divides between the four, and they all interact with each other and have their own things going on. So often in books, several siblings could easily be condensed into one, but here they are all distinct and all add something. I particularly liked Marlene, but that's because I always like the characters you're supposed to hate!

I was a little surprised to discover that this book has a sequel, all the way through it felt more like a standalone than a series, but I'm now eager for the second book and hope it finds it's way onto shelves soon (it should - it was released in 2010!)



Monday, 16 December 2013

TEN

Ten by Gretchen McNeil

It was supposed to be the weekend of their lives - three days at an exclusive house party on Henry Island. Best friends Meg and Minnie each have their reasons for being there (which involve T.J., the school’s most eligible bachelor) and look forward to three glorious days of boys, booze and fun-filled luxury.

But what they expect is definitely not what they get, and what starts out as fun turns dark and twisted. Suddenly people are dying, and with a storm raging, the teens are cut off from the outside world. No electricity, no phones, no internet, and a ferry that isn’t scheduled to return for two days. As the deaths become more violent and the teens turn on each other, can Meg find the killer before more people die? Or is the killer closer to her than she could ever imagine?
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I'm not entirely sure what possessed me to buy this book. I find mysteries, particularly of the murder variety, very difficult to enjoy. I like to guess who the killer is. If I'm right, the book was too obvious and what was the point of reading it? If I'm wrong, the book is stupid and how can it possibly be that guy when it was clearly that other guy all along. I accept that this is a failing on my part, not the part of any writer. And yet, I am still inexplicably drawn to these types of books.

And I'm glad because I loved this one. Obviously I'm not going to spoil the ending for you, but I was satisfied with the identity of the killer. I wasn't totally happy with how the ending played out, for reasons I won't discuss because of spoilers, but on the whole I enjoyed the book and was satisfied with the ending. I suspect part of the reason I didn't enjoy the ending is because I was racing through it in the last five minutes of my lunch break, determined to finish it before going back to work. I think this was a mistake. I should have left it at the revelation of the killer and then saved the rest for later on, but I couldn't resist. I just had to know.

It's gripping, it's exciting, it's tense. One night after reading it, I freaked myself out so badly that I found it very difficult to sleep. That's not something I can say of any book I've read since I was about ten. I don't even know how McNeil managed to ratchet up the tension the way she did because I wasn't paying close attention to the writing - I forgot the writing and just absorbed the story. It was utterly engrossing. I'd seen many positive reviews for the book in the months before I bought it, and I'm delighted to say it was a rare book that actually lived up to the hype.

Part of the reason I loved it so much, I think, was that it reminded me of the TV show Harper's Island, which was about a wedding taking place on a small island. The friends and family of the couple gathered to celebrate their marriage, and then started to drop like flies. It's an awesome series, one which you should definitely try and see, right after you read this book. Or before. I don't mind which order you do it in, as long as you get both, because they're so worth it.



Sunday, 15 December 2013

TIGER LILY

Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Before Peter Pan belonged to Wendy, he belonged to the girl with the crow feather in her hair. . . .

Fifteen-year-old Tiger Lily doesn't believe in love stories or happy endings. Then she meets the alluring teenage Peter Pan in the forbidden woods of Neverland and immediately falls under his spell.

Peter is unlike anyone she's ever known. Impetuous and brave, he both scares and enthralls her. As the leader of the Lost Boys, the most fearsome of Neverland's inhabitants, Peter is an unthinkable match for Tiger Lily. Soon, she is risking everything—her family, her future—to be with him. When she is faced with marriage to a terrible man in her own tribe, she must choose between the life she's always known and running away to an uncertain future with Peter.

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If you need to take another second to stare at that cover photo to figure out what it's actually showing, I understand completely. Hint, I thought it was a nose surrounded by feathers for weeks. I just couldn't see it. I thought it was a stunning cover (this picture doesn't do it justice, especially since it doesn't show how shiny and gold the lettering of the title is) but I couldn't make sense of it.

I really, really liked this book. A whole lot. I'll be honest, I'm not actually all that familiar with the story of Peter Pan, I've seen the Disney movie, which I did not especially like, and Hook, a film that scarred me for many years of my childhood and which I still can't bear to watch. That's it. That is the extent of my knowledge of Peter Pan. I don't know if people who are fans of the source material would have a different experience to this book that I did, but I really did enjoy it and would highly recommend it.

The writing is both subtle and beautiful. I didn't notice it at first, but then I caught myself re-reading passages over and over again, which is not something I do very often. Anderson just has such a way with words, there are chunks which are absolutely stunning, but they don't stand out as incongruous from other parts of the narrative, which I often find a problem with pretty prose. 

Tiger Lily is not a character I've ever given much thought to before, but now I feel like I know her. She's so interesting and vividly drawn here, it makes you wonder how Peter could ever have chosen Wendy over her in the original story. Perhaps that's because Wendy's character is shadowed here by Tiger Lily's opinion of her, but I was just so engrossed in the story and concerned about the characters.

Of course, no book is perfect. The ending felt a bit rushed to me. I reached a point where I suddenly thought hang on, isn't Wendy going to turn up at some point? It all happens very quickly from that point, and I felt that she should have been brought into the story a bit earlier to keep the pace a bit better. My only other complaint about it - and I really do only have one - is that there wasn't enough of the pirates. Captain Hook fascinated me here, as did Smee, and I wish we could have seen so much more of both of them. 

That's it, though. I have literally only two complaints about the book, and they're not exactly huge issues. This was an excellent read, and one that I would highly recommend to fans of Peter Pan and those not well acquainted with the original alike.



Saturday, 14 December 2013

DEAD JEALOUS

Dead Jealous by Sharon Jones

People think of Mother Nature as a gentle lady. They forget that she's also Death...Sixteen-year-old Poppy Sinclair believes in quantum particles, not tarot cards, in Dawkins, not druids. Last summer, in a boating accident in the Lake District, Poppy had a brush with death. But the girl she finds face down in Scariswater hasn't been so lucky. As she fights to discover the truth behind what she believes is murder, Poppy is forced to concede that people and things are not always what they seem and, slipping ever deeper into a web of lies, jealousy and heart-stopping danger, she comes to realise - too late - that the one thing that can save her has been right there, all the time.
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I have really got to find out more about books before I buy them. Seriously, impulse buying is not my friend at all. As you can probably guess from that, I didn't enjoy this book. Not one bit. I don't really know why, there isn't an over-riding reason I can point to and say that's what I hated about it, but there were several things that irritated me about it. I guess all added up together, they turned into one big reason.

I had no idea this book was set in the UK. Now, I live in the UK and often bemoan the fact that more contemporary books aren't set here, but the last several that I've read, I really haven't liked. I don't know why that is. At first I thought maybe it was because I was reading American authors writing about the UK and doing a poor job of it, but then I remembered Maureen Johnson's The Name of the Star, a book I love and which is probably the best example of an American writing about Britain that I've come across. Also, Sharon Jones is a Brit, so that can't be it. Maybe it's because British writers are conscious of writing for a global audience and explain things that don't need explaining, emphasise things that are commonplace, and that just annoys me. I don't know. All I can say for sure is that if I'd known this book was set in the UK, I probably wouldn't have read it. And before anyone makes snarky comments about the blurb mentioning the Lake District, I took that from Goodreads and my copy of the book had a different passage as the blurb.

I didn't like any of the characters. Not a one. This can kind of ruin a book for me. It wasn't that they were particularly dislikeable - I adore Parker from Courtney Summers' Cracked Up to Be, and she's considered one of the most dislikeable characters in modern YA - they were just kind of boring and annoying. I didn't care what happened to them or what they thought about things. Mostly I just wanted them to shut up and solve the murder so they could all go home.

And that's the other thing I didn't care a jot about - the murder. The plot, basically. I cannot muster any enthusiasm for this book, I can't think of a single good thing to say about it (although that could be down to me being slow about reviewing it, since the bad things are the ones that tend to stay fresh in my mind and it's been about a month since I read this book). I honestly don't know how I ploughed through to the end.



Friday, 13 December 2013

ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE

Another Little Piece by Kate Karyus Quinn

On a cool autumn night, Annaliese Rose Gordon stumbled out of the woods and into a high school party. She was screaming. Drenched in blood. Then she vanished.

A year later, Annaliese is found wandering down a road hundreds of miles away. She doesn't know who she is. She doesn't know how she got there. She only knows one thing: She is not the real Annaliese Rose Gordon.

Now Annaliese is haunted by strange visions and broken memories. Memories of a reckless, desperate wish . . . a bloody razor . . . and the faces of other girls who disappeared. Piece by piece, Annaliese's fractured memories come together to reveal a violent, endless cycle that she will never escape—unless she can unlock the twisted secrets of her past.
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I have no words for this book. Literally none. It is one of the weirdest things I have ever experienced, and I have seen the film Killer Joe. (Well worth a watch, by the way, just be prepared for how utterly insane it is). I spent most of the book not sure whether I liked it or not, but about two-thirds of the way through I decided that I didn't. Up until that point, I thought there was still hope for it. 

The first warning sign for me was the poetry. Annaliese writes poetry. I can't stand poetry. 

There just seemed to be something lacking here. It wasn't as creepy as I wanted it to be, it wasn't as mysterious as I wanted it to be, the characters weren't as interesting as I wanted them to be. I think part of the problem was that I had such high hopes for this book after reading the synopsis and many glowing reviews of it. It just couldn't live up to my expectations. Honestly, I was a little bored.

I'm sure I had other thoughts about it, but it's been a while since I read it and I don't like to take notes when I read because that feels like work and I enjoy reading a hell of a lot less. This book hasn't put me off reading others by Quinn, but I'm not sure I could recommend this book to anyone either.



Thursday, 12 December 2013

THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US

The Distance Between Us by Kasie West

Seventeen-year-old Caymen Meyers studies the rich like her own personal science experiment, and after years of observation she’s pretty sure they’re only good for one thing—spending money on useless stuff, like the porcelain dolls in her mother’s shop.

So when Xander Spence walks into the store to pick up a doll for his grandmother, it only takes one glance for Caymen to figure out he’s oozing rich. Despite his charming ways and that he’s one of the first people who actually gets her, she’s smart enough to know his interest won’t last. Because if there’s one thing she’s learned from her mother’s warnings, it’s that the rich have a short attention span. But Xander keeps coming around, despite her best efforts to scare him off. And much to her dismay, she's beginning to enjoy his company.

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I'm just going to come right out and say it. This is not the sort of book I would normally pick up. I mean, look at that cover. You just know that this is going to be a cute, contemporary romance. None of these words appeal to me. (I actually love the cover, by the way, it just isn't something I would normally read). It was actually intended as research, I've been struggling to create realistic and interesting romantic relationships in my own writing, so I figured I'd read a couple of books centred solely on the romance to see if I could pick up some tips. I wasn't expecting to enjoy the experience one bit.

I really enjoyed this book. It's fluffy and cute, sure, but it's also really funny. I love Caymen. Xander I thought was a little bland, but that's probably because he just doesn't appeal to me personally. I guess that's an important factor when reading romances, your personal tastes are going to have an effect on things. 

It's a light, quick read, but it's very enjoyable and I'll be definitely picking up some of West's other books in the future (I'm actually waiting for Pivot Point to come out in paperback, which seems to be taking forever to happen!)



Monday, 9 December 2013

I'm Not Dead

I'm not. Yay. Just checking in because it occurred to me how long it had been since I actually posted anything. I've not given up on blogging or reviewing or anything like that, but we are officially into the Christmas season and I work in retail. Yup. I've been working a lot of really late shifts, which messes me up and means I can't really concentrate on anything else or get stuff done. And when I've not been working at my actual job, I've been working on my current manuscript. So, yeah. Blogging took a backseat. I'm going to try and catch up on reviews before Christmas. Or at least before the new year.

Jeez, 2014 already. Scary.



Saturday, 23 November 2013

Inspector Drake and the Perfekt Crime [sic]

(Picture courtesy of Shinfield Players
Theatre website)
So, this evening, I went along to the Shinfield Players Theatre to see their performance of David Tristram's Inspector Drake and the Perfekt Crime [sic]. Going in, I knew literally nothing about it except for the fact that it involved a detective of some kind. Seriously, I didn't even actually know the title. The bitterly offensive title. When I saw the poster, I realised it was a comedy and panicked just a little.

In the end, I was very pleasantly surprised. It is genuinely very funny. It isn't the sort of humour that I would set out to view, I'm more of a dark and sarcastic kind of girl, but I found it very funny and I'm pleased to note that I wasn't the only person in the theatre laughing. Except at one point, when I thought there was a joke about the TV show Pointless. Either I was the only one who got it or it wasn't actually a joke. I'm still not sure, but I suspect it wasn't a joke.

I don't want to say too much about the plot, because I hate when people say too much about the plot, but essentially a woman is missing and Inspector Drake, pride of Scotland Yard, ends up on the case, mostly because of a little harmless bribery. Though resistant to the idea of working on a missing persons case, Inspector Drake soon realises he might well be investigating the Perfekt Crime [sic]. The plot has more twists than, as Inspector Drake himself says, a really twisty thing. You won't guess the ending. Don't even try. Just enjoy the twists, the turns and the further twists.

Sadly, there is only one more showing of Inspector Drake and the Perfekt Crime - tomorrow night, Saturday the 23rd November, at 7.45pm. If you're in the Reading area and looking for something to do (or either, or neither) you should definitely try and get to it. Their website is here, and I hope some of you manage to get along to see it. Despite the bitterly offensive title.



Monday, 18 November 2013

Christmas in a Day

I've been ignoring Christmas adverts quite passionately since they all hit our screens on November 1st, but then my mum said something about how the new Sainsbury's Christmas in a Day one upset her, so I was looking out for it. Now I feel compelled to say something about it. For those of you who haven't seen it, this is it:


Now, I can see why that would move and upset people, I really can, but honestly it just made me angry. For one thing, I feel that it's manipulative to use the fact that many families are separated at Christmas in an advert for a supermarket. To me, that feels exploitative. This feels like a step too far.

My main problem with it, though, is the message it sends to children who might be in the position of the kids in the video, though not as lucky. Can you imagine how it must feel to be told that your mum or dad isn't going to be home for Christmas? And then you might see an advert like that and think that, really, your mummy or daddy is coming home for Christmas and it's a surprise. The disappointment when they really aren't coming home doesn't bear thinking about. That upsets me a lot more than the advert, the idea that children might see this and think that their parent is going to come home for Christmas when in reality that's just not going to happen. I think it's incredibly irresponsible of the people behind the advert, and really very distressing.

I might be reading too much into this, it is after all just an advert, but it bothered me and I felt compelled to say something about it. It wouldn't bother me half as much if Sainsbury's were donating money to a charity related to the armed services or doing something to help families who are separated at Christmas, but I strongly suspect that's not the case. It's just a cheap, manipulative advert designed to get us into their stores. And I'm actually not okay with that.



Sunday, 27 October 2013

ALLEGIANT

Allegiant by Veronica Roth

So, this week I read the highly-anticipated final instalment in Veronica Roth's Divergent series. Now, I wasn't planning to review it on the blog because I'm sure people are either interested in the book and have therefore either read it or are avoiding spoilers, or not remotely interested and unlikely to read this. But then I found I had a few things to say about it, so this will be a brief review. Also, one of the points is spoiler-y (I haven't actually given away the ending, but if I'd read what I've written before reading the book, I'd be pissed) so I've coloured it white to be hidden against the background. Just highlight it with your cursor if you want to read it.

So, without further rambling...

1. Is it just me or did the journal entries feel a lot like filler?

2. Is it just me or is Four a lot less hotter now that he's called Tobias?

3. Is it just me or do Tris and Four's sections sound exactly the same?

4. Is it just me or was it really obvious what was going to happen from the moment a second narrator was introduced? I mean, I guessed the outcome months ago, when I heard that parts of the story were going to be told from Four's perspective. It was an interesting move, but I was expecting all along, so it didn't have much impact on me.

5. Is it just me or should the epilogue just have been cut?

6. Is it just me or was it actually just kind of boring?

Bonus - Was anyone else super annoyed about it only being released in hardback when the first two were only released in paperback, or was that just me?



Wednesday, 23 October 2013

THE PROGRAM

The Program by Suzanne Young

Sloane knows better than to cry in front of anyone. With suicide now an international epidemic, one outburst could land her in The Program, the only proven course of treatment. Sloane’s parents have already lost one child; Sloane knows they’ll do anything to keep her alive. She also knows that everyone who’s been through The Program returns as a blank slate. Because their depression is gone—but so are their memories.

Under constant surveillance at home and at school, Sloane puts on a brave face and keeps her feelings buried as deep as she can. The only person Sloane can be herself with is James. He’s promised to keep them both safe and out of treatment, and Sloane knows their love is strong enough to withstand anything. But despite the promises they made to each other, it’s getting harder to hide the truth. They are both growing weaker. Depression is setting in. And The Program is coming for them.
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This book got off to a really slow start for me. We know Sloane's going to end up in The Program - if she doesn't, there's no book. Well, maybe there's a book, but it's not called The Program - but this doesn't happen for 120 pages. Now, I know that a lot of stuff revealed in those 120 pages is important to the plot later on, but come on. That's just too long to wait for the inciting incident.

After that, however, it picked up considerably. The section where Sloane's in The Program was my favourite. I even cried at certain points. The only problem I had with it is that the way in which The Program removes the memories seemed really implausible to me. It just seemed ridiculous, but luckily I was distracted by everything else that was going on and so after my initial reaction of huh, well, that's stupid, I just sort of went along with it all. 

But then Sloane got out of The Program and had to try and reintegrate back into ordinary life. I was really grateful for that, since the slow beginning had convinced me that this was going to be the first book in a trilogy with no real story, just set-up for the next instalments, but then I started to get a bit annoyed with it. The problem is that I, as the reader, know exactly what's going on, and it was kind of boring to watch Sloane try and figure it out. 

But then I got to the epilogue. Now, I hate epilogues. I am of the opinion that there is never a need for one, that they're pointless and annoying and really just shouldn't exist. The epilogue here works. Really works. In fact, it saved the ending of the book. I was so irritated and frustrated by the turn the book had taken in the last chapter or so, but then I read the epilogue and all was forgiven. It really is a great example of how epilogues should be used and how to do them properly. So kudos to Suzanne Young for that.

Overall, I liked more of the book than I didn't, although my review doesn't seem to reflect that. I was wrapped up in the story despite the numerous issues I had with it, and, for a while at least, I was really rooting for Sloane. In fact, my only big issue here is that I've just discovered there's a sequel. And reading the synopsis on Goodreads, it seems I may have completely misunderstood the epilogue. And now I'm annoyed. And confused. And thinking that it sounds quite a bit like Scott Westerfeld's Pretties. So I'll be interested to see how that works out.



Tuesday, 22 October 2013

17 & GONE

17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma

Seventeen-year-old Lauren is having visions of girls who have gone missing. And all these girls have just one thing in common—they are 17 and gone without a trace. As Lauren struggles to shake these waking nightmares, impossible questions demand urgent answers: Why are the girls speaking to Lauren? How can she help them? And… is she next? As Lauren searches for clues, everything begins to unravel, and when a brush with death lands her in the hospital, a shocking truth emerges, changing everything.
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Oooh, I loved this book. It wasn't perfect, but it came pretty damn close - a hell of a lot closer than Suma's previous book, Imaginary Girls, did. It's a difficult one to talk about without spoilers, though, so I'll probably need to keep this quite brief.

Lauren is an ordinary teenage girl until she is drawn to a missing poster on a telephone pole. After that, she starts to see the girl from it, Abby, everywhere. And then she starts to see other girls who have gone missing, all of them aged seventeen. As she herself is seventeen, she worries that this means she's going to disappear, too, unless she can help the girls she is seeing.

It has an ending. Quite a good ending, in fact. In her last book, Suma's characters did all kinds of impossible things without an explanation. In this one, however, Lauren does impossible things and by the end, there's an explanation for it. Which was nice. Reading the two books back-to-back means that comparing them is unavoidable, so I'll just say that the writing here is just as stunning as in Imaginary Girls, the characters and the storyline are interesting and engaging, and there's an actual, proper ending. I would highly recommend this book. To everyone. Seriously, go buy it.



Monday, 21 October 2013

IMAGINARY GIRLS

Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

Chloe's older sister, Ruby, is the girl everyone looks to and longs for, who can't be contained or caged. When a night with Ruby's friends goes horribly wrong and Chloe discovers the body of her classmate London Hayes left floating in the reservoir, Chloe is sent away from town and away from Ruby. But Ruby will do anything to get her sister back, and when Chloe returns to town two years later, deadly surprises await. As Chloe flirts with the truth that Ruby has deeply hidden away, the fragile line between life and death is redrawn by the complex bonds of sisterhood.
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This book started off really well, but gradually became disappointing. The writing is beautiful, the characters and the plot are really interesting, and I was completely wrapped up in it until I realised that no explanation for any of it was on its way. 

The title meant that, from pretty much the first page, I was convinced that Ruby was imaginary, that Chloe was suffering from a kind of Tyler Durden thing, in which she was really doing all the things that she gave Ruby credit for. I'm pretty sure that isn't what happened. I can't say for certain, because I have literally no idea what did happen, but I'm fairly certain Ruby was real. I mean, other people could see her and talked about her, but then Chloe wasn't exactly the most reliable of narrators.

I enjoyed the story, sure, I was really into it, but the ending was completely unsatisfying. I don't mind ambiguous endings, often they're my favourite kind (although no examples come to mind), but here it just didn't work. There was all sorts of impossible things happening, but then the story just ended with no ending or resolution. And I needed something more. 



Friday, 11 October 2013

UNSPOKEN

Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

Kami Glass is in love with someone she's never met - a boy the rest of the world is convinced is imaginary. This has made her an outsider in the sleepy English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale, but she doesn't complain. She runs the school newspaper and keeps to herself for the most part - until disturbing events begin to happen. There has been screaming in the woods and the dark, abandoned manor on the hill overlooking the town has lit up for the first time in 10 years. The Lynburn family, who ruled the town a generation ago and who all left without warning, have returned. As Kami starts to investigate for the paper, she finds out that the town she has loved all her life is hiding a multitude of secrets- and a murderer- and the key to it all just might be the boy in her head. The boy who everyone thought was imaginary may be real...and he may be dangerous.
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This book was a big surprise to me. I'd read a lot of good things about it online, and I'd been really keen on it until I saw that hideous UK cover (more on that later), so I kind of expected to hate it when I finally got around to reading it. I really, really liked it. There was a patch in the middle where I started to get bored, which I think is more down to the fact that I read that section while tired and grumpy than some issue with the actual book, but overall it was really good.

Kami is a great character. She's funny and bright and she knows how to take care of herself. Honestly, if I had to compare her to another character, I'd say she's a little bit like Buffy Summers, and that's a great compliment. The other characters are, for the most part, well-written and interesting too. I think Angela was definitely my favourite, and I quite liked Kami's parents as well, partly just because they were around. It was nice to see a character with living and only minorly dysfunctional adults. In fact, the only characters I was unimpressed by were the Lynburns, who seemed quite stereotypical to me. I can't say much more about that without giving away aspects of the plot, but they didn't seem particularly original to me.

There were a couple of little niggles for me, though, such as the fact that Sorry-in-the-Vale didn't strike me as being very authentically British. This is something that constantly irritates me about books set in the UK that aren't written by UK-based authors, and I found it noticeable here. Another little annoyance was the presence of a character - a throwaway character, but a character nonetheless - named Jocelyn Fairchild. Like Clary's mother in The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare. The author who is quoted on the front of the book. And who is, or so I am led to believe by the internet, a good friend of Sarah Rees Brennan. That bugged me. I'm already deeply suspicious of cover quotes when I know the authors are friends, but reading that name in the book made me wonder if Cassandra Clare had actually read the book before writing a nice quote about it.

Now, the cover. That hideous, hideous cover. I've blogged about this specifically before, about how this UK edition is foul, particularly when you compare it to the very nice US one, but I got a nice surprise when I was reading the acknowledgments at the end of the book. "Thank you for my cover, the most beautiful cover in the world (sorry, all other covers, you tried, but it just wasn't enough)...Thank you to Beth White, artist extremely extraordinaire, for creating it: I love it more than I can say." Which is all very nice, except Beth White did not design to cover on the front of this book. Somebody called Nick Stearn did. There is a whole paragraph dedicated to the beautiful US cover, which amused me very much.



Thursday, 10 October 2013

RECONSTRUCTING AMELIA

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

Stressed single mother and law partner Kate is in the meeting of her career when she is interrupted by a telephone call to say that her teenaged daughter Amelia has been suspended from her exclusive Brooklyn prep school for cheating on an exam. Torn between her head and her heart, she eventually arrives at St Grace's over an hour late, to be greeted by sirens wailing and ambulance lights blazing. Her daughter has jumped off the roof of the school, apparently in shame of being caught. A grieving Kate can't accept that her daughter would kill herself: it was just the two of them and Amelia would never leave her alone like this. And so begins an investigation which takes her deep into Amelia's private world, into her journals, her email account and into the mind of a troubled young girl. Then Kate receives an anonymous text saying simply: AMELIA DIDN'T JUMP. Is someone playing with her or has she been right all along?
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I really, really liked this book. That's not something I get to say very often, especially about a book that I was greatly looking forward to. I think part of the reason I wasn't disappointed here is that I actually found it quite difficult to get into at first. It's quite slow to start, especially given the dramatic action that kickstarts the story, and I was worried that I'd signed up for a long, difficult read.

And then a few chapters in, I was completely engrossed. The story flits between Amelia in the days leading up to her death, and Kate in the weeks following it. This builds to dramatic conclusions in both cases, and the tension in the final quarter of the book is almost intolerable. I stayed up very late, determined to finish it before I went to bed because I just had to know what happened.

Amelia's sections of the story were, to me at least, quite reminiscent of the Gossip Girl TV series - teenagers attending an elite prep school, and all the bitching and backstabbing and sheer brutality that goes on there. I'm a big Gossip Girl fan and so I loved these sections, but I felt they were nicely off-set by Kate's chapters, which had a much more serious tone. Their relationship is what ties it all together, though, and I couldn't help comparing it to my relationship with my own mother. The whole idea of how much does she really know about you was compelling, and to see both sides of that was really unusual. 

There were, of course, parts that I didn't get along with so well, in particular the way in which Amelia's death was investigated, both by the police and then by Kate. Not being an expert in forensic investigation or anything technological, there were multiple times when I doubted what I was being told. Perhaps somebody could download all the emails and texts that Amelia ever sent in her entire lifetime and print them out, without access to any of her passwords, but it seemed unlikely to me. The speed at which things happened didn't seem right to me either. Overall, though, I really enjoyed this book. I would highly recommend it, although I would make sure to add a warning about powering through the slow start - it gets really good, honest.



Wednesday, 9 October 2013

SOULMATES

Soulmates by Holly Bourne

Every so often, two people are born who are the perfect matches for each other. Soulmates. But while the odds of this happening are about as likely as being struck by lightning, when these people do meet and fall in love…thunderstorms, lightning strikes and lashings of rain are only the beginning of their problems.
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The concept of this book really interested me. I'll be honest, I wouldn't usually be drawn to a book with a heart and the word 'soulmates' on it, that's just not my kind of thing at all. Truthfully, I'm not big on romance. So the idea of soulmates meeting being a catastrophic thing was intriguing.

Sadly, that's not really what this book is about. Sure, it comes into play eventually, maybe in the last fifth of the book? Mostly, though, this book is about the cringe-inducing relationship between Poppy, a hardworking and studious Good Girl, and Noah, the brooding guy in a band. Poppy doesn't believe in love or soulmates, she laughs at her friends who have boyfriends and has decided she won't even look at a guy until she turns nineteen, but then she falls head over heels in love with the brooding guy from a band. It was even more hideous and cliched than it sounds.

Interspersed with all the boring falling-in-love stuff, there are these annoying chapters that break the flow of the narrative to show scientists sitting in a lab and getting all worked up about Poppy and Noah meeting and falling in love and Endangering The World. I hated these bits as much as the love story bits. The thing is, it seems as though the author wants to build tension and suspense about what's going on in this shady government laboratory, but anyone who's read the blurb knows exactly what's happening, so why bother? I know the author probably had no say in what the blurb says, but it just defeats the purpose of all these sections.

I have mixed feelings about the ending. I won't say what happens, although there are really only two ways it can go, and I'm not sure which one I wanted. I think part of the problem was that, by the time I'd trawled through five hundred pages to reach the ending, I really didn't care what happened. It's such a shame, too, because the premise of this book really interested me, but it just wasn't the book it claimed to be. It was a love story with some poorly constructed additional bits lobbed in for good measure. And that's not what I wanted to read.



Monday, 30 September 2013

FIRE WITH FIRE

Fire with Fire by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian

Lillia, Kat and Mary had the perfect plan. Take down the people who had wronged them and leave no trace of their involvement. But everything blew up in their faces and the Homecoming Dance.

Now Lillia and Kat are starting to second-guess their plotting, but Mary is insistent that she finally gets the revenge she deserves - destroy Reeve like he destroyed her.

But as more secrets threaten to reveal themselves, the girls' pact becomes harder to maintain. Emotions are spiralling out of control, and there's too much at stake. Because once a fire is lit, sometimes the only thing you can do is let it burn.
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I loved the first instalment in this series which I didn't realise was a series until I finished the first book, Burn for Burn, and this one is an interesting follow-up. There are elements that are better than the first one, and there are places where it doesn't work quite as well. Immediately after reading, I thought I liked it better than the first, but after some thought, I'm not sure. I think if I re-read the first one now, I would enjoy it a lot more than I did at the time.

The problem for me initially was the unexpected paranormal element. Looking at the cover and all the descriptions of the book I'd read, I was expecting contemporary YA. Three high school girls trying to get revenge on the people who had wronged them. Fairly standard. But then weird stuff started happening and there was a bit of a bomb-drop at the end. I hadn't set out to read a supernatural book - in fact, at the time, I was really off them - and so I was annoyed and unimpressed when it suddenly became one. Really annoyed. With this second book, the paranormal stuff still feels a little off to me, but it didn't bother me anywhere near as much because I was expecting it. I think if I re-read the first one, knowing what it was I was embarking on, I would be able to really enjoy it now.

This second instalment is a little long, though. I wanted to crawl into the first book and live in its pages - that sounded less weird in my head - but here there were places that I started to skim. It takes a long time to get going. Everything seems to be crammed into the final third, after 350 or so pages of filler material. I particularly disliked the Mary chapters. In fact, I found myself flicking ahead quite often to see how long I'd have to wait before the next Lillia chapter, since her storyline was the only one where anything really seemed to be happening.

All in all, this book was a little bit of a let-down. It would have been a lot better if it had even been just a bit shorter. Still, I'm excited to get my hands on the next instalment, given the ending to this one, and just hope that it'll hold up!



Friday, 27 September 2013

ETERNALLY YOURS

Eternally Yours by Cate Tiernan

Nastasya has invested huge amounts of effort into forgetting her identity. And has fought back against the dark immortals of her past. But can she fight against true love? In the exhilarating finale to the Immortal Beloved trilogy, Nastasya ends a 450-year-old feud and learns what 'eternally yours' really means.

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So, anyone who's stopped by this blog before probably knows just how eager I was to get my hands on this book. Despite that, I'm over a year late to join the party, because I'm petty and childish and stubborn about stupid things. You can read more about that here. So, essentially, I waited for the paperback, a decision I went back and forth on about a thousand times. I'm not sure if the decision to wait was a good one or not.

The thing is, while waiting for the book, my mind started to hype it up. I remembered just how much I'd enjoyed the first two and thought about how because this was the finale, it was bound to be even better. My expectations just got bigger and bigger and bigger, and honestly, they weren't really met. It took me a very long time to get into this one. The first instalment, if I remember correctly, was a slow-starter as well. It's very much a character-driven trilogy, and that doesn't work if you're not emotionally invested or at least interested in the characters, and you can't have that from page one. It takes time to build and become engrossing, so it didn't bother me at all that the first book was a slow starter. This one, however, should not have been. We've been with Nastasya for hundreds of pages and I love her. But I read through maybe the first hundred pages of this book trying to remember what it was I liked about this series so much.

Then it got awesome. Nastasya was being snarky and difficult and funny. She and Reyn were being...well, they were being Nastasya and Reyn and I loved it. They have one of my favourite romantic relationships of any books, I just love it. Love it. And beyond that, looking at the wider focus of all the immortals at River's Edge, there's stuff happening. Something dark and sinister is happening, not everyone is going to survive this book. Something terrible is going to happen and you can just feel it building and building and then suddenly....

There's a massive anti-climax. The last third of the book was a real disappointment to me. It's revealed what that dark and sinister thing is and I wasn't impressed. I should be racing through the pages, desperate to know everything but at the same time kind of fearing the book being over, but I was thinking so what? I just wasn't impressed. And then there's the last chapter, which really should have had the heading epilogue. I hate epilogues. Almost as much as I hate flashbacks (and my God there were a lot of flashbacks in this book). It basically just ruined it for me. Didn't need it, didn't want it, didn't like it.

But the middle bit, the couple of hundred pages between the slow start and the unimpressive ending...well, I read every word with a big, goofy grin on my face. I loved it. Loved it. I love Nastasya and want there to be seven more books in her voice. I want more Reyn. I want more snark and self-loathing and bickering and just all of it. I loved the middle. So, overall, though this book could have been much better, I loved the middle enough that I can't write it off completely.



Wednesday, 25 September 2013

THRONE OF GLASS / CROWN OF MIDNIGHT

Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas

In the dark, filthy salt mines of Endovier, an eighteen-year-old girl is serving a life sentence. She is a trained assassin, the best of her kind, but she made a fatal mistake: she got caught.

Young Captain Westfall offers her a deal: her freedom in return for one huge sacrifice. Celaena must represent the prince in a to-the-death tournament—fighting the most gifted thieves and assassins in the land. Live or die, Celaena will be free. Win or lose, she is about to discover her true destiny. But will her assassin’s heart be melted?

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These books came highly recommended to me. I hadn't heard of the first one until the sequel came out and I started seeing reviews for it, but my interest was caught. I'm not sure why, exactly, other than the glowing reviews, because fantasy is something I've been straying away from. 

If I'm honest, neither book was as good as I was anticipating. Taking the first one first, I found that the story got a bit lost in favour of introducing the characters and the world and setting everything up. I think this is intended to be a series of six books, and so naturally there's a lot to tell the reader about in the first instalment, but I would have liked a lot less information and a good deal more plot. Celaena is taking part in a tournament to become the king's champion, a tournament I was pretty sure she'd win since the other competitors were to be killed and she was probably going to survive long enough to make an appearance in book two. Perhaps this isn't something that bothered anyone who read the book closer to its release - they didn't necessarily know there was going to be a second book, and so were therefore caught up in the tension of the story. 

The other issue I had with the first book is the world-building itself. It seems to take up a huge chunk of the narrative, but I struggled to visualise much of what was going on. For some reason, in the opening chapter as Celaena is being led through hundreds of corridors as the guards try to disorientate her, I kept picturing her being led through a mostly empty office block. I don't know why I had that particular image, but there wasn't much there to change it. There were many occasions throughout the book when I had no idea where something was happening or what it looked like. I just couldn't quite get my head around it.

So, I was expecting the second book to be a lot better. I didn't dislike the first book, although the last few paragraphs probably make it sound like I did, I was just disappointed. I was expecting better and I was sure the second book would deliver. It did and it didn't. There was more story, sure, and the characters getting bumped off this time were ones that I cared a lot more about than nameless competitors in the king's tournament. I loved the development of the relationship between Celaena and Chaol and wanted to cry when...stuff happened. 

I did enjoy the second book more, I thought it was a lot better in terms of story and character and even writing, but there's still something lacking for me. There's something just not quite there for me. I think part of the problem is my mind makes an inevitable comparison to Leigh Bardugo's Shadow and Bone series, the last high fantasy books I read and which I utterly, utterly adored. They're both high fantasy with strong female characters at their centre, written by female authors, and so my mind has linked them up and I can't help making comparisons. And I enjoyed Bardugo's series a hell of a lot more. That being said, I will read the third instalment of this series when it's released, but I think it will be a turning point for me - unless there's something in it that really resonates with me, I probably won't bother with the rest of the series. Okay, that's a lie. I have to have books. All the books. And even if this series starts to go downhill, I'll almost certainly keep reading it.



Monday, 23 September 2013

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS

All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill

Yesterday Marina was safe, privileged, wealthy. She was falling for James - the super-brainy youngest son of a very powerful family. Yesterday ended badly.

Today Em is in a cell she may never get out of alive. There's a flicker of hope when she talks to the boy in the cell next to hers - and when she remembers who she used to be...yesterday.

Tomorrow Em has a mission. She must escape and travel back in time. She must kill the boy Marina loved - to save her future.

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I'd been hearing quite a lot of buzz about this book online before I ever saw it in a bookshop (that may not be true, because it's got about eight different covers and I may have walked past it dozens of times before I recognised it as something I was interested in. Incidentally the cover above, with that lame heart? Not the best), but I was still initially reluctant. It's a time travel book, and I have a love-hate relationship with time-travel. Now, you'll have to forgive me because I read this book many weeks ago (I've been in the writing cave, so I haven't been reading much or blogging at all) but as far as I remember, I actually didn't mind how the time travel was presented.

You see, my theory is that you can't have an interesting story about time-travel without there being paradoxes. And I hate paradoxes. I loathe them. I will sit there and look for flaws in the science, despite the fact that I know nothing about science (except for what sublimation is, and I don't know why or how I know that) and the fact that actually, nobody really knows how time travel would work because it doesn't actually exist. So, despite going out of my way to look for flaws here, I got along with it fine. The issue of paradoxes is addressed and, even though the explanation is kind of a cop-out, I appreciated there being an explanation. It allowed me to suspend my disbelief and just enjoy the story.

Which I did, for the most part. There was a revelation that had been blindingly obvious for several chapters, there was a point where I started to get a bit bored and then a bit confused because I'd started to skim, but overall I did enjoy the book. I didn't really like any of the characters or connect with them, but I felt the story was enough to carry it. My only real issue with this book is I've been hearing murmurs that it's the first in the series and I can't get my head around that. This is quite clearly a stand-alone book. I won't read a second one unless it gets some amazing reviews from sources I trust, because I think a second instalment would probably just ruin it.



Thursday, 22 August 2013

CITY OF BONES

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

If you haven't read the books that this film is based on, I can't imagine it will be of much interest to you, so I won't bother giving a synopsis, I'll just assume you know what I'm talking about.

Overall, I actually thought this film was pretty good. Now, that may be because I had such very low expectations of it - anything that's referred to as 'the next Twilight' causes my blood to run slightly cold and the source material isn't exactly great literature - but I did enjoy watching this.

It doesn't hurt that I've been slightly in love with Jamie Campbell Bower since I met him a couple of months ago at a publicity event for the film (or the book, I still don't fully understand what the event was all about, mostly because I couldn't hear a word that was being said, but I met Jamie Campbell Bower so it didn't really matter).

There are some spectacularly naff moments. The greenhouse scene springs to mind - why are there magical glowing flowers? No, seriously, why? It's very confusing. The film was ticking along nicely, I was wrapped up in it and just enjoying it, and then something hideous would happen - magical flowers in the greenhouse, the portal, a werewolf transformation - and I'd be dragged out of the movie and snorting with laughter at what I was seeing. And I wasn't the only one laughing. It is deliberately funny in places, though, there are some great lines and I particularly enjoyed the interactions between Simon and Jace. I never really cared for Simon in the books, but Robert Sheehan has done a great job of bringing him to life here - he leaps right off the screen and his dialogue with Jace is cracking.

The female characters are under-used though, I thought, which is odd given that the main character, Clary, is female. (As a side-note, it would have been really nice if someone could have just decided how we're supposed to pronounce her stupid name. A friend and I - the awesome Imogen - have discussed this at length over the past couple of months and are none the wiser, we were hoping the film would settle the matter. Every single character pronounces it differently.) But my point is that Clary doesn't really do anything, she's just along for the ride and I do think that's an issue with the film rather than the book. I could be wrong, it's been over a year since I read it, but I don't remember her being quite so dull and passive. I'm sure she did stuff. The same goes for Isabelle, who doesn't have very much to do or say either. She gets to wield a flamethrower, sure, but that's pretty much it.

I should start wrapping up now because this is getting quite long and I don't want it to turn into a crazy rant. I thought it was odd that they'd cast so many British actors - not bad, just odd - but I found it quite distracting listening to the Americans put on British accents. Because everyone in this film seems to be trying to sound British, which is just plain weird. It's set in Brooklyn. Why is everyone British? The only other thing I feel I ought to say is that if you're expecting a very faithful adaptation, you will be disappointed. The last third is very different - different enough that I noticed it and was puzzled, and like I said, I haven't read the books in over a year now - but I don't necessarily think it's a bad thing. It was confusing and a little off-putting, but I think the changes make sense. I think they improve the movie overall. Except for a throwaway remark that Hodge makes to Valentine, which I personally consider to be a massive spoiler for later plot developments and utterly pointless. Seriously, he makes this comment and it spoils a revelation that I believe comes in book three. Now, most viewers will have read the books or at least be aware of this big plot point, so why make the comment at all? I can only assume it's because the film studios didn't want to be seen as condoning incest, but it didn't sit right in the film. I was so busy thinking what the hell did he say that for? that I missed the next part of the film.

Despite the fact that I seem to have done nothing but critcise the film in this review, I actually did enjoy it. It's not a high-brow or challenging watch, and if you didn't enjoy the books I can't see you enjoying the film any better, but I did find it entertaining. Entertaining enough that I'd watch it again. Not several times over in the cinema like with a Harry Potter film, but I'll watch it again.

That light bit in the circle? That's Jamie's forehead/hair. We weren't allowed to take pictures with him, we had to be sneaky and do them from a distance. This is literally the best shot we got.



Wednesday, 21 August 2013

BROOKLYN GIRLS

Brooklyn Girls by Gemma Burgess

Jobless. Clueless. Topless on Facebook. (Not necessarily in that order) Welcome to New York City.

Pia Keller is not living the dream. Unemployed, unemployable and broke, post-Uni life in a Brooklyn townhouse with her four best friends suddenly isn't so easy. And that's before heartbreaks, hispters, all-nighters, one-nighters, food trucks, screw-ups, loan sharks and jail-time make things a whole lot more complicated...

It's actually quite hard to put into words how dreadful I thought this book was, but I'll give it a go. The words cheesy and patrionising are the first that come to mind. The dialogue made me actually wince and my God, does anybody in the world actually think that going to a loan shark is a good idea?

There are a couple of things I picked out while reading, which I thought I'd share with you:

1. "God, I hate it when my friends get mistreated."
     Um, don't we all hate that?

2. "Ladybitch."
    I'm pretty sure bitch implies a female anyway, so this clarification makes zero sense to me. Plus, it sounds awful and they say it a LOT.

3. "It makes sense. And his rates are lower than a bank.
    LOAN SHARKS ARE BAD. YOU'RE WELCOME.

And that's even before I start thinking about the characters. Which I can't. Because I'm already getting angry about this book again and I read it weeks ago. There were moments, I suppose, when I didn't want to throw something at the main character, but these moments were few and far between.

Brooklyn Girls was my first foray in New Adult, and honestly, I don't think I'll be setting foot there again. This was just dire. It made me realise how mature everyone I know actually is. And I will never again give any of my friends a death-glare for saying "Fail!" because it could be worse. They could be saying things like "oopsh," "cockmonkey," "bodacious" and "ladybitch."