Saturday, 31 December 2011

The Best Books of 2011

Or, the sixteen books that made my year…

This year has been incredible – in fact I am so pleased that I started book reviewing this year, because I don’t remember a year when this many incredible books have all come out in the space of twelve months.
It’s effectively my list of books that I would say made my year, and if you haven’t read them, why on earth not?! But I have given them a winning category to be helpful. See, so helpful.

Best Historical Mystery – The Dark Enquiry by Deanna Raybourn

Do I even need to explain my love for Deanna Raybourn again? I’m just going to point you in the direction of my review of this book and the Q & A I did with her last month to celebrate my one year blogiversary. That should cover the love.
But if you're still not convinced, this series is one of my all time favourites. This book is just as strong as its predecessors, and Brisbane and Julia remain one of my all time favourite couples.

Best Young Adult Debut – Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

This was one of the best new fantasy books in young adult that I read this year. It was incredible, the heroine was amazing, and I can’t wait for the sequel which is due out late next year. Check out my wishlist to pre-order it now!

You can read my review of the book here!

Best Fairy Tale Retelling – Entwined by Heather Dixon

Wow. Just wow. I was in love with this book long before I bought it. I kept eyeing it and wishing it would stop being so expensive, although that beautiful cover kind of made up for it. And then eventually I treated myself to it – and you know what, it was definitely worth the wait. One of the strongest fairy tale retellings I have had the pleasure of reading, and my favourite novelization of the tale of the twelve dancing princesses.

You can read my review here!

Best New Fantasy (Young Adult) – The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell

Wow. Just wow. This was one of my really highly anticipated reads of the year, and it was truly phenomenal. I don’t want to say anymore about it, just go read it.

Or you can read my review of the book here.

Best New Fantasy (Adult) – Touch of Power by Maria V. Snyder

Aha! You guys I did a little dance when I discovered that Maria had a new fantasy series coming out. No joke,  I got quite a few weird looks that day. And then I got my sticky mitts on it, and it was awesome. I love her fantasy, I love her world building, I love her heroines, and her heroes, and her absolutely awesome romance.

In fact, go read my review here – I tell you just how much I love her in great detail there…

Best Standalone (Young Adult) – The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

I have a feeling this could get boring after a while with me squeeing about just how much I loved every single book in this list – it’s very true though, they are all gorgeous. And The Scorpio Races really took my breath away. It had a slow build, a gorgeous setting, and some of the most amazingly imaginative yet down to earth plot and writing that I’ve seen.
In short, it was stunning.

You can read my review here.

Best Standalone (Adult) – Graveminder by Melissa Marr

I will admit, I was a little tense when I discovered that Melissa was releasing an adult novel. I love her young adult books and I had no idea how her writing would carry across to adult. Stupid fears, they had it completely wrong. This book was delicious and in all the right ways. That and I love a standalone novel – they’re hard to find these days.

You can read my review here.

Best Steampunk (Adult) – Heartless by Gail Carriger

This series is awesome. Gail Carriger has taken the idea of steampunk and injected it with her own brand of brilliance, which involves a heroine who can take care of herself thank you very much, pesto, parasols, and as ever, treacle tart.

You can read my review here. And you can read an interview with the lady herself here!

Best Steampunk (Young Adult) – Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare

The Infernal Devices series is absolutely phenomenal. They are, in my eyes, Clare’s best work. I love them. I love the love triangles. I love the character’s. I love the plot. I love everything. Go read it.

And then go read my review!

Best Series Continuation – Red Glove by Holly Black

Cassel is one of my favourite voices to read. I love how elegantly Black gets inside his head and offers us everything, every broken part of him. This is a truly exceptional series, and I cannot wait to read the thrilling conclusion next year.

You can read my review here.

Best Zombie Book – Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

I’m not really a zombie person. So for Marion to write a book about zombie’s, from a zombie (R’s) point of view, with a bucket load of fabulously realistic romance, and for me to love it, is truly impressive. I think he might have turned me onto the zombie path – hell I’m even enjoying the Walking Dead after reading this…

You can read my review here.

Best Conclusion to a Series – The Demon’s Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan

Yes Ms Brennan I am looking at you for quite literally ripping out my heart, joyfully chopping it into pieces (probably whilst giggling) stitching it back together and gift wrapping it.
I loved this series, but the final book was a masterpiece in writing, bringing the whole seamlessly together into one brilliantly satisfying conclusion.
I love her for it, I also want to poke her with sticks for putting me through quite so much misery during it, and then I want to get my mitts on everything else she’s writing.

You can read my review here!

Best Chick-Lit – Breakfast at Darcy’s by Ali McNamara

Ali has the sought after blend of wit, great writing and fabulous characterization that make her novels an absolute joy to read. They’re smart and funny and right up my street. I adored her debut at the end of last year, and she’s now firmly cemented herself in my top list with her second novel. She’s also practically persuaded me to go and move to a remote island after reading this – the power of words eh. Read it and let me know if you’ll be joining me on the island.

You can read my review here, and an interview with Ali here!

Best Historical Romance – A Kiss at Midnight by Eloisa James

This book is wicked. No, it’s more than that it is utterly delicious. A regency retelling of Cinderella, complete with coaches, princes, castles, a fairy godmother, seduction, and of course rats.
I have loved every Eloisa book I’ve picked up, but there is something very wicked about this series of ‘Happily Ever after’ books (similar to dark chocolate) that makes them sinfully wicked and absolutely fabulous to read. I picked the first book in the series as my favourite, but in all honesty I enjoyed the second book just as much. And now I can’t wait for the third to come out in the UK in a couple of days!

You can read my review of the book here! You can also check out the mini Q& A with the fabulous Eloisa, and if you fancy winning a signed copy of one of her books, enter the giveaway!

Most Incredible Book (Adult) – The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

How do I love thee? It would take too long to try and explain here. Suffice to say I adored it. It stood out for me as an absolutely breath taking example of literature, and I come back to it again and again.

You can read my review here.

Most Incredible Book (Young Adult) – Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Again, this book absolutely blew me away. There were so many stunning books released this year that there was very stiff competition from all sides. However, it stayed with me long after I finished reading it, and is a remarkable blend of several stories interwoven to create one beautiful whole.

You can read my review here.

So that’s it for this year. A clean slate for the start of the next year’s book binge, and some incredibly exciting books ready to grace our shelves in the next twelve months.

If you’re interested in looking at what I’m excited about that’s coming out in 2012, check out my Wishlist.

But in the meantime, I want to wish you a Happy New Year, and I hope next year brings you even more awesome books!

Thursday, 29 December 2011

11 Favourite Covers of 2011

2011 has been a year of really beautiful covers, whoever has been designing them, I take my hat off to you; they’ve been fab! So below I’ve picked out eleven of my favourites, listed in no-particular order, complete with pictures to ooh and ahh over!

Entwined by Heather Dixon

Simple yet elegant, the figure running away with all the greenery and the pretty dress, combine that with the title and it’s a cover that immediately caught my interest. I always find it fascinating what works and what doesn’t, and for me often hiding as much as is revealed is a great way to peak my curiosity. In this case the girl running away (what from? Who is she?) Immediately sparked. Pair that with the title and the blurb and I was sold. Add to that the setting that is revealed, the gardens and a castle and I was offered an immediate insight into the book I’d be getting.

Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel

In my review I talk about how the UK cover differs from the US cover, and how that completely changed my perception of the book. The US cover was very dark and gothic and not overly appealing, yet everything about this cover makes me want to read it. The fire, the southern belle/Victorian garb, the dashing, and most likely dead young man and the pretty lady, and let’s not forget the zombies shambling about in the background… All a recipe to make me squeal and want to start reading it straight away.

The End Specialist by Drew Magary

This cover was so eye catching it was the reason I kept going back to the book until I bought it. It’s such a simple picture, incredibly clever and effectively sums up the entire book in one simple drawing. Death has been defeated – let’s see how much havoc we can wreak with eternity…

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Whoever designed the cover for the hardback of this book should have a medal for the sheer amount of thought and care that obviously went into its creation. Not only is it a beautiful hardback book in red with a clock embossed on the front and bowler hats inside, but the dust jacket is equally beautiful with the circus and the two main players depicted in black and white. The book has a red tie to mark your page, and exquisite depictions of the night sky throughout, and the pages are edged in black. The whole thing is gorgeous to behold and makes the magic of reading the book even more tangible.

I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan

This cover is just so beautiful. Raised textured surface to give you the stars, and the simple scene depicted that tells you so much and yet nothing at all. The two figures on the edge of a cliff, highlighted in the beam of the cars headlights. It just caught me so utterly. Whilst it gives an impression on the screen, actually holding the book reveals so much more of the beauty and detail in the cover. Whilst I wasn’t so fussed on the book itself, this cover will remain one of those lodged in my head for its beauty for a long time to come.

Wither by Lauren deStefano

I got so over excited when I first saw this. The slightly quirky writing, the intriguing girl with the bird in the cage, and then the circles and lines immediately guiding us to the things we needed to focus on. The girl, the wedding ring on her hand, and the bird trapped in the cage. It was a very different and refreshing change for a cover, and I loved the highlights that drew the eye and simultaneously told you quite a bit about the book without even looking at the blurb. Covers are meant to tell you about the story, they should be the first key point of contact that alerts you to what you might find in the pages, and sometimes they aren’t as clear or as well done, but this is a case in point of a brilliantly well done cover that tells me everything I need to know that this is a book I want to read.

Darkest Mercy by Melissa Marr

All of the Wicked Lovely book covers have been gorgeous, but there is something about this final book in the series that just makes my mouth water. Very similar to the first book with the frosted flowers, the combination of colour and ice and frost make this a truly decadent cover. It makes me shiver and want to stroke it every time I see it – which either shows I’m going insane or that they really got this cover spot on. Or possibly both.

Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare

All of Cassie Clare’s covers are gorgeous. Stroke of genius, complete and utter genius. And it’s got Jem on the front, and I’m a sucker for Jem. Elegant and refined, with such an attention to detail that is slightly mind boggling.
I just love the whole feel and tone of the cover. Whilst Clockwork Angel was darker, this has an aura of grey and silver, perfectly complimenting the image of Jem. And it doesn’t hurt that Jem is particularly yummy…

The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell

Again, similar to my reaction to ‘entwined’, this cover offers us a girl running away, only it gives us more of the girl and less of anything else. Whilst we had a better sense of place with the first one, ‘The Vespertine’ focuses almost entirely on the girl. There’s just something about it that really got me, and put it immediately onto my wishlist.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

I really wasn’t all that fussed on the hardback cover, it was very muted, very quiet and not as eye catching as the paperback. The stark contrast of the red and black with the gorgeous silhouette of the horse make this into a cover you won’t easily forget.
Warm Bodies by Isaac Marrion

I’m a very tactile person. Hugs, soft cushions, raised bits on book covers, I’m there. And with this the blood vessels being raised and lumpy was morbidly fascinating, and left me a little bit queasy. It’s such a simple design, white with the vessels, and yet it is so utterly effective. Sometimes simplicity is key, and in this case it was more than enough to have me pick up the book and fall in love for the first time ever, with a zombie.

Was your favourite not included? What were your favourite covers of 2011?

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

8 Favourite Débuts of 2011

2011 has been an amazing year for books, there have been so many incredible authors, new books, new series’, finales and beginnings that it’s been hard to pick out my favourites. But I’ve done my best and over the next few days you’ll see my posts on the best debuts, the best covers, and my top picks of 2011. Some books will appear on more than one list, but that’s simply that I feel that they should be celebrated in each of the categories.

Firstly I think huge congratulations should go to the debut authors who have stood out from the crowd of incredible books that have graced our shelves this year. I’ve included the blurb for each book, and a link to my review where I’ve explained in detail just why I loved each book.
I give you my eight favourite debut books and authors of 2011!

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marrion

‘R’ is a zombie. He has no name, no memories and no pulse, but he has dreams. He is a little different from his fellow dead.
Amongst the ruins of an abandoned city, R meets a girl. Her name is Julie and she is the opposite of everything he knows – warm and bright and very much alive, she is a blast of colour in a dreary grey landscape. For reasons he can’t understand, R chooses to save Julie instead of eating her, and a tense yet strangely tender relationship begins.
This has never happened before. It breaks the rules and defies logic, but R is no longer content with life in the grave. He wants to breathe again, he wants to live, and Julie wants to help him. But their grim, rotting world won’t be changed without a fight…

Entwined by Heather Dixon
Azalea is trapped. Just when she should feel that everything is before her . . . beautiful gowns, dashing suitors, balls filled with dancing . . . it's taken away. All of it.
The Keeper understands. He's trapped, too, held for centuries within the walls of the palace. And so he extends an invitation.
Every night, Azalea and her eleven sisters may step through the enchanted passage in their room to dance in his silver forest.
But there is a cost.
The Keeper likes to 
keep things.
Azalea may not realize how tangled she is in his web until it is too late.

Wither by Lauren deStefano

Sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery has only four years left to live when she is kidnapped by the Gatherers and forced into a polygamous marriage. Now she has one purpose: to escape, find her twin brother, and go home – before her time runs out forever.
What if you knew exactly when you would die?
Thanks to modern science, every human being has become a ticking genetic time bomb – males only live to age twenty-five and females only live to age twenty. In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out.
When sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by the Gatherers to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege. Despite her husband Linden’s genuine love for her, and a tenuous trust among her sister wives, Rhine has one purpose: to escape – to find her twin brother and go home.
But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom. Linden’s eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments. With the help of Gabriel, a servant she trusts, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limited time she has left.

My Last Duchess by Daisy Goodwin

Cora Cash, possibly the wealthiest heiress in 1890s America, has been raised to believe that money will open every door to her.  But when her mother whisks Cora to England to secure her an aristocratic match, Cora is dismayed by the welcome she at first receives.  The great English houses in which she is entertained are frosty and forbidding, dogged by intrigue above stairs, and gossip below.  And it is only when she loses her heart - to a man she barely knows - that Cora realises the game she is playing is one she does not full understand, and that her own future happiness could be the prize.

Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Princess Elisa is a disappointment to her people. Although she bears the Godstone in her navel, a sign that she has been chosen for an act of heroism, they see her as lazy and useless and fat. 
On her sixteenth birthday, she is bartered off in royal marriage and shipped away to a kingdom in turmoil, where her much-older and extremely beautiful husband refuses to acknowledge her as his wife. Devastated, Elisa decides to take charge of her fate and learn what it means to bear the Godstone. As an invading army threatens to destroy her new home, and everyone at court manoeuvres to take advantage of the young princess, Elisa becomes convinced that, not only is her own life in danger, the whole world needs saving. But how can a young girl who has never ridden horseback, never played the game of politics, and never attained the love of a man save the world? Elisa can't be sure, but she must try to uncover the Godstone's secret history before the enemy steals the destiny nestled in her core.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

"Opens at Nightfall; Closes at Dawn." The Le Cirque des Rêves is a circus unlike any other, just as this magical debut novel is equally unique. At the centre of The Night Circus spectacle are two specially gifted young magicians, Celia and Marco, pitted against each other in professional competition, drawn towards one another in love. Erin Morgenstern's literary fantasy has already drawn raves for its captivating evocativeness: "A world of almost unbearable beauty.... A love story on a grand scale: it creates, it destroys, it ultimately transcends." "A novel so magical that there is no escaping its spell... If you choose to read just one novel this year, this is it."

Forgotten by Cat Patrick

Each night when 16 year-old London Lane goes to sleep, her whole world disappears. In the morning, all that's left is a note telling her about a day she can't remember. The whole scenario doesn't exactly make high school or dating that hot guy whose name she can't seem to recall any easier. But when London starts experiencing disturbing visions she can't make sense of, she realizes it's time to learn a little more about the past she keeps forgetting-before it destroys her future. 

The End Specialist by Drew Magary

“You got me. I don’t want to die. I’m terrified of death. I fear there’s nothing beyond it and that this existence is the only one I’ll ever possess. That’s why I’m here.”
(An excerpt from the digital journal of John Farrell, cure age 29)
2019. Humanity has witnessed its greatest scientific breakthrough yet: the cure for ageing. Three injections and you’re immortal – not bulletproof or disease-proof but you’ll never have to fear death by old age.
For John Farrell, documenting the cataclysmic shifts to life after the cure becomes an obsession. Cure parties, cycle marriages, immortal livestock: the world is revelling in the miracles of eternal youth. But immortality has a sinister side, and when a pro-death terrorist explosion kills his newly-cured best friend, John soon realizes that even in a world without natural death, there is always something to fear.
Now, John must make a new choice: run and hide forever, or stay and fight those who try to make immortal life a living hell.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Author Q & A with Eloisa James and a Signed Book Giveaway!

When it comes to historical romance, nobody does it better than Eloisa James. Her heroines are sassy and independent, her men are divine, and the writing is always brilliant. So you can imagine I get pretty excited every time I see a new novel is about to come from her…
And now today marks the release of her latest book ‘The Duke is Mine’ – and to celebrate Eloisa was lovely enough (despite her incredibly hectic schedule) to answer a couple of questions for me about the book, her writing, what we can look forward to next, and even a giveaway…

“Your latest novel 'The Duke is Mine' is due for release shortly, can you tell us a little bit about it?”

The Duke is Mine is the third in my series of fairy tales; this one rewrites The Princess and the Pea, the story of a princess who arrives in the middle of the rainy night and is put through a series of tests to see whether she is a “real” princess—the most famous of which involved a pile of mattresses on top of a pea.  That pea gave me so much trouble!  I had a lot of fun writing Duke because I enjoy working within strict parameters.  It forces me to be more creative to know that I am not only required to write a happy ending, but I also need to trace the plot of a fairy tale.

 In The Princess and the Pea, the girl who arrives in the middle of a rainstorm turns out to be a “perfect” princess.  Olivia, my heroine fromThe Duke is Mine, by contrast, is no perfect heroine; she’s impudent, bawdy, and plump. Her sister Georgiana, by contrast, is “perfect.”  In a deep sense, The Duke is Mine is about perfection, and what that means.  Olivia is torn between a duke with an Aspergers-like inability to express emotion, who relies on logic, and her fiancé Rupert, who is all emotion with almost no logic.  This is the first book of mine that actually has two heroes… I can’t wait to see what readers think! 

“Do you have a favourite part of a romance book to write? Does it vary between books or is there always a same moment that you love?”

I like writing dialogue, particularly between the hero and heroine.  My happiest moments are when I manage to shape a conversation that has a deep swell of emotion in it.  Here’s an example from The Duke is Mine, from a scene when the Duke of Sconce is trying to convince the heroine, Olivia, to marry him:

Quin jerked Olivia a touch closer, so that her body was flattened against his. “You don’t know what I mean because you have never lost someone. There is nothing that matters more, not science nor mathematical propositions, not my title and my lands… Nothing.”
            “There’s honor,” she said, feeling pain arrow into her heart. “My honor. I can’t betray my sister or Rupert.”

“Is there anything in particular that draws you to writing romance?”

The simple answer is that I love a happy ending.  I’ve always loved the romance genre best, even when I was just a girl.  But a more complicated answer is that romance has a rhythm and a promise to it that appeals to me.  I know the world is a tough and cold place; I’ve lost my mother and I have a child with a chronic illness.  But—and this is a big but—I also know that love and joy make all the difference. Romance reminds me that if there’s a pattern to the universe, it’s one shaped around and by love.  We can all use that reminder now and then.

What can we look forward to you writing next?”

A couple of years ago, my husband and I moved to Paris for a year.  We sold our house, our cars, uprooted the children, rented an apartment on the internet, and just flew away.  It was a transformative year – but it was also a lot of fun.  So my next book is Paris in Love, which comes out April 17.  It’s the story of that year, along with lots of tidbits for anyone who loves Paris: museums that are off the beaten track, things to do with children, where to buy a bra… The website is up, if anyone would like to see an excerpt:  

This giveaway is now closed!
And now for the giveaway! If you’re an Eloisa James fan and would like to win a signed copy of her book ‘Desperate Duchesses’ simply comment below and tell me why you want to win it.
The giveaway is open internationally and is open until midnight UK time on New Year’s!
If you’re a follower of this blog that’s always helpful, I will be announcing the winner on New Year’s Day! Good Luck!

The Duke is Mine
released today in the USA and in the UK through Amazon. The Kindle UK version is released on December 29th

Tarquin, the powerful Duke of Sconce, knows perfectly well that the decorous and fashionably slender Georgiana Lytton will make him a proper duchess. So why can’t he stop thinking about her twin sister, the curvy, headstrong, and altogether unconventional Olivia? Not only is Olivia betrothed to another man, but their improper, albeit intoxicating, flirtation makes herunsuitability all the more clear. 
Determined to make a perfect match, he methodically cuts Olivia from his thoughts, allowing logic and duty to triumph over passion…Until, in his darkest hour, Tarquin begins to question whether perfection has anything to do with love. 
 To win Olivia's hand he would have to give up all the beliefs he holds most dear, and surrender heart, body and soul…
 Unless it’s already too late.

Review: The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman

Release Date: 19th January 2012

It was like a nightmare, but there was no waking up.  When the night began, Nora had two best friends and an embarrassingly storybook one true love.  When it ended, she had nothing but blood on her hands and an echoing scream that stopped only when the tranquilizers pierced her veins and left her in the merciful dark. 
But the next morning, it was all still true: Chris was dead.  His girlfriend Adriane, Nora's best friend, was catatonic. And Max, Nora's sweet, smart, soft-spoken Prince Charming, was gone. He was also—according to the police, according to her parents, according to everyone—a murderer.

Desperate to prove his innocence, Nora follows the trail of blood, no matter where it leads. It ultimately brings her to the ancient streets of Prague, where she is drawn into a dark web of secret societies and shadowy conspirators, all driven by a mad desire to possess something that might not even exist. For buried in a centuries-old manuscript is the secret to ultimate knowledge and communion with the divine; it is said that he who controls the Lumen Dei controls the world. Unbeknownst to her, Nora now holds the crucial key to unlocking its secrets. Her night of blood is just one piece in a puzzle that spans continents and centuries. Solving it may be the only way she can save her own life.

This book had everything that meant I should have been falling at its feet and declaring my undying love – yet we really didn’t click.
I really wanted to, and I really should have done, because it’s a brilliant plot, and fabulous writing, but something really didn’t work for me personally, and I’m not quite sure what it was.

The plot itself is a fabulously fresh idea that takes you from the safe confines of translation as an extra curricular activity, and transports you to the dangerous streets of Prague where truly terrifying danger lurks around every corner.

Nora was an interesting character, for the most part I liked her, she was sensible and intelligent, although a little prone to ignoring the obvious because she didn’t want to see it – although we’re all guilty of that sometimes. She goes through so much and I really willed her to get through it relatively intact. I did find sometimes that it was a little bleak, that there were moments where she acted as though there was no home, no life, nothing to live for, and it kind of made me want to throw myself off the nearest bridge, so it’s a miracle she didn’t!

I adored Eli, he was by far my favourite character in the book. He was smart, funny, and made me read so much faster whenever he was around. He made the book interesting for me, and made me want to find out what was going to happen next.

I never really warmed to either Max or Adrianne – which perhaps goes some way to explaining my overall lack of enthusiasm. They felt transparent to me, and as a result I wanted Nora to pitch them into the nearest river and go off with Eli.

Whilst I liked the writing and the voice, I found the short chapters and jumping moments of reflection quite disorientating. As a result it took me a while to get into the book and to figure out where we were, what was happening, and whether anyone was dead yet.

It was also quite a slow build, taking until way into the Prague section for me to really spark an interest. I think that this was in part due to the Elizabeth letters. Whilst I loved the idea I found the constant slipping into Elizabeth’s world (at least at the start) to be even more slowing than the original plot. Whilst both worlds and scenario’s needed to be set up, trying to do so simultaneously meant that I got bored. I found myself becoming frustrated with Elizabeth’s parts whereas I should have found them fascinating as they set up the rest of the plot.

I found myself putting the book down and not really feeling compelled to pick it up again and find out what happens. And where there should have been thrills, twists and shocks I had already worked out they were going to happen a while before, so there wasn’t any compulsion to continue on that side either. I’m going to give it a while and then try re-reading because I think it might have just been a bad time to pick it up. Let’s hope the re-read goes better!

As a result, my honest opinion of the book on this read through is three stars – however I know this is my personal rating and was because I didn’t happen to get on well with it this time around. If I had I would have given it four.

Review: When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa James

Miss Linnet Berry Thrynne is a Beauty . . . Naturally, she's betrothed to a Beast. 
Piers Yelverton, Earl of Marchant, lives in a castle in Wales where, it is rumoured, his bad temper flays everyone he crosses. And rumour also has it that a wound has left the earl immune to the charms of any woman. 
Linnet is not just any woman. 
She is more than merely lovely: her wit and charm brought a prince to his knees. She estimates the earl will fall madly in love—in just two weeks. 
Yet Linnet has no idea of the danger posed to her own heart by a man who may never love her in return. 
If she decides to be very wicked indeed . . . what price will she pay for taming his wild heart?

I’ve already waxed lyrical about the first book in the Happily Ever After series this month, and now it’s time for the second, because after that fabulous start do you really think I was going to wait long before reading the second one?

Eloisa’s writing is again brilliant; she combines wit with lyrical beauty and a gorgeous fantasy element that sets these books apart as fairy tales as opposed to her usual historical fantasies.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I absolutely adore the ferocious battle of wits that the hero and heroine usually go through, and this book was no exception – a fabulous series of scenes where they verbally clashed, and as a result became closer as the respect for the other party grew.
This is one of the things I particularly love about this book. There is no insta-romance. There is frustration and arrogance and intelligence, and as they clash they come together, peeling back the layers and finding the person behind the humorous barbs. It’s a romance built, yes ok on lust and attraction, but also on respect, friendship and intelligence. And for me that makes it all the more enjoyable.

Linnet is just the type of feisty, intelligent heroine that I love, and she more than meets her match in Piers who was most definitely a less tameable man than we are normally treated to in period romances. There was something very raw and masculine about him that made him a lot less ‘safe’ and infinitely more thrilling to read.

This was a brilliant twist on a well-known fairy tale, particularly the final few chapters, which simultaneously broke my heart and made it swell from the sheer gorgeousness of the romance.

The writing and character’s felt so real that at times I felt like I shouldn’t be there – that I was watching a private moment when I shouldn’t have been. It was quite a strange sensation to experience.

Again there is a disclaimer about the writing not being entirely appropriate to the period, but I was expecting the style following the first book, so it wasn’t as jarring the second time around.

The only comment I would make as a word of caution is that the seduction is a little more explicit than is usually found in Eloisa’s books (and it most definitely had me a little flushed at moments.) So this isn’t perhaps a fairy tale you’d wish to share with your children – it’s most definitely for adults!

I’m really excited about the next book in the ‘Happily Ever After’ series, a re-telling of The Princess and the Pea, due out today!
And to celebrate I will be posting a giveaway and a short Q & A with the lady herself, so check back later!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Release Day: Touch of Power by Maria V Snyder

So today Maria V Snyder's latest novel finally hits the shelves, and I cannot wait to get my hands on it for a re-read.
All of her trademark components for a brilliant fantasy book are included, and if this book is anything to go by, this could be her best series yet!

So what are you waiting for? Go get a copy!

Touch of Power by Maria V Snyder

Laying hands upon the injured and dying, Avry of Kazan absorbs their wounds and diseases into herself. But rather than being honored for her skills, she is hunted. Healers like Avry are accused of spreading the plague that has decimated the Fifteen Realms, leaving the survivors in a state of chaos.
Stressed and tired from hiding, Avry is abducted by a band of rogues who, shockingly, value her gift above the golden bounty offered for her capture. Their leader, an enigmatic captor-protector with powers of his own, is unequivocal in his demands: Avry must heal a plague-stricken prince—leader of a campaign against her people. As they traverse the daunting Nine Mountains, beset by mercenaries and magical dangers, Avry must decide who is worth healing and what is worth dying for. Because the price of peace may well be her life….
You can also read my spoiler free review here!

Monday, 19 December 2011

Review: The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney

A huge thank you to Harriet at Random House Children's Books for sending me a copy to review.
The review is my own honest opinion on the book.

Freak. That's what her classmates call seventeen-year-old Donna Underwood. When she was seven, a horrific fey attack killed her father and drove her mother mad. Donna's own nearly fatal injuries from the assault were fixed by magic—the iron tattoos branding her hands and arms. The child of alchemists, Donna feels cursed by the magical heritage that destroyed her parents and any chance she had for a normal life. The only thing that keeps her sane and grounded is her relationship with her best friend, Navin Sharma.
When the darkest outcasts of Faerie—the vicious wood elves—abduct Navin, Donna finally has to accept her role in the centuries old war between the humans and the fey. Assisted by Xan, a gorgeous half-fey dropout with secrets of his own, Donna races to save her friend—even if it means betraying everything her parents and the alchemist community fought to the death to protect.

I had mixed feelings about this book – it was an odd jumble of marmite that had me loving some moments, and then bored the next.

I think the driving thing that I really liked about this book was Donna. She was strong (in every sense) intriguing, a no-nonsense kind of girl pushed into an extraordinary world that she doesn’t necessarily want to be in. The premise behind the Order and her arms was fantastic, and I wanted more of that side of things – hopefully there will be some more explanation in the next book, because it was awesome the few glimpses we got to see of both sides of the Order.

I think my biggest dislike of the book was Navin. Which I feel awful just saying, but it’s true – he really didn’t do it for me. He didn’t feel or read like a boy to me, more like a girl, which is always a disadvantage when he’s supposed to be a teenage boy. He grated on me every scene he was in (which were quite a few to say the least) and despite Donna repeatedly saying she couldn’t live without him, I was all for leaving him in the woods. I don’t know if it was that there wasn’t enough character development to flesh him out, or if it was just me having a wobble over fictional boys, but he really wasn’t my cup of tea.

Unlike Xan, who kind of was. Although he still peeved me a bit for fitting the ever present stereotype of boy who you’ve only known a couple of days and yet will do anything )including potentially have a nervous breakdown because of where you’re asking him to go, all because he likes you. I was rooting for him to turn round and tell Donna no. He caved far too easily, so all the build-up of his character and the strength that exuded from him kind of went kaput at that stage.

I felt like the whole thing was a bit rushed. We’re plunged straight into this world, bad things start happening, mysterious guy appears and you know, is terribly handsome and distracting, and more bad things happen. Then we have the kidnap, the insane demands, the slightly insane lengths they go to meet said demands, showdown and everybody goes home. I wanted more backstory, I wanted the book to take its time over some things – like Xan. Yes we had backstory for him, and I get that he doesn’t remember some of it, but it felt like we barely scratched the surface. The same with Donna. And I really hope that more is done for that in the next book.

So all in all, I wanted to love this book but found myself struggling not to put it down at times. As I said Donna was the thing that kept me interested, she’s a brilliant character and I do really want to see more and explore more of her in the next book. I’m hoping that as the series continues we get more development which helps the niggles I experienced with this book disappear. But it’s still an intriguing idea that takes the fey myths and ideas in a new direction.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Review: The Dead Travel Fast by Deanna Raybourn

A husband, a family, a comfortable life: Theodora Lestrange lives in terror of it all.
With a modest inheritance and the three gowns that comprise her entire wardrobe, Theodora leaves Edinburgh—and a disappointed suitor—far behind. She is bound for Rumania, where tales of vampires are still whispered, to visit an old friend and write the book that will bring her true independence.
She arrives at a magnificent, decaying castle in the Carpathians, replete with eccentric inhabitants: the ailing dowager; the troubled steward; her own fearful friend, Cosmina. But all are outstripped in dark glamour by the castle's master, Count Andrei Dragulescu.
Bewildering and bewitching in equal measure, the brooding nobleman ignites Theodora's imagination and awakens passions in her that she can neither deny nor conceal. His allure is superlative, his dominion over the superstitious town, absolute—Theodora may simply be one more person under his sway.
Before her sojourn is ended—or her novel completed—Theodora will have encountered things as strange and terrible as they are seductive. For obsession can prove fatal…and she is in danger of falling prey to more than desire.

Oh my, do not read this book at night. Unless you have a baseball bat by your bed in case of emergencies, and possibly a fluffy animal to guard against the big scary things.

I’ve been saving this book for so long now, waiting for when I needed it most as some (albeit terrifying) chicken soup. And I always worry when I save a book specifically, that maybe I’ll it won’t live up to my expectations, but this one most certainly did.

Deanna Raybourn’s classically beautiful prose is in fine form, a beautiful interweaving of a voice so completely pitch perfect for the time period and setting, and an engrossingly brilliant plot that sweeps you up and away with it.

I loved Theodora as a character – such an independent and strong women, completely against the stereotype of the period, with a vivid imagination and a strong sense of self and the world around her. It makes her travels into the terrifying aspects of the castle and its secrets all the more frightening – for a women of high intellect and sound mind to be capable of believing these things, it really shows how hysteria can sweep a person away with it, although she fights with logic every step of the way.

I also loved the Count. Raybourn creates such brilliant heroes, they’re practically anti heroes despite the strong morale code that means they end up protecting our heroines. He’s no tame man waiting for Theodora to command him, he’s dangerous and savage, whilst retaining a cool detached elegance that makes him the most intriguing character to pick apart in the book.
The romances that Raybourn constructs in her work are spot on. They combine the heat of seduction – a glance, a touch – and pair it with some of the most headstrong and feisty men that at first glance don’t seem immediate hero material. Instead of reducing the passion and heat of the romance though, it heightens it, bringing it into a whole new level.

Raybourn has a very brilliant way of making the absolute fantasy seem completely real and terrifying, and then turning it on its head and showing how humans can in some cases be just as terrifying, if not more so, than the myths and legends of wolves and vampires and terrors that walk abroad in the night. It was something that I loved about ‘Silent in the Sanctuary’ – no matter how many times I read that book, knowing full well how it turns out, I still get shivers when I read it. It’s an incredible talent and one that marks Deanna Raybourn up as one of my all-time favourite authors.

Not only that, but you can never truly tell who the villain is until she wants you to know. I love a book that I can’t guess the end after a couple of chapters, and I genuinely had no idea what was going to happen. It makes for a much more satisfying story when you’re left dangling at the author’s whim.

This book didn’t capture me in quite the same way as Deanna Raybourn’s ‘Lady Julia’ series, but it was still an absolutely stunning work, and one that I will come back to again and again. Very, very highly recommended.