Sunday, 31 July 2011

Books I'm Squeeing About in August

So July has contained a huge number of books – a lot of really good finds mixed in with some old favourites. I’m finding I want to revisit a lot of old loves, so you’ll see a lot of reviews for books I want to wax lyrical about why they have an everlasting place in my heart over the coming month.
But onto August! There actually isn’t all that much book wise I’m excited about this month, which is just as well as I have to save all my pennies for ‘Elle and Rosy’s Epic Book Adventure’. It’s going to be awesome…
(Go visit the wonderful Elle at ‘The Book Memoirs’ – she might even give you cookies!)
However, there are also some DVDs that I am jumping up and down about, so they’re being thrown in to the squee pile as well…

NOTE: I’d like to apologise for giving release dates for two books over the last two months that have since been moved. In July, “My Soul to Steal” has since had the UK release date moved back until 21st October. In June I was squeeing about “Stolen Nights” by Rebecca Maizel. This book hasn’t been released anywhere and no where seems to know when it might come out frustratingly. I’m still trying to track it down and will keep you posted on my efforts.

Since the gripping conclusion of Once A Witch, Tamsin Greene has been haunted by her grandmother's prophecy that she will soon be forced to make a crucial decision—one so terrible that it could harm her family forever. When she discovers that her enemy, Alistair Knight, went back in time to Victorian-era New York in order to destroy her family, Tamsin is forced to follow him into the past. Stranded all alone in the nineteenth century, Tamsin soon finds herself disguised as a lady's maid in the terrifying mansion of the evil Knight family, avoiding the watchful eye of the vicious matron, La Spider, and fending off the advances of Liam Knight. As time runs out, both families square off in a thrilling display of magic. And to her horror, Tamsin finally understands the nature of her fateful choice.

Whilst Amazon refuses to give an actual date, copies of this are currently on sale already.
I adored the first book ‘Once a Witch’ and I went straight out and pre-ordered this book as soon as I realized there was going to be a sequel. The first one was a brilliant ‘chicken soup for my soul’ book with a family who all have magical talents (guaranteed way to make me squee) and time travel and yummy boy. And now there’s a whole new book filled with more of this! What more could one want?!

Legendary director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, Leon) transports us to the wild days of early 20th-century Paris, where feisty young writer Adele Blanc-Sec embarks on thrilling missions to find exciting material for her book and a cure for her sick sister.  She sails to Egypt to raid a tomb that supposedly hides the cure, but what will she do when an army of resurrected mummies get in the way?  Back in Paris she finds the city in chaos after a 136 million-year old pterodactyl egg mysteriously hatches.  Adele realises she is the only one game enough to take control of the prehistoric bird.  

This blurb does nothing to capture the sheer brilliance of this film. It’s genius I tell you – GENIUS. Although you have to have a sense of humour to watch it. 
I went to see it one afternoon at the local ye olde cinema – based purely on the title and the trailer – click here to watch.
It’s insane. There’s a pterodactyl. There’s the most brilliantly capable heroine I have EVER MET. It’s like steampunk, but not quite, and it’s French, and it’s brilliant. I can’t even explain more than that. Just watch it. Oh – word of warning, as I said, it is in French, so this is in the original language with subtitles.

Regular readers of this blog will now I have an undying love for the Vampire Diaries. Need proof? Go to the TV shows I’ve Reviewed and catch up on the delights of the second season. And now it’s coming out on DVD so I can re-watch it all over again.

Victor and Konrad are the twin brothers Frankenstein. They are nearly inseparable. Growing up, their lives are filled with imaginary adventures...until the day their adventures turn all too real. They stumble upon The Dark Library, and secret books of alchemy and ancient remedies are discovered. Father forbids that they ever enter the room again, but this only piques Victor's curiosity more. When Konrad falls gravely ill, Victor is not satisfied with the various doctors his parents have called in to help. He is drawn back to The Dark Library where he uncovers an ancient formula for the Elixir of Life. With their friend Elizabeth, Henry and Victor immediately set out to find assistance from a man who was once known for his alchemical works to help create the formula. Determination and the unthinkable outcome of losing his brother spur Victor on in the quest for the three ingredients that will save Konrad's life. After scaling the highest trees in the Strumwald, diving into the deepest lake caves, and sacrificing one’s own body part, the three fearless friends risk their lives to save another.

I hadn’t even read the blurb until writing this. This was one of those books that I saw the title and cover and immediately wanted it. I didn’t even care what it said on the blurb, I just wanted it – and I am so glad that it’s nearly release day! After reading the blurb I’m even more excited, and I just hope that it’s not too difficult to get hold of in the UK!

Fifteen-year-old Bridget Liu just wants to be left alone: by her mom, by the cute son of a local police sergeant, and by the eerie voices she can suddenly and inexplicably hear. Unfortunately for Bridget, it turns out the voices are demons – and Bridget has the rare ability to banish them back to whatever hell they came from. Terrified to tell people about her new power, Bridget confides in a local priest who enlists her help in increasingly dangerous cases of demonic possession. But just as she is starting to come to terms with her new power, Bridget receives a startling message from one of the demons. Now Bridget must unlock the secret to the demons' plan before someone close to her winds up dead – or worse, the human vessel of a demon king.

Ah just look at that cover! And that blurb! I’m a sucker for people with quirky cool powers – whether they’re on their own or at a school for talented. I’m also liking how authors are branching out and playing with everything under the umbrella of fantasy, rather than sticking with vampires and werewolves. Demons! Voices! Yay!

Most can't touch the power. But Liv Warren is special – a paranormal tracker who follows the scent of blood. Liv makes her own rules, and the most important one is trust no one. But when her friend's daughter goes missing, Liv has no choice but to find the girl. Thanks to a childhood oath, Liv can't rest until the child is home safe. But that means trusting Cam Caballero, the former lover forbidden to her. Bound by oath and lost in desire for a man she cannot have, Liv is racing to save the child from a dark criminal underworld where secrets, lies, trauma and danger lurk around every corner...every touch...every kiss.And more blood will be spilled before it's over..

I love Rachel Vincent’s writing, and this new book blurb just reinforces that. Like I was saying earlier, any author who branches out and looks at new ideas under the fantasy umbrella has my vote, and I know that with Rachel Vincent I’m going to have a nerve frayingly tense book that will have me up all night. And some yummy boys thrown in just to make everything fab.

Jane Boyle married her prince charming and moved into his upper east side castle—but she didn’t get her fairy-tale ending
It’s hard to live happily ever after when you discover your demanding and controlling mother-in-law is literally a witch, determined to steal the magical powers you didn’t even know you had. Jane narrowly avoided Lynne Doran’s clutches when she escaped on her wedding day, and has been hiding out in New York City. But she can’t hide forever. When Jane learns of the one thing Lynne wants most, she sets out to provide it, hoping her good turn will persuade her mother-in-law to stop hunting her. Unfortunately, Jane’s daring plan will send her right back into the witches’ den—the Doran clan’s multistory town house on Park Avenue. But thanks to a tricky spell, blond architect Jane will be transformed into Ella, a dark beauty with a whole new look . . . and all of Jane’s budding powers. Though the stakes are life or death, nobody said “Ella” couldn’t have a little fun along the way, too.

I wasn’t completely convinced by the first book in the series “666 Park Avenue” but it was good enough that I wanted to see what happened in the next book. The last book took a long time to get going, and I’m hoping that now Pierce has found her stride this book will be a blast of awesome all the way through instead of just at the end. Here’s to hoping.

Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead.
So did his father before him, until he was gruesomely murdered by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father's mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead—keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay.

When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn't expect anything outside of the ordinary: track, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he's never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, now stained red and dripping with blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home.
But she, for whatever reason, spares Cas's life.

I’ve heard a lot of good things about this book, and that blurb is enough to have me completely intrigued. I don’t know much else other than the blurb and the pretty cover, but it’d enough to have me wanting a copy to see if it lives up to all the hype I’ve heard. Also, any book that gives me a male voice and character as my in has my vote. There are so many books told by girl characters, that it’s a refreshing change to see one for the boys.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Review: Secret Society Girl by Diana Peterfreund

Elite Eli University junior Amy Haskel never expected to be tapped into Rose & Grave, the country’s most powerful—and notorious—secret society. She isn’t rich, politically connected, or…well, male. 
So when Amy receives the distinctive black-lined invitation with the Rose & Grave seal, she’s blown away. Could they really mean her? 
Whisked off into an initiation rite that’s a blend of Harry Potter and Alfred Hitchcock, Amy awakens the next day to a new reality and a whole new set of “friends”—from the gorgeous son of a conservative governor to an Afrocentric lesbian activist whose society name is Thorndike. And that’s when Amy starts to discover the truth about getting what you wish for. Because Rose & Grave is quickly taking her away from her familiar world of classes and keggers, fuelling a feud, and undermining a very promising friendship with benefits. And that’s before Amy finds out that her first duty as a member of Rose & Grave is to take on a conspiracy of money and power that could, quite possibly, ruin her whole life.
A smart, sexy introduction to the life and times of a young woman in way over her head, Secret Society Girl is a charming and witty debut from a writer who knows her turf—and isn’t afraid to tell all....

Due to this book being ridiculously late showing up, I was quite grumpy with it. I put it in my to read pile and refused to look at it again. Until later that night when I couldn’t sleep and I was bored, and there’s only so much Wuthering Heights you can read in one go without wanting to top yourself.

So I picked up this. And then I didn’t even try to go to sleep.

I adored this book. I’m in the mood for non-fantasy young adult/adult with funky twists at the moment. See ‘Heist Society’ and ‘Witches of the East’ and this slots right in there and makes itself at home.
I mean secret societies?! Crazy initiation rights? Brilliantly witty characters? Hunky guys? What more could you possibly want??!

The first few pages I really couldn’t care less about Amy. She didn’t leap out and grab me, I didn’t know enough about her or her situation to really care, and I had no real reason to keep reading. But you do crazy things when you’re sleep deprived, so I kept reading. And boy am I glad that I did. Once the story gets going (it only takes a couple of chapters to do so, it’s not a long wait) it really draws you in and I found myself tearing through the book desperate to find out more.

I ended up loving Amy. Once Peterfreund settles down into the character I really got on well with her. She’s smart, she’s funny, and she rarely seems to think before she opens her mouth. She almost always has a come back or a sarcastic comment, and I loved it – possibly because she reminds me of me…
Reading other people’s comments on the book Amy seems to split people, they either love her or hate her, and I guess that might be partly on your sense of humour. If you like the sarcastic and witty, you’ll probably get on great with Amy.

The idea of secret societies is completely alien to me – why does England not have anything funky like this? Actually we might do, but I didn’t go to the type of university that has cool legacies – I went to the type where initiation means drunk rugby guys running stark naked up the drive and jumping in the lake…

So this concept was completely crazy to me, but I loved it. The only thing I didn’t like was some of the initiation. The boys were absolutely horrible to Amy, and even though they did apologize afterwards, that scene took it a little too far for me. To the point that if they got any worse I probably would have put the book down. Sorry but having the main character scared out of her mind by a load of guys doing it for fun is not my idea of a good time. So yeah, that scene, really not my cup of tea, but once we got past that it was all good – although I never really liked a lot of the guys after that.

One downside was that this book never moved past the initiation and the ‘big conflict’ so we didn’t really get to see some of normal society life – something I’m hoping to see more of in the next book.

I liked a lot of the secondary characters, but some of them either didn’t seem fully formed or wound me up the wrong way. I loved Brandon. I want to take him home. I want to love him better. I may make a tshirt saying all these things. He is my baby.

However, Lydia really didn’t do it for me. I don’t like it when books set up friends but only show them from the point of conflict, whilst on the other hand saying ‘oh but they’re best friends!’ If I never see any evidence of this, I don’t believe they could be – they just come off as being a bitch. And Lydia never really got past annoying roommate for me. There just wasn’t enough of her when she wasn’t storming off and being a bum.

I liked a lot of the other Rose & Grave members but didn’t feel like I got to know enough about them to really form an attachment. They just fell into loud stereotypes, which was a shame because Amy and Brandon are so brilliantly constructed, it felt a bit like Peterfreund couldn’t be arsed with the secondaries.

And then there’s Malcolm. I loved him, but I didn’t believe him. His sexual orientation seemed almost thrown in as a clever plot device – but it wasn’t particularly ground breaking and it wasn’t believable. A little more character development and it would have been.

And then we get to the big conflict. It was good, it hauled the plot along by its arse and kept everything on tenterhooks. I wanted to scream at the injustice of it all a lot longer before Amy did, and it gave a good catalyst not only for this book but for the entire series.

So in all, I really enjoyed the book. Yes there were some irritations, and some underdeveloped characters, but I’m hoping some of that might be resolved in the second book ‘Under the Rose’ which I already picked up and have started… What can I say? It’s like there’s crack sprinkled between the pages – these books are addictive! 

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Review: Heist Society by Ally Carter

When Katarina Bishop was three, her parents took her to the case it. For her seventh birthday, Katarina and her Uncle Eddie travelled to steal the crown jewels. When Kat turned fifteen, she planned a con of her own—scamming her way into the best boarding school in the country, determined to leave the family business behind. Unfortunately, leaving "the life" for a normal life proves harder than she'd expected.
Soon, Kat's friend and former co-conspirator, Hale, appears out of nowhere to bring her back into the world she tried so hard to escape. But he has good reason: a powerful mobster's art collection has been stolen, and he wants it returned. Only a master thief could have pulled this job, and Kat’s father isn’t just on the suspect list, he is the list. Caught between Interpol and a far more deadly enemy, Kat’s dad needs her help.

For Kat there is only one solution: track down the paintings and steal them back. So what if it’s a spectacularly impossible job? She’s got two weeks, a teenage crew, and hopefully just enough talent to pull off the biggest heist in her family’s (very crooked) history—and, with any luck, steal her life back along the way.

This book was even better than the Gallagher Girls series for me – and I love that series. This book is, quite simply, in a league of its own.
The characters are brilliant – there wasn’t a single one that I didn’t gel with – but then again I am a complete sucker for con’s – be it in books, tv or films. There’s something ridiculously thrilling about a team being put together, the plans, the plotting, the highs, the lows, the genius that I can only dream of. And the hot boys – there are always hot boys.

And the sexual tensions is swoon worthy. I mean seriously, so many books these days don’t draw out the S.T for very long – it feels like they’re almost afraid of the reader not being interested unless there is making out right now. And I am totally a fan of making out with swoonworthy boys, but there is something about the subtle looks and touches, the moments where they might and then they don’t – it draws you out like a violin string and makes you shiver, because everything becomes so much more intimate and every movement is filled with that much more meaning than it would if they just made out.

The thing that makes this book so brilliant though, is the thought, time and planning that go into the heist. This isn’t just a bunch of kids getting away with something so far-fetched you can’t believe it. Carter knows her stuff – hell she could be a con woman herself her detailing and plans are that good. It’s part fab young adult fiction and part handbook on how to case a joint. Not that I’m recommending you try that – but if I ever did, I’d want this book to come up with a battle plan.
I loved all the names for the different types of cons – particularly the nod to the Princess Bride. “Do you know where we can get a six fingered man at short notice?”

And Kat herself, she’s brilliant. When I grow up I want to be her. She’s a genius, she’s a thief, and she’s one of the sassiest and smartest girls I’ve read in a book in a long time. But she’s not all super brains and perfect – she has her doubts, her worries, her moments of jealousy and insecurity, and most of all she is not super perfect  because she does things that show that she’s out of practice, that show she’s not quite on par with how she used to be.
And I really want to see her how she used to be…

My only complaint was that in a few places it was all too rushed or there wasn’t enough information given for me to fully know what was happening. This only really bugged me when the characters had an ‘ohhhh’ moment, and didn’t let me in on it. They’d let me in in the next chapter or section, but for those brief moments I’d feel like I’d missed something, and frantically re-read the passage before it to work out if I was just being particularly dense.

On the whole though, I completely loved this book. It was just what I needed, and I’m desperate to get my hands on the sequel which has just come out – ‘Uncommon Criminals’.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Review: Witches of the East by Melissa De La Cruz

(American Title: Witches of the East End)
Very mild spoilers contained below. Nothing major though.

It’s the beginning of summer in North Hampton, and beautiful Freya Beauchamp is celebrating her engagement to wealthy Bran Gardiner, the heir to Fair Haven and Gardiners Island. But Freya is drawn to Bran’s gorgeous but unreliable brother Killian, and sparks fly when the two decide to play a dangerous game, following an ancient story of love, betrayal and tragedy that harks back to the days of Valhalla. 
Witches of East End follows the Beauchamp family—the formidable matriarch Joanna and her daughters Freya and Ingrid. Freya, a sexy bartender, has a potion to cure every kind of heartache, while Ingrid, the local librarian, solves complicated domestic problems with her ability to tie magical knots. Joanna is the witch to see when modern medicine has no more answers; her powers can wake the dead. Everything seems to be going smoothly until a young girl, Molly Lancaster, goes missing after taking one of Freya’s irresistible cocktails. As more of the town’s residents begin disappearing, everyone seems to have the same suspects in mind: the Beauchamp women. 

I had certain expectations of this book after reading the blurb on the book (different to the blurb I’ve included) – it looked like it would be good, but more of a summer read rather than anything my jaw dropped over. I was so completely wrong, the blurb really doesn’t do the book justice.

I liked De La Cruz’s young adult series ‘Blue Bloods’ although it’s been a while and a few new books since I last read some of it, and as a first adult offering I thought the book was a brilliant cross over. It tackled older characters, a lot more sex, and some intriguing themes that I wasn’t expecting, and the whole thing was just so much more than I’d been anticipated. It was like thick bread and soup rather than a salad.

The prologue offers an intriguing start, slow and quiet, but intriguing nonetheless and serves as a brilliant hook. Once we’re into the main body of the novel it does take its sweet time – but I like it when an author does that. I want to get to know the characters, I want to care about them so that when everything kicks off later on, I worry and shriek over them.

And the characters are really well constructed – everyone slots in, everyone has a place – and I loved that small town element of the book. I really cared about each of the three girls, no favourites here – although I will admit to being swayed over Freya getting to spend more time with Killian… What can I say, it’s the leather jackets!

And oh good lord the sheer amount of mythology and historical interweaving. I love the Salem ties, and the Norse mythology was brilliantly interwoven. My only complaint was that a lot of the Norse stuff came in very late in the story. That did up the ante and really race the book along to its conclusion, but it tended to be a little overwhelming too, so I had to re-read a few passages to make sure I was fully up to speed.

However, that was only a minor gripe. It reminded me a lot of ‘The Crucible’ by Arthur Miller – the closed off feeling of the town, the slow build and suffocation of it all. But I also liked the differences – the well wishes and love sent by the townsfolk.  It really felt a little bit like a modern day crucible.
So yes, all in all I loved it. I would have liked a little more of a lead up to the mythology that came crashing in at the end, but it’s all set up brilliantly for a sequel which I am eagerly anticipating.
I highly recommend it, and was pleasantly surprised by the layers and depth I found reading it. Definitely a series to watch out for.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Film Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

This was by far my favourite, and in my estimation, the best Harry Potter film in the entire series. Part 1 was a pretty close contest, but whilst the calm before the storm is good, there’s nothing like the actual battle.
I went along with the midnight crowd, I cried, I cheered, and I mourned when it was over.
I then went back the next day and watched it again, this time making notes. SO below you’ll find my review and thoughts on the film, each of the major scenes that stood out for me has been broken down with a rough track listing for those who want to know where the tracks come in the film.


Sunday, 17 July 2011

Review: California Dreamers by Belinda Jones

Ever wished you could make over your life? Make-up artist Stella is an expert at helping other people change their images, but when it comes to transforming herself, she doesn’t even know where to start.
So when her new friend, glamorous Hollywood actress Marina Ray, summons her to a movie set in California, Stella can’t resist the chance to start afresh – it is the land of sunshine and opportunity after all!
But are they really friends or does Marina have an ulterior motive? What is the secret that both women are hiding about the nautical (but nice) men in their lives? And just what will it take to make both of their California dreams come true?

I really loved this book. Not all of Belinda Jones’ strike the right chord with me, but her last few have definitely hit the mark. You can guarantee that there will be a far off sunshine filled world, full of  swoon-worthy romance, and at least one sexy bloke to top it all off.
It’s my summer guilty pleasure, a little break away from the regency romance I so love.

Whilst her name made me cringe, I loved the heroine Stella – and the transformation came about naturally instead of being crow barred in which was good. I really wanted her to win, and genuinely cared what happened to her.
However Marina was a bit hit and miss with me. I loved her to start with, and then the further we got the more ruthless and uncaring she seemed. So by the end I wasn’t quite sure about her. Which was a shame, because as I said I really liked her character to start with – a bubbly down to earth, approachable person. And a perfect rocket to get behind Stella’s transformation.

Milo, oh Milo, I could wax lyrical about you for days.
This is one gripe I do have with some of Jones’ books. Sometimes the really sexy guy who you spend the entire novel swooning over doesn’t end up being the hero. It ends up being someone who was absent for most of the book but held our heroine’s heart from afar. Now don’t get me wrong I love love overcoming all obstacles, but when I haven’t really had an opportunity to warm to the guy who is her true love, and I’ve spent the entire novel swooning over the distraction guy, I get a little grumpy. I want swooning with true love! If distraction guy is nothing but a distraction I want less swooning! Did that make any sense at all?

And whilst I adored the Milo at the start, the Milo by the end of the book was really getting on my nerves. Again like Marina he seemed to undergo a personality change part way through. He stopped being sexy and turned into leery. Which was disappointing.

However, whilst I did have gripes, they were in no way off putting. I loved the book – the sun, the sea, the sassy and the sexy. It’s all there. There’s even a brief cameo for Carmen, heroine of ‘Livin La Vida Loca’ (insert cheer here.)

So, overall a few gripes, but true love wins out which is fab, and I really did enjoy it. Belinda Jones is exceptionally good at taking her readers to these far off places and giving them a mental if not physical, break from the rainy summer we’re experiencing in the UK. And the setting is truly phenomenal – actually every setting was. I loved it! And I loved the history that Jones slots in. Her books are never just fluff, they deal with real human emotions, real people, but without the angst that sometimes comes with that. You get enough fluff to make it ok, and you know that the heroine will get her happily ever after and find herself no matter how pants her starting point is.

The secondary characters are a mix of stereotypes, but a lot of them have untapped layers which emerge over the course of the book, so there’s always some extra drama and revelations along the way, so there’s never a dull moment!

A fresh beach read, that I will no doubt come back to – and I eagerly wait for the next summer and my next sun drenched adventure.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Harry Potter Book Giveaway


Entries were drawn randomly out of a hat and the winning entry is Anonymous - Goblet of Fire.

Please would the entrant email me with their address so I can get your copy posted to you.

Thank you to all who entered, and I'm sorry if you didn't win. I'll be having another give away soon!

So as some of you may have gathered, it all ends on Friday...
And to celebrate I'm in the mood to do a Harry Potter book give away.

All you need to do is comment below and tell me which of the books is your favourite and why. I'll draw at random and the winner gets a copy of their favourite Harry Potter book.

This give away is open to the UK and the USA.

You have until the clock strikes midnight on Friday and millions all over the UK ring in Friday 15th by watching the final film.

As always it's good if you're a follower of my blog but not essential - the winner will be picked at random.

Good luck!

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part2 - Soundtrack Review/Ramblings

This is insane. It’s almost three in the morning, and I’m sat on my bed in floods of tears listening to the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 soundtrack. If I’m like this over the music heaven help me (and whoever I drag with me to see it) when I actually put the film to the music.

I started looking at all the promo posters for this whilst I listened (because let’s face it, I’m a sucker for punishment.) and tried to work out why this was upsetting me quite so much. Yes ok there’s the obvious ‘it’s the end of an era’ line of thought – and that’s particularly true for me and everyone in my year group. Everyone has grown up with Harry Potter to a certain extent, but I wear my badge proudly of being the same age as Harry when the books were released. I read him getting his letter for Hogwarts and spent day after day waiting for mine. I graduated just as he was busy defeating the dark lord. And I think that’s one of the reasons why I found the epilogue so upsetting – because suddenly Harry had gone on. He was grown up, he had a wife and children, and he’d left me behind.

But I digress – we were talking about the final film.
I think partly why I’m finding it so difficult to find the end so near, is because I, like so many others around the world, decided to give the books a last re-read before seeing the final film. And currently I’m at the beginning (well, second year) and there’s something about having baby Harry and co in the book and seeing these posters of them all looking devastated and broken and bloody and so completely exhausted, and it really reminds you that they are just children. They are the same age as when most people do A Levels, and they’re on the run, staging guerrilla attacks and trying to bring down the baddy of the century because the grown-ups seem incapable.

And there’s something so completely heart breaking putting these two together in a way that I haven’t truly appreciated before.
It started to get me in that fabulously awkward yet completely endearing scene in Part 1 where Harry pulls Hermione up to dance in the tent and the most fitting song is playing ‘Oh Children’ by Nick Cave. And I just want to cry because that song is just so perfect for them. So yeah, good choice people.

Desplat has brought something new and exciting to the table of HP soundtracks with his scores for parts one and two. There have been elements that I've loved of all of the soundtracks, but these final two are really taking it further for me. He's got the epic battles, but he's incorporated in a lot of previous themes - Hedwigs, elements of the Weasley's - but also included new ideas as well. There's a lot of battle music included, and he's really gone to town with the drums - just listen to 'Courtyard Apocolypse' and that fabulous beat to get it started. And actually this is a good track to talk about because it starts off so slow, so mournful and just builds until you feel as though it might break you apart inside. It's a slower version of the same theme you find in 'statues' and they both evoke such a fabulous mental image of them going off to fight - all the statues that McGonagall wakes up and sends off to defend Hogwarts. Ooo Shivers.

I want to break down a couple of the tracks in a little more detail, and they're ones that immediately stood out on the first listen.

Lily's Theme (track 1)
It's strange, I can hear a little bit of Billy Boyd's 'Through Mist and Shadow' from the Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King, and a little bit of some of Pirates of the Caribbean. (This motif is actually one that gets repeated later on in 'Snape's Demise' and I love the added layers to the Snape tracks that link it back to Lily.)
 This piece is really haunting, a lot more so than I've come to expect from Potter, so it really sets the tone for the whole soundtrack.
It also is a nice salute to 'Obliviate' the opener for the Part 1 soundtrack - which had me crying within the first five minutes of the film - although it has less of the urgency that came with that.
It's got a long slow strings opener, nice and dark, and then that beautiful voice coming in over the top. It doesn't build quickly, it takes its time, and uses very little else other than that voice. It does a beautiful job of being dark, haunting, and brings across the whole idea of her ghost, the young woman she was that Harry never knew and we see later through Snape's memories.
The strings come in and repeat the theme with a lot more energy, which is still very beautiful, but nothing quite compares to the voice opening. And then we finish with the strings bringing in that quick motif that was used in 'Obliviate' and again in many of the pieces throughout. It sets it up nicely for the rest of the soundtrack - it's a bit edgier, very mournful and really sets the tone.

Statues (track 9)
This is what I'm going to call the 'battle theme'. It's used in quite a few of the other tracks, either in full or just a few bars, and it's a really fab piece of music.
First off, the title gives us the clue where it's going to be used, and I cannot wait to see McGonagall's statues heading off to defend the castle.
It starts with the strings and the drums, a very insistent repetitive pattern that really gets into your head, and then layers everything over the top, the woodwind joining in, each section coming in one after the other until what started as a battle march has melded into this beautiful piece - almost as more people are drawn into it, and come to fight. 
At its peak we get a fabulous moment with the drums and a trumpet, everything about this soundtrack is mournful as well as being beautiful, and this captures that and brings it into this track. It then drops and we have the strings bring a darker element, a slight variation on the initial battle theme, quieter but no less insistent. Followed by a really beautiful, slightly slower repeat of the battle theme until the end.

Battlefield (track 12)
This one gets me because it uses the Weasley twins music to kick start the piece. A very exciting strings build to kick it off and then everything pauses for a moment for the drums and then everything just kicks off into this really urgent piece - far more so than anything else we've had so far. The strings set the tempo and the brass weave in around it and it really is just so exciting and fast paced that you can almost feel everything going on around you. It's a lot busier, where statues was quite focused this is all over the place whilst being quite contained if that makes any sense...
You get a lone trumpet calling out and then a lull before the strings really pick it up again. Everything just builds and builds and then it all goes quiet. It's quite a frustrating end to the piece, and I wonder how it ends in the film. This one just really carries on that momentum that was gained in statues and you feel as though you're right in the action - and as I said, the Weasley twins theme just makes me want to cry, but I love that it's there.

Courtyard Apocalypse (track 15)
This uses the battle theme again, and it's very similar at first to statues. The drum goes on a lot longer at the start, and the whole is very much slower - it feels like the scene is going to be a lot of slow motion, blood, curses, and tears as lots of people die...
It's a much heavier drum beat, and as I said much slower, and then the strings come in again and we have a repeat of statues but there's none of the vibrancy and excitement over the battle this time. It feels as though the true devastation is starting to creep in, and we get an overlay of strings instead of the woodwind to start with. The violins provide a haunting rendition of the main 'theme' and it isn't until almost two thirds through the track that the brass really comes in underneath to give that extra boost to the bass thrumming through the piece. It's a very sad solemn piece, but I love it because it takes that initial battle theme that was initiated in statues and changes it into this dark piece that is so devastating rather the energetic. 

There are some other really fabulous pieces, but if I went through all of them I'd most likely bore you to tears, so I've just picked out those as a few of my favourites.

Whilst you don't have the continuation that I like in CD's with something like this where they're taking out key elements and making them into individual tracks, you still get a nice build of emotion as the journey progresses from what I can only assume is the opener 'Lily's Theme' to the beautiful close 'A New Beginning' which is, quite frankly, perfect.
On a re-read of the book, I really hope this is used either in the epilogue or when the sun rises and Voldemort is finally defeated. Either suit this piece perfectly.

Desplat knows how to work his orchestra, and virtually every instrument gets its moment throughout. The strings in particular work exceptionally hard and create a lot of the more stirring or mournful moments. But you get woodwind coming in right behind, and the drums are just crazy.

There are some tracks that I'm not that fussed on, and given their titles I'm really upset that they're not better. I really don't like any of Neville's pieces, which is tragic because Matt Lewis/Neville are (you can tell) going to be epic in this finale, and I really wanted something epic to show him off. Although as I listen to 'Neville the Hero' again, there are elements that start to grow on me, and I can see it working, but I'm curious to see how the music works with the film.

However, the more I listen to the soundtrack as a whole, the more I come to like the pieces that I initially wasn't that fussed on. It's definitely something that grows on you. But some tracks immediately leap out at you as being truly exceptional - I've listed them with links below.

And you get a wide variety on show here, not just of Desplat's incredible prowess, but the incorporation of older themes - the quiet melancholy pieces in the soundtrack like ‘Lily’s Theme’ and ‘Harry’s Sacrifice’ where you get strains of his earlier themes, including in 'Snape's Demise' a slow moment of Hedwig's theme. And also some of the bigger ones like ‘Battlefield’ where you can hear slight elements of the various Weasley themes we’ve had over the years – and it just makes me think of all of them racing off to the end, no matter the consequences, and how fiercly they all fight. Some for love, some because it’s what they’ve been waiting for, and some laughing because it’s the best game in the world. And it breaks me.

So I guess what I’m trying to do in a round about sort of way is first off to say oh good lord this soundtrack is brilliant, and that’s without seeing the film, and I find that to be a mark of a really great soundtrack if I like it before the film. So if you haven’t had chance to listen to it, go forth. Pretty much all of it is good, but I highly recommend (because they make me cry and get goosebumps) ‘Lily’s Theme’, ‘Statues’,  ‘Battlefield’, ‘Courtyard Apocalypse’ , ‘Harry Surrenders’,  and ‘A New Beginning.’

It feels like a fitting send off and tribute to Harry but also to Hogwarts and the whole world. I've always loved Deathly Hallows because all this build up and tension and Harry refusing to let anyone else take some of the burden is broken down, and everyone gets a chance to fight for what they love and what they want to protect, and I think some of the tracks really reflect that beautifully.

But it’s not just about the soundtrack. I’ll do a later post  with a review of the film, and when I have finished re-reading the books I’ll do a review post of all of those as well. This is more of a warm up. A start to the goodbye which will actually be a really difficult one for a lot of people, including me, even though we have the films and the books to go back to. There is no more though, it’s a close of a chapter, and a lot of people are starting to feel that all over again now that the films are coming to an end.

So thank you for listening to my ramblings, my musings on the soundtrack and how many packets of tissues I may need to take to the film with me. How many packets are you taking? What are you most looking forward to seeing? And what do you think is going to make you cry the most?... 

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Review: Graveminder by Melissa Marr

When Rebekkah returns to her small-town home for her beloved Grandmother’s funeral, little does she suspect that she is about to inherit a darkly dangerous family duty on behalf of Claysville’s most demanding residents – the dead.
Everyone in Claysville knows that the Barrows are no ordinary family, but no one can really explain why. When respected matriarch Maylene Barrow dies suddenly her granddaughter Rebekkah returns to the small town she grew up in, where she must face the demons of her past – the suicide of her half-sister Ella, the person she was closest to in the world, and the subsequent break-up of her parents’ marriage. And she also re-encounters Byron, Ella’s old boyfriend, someone to whom she has always felt a deep and mysterious connection.
But the demons of the past are nothing compared with what the future has in store for Rebekkah. Her grandmother has left her an inheritance both wonderful and terrible. An onerous responsibility now rests on her shoulders – one for which she is ill-prepared to say the least.
For behind Claysville’s community-spirited, small-town facade lies a dark secret. One that ties Rebekkah and Byron together in an inextricable bond, and that will require them both to sacrifice everything to keep their friends and neighbours from harm.

Oh my gosh this book was amazing. I love Melissa Marr’s ‘Wicked Lovely’ series, and it was based on that alone that this book was on my wishlist – but after finishing it at some ungodly hour this morning I am oh so glad it was.

The novel walks a brilliantly fine edge between small town American life and horror movie, and strikes just the right balance. There is an underlying tension throughout, and a few nerve wracking moments where I jumped at any noise whilst I was reading, but it’s offset by this cosy small town life where nothing bad could ever happen. It’s equal parts disturbing and comforting.

And the further into the story you get the more the unnerving the contract gets. Never able to leave? You have to apply for permission to have a baby? These things seemed even more weird than the dead rising thing…
And I loved how the dead were dealt with. This isn’t your average ‘hey there are zombies!’ book. It takes the idea of the dead coming back and develops a whole new myth and set of rules for them, and this is where some of Marr’s genius shines through. As with the ‘Wicked Lovely’ series, the world and rule building is her strongest point, and I love watching to see how she tackles something new with this book.

And back to the small town life – I love things like this where small towns have founding families and the same roles are passed down generation to generation. I don’t know why I love it, but I do, so it was great to see that used to very great effect here.

The first half of the novel took its time to set up and get going but it in no way dragged – it was nice to take the time to set the scene and get to know the characters before everyone was plunged into the meat of the story. And once it got going – oh good lord it was fabulous. I loved everything about the ‘land of the dead’ and I wanted more of it. It was fascinating to see how Marr had imagined it, the different characters, the rivalries and bids for power and one up man ship between Charles and Alicia. As I said though, I wanted more! One of my favourite scenes had to be when Alicia and Byron first meet each other – fab!

The novel utilises lots of different narrators to take the story on further, which was a neat way to introduce us to more of the townsfolk and get to know some of them a little bit, and also kept the story moving at a good pace. It kept the tension high when one character is off doing something exciting and we skipped off to find out what someone else was doing, but because I was intrigued by every plot line and every character I didn’t find that annoying, which was a bonus because sometimes skipping off in the middle of big things can be a sure fire way to get me irritated with a book.

I also loved how Marr used a character who was dead by the start of the first chapter to propel the story along. Maylene may not have physically been there for most of the book, but she was a vital part through memories, diaries, letters and simply her absence. I love it when an author uses a character who isn’t present just as effectively as a character who is – and Maylene is definitely one of my favourites. She was just such a perfect grandmotherly type, and such a good contrast against the other characters. Actually all the characters were brilliantly written and used, and I loved noting the differences between Marr’s young adult work and this her first adult novel.

And in an age where every book seems to be part of a series it was nice to have a standalone book. If there ever is a sequel I’d love to read it, but the way everything finishes left me satisfied – enough questions left unanswered that I didn’t feel it had all been solved too neatly, but enough tied that I wasn’t frustrated.

So all in all I loved it. It was great writing, a fabulous plot and really well drawn characters. And enough action and sparkling wit to keep it light and moving along briskly. ‘Graveminder’ quickly established itself as a favourite before I was even half way through, and I can guarantee that this is a book I will come back to time and time again. If you’re looking for something a bit different and haven’t got time to deal with a whole big saga of story, ‘Graveminder’ is a brilliant read with a mix of everything to keep you interested.