Monday, 29 August 2011

Review: Every Other Day by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Release Date: 27th December 2011
Publisher: Egmont USA
Every other day, Kali D'Angelo is a normal sixteen-year-old girl. She goes to public high school. She attends pep rallies. She's human.
And then every day in between she's something else entirely…
Though she still looks like herself, every twenty-four hours predatory instincts take over and Kali becomes a feared demon-hunter with the undeniable urge to hunt, trap, and kill zombies, hellhounds, and other supernatural creatures. Kali has no idea why she is the way she is, but she gives in to instinct anyway – even though the government considers it environmental terrorism.
When Kali notices a mark on the lower back of a popular girl at school, she knows instantly that the girl is marked for death by one of these creatures. Kali has twenty-four hours to save her and, unfortunately, she'll have to do it as a human. With the help of a few new friends, Kali takes a risk that her human body might not survive… And learns the secrets of her mysterious condition in the process.

Um, how has no one pointed me in the direction of Jennifer Lynn Barnes before? This woman is GENIUS. Yes, she deserves the capitals.
This book completely blindsided me – I stumbled across it completely randomly and was hooked from the first page.
The writing is excellent, the humour fantastic and I frequently embarrassed myself in public by laughing out loud at the sheer brilliance of some of the one liners.

The plot is a fantastic spin on Jekyll and Hyde, and was so fresh and original that I was practically jumping for joy throughout. However, about three quarters of the way through there’s a twist that suddenly brought it back into the realms of usual young adult plots, and I was a little bit disappointed. However, that slight set back didn’t ruin the overall enjoyment of the book, and I think it was more the shock of suddenly plunging back into something I thought this book avoided than it being bad exactly. I want to go back and have a re-read because I think being prepared for it will make it less of a jolt. If that made any sense…

Kali is a fabulous heroine, strong, independent, and with a brilliant sense of humour, and the cast of characters that accompany her are equally well constructed. It’s rare to find a book where every female character is so awesome. I would quite happily read the Skylar story, or the Bethany story, as much as I enjoyed reading the Kali story. In fact my only real complaint would be that I wanted more.

Whilst I can do a lot of jumping up and down and squeeing and waving this book at you and demanding  that this has to be your final read of the year, I can’t really say more without spoiling it. And there’s so much I want to talk about regarding it that I’m going to do a full review once the book has been released on the 27th December 2011.

If you like Cassandra Clare, Holly Black or Sarah Rees Brennan, this is a must have read. Brilliant plot, fantastic world building and snarky strong females galore, this is going to be one of my reads of the year.

You can pre-order your copy of 'Every Other Day' on Amazon here.

Books I'm Squeeing About in September

How is it September already? Seriously, how has this happened? On the plus side, August was freaking awesome. Elle from ‘The Book Memoirs’ met up with me when I went up to Edinburgh and we had an epic day of shows, giggles, massive amounts of chocolate, and of course books. At the end of ‘Squees in September’ I’ll do a brief cover over the books I picked up in Edinburgh that I am unbelievably excited about. And now, onto September!

It’s not just books this month, it’s TV too…
Yes that’s right, The Vampire Diaries Season 3 starts on Thursday 15th September and it looks like it’s going to be epic…

Episode 1 – The Birthday
On the morning of Elena’s 18th birthday, Caroline is busy planning a party, but Elena is focused on searching for any clues that might help her discover where Stefan is. 
Damon is also searching for Stefan, while trying to protect Elena and keep her from doing anything that would draw Klaus’ attention.
Meanwhile, Klaus and Stefan are busy trailing a werewolf named Ray Sutton. Now working at the Mystic Grill along with Matt, Jeremy is struggling to understand why he keeps seeing the ghosts of Vicki and Anna since he was brought back to life by Bonnie’s magic. Meanwhile, Alaric does his best to watch over Elena and Jeremy, while dealing with his grief over Jenna’s death.
Finally, Caroline and Tyler face a new and unexpected challenge

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breath taking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.
But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands. True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus performers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.
Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.

This is all Elle’s fault. I found it on her list of books she’s excited about this year, and based on this blurb I am completely sold. It sounds amazing, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

Sixteen-year-old American girl Rory has just arrived at boarding school in London when a Jack the Ripper copycat-killer begins terrorising the city. All the hallmarks of his infamous murders are frighteningly present, but there are few clues to the killer’s identity.
“Rippermania” grabs hold of modern-day London, and the police are stumped with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. In an unknown city with few friends to turn to, Rory makes a chilling discovery… Could the copycat murderer really be Jack the Ripper back from the grave?

Maureen Johnson – hell yes. London – hell yes. Jack the Ripper – oh my god. Do I need to say more?

Errand requiring immediate attention. Come.

The note was on vellum, pierced by the talons of the almost-crow that delivered it. Karou read the message. 'He never says please', she sighed, but she gathered up her things. When Brimstone called, she always came. In general, Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. On the one hand, she's a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; on the other, errand-girl to a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in 'Elsewhere', she has never understood Brimstone's dark work - buying teeth from hunters and murderers - nor how she came into his keeping. She is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn't whole.Now the doors to Elsewhere are closing, and Karou must choose between the safety of her human life and the dangers of a war-ravaged world that may hold the answers she has always sought.

This just sounds so intriguing, and I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about it from various sources. It’s enough to have me very excited about it and looking forward to a really good fantasy.

Rosy and Elle’s Epic Adventure
So whilst we were wandering round Waterstones tossing out recs and ides and demands to read the other’s favourites – oh and me disowning Elle briefly for not liking ‘The Time Travellers Wife’ – we each picked up three books in their three for two offer. To see what Elle picked up click HERE.

Roses by Leila Meacham
East Texas, 1916 When precocious 16-year-old Mary Toliver inherits cotton plantation Somerset from her father, the first seeds of familial discontent are sown. By becoming the new mistress of Somerset, Mary betrays her mother Darla and her brother Miles, and the Toliver dynasty will never recover. And when Mary and timber magnate Percy Warwick decide not to marry, though fiercely in love, it is a decision which will have sad and tragic consequences not only for them but for generations of their families to come. Set against a panoramic backdrop, Roses is a heartbreaking love story of sex, scandal and seduction. It covers 100 years and three generations of Texans.

So far this book is brilliant – an elegant sprawling mass of a tale that I’m just sinking into, and I can’t wait to get further in.

Mermaid by Carolyn Turgeon
While in hiding at a remote convent, a king's daughter sees a magical being dragging a shipwrecked man to the shore. The creature is a mermaid princess - the youngest daughter of the Sea Queen - but she shares more with her human counterpart than her royal blood.

By saving a young man's life, both women have sacrificed their hearts. In one moment, the lives of the princesses, mortal and mermaid, are transformed forever.

This is one I keep seeing and finally picked up, and I’m in need of a pure fantasy at the moment, so we’ll see what happens with this one.

The Summer Without Men by Siri Hustvedt
After Mia Fredricksen's husband of thirty years asks for a pause - so he can indulge his infatuation with a young French colleague - 
 she cracks up (briefly), rages (deeply), then decamps to her prairie childhood home.
There, gradually, she is drawn into the lives of those around her: her mother's circle of feisty widows; the young woman next door; and the diabolical teenage girls in her poetry class. By the end of the summer without men, Mia knows what's worth fighting for - and on whose terms. 
Provocative, mordant, and fiercely intelligent, this is a gloriously vivacious tragi-comedy about women and girls, love and marriage, and the age-old war between the sexes.

This book threw four copies of itself at me – they just kept on coming, so when I had to pick a third book for 3 for 2 I decided it must have been a sign. I’m not sure about it yet, but it’s intriguing so I’m willing to give it a shot.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Review: The Rogue's Princess by Eve Edwards

1586 – London, England. Sixteen-year-old Mercy Hart is the daughter of one of London’s richest – and strictest – cloth merchants. Kit Turner is an actor and the illegitimate son of the late Earl of Dorset. A chance encounter finds Kit falling for the beautiful Mercy’s charms, but their love is forbidden. A merchant’s daughter and a vagabond – it simply cannot be. If Mercy chooses Kit she must renounce her family name and leave her home. Will she favour duty over true love, or will she give Kit his heart’s desire?

Eve Edwards Elizabethan romance series – how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

1)   The research that has gone into these. So often historical romance these days is riddled with modernisms, that make you feel like you’ve just been catapulted back to the twenty first century at a most unfortunate moment. Edwards has done so much research it makes my head spin. Not only are the clothes and speech spot on, but the whole feel of the place is just perfect. It’s the first time I’ve read a well-researched Elizabethan young adult series that has remained consistent throughout.

2)   The boys. We’re faced with a family of roguish, but not too much, brothers, and boy are they handsome. It’s not just all about the looks though, they’re simply so romantic, and they do the most romantic things, and it makes me grin like an idiot if I’m reading in public.

3)   Spunky female characters. The first two books had fabulous headstrong, independent women who knew what they wanted, but also knew what was realistic. They weren’t afraid to fight for what they wanted, yet they still function within the social confines of the day. Edwards treads a very fine line with her girls, and it’s a thing of beauty to watch. However, I wasn’t so fussed on Mercy in this book. She was so meek and downtrodden. She does eventually learn to stand up for what she wants, but it takes her a while to see how under her father’s influence she really is. So it took me a while to warm up to her, and her transformation was quite sudden, but she was a good strong character that was believable, if not entirely my cup of tea.

4)   It’s not all about the romance. This has been true to a degree in the first two books, but it has never been so apparent as in this one. The romance was a nice slow burn – it gave the ‘love at first sight’ a more believable undercurrent, because it stands the test of all the things that happen to them. But the romance almost takes a backseat to the history happening around them. The plot on the Queens life is superbly constructed and fits in brilliantly with the lovers rocky road to happiness. There is so much more to these books than a pretty boy and a swooning girl – there is danger and politics and a whole mix of realism that just makes these books a cut above the rest.

5)   The fact that in amongst all that there is still at the heart a beautiful fluffy romance. These are just on the cusp of Young Adult – there’s a little bit more than kissing, but no hanky panky that would mark these as unsuitable; I’d probably say 14 and above would enjoy this.
Edwards does fluff, she does the beautiful poetic moments and the ones that make you melt. Kit really was a true romantic, showing that even the most devilish rogue can change his ways for the love of his life.

I love this series, I cannot recommend it enough to anyone who is after a beautifully written and researched historical romance for young adult. I just hope that now Tobias has grown up we get a book out of him… And then maybe the youngest Lacey… 

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Review: Austenland by Shannon Hale

Jane Hayes is a seemingly normal young New Yorker, but she has a secret. Her obsession with Mr Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, is ruining her love life: no real man can compare. But when a wealthy relative bequeaths her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-crazed women, Jane's fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become realer than she ever could have imagined. 
Decked out in empire-waist gowns, Jane struggles to master Regency etiquette and flirts with gardeners and gentlemen; or maybe even, she suspects, with the actors who are playing them. It's all a game, Jane knows. And yet the longer she stays, the more her insecurities seem to fall away, and the more she wonders: Is she about to kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr Darcy of her own?

Oh my word this book was brilliant. I stumbled across it on a late night trawl of Amazon and fell straight into it as soon as it arrived. It’s a very short read, the book is less than two hundred pages long, but it certainly packs a lot into that.

Hale writes with the witty elegance of someone who has watched (and read) ‘Pride and Prejudice’ one too many times and is secretly living out a fantasy through this novel. It’s delicious in every way. The writing is brilliantly witty and clever, the heroine a fabulous mixture of humour, love worn and desperation for adventure – and the boys really quite swoonworthy.

The further in we go the more we learn about Jane’s past (and failed) loves, and she becomes more than just a girl looking for her Darcy – she’s well-constructed with enough engaging backstory that this whole charade makes complete sense.
She is exactly the type of Lizzie Bennet female that makes books like this so compelling to read. Without a good heroine romances are sunk.

It was one of those books that makes you curl up in a ball, giggling like a crazy person, because what’s happening in the pages is just so delicious, and so perfect, that you want to keep reading it for ever, and then you want to shove it under a boys nose and say ‘that! There! That is what I want! Why do you never understand this!’ Because no matter how much we’d like them to, they never seem to quite manage the levels of romance in real life as they do in books.

There’s enough intrigue to keep the pace up and fresh – you’re never quite certain who is playing and who isn’t, and if people are playing, what are they hiding?

I did find some of the other women a little bit cringey, which distracted me a bit from the otherwise very good banter. However, it was only a minor grump compared to the rest of this box of delights.

Highly enjoyable and a quick, intelligent read, this offers a nice modern twist with a throw back to pure Austen, and an avenue of pure escapism. As well as making me wonder if it really is possible to visit Austenland to find my Mr Darcy?

Review: A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan

A massive thank you to Jon at Orion Books for sending this book to me. However the review is entirely my own thoughts and opinions.

Rosalinda Fitzroy had been asleep for 62 years when she was woken by a kiss. Locked away in the chemically-induced slumber of a stasis tube in a forgotten sub-basement, sixteen year old Rose slept straight through the Dark Times that killed millions and utterly changed the world she knew. Now, her parents and her first love are long dead, and Rose- hailed upon her awakening as the long-lot heir to an interplanetary empire – is thrust alone into a future in which she is viewed as either a freak or a threat.
Desperate to put the past behind her and adapt to her new world, Rose finds herself drawn to the boy who kissed her, hoping that he can help her start again. But when a deadly danger jeopardises her fragile new existence, Rose must face the ghosts of her past with open eyes – or be left without any future at all.

This book was full of surprises for me. I started out really not liking it, then became hooked, and by the end was crying and absolutely smitten with it.

The first hundred and fifty odd pages were really off-putting for me. This is just me personally, but I felt like there was so much information to try and cram in to get the reader up to speed that it all was a bit too much. There was very little progression, just a constant info dump of explanations for Rose’s situation and her world. I also struggled with some of the slang speak – Rose struggles with it too, and I eventually picked up a rough idea of what it meant, but I would have found it really helpful if one of the other character’s explained some of it to Rose, or if a dictionary were included at the start of the book. The lack of understanding simply served to make me feel even more out of touch with the world than I already did.

However, somewhere along the way something really caught me. I think where things begin to unravel and Rose develops a little more of a backbone as she struggles to regain some form of her identity. She is an old soul trapped in a body that doesn’t work, appears young, and surrounded by incomprehension by those around her – apart from Otto who was one of the more fascinating constructs of the book. Her character development was really strong – starting out as a very weak and passive girl, but gradually learning about herself, about the things that have happened to her, and becoming stronger as a result.

And her story is simply tragic in places. The book starts out as a very innocuous sleeping beauty tale, but it quickly unravels to show a darker side to some of the characters, as truly horrific in their ideas of normal behaviour. The further we got into Rose’s story the more I wanted to pull her out of it and show her that this is not normal, and she shouldn’t just lie down and take it.
The characters are well constructed, offering a host of interesting avenues of information, and development – and I genuinely wanted to learn more about them in their own right, not just in relation to Rose.

And at the heart of the story is one of the most touchingly beautiful love stories I’ve read in young adult fiction. Very reminiscent of ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ – Rose and Xavier’s story is gently interwoven throughout the story. It’s Rose’s touchstone, her lifeline, the one constant in her life, and it’s fascinating to go back and watch their relationship evolve and develop. It explores all the different possibilities of love, how it occurs and proves that love really can concur all.

I hope, given the ending, that we can expect a sequel to this touching story, and perhaps without the need for backstory it will launch straight in and take hold of the reader in a way I didn’t feel with this story straight away.

It’s a Romeo and Juliet tale with a modern twist that keeps you guessing and constantly on your toes. Of all the books I’ve read this year, this has been the most surprising. At no point could I guess what would happen or how things would end, Sheehan has offered a fresh approach to storytelling, with an exciting new world and beautifully constructed characters, and a breath taking approach to love and how it can shape us, guide us, and offer hope at the darkest moments.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Review: Emerald by Karen Wallace

Emerald St. John is in trouble. She has been condemned to marry a man she hates, her enemies are conspiring to have her pet bear Molly torn apart in the baiting pits, and the man she loves is far away on the high seas. And she has stumbled into a web of spies with a plot to poison Queen Elizabeth I. To save herself and the kingdom, Emerald must beat the spies at their own game - which means transforming herself from a country girl into a lady of the court. Can she do it in time?

This blurb and this cover combination had me set up to be really excited when this book came out a few days ago. Unfortunately though, it turned out to be quite a disappointment.
Having read the brilliant books by Eve Edwards set in Elizabethan England, I suppose I was expecting a high standard of writing, but I was sadly let down. 

The book is an exercise in what happens when you ignore the rule of ‘show not tell’. I was never allowed to see or feel anything for myself as a reader; it was always Emerald telling me exactly how I should feel, but often giving no explanation which just left me feeling irritated.

Emerald herself is hard to sympathise with, she never seems to become fully three dimensional – in part because we never get to see anything, we’re just told by her. She’s a very forward thinking, modern girl, but with no reasoning behind it. It’s very hard to make her character and the setting relate to each other.

And if Emerald is hard to like, the rest of the characters are even worse. The book was populated with stereotypes and horrid people. You have to have relatable sides to people, even if ultimately they aren’t very nice, but no-one really justifies their actions and they remain odd people that have mood shifts in mere seconds. There is no build up, no character development, and as a result it’s not particularly interesting to read.

A vast amount of backstory clogs up the first twenty odd pages, and whilst that information would be useful to the reader, it’s very hard work plodding through all of that when there’s no real investment in the story yet – it was enough to make me want to put down the book and stop bothering to wade through it. Backstory helps to flesh out the characters, but in this case it was monotonous, and as Emerald was telling it, highly frustrating. She would talk about how she never spoke to her father and barely saw him, and then detail all he would do with his days – details she would never actually know.

The speech is riddled with modernisms, to the point that it never really felt like we were in Elizabethan England at all. And when people are speaking they have no balance between normal speech and suddenly yelling. I never really got to care about the characters – the only nice one has two conversations with Emerald and then they’re in love, another highly irritating moment. By all means have characters fall in love, but give some reason, some sort of real interaction between them that inspires it.

The plot jerks around all over the place, with some passages and incidents so muddled and confusing that I had to go back and re-read whole sections of it. So all in all, a not particularly inspiring read.

For all that, the last eighty odd pages where the plot actually picks up are quite good. It’s still full of holes, but at least it was engaging enough that I wanted to find out what happened. However, for all the hype I wasn’t all that fussed on this book, and I won’t be seeking out any other books written by Wallace.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Review: Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Also known as 'The Girl of Fire and Thorns'
A massive thank you to Jon at Orion Books for sending this book to me. However the review is entirely my own thoughts and opinions.

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.

Anyone who is a fan of Tamora Pierce will adore this debut novel by the exceptionally talented Rae Carson. As a child I couldn’t get enough of Tamora Pierce, and I’ve spent my life looking for other authors who can do to me what she does – Maria V Snyder comes exceptionally close, but Rae Carson has just run way into the lead. We’ve got an incredible fantasy world that is close enough to our own that it doesn’t require too much explanation, a strong and incredibly loveable female lead, yummy men galore, and a quest that would be enough to make the strongest man faint, but merely makes Elisa roll up her sleeves and get on with it.

Carson doesn’t spoon feed, she gives you enough information to set you up, and then a gentle shove into the plot with instructions to get going, and it works beautifully. Not once did I feel bogged down in exposition, the plot swept me up, kept me interested, and provided information where I needed.

Every character is flawed – some fatally so – but it feels like such an honest portrayal of the human spectrum, that the characters felt more real than they often can in fantasy. At moments it is achingly beautiful – full of raw human emotion, stripped back and desperate. Elisa is so full of love, and so blinded by her own insecurities and demons that she cannot see her own self-worth – but she’s filled with such loyalty and compassion that I couldn’t take my eyes off her.

Elisa is, as I’ve said, a fascinating character. She isn’t so much spoiled at the start of the novel, as unaware of much outside her own sphere of pre-conceptions and self-pity. However, she grows up fast following her marriage and her humility solidifies her as a strong female character. She may not realize it for a while, but as her perception changes, she matures. She’s so capable, so strong, so determined that the world must be set to rights. And so sure of the way forward – even if she isn’t always sure of herself. She was incredible to watch as her transformation took place – from self centred princess, who was convinced everyone thought her a disappointment, to strong, capable and independent woman who will do anything to protect her country and her people, even if inside she is crippled with fear.

The plot is incredibly intricate – faith guides everyone, it sets in motion this phenomenal chain of events. The religion is absolutely vital to the story – it is what guides it and binds this mix of characters together. Everyone has some basis of religion that defines them and their actions, and the novel wouldn’t succeed without it. The idea of God is never questioned; what is examined is the idea of faith and belief, what they do to people and how people respond to them.
If you loved Tamora Pierce’s books you won’t have a problem with the religion in this book – that’s been one thing people have commented on in other reviews I’ve seen. The religious aspects are not forced on you as a reader or rammed down your throat, they’re merely accepted as a part of life – similarly to Alanna and her conversations with the Gods. It’s an integral part of the story and as such doesn’t single the book out as being particularly religious.

And one of the things that really scored points for Carson in my book, is the way she is totally not afraid to go there – no matter where there is. Ripping your heart out? Got it. Horrifically real ideas of war, wounds, and infection? We’ve got plenty. The little moments where things just don’t go right and you want to hug Elisa for still trying? Got those too. It dares to go that step further than Tamora Pierce’s books, and takes you from safe fantasy to harder more adult moments.

The only thing I wasn’t entirely sold on was the idea of body image that runs throughout. Elisa is described as fat – she comfort eats whenever she is upset or depressed – and she feels no burning desire to do anything about her image, she just remains incredibly upset by it. So when her image does begin to change through circumstance, she’s thrilled. I wasn’t convinced it was an entirely healthy idea of body image to promote. I could understand completely her sentiment and feelings, but I remained slightly wary of the idea throughout. I’ll be curious to hear what other people made of it.

I’m not going to lie, if I had seen this cover on Amazon or a book store, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. (The other covers for this book, totally different story, I love them!) Which is why I am so glad that this was sent to me. This world, the characters, the plot, they pulled me in within the first few pages. I could not stop reading. And by the time I’d finished I just felt so incredibly lucky that I’d read this book – that I’d had the chance to step inside Elisa’s world and live her story with her for a while.

The ending leaves room for a sequel (oh please god let there be a sequel!) and I really hope that Carson continues to tell Elisa’s tale.  I adored this book, and I’m impatiently getting through the other books I need to read so that I can go back and re-read it, and absorb it again.

A breath taking debut with one of the strongest heroines I’ve seen in fantasy in a very long time.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Review: 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. 

When I first caught sight of this book, I nearly passed it over, after all from the first sentence it looked just like another fifty first dates type of thing. But then I got to the bit about seeing the future, and I got curious.
And boy am I glad I did. This book was brilliant.

I raced through it in a matter of hours, because it was a really engaging story with a brilliant idea and extremely well-constructed characters.

The writing is really simple, almost conservative with word use, but it’s incredibly effective. London is a brilliantly created character, with a clear cut voice and was instantly likeable. She never whinges about her situation, although at several points she’d have plenty of cause to. She’s a down to earth sensible heroine, who doesn’t have self-esteem issues, nor is she particularly vain. She’s just normal, and takes her problem in her stride, dealing with it in a really constructive fashion.

I was particularly impressed how she handled the knowledge about events that would happen to those around her – she tried to change the bad where she could, but didn’t go off the deep end, just kept a clear head knowing that at some point everything would be ok.
I loved those little titbits though, the pieces of information she gives about each person she meets – why she knows them, and what will happen to them, it was fascinating.

Patrick treads a very fine line between teenage angst and teenage normalcy, and she comes out pitch perfect. The characters are so believable, without falling into stereotypes, and they’re all flawed and human as well as having really brilliant facets. They’re brilliantly constructed.

And swoonworthy – don’t forget swoonworthy. And yes I’m looking at you Luke. He’s a really good construct, because he’s dreamy, but he’s a bit weird, he’s kind, caring and compassionate, but he can also be a bit of a jerk too. He felt real.

I wasn’t so convinced by the adults portrayed, and it would have been good to see more development of them, but otherwise the characterization was near flawless.

The plot was brilliantly paced, intricate, and fresh – this isn’t your average young adult fare. It did become a little bit rushed towards the end, and so I would have liked to have a bit more time spent drawing that out, but it works well as it is. The book works really well as a standalone, but if there’s a sequel I would pick it up without any hesitation.

This was a gem of a find from trawling through random Amazon suggestions, and I’m so glad I gave it a second look - it’s beautiful, compelling, and stays with you after you’ve turned the last page.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Review: Always a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough

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

This book is a good example of what happens when one tiny little thing almost ruins the whole thing.

The first book ‘Once A Witch’ is one that I reviewed in May. I loved it – hell I more than loved it, it was exactly what I was looking for at the time – so I went straight out and pre-ordered the next book ‘Always a Witch.’

It came, I squeed, I ignored the slight feeling of trepidation at the fact that there would be a more substantial amount of time travel in this book, and I plunged straight in.
The first part was great, I loved it, it was just what I wanted and remembered loving about the first book.

Then we got to the time travel bit, and this shows how carefully you need to research if you’re going to wander off into the 19th century randomly. One very small detail made me slam the book shut in disgust.

A butler is never, I repeat NEVER referred to by his given name. He is always called wither Mr (whatever his surname happens to be) by the servants, or he is called by his surname only by the family of the house. So when one of the members of the family casually refer to the butler in this time travelling fiasco by his first name, I’d had enough. Something so simple is one of the big things that help to create the illusion of 19th century life. And it’s ridiculous that something that small could irritate me and mar a good portion of the remainder of the book. But it’s true. People who write 19th century fiction need to research to make sure that they create a believable portrait of life – otherwise they can lose the reader in an instant over the tiniest of things.

So I was incredibly grumpy, but I did keep reading, and apart from that one thing the rest of the portrayal was pretty accurate, which was a relief. So often if something like that is wrong, it means a hell of a lot else is going to be wrong too.

My only complaint with the rest of the book was the over abundance of clichés. If people aren’t waving their hands lazily through the air as though swatting a fly, then their words are cutting through the air like a whip, and their eyes are shooting daggers. Whilst it was irritating to pick up on these, there seemed to be carefulness to not overuse each cliché, so that at least I wasn’t ripping my hair out in frustration over the same ideas and images being used repeatedly.

For all my ranting though, by the end of the book I’d fallen in love with the idea all over again. I love the characters and the concept and the writing, and it reminded me why I’d loved the first book so much. The ideas from the first book were picked up and melded seamlessly into a fascinating and tense conclusion. It really was a brilliant end to the two books. But it does highlight an interesting point, that sometimes it can take the smallest of things to completely shatter the illusion for a reader. And not all readers, just some that pick up on that sort of thing.

So if you are picky over your 19th century etiquette, then go into this knowing that will happen, and enjoy the rest of the book. If you’re not fussed, then you’ll probably love the book regardless!