Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Midnight in Austenland book Give Away!

This giveaway is now CLOSED.

Today marks the release of one of my favourite and most anticipated books of the year 'Midnight in Austenland' by the wonderful Shannon Hale.
Earlier I posted an interview with her, and now comes the second part of the days festivities. For one lucky person I have a brand new copy of 'Midnight in Austenland' to giveaway. Thanks to the wonderful Carrie at Bloomsbury for making this possible.

All you have to do to enter is leave a comment below and if you're a follower of the blog that's always an added bonus.
The giveaway is open to the UK only, and is open until midnight 3rd February GMT, so get your entry in quick!

If you haven't read 'Austenland' yet, then never fear, I also have a copy of that book to giveaway as well, so when you enter if you'd like to win both books simply say in your comment!

Good luck!

Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale
When Charlotte Kinder treats herself to a two-week vacation at Austenland, she happily leaves behind her ex-husband and his delightful new wife, her ever-grateful children, and all the rest of her real life in America. She dons a bonnet and stays at a country manor house that provides an immersive Austen experience, complete with gentleman actors who cater to the guests' Austen fantasies.
Everyone at Pembrook Park is playing a role, but increasingly, Charlotte isn't sure where roles end and reality begins. And as the parlour games turn a little bit menacing, she finds she needs more than a good corset to keep herself safe. Is the brooding Mr. Mallery as sinister as he seems? What is Miss Gardenside's mysterious ailment? Was that an actual dead body in the secret attic room? And-perhaps of the most lasting importance-could the stirrings in Charlotte's heart be a sign of real-life love?

The follow-up to reader favourite Austenland provides the same perfectly plotted pleasures, with a feisty new heroine, plenty of fresh and frightening twists, and the possibility of a romance that might just go beyond the proper bounds of Austen's world. How could it not turn out right in the end?

Author Q & A with Shannon Hale

Today is the release day for the fabulous Shannon Hale’s new novel ‘Midnight in Austenland’ and to celebrate, the lady herself was kind enough to agree to an interview about the book, and what we can hope to see next.
I also have a giveaway to win a copy of ‘Austenland’ and ‘Midnight in Austenland’, so enter now!
“Readers of Austenland are incredibly excited about your latest book ‘Midnight in Austenland’ can you tell us a little bit more about it and how it came about?”
I was working on the screenplay for Austenland and I wrote a page about each character for my co-writer. Talking about Colonel Andrews, I said that he enjoyed enacting little entertainments for the guests, like theatricals and mysteries. From that came the idea of another guest vacationing at Pembrook Park who uncovers a possible murder and isn't sure if it's part of Andrews's mystery or something real.
“Was it hard to go back into ‘Austenland’ with a different heroine or easier?”
I loved it. I never thought about writing another Austenland book until 2009, but I found it so fun to return to and see what the characters were up to now. I really enjoyed writing Charlotte. When I began Austenland, I was twenties and single. It was interesting for me now as a mother to write a woman my age with children. Every book has challenges, but Charlotte's character wasn't one of them. She was easy. She is so accommodating by nature.
“Can we hope for more books set here in the future? If so which Austen book would you most like to incorporate?”
I think so! I can't help but keep thinking about it now and have a couple more ideas I'd love to tackle. While there was more emphasis on P&P with Austenland and Northanger Abbey with Midnight, there are bits of all of Austen's novels that worked into both. I don't consider either book to be retellings of her books or sequels by any means. I'll likely reread all her books again whenever I start another Austenland book and see what inspiration hits me!
“Has writing always been something you wanted to do? And what drew you to it?”
Always. I first declared that I wanted to be a writer when I was 10. I loved to read and get lost in a story. I spent years in theater, satisfying my lust for storytelling during a time when my writing skills weren't good enough to satisfy my internal critic. It took me 20 years of writing before I finally reached the place where the stories I created were good enough to please myself. I love it. I'll never stop.
“Are there any specific habits, types of music to listen to, or times that have to be observed for you to write?”
I'm a mom of four, so I can't be choosy about such things. Whenever I get the chance and the kids are happy and occupied with a sitter, I sit my butt down and write. At the moment, I'm sitting up in bed covered in blankets because my room is cold. I don't write to music because I just tune it out. Probably another mom thing. The kids' voices from the other room would distract me if I weren't so practiced in the Mom Tune Out.
“What are you working on at the moment?”
I just finished the sequel to Princess Academy, which will be published in August. Now I'm returning to a kick-butt-scifi-action-adventure tome that I've been working on for years but keeps getting put on the back burner while I worked on other projects. I love it and am excited to return.
“Which books have been the hardest to write, and which are you most proud of?”

Princess Academy, The Goose Girl, Calamity Jack, and Forest Born were probably the most challenging. I'm a proud mom of all of them. But if you get some chocolate milkshake in me, I'll probably admit I think Book of a Thousand Days is my best. 

“And finally, if you were a character in Jane Austen’s books, who would you be?”

One thing that's so marvelous about Austen, I think, is how unique each of her heroines are, and yet while I'm reading, I identify completely with each of them. Some days I'm Anne, some days I'm Marianne or Emma or even Fanny. But mostly I'm Elizabeth, of course. Who doesn't want to be Elizabeth Bennet? 

'Midnight in Austenland is on sale now, and is absolutely fabulous! I have one gorgeous new copy to giveaway so enter here!
You can also check out my spoiler free review here!
And Shannon's site here!

Monday, 30 January 2012

Books I'm Squeeing About in February

January has been an amazing month to start off the year, with some fabulous books kicking off my 2012 reading challenge. And I cannot tell you how excited I am about the books coming out this month. We've got new authors who are fast becoming firm favourites, old favourites with new books, and a few wild cards that look so awesome that I'm desperate to get my mitts on them.
So without further ado, here are my books I'm squeeing about in February!

This is a brilliant thriller ghost story by a new name in teenage fiction. When Daniel Lever is dragged to Leisure World Holiday Complex for some "time away" with his depressed dad, his expectations are low. Daniel is overweight, he hates sport, and his father has brought along his beloved tomato plant. But soon Daniel spots a girl swimming in the fake lake. Lexi is elegant and smart, but very mysterious. Why are her bruises getting worse each time she and Daniel meet? And is her watch really ticking backwards? A dark figure stalks the pair, and as British summer time approaches, Daniel has to act quickly. Their souls depend on it.

This is Ed’s first young adult novel, and boy is it awesome. A fantastic thriller with plenty of humour, fabulous characters and relationships explored and a thrilling mystery to solve before they run out of time. It ticked all of my boxes and I can’t wait to see what comes next from Ed. To celebrate the release of ‘Daylight Saving’ there will be an interview with the man himself on here on the 2nd.

You can read my spoiler free review here.

Aria has lived her whole life in the protected dome of Reverie. Her entire world confined to its spaces, she's never thought to dream of what lies beyond its doors. So when her mother goes missing, Aria knows her chances of surviving in the outer wasteland long enough to find her are slim. 
Then Aria meets an outsider named Perry. He's searching for someone too. He's also wild - a savage - but might be her best hope at staying alive. 

If they can survive, they are each other's best hope for finding answer.

And here we have another example of why covers are fabulous and I am a terrible child for judging them. I saw the cover and decided this book was going to be awesome, and everything I’ve read about it since has further convinced me of this.

Posing as one of Robin Hood’s thieves to avoid the wrath of the evil Thief Taker Lord Gisbourne, Scarlet has kept her identity secret from all of Nottinghamshire. Only the Hood and his band know the truth: the agile thief posing as a whip of a boy is actually a fearless young woman with a secret past. Helping the people of Nottingham outwit the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham could cost Scarlet her life as Gisbourne closes in. It’s only her fierce loyalty to Robin—whose quick smiles and sharp temper have the rare power to unsettle her—that keeps Scarlet going and makes this fight worth dying for.

I’ve been desperate for this book since late last year, and finally finally  it is almost here. A re-telling of Robin Hood but with Scarlet as a girl? It sounds epic. And the wonderful Angie over at Angieville had nothing but wonderful things to say about it, which was enough to get me to pre-order it then and there.

Wonder is the funny, sweet and incredibly moving story of Auggie Pullman. Born with a terrible facial abnormality, this shy, bright ten-year-old has been home-schooled by his parents for his whole life, in an attempt to protect him from the stares and cruelty of the outside world. Now, for the first time, Auggie is being sent to a real school - and he's dreading it. The thing is, Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, underneath it all?
Through the voices of Auggie, his big sister Via, and his new friends Jack and Summer, Wonder follows Auggie's journey through his first year at Beecher Prep. Frank, powerful, warm and often heart-breaking, WONDER is a book you'll read in one sitting, pass on to others, and remember long after the final page.

I’ve just started reading this book and it is gorgeous. Heart breaking, utterly beautiful and ultimately uplifting, I have heard nothing but good things about this book and I cannot wait to finish it.

16thFever by Lauren deStefano (UK release)
(US Release 21st February)

Running away brings Rhine and Gabriel right into a trap, in the form of a twisted carnival whose ringmistress keeps watch over a menagerie of girls. Just as Rhine uncovers what plans await her, her fortune turns again. With Gabriel at her side, Rhine travels through an environment as grim as the one she left a year ago - surroundings that mirror her own feelings of fear and hopelessness. 
The two are determined to get to Manhattan, to relative safety with Rhine’s twin brother, Rowan. But the road there is long and perilous - and in a world where young women only live to age twenty and young men die at twenty-five, time is precious. Worse still, they can’t seem to elude Rhine’s father-in-law, Vaughn, who is determined to bring Rhine back to the mansion...by any means necessary. 
In the sequel to Lauren DeStefano’s harrowing Wither, Rhine must decide if freedom is worth the price - now that she has more to lose than ever.

Last year Lauren’s debut novel ‘Wither’ hit the shelves, and it was an incredible first novel in a trilogy that looks set to be a truly incredible one. With the second book within touching distance I’m getting far too over excited to slip back into the Chemical Garden’s universe and find out what happens to Rhine next.

You can read my review of ‘Wither’ here.

Alexia Tarabotti, Lady Maccon, has settled into domestic bliss. Of course, being Alexia, such bliss involves integrating werewolves into London High society, living in a vampire's second best closet, and coping with a precocious toddler who is prone to turning supernatural willy-nilly. Even Ivy Tunstell's acting troupe's latest play, disastrous to say the least, cannot put a damper on Alexia's enjoyment of her new London lifestyle.
Until, that is, she receives a summons from Alexandria that cannot be ignored. With husband, child, and Tunstells in tow, Alexia boards a steamer to cross the Mediterranean. But Egypt may hold more mysteries than even the indomitable Lady Maccon can handle. What does the vampire Queen of the Alexandria Hive really want from her? Why is the God-Breaker Plague suddenly expanding? And how has Ivy Tunstell suddenly become the most popular actress in all the British Empire?

This is where my head practically explodes from excitement. Gail Carriger’s ‘Parasol Protectorate’ series has been one of my all-time favourites. A delicious steampunk romp with parasols, werewolves, vampires, hats and tea! A fantastic blend of wit, drama, and incredible characters I cannot tell you enough how awesome they are. And now the final book of the series ’Timeless’ is nearly in my hands, and I am going to probably cry and squee and giggle as I find out what will happen to our intrepid heroine and her wolfy husband.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Review: Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen

Release Date: 14th February 2012

Posing as one of Robin Hood’s thieves to avoid the wrath of the evil Thief Taker Lord Gisbourne, Scarlet has kept her identity secret from all of Nottinghamshire. Only the Hood and his band know the truth: the agile thief posing as a whip of a boy is actually a fearless young woman with a secret past. Helping the people of Nottingham outwit the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham could cost Scarlet her life as Gisbourne closes in. It’s only her fierce loyalty to Robin—whose quick smiles and sharp temper have the rare power to unsettle her—that keeps Scarlet going and makes this fight worth dying for.

I am a sucker when it comes to a good Robin Hood story, and when I saw Angie’s reviewof ‘Scarlet’ I was absolutely desperate to read it. But then there’s always a worry when it comes to reinterpretations of the Hood legend, that they’ve taken it too far in the wrong direction. Although after watching ‘Robin Hood Men in Tights’ I’m not so sure there is a wrong direction anymore… Anyway, I was a little bit wary going in, but I really shouldn’t have worried, this was one of the best re-tellings I’ve had the pleasure of reading in a long time.

The plot combines enough of the original legend to make it feel authentic, with just enough new twists and turns for the tale to be truly original as well. And there are a host of familiar faces that make it into a true Robin Hood tale.

I absolutely adore Scarlet. She’s got such a distinctive voice, a no-nonsense attitude and complete undying devotion to Rob and the boys. She’s tough and can take a punch as well as any man, but is softer and admits that just a touch from Robin can render her breathless and speechless. She was the perfect blend of soft and hard, a truly believable and fantastic heroine that I couldn’t help but fall in love with and admire.

You want her to win, to succeed, and root for her even when things seem completely hopeless. Her backstory was fantastic, and threw several shockers that had me gasping aloud throughout the book. She is a beautiful blend of characters from the original legends, but makes it entirely her own.

And the other boys – oh Rob, you are just as dreamy as I always imagined. And John turned out to be quite the charmer as well. It was a smaller band than I imagined, but all the characters were brought to life so vividly that it really didn’t matter. You get to know each of them, their backstories and their personalities in a way that secondary characters can often miss out on.

The writing was gorgeous, Scar’s voice was absolutely perfect, taking you through the tale along with her, and the research involved must have been enormous because it truly felt like I’d been picked up and dumped in the middle of the twelfth century in the middle of Sherwood Forest.

It was real, hard, sometimes impossibly heart breaking, and utterly fabulous. I don’t want to give any more away, because it’s a truly fantastic read.

After finishing I just wanted to go straight back into the world and read it all over again – which considering I was having the same feelings about the 1920s flappers book I read just before Scarlet, made for some pretty interesting dreams…

This book completely swept me away. Definitely a must read for fans of Robin Hood, but anyone who loves a kick ass heroine and a brilliant plot would love this. One of my favourite books of the year so far.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Review: Daughter of the Flames by Zoe Marriott

Inside an ancient temple in the mountains, fifteen-year-old Zira trains in the martial arts to become a warrior priestess who can defend the faith of the Ruan people. Bearing a scar on her face from the fire that killed her parents, the orphaned Zira is taught to distrust the occupying Sedornes. Terror strikes when the forces of the tyrannical Sedorne king destroy the only home she knows. To survive, Zira must unravel the secrets of her identity, decide her people’s fate — and accept her growing feelings for a man who should be her enemy.

I absolutely loved Zoe Marriott’s latest book ‘Shadows on the Moon’ so I was desperate to get my hands on everything else she’s written to fill in the time between now and ‘Frostfire’ coming out later this year.
However ‘Daughter of the Flames’ didn’t quite hit the mark with me in the same way as Marriott’s other two books.

It was a fantastic premise, with a brilliant heroine at its heart, I just felt as though some parts were a little underdeveloped. I would have quite happily read twice its length just to see more of the development between Zira and Sorin. I loved their hesitancy and awkwardness and the fact that this relationship developed out of a need to save their people, not out of anything else, but we skipped over so much between them that I felt like I never fully bought their relationship.

I wanted to see more of that development, because after a point what romance and tension there was between them fizzles out, and becomes almost unimportant to the story, yet it’s still supposed to be a key element.
Another aspect of the romance that I didn’t buy was that once again we are given a paragraph in which the heroine suddenly realises she’s in love with the hero, and I want, for once, to be able to see that relationship build instead of being told about it.

As I said, Zira was a fantastic heroine, strong, independent, and driven by a need to protect her people. But again, we had the internal conflict of who was she really, and I wanted more of that, more development, more resolution.
Sorin again, I felt was a little under developed, but what I saw I absolutely loved. He wasn’t your stereotypical male hero, but I didn’t feel like we really got to see that, or see his developing feelings for Zira.

I loved the world building, Marriott really is a master of fantasy, and really creates a world you can practically smell and taste. I thought the religious elements were well developed and that overall the plot was exceptionally well done.

I love villains who have something more about them – some backstory or twist that makes it all that much more exciting and intriguing, and we definitely had that here.

In fact everything came together to make a really, really good book, as I said at the start it just felt like some aspects were rushed or under developed. I loved Marriott’s other books ‘The Swan Kingdom’ and ‘Shadows on the Moon’, and I think that her writing has developed hugely in the time between ‘Daughter of the Flames’ and ‘Shadows on the Moon’ and I cannot wait to see how ‘Frostfire’ turns out.

So all in all, a very good book, but not Marriott’s strongest, but still a very good fantasy read.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Musings on 'Teaser' Short Stories

Eleven Minutes by Megan Miranda
Fracture is told from Delaney's perspective, and if you've read the first two chapters, you know that she falls through the ice in chapter one, and she wakes up 6 days later. And what happens in between—well, that's Decker's story. 
This is the story of those eleven minutes, and the six days that follow, from his perspective. Because while it must be terrifying to be trapped under the ice, it's a different kind of terror seeing your best friend trapped... 

Especially if it's your fault.

‘Tomorrow is Today by Julie Cross
The year is 2009. Nineteen-year-old Jackson Meyer is a normal guy… he’s in college, throws lots of parties, is interested in a girl he can’t have, and oh yeah, he can travel back through time. But it’s not like the movies – nothing changes in the present after his jumps, there’s no space-time continuum issues or broken flux capacitors – it’s just harmless fun.

There seems to have been a sudden influx of short stories to go with new releases. You know the sort, prologues and short tasters to get people excited about the books before they come out, and after reading a few of them I think it’s time we talked about it.

Because I am all for promotion of a new book, and short stories to give people a taste for the characters, the world, the plot, the romances, these are usually good things but I think there is a fine line which some of them walk, and some of them fall straight off.

Two examples that spring to mind are ‘Eleven Minutes’ by Megan Miranda and ‘Tomorrow is Today’ by Julie Cross. Both of these fabulous authors had début novels out at the start of January, and both of them released short ‘teaser’ stories prior to the release to wet peoples appetites.

Now I read these after reading the novels, and had really strong, and completely opposite reactions to them. I had some problems with ‘Fracture’ as anyone who has read my review will see. I didn’t connect to Delaney as I was supposed to, and was put off the whole thing by Troy, who made my skin crawl and was enough to make me want to stop reading the book altogether. Round of applause for Ms Miranda for creating such a believable character that produced such a strong reaction.

I then read ‘Eleven Minutes’ which is essentially the first couple of chapters of ‘Fracture’ told from Decker’s point of view instead. And I loved it. This shows just how awesome Miranda’s writing is and how much my reaction to ‘Fracture’ was just a personal reaction, not a reflection on the writing. I found it engaging, it made complete sense both after reading ‘Fracture’ providing me with new insights that I wouldn’t have had from Delaney’s coma state, but also giving me enough information that even if I hadn’t read the novel first I would have understood what was happening and cared about the character’s. I loved it, and it was a brilliant example of how teaser stories can peak interest in a book before it’s even been released.

Then we have ‘Tomorrow is Today’ by Julie Cross. This was to create a buzz for her new novel ‘Tempest’ which I absolutely adored, but something about it just didn’t work.
As someone who came to the short story after reading the novel, I knew the characters and the premise quiet well, but I think that if I hadn’t read the novel first I would have been completely lost. The thing that struck me was that it didn’t seem to have a purpose. It didn’t add very much to the characters or the story, in fact it seemed more like a bonus deleted scene than a story. There were a few nice moments between Jackson and Holly, but it didn’t really tell me more about them. I didn’t learn anything about Jackson’s abilities, and without the information about it that I understood from Tempest, I would have been confused by that as well.

If it had added another point of view or a bit of relevant backstory then I would have felt differently, but I was left feeling a bit stumped as to why it had been used as a teaser for the novel.

It left me feeling really strange, because as I said, I loved Tempest, it was one my favourite début books this year, but the short story really didn’t do it for me. And I wonder whether people who had read the short story first would have been put off reading the novel after reading it – which is tragic, because the novel is awesome.

So as someone who isn’t fussed on short stories on the whole, I’m a bit torn about them being used to promote a new book. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, but I think that if they add a new perspective, a new bit of backstory, and they work as clear concise stories in their own right instead of leaning on the novel entirely for context, then they’re a great idea.

But what do you think? Are you a fan of teaser stories? Or do you steer clear of them and go straight for the book itself?

Monday, 23 January 2012

Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Warning - Spoilers below. Do not read unless you've already read the book.

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . . 
Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the centre of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

I was so excited about Cinder when I first saw it – cyborgs? Cinderella? Deadly plagues? It ticked all my boxes.

Unfortunately it didn’t quite manage to live up to my expectations, although it was still a really good book that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Let’s get what I wasn’t fussed on out the way first so we can end on the things I did love.

Firstly, by the time a book is in its finished form, I expect it to be completely proof read. I don’t expect to find words missing or random words thrown into sentences that make the whole thing make no sense at all. It worries me when I see errors like that in a finished book, because that means that in all the passes of the book no one has picked it up. Either that or I have eyes like a hawk and someone should hire me to be a proof reader.

Secondly, the big twist. I’ve already warned you and I’m going to again, do not keep reading if you haven’t read the book – spoilers lie ahead!
I worked out the twist a couple of chapters in, it really didn’t take long. And I spent the rest of the book torn between being incredibly bored that I’d already worked it out, and desperately hoping that I was wrong, and that the author was going to pull something spectacular out of the bag at the last moment. Unfortunately it turned out I was right, and because it was literally revealed in the last couple of pages it made me think that it was supposed to be this big shocking thing. And it really, really wasn’t.
I am however looking forward to seeing how Cinder develops now she has this knowledge, so I’m incredibly excited for the second book, despite the slightly let down-ish ending of the first.

Thirdly, the romance. There wasn’t enough time and development between Kai and Cinder for me to find this believable. If it had been that he was using her to try and get one up on the Queen like Cinder initially thought then I would have found it more believable, but as it was I really wasn’t convinced. Maybe in the next book there will be enough interaction between them that I’ll start to feel it, but as it was, not so much.

And finally, I was kind of disappointed that more wasn’t given to the setting. It’s set in ‘New Beijing’ and everyone has Chinese names, but nothing about it really suggests any connection to the cities roots, where it’s come from and how it’s developed. I would have found that fascinating to see more of that – we did see a little bit creep through in some of the ceremonies, and random pieces of description, but I would have liked more it.

Ok so those were the things that brought the book down for me, let’s talk about the awesome.
The plot. I absolutely loved it. It was a fantastic new spin on the traditional fairy tale, and that’s what made me pick up the book in the first place. The idea that Cinder was a cyborg was genius, it take the idea of her being a servant and physically belonging to her step mother to a whole new level which I found fascinating.

I loved Cinder herself. A smart, clever and well developed character that I couldn’t help but love and root for. I laughed at her humour, I wanted to cry at the injustices of her step mother, and be there to deliver a royal smackdown on the Queen. She really was fabulous, and it was so good to see this character who we’ve been shown in most depictions as this slightly weak princess to be, to be such a tough and independent young woman. She came across a lot older than she was as a result, and I want to see a bit more of her vulnerability, but I’m really looking forward to seeing her development in the next books.

I did like Kai, and I found some of the pieces from his point of view where we got to see the politics and outside the Commonwealth which we would have missed if we had been with Cinder the whole time, really interesting. It gave an idea of the stakes and the world outside of Cinder’s perceptions. Did anyone else have a brief moment of ‘oh, did she really go there?’ With ‘Queen Camilla’ of England?...

I did however find some of the stuff with Kai and Torin a little bit weird towards the end. I don’t know if it was just because it was seen from Cinder’s perspective, but it suddenly seemed a bit out of character. I did love Kai’s reaction to Cinder though when he found out what she was. Still wanting to protect her but at the same time unable to hide his disgust. I like it when characters are shown with their flaws, and to be unable (at least at first) to get over their prejudices.

The plot did take a little while to get going and to draw me in (about 80 pages or so) but after the ending I am fully anticipating a fabulous dive straight into the second book.

The writing was really good (other than the errors I’ve already mentioned) and set the scene and developed the characters beautifully. The pacing really picked up, and I found myself dragged into the story fully after that initial slow build up, and I couldn’t wait to carry on reading and find out what was going to happen. It’s the sort of story that takes a little while, but then lodges itself firmly inside you, making you desperate to get back to it, and constantly thinking about the characters and what’s going to happen next.

The build up and set up were really good, I loved the elements of the original fairy tale woven in without dominating the story, and I cannot wait for the second book to see where Cinder is going to go now and what she’ll do next.

Edit to include a short review of 'Glitches'
I have to say I really enjoyed 'Glitches'. It was a really good example of how a prequel story can work well both before and after reading the book it's promoting. I've talked about this recently, and I have to say that Glitches was one of my favourites.
It's gives us immediate insight into the world and Cinder herself, so that even if I hadn't read the book it still would have made sense and drawn me in, and it was really good to be able to fill in some of those gaps about when she was first adopted. I loved seeing the father, and the interactions with her step mother and the two other children.

A really good short prequel that I would definitely recommend either to try before you delve into the full story, or as another taste of Cinder's world.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Review: Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton

A huge thank you to Harriet at Random House Children's Books for sending me a copy to review.

It starts off simply. 
Draw a circle ... place a dead leaf in the center ... sprinkle some salt ... recite a little Latin ... add a drop of blood ... 
Maybe that last part isn't exactly simple. Yet somehow it 
feels right to Silla Kennicott. And nothing in her life has felt remotely right since her parents' horrific deaths. She's willing to do anything to uncover the truth about her family—even try a few spells from the mysterious book that arrived on her doorstep ... and spill some blood. 
The book isn't the only recent arrival in Silla's life. There's Nick Pardee, the new guy next door who may have seen Silla casting a spell. She's not sure what he saw and is afraid to find out. But as they spend more time together, Silla realizes this may not be Nick's first encounter with Blood Magic. Brought together by a combination of fate and chemistry, Silla and Nick can't deny their attraction. And they can't ignore the dark presence lurking nearby—waiting to 
reclaim the book and all its power. 

Can we all just take a moment to celebrate Gratton’s fabulous construction, otherwise known as Nick?
A boy, yes I know, I’m so fickle over fictional boys, who is not conventionally yummy, yet still pulls it off, wears a trilby hat and a three piece suit and can actually dance. The party scene where all of these things come together actually had me swooning like a school girl. There are not enough fictional boys wearing trilby hats and suits and dancing. Any authors out there listening – please make some more. Will pay good money for them//pimp your book out to everyone. So let the pimping begin.

I love books with magic in. The first books I ever took out of the school library at secondary school were Tamora Pierce’s ‘Song of the Lioness’ Quartet, and ever since, a good book with lots of magic? You can’t beat it. Tamora Pierce, Maria V Snyder, Ms Gratton, please join them in your rightful place on my shelf of magic books made of awesome.

Seriously this book was fab. I loved the concept, I loved the characters, and I loved the writing. It didn’t read like a first book – there was a confidence in the writing that spoke of many books already under the author’s belt, and made the story really come alive.

It took its time, really enjoying building up the characters so we cared about them, the relationships so they were believable, and the plot so it was complex and detailed and full of twists and turns.
I could have done with some more explanation about the magic – who could do it etc. but I really liked the build up, the book, the explanations and the slow interweaving of the two different stories. And there were some sly twists slipped in there so that the outcome and solutions weren’t obvious from the beginning – misdirection, I like your style Ms Gratton.

I loved the time spent building the characters up, so I really liked all of them. They all felt real, although it probably says something about me that I was a little untrusting of some of the trustworthy characters – apparently I just don’t trust anyone who is genuinely nice from the get go…
I liked the split narrative with both sides being told – both Josephine’s, but also seeing how Nick and Silla reacted to each other, how that developed and not just getting one side of it. And it was so refreshing to see the guy mooning over the girl more than the other way round. In fact Nick was just awesome. I think I’ve already covered it earlier, but I really loved him as a character. He was quirky, funny, a gentleman but a bit of an arse at the same time. He just felt so real, so human and so utterly fab – I was hooked on him from the start.

I was slower to warm to Silla and Reese, it took a bit longer but they were still very well crafted. Silla’s development and arc over the course of the book was something fabulous to watch, and I really can’t wait to see what happens in book two, whether we get to see more of that developing.

Another awesome thing was that this book really didn’t shy away from the blood and guts and gore and general squeamish moments. I’m not normally squeamish, but this had even me shuddering at points. It was brilliantly pitched and worked so well, enough to make it gross and brilliantly believable and pricey for the magic, without being over the top and gratuitous.

There were a couple of things that didn’t quite gel for me – the first being Nick’s overuse of the word ‘babe’. A few times? Yeah sure, that makes sense, it probably would be part of his vocabulary, but he takes the use above and beyond with pretty much every sentence directed at Silla having the word babe in there somewhere. In fact after reading I put a ban on the word for my friends and family so I could have a break from it.

The second thing wasn’t anything to do with the writing itself, but is a note to the publishers instead. Please, I’m begging you, I know that when trying to represent diary or letter writing, using cursive pretty italic script helps show that, but if you use the insanely tight hard to read writing it really gives me a bad case of the grumps. Maybe I should be wearing my glasses more, but as far as I’m concerned, if I’m struggling to actually read the damn thing, it’s a bad sign. And if those sections hadn’t been so important to the story I would have skipped them entirely to save me the eye strain.

The third was that Nick seemed to do a very abrupt 180 on his views of magic. Going from – evil, most evil thing in the world! To, hey, you know what, I kinda like this whole healing my scars in thirty seconds thing! Was a little disorientating. I could kind of see the logic with his determination to save and protect Silla, but at the same time, I could have done with a little more explanation and time taken over the change.

On the whole though, I absolutely loved it. It was an incredibly strong début by an author that I will have no hesitation reading again. A fantastic story and perfect for fans that like their magic with a side of gore…

Other fabulous reviews of Blood Magic:

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Release Day: The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman

It's finally here! The release day in the UK for Robin Wasserman's fabulous new book! A race against time, scary murderous people in black robes, and across the dark and twisting streets of Prague - a brilliant new book for the new year!

Go and order your copy now! 

The Book of Blood and Shadow

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.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Review: A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg

With the same incomparable style and warm, inviting voice that have made her beloved by millions of readers far and wide, New York Times bestselling author Fannie Flagg has written an enchanting Christmas story of faith and hope for all ages that is sure to become a classic. 
Deep in the southernmost part of Alabama, along the banks of a lazy winding river, lies the sleepy little community known as Lost River, a place that time itself seems to have forgotten. After a startling diagnosis from his doctor, Oswald T. Campbell leaves behind the cold and damp of the oncoming Chicago winter to spend what he believes will be his last Christmas in the warm and welcoming town of Lost River. There he meets the postman who delivers mail by boat, the store owner who nurses a broken heart, the ladies of the Mystic Order of the Royal Polka Dots Secret Society, who do clandestine good works. And he meets a little redbird named Jack, who is at the center of this tale of a magical Christmas when something so amazing happened that those who witnessed it have never forgotten it. Once you experience the wonder, you too will never forget 
A Redbird Christmas.

My Mum got this book for Christmas and loved it, so passed it on to me to see what I thought.
Unfortunately I didn’t quite have the same reaction to it.

I did really enjoy it, it’s a charming tale of various members of Lost River, from Oswald’s arrival onwards. There were lots of little moments that I really enjoyed, finding out about the community, and the various big happenings that shake them all up.

Of all the character’s I really loved Oswald – he had a humour and determination about him that really capture me.
It was just once he got to Lost River that I lost interest.

We meet various members of the community, and hear snippets of their lives. Unfortunately most of the character’s remained very flat for me, with their actions and dialogue coming across as very stilted and disjointed. Moments that were supposed to be big reveals I had seen coming from the start, and because I didn’t really warm to a lot of the character’s meant that I wasn’t as drawn into caring for them as I was meant to be.

The writing used a very odd style that jumped around from character to character – great to find out what was happening to others in the village, but not so great when you can’t tell who is speaking or thinking and then it changes randomly part way through a paragraph. There were also odd spelling mistakes that just gave the whole thing a slightly tatty air.

Events were loosely joined together through the changing seasons and year, but because none of the characters were fully fleshed out I never really got drawn into it. And the ending wrapped up a little too neatly and too randomly for my taste which always leaves me a little bit disgruntled afterwards.

That said I did enjoy parts of it, it just didn’t quite grab me in the way I was expecting it to. It had charming moments, some lovely bits of humour and a great array of small moments that lifted it for me. However I did enjoy some of Flagg’s other books, particularly ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’ so I think it was either a blip or I was in the wrong mood to read it.

A light Christmas read, one that briefly catches at you but doesn’t ultimately linger.

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Sunday, 15 January 2012

Pandemonium UK Cover Reveal

You guys I am so unbelievably excited about this cover!

I really wasn't all that fussed on the cover for Delirium, yes ok pretty, but not enough to make me sit and stroke it for hours. I am a terrible, terrible person when it comes to pretty covers. They seduce me and make me want to build a little nest and tell them all how beautiful they are.
Don't believe me? Well maybe about the nest part, sure, but check out my post about the prettiest covers of 2011.

And 2012 is shaping up to pretty coverlicious year too - just look at the pretties!

Pandemonium is released on 1st March in the UK. Go press that pre-order button!

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

I’m pushing aside the memory of my nightmare, 
pushing aside thoughts of Alex, 
pushing aside thoughts of Hana and my old school, 
like Raven taught me to do.
The old life is dead.
But the old Lena is dead too.
I buried her.
I left her beyond a fence,
behind a wall of smoke and flame.

Lauren Oliver delivers an electrifying follow-up to her acclaimed New York Times bestseller, Delirium. This riveting, brilliant novel crackles with the fire of fierce defiance, forbidden romance, and the sparks of a revolution about to ignite.

Review: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

Who would have guessed that four minutes could change everything? Imagine if she hadn't forgotten the book. Or if there hadn't been traffic on the expressway. Or if she hadn't fumbled the coins for the toll. What if she'd run just that little bit faster and caught the flight she was supposed to be on. Would it have been something else - the weather over the Atlantic or a fault with the plane? Hadley isn't sure if she believes in destiny or fate but, on what is potentially the worst day of each of their lives, it's the quirks of timing and chance events that mean Hadley meets Oliver... Set over a 24-hour-period, Hadley and Oliver's story will make you believe that true love finds you when you're least expecting it.

Oh my god you guys, I loved this book.
I’d heard really good things about it, and then I read Angie’s review (and regular readers know that it only takes Angie saying she loved a book and I’ve bought it off Amazon before I’ve finished the review) and I was sold.

Set over twenty four hours, it’s the perfect combination of humour, grief, joy, and squishy cute moments. I’m all about the squishy cute moments.

I loved that this wasn’t just a romance though. It looks equally at Hadley, her family and the break-up of her family unit leading up to this point – the night before her father’s re-marriage.

It was such an honest look at the breakdown of relationships, as well as the forming of them, that for once I didn’t get grumpy over a portrayal of the breakdown. I actually empathised with every character, and found it fascinating as we were allowed deeper insights into Hadley’s life both before and after.

That said, I really loved the squishy moments…
Oliver was such a genuinely nice, refreshingly human boy. There was no insta-love. There was attraction, sure, by the bucket load, but I didn’t ever feel like this spark was being pushed or rushed or rammed repeatedly into a brick wall. The reader almost falls for Oliver along with Hadley, we laugh, we cry, we cheer, and are so swept up in this beautiful tale that’s full of endings and beginnings and false starts. It was so realistic, so full of life without being cloying or false.

I don’t want to ruin it, although I could quite happily chatter on about it for ages. I just want to say how brilliantly written it was. How much of a breah of fresh air, and how carried away by their story. I loved Hadley, she’s so likeable, so friendly despite the grumps attached to the circumstance. I loved the banter between her and Oliver, and the fact that he was so deliciously imperfect. Gotta hate those flawless boys.

I loved the twists and the turns, and the fabulous happenstances that so often lead to brilliant things in life. But most of all I loved the interweaving of the family relationships and drama into this beautiful romance. Everything was pitched perfectly, and I fell in love with it.

There was one glaring error which gave me a mild case of the grumps, which is that the American custom is for the bridesmaid’s to precede the bride down the aisle, whereas the English custom is for them to follow the bride. So why, in an English wedding, where the bride is English, are American customs being employed?
You can argue it any which way about the bride choosing to be different, but the fact remains that in an otherwise flawless book, I was suddenly (and frustratingly) jolted out of it with something as trivial as that.

However, it was ultimately such a small thing that it hasn’t affected my overall rating, because really you guys, this book? Awesomeness in a small and brilliantly written package. It’s stayed with me long after reading – I keep going back and thinking about different moments, and re-reading passages. And yeah ok, we’re only half way through the month, but I think I might have just read my book of the month…
Any other book I read this month is going to have a lot to beat.

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