Saturday, 30 June 2012

Books I'm Squeeing About in July

I don't quite know how we managed it, but somehow we've made it to just over halfway through the year... Crazy I know! But the first half has flown by in a haze of fantastic books and I'm intending to do more of the same for the second half. So without further ado, here are my top picks for July - we have some highly anticipated reads finally gracing our shelves this month, and my pre-order basket is already full to bursting!

3rd– Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan
Just because Mel lives in New Whitby, a city founded by vampires, doesn't mean she knows any of the blood-drinking undead personally. They stay in their part of town; she says in hers. Until the day a vampire shows up at her high school. Worse yet, her best friend, Cathy, seems to be falling in love with him. It's up to Mel to save Cathy from a mistake she might regret for all eternity
On top of trying to help Cathy (whether she wants it or not), Mel is investigating a mysterious disappearance for another friend and discovering the attractions of a certain vampire wannabe. Combine all this with a cranky vampire cop, a number of unlikely romantic entanglements, and the occasional zombie, and soon Mel is hip-deep in an adventure that is equal parts hilarious and touching.
Acclaimed authors Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan team up to create a witty and poignant story of cool vampires, warm friendships, and the changes that test the bonds of love.

Yes guys, it is that time of year at last! Team Human is so close you can almost lick it. The dynamic duo of Labalestier and Rees Brennan have got comedy and poignant heart break down to a fine art with this fantastic new young adult book. If you love vampires you'll love it, and if you hate vampires you'll love it too! Everyone should buy a copy now!
And if you're as over excited about this book as I am, check back on July 2nd when I will be posting an awesome interview with the lovely Sarah Rees Brennan herself! *swoons*

You can read my non-spoiler review here!

5thStolen Night by Rebecca Maizel
Lenah Beaudonte should be dead. But having sacrificed herself to save another, she finds herself awakening with strange powers that are neither vampire nor human - and a new enemy on her trail. In her vampire life, Lenah had thought that being human was all she ever wanted; but the human heart suffers pain, heartbreak and loss. With her new powers growing and the dark force of the Nex after her soul, Lenah faces a choice: between the mortal love of gorgeous Justin, whose passion fed her human soul, and taking a different path to become the mistress of her own destiny, wherever that may lead...

This book has been teasing me since the start of 2011 with the release date being pushed further and further back. But now at last, fingers crossed, I'm finally going to get my hands on it and see what happens next! 'Infinite Days' was such a fantastically fresh spin on the vampire tale that it shot straight into my favourite book pile, and I'm really hoping the sequel is going to live up to my high expectations.

5thFrostfire by Zoe Marriott
Frost is cursed - possessed by a wolf demon that brings death everywhere she goes. Desperate to find a cure, she flees her home, only to be captured by the Ruan Hill Guard. Trapped until she can prove she is not an enemy, Frost grows increasingly close to the Guard’s charismatic leader Luca and his second in command, the tortured Arian. Torn between two very different men, Frost fears that she may not be able to protect either of them ... from herself.

I adore Zoe Marriott's writing, so ever since this first was put on my radar at the end of last year by Walker Books, I have been desperate to see what she has in store for us next. Her writing improves with each book released, and her prose is utterly fantastic. A mistress of plot and characters that you want to pull out of the page, I am unbelievably excited for this next offering from her.

5thWitchstruck by Victoria Lamb
Meg Lytton has always known of her dark and powerful gift. Raised a student of the old magick by her Aunt Jane, casting the circle to see visions of the future and concocting spells from herbs and bones has always been as natural to Meg as breathing. But there has never been a more dangerous time to practise the craft, for it is 1554, and the sentence for any woman branded a witch is hanging, or burning at the stake.
Sent to the ruined, isolated palace of Woodstock to serve the disgraced Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and half-sister of Queen Mary, Meg discovers her skills are of interest to the outcast princess, who is desperate to know if she will ever claim the throne. But Meg's existence becomes more dangerous every day, with the constant threat of exposure by the ruthless witchfinder Marcus Dent, and the arrival of a young Spanish priest, Alejandro de Castillo, to whom Meg is irresistibly drawn - despite their very different attitudes to her secret.

Witchcraft in Tudor times with Elizabeth as a young girl thrown in? Yes please! Random House Children's Books have done another sterling job of getting me hooked on a book months before I'm allowed to read it. This one looks to have loads of elements that I love, and I cannot wait to throw myself into the story.

5th- The Flappers: Ingenue by Jillian Larkin
Power . . . love . . . scandal . . .
There’s never enough to go around.
In the city that never sleeps, Lorraine Dyer is wide awake. Ever since she exposed Clara Knowles for the tramp she was—and lost her closest confidante in the process—Lorraine has spent every second scheming to make her selfish, lovesick ex–best friend pay for what she did. No one crosses Lorraine. Not even Gloria. 
True love conquers everything—or so Gloria Carmody crazily believed. She and Jerome Johnson can barely scrape together cash for their rent, let alone have a moment to whisper sweet nothings in the dark. And if they thought escaping Chicago meant they’d get away with murder . . . they were dead wrong.
Clara was sure that once handsome, charming Marcus Eastman discovered her shameful secret, he’d drop her like a bad habit. Instead, he swept her off her feet and whisked her away to New York. Being with Marcus is a breath of fresh air—and a chance for Clara to leave her wild flapper ways firmly in the past. Except the dazzling parties and bright lights won’t stop whispering her name. . . . 

Oh I got so unbelievably excited about the first book in this series 'Vixen' that I have barely stopped chattering about it to anyone who'll stand still long enough. And now we finally get the second book in the series and I cannot wait. A deliciously guilty pleasure, the roaring twenties have taken on a new glitz and glamour for a fresh young adult trilogy.

6th - Before I Wake by Rachel Vincent
I died on a Thursday-killed by a monster intent on stealing my soul. The good news? He didn't get it. The bad news? Turns out not even death will get you out of high school...  Covering up her own murder was one thing, but faking life is much harder than Kaylee Cavanaugh expected. After weeks spent "recovering," she's back in school, fighting to stay visible to the human world, struggling to fit in with her friends and planning time alone with her new reaper boyfriend. But to earn her keep in the human world, Kaylee must reclaim stolen souls, and when her first assignment brings her face-to-face with an old foe, she knows the game has changed. Her immortal status won't keep her safe. And this time Kaylee isn't just gambling with her own life...

After the events of the last book I have been pining for more Tod, and now my wish is finally within reach. Vincent's soul screamers series is a fantastic urban fantasy with a fresh spin on the monsters lurking out there, and after the shocking events of the last book I can't wait to see where she's taking me next.

9thSeraphina by Rachel Hartman
Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty's anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.
Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen's Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.
In her exquisitely written fantasy debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex, and utterly original world. Seraphina's tortuous journey to self-acceptance is one readers will remember long after they've turned the final page.

I'm in the middle of reading this one at the moment and it is utterly fantastic. Completely engrossing, a new world full of intrigue and politics where Dragons can take the shape of humans and live among us. It has an otherworld feeling to it and has completely swept me away.

You can enter to win an ARC copy of Seraphina here!

And read my review here!

So that's what I can't wait for this month, but what about you, are there are any excitements that you can't wait to get hold of?

Friday, 29 June 2012

Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Huge thanks to Harriet at Random House for sending me a copy to review.

Release Date: 9th July 2012

Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty's anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.
Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen's Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.
In her exquisitely written fantasy debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex, and utterly original world. Seraphina's tortuous journey to self-acceptance is one readers will remember long after they've turned the final page.

I never fully expected Seraphina to capture me quite as it did. I was anticipating likeing it, to enjoy reading it, but it was one of those unexpected surprises that creeps up on you and becomes a little part of your soul whilst you read. I closed the book and sat with it in my hands, and wanted nothing more than to open it again at the beginning and start again. It has tailed me round for days after I’ve finished it, dogging my thoughts until I may well cave and go back to absorb the world of Seraphina again.

‘…as if I have intuited the One Equation, seen the numbers behind the moon and stars, behind mountains and history, art and death and yearning, as if my comprehension is large enough that it can encompass universes, from beginning to the end of time.’

It didn’t get off to the best start with me, taking its time to draw me in. There’s a fair amount of scene setting and backstory to get through which Hartman handles deftly. Not so much that the reader is overwhelmed though, in fact she pitches it just right to give the reader enough to go on without throwing every piece of information to us about the world we’re stepping into.

In fact there was quite a lot that I didn’t know about and that I wanted to find out more, but because some of these things are such a regular part of Seraphina’s world we don’t get any explanation, they are just there, everyday and normal for her. I’d love to find out so much more about the world. It whet my appetite and left me desperate for more, whereas I normally leave fantasy books feeling like my brain is saturated with excess information.

The world itself is incredible, it’s so rich and vibrant and detailed, and yet at the same time the reader is not treated like an outsider, the bare basics are explained and the rest you’re expected to pick up as you go along – which delighted me more than I can express. I love books that don’t attempt to spoon feed the reader.

It’s a challenging world with so much vivid life spilling out from the pages, so much to hold together to weave into a narrative, and yet Hartman tackles it with ease and skill. I was impressed and completely engrossed in the story. In this new world, in the politics and the religion and the intrigue, and of course the dragons. I loved the dragons. We as humans are always attempting to humanize other creatures, to make them easier to comprehend, to make them emotional and easily understandable. And Hartman doesn’t at all. They are a species apart. Yes there are bridges between the two, they are more similar than they would probably care to admit, but I was impressed that these dragons were just that, they had an entirely different mind-set and pattern of thought and construct and emotion. It was fascinating to read and an incredible feat of writing to keep them so separate and yet to still make them relatable and fascinating to the reader.

The writing was fantastic. At times painfully beautiful, with a lyrical quality that has knocked Hartman up into one of my favourite writers. I found myself doing something I never do with books – folding down corners of pages to mark passages that I particularly loved.

‘I became the very air; I was full of stars. I was the soaring spaces between the spires of the cathedral, the solemn breath of chimneys, a whispered prayer upon the winter wind. I was silence, and I was music, one clear transcendent chord rising toward Heaven.’

I loved the characters, as I’ve touched on talking about the dragons, they were incredibly constructed, real and lifelike and utterly flawed and completely fantastic as a result. I loved Seraphina from the start, and the secondary characters quickly fell in behind her to create a fantastic cast to lead me through the book. She was such a likeable heroine - she was flawed and self concious and full of fear, but at the same time incredibly brave and kind and strong. She was a fantastic role model and I loved her determination to do what was right, and to protect those she loved.
I adored Kiggs and the strange friendship that develops between him and Seraphina, the odd philosophical discussions and moments of candid frankness with the other.

‘The world inside myself is vaster and richer than this paltry plain, peopled with mere galaxies and gods.’

And then we come to the plot, which had me guessing and second guessing myself right the way through. This was no simple straight line from A to B, this was a fantastic journey through foothills and mountains with so many different threads and characters and storylines that I had no idea where we were heading, but settled in and just enjoyed the ride. It set everything up so fantastically for the next book in the series, it felt almost like a prelude to the main event, but in no way any less enjoyable or diminished as a result. I loved every moment of the journey and will quite happily go back and revisit it again and again until I have more to read from Hartman!

‘I feel this music in my very blood. This is what it means to be me, right here, right now, solid flesh, ethereal air, eternal motion. I feel this, and it is true beyond truth.’

I would highly recommend this to anyone who loves a fantastically written book – never mind the fantasy elements and the dragons. Read this for the writing, for the fantastic plot and the brilliantly written characters. Yes the dragons and fantasy provide an extra element to the book, and a fantastic one at that, but Hartman is a new force to be reckoned with if her debut writing is anything to go by, and I recommend getting in and reading this before this book sweeps the masses and you’re left behind.

‘We were all monsters and bastards, and we were all beautiful.’

If you’re interested and would like to be in with a chance of winning a brand spanking new ARC of Seraphina, you can enter my giveaway here!

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Seraphina Advance Book Give Away

This giveaway is now closed! Check back shortly for the winner announcement!

So we're halfway through the year (almost) and I feel it's time to celebrate with another give away!
I have up for grabs, an advance reader copy of 'Seraphina' by Rachel Hartman, which is utterly fantastic!

The rules are thus:
1. Only open to those in the UK, very sorry, but my bank balance won't cover shipping costs anywhere else this month! I'll make sure the next giveaway is international!

2. It's open until midnight on July 2nd

3. In order to enter just leave a comment below and answer me this: If you could be any supernatural creature, what would you be?
If you're a follower of the blog that's always a bonus too!

The give away is open now - go for it and good luck!

There will be a separate post that will go live announcing the winner shortly after the close of the giveaway.

Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty's anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.
Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen's Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.
In her exquisitely written fantasy debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex, and utterly original world. Seraphina's tortuous journey to self-acceptance is one readers will remember long after they've turned the final page.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Review: Gossip Girl by Cecily Von Ziegesar

Welcome to New York City's Upper East Side, where my friends and I live, go to school, play, and sleep--sometimes with each other. 
S is back from boarding school, and if we aren't careful, she's going to win over our teachers, wear that dress we couldn't fit into, steal our boyfriends' hearts, and basically ruin our lives in a major way. I'll be watching closely...

You know you love me, 
gossip girl

I first read this book when it was foisted on me by my best friend with the exclamation that ‘I liked books didn’t I? I’d love this.’

I remember being pretty unimpressed at the time, but after growing up another fifteen years or so and loving the TV series, I decided maybe I’d been a little too judgemental and I should give the books another go.

So I picked up a cheap copy and settled in with a glass of wine and the book and realized a few pages in that my ten year old self really hadn’t been being judgemental, she was right, the book was awful. And I’m kind of impressed that my ten year old self wasn’t scarred for life with some of the content and language bandied around.

I love the tv series, it’s my guilty pleasure, don’t judge me, but they have managed to create some halfway likeable and believable characters that I care about and want to know what happens to them. There is no real character development in the books, they’re all incredibly snobby and incredibly bitchy and there is nothing to actually recommend them or make me like them. It tends to be a bit of a non-starter if I don’t click with any of the characters.

The plot barely manages to string itself along in a coherent fashion, the writing is at best readable and at worst absolutely dire, and I didn’t find most of the scenarios even remotely believable. The tv series has taken the concept and developed it into quite an intriguing premise (yes all right, a little shallow and very little substance, but I still like it!) but it’s quite baffling how they managed to find that much characterization from the books to begin with.

I think what shocked me the most was that my ten year old self had gotten hold of them no problem and read what was supposed to be a young adult book, with language and sex scenes galore. I have no problem with either of those things, but I feel that they should be put in if it’s right for a character or to further the plot, not for the shock value, and particularly not when such young people could be picking these books up.

All in all I really wasn’t impressed. It was a quick read sure, but offered very little in the form of decent writing, plot or characterization. If you’re curious about the Gossip Girl series I recommend trying the TV series rather than wasting time with the books.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Review: Dying to Know You by Aidan Chambers

Huge thanks to Harriet at Random House for sending me a copy of the book to review.

In Dying to Know You, award-winning author Aidan Chambers has created an indelible portrait of a young man discovering his own voice in the world, and has constructed a love story that is as much about the mind as it is the heart. In this contemporary love story, a teenage boy named Karl enlists a famous writer to help him impress his girlfriend, Fiorella. She has asked him to write her a letter in which he reveals his true self. But Karl isn’t convinced he’s good enough with words, so he tracks down Fiorella’s favorite author and begs him to take up the task. The writer reluctantly assents, on the condition that Karl agree to a series of interviews, so that the letter will be based on an authentic portrait of Karl. The letter, though effective, has unexpected consequences for Karl, Fiorella, and the writer.

After reading Aidan Chambers collection of short stories ‘The Kissing Game’ I wasn’t entirely certain what to expect from his latest novel – but I knew that after that blurb regardless of any misgivings I might have, I was going to have to read it. The idea caught at me and I was desperate to see how Chamber handled it and played it out.

And it was truly fantastic. The writing style was very different to most novels out at the moment, comprising mostly dialogue as you would find in a script with very little description. It gives the novel a very intimate feel, it feels as though you are right inside his head, with dialogue as it plays out and thoughts and musings that help relate to the story and move it along.

At first it was quite a jolt to read a book in this style, but I quickly settled into it and actually enjoyed it – it was such a refreshing change to have such a clean pared down style of writing. But at the same time to have such elegantly simplistic and at times utterly beautiful prose – the simplicity didn’t mean that the beauty and elegance was lost.

It was a surprising book on many levels. First the writing style, but close behind was the choice of narrator. This was without a doubt a book about the coming of age of a young man, but told from the perspective of a much older man who befriends him. I loved the ‘Author’ as the narrator. It was such an intriguing choice to have this young adult book told from an older mans perspective. He listens to Karl without being judgemental or obtrusive, he’s thoughtful and wise and at moments very funny. He brings so much more insight to the story than we would otherwise gain from just watching Karl ourselves.

It’s an incredibly fascinating relationship. Friendship, almost a father and son relationship and of course the mentor and the student – although they both take turns with this as they help to teach the other how to live and grow. It’s a relationship of equality, of simplicity and overwhelming need. These two characters need each other, even if they do not necessarily realize it most of the time. I found myself utterly captivated by this simple story of a connection between two people. And such a refreshing connection! To have a relationship as the focus that isn’t life or death love and heart break. That simply shows a tenuous moment that grows into affection between two characters with no romantic notions.

The development is slow but meaningful. This is no fast paced action packed thriller, it’s a quietly understated tale of love and loss and coming of age, and above all finding out who you are within yourself. It is quiet and slow but it really packs a punch with every turn it takes. It’s a fascinating book with thoughtful and insightful characters who are all desperately trying to learn how to become comfortable within themselves – to amalgamate the past and the present and the future into a whole. The story took so many turns that I wasn’t expecting, there is so much scope and opportunity to explore the characters, to explore their relationship and the creativity and development they both embrace in order to fully find themselves. It’s an on-going journey, one that I felt we only saw a brief snapshot of, but it was an incredibly engrossing snapshot and I could have quite happily continued to see Karl and the author’s relationship develop indefinitely.

The only character that I never warmed to was Fiorella. She was obnoxious and petty and utterly irritating. I never really understood what Karl had seen in her at the start, and the more interactions we saw between her and the Author the more I disliked her. However she was key in bringing about the relationship between Karl and the Author, so I guess she gets a point there…

Quite honestly, it was not what I expected it would be. The coming of age story was emotional and beautiful. The writing was smooth and rhythmic. The characters each had a mind of their own and the story is utterly engrossing.
It was a quietly moving and breath taking novel. It came out of nowhere and completely swept me away, and I loved it. It’s a novel to be savoured and discussed and offers so many intriguing moments and characters that provide food for thought long after the final page has been turned.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Five Favourite Opening Lines

One of the classes that sticks most vividly in my mind from my university years, was one about first sentences. Whilst they are not the be all and end all of whether a book is going to be good, it’s always interesting to see how quickly a book can reel you in. Some take a few chapters where you’re unsure but are willing to give it a shot, some a few pages, but the best – the very, very best, have the first sentence down to a fine art.

I have plenty of books on my shelves that have perfectly lovely first sentences, not the attention grabbing awesome I’m talking about right now, and they are still my favourite books, but there is something very special when an author manages to pitch is so perfectly that they have hooked you within a line.

So I started looking at my favourites and why they’re my favourites and what it is about them that pulls me in, and I noticed that whilst they all have fantastic first lines the second and third one usually follow on so that it turns into a first line paragraph that draws me in to the point that I literally cannot not read the rest of the book and find out where the author wants to take me.
The first line magic is a rare magic that some authors have perfected, and I have found five of my favourites to share with you a little bit of why they’re awesome and why I love them so much.

My first will come as very little surprise to any of you who have read my review of this book, ‘The Night Circus’ by Erin Morgenstern. Her whole opening section gives me goosebumps every time I read it. Every, single, time. And I’ve read it, a lot. There is something very magical about it, almost as if the author is whispering the words in your ear as you read them. It feels as though she’s letting you in on a secret, something that isn’t commonly known, that is passed from person to person.

'The Circus arrives without warning.
No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.'

Like I said, there’s something secretive, something magical, and yet entirely matter of fact. It’s a statement, but it sets up a whole host of questions about what the circus is and where it’s come from, and why it appears, and why it doesn’t need any announcements – it demands and commands attention. The whole book feels like an illicit tale of whispers and secrets and magic that the reader has stumbled into and this opening sets the scene beautifully. It tells you everything and nothing at all and reminds me each time I read it, that the circus is back again.

This next one isn’t so much the first line, as the combination of the first two, but they set each other up so fantastically that it almost feels like only one line. ‘The Demon’s Lexicon’ by Sarah Rees Brennan is a fantastically witty and emotionally twisting ride of awesome, and her first sentence manages to convey the oddities of this world she’s plunging us into so effectively.

‘The pipe under the sink was leaking again. It wouldn’t have been so bad, except that Nick kept his favourite sword under the sink.’

It makes me snigger, right off I have the tone of the book, the humour shines through immediately, and I also have that juxtaposition of the normalness of a leaking sink and the absurdity of a sword being kept under it. Like I said, it sets the tone of the book, and indeed the series perfectly, and is something that Sarah keeps perfect for the opening of each book in the series. However I have a special spot in my heart for the start of a series, it’s where the magic and enchantment first set in, so I’ve only included the first book in my list. Whilst it in no way prepares me for the journey I’m about to embark on by reading this book, it sets the idea, the tone and the style off fantastically, and remains a favourite that is guaranteed to make me smile.

‘Warm Bodies’ by Isaac Marion is a rare gem of fantastic writing, absurdly brilliant content and a startling romance. I was unsure about it when I first picked it up, but the opening line sealed it for me.

“I am dead, but it’s not so bad. I have learned to live with it.”

It just made me sit up and blink and take notice. You immediately get an idea of the voice, of the tone and the slightly crazy path you’re about to go down by reading the book. It’s such a different opener to so many books that feature the un-dead, and gives a blunt opening into R and the tale he’s about to take us into. It’s just such an odd sentence when you consider it, the irony of the being dead but learning to live with it. It’s a clever and simplistic opening line that sets up Marion’s writing style.

‘It was the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.’

It gives me shivers. Like we had with ‘The Night Circus’, the opening line of ‘The Scorpio Races’ takes statements of fact in a whole new direction. It’s said with complete authority, you don’t ever question the narrator, and yet it is such a startling opening to a novel. Why? So many questions immediately crop up on reading it. It’s the sort of opener that really jolts you, it’s unexpected, it’s simple, and above all, it’s incredibly effective to persuade me as a reader to carry on.

And now, one of my all-time favourites, I don’t think a list of awesome would be complete without her on it, Deanna Raybourn’s opening line for ‘Silent in the Grave’ the first book in the Lady Julia Grey series.

‘To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband’s dead body was not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor.’

It’s just so fantastic. Deanna really delights in dropping her readers right in the middle of scene – go and look at the opening of every single one of her novels, and you’ll see what I mean. If the characters aren’t dropping dead in the first line, then they’re in the middle of an argument that was going long before the reader first opened the book. It’s a fantastic way to draw the reader in and completely engross them in the action. There is no slow warm up as the reader and the author get going, they’re there right in the action, right from the start.

In fact this opening line was what persuaded me to buy the series in the first place – it’s used on the blurb to very great effect, as shown from the crazed way I bought every book of Deanna’s I could lay my hands on. It gives an idea of the narrator, of her dry wit and humour, the language indicates the time period and setting, and it’s just so absurdly comical that you can’t help but be intrigued and want to know what will happen next.

But now on to you – what makes a good first line for you? And what are some of your favourites?

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Review: Snow White and the Huntsman by Lily Blake

A breathtaking new vision of a legendary tale. Snow White is the only person in the land fairer than the evil queen who is out to destroy her. But what the wicked ruler never imagined is that the young woman threatening her reign has been training in the art of war with a huntsman who was dispatched to kill her.

Let me start by making it incredibly clear that this review relates to the book, not the film ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’ – despite the two being linked, I loved the film. My feelings for the book however are on the other end of the scale.

I usually make it a rule that books based on a screenplay/new film are to be avoided. The other way around and I don’t mind, I love seeing how a book has been adapted to make a film, but for some reason when you reverse the process everything goes a bit pete tong.
However, as I said, I love the film, to little pieces in fact. Little pieces I will be sharing in a separate review coming soon. So I thought I’d put my pre-conceptions aside and give the book a shot, and I really wish I hadn’t.

First off having characters and a plot ready made and waiting apparently makes a writer sloppy. There is no real characterization, no development, no build up, no tension, no justification, rhyme, reason, or in fact anything very much, apart from an incredibly bland script for the film with a few adjectives thrown in for good measure. If I was coming to this book without having seen the film first I wouldn’t have had any idea really about any of the characters except for the fact that Ravenna likes to laugh evilly a lot, which in itself made me want to throw things. In the film Ravenna is portrayed incredibly – the performance is subtle with so many layers to peel back, so much emotion and so much in play, and most definitely no evil laughing.

It was like the author took all the fabulous thing, layers, brilliance and symbolism from the film and then stomped all over it. For example in the film the White Hart is used for a really beautiful and symbolic moment – yet in the book we have a white stallion and a complete blank on any symbolism.

As I’ve touched on, the completely brilliant and nuanced performances of the leads and the layers they brought to their characters were completely squashed here. It was an exercise in telling the reader everything, from the way Ravenna sits on her throne, to bad descriptions of her costumes, to how characters feel about each other. Fantastic ideas and imagination were crushed beneath heavy and uninspired prose. It was a brutal massacre of what could have been an incredible companion to the movie, that could have used the ideas and layers brought together on screen and developed them into a complex and beautiful novel. But instead we were offered this, which quite frankly is a bit of an insult. To throw a really good retelling of an age old fairy tale away on a slap dash effort of writing was a wasted opportunity. All you have to do is look at some of the films, tv shows and books being released right now to see that fairy tales are making a come back, they are everywhere, and now is a prime time to throw in with that and produce some written companions to the screen versions.

I did enjoy some little details that were not explained so well in the film, and putting them into words really added to the story. For example the depth of Finn and Ravenna’s connection and a little more of their backstory. I also quite liked the lengthening of the courtship between Ravenna and the King – on the one hand it gave more time for everyone to fall under her spell, whereas on the other the suddenness of the marriage in the film worked really well juxtaposed against the King’s grief.

On a completely personal note one of the little details I loved about the film was that we never learn the Huntsman’s name (unless I had a complete blank, in which case feel free to correct me.) Whereas in the book instead of maintaining that fabulous air of mystery he is called… Wait for it… Eric. Now I have nothing against the name Eric as a rule, I think it’s a lovely name, but really? This big, epic Huntsman, in a world inhabited by Ravenna’s and Snow White’s is called Eric?... No. Just no.

Maybe part of the problem for me is this idea of ghost writing books. We've got it with The Vampire Diaries and Stefan's Diaries, and with other movie books as well - at least this time we got the name of the writer. But there does appear to be a decidedly second rate, in my eyes at least, approach to ghost writing books like this. Is it that they are on a tight time frame when writing? Are they given too many constrictions to work with? Or even what brief are they working with? Maybe there a lots of extra factors at work with books like this that make the finished product come out at such a low quality. Whatever factors are at work, I really find that books written in circumstances like this never seem to have the same level of content as novels written to stand alone.

So if you dislike writing and fancy wasting four pounds I strongly suggest you read this. If on the other hand you’d like to see some fantastic examples of fairy tales I recommend seeing the film ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’, ‘Mirror Mirror’, the TV show ‘Once Upon a Time’ and the books ‘Entwined’, and ‘Enchanted’

Monday, 11 June 2012

Review: The Girl in the Clockwork Collar by Kady Cross

In New York City, 1897, life has never been more thrilling - or dangerous. 
Sixteen-year-old Finley Jayne and her "straynge band of mysfits" have journeyed from London to America to rescue their friend Jasper, hauled off by bounty hunters. But Jasper is in the clutches of a devious former friend demanding a trade-the dangerous device Jasper stole from him...for the life of the girl Jasper loves. 
One false move from Jasper and the strange clockwork collar around Mei's neck tightens. And tightens.

The Steampunk Chronicles and I appear to have a bit of a love hate relationship. On the one hand there are some things that are truly appalling about the books, and yet there is something incredibly compelling about them as well, for no matter how peeved I may get with elements of it, and the number of times I chuck the book across the room, I have to finish it, I have to know what happens, and as a result I have to read the next book.

I had a lot of issues with the first book in the series ‘The Girl in the Steel Corset’ and thankfully some of my grumps were address in this book – thank god Emily’s hair is only referred to as ‘ropey’ once in this book, as opposed to the three times a page in the last book. The writing has, by and large, improved. Yes there were still awkward passages and some threads of the story that were incredibly weak (they did fit into the whole, but I was thoroughly underwhelmed by Tesla’s thread of the story.) But for the most part this was a much stronger book than the first one.

The biggest frustration for me was the characterization. There’s a lot of telling instead of showing going on throughout the book, and the characters remain two dimensional for the most part, which is tragic because there are some truly stunning ideas and concepts that are attempted. I love the idea of the characters, but they never truly came alive for me. The secondary characters remained weak at best, and I never really felt like they became real, they were just a backdrop and provided plot devices. I’d love to see Sam developed, at the moment he is the weakest character for me, and I want to see more of the relationship between Sam and Emily. Finley and Griffin remain very stiff for me, there’s no real spark between them, and very sudden and abrupt changes in mood and feeling towards each other. I want to love these characters, I want to root for them, I want to cry and laugh with them, and really feel what they’re going through – there is something so completely captivating about the story, but it never really takes off in my eyes.

I liked the change of setting and pace, this book was a lot faster in pace and really kept things ticking along at a great speed. I liked that there was less of a push to describe some of the steampunk aspects like the clothes, and leave that to the readers imagination, because that was one of my big problems with the first book. As far as I’m concerned, Steampunk books have to have a solid foundation in the reality of the era before branching out into the weird and wonderful stuff, and that includes clothes. There has to be some basis in reality, some real and believable shift that would cause changes in clothing, like goggles and weighted dresses and hair-muffs for dirigible travel (see Gail Carriger’s ‘The Parasol Protectorate series.’) And Cross took a few too many leaps in the first book with women’s clothing that were a bit beyond the stretch of imagination. To go from the Victorian era where even showing ankle was a shocking thing, to Finley effectively wearing a Victorian style of hot pants and a corset were really a bridge too far in my eyes… So it was really nice to have that side of things left to the reader’s imagination. I loved a lot of the technology we saw, although again, I would have loved a little more of a scientific explanation about how these things were possible, but that’s just something I personally love seeing. I really felt that a lot of the things that I love about Steampunk books are not really looked at, or stretched beyond all reason.

Whilst I loved the conflict, I really, really truly loathed Mei. And not just because of her name… In fact can we take a moment to look at that name. I wouldn’t have spotted it ( or at least not for much longer) if Finley hadn’t made a big deal about pointing it out. Why call a character such a ridiculous name and then make a big deal about pointing it out? Mei Xing. I’m sorry but from the point that her name was revealed I couldn’t take her seriously, I wanted to scream every time her name was mentioned. Now maybe this is just me, maybe other readers will see that, have a chuckle and move on, but for me to name a character like that, deliberately, and with no real purpose behind it except that one moment of Finley noticing it and thinking it’s ridiculous, is just asking for your character to not be taken seriously from that point on. Any further characterization was, for me, ruined because I just wanted to throw things at her every time she entered a room.

However, despite my grumps, as I said there is something very compelling about this series. You want to read on and find out what happens. You want to see how they’ll get out of this, and what sort of world building excitements are coming up. The premise is fantastic, the writing is much better than the first book, but there are still some weak moments. My only real problem now is the characterization, so I’ve got all my hopes pinned on this next book that maybe the third time really will be the charm for me, and the third book and I will finally hit it off. At that point it will all have been worth it.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Review: Black Heart by Holly Black

Cassel Sharpe knows he’s been used as an assassin, but he’s trying to put all that behind him. He’s trying to be good, even though he grew up in a family of con artists and cheating comes as easily as breathing to him. He’s trying to do the right thing, even though the girl he loves is inextricably connected with crime. And he’s trying to convince himself that working for the Feds is smart, even though he’s been raised to believe the government is the enemy.
But with a mother on the lam, the girl he loves about to take her place in the Mob, and new secrets coming to light, the line between what’s right and what’s wrong becomes increasingly blurred. When the Feds ask Cassel to do the one thing he said he would never do again, he needs to sort out what’s a con and what’s truth. In a dangerous game and with his life on the line, Cassel may have to make his biggest gamble yet—this time on love.

Holly Black is one of the triumavate of authors at the top of fantastic young adult urban fantasy (the other two being Cassandra Clare and Sarah Rees Brennan) and she just doesn’t disappoint – in fact I think her books just get better and better the more she writes.

I have loved the Curse Workers series since the first book ‘White Cate’ graced our shelves and each book has been consistently even more awesome. In fact the only reason that I didn’t want to read ‘Black Heart’ was because I didn’t want this series to ever end. Unfortunately all good things more, or so I’m told, come to an end, and Cassel’s story goes out with a bang.

This series is genius – absolute genius I tell you, because it has kept me guessing at every single turn. I never know how things are going to play out, who might be double crossing who, and who is secretly double crossing everyone else for their own agenda. Normally with a book I can see roughly where we’re going with it, so I find it especially exciting when there’s a book that genuinely keeps me hanging until the very last moment when everything drops into place.

Cassel. Oh Cassel baby where would I be without you? He is one of my favourite young adult male protagonists, and Black Heart has done nothing more than cement his position in my heart. He’s brooding, he’s tortured, but he’s funny and snarky and always tries so hard to do the right thing, to protect those he cares about and he’s in this constant battle against everyone and everything, including himself and his inner demons. But he doesn’t wallow in his brooding torturedness, he’s no Heathcliffe wandering the moors. Instead he goes out and does everything in his power to try and keep the upper hand and protect his friends, and above all his family. He’s in this eternal guilt and power struggle, but it’s been fascinating to see his arc through this series, to see how he’s matured and developed and come into his own power and discovered himself. It’s been an incredible journey full of twists and turns and double crossing and sneaking and I’ve loved every moment of it.

Speaking of double crossing and families, can we take just a moment to also appreciate the audacious badassery of Barron? He’s been a bit of a fabulous loose cannon ever since the start of the series, but I’ve really loved to see his character develop – no he’s probably never going to adopt a kitten and help old ladies across the street, but he has grown and developed over the course of the books so we established by the end that he may even have a heart and a core of goodness hidden in there somewhere. I have to say I’ve found Barron’s story incredibly intriguing right from the start. To be able to work memories but lose your own in the process, to have to leave notes and photographs all over the place in preparation for the next memory you might lose – it’s heart breaking and twisted and brilliant and I would totally be on board of a Barron spin off… Just saying… I’ve also loved seeing how Barron and Cassel’s relationship has developed. It’s never going to be hugs and brotherly love in the traditional sense, but their loyalty and bond was one of the most fascinating things for me in this series.

The other of course being Lila and Cassel’s relationship. I have loved watching these two dance around each other – they are so bad at communicating it isn’t even funny, so to finally have some progress and communication between them was a payoff well worth waiting for. It’s steamy and tender and bittersweet and I just adored their relationship.

“Falling in love with them is like falling down a flight of stairs. What no one told me, with all those warnings, is that even after you’ve fallen, even after you know how painful it is, you’d still get in line to do it again.” 

I have loved the concept from the start, the idea of the blowback, of the mobs and the gangs and the undercover workers – the whole idea is seamlessly brilliant. I wholeheartedly recommend this series to, well, pretty much anyone actually. Fans of magic, of urban fantasy, of crimes and mobs and smooth talking bad boys, of family dynamics and romance will all love this, but ultimately anyone who’s a fan of a fantastically written and crafted book should pick up this series because you won’t be disappointed.

“But now I wonder--what if everyone is pretty much the same and it's just a thousand small choices that add up to the person you are? No good or evil, no black and white, no inner demons or angels whispering the right answers in our ears like it's some cosmic SAT test. Just us, hour by hour, minute by minute, day by day, making the best choices we can.
The thought is horrifying. If that's true, then there's no right choice. There's only choice.” 

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Review: The Springsweet by Saundra Mitchell

Heartbroken over the tragic death of her fiancĂ©, seventeen-year-old Zora Stewart leaves Baltimore for the frontier town of West Glory, Oklahoma, to help her young widowed aunt keep her homestead going. There she discovers that she possesses the astonishing ability to sense water under the parched earth. When her aunt hires her out as a "springsweet” to advise other settlers where to dig their wells, Zora feels the burden of holding the key to something so essential to survival in this unforgiving land. Even more, she finds herself longing for love the way the prairie thirsts for water. Maybe, in the wildness of the territories, Zora can finally move beyond simply surviving and start living.

I absolutely adored ‘The Vespertine’ last year – it was one of my top reads of 2012 and as a result I couldn’t wait to read ‘The Springsweet’ for a number of reasons.
Firstly, Saundra Mitchell’s writing is exquisite. She brought a hauntingly lyrical quality of writing to The Vespertine that swept me up with the story and took me away to Baltimore and teas and balls and the illicit love affair of a touch and the decadence of the visions that came to Amelia in the dying light of the day. And secondly because I loved Zora in The Vespertine, and was utterly heartbroken for her by the end of the first book. So there were a lot of very high expectations as I went into ‘The Springsweet’.

There is something so incredibly beautiful about Saundra Mitchell’s prose – it has a lyrical poetic quality that wrap the reader up and sweep them away with gossamer descriptions and sensations. It’s delicate and breath taking, yet also resilient and powerful and incredibly well-crafted with simple twists of words and phrases that together provide such an incredible effect.

I adored Zora. I loved the girl she was in ‘The Vespertine’ but I also loved watching her transform into the woman she was meant to be in ‘The Springsweet’. As Zora comes to embrace the wilderness around her, she comes to embrace herself, conquer the grief that has plagued her, and use her newfound gifts to create new possibilities. She is such a wonderful character, full of grief but desperate to try and keep going and find some part of a life that she can keep living. Full of desperation and heartache that she battles to supress to start with, but as she comes to accept that it’s now a part of her she matures and grows into this incredible young woman. She feels absolutely of her time, but all the while is incredibly vibrant and easily relatable for a modern audience.

Part of the incredible beauty of the book is in its fine balance of realism and magic, but this is handled so deftly that it doesn’t stand out as being a fantasy book. Mitchell naturalizes the magic so that it feels like a skill, a beautiful extension of the persons soul manifest in physical form. It was so good to see more elements at play after the fire and air of the first book, and the earth and water completely complement each other – it was incredibly beautiful to watch how the magic was handled and written, and in turn how Zora and Emmerson interacted. It provides an ethereal undertone to the book, but in no way does it take away from the main themes shown, of the thrill and freedom of frontier life, of the desperation and heartache of losing someone you love, and ultimately a coming of age story as Zora learns to find and accept herself for who she is.

Every character is deftly constructed, lovingly detailed and an integral part of Zora’s story, no matter how briefly. Mitchell has a rare gift, a multiple gift almost with her ability to construct breathlessly beautiful prose, believable and complete characters and incredible settings. She has quickly moved into not only my favourite authors list, but the ones to watch as well. I am desperate to see where she goes from here, not only in the third book in the series, but also following this. Such incredible gifts can only produce exquisite stories, and I cannot wait to read them all.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Review: Burn Mark by Laura Powell

Huge thanks to Bloomsbury for sending me a copy to review.

Release Date: 7th June 2012

Glory is from a family of witches and lives beyond the law. She is desperate to develop her powers and become a witch herself. Lucas is the son of the Chief Prosecutor for the Inquisition—the witches’ mortal enemy—and his privileged life is very different to the forbidden world that he lives alongside.
And then on the same day, it hits them both. Glory and Lucas develop the Fae—the mark of the witch. In one fell stroke, their lives are inextricably bound together, whether they like it or not…

When I first saw the blurb for ‘Burn Mark’ I was incredibly excited – it sounded like it would be an East End London version of Holly Black’s Curse Workers series with some alternative history thrown in for good measure. What it turned out to be was a slow paced, loosely strung narrative that left me bored for the majority of the book.

The concept was absolutely fantastic – but unfortunately it wasn’t particularly well executed. Whilst I don’t demand vast amounts of action to keep me enthralled in a book, I do at least require a little bit of something to keep me interested, and that was where one of the biggest problems came in – there was literally nothing happening for around two thirds of the book. Neither Glory or Lucas were engrossing enough for me to want to just read a book about their day to day existence with the Fae, which was a shame because there were some fantastic ideas contained within the book. Finally when we do get to some momentum with the plot it’s jolting and I actually found it quite unbelievable. By the time we get to teenagers saving the day, I’m usually involved enough in the plot that I don’t care that they are teenagers going in against the big bad, but I was enough on the outskirts of plausibility already with Glory and Lucas that I just sat there shaking my head and bemoaning the fact that they didn’t appear to have a brain cell between them. I wanted to root for them, I wanted to see what awful plots and devious plans they’d uncover, but in reality it was a lot of bumbling around making accidents and them stumbling into plots that weren’t explained or brought in early enough for me to grasp and/or care.

Which actually leaves me feeling quite depressed. I don’t like disliking a book. I don’t like pointing out failures in a review, I want to love it, but when a plot is held together with such unlikeable characters and flawed plot points it leaves me feeling cold.

As I’ve said, I never really warmed to Lucas and Glory which is where a lot of the problems lay. Lucas was an ass. Not so much when we read from his point of view, but from everyone else in the narratives perspective. But he wasn’t an ass for any real reason, he just came across as a spoiled rich boy who had failed to achieve the dynasty set out for him since birth. On the other hand we had Glory, a chav with a grating personality, who never became even remotely likeable for me as a reader. We did have moments of vulnerability between her and Lucas, but they actually seemed completely out of character from the rest of the book. The biggest problem was the lack of drive. If there had been more of a driving force behind the plot then the two main characters would have had less of a hard time of it under the reader’s scrutiny, but was it was with such a slow plot there was very little for them to hang on to.

Part of what slowed the book down so monumentally was the sheer volume of extra information the author was attempting to cram into the book. It was obvious that her research and planning and world building had been truly incredible, but unfortunately instead of then paring down the information into what the reader actually needed to understand the world and the history it was all crammed in as one massive info dump. For example,  a walk down a corridor could turn into not just a walk, but a talk about how that particularly corridor was the setting for one of the biggest witch crimes which brought in the ruling of 1954 and in turn led to revolts up and down the country… When all we really wanted was for the character to get to the other end of the corridor and find out what was going on. (That’s not an example taken from the book but it does give you an idea of the sheer overuse of information that has been crammed in.) It was so frustrating because all that extra information was genuinely interesting, but completely useless in context.

However let’s end on a good note and have a look at the things that I did enjoy. I really loved this idea of witches being treated as second class citizens, of the subtle differences in a world where magic is rife and is blamed for every problem – in a world where the Inquisition rules with an iron fist. Coming on from that I loved the ideas of the Coven’s turning into mobs and the seedy underworld that magic had been forced into. The politics and the intrigues and the rang of jobs available and options to those who had become witches – the idea of it almost being a disease that people were tragically struck down with. It was a really fascinating flip side to the books we’re used to seeing where magic is the coveted prize – the thing that sets people up and apart from the masses. I really loved the world building and the history and I would be genuinely interested to see another book set in this world, but with more of a drive and a focus. There was so much that was good about this book, it was just unfortunate that a lot of it became buried under superfluous extras.

As a book about magic seen from the flip side, with an alternative history and some truly fantastic world building I would definitely recommend it, just be aware of some of the pitfalls going in.