Friday, 31 August 2012

Books I'm Squeeing About in September

How is it nearly September already? SEPTEMBER?! It doesn’t seem like it can possibly be this late in the year already, but somehow it is. But luckily there are some really awesome books on the horizon to ease the transition from summer to autumn. Get your purses out, cos this month is going to be a good one…

EDIT: Amazon originally listed 'Unspoken' by Sarah Rees Brennan as being released on 30th August, however they have now changed it to 13th September! So apologies for the screwy info, but still go out and buy this book as soon as it's released! It's going to be awesome!

In a city of daimons, rigid class lines separate the powerful from the power-hungry. And at the heart of The City is the Carnival of Souls, where both murder and pleasure are offered up for sale. Once in a generation, the carnival hosts a deadly competition that allows every daimon a chance to join the ruling elite. Without the competition, Aya and Kaleb would both face bleak futures--if for different reasons. For each of them, fighting to the death is the only way to try to live.
All Mallory knows of The City is that her father--and every other witch there--fled it for a life in exile in the human world. Instead of a typical teenage life full of friends and maybe even a little romance, Mallory scans quiet streets for threats, hides herself away, and trains to be lethal. She knows it's only a matter of time until a daimon finds her and her father, so she readies herself for the inevitable. While Mallory possesses little knowledge of The City, every inhabitant of The City knows of her. There are plans for Mallory, and soon she, too, will be drawn into the decadence and danger that is the Carnival of Souls.

Oh hell yes. I didn’t even need to look at the blurb for this one before it was on my wish list. All I needed to know was that it’s a new book from Melissa Marr, and it’s called ‘Carnival of Souls’ – doesn’t that just give you shivers? I cannot wait for this book. And you know what makes it even sweeter? The fact that James Marsters is reading the audiobook of it. Yes that’s right guys, SPIKE IS READING THE AUDIOBOOK. So not only am I squeeing about the book, I will also be buying it in audiobook format just to have his dulcet tones speak to me.

A darkly compelling mix of romance, fairy tale, and suspense from a new voice in teen fiction
The trees swallowed her brother whole, and Jenny was there to see it. Now seventeen, she revisits the woods where Tom was taken, resolving to say good-bye at last. Instead, she's lured into the trees, where she finds strange and dangerous creatures who seem to consider 
her the threat. Among them is Jack, mercurial and magnetic, with secrets of his own. Determined to find her brother, with or without Jack's help, Jenny struggles to navigate a faerie world where stunning beauty masks some of the most treacherous evils, and she's faced with a choice between salvation or sacrifice--and not just her own.
This is one of those books that comes together in a beautifulness of extra bits that makes me want to pick it up despite knowing very little about it. I was struck first off by the cover (yes I know, I’m terribly shallow) and then the title, which just has something about it and prompted me to look at the blurb and there’s something that just tugs at me and makes me want to pick this one up. I’m very much in a fairy tale mood at the moment, and I’m hoping this is going to hit the right spots.

A storm. Rain-lashed city streets. A flash of lightning. A scruffy lad sees a girl leap desperately from a horse-drawn carriage, in a vain attempt to escape her captors. Can the lad stand by and let her be caught again? Of course not, because he's ...Dodger.

We’ve got a new Pratchett almost within reach – need I say more?

Evie O'Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City--and she is pos-i-toot-ly thrilled. New York is the city of speakeasies, shopping, and movie palaces! Soon enough, Evie is running with glamorous Ziegfield girls and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is Evie has to live with her Uncle Will, curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult--also known as "The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies."
When a rash of occult-based murders comes to light, Evie and her uncle are right in the thick of the investigation. And through it all, Evie has a secret: a mysterious power that could help catch the killer--if he doesn't catch her first.

Guys we are so being spoilt this month – a new Libba Bray book?! Oh yes please. Again, nothing more than that was needed to get this firmly onto my list, but then I saw the blurb and oh my yes please some more. Another twenties book? And by such a fantastic author? I am so there.

“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.”
It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.
Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.
His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.
But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.
For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

Maggie Stiefvater had me with The Scorpio Races, and as a result this new offering from her has me supremely excited. I’m wondering what we’re going to get from such an eclectic author who can take romance from making out every couple of pages in ‘Shiver’ to the slow burn that I fell in love with in ‘The Scorpio Races’. Whatever the result, I cannot wait to get my hands on this book.

In the sequel to the acclaimed The Girl of Fire and Thorns, a seventeen-year-old princess turned war queen faces sorcery, adventure, untold power, and romance as she fulfills her epic destiny.
Elisa is the hero of her country. She led her people to victory against a terrifying enemy, and now she is their queen. But she is only seventeen years old. Her rivals may have simply retreated, choosing stealth over battle. And no one within her court trusts her-except Hector, the commander of the royal guard, and her companions. As the country begins to crumble beneath her and her enemies emerge from the shadows, Elisa will take another journey. With a one-eyed warrior, a loyal friend, an enemy defector, and the man she is falling in love with, Elisa crosses the ocean in search of the perilous, uncharted, and mythical source of the Godstone's power. That is not all she finds. A breathtaking, romantic, and dangerous second volume in the Fire and Thorns trilogy.

I fell, completely unexpectedly and very thoroughly in love with ‘Fire and Thorns’ last year, and as a result this has been hotly anticipated since June 2011. Everything I’ve heard from early reviews marks this as even better than the first book, and I can’t wait to see where Carson takes us next in this fantastic debut fantasy series.

When Barry Fairweather dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock.
Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty fa├žade is a town at war.
Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…Pagford is not what it first seems.
And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?

I’m sure I’m not the only person who is waiting nervously and excitedly for the end of the month, because September 27th marks the release of the first adult novel from J. K. Rowling, and her first full novel since the Harry Potter series. Despite the lack of Horcruxes, wands and butterbeer, I still can’t wait to see what she’s written next with her first foray into adult fiction.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Review: Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

Jenny Lawson realized that the most mortifying moments of our lives—the ones we’d like to pretend never happened—are in fact the ones that define us. In the #1 New York Times bestseller, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Lawson takes readers on a hilarious journey recalling her bizarre upbringing in rural Texas, her devastatingly awkward high school years, and her relationship with her long-suffering husband, Victor. Chapters include: “Stanley the Magical, Talking Squirrel”; “A Series of Angry Post-It Notes to My Husband”; “My Vagina Is Fine. Thanks for Asking”; “And Then I Snuck a Dead Cuban Alligator on an Airplane.” Pictures with captions (no one would believe these things without proof) accompany the text.

Dear God you guys, this may be one of the funniest books I have ever read.

“… I prefer to think of it as ‘intellectually challenging and chronically surreal. Like if Memento was a book. About dead dogs and vaginas and puppets made of squirrel corpses.’ You can feel free to use that quote if you’re reviewing this chapter, or if you’re a student and your teacher asks you, ‘What was the author trying to say here?’ That was it. That’s what I was trying to say. That and ‘use condoms if you’re going to have sex, for God’s sake. There are a lot of Skanks out there.’ That’s not really covered in this book, but it’s still good advice.”

That right there gives you a vague idea what you’re letting yourself in for. Jenny Lawson aka The Bloggess is infamous in the blogosphere, and regularly has me in tears from laughing so hard on her blog. I think the story that converted me is the tale of Beyonce the giant metal chicken aka ‘Knock Knock Motherfucker.’
So when I she’d written a memoir (and hell, just look at that cover) I couldn’t resist.

There isn’t exactly a plot, more just a complete immersion in Jenny’s brain, which is an experience in itself. We find out about her childhood, and from there it’s a free for all throughout some of the weirder experiences of her life. 

You couldn’t make this stuff up. It’s genius, some of it is thought provoking and she isn’t afraid to grab hold of some harder topics and plunge right in. I was laughing at some points, and others I just wanted to cry and reach through the book and give her a hug.

It’s an incredibly surreal experience, and I did have to read the book in stages, partly to stretch the experience out longer and partly because sometimes I literally couldn’t laugh anymore.

This is a no filter system, no holds barred experience of seeing the world through the eyes of Jenny. Utterly fantastic, completely unbelievable and a brilliant book. Probably not for those who are easily offended as the language kicks off right from the beginning, but otherwise fantastic. And if you’re after the sort of book to get you weird looks on the commute, I highly recommend the audiobook as well, read by Lawson herself.

Seriously guys, pick this one up and prepare to have your mind boggled. Just don’t try to eat or drink whilst you’re reading…

And if you're not yet convinced, go and check out her fantastic blog right here!

Monday, 27 August 2012

Review: Such Wicked Intent by Kenneth Oppel

Huge thanks to Random House for sending me a copy to review

When does obsession become madness? Tragedy has forced sixteen-year-old Victor Frankenstein to swear off alchemy forever. He burns the Dark Library. He vows he will never dabble in the dark sciences again—just as he vows he will no longer covet Elizabeth, his brother’s betrothed.
If only these things were not so tempting.

When he and Elizabeth discover a portal into the spirit world, they cannot resist. Together with Victor’s twin, Konrad, and their friend Henry, the four venture into a place of infinite possibilities where power and passion reign. But as they search for the knowledge to raise the dead, they unknowingly unlock a darkness from which they may never return.

One of my favourite books from last year was ‘This Dark Endeavour’ the prequel of Victor Frankenstein’s life,  featuring a brooding young Victor and his twin Konrad, and an insatiable appetite to discover the darker elements of this world.

It was brilliant, a fantastic mix of the real and the fantastical all packaged up with a ton of gothic horror that left me with goose bumps.
And now we’re treated to the sequel! And I was terrified that it wouldn’t live up to the high standard set by the first book, but it really does.

Oppel has taken all the brilliance of the first book and distilled it into an even more thrilling ride for the second instalment. His imagination continues to completely astound me, with some macabre and brilliant ideas all coalescing into a fantastical whole. The plot is absolutely phenomenal. I wasn’t quite sure how he could surpass the genius of the first book, but he truly does. We get to see a darker, grittier and harder edge to the world that seemed so magical in the first book, everything seems a little more desperate and a little wilder and as a result even more unpredictable. Anything could happen, and does.

There is perhaps not as much character development as I would have liked. Although we do get to see some fascinating moments. Henry really starts to come into his own in particular and I loved seeing him stand up and fight for himself like he didn’t in the first book. We saw hints of it, but it was never fully realized.

It was also good to see some of Elizabeth’s darker side start to creep through, although I didn’t feel as though it had been explored as much as it could have been.  I really hope that there is a third book and that we get to see more of this darker side come through in Elizabeth. She’s a character that fascinates me, and yet at the same time isn’t entirely likeable. None of the characters are exactly likeable, they are all incredibly selfish, and yet they are utterly fascinating as we see them try to muddle their way through what in that time period would have been considered abominations of faith.

Victor comes that little bit closer to the adult we know from ‘Frankenstein’ he’s got a sharpness to him and a desperation that were not so evident in the first book – after all now he has nothing to lose and everything to gain. We see him desperately trying to find the secret to resurrection and creating life.
I loved seeing Victor’s development in this book, we saw some of his darker aspects really come out to play this time in a way that we didn’t in the first book. We delved a little deeper into his psyche and see how the events shaped him, to the point that I really felt like that we were starting to see a little more of his humanity and vulnerability by the end of the book.

Oppel has really set himself up as a fantastic gothic fantasy novelist. He’s taken a concept and idea that people are familiar with and completely turned it onto its head. Victor as an adolescent is even more terrifying that Victor as an adult, there is a wildness to him that make this a thrilling ride right from the first page – definitely a book that I had to read with the light on!

For fans of the first book, this will surpass everything you could have imagined or dreamed of, and for fans of dark and twisting tales, this series is definitely one to read.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Review: Harry, a History by Melissa Anelli

During the brief span of just one decade, hundreds of millions of perfectly ordinary people made history: they became the only ones who would remember what it was like when the Harry Potter saga was still unfinished. What is was like to seek out friends, families, online forums, fan fiction, and podcasts to get a fix between novels. When the potential death of a character was a hotter bet than the World Series. When the unfolding story of a boy wizard changed the way books are read for all time.
And a webmistress of the Leaky Cauldron, one of the most popular Harry Potter sites on the Internet, Melissa Anelli had a front row seat to it all. Whether it was helping Scholastic stop leaks and track down counterfeiters, hosting live PotterCasts at bookstores across the country, touring with the wizard rock band Harry and the Potters, or traveling to Edinburgh to interview J.K. Rowling personally, Melissa was at the center of the Harry Potter tornado, and nothing about her life would ever be the same.
The Harry Potter books are a triumph of the imagination that did far more than break sales records for all time. They restored the world's sense of wonder and took on a magical life of their own. Now the series has ended, but the story is not over. With remembrances from J.K. Rowling's editors, agents, publicists, fans and Rowling herself, Melissa Anelli takes us on a personal journey through every aspect of the Harry Potter phenomenon--from his very first spell to his lasting impact on the way we live the dream.
The Harry Potter books and the phenomenon that surrounded them and sparked so much has been something that I’ve always been fascinated with. When I studied Creative Writing at University I was startled at how much derision the books were met with – particularly when you can look at the effect that it spawned with reading and books and the development and shift we’ve experienced since their first release in 1997. So the idea of a fan’s account, one who was right in the centre of a lot of the storm around the later books and the films really appealed to me.

For someone who isn’t a fan of the books it’s pretty much a no-brainer to say you most likely won’t enjoy ‘Harry a History’ but for anyone who is looking for a bit of the history and the backstory the book is a perfect entry into that. Anelli’s writing is on the whole pretty good. This isn’t an amateur account, she knows what she’s doing how to draw you in and how to engage the reader. She has the enthusiasm for all things Potter that really shines through and re-engages all those feelings that Potter geeks felt during the hype and the release.

There are a few problems that niggle me, for example the narrative style. The idea is a good one, to take the reader on a journey from the announcement of the final book right up until its release, interspersing that narrative with the story of the Potter books from that fateful train journey right up until the Half Blood Prince, and Anelli’s own journey and discovery of the books and the fandom. However it doesn’t quite work. The narrative is jumpy, you end up having to really try and work to keep up with where you are in the timeline. Also because of this style, people that are referenced by name from the first chapter are not fully introduced in some cases until Anelli actually meets them two thirds of the way through the book. It makes the book a lot less engrossing when you’re constantly flipping back and forth to try and work out what’s going on and who people are.

My other problem is the bias of focus on some areas of fandom. Anelli makes her low opinion of fanfiction pretty clear from the start, which is fair enough not everyone was on board that particular wagon. However it was still a pretty huge area, and not just for the shipping wars, and I didn’t feel that it was looked at in the same detail as, for example Wizard Rock, an area that Anelli clearly loves. The chapter devoted to Wizard Rock is nearly forty pages and filled with more of a backstory on the Harry and the Potters than Jo Rowling, and bogged down in statistics about how MySpace revolutionised music, particularly in relation to Wizard Rock. All very interesting, but not enough for me to be fascinated through forty pages. My interest in the book took a definite dip at that point, whereas prior to that chapter I was utterly engrossed.

However on the whole the book is well written and provides a truly fascinating account of one person at the eye of the Potter storm. I loved finding out extra details that had passed me by before. It took me right back into the whirlwind, reminded me of some of the big events that blew up out of the fandom, some of the things I’d loved about it, and gave me new insights and view points on the phenomenon. The only thing I really wish had been included were the interviews with Rowling in greater detail. Yes I could probably go and dredge them up online, but I think it would have been a really nice touch to have included those in the text itself.

For fans of Potter who want to delve a little deeper into the fandom as it snowballed, and the backstory, this is a great read. There will always be bits that interest other people more, and I do think Anelli does a great job of trying to incorporate all the different facets of the fandom that emerged. She tackles the subject with a commendable passion and enthusiasm and made me want to get up and go and delve straight back into Harry’s world.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Quentin Coldwater is brillant but miserable. He's a senior in high school, and a certifiable genius, but he's still secretly obsessed with a series of fantasy novels he read as a kid, about the adventures of five children in a magical land called Fillory. Compared to that, anything in his real life just seems gray and colorless. 
Everything changes when Quentin finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the practice of modern sorcery. He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. But something is still missing. Magic doesn't bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he though it would.
Then, after graduation, he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real.

There will never be such a thing as an utterly original book, every book you read will have borrowed elements and moments that you recognise from other books, but to borrow so heavily from a book that whole ideas are border line stolen seems to me to take it a little far. There are elements of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings scattered throughout the book, some entertaining like gaining entry to the Cottage used to be ‘Speak friend and enter in elvish but then too many people read Tolkien.’ And some less entertaining and more tiresome. But then we come to the crux of what bothered me about the book, the fact that Grossman effectively steals a lot of the Narnia books and sodomizes them. I feel like books I loved as a child have now been tainted. So much of the books seem to have been taken from ‘The Magician’s Nephew’ the first book in the Narnia series, right down to the world of pools that act as transport to other worlds.

Which in a way is kind of what Grossman could have been going for. He takes a series of books that Quentin loves, and then makes them real and possible for him to go into. Nothing will ever live up to his childhood imaginings and delusions. Nothing will ever be as innocent and romanticised as it was originally in his mind and when he first read the books. Grossman is taking that idea and transplanting it onto the reader with C. S. Lewis’ books. Very clever, and I would have been more impressed had the characters and plot lived up to that idea.

Grossman is effectively taking things and turning them on their head. The idea of books that are innocent and beloved, and then being allowed to go into them – of course you are inevitably going to ruin them, they will never live up to your childhood expectations. He also examines the idea of a magical school but at an age when preconceptions of the possible and impossible have formed for most of the students. As a result Quentin who has not had a childhood with magicians is thrust into a world that most of him is programmed to reject. A direct swap from Harry Potter where the students are still children, their preconceptions have not formed to the point that they will see the impossible and reject them.

Elements of the book are fascinating. The adult rejection of the unreal, the dissatisfaction and constant race to find that magic moment where your life will begin instead of living in the moment and enjoying what has been given to you, the disillusionment of childhood fantasies and ideals. All of these combined would have made for a fascinating book, and yet they end up falling completely flat for a number of reasons.

Firstly, there is no real plot or structure to the story. It was more a series of events in the life of Quentin Coldwater. At the start it feels like it will be a book about his foray into the magical world, of his life and studies at Brakebills. But then half the book is gone and he’s already graduated and he ends up having a mid life crisis age 21, and ruining all of his prospects and potentials. Then at the last moment he is saved by the opportunity to visit Fillory, and yet that again is just a series of events with no real purpose or driving force. It felt like several different stories all smushed into one book with little to no direction. I ended up finishing and feeling as though I was taking nothing away. That there had been no point to reading the book – always a demoralising feeling when finishing a book.

The lack of drive behind the book could have been salvaged with a fantastic protagonist, but again this ends up failing miserably. Quentin is so depressing he made me want to shake him. He is never happy, never content. Yes ok this could be shown to be a mirror to the world we live in today, but I like to have a bit of escapism in my books. I don’t mind depression if there is a purpose behind it, a drive or meaning, but just to be depressing for the sake of it makes me not really want to bother with a book. Grossman almost manages to salvage this with Quentin's moment of realisation that his unhappiness is something he brings to himself and his situations, but it felt like too little too late by that stage. It wasn't quite enough to redeem and salvage the remainder of the book for me.

I did like Alice as a character, although there could have been a bit more development, and Josh had definite potential. However they are both lost in amongst the rude, idiotic and downright unlikeable characters that pepper the rest of the book. When they decide to go to Fillory I wanted something, anything, to stop them. The idea of them going in with their war magic and hostile arrogance made with every opportunity to ruin this place made me want to stop reading entirely. I did however, also love this idea of a school of magic similar to university. I liked the set up and the premise and I loved what insight we were given into the magical world and how magic worked – the idea of the hand shapes and movements as opposed to wands, and being able to tell another magician from the over built muscles in their hands was something I thought was a great concept. However these few gems are buried in amongst so much that doesn’t work that they do little to salvage the book.

All in all an attempt at a sarcastic and ironic take on the fantasy genre ends up just being a fantasy book, and not a particularly great one at that. There are some gems hidden in there and it was definitely a book that stayed with me after I finished it, but not necessarily for the right reasons. I think I’d much rather stick with the Harry Potter books and ‘The Night Circus’ for my magic fix.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Review: Throne of Glass Novellas by Sarah J. Maas

‘The Assassin & the Pirate Lord’
On a remote island in a tropical sea, Celaena Sardothien, feared assassin, has come for retribution. She’s been sent by the Assassin’s Guild to collect on a debt they are owed by the Lord of the Pirates. But when Celaena learns that the agreed payment is not in money, but in slaves, her mission suddenly changes—and she will risk everything to right the wrong she’s been sent to bring about.
‘The Assassin & the Desert’
The Silent Assassins of the Red Desert aren’t much for conversation, and Celaena Sardothien wouldn’t have it any other way. She’s not there to chatter, she’s there to hone her craft as the world’s most feared killer for hire. When the quiet is shattered by forces who want to destroy the Silent Assassins, Celaena must find a way to stop them, or she’ll be lucky to leave the desert alive.
‘The Assassin & the Underworld’
When the King of the Assassins gives Celaena Sardothien a special assignment that will help fight slavery in the kingdom, she jumps at the chance to strike a blow against an evil practice. The mission is a dark and deadly affair which takes Celaena from the rooftops of the city to the bottom of the sewer—and she doesn’t like what she finds there.
‘The Assassin & the Empire’
Celaena Sardothien is the assassin with everything: a place to call her own, the love of handsome Sam, and, best of all, freedom. Yet, she won’t be truly free until she is far away from her old master, Arobynn Hamel; Celaena must take one last daring assignment that will liberate her forever. But having it all, means you have a lot to lose…

When I read ‘Throne of Glass’ last month I fell in love with it completely. Everything from the cocky and bad ass heroine Celaena, to the setting and the world building and the secondary characters. It completely drew me in and I wanted to find more of this world that Maas had thrown me into and then only given me one book of!
And then I found out about the four novellas that were being released in the run up to the publication of the novel, and I couldn’t wait to get straight back into Celaena’s world.

But something just didn’t quite sit right this time round.
Whereas before Celaena’s arrogance and cockiness was played very carefully so that there was just enough humanity to make the reader still relate to her and love her, in the novellas there is none of that. Celaena comes across as arrogant, overly confident and with a bad attitude problem to boot. She is constantly tossing around phrases like ‘She was Celaena Sardothien, Ardalan’s Assassin!’ when having to do things, or is put into situations that she feels are beneath her. As a result all of my love for the character went completely out the window.

I found her really hard to relate to, and in the first two novellas genuinely disliked her. In fact if I didn’t have the promise of her turning into someone vaguely likeable I probably wouldn’t have bothered continuing with the novellas, or then going on to read the novel. Which is tragic, because the novel is fantastic. I hate the thought of people being put off by her in the start and then not sticking it out and getting the good stuff at the end.
Because it does get better. Celaena does tone it done and become the girl that I loved in ‘Throne of Glass’. There is a temperance in the third and fourth novellas that make her tantrums easier to bear and her character infinitely more likeable. It was just a long time getting there.

I loved that we got to go back and see some of the big events that are alluded to in ‘Throne of Glass’ and that help to shape Celaena into the women she becomes. For thrills and plot these novellas definitely get full marks. There are a few problems with pacing, I think some of the stories would have suited a full novel instead of being condensed into such a small format, however they still work well as novellas.

To anyone who has read the novellas and isn’t fussed on continuing on to ‘Throne of Glass’ I urge you to reconsider. A lot of the wrinkles in the novellas have been smoothed out by the time you reach the novel, and it truly is a fantastic fantasy book.
And to anyone who read the novellas and loved them, have you devoured ‘Throne of Glass’ yet, and if so, what did you think?
Overall rating: 

Monday, 20 August 2012

Review: Shadow Bound by Rachel Vincent

If you live in the dark long enough, you begin to forget the light... 
Kori Daniels is a shadow-walker, able to travel instantly from one shadow to another. After weeks of confinement for betraying her boss, she's ready to break free of the Tower syndicate for good. But Jake Tower has one final job for Kori, one chance to secure freedom for herself and her sister, Kenley, even if it means taking it from someone else.... 

The job? Recruit Ian Holt-or kill him. 
Ian's ability to manipulate the dark has drawn interest from every syndicate in the world, most notably an invitation from Jake Tower. Though he has no interest in organized crime, Ian accepts the invite, because he's on a mission of his own. Ian has come to kill Tower's top Binder: Kori's little sister.
Amid the tangle of lies, an unexpected thread of truth connecting Ian and Kori comes to light. But with opposing goals, they'll have to choose between love and liberty

I loved the first book in this series ‘Blood Bound’ which was released last summer. It was a gritty dark new adult world that really showcased Rachel Vincent’s writing, her world development, and her absolutely awesome imagination. So I was pretty excited to get my hands on ‘Shadow Bound’.

Whilst Shadow Bound was brilliant as I had been expecting, I did find it a lot harder to read than the first book in the series. The material is a lot heavier and darker and I found it actually physically gruelling and emotionally exhausting to read parts of the book. That didn’t diminish my overall enjoyment, it was just quite a shock to delve into such a heavy book when I hadn’t been anticipating it.
As a result it took me several days of dipping in and out to read it, and I felt a little wrung out by the end of it.

I loved Kori and Ian, they were a fantastically complex couple who I really fell in love with. They were flawed and selfish but ultimately desperate for redemption from the dark holes they’d fallen into. That and revenge, never forget the revenge. You didn’t really get a glimpse of this side of Kori in her brief appearance in the first book – mind you a lot of her trauma occurs after the events of the first book, and it was really good to see that flip side and the fall out for her after her actions in the first book.

Some of the acts of violence and destruction were horrific. Vincent takes her writing skills to a whole new level with this, because it is gritty and disturbing and horribly real. It feels as though you are right there with Kori and it ain’t a pretty ride.

‘Shadow Bound’ really plays with your emotions. Right from the first page it is twisted and horrid, but there a moments of pure happiness that cut through all of the agony and pain and make it all worthwhile. It’s depressing, but there is hope, and that is why it is worth it. The emotional payoff by the time I closed the book was definitely worth the heart breaking journey all the way through.

Vincent takes the world she’s set up in the first book, admittedly already quite dark and twisted and turns it inside out. The syndicates that we saw elements of in the first book look like playful kittens compared to the stuff we see when Kori has fallen from grace. It’s brutal in every way, and makes Kori one of the most compelling and heart breaking heroines I’ve read in some time.

I loved it. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting from Vincent, but at the same time it’s probably some of her best writing. There is a very big shift happening, each book Vincent writes is better than the last one, and the emotional turmoil is some of her darkest, but also some of her best writing. It was a hard book to read, but it was completely worth it. But I wish someone could have given me a heads up going in that I was heading down the rabbit hole.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Review: Stolen Night by Rebecca Maizel

Mild spoilers if you haven’t read the first book ‘Infinite Days’, no major spoilers for ‘Stolen Night’ – nothing much other than what you read in the blurb.

After 500 years as a Vampire Queen a sinister ritual transformed Lenah Beaudonte into a living, breathing teenage girl – a girl with a beating heart, capable once again of human love.
Now Lenah has been presented with an impossible choice: go back through history to before she became the cruel vampire that she once was and undo all her evil deeds, but never meet and fall in love with the darkly gorgeous Rhode. Or continue her life in the present day with Rhode nearby but beyond her reach forever…

Infinite Days was one of my favourite books from last year, and with the number of false hopes and starts as to when Stolen Night would be released, I was on tenterhooks waiting to get my hands on it when it finally graced our shelves at the start of June.

And yet as is so often the case with books that we are desperate for, they have such high expectations to live up to that they never fully come up to what we had imagined.

The clarity and brilliance of the first book was lost in translation between the first and the second . I loved Lenah in the first book, she was strong and independent and determined and quite frankly, a bit terrifying and kick ass. I loved her. She was such a fantastic heroine, trying to balance her light and dark sides and I was really rooting for her by the end of Infinite Days. And then we get to Stolen Night and she’s lost all of that. She’s lost her sense of self and independence and becomes just another heroine who doesn’t seem to be able to function or exist properly without a man. She spends the first two thirds moping over her various love interests. If she managed to balance it with some of the character we saw in the first book I wouldn’t have minded some of the moping, but it bogged down the story until it was barely moving forward at all. I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with Lenah and her complete inability to get a grip.

The premise also stretched my imagination a little. The parameters of the world had been established in the first book, and then pushed and completely skewed here. It was a bold move and will be a marmite moment for readers, they will either love it or hate it. I was on the not particularly fussed side because I’d lost any grip on reality that this world had established in the previous book. It was frustrating and confusing and I wanted some more establishment or explanation to make it sit right for me. I came around eventually, but it took so long that the book was almost done before I was on board with the story.

As I’ve already touched on the story really takes its time to get going. Eventually we get into kick ass mode again and I fell in love with Lenah all over again, but it felt like it was too little too late. The action takes too long to hit, and whilst there are moments of action earlier on there isn’t enough to really keep the story afloat and moving forward and as a result it gets bogged down in Lenah’s moping.

I really missed the flashbacks to Lenah’s vampire life that we were treated to in the first book as well, I think that was where a lot of the greatness of the first book came from, this balance of the evil queen vampire who is more monster than anything else, with the delicate human she has become. We still do get flashbacks in this book but they aren’t in the same league or as rewarding to the story as they were in the first book.

I think what frustrates me the most is that Infinite Days was such a fantastic stand alone book. I would have loved for that ending to have been it. It would have been epic and fantastic and brilliant and would have left me screaming at the book, but ultimately it would have been perfect.

This felt like a bit of a cop out. It took all the elements that I loved away and left me with a few bits that were ok but didn’t thrill me in the same way.
That said I did still enjoy the book, it does pick up the pace towards the end and the writing is good. I just had such high hopes after the first book that it was always going to be hard to live up to them.

I have a feeling there may be more books to come after this one – the end certainly leaves room for it, and if there are I will look out for them with anticipation to see what happens next. It’s just unfortunate that my initial love and excitement of the first book has been diminished going forward into any further books. However if you are looking for a fresh new vampire book I highly recommend the first book ‘Infinite Days’ as a fantastic read that breathes new life into the vampire genre.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Guest Post by John Lucas

Today marks the release of a fantastic new book 'TURF' by John Lucas. It's a gritty look at gang life and culture in London and the situations and pressures put on young people who get caught up in it. John has been kind enough to come and talk about the roots of the story and how it's developed into the novel released today.
TURF started as a short story called The Angels of Hackney, which I wrote as an exercise on the Creative Writing degree that I took at Middlesex University. I was intrigued by all the peculiar characters that I used to see around my area, and there was one guy in particular, who we nicknamed The Sheriff. The Sheriff used to patrol up and down Stoke Newington Church Street in Hackney, often wearing a black-brimmed hat. He walked with a slow swagger and would stop passers-by and wish them well and check to make sure they were
okay. He clearly wasn’t all there, but he was extremely good-natured and seemed to have taken it upon himself to be the unofficial guardian of the neighbourhood, even walking one of my female friends home late one night.

Once he came up to me in a shop, took my hand and shook it firmly, and in earnest fashion,in a thick cockney accent he said, ‘Gawd bless ya.’ Sure that I’d taken his greeting in good faith, he walked out again, as if his sole purpose for coming into the shop in the first place was to pass on those words of goodwill.

The Sheriff sparked off an idea for a story about a group of angels, disguised as local eccentrics and down-and-outs, who protected the borough of Hackney. The main narrative surrounded one angel in particular called Brian, who was about to retire and go up to heaven to tend to his allotment in the sky, but before he can do so he had one last task to perform – he needed to protect a young gang member (a character who later turned into Jay), and with the help of the other Hackney angels (each with a distinct part of the borough to watch over), they set about turning the boy’s life around and subsequently giving Brian a good send-off.

So far, so twee…

When I left University I thought my Angels of Hackney story had something in it that could be turned into a full-length novel, so I got to work. But I found angels very hard to write about. Angels are essentially everlasting, indestructible beings – how do you write a story about creatures with that lack of fallibility? How do you make it interesting? How do you make people care? Of course lots of writers have – but for me it felt restrictive.

As I was wrestling with this, the issue of gang violence and knife crime, especially amongst young people, was an ever-present in the media. It seemed to be spiralling out of control,and a lot of it resonated with experiences that I’d had growing up. I began to think less about angels and more about the gang kid they were assigned to protect. Jay became the story’s main character from that point, and as soon as I started to write it from his point of view, in the first-person, the story really began to take shape.

I still wanted to keep an air of fantasy and mysticism, and I felt it made a really interesting contrast with the edgy, gritty and more serious themes of the book. I’ve always lived in a bit of a dream world, with a fairly loose grip on reality. In fact, I kind of believe that to a large extent reality is what you make it. So much of the world is based on perception and often there’s no way of really telling if that perception is right or wrong. A lot of it is just guesswork. I find that idea really fascinating and actually pretty liberating too. I think people spend too much time and energy looking for definite answers and black and white explanations. Leo, Jay’s crazy, down-and-out friend who lives in the community centre, thinks along similar lines to me on this one, I think.

It’s funny to think of the journey that TURF went on from that very first short story idea. It’s almost as if the entire story was turned inside out. But that’s a big part of what I love about writing: I think a story will eventually turn into what it wants to be. Steve Jobs, the late founder of Apple computers, said, ‘Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition; they somehow already know what you truly want to become.’ I think the same is true of stories. I think there’s a part of a writer that knows what he/she wants the story to become, but that goal is not always clear to the part of the writer that’s tapping away on the keyboard, or scribbling in notebooks. Sometimes you have to take a back seat and just follow the material, follow your intuition. That’s what I did with TURF to a large degree. I wasn’t expecting it to turn out this dark, this heart-wrenching, but I’m glad I let it go down that path. It’s more powerful because of it, and I’m happy with how it’s ended up.

I would like to say a huge thank you to John for taking the time out to come and talk about his writing and development process. I am so excited about TURF it is a fantastic, heart breaking, emotional and gritty novel. Utterly realistic and completely devastating it was one of the best and hardest novels I've read this year. But if you're not convinced yet, I have exclusive access to an extract of the novel to tempt you - and after that, go out and get hold of your copy!

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Books I'm Squeeing About in August

July has been an utterly hideous month, yet has contained some truly awesome books. A trend that I'm hoping is going to continue into August. Looking at the titles I'm squeeing about I have no doubt that this is going to be a truly spectacular month for books, including the much hyped 'Throne of Glass' by Sarah J Maas, and a book I've been waiting for (not particularly patiently) all year 'Unspoken' by Sarah Rees Brennan finally gracing our shelves!
So without further ado, here are the books I'm squeeing about in August!

Jay's life seems pretty sorted: 15 years old and already a rising member of the notorious Blake Street Boyz gang, he takes his lessons from the street. With a knife in his pocket and his best friend Milk by his side, their days are spent fiercely defending their turf.
When Jay gets the chance to step up and become a senior of the Boyz, he faces the biggest decision of his life: he must stab and kill a classmate - and rival gang member - or face the consequences.
It doesn't take long for Jay's world to spiral out of control. As the line between right and wrong begins to fade, he finds no escape. Jay has to act, but at what and whose cost?
Set against the backdrop of London's inner-city tower blocks, in a world where killing can be easier than choosing what chocolate bar to eat, Turf is a story of intense friendship and brutal gang violence, of loyalty at any cost - even to the price of your own soul. 
It's the kind of story that continues to dominate front page headlines (see attached) and this powerful novel shows us just how violent life can be for people living under street gang rule.

Utterly harrowing, at times funny and beautiful and completely heart breaking, TURF is an incredible book that came out of nowhere and swept me away. I didn’t expect it to truly make the gang life and idea seem real without making  an unintentional mockery, but Lucas’s skill with words utterly blew me away. I was completely engrossed in Jay’s life, in the choices and decisions that shaped him, and the impossible situation he found himself in. Not at all my usual type of book, but I am so glad I read it, it turned out to be a very thought provoking read.

After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin.
Her opponents are men—thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the kings council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she’ll serve the kingdom for three years and then be granted her freedom.
Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilirating. But she’s bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her... but it’s the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best.
Then one of the other contestants turns up dead... quickly followed by another. Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.

Throne of Glass is everywhere at the moment. Everyone is buzzing and talking about it, and no wonder, it is one of the best young adult fantasy books I’ve had the pleasure of reading this year. Maas has quickly flown up onto my list of authors to watch with an incredibly strong debut with a fantasticly kick ass heroine that I had no trouble cheering on. You can read my review of the book here.

When does obsession become madness? Tragedy has forced sixteen-year-old Victor Frankenstein to swear off alchemy forever. He burns the Dark Library. He vows he will never dabble in the dark sciences again, just as he vows he will no longer covet Elizabeth, his brother's betrothed. If only these things were not so tempting. When he and Elizabeth discover a portal into the spirit world, they cannot resist. Together with Victor's twin, Konrad, and their friend Henry, the four venture into a place of infinite possibilities where power and passion reign. But as they search for the knowledge to raise the dead, they unknowingly unlock a darkness from which they may never return.

Oh wow. ‘This Dark Endeavour’ was a dark, terrifying and utterly brilliant look at a young Victor Frankenstein, and the world and events that shaped him into the man we know in Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein.’ And now we’re back for another dose! After the harrowing events of the first book Victor pushes the boundaries further, explores deeper, and the events get even darker than before… Utterly delicious and terrifyingly brilliant, the second book manages to more than keep up with the high standard set by the first.

In an alternate London where magical creatures are preserved in a museum, two teens find themselves caught in a web of intrigue, deception, and danger.
Vespa Nyx wants nothing more than to spend the rest of her life cataloging Unnatural creatures in her father’s museum, but as she gets older, the requirement to become a lady and find a husband is looming large. Syrus Reed’s Tinker family has always served and revered the Unnaturals from afar, but when his family is captured to be refinery slaves, he finds that his fate may be bound up with Vespa’s—and with the Unnaturals.
As the danger grows, Vespa and Syrus find themselves in a tightening web of deception and intrigue. At stake may be the fate of New London—and the world.

There has been a serious hole in my life since the end of Gail Carriger’s ‘Parasol Protectorate Series’ finished earlier this year, and I’m hoping that this new YA Steampunk book might go some way to easing the pain. I’m a sucker for covers and this one has well and truly caught me. Now to see if the book lives up to the prettiness!

So ok, this one isn’t *technically* a book, but I’m so excited about it that it had to make it onto the list anyway… I love this series, it is one of the best things on TV at the moment, and series three is no exception, I can’t wait to re-watch the series in preparation for the start of Season 4, and to see what extras and commentaries will be included!
Paranormal romance fans who are looking to up the ante will be drawn to this tale of horror, fantasy, and romance. For Mab Prowd, the practice of blood magic is as natural as breathing. It's all she's ever known. Growing up on an isolated farm in Kansas with other practitioners may have kept her from making friends her own age, but it has also given her a sense of purpose—she's connected to the land and protective of the magic. And she is able to practice it proudly and happily out in the open with only the crows as her companions. Mab will do anything to keep the ancient practice alive and guard its secrets. But one morning while she is working out a particularly tricky spell she encounters Will, a local boy who is trying to exorcise some mundane personal demons. He experiences Mab's magic in a way his mind cannot comprehend and is all too happy to end their chance meeting. But secrets that were kept from Mab by the earlier generations of blood magicians have come home to roost. And she and Will are drawn back together, time again by this dangerous force looking to break free from the earth and reclaim its own dark power.

I loved ‘Blood Magic’ last year, it was a fantastically strong debut from Gratton and left me desperate to see what she’d produce next. And that was all the encouragement I needed to get this book onto my wishlist. I can’t wait to see where she takes me in this next book.
Kami Glass loves someone she’s never met... a boy she’s talked to in her head ever since she was born. She wasn’t silent about her imaginary friend during her childhood, and is thus a bit of an outsider in her sleepy English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale. Still, Kami hasn’t suffered too much from not fitting in. She has a best friend, runs the school newspaper, and is only occasionally caught talking to herself. Her life is in order, just the way she likes it, despite the voice in her head.
But all that changes when the Lynburns return.
The Lynburn family has owned the spectacular and sinister manor that overlooks Sorry-in-the-Vale for centuries. The mysterious twin sisters who abandoned their ancestral home a generation ago are back, along with their teenage sons, Jared and Ash, one of whom is eerily familiar to Kami. Kami is not one to shy away from the unknown—in fact, she’s determined to find answers for all the questions Sorry-in-the-Vale is suddenly posing. Who is responsible for the bloody deeds in the depths of the woods? What is her own mother hiding? And now that her imaginary friend has become a real boy, does she still love him? Does she hate him? Can she trust him?

You guys, this is one of the biggest excitements of the year for me. I love Sarah Rees Brennan’s books, they are some of the funniest, most fantastic young adult books out there. So this new series is the icing on my book year cake. And the cherry. I can pretty much garuantee that if you like witty dialogue, fantastic characters and a brilliant plot, this is a book you will love. So go out and pre-order it now! Because the best is most definitely being saved until last this month.