Monday, 24 December 2012

Review: Die for Me by Amy Plum

This is one of my favourite books on my bookshelf. It's one I can come back to and read again and again, never tiring of it. My only problem with it is that at time of writing the third book of the trilogy isn't out yet, and the second book, Until I Die, ends on a massive cliff-hanger.

Die for Me is a zombie love story. In a wonderful new take on the human/supernatural being romance, Plum has created revenants - people who died in exceptional circumstances and have come back to life, so that they can dedicate their existence to dying over and over again, in order to save others' lives. These are not the freaky, flesh-eating zombies that frequent horror films - they are soulful, brave, romantic beings who live to save humankind. What more could you want from a boyfriend?

Our heroine, Kate, has suffered tragic loss - her parents both died recently in a car crash. This back-story serves to give her the depth and sensitivity that most 16-year-olds are missing. So when we first meet Kate, she is grieving and vulnerable. She and her sister, Georgia, have moved from America to Paris, to live with their grandparents. I think the setting is one of the major things that makes this book so likeable - who doesn't want to fall in love in Paris, city of romance?

Kate is the quiet, artistic type. While her sister is out all night partying, Kate prefers to spend her time haunting galleries or lost in a book. Naturally, many of the girls reading this book will identify that. If they were the Georgia type, constantly socialising in a whirlwind of friends, they wouldn't be very likely to pick up the book in the first place. So the heroine is bookish and a little introverted, as well as sad and vulnerable. It's an irresistible hook. Kate is by no means a pathetic sap though - she has an inner strength that carries her through the bad times, and when she discovers that she can love and be happy again, she really comes into her own. The moping is kept to an essential minimum, as the story unfolds and there is soon plenty to distract our girl from the loss of her parents.

Kate falls in love with Vincent, the zombie with a heart, and what a guy he is. He's French for starters, so you can't help but imagine a sexy accent and hot Gallic looks. Add to that the fact that he was born back when guys were chivalrous gentlemen, and you've got the Edward Cullen factor and more. Though I must admit I have something of a soft spot for fun and flirty Jules, Vincent's artist friend.

Of course every supernatural has an arch-enemy, right? There has to be danger and excitement, and Die for Me certainly isn't lacking in that department. In fact my only complaint about this book is that it's not long enough! At 341 pages it's not exactly a pamphlet, but it's not a weighty tome like Twilight either. Although Plum's writing is such that it does take a little longer to read than the average YA romance - and I mean that as a compliment. There are tons of books out there that I can read in a couple of hours, leaving me feeling somewhat disappointed and unfulfilled. Die for Me has much more to it though, filled with wonderful descriptions of Parisien life, and the emotions that Kate goes through as she leaves her grief-stricken self behind and embarks on a relationship the depth of which she has never felt before.

I urge anyone who has had enough of vampires and werewolves to give Die for Me a go - or even if you're still enamoured of the classic supernaturals, give Vincent and his friends a chance to woo you!

Buy Die for Me on Amazon

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Review: The Iron King by Julie Kagawa

If you've been reading my reviews you'll know that I'm a bit sceptical when it comes to good faery fiction. I resisted reading Kagawa's Iron Fey books for ages, thinking they would be more of the usual airy-fairy fey with the same old stories. I came across a review that stated parallels with the old film Labyrinth though, and I was intrigued. I love that film, always have, and any book that has been inspired by it can't be all bad. So I ordered a copy of the first book of the series, The Iron King, from my local library. Here's a hint by the way - you can reserve kids and YA books online for free and collect them from your local library, it's a great way to try out new authors!

I have to admit it, I was totally drawn in from the start. Yep, the parallels with Labyrinth are there, but it's really not a bad thing. The little brother being stolen by faeries, a friendly troll, an evil faery king... it's all there to see, but it's not like Kagawa is copying the brilliant old Bowie film, it's more like a nod of respect to it. These are but small parts in the rich tapestry that Kagawa weaves, full of wonderful details and inventive characters.

All the pageantry of the Seelie and Unseelie courts are there to be enjoyed and feared. Ancient characters such as Oberon, Titania and Puck take their parts and play them perfectly, creating a supporting cast for our original heroine Meghan Chase. The introduction of the Iron Fey is the perfect foil for all the traditional faery references. Kagawa has created an enchanting world, where the industrial age has fuelled the glamour and dreams of the fey in a new way, creating a new court, one that is deadly to the ancient characters that have come to optimise the world of faery.

I love the level of detail Kagawa uses. She guides us through the dark world of the Nevernever with consummate ease, showing us everything we need to see without getting bogged down in the glory or a piskie's wings or some such nonsense. Meghan comes into her heritage slowly but surely, and as we follow her quest, we are reined in ever tighter, until we feel we are in another world ourselves, one where we can't stop turning the pages for fear of losing something ephemeral and special.

I'll be adding The Iron King to my wish-list for sure, along with the rest of the series. Look out for my review of the next intallment - The Iron Daughter - soon.

Buy The Iron King (The Iron Fey - Book 1) on Amazon.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Review: Night World Volume 2 by L J Smith

There's something rather charming about the world that L J Smith has created for her Night World series. Obviously a lot of thought has gone into the features and rules of the Night World, and the more I read of it, the more I get to like it. I've had Volume 1 for a while now and enjoy re-reading it every now and then. The stories are fun, easy reads, and although some characters turn up in other books the tales themselves all stand alone. It's nice sometimes to read just one book, rather than committing to a series or trilogy. With the Night World you can do just that - pick a story that suits your mood, and enjoy!

Volume 2 has its roots in the soulmate principle and Circle Daybreak - the group of humans and Night Worlders who want to live in harmony rather than killing one another. I confess I love the soulmate principle - "It says that every person has one soulmate out there, just one. And that person is perfect for you and is your destiny." - quote from the vampire James in Night World Vol 1. I also love that L J Smith doesn't make it easy for her characters who have found their soulmates. When a Night Worlder and a human get together, nothing is going to be easy.

Book 1 in the volume, Dark Angel, is interesting as it doesn't focus on the usual Night World character set of vampires, witches and werewolves - at least not at first. Instead we are treated to a mysterious angelic being, although it quickly becomes clear that if he is an angel, he's certainly not a good one. L J's themes are often standard teen fare - doing bad things to become popular at school isn't a new story by any stretch, but the way she presents it is fresh and interesting, and the characters are well-written. The heroine, Gillian, has some weakness at first, but she grows and finds her strength as the book goes on, becoming more and more likeable.

Book 2, The Chosen, is a real action adventure story. Rashel is like the opposite of Gillian in Dark Angel - Rashel is an incredibly strong character, relying on herself any no-one else. When she finds her soulmate she doesn't want to admit it, let alone accept it. It doesn't help that Rashel is a ruthless vampire hunter and her soulmate is Quinn, one of the most bad-ass vampires around. It makes for an explosive cocktail, and an enjoyable read.

Book 3, Soulmate is the very essence of that soulmate principle I love so much. With a relationship between a human and a supernatural being that spans the ages, it has strong shades of Lauren Kate's Fallen series, but I forgive it - it's presented in a different way, and L J's writing is so different from Kate's that although the basic theme is the same, you can't really compare the books.

Three very different stories, three great reads. I really admire the way L J finishes her tales. I think a good ending is one of the hardest things to write, but L J gets the balance just right - each story has its own end, but you know it's not really the end. It's not as if a sequel is required, but when you catch a glimpse of those characters later in another book it makes you really happy to see how their lives are going. Like real life, each episode comes to an end, but life goes on. Volume 2 has cemented by love for the Night World, and I'll be looking out for Volume 3.

Buy Night World: Bind-up v. 2, Bks. 4-6 on Amazon. It's not strictly necessary, but I'd advise reading Volume 1 before starting on Volume 2 - Buy Night World: Bind-up v. 1, Bks. 1-3 on Amazon.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Review: Kissed by an Angel by Elizabeth Chandler

Okay, firstly I need to make it known that whilst I will read the occasional angel-based fiction, I'm not a believer. I don't normally let this bother me - after all, I'm reading fiction. I don't need to believe in vampires or werewolves to enjoy reading about them, so I shouldn't need to believe in angels either. Except it doesn't always work like that. I love, love, loved Lauren Kate's Fallen series - a love story that spans the ages, hot boys with wings, a strong female lead - what's not to love? But when it came to Elizabeth Chandler's Kissed by an Angel, I realised that angels + YA - not always a great recipe.

Kissed by an Angel is a good, chunky book - the kind I always look forward to getting me teeth into as I know it's going to last me for more than a couple of hours. It didn't take me long however to realise that I was in for a disappointment. There's no one thing that I can say is wrong with the book. I read it to the end, even kind-of enjoyed it, but there were a few things which niggled. We're given a fast-forward romance between Ivy and Tristan to set the scene, before Tristan tragically dies. No spoiler there - it's all in the blurb on the back of the book. It's the whole point of the book. But I wasn't convinced by the young lovers' relationship - they seem deeply in love in some ways, yet they hardly know each other, and they're missing the little things that make a couple a couple. If you've read my review of Shiver/Linger/Forever, you'll know how I enthused over Stiefvater's writing and the way she makes a relationship come alive... That was totally missing here. So Tristan dies, and things get weird.

Obviously, Tristan becomes an angel. I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. But Chandler's imagining of an angel is really much more like a ghost in my mind. He can't be seen or heard except by people who are sensitive; he has to complete some unfinished business before moving on to whatever comes next; he can walk through walls... any of this sounding like an angel? Maybe if the book was called Kissed by a Ghost and we forgot all the faith stuff I'd like it more.

For a love story, things start to get pretty weird once the hero dies. Obviously, he can't stay with his true love if he's dead and she's alive, so how's that going to work? I'm not going to drop any spoilers, let's just say it's a very unusual ending for a love story. I actually admire Chandler for that - in a world of novels full of girl meets boy/they fall in love/something stands in their way/happily ever after, it takes guts to break free of the formula. I'm just not sure I like how she's done it.

To be fair, Kissed by an Angel is more than a love story - it's a bit of a mystery thriller too. This keeps things interesting for a while. I'm not going to give anything away, so you'll just have to read it if you want to know. Towards the end though I just couldn't help thinking 'get on with it!'. I found Ivy a bit lacking in guts and interest to be honest. She falls in love way too easily, which many teen girls can be accused of, so I guess that's realistic enough, but there's just something about her that grated on my nerves. Don't get me wrong - I was happy to keep reading to the end. Chandler kept my interest enough that I wanted to know everything that happened, but I have to say that I won't be looking out for the next book - sorry. Don't take my word for it though - plenty of people have enjoyed the book so as always with these things it's a matter of opinion. If you like the sound of it, read it. Reviews don't always have to be good, but they are always personal. This is my take on the book, but give it a chance and let me know yours...

Friday, 16 November 2012

Review: Catching Fire/Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

I'm reviewing the final two parts of the Hunger Games trilogy together, as they're so essential to one another that to read one and not the other would be stupid. By the way, I can't review these books without a few Hunger Games spoilers, so don't read on if you've not read the first book yet!

If you look back to my review of The Hunger Games you'll see that I enjoyed it, but felt that it was for the younger end of the YA market, with the gore and suffering taking a back seat and a storyline that's very easy to follow. If you're expecting more of the same from the rest of the trilogy, think again. Catching Fire starts off in a similar vein, exploring the relationships between Katniss, Peeta and Gale, with Katniss and Peeta getting used to life in the Victors Village and embarking on their victory tour. Then, all of a sudden, everything changes gear and it's like reading a completely different book, possibly by a different author.

I've read other reviews and I see that I'm not the only one with this opinion. It has been mentioned that Collins never intended to write a trilogy, which makes complete sense when you look at the three books together. In Catching Fire it was obviously easy for Collins to give us an idea of what life was like for Katniss and Peeta for a while after the games, but then she had to come up with a storyline that could carry on through to the third book. The upshot of this is that it feels a bit disjointed, and while they are both good, the differences between the original storyline and the new one are too great I feel. Maybe I'm being too picky - there's obviously thousands of people out there who have enjoyed the trilogy. I just get the feeling that there was perhaps a few years gap between writing the original book and the last two, and perhaps Collins matured a bit in that time and her writing style changed slightly.

Having engaged fifth gear in the second half of Catching Fire, Collins ramps up the bloodshed, at the same time introducing an increasingly complex storyline. By the time the next Hunger Games are over, we're set up for an explosive third book which in my opinion barely resembles the first at all. We go from the very personal story of Katniss in book one, to a much wider story involving a large cast of characters and the whole of Panem in book three. In some ways it's genius - to take one event in one girl's life and throw it wide open.

Mockingjay is still very much Katniss' story, but her life has changed beyond recognition and she's having to accept some hard truths. It's a harder read, as it's more complex and the whole dystopia theme is much more prevalent. It's also an incredibly sad story. I was crying by the end, and although I salute Collins for creating a satisfactory ending that isn't just 'they all lived happily ever after', I do question her choices of who to kill off. I won't say any more. Get the books, be prepared for something different, and arm yourself with a box of tissues.

Buy Catching Fire and Mockingjay from Amazon.

Image from ScholasticUK twitter via

Monday, 12 November 2012

Review: Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

Paranormalcy is on of those books I've heard quite a lot about, but wasn't really sure if I wanted to read it or not. I came across it in a charity shop though and couldn't resist - it promises vampires, werewolves, faeries and shapeshifters - a full rota of paranormal characters. So I picked it up and started to read, and was pleasantly surprised.

Evie is special - she can see through the glamours that paranormals cast, meaning she knows when she's looking at a vampire or faerie rather than a hot guy! She's grown up in a facility that works to track and tag paranormals all over the world - she has an exciting life, working as an agent in the field taking down monsters and protecting humankind. It seems like a great life, but she's lonely and would give anything to go to school, shop and date like a normal kid.

I really liked the way vampires, faeries etc aren't romanticised in Paranormalcy. When Evie sees a vampire, she sees their true age underneath the glamour - "Imagine your grandpa. Now imagine your grandpa minus fifty pounds plus two hundres years." Not sexy. Werewolves deal with their lot by getting sedated once a month rather than by running around having fun on four legs. Evie's best friend is a mermaid, but if you're thinking long blonde hair and bra-made-of-shells, think again.

White is clearly in touch with her inner teenager. Lots of YA heroines are ridiculously mature for their age, but Evie is just like a normal sixteen year-old (apart from the whole working with paranormals part of course). She has her moments of self-absorbed whining and vacuous fashionista-ness, but I didn't find that made her annoying - just more real. White manages to make a really likeable, refreshing character who makes me want to follow her story. Evie is like a modern-day Buffy!

Paranormalcy is a fast-paced book. In just a few pages we're introduced to the main characters, we know what the situation is and the action begins. There's no introduction chapters - we just have to take it all on board as we go along, but White writes in such a way that she makes it easy for us. It's an easy, fun read. There's plenty of action scenes, a few tear-jerkers and a good dose of flirty romance. It's not one of my top reads, but I'm glad I picked it up and will definitely look out for the next installment.

Buy Paranormalcy from Amazon
Enhanced by Zemanta

Friday, 9 November 2012

Review: The Sweet Scent of Blood by Suzanne McLeod

This was another great charity shop find - I am so happy when a charity shop has a good bookshelf! I haven't come across McLeod's books before, which is surprising as I'm always on the lookout for Brit paranormal writers. I'm so used to having to put up with US-based books, that I kept getting a surprise when a London landmark was mentioned. This might be due to the fact that despite being British, McLeod has a definite hint of the States in her writing style. Perhaps she's read a lot of US authors and it's rubbed off on her, but reading The Sweet Scent of Blood felt a bit like reading an English version of Charlaine Harris - not that that's a bad thing!

In fact, Ms Harris is quoted on the back saying 'One of my favourite reads'. No small praise, and you'll see why if you read it yourself - the kooky but tough heroine, the complex web of characters, the big adventures and the fact that McLeod is not afraid of a bit of blood and sex - these are all traits that the two authors share.

Our heroine, Genevieve Taylor, is sidhe - a fairy of sorts. She works for the witch-run company Spellcrackers, for whom she goes out and cracks spells, stopping mischievous brownies, gremlins and the likes from causing havoc. The book is based in London, but not as we know it. Vampires are celebrities, witches sell spells in Covent Garden, and Goblins work as bodyguards. McLeod does a good job of setting the scene, describing her world and the rules that govern it without getting too bogged down in the detail. You don't have to suffer pages of history, relationship descriptions or pointless details about who, what, where and when. Okay, so there's the odd flash-back here and there, but they're totally justified, well-integrated and essential to the story.

I'm normally a bit wary of faery-based books - I find they can often be a bit too relient on fairytales, oddly enough! The Sweet Scent of Blood certainly doesn't have that problem though - there are nods to the old lore such as cold iron being poisonous to the fae, but McLeod creates her own fairytale, with its own magic and lore. I've been reading a lot of YA fiction recently, and this tested my concentration a little as I had to work to keep everything straight in my head, but I'm not saying that as a criticism. It's no bad thing to have a deep storyline that twists and turns, taking the reader on a journey beyond their imagining.

I'll definitely be looking out for the next book in the series - it's so good to discover an author who's new to me!

Buy The Sweet Scent of Blood on Amazon

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Review: Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton

Okay so it's been an absolute age since I posted anything, my bad. I've been either too ill to do anything, or too busy to post. But enough about me. I indulged myself by spending ages in Waterstones the other day, and even allowed myself to buy a book! I get most of my books online these days, and I'd forgotten what absolute bliss it is to lose myself in a bookshop and leave with a piece of literary magic, jittering with impatience as I can't wait to start reading.

I'm really into YA fiction at the moment - I've always had a bit of a penchant for it, but since reading Harry Potter and Twilight I decided to throw off the pretence and just give in to my urge to lose myself in a world of teen romance and action. The problem is, as a 34 year old woman, a story has to be pretty special to capture me. Not for me the million vapid Twilight wannabes out there. Alright, so vampires are sexy and werewolves are cool, but there needs to be more inentive to read than that. That's why I absolutely love the Morganville Vampires, but can't get on with the Vampire Diaries. I want characters with... well, with character! Romance is good, but action is essential, and it has to be infused with atmosphere and dark enough to make me feel a little wild.

So after reading the backs of a ton of books and discounting them, I felt something inside me leap when I came across Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton. Not a vampire in sight, no werewolves or were-anythings, and thankfully no faeries (you need to be really careful if you're going to go down the faery route). What it does have is buckets of blood, magic that could be real, and an atmosphere so thick and dark that I found myself completely drawn in.

So many teen books leave me following the story from the sidelines, interested but deteched, but Tessa Gratton drew me right into her world. With her poetic descriptions and lyrical dialogue, Gratton pulls the reader along with a thread of magic. I was right there in the forest, spilling my blood and shivering with the thrill of the magic.

Gratton is a friend of Maggie Stiefvater, and you can see the Shiver author's influence in the depth of detail and fearless realism intertwined with Grimm-esque fairytale elements. This is a book for book lovers, a story for everyone who fell in love with books at a young age and still hasn't got over it. I only hope that Gratton won't be as hit-and-miss as Stiefvater is with her writing.

Unusually these days, Blood Magic stands alone as a story. It is the start of a series, but it doesn't leave the tale half-finished with the reader tearing their hair out for the next year until the next installment is released. I usually like the chunky promise of a good trilogy - more to get my teeth into - but I found the completion of this story refreshing. The ending is left just open enough that you wonder if you'll be reading more about Silla and Nick in the future, but happy to leave them to their fictional lives if not. It's long enough that I wasn't left feeling unfulfilled or short-changed, and the rewarding feeling from finishing a book and finishing the story at the same time was a welcome change from the slight depression that always affects me when I have to leave a set of characters in the middle of their lives and wait for the follow-up.

So many teen books are all about the romance, which is fine if you're a dewey-eyed teenage girl dreaming about her first love. Silla and Nick's relationship is an integral part of the story, but it doesn't take over everything else - Gratton has found a great balance between Silla's relationships with her family and friends. She doesn't come across as a green young thing who's never been kissed, which can get a little boring, and you know that at seventeen she's old enough to know what she's doing when it comes to boys. In spite of this, we're not teased with the whole will they/won't they scenario - it's more like her relationship with Nick progresses at a healthy pace for a young couple, and just like any relationship in real life it has its ups and downs. Romance has to take a back seat to the dark and dangerous magical events going on, and our couple are aware of this and a little frustrated by it. As a reader, there was just enough intimacy to make my old romantic heart flutter, but it stays well behind the lines of saccharine-sweet,  lovey-dovey, make-you-puke lurve.

Moving away from romance and on to a word of warning - this book is not for the feint-hearted. It seems a prerequisite for good YA fiction to include some element of death and destruction, and Blood Magic is no different. Where it does differ though, is that Blood Magic is a step closer to reality than the usual supernatural yarns. It would be all too easy for a young, impressionable teen to take this tale to heart and get obsessed with it, believing they have the power in them to do blood magic themselves. I hope that anyone reading this book has the strength of character to know when they are reading fiction, and to let it stay fiction. I think the magic Gratton creates might just be strange and unbelievable enough to save her from an army of damaged fans. Strangely, it is this element of danger that makes the book so readable and captivating for the older reader.

If you want supernatural with a healthy dose of realism, romance that will make your breath catch but not take centre-stage, and a serving of gore to put you off ketchup for a few days, Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton is definitely for you.

Buy Blood Magic on Amazon
Enhanced by Zemanta

Review: Saving June by Hannah Harrington

I'm usually drawn more to the supernatural side of teen fiction, but now and again something a little more real draws me in. Saving June appealed for some reason I can't define - it's a road-trip story, a coming-of-age yarn and a poignant tale of loss and growth all rolled into one.

I'll warn you now - it's a powerful read, and one that will make you cry. Our protagonist, Harper, is sixteen and her sister has just commited suicide. You can't pick up a book with that premise and not expect there not to be any raw, weepy moments. Having said that though, what shines through the strongest is Harper's amazing strength. This is not a sad story. Yes, it has scenes that will bring you to tears, but not for the reasons you's expect.

When I read a book that features such a massive loss in someone's life, I can't help but wonder if the author has had any experience of such a thing. How do you write about how it feels to lose a loved one if you've never felt it? I guess the power of a good author is in their ability to put themselves into someone else's life, feel what they feel and transform it into words. Perhaps it's actually harder to write about it if you have experienced it - everyone experiences death and loss differently, but I think that Harrinton's perspective on it is a good one. The whirling mess of emotions that Harper goes through is a believable portrayal of grief, and it's only support of her best friend Laney and the surprising involvement of the irascible Jake that get her through it.

Road trips are usually the domain of the movies (yeah there are a few great road-trip books out there, but so many movies!), but the journey we embark on with Harper, Laney and Jake is an enthralling journey, with a kick-ass soundtrack to boot. Harrinton weaves the music into the story seamlessly, and it's an integral part of the book. Any young readers who haven't heard the tunes mentioned really need to refer to the soundtrack listings at the end, make their own mix-cds (or playlists if they really must), and then read the book again. I promise everything will be better.

Not being American, sometimes I have a problem with US fiction in that I don't get some cultural references, or the language does my head in! Not so with Saving June - Harrinton's descriptions are just right - the heat, the crazy tourist spots, the diners and gas stations, the endless road. We're not overloaded with minute details, but the important ones are there - it's a hard balance to get right but Harrington does it spot on.
I'm always partial to a spot of romance, and Saving June has just that. The growing attraction between Harper and Jake winds through the story, not driving it but always there. It's both a realistic and magical imagining of young love. The awkwardness, the intensity, the veering between hate, love, lust and confusion. Those painful moments when you think something's going to happen and your stomach flips and you can't breathe, and then it doesn't happen and the atmosphere ups another notch until the next time.

Saving June is a funny, poignant and raw read. Join Harper on her journey and remember how to be yourself.
Buy Saving June by Hannah Harrington from Amazon.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Review: Shiver/Linger/Forever by Maggie Stiefvater

I'm reviewing this as a trilogy, because I don't think that anyone should have to read it as just one or two books - it's too sad. The first time I read these books I only had the first two, and had to wait to get the third one. What a wait that was! I was climbing the walls! So be warned - make sure you have all three books lined up before you start.

Stiefvater is an incredibly talented author, whose books are a delight to read. They're just so real - which is saying a lot when you're reading about werewolves! That's the thing though - although there are people who turn into wolves in the books, it's really far more about the people and their relationships with one another. The Shiver trilogy is a wonderful love story - it's not all plain sailing, but then what relationship is? This is part of what makes it so real. There is pain and suffering, but there are countless sweet moments that make it all worth it.

One of the things I like most about Stiefvater's writing is the way she includes little details that very few writers would think to include. A touch, a thought, a look - these tiny, inconsequential things are what makes up a real relationship, and the fact that Stiefvater writes them into her story makes it all the more believable. Grace and Sam's connection is incredibly strong, despite all everything that goes against them, and Stiefvater manages to write in such a way that you feel their relationship progressing. It's like real life on paper; love in words.

By telling the tale from both Grace and Sam's perspectives, plus other characters as the story progresses, Stiefvater manages to create a wonderful all-round understanding of what is happening. When a book is narrated by just one character, we get a very personal, somewhat stilted account, but by allowing each character to have their own time, by letting us see what is inside their heads, we are treated to something that feels much more complete. It's like watching a film, but better! I usually want books I really like to be made into films, but not Shiver - I just don't think any filmmaker could do it justice. It's the kind of book that needs to use your imagination, because what you can imagine is so much better than what any special effects and actors can create.

Shiver is a completely new twist on the werewolf legend - I'm not going to give anything away here, but I really liked the fact that it completely ignores the whole full moon/silver bullets shebang, and creates a whole new legend of its own.

I urge everyone to read the Shiver trilogy. It's beautiful.
Buy from Amazon: Shiver, Linger, Forever Boxed set (Wolves of Mercy Falls)

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Review: The Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin

This is one of those hidden gems I came across completely by accident. I found a bound proof copy in a charity shop and was intrigued by the cover (the old saying is rubbish - everyone judges books by their cover!) and the blurb on the back, so I bought it.

As soon as I started reading I was drawn into Griffin's wonderful steampunk world. For me, this is YA fiction at its best - Griffin's writing is engaging and intelligent, creating a host of characters who come alive in a fascinating dystopia. The scene is set with beautiful atmosphere - this is a time out of time, a steampunk fantasy where women dress in corsets and lace, where steam carriages rattle along the streets and inventors create incredible machines. This is a dark place though, where a deadly disease spreads and only those who can afford a special mask are protected. Imagine living in a society where everyone's face is hidden all of the time.

Araby Worth is a priveledged girl, seventeen and full of tragedy. The plague that ravages the city killed her twin brother, so she spends her nights in the Debauchery Club, seeking oblivion so that she won't have to remember. Everybody lives in fear - fear of catching the deadly contagion, and fear of Prince Prospero, who rules the city, controlling everything and everyone.

I don't want to give away any of the story, as it's a winding, involved tale which unfurls gently but sinks its hooks into you, daring you to put the book down and do something else. We come to know Araby gradually, finding a girl with a heart behind the vacant facade. At turns timid and strong, she is forced to grow up, to give up the drugs which allow her to forget the things she used to care about. In this twisted tale of revolution and turmoil, Araby discovers an inner strength as she is forced into dangerous situations, discovering that the world around her is really a web of lies and intrigue.

Of course there has to be an element of romance - you can't create a dark, gothic world without a hint of romance. This is no Twilight though - it doesn't hang on the romance as the centre of the story, though it is an integral part of Araby's life. Just like the rest of the twisted tale though, the love triangle that Araby finds herself in is not straight forward.

The Masque of the Red Death is actually based on the Edgar Allen Poe tale of the same name, though I only found that out when I looked up the book after reading it. If you read Poe's short story (you can find it online), it's easy to see where the inspiration for the world Griffin has created came from. However, while Poe's dark, gothic tale gave birth to the city that Araby lives in, our heroine herself and her compelling story is purely the invention of Griffin.

A genuinely brilliant find, and a book that I urge any brave YA fan to read. Griffin's writing is simply beautiful, and I look forward to the next book with more anticipation than I have felt for a long time.

Buy Masque of the Red Death on Amazon.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Review: Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

I'm always a bit wary of books with two authors - I can't imagine the kind of relationship you'd need to have with someone to be able to write a book with them and have it flow as if produced by one author. Beautiful Creatures is a book that I've been considering reading for quite a while, not too sure if I would like it or not. I decided to go for it though, and it turned out to be a good decision.

Beautiful Creatures is a good, chunky read. It's a substantial book, which I like. Even before I start reading, it's good to know that there's something there to get my teeth into, with the promise of further books if I like it. As soon as I started reading, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the story is told from Ethan's point of view - it makes a nice change to be reading the thoughts of a hormonal young man instead of an angst-ridden teenage girl. For some reason it makes the book more interesting, although I'm sure that as it's written by two women, the boy's point of view is actually what a girl thinks a boy would think, rather than what a boy would really think! I suspect if it was written how a boy really thinks, us girls wouldn't like it nearly as much!

As per most successful teen novels, Beautiful Creatures is a love story with a dark background. No vampires or werewolves here though; nor a fairy or angel. Instead we're dealing with witches, or as they're called in the book, Casters. I think a successful supernatural story comes with either a completely believable monster or a completely unbelievable one. Books like Twilight are great as fairy tales, but vampires that can walk around in the day and boys that turn into wolves the size of ponies? It's a step too far. However, the possibility of a family of witches in small-town America is infinitely more likely, and infinitely more spooky.

Taking advantage of its location in America's Deep South, where the swamps breed superstition and the legacy of voodoo is never far away, Beautiful Creatures is full of strange happenings, eerie elements and a fight against fate itself. Ethan Wate's life is thrown into turmoil when a new girl arrives at his school - a girl he has seen in his dreams. Lena Duchannes is everything a popular girl isn't. She doesn't look right or act right, but Ethan is drawn to her and unable to resist the draw of the power that links them. I liked the fact that until Lena turned up, Ethan was a normal guy. He had friends, he was on the basketball team, he did okay in school. All that changes though as he gets closer to Lena. The fact that he is willing to become an outcast at school makes us like and trust him as a character. He has a lot to deal with as Lena gradually allows him to get closer to her and reveals her unusual family and her powers, but he stands strong. Lena is scared to get close to him because she believes she is cursed, but he won't let her push him away. He's the strong guy who will fight battles for her and do anything to prove to her that he loves her. He's every girl's dream boyfriend!

Garcia & Stohl do a great job of creating a world you can get totally lost in. The Deep South is like another world to me, living in the UK. It's probably like another world to plenty of people living in the top half of the US as well. I think that's why there are so many great books based there. The weird and wonderful seems that bit more believable if it happens in the South. Our pair of authors weave a rich tapestry as a background to Ethan and Lena's story - the world they inhabit, the way they think and the little things that combine to make up their lives are described in just enough detail to pull us in and hold us until the last page is turned.
There is enough life in this book that it doesn't need to rely on a ridiculously fast pace with tragedy and danger on every other page. Instead, the story builds gradually, sucking you deeper and deeper in as it goes. It reminds me of Stiefvater's Shiver trilogy in some ways - it's raw and elemental; the path of true love does not run smooth, and it's obviously a book-lover's tale. There was just one element of the story that didn't quite sit right with me. Casters don't see themselves as mortal, and have a rule that a Caster and a Mortal can't be together. I don't think they are removed enough from us mere mortals for that to ring true though.
Niggles aside, I'll definitely be buying Beautiful Darkness to see what happens next, and I've just read that Beautiful Creatures has been made into a film, due out in February 2013 so I'll be interested to see how that goes. I just hope it's better than the Twilight movies - let's face it, it can't be much worse!
Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Review: The Dark Side of Midnight (Spy Girl Series) by Carol Hedges

I don't normally go for books in the children's section of the library - Young Adult is much more my cup of tea - but The Dark Side of Midnight caught my eye on a display, and after reading the bumf at the back I thought it looked like a fun read so I gave it a go.

I've read my fair share of children's/crossover books - the Harry Potter series and Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy being the most obvious, so I was hoping for something of a similar caliber. I guess I got my hopes up too much, though. Don't get me wrong - Spy Girl could be a great series, but I think it has some maturing to do. It's like the pilot episode of a new TV series which then gets polished and turned into something better if it does well enough.

It was the premise that intrigued me - Jazmin is a schoolgirl dreaming of being a spy like her mum, and by a fluke chain of events she actually gets her wish. It sounded fun, a light read and a great piece of escapism. It was soon clear that the story is set somewhere in the not-too-distant future, presumably to enable a host of futuristic tech to be used. Fair enough, I can handle futuristic. There are elements of this future that weren't really explained though, and I think if they had been it would have made for a more enjoyable read. It's a problem you see quite often - the author has a whole world in their head when they're writing, and they know exactly what and where everything is, but they sometimes forget that the reader isn't privy to their thoughts.  It always surprises me that their editors let them get away with it, but there you go.

An element of romance was to be expected in a book for young girls, but I was surprised that the boy in question appeared to be a few years older than 14 year-old Jazmin. I'm not a parent, and maybe I'm being stuffy but I think at that age girls should be encouraged to look to boys their own age for boyfriend material. Overlooking the slightly inapropriate love interest, I ploughed on, enjoying Jazmin's plucky character and her defient attitude when it comes to her perfect, popular cousin. Then everything started to go a bit weird and supernatural. I don't want to drop any spoilers so I'm not going to give away too much. I just had the feeling by the end of the book that it's having trouble working out quite what it is. Spy thriller vs futuristic vs romantic coming-of-age story vs supernatural fiction. I'm afraid it was all a bit too much - the supernatural element on top of everything else felt a bit unnecessary, as if it was being jammed in just because it's so popular at the moment. If Hedges had stuck with a futuristic spy thriller with an element of romance I can't help but feel it would have worked better.

I would read another Spy Girl book just to see how the series progresses, but I wouldn't buy it.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Okay, so I'm probably the last person to read The Hunger Games, rendering this review pretty useless, but to be honest it didn't really appeal to me at first. I don't like buying into the hype, so when something's huge in the media I tend to avoid it rather than rushing in to see what all the fuss is about. However, I've decided to do this review blog so I thought I'd better check it out. Also, I came across the first book of the trilogy in a charity shop so that decided it for me.

Is it worth the hype? In so much as anything is, yes. It's interesting to watch media trends and wonder just how many people realise what a huge effect the media have on our lives and our taste. Twilight was huge for a while, so we had that whole vampire resurgence, but you only have to go back a few years to see that it was just a repeat of the Anne Rice media train, and Bram Stoker before that. Eventually the market gets over-saturated with vampires, werewolves and the like, so they have to find a new angle, something different that will appeal to the masses. Bring on The Hunger Games - a futuristic dystopia where teenagers fight to the death in an arena. It's like a tailor-made antidote to the intense romance of Twilight - or is it?

I was surprised to come across a strong romantic storyline - I should have known that a trilogy this successful would hang on a love story, but I didn't expect it to be such a large part of the book. I was rather expecting more gore and suffering to be honest. It's certainly not the first time we've been drawn in by the grimy realism of a future where there isn't enough food to go around, where kids will fight over a loaf of bread and think nothing of killing each other. I couldn't help but think of the Japanese film Battle Royale (based on the book of the same name) as I read The Hunger Games, but I guess as in the art world there are no new ideas, only new interpretations of a theme. Whether it's because of being aimed at a slightly younger audience, or just the whim of Suzanne Collins, the gore is kept to a minimum and the general suffering takes a backseat to our heroine Katniss Everdeen's personal experience. This is no bad thing though - if I wanted to read about gruesome murders and a disgusting account of living in the wild I wouldn't have gone to the YA fiction section.

I found the book very easy to read - it's probably aimed at age fourteen or so, and the writing style is of the first person/present tense type that makes it very addictive. With a plot that shoots along consistently at a hundred miles per hour, it's impossible not to get sucked into Katniss' world. It's a world that's hard to live in, tatty around the edges but with a few fluffy moments still. It's a very good interpretation of a sixteen year-old girl and how she thinks as she goes through this extraordinary experience. Okay, so it glosses over a lot of filth and has the odd improbable moment, but that's what artistic licence is for right? It's also another facet of Katniss' character - this strong young woman isn't one to let the bad things get her down, she just won't think about them and they won't seem as bad.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Games were over by the end of the book - I knew it was part of a trilogy and was worried for a while that I might have to buy the other two to finish the story. Collins has done well though - The Hunger Games stands alone well as a story in its own right, while at the same time leaving things nicely open should you wish to continue reading about Katniss. You know what? I think I just might - bring on Catching Fire!
Already read it? Check out my review of Catching Fire and Mockingjay.

Buy The Hunger Games on Amazon.