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...