Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Review: Sister Assassin by Kiersten White

NB this book is titled Mind Games outside the UK.

Time for something completely different. Sister Assassin is unlike any YA book I've read. It has a hint of the supernatural, in that it features girls with abilities such as mind-reading, seeing the future and feeling emotions (known in the book as readers, seers and feelers), however it's not all about that. It's also about  relationships, abuse, control and escape.

Sister Assassin is a hard book to review without dropping any spoilers. Glancing at other reviews, it seems to be a bit of a marmite book - people either love it or they hate it. Personally, I loved it. It's so different from the usual paranormal romance that has flooded the YA market, it was like a breath of fresh air. Or perhaps I should say a breath of tainted air, because this book is quite gritty, although it's easy to just get caught up in the thrill and excitement, and gloss over the subtext.

Told using a dual PoV, Sister Assassin is the story of two sisters. Annie is blind, but she has visions - she can see the future. Annie's younger sister Fia doesn't think she's special - it's just her job to look after her disabled big sister. But when Annie is offered a place at the Keane School for Exceptional Girls, Fia discovers that Annie isn't the only one with a special gift. Fia just knows that agreeing to join the school is the wrong thing to do - she doesn't know why, but her intuition tells her it's wrong, and her intuition is flawless. However, Annie is overjoyed at the chance to attend a school that offers her a chance at a good future, and possibly even a cure for her blindness, so Fia can't say no. Together, the girls start their new life, but it doesn't take long before Fia works out that what they're being taught isn't exactly on the National Curriculum. Annie has it easy, with a best friend and a tutor who understands her strange visions, meanwhile Fia is being trained to be an assassin, and for the first time in her life she has to keep things from her sister, to protect her from knowledge that would surely break her, just as it's broken Fia herself.

Not only using two PoVs, Sister Assassin skips between time-frames. Beginning with a strange but exciting series of events, each chapter reveals more, with snippets from the past filling you in until gradually everything is explained. This is something that a lot of people seem to have a problem with. I don't. I found the style of writing fascinating, with clues as to what's going on being dropped here and there, scenes from the past adding both interest and essential information. It's like getting to know someone in real life - you start off in the present, with your first impression of a person coloured by the circumstances in which you meet them. Then over time they tell you stories from their past, and you get to know them bit by bit.

Full of angst, terror, a hint of romance and a ton of kick-ass moves, Annia and Fia's story is a dark, thrilling, action-packed rollercoaster ride that you'll find hard to put down.

Published by HarperCollins on 19/02/2013. This review is thanks to an ARC from NetGalley.

Order Sister Assassin from Amazon

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Review: Confessions of an Angry Girl by Louise Rozett

Confessions of an Angry Girl is a young YA book. YA covers a huge range of sub-genres, many of which can be counted as cross-overs between YA and adult reading. CoaAG, however, is definitely strictly YA. So, as an adult reader I'm not sure I can really give it a fair review. I'll give it a go anyway, but please bear in mind that I'm about 20 years older than the target audience. Wow, that makes me feel old!

I actually enjoyed the book, even though it's too young for my taste. Rozett's writing is at turns witty, touching, sweet and bolshy. Rose, the central character, is a fourteen year-old girl who reminds me a little of myself at that age. She's not popular at school, but she has a couple of close friends. She knows her own mind pretty well though, which is something we can all aspire to, whatever our age. Rose has suffered loss and it's made her grow up in some ways, while in other ways she's still young and naive.

As can be expected, the book deals with issues such as under-age drinking, losing your virginity (or not), bullying and the attraction of older boys. Now I'm a bit out of touch with my fourteen year-old self, but I think these subjects are dealt with in a realistic and sensitive way. Rozett is brave enough to admit, and make obvious, that telling a teacher isn't always the best answer when it comes to bullying. Brave is what this book is in a lot of ways - it's not afraid to show the real and sometimes unsavory side of teenage life. Kids will try alcohol and get ill. Girls will agonise about whether or not to 'do it' with their boyfriend, and the won't always make the right decision.

Being American, there are a few references that didn't really scan for me - I still get confused with their schooling system - what's a freshman, what age do kids start secondary school? What age do kids learn to drive? Cheerleading is something I can't get my head around, but it seems that Rose at least agrees with me on that one! School system aside, Rozett's writing actually felt more like a Brit book than an American one. The writing is more real, and there's a lot less elitism than is usually found in US school-age books.

My main issue with Angry Girl, is that someone seems to have stolen half the book! I was reading a NetGalley version online and wasn't taking notice of the page numbers, so when I came to the end of the book it was a real surprise. It only took me about an hour to read, and I was kind of confused by the way it was just left hanging. I guess I'll have to look out for the next installment to find out what happens...

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Review: The Lost Prince by Julie Kagawa

I just can't get enough of Kagawa's world. If you loved the story of Meghan and Ash, the half-human daughter of Oberon and the winter prince son of Mab, then The Lost Prince will surely hold you transfixed as I was. Meghan's story, told in the first three books of the Iron Fey story, blew me away. Ash's part came next with the Iron Knight, and I fell in love even more - both with the gorgeous ice prince and with Kagawa's writing. I thought the story ended there, but then came The Lost Prince - Ethan's tale.

Kagawa has an innate feel for what her readers want. Meghan's adventures were a rollercoaster ride of dark thrills, romance and danger. Ash turned from the bad-boy we all fell for, into a swoon-worthy hero with a story of his own. Then, when it seemed like the world of the Iron Fey would have to live on in our imagination alone, Kagawa comes back with a doozy! Rather than attempting to continue with the lives of Meghan and Ash directly, Kagawa has drawn Meghan's little brother Ethan into the Nevernever.

If you're reading this review, I hope you've already read the first four books of the Iron Fey series. If not, go away and read them now! I'm doing my best not to reveal any spoilers, but it's hard to talk about this book without mention of what's gone on before. So I'm going to assume that anyone reading on knows the series, and knows Kagawa's spell-binding talent. I could wax lyrical for an age about her amazing writing, about how she brings her world to life with an ease that makes me incredibly jealous as a writer. I could spend a good few paragraphs praising her incredibly well-formed characters, realistic and engaging dialogue, and perfectly detailed descriptions. But let's leave it at that. You all know she's awesome! 

We met Ethan Chase a long time ago - the four year-old little boy who could see faeries was the reason Meghan was dragged into the world of the fey in the first place. Now he's grown up, but he's damaged. Being able to see the Fair Folk, being constantly tormented by them, has turned his into a bitter, wary and harsh character. He can't let anyone near him for fear that the fey who make his life hell will transfer their attention to anyone he becomes close to. When Kenzie St James forces herself into his life though, he doesn't have any choice.

Ethan just wants to live a normal life, away from faeries of any type. Unfortunately, that's not an option. They know he can see them, and they won't leave him alone. Pesky piskies and mischievous gremlins are one thing, but when scary, ghost-like fey attack him in public and his half-phouka friend goes missing, Ethan, along with Kenzie, is forced to enter the Nevernever and seek Meghan's help.

Enter Grimalkin! You may have thought you'd seen the last of the sarcastic cait sith, but no, Kagawa has given us a gift of more dry wit and timely appearances from our favourite cat. He's not the only old friend to have a place in this tale either. Brief appearances from Meghan and Ash assure us that their story had the right ending, and the introduction of a character called Keirran will certainly mean something to those of you who have read the Iron Knight. Leanansidhe has her place in the proceedings, but it's Robin Goodfellow's guest appearance that will make the most people happy I feel. Good old Puck jumps in to save the day once or twice, and although his part isn't a big one, it's good to see that he's still around.

I don't want to give too much away so I won't mention any more. Suffice to say that there is a good dose of adventure, just the right amount of romance, some kick-ass moves, and I am now on tenterhooks waiting for the release of The Traitor Son (expected Sept 2013)!

See my review of The Iron King, first in the Iron Fey series. One day I'll get around to writing reviews of the other books too!