Friday, 29 March 2013

Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Published by: Penguin
Release date: 3rd January 2013 (paperback)
Series: n/a
I got it from: Library

"You realize that trying to keep your distance from me will not lessen my affection for you. All efforts to save me from you will fail."

Goodreads summary:
Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.

Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning author John Green's most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.

My review:
My Other Half asked me what I'm reading. 'A book about kids with cancer.' I replied. 'Cheery', he commented. 'You'd be surprised.' I replied.

Actually I lied when I said the book was about kids with cancer. That is the opposite of what it's about. It's a book about falling in love, about the moment when you realise that even though you're trying your hardest not to fall in love for whatever reason, it's going to happen anyway. It's not something you can control. It's a book about living, about dealing with life, about the absence of life. 

I thought a book containing such tragedy would have me bawling me eyes out, but strangely, instead it suffused me with an incredible gladness. A feeling of really appreciating everything I have that is good. Of course I couldn't stay completely dry-eyed throughout. But still, the overall feeling I had for most of the book was a sort of wonder at the existence of such a good book. It feels as though everyone who reads this book will come out the other side a slightly better person. 

Hazel is the best character ever. She is everything that I would have aspired to be at that age if I had known that such a person could exist. She is fictional after all, so maybe it's not possible, but I like to think it is. Augustus is hot, full of pretentious metaphors and sort-of wonderful. 

I want to give this book to every teenager in the western world. I'm not one of the legions of manic John Green fans that appear to be out there. I picked up The Fault in Our Stars simply because it was shiny and new, and my library hardly ever gets new YA books. I hummed and hah'd over whether to get it, because I wasn't sure I wanted to read about tragic cancer kids. I am so thankful that I decided to give it a chance.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Top Ten Tuesday - Books I recommend

So I've been trying to get into one of the many weekly book blog themes, and today I've decided to bite the bullet and do it! There are many, many books that I would recommend, but here's my top ten at the moment...

1. Glass Houses by Rachel Caine

I totally fell in love with the Morganville vampires - I came to this series after reading Twilight and getting back into YA, and I have to say Morganville is everything that Twilight isn't. It's kick-ass, full of action, with enough lurving to satisfy the romantics amongst you. The series is coming to a close at the end of this year, and with 15 books there's enough to keep you going for a while!

2. Saving June by Hannah Harrington

If you don't dig the paranormal/supernatural/fantasy/dystopia aspect of YA fiction, then Saving June is exactly what you need to read. A wonderful road-trip book full of emotion and great music! Read my review here.

3. Shiver/Linger/Forever by Maggie Stiefvater

Warning - do not attempt to read this trilogy without having them all to hand - you'll regret it if you finish Shiver and can't start on Linger right away! Stiefvater's writing is sublime. This is a werewolf legend with a difference, so beautiful it will linger in your heart forever. Read my review of the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy.

4. Die for Me trilogy by Amy Plum

Just gorgeous. I've been waiting impatiently for the final book in this heart-rending trilogy for what seems like forever. Full of evocative Parisian scenes and sexy revenants, this is a zombie love story that will totally reconfigure your take on zombies! Die for Me review.

5. The Iron King by Julie Kagawa

I'm not always a huge fan of fairies/faeries/fey/whatever you want to call the winged critters, but Julie Kagawa's Iron Fey series totally sucked me in. Her characters are so strong, you can't help but fall for them. Grimalkin is quite possibly the best character ever. I've reviewed The Iron King here.

6. Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton

Lots of the books I recommend are trilogies or series, which is great in a way - more to read is always a good thing, but sometimes a stand-alone story is kind of refreshing. Technically Blood Magic is the start of a series, but I'm counting it as a stand-alone as it doesn't leave you hanging. No freaky monsters here, but a very believable and quite scary kind of magic. It's dark, thrilling and very interesting. Read my review of Blood Magic.

7. Nightshade by Andrea Cremer

Werewolves again, but awesome ones! Another trilogy that I advise you procure before you start reading, because once you start you really won't want to stop. A brilliant cast of characters and the ultimate love triangle. Check out my review of Nightshade.

8. Dash & Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

This is a brilliant Christmas present to give someone who enjoys YA fiction. A book for book lovers, a charming love story and just an all-round beautiful Christmas tale. Review of Dash & Lily's Book of Dares.

9. The Sweetest Dark by Shana Abe

If you're looking for a brand new book, give this one a go - it's out on April 9th. A gorgeous story with a romantic first world war setting, and an intriguing paranormal element. Read my review of the rather wonderful Sweetest Dark here.

10. Sorry I don't have time right now!

I'll think of no. 10 later! Or even better, let me know what you think number 10 should be!

Friday, 22 March 2013

Review: Dinner with a Vampire (The Dark Heroine) by Abigail Gibbs

Published by: Harper Voyager
Release date: 11th October 2012
Series: The Dark Heroine #1
I got it from: Charity shop

" 'Even if that were so, how could I be happy as a vampire? There is no chance of me actually liking the idea of living forever. It's hopeless!'
Kasper faced straight ahead, glancing in his side mirror. He spoke softly, something like caring in his voice.'You don't know that, Girly! One day you might just find something worth living an eternity for.'

Goodreads summary:
For Violet Lee, a chance encounter on a darkened street draws her into a world beyond her wildest imaginings, a timeless place of vast elegance and immeasurable wealth – of beautiful mansions and lavish parties – where a decadent group of friends live for pleasure alone. A place from which there is no matter how hard Violet tries.

Yet all the riches in the world can’t mask the darkness that lies beneath the gilded surface, embodied in the charismatic but dangerous Kaspar Varn.

Violet and Kaspar surrender to a passion that transcends their separate worlds – but it’s a passion that comes at a price...

My review:
I've had this book on my 'to read' list for a while, so I couldn't believe my luck when I came across it in a charity shop. I was interested in it because a) I like vampires, b) it's British, and there is not enough Brit YA fiction out there, a c) as a writing myself I was intrigued by this 'online sensation'. So apparently Gibbs started posting the story on Wattpad when she was just 15, built up a huge following and got picked up by a publisher. What I find strange is the fact that they appear to have forgotten to edit it before publishing.

I don't like writing bad reviews, but there are a number of aspects of this book that I just can't get over. I didn't realise the author was so young when I first started reading the book, but by the time I got about a third of the way in, I had to look it up and find out what the deal was. When I read that she was just 15 when she started writing, I thought 'Ahh, that explains a lot.' It reads like it was written by a 15 year-old a lot of the time, with glaringly obvious grammatical errors and annoying lightning-quick changes of heart. Then I read a bit further, and thought 'woah, that is one messed-up kid'. There are a lot of reviews slating the abusive nature of the relationship between the two main characters of the book. For me, some of the scenes were quite surprising, and made me think that this is not really a YA book after all, but an adult book. Having said that, I actually admire Gibbs for making the bad-boy hero bad for real. Girls love a dangerous boy, but too often they turn out to be far nicer than you really want them to be. Not so our Kaspar Varn - here is a real bad-boy. He's arrogant, he's a monster, and he's sexy. Yes, he treats the heroine Violet badly sometimes, but this is fiction. He also drinks blood, but I don't see reviews taking him to task for that.

I found the book a strange combination of weirdly addictive and annoyingly bad. I wanted to keep reading to find out what happens to Violet, but I kept getting distracted by editing it in my head and having to re-read pages now and again to get around the random twists and plot holes. It's like a weird cross between Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey, but written by a school-girl. Gibbs definitely has talent, but the book really would have benefited from some decent editing. 

I don't think I've ever felt this conflicted about a book before. One one hand, it's hard to get past the technical mistakes, and the addition of parallel dimensions totally threw me. On the other hand, there's something about it that makes me want to keep reading. I even want to read the next book in the series to see what happens to Violet and Kaspar. I'm also very intrigued to see if Gibbs' writing has improved at all. Dinner with a Vampire is a perverse combination of disgraceful and enthralling. Read it if you dare!

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Review: The Sweetest Dark by Shana Abe

Published by: Bantam
Release date: 9th April 2013
Series: The Sweetest Dark #1
I got it from: NetGalley

" With every fiber of my being, I yearned to be normal. To glide through my days at Iverson without incident. But I’d have to face the fact that my life was about to unfold in a very, very different way than I’d ever envisioned. Normal would become forever out of reach. "

Goodreads summary:
Lora Jones has always known that she’s different. On the outside, she appears to be an ordinary sixteen-year-old girl. Yet Lora’s been keeping a heartful of secrets: She hears songs that no one else can hear, dreams vividly of smoke and flight, and lives with a mysterious voice inside her that insists she’s far more than what she seems.

England, 1915. Raised in an orphanage in a rough corner of London, Lora quickly learns to hide her unique abilities and avoid attention. Then, much to her surprise, she is selected as the new charity student at Iverson, an elite boarding school on England’s southern coast. Iverson’s eerie, gothic castle is like nothing Lora has ever seen. And the two boys she meets there will open her eyes and forever change her destiny.

Jesse is the school’s groundskeeper—a beautiful boy who recognizes Lora for who and what she truly is. Armand is a darkly handsome and arrogant aristocrat who harbors a few closely guarded secrets of his own. Both hold the answers to her past. One is the key to her future. And both will aim to win her heart. As danger descends upon Iverson, Lora must harness the powers she’s only just begun to understand, or else lose everything she dearly loves.

Filled with lush atmosphere, thrilling romance, and ancient magic, The Sweetest Dark brilliantly captures a rich historical era while unfolding an enchanting love story that defies time.

My review:
I read The Sweetest Dark not knowing what to expect - I've not come across Shana Abe's books before, but now I'm suffused with the joy of having found a new author to love. If you're a fan of Abe, you will probably have a good idea of what to expect, but I'm writing this review for those of you who haven't had the pleasure yet, who don't yet know what a beautiful and magical world she creates.

I'm not going to say too much about the story - the Goodreads summary above gives away as much as I'm prepared to reveal, because if you don't know the author's previous work you won't know what to expect when Lora's secret is revealed.

Instead, I'm going to focus on Abe's writing, which is wonderful, and the interesting world in which the story is set. We are transported to England during the outbreak of World War I. A time when the aristocracy still held sway, a time of romance and horror; when the rich are very rich and the poor are very poor. Abe's poetic prose conjurs up evocative visions of her settings - a London orphanage, dirty and hard. A school for privileged girls near the south coast, full of rich bitches. A whimsical mansion, imposing but full of oddities. Our heroine is the narrator of her own story, and she tells it with such feeling that you can't help get caught up in it.

The Sweetest Dark reads like an old film - slow at first, but that's no bad thing. We get to know our heroine, and are treated to glimpses of the two male leads as the story steadily unfolds. Building up gradually, drawing us ever deeper as it goes, preparing us for the exciting culmination, when the plot erupts with volcanic vigour, treating us to a tragic and breathtaking finale. Abe's writing is perfect for the time setting - being set in the past gives credence to the fairytale-esque tale that she weaves. The differences between that time and this allow for a style that is hauntingly beautiful and enchantingly evocative, without being overbearing or twee. Abe's descriptions of the people, surroundings and emotions are perfectly in-line with Lora's narrative - we are shown what Lora sees, focusing on the details she notices and the way she feels about what is happening around her.

The summary hints at a love triangle, but I was pleased to find that it isn't one of those annoying plot devices, there for the sake of it, but something else entirely. I won't give anything away, except to say that I love Lora even more for the choice she makes, and I cried for her at the end. The supernatural element to the story is intriguing and beautiful. As I've mentioned, if you're a fan of Abe you will know what to expect, but if you don't know what's coming, don't be impatient - learn about Lora as she learns about herself.

I will definitely be adding Abe's other books to my 'to read' list, and I'm very happy that NetGalley has given me the opportunity to read both this book and its follow-up, The Deepest Night. I'll also be adding both books to my paperback wishlist, because as much as I appreciate getting to read the digital versions early, when a book affects me as much as this one did, I need to be able to hold it in my hand, feel the paper, smell the ink and ruffle the pages.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Review: The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross

Published by: Mira Ink (Harlequin)
Release date: 24th May 2011
Series: The Steampunk Chronicles #1
I got it from: Library

" “What I want from you,” he said, and Finley braced herself, “is your trust. Irrevocable and unshakable. I want you to put your life in my hands, and I want to be able to do the same without hesitation.”
Disturbed to her very soul, Finley could only shake her head. “You ask too much.” Put his life in her hands? He was deranged! A bedlamite for certain. A crooked grin curved his mouth.
“Too much? You strange and wonderful girl, that is the least I’ll ask of you.” "

Goodreads summary:
In 1897 England, sixteen-year-old Finley Jayne has no one...except the "thing" inside her.When a young lord tries to take advantage of Finley, she fights back. And wins. But no "normal" Victorian girl has a darker side that makes her capable of knocking out a full-grown man with one punch....

Only Griffin King sees the magical darkness inside her that says she's special, says she's one of "them." The orphaned duke takes her in from the gaslit streets against the wishes of his band of misfits: Emily, who has her own special abilities and an unrequited love for Sam, who is part robot; and Jasper, an American cowboy with a shadowy secret.

Griffin's investigating a criminal called The Machinist, the mastermind behind several recent crimes by automatons. Finley thinks she can help--and finally be a part of something, finally fit in.

But The Machinist wants to tear Griff's little company of strays apart, and it isn't long before trust is tested on all sides. At least Finley knows whose side she's on--even if it seems no one believes her.

My review:
I do like a bit of steampunk. It's like the best of all worlds - romantically historical, interestingly fantastical and gorgeously gothic. Throw in an element of magic and the supernatural and you have a heady concoction that any YA fan should love.

Finley Jayne is a fun heroine - ballsy, wild and just a bit vulnerable, she's an easy character to love and follow. As are her supporting cast - Griffin King, the young duke with an easy smile but a dark side; Jack Dandy, cockney master of the underworld with a softer side; sweet little Emily, genius and friend; and surly Sam, the only one who can match Finley's strength.

Do you ever feel like you have a dark side? That part of you which prompts you to say the wrong thing, to do something wild? Imagine if that dark side had supernatural strength and senses, imagine if you were unable to keep it under control. Finley's dark side is fighting to take her over, and only Griffin can help her to tame it. But while there is an undeniable attraction between the low-born girl and the Duke, it is Jack Dandy who accepts Finley for who she is and appealing to her darker side.

There is romance in the book. In fact there are two love triangles - the brilliant Emily get her own pair of heroes vying for her attention. Interestingly though, the romance angle takes a bit of a back seat, leaving the mystery and adventure aspect to take the lead.

Cross's writing won't appeal to all - a lot of words are dedicated to describing the clothes and machines which make the steampunk setting. I don't mind that personally - unless you're really into steampunk, the descriptions are necessary to remind the reader that they are not in the normal world. With the Victorian setting it would be easy to forget the steampunk aspect if it wasn't highlighted throughout the book. Cross writes in the third person, but switches between various character's points of view. I found this style a little  unsettling - we are given glimpses of the main characters' personalities but we never get to really know them in depth. I think this is part of the reason for some of the fairly scathing reviews the book has received. Another small gripe I have is that the evil villain is made a bit to obvious - if you're expecting a twist you'll be a bit disappointed, as it's more of a case of banging you're head against a wall, shouting 'why are you talking to him? It's so obvious!'

Bad points aside, I'm glad I read the book and I definitely want to read the next one in the series. Just one more complaint though - the version I read included the prequel novella 'The Strange Case of Finley Jayne', but to be honest I kind-of wish it hadn't. I enjoyed reading the novella, but it didn't connect well with The Girl in the Steel Corset. A number of things just didn't gel between the end of The Strange Case and the beginning of Steel Corset. It just made the prequel seem unnecessary.

Please ignore all the bad reviews and give the book a chance. If you hate steampunk, maybe avoid it, but if you're even just a little bit interested go for it!

Monday, 4 March 2013

Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Published by: Scholastic Press
Release date: 18th Sept 2012
Series: Raven Cycle #1
I got it from: Library

"She recognized the strange happiness that came from loving something without knowing why you did, that strange happiness that was sometimes so big that it felt like sadness."

Goodreads summary:
“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.

My review:
Oh my. I am so in love with Maggie Stiefvater right now. I fell for the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy quite some time ago (read my review here), but then I read the Scorpio Races and wasn't convinced by it. For that reason, along with the fact that I'm very wary of faery-based stories, it was a long while before I delved into Lament. Read it, lurved it (review to come soon), and decided I needed to give The Raven Boys a chance... So glad I did. This is Stiefvater at her absolute best - captivating, whimsical, intense and a little bit dangerous. It really has the same feel as the Shiver trilogy - that feeling that you're reading something important. Something big, a legend in the making... a piece of magic.

I'm not going to bother with the whole synopsis thing - the Goodreads summary does all that. Instead I want to tell you about how the book makes me feel. Because I think in some ways that's a lot more important than what the book is about. Sure, the fact that it has ley lines and magic makes it interesting to me, but the fact that it captures my heart and imagination means a lot more. The way it makes me want to fold myself into the pages, to become Blue and to go on a mystical quest with these intriguing and dangerous Raven Boys. The way I get irrationally irritated if anyone dares to interrupt my reading of this book. The way I feel bereft when I come to the end.

There is something lyrical about Stiefvater's writing - I get the feeling that she chooses her words very carefully, whilst at the same time allowing them to pour naturally through her from the ether where stories live. The Raven Boys is full of prophesies, legends and untold truths. It was incredibly refreshing to read a book that's not all about the romance. You might expect, given the tagline "if you kiss your true love, he will die", that the focus would be on finding one's true love and agonising over not kissing him. Nothing could be further from the truth. I should have known, given the complexity of the relationships in Shiver - a simple love story does not belong in Stiefvater's world. Instead, the intelligence of the reader is actually respected. The lives of the characters are not one-dimensional, lust-obsessed and full of teen angst - they are multi-faceted, involved and tangled up with one another. When Blue starts hanging with the Raven Boys, she is drawn quickly into the intimate and delicate weave of their lives. Written in the third person, which is something of a departure for Steifvater, we are gradually introduced to the cast of The Raven Boys - a large and diverse collection of characters, each of them fully-formed and separate from the others. You have to admire the author's talent for creating people that are so real. As I mentioned in my review of Shiver, the devil is in the detail - a tiny gesture here, a semi-concious thought there - these are the things that make her characters come so completely alive.

This is a hard review to write, actually. I can't say much about the story without giving something away, and I could wax lyrical for pages on the beauty of Stiefvater's writing, but there's nothing interesting about reading someone else's hero-worship. Plus, there's only so many times I can use words such as 'complex', 'magical' and 'beautiful' without sounding like an illiterate sap. Please, just read it. If there is even a tiny part of you that is intrigued by the idea of a very real kind of magic, read it. If you want to wake up your imagination, enjoy getting a little spooked, sigh with longing and shout out at the twistiest of twists, read it.