April 28, 2010

Just....Wow (Review: The Knife of Never Letting Go by P. Ness)

The Knife of Never Letting Go
Patrick Ness
Walker Books 2008

“Todd Hewitt is the last boy in Prentisstown.  But Prentisstown isn't like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else's thoughts in a constant, overwhelming, never-ending Noise. There is no privacy. There are no secrets. 
Or are there? 
Just one month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd unexpectedly stumbles upon a spot of complete silence.  Which is impossible.  Prentisstown has been lying to him. 
And now he's going to have to run...”

(Blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

This is a book that I think most people interested in YA fiction have heard of. I certainly had, and as such found it quite intimidating – I literally had read no bad reviews of this title and kept adding it to and then taking it off my wish list, sure that I could only be disappointed by reading it.

For about the first 30 pages, I was sure that my suspicions had been correct. I couldn't get into the story – I found Todd's style of speech and thought processes uneven and hard to follow and couldn't get my head around the concept of Noise (which is how the constant rage of men's thoughts is referred to). I was seriously considering giving up. Then, I suddenly just got it. The story literally swept me away and I couldn't put it down.

Todd is an interesting character. He is certainly flawed, lacks confidence and is more than a little sullen when we first meet him. Through the course of the book he undergoes some of the best character development I have come across in recent fiction (YA or adult). He doesn't suddenly become a hero and he isn't always likeable, yet I couldn't help but really cheer for him all the way through the book. I don't think I have ever want things to work out for a character so much – the more that happens to him, the more you desperately want him to succeed. He doesn't always make the right choices and he doesn't always understand the implications of the choices that he does make, yet picks himself up and just keeps going be it on his literal journey to safety or the metaphorical journey towards manhood (the two of which collide stunningly towards the end of the book).

Viola is quite a different character. She reminded me more of the kind of character I am used to in fiction. Quite, determined and loyal she remains stoic and committed during some really awful encounters and also keeps Todd going when his belief system is constantly being contested. Their relationship is interesting, going from distrust to a tentative friendship to complete reliance on each other. At no point does this feel forced and it gives the story great credence that they don't fall into a romance that would, in all honesty, be completely unbelievable considering everything that they have to deal with.

Then there is Prentisstown – the place, and the people from whom Todd is running. It really is a place of pure evil, reflecting all the hate, rage, grief and bitterness of its inhabitants. It is the product of men who no longer have anything to lose having already lost more than they can possibly bear, and it is terrifying. It is a place that will stay with me for some time to come – Patrick Ness has gone incredibly close to the bone and created a place where there is no hope, joy or love and characters who made my skin crawl and kept me awake at night.

The actually writing style is pretty incredible. I've not come across anything quite like it but it conveys Todd's inner thoughts and turmoil incredibly effectively and there are also some very beautiful moments. I honestly think that, as an expression of his first glimpse of true friendship and hope for the future, the line, “Now that I've seen her, I can't stop seeing her” is stunning in its sheer simplicity.

I had rented this book from my local library but full intend to invest in not just a copy of this, but a copy of The Ask and the Answer as soon as I possibly can. I really cannot recommend this highly enough.

April 27, 2010

Fangy fun (Review: My Love Lies Bleeding/Hearts at Stake by A. Harvey).

My Love Lies Bleeding
Alyxandra Harvey
Bloomsbury 2010

“The Drakes are rather different to your usual neighbours. They are vampires and some of the members of the family date back to the twelfth century. One of the children, Solange, is the only born female vampire known and, as such, she poses a direct threat to the vampire queen. Her best friend Lucy is human, and when Solange is kidnapped Lucy and Solange's brother, Nicholas, set out to save her. Lucy soon discovers that she would like to be more than just friends with Nicholas. But how does one go about dating a vampire? Meanwhile, Solange finds an unlikely ally in Kieran, a vampire slayer on the hunt for his father's killer.”

(Blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

I'd read some mixed reviews of this book and so did not have any thoughts on what to expect. I was delighted when I totally loved it and gobbled the whole thing up in an afternoon. Yum yum yum. When it first arrived through my letterbox I was pretty disappointed by how slight it looked (coming in at about 250 pages, it's quite short) but it packs an amazing punch for all that. The author has a veritable slew of information flying off the page from the start, without ever leaving you feeling overwhelmed. Be it about the complicated tribal system and mythology of the vamps of the story or the names of Solange's 65 million brothers (well, seven, but they seem like a lot) I always felt that I was able to keep up and understand what was going on.

Alyxandra employs a duel narrative system, skipping back and forth from Solange to Lucy which works very well (although I found this a little disconcerting at first – maybe because I'm more used to a male/female duel narrative and kept getting my “she's” confused when they talked about each other). The Drake brothers are painted as totally, totally delicious with Nicholas being the stand-out (he is definitely the male “lead” and smoulders and gazes appropriately – more yum). I do think that the tag line on the front of the UK cover of the book is slightly misleading. It asks “what would you risk for a Vampire's kiss?” which kind of made me think that this would be a classic Vampire/mortal angsty relationship drama (Bella and Edward/Angel and Buffy etc etc) and it really is NOT. While the budding relationship between Lucy and Nicholas is covered nicely (with both humour, romance and even a wee bit of sexiness) there is no angst involved at all. Lucy doesn't seem to be all that bothered about kissing a vampire (well, not in a bad way anyway) and Nicholas it not at all tortured (yay!). The main story line is definitely more of an action adventure and it's actually the tentative friendship between Solange and Helios-Ra vampire hunter Keiran that has me looking forward to future books in the series (book two, Blood Feuds, is out July 2010).

All in all, I thought it was great. Yes, it perhaps could have done with more padding – it's pretty lean and there isn't much flim flam (sometimes a bit of flim flam actually doesn't go amiss, especially when you enjoy a book so much you would have liked at least oh, 600 more pages), yes, Solange is a funny name and yes, they all seem to wear cargo pants all the time, but it's a great story, set in a well thought out world and sets the rest of the series up nicely. Incidentally, I believe that this title was published as Hearts at Stake in the US. I have to say that I would most certainly never have even picked it up had it been published under that in the UK – the gorgeous title is what made me consider it in the first place.

April 25, 2010

In My Mailbox

In My Mailbox is a meme created and hosted by Kristi over at The Story Siren with inspiration from Alea at Pop Culture Junkie.  It basically give book bloggers everywhere the opportunity to share what books they have received/bought/librarised (yes, I just made up that word and I don't care) over the last week.  It's also responsible for my personal wish list and TBR piles growing by several dozen titles each week as I get inspired by what everyone else gets in their mailbox...

All book descriptions are courtesy of the fabulous Goodreads


Hex Hall - Rachel Hawkins

Three years ago, Sophie Mercer discovered that she was a witch. It's gotten her into a few scrapes. Her non-gifted mother has been as supportive as possible, consulting Sophie's estranged father--an elusive European warlock--only when necessary. But when Sophie attracts too much human attention for a prom-night spell gone horribly wrong, it's her dad who decides her punishment: exile to Hex Hall, an isolated reform school for wayward Prodigium, a.k.a. witches, faeries, and shapeshifters.
By the end of her first day among fellow freak-teens, Sophie has quite a scorecard: three powerful enemies who look like supermodels, a futile crush on a gorgeous warlock, a creepy tagalong ghost, and a new roommate who happens to be the most hated person and only vampire on campus. Worse, Sophie soon learns that a mysterious predator has been attacking students, and her only friend is the number-one suspect.
As a series of blood-curdling mysteries starts to converge, Sophie prepares for the biggest threat of all: an ancient secret society determined to destroy all Prodigium, especially her.

I'm in the middle of reading this right now and I am sure that many of you will understand when I say that it had me at "BAD DOG!". Complete awesomeness.

Blue Bloods - Melissa De La Cruz

When the Mayflower set sail in 1620, it carried on board the men and women who would shape America: Miles Standish; John Alden; Constance Hopkins. But some among the Pilgrims were not pure of heart; they were not escaping religious persecution. Indeed, they were not even human. They were vampires.The vampires assimilated quickly into the New World. Rising to levels of enormous power, wealth, and influence, they were the celebrated blue bloods of American society. 
The Blue Bloods vowed that their immortal status would remain a closely guarded secret. And they kept that secret for centuries. But now, in New York City, the secret is seeping out. Schuyler Van Alen is a sophomore at a prestigious private school. Suddenly, when she turns fifteen, there is a visible mosaic of blue veins on her arm. She starts to crave raw food and she is having flashbacks to ancient times. Then a girl from her school is found dead... drained of all her blood. Schuyler doesn't know what to think. 
Could those vampire legends really be true? Steeped in vampire lore and set against the heady backdrop of the rich, young, and powerful in the heart of New York City, Blue Bloods will be devoured by Melissa de la Cruz's legion fans.

Been interested in this for a while but just never got round to buying it, so snapped it up when I saw it in a sale section the other day. Really looking forward to getting my teeth into it (did you see what I did there? I crack myself up).

Librarised (yes, it's my own word and I am sticking with it):

The Society of S - Susan Hubbard

If you ever want to hide from the world, live in a small city, where everyone seems anonymous." 
That's the advice of twelve-year-old Ariella Montero, who lives with her father in Saratoga Springs, New York, in a house haunted more by secrets than by memories. The Society of S traces her journey south, to Asheville and Savannah, and on to Florida, as she learns that everything she knows about her family is a lie. 
When she finds her mother, she learns the truth: Ariella is a fledgling member of the Society of S.S stands for Sanguinists: a sect of environmentalists concerned with ethics and human rights -- although they happen to be vampires. S also stands for synesthete: a person able to see words and letters in colors. The letter S is lucky for Sara, Ariella's mother, who gravitates to cities such as Savannah and Sarasota. But will it be lucky for Ariella? Susan Hubbard's novel is an intricate literary mystery that raises provocative questions about the way we live now. Ariella's voice will lure you into a world where you'll meet the others among us: vampires who cope with their special nature and need for blood in a variety of ways, ranging from the savage to the mundane to the scientific.

Finished this a few days ago and have to admit that I was more than a little disappointed. Review to follow soon. Once I get over being disappointed.

The Knife of Never Letting Go - Patrick Ness

Todd Hewitt is the last boy in Prentisstown. 
But Prentisstown isn't like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else's thoughts in a constant, overwhelming, never-ending Noise. There is no privacy. There are no secrets. 
Or are there? Just one month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd unexpectedly stumbles upon a spot of complete silence. 
Which is impossible. 
Prentisstown has been lying to him. 
And now he's going to have to run...

I have heard so many amazing things about this book - should have read it ages ago and am keen to get on to it now.

The Luxe - Anna Godbersen

A big, sumptuous tale of catty girls, dark secrets and windswept romance unfurls in this compulsively readable novel of late-19th-century New York City socialites. Godbersen weaves a tenuous web of deceit, backstabbing and pretense that follows four teens: Elizabeth Holland, a prim and proper lady of old-money society, is betrothed to one man, though furtively loves another; Henry Schoonmaker, a debauched playboy who must marry Elizabeth or be disinherited; Diana Holland, Elizabeth’s younger sister who is in love with her fiancĂ©; and Penelope Hayes, a member of the nouveau riche who will stop at nothing to win Henry’s affections. As Elizabeth and Henry’s wedding approaches, the spectacle unfolds in a wondrously grandiose scene, making for a fun, though not entirely unexpected dĂ©nouement. A delicious new twist along the Gossip Girl vein, readers will clamor for this sharp, smart drama of friends, lovers, lies and betrayal.

What can I say, the cover caught my eye and my guilty pleasure is Gossip Girl so hopefully this will be good.

Uglies - Scott Westerfeld

Playing on every teen’s passionate desire to look as good as everybody else, Scott Westerfeld (Midnighters) projects a future world in which a compulsory operation at sixteen wipes out physical differences and makes everyone pretty by conforming to an ideal standard of beauty. The "New Pretties" are then free to play and party, while the younger "Uglies" look on enviously and spend the time before their own transformations in plotting mischievous tricks against their elders. Tally Youngblood is one of the most daring of the Uglies, and her imaginative tricks have gotten her in trouble with the menacing department of Special Circumstances. She has yearned to be pretty, but since her best friend Shay ran away to the rumored rebel settlement of recalcitrant Uglies called The Smoke, Tally has been troubled. The authorities give her an impossible choice: either she follows Shay’s cryptic directions to The Smoke with the purpose of betraying the rebels, or she will never be allowed to become pretty. Hoping to rescue Shay, Tally sets off on the dangerous journey as a spy. But after finally reaching The Smoke she has a change of heart when her new lover David reveals to her the sinister secret behind becoming pretty. The fast-moving story is enlivened by many action sequences in the style of videogames, using intriguing inventions like hoverboards that use the rider’s skateboard skills to skim through the air, and bungee jackets that make wild downward plunges survivable -- and fun. Behind all the commotion is the disturbing vision of our own society -- the Rusties -- visible only in rusting ruins after a virus destroyed all petroleum. Teens will be entranced, and the cliffhanger ending will leave them gasping for the sequel. 

I find the whole premise of this book really interesting and it doesn't sound like anything I've read before.

All in all a good week for me and books!

Team Zombie? P'raps not (Review: Generation Dead by D. Waters)

Generation Dead
Daniel Waters
Simon and Schuster 2008

"All over the country, a strange phenomenon is occuring. Some teenagers who die aren't staying dead. Termed "living impaired" or "differently biotic," they are doing their best to fit into a society that doesn't want them. 
Fitting in is hard enough when you don't have the look or attitude, but when almost everyone else is alive and you're not, it's close to impossible. The kids at Oakdale High don't want to take classes or eat in the cafeteria next to someone who isn't breathing. And there are no laws to protect the differently biotic from the people who want them to disappear - for good.

With her pale skin and goth wardrobe, Phoebe has never run with the popular crowd. But on one can believe it when she falls for Tommy Williams, the leader of the dead kids. Not her best friend, Margi, whose fear of the differently biotic is deeply rooted in guilt over the past. And especially not her neighbor, Adam, the star of the football team. Recently, Adam has realized that his feelings for Phoebe run much deeper than just friendship. He would do anything for her; but what if protecting Tommy is the one thing that would make her happy?"

(Blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

I picked this up in the book store as I quite liked its eye catching cover and was intrigued by the idea of a zombie love interest. I couldn't see how it could possibly work and, to be honest, I don't know if it does.

The zombies in this story are nothing like those you usually come across in contemporary fiction or movies – they are not rotting, they do not seek out brains to eat and neither do they walk with their hands outstretched in manner of deathly infants (I always think they look like they kind of want a hug...). This lot are all teenagers, are ice cold and stone like to look at, have pale, glowing eyes and have differing levels of movement and speech. Not much to fancy there, if you ask me.

Phoebe, the main protagonist, would disagree. She finds herself strangely attracted to zombie Tommy, much to the chagrin of her best friend and prospective (live) suitor, Adam. This is all well and good, but for the life of me (no pun intended) I can't figure out why she's interested in the undead (or “differently biotic”) guy. It doesn't help that she doesn't seem to know the answer to this herself. There are a couple of instances where it is alluded to that he is kind of “hot” but other than that I was left floundering as to why Phoebe feels the way that she does. Conversely, Adam's interest in Phoebe is much easier to understand, mainly because we are told a lot more about it. We know how she looks to him, how he feels when she's around and how sad and confused it makes him when she appears to pursue his undead classmate. I found myself cheering for him rather than for Tommy. Perhaps this is because the book is written by a guy – maybe Daniel Waters was better at describing Adam's feelings because he simply couldn't put himself in a female character's shoes. I honestly think that if he had made Phoebe a zombie and Adam the primary protagonist then the whole book would have worked much better.

There are definite themes of racism, segregation and fear of what is different running through Generation Dead and I thought that they were handled beautifully. The mythology of modern zombies as flesh-eating corpses is so ingrained in contemporary consciousness that I found the idea of people hanging out with a bunch of them a little off-putting. At first I saw this as a flaw in the novel, but on reflection I am left wondering if that is not entirely the point. Instead of siding with the forward thinking teens in the book, who make a real effort to befriend and understand their undead compatriots, I felt myself inclining towards those who found the phenomenon of teens rising from the grave to be a frightening and repulsive one. As I am a very tolerant person, this surprised me and made me think carefully about my own reaction. As the book went on, I found myself warming to the different zombie characters (especially Karen, who I'm looking forward to getting to know better) but it certainly took me some time to starting rooting for them. It also made me wonder why I have no problem with vampire stories, also obviously about the undead, yet struggled with zombies.

The book ends on a bit of a cliff hanger and leaves many unanswered questions – who is the mysterious corporation purportedly helping the living-impaired? Why are only American teens rising from the grave? Why are some zombies more able than others? These are questions that I am interested in getting answers to and the overarching themes of the story also leave me keen for more. But..... (and it's a big BUT) I still have issues with the whole romance between Phoebe and Tommy, in fact, I don't know if I particularly like Tommy very much at all. He seems creepy to me, and not just because he's dead. Also, the way that he spoke (and that almost all the zombie characters did) really annoyed me. I.... do....not.....have.....the.....patience.....to read lots....of this....sort....of thing. That's just me though, and I do appreciate that it lent a reality to their situation that would otherwise have been missing. I have the sequel The Kiss of Life on order from Amazon and am curious to read it, although I have to say that it will have to be better than Generation Dead if I am to be encouraged to continue with the series. That said, though, I do admire Daniel Waters for taking a well known mythology and turning it on it's head.

April 24, 2010

Double, Double, Toil and Trouble (Review: Beautiful Creatures by M. Stohl and K. Garcia)

Beautiful Creatures
M Stohl and K Garcia
Penguin 2010

"Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she’s struggling to conceal her power and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps, and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.

Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. When Lena moves into the town’s oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.

In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything".

(Blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

I hummed and hawed over getting this book for quite a while. Despite it being highly recommended by several of my favourite authors and bloggers, I just didn't like the sound of it. In the end I picked it up at a train station book store as I had nothing to read and I am pleased that I did. Beautiful Creatures is just gorgeous. It's set in the deep south of America (somewhere that I think really seems to lend itself to paranormal storytelling as Lauren Kate's Fallen illustrated recently) and the town of Gatlin is as much a character as the people we meet on it's streets.

Ethan is a great narrator. I found it really refreshing to read this kind of paranormal romance from a guy's point of view – Ethan is entirely normal and thrust into a world that he had no idea existed. He takes it in his stride, but not so much so that his acceptance is unrealistic. It's also nice to see the authors subvert the image of the high school jock. Ethan is a popular kid on the high school basketball team. He dates cheerleaders and hangs out with the popular kids, but he also observes their behaviour and thinks about stuff pretty deeply – I loved that he was not unwilling to distance himself from them and stand up for others, regardless of the effects this would have on his own popularity. Lena is also fascinating – she has lived in her own little world for so long that she at first seems to float about in a bit of a bubble but we soon realise that she is all too aware of the world around her. Despite the curse that hangs over her (large and eccentric) family, she has a wicked sense of humour and at points had me laughing out loud.

Unlike some books of this ilk (boy/girl/paranormal/kissing etc), there is an extremely well written supporting cast. Stand out for me was Lena's Uncle Macon, who's southern gentleman dialect was an absolute joy to read and who could in one sentence be hilarious and the next terrifying. Honorary mention must go to Ethan's three elderly Aunts – if you read nothing else in Beautiful Creatures please, please, please, read the section where they adopt a baby squirrel. H-I-larious!  Am laughing just thinking about it.

All in all a really great read and the last line sent a genuine shiver down my spine! Bring on Beautiful Darkness – woo hoo!

April 20, 2010

YA Community Thanksgiving.

Adele at Persnickety Snark wrote a great post today talking
about the many things that she's thankful for within the YA blogging
community and I really wanted to contribute something.

As you can see, I only started my blog this week, but have been a lurker on dozens of book blogs for a while.  I am a single mum of a toddler, living in the north of Scotland - far away from the big city lights I have previously been used to!  As such, I can feel quite isolated but the more I trolled through book blogs, read comments and learnt about memes, the more I felt that this was something that would connect me to an online community who truly shared my interests (try bringing up YA fiction at a mother and toddler group and you get some pretty funny looks!).

So, after much deliberation I decided to set up my own blog.  At this point can I do a massive shout-out to the awesome Carla at The Crooked Shelf who gracefully replied to my email asking for tips and was really generous with her time and advice - I probably wouldn't have started this blog without her words of encouragement and everyone should check out her reviews, as they simply rock!

Anyhoo, there I am, ready to "go live" when suddenly I see some posts on blogging etiquette and plagiarism. I have to admit that this kind of scared me - what if I stepped on someone's toes by accident, what if someone hated a reviews, what if EVERYONE hated my blog????? (I'm prone to melodrama - as you can see, I don't really make a concerted effort to fight it and instead lie awake worrying about things into the wee, small hours).  Eventually, as you can see, I decided to go for it anyway and am so glad I did.  I immediately got two lovely comments from fellow bloggers Sarah and The Book Vixen who don't know me from Adam, but who made me feel really welcome and supported.  Also, Maggie Stiefvater Tweeted at me (well, back at me, but come on - Maggie Stiefvater!!!  Excuse my fangirl moment, there...).

I am truly excited at the prospect of becoming part of this community and am glad that Adele had the idea of saying thanks, thus giving me the opportunity!

April 19, 2010

Two roads diverged... (Review: If I Stay by G. Forman)

If I Stay
Gayle Forman
Doubleday 2009

"In a single moment everything changes.  Seventeen-year-old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall riding along the snow-wet Oregon road with her family.  Then, in a blink, she finds herself watching as her own damaged body is taken from the wreck...

A sophisticated, layered, and heartachingly beautiful story about the power of family and friends, the choices we all make - and the ultimate choice Mia commands".

(Blurb courtesy of Goodreads.com)

I wasn't sure how this book would turn out when I first read about it. I thought that the premise was excellent but that it could easily stray into rather maudlin territory and get a bit melodramatic and woe-is-me-ish (and woe is her, but it could have been really over the top).  I am happy to report that I was completely wrong.

If I Stay starts off with a snapshot of a typical family morning with protagonist Mia and her family rejoicing over the fact that a fall of snow has given them all the day off work and school.  Mia, her mum, dad and much younger brother head out for a day of visiting friends and family.  They never make it.  I was really surprised at how quickly the accident cam upon them - I thought that there would be a bit more expositioning and getting to know the characters, but no.  It happens, as I suppose all accidents do, incredibly quickly and shockingly and readers are made aware of the implications immediately.  I liked this - I really would have been disappointed if poor Mia had been floating about wondering what was going on for half the book, but she realises immediately what has happened to her.  I think I started to cry at about this point and, if I'm being honest, kept going on and off until the last page.

The structure of the book from this point on is really clever.  At the time of the accident, we know that Mia is a cellist of some talent, is close to her family and has a boyfriend called Adam who is yet to be "seen" by readers.  After the accident a series of flashbacks take us through Mia's life (from the age of about 8) to the present day.  These go into her relationship with Adam, her parents, her grandparents and her music.  As we meet Adam and her grandparents "in person" so to speak, we are also learning what they mean to Mia through flashbacks.  This narrative structure really helps the reader to piece together exactly what Mia has to stay for and also what she has lost - the weight of which could easily convince her to leave.

The relationships and characters that we learn about from Mia really got under my skin.  Firstly, her parents.  They really were fantastically written as three-dimensional people with their own lives and issues as opposed to a standard mum/dad model (you know the one - loving/caring/strict but you don't really know much about them other than they are parents of the protagonist).  At first I felt that they were almost too cool, but the back information given about them made them into real people whom I could totally imaging raising their kids as described.  to be honest, I would really love to read a book about them  at some point.  Mia's grandparents were equally interesting, again never slipping into stereotype - I particularly liked the portrayal of her Grandfather as a very human, complex man (not just some old duffer sitting in the corner doling out grumpiness and sage advice).  There there is Adam.  I was really surprised and delighted at this portrayal of a real relationship - a very real love story where two very different people have to work on staying together, just like people in real relationships do every day.  It was refreshing to read this in YA fiction, as it isn't something that you always see.  Adam and Mia are both mature enough to realise that they have different goals and that they may have to make sacrifices to stay together - something which carefully informs Mia's decision making process after the accident.  I liked both of them a lot.

Several days after finishing this book, the themes covered are still dancing around the back of my skull making me think about my family, friends and what there is in life to gain and lose - any book, especially one as slight as this (it comes in at just over 200 pages), that can make you ponder the big questions in life like this certainly gets a massive thumbs up from me.

It did, however, take me two days after finishing it to pick myself up from my puddle of tears and get down to the bookshop where I promptly picked up a tale of zombie love (verdict still out, review coming soon) in order to cheer myself up - nothing like love between the undead to bring a smile to the face, I always say.  You can have too much of real life, you know, and If I Stay hits you over the head with reality something awful - all be it in an entirely worthwhile and thoughtful way.

This looks AWESOME!

Check out this trailer for Rick Riordan's new book (click on post title to be redirected).  Gobbled up the Percy Jackson series just recently, so really pleased he's got something else out so soon.

April 18, 2010

The woods are lovely, dark and deep... (Review: Shiver by M. Stiefvater)

Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic 2009

"For years, Grace has watched the wolves in the woods behind her house.  One yellow-eyed wolf - her wolf - is a chilling presence she can't seem to live without.  Meanwhile, Sam has lived two lives:  In winter, the frozen woods, the protection of the pack, and the silent company of a fearless girl.  In summer a few precious months of being human... until the cold makes him shift back again.

Now, Grace meets a yellow-eyed boy whose familiarity takes her breath away.  It's her wolf.  It has to be.  But as winter nears, Sam must fight to stay human - or risk losing himself, and Grace, forever."

(Blurb courtesy of Goodreads).

My first review!  I'm really quite excited and have decided to start off with a book that I really, really, love (makes it easier to get going and also it just seems nice to start on a positive note).

I know that people who read this genre have probably already read Shiver so this review is perhaps a little late, but I am keen to review it's follow up, Linger, when it gets released later this year and wanted to be thorough...

I have a lot of favourite books, ones that I can read again and again and they feel  like curling under a warm, comforting duvet of imagination (more about them in a later post), but even through I love them , it is rare that I find them completely faultless.  Shiver is different.  I first read it about 6 months ago after ordering if on a whim. I wasn't all that interested in werewolf mythology but thought the cover was pretty (yes, I DO judge a book by it's cover and defy those who say they don't).  I finally sat down to read it and am so glad that I did.

Grace and Sam are by far my two favourite protagonists of recent times - the story is told by both of them, switching between chapters, and this works really well.  Grace may seem a bit maturer than your average 17 year old, but it becomes clear that this is due to her largely absentee parents and Sam.... aaaah, Sam....  I've never met an 18/19 year old guy quite like Sam, but then he really hasn't led the kind of life that your average 18/19 year old guy has.  While seemingly quite different, these two characters fit together perfectly - it really is one of the best realised relationships I've come across in YA fiction.  And can I just swoon again - aaaaaaah, Saaaaaam.  He is utterly dreamy, tortured, has floppy hair and reads.  Poetry!  Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick (that's would be my boxes, BTW).

The story line is pretty dark in places.  Sam is a wolf, has a truly traumatic past (fully recognised when Grace has to get him into a bath - a scene which is a shocking as it is upsetting).  And then there's the fact that he can only be human when the weather is warmer, and eventually will have to relinquish his human identity for good. Which brings us to the temperature, which is as much of a character in the story as either Grace or Sam.  The cold is constantly hanging over these two like some ice-cracked sword of Damocles, allowing neither them nor the reader to relax into the romance of the love story - it creates an undercurrent of dread throughout and is used incredibly effectively.  When I think about Shiver, I instantly have images of cold breath in the air, frost underfoot and wind whistling through the cracks in a windshield.

Shiver is simply not a werewolf story. Well it is, but it is also more than that.  It stands out not for the paranormal aspects but for being a beautifully written story of love, loss, longing and hope.  And the writing is superb - Maggie Stiefvater seems to be able to create dreamlike prose which made me feel I was emerging from a pool of deep, clear water every time I put the book down.  Hmmmm, not sure if that metaphor works, but basically whenever I finished a chapter or had to put the book down to eat or sleep or other unavoidable necessities it took me a while to come back to the real world.

I am in two minds about the upcoming Linger.  While I am keen to return to the story, Shiver works so well as a stand-alone novel that I am almost tempted to leave the characters frozen as I last saw them... Nah, what 
am I talking about???  I'll snap it up as soon as it appears and if it is anything as good as it's predecessor then I will be a very happy bunny indeed.