May 31, 2010

Books I Thought I'd Hate But Ended Up Loving

This post is inspired by The Book List meme hosted by the awesome I'm Lost in Books.  I really liked the topic this week (which was the brainchild of Cristina at Shredded Cheddar), so here goes... As usual all book titles link back to their Goodreads page so that you can check out these gems for yourself.

The Secret History
Donna Tartt

Now, I know that this isn't a YA book, but it is one of my all time favourites and I re-read it once every year (in November, it just seems like a November sort of book). Also, all the characters are at university, so are all late teens/early twenties anyway.  I have had to buy countless copies of it as I keep giving it away so that I can share the love.  However, the first (and second, third, fourth and possibly fifth) time I came across it I thought it looked like pretentious, over-bearing, over-hyped nonsense.  I should really have just picked it up and read the first line of Chapter One.  Which is awesome.  It's a fascinating story of murder, betrayal, love and friendship and the extraordinary things that people find themselves doing in order to belong.

City of Bones
Cassandra Clare

I honestly was completely put off by the cover.  It's not that half-naked men don't do it for me, it just didn't make it look like a book of "quality" to me.  Also, I found the blurb on the back uninspiring.  Then one day, I found myself in an airport bookshop with few options and thought like it might make an easy read on my flight.  I loved it.  In fact, I now love Cassandra Clare so much that I plan on devoting a blog extravaganza week to her books at some point in the future.  The story is great, the characters are fun and multi-faceted and I defy anyone not to fall in love with Jace.  I'm probably going to marry him myself one day.  Mark my words, people - you heard it here first.

Stephenie Meyer

I ordered this on whim after reading about the hype in my Sunday newspaper.  Before it arrived I made the mistake of reading an article and some comments on Breaking Dawn (which had just come out). I thought that Edward sounded cruel and controlling, Jacob completely pointless and Bella a real sap.  When the book finally arrived I shoved it on my shelf and forgot all about it thinking that I could give it to my young cousin at some point.  Then I went on holiday and grabbed it as a lazy read.  My poor holiday buddy had to put up with me trying to sneak a few pages every we sat still as I was instantly hooked.  Luckily, I leant it to her so that she could get sucked into Twi-land too.  I've obviously read all four of Stephenie's books now, and at point s still think that my original views on the characters were right in some respects and it's not a work of great literature, but that doesn't mean that I didn't get totally involved with the story.  Ultimate escapism and something that I have enjoyed re-reading and passing on to friends.

So that's it.  There are many more, but I am secretly hoping that this topic can be followed up with a Books I Thought I'd Love but Ended up Hating as then I could really get my rant hat on.  So hint hint - can we do that sometime soon??

May 27, 2010

A rose, by any other name... (Review: Bad Blood by Rhiannon Lassiter)

Bad Blood
Rhiannon Lassiter
OUP 2007

An an abandoned house in the Lake District, a cupboard door opens into a playroom. Buried in dust is a collection of children's books in which the names of characters have been savagely crossed out. Here three children played a make believe game, sacrificing their dreams and wishes to make what they believed come true. But the game was never finished and in the woods behind the house something waits, hungry for the only food it knows. Now a new family has come to the house. Soon they will discover themselves in the game. But they do not know the rules. And they are the pawns, not the players . . . 
(Blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

I found this in my local library and picked it up because it looked like my kind of thing. Having recently lamented the lack of ghost stories I now seem to have found two in quick succession. After reading the interesting, and modern, Nearly Departed (see my review here) I found Bad Blood to be quite different.

The setting for the story is Scar Fell house in the British Lake District and it certainly is classic ghost story territory. Creepy door-knocker? Check. Spooky attic bedroom? Check. Hidden basement? Check. Particularly spooky replica dolls house with scary dolls? Check and check. So far so good.

The family who find themselves staying at Scar Fell are a family in name only. In actuality, the children are two sets of brothers and sisters whose parents have married. Roley, Kat, Cat and John are not the happiest of siblings with the two girls fighting over their similar name and the boys bowing under the stress of the situation. Their parents bravely fight on in their attempt to create a happy family but in retrospect surely would agree that dragging them all off to a creepy old house in the woods was probably not the best idea. The depression caused by this unhappy familial dynamic permeates the story and the house just as much as the spooky storyline and is very cleverly written.

The plot revolves around a strange game played by previous inhabitants of the house which seems to have involved cutting the eyes of dolls out and scoring out the names of characters in books (the scene in which Kat finds these massacred tomes is really distressing as they speak, at the very least, of an unquiet mind). The woods seem otherworldly and dangerous and strange images start appearing in reflective surfaces. The most frightening character is the doll, Delilah. I don't like dolls – I saw a programme as a child that featured a room of crying figurines and have been freaked out by stuff like that ever since – and Delilah is the freakiest, most malicious and downright scary moppet that I have seen in a while. However, while all of these separate aspects are well realised, the story never seems to quite come together. It is genuinely frightening in places and the atmosphere that imbues each chapter is bleak and scary but the storyline seemed to lack cohesion and the ending seemed odd and forced. The characters themselves are interesting enough, even the bickering sisters are easy to empathise with, if not particularly likeable. All four children reminded me of the writing of Helen Cresswell and Ann Fine – perhaps seeming slightly old fashioned. In fact, this could be said of the entire book. Despite numerous references to Cat's ipod I still felt like I was reading a story that could easily have been set when I was a child (I kept thinking of the old BBC children's drama serials Moondial and Century Falls). This is not a criticism, as I love both the aforementioned writers and the TV programmes – I was just surprised by the style. Interestingly, the title of the book seems to have no relevance to the story. I really have no idea why it was chosen. Very strange.

Bad Blood does knock around some interesting ideas about imagination, ownership, loneliness and most of all the power of a name but I can't shake the feeling that the story had the potential to be really great yet ended up merely passable. Certainly, it is worth a read if you are interested in ghost stories and a British setting (there is something very British about the whole thing) and you'll certainly find that certain aspects send shivers down your spine but I suspect that ultimately, you may feel just a little disappointed.

May 24, 2010

At The Broken Places (Review: Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness)

Monsters of Men
Patrick Ness
Walker Books 2010

Monsters of Men is the third book in the Chaos Walking series. If you haven't read the first two books in this series then please check out my reviews of The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and The Answer and then go away and BUY THEM. Trust me, these are books that you will want to have on your permanent shelf.

'War', says the Mayor. 'At last'. Three armies march on New Prentisstown, each one intent on destroying the others. Todd and Viola are caught in the middle, with no chance of escape. As the battles commence, how can they hope to stop the fighting? How can there ever be peace when they're so hopelessly outnumbered? And if war makes monsters of men, what terrible choices await? But then a third voice breaks into the battle, one bent on revenge.
(Blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

As those of you who have read my previous reviews will know, I'm quite a fan of the Chaos Walking series. In fact, it is safe to say that Monsters of Men has moved me from “fairly enthusiastic” to “evangelical” in devotion. It really is a tour de force and a worthy end to an incredible tale.  Monsters of Men picks up exactly where the previous book left off. A huge battle is about to commence with three factions all fighting against each other. This initial section of the book is incredibly vivid. The reader is dragged into very real war craft, complete with what seemed to me to be a napalm attack, the affects of which are very upsetting to read about. As in his previous books, the author does not shy away from the horror of war and it says a lot for the quality of storytelling that the fighting and violence does not overwhelm the more intimate character stories that have been built up. As with The Ask and The Answer, Ness has expanded his world and characters (quite an achievement as they remain almost entirely in one city). While Todd and Viola continue to narrate sections of the story, they are now joined by a third voice – that of one of the Spackle, the indigenous race of the planet. It took me a while to get into his story, he's not easy to like, but he has reasons for that and plays a vital role in the tale. The story of the Spackle themselves, and the way in which they live and communicate was fascinating and added a real depth to the vision of New World previously created in books one and two.

Todd and Viola continue to try to do what they feel is right in often impossible situations. They are as flawed, beleaguered and complex as ever and I never stopped being aware of how weary the adult decisions placed on their young shoulders made them. The bond between them continues to be written with a heart-rending tenderness and a bitter reality which again had me in tears at numerous points throughout the book. At times their story inspires real joy, yet at times also true sadness. Another real triumph of the Chaos Walking series is the portrayal of the enemy. Be it the Mayor or Mistress Coyle, these seemingly unbeatably evil foes are fantastically multi-faceted. What makes them so interesting is their absolute conviction that they are right in their individual stance – and what makes them terrifying is that they have the courage of these convictions. They often carry out atrocious acts, yet you are constantly aware that they do so because they truly believe that they are doing what is right and we are constantly encouraged to examine their motivations, reasoning and humanity. This is cleverly mirrored by Todd and Viola who are willing to risk sometimes thousands of lives in the name of love – an irony that is pondered by Viola in particular, to great affect.

Where The Knife of Never Letting Go may have had an overarching theme of loss of innocence, and The Ask and The Answer looked at the inhumanity engendered by power and war, I felt that Monsters of Men was fascinating in it's themes of redemption and lack of absolutes. No character is entirely good, and none is entirely bad – yet they are all entirely real. And they are all redeemable. This ties in beautifully with the overarching theme of Chaos Walking: that “it's not how you fall, it's how you get up” - something that I am sure we could all do with remembering now and again. The ending of the book is, fittingly, somewhat ambiguous. The last line left me a gibbering mess – it's just beautiful in it's simplicity. I'd like to visit these characters again in 10 years time. I like to think that they would all be fine, although I am sure that they would not have had an easy road to happiness. Wherever they were and whatever they were doing, I rest happy in the knowledge that they would be both strong and weak, happy and sad, kind yet cruel and altogether wonderful. They will certainly live on in my mind for many years to come.

May 23, 2010

In My Mailbox (#5)

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 know that librarised is not a word) 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 titles link to further info at Goodreads.

Jellicoe Road
Melina Marchetta
Harper Teen 2010 (UK paperback)

Having heard so many people raving about this book (I mean YOU, Adele, Carla and Jenny), I decided that I had better read it immediately.  Arrived yesterday so will be getting stuck in later today.

The Iron King
Julie Kagawa
Harlequin 2010

I've wanted to read this one for ages, if only to see what the whole Team Ash/Team Puck hoo-ha is all about...

Radiant Shadows
Melissa Marr
Harper Collins 2010

I've read all the others in this series and particularly enjoyed Ink Exchange - it looks like this title returns to the world of the Dark Court so I can't wait to get into it

Kiss and Break Up
Kate Kingsley
Headline 2010

I won this in a contest hosted by Lauren at I Was A Teenage Book Geek and it looks like a whole load of fun - I love Gossip Girl-y type stuff and this looks like a British version so should be interesting and not too taxing!  Perfect summer reading.

White Cat
Holly Black
Margaret K. McElderry Books 2010

I got a voucher via Amazon for their new audio book site Audible.  They were offering one free title and so I logged on (fully expecting only older books to be available for free) and was delighted to get White Cat for nothing!  I do a lot of sewing and like to listen to something when I'm hunched over the sewing machine so this will be perfect.

I'm proper chuffed with my selection this week - now I just need to try and cool my house down enough to sit and read comfortably in the evenings (it's like a sauna in this gorgeous weather!).  Now off to peruse all of your purchases this week....

May 19, 2010

Refreshingly real, apart from the ghosts... (Review: The Summoning by Kelly Armstrong)

The Summoning
Kelley Armstrong

“After years of frequent moves following her mother’s death, Chloe Saunders’s life is finally settling down. She is attending art school, pursuing her dreams of becoming a director, making friends, meeting boys. Her biggest concern is that she’s not developing as fast as her friends are. But when puberty does hit, it brings more than hormone surges. Chloe starts seeing ghosts–everywhere, demanding her attention. After she suffers a breakdown, her devoted aunt Lauren gets her into a highly recommended group home. 

At first, Lyle House seems a pretty okay place, except for Chloe’s small problem of fearing she might be facing a lifetime of mental illness. But as she gradually gets to know the other kids at the home–charming Simon and his ominous, unsmiling brother Derek, obnoxious Tori, and Rae, who has a “thing” for fire–Chloe begins to realize that there is something that binds them all together, and it isn’t your usual “problem kid” behaviour. And together they discover that Lyle House is not your usual group home either…”

(Blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

I found this in the used book section of for a penny! It had been on my wish list for a while and I thought it would be a bit of enjoyable fluff. It certainly is enjoyable and actually surprised me by being less fluffy and exhibited more depth than I expected.

Firstly, the supernatural aspects of the story are vivid and really quite frightening. There is no glossing over the fact that finding out that you can “see dead people” would by terrifying and have you questioning your sanity – at one point the main protagonist, Chloe, actually pees herself she's so frightened. I have a real issue with characters in paranormal stories just accepting strange and scary situations far too easily (“oh, so you're a vampire/werewolf/pixie/ghost and I'm a fairy/dead girl/necromancer? Cool”). It pleased me greatly to see someone have a genuine reaction to fear and the unknown. I'm pretty sure that this is not the last time that you'll hear me rant about character reaction so I'll stop myself there for now.

In general, the author doesn't shy away from the nitty gritty - from first periods, to Chloe having to get her urine screened, it's all in there. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to read detailed accounts of bodily functions but so often such mundanities are missing from novels (Bella's numerous “human moments” excepted, Twilighters) and their presence here lent the story and characters a certain reality. Everyone pees, right? This sense of everyday realism is also carried through in the characters themselves. The kids that populate The Summoning are real kids. They don't have perfect bodies or skin, the girls do not possess shiny, flowing locks and the guys aren't all six foot tall, dark and brooding. Some characters have acne, one has a few extra pounds, they have different racial backgrounds. Chloe herself is described as skinny – and this is a bad thing instead of something that she's proud of! Woo hoo! Walking around looking like you weigh about the same as a polystyrene block is not a good thing! Basically, these teenagers are struggling with puberty and adolescence in the way that teenagers actually do struggle with it. I can imaging walking into any contemporary classroom and seeing at least one of these characters – not something that I think when reading most YA fiction.

Another aspect of the novel that is really nicely handled is the spectre of mental illness. This is necessarily covered, as Chloe is placed in a group home for troubled teens (due to her seeing dead people, natch). From antisocial behaviour disorder and anxiety issues, to schizophrenia the author manages to highlight that these are very real issues for many teens and that mental illness is something that can be managed and not feared. Sometimes, when a book touches on a hot “issue” I can feel like I am being battered about the head with the politically correctness of the whole thing (like the dearth of Amnesty International information that seemed excessive in the otherwise excellent Need by Carrie Jones), but in this case Kelley Armstrong gets her point across with admirable finesse.

On top of this excellent and rock solid foundation runs a gripping story with otherworldly aspects colliding with believable real world settings. I really can find nothing to criticise and the cliffhanger ending has me keen to read follow up, The Awakening. Which, guess what? I just found for a penny on Amazon!

May 17, 2010

Vampire Diaries contest...

Are you Team Stefan?  Or Team Damon?  
Or Team I-think-they're-both-a-little-creepy-but-Matt's-kind-of-hot?  

Are you suffering withdrawal after the TV series thrilling finale?

If so, I may have the answer as I have the first four books in The Vampire Diaries series by L.J. Smith to give away!  It's true!  I bought them ages ago, but then was gifted a second set and it seems mean to just keep them all to myself so here we are.  The books are pretty different to the series (Elena isn't really the same kind of girl but who cares about her when the brothers are still suitably swoonsome) but are a lot of fun and should at the very least keep you going until series two commences later in the year...

How to enter...

1.  Follow this here blog and leave a fascinating/funny/helpful comment on any subject of your choice (be it feedback, a random fact about yourself or your own personal Stefan/Damon love story, I will be happy will all)

2.  Additional entries can be garnered by tweeting (+1) or linking back to this post (+1) but please tally up your total entries in the comment box otherwise I'll get terribly confused.

The contest is open INTERNATIONALLY and will remain open until MONDAY 14th JUNE at 8pm GMT. 

I know that there are probably fancy number generators and things I could use to choose the winner, but I am an old fashioned girl and will be placing your names (one per each of your entries) in a hat and making my two year old pull one out.  I may even take a picture to add to the sense of occasion.

I'm quite excited about this and should it go well, I hope to run many more contests in future.  It's all about sharing my book lurve, people

Stop all the clocks... (review: I Heart You, You Haunt Me by Lisa Schroeder)

I Heart You, You Haunt Me
Lisa Schroeder
Simon Pulse

Girl meets boy.
Girl loses boy.
Girl gets boy back...
...sort of.

Ava can't see him or touch him, unless she's dreaming. She can't hear his voice, except for the faint whispers in her mind. Most would think she's crazy, but she knows he's here.

Jackson. The boy Ava thought she'd spend the rest of her life with. He's back from the dead, as proof that love truly knows no bounds.

(Blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

I was initially wary of this title, as I had never read a novel written entirely in free verse before. I love poetry, but couldn't imagine a whole book being written this way that would successfully keep me turning the pages. I think that the answer to this riddle is that I Heart You, You Haunt Me is not a novel – perhaps a novella at most – and not much happens. This is not a criticism – it works beautifully and I read it in one sitting,  each section leading me gently on to the next. We first come across Ava at the funeral of her boyfriend Jackson. Over the course of the book, we discover how he died and why Ava feels so responsible. We also discover that he is haunting her. Yet this is not a thriller, a mystery or a ghost story. It is a story about love, grief, letting go and moving on.

The free verse style perfectly encapsulates that stop-motion nature of overwhelming grief, where you expect the world to stop because they have stopped. Everything goes on around you while you are left in a jerky, suspended animation trying to find footing where there is no longer solid ground. When grieving, I doubt that many people's thought processes remain rational or cohesive and the shorter sentence structure and less rigid storytelling ethic permissible in free verse allows Ava's sadness to feel exceptionally real.

My only real issue was the fact that we occasionally have the spectral Jackson chip in his side of conversations with Ava. I wonder if the story would have been better served were Jackson's ghost to have remained illusory, leaving us to decide whether he merely existed in Ava's head as a symbol of what she had lost. However, that is purely personal speculation and does not detract from what is an almost perfectly formed narrative. High points for me were the few short scenes between Ava and her parents – I found myself extremely moved by their exchanges. In these scenes I found that I was not just placing myself Ava's shoes and sharing her grief but was also able to identify with her mother as she watched Ava go through a pain that she was unable to heal.

I would certainly recommend this as a quick and thought provoking study on loss, and also as an interesting experiment in writing. I will certainly pick up further work by Lisa Schroeder and have added a couple of free-verse stories to my wish list for future reading.

May 16, 2010

In My Mailbox (#4)

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 know that librarised is not a word) 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 titles link to further info at Goodreads.

The Red Pyramid
Rick Riordan
Puffin 2010

Having really enjoyed the humour of the Percy Jackson series, I pre-ordered this a while ago and totally forgot about it so it was a lovely surprise when it arrived this week.  

Monsters of Men
Patrick Ness
Walker 2010

This is the third and final book in Ness's Chaos Walking series.  I recently reviewed The Knife of Never Letting Go (here) and The Ask and The Answer (here)  and am delighted that I left it so long to read them that I finished the second one the week Monsters of Men was released.  Reading it currently and it is just as amazing as the first two.

Rachel Ward
Chicken House 2009

I only heard about this book recently and was really pleased to then come across it in my local library.  It looks like an interesting premise and I like that it's set in London as it's a backdrop that I am familiar with.

Adele Geras
David Fickling Books 2009

I've read a couple of reviews of this and thought that it looked pretty good.  It's totally different to what I normally read so I'm curious to see how I get on with it.

Sharon Dogar
Chicken House 2007

I'd never heard of this before but was totally pulled in by the fact that Philip Pullman declares it "sensuous".  If it's good enough for him then it's good enough for me.

Life on The Refrigerator Door
Alice Kuipers
Macmillan 2008

I'd added this to my TBR list just the other day after reading a good review of it over at I Want To Read That.  Am interested in the format and also have a personal interest as a single mum (albeit to a toddler, not a teenager).

Jekel Loves Hyde
Beth Fantaskey
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

I won this in a contest hosted by The Story Siren and was terribly excited when it arrived this week as I hadn't realised it was a signed copy!  The original story of Jekyll and Hyde is one close to my heart as I was born in Edinburgh and lived there for many years.  I am really intrigued at someone basing a YA novel on it and can't wait to see how it has turned out.

Pretty pleased this week, all in all!  Looking forward to seeing what everyone else has received!

May 14, 2010

Deadly Little Similitude (review: Deadly Little Secrets by L. Stolarz)

Deadly Little Secret
Laurie Faria Stolarz

Some secrets shouldn't be kept...
Up until three months ago, everything in sixteen-year-old Camelia's life had been fairly ordinary: decent grades; an okay relationship with her parents; and a pretty cool part-time job at the art studio downtown. But when Ben, the mysterious new guy, starts junior year at her high school, Camelia's life becomes anything but ordinary.
Rumored to be somehow responsible for his ex-girlfriend's accidental death, Ben is immediately ostracized by everyone on campus. Except for Camelia. She's reluctant to believe the rumors, even when her friends try to convince her otherwise. She's inexplicably drawn to Ben...and to his touch. But soon, Camelia is receiving eerie phone calls and strange packages with threatening notes. Ben insists she is in danger, and that he can help--but can he be trusted? She knows he's hiding something... but he's not the only one with a secret.

(Blurb courtesy of

This is another book that I bought based on it's really lovely cover. I really have to stop doing that, as I definitely have ambivalent feelings about the story line this gorgeous cover art was hiding.

OK, so first off we have a girl hanging around in a school parking lot when ... gasp ... an out of control vehicle comes careering towards her! Oh NO! What will she do??? Well, luckily a passing stranger leaps to her rescue, seemingly out of nowhere, and pushes her to safety. My oh my – and he's Extremely Good Looking. Having rescued her he disappears, only to show up in her science class as her... wait for it.... lab partner. He proceeds to be extremely stand-offish and being near her seems to make him uncomfortable. Unfortunate really, as she is rapidly becoming obsessed with him and his mysterious ways. Oh.... did I mention that his touch makes her go all wibbly-wobbly? If you read that anywhere else, do you think you could guess the book? So far, so Twilight, right? WRONG. This is, in fact, the beginning of Deadly Little Secret which has nothing to do with vampires, whatsoever. It says a lot for my faith in positive reviews (of which I had read a few for this book) that I kept reading at this point – nothing pees me off more than unoriginality. Don't even get me started on the later scene that is basically a teen version of the potter's wheel scene from the movie Ghost....

What really annoys me the most about these similarities, is that Deadly Little Secret has a new and interesting premise and could totally have managed without trying (be it consciously or sub-consciously) to jump on the Twilight bandwagon. Our main protagonist, Bella Camelia (yes, that really is her name and at no point does anyone even shorten it) is a likeable girl who carries the story ably. My only issue with her is that for a girl who is obviously meant to be quite responsible (her parents trust her, her boss gives her keys to her work etc.) she doesn't always make the right choices when she is quite clearly in danger. Although this is semi explained by her trying to protect her parents (who have other stuff going on), I honestly think that she would not have let things come to a head in the way that they do.

Her love interest, the mysterious Ben, is also well written. We don't find out a whole lot about his day to day personality as he is quite busy being tortured by his past, but he does tortured well and there are plenty of hints that a nice guy lies beneath his angst ridden surface.
Camelia's best friends, Kimmie and Wes, quite frankly drove me up the wall. Yes, they are funny and snarky and yes, Kimmie's self-designed clothes sound really quite awesome but I have no idea why Camelia is friends with them. They don't appear to have anything in common at all. Also, once Camelia confesses to them that she appears to be victim of a clearly unhinged stalker, they don't really seem to take her all that seriously. Yet at the end of the book, she apologises to them for not taking enough interest in their lives while she was being stalked and threatened! Camelia – get some new friends. These ones suck.

Saying all of that, the plot line of mysterious-boy-with-interesting-secret versus deranged-pink-pj- sending-lunatic actually had me completely hooked. While I figured out what was going on fairly early, I still found myself pretty spooked by the storyline and the denouement was extremely thrilling. I am keen to find out what happens next – I feel that the crux of the story (Ben's secret) has only just been touched on and I'm interested to see where the author takes us with that. However, if the next book starts with Camelia finding a best friend who then becomes part of a love triangle with her and Ben while possibly having a mysterious secret of his own will I continue reading? Nope. I'll just pick up New Moon instead.

May 12, 2010

Man's Inhumanity to Man (Review: The Ask and The Answer by P. Ness)

The Ask and The Answer
Patrick Ness
Walker Books

“We were in the square, in the square where I'd run, holding her, carrying her, telling her to stay alive, stay alive till we got safe, till we got to Haven so I could save her - But there weren't no safety, no safety at all, there was just him and his men...Fleeing before a relentless army, Todd has carried a desperately wounded Viola right into the hands of their worst enemy, Mayor Prentiss. Immediately separated from Viola and imprisoned, Todd is forced to learn the ways of the Mayor's new order. But what secrets are hiding just outside of town? And where is Viola? Is she even still alive? And who are the mysterious Answer? And then, one day, the bombs begin to explode..."The Ask and the Answer" is a tense, shocking and deeply moving novel of resistance under the most extreme pressure.”

(Blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

I loved the first book in this series, The Knife of Never Letting Go (see my review here) and wasn't entirely sure that a second book would work or be able to match the level of writing seen in book one. I am glad to say that I was wrong on both counts. The Ask and The Answer actually surpasses its predecessor in sheer beauty, horror and vision.

Patrick Ness has moved from the singular voice of Todd to a duel narrative structure. This could easily have gone awry (Todd very much carried the first book and his distinctive style of speech and often erratic thought processes were vital to the story's success) but in fact works exceptionally well. It not only allows us to get to know some characters better but also expands the world they inhabit to include several newcomers.

As in The Knife of Never Letting Go, the character development was incredibly effective. At the start of the book, Todd declares himself a man and, by the end, he truly has become one. It is not an easy journey that he makes and at times his actions are abhorrent, but it is testament to the strength of this character that at no point did I dislike him. He is one of the most vivid characters I can ever remember reading about and is firmly stuck in my mind as a great literary creation.

The style of writing continues to delight and destroy – seamlessly combining moments of great tenderness, forgiveness and love with scenes of quiet horror and catastrophic inhumanity. The way in which the characters inner thoughts are written, often in a disjointed stream of consciousness, refuses to allow you any distance from their emotions. Within two pages, I was so distressed on Todd's behalf that I burst into tears – I have honestly never been affected by reading in quite so visceral and instant a manner.

Above all, The Ask and The Answer is a novel about war, both within our characters as individuals and between rising forces on a grander scale.  It illustrates beautifully and horrifically the shades of grey in which all conflict is steeped.  It is also a novel about love, trust, friendship, how the choices that we make define us and the dangers of pushing good men to their limit. An absolute must read.

May 11, 2010

A thing of beauty....

This really is a beautiful thing. If my copy of the book doesn't do this, I'm taking it back to the store.

May 09, 2010

In My Mailbox (#3)

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 know that librarised is not a word) 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 titles link to further info at Goodreads

Not much this week, as playing catch up reading for the last two weeks.


Deadly Little Secrets
Laurie Faria Stolarz
Hyperion 2008

Was quite excited about reading this, but finished it yesterday and thought it suffered from an original idea ruined by several unoriginal plot points.  Review to follow soon.

I Heart You, You Haunt Me
Lisa Schroeder
Simon Pulse 2008

I wouldn't normally have picked up a book written entirely in free verse (despite being a great poetry lover) as I couldn't imagine a whole story being told that way.  However, I have read so many wonderful reviews of this that I am really looking forward to reading it.  And it looks gorgeous.


The Ask and The Answer
Patrick Ness
Walker 2009

I recently read The Knife of Never Letting Go (see my review here) and was completely bowled over.  I am now about 50 pages into The Ask and the Answer and am completely astounded.  Astonishing writing.

May 08, 2010

'Til death do us nearly part... (Review: Nearly Departed by Rook Hastings)

Nearly Departed
Rook Hastings
Harper Collins 2010

“I've seen a ghost," said Emily. "Well, not seen one exactly. Heard one. At least, I think I have!" Everything has a rational explanation. Unless it doesn't. Welcome to Weirdsville...Woodsville is not like other towns. Night falls a little earlier there, the shadows are darker and denser, and everyone knows it's a place where strange things happen. Even if they won't admit it. Bethan would prefer to be anywhere but here. Jay has his theories, but isn't ready to share. Hashim sees more than he'll say, while Kelly's demons are all too flesh and blood. But Emily's freak-out brings them out of denial and face to face with the supernatural. Anywhere else, Friday night would be date night. But not in Weirdsville!”

(Blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

I was attracted to Nearly Departed for two reasons – it's set in the UK (most of the books I read are set in America) and it was a ghost story. For whatever reason, I haven't seen many traditional ghost stories about recently and I love them. This love affair started on reading W.W.Jacob's story The Three Sisters (very creepsome stuff) and has lasted ever since. Nearly Departed is an interesting modern addition to more classic ghost tales and certainly worth a look.

The story features five very different characters. Bethan is a smart girl who can't wait to escape to bigger and better things, Jay is the geek who believes that there's more to life than meets the eye, Hashim fills the roll of popular sporty guy but has a terrifying secret while Kelly is the tough girl whose knarly exterior hides hidden troubles. Then there is Emily who is the kind of kid who just fades into every background she's set against. This rather disparate group are brought together by a school project and further bonded when Emily reveals that she has been hiding the disappearance of her mother for several weeks. Each individual surprises themselves by pledging to help her solve the mystery and it soon becomes clear that supernatural forces may be at work in Woodsville, or Weirdsville as they come to refer to their odd little town.

The ghostly side of Nearly Departed is handled really well. The opening chapter was immersed in such a cloying, creeping, nastiness that it left me lying in bed reluctant to turn of the light – something that hasn't happened in many, many years. As the story progresses the paranormal mystery becomes more fully formed and Woodsville emerges as a hub of strange happenings and things that go bump in the night. Emily's tale, which this book focuses on, is interesting enough although I did find it slightly predictable. This does not detract from the writing though, and sometimes predictability in a ghost story can make things even more frightening (see the movie Campfire Tales all ye non-believers – all the more terrifying because you just know what is about to happen).

However, for me the real strength of Nearly Departed wasn't the paranormal aspects, but the very real characters and particularly the setting that they are in. All the characters live on a fairly rough, bleak housing estate, replete with high-rise apartment blocks and acres of concrete. While I was reading this book there seemed to be stabbings, shootings and house fires all over the UK news, all happening on similar estates. I think that this made the story seem very poignant to me – I found the idea of these essentially decent kids living somewhere so empty of hope downright depressing. The character of Kelly is particularly haunted – not by traditional ghosts but by the spectre of an imprisoned sibling and very real, very frightening violence.

Nearly Departed is the first in what I assume will be a series of books. Book two, Immortal Remains, is due out this September and I look forward to see what Rook Hastings is going to do with these fragile characters and their haunted lives.

May 07, 2010

Dee-lightful (Review: Lament by M. Stiefvater)

Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception
Maggie Stiefvater
Flux 2009

“Sixteen-year-old Deirdre Monaghan is a prodigiously gifted musician. She's about to find out she's also a cloverhand - one who can see faeries. 

Unexpectedly, Deirdre finds herself infatuated with a mysterious boy named Luke, who enters her ordinary life, seemingly out of thin air. But his interest in her might be something darker than summer romance. When a sinister faerie named Aodhan shows up with deadly orders from the Faerie Queen, it forces Dee right into the midst of Faerie. Caught in the crossfire with Deirdre is James, her wisecracking but loyal best friend. 

Deirdre had been wishing her summer weren't so dull, but taking on a centuries-old Faerie Queen isn't exactly what she had in mind”.

(Blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

I have no problem admitting that I purchased this to feed my Stiefvater addiction until Linger came out (I really can't spend all my time reading Shiver repeatedly... sadly). On one hand, Lament was exactly what I thought it would be and on the other, completely different. I expected lovely writing, likeable and three-dimensional characters and a story that left me with an inability to put the book down. I got all of that.

Dee (the main protagonist) is great. She's strong and sensible without being perfect or boring. She seems to exist on the periphery of her peers through choice - just choosing whom to speak with carefully and content to be one of life's observers. This works very well. It would have been very easy to have made her into a stereotypical “shy” character but that is definitely not the case. Over the course of the novel she changes gradually, due to the bizarre and often frightening circumstances that she finds herself in, yet I never felt that her thoughts or actions were so far removed from the Dee at the start of the book – her character development is believable and nicely handled. James, as her best friend, is great. Very much a classic sidekick, he's all bad jokes, kindness and unrequited love. Oh, and telepathy... While he doesn't have a huge impact on the overall story arc, I get the distinct impression that there is a lot more to his story and I look forward to finding it out. Luke, the main male protagonist is very interesting. Is he good? Is he bad? I couldn't decide. He is painted in shades of grey and is a genuine enigma, yet I never felt that Dee was making a mistake by being with him. Apart from his blonde loveliness, he has a tragic air of self-awareness that I suspect would bring out the swoon in most right-minded ladies. I was really interested in his back story and it was nice to see a character of this nature who was allowed to be genuinely flawed – there was no takeback for his past and he didn't apologise for that. Nice.

The Fae in this story are also great. The ones that we come across most are wickedly nasty and even the nicer ones seem completely amoral – willing only to act kindly if incentive is offered. They are a lot of fun and written at times with great humour (I particularly like Eleanor and Aoghan's little “play” towards the end of the book). The only real issue that I had with both characters and story was that of Dee's Aunt and Mother. Both clearly have issues and an interesting back story but I felt as if this was skated over and will admit to being a little confused by exactly how Delia, in particular, fit in. I may have missed something, though. Delia was certainly delightfully horrid and a lot of fun to read.

So, so far so good - as expected. Maggie's writing continues to amaze me. While Lament doesn't have the dream like quality of Shiver (and neither it should, being a completely different type of book) the words just spring of the page and draw you back into Dee's world effortlessly. While I sometimes find that I can identify the author of a work just by reading a few lines of their collected works, I don't think I could have identified Maggie from Lament. It's like it's written by a completely different, yet equally talented, author. I don't know many writers who do this quite so successfully.

What I didn't expect was the depth of celtic mythology (yes, I know that all Faerie stories are steeped in the stuff, but bear with me on this...). I grew up on a Scottish island and live in the Highlands of Scotland to this day. As a child I read countless books of traditional Scottish and Irish folk tales and the mythology that has been used to furnish Lament took me right back to my childhood. I could recognise these fae and their mercurial ways and felt that rather than their myth being imposed upon modern society as in many recent faerie stories (Tithe, Fragile Eternity, Wondrous Strange – all of which I like) instead the modern world is placed within the Fae's ancient realm. I've also never seen folk music used the way in which it is here. Again, I grew up with many of these songs and with the Gaelic used throughout the book and it lent the whole story an air of authenticity for me. I was glad to see that these things weren't omitted in favour of easier, modern themes and music.

So, another winner! Can't wait to get my mits on Ballad and then Linger. Lament has firmly placed Ms. Stiefvater in my top five authors.