June 30, 2010

It's The End Of The World As We Know It (Review: The Daykeeper's Grimoire by Christy Raedeke)

The Daykeepers' Grimoire
(Prophecy of Days, book 1)
Christy Raedeke
Flux 2010

The story of Caity Mac Fireland, a girl from San Francisco whose parents drag her to an isle off the coast of Scotland to manage some family property. Caity finds that a Mayan relic is concealed there, intentionally left centuries ago by Mayan Daykeepers in an attempt to keep their profound knowledge about the year 2012 alive into the current era. As she delves into this world of secret knowledge, Caity is helped along by a visiting family friend and Feng Shui master, Uncle Li; a Mayan elder named Bolon; and Mr. Papers, her pet monkey that communicates through origami. A handsome Scottish lad gets pulled into the intrigue, as do several other people with questionable motives and loyalties. Caity must weave together a tapestry of information in order to make her radical discovery, a mystery protected by an elite coterie of power-brokers who influence world events. Caity’s twenty-first century mind is put to the test as she tries to uncover the answer to an ancient riddle while trying to outwit this powerful group that will stop at nothing to control the secret, and her.
(Blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

Has anyone ever played the “movie pitch” game? No? OK, well you basicall have to come up with an idea for a new movie and then “pitch” it using previous films as reference. For example, were I to be pitching a movie that involved a robotic shark who believes he's a real shark destined to save the world from the next ice age then I may very well describe it as “AI meets Jaws meets The Day After Tomorrow”. Bear with me, this is totally going somewhere(sort of)...For those of you who are still here, were I to be pitching The Daykeeper's Grimoire using other books as reference, I would have to say that it's a little like Artemis Fowl(minus the fairy) meets The Da Vinci Code(minus the tweed and loafers... I mean, who wears that??) meets Curious George(minus the man with the yellow hat). And for the hell of it, lets shove a little bit of the Celestine Prophecy and I Capture The Castle in for good measure (minus the endless drivel and the 1930's respectively). This is in no way meant to sound like The Daykeeper's Grimoire is unoriginal – quite the opposite – I mean, can YOU imagine a book made up of all of the above?

Protagonist Caity introduces herself quickly and succinctly in a rather tongue in cheek prologue. She states that she'd rather get her back story out of the way quickly so that we can get on with the actual story. A girl after my own heart, I really could not agree more. Within about five pages we know that Caity is from San Fransisco but finds herself adrift on the remote (and fictional) Scottish island that houses her families ancestral home. Scotland – yay! I'm Scottish, but more on that later... And what an ancestral home it is. Breidablik Castle is what every castle should be. Huge rooms, oversized four-poster beds, ginormous fireplaces, a comforting cook and (most importantly) a secret chamber. Add to that a monkey who communicates through the medium of origami (see? I was going somewhere with Curious George) and a delectable Scottish boy (aren't they all?) you're all set for the oddest story that I have come across in ages.

Basically, it all revolves around ancient Mayan prophecies and the fact that the world may or may not end in 2012 – at the very least, they believed that 2012 was an important date for humanity and conciousness and Caity finds herself at the forefront of educating the youth demographic on Mayan calendars and their relevance in fighting the shadowy Fraternitas Regni Occulti – a sinister organisation who appear to be planning on controlling human conciousness on a mass scale to their own nefarious ends. If all this sounds fairly vague, it is because I found the endless explanations regarding the Galactic Centre, electromagnetism, calenders (of which the Maya had several) and the “26,000 cycle of precession” as baffling as the last series of Lost. I have to admit that by halfway through the book, I was starting to skim read any passages that mentioned the Maya as I found them pretty dry and often confusing. I'm not hugely into Feng Shui, prophecies or mysticism but I bet Chrisy Raedeke is and all power to her for using this interest as a jumping off point for her story. While the lengthy expositioning of information didn't really do it for me, I still enjoyed the story as a whole and would hope that, now the basic foundation is laid out, there will be less talk and more action in future installments (this being the first book in The Prophecy of Days series).

What carried the book for me personally, was the characters. Caity is such a lot of fun and has a truly original voice and character. While still a typical teenager in that she crushes terribly on the lovely Alex she also has a childlike quality to her which is a lot of fun. The adult characters are also fairly interesting. Caity's parents are absent-minded code-breakers and safe-crackers which beats the standard YA mum/dad cutouts and her Uncle Li and the mysterious Tenzo add fully fledged adult characters to her adventure which isn't something you see that much of in YA fiction. As a love interest, Alex is pretty good. He has a quietness to him that is lovely and I would have liked to have seen more of him. But..... and it's a big BUT.... I have really issue with the way that he speaks. I am Scottish born and bred. I have lived in the north, south, east and west of the country and actually grew up on a remote Scottish island. To this day, I have never met a teenage boy (or child, or man below 80) or, in point of fact, anyone out with Shakespeare and Robert Burns who uses words such as “'tis”, “twixt” or “'twas”. It is, quite frankly, ridiculous. Oddly, only Alex seems to speak this way - the older Scottish characters speak perfectly reasonable. Perhaps a future story arch is that Alex is a throwback to Shakespearian times. Perhaps he is Shakespeare. I suspect not, though. OK – rant over.

All in all, The Daykeeper's Grimoire is pretty impressive for a debut novel. While some passages fell flat for me, the ideas informing them are interesting and it is a hugely original storyline – I cannot think of anything else out there in YA world quite like it. Pick it up and give it a shot. I can guarantee that you will want to keep reading to the end and that you will probably add Prophecy of Days book two to your wish list as, if nothing else, it will be extremely interesting to see where Christy Raedeke takes us next.

June 28, 2010

Deus Ex Machina (Review: The Iron King by Julie Kagawa)

The Iron King
Julie Kagawa
Harlequin Teen 2010

Meghan Chase has never fit in at her small-town high school, and now, on the eve of her 16th birthday, she discovers why. When her half brother is kidnapped, Meghan is drawn into a fantastical world she never imagined--the world of Faery, where anything you see may try to eat you, and Meghan is the daughter of the summer faery king. Now she will journey into the depths of Faery to face an unknown enemy . . . and beg the help of a winter prince who might as soon kill her as let her touch his icy heart. The Iron King is the first book in the Iron Fey series.
(Blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

There are a lot of books out there about faeries. From the great (Lament/Ballad) to the fantastic (Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely series) to the frankly lacklustre (Wondrous Strange). What almost all of them use as a starting point is a human (or are they?) protagonist, usually female, who finds herself drawn into the world of the Fey, only to find out that there is aspect of her past that ties her to Faery in some (usually Royal) way. There is always a male Fey love interest. He is always hot, and usually tortured (figuratively, rather than with hot irons). There is also usually a faithful sidekick handing around, who spends most of his time cracking jokes and attempting to hide his, frankly quite obvious, feelings for our protagonist. None of this is bad but it has kind of been done to death, so when I picked up The Iron King and saw a similar beginning I started reading with a rather heartfelt sign of resignation. However, The Iron King is (in the words of English language students across the globe) same, same but different.

Meghann is the main protagonist, who is drawn into Faery on a quest to rescue her young brother, similar in concept to the movie Labyrinth (although she's less annoying and, I assume, less bushy of eyebrow than what's-her-face). Meggie is easy enough to like and stumbles around Faery in an endearingly clueless way. I particularly liked her willingness to promise favours to any old member of the Fey that crossed her path. Does she know nothing? Has she not read all the other books?? Meggie - you don't bargain over there – it will only bite you in the ass later. Beginners mistake!
Loyal sidekick in this edition of Girl Meets Fey is played by Puck. Mischievous, fun and wicked, Puck is a bit of a mystery and has slightly more to him than your usual unrequited-love-blinded companion. For once I can absolutely see why Meggie is unaware of his feelings as he seems unable to remain serious for more than 10 seconds flat and runs hot and cold all the time. Filling the role of obligatory handsome prince is Ash. Son of Queen Mab (and woot woot for Queen Mab – there should be one of her in all Faery stories as she invariably rocks) he is, of course, dark, pretty, tortured and swooningly into Meggie. This tortures him further – he knows his part well, and why should the course of true love run smoothly for them when it doesn't for any of their literary counterparts? Why, indeed.....that would be D.U.L.L. Meggie's final companion is the acerbic feline Grimalkin. He's a cat, who acts like a cat and is therefore really quite awesome (although if you are looking for true catty greatness, then check out the inimitable Mogget in Garth Nix's Abhorsen series).

So far, so good. Despite being a similar start to the many other tales of Faery, Julie Kagawa's writing has snark, wit and joie de vive running through it in spades and is hard not to enjoy. Yet it is still basically the same, slightly tired old formula. Or is it? And to that I gleefully shout “Nooooo, all ye naysayers – 'tis not!”. What makes this book a triumph in its genre, and what makes the next two books in the series something to look forward to is the introduction of the Iron Fey. While The Iron King presents all the usual suspects – Seelie and Unseelie Courts (written beautifully, by the way – I particularly liked the gorgeous description of the Unseelie's winter realm), the author has also created something completely new. Not only is it refreshing to find something new in Faery, it is also a joy to come across such a fantastically original and well-thought through idea. I'll restrain myself from saying more, as I don't wish to ruin the plot for anyone who has yet to read it. I will say, though, that if you have been put off reading The Iron King for fear of yet another re-tread through Faery or if you've only read the first few chapters and given up due to the familiarity of the story then give it a chance! It's fun, it's well written and Julie Kagawa has created a realm for the Fey that is fresh, unique and relevant to the age that we live in.

Incidentally, I understand that there is a great debate raging through the blogosphere as regards Team Ash or Team Puck. For now, I'm abstaining – I'd like to see more of Puck before pledging my allegiance either way. I think, for the moment, I'll just be Team Grimalkin. Mee-ow.

June 27, 2010

IMM (#9)

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. All book titles link to further info at Goodreads.

Kiss It
Erin Downing
Simon Pulse 2010

I saw this being promoted by the author and thought it looked quite interesting.  I've read both good and scathing reviews and am interested to see how it pans out for me.

Sisters Red
Jackson Pearce
Hodder Children's Books 2010
I've wanted to read this for ages and was very excited when I saw it on a buy-one-get-one-free offer in my local supermarket.  I love fairytale re-tellings and this one looks particularly orignal.

The Short Second Life Of Bree Tanner
Stephenie Meyer
ATOM 2010
The other half of the B-O-G-O-F offer.  I couldn't not, really...  I've read, and enjoyed, all the Twilight saga and this looks like an interesting addition.  Also, I think that it has one of the best covers that I've seen in ages. 

Melissa De La Cruz
ATOM 2010 
I read the first in this series fairly recently and found it an enjoyable, light read.  My daughter has been ill this week and I wanted to make sure that I had something on my shelf that I could pick up in the middle of yet another sleepless night and not find too taxing - I think that Schuyler and friends will fit the bill nicely.

Everything Beautiful
Simmone Howell
Bloomsbury 2009
I actually had no intention of reading this book - I saw the words "Christian camp" and mentally crossed it off my list.  I have nothing against Christian fiction but tend to find it a bit preachy, which I don't appreciate.  However, I've read some great reviews of this title that lead me to believe that it is not at all what I was expecting and I'm looking forward to reading it.

Pretty Bad Things
C.J. Skuse
Chicken House 2010

I found this in my local library.  I vaguely remember reading a few reviews of it a while back and thought it looked like it might be quite original.  

The Prince Of Mist
Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Orion 2010

I got this in audio book format as part of a promotion for Audible.  It didn't cost me anything and I loved The Shadow of The Wind by the same author.  Will have to haul my sewing machine out, as I only really listen to audio books while sewing.  The Prince Of Mist has given me a great incentive to start quilting again!  

June 24, 2010

Brother To Brother (Review: The Demon's Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan)

The Demon's Covenant
Sarah Rees Brennan
Simon Pulse 2010

Mae Crawford always thought she was in control. Now she's learned that her little brother Jamie is a magician and Nick, the boy she'd set her heart on, has an even darker secret. Mae's whole world has spun out of control, and it's only going to get worse. When she realises that Jamie has been meeting secretly with the new leader of the Obsidian Circle and that Gerald wants him to join the magicians, she's not sure how to stop Jamie doing just that. Calling in Nick and Alan as reinforcements only leads to a more desperate conflict because Gerald has a plan to bring Nick down - by using Alan to spring a deadly trap. With those around her torn between divided loyalties and Mae herself torn between her feelings for two very different boys, she sees a chance to save them all - but it means approaching the mysterious and dangerous Goblin Market alone...
(Blurb courtesy of Amazon)

I recently reviewed The Demon's Lexicon here. I really liked it and made some predictions for The Demon's Covenant, book number two in Sarah Rees Brennan's series. I am just going to take a moment to gloat because I was totally right. The Demon's Covenant is exciting and fun, but majorly and heartbreakingly sad in places, not necessarily what one would expect from a novel that also contains huge amounts of humour, action and fun. The protagonist in this installment has changed from Nick to Mae. Mae works well as a narrator – she is smart and savvy while also being flawed and driven greatly by her emotions. As a contrast to Nick, the author could have chosen none better. Nick's somewhat dispassionate view of those around him strongly coloured the way in which we understood the characters in the previous installment. Nick, being fast, strong and overly-objective painted his companions as essentially ok, but weak, slow and in need of protection. This time, Mae and particularly Alan start to come into their own as three-dimensional figures with their own plans and motivations.

Character-wise, while Mae drives the novel, it's heart belongs to Alan. I suspected that there was more to Alan than met Nick's loyalty-skewed eyes and I was right. Alan is still good and kind and gracious in The Demon's Covenant, but he is so to the point of no return. Tortured by his recent decisions, Alan is driven towards a course that he feels is for the greater good. You quickly realise that once Alan makes his decision, as long as he believes that he is right, then God forbid anyone gets in his way. Lies seems to role of his tongue like water and of all the characters (good and bad) he was the one that I felt was least trustworthy and sometimes least likable. However, this darker side to his character is not unwelcome – in fact I think that his development as a character is fascinating. Seeing him through Mae's eyes has the added bonus of allowing us to see that he is actually pretty hot (Nick obviously saw him as slightly weedy and overly concerned with feelings and never got much further than that) and totally has the moves to go with that hotness. Go Alan!

It was also great to read Nick through Mae's eyes. We already knew that he was hot, because he was so aware of his Exceptional Good Looks in book one and Mae is not unaware of them either. The frisson between them is tangible and extremely well realised. What is really interesting is learning how Nick appears to others. Mae, Alan and Jamie are so busy trying to help him to be more like them that they don't actually consider that his problem may be more an inability to understand and express himself than the complete lack of emotion that they assume is the problem. It's quite frustrating in parts watching him struggle to do the right thing yet not really getting the credit for his efforts, particularly where Alan is concerned. In an effort to help Nick, Mae reads to him from the diary of Daniel Ryves – the man who was, to all intents and purposes his and Alan's father. These sections are terribly, terribly sad both in relation to Nick and his mother and also to Alan. They add dimensions to both brothers and clearly show how the events of the past motivate both of them in the present day.

The story moves on apace through all of the character development. We are introduced further to the Goblin Market with Sin and Merris becoming more central figures and Jamie and Mae's homelife is highlighted by the welcome introduction of their mother (who plays an integral role in a way that I certainly never saw coming). The big show down at the end is truly thrilling and the the final pages dangle many interesting threads drawing us towards book number three, which cannot come out soon enough. The Demon's Lexicon was good but it is The Demon's Covenant that has firmly cemented Sarah Rees Brennan as one of my top ten YA authors and I look forward to reading many more of her funny/sad, exciting/tender stories in the years to come.

June 22, 2010

If Music Be The Food Of Love...or Hot Boys And Their Instruments (ooh er, missus)

After threatening to write a post about hot boys and pianos, I was surprised to receive a couple of requests to actually do so. I'm not complaining. I am also not limiting myself to pianos. I should probably explain... I have always loved a creative sort of guy. Art is good – but music is better. Any man who can sit down and play me a tune, be it by tinkling the ivories, strumming some strings or banging a drum will always float my boat (and yes, everything there does seem to be a double entendre). In YA fiction, these music men are doubly swoonsome as they invariably are intelligent, hot, troubled or funny. Usually all four. So without further ado, here is my top five countdown:

Five: Edward – Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer
I nearly didn't include Edward. Number five was almost going to be Sam from Shiver. However, Edward really fits my mould better. He is troubled, has a dark secret, and is clearly very hot. Sadly, he does not display any humour and also has stalker like tendancies (have I never mentioned that I'm Team Jacob?). He is here, however, because his piano playing saves him for me as a character. He sits at his grand piano, tinkling away, composing songs for his mother and his love and I just forget all the creepy stuff. The lovely Robert Pattinson tipped this for me when I saw him actually playing the piano in the Twilight movie. With his own hands. Swoon....thud.
Four: Joe – The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Here we have a relative newcomer. Joe plays guitar and horn and pretty much everything else you can think of. Unlike many of the others on this list, he is not troubled when we meet him. He is happy and lovely and plays music for the sheer joy of it. I would like him to live in my kitchen with his guitar. And his eyelashes. I would feed him cookies and he would play me songs. Bat. Bat. Bat. Strum. Strum. Bat. Etc.

Three: James – Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater
Again, James was nearly knocked of his post by Sam (another Maggie creation). In the end, however, I just like James more. He plays the pipes. I live in Scotland where most guys playing the pipes are large and sweaty. Not so, James! He is hot and lovely. He also plays the piano under the tutelage of another hot, musical guy (the fantastic Sullivan- I have no idea what Sullivan plays but he rocks a Julliard sweater, so he must be pretty good. And hot). James is one of my favourite male protagonists of recent times and again he is smart, funny, troubled and caring. Perfect. Also, he writes random words all over his hands which should probably ring alarm bells regarding mental illness, but is actually just really sexy.

Two: Jace – The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare
Aaaah, Jace. You were so nearly number one. What a guy... Let's check our list of qualifying attributes:  Is he hot? Man, yes. Like Michaelangelo angel hot. Is he troubled? Yes – major family issues. And then some. Is he smart? Uh-huh – he speaks about a dozen languages and seems to be able to quote from every book of note ever written. Is he funny? Laugh out loud and role on the floor so. Most importantly – is he musical? Yes, yes, yes. Even better, he plays the piano in “a desultory fashion”. He's so good, he doesn't even care! I may marry him one day.

One: Sebastian – Sadler's Wells Series by Lorna Hill
So, you may be wondering where all this has come from, this obsession with men and music. Well, we have now reached the crux of the matter. I first read the Sadler's Wells books when I was about nine. I was really into ballet, and that is what they focus on so I was happy (there are also a lot of horses featured, but you can't have everything). Sebastian doesn't appear in all of the books, just the first two where he plays antagonist and love interest to heroine Veronica. Sebastian is smart, wickedly so and unlike any other character on this list (perhaps with the exception of James) is absolutely driven by his music. He cannot live without it, or Veronica, for whom he plays while she dances (usually in some swoony outdoor setting). He is hot – all piercing blue eyes and long piano-player fingers. He is also a bit of a bad boy – in that he can be a bit cruel, his humour sarcastic and his judgements final. Importantly, he has some issues involving family and being chucked out of his ancestral home. For years he was all I looked for in a boy – it is no coincidence that my first love was an immensely talented, hugely sarcastic, slightly broken piano player. And just as Sebastian informed my choices in men then, I suspect he perhaps still does. Ah, Sebastian – you got me at an impressionable age, and my heart remains with you....

So there you have it. My ever so geeky, possibly slightly disturbing list of musical hotties. Prepare to share – I refuse to believe that these are the only YA guys out there who are musical. Or perhaps you have your own list? Write it up, link back, share the hot boy love! I'm off to play me a tune and dream of Sebastian Scott.

June 21, 2010

Walk Like An Egyptian (Review of The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan)

The Red Pyramid
Rick Riordan
Puffin 2010

Since their mother’s death, Carter and Sadie have become near strangers. While Sadie has lived with her grandparents in London, her brother has traveled the world with their father, the brilliant Egyptologist, Dr. Julius Kane.

One night, Dr. Kane brings the siblings together for a "research experiment" at the British Museum, where he hopes to set things right for his family. Instead, he unleashes the Egyptian god Set, who banishes him to oblivion and forces the children to flee for their lives.

Soon, Sadie and Carter discover that the gods of Egypt are waking, and the worst of them--Set--has his sights on the Kanes. To stop him, the siblings embark on a dangerous journey across the globe--a quest that brings them ever closer to the truth about their family, and their links to a secret order that has existed since the time of the pharaohs.

(Blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

I absolutely expected to enjoy this book, and completely and utterly did. I recently read the Chaos Walking series, and while I loved it felt seriously in need of some lighthearted fun afterwards – which is exactly what The Red Pyramid provides.
I have previously devoured Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series and loved the idea of bringing ancient mythology to a modern day setting. In the Percy Jackson books the author focuses on Greek mythology with great humour and a lovely lightness of touch. He has now turned his attentions to Egyptian mythology in an equally entertaining manner.

Our protagonists are brother and sister team, Carter and Sadie Kane, aged 12 and 14 respectively. I liked both of them immensely. Carter is pretty serious and cautious, and also perhaps a little under-socialised having been brought up by his father without much access to other kids. Sadie, on the other hand has been brought up in London by her grandparents and attended school, so is more confident. She's hilarious, actually – impulsive and stubborn, which works well against her brothers' quieter nature. The siblings haven't spent much time together since their mother's death several years earlier and this leads to an interesting, sometimes touching, often funny relationship between the two. The novel has a duel narrative structure that works well – the central conceit of the writing is that they are taking turns dictating their story onto tape. This is pretty clever writing, as they are able to enter asides into each other's sections and so we often get both perspectives regardless of the current narrator. It also leaves plenty of opportunities for further humour. My only issue with Carter and Sadie is that neither seem as young as they are purported to be. With Carter, this could perhaps be explained by a childhood spent mainly with adults, but with Sadie her age just doesn't work. She seems far too mature and extremely articulate in comparison to your average 12 year old. I would have found them both far more believable were they aged 16 and 14 and it wouldn't have affected the story line that I can see (although this is the first of three books, so perhaps there would be repercussions later down the line).

The rest of the character cast is exceptionally fun, with great characters such as God of Knowledge, Thoth (in full mad scientist mode) and the very catlike (in actions, diet and nature) and loveable Bast. Special shout out to Philip the albino crocodile for being the most random creature that I've read about in a long time.

The story line is pretty interesting. The mythology didn't seem as immediately accessible as the Greek stuff in Percy Jackson but I think that was mainly because I'm just not as familiar with Egyptian legend and myth. This was a fun way to refresh the limited knowledge that I did have, although it didn't have me ordering Egyptian reference books in order to read more (while PJ had me instantly add several Greek mythology tomes to my wish list). The book is pretty hefty at 500+ pages and could have been overlong, but belies its size with fast-paced action and more information than you can shake a stick at. I would certainly recommend it for anyone who is looking for an entertaining read that will make them smile and educate them a little along the way and I look forward to book two - out next year (if not quite as much as I look forward to Rick Riordan's next story, which once again returns to the world of Percy Jackson and his Greek and Godly counterparts - and hopefully lots and lots of Dionysus).

Bodacious Blogger Award

Last week, I was really excited to get awarded not one but two awards from fellow bloggers.  I squeeeeed, and danced and generally was very pleased.  I have procrastinated for a whole week as I didn't want to pass awards on to bloggers who I've noticed already receiving them lately but I am now ready to pass on the lurve in the first of two award posts:

Firstly, THANK YOU to Tammy at The Book Fairy's Haven for passing on this award.
Here's how the award works :
If you are given this award you must first accept it by leaving a comment on the post you were nominated on.

Then copy and paste the post and add it to your own blog. Make a list of the last 5 books you read and pass the award on to 5 other bloggers (no backsies!). Please also identify the blog from which you got the award and don’t forget to tell your picks that they have a blog award! 

In line with the award guidelines, the last five books I read were:

The Sky Is Everywhere - Jandy Nelson
Looking For Alaska - John Green
Radiant Shadows - Melissa Marr
The Iron King - Julie Kagawa
Gone - Michael Grant

All were really good.  I'm had a slow reading week last week due to house guests and a sick daughter, but will be catching up over the next few days as it already seems like ages since I read the five listed above!

The five bloggers that I am passing this on to (although far from the only bloggers whom I believe to be bodacious) are:

Donna @ Bites
Natalie @ Mindful Musings
Tara @ The Bodacious Pen
Jillian @ Random Ramblings
Dot @ Scribbles

Now go and check them out!

June 20, 2010

IMM (#8)

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. All book titles link to further info at Goodreads.

Jenna Burtenshaw
Headline 2010

I can't say that I know a huge amount about this book and haven't really read any reviews on it - but it looks like fun and is on my 2010 Debut Author Challenge list.  

Paper Towns
John Green
Bloomsbury 2010

I recently read Looking for Alaska by Mr. Green and have made it my mission to read everything the man has ever written.  This is the start and I really, really cannot wait to get stuck in.

I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have To Kill You
Ally Carter
Orchard 2010
I've been reading quite a lot of serious stuff about death and change and, y'know, the trials of life recently.  I wanted something fun and this looks like the perfect piece of summer reading.

Life As We Knew It
Susan Beth Pfeffer
Marion Lloyd Books 2007
A slightly older title, but it looks interesting. I've not read any YA fiction that I can think of that is post-apocolyptic and this could be interesting. I have the other two books in the series reserved at my local library so hope that this turns out to be a good start.

Are We There Yet
David Levithan
HarperCollinsChildren'sBooks 2007
I have heard only good things about David Levithan, and as he has now written a book by my new favourite, John Green I thought I should take a look at his stuff.  This looks fun, different and interesting.

So that's it for this week - I'm looking forward to spending more time reading and blogging, having finished studying until October!  Looking forward to seeing what everyone else has aquired and happy reading!

June 16, 2010

On Life And Living (Review: The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson)

The Sky Is Everywhere
Jandy Nelson
Walker Books 2010

Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker, bookworm and band geek, plays second clarinet and spends her time tucked safely and happily in the shadow of her fiery older sister, Bailey. But when Bailey dies abruptly, Lennie is catapulted to center stage of her own life—and, despite her nonexistent history with boys, suddenly finds herself struggling to balance two. Toby was Bailey’s boyfriend; his grief mirrors Lennie’s own. Joe is the new boy in
town, a transplant from Paris whose nearly magical grin is matched only by his musical talent. For Lennie, they’re the sun and the moon; one boy takes her out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it. But just like their celestial counterparts, they can’t collide without the whole wide world exploding.
(Blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

This title had been on my wish list for a while and I thought that it looked like a fair to middling sort of read. When it came out last week I was in the process of reading Looking For Alaska by John Green (fabulous, BTW) and felt that that was enough pondering on mortality and sex for me in one week, thank you very much. However, I then started seeing excerpts of The Sky Is Everywhere popping up in other people's blogs and realised that it could be something interesting so ordered it straight away. I read it almost in one sitting and it is, so far, one of my favourite books this year and certainly the best by a debut author.

Firstly, it is beautiful to look at. The UK version is bound like a journal with a rough texture finish and a blue elastic strap to stretch around the pages and is certainly not like anything else out there at the moment. It is printed in lovely blue ink which was just so, so pretty. Additionally, there are handwritten poems scrawled throughout its pages, photographed on paper cups, candy wrappers, bits of newspaper, bark and bathroom tiles among other things (all in full colour). I spent a good half hour just leafing through my copy when it first arrived – it was like a beautifully wrapped present. On getting over my sheer delight at getting an object d'art when all I'd been expecting was a book, my first thoughts were that the publishers must have thought it was some story if they put such a lot into the book design, as I don't imagine it was cheap to produce. Luckily for them, they were right.

This is in large part thanks to some quite spectacular writing. Breathtaking and beautiful, Jandy Nelson's prose billows out of the book in huge, overwhelming waves. It should be too much, but it's not. Lennie's grief for sister Bailey is not a quiet one and screams out of her in a vicious waterfall of loss, yearning, desire and love because Lennie is not dead – she is very, very much alive. While in the very depths of mourning, Lennie finds herself drawn towards Bailey's boyfriend Toby and a whirlwind of tears, lust and raw need ensues. This could have been distasteful, but instead it is gut-wrenchingly sad. Simultaneously, a new boy enters Lennie's life in the shape of Joe Fontaine – gentle, kind, happy and above all, able to offer Lennie solace and escape as someone who knew her only after Bailey's death. The narrative follows Lennie as she moves back and forth between light and shade, Toby and Joe. I am sure that many profound things have been said about sex and death and I'm not going to try and be clever about it. In The Sky Is Everywhere sex is portrayed as life-affirming in the most literal way. Toby and Lennie's desire makes them feel alive when nothing else does and in doing so makes them feel closer to Bailey, despite the horrendous guilt that it also brings. Lennie's desire and love for Joe is also life-affirming in the truer, more existential sense. He makes her feel healthy, strong, happy and hopeful. More than anything, while Toby makes Lennie feel real in that she feels close to Bailey, Joe allows her to be true to herself and therefore feel truly alive.

For me, everything in The Sky Is Everywhere is gloriously, vividly alive. The only thing dead in the book is Bailey and perhaps the sad shadow that is Toby – a character made two-dimensional in his grief only scraping a reprieve towards the last few pages. Creaking trees, magical roses, music, tears and magnificent smiles jump off the page and it is impossible not to rejoice in the sheer vividness of Lennie's everyday life. Be it what lifts you up or what tethers you down, Jandy Nelson reminds us that it is all life and is there to be embraced and above all, lived.

On a final and somewhat lighter note, I would personally very much like to have a set of Fontaine brothers. They could live in my closet. I would take them out whenever I felt sad and they would make me feel better and save on my electricity bills.

Bat. Bat. Bat.


June 15, 2010

We have a winner...

Congratulations to The Lovely Reader who is the winner of my first ever contest!
Check out her fantastic blog - its all kinds of loveliness. 

Thank you to all who entered and left such great comments.

Lovely Reader  - an email is winging its way to you and your books will surely follow.

June 14, 2010

In Which A Girl Is Not So Much Bad As Vaguely Naughty (Review: Jekel Loves Hyde by B. Fantaskey)

Jekel Love Hyde
Beth Fantaskey
Harcourt 2010
Jill Jekel has always obeyed her parents’ rules – especially the one about never opening the mysterious, old box in her father’s office. But when her dad is murdered, and her college savings disappear, she's tempted to peek inside, as the contents might be key to a lucrative chemistry scholarship. To better her odds, Jill enlists the help of gorgeous, brooding Tristen Hyde, who has his own dark secrets locked away. As the team of Jekel and Hyde, they recreate experiments based on the classic novel, hoping not only to win a prize, but to save Tristen’s sanity. Maybe his life. But Jill’s accidental taste of a formula unleashes her darkest nature and compels her to risk everything – even Tristen’s love – just for the thrill of being… bad.
(Blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

I won a lovely signed copy of this book from Kristi over at The Story Siren, and jolly excited about it I was too. I absolutely love The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (you can't not if you're from Edinburgh, really) and enjoy re-tellings so expected to like this...and I sort of did. And then I sort of didn't. It is very much a book of two halves. The central conceit is that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde really existed and that our protagonists, Jill Jekel and Tristan Hyde are their direct descendent's.  Our two budding scientists resolve to create the lost formula of the original tale in order to cure Tristan of his less savory character traits. This idea works surprisingly well – the pair work under the guise of a chemistry competition so there is no endless expositioning (a personal bugbear of mine) on how they manage to get their hands on the necessary equipment or lab facilities. The writing is lovely with several subtle nods to the language used by Robert Louis Stevenson – just the odd slightly archaic phrasing here or old-fashioned line of dialogue there. I loved it, and found that it actually aligned well with the contemporary setting rather than sitting incongruously against the high school teen-speak.

The story is told by both Jill and Tristan, following the recent trend for duel narrators in YA fiction (no complaints from me, I love hearing both sides of the story).
Jill doesn't fit the usual mold when it comes to female protagonists – she is neither snarky, tough and popular, nor beautiful, delicate and dreamy. Instead, she is a classic wallflower. She wears frumpy clothes, is not blessed with exceptional beauty and seems to be pretty shy. At first I found this refreshing but not for long as, sadly, she is also a bit of a doormat. Her best friend treats her appallingly and while Jill seems pretty aware of this, she just lets it happen. She is such a frightened little rabbit and I spent much of the novel waiting for her to turn “bad” as promised in the blurb. More on that later... 

Tristan, conversely, is nothing that we haven't seen before. Dark, brooding, gorgeous with a troubled past and terrible secret? Yep, that's him. It works for him, though, and he plays the piano which works for me (one day I am going to write a whole post on hot boy characters who play the piano, starting with Sebastian from the Sadler's Wells series who was my first true love). I'm not sure that I entirely bought into his attraction to Jill – while I could see why she would have a huge crush on him, his sudden love was a little too sudden to be believable. Still, their burgeoning relationship was suitably heady and romantic in an old-fashioned, swoony sort of way and was fun to read.

My main issue with the book started once Jill took a swig of the “bad” formula. My impression, from the blurb, was that she would go totally of the rails and Tristan would have to fight to get her back. I liked the idea of the tale being turned on it's head like this and was also getting pretty tired of goody-two-shoes Jill by this point. The thing is, she just doesn't get that bad and the formula wears off pretty quickly. Yes, she gets a bit racy, yes, she loses her inhibitions and....gasp....she gets her ears pierced (!!!) but it's all over pretty quickly and she reverts to her mouse-like little self. It didn't seem all that relevant to the overarching story, which after this point falls a bit flat. The ending was extremely rushed and not hugely satisfying and the epilogue was exceptionally trite and twee. The build up to them creating the famous formula is far more interesting than the after-effects, which is a shame as there was such a lot of potential. However, all plot points were tied up and we do get to see what happens to our main characters after the final showdown, which was nice I suppose (nice, in this case, meaning a bit unrealistic and, quite frankly, vomit inducing).

I read this book in one sitting, it only took me a couple of hours and was certainly a pleasant enough, light read for an evening in the garden. As a fun, contemporary companion to the original I think it's passable – especially if it gets people interested in having a look at a classic horror story from a great writer, so pick it up and have a look. Just make sure you pick up The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde too.

June 13, 2010

IMM (#7)

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. All book titles link to further info at Goodreads.

Looking For Alaska
John Green
HarperCollin 2006

I'm a bit behind in discovering John Green. I read this on the same day it arrived in the post and, needless to say for most of you I assume, I now intend to track down and read anything the man has ever written. As this is an older title, I don't plan on reviewing it (just buy it-it's great) but I will be reviewing more recent John Green titles as soon as I get my paws on them.

Prophecy of Days:  The Daykeepers Grimoire
Christy Raedeke
Flux 2010

This one looks pretty good, a bit different and is set on an island off the coast of Scotland. As I grew up on an island off the coast of Scotland I was always going to read this.  Saying that, my island didn't house ancient Mayan relics or Feng Shui masters. Sadly.

Michael Grant
Egmont Books Ltd 2009

Poor Stephen King first got the idea for his last book Under the Dome (about a town stuck under a dome, funnily enough) 25 years ago. He didn't publish it until late last year and in the meantime both the Simpson's movie and Gone appearred - both featuring towns trapped under domes.  If you mixed the mighty King with Lord Of The Flies and X-Men, then you'd probably get Gone.  Nope, didn't sound like my thing either but I have already got the sequel on order. Fun to the funnest (and that's fun) in a sci-fi, we-all-might-die sort of way.

The Sky Is Everywhere
Jandy Nelson
Walker Books 2010

Wasn't planning on buying this as soon as it came out, but the recent excerpts around the blogosphere got me interested and I read it as soon as it arrived.  Review to follow soon - expect raving, because I just loved it. I expect, however, that many may have hated it too and look forward to reading reviews as they appear.

So that was it for this week. Both The Sky Is Everywhere and The Daykeeper's Grimoire count towards the 2010 Debut Author's Challenge so I am pretty pleased to be getting going on that.  Looking forward to seeing what everyone else got this week and happy reading!