July 31, 2010

A Troublesome Servant and Fearful Master (Review: The Poisoned House by Michael Ford)

The Poisoned House
Michael Ford
Bloomsbury August 2010

The year is 1856, and orphan Abigail Tamper lives below stairs in Greave Hall, a crumbling manor house in London. Lord Greave is plagued by madness, and with his son Samuel away fighting in the Crimea, the running of Greave Hall is left to Mrs Cotton, the tyrannical housekeeper. The only solace for the beleaguered staff is to frighten Mrs Cotton by pretending the house is haunted.
So when a real ghost makes an appearance - that of her beloved mother - no one is more surprised than Abi. But the spirit has a revelation that threatens to destroy Abi’s already fragile existence: she was murdered, and by someone under their very own roof. With Samuel returned to England badly wounded, it’s up to Abi to nurse him back to health, while trying to discover the identity of the killer in their midst. As the chilling truth dawns, Abi’s world is turned upside down.
(Blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

I had high hopes for this title – the press release described it as a mix between Wilkie Collins and The Woman In Black. The Moonstone by Collins is one of my all time favourite books and The Woman In Black scares me to sobs so it sounded pretty much like my perfect book. Frankly, I think they may have been aiming a little high with these acclamations. I expected intrigue and scares but what I found was an enjoyable enough, slightly spooky story with an interesting (if unoriginal) take on the upstairs downstairs nature of British servitude.

Character-wise, our main protagonist is Abi. A maid in the sparsely populated Greave Hall, Abi is mourning the loss of her mother a year previously, concerned for her employer (an elderly man on the brink of dementia) and anticipating eagerly the return of his son Samuel who has been in the Crimean war. She also lives in constant fear of housekeeper Mrs. Cotton – a woman who rules the servants with cruelty and lives more like the lady of the house than an employee. The remaining cast is made up of another maid, a footman, a cook and a butler. Abi is a believable character with a clear voice and quite a backbone, considering her circumstances. As she starts to notice strange and then stranger goings on around the house she remains strong through her fear and has an innate curiosity that drives her to investigate matters herself. As son of the master, Samuel is also pretty interesting – his return from war prompts a terribly upsetting scene, which is handled skillfully and without morbidity by the author.  For me, however, the standout character of The Poisoned House was Mrs. Cotton. In the 1800's the housekeeper held the same position below stairs as the master of the house did upstairs, and Mrs. Cotton plays this to her advantage at every opportunity. She is truly a terrifying creature – more frightening, in fact, that any of the ghostly goings on within Greave Hall reminding the reader that often it is people, not creatures of shadows, in whom the greatest threats lie.

Overall, I found the storyline to be compelling as both a study of an 1800's household and as a mystery. I did not, however, find that it worked as a ghost story – I felt that the book would have worked equally well without the slightly paranormal aspects. The climax of the tale is gripping and my only real criticism is that I felt that the storyline as regards Abi and nemesis Mrs. Cotton seemed slightly unresolved – I'd have liked some sort of show down between the two as I felt that the novel built towards that but then backed away from their relationship towards the end. While The Poisoned House by no means reaches the dizzy heights of Wilkie Collins, nor the chills of Susan Hill it is certainly an excellent introduction to the style of writing and the period slant of both The Moonstone and The Woman In Black. For readers who have read neither then I would suggest investing in The Poisoned House at the same time as one of these classic tales, then curling up on a dark, stormy night (preferably in front of a roaring fire) and slipping back in time to an altogether spookier, more mysterious time.

Thank you to Bloomsbury for sending me this title to review.

July 28, 2010

Whose Woods These Are (Review: Linger by Maggie Stiefvater)

Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic 2010

Linger is the second book in Maggie Stiefvater's Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy. If you haven't read the first, Shiver, then GO AWAY! Even the synopsis contains spoilers. Read Shiver (seriously) and then come back.

In Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver, Grace and Sam found each other. Now, in Linger, they must fight to be together. For Grace, this means defying her parents and keeping a very dangerous secret about her own well-being. For Sam, this means grappling with his werewolf past . . . and figuring out a way to survive into the future. Add into the mix a new wolf named Cole, whose own past has the potential to destroy the whole pack. And Isabelle, who already lost her brother to the wolves . . . and is nonetheless drawn to Cole. (Blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

Shiver was the first book that I ever reviewed for this blog. I stated in said review that I would happily have had protagonists Sam and Grace finish their story at the end of the book, in that final, simple moment – full of love and hope. But NO! Ms. Stiefvater just had to go and write Linger. I've just finished it and find myself half wishing I had just left them at the end of Shiver, happily ever after... because more than anything Linger, for all its beauty and finesse, is terribly and inexorably sad.

The story picks up just a few months after we last see Sam and Grace, with Sam struggling to believe in his sudden future and Grace quietly reassuring him while growing less sure of her own tomorrows. As in Shiver, sections of Linger are told from both of their perspectives but two other voices are now introduced to the mix. Isabel, who was introduced as a secondary (if important) character in Shiver, now joins Sam and Grace on centre stage along with Cole – a new wolf, who is having trouble staying, er ...wolfy. It says much for Maggie Stiefvater that not only had the guts to have four running narratives in one novel but also that she has the talent to carry it off without the story ever becoming convoluted, over-crowded or confusing – it really is quite an achievement. Character wise, Isabel and Cole start strong and become stronger. Isabel was a compelling character in Shiver and it is a pleasure to learn more about her here. She is at once incredibly strong and smart while being conversely vulnerable and ignorant of her own emotions. Interestingly she increasingly becomes the voice of reason in Linger and was, without a doubt, the voice with whom I most agreed. And then there is Cole. I was always going to love Cole – he had me at sardonic (all the best ones are) and that was before I even realised he played piano. It is as if he was written for me, and me alone. On a more serious note, Cole is an excellent example of a character not necessarily having to be nice in order to be likeable, nor kind in order to be sympathetic. Of all Maggie's characters (both in this book and others) I found him to be the most complex and was pleased that he became so much more than a junked up rock star – a truly multi-faceted persona, I am sure that he is only going to get more interesting. And sardonic. And handy on the old ivories. Pls.

Grace seems to take an almost passive role in Linger – more reactionary than active. While this could be seen as a weakness, it is an interesting direction in which to take a character who has previously been perfectly in control of every aspect of her life. Her relationship with her parents is spotlighted further in Linger and I found her confusion on how to response to their sudden interest very believable. The scenes between the three of them were quite conflicting to read, as what they have to say to her and to Sam would be fairly reasonable when not coloured by their previous neglect. However, while Shiver always felt to me like Grace's story, Linger absolutely belongs to Sam. Sam was always the real reason that I wanted to leave him and Grace at the end of Shiver – of all the characters I have ever read, there is none that I wished happiness on more than he. His character development in Linger is never less than believable, with his reluctance to trust in his own humanity and future tangible in its hopelessness. We also get to see a bit more of his past – allowing us to find out what makes Sam Sam. From the moment I started to read his perspective, I found it hard to believe that things could just pan out easily for him – because he never truly believes it himself. A particularly heart-rending moment finds him sitting on a wet, bathroom floor, head in hands, asking “what did I ever do to you?” - a scene which sums up life vs. Sam pretty well.

As usual, the writing is breathtakingly lovely. At times flowing and poetic, at times stark and straight-forward it is never less than absorbing, enveloping you into a world of icy winds, frozen tears and sudden, surprising shafts of sunlight and wonder. This is certainly a book that I will pick up again and I eagerly await the final part of the trilogy, Forever. It is a pleasure to read a series of books and have no idea where the author is going to take you next, yet this is what Maggie Stiefvater has achieved thus far in The Wolves of Mercy Falls. I, for one, am happy to place my trust (and tears) in her capable hands for the final leg of the trip.

July 27, 2010

Swept Away? (Review: Sea by Heidi R. Kling)

Heidi R. Kling
Putnam 2010

Haunted by recurring nightmares since her mother’s disappearance over the Indian ocean three years before, fifteen-year old California girl Sienna Jones reluctantly travels with her psychiatrist father’s volunteer team to six-months post-tsunami Indonesia where she meets the scarred and soulful orphaned boy, Deni, who is more like Sea than anyone she has ever met.
She knows they can’t be together, so why can’t she stay away from him? And what about her old best friend-turned-suddenly-hot Spider who may or may not be waiting for her back home? And why won’t her dad tell her the truth about her mother’s plane crash? The farther she gets from home, the closer she comes to finding answers. 
(Blurb courtesy of Goodreads.com)

I had been looking forward to this book for quite a while and it was with great expectations that I sat down to read. The thing about great expectations is that you sometimes set yourself up for a bit of a fall. While Sea lapped pleasantly at my toes it did not, I'm afraid, sweep me away...

Character-wise, our protagonist is Sienna (Sea). I wasn't sure about her at all, although I warmed to her slightly towards the end of the book (sadly, a bit too late). To be honest I really found her utter lack of thought when it came to anyone other than herself infuriating. I am aware, though, that she has only just turned fifteen when we meet her and that many fifteen year olds lack the emotional maturity often ascribed to them in a lot of YA fiction. Placing Sienna in Indonesia during the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami only shows up her lack of maturity further as she seems more interested in checking out hot boys than in her surroundings – I just wanted to shake her. It is only towards the end of the story that she gains perspective not only on how the country has suffered but also on the grief that she has been unable to let go off since the death of her mother. During this last section you finally get a glimpse at who Sienna may grow up to be – she makes difficult decisions for all the right reasons and I started to really admire her. Particularly as earlier in the book I would have predicted that, faced with such choices, she would have probably thrown a tantrum (if only an inner-monologued one) and stomped off to wallow.

As Sienna's hot Indonesian boy of choice, Deni is a pretty interesting character. His mix of sly humour, good looks and tragic back story is a bit of a winner. I found the way in which he interacted with Sienna far more interesting than the way in which she acted around him. As his personal history gradually emerges he becomes increasingly compelling. The sections with Deni in Aceh are the most gripping and moving of the book and I wish that these had been dwelt on rather than the romance between him and Sienna, which seemed trivial in comparison. A romance that did work for me, however, was the tentative one between Sienna and her long time friend Spider. Spider was lovely, thoughtful and a particularly realistic portrayal of a confused teenage boy. Sadly he does not appear much in the book but his relationship with Sienna rings far truer than that of her and Deni. Perhaps because they have known each other for longer than 30 seconds...

And that is the crux of my issue with Sea. I just don't believe that a girl would arrive in a foreign country and, seemingly within an hour of arriving, start to fall in love with a resident of the orphanage that she is there to help. Sienna is only in Indonesia for two weeks and her extremely intense relationship with Deni seemed hugely rushed. If Sienna had been staying in the country for the entire summer, I would have had no issue with them developing such a relationship. Certainly, I would not have objected to Sea being a longer book in order to lengthen their time together, as the writing shows real talent and captures Indonesia beautifully and, at times, tragically. I concede, however, that the time period regarding their relationship may be intentionally short – people do strange things when thrown together in intense situations and being surrounded by death can make one want to truly live. And a crazy relationship such as Sienna and Deni's certainly would make you feel alive.

All this being said, I do think that Sea makes for enjoyable summer reading.  Heidi R. Kling really does write awfully well – it is impossible not to be dragged into the exotic and troubling arena that is Indonesia post-disaster. She highlights the difficulties that the country, and particularly its children, continue to go through today with care and subtlety. The general premise of a young American being confronted with foreign peers in such a foreign situation really is a great one. I certainly will pick up Heidi's next book, and as a debut novel I have seen much, much worse. Sadly for me though, I think that a few small issues stopped Sea from capturing me completely.

July 25, 2010

IMM (#13)

In My Mailbox is a meme created and hosted by Kristi over at The Story Siren with inspiration from Alea at Pop Culture Junkie. All book titles link to further info at Goodreads.

Kristin Cashore
Gollancz 2008
I've heard lots of good things about this title and now that I have jumped back on the fantasy horse I thought I would give it a go.  I particularly like the sound of Katsa - I haven't read a truly kick ass heroine for ages and she sounds like she might just fit the bill.

The Glass Demon
Helen Grant
Penguin 2010
This is another title that has been on my wish list forever.  I love a good spooky story, but there aren't that many out there - this, however, looks pretty chilling.  Looking forward to curling up with it and being (hopefully) scared witless.

Claudia Gray
Harper Collins 2010
I honestly have no idea why I am continuing with this series.  I would certainly like the books more were the main character simply not in them - I have no Bianca love...  Oh, wait!  I know why I read them - Balthazar.  He rocks.  Sadly, he's not in this one much but Claudia Gray has left it on a cliffhanger (don't care so much about that) which leads me to believe he will be in the final instalment much, much more! Yay Balthazar!

Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic 2010
What can I say??  I haven't started this yet - I am enjoying just having it in my possession. I occasionally stroke the cover, content in the knowledge that I can read it whenever I want.

Ally Condy
Penguin 2010
I won this from the lovely Steph Su, but by the time she had sent it out I received a surprise ARC of the same title from Penguin.  Never fear, I will not hog them both - one copy will be being donated to the cause over at UK Book Tours.

The Body Finder
Kimberley Derting
Harper Collins 2010
I won this from the author herself and was pretty excited - particularly when it showed up personalised and with a whole bunch of Body Finder swag. I've read it already and am a fan - review to follow soon.

So that was my week - how was yours?  I have done something unseen, yet horrible to my back so should get plenty of reading done while lying flat on the floor - glad that I have so many good books to keep me going.  Happy reading, everybody - may you do yours upright and in no pain...

July 22, 2010

Win The Midnight Charter and The Children of The Lost!

I recently reviewed The Midnight Charter and The Children of The Lost by new-kid-on-the-fantasy-block David Whitley. Read my review here.

Read it? Good. Like the sound of Agora and its inhabitants? Excellent. Penguin have kindly offered a set of both books to one lucky winner! Fill out the form below and leave a comment for a chance to get yer mits on both titles:

Tricks Of The Trade (Review: The Midnight Charter/Children of The Lost)

The Midnight Charter
The Children of The Lost
David Whitley
Penguin 2009/2010

I can be a bit leery of fantasy titles. I have to really be in the mood to read them and recently I just haven't been. I ended last year by reading Trudi Canavan's awesome Magician's Guild trilogy and then started 2010 by trawling through the first half of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time magnum opus (for the second time, which is a whole other story) – up until last week I was still officially in fantasy recovery and couldn't bear the thought of reading any more for at least 10 years. Then I received the first and second books in David Whitley's Agora trilogy to review and decided that it was time to get back up on that fantasy horse. Now, I wouldn't normally review two books together but in this case I can't actually say much about the second without spoiling both. However, I wanted to mention both titles as book number two, The Children of The Lost is out on the 5th of August and deserves some props.

I admire fantasy writers hugely – they just seem to have to try so much harder, what with creating whole
worlds/societies/mythologies, and I particularly admire writers who choose fantasy as the genre for their debut novel. Way to jump in at the deep end, guys! David Whitley is one of these brave souls and, with Agora, he has certainly created a society unlike any I have come across before. Agora is a walled city divided into twelve districts named after the signs of the zodiac... so far so nothing-I-can't-imagine-seeing-in-Final-Fantasy-game, right? Wrong! What sets Agora apart in the realm of fantasy is that the entire society is based on trade – there is no money, yet everything and everybody is a commodity. From the age of twelve (which is the age of independence in Agora) you are able to create contracts with other citizens, trading anything from goods, food, and favours to fortunes (astrology is big in Agora), children and emotions. It's a great idea once you get the hang of it, which is exactly what the protagonists of The Midnight Charter are doing when we first come across their twelve-year-old selves.

Mark and Lily have both been contracted into service, Mark by his father and Lily by her orphanage. They find themselves in the employ of kindly Dr. Theophilius and steely Count Stelli. The Midnight Charter covers two years from this point and packs in a lot of information, tracking Mark and Lily's paths through a frighteningly adult world and, over time, if becomes clear that they are both of vital importance to said world – although not to their knowledge. Both characters are interesting. Mark is fairly naïve and can seem selfish and at times quite silly, whereas Lily is worldy, wise and almost a bit too good to be believable. However, as time progresses the author introduces both flaws and endearing aspects to both characters. My only issue with the characterisation of either Mark or Lily is their age. I simply did not believe that they were only twelve and found this sticking in my throat throughout the book. If the author had made the age of independence even two years later I would have found their speech and actions far more believable.
There are a wealth of delightful, and not so delightful, supporting characters, all of whom are extremely well drawn with particular standouts being the obsequious Snutworth and the cynical Laud. If story seemed slow to start off with it was merely due to the fact that there is so much information being introduced about Agora and its machinations. Things pick up pace during the second half of the book and certainly kept me turning pages until the thrilling climax. And it is thrilling – a real cliffhanger.

Luckily I had The Children of The Lost to hand immediately. It starts off exactly where The Midnight Charter ends and introduces the world outside Agora. Throughout the book the narrative switches points of view between those we know back in Agora and those outside the walls. While it was great to see lesser characters explored in Agora it did feel a tad choppy at times, and there was a lot of political scheming going on which became a little confusing. Equally, the story going on outside the walls sometimes lost its way a little leaving me bewildered as to where the author was leading us. However, it was absolutely worth persevering. What I had felt to be useless expositioning or overly long political chit-chat turned out to be building to a huge reveal at the end and yet another thrilling cliffhanger. The writing really is very clever both in regards to the storyline and the characters I enjoyed the direction in which the author took Mark and Lily, particularly the growth of their often antagonistic friendship, and I also was impressed at the development of secondary characters Laud and Theophilius.

Overall, I think that The Agora Trilogy is likely to be a well received addition to the fantasy cannon. If you enjoy fantasy as a rule, then pick it up; if you're not a great fantasy reader then this may whet your appetite for more and if you have never read anything in the genre then this is most definitely a great jumping off point. I await the third book with interest and will certainly be on the look out for more of David's writing in the future.

July 21, 2010

Shivery Spookiness

I recently got sent Pastworld by Ian Beck to review. I hadn't heard much about it but thought it looked OK.  Then I came across this awesome trailer - how scary does this seem!  One of the best produced book trailers that I have come across so far - it has definitely moved Pastworld to the top of my TBR pile!

July 20, 2010

My Crooked Neighbour (Review: Paper Towns by John Green)

Paper Towns
John Green
Bloomsbury 2010

When Margo Roth Spiegelman beckons Quentin Jacobsen in the middle of the night—dressed like a ninja and plotting an ingenious campaign of revenge—he follows her. Margo’s always planned extravagantly, and, until now, she’s always planned solo. After a lifetime of loving Margo from afar, things are finally looking up for Q . . . until day breaks and she has vanished. Always an enigma, Margo has now become a mystery. But there are clues. And they’re for Q.  (Blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

I read this book weeks ago and felt entirely ambivalent about it. I had read, and adored, John Green's glorious Looking For Alaska and basically felt that this was just a re-tread of the same story. In a fit of pique I shelved it, yet Paper Towns and its cast of characters remained stubbornly in my mind, leaving me with the feeling that I had perhaps missed something on reading it. Finally, with much huffing, puffing and general disgruntled muttering, I pulled it back off the shelf and started over. Turns out I was missing something, and that something was that John Green is an absolute genius.

Much like Looking For Alaska, Paper Towns revolves around a guy (in this case, Q) who is fascinated by a rather eccentric, free-spirited girl (in this case Margo, his next door neighbour). Told with Green's trademark humour and laid-back style, their initial rampage through the suburbs is extremely enjoyable to read. It quickly becomes clear that although Q and Margo were friends as children, he hasn't spent much time with her since. Therefore, when she disappears the next morning his mission becomes to not only find out where Margo has gone (helped by the rather cryptic clues she has left behind), but also who Margo actually is.

So who is Margo Roth Spiegelman? My initial response to this would most certainly have been “who cares?”. Her disappearance reeked of selfishness and I found it very hard to care where she had gone or what had happened to her. Her character is not dissimilar to Alaska in Looking For Alaska, but whereas Alaska had some serious issues in her past that explained her erratic behaviour, Margo seemed to come from a pretty comfortable home. On a couple of occasions her parents are portrayed as utterly indifferent to their daughter, but I got the impression that they had just been entirely worn down by her attention seeking behaviour. Protagonist Q, however, is completely wrapped up in the enigma that he sees as Margo. It is impossible not to like him and I was genuinely moved by his desperation to find her. The supporting cast of characters are equally likeable, with Q's friends Ben and Radar providing some much needed light relief during his increasingly obsessive search. The back drop of their senior prom leads to some particularly hilarious dialogue. However, as much as I liked all the main characters, the elusive Margo and the similarities to Looking For Alaska continued to hinder my enjoyment. Until I re-read it...

On returning to the story, I saw what I had completely missed the first time round. While Green does return to the themes of identity and friendship that he touched on in Looking For Alaska (and with pretty similar characters), he takes them much further in Paper Towns. At first I found his repeated use of Walt Whitman's Song Of Myself rather laboured, but in retrospect it fits the story perfectly. Green expertly examines not only who we truly are but who we become through the eyes of others and how that in turn affects our self-identity.

As Q and his friends search for Margo, it slowly becomes apparent that each of them are searching for a completely different girl – because they can only see her through the lens of their own lives, knowledge, prejudice and love. I may not have liked Margo, but that is exactly the point – she is barely present during the book yet it is impossible not to have an opinion of her, ensuring that the reader become just as guilty of prescribing her an identity as Q and his friends. See what he did there?? It's genius! John Green is a writer who never underestimates the intelligence of his readership nor feels the need to provide them with neat endings and answered questions. Read Looking For Alaska and then read Paper Towns – then go away, have a think and read them again. On conclusion ponder this: Who is Margo Roth Spiegelman? And then you decide.

July 19, 2010

Fields of Gold (Review: I'm Not Scared by Niccolo Ammaniti)

I'm Not Scared
Niccolo Ammaniti
Walker Canongate 2010

Ammaniti is one of Italy's most acclaimed younger writers, and this carefully constructed thriller is the first of his books to appear here. During a piercingly hot summer, a few kilometres from a bone-dry hamlet in rural Tuscany, a shy, nervy, nine-year-old boy called Michele explores a derelict house and discovers, under moldering leaves, a horrifying secret. The novel is saved from sensationalism by Ammaniti's almost cinematic ability to conjure detail—the look of scraps of meat on a plate, the sheen of a new bike, the whispers of adults in the night—and by his utterly convincing re-creation of a child's perspective, as Michele's discovery propels him into ever more uncertain territory.
(Blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

I am not entirely sure that I'm Not Scared is the type of book that anyone would say that they liked. I don't mean this as a criticism – it is an accomplished piece of storytelling – but several days after reading it I still cannot think of this odd little story without feeling truly uncomfortable.

Set in rural Italy in the late '70s, the story is told by Michele – a boy of nine in 1978, now recounting the tale from the viewpoint of his early 30s. Nine year old Michele lives in Acqua Traverse – a scattering of houses inhabited by only four families. The summer of 1978 finds the children of the village playing through a blisteringly hot weather, amusing themselves with football, cycling, races and cruel forfeits. It is one of these races that leads them to find a deserted house, hidden in the valley of a nearby hill, and one of the forfeits that finds Michele enter the house alone and make a startling discovery.

Niccolo Ammaniti's writing is exceptional. It is impossible to read this and not see these children running through the sun-cracked land nor avoid experiencing Michele's feelings of excitement and trepidation as he enters the abandoned house. And as far as creepy old houses go, this one is up there with the creepiest exuding menace and darkness. However, it is what Michele does not see through his nine-year-old eyes that makes this story so chilling. As he makes his dark discovery and decides on how to act we, as older readers, can clearly see the danger that he is in. Michele, however, does not even consider that an adult may be behind his horrifying find, instead torturing himself with visions of monsters in the wheat fields and bogeymen outside his bedroom window. As Michele slowly realises the reality of the situation, I'm Not Scared becomes more than just a scary story – evolving into a tale of loss of innocence, trust and childhood. Michele's voice is incredibly authentic, illustrating wonder and fear in equal parts. His parents are compelling characters and become more so as the naiveté of youth falls from Michele's eyes.

I am reluctant to write much more as I really don't want to spoil this slight novel for anyone else who picks it up. This is a tale that is as much about the foibles of being an adult as it is about the glory days of childhood. While in parts a stunning representation of the golden days of early youth, there is an insidious unease that leaks from the pages - a creeping disquiet that has remained with me since I closed the book. Walker Canongate have re-released this title in an attempt to bring it to the attention of younger readers and it should be a huge success. Reminiscent of early Stephen King, yet with a sensibility all its own I highly recommend this title. Just don't expect to sleep well on its conclusion....

July 18, 2010

IMM (#12)

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.

I got quite a lot in the post this week and therefore can't list them in my usual way without this being a hugely long post, so took a picture instead:

I am absolutely NOT a photographer but I think it'll do... All of my books this week are for review (thank you Bloomsbury and Penguin!) and are as follows:

Children of The Lost - David Whitley
The Midnight Charter - David Whitley
Looking forward to these two.  Having slogged through half of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series earlier this year (excellent, but oh so long!) I have been giving fantasy titles a wide berth, but feel recovered enough to take a chance on these two.  For those who like the look of them I will be hosting a UK giveaway once my reviews are up.

iBoy - Kevin Brooks
Excellent stuff, a tale of a truly modern superhero. My review is already up here.

Lock and Key - Sarah Dessen
My first Dessen book (shocking, I know), but it certainly won't my last.  Review ready to post so will be up soon.

Past World - Ian Beck
Dystopia and Victoriana?  Bring it on! This looks like a really interesting title and has been on my wish list for a while.  Was very excited to receive a copy and am really looking forward to getting started.

Blood Feud - Alyxandra Harvey
I absolutely loved My Love Lies Bleeding (review here) and have been eagerly waiting for this, the second book in the series. Have read some interesting reviews and am pretty sure that it will live up to expectations.

Troubadour - Mary Hoffman
The Other Girl - Sarah Miller - Noel Clarke and Jim Eldridge
Girl 16, Five Star Fiasco - Sue Limb
These are all books that I don't know too much about, which is enough to get me interested.  Troubadour in particular is taking me slightly outside my reading comfort zone - always a good thing. 

The Poisoned House - Michael Ford
This is described as The Woman in Black meets Wilkie Collins which is surely the perfect book.  I mean, who wouldn't want to read that?!

Fallen Grace - Mary Hooper
Paper Towns - John Green
The Enemy - Charlie Higson
Fallen Grace has been on my wish list for a while and looks fascinating.  I've actually already read Paper Towns and am still writing my review (like Green's Looking for Alaska it gives you a lot to think about). Charlie Higson is an author that I have been hearing about for ages yet never read and The Enemy, with its compelling premise, seems like a good place to start.

Matched - Ally Condy
I did a little dance when this dropped through the door. Lady M (my small daughter) thought that I was quite mad.  Is there anyone who isn't excited about this one?  I am really into my dystopian fiction at the moment and was tempted to start Matched as soon as I got my mits on it. Thus far I have held back... but not for much longer.

So that's it. I really have had an exceptionally good week and have enough reading material to last me for quite a while. I was all set to not actually purchase any books for several weeks, until I remembered that Linger is out next week. Dammit, Stiefvater!  

Happy reading everyone!

July 15, 2010

Does Whatever An iPhone Can (review: iBoy by Kevin Brooks)

Kevin Brooks
Penguin 2010

Before the attack, sixteen-year-old Tom Harvey was just an ordinary boy. But now fragments of a shattered iPhone are embedded in his brain and it's having an extraordinary effect...Because now Tom has powers - the ability to know and see more than he could ever imagine. And with incredible power comes knowledge - and a choice. Seek revenge on the violent gangs that rule his estate and assaulted his friend Lucy, or keep quiet? Tom has control when everything else is out of control. But it's a dangerous price to pay. And the consequences are terrifying.
(blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

I can't say that I was overly sold on the premise of this book. Boy becomes part iPhone? Give me a break... I had also read another Kevin Brooks book and hadn't been hugely impressed, but there was something intriguing about this title. To be honest, the idea showed such amazing originality that I couldn't help but wonder how it would pan out. What I finally realised once I started reading was that this was a superhero story and like all good fables, had depth, moral questions and an enigmatic central character. What can I say? I likes me a good superhero...

Tom Harvey is the enigma in this tale. An inherently likable character, he is very much your average teenage boy – spending his time trying to stay out of trouble on the Crow Lane Estate and wondering if he should try and make a move on long time friend, and girl of his dreams, Lucy. All is well and good until an iPhone comes hurtling down from the top of a tower block and embeds itself in his skull – leaving fragments that surgeons cannot remove. Suddenly Tom is, literally, connected. The fragments of the phone and his own brain bond together to become more than the sum of their individual parts allowing him all sorts of useful powers from having the entire world wide web inside his head to being able to zap people out of his way with electrical pulses. The science is just well enough expositioned to pass but as Tom points out, Spiderman didn't spend hours agonising over why or how his spider bite had such odd effects – he just got on with saving the world. And so does Tom...which is where the real story begins.

On waking up from a seventeen day coma complete with superpowers, Tom discovers that while he was getting hit on the head with a falling phone, Lucy was being brutally gang raped in the flat that it was thrown from. For me, this was when I realised that iBoy was going to have more depth than I had previously imagined. Tom is suddenly in a position where he can avenge his friend and soon finds himself walking that fine line between hero and out-of-control vigilante that is the crux of all superhero stories (apart from Superman, who is far too goody-two-shoes for my liking anyway). The Crow Lane estate is dominated by gangs, led by the shadowy figure of one Howard Ellman. Tom's alter-ego, iBoy, methodically works his way up the food chain, determined to reach the shady Hell Man – only half realising that he is risking losing sight of Tom Harvey all together, becoming only iBoy... part machine and therefore part inhuman. Tom's battle to keep sight of his humanity is as gripping as the mystery surrounding the perpetrators of Lucy's rape and had me read the entire book in almost one sitting. The issue of rape is incredibly sensitively handled. In one scene, Tom comes across a video of the assault taken by a mobile phone and his grief is palpable and distressing. Lucy is a particularly well-realised character and her composed and shut-in resignation when she tells Tom that she has been “ruined” is heartbreaking. Each chapter of the novel is headlined by a quote, including one from a British newspaper about gang rape – a blunt reminder that iBoy is not set in a fictional land, but in a very real London. The climax of the story line follows the classic rules of superhero storytelling and is all the better for it – sometimes a book works because you can see where its going, and iBoy is certainly falls into that category. There is a little twist towards the end that sent a genuine thrill of excitement and fear up my spine.

All in all iBoy is a more than welcome addition to the superhero cannon. There are definite parallels to Spiderman (which is knowingly referenced throughout) and a hint of Batman here or there but overall iBoy is something completely knew. The Crow Lane estate is a terrifying place - certainly an equal to Gotham or Metropolis in terms of fear, crime and inhumanity. We leave Tom perched overlooking Crow Town, nemesis missing presumed dead (and we all know what that means), contemplating his identity and his future because as a certain Stan Lee once said “with great power comes with great responsibility.” I hope we see more of him – I certainly felt that Kevin Brooks hadn't quite finished with him. However, if he has and this is the last we see of iBoy then it has been a pleasure to meet Tom Harvey – superhero for the iGeneration.

July 13, 2010

In Other News....

The lovely Lauren over at I Was A Teenage Book Geek runs a great feature every week called Time Travel Tuesday.  She very kindly asked me if I would do a guest post as part of said feature and it is up on her blog today...I chose to write it on a much loved book from my childhood (and, indeed, my adulthood) - The Snow Spider by Jenny Nimmo.
Check it out - but more importantly, check out Lauren's own posts as she is a truly awesome blogger whom everyone should be reading!