November 30, 2010

Baby, It's Cold Outside (Review of Frostbite; Richelle Mead)

Richelle Mead
Razorbill 2010 (this edition)

Frostbite is the second book in the Vampire Academy series and this review therefore contains spoilers for book one. You can read my review of the first title here. Go away and do that, read the book and then come back.

Frostbite starts with an useful prologue which basically provides a pretty thorough synopsis of what happened in Vampire Academy. Often when reading a series I find myself having to flick back to earlier installments to remind myself of relevant plot points. I'd love more prologues like this. In particular, the author quickly reminds us of the intricacies of the Vampire Academy world before jumping straight into the action in this, the second book of the series.

Plot wise, things pick up a notch with the book practically opening on the scene of a vicious and bloody Strigoi attack. This does two things: Firstly, it allows (admittedly through slightly contrived circumstances) the St. Vlad students to spend their winter break in a royal ski lodge along with most of the royal court. Secondly it throws the novice Dhampirs, and a few of the Moroi, into a tiz about taking the fight to the Strigoi – something that has always been completely vetoed when suggested. Rose's friend Mason is particularly desperate to prove himself against the Strigoi, but he is far from alone in this aim.

Rose herself is trying to relax in the knowledge that Lissa is getting help for her depression and that they have learnt a sufficient amount about elemental magic to prevent Lissa from doing herself further harm. However, through that ever handy psychic bond, Rose can sense that all is not entirely well with her best friend and this continues to niggle her. Rose has actually grown up a little in Frostbite. While still impulsive and snarky she has achieved a degree of self-control, mainly thanks to mentor Dimitri. Who she totally lusts after BTW. Their relationship is pretty complicated especially when you take into account the seven year age gap, which when considered alongside their student/mentor status is a tad dodgy. The pot is stirred further when Dimitri encounters a more age appropriate potential love interest.

Lissa spends the book pretty much wrapped up in her own love life. While love interest Christian continues to be an intriguing character, I started to go off Lissa a bit. She seems to take Rose for granted, expecting her to be around when desired but often deserting her in favour of Christian. Not cool, Lissa. Also, she seems a bit useless – floating through the book in a rather self-centred and ineffectual cloud. Hmmm. Perhaps she'll improve further down the road.

Mason plays a larger part in Frostbite. Yet despite his increased presence, he has largely been cast in the role of Plot Device although comes into his own (if briefly) during the gripping finale. There is also a new character in the delightful form of Adrian, a Moroi playboy who wafts in surrounded by a fug of smoke and booze fumes, merrily spouting gibberish. He is just my kind of crazy.

I enjoyed the setting and plot of Frostbite a lot. The ski lodge setting was very retro, reminding me notably of one of the Nancy Drew Files (different from the earlier Nancy Drew books because they all featured...whisper it...murder). This pleased me greatly. The change of setting was also a nice way of expanding the world away from St. Vlad's, giving readers an idea of the politics at work in the Moroi world. Mostly I was impressed by the dark tone of the story. For the first time, fearless Rose is faced with the reality of her profession and the author pulls no punches. Rose's reaction is at once believable and heart-wrenching. Great stuff!

Frostbite is available in shops now.  Thanks to Puffin for sending me this title to review.

November 29, 2010

Rarely Pure And Never Simple (Review: Entangled; C. Clarke)

Cat Clarke
Quercus 2010

At first glance, the plot of Entangled appears at first to be one kind of story before quietly changing into something completely different. When we meet protagonist Grace, she has been saved from killing herself by an attractively aloof stranger, Ethan. The thing is, Ethan seems to have saved her her. As kidnappings go it hasn't been too traumatic. He's provided her with a clean, white room, regular servings of her favourite food and some paper and pens on which to write. Ethan doesn't say much bar the odd mysterious utterance and so eventually, out of boredom, Grace begins to write down her recent memories which slowly thread together to become the story within the story of her kidnap.

Grace is something else. Not everyone is going to like her – I'm not entirely sure that I did. On one hand she's a young woman: funny, strong and devil-may-care but on the other she is a child floundering in a sea of grief and neglectful parenting, leaning hugely on her best friend and boyfriend who struggle to stop her from drowning. Of Grace's many issues, the most prevalent is her desire to self harm and as the story progresses she cuts deeper and deeper. I had a close friend who self-harmed and Grace's behaviour signaled to me a spiraling out of control that was all too familiar. I found it uncomfortable and upsetting to read. Equally, as with my friend, I found it utterly infuriating. Grace is intelligent and pretty, with her whole life in front of her but she cannot see past her present. I found myself getting angry and frustrated with her depression and denial, not to mention the self-absorption that so often comes with both. Grace is a very real character and, love her or loathe her, it is impossible not to feel her pain.

Sal, Nat and Ethan make up almost the rest of Entangled's small cast of characters. I liked Sal a lot. I could identify with her worry over Grace, with her fear and with her confusion over how to deal with the issue. At the same age as Grace, she has no idea how to help her friend but clearly cares greatly for her. Struggling to get over her own recent trauma, I understood why Sal might lash out at Grace and certainly why she might not want to tell her the details of the event. Towards the end of the book I could, again, understand how Sal ended up where she did. She's not perfect, despite what Grace may think, and finds herself clinging to the nearest life raft in Grace's storm.

Nat is a character who was less clear to me. While he seems perfectly nice, caring and thoughtful his motivations become muddier as the book progresses. However, he is nothing if not a realistic portrayal of a young man caught up in a difficult situation. Like Sal, he cares for Grace but is ill-equipped to really help her and flounders along in her wake slowly but surely making her situation more and more precarious. Ethan is a complete enigma and it's hard to talk too much about him without spoiling the over all story. The scenes in which he and Grace are together are some of the most powerful in the book and, as their situation becomes increasingly bizarre, also some of the most moving. Most importantly, Ethan allows Grace to view her situation (both past and present) objectively for perhaps the first time in her life.

Entangled, while gripping, is not a comfortable read. Grace's life is a train-wreck waiting to happen and while she cannot see it herself, readers will recognise instantly the inexorably slope towards disaster. This crashing inevitability is Entangled's main strength, the author using it to create a suffocating atmosphere of inescapable sadness. This title isn't always comfortable to read but it is an acute and searing account of a breakdown on many levels, be it familial, friendship or mental. It attacks familiar issues with an honesty and bluntness that is refreshing, frightening and certainly worth reading. More than anything Entangled is about seeing yourself as others see you and seeing them as they see themselves for often the most important truths are the ones we intentionally blind ourselves to. With this debut Cat Clarke has cemented herself as one to watch on the YA scene. Brilliant stuff.

Entangled is released on 6th January 2011. Thank you to Quercus for sending me this title to review.

November 26, 2010

Wild Rose (review: Vampire Academy; R. Mead)

Vampire Academy
Richelle Mead
Razorbill 2010 (this edition)

I have so much spare time, dontcha know? I have no essays to write, manuscripts to read or small child to look after. Oh, and my TBR pile is minimal. HA! Ha ha ha ha ha! If only this were true. It was therefore with some surprise that I found myself readily agreeing to read and review all six titles in the Vampire Academy series by the 7th of December. Why? Well, I've been burnt by a few vampire books recently and really wanted to find a vampire series that might reignite my enjoyment of the fanged ones. Well, Vampire Academy (along with the fantastic Drake Chronicles) has certainly piqued my interest again. This series is an altogether different look at the vampire world and – best of all – you no longer have to put up with the ghastly Jolie-alike covers as Puffin have repackaged the lot beautifully.

Rose and her best friend Lissa are a funny pair. Rose is a Dhampir (half-human/half vamp with zero blood lust but plenty of kick-ass skills), training to become a Guardian of the royal Lissa. Lissa is a Moroi, a mortal vampire who requires blood but doesn't kill. They've known each other forever, get on well despite their very different personalities share a psychic bond. Rounding out the world of Vampire Academy are the Strigoi, who closely resemble your standard nasty vamp being generally bloodthirsty (in all respects), reflection-less and with strong views on sunlight. When we first meet Rose and Lissa they are on the run from school – St. Vladimir's – but are swiftly found and deposited back at the Vampire Academy (see where the title comes from, there?).

Rose is great fun. Fiercely protective of Lissa, she seems completely fearless. She has been brought up to believe that her role in life is to protect the Moroi and will do anything to fulfill what she sees as her purpose in life. Dhampirs can only have children with Moroi due to some genetic quirk, the this willingness to protect the Moroi also protects the Dhampir race. However, Rose is not always dutiful and exhibits a great bad-girl side, flirting and partying her way around campus like a less annoying Faith from Buffy. Behind her brash exterior, though, is a genuinely caring and thoughtful girl who worries constantly about Lissa, the bond they share and Lissa's strange abilities – not to mention the other girl's fragile mental health. Lissa herself is an interesting character. Clearly As her stress and instability increase, she becomes deeply depressed and resorts to self-harm. Such issues are common fodder for contemporary YA but unusual in paranormal titles so it was refreshing to see them handled in such a subtle and delicate manner in Vampire Academy.

Boy/Men wise there are some great characters. Dimitri, clearly the Guardian to whom Rose's heart is destined to belong is just lovely. Handsome, thoughtful, caring. My only issue with Dimitri is his sartorial ineptitude. Someone needs to tell him (and several YA authors) that pony tails are NOT sexy and long leather dusters are so 1997, dahling. The only person left in the Vampverse who can carry one off is Spike, and even he only just manages. Er...where was I...oh yeah...boys. Filling the role of hot-boy-with-troubled-past-and-snarky-humour is Christian, a disgraced Moroi with a lot to prove. Finally there's Mason, a Dhampir who provides some light relief and comes as close to a boy-next-door as this world can offer.

While unable to talk about villains without giving too much away, the author clearly has a ball writing Mia in all her fabulous, miniscule bitchiness. The queen of the Moroi is also notable for her cold, succinct cruelty and dismissiveness. The plot itself is well paced and gripping, although it is worth mentioning that this book is concerned mainly with setting the scene for subsequent installments. All this world building doesn't detract from the story, however, and I found myself completely absorbed in Rose and Lissa's lives. I'm delighted to have found a vampire series that I can finally get my teeth into. Every pun intended.

Vampire Academy is available in bookshops now.  Thanks to Puffin for sending me this copy to review.

November 21, 2010

2011 Debut Author Challenge

One of the things that I've enjoyed most since starting blogging  has been taking part in the 2010 Debut Author Challenge, hosted by Kristi over at The Story Siren so I was delighted when Kristi announced the 2011 Debut Author Challenge this week. I will certainly be taking part and have listed below some of the debut titles that I plan on reading over the course of next year. As with 2010 I may change this list, will almost definitely add to it and hope to read some real gems during the whole process.  

Thanks to the 2010 challenge I discovered some great authors and also some of my top reads of the year - The Sky Is Everywhere and Shade deserving of special mention here.  The rules of the challenge are simple (and listed here) and I can't stress enough how rewarding it is to take part, supporting and promoting new writers as they step onto the YA stage.  Sign up and start reading - you won't regret it!

My provisional list for the 2011 Debut Author Challenge is as follows:

Across The Universe - Beth Revis
The Water Wars - Cameron Stracher
The Iron Witch - Karen Mahoney
Wither - Lauren DeStefano
Blood Magic - Tessa Gratton
Divergent - Veronica Roth
The Revenant - Sonia Gensler
Falling Under - Gwen Hayes
XVI - Julia Karr
Starcrossed - Josephine Angelini
A Beautiful Dark - Jocelyn Davies
Awaken - Katie Kacvinsky
Those That Wake - Jesse Karp
Unearthly - Cynthia Hand
Wereworld: Rise of The Wolf - Curtis Jobling

The Con Is On (Review: White Cat; Holly Black)

White Cat
Holly Black
Gollancz 2010

Cassel comes from a family of curse workers -- people who have the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, by the slightest touch of their hands. And since curse work is illegal, they're all mobsters, or con artists. Except for Cassel. He hasn't got the magic touch, so he's an outsider, the straight kid in a crooked family. You just have to ignore one small detail -- he killed his best friend, Lila, three years ago. Ever since, Cassel has carefully built up a façade of normalcy, blending into the crowd. But his façade starts crumbling when he starts sleepwalking, propelled into the night by terrifying dreams about a white cat that wants to tell him something. He's noticing other disturbing things, too, including the strange behaviour of his two brothers. They are keeping secrets from him, caught up in a mysterious plot. As Cassel begins to suspect he's part of a huge con game, he also wonders what really happened to Lila. Could she still be alive? To find that out, Cassel will have to out-con the conmen. (Blurb courtesy of Goodreads)
I've had this title on audio book for a while, but realised I was never going to get round to listening to it. I was lucky enough to acquire a copy of the book and am kind of mad at myself for waiting so long to read it. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I think it's fair to say that my expectations weren't high. I had read Holly Black's Ironside series and found it enjoyable, but fairly bland – with Valiant being the only title that I thought showed real promise. However, in White Cat, Holly's writing has moved to a whole new level. Mainly due to her creation of a genuinely believable main character, Cassel.

Cassel Sharpe has one of the most authentic voices that I have come across in recent YA fiction. From page one, he is completely unlike any other protagonist that I've read – which says a lot in a genre often populated with fairly generic male characters. He is wrapped in self-loathing due not only to the fact that he killed his best friend but also because of guilt at the ease with which he is able to con people – because Cassel is, above all, a grifter. He seems unable to resist seeing those around him as prospective marks and is clearly gifted at planning and carrying out a con. While he loves the thrill of the game, he hates that he enjoys it so much. Similarly, while he loathes himself for commiting murder, he is conflicted in his guilt as he cannot remember anything about the act itself. Cassel could so easily have come across as a bit woe-is-me-stuck-in-this-family-of-crime but he never does. Instead he watches, listens and starts to piece his past and present together. He's clearly smart and clearly hot so is clearly my favourite kind of man. If he played the piano he'd be just about perfect. I could go further into the intricacies of his character but I don't want to ruin it for you other than to say that he completely inhabits himself from the off – his voice so believable that you could easily be sitting opposite him in a diner, hearing his story direct from the horses mouth. Although his story might make you move slightly further away.

The plot rattles along quickly yet carefully. There is a lot of world building to be done and Black skilfully weaves it into the main storyline – never leaving the reader confused. I really like the idea of a ban on magic creating a network of organised crime and sinister gangsters much as prohibition created men like Al Capone. All the family members that we come across (both the Sharpe family and bigwigs the Zarcharovs) are painted in shades of grey. Cassel's brothers are, while sometimes verging on brutish, pretty interesting with Philip particularly conflicted in his actions and motivations. Worthy of note is Granddad Desi, who despite having possibly the most sinister magical ability comes across as the most thoughtful and caring character of the lot. The white cat of the title is also full of character but you'll need to read more about her for yourself.

I'm delighted that this is part of a series. I can only imagine Cassel's world becoming more interesting, more dangerous thus creating more conflict for Cassel himself. His mother is a character that I certainly hope to see more of – I'm pretty sure that, in her own way, she could easily become the most dangerous of the lot of them. Whether you read and enjoyed Holly's fairy books or read them and were underwhelmed, put them to the back of your mind when you pick up White Cat as it is altogether a darker, more adult read. From the skilled characterisation to the glorious terminology of the con and the brilliantly nuanced plot, Holly Black has truly come of age and I will definitely be picking up anything she writes in the future.

IMM (#26)

In My Mailbox is a meme created and hosted by Kristi over at The Story Siren with inspiration from Alea at Pop Culture JunkieAll book titles link to further info at Goodreads. All books in this IMM post have been received for review/bought/gifted/loaned/UK Book Toured/acquired through nefarious means.

The Last Sacrifice
Richelle Mead
Puffin 2010
This is under international embargo until 7th December so I can't actually say anything about it. I had to sign the Official Secrets Act. Or something. Reviews of the entire Vampire Academy will be posted here on the run up to the release date, though - just to whet yer appetite.

Personal Demons
Lisa Desrochers
Pan Books 2010
This looks like so much fun and I've yet to read a review that contradicts this. Really looking forward to getting stuck in and as it came via UK Book Tours I have every excuse to move it to the top of my TBR pile.

And that's it!  Despite being in an actual book shop yesterday, I didn't buy anything as I am committed to clearing my huge to read pile by Christmas. Maybe...  Happy reading, all.

November 15, 2010

All About Evie (review: Paranormalcy; K. White)

Kiersten White
Harper Teen 2010
Weird as it is working for the International Paranormal Containment Agency, Evie's always thought of herself as normal. Sure, her best friend is a mermaid, her ex-boyfriend is a faerie, she’s falling for a shape-shifter, and she’s the only person who can see through paranormals' glamours, but still. Normal. Only now paranormals are dying, and Evie's dreams are filled with haunting voices and mysterious prophecies. She soon realizes that there may be a link between her abilities and the sudden rash of deaths. Not only that, but she may very well be at the center of a dark faerie prophecy promising destruction to all paranormal creatures. 
(blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

Every review I've read for Paranormalcy has used words like “refreshing” and “original” and while I'd love to say something entirely new, inspired and clever, all those reviewers kind of nailed it. Paranormalcy is like some weird hybrid of Men in Black and Buffy with a touch of Artemis Fowl thrown in for good measure (think the fairy police plaza and the LEP). It is certainly original and more than a little refreshing, its memorable characters standing out from the sullen-yet-sexy vampires, toothy-yet-tortured werewolves and more friendly-than-fearsome Fae that so often stalk the halls of the paranormal genre.

There is no other way to describe protagonist Evie than just Kick. Ass. In her work with the International Paranormal Containment Agency (IPCA) she's seen just about everything and has a fantastically laissez-faire attitude to her job, which on any given day can mean posing as bait for vampires or tracking down rogue werewolves. She seems to fly through her life with a sunny attitude, a good deal of guts and her faithful tazer (which is pink and has its own name). Yet she also has a lonely air about her. Never having attended high school, she spends a lot of time watching a teen soap opera (blatantly and hilariously a mix of Gossip Girl and One Tree Hill) and trying to imagine life in the normal world. It makes her a very sympathetic character and one who is easy to like. Her actions throughout the course of the book made complete sense to me, despite them being often impulsive – she's just a teenage girl trying to get by in her own bumbling way. With the help of some fabulous boots, natch.

Love interest Lend was also very likable. To be honest, I wasn't sure that I was going to be able to connect with him at first as he has no discernible appearance of his own and can adopt whatever face he fancies, whenever he fancies it (including Evie's herself). It is testament to the writing that he is, despite this, a very well defined character whose relationship with Evie is both sweet and believable. For once, there is no massively rushed romance, no instant declarations of love – it all feels a lot more like a realistic teen romance. Lend is definitely a cutie; he even watches her crappy TV show and understands her attachment to Tasey (that's the tazer – I wasn't joking about the name).

As far as villains go I'm not going to say much as it would completely ruin the story for those of you who haven't read it. However, I was incredibly impressed with the author's portrayal of faeries. Faeries are often described as confusing, conniving, manipulative and skilled at lying yet they are almost always written with a distinct lack of subtlety, coming across as entirely bad or entirely good. Too many times have I seen faeries clumsily (or otherwise) re-imagined to suit an author's story. Not in Paranormalcy – here the fairies are completely and utterly inscrutable! And it's fabulous! Often I had no idea what they were going on about, they made little sense to anyone in the story other than themselves and their motivations were always completely unclear. Exactly as they should be! Woo hoo for completely obtuse faeries! It made Evie's ex Reth particularly awesome and also pretty frightening. I really had no idea what he was trying to do to Evie and despite her demanding repeatedly to be told he persists in answering her in riddles, half-truths and nonsense – seemingly for his own amusement. I loved it and would like to see Faeries portrayed like this more often.

So yes, all those other reviewers were right about the whole refreshing and original thing. With a strong premise and exciting plot (which I can't elaborate on without spoilers), Kiersten White is onto a winner with this series. Paranormalcy is not only refreshing and original, it is fun, pacy and really doesn't take itself too seriously, managing to tell a pretty exciting story while never losing sight of it's heart. Certainly Kiersten White is a fresh new face on the paranormal block and you should most certainly give her fantastic debut a shot.

November 14, 2010

IMM (#25)

In My Mailbox is a meme created and hosted by Kristi over at The Story Siren with inspiration from Alea at Pop Culture JunkieAll book titles link to further info at Goodreads. All books in this IMM post have been received for review/bought/gifted/loaned/UK Book Toured/acquired through nefarious means.

Stephenie Meyer
Atom 2010 (this edition)
This was a really rather lovely surprise the other morning - not Twilight, per se, but the gorgeous, new, white cover with it's rubbery red back cover (ooh, er, missus etc). Big thanks to Veronique at Colman Getty for this treat. And curses on her head for leaving me desperately wanting the rest of the series in white too.

Paul Hoffman
Puffin 2011
This was originally released for the adult market in January of this year but is now getting a young adult release in January. I haven't read any fantasy for a while and the premise of this book looks both thrilling, original and sinister.  Looking forward to getting stuck in to something a little different.

Curtis Jobling
Puffin 2011
I've read a few werewolf books recently and quite enjoyed them so was happy to receive this title for review. I like the idea of a werewolf fantasy book (stop laughing, you know what I mean) and it sounds like it has an interesting plot. However, I will not be reading it outside the house, no way no how - have you seen that cover?? Ick on a stick.

Heather Brewer
Dutton Children's Books 2007
Recently I've been having a distinct lack of fun and wanted something light to escape into. I'd recently read the Percy Jackson books and the tone of Vlad Tod seemed similar. I have no idea if this will be any good, but at least it appears fairly harmless. And I really, really love the cover.

Lish McBride
Henry Holt and Co. 2010
I have wanted this book for months and months and months. Seriously, I first heard just the title way back at the beginning of the year and knew instantly that this was one I must it. It is the best title possibly ever. Currently I am working my way through the entire Vampire Academy series (which I agreed to do in a very short period of time, due to a moment of complete insanity) and have not been able to start this yet. However, it's been moved to the top of my TBR pile and occasionally I go over and stroke it. Mainly because cover boy is HOT.

Anna Godberson
Puffin 2011
I read The Luxe by Anna Godberson earlier in the year and didn't review it. I liked it, but didn't have anything particularly profound to say about it - it just didn't do much for me. However, Bright Young Things is set in the 1920's, a period that I greatly enjoy reading about so I'm looking forward to escaping into this one soon.

Rebecca Maizel
St. Martin's Griffin 2010
I was lucky enough to win this from Liz over at My Favourite Books. I love the beautiful cover, like the premise and it's up their with Hold Me Closer, Necromancer skipping ahead in the TBR queue. 
Jenny Downham
Definitions 2008
This was sent to me as a surprise gift from the lovely Andrew from The Emancipation of The Pewter Wolf. I haven't heard much about it but have had it on my wish list for quite a while so was delighted to receive a copy. It looks like the kind of book that you can curl up with for a good sob. Which is a good thing.

That's me for the last two weeks. I've got such a lot to read that I'm trying not to take on masses more - particularly until after I've finished and reviewed all the Vampire Academy books (four down, two to go!)...
Happy reading x

A Winner Has Won, Again!

We have a winner for the signed copy of Raised By Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes:

Precious from over at Fragments of Life

Well done, Precious!  An email will be winging it's way to you shortly.

Thanks again to Quercus for facilitating this give away.

November 12, 2010

Truly, Madly, Deeply...Quickly (or Friday, I'm In Love)

This post contains some spoilers for This World We Live In (Susan Beth Peffer), Sea (Heidi Kling), Hush, Hush (Becca Fitzpatrick), Twilight (Stephenie Meyer), and Perfect Chemistry (Simone Elkeles).

Firstly, let me state that I am not anti-love. I enjoy a good romance. The really swoony ones creep into my shriveled up prune of a heart and make me feel all warm, giddy and generally good about the world. However, those are the ones that I really believe in – the ones that have grown over the course of a story, whose players I have gotten to know and care about and the ones that are, above all, believable.

Those are not the ones I am going to talk about here.

Nope, I am talking about the love affairs that appear out of the blue. You know the ones I mean – the characters talk a handful of times and then love each other FOREVER often dancing to the tune of the Hate, Hate, LOVE! waltz. I don't buy it. I know that teenagers feel things strongly - once upon a time I actually was one. I was even one that fell hopelessly in love. But do you know what? I KNEW the guy, I LIKED the guy and the guy was really pretty NICE to me. We also had, like, conversations (perhaps...gasp...more than two) before I pledged my delicate fifteen year old heart to his care.

So, who are the perpetrators of these do-not-press-pause-fast-forward-to-love affairs? Here are a few examples:

Miranda and Alex from This World We Live In.
Ah, post-apocalyptic love – what could be more romantic? Er, lots of things if you ask me. As the third in a pretty interesting series, I expected a lot from this title. Book one had covered life after Moon-Fail from Miranda's point of view, book two from Alex's. Both worthy protagonists they were then skilllessly mashed together in the final book in the trilogy. So...they speak very little, have no shared interests and actually seem to take an active dislike to each other - they are have nothing in common apart from the fact that they both trying to survive in the same shitty world. Then, roughly half way through the book, they spend about two hours alone together and TA DA! Cupid shoots his arrow via a pile of tinned food and they are, you've guessed it, in LOVE. They want to get MARRIED. She wants to have his BABIES. No, I didn't buy it either.

Sienna and Denny from Sea
Nothing like love in Tsunami ridden Indonesia it would seem. Certainly not for Sienna who within, oh, twenty minutes of arriving at the orphanage she is there to volunteer for appears to fall head over heels for a guy that she's NEVER EVEN SPOKEN TOO. It's OK though, because he feels the same way. Of course he does. One motorcycle ride to a pretty temple later and they're planning to jump ship to happy-ever-after land. It's actually a pretty good story, with some lovely writing but I'm not buying Sea and Denny. Nope, no way. Especially not when she's got Spider back at home.

Patch and Nora from Hush, Hush
There is a good reason that I have never reviewed Hush, Hush and it is, to be frank, that I can barely withhold my bile. Patch is creepy, he is probably dangerous, he definitely exhibits stalker like tendencies and has real issues with personal space, creeping in and out of Nora's brain like some nasty virus. Nora is not a stupid girl – she realises that this is not right, that she should get some advice or help. Poor Nora. She is surrounded by idiots who tell her how foolish she is – Patch is a perfectly lovely boy who just needs help with his French homework. Or something. Silly Nora – now she can see the truth... she's actually in LOVE. Yep. That's how it's always happened for me, too.

Alex and Brittany from Perfect Chemistry
These two almost didn't make it in here but then I realised that just because something is predictable it doesn't make it right. These two DO NOT LIKE EACH OTHER. In fact, they actively despise each other. Then they do some schoolwork together and BANG, she wants to make LOVE because she LOVES him. Pish posh is what I say. The quality of the writing here is lovely, the love story less so. They have perhaps one conversation where they see different sides of each other which I can see might lead to a tentative friendship but no, it leads to LOVE. And don't even get me started on the bloody epilogue.

Edward and Bella from Twilight
You didn't really think I was going to miss them out, did you? These two take the biscuit and I actively blame them for the whole sorry lot. In case you've forgotten: Bella meets Edward, he's a dick, they don't speak. Shortly afterwards he saves her from certain death, he's a dick but they speak a little. Soon after that, he saves her from some nasty men, admits her was stalking her and can read her mind so is (arguably) less of a dick but certainly more of a creep. A short time later she finds out that he's a dick, a creep and a vampire. Minutes later BANG! They're in LOVE! The End.

You see my point? Do any of these sound like healthy relationships to you? Or even vaguely realistic (even taking out the paranormal aspects of some)? Nope? Me neither. There are plenty of books out there who handle things better than this lot. Believable recent couples (or those with the potential to be so) include Sam and Astrid from Gone (Michael Grant), Lennie and Joe from The Sky Is Everywhere (Jandy Nelson), Taylor and Jonah from Jellicoe Road (Melina Marchetta) and even Bella and Jacob from the Twilight Saga not forgetting Harry and Ginny from Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling). All of these couples have highs and lows, protracted friendships, flirting, romance and even break-ups. They might not all stay together, but they sure as hell have a better shot at the happy-ever-after than those who declare their love after three seconds and a whole lot of stalking/arguing/ apocalypsing/general weirdness And how about that forever? All the couples I've listed as attending the truly, madly, deeply, quickly school of love would appear to have the forever kind... but can that ever be the case for relationships started in such haste? That, my friends is a questions for another time and another blogger. Me, I'm off to get swept away by a romances that I can relate to, that teens can aspire to and that really do stand a chance of living Happily Ever After.

As luck would have it, Andrew over at The Emancipation of The Pewter Wolf has decided to tackle the thorny subject of Happily-Ever-After. Head over to his blog to read more (and while you're there be sure to check out the rest of his many and varied postings).

November 09, 2010

Christmas Time is (nearly) Here, By Golly

While trawling through my neglected Google reader today, I was delighted to come across a post concerning the Book Blogger Holiday Swap. I instantly assumed that it would be US only, but NO! It's international, so we can all take part.

The idea is basically that of a huge, international Secret Santa. If you sign up, you will be assigned a blogger who you can then send a small Christmas package to.  This could be a book or it could be something completely different.  The idea is not to spend a lot of money but to brighten someone's day in the run up to the festive season.  And while it is international, you can ask to only send within your own country so the cost really can be minimal.

You can read more about it here and there is also an extensive FAQ section.

It's one of the nicest ideas that I have come across since blogging. I understand that last year there were some issues with people not receiving gifts but really, who gives to receive?  Personally, I'm looking forward to putting together a small yet magical package for someone I don't know with the express purpose of putting a smile on their face. That, to me, is exactly what Christmas is all about.

Ho! Ho! Ho!  

The Opiate Of The People (Review: Angel; LA Weatherly)

LA Weatherly
Usborne 2010

In a world where angels are beyond redemption, Alex thinks he's found one that might deserve mercy. Alex is a ruthless assassin - of angels. Forget everything you've heard about them before. Angels are not benign celestial creatures, but fierce stalkers whose irresistible force allows them to feed off humans, draining them of their vitality until there is barely anything left. As far as Alex is concerned, the only good angel is a dead angel...until he meets Willow. She may look like a normal teenager but Willow is no ordinary girl. Half-angel, half-human, Willow may hold the key to defeating the evil angels. But as the hunter and the hunted embark on an epic and dangerous journey and Willow learns the dark and terrifying secrets of her past, Alex finds himself drawn to Willow...with devastating consequences (blurb courtesy of Goodreads).

I started this title full of curiosity but also with some trepidation. Angels are all over the place at the moment, are they not? Fallen angels, nephilim, those with angel blood or DNA etc etc. I was concerned that I was heading for an angel overdose. But NO! L.A. Weatherly has absolutely turned the angel genre (if there is such a thing) on its head and the result could not be more refreshing.

Angel has two main protagonists, Willow and Alex. The point of view segues between the two with Willow speaking in the first person and Alex's sections being narrated in the third person. I would have expected this jump between tenses to have felt clunky yet it actually works really well and is a little different to what I have seen before. Both characters are extremely likable, which is just as well as they carry the story almost single-handedly from start to finish. Willow starts of as the weird girl at school, able to fix cars and give psychic readings and quite happy not to hide these aspects of herself. What I particularly liked was her complete ease with her own personality – she is quietly self-confident and happy with who she is. At first I was concerned that she was possibly going to be written as an uber-tough chick (whom I can rarely relate to) but as the story progresses she shows a charming, yet never overplayed, vulnerability. Her character development is excellent and the end of the book leaves her character in a very believable place. 

Alex is, of course, pretty swoony and at first would appear to be a typical loner-with-an-edge. I spent a lot of the book hoping that there might be some sort of crossover book deal where he could swoop into Hush, Hush and sort out bloody Patch whom I do not find at all swoony, or even at all nice...but I digress... Slowly Alex's back story begins to emerge and his walls start to come down. I liked his desire to protect Willow without suffocating her or ever becoming condescending – they make a good pair. The progression of their relationship is also fairly believable. While, as often seen in YA fiction, their relationship progresses quickly it is not altogether smooth and is written with care.

There aren't many secondary characters, but those that there are hold up pretty well, with Raziel and The Church of Angels being extremely sinister and often downright frightening. There are a few sections from the point of view of both Raziel and his right hand man, Jonah and they provide valuable insight into what is going on and particularly to the Angels nefarious motivations... 

And what angels they are! L.A. Weatherly has created a completely new angel mythology. Instead of the angels being either all good, good/fallen or bad/fallen she has made them pretty much entirely evil. Cleverly, she seems to have riffed on apocryphal angel sightings and taken the feelings of peace and tranquility people report (often prior to times of stress of illness) and turned their meaning around. There is no mention of religion, heaven, God or Lucifer and while the angels are beautiful, with wings and halos there is no suggestion that they are any relation to biblical seraphs – merely that they have come, from somewhere else, to Earth.

All in all, Angel is certainly a title worth reading. The plot is gripping, to the point where I couldn't turn the pages quickly enough towards the end, the leads likable and the mythology exciting and original. I'm really pleased that this is part of a series - I will certainly be buying its successors as soon as they are available on the shelves.

Angel was released on October 1st 2010 – thanks to UK Book Tours for arranging this review copy.

This review can also be found at BookBitz, along many others by a variety of reviewers - check them out!

November 01, 2010

150 Follower Give Away (international)

I am super happy and super surprised to now have 150+ followers - it makes me feel all warm and squishy. To celebrate all you lovelies (and the many others who subscribe via feedreaders and email), I am giving away a copy of the phenomenal Matched. You can find my review of Matched here. It is safe to say that it is one of my stand-out reads of 2010.

To enter, all you need to do is comment on this post sharing what your favourite poem is and why (making sure that I know how to contact you if you win).  The giveaway is international and will run until 1st December 2010

A HUGE thank you to all of you that follow and comment on this blog - you're ALL fabulous. When I first started blogging I was pretty sure that my only reader would be my mum...thanks for proving me wrong x

I Sang In My Chains Like The Sea (Review: Matched; Ally Condie)

Ally Condie
Razorbill 2010

In the Society, Officials decide. Who you love. Where you work. When you die. Cassia has always trusted their choices. It’s barely any price to pay for a long life, the perfect job, the ideal mate. So when her best friend appears on the Matching screen, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is the one... until she sees another face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. Now Cassia is faced with impossible choices: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path no one else has ever dared follow—between perfection and passion.(blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

I was lucky enough to read Matched several months ago, but totally unable to review it at the time. I really had no idea how to write about it and decided to mull it over. After months of mulling, I'm still unsure if I can do it justice here, suffice to say that it more than lives up to the phenomenal buzz that has risen up around it.

The premise of Matched is admirable in its simplicity. In a society where all are Matched with their perfect mate, Cassia's match seems to have gone slightly wrong with two faces appearing (albeit one only briefly) where there should only be one. Cassia as a character is entirely believable. From her fluttery excitement at her Matching banquet, to her tentative pleasure on learning that best friend Xander is her match, my feelings towards her were ones of warmth and empathy. Initially, Cassia is accepting of the Society that controls her world even while not always entirely at ease (illustrated beautifully in the scenes concerning her grandfather). After the confusion with her Match, she starts to question the way that her life is run and begins to rail against the Society, without entirely understanding what she is railing against, she merely follows an instinct that life could be different. Cassia is intelligent in a very logical way and this combined with her powerful intuition that all is not right leads to a confusion that is compelling to read.

Cassia is aided in no small measure by the two conflicting boys in her life. As her best friend, Xander is an interesting character. He so easily could have been relegated to the side-lines, merely watching as she struggles between her Match with him and a freedom that she can only just sense. However, he is a multi-faceted character and often acted in a way that surprised me. While there is no doubt that he cares for Cassia very much, I was never entirely sure of his motivation and this made him increasingly fascinating.

Ky, on the other hand, is easier to read. Troubled by a mysterious, yet obviously traumatic past he is a gentle character, used to blending into the background. Deeply principled and with a strong awareness of what is right and wrong, he could have been written as an all out rebel and Angry Young Man, yet he's not. Ky is a quiet boy, fighting his own quiet fight and in his own quiet way sticking it to The Man. The images of him writing with a stick in the dirt have returned again and again to my mind – a fine example of never giving up on what you believe to be right. The friendship that grows between him and Cassia is one of hushed words, shared in briefly snatched and muted moments. It is also, at times, achingly romantic.

The Society in which all three characters live has clearly been born of a world perhaps not that different to our own, riddled with death, famine, disease and hopelessness. While the Society has managed to eradicate all of these, they have taken it a step further, controlling citizens in order to never risk a return to a lesser society and the challenges that come with it. In doing so, they have also eradicated much of what is vital to our humanity with emotions, relationships and creativity severely restricted. It is a dystopian vision that rivals those presented in 1984 and Brave New World and it is entirely chilling.

While all of the above is impressive Matched, more than anything else, is a paean to words. Running throughout the book is the poetry of Dylan Thomas, my all time favourite poet and certainly the one who taught me how transportive the power of words can be. To place classic poetry such as Thomas's in a book is brave, to use it as an integral part of the plot is genius and to have the writing skill to blend it seamlessly together with your own words speaks of a prodigious talent. Condie's book is a contradiction, her plot at once intricate and simple, her writing sparse yet intimate – it should all be terribly incongruous but instead is a work of understated mastery. As the first in a series it leaves plenty of questions unanswered and the ending is left hauntingly open for the next installment. I have no doubt that Ally Condie's series will continue to stand head and shoulders above others in its field. I urge you to read it as soon as you can. Absolutely excellent.

Matched is out on 2nd December in the UK and 30th November in the US. Thank you to Puffin for sending me a copy of this book to review.