December 31, 2010

Atropina Belladonna (Review: Nightshade; A. Cremer)

Andrea Cremer
Atom 2010

This was a book that I thought might be a tad on the predictable side. Werewolves? Pack mentality? Love triangle? I've seen it all before. And then some. However, Nightshade turned out to be a much darker, more thrilling, more original tale than I would have ever thought possible.

Set on a remote mountains somewhere in north America the book follows the exploits of Calla, a female Alpha wolf, living with her pack and their masters. I'd call her a werewolf but there's all sorts of crazy magic stuff going on so I suspect she's more like a shapeshifter – either way, she has the ability to get her wolf on whenever necessary. Her community comprises of two wolf packs but this is all about to change as Calla and alpha male Ren were literally born to be together – conceived solely to create a new pack that will combine the genetic strengths of both the Nightshades and the Banes. Yep, on turning eighteen they are expected to shack up and make babies as well as combining their own small packs into one large, happy family. The wolves themselves exist as Guardians to an ancient race of witches known as the Keepers who they serve unquestionably while guarding them from a mysterious band known only as the Searchers. Add into the mix Shay, a mysterious and also rather clueless human boy who seems of great importance to the Keepers and you have the start of an extremely interesting story.

As lead protagonist, Calla is pretty great. She's obviously tough, with the whole alpha female thing going on and illustrates all the qualities of a great leader yet at the same time is very aware of her position in the community. While she has a degree of power she is quickly realizing that she will have to submit to the will of her Alpha male, Ren, as well as to the demands of the Keepers. She's never questioned her life or position before but now finds herself starting to wonder if her much touted destiny with Ren is really her only option. She spends much of the book rocketing between Shay and Ren, each of whom represents one possible future and her struggle is believable and touching. I liked her relationship with her pack and the author skillfully walks a fine line between leadership, family and friendship in Calla's interactions with them.

Ren and Shay are interesting in the fact that they are polar opposites of each other. Shay with his ceaseless curiosity and inability to accept anything at face value is a lovely character, persistently chipping away at Calla's belief system and allowing her to see her community for what it really is. As an inherent part of that community, Ren at first seems to represent all that is bad about Calla's situation. However, as the book progresses it becomes clear that just because he tows the company line doesn't mean that he is unaware of the troubles that surround them. He is just as bound by the Keepers and his family as Calla is, he just lacks the impetus to truly fight against them. The other pack members are not only interesting, but a lot of fun. I particularly liked Mason and Neville, while Ansel and Calla's sibling relationship is truly heartwarming.

The plot itself is fantastic. There is, out of necessity, a lot of world building. Cremer has created a complex and intricate mythology that I've never come across before and spends a fair amount of time looking closely at the relationship between the Keepers and the Guardians. And what a relationship it is. The Guardians are essentially slaves to the whims of their masters, kept in place by the security, homes and livelihood that the Keepers dangle over their head and by the threat of the terrifying wraith like beings that the Keepers also employ. Each wolf pack has a Keeper who is responsible for them and it quickly becomes clear that the Keepers use the pack members as their personal playthings – expecting them to serve them in all ways. This abusive relationship (on both a mental, physical and sexual level) is hugely unsettling and disturbing to read about. However, it also lifts Nightshade to a level above a lot of paranormal YA, introducing deeper issues than usually seen in this genre. On this foundation, Cremer then introduces the plot line that will clearly run throughout the series and which involves Shay, Calla and Ren more directly. Nightshade ends on a cliffhanger so I have no idea where this story line will go but I am most certainly keen to find out.

Nightshade is Andrea Cremer's debut novel yet reads like that of a seasoned author. Her storyline is gripping, her characterisation brilliant and her heroine refreshing and original. Without doubt, she is an author to watch in the future particularly if she maintains the courage shown in introducing genuinely troubling aspects to the paranormal genre – a genre that often plays it safe, despite the frightening worlds it  often portrays. Absolutely excellent stuff – pick up a copy as soon as you can.

Nightshade is published by Atom Books in the UK and is available on bookshelves from 28th December. Thanks to Andrew at The Emancipation of The Pewter Wolf for entrusting me with his shiny ARC of this title – it's winging its way back to you good as new.

December 30, 2010

Death Is One Moment (Review: The Deathday Letter; Shaun Hutchinson

The Deathday Letter
Shaun Hutchinson
Simon Pulse 2010

I added this to my wish list earlier in the year when I was picking books for my 2010 Debut Author Challenge list. I thought that it had an interesting premise and the cover made me both laugh and shiver. It's taken me ages to getting round to reading it and I went in with next to no idea of how it had been received as I'd seen no reviews. The premise is absolutely simple with our main character Ollie receiving a letter informing him that he will be dead in roughly 24 hours. This is the norm in the world that he lives in and The Deathday Letter follows his erratic, hilarious and touching progress through the last day of his life.

Protagonist, Ollie is exceptionally believable. In fact, I cannot think of a male protagonist who reminded me quite so much of the boys that I actually knew at fifteen. From his obsession with girls (obsession with sex, really) and his inability to express himself to his ability to see a double entendre in just about everything, he could have been one of any number of male friends that I had in high school. And he is entirely loveable for it. Both he and his best friend Shane beautifully represent that stage where teenage boys are kind of like overgrown puppies. Full of energy, constantly hungry and pretty keen to please yet with absolutely no focus or direction. It made absolute sense to me that, when confronted with his imminent demise, Ollie initially just heads of to school. He's never planned for his death and doesn't have a clue what to do now it's approaching. He spends the day doing what many adults might find frivolous (not me, incidentally, I thought it all sounded like jolly good fun and perfectly reasonable) but what I honestly believe most teenage boys would consider ideal pursuits if they were shortly to cark it. Ollie's relationship with Ronnie, his close-friend-turned-girlfriend-turned-ex-girlfriend is equally recognisable. Having made the difficult transition from friends to more they seem to have floundered with Ronnie expecting more of one thing and Ollie expecting more of another (yes, that would be sex again – he thinks about it a LOT). It's fascinating, not to mention touching, to watch them try to figure all this stuff out in just one day when really they should have had several years to realise what makes the opposite sex tick.

While the plot is light – think Ferris Bueller's Day Off with a less chirpy ending – the premise is strong. In Ollie's world, everyone has always received a Deathday letter (including Abraham Lincoln). It's inevitable and unavoidable and it throws up some interesting questions. Is it better to know that you're going to die and have 24 hours in which you can do as you please, be it sit with loved ones, sort out your affairs or get mind-blowingly drunk? Or is it better to not know – to just enjoy one last normal day, unafraid of your forthcoming shuffle off the mortal coil? Ollie wonders these things – not extensively, but enough that you find your self pondering the issues raised. On the whole, I think I'd prefer not to know but each to their own.

The writing is really quite lovely. Sometimes reminiscent of John Green (Shane is most certainly a JG worthy side-kick), Shaun Hutchinson non-the-less shines as a fresh, new voice on the YA scene. At times exceptionally funny, I also was moved to tears by The Deathday Letter and by the end was a jibbering wreck. And that's not a spoiler – the author goes out of his way to ensure that from the first line we know that Ollie is not going to make it. But that's ok because, as he also states, the book isn't about him dying but about him living. Ollie may seize his “mortediem” but to my mind The Deathday Letter is all about the rest of us carpe-ing the rest of our normal diems. Who knows what one might be your last? All in all, a greatly enjoyable read and an impressive debut.

The Deathday Letter is available in book shops now.

December 29, 2010

Wereworld Blog Tour

At the beginning of January I will be one of the (many) posts on what is shaping up to be an excellent blog tour promoting the also excellent Wereworld: Rise of The Wolf.  I am delighted that author Curtis Jobling will be writing a guest post for my spot on the tour and will also post my own review and run the trailer.

Other spots on the tour are: 

26th December - I Was A Teenage Book Geek 
27th December - Madhouse Madhouse Family Reviews 
28th December - Writing from the Tub 
29th December - Fluttering Butterflies 
30th December - Daisy Chain Book Reviews 
31st December - The Overflowing Library 
1st January   - Funky Book Stop 
2nd January   - Wondrous Reads 
3rd January   - Nayu’s Reading Corner 
4th January   - The Slowest Bookworm 
5th January   - Mountains of Instead 
6th January   - So Many Books, So Little Time 
7th January   - Books of Amber 
8th January   - Portrait of a Woman 
9th January   - Cem’s Book Hideout
10th January  - Once Upon a Bookcase 
11th January  - As A Mum Booktopia  
12th January  - BookZone4Boys 
13th January  - Madhouse Family Reviews 
14th January  - Sarah's Book Reviews
15th January  - Mostly Reading YA 
16th January  - 5 Minutes Peace 
18th January  - I Want to Read That 
19th January  - Gripped into Books 
20th January  - My Favourite Books Blog 
27th January  - Girls Without a Bookshelf 
31st January  Wondrous Reads 

As you can see, it's a bit of a monster but be sure to check out each stop as there will be giveaways, competitions, reviews and lots lots more.

Grey Wolves Grey (Review: 13 To Life; S. Delany)

13 To Life
Shannon Delany
St. Martin's Griffen 2010

When junior Jess Gillmansen gets called out of class by Guidance, she can only presume it’s for one of two reasons. Either they’ve finally figured out who wrote the scathing anti-jock editorial in the school newspaper or they’re hosting yet another intervention for her about her mom. Although far from expecting it, she’s relieved to discover Guidance just wants her to show a new student around—but he comes with issues of his own including a police escort. The newest member of Junction High, Pietr Rusakova has secrets to hide--secrets that will bring big trouble to the small town of Junction—secrets including dramatic changes he’s undergoing that will surely end his life early. (blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

My umpteenth werewolf book of recent times, I knew nothing about this when I picked it up. Had UK Book Tours not sent it off around the country I probably would never have read it – and I would have missed out, because 13 To Life is a whole new take on the usual werewolf story.

Protagonist Jess is a bit of a winner. Down to earth, happy to speak her mind and just pretty normal she was a breath of fresh air throughout the book. Dealing with her the recent death of her mother, she is clearly more than a little messed up and is coming out of what is hinted at being a pretty dark time. However, it's not all gloom and doom as she's picked herself up and seems determined to get on with things. Her friendship with best friend Amy is really well written with them being both supportive and, lovingly, critical of each other. Neither girl is afraid to tell the other how things are and their banter flows easily and believably. I particularly liked Jess's reaction to meeting Pietr. She doesn't swoon over him straight away and, most importantly, she doesn't start declaring her undying love by page five. Yes, 13 To Life is one of the rare YA paranormals where the relationship of the leads stumbles along realistically, falling into some excrutiating/embarrassing/frustrating potholes on the way. YAY for excrutiating/embarrassing/frustrating potholes!

Pietr himself is, predictably yet happily, suitably swoonsome. He had me from the moment he gave a stern talking to to a kitten. Hot boys and kittens – yes please; stereotypes are there for a reason and I appreciate authors who pander to them. I liked that he was Russian, although at times the Russian phrases became a bit tiresome – mainly because sometimes they disappeared altogether before appearing en force in the next scene. His interaction with Jessie was interesting, although his relationship with Sarah seemed odd to me. I really don't understand why he maintained it after a certain point. Talking of whom, the lovely, gentle Sarah is a character who adds real edge to this book. Anyone with knowledge of even the most basic pop psychology can see why Jess has become so attached to her and while sometimes touching, increasingly the whole situation seems like a pot ready to boil over. The author imbues real menace into the simmering situation and I often found the rising tension here more frightening than the paranormal aspects of the story. It really is a completely original take on friendship, loyalty and obligation.

The story itself is a fairly slow burner but all the more gripping for it's measured pace. Shannon Delany has, somehow, managed to combine werewolf mythology with the Russian Mafia and the CIA without coming out looking utterly ridiculous. Rather, she has created a genre busting concept that will absolutely keep readers on the edge of their seats. Seriously, you read correctly: Werewoves, Russian mafia, CIA. I know

13 To Life is the first book of a series and so the bulk of the book is fairly introductory. However, it is always interesting, had me turning pages as quickly as I could and by the end Delany has ensured that we have a fully rounded, fascinating world from which to jump into the craziness. I would particularly recommend this book to those of you who, like me, have been suffering a bit of paranormal fatigue. Yes, this is a book about werewolves but the author is taking them places that I've never seen them go before as well as providing us with an excellent, contemporary thriller. Take away the wolf aspect and you'd still have a pretty good read here. Great stuff and I really can't wait to read more.

13 To Life is available now and the sequel, Secrets and Shadows, will be out in February of 2011. Thanks to UK Book Tours for providing this title.

December 28, 2010

Book Blogger Holiday Swap

I'm finally getting round to blogging about the lovely gift that I got from my Secret Santa!  I received a beautifully wrapped package that contained the following:

There were also some lovely cinnamon biscuits but them before I remembered to take a picture.  Thank you Secret Santa - whoever you are - this package really made my day!

How Cruelly Sweet Are The Echos That Start (Review: The Body Finder; K. Derting)

The Body Finder
Kimberly Derting
HarperCollins 2010

I actually read this book quite a while ago. I won a copy from the author herself at about the time the book came out in the US. I intentionally didn't review it then so that I would have a good excuse to go back and take another peek at this hugely original story. I've just finished re-reading it and enjoyed it as much as I did first time round – it's a rare book that can hold my attention for a second read but this one did just that.

The premise of The Body Finder is of a slightly duel nature. Primarily, it's a gripping crime thriller but it's also an incredibly enthralling romance. Odd mix, right? Still, it kind of works... Protagonist Violet is a little unusual in that she has the ability to sense dead bodies, although only those who have died a violent or unnatural death. Actually her ability is slightly more layered than that. What she senses are “imprints” of dead people and these imprints not only exist in the area of the body but are carried by those who have killed. The imprints can be auditory, sensory or visual. At the start of the story, Violet finds the body of a young girl and it soon becomes apparent that a serial killer is on the loose – not ideal for our protagonist (or anyone else, come to think of it). However, Violet is having difficulty focussing on the murderer stalking her streets. Why? Because she's suddenly experiencing distinctly odd tingles every time she sees her best friend, Jay, who has blossomed into a rather handsome chap recently and seems oblivious to her rather inconvenient feelings.

Violet is a great character. She deals with her gift with quiet familiarity as mostly it just involves finding and burying dead animals. On discovering the body of a peer she is believably shocked and upset and I liked that she didn't just take it all in her stride. She's sometimes a little impulsive and doesn't always think things through but that seemed believable enough considering her age and she always sees the errors in her judgement for what they are (albeit after the fact). She's brave in a scared sort of way, if that makes sense – I imagine that psychics that work for the police experience similar feelings to Violet; it can't be nice knowing just that little bit more than everyone else, particularly when it comes to a serial killer. What I also liked about Violet was her inability to focus on anything that was going on other than her friendship with Jay. Her struggle with her burgeoning feelings for him was beautifully written, with the pangs of jealousy and flurries of mortification hitting all the right notes. Their friendship is genuinely touching and I enjoyed waiting to find out how their relationship would progress.

Jay himself is exceptionally likeable. Seemingly unfazed by his recent transition to almost manhood and the many female admirerers it has brought with it, he is entirely devoted to Violet – something she seems unable to see. At times he seems overly bossy, even commanding but always backs down (usually because Violet won't stand for it) and his concern for Violet is never less than touching. He's also pretty swoony, especially when seen through Violet's adoring eyes (she really does gush about him sometimes, but in a way that I can remember doing about boys at her age). Other characters of note are Violet's family. Her relationship with her dad is particularly lovely, illustrating an understated yet comforting father-daughter bond. Her mum seems more prickly and also a more absent parent but is clearly protective of her daughter and her uncle is another nicely drawn character, moving seamlessly from jovial family man to quietly professional police chief.

The plot of The Body Finder is completely gripping. While at first glance, it would appear that the romance aspect somewhat overpowers that of the killer-on-the-loose plot, Derting cunningly keeps the nastier story line ever present by having sections written from the point of view of the killer (whose identity is not revealed to the reader until the end). The contrast of all consuming, innocent first love and dark, distressing insights into the mind of a killer mean that it is impossible to entirely relax while reading. These two aspects of the story sound incongruous but really aren't, instead they create a genuinely unsettling atmosphere that permeates every scene. There is one notable moment where Violet visits a cemetery and comes across an infant's grave – the echo she senses there made me physically shiver.

The Body Finder is an original and refreshing take on young adult and crime fiction. This is Derting's debut novel but it certainly doesn't read like one. The romance aspect is breathtaking and intense while the voice of the killer compares favourably to work by master of the crime genre, Geoffrey Deaver. While The Body Finder works fine as a stand alone title follow up, Desires of The Dead, is due for publication in 2011 and I will certainly be ordering a copy as soon as possible. If you haven't read The Body Finder already then be sure to try it out – I can guarantee that you will find a book that is different to anything else in the YA market.

The Body Finder is available now from  Thanks to Kimberly Derting for sending over my copy.

December 24, 2010

A very Merry Christmas, 
from The Mountains of Instead

December 23, 2010

In Which I Talk A LOT About The Books I've Read in 2010

I love it when questionnaires and surveys appear on blogs. I'm eternally nosy so when this end of year number from The Perpetual Page Turner started circulating I was delighted. I had originally planned to take part in Persnickety Snark's Five challenge, but computer and internet issues have robbed me of time so this will have to suffice. You can find my reviews of all books mentioned via my 2010 In Books page - all highlighted titles link to a review.

Best book of 2010?
Such a hard question so I'm going to have to have a top three: The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, Matched by Ally Condie and Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta.  I love that two of these books are by debut authors - it's exciting to see new talent emerging on the YA block.  

Worst book of 2010?
I wouldn't normally answer a question about this, but the book in point made me so bloody cross that I'm happy to rant about it. It was, easily (and I read a couple of shockers this year) Marked by PC and Kristen Cast. You can find out why here because if I get started on why I don't like it again then this will easily turn into the longest post ever.

Most disappointing book of 2010?
Without a doubt, I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore.  I loved the premise of this, the tag line was superb and the cover art fantastic. Sadly, it was more than a little bit rubbish. In fact, rubbish is too strong a word - it was just completely meh. The subsequent brouhaha over James Frey and his dubious Full Fathom Five just added distaste to disappointment.

Most surprising (in a good way) book of 2010?
Revolution by Jennifer Doherty. I'm a not a lover of historical fiction so I almost didn't bother picking it up at all. I'm glad I did, though, as Revolution is an excellent book and easily one of my top reads of the year. An honourable mention should go to Shade by Jeri Smith Ready for reminding me that paranormal YA could be original, refreshing and fabulous.  

Book you recommended to people most in 2010?
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. It took me until this year to read this book (and subsequently the rest of the series) and I've become somewhat evangelical about it (review here). Ness's writing is quite simply the best that I have come across (adult or young adult) in years. There is nothing else like it out there and The Knife of Never Letting Go is an absolute must read. Coming a close second in the recommendation charts is something completely different in the form of City of Bones by Cassandra Clare. I found myself passing this on to at least half a dozen friends who have all become converts to Clare's great urban fantasy writing.

Best series you discovered in 2010

Chaos Walking by Patrick Ness - these books stand head and shoulders above everything else on the YA shelves and I have no idea why they have not been promoted as adult titles also - they are simply outstanding. I also enjoyed arriving late to both the Percy Jackson and Vampire Academy parties. As far as new additions to ongoing series are concerned I particularly enjoyed Carrie Ryan's The Dead Tossed Waves, Maggie Stiefvater's Linger, The Demon's Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan and Lies by Michael Grant.

Favourite new authors you discovered in 2010?
Ach, so many! Jandy Nelson, Patrick Ness, Melina Marchetta, Ally Condie, Alyxandra Harvey, John Green - I could go on. Blogging has opened my eyes to so many authors that I just hadn't come across before.

Most hilarious read of 2010?
Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride. The humour in this book matched my own so completely that I smiled all the way through (well, almost - it's not all fun and games as you can see in my review). Also of note when it comes to cracking the funnies were Hex Hall ("BAD DOG!") by Rachel Hawkins and The Drake Chronicles by Alyxandra Harvey.

Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2010?
I could rave more about Patrick Ness here but instead am going to go for The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting. A genuinely creepy slice of crime thriller - not something you often see in YA.  Michael Grant's Gone was also pretty gripping, as were the other books in his Fayz series.

Book you most anticipated in 2010?
Probably Linger by Maggie Stiefvater. I loved Shiver and anticipated Linger with some trepidation - I needn't have worried as I loved it. I was pretty excited about Cassandra Clare's The Clockwork Angel, too.

 Favourite cover of a book you read in 2010?
Hold Me Closer, Necromancer. The artwork is fantastic, the red and black colour scheme gorgeous and the model perfect. I actually hate models on covers (I prefer to have a blank slate when it comes to envisioning characters) so major kudos to the artists involved in getting this one just right.

Most memorable character in 2010?
You'd think I'd choose a protagonist or perhaps a villain (Mayor Prentiss from Chaos Walking was a series contender) but the character who has really stuck in my mind all year has been Joe Fontaine from The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. A creation of utter joyfulness, Joe is a pleasure to read. While not perfect, his inherent goodness shines through on every page and he is a character that I look forward to returning to many times in the future. Bat. Bat. Bat.

Most beautifully written book in 2010?
This one is easy, as The Sky Is Everywhere by debut author Jandy Nelson towers above any other contenders in this category.  Nelson's writing is quite simply extraordinarily beautiful, encompassing you in her dreamlike tale of loss, love and eyelashes.  I was also struck by the writing in Matched by Ally Condie - her haunting, sparse yet hugely moving style is truly impressive.

Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2010?
Again, it's got to be The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, closely followed by The Ask and The Answer and Monsters of Men. I really cannot stress how good these books are and how much you need to go and read them RIGHT NOW.

Book you can't believe you waited UNTIL 2010 to finally read?
Looking For Alaska by John Green. I blame the fact that it wasn't particularly well promoted in the UK and I wasn't around the blogosphere to pick up on it. A great story with memorable characters, I actually chose not to review it as I wanted to keep this one title all to myself.

Book blogging in 2010

New favourite book blog you discovered in 2010?
Well, all the blogs I follow I discovered this year but if pushed to pick just one it would have to be I Was A Teenage Book Geek.  This was almost the first blog that I started following and is certainly the one that I feel I identify with the most. Lauren reviews in a way that always makes me want to pick up the books she's read. Also, she's my book twin - I think we've yet to find a book that we disagree on.

Favourite review that you wrote in 2010?
I'm still really pleased with my review for The Sky Is Everywhere. I wasn't sure that I would be able to accurately portray how I felt about the book, but I was happy with the result. I was also contacted by several publishers that had read it and wanted me to review for them, which was hugely flattering and boosted my tentative confidence.

Best discussion you had on your blog?
I haven't written any discussion posts, per se, but my post on hot boys and their instruments got substantially more hits than any other post I've written (absolutely and entirely due to the fact that Cassandra Clare tweeted the link) and is my own personal favourite. I'm pretty sure it doesn't count as a discussion post but it is a subject that I would happily discuss for hours.

Most thought-provoking review or discussion you read on somebody else's blog?
Asamum Booktopia featured a guest post entitled Voiceless and Silent by Tammy from The Book Fairy's Haven. The subject was bullying and I found it incredibly emotive. Beautifully and bravely written it was part of a focussed week during which Emma from Asamum featured several posts on the subject, all of which were excellently done.

Best event that you participated in?
Definitely the 2010 Debut Author Challenge as hosted by The Story Siren. Had I not taken part in this I would not have discovered several of my 2010 top reads. I also love that it promotes debut authors.

Best moment of book blogging in 2010?
Author Jeri Smith Ready asked me to read the manuscript of Shift, the follow up to her YA debut Shade as a kind of Scottish language consultant. Most. Exciting. Thing. Ever. As a special bonus I'm getting a mention in the acknowledgements. I also got to discuss the important things in life with Jeri, such as chocolate hobnobs. And while my beak has to remain shut re. the book itself, I can confirm that it is awesome and well worth the buzz it's generating.

Best bookish discovery?
The Book Depository. I used to hate reading about American releases only to find out that they were either not getting released in the UK or getting released 62 billion years later.  No more! The Book Depository has them as soon as they are out in the US. And the delivery is always free! Woo hoo!

So that's it - my year in books and it was much harder to choose the titles above than I thought it would be. 2011 is shaping up to be another awesome year for reading with some great books coming out just next month! Bring it on!

December 14, 2010

Death Cab For Sam (Review: Hold Me Closer, Necromancer; Lish McBride)

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer
Lish McBride
Henry Holt 2010

I have been wanting to read this book since I first set eyes on the title. For a while I didn't actually know anything about Hold Me Closer, Necromancer but I didn't care because it had the best title I'd ever heard. Later I learnt a bit about the plot and became even more curious and when the artwork came out I just about wet myself. It's true. Then there was the trailer. That guy, that voice... I was hooked. I've actually had my copy for a while but had dutifully consigned it to the bottom of my teetering TBR pile but eventually it's siren song became too strong and I sneaked it to the top. With these towering expectations I, by all rights, should have been at least a little disappointed with this book but I wasn't. You may now expect less of a review and more of a love song as this book is 100% my new book crush.

The plot is fairly straight forward. College drop out Sam is whiling his life away flipping burgers at the hilariously named Plumpy's. It's not ideal but he has good friends and a place of his own that he can nearly afford. Then along comes uber-sinister Douglas who resentfully (and not a bit terrifyingly) informs Sam that he, like Douglas, is a necromancer. Sam has issues taking this seriously. Eventually, due to a parade of weird, scary and gruesome events, Sam begins to see some truth in Douglas's statement – although he thinks that he might prefer the term “Death-Wrangler” (less Dungeons and Dragons). From this point on, Sam finds himself pitted against Douglas in a battle he doesn't want to be a part of and one that might cost him his family, his friends and perhaps his very soul.

Sam is a great protagonist. His voice is clear, confident and believable. While living a somewhat slacker lifestyle, he's clearly pretty smart but carries the tangible air of the outsider – he just doesn't know where he belongs. Probably because raising the dead is not a career choice that exactly rolls of the tongue. As well as smart he's also very funny with a dead-pan humour that really appeals. Additionally, he's a really nice guy – he looks after his friends, loves his mum and is positively delightful to his little old lady neighbour. I love Sam – he's one of my favourite protagonists this year, not least due to his ability to reference both Alice In Wonderland and Monty Python. Perfect.

The supporting cast are equally strong and while the story is generally told by Sam, several of them get their own moment to shine. Brid is particularly likable. She's a tough female character who can clearly look after herself, yet she also has a pleasing vulnerability and the ability to let this side of her show – it's a believable mix and I really enjoyed the sections of the book told from her perspective. These exerts could have seemed purely expositional (a lot of information is gleaned from Brid's story line) and it is credit to the author that she's created a character strong and interesting enough to make the break in Sam's narration just as enjoyable as the story he voices.

Other characters are also exceptionally well draw - from Sam's new age-y mother to Brid's protective older brothers there is nary a superfluous character. Sam's best friend Ramon is another nice guy and I loved his matter of fact willingness to put his life on the line for Sam. He really doesn't give it a second thought and who wouldn't want a best friend like that? Other characters of note are admirable Brook, hilarious Ashley and finally the rather awesome Mrs. W. To say much more about any of them would be to deny you the pleasure of making their acquaintance on their own – they really are a joy to read. As a villain, Douglas ticks all the boxes. He really has no redeeming features – he's utterly Bad. To. The. Bone. And loving it.

Lish McBride's writing has a laid back, laconic style that belies the pacing and depth of Hold Me Closer, Necromancer. While on one level this book is all coolness and fun, it's also filled with the blackest of black humour and contains some genuinely nasty and frightening scenes. There is a lot of blood, mostly Sam's, spilt on the road to a climax that sees him teetering on the brink of a frightening mental abyss - his terror and distress towards the end are both upsetting and frightening. However, McBride writes these scenes with great skill and still manages to pull the reader through to a last line that had me roaring with laughter. Something else that had me giggling with glee were the chapter headings. All song titles/lyrics (like the title itself), they could have been a rundown of my life's greatest hits – Birdhouse In My Soul! Back In Black! BALLROOM BLITZ! Incidentally, were I a TV exec. I would be queuing up for the rights to this book – it would make a fantastic series. At the very least it would have an awesome soundtrack.

There is no doubt that Hold Me Closer, Necromancer is well put together. It could have been a little too knowing in it's cool boy humour but underneath the deadpan delivery, snark, blood and gore is actually a touching story of the importance of being true to your friends, your family and yourself, whatever you may be – regardless of your ability to take it seriously. Fans of The Dresden Files might particularly enjoy this title, but so would fans of any good story. While there is a second book in the making, Hold Me Closer, Necromancer also stands beautifully on it's own, so pick it up and give it a go. In one fell swoop, Lish McBride has arrived near the top of my favourite authors and I find myself anticipating her next book just as much as I anticipated this one. Lovely stuff, indeed.

December 07, 2010

We Face The Final Curtain (Review: Last Sacrifice; R. Mead)

Last Sacrifice
Richelle Mead
Razorbill 2010

Last Sacrifice is the sixth and final book in the Vampire Academy.  This review contains spoilers for all the previous books in the series so if you've not read them then please go away.  It also contains very minor spoilers for Last Sacrifice itself, although nothing that ruins the overall plot.

So, I've finally made it to the end of my Vampire Academy marathon and what an end it is! As action packed and information loaded as the previous few books in the series, Last Sacrifice was a whirlwind read that I found hard to put down.

After the cliffhanger (and somewhat depressing) ending of Spirit Bound, Last Sacrifice starts with Rose almost exactly where we left her. Luckily, Abe, Janine and a host of her Moroi friends (whom have finally started to develop backbones) are on hand to help her out and we soon find her off on yet another crazy adventure. The initial events of the book are interesting because they effectively leave the reader following two groups of people. Lissa, Christian, Eddie and Adrian at the Royal Court (along with Abe and Janine) and Rose, Dimitri and Sydney on the road – and there's a lot of road as they seem to travel round the majority of Midwest America. The author again uses Rose and Lissa's psychic bond to let the reader see what is going on back at Court while Rose herself narrates the main story. It's a clever device that is used far more effectively in this last installment than it has been previously.

Rose's storyline once more sees her scrapping her way in and out of a variety of interesting situations. I've been continually impressed at Richelle Mead's ability to slowly reveal different factions of the Dhampir/Moroi races and once again Rose finds herself discovering just how sheltered the life of the Royal Court is. As well as having her assumptions challenged she is haring around the country trying to find out more about Lissa's family in order to try and help Lissa gain a voice back at Court. On it's own this would be an interesting storyline, drawing in a host of familiar and not so familiar faces. However, Rose is also struggling with being in close proximity to Dimitri and their ever complicated friendship, especially in light of her relationship with Adrian. Or Crazy Aidy, as I like to call him. It's all rather fantastic and I was never entirely sure how any of the varied story lines were going to end. Alchemist Sydney also becomes a far more interesting character and her slow acceptance of Rose and Dimitri as friends rather incarnate was well written and believable.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Lissa is busy growing a spine. I know! Finally! Playing both politico and sleuth she really comes into her own and a lot of her previous rubbishness can be forgotten. I particularly enjoyed reading about the intricacies of the Moroi political system and Lissa's astute navigation of its somewhat choppy waters is a pleasure to read. Christian remains an interesting character but I felt he was, as with some of the previous titles, slightly underwritten in this story although his scenes with Lissa are often very lovely. More than any other pairing in the series, their relationship has a real ring of truth and seems almost ordinary despite the world they inhabit. Adrian continues to be utterly charming but again his character is given more depth as we see him start to voice insecurities about his future mental health and also his lack of focus. His interactions with Rose are always believable, particularly as he starts to open up to her more. Abe continues with his hilarious mafia boss act and Janine also has more of a role showing perhaps a softer side than previously seen (although not soft because that would be silly).

Richelle Mead has skillfully plotted her way through all six books in the Vampire Academy series and there are few characters who remain superfluous, with several players stepping back into the game for this fantastic finale. The final showdown is impressive and the resolution of the main story lines particularly stood out. While there are some happy endings, there are no set happily ever afters. The events of the series have had repercussions and there are many characters who are left with scars, regrets, pain and anger. This is particularly clear regarding Rose's love life. I'm not going to tell you who wins her heart (I was certainly kept guessing right to the end), but for the loser there is no second place prize, no ridiculously named daughter to hook up with and no easy way out of his heartbreak. This, to me, is true to life. Break ups suck and sometimes you just have to accept the suck until things change for the better. Even for those who have a happy ending there are hints at future trouble and signs that some issues are never going to be entirely resolved. I believe that there is to be a spin off series revolving round four familiar characters and I would bet good money on who they are going to be as there are certain story threads that have yet to go the distance.

Were I pushed to recommend a vampire series then this would triumph hands down over Twilight. Richelle Mead has created a fantastically strong heroine in Rose, a character who truly develops in Lissa and a storyline that riffs on everything from loyalty vs. blind obedience to tradition vs. change. The series as a whole is strong and Last Sacrifice a worthy finale with the author respecting her readers enough to shy away from trite, easy endings and present us with a real-world climax that does her writing and her characters absolute justice. Fabulous.

Last Sacrifice is in book shops today! Thank you to Puffin for sending me this series to review.

December 06, 2010

School's Out Forever (Review: Spirit Bound; R. Mead)

Spirit Bound
Richelle Mead
Razorbill 2010 (this edition)

Spirit Bound is the fifth book in the Vampire Academy series.  If you have not read the rest then be assured that this review contains spoilers for the previous titles.  If you have read the rest, then read on without fear.

Well....where to begin... a LOT happens in this book. I find myself amazed at how much Richelle Mead has managed to fit into the penultimate book of the Vampire Academy series. Actually, it's less Vampire Academy and more Vampire Big Bad World as school is most definitely out forever.

The book starts a few months after the events of Blood Promise, with Rose about to end her senior year of high school. Specifically we find her about to undertake her Guardian trial, the score of which will affect her future hugely. We also find her in a relationship with the lovely-if-slightly-insane Adrian which seems to have started at some point during the last three months. Never fear, though! Strimitri (yes, I made that up myself) is still sending her creepy letters, full of love and death threats, which he combines with more than a little skill. As you do. Lissa is still drifting both aimlessly and selfishly through life, although kudos to her for agreeing to accompany Rose on her latest crazy adventure which involves a rather ill thought out prison break and a trip to Vegas, baby! Despite the ill thought-outness of said prison break, Rose and her chums have little difficulty in breaking out their controversial prison buddy (why, Hello, Uncle V!). To be honest, they have far too little difficulty – it's slightly poorly written, but this matters not as the story only takes off once they use Victor to extract some useful information. Turns out that the nasty Strigoi may be savable. Yup, Strimitri may become sexy-yet-ever-so-slightly-dull Dimitri once more.

Character wise this is a really good installment. Rose remains as impulsive and outspoken as ever, but there is real pain fueling her latest quest and I admired her ability to stand up to the Moroi politics that swirl around her and Lissa in the royal court (which is where most of the book is set). Christian makes a welcome return to the main cast, having been pretty absent throughout much of the last two books – I like him as a character if only because he makes Lissa more interesting. Ah, Lissa.... where to begin. I just don't like her. At all. While she does gain a bit of a backbone in Spirit Bound, it still seems to only come into play when she deems it appropriate. Even in her big scene with Strimitri I felt that she was acting less to help Rose and more because she wanted to see if her magic was up to it. Later her lack of sympathy to Rose's situation with regards her love life really annoyed me. Sometimes you have to stick your neck out for your best friend and Lissa did not play ball. Rose refers to Lissa as gentle and kind – I refer to her as self-absorbed and pious. Doesn't ruin the books though, it just gives them an edge that I kind of like.

Strimitri himself is actually quite interesting in this book (not that he wasn't before, I just like him better since he got bitten by Strigoi). His evil incarnation is, well, pretty darn evil – I get the impression that the author really enjoyed playing with his character in this way, I bet it was a lot of fun. I grew really quite fond of his evil side during this book, but then I always preferred Angelus to Angel, too. Strimitri's character could go in any direction, but I suspect he'll end up veering towards Rose, as even evil he can't seem to stay away from her. Adrian, again, was probably my favourite. Mead has given him a bit more to play with than his previous party boy persona and I really want to see things work out well for him. However, my main issue with Spirit Bound was his relationship with Rose. Being established off screen, so to speak, it was hard to get invested in it and to be honest it's almost as if the author has felt the need for a love triangle and shoe-horned him into it. I suspect that rooting for a Rose and Adrian happy ending will be as futile as rooting for Bella and Jacob.

The plot itself was gripping, again opening up the Dhampir/Moroi world further. I really love the growing awareness of the servant/master relationship that the two factions have and the politics are genuinely interesting. The book ends with a rather excellent cliffhanger leaving me with no idea how that aspect of the story would continue. Luckily I didn't have to wait long as my copy of The Last Sacrifice was ready and waiting. You, dear reader, will have to wait until tomorrow (7th December) to find out my thoughts on the grand finale of Vampire Academy but I can promise you that it's an absolute winner...

Spirit Bound is available in book shops now.  Thank you to Puffin for sending me this title to review.

December 05, 2010

British Books Challenge 2011

As a UK blogger, I often feel that I should be reading more British books.  It's all to easy, particularly when reading a lot of YA to find myself reading mainly American titles and I don't think that I'm alone in this. In fact, I know I'm not and am excited that the lovely Becky at The Bookette has founded the 2011 British Books Challenge.  

For those of you who have taken part in The Story Siren's Debut Authors challenge, this one is similar with the idea being that participants read (hopefully) 12 British titles over the course of the year.  These can be new, old or out of print - as long as they are by UK authors. Becky has also gotten several UK publishers on board who will be providing goodies for monthly prize packs. You can find more about the challenge here.

I'm still looking into UK releases for next year but have drawn up a rough list for now. I particularly like the fact that I can mix up new titles with those that I've been planning to read for a while:

Iron Witch - Karen Mahoney
A Year Without Autumn - Liz Kessler
Time Riders - Alex Scarrow
0.4 - Mike Lancaster
The Set Up - Sophie Mackenzie
The Recruit - Robert Muchamore
Wereworld - Curtis Jobling
Small Blue Thing - S.C. Ransom

Also, you don't need to be from the UK to sign up for this challenge. Thanks to The Book Depository it's just as easy to get British books on their release date as it is for us to get American titles. Yay for free postage and international syncing! 

IMM (#27)

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 Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud
Ben Sherwood
Picador 2005
I watched the film adaptation of this book recently and while I thought it was OK I suspect that there is a much better book hiding behind it, so ordered it straight away.

Being Billy
Phil Earle
Puffin 2011
I haven't heard of this book before but it looks pretty interesting, based around a child who has been in care for most of his life.  I suspect it will be a powerful and not altogether happy read.  

A Beautiful Lie
Irfan Master
Bloomsbury 2011
This title is so far out of my comfort zone reading wise that I'm quite dubious about reading it.  Set during Partition in India it is a part of history of which I know nothing so hopefully this book will help educate me.

Eighth Grade Bites
Heather Brewer
Razorbill 2011
Vlad Tod is finally getting his UK debut in January.  I've wanted to read this series for a while and it certainly appeals to me at the moment after reading a few heavier titles.  Also, I'd really like his hoodie.  

Linda Press Wulf
Bloomsbury 2011
Despite my usual ixnay on historical fiction, the children's crusade is a story that has intrigued me for a while. I know that it's not a happy tale but I've always been curious to read more and this book is a story set around this real life event. It looks fascinating and I can't wait to read it.

That's it for this week.  I'm still keeping my book buying to a minimum on the run up to Christmas as there are so many other things to spend money on....  Happy reading, everyone!