March 30, 2011

Comforter, Where Is Your Comforting? (Review: Miles From Ordinary by Carol Lynch Williams)

Miles from OrdinaryMiles From Ordinary
Carol Lynch Williams
St. Martin's Griffin 2011

When thirteen year old Lacey sets out to start a summer job at her local library, it is not with the dragging of feet and longing for freedom that you might expect from your average teenager. Rather, Lacey is filled with excitement and a desparate hope that this job – and the one that she has lined up for her mother at a local grocery store – might be the start of something better for her family. Because Lacey's mother isn't doing so well and Lacey is starting to run out of options. Trapped in a house where the windows must remain closed and the lights remain on and the baths and sinks remain always full, Lacey is starting to fear for her own sanity. For as long as she can remember, Lacey has watched her mother's mental state spiral wildly out of control and now lives with a grown woman who lives life as directed by her father. Her dead father. Between a mother who is rapidly losing her grasp on reality, a Grand-daddy who doesn't act as dead as he should and an aunt who seems unable to help her, Lacey turns to the library in a bid for some normalcy. Yet, as the day progresses, memories and events unfold that illustrate just how far from normal Lacey's life has become.

Lacey is compelling as a protagonist, particularly in the fact that she has very little frame of reference through which to view the outside world. It becomes increasingly clear, as she talks, that she spends most of her time locked in her mother's dark and frightening reality. While she attends school, she doesn't speak with the other children – all of whom have picked up on her differences early on and ostracised her from any meaningful social interaction. While she does mention the TV and Internet, it is only in relation to her mother's obsession with death and disaster and it is clear that Lacey has far too much to deal with at home to be even remotely interested in popular culture. This gives her persona, and particularly her turn of speech, an oddly old fashioned feel which is exasipated by the maturity that she has had to gain in order to deal with her situation. Yet, she isn't really dealing with the sitution – she's just getting by and teetering close to the dangerous abyss of her mother's mental decline.

Momma herself is written starkly, her severance from reality absolutely clear to the reader from the start yet her personality is given depth through Linda's memories of their teenage years. However, Momma as she exists in Lacey's present day is a needy and dangerous personality, slowly draining her daughter's strength while also loving her desperately – loving her too much, really. Aunt Linda is a less defined character, mainly being conspicuous by her absence. While it is clear to the reader that Linda has tried to help Lacey, it is less so to Lacey and I felt myself siding with her more often than not – surely Linda could have tried harder, or sooner, to ensure that Lacey was managing? As the final character, Aaron provides a brief glimpse of sunshine in Lacey's fractured life. He clearly has vague knowledge that all is not well in Lacey's household and is also aware of her ostracism at school but disregards this in order to get to know her. Mainly, however, he highlights the juxtaposition of Lacey's day to day life and the normal, teenage world that she longs for. Lacey is at an age where she should be giggling with girlfriends and obsessing over her first kiss – not cleaning up her mother's self-inflicted wounds.

I haven't read anything else by Carol Lynch Williams and wasn't sure what to expect from Miles From Ordinary. It is an extraordinarly brutal story – portraying severe mental illness and it's affect on a family with no frills, no niceties and leaving nothing to the imagination. From the opening lines the writing is blunt and too the point, as it should be. Mental illness is frightening, it can make even the sanest of carers question themselves and is debilitatingly draining for all involved. To see all of this through the eyes of a young girl, and to slowly realise that she is dealing with it alone is at times gut-wrenchingly difficult to read. However, Miles From Ordinary is also exceptionally compassionate. It is clear that Carol Lynch Williams cares deeply for her characters and it is impossible not to join her – throughout the book, I was desperate for someone to help Lacey, and not just to help her with her mother but to see that what was happening was not acceptable, was not right and was not necessary. Miles From Ordinary is by no means and easy book to read, but it is exceptionally brave writing and deserves to do extremely well.

Miles From Ordinary is available now. Thank you to St. Martin's Griffin for sending me a copy of this title to review.

March 28, 2011

The Will of the Wind (review: West of the Moon by Katherine Langrish)

West of the MoonWest of the Moon
Katherine Langrish
Harper Collins 2011

When Peer's father dies, leaving him an orphan, he is distraught to find himself dragged from his Norse village by a pair of cruel and brutish uncles. He is forced into hard manual labour on their mill, working in miserable conditions while sleeping on a barn floor and eating little. This would be bad enough, but the mill is situated next to Troll Fell – a hill so named for the creatures that live beneath it. The mill itself is also full of strange creatures lurking in it's dank corners and weed-strewn mill pond and for a while Peer's only source of comfort is his dog Loki and the Nis, a brownie like creature who despises Peer's uncles and also wishes for a more comfortable existence. As the months pass, however, Peer gets to know Hilde, daughter of a local farmer and life doesn't seem quite so bad – until he realises that his uncles have plans for Hilde's family as well as for Peer himself and so starts adventures that he could have never dreamt of.

Peer is a lovely character. At the start of West of the Moon he's believably confused and bewildered by the situation he finds himself in and his reaction to his uncles is a believable mix of outrage and fear. As the first part of the book progresses he often has to make difficult decisions between what it best for him and what might be best for others – he invariably makes the right choices but it's heartening to see him become slowly less selfless. By the time we move into the middle section of his story, Peer has reached sixteen and is at once becoming honourable and brave while still being deliciously teenage, moody and awkward. His dedication to baby Ran is touching and his inner monologue regarding Hilde is hilarious – it's a lovely mix. In the third, and most far reaching, part of the book Peer is gloriously man-boyish. At seventeen he's finally starting to have confidence in himself and his place in the world and is less likely to question his own validity. He still makes mistakes, and still doesn't always know quite how to handle Hilde but this ties in with his character and makes him all the more readable.

Hilde is quite a different kettle of fish. She's headstrong, prone to rambling on without taking a breath and absolutely sure of herself in seemingly every situation – particularly in her interactions with Peer. Yet she's hard to dislike. Faultlessly kind, her devotion to her family and Peer knows no bounds and her distress/outrage and any cruelty or deceit is touching. While her character changes less than Peer's, I'd be inclined to put this down to the fact that she's a girl and girls tend to change less between thirteen and seventeen than your average boy – or at the very least they perhaps handle the changes with more aplomb. In Hilde's case this would seem to be particularly true as there seems to be little that she can't actually handle. Hilde's family are also all very well written, from Ralf with his itchy feet to practical Gudrun and irrepressible Sigrun and Sigrid. A special mention must go to the Nis – one of the most delightful creations I've come across. His plight during the last third of the book is at once heart-wrenching and triumphant and I could easily have read an entire book featuring just him. Perhaps Katherine Langrish could write Nithing The Great next and to hell with all the human characters...

West of The Moon also has its share of darker characters, who tie in nicely with the way in which it is written. I grew up reading Norse and Celtic fairy tales and the style and content of West of the Moon has clearly been inspired by similar myths. Peer's uncles are monstrous in their brutality while Harald shines with all the crazed glimmer of the true psychopath and Granny Greenteeth becomes the creeping witch from all childhood tales of terror. Add to this a haunting seal woman and the mysterious Draug – a ghost ship of the most sinister nature – and West of The Moon becomes an intoxicating mix of Norse lore and legend. Katherine Langrish has woven all of the above aspects into an intoxicating tale filled with strong characters, beautiful backdrops and sly humour. While I at first was concerned that West of The Moon might be aimed at a slightly younger audience than my usual preference I quickly found myself completely enchanted by the charming prose and haunting story lines – as well as by the lovely friendship between the Peer and Hilde. This is sure to be hit with younger readers, as well as teens but will hopefully be picked up by just as many adults as it provides absolute escapism to a truly magical world.

West of the Moon is available now. Thank you to Harper Collins for providing me with this copy to read and review.

March 24, 2011

Gra, Dilseacht, Cairdeas (Review: Darkest Mercy by Melissa Marr)

Darkest Mercy (Wicked Lovely, #5)Darkest Mercy
Melissa Marr
Harper Collins 2011

Darkest Mercy is the fifth and final book in the Wicked Lovely series - if you haven't read the previous titles then this review may contain spoilers.

All is not well in Huntsdale – at least not for the wide variety of Fae who have chosen this particular part of America to put down roots. Inexperienced Aislinn rules the Summer Court alone, unsure of her co-regent's whereabouts; Dark King Niall is overcome by grief at the loss of an old friend, plunging his Dark Court into confusion and violent disarray; Sorcha and the High Court remain cut off from the mortal realm in an effort to curb her newly found and rather overzealous mothering skills and the newly formed Shadow Court remain with her. Donia, Winter Queen, watches situations unfold about her but longs for her lost love while Seth waits and watches, watches and waits as future threads unspool before him. Meanwhile the living embodiment of War gears up for battle and Death stalks the increasingly unstable streets. With everything to lose, each character must act carefully to protect not only the fey under their care but the future of Faerie as a whole.

It's hard to talk about any of the (many) characters in Darkest Mercy without reflecting on the Wicked Lovely series as a whole as the character development over the course of these five books has been exceptionally well written. The series doesn't have a main protagonist, but started by telling the story of Aislinn, a mortal with the Sight who reluctantly became Summer Queen at the bequest of her co-regent Keenan. She's a great character who has grown and changed tremendously yet believably, torn between what she wants for herself and what has become her duty. In Darkest Mercy she truly comes into her own and it is a pleasure to read. Her relationship with Seth, always tenuous, continues to be questioned. However, for the first time they seem to be on an equal footing - rather than co-dependent or imbalanced by mortality (or immortality for that matter). Seth is pretty fascinating – certainly the most introspective character and also the only one continually able to see the bigger picture (literally), he walks a fine line between the various Courts, always believing in the better nature of the Fey whom he has come to think of as family.

Niall is another interesting character. In previous books, I've found him to be hugely sympathetic yet somewhat slippery – his dark side always lurking behind a calm facade. In Darkest Mercy, the calm facade has pretty much disappeared and he spends much of the book in a shadowy tornado of grief. The fact that he's hearing voices (or one voice in particular) doesn't help much. His complete imbalance makes the Dark Court the perfect starting point for Bananach's takeover. Bananach kind of rocks – it is always a pleasure to read a character who is just bad to the bone and War, or Discord or whatever it is she actually is has no redeeming features. She's also delightfully insane and completely unpredictable. Adding further darkness is Far Dorcha, or Death, and his body-snatching sister, Ankou. These two characters  add a further depth to Darkest Mercy's mythology and were welcome additions to the whole crazy mix.

Completing the cast are Keenan and Donia. Their stories, both individually and together provide the heart of this story and to say too much would be to spoil things. However, Donia remains one of the strongest characters in the series and Keenan the most conflicted. Keenan's story, in particular, lies in pleasing symmetry to Aislinn's and certain twists and turns genuinely surprised me.

As the last of the Wicked Lovely books, Darkest Mercy completes what is by far the strongest fey series available on the YA shelves. Mellisa Marr's storytelling ability and world building are unmatched in books of this type. The world that she has created is deeply visual and extremely dark – providing the reader with a vicsera of blood, passion, love, life and death. Yet the series is not without heart and certainly not without beauty as the story swings between the writhing vines of Summer and the cool, calm confines of the icy Winter court. In Darkest Mercy Melissa Marr has created an intricate world and drawn many, many threads to a truly satisfying conclusion. However, while satisfying, I would like to think that there may be more stories to emerge from this world – the ending is not quite a happily ever. Already it is possible to imagine the Courts teetering on the brink of some new battle – after all, Discord still roams, Seth still sees and they all, being fey, are sure to still plot. And what of the Shadow Court? Barely seen in Darkest Mercy, I sincerely hope that Melissa is holding them back for another day. With storytelling of this standard, I'll be waiting with bated breath.

Darkest Mercy is available now.  Many thanks to Harper Collins for providing me with a copy to read and review.

March 22, 2011

An American In Paris (review: Anna and The French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins)

Anna and the French KissAnna and The French Kiss
Stephanie Perkins
Dutton 2010

Anna's parents, for no discernible reason have deemed that she should spend her senior year of high school studying at the School of America in Paris. Anna doesn't speak French and has never expressed any particular interest in visiting the City of Light (although she's not entirely averse to pastries) so can only surmise that the reason she finds herself a stranger in a strange land is that her dad is, well, a bit of a dick. She's right. Finding herself somewhat adrift in a city where she suspects the locals are particularly disdainful of Americans she is relieved to find that her dorm next door neighbour is a friendly girl called Mer. Mer quickly absorbs Anna into her own group of friends: irascible Rashmi, artistic Josh, conspicuous-by-her-absence Ellie and the shockingly attractive Etienne St. Clair. Drawn to St. Clair like an American tourist to white sneakers, Anna struggles to keep her feelings under wraps – but can she really resist this charming stranger when he decides to introduce her to the most romantic city in the world?

Anna is a refreshingly straight-forward character. The story is told from her point of view and her voice conveys all the awe, terror, confusion and curiosity of starting a new school in a country where you cannot speak the language – at all. She's also extremely funny and her somewhat awkward encounters not only with St. Clair but also with her new friends, the French locals and the obligatory mean girl are frequently hilarious. Her inner battle regarding her feelings for St. Clair is at once believable and touching. She knows he has a girlfriend, she knows that Mer is also interested in him and she knows that she herself is kind-of-sort-of-maybe dating a boy from back home but her crush just grows and grows and grows. Anna isn't the kind of girl who sets out to steal someone else's boyfriend, though, and while her behaviour perhaps isn't entirely honourable at all times, she does try her hardest to do the right thing. Josh, Rashmi and Mer all play important (if small) roles in Anna's story as does Bridgette (her friend back in the U.S.). While Ellie rarely appears in person, Mer and Bridgette's characters are subtly used to give readers, and Anna, perspective on what it might be like to be on Ellie's side of the fence.

And then there is St. Clair. Anna refers to him at one point early on as an “English French American Boy Masterpiece” and that just about sums it up. He is the most delightful male character that I've come across since reading Joe Fontaine (The Sky Is Everywhere, also a delicious French/American hybrid) and it is impossible not to join Anna in her overwhelming swoons. However, like Joe, he is far from perfect. He has issues with being on his own, can't quite leave the past behind and is clearly wooing (albeit extremely chastely) Anna while he has a girlfriend. Yet it's all horribly easy to explain away because St. Clair hasn't had the easiest time of it, really, and things don't seem to be getting better for him and, in the end, he does do the right thing – in a bumbling, awkward...boy-ish, sort of way. At times his complete lack of action becomes incredibly irritating but he's such a well written character that he's impossible not to like.

The writing in Anna and The French Kiss is exceedingly good, extremely funny and breathlessly romantic. Stephanie Perkins has imbued her largest character – Paris itself – with real warmth and beauty, presenting the city in a series of intimate vignettes, each reminding readers of why they should really take the time to walk along the Seine, sit on the steps of the Pantheon or simply drink coffee outside a patisserie. Equally, the author has written a romance that is truly worthy of a city famous for love. There is nothing sudden about Anna and St. Clair's relationship, instead readers get to watch a true friendship develop – and this friendship is at the heart of Anna and The French Kiss's success. Yes, the story is hugely romantic but this romance becomes breathtakingly lovely when set against a background of true camaraderie and trust.

When I initially read about Anna and The French Kiss I dismissed it – to be honest, I didn't want to read a book where cheating might be condoned but I'm glad that I decided to give this title a go. Anna and The French Kiss doesn't deal with the issue too lightly, but nor does it need to as little untoward actually happens (something that successfully ratchets the romantic tension up to eleven). Rather than finding a story that made me uncomfortable, I found a romance that I was reluctant to step away from – I didn't want this book to end. Take my advice, pick up a copy of this book and rent a copy of Paris J'Taime – then spend the next few days falling in love with Anna, Paris and the perfect St. Clair. Bliss.

Anna and The French Kiss is available now. Thank you to UK Book Tours for sending me a copy of this to read and review.

March 18, 2011

In Which I Don't ENTIRELY Eat My Words (review of Crescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick)

Crescendo (Hush, Hush, #2)Crescendo
Becca Fitzpatrick
Simon and Schuster 2010

Crescendo is the follow up to Hush, Hush. If you haven't read Hush, Hush then this review may contain spoilers.

I read Hush, Hush shortly before I started blogging and wasn't particularly impressed. To be honest, I was too busy being creeped out by love interest, Patch and aghast at the fact that sensible Nora still wanted to be with him despite his stalker-ish tenancies (this guy makes Edward Cullen look like the tooth fairy when it comes to inappropriate behaviour). Now, I'm not going to admit to a complete turn around but having re-read Hush, Hush and moved on to Crescendo I can see that I may have missed the point. MAY, I said – I remain not entirely convinced...

Crescendo picks up two months after the events of Hush, Hush and Nora and Patch seem to have spent these two and such like. Despite the disapproval of both her mother and her best friend, Vee, Nora has pursued her rather ill-advised relationship with Patch who, to be fair, is now a guardian angel rather than a fallen one and more charmingly devil-may-care than bad-to-the-bone. However, all is not rosy in the garden of good and evil. Patch is still pretty mysterious, refusing to let Nora visit him at home (which, to be honest, later becomes entirely understandable – he really needs to make a date with Ty Pennington) and Nora is aware that their relationship may not be the best thing for her. Add to this the arrival of bad boy number two – Scott – and rumours of rumblings between fallen angels and Nephilim, not to mention Patch's boss's giving him a hard time and you've got the makings of a pretty good story.

I warmed to Nora in Crescendo. She's a potentially sensible girl, really, although she does sometimes make rather rash decisions when it comes to her safety and puts Bella to shame in her ability to ignore scary hallucinations. Regardless, it's hard to dislike her. She clearly adores Patch but is able to think rationally enough about their relationship to take a step back. However, this doesn't stop her from getting spitty jealous when she thinks he might be looking for companionship elsewhere and her teen-bitch-fight side is both hilarious and believable. Her main downfall is that she really doesn't listen to her intuition. Intuition says stay away from Scott? Nora's off to investigate his past. Gut feeling that Patch might be trying to tell her something important? Nora sticks her fingers in her ears and shouts la la la.

Patch is much improved in Crescendo. Still as infuriatingly mysterious as before he at least is a lot less creepy. In fact, I rather liked him. Maybe because in Crescendo we get to see a little bit more of his feelings. I know, I'm such a girl. Really, he does seem to be trying hard with Nora – just doing it all a bit shiftily which doesn't work out for him so well. I can only assume it is centuries of bad habit. While I'm on the subject of Patch – what is with his name? It makes him sound like a raggedy pirate doll. Ooo-aargh, Patch – Ooo. Aaargh! If I were Nora I'd forget all the questions that she has about heavenly/earthly conflict and get right on with pestering him about his real name. Just saying.

Other characters round out the story nicely with Vee being an absolute standout. She really is a pretty excellent (if slightly annoying) best friend and I particularly appreciate her love of doughnuts. Scott gets more interesting as the story progresses and I would like to think that he might turn up again in the future – he's certainly one of the more ambiguous characters and I was never sure if he was entirely good or bad. The plot was interesting, getting deeper into the mythology first introduced in Hush, Hush. However, towards the end I did start to get a bit confused what with Black Hands and bad guys gone good and good guys gone bad and Patch getting mushy – it all kind of threw me for a loop. Hopefully all will become clear in book three, which I surprise myself by being quite keen to read.

So, where did I possibly miss the point in Hush, Hush? Perhaps in reading it the wrong way. I felt strongly that it, much like Twilight, gave out some seriously dubious messages on what was and was not acceptable or attractive in a prospective boyfriend (him not looking for someone “vulnerable” being a good start). However, on looking at the story and the character development again I've decided to read Hush, Hush not as a love story but as a frightening tale of a girl drawn inexplicably to all that she knows is wrong or dangerous. By placing it in the horror genre, Hush, Hush becomes far more acceptable. By the end of the story, Patch has redeemed himself and during Crescendo Nora is a lot more able to resist not only his darker side but that of the various factions around her. In fact, she's a heroine worth reading and I am looking forward to spending more time with both her and her not-so-much-creepy-as-bad-at-expressing-himself love interest in the future.

Thank you to UK Book Tours for providing me with a copy of this title to read and review.

March 15, 2011

Contemporary Two-fer (Reviews of When It Happens and Rules of Attraction)

I've been reading quite a lot of contemporary fiction recently, having overdosed on paranormal and dystopian titles over the last year. I love what I've read so far – although this genre has never been a favourite of mine. Often these books, while good, are quite slight so rather than right full reviews I've decided to write mini-reviews of those that I've particularly enjoyed – these will pop up on the blog now and again.

When It Happens
Susane Colasanti
Speak 2008
Ah, this book was just so sweet. Initially, I found it hard to get into – the opening chapter is entirely dialogue and just doesn't flow very well. However, it's worth persevering because When It Happens quickly settles into a lovely duel narrative between smart girl Sara and intelligent slacker, Tobey. Ironically, not an awful lot actually happens and it's all entirely predictable but that's what I liked about it. This is a simple boy meets girl story and Susane Colasanti never resorts to ridiculous intensity and melodrama rather choosing to write the story of a fairly normal high school relationship. The bumps that Sara and Tobey encounter along the road are believable and they deal with them in a low key and realistic way.

Other than the simple storyline, the main strengths of When It Happens are Sara and Tobey themselves. Sara is super-smart and focussed while also being charmingly spiritual – putting her wishes out into the universe in the hope that the universe will answer her. If this sounds a little hokey, it's really not – it comes across as very sweet and balances out Sara's logical side nicely. Tobey is a musician, which instantly rockets him to the dizzy heights of Splendibird's Favourite Book Boys (TM). He's that lovely combination of intelligence and lack of focus and just seems full to the brim of hope and potential. He's also full to the brim with teenage lust and his sections of the book are often very funny.

As soon as I finished When It Happens, I ordered Take Me There by the same author – if it's anything like this light yet lovely title I will be absolutely delighted.

Rules of Attraction
Simone Elkeles
Simon and Schuster 
I have a review of Perfect Chemistry sitting in my To Be Posted folder. It's been there for months. The reason that I haven't posted it is that I still can't decide if I liked the book or not. Basically, I think the disastrously awful epilogue left a bad taste in my mouth. Still, I'd heard good things about Rules of Attraction and decided to give it a go. Not only did I enjoy it but it has warmed my heart to Perfect Chemistry, reminding me that before THAT epilogue there had been quite a sweet story.

The storyline of Rules of Attraction is actually a lot more cohesive than the first book in the series. Carlos has been sent to live with older brother Alex in Colorado and is not impressed. While Alex couldn't wait to escape gangland Chicago, Carlos would very much like to be up to his neck in it. In his opinion Alex's girlfriend Britany has encouraged Alex to turn his back on his heritage and there is no way that Carlos would let some white girl do the same to him. Until he meets Kiara.

Kiara is very much the heart of this novel. While I felt that Britany was a bit of a stereotype (perfect girl hiding difficult home life – seen it all before), Kiara is totally refreshing. She doesn't dress right and doesn't care, her only friend is the delightfully camp Tuck and she really couldn't give much of damn what people think of her. She stands up for herself and likes a challenge – which is exactly what she's presented with in Carlos. Carlos is also well written, cocky and defensive he's nothing like the more angst-ridden Alex. However, like his brother he's a good guy at heart and his actions betray this at every opportunity. Carlos's and Kiara's growing relationship made more sense to me than that of Alex and Britany but the latter pairing also seem more believable in this second instalment of the Fuentes brothers. I look forward to part three, Chain Reaction, which comes out later this year.

March 09, 2011

You Are At The Bottom Of My Mind (Review: My Name Is Memory by Ann Brashares)

My Name Is Memory
Ann Brashares
Hodder and Stoughton 2010

Daniel is an old soul. Literally. He has lived many lives and, unlike the majority of souls, is able to remember each and every one. And in each and every one his driving force has been his love for another soul – Sophia. In each life he searches for her, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. When he finds her again in the form of teenage Lucy he hopes that this may be the lifetime that they finally spend together but hundreds of years of experience have taught him to be wary. When his first encounter with Lucy goes awry he fades into the background, scared of losing his beloved Sophia once more. Lucy, for her part, is captivated by the enigmatic Daniel – a fellow student whom she fails to speak to until just before she graduates. When they finally talk she is overwhelmed by their mental and physical connection but what Daniel has to say confuses and distresses her. She walks away, trying to consign him to history but as the years pass, circumstance forces her to confront Daniel's claims once more and wonder what they might mean for both her future and her past.

My Name is Memory is very much Daniel's story (in fact, the very title alludes to this). He's one of the most compelling protagonists that I have read. It is clear from the start that he is deeply conflicted. Part of him seems extremely proud to be a sole documenter of eons of history, watching civilisations rise and fall and the very terra firma change as he walks apon it. However, he also seems despondent – isolated and lonely by his extraordinary memory and this is perhaps the crux of both his character and of the story. Daniel is entirely focussed on his internal essence and he moves from life to life merely inhabiting bodies rather than connecting with the life that he is living. He's not unkind, nor unlikable – just distant, separated by a life line that those who surround him could never comprehend. The one thing that does motivate him is his love for Sophia but even this is distorted through the prism of his memories. When he does meet Lucy (and prior to her, Constance) he doesn't see her but rather a vessel ready to be filled with his memories of the soul she isn't even aware of. His character development is slow – he has lived for a long time without ever really changing, after all. When Daniel does start to alter it is beautifully done, but also believably stilted.

Lucy is no less interesting. After attempting to overcome her initial meeting with Daniel she cannot quite escape her intuition that he is someone of great importance to her. As she moves through college and into graduate school she discovers more and more about the lives that she may have lived before. She doesn't accept what she finds easily and her torment as she starts to believe that what Daniel told her may have been true is compounded by her inability to find him. She's a character who is easy to relate to and while I found her slow to warm to by the end of the book I truly admired her. From the start it is clear that she is unwilling to be Daniel's Sophia – she is, after all, Lucy. Though they spend much of the book apart, Daniel and Lucy make a very beautiful couple – yet not a perfect one. While it is clear from the start that they have a unique bond, it is not always clear that they are destined to be together – an issue that remains unclear throughout the book.

My Name is Memory is nothing if not epic in scope. The narrative is split into two sections with the modern day story told in the third person and taking place between 2004 and 2009. The alternating narrative is told in the first person by Daniel as he recounts his experiences from around 541AD to 1986. Ann Brashares has worked in the premise that souls are moved from life to life in loose groups, with many souls touching each others lives repeatedly. In the case of Daniel and Lucy, they have an ancient antagonist who continues to seek them out and come between them in every life. This aspect of the plot adds a sinister edge to their love story and allows Brashares to write a thrilling and dark set piece towards the end of the novel.

Weeks after finishing My Name Is Memory I am still reeling from it's story and scope. The writing is utterly captivating and the characters flawed and fascinating. The book ends with lots of questions and I believe that there is another title to follow, but it actually stands alone very well – it isn't entirely necessary to know all the answers and I enjoyed pondering the possible outcomes through the lens of Daniel and Lucy's previous experiences. There are a few reincarnation stories out there at the moment (Fallen, The Eternal Ones) but this is by far the most successful that I have read – and definitely the most beautiful. Highly recommended.

My Name Is Memory is available now. Thank you to UK Book Tours for providing me with this copy to read and review.

March 07, 2011

International giveaway of Dark Mirror by M.J. Putney

Dark Mirror (Dark Passage, #1)
Lady Victoria Mansfield is fortunate to have been born to a life of wealth and privilege but unfortunate to have been born with magical ability in a time when magic is seen as the province of only the lower classes.  Unable to completely hide her forbidden talent, Tory finds herself banished to Lackland Abbey - a school that will purportedly "reform" her. However, despite her seemingly hopeless situation, Tory embarks on what is truly the adventure of her lifetime, journeying further than she ever thought possible....

Intrigued? Well, I have one copy of Dark Mirror by M.J. Putney to give away (courtesy of St. Martin's Griffin) - just fill in the form below and keep your fingers crossed!

This giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY and will close at 8pm GMT on Monday 4th April 2011. Good luck!

March 06, 2011

Burn, Baby, Burn (Review: Burning Secrets; Clare Chambers)

Burning Secrets
Clare Chambers
Harper Collins 2011

I have recently been lamenting the lack of good YA thrillers. As a big fan of adult crime/thriller fiction I have been looking for a decent YA contribution and slowly some are starting to emerge (Long Reach and The Body Finder standing out in particular). Burning Secrets instantly caught my attention as a title that looked like it took a decent stab at the thriller genre – and it does.

The book starts with the setting of a small bonfire that soon leads to an accidental arson with disastrous consequences. Told in the first person, it is intentionally vague on the identity of the narrator and this story arch continues sporadically throughout the book, always in first person, always in italics with the narrator's identity slowly becoming clearer. While not the main plot it does give us some insight into the characters and adds a slightly edgy quality to the more central plot.

The main story line is that of Daniel and his sister Louie who are leaving behind a troubled past in London to move to a small island with their single mother. The island, Wragge, is a community in a bubble, with few outsiders and little contact with the outside world. While the siblings are to be home schooled, they soon meet some local youngsters and Daniel in particular is struck by how happy they seem to be at school (something that neither he nor Louie can particularly relate to). The local kids also seem to be pretty keen on snaffling down local foliage, known as Leaf – something Daniel cannot understand due to the plant's foul taste. From this point on things just become stranger and stranger.

Daniel is a likable protagonist. He's clearly not had an easy time of it recently and seems glad of the freedom that Wragge allows him. He also seems to miss interacting with people and seeks out the locals more quickly than his sister. Louie obviously has issues from her past and I found her, for the majority of the book, pretty irritating. Yet she does manage to redeem herself a little and I did like the fact that her and Daniel were close, even though they still bickered a lot. Their relationship seemed like a believable one between siblings. Ramsey, the local girl who catches Daniel's eye was interesting enough but showed little in the way of personality. While this was related to the overall plot, I did find it hard to understand why Daniel found her so intriguing. In fact, their whole budding relationship didn't particularly ring true to me. They only actually meet about half a dozen times over the course of the book and I really didn't see how their feelings for each other developed. However, I can concede that some teenage relationships can appear out of nowhere and perhaps that is what the author was aiming at.

The plot of Burning Secrets was interesting in a kind of Stepford Wives meets Freaks and Geeks sort of way. That may make it sound less than original but I've not come across this kind of story line in YA before and enjoyed the ride. However, I sometimes felt that the story moved too fast, hurrying over scenes that could have been given more depth, more suspense and more detail. The plot left me wanting more and it was frustrating to see such a good premise underused. While the back story of arson and it's consequences gives some much needed insight into Daniel, it was to the detriment of the main mystery. Daniel's background could easily have been exposited over the course of the book without cutting away from the primary plot, losing pace along the way.

Having said this, Burning Secrets is an interesting read and a promising debut. It is also great to see a book of this style on shelves and I would urge anyone who enjoys a good thriller to pick it up. While Daniel appears to be about 16, I think that this book would go down a storm with middle grade readers. Perhaps I have been ruined by adult crime thrillers, as I have a strong feeling that I would have loved this when in my teens. Clare Chambers has boldly gone where few YA writers dare to step and I hope that she continues on this path as I would love to read whatever she comes up with next.

Burning Secrets is available now. Thank you to Harper Collins for providing me with this title to review.

March 03, 2011

Q & A with Julie Kagawa, author of The Iron King

Over the past few months, I've had the enjoyable task of reading and reviewing The Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa. One of the most fun, thrilling and original Fey based tales out there, The Iron King (first book in the series) is now available in the UK.  In order to celebrate this long awaited release, Julie has kindly answered a few questions about the series and her motivations:

There are lots of books about Fey out there in YA-dom at the moment - The Iron King is impressive in that it's central premise is entirely original yet there are lots of traditional elements in your Fey world (not least the inclusion of Puck). Did you do a lot of research into the myth and folklore surrounding Faerie?

I already knew a fair amount of faery lore, but I did do a little research online. And watched A Midsummer Night’s Dream for inspiration.

Grimalkin has wormed his way into my top three literary talking animals (up there with Mogget from Sabriel and Angharrad from the Chaos Walking trilogy). Do you have a personal favourite?

My favourite talking animal is Reepicheep from Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader. He’s a brave, charming, sword-wielding mouse; how could you not love him?

Ah, Reepicheep - a king among mice if ever there was one. Anyhoo...If you had to choose a song or piece of music for each of your characters, what would you choose?

For Meghan I would choose Anything But Ordinary by Avril Lavigne, for Puck it would have to be Geek in the Pink by Jason Mraz, and for Ash it would be Hand of Sorrow by Within Temptation. 

If you could take any of your characters and place them in another story, who would you choose, which character and why?

Meghan would probably fit best into another story, being mostly human and having that stubborn, never-say-die attitude. Grim would also be a good fit, if the story needed a snarky, all-knowing talking cat.

Finally, The Iron Fey series could be seen as a commentary on disposable culture - was this intentional and how do you feel about the issue?

I never intentionally wrote any sort of message or moral lesson into The Iron King, but as the series progresses, I hope that the message people take away, if any, is one of balance. That both progress and nature have their place, that neither are completely bad, and we should learn to use one to help the other.

Many thanks to Julie for such interesting answers and for writing such interesting stories!  Click on the titles for reviews of The Iron King, The Iron Daughter and The Iron Queen and be sure to pick up a copy of the first book ASAP - you won't regret it.

The Iron King (Iron Fey, #1)

March 01, 2011

Firestarter (Review: Firelight by Sophie Jordan)

Sophie Jordan
OUP 2011

Having swithered over Sophie Jordan's Firelight for some time now, I was afforded the opportunity to read and review it prior to it's UK release this month and it is a rare beast in the paranormal genre in that it has a premise that I've not actually seen before. Sort of. Let me explain...

Jacinda is a sixteen year old dragon and, also, a sixteen year old girl. A were-girl, if you will. I know, I know, this sounds a bit dubious, but bear with me... Draki are an ancient and somewhat endangered species who have evolved to the extent that they can take on human form in order to hide from the Enkros – a mysterious body of beings who covet the dragon's magical blood and gem-sniffing capabilities. These Enkros employ human hunters to do their dirty work and the Draki have been reduced to living in small hidden Prides and flying only at night. While all Draki have various skills, Jacinda is of particular importance as the last dragon with the ability to breath fire and her pride guard her fiercely. In fact, her pride have some rather icky ideas about her and pride prince, Cassian, creating some baby fire-breathers and Jacinda's mum decides that it's time to get out of Dodge before her daughter is, er, bred. The family take up residence in a desert town, where Jacinda's inner dragon starts to decline (Draki apparently prefer rain and mist – she should actually be living in Forks). That is until she comes across a mysterious, if familiar, boy at her new high school – Will, who is not only a hunter but also inexplicably drawn to Jacinda.

Jacinda is a likable protagonist. It helps that she spends the majority of the story in human form, getting her dragon on only at the most inopportune of times. She reads like a teenage girl, even when she is fully Draki. While this makes her relatable it didn't help me to get my head round her inner beast – to my understanding she is a dragon, who turns into a girl, but she read more like a girl who happens to be able to become a dragon. That being said, I have no personal experience of dragons and their inner monologues, so what do I know.... And this certainly didn't detract from my enjoyment of the book. Jacinda is believably unhappy in her new home and her physical discomfort in the environment is extremely well written, as is her pain at the decline of her Draki self. I didn't always understand her thought processes, though. It takes her a long time to understand why her mother has removed her from the pride which I found strange, as Jacinda is more than aware of the pride's plan to use her as a breeding mare. However, when she does eventually get her head around her possible future she never wavers and I felt that her initial denial, while strange, was based only in her need for familiarity.

Will could have strayed towards one-dimensionality but luckily Sophie Jordan has imbued him with a little bit more depth than some love interests I've seen in paranormal. His attraction to Jacinda is believable, his disdain of his cousins admirable and his feelings towards his own family believably conflicted. However, I don't really understand why he chooses to be with Jacinda – particularly in light of the fact that his association with her, which inevitably draws her closer to his family, puts her in great danger. Other characters round out the story with varying success. I found Jacinda's mother and sister to be hugely irritating (perhaps intentionally). Her mother's denial over what she asks Jacinda to give up seems hugely blinkered and while I understand her motivations I would have thought that she would have had more patience with her daughter's struggle. Her sister I can understand a little better but her actions towards the end of the book really annoyed me as she seemed to be putting at risk the very lifestyle that she accuses Jacinda of preventing. Finally, Cassian is cast as the obligatory third wheel to Jacinda and Will's relationship. At first he seems utterly vile but through the book (which he appears in very little) there seems to be a vaguely more considerate side to his character emerging. He could go either way – at the moment he doesn't seem like a particularly credible love interest, but stranger things have happened.

Overall, Firelight is an enjoyable read. As far as paranormal romance goes, it perhaps isn't anything new but the characters have strong and believable voices and the original mythology goes a long way to helping this title stand out from the usual were-crowd. For those of you tired of wolves and vamps, then this may help to whet your appetite for paranormal once more. For those of you who love forbidden love, then this will also be right up your street. A sequel is in the making and the book ends with quite a cliffhanger – things could be about to get pretty ugly and that alone is enough to peak my curiosity about what comes next for Jacinda.   

Firelight is published in the UK on 3rd March.  Thank you to OUP for sending me this title to review.