April 28, 2013

State of the Union - April

Earlier this month, The Mountains of Instead turned three. Which is as surprising to me as it is to anyone else as, quite frankly, I fully expected to have given up by now!  But here we are, and as such I'm introducing a new monthly feature in the form of The State of the Union.

Basically, towards the end of each month a round up post will appear which will include links to everything I've reviewed that month and also links to bits and bobs that I've encountered around the web that we think might be of interest. Additionally, there will be a small section that talks about things we're looking forward to in particular.  There are lots of posts around the place that do similar things and I enjoy them all but have been particularly inspired by Forever Young Adult's Procrastination Pro-Tips on which I waste hours every time it's posted.  

So, without further do...

We've been surprisingly productive (for us) this April, and actually managed to review a couple of titles per week (you can find links to all posts in the right side bar):

Wild BoyClockwork Princess (The Infernal Devices, #3)Requiem (Delirium, #3)The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart
Scarlet (Lunar Chronicles, #2)Sixty-One NailsThe 5th Wave (The Fifth Wave, #1)

Of these, The 5th Wave probably edges out in front (but only just, these were all excellent) with Wild Boy standing out as an exciting and original debut.

Around and about on the internets, there has been much talk about Amazon and the Death of Books.  UK author Barry Hutchison blogged about the difficulty of selling books traditionally from an authors point of view while Neil Gaiman spoke at length about change versus stagnation in the book industry.  Both are fascinating and should provide much food for thought.

Other internetty things to check out include The Taichung Bookworm, belonging to our very own Cannonball Jones who, due to his voracious reading habit, has had to start a site of his VERY OWN in order to reviews he keeps writing.  It goes without saying that it's all rather excellent. Also excellent is the new Walker Books blog InkSlingers, which is not only lovely to look at but full of interesting bits and pieces. Also, check out YAckers YAck of the month, Tigerlily.

The world of YA film adaptations continues apace with the City of Bones, Catching Fire and Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters trailer emerging this month:


They all look pretty bloody good (although I'm just not buying Jonathon Rhys Meyers as Valentine) and, quite frankly, should be released SOONER.

Over the month of May, we'll be featuring (hopefully among other things) the following:

The Crane WifeDead Silence (The Body Finder, #4)The HumansThe Madman's Daughter (The Madman's Daughter, #1)

And YAckers will be YAcking If You Find me by Emily Murdoch which looks pretty darn good and our April YAck on Girl of Fire and Thorns will be up shortly.  It is, er, a full and frank discussion of a title that divided the group.

Finally, April has bombarded us with many pretty, pretty upcoming book covers.  Firstly, the tour de force that is the Chaos Walking has been repackaged rather gorgeously, the new look reflecting the classic status that this trilogy continues to garner:

Additionally, Walker Books have released the cover for Ness's upcoming YA title More Than This, while Bloombury have revealed the follow up to Sarah Maas's Throne of Glass, Crown of Midnight.  Two very different,  but equally striking covers:

More Than ThisCrown of Midnight (Throne of Glass, #2)

And that's all for now, folks.  I hope that you enjoy this new monthly feature as much as I enjoy putting it together and, as always, I'd love any feedback/ideas/thoughts to appear in the comments.

Until May, au revoir!

April 25, 2013

If I Could Tell You I Would Let You Know (Review: The Night She Disappeared by April Henry)

The Night She Disappeared
April Henry
Walker 2013

Kayla sets of to deliver a pizza, a normal part of a normal job.  She never returns, leaving behind a few scattered pizza boxes on the forest floor and no answers.  Drew, who took the fateful order, remembers nothing bar an unmemorable voice that asked for an unappetizing pizza and an altogether different girl. Gabie, having swapped shifts with Kayla, swiftly realises that she has narrowly escaped Kayla’s fate.  Because Gabie is the other girl, the one so eagerly requested, the girl whom Kayla replaced.  Whoever took Kayla really wanted Gabie and no-one has any idea of where either Kayla or her abductor are.  As the local community slips into a morass of guilt and suspicion, Gabie and Drew struggle with uncertainty and fear. Where is Kayla?  Who took her?  And does he still want someone else?

Both Gabie and Drew are characters who seem to keep themselves to themselves.  Despite being from opposite sides of the tracks, they are fairly similar.  Gabie, academically smart, with loving if largely absent parents blends into the background of life  effortlessly. While pleasant, she seems to have no real friends although she clearly enjoys working with the ebullient Kayla.  She is quick to admit – and not really bothered by – her plainness and could easily have been a fairly dull character were it not for the fact that she hasn't gone unnoticed by everyone.  Her guilty reaction to Kayla’s disappearance is extreme and verges, in fact, on real instability.  Her utter conviction that Kayla is still alive is borne of guilt, yes, but also of fear and both this and her sudden attachment to Drew are completely understandable.

Drew himself is a sympathetic character.  Struggling with a meth-head, kleptomaniac mother at Pete’s Pizza because he has to, trying to keep his head above water for a future that has already given up on him.  Again, he has few friends but is well liked at work and the guilt he feels on being the last person to see Kayla before she disappeared, indeed on being the one who he perceives sent her to her probable death, is palpable throughout.  He clearly liked Kayla a lot but he’s never really paid much attention to Gabie. Now, thrown together with a girl who seems to be teetering on the brink of sanity, he comes into his own in a way he probably hasn't before. He panders to Gabie, but never too much, taking time to try and understand her while also preventing her from taking her crazed theories too far.  Their growing friendship is extremely well observed as it moves from the need for mutual absolution through shared belief to a final solid and believable bond.

The Night She Disappeared is a short but incredibly well constructed novel. In addition to the first person narratives of Drew and Gabie, there are a further two prominent voices – both of which are eerily effective. There is also a third person, omniscient narrator through which we view snapshots of the community, most notably effective in a short section that and enters the lonely world of a police diver, searching for one family’s hell in the abyss of a dark river.  In addition to this, the book contains fragments of evidence, scattered throughout its pages. Telephone and interview transcripts; a search warrant; the edict of a fortune cookie; a poignant To Do list; a bloody message scrawled on the label of a water bottle.  This overcrowded format could have led to a confusing mess, but so carefully are the narratives and ephemera placed that they add a depth and a sense of frightening reality to April Henry’s already sinister story.

As the story progresses, Henry fills it with fascinating characters – some of whom appear only briefly but will stay with readers for much longer than their short appearances.  From the psychic who may or may not be exploiting the situation to the tweaker who attracts suspicion to the police officer who dismisses Gabie as a possible victim because she’s just too plain, they are all exceptionally well realised. The Night She Disappeared is accomplished although the ending, while satisfying, lacks the ambiguity which haunts the real-life case that inspired the book’s premise.  This is a minor quibble, though. Ultimately, The Night She Disappeared works well on many levels - thriller, horror, mystery, police procedural and YA contemporary all rolled into one compelling package. This is a book that is difficult to put down and one that will have you pondering the many societal issues it touches on long after you turn the last page.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird who would like to see MORE CRIME in YA. YA fiction that is, not just criminal young adults - that would be bad.  The Night She Disappeared is available now.  Thank you to the publisher for providing us with a copy of this title to review.

April 20, 2013

Humanity I Love You (review: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey)

The 5th Wave (The Fifth Wave, #1)The 5th Wave
Rick Yancey
Penguin 2013

Humanity is dying, under attack from an unknown enemy who is killing them in wave after wave of horror and blood.  The 1st wave took out electricity, communications, the backbone of today’s society; the 2nd wave decimates coasts and cities all over the world; the 3rd wave comes in the form of plague, killing billions and the 4th wave see’s the few who are left running for their lives, unsure of who to trust.  Now the world awaits the 5th wave even as the strange mothership looms above the earth waiting, ominous and silent.  Cassie finds herself alone in the woods, for all she knows, the last human on earth, running from sharp shooters, staying alive out of pure determination to keep a promise that may prove to be unkeepable.  At her lowest ebb, she meets Evan who has been living quietly since losing everything.  Evan is kind, capable and willing to do anything for Cassie, including help her keep her promise but Cassie remains scared, suspicious and sure that whatever the 5th Wave is, she’s better of facing it alone.

The 5th Wave has multiple narratives but Cassie remains at the heart of the story.  She’s something else, a girl honed by bloodshed and loss into an almost frightening automaton with a singular focus.  Her narrative takes the form of journal entries and she rages at her supposed reader even while confiding her deepest fears.  While she is undoubtedly kick-ass, she’s also reeling from the events that have overtaken the human race and her own personal existence.  She lacks understanding of the bigger picture – it seems that almost everyone does – but her focus on her small part of it is unfailing, even as she finds herself injured and alone in the snow.  Her interactions with the mysterious Evan are fraught with both longing and mistrust.  Cassie has been alone for a long time when she meets him, yet she’s also seen and done some awful things and is deeply suspicious of anyone and everyone.  Evan, for his part, doesn’t help much, remaining taciturn about the details of his past even as he cares for Cassie with real affection.  Both are intriguing characters and as their stories intertwine they become increasingly hard to predict while remaining tentatively likable.  Cassie, in particular, is always compelling.

In addition to Cassie there are three additional narratives.  One is that of Private Zombie, a young man, shell-shocked and sick who ends up recruited to the fight against the Others (as they have become known, clearly the military were big fans of Lost).  Realising that he has the opportunity to take up arms against those who took away life as he once knew it, Zombie slowly transitions from a thoughtful and relatively gentle boy into a hardened soldier, a person which even he himself is unsure of.  The third narrative is that of another recruit, Private Nugget (these names all make sense on reading), an impossible soldier who clings to Zombie in a way not encouraged by their seniors.  Nugget’s voice is more than a little heart-breaking but his character is nothing short of inspiring even though he gets less page-time than the rest.  The final narrative appears only once or twice and is from the point of view of a character who was once human but who has become distinctly Other.  Yet their humanity remains, causing confusion, pain and ultimately becoming the crux of the entire story and these small sections of the book are both eerie and moving.

The 5th Wave is a bit of a triumph in terms of its careful construction and gripping storytelling.  The waves are described from different viewpoints, in which Yancey creates a horrifying world that he continues to expand upon throughout the book while adding in additional layers and levels (most effective in the sections that focus on Zombie’s training) of trust, lies, truth and doublespeak.  His core plot is incredibly strong but this first book (The 5th Wave is the start of a series) focusses largely on world building with readers only truly discovering the nature of the 5th wave at the books climax.  And what a climax it is, full of twists, turns and breath taking action.  Good Sci-Fi is rarely seen in YA, particularly recently (with only Beth Revis’s Across The Universe immediately springing to mind) and it’s a pleasure to find such a well written example of the genre.  The 5th Wave is utterly compelling and impossible to put down (I stayed up well into the night in order to read it in one sitting) and should be added to your wish lists straight away.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird. The 5th Wave will be available from 5th May 2013.  Thank you to the publisher, via NetGalley for providing us with this title to review.

April 18, 2013

Running Up That Hill (Review: Requiem by Lauren Oliver)

Requiem (Delirium, #3)Requiem
Lauren Oliver
Hodder and Stoughton 2013

Requiem is the final book in Lauren Oliver's Delirium trilogy. As such, this review contains spoilers for the previous two titles. You can find our reviews of Delirium and Pandemonium by clicking on the links.

Having escaped the clutches of Deliria Free America and the vicious Scavengers, Lena and Julian thought they were home free or that they at least had the freedom of the Wilds to explore together, while cultivating their growing relationship.  But the Resistance has been simmering for a while and the situation is now at boiling point.  With the rebels getting bolder and the response getting harsher Lena faces the beginning of the end.  To complicate matters, a face from her past – merely glimpsed at the end of Pandemonium – is back and he isn’t happy.  Elsewhere, Hana has been cured of the Deliria which she half believes led her to make a decision that haunts her and affects Lena to the present day.  Set to marry a Jekyll and Hyde Mayor, she can’t quite let the past go, and it scares her.  Requiem tells the stories of these two very different girls whose pasts and futures inextricably intertwined with that of the society around them.

Lena is a very different girl to the one first seen in Delirium.  While she certainly toughened up during her stay in the Wilds, her subsequent capture, escape and rescue of Julian from the DFA has arguably matured her more than anything.  While she’s still pretty young she’s gained a focus and determination that carries her through this last instalment in Lauren Oliver’s trilogy.  She’s not always nice and certainly not always fair but her actions are believable and she’s ultimately both a sympathetic and admirable character.  Requiem, however, is not all about Lena – a refreshing change from the relentless (although excellent) narrative of the previous two books.  Here, another story is told – that of Hana.  Hana has been Cured and so, to an extent, her voice is cool, remote and analytical.  Yet Hana still has feelings – it’s just that these feelings don’t rule her, even as she fears that their very existence might mean her Cure was unsuccessful.  She thinks often of Lena, and more of Lena’s family, with a vague guilt and as her own situation becomes increasingly untenable, she starts to wonder if Lena had the right idea.  She’s an absolutely fascinating addition to Oliver’s core story and her own personal journey is entirely compelling.

While the characters in Hana’s life are largely familiar, with the Cured’s oddly obsessive attention to image and detail, her future husband is frightening in that he has a temper.  Not something that would necessarily be unusual, but in a Cured adds a truly frightening aspect to an already deeply uncomfortable situation.  In Lena’s life is Julian, who is just so good.  He adapts well to his new life in the Wilds, works hard, loves Lena with an entrancing innocence and is thoughtful enough to give her the space that she needs.  And she really does need that space of course, because Alex – long thought dead – has returned.  Alex, like Lena, has gone through a bit of a metamorphosis. Gone is the loving figure of Delirium and in his place is a young man of hard edges, scars and bitterness.  He’s frequently cruel, often irritating and always entirely understandable.

The story that runs through Requiem is two pronged.  On one hand it is a story of rebellion, resistance and the road to war while on the other it is a study of love, relationships and the myriad of emotions that both create and end them.  These two aspects run seamlessly alongside each other being, as they have always been in Oliver’s beautifully realised world, so hopelessly intertwined.  One of the most interesting ideas touched upon is that Lena and Julian only know that there is Deliria – love – and the alternative Cure.  They have no idea that not all romantic relationships have to begin or end with love  because they have no frame of reference.  Lena, in her confusion, starts to realise that some relationships – some loves even – are different to others, something that very few in her life have had the opportunity to understand.  Alex, perhaps, having always been relatively free to love, understands it more than most, something that is perhaps at the heart of his bitterness.

The ending of Requiem has attracted much criticism, all of which is entirely unfounded.  Lauren Oliver has never chosen to make any aspect of this trilogy easy, or pretty, or anything other than complex, reflecting the fractured and bizarre society that she has imagined.  Perhaps readers have become too used to clear-cut endings, where all ends are tied up and everyone lives happily ever after.  Lauren Oliver has chosen, instead, to end her trilogy in a beautifully ambiguous manner, leaving the story almost unfinished yet filled with a sense of triumph and hope, even as it is tinged with sadness.  It’s not tied up in a pretty bow partly, one suspects, because Oliver respects her readership more than that.  If I recall correctly, similar criticisms were levelled at Suzanne Collins’s Mockingjay and it seems to have done alright regardless. Ultimately, the Delirium trilogy is a tour de force of great world building, strong characters and extremely accomplished authorship and if its ending allows that story to continue untold, then it is all the better for it.  Highly recommended.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird. Requiem is available now.

April 16, 2013

Run, Rabbit, Run (Review: Sixty-One Nails by Mike Shevdon

Sixty-One Nails Mike Shevdon Angry Robot 2009
"There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy."
While it was Shakespeare who penned that line, it seems to have been adopted as an unofficial motto by the world of urban fantasy authors. Secret worlds lurking in the shadows, another realm below our own, grotesque visages behind human masks, these are all familiar themes. And for good reason too, nothing is more conducive to some good, old-fashioned daydreaming than the possibility of pulling back the veil of the mundane to reveal unspeakable beauty or mortal danger. Mike Shevdon has taken this idea to heart in Sixty-One Nails, an urban fantasy adventure par excellence which challenges the viewer to imagine what happens when one's reality is shattered. Do you become coward or hero, observer or actor?
Sixty-One Nails follows the misadventures of Niall Petersen, an anonymous, divorced London businessman living a typically dreary and monotonous existence. His career more or less erases any possibility of a social life while his teenage daughter is used as an emotional ping-pong ball between him and his estranged ex-wife. All this changes during one trip on the subway. While waiting for a train, Niall finds himself suddenly on the floor, clasping his chest in agony and watching the world fade to blackness. Fearing an early, heart-induced end to his life suddenly an old woman leaps into view, resuscitating him and whispering some cryptic messages before disappearing. After somehow tracking her down his life is thrown into disarray. The woman, known only as Blackbird, shows him a vision of being hunted and appropriately christens him Rabbit. So far, so weird.
Before he knows it Niall has seen her transform into a bewitching 20-year old, been greeted by sewer dwelling trolls and found himself targeted for assassination by a mysterious being spreading death in the form of unstoppable mildew. After barely surviving his first night he teams up once more with Blackbird, resigned to tackle whatever is happening head-on before any harm can befall himself or, more importantly, his ex and daughter. With Rabbit as a guide he is inducted to the world of the Feyre, a world of which he has always unknowingly been a part. Magical beings have lived alongside humanity for many years in an unsteady alliance against rogue Feyre which detest mere mortals and would stop at nothing to claim the world for their own. This may soon come to pass, with events leading inexorably to an ancient royal ceremony gone awry, leading to a weakening of the barrier between our reality and that of the The Untainted.
You can probably guess the rest. It's up to hapless magical newbie Rabbit to take on immeasurably powerful foes and save both realms from certain destruction. In this respect Mike Shevdon wins no points for originality with Sixty-One Nails. As always though, the devil's in the details. There are more than enough unique touches throughout the story to keep you firmly planted in your seat and reaching for more coffee. The system of magic means each Feyre must discover their own branch of power and develop it as best they can. The division of the Feyre courts and their history leaves plenty scope for political intrigue in coming books. The queasiness-inducing relationship between Rabbit and the initially ancient Blackbird is extremely (if unintentionally) entertaining. Perhaps most accomplished of all is the ceremony at the heart of the book, utilising the titular nails. On reaching the book's end I was delighted to find it to be based on an actual ceremony and that Shevdon had provided a detailed account of the real deal.
Unfortunately, Shevdon often relies too heavily on imagination and not enough on reality. Throughout the book I constantly felt that Niall's character was underdeveloped and somewhat cardboard. His reaction to the whole situation (being half-magical and being hounded by the epitome of evil) seemed to lack anything resembling genuine surprise, fear or exhilaration. Indeed he seemed instead to be wearily resigned to his fate, with a cartoonish attitude of "End of the world eh? Oh well, let's see what happens." If as much time had been spent fleshing out Niall's psyche as was the case with Blackbird's it would have left the novel in a far better state.
That aside, if you can live with a slightly one-dimensional hero then there's a lot to recommend Sixty-One Nails. A mentioned it checks all the boxes required of urban fantasy and then goes a couple of steps further. Given the subject matter is has inevitably received countless comparisons to Neil Gaiman in general and Neverwhere in particular but these references are the result of lazy reviewing more than anything else. Mike Shevdon certainly has his own unique voice and while it may have its flaws it's still going to be worth following the Courts Of The Feyre series.

This review was brought to you by Cannonball Jones.  Sixty-One Nails is available now.


April 11, 2013

Hungry Like the Wolf (review: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer)

Marrisa Meyer
Puffin 2013 

Scarlet Benoit is on her own. Her beloved Grandmother is missing and no-one seems to care. Dragged from the quiet existence of her farm, Scarlet finds herself drawn into a world of street-fighting, marked men and swirling conspiracy. Unsure where to turn, she finds herself accompanying the mysterious fighter, wolf – a hungry young man, steeped in secrets, lies and possibly a little bit of truth. As they make their way through the French countryside to a Paris on the verge of a new revolution, Scarlet must battle to save her family, save herself and figure out whether Wolf deserves to be saved at all. Meanwhile back at the ranch (ranch here meaning high security prison), Cinder is starting a journey of her own (journey, here, meaning high octane escape attempt). Along the way, she picks up the charming yet possibly quite dim, Thorne (Captain, not Cadet) and replaces Iko's lost body with that of a large space ship. The three of them make an unlikely force against the evil Lunar Queen but as paths converge and situations deepen, they and Scarlet and Wolf and Emperor Kai find themselves on the front line in a battle for planet Earth.

As with Cinder, Scarlet makes for an enjoyable protagonist. Clear thinking, if somewhat distraught, she stubbornly refuses to accept her Grandmother's disappearance and kowtow to authority. She doesn't trust Wolf but sees him as a means to the end, even if it means going against her gut instinct when deciding to let him help her. Wolf himself is rather nicely written. He's just animalistic enough to have readers questioning his motives yet has the aura of a dog that's been mistreated, an almost puppy like attitude to Scarlet that is particularly effective when contrasted to his somewhat violent nature. The friendship that starts to grow between them is interesting in that neither seem to wish it and even at the end of the story one suspects they are in for a bumpy ride when getting to know each other better.

Cinder is as likable in Scarlet as she was in her titular installment. Struggling with her newly acquired knowledge of the past, she is more than a little lost in the present. Unsure of where to go, she realises that part of her story certainly has roots in France and sets off there with little idea of where to go next. She's a little bit scared and a little bit sad, with Kai still on her mind but she's also focused, smart and in posession of a decent sense of humour. Additional humour comes from the gloriously vain Thorne, who's inflated self worth and bravura is tempered with real courage and the lovely Iko, who is distraught to find herself so entirely enormous. The dialogue between Iko and Thorne is particularly funny and both are great additions to Cinder's ongoing story.

And her story is an increasingly entertaining one. Levana fits the role of fairytale Evil Queen rather beautifully and her and her minions are genuinely creepy and suitably hard to imagine beaten. Cinder's growing band of allies have much to fight against and find themselves aggressively sought by both familiar and all new bad guys. While the book may carry Scarlet's name this remains the story of Cinder and her Lunar heritage with the girls carrying the narrative together, with dual points of view. Additionally, there are shorter sections set in Beijing, seen through the eyes of Kai. These contains some of the most effective passages with Kai emerging as truly honourable even when facing impossible choices.

Marissa Meyer's world building remains rather excellent with her vision of Earth, Lunar and their political strife continuing to be detailed and believable. Now that the story is truly underway, Scarlet manages to improve upon the storytelling that was already impressive in Cinder. With Cress due out next year, it will be interesting to see how Meyer continues to weave new characters into a tale that is slowly building to what could be a truly thrilling climax. If you liked Cinder, you're going to love this – if you've yet to pick up either then treat yourself to some fairy-tale sci fi, it's a whole lot of fun.


This review was brought to you by Splendibird who is entirely aware that those of you who grew up in the '80's will be singing Duran Duran ALL DAY.  You're welcome.  Scarlet is available now, thank you to Puffin for providing us with a copy to review.


April 08, 2013

The Tell Tale Heart (Review of The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart by Mathias Malzieu)

The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart
Mathias Malzieu
Vintage 2011

Jack doesn't have the best start to life. The bastard child of an Edinburgh prostitute, he is delivered into the world into a small house on top of Arthur's Seat in the middle of a freezing winter in 1874. Adding insult to injury, his heart seems to be malfunctioning. Dr Madeleine (midwife, doctor, engineer and suspected witch) does her best, bolstering his failing organ with the mechanism from a cuckoo-clock. He somehow pulls through and, immediately abandoned by his mother, becomes a potential adoptee in Dr Madeleine's orphanage of oddities. He must also learn to live with the limitations imposed by his frail clockwork circulation - he can never touch it, never get excited and, more important than not feeding Mogwai after midnight, must never ever fall in love.

This isn't the end of Jack's troubles. Nobody wants a boy who goes 'tick, tock, tick, tock' all day long. Left on the shelf by Edinburgh's childless couples, he resigns himself to life with his eccentric family of drunks and whores. All this changes the day he finally ventures into the city, aching to explore life beyond the formerly volcanic peak of his home. Fate drives him into the path of Acacia, a beautiful young girl singing with an angelic voice which immediately captivates him. She ignites a passion within Jack which soon finds him facing down bullies, sharing a train carriage with Jack The Ripper, befriending George Melies and travelling across Europe to track her down and proclaim his love.

Mathias Malzieu's The Boy With The Cuckoo-Clock Heart is by turns entrancing and infuriating. The prose can be wonderful, with turns of phrase which will have your highlighter running dry by the time you're finished. The fact that I read a translation of a French original makes this all the more remarkable. Understandably it sometimes stumbles but on the whole it is a gorgeous, flowing read. The infuriation comes from Jack himself, a leading character whose obvious infirmity pleads for sympathy from the start but whose outright obsession makes him a difficult boy to root for.

His pursual of Acacia begins as a dashing adventure, seeking high and low and discovering new countries, before it starts to sink in that underneath it all, maybe Jack isn't playing with a full deck. This single-minded mission drives him to all but forget his friends back in Edinburgh. He fails to truly interact with anyone else, isolating himself and avoiding anything approaching intimacy, utterly blinded by his passion. Looking back at the book I began to think that this is perhaps deliberate - if he only had a working heart, which Acacia could perhaps grant him, then he might stand a chance of living a normal life. However it also serves to give the book an unwelcome level of discomfort which is jarring when set against the fairytale atmosphere kindled elsewhere.

Turning our attention to the object of his affections, Acacia is similarly flawed in character. I realise that we can't expect perfection from literary characters any more than those in real life but the reader really struggles to appreciate what Jack sees in her. Regardless of Jack's impossibly flawless, lovestruck descriptions she seldom appears to truly care for anyone in her life. Her moods swing from aloofness to apathy by way of the odd bout of righteous indignation, making it difficult to truly care whether Jack can finally breach the gates to her heart - in fact you may find yourself hoping for the opposite!
Despite these flaws, The Boy With The Cuckoo-Clock Heart remains an engaging read, and a brief one at that. There are enough well-crafted turns within its covers to warm most jaded hearts, from Jack's childhood friends, the bizarre yet compassionate prostitutes Anna and Luna to the caricature of legendary film pioneer George Melies joining an Andalusian circus. The magical realm which Mathias Malzieu has constructed within eaily-recongisable historical and geographical settings mostly offsets any annoyances which the main characters engender. If you can switch off your inner critic for a few hours and just enjoy a good story well told then The Boy With The Cuckoo-Clock Heart is definitely one to add to the fireside, rainy day reading list.

This review was brought to you by Cannonball Jones.  The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart is available now.


April 05, 2013

Bittersweet Symphony (Review of Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare)

Clockwork Princess
Cassandra Clare
Walker Books 2013

Clockwork Princess is the third and final book in Cassandra Clare's Infernal Devices series.  This review contains spoilers for the previous two books (Clockwork Angel and Clockwork Prince).  You have been warned.
The Institute of London is full of wedding preparation, surprise siblings, unspoken and forthcoming infants.  Life, for Tessa, Will and Jem is being lived.  Yet all is far from well.  Will continues to hide feelings that he cannot control, Tessa continues to feel torn between the two people she cares most for and Jem continues to approach the end of his life with untimely haste.  Over and above all, Mortmain, with his Machiavellian machinations and clockwork minions, continues to lurk in the shadows – poised to strike at any time.  In this, the final instalment of Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices, the inhabitants of the London Shadowhunter institute must make a final stand against a seemingly insurmountable enemy while Tessa must also come to terms with who she is, who she loves and the prospect of a long, long life.
Tessa Gray has come a long way since the start of her story.  She’s learnt some difficult truths, faced some catastrophic situations and met people who will be part of her for the rest of her life yet her core personality remains largely unchanged.  She remains hugely and enjoyably stubborn, extremely loyal and still a little in awe of the world that she now inhabits.  Her inability to forget about Will, despite her engagement to Jem should make her unlikable but it’s hard not to pity her rather impossible situation.  Her slow acceptance of her immortality and how she deals with it is interesting and her attitude towards it slowly starts to mirror Magnus’s in being one of careful, yet never entirely selfish, self-preservation.  When you know you’re going to outlive everyone you love, perhaps leaving them before they can leave you is something we all would consider and Clare looks at this idea towards the end of Clockwork Princess to interesting affect.
Jem, while playing a powerful and fascinating role in this final book, remains largely in the background.  He’s dying, and his inherently kind nature shines through as he starts to prepare everyone for his demise.  Of all character arcs his is perhaps the least easy to predict and easily the most compelling in that it is pivotal to the story of each protagonist.  Jem, from the outset of the Infernal Devices, has been a delightful character but occasionally seemed a little too perfect.  Here, Clare finally subtly displays an edge to his character in a later conversation with Tessa, proving that still waters run deep.  And then there is Will – and this is very much Will’s story.  In fact, one suspects that the Infernal Devices have all been Will’s story. Now released from his presumed curse he finds himself able to love and express love and this now extends far further than his feelings towards Tessa.  His sister Cecily is now a Shadowhunter, much to his consternation, and brings out harsher and softer aspects to his previously sardonic personality while his friendship and love for Jem become almost transformative.  He’s extremely well written and utterly heart-breaking in his devotion to those he cares about, perhaps especially when he shows it least.
Other characters are all well represented, each telling their own story, however small.  The Lightwood brothers remain pretty interesting, particularly Gabriel who struggles to pick the right path despite being clearly aware what that path should be.  Magnus is as welcome a character as always and his friendship with Will is truly touching explaining why, perhaps, Magnus is later so instantly fascinated by Alec.
The story itself is a more than adequate ending to what is arguably Clare’s strongest series.  Mortmain is the best kind of villain – one driven by utter conviction that he is righting the world of a terrible wrong.  This wrong, in fact, once more casts a light into the less savoury aspects of the Shadowhunters as do the letters that pass between Consul Wayland and Idris throughout the book.  Clare’s inclination to highlight the dark politicking (surely a name for another series right there, yes?) of the Clave has always made her stories that little bit more interesting – the Shadowhunters are a fascinating bunch, indeed.  Much has been made of the epilogue at the end of Clockwork Princess. Epilogues are always contentious but I suspect that had Cassandra Clare not written hers she would have been asked, ad nauseum, the questions she answers in those final pages.  Like it or not, and I absolutely did, it’s extremely skilled and pleasingly circuitous storytelling.
The Infernal Devices has been a joy to read from start to finish.  From the brilliantly envisioned Shadowhunter Victoriana to the incredibly moving denouement it deserves all the praise it has received.  For the eagle eyed reader, it feeds beautifully into the Mortal Instruments series both answering and presenting some interesting questions.  Certainly, each character in Clockwork Princess receives an ending that seems fitting – even if certain endings bring many tears to the eye.  Finally, as if it weren’t already pretty damn brilliant, the story contains a Hollow Mountain.  Which may or may not contain an Evil Lair.  And everyone knows that Evil Lairs in Hollow Mountains are cool.  For that, and everything else, tops marks, Clare – top marks. 
This review was brought to you by Splendibird.  Clockwork Princess is available now, wherever you buy books and we'd like to thank Walker Books for providing us with a copy of this title to review.

April 03, 2013

Wild Boy Blog Tour - Making a Hero

Wild Boy
I'm delighted today to be joined by author Rob Lloyd Jones and to promote his debut YA novel, Wild Boy. Wild Boy is a massively enjoyable romp that is both witty, unique, effective and hugely evocative of a world that exists in that special space between whimsy and history.  The titular character serves as freak-show attraction comes Holmes-ian detective, ably assisted by his trusty sidekick/arch nemesis, Clarissa, who trapezes her way through the twists and turns of what is never anything but a brilliant and original read. Great characters and a compelling story should have Wild Boy cartwheeling out of the shops and onto your shelves as soon as possible.

Today, Rob's going to talk to you about a finding Wild Boy - a protagonist like none other - and turning him into a hero:

Rob Lloyd Jones image
Hi and thanks for having me on The Mountains of Instead.

I wanted to talk about how I met my hero. Some writers say their heroes just come. It is as if an angel floats down and whispers everything they need to know about the character. The protagonist of my new book – Wild Boy – made things a little harder for me.

I wanted to write about a detective. I love good mystery tales – from Sherlock Holmes to Sam Spade, Jonathan Creek to Scooby Doo. But, with some of them, I don’t really understand why the hero is a detective, other than just because. It’s an incredible skill, to spot clues that others do not. Surely a great detective (and by gosh I wanted mine to be the greatest ever) would have to train to develop that talent? He would plan to be a detective. I had lots of fun story ideas but, frustratingly, I couldn’t think of a good enough reason for my hero to be a detective.

So I slid the problem aside and turned instead to my second favourite kind of reading – history books. I’d had this dusty volume called Seventy Years a Showman beside my bed for ages (okay, it wasn’t that dusty before I put it beside my bed), the memoirs of the legendary Victorian circus owner Lord George Sanger. Sanger tells some outrageous fibs (not least with his name; he gave himself the title ‘lord’), but I instantly fell in love with the world he evoked – a world of mud-splattered caravans rattling from fair to fair, of showmen yelling at crowds through speaking trumpets, of peep shows, puppet shows, conjurers and card sharps.

And, of course, of freak shows.

Gaudy banners hung across these rickety caravans, boasting of mermaids, giants, savages and other ‘prodigies of nature’. The performers inside were, of course, nothing of the sort. They were just people who looked different, making a living the only way they thought possible. Some of them – the younger ones especially – were treated with merciless cruelty by their showmen. I’ll never forget the story of the Gargantuan Man, who cried himself to sleep each night from shame, or the tragedy of the Scotch Giant – discovered in his caravan one morning starved to death.
I hated this world but, wow, I loved it. The more I read about freak shows, the clearer I pictured one of the performers – a boy covered in hair and confined to a caravan. As he spies on the crowds outside, dreaming of being ‘normal’, he learns to read their lives from tiny details about their faces and clothes...
He becomes a detective.
I knew then that I’d found my hero – a master detective who had no idea of his extraordinary ability. Only then, finally, did that friendly angel float down and whisper, “Now get writing buddy.”

Thanks, Rob, for such an interesting and insightful post. Please be sure to buy a copy of Wild Boy (published tomorrow, 4th April, by Walker Books) and check out the final stops on Rob's blog tour (which you can find on the banner in the left side bar).  Thanks, also, to Hannah at Walker Books for organising such an interesting tour and for sending us a copy of the book to review.