June 27, 2013

He's NOT The Messiah, He's a Very Naughty Boy... or the Messiah (review of Wolfsbane by Andrea Cremer)

Wolfsbane (Nightshade, #2)Wolfsbane
Andrea Cremer
Atom 2011

Wolfbane is the second book in Andrea Cremer's trilogy and this review therefore contains spoilers for Nightshade - which you can find reviewed here)

Calla is a fish out of water. Or a wolf out of, er, whatever wolves prefer to be in. Certainly, she's no longer in Vail – the home that, during Nightshade, she came to realise was more a prison than anything else. Having escaped the clutches of the Keepers with Shay she wakes up in the grasp of the Searchers, her erstwhile enemies, with the crushing knowledge that she has abandoned her pack – and Ren – to the mercy of her old masters. As she slowly learns to trust the Searchers they formulate a plan to rescue her pack but it's all terribly risky and waiting in Vail are the Keepers... and their wraiths.

In Nightshade, Calla emerged as one of the more interesting YA protagonists. At once an incredibly strong leader and a vulnerable, confused girl she handled the situations in front of her with realistic inner conflict. One of her best traits, however, is that she sticks to a course of action once she has decided on it and this very much comes to the fore during Wolfsbane. This leads to much inner conflict and the guilt that she feels over abandoning her pack is palpable, as is the turmoil this inevitably creates in her relationship with Shay. Her ties to the pack and, somewhat surprisingly, to Ren often overwhelm her and her desire to reunite them all in a safe place is believably wolfish – she literally can't function properly outwith a pack. As the story progresses Calla is also increasingly overwhelmed with difficult truths as the Searchers educate her on the true history of Keepers, Guardians and The War of All Against All. Again, her horror at the reality of her old life is extremely well written and she continues to struggle with this throughout Wolfsbane which is refreshing to read in a genre where all too often protagonists shrug off major changes with nary a sigh.

Wolfsbane has a much smaller character base than Nightshade, focusing mainly on Calla, Shay and the small group of Searchers who are reluctantly welcoming them into a brave new world. Shay isn't quite as strong a character as he was in Nightshade, mainly because he is only just learning of his own potential – something that will surely come to the fore in book three (because, of course, this is part of a trilogy). However, he is extremely likable, protective of Calla while allowing her space and understanding of her difficulties while not necessarily understanding her conflict completely. He's basically a nice bloke. The Searchers are an interesting group. While leader Monroe is fairly predictable, the tempersome Ethan, sly Ariadne and infuriatingly odd Silas more than make up for their leaders rather tiresome enigmatic manner. As in Nightshade, Cremer excels at group dynamics and her handling of this new team is no exception.

Plot-wise, Wolfsbane is pretty straightforward with Calla and the Searchers planning and executing a rescue mission. It's an interesting process as they clearly have different motivations for doing so and Shay is unable to assist at all (being the blessed Scion, whatever that is). There are some lovely set pieces both action-filled and quiet and Cremer's writing is always intelligent and pacy. Much like Nightshade, however, what makes this title stand out is the author's willingness to stray into darker territory. The Keepers, pretty horrific in the first book in the series emerge as even nastier pieces of work than previously thought. They literally treat the Guardians like dogs, controlling every aspect of their lives (including, chillingly, their menstrual cycles) and using them in the worst possible ways. There is a scene later in the book between Calla and a fellow Guardian where she is left literally with her back against the wall – all due to the Keepers machinations. It's all terribly well done and bodes well for a compelling and unpredictable final book in Andrea Cremer's not-just-another-werewolf series.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird. Wolfsbane (and indeed the last in the trilogy, Bloodrose) is available now. It may or may not have taken us over two years to find the draft of this in a long lost folder.

June 24, 2013

Calling All Avenging Angels (Review: Angelfall by Susan Ee)

Angelfall (Penryn & the End of Days, #1)Angelfall
Susan Ee
Hodder and Stoughton 2013

Six week after the Angels of the Apocalypse arrived to take over the world, things are looking pretty grim.  The Angels are neither an awesomely monikered biker gang nor anything to do with Pinky and the Brain but rather a horde of fearsome winged warriors whose ultimate aim is unclear but who are clearly Up To No Good.  In the midst of this new world is Penryn, a girl travelling with her disabled younger sister and unhinged mother – a mother for whom the new reality seems to make a disturbing amount of sense.  When Paige is snatched by a gang of Angels, Penryn finds herself allied with one of their number who is badly injured – indeed, who is wingless – on a quest to find out what lies at the heart of the horror around her.

Penryn herself is actually quite an interesting character as far as this story goes. Her back story has engendered in her a need to be pretty tough and certainly to be able to defend herself.   She’s entirely focussed on rescuing her sister and if this at times makes her seem rather one dimensional then perhaps this was intentional on the part of the writer – although when the lack of characterisation elsewhere in the book taken into account it seems unlikely.  Penryn’s schizophrenic mother, now well off her meds, is again rather one dimensional and is painted utterly insane.  It makes her a frightening and unpredictable force in Penryn’s story but a sensitive portrayal of a very real mental illness this is not.  Younger sister Paige is sweet but largely absent for the majority of the book.

Raffe, wingless Angel extraordinaire is, at best, vaguely amusing.  He is, supposedly and unsurprisingly, Swoooooony but in a way that is utterly unoriginal.   Good hair, piercing eyes, great abs yadda yadda yadda.  It’s all be done, done again and overdone and his snide comments and cold demeanour are also nothing new while his Tough Guy talk is excruciating.  His personal storyline is massively underdeveloped and the inevitable romance between him and Penryn lacks any emotional resonance.  Other characters come and go with the most intriguing (and only compelling) one being resistance member Obi.  Sadly, he’s not in it nearly enough.

The story running through Angelfall is primarily that of Penryn seeking Paige and Raffe attempting to get his wings sown on.  There is little more than speculation in terms of why the Angels have invaded earth other than there are probably some dodgy heavenly politics at the heart of it.  That and the Angel Gabriel appears to have been shot down over Jerusalem… bad move, humanity, Bad Move.  The world building is standard apocalypse/dystopia but Ee doesn’t try very hard with her description of a destroyed San Francisco going only as far as referencing the 1906 earthquake.  In terms of writing, it is the end of the book in which any real skill emerges.  Visions of an opulent nightclub populated by Angels in zoot suits followed by a climax which descends into out and out horror imagery bring the book to sudden life in a way that is sadly lacking prior to the last fifty pages.

Angel books, by and large, had run their course.  It’s all been done before.  Yet Angelfall garnered a real buzz prior to and since publication.  In all honesty, it’s hard to see why.  There is nothing original here, the writing lacks any real depth and if this is the next big thing then, quite frankly, we need to raise the bar on what counts as the Next Big Thing.  Readers looking for Angel inspired stories that really do try something different should check out the recently published Outcast by Adrienne Kress (review coming soon) or Cynthia Hand’s Unearthly series both of which offer more that this disappointing addition.

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

June 21, 2013

Out Brief Candle (Review: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes)

The Shining Girls

The Shining Girls
Lauren Beukes
Harper Collins 2013

Kirby Mazrachi is just a normal little girl doing what girls do. A tea party out in the field, no-one around but her and her toys, happy in the shade of a tree with a breeze blowing through her hair. Until he appears. Kirby is a smart girl, she knows not to talk to strangers, but it's almost like he knows her. He doesn't try to hurt her, doesn't try to take her anywhere, he just talks. He says some strange things but nothing so strange as when he leaves, giving her a plastic orange pony as a parting gift: "I'll see you when you're all grown up. Look out for me, OK, sweetheart?" He's true to his word.

Flash forward ... years. Kirby stumbles out of the cover of a clump of trees by a deserted patch of river. Barely alive, bleeding from multiple stab wounds and carrying her dead dog in her arms she is truly at death's door, saved only by a terrified fisherman who happened to be nearby. Kirby is the lucky one, she pull through despite her horrific injuries, her assailant never seen nor heard of again. Or is he? For Kirby is just one among many, victims of a serial killer whose methods are so strange and subtle as to be virtually undetectable to all save this one survivor.

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes is a detective thriller with a truly novel twist in the form of a time travelling murderer, Harper. On the run from a gambling session gone bad in early Twentieth-Century Chicago, Harper finds himself pursued by an angry vigilante mob of shanty-dwellers. A man of few morals he has no qualms about killing to keep his location secret but he has no idea what awaits him when he murders a young woman for her coat. The key in its pocket leads him to an abandoned house in the middle of Chicago's slums, sumptuously decorated and containing a dead body and a seeming shrine to a number of girls replete with scrawled notes and mementos. The house speaks to him, urging him on to unspeakable acts, and on leaving he finds himself transported to the future. He knows what he must do, he must track down and savagely murder the girls on the list. They are separated by decades but linked by two common threads; they all live in the Chicago area, and they are all 'shining girls', possessed of some inner spark giving the potential to achieve great things in their lives. Harper has other plans for them.

So the story goes, with Harper flitting in and out of time, visiting his targets as children and then returning for the execution years later. Some have indeed accomplished much, others are floundering, but they all eventually succumb to his blade in vicious attacks. All except Kirby, the heroine of The Shining Girls and a suitably no-nonsense, kick-ass protagonist. Following her ordeal and all but abandoned by her fading hippie mother, Kirby is as solid as they come, dedicating her life to solving the mystery of her attack. To this end she bullies her way into a job in a Chicago newspaper, using her new connections and sheer willpower to access newspaper archives, police reports, personal contacts and anything else which will inch her closer to the man who nearly ended her life.

The Shining Girls is a surprisingly brutal read. Despite knowing the basic plot synopsis I was expecting something less in-your-face but I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of attitude pouring from the pages. While there is a great deal of violence it is never gratuitous, serving to drive home just what Harper is stealing from the world and also lending some colour to his continuing descent into insanity. The more gruesome aspects are balanced out by Kirby's relationship with her mentor at the newspaper and by the loving detail which is put into the descriptions of Chicago through the ages, demonstrating a remarkable familiarity for a South African author.

I'll be honest though, I'm a sci-fi fan at heart so it was the time travel mechanics which grabbed me. The idea of the house seemingly taking control of its occupants (not only Harper...) and leading them into these acts spread across time was original and very well implemented. Not once did Beukes feel the need to delve into the whys and wherefores of what was happening, it's simply left to the reader to soak up and mull over - which I did at length. On the way she raised some interesting questions and there is a constant battle, escalating towards the book's climax, over whether the agents are acting of their own free will and altering destinies or whether this path was set in stone for them all along. It's a question left unresolved and seems all the more satisfying for it.

All in all The Shining Girls has a lot to recommend it to a wide readership. The core of the story is essentially a traditional serial killer tale with enough fresh elements to appeal to the hardened thriller crowd. Kirby is a strong and vibrant heroine who will readily appeal to the more rebellious female readers out there, not to mention the guys. And as mentioned there is a wonderful plot device in the twisted magic house, edging the book into sci-fi/fantasy territory as well as allowing the readers to explore life in a number of modern eras. Definitely a book to put on your summer reading list.

This review was brought to you by Cannonball Jones.  The Shining Girls available from bookish places now.

June 18, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday - Top 10 Books on my Summer TBR List

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week the topic focuses on the dreaded TBR pile.  Mine is extensive but if I had all the time in the world, I'd devote it to the following:


Seraphina (Seraphina, #1)

I've had this for ever so long and have yet to read it.  Like many bloggers the books I have given as gifts or buy myself tend to languish under the pile of review-required tomes.  I will get to this one soon though because DRAGONS!

Days of Blood and Starlight

Days of Blood and Starlight (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, #2)

This is another one that is suffering from being a gift but I want to read it so badly. I loved most of Daughter of Smoke and Bone (check out our YAck on it, which shows clearly that it was a book of two halves) and apparently the stuff I wasn't sure of is effectively taken care of in this follow up.

Friday Brown

Friday Brown

I have heard amazing things about Vikki Wakefield from Australian bloggers and am excited that she now has a publisher in the UK (the increasingly awesome Hot Key Books).  This book has an interesting premise and from my skim of the first few pages looks to contain ALL THE PRETTY WORDS.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

 I'm a long term fan of Neil Gaiman and his books are an automatic read for me.  This one looks like it might actually be his best yet and I cannot wait to get my paws on it.

White Oleander

White Oleander

I received this recently from lovely friends Meghan and Jonny who appear to have given copies to everyone they know.  I vaguely remember watching the film years ago but no details remain in my mind and its hard not to want to read a book so ardently recommended.

The Humans

The Humans

I've had a copy of this for a few months but it was snaffled away by Polka Dot Steph (review coming soon) who confirmed that it is every bit as awesome as everyone is saying it is.  She's now returned my copy and I'm excited about getting to it ASAP.

More Than This

More Than This

Because Patrick Ness.

The Dream Thieves

The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle, #2)

The Raven Boys was one of my favourite books of 2012 and I'm excited that an ARC of The Dream Thieves is currently on its way to me from NYC via BEA2013 (along with a Ryan Gosling colouring book - thank you, lovely YAckers).  I've never met a Stiefvater book I didn't love so have no doubt I'll be raving about this as soon as I finish it.

Loki's Wolves 

Loki's Wolves (The Blackwell Pages, #1)

I just started this today and am already enjoying it. I'm a huge Percy Jackson fan and have long wished for something similar based around Norse mythology - and here it is, with Ragnarok and everything.  Jolly good show, authors Jolly Good Show.

The Sea of Tranquility

The Sea of Tranquility

I've been struggling with the New Adult genre, I really have (check out this review which covers most of the issues I've had with it) but The Sea of Tranquility comes highly recommended so I'm giving the genre one last shot.  ONE.  It had better be bloody good.

And that's them.  What will YOU be reading this summer?

June 14, 2013

The Straightforward Pathway Had Been Lost (Review: Stray by Monica Hesse)

Monica Hesse
Hot Key Books 2013

In Lona’s world Foster Care is a thing of the past. Seen as an archaic social construct that often put vulnerable children at risk, it has been replaced by a curious process known only as the Julian Path.  Pathers like Lona spend 23 hours per day plugged into a virtual simulation of the life of Julian – a perfectly average, happy child whose parents Life Captured his every moment in order to create a childhood of pleasant memories for children left without parents of their own. Lona has been on the Path since babyhood, experiencing life primarily as Julian.  Even in the hour a day devoted to calisthenics, Pathers talk in a curious Path speak, referring to themselves as We and Us. Never as Me or I. They share everything, every memory, every feeling that Julian experiences is their reality.  At eighteen, they are transferred to a different facility and this is what happens to Pather Fenn, two years before Lona.  Fenn and Lona are almost friends even as they are almost each other, different people with the same identity and she feels a loss when he leaves, a loss that hasn't quite left her the day that his face appears inserted into her Path, instructing her to run…

Lona is a unique character in that she has a duel personality.  She is herself, but she’s also Julian. She has memories as Lona but more of Julian.  When she ends up Off Path her character develops in a way that is utterly fascinating.  She becomes herself but that self is constantly informed by her childhood – or Julian’s childhood, rather.  As her story progresses, a strong, stubborn young woman appears and her interactions with those around her demonstrate a kind heart somewhat stifled by the naivety of someone who has never truly lived in the real world.  She is mature yet oddly childlike and her story is utterly original.

Fenn, by the time readers meet him properly has a personality that has developed somewhat more than Lona’s.  Yet not in an entirely good way.  The kind, gentle boy that Lona knew has grown into a somewhat embittered young man who is trying and not always succeeding  to make his way in a world that he doesn't entirely understand.  With Fenn, comes Genevieve who is again extremely well drawn.  She dislikes Lona on sight yet is never unlikable herself, despite her snide comments and insecurities.  In many ways, she’s the most interesting character of all having never been On Path and yet (unlike, as we see, the majority of society) never viewing Pathers as anything other than individuals.  There are other characters that flit in and out and one in particular who is totally compelling but to talk about them would give too much away suffice to say that they complete an already curious line up.

The story line of Stray could so easily have become a convoluted mess what with the Path and the non-Path and the implications of both but it is testament to Monica Hesse’s mad skills that it is never hard to follow.  She skilfully riffs on the idea of identity and its genesis and what it means to share your memories with many – in a way Stray is an incredibly clever analysis of a hive mind.  Particularly accomplished is the Path speak with its curious use of collective pronouns is often creepy but when Lona and Fenn use it in private conversations it is also hauntingly beautiful and the comfort that it engenders in all Pathers is inherent to the story line.

Stray is, unbelievably, the debut novel of Monica Hesse and is thus far one of the strongest titles of 2013.  It’s not always easy to find a truly original premise these days and while Stray touches on similar issues to, say, The Truman Show (and, as the press release mentions Being John Malkovich) it is never anything other that its own exceptional story.   It’s sets both Hesse and relatively new imprint Hot Key apart as ones to watch and is highly recommended by The Mountains of Instead.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird. Stray is available now from places where books are sold. Thank you to the publisher for sending us this title to review.

June 12, 2013

The Night Itself Book Trailer! (starring Splendibird - for your sins).

Recently, myself and a few others were approached by lovely Hannah Love at Walker regarding the upcoming title from Zoe Marriott - The Night Itself. asking if we would like to participate in making a book trailer.  I'm pretty sure that everyone said yes... and now you get to experience the result.

The Night Itself combines present-day London with the mysteries of ancient Japan, centering around Mio and a mysterious sword bequeathed to her on her 16th birthday. Mio decides that she's not sure she wants to wait that long when she has a fancy dress party to attend and grabs the weapon early. Needless to say, it's not the smartest idea she's ever had and before you can say "sorry, Grandpa" she's embroiled in a world of long dead warriors, oddly attractive fox-men (really) and a crazy cat lady.

It's been a long time since I enjoyed a book this much - more than anything, The Night Itself is a hell of a lot of fun which is not to say that it isn't also sinister, intriguing and compelling. With this title, Marriott has cemented her place as one of the UKYA authors and as this is the first in a series, there is awesomely plenty more to come.

The Night Itself is published on 4th July and you can hear a few of us reading from the book in the trailer below.  Everyone sounds great, because they are reading really, really good words.  Pretty sure I was the only one recovering from chickenpox though... but onward and upward. Enjoy!  Oh, and buy the book - it's really awfully good.

June 02, 2013


I'm off this week to a land of little WiFi.  Or Orkney.  Either way, there will be no posts until I get back but I have taken lots of lovely books to read so will be sure to write about them on my return.  Au Revoir, my pretties.