June 21, 2014

Thoughts Unheard and Words Unspoken (Review of Untold by Sarah Rees Brennan)

Sarah Rees Brennan
Simon and Schuster 2013

Sorry-in-the-Vale is in a rather sorry state.  Since the life and perspective changing events of Unspoken, Kami Glass finds herself living in a town where sorcery looms large, led by a power-hungry man and his creepily besotted sister-in-law.  Not only is Kami facing events beyond her admittedly vivid imagination but she is facing them alone. While surrounded by her group of Merry Men (and women), she has lost the voice-in-her-head-turned-real-boy, Jared, and is quietly sad and unsure of herself. Not that she lets it show... not when there are mysteries to be solved, fights to be fought and wisecracked to be, er, cracked, even as lost-voice himself, Jared, remains tantalisingly near yet far.

Kami, in many ways, is a much more accessible character than first encountered in Unspoken.  Her heretofore devil may care attitude is more clearly a mask for an altogether more emotionally multi-faceted personality. In large part, Kami's seemingly endless peppiness and confidence (by no means bad things, but her previous, turned up to eleven attitude was a little wearing) was hugely bolstered by having someone who constantly supported here. Yes, that person was, for a long time, a voice in her head - but a very supportive one.  To have that voice become a person who then outright told her that she was "nothing special" (a line breathtaking in its harsh cruelty) has affected Kami deeply and her struggle with this new reality , on in which she has to figure out who she is without Jared despite the fact that he's right there, is interesting and sometimes just awfully sad.

Jared himself remains, for much of Untold, as enigmatic as ever.  Sarah Rees Brennan does a good job of imbuing him with a sense of menace and while it is clear that a lot of what he says hides a lot of inner turmoil, he remains pleasingly unpredictable.  His utter glee at the prospect of any sort of danger is alarmingly endearing and all his tough guy stuff and bluster can't hide a few mushy spots here and there.  If this were Supernatural, then Jared would absolutely be Dean.  He also looks like Dean in my head.  Which is nice.  And while the plot line and characters are absolutely unique, gorgeous Ash does rather play the Sam to Jared's Dean - in that he tosses his pretty hair and whines a lot.  It's not that Ash is unlikable per se, he's just so busy feeling sorry for himself that it's hard to see past it.  He's probably a nice guy but his understandable inner torment tends to surface as moping whereas Jared's surfaces as punching.

As with Rees Brennan's previous work, supporting characters are all extremely well-written and interesting.  Rob Lynburn is a pleasing villain; Kami's mother, Claire, a believably conflicted mother who contrasts beautifully with ice queen, Lillian Lynburn who is another women trying to protect her family.  Sort of.  Jon Glass also comes into focus as a man realising that he's been lied to pretty extensively. The Merry Band of Wo/Men round out with Angela, Holly and Rusty.  Firstly, mad props to the author for her subtle handling of Angela's prior confession, particularly in the way she contrasts it with an emergent secret on Holly's part.  Rusty plays a bigger role in Untold, which is most welcome.  His charming, sleepy persona is expanded upon and he emerges as a loyal friend and one with impressive backbone.

Plot-wise, Untold is compelling and quite a bit darker than Unspoken.  The mystery behind Kami and Jared's link is answered satisfyingly while other interesting questions are raised.  Rees Brennan riffs on themes of self-worth, identity and the ties that bind, and the interpersonal aspects of Untold are handled with great skill.  It is, ultimately, the darker tone that makes Untold a much better book than Unspoken.  While there is still a healthy dose of humour, Rees Brennan has had to scale down the witticisms in order to focus on murkier aspects of her tale.  This instantly raises the book a few notches because, as with Unspoken, when her otherwise fully three-dimensional characters start wise-cracking they all sound exactly the same in that they sound just like the author herself (you can discover this at her rather brilliant blog).  While this aspect detracted from Unspoken (as discussed with the Lady YAckers), it provides a welcome respite here.  If Sarah Rees Brennan could provide more distinctive voices for the lighter moments (as she does so well in with all the other dialogue) then she would be well on her way to surpassing her excellent Demon's Lexicon.

All in all, Untold is a hugely enjoyable read.  It's original, fun and more than a little creepy.  It ends on the mother of all heart-breaking cliffhangers - one which will have readers eager for the series finale, out later this year.  For fans of urban fantasy, myth and magic, all of Rees Brennan's books are highly recommend and for all the minor flaws, her Lynburn Legacy is shaping up to be a different and eerie addition to the genre.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird who strongly recommends that you track down Sarah Rees Brennan's blog - particularly her re-cap of The Hobbit in which she exhibits an admirable shine to Richard Armitage. Untold is available now.

June 19, 2014

Flashes - Tim O'Rourke (Tour)

Flashes is the latest book by Tim O'Rourke.  Out this month, it tells the story of Charley, a girl reeling from the death of the best friend.  Not only has she lost a true friend, she has lost one of her only confidants, one of the only people who knew that Charley experiences flashes.  Psychic ones.  After the funeral, Charley's flashes become more intense, focussing on the murder of a teen girl. Combine this with some texts from the afterlife and Charley really isn't having the best week.  Desperate to prevent another death, Charley sets out to investigate, with new (not to mention hot) detective, Tom, hot on her heels.

Intrigued?  You should be!  Below is the book trailer which brilliantly portrays the tense atmosphere surrounding Charley and the terror she is trying to prevent.  We've not had a chance to finish the book here on MOI, but it's pretty thrilling so far!

Flashes is out now in paperback and ebook now.  Thanks to Chicken House for providing us with a copy to review.

June 17, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday Summer Reads

Top Ten Tuesday is run by The Broke and the Bookish. This week it's the top ten books on my summer reading list.  It was a tough call as I have many brilliant books to read over the next few months, but I think these are the ones I'm most interested in.  All blurbs courtesy of Goodreads.

 Sinner - Maggie Stiefvater 

"Sinner follows Cole St. Clair, a pivotal character from the #1 New York Times bestselling Shiver Trilogy. Everybody thinks they know Cole's story. Stardom. Addiction. Downfall. Disappearance. But only a few people know Cole's darkest secret -- his ability to shift into a wolf. One of these people is Isabel. At one point, they may have even loved each other. But that feels like a lifetime ago. Now Cole is back. Back in the spotlight. Back in the danger zone. Back in Isabel's life. Can this sinner be saved?"

I have been lucky enough to net an ARC of this from BEA (thanks, Janice!) and can't wait to follow Cole's story.  And not just because he's all hot and tortured.  Well, perhaps a little bit because of that... but also for Maggie's haunting storytelling.

Burn - Monica Hesse (Spoilers for Stray in the blurb)

"Lona Sixteen Always is about to become Lona Seventeen Always, but she isn't feeling much older or wiser. Unlike Fenn and the rest of the Path strays, she is struggling to move on with her life. How can she look to the future when she knows almost nothing about her past? Lona feels like everyone's pressuring her to become 'normal' - even her beloved Fenn - and on top of this, she's been having strange, violent dreams. It almost feels like someone's trying to send her a message... Lona's dreams turn out to be memories - clues hidden inside Lona by her mother, who Lona always assumed was lost to her forever. But she isn't lost at all: she's being held captive by Harm - emotionless, psychotic, murderous Harm - and she's desperate for Lona to find her. In the bid to find out who she really is, Lona will fall headlong into a trap far more dangerous and cunning than she could ever have imagined. The Path was just the beginning."

Stray was one of my favourite books last year and I've had Burn on my TBR for months now.  I want to take the time to re-read Stray first and have no doubt that Monica Hesse has followed her spectacularly original debut with an equally strange and enthralling tale.

Perfectly Good White Boy - Carrie Mesrobian

"Sean Norwhalt can read between the lines.
'You never know where we'll end up. There's so much possibility in life, you know?' Hallie said.
He knows she just dumped him. He was a perfectly good summer boyfriend, but now she's off to college, and he's still got another year to go. Her pep talk about futures and "possibilities" isn't exactly comforting. Sean's pretty sure he's seen his future and its "possibilities" and they all look disposable. Like the crappy rental his family moved into when his dad left. Like all the unwanted filthy old clothes he stuffs into the rag baler at his thrift store job. Like everything good he's ever known.The only hopeful possibilities in Sean's life are the Marine Corps, where no one expected he'd go, and Neecie Albertson, whom he never expected to care about."

I'm already reading this one, but it's summer now (isn't it?) so that's OK.  I loved Sex and Violence, Carrie Mesrobian's 2013 debut and am thus far loving her authentic boy teen voice and very real world writing just as much in Perfectly Good White Boy.

Joyland - Stephen King

"Set in a small-town North Carolina amusement park in 1973, Joyland tells the story of the summer in which college student Devin Jones comes to work as a carny and confronts the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and the ways both will change his life forever." 

A friend lent this to me ages ago and it looks pretty awesome.  I'm a long time Stephen King fan and plan on reading this before moving on to Mr. Mercedes later in the summer.  Also, that cover is just phenomenal.

The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy - Kate Hattemer

"Witty, sarcastic Ethan and his three friends decide to take down the reality TV show, For Art's Sake, that is being filmed at their high school, the esteemed Selwyn Arts Academy, where each student is more talented than the next. While studying Ezra Pound in English class, the friends are inspired to write a vigilante long poem and distribute it to the student body, detailing the evils of For Art's Sake. But then Luke—the creative force behind the poem and leader of the anti-show movement—becomes a contestant on the nefarious show. It's up to Ethan, his two remaining best friends, and a heroic gerbil named Baconnaise to save their school. Along the way, they'll discover a web of secrets and corruption involving the principal, vice principal, and even their favorite teacher."

I'm a sucker for anything set in a liberal arts school and the fact that this combines reality TV, vigilante poetry and such a delightful monikered gerbil makes it a clear choice for summer reading.

The Bees - Laline Paull

"The Handmaid's Tale meets The Hunger Games in this brilliantly imagined debut. 
Born into the lowest class of her society, Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, only fit to clean her orchard hive. Living to accept, obey and serve, she is prepared to sacrifice everything for her beloved holy mother, the Queen. Yet Flora has talents that are not typical of her kin. And while mutant bees are usually instantly destroyed, Flora is reassigned to feed the newborns, before becoming a forager, collecting pollen on the wing. Then she finds her way into the Queen's inner sanctum, where she discovers secrets both sublime and ominous. Enemies roam everywhere, from the fearsome fertility police to the high priestesses who jealously guard the Hive Mind. But Flora cannot help but break the most sacred law of all, and her instinct to serve is overshadowed by a desire, as overwhelming as it is forbidden... Laline Paull's chilling yet ultimately triumphant novel creates a luminous world both alien and uncannily familiar. Thrilling and imaginative, The Bees is the story of a heroine who changes her destiny and her world."

Normally I would shy away from this level of anthropomorphism but the premise here sounds so thrilling that I can't wait to read this.  I know several people who are currently reading it and have yet to hear a bad word said about the story nor the world it is set in.

Pointe - Brandy Colbert

Theo is better now.
She's eating again, dating guys who are almost appropriate, and well on her way to becoming an elite ballet dancer. But when her oldest friend, Donovan, returns home after spending four long years with his kidnapper, Theo starts reliving memories about his abduction—and his abductor.
Donovan isn't talking about what happened, and even though Theo knows she didn't do anything wrong, telling the truth would put everything she's been living for at risk. But keeping quiet might be worse.

This one has been on my radar for a while.  I love a mystery and adore ballet books and plan on reading this alongside Bunheads sometime soon.

Clariel - Garth Nix

"Clariel is the daughter of the one of the most notable families in the Old Kingdom, with blood relations to the Abhorsen and, most importantly, to the King. When her family moves to the city of Belisaere, there are rumors that her mother is next in line for the throne. However, Clariel wants no part of it—a natural hunter, all she ever thinks about is escaping the city’s confining walls and journeying back to the quiet, green world of the Great Forest. But many forces conspire against Clariel’s dream. A dangerous Free Magic creature is loose in the city, her parents want to marry her off to a killer, and there is a plot brewing against the old and withdrawn King Orrikan. When Clariel is drawn into the efforts to find and capture the creature, she discovers hidden sorcery within herself, yet it is magic that carries great dangers. Can she rise above the temptation of power, escape the unwanted marriage, and save the King?"

This is actually next on my list to read because I just can't wait any longer.  The Abhorsen trilogy is one of my favourite pieces of fantasy ever and I have no doubt that Nix will have created yet another thrilling set-piece in his richly imagined world.

Welcome to the Dark House - Laurie Faria Stolarz

"For Ivy Jensen, it’s the eyes of a killer that haunt her nights. For Parker Bradley, it’s bloodthirsty sea serpents that slither in his dreams. And for seven essay contestants, it’s their worst nightmares that win them an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at director Justin Blake’s latest, confidential project. Ivy doesn’t even like scary movies, but she’s ready to face her real-world fears. Parker’s sympathetic words and perfect smile help keep her spirits up. . . at least for now. Not everyone is so charming, though. Horror-film fanatic Garth Vader wants to stir up trouble. It’s bad enough he has to stay in the middle of nowhere with this group—the girl who locks herself in her room; the know-it-all roommate; “Mister Sensitive”; and the one who’s too cheery for her own good. Someone has to make things interesting.
Except, things are already a little weird. The hostess is a serial-killer look-alike, the dream-stealing Nightmare Elf is lurking about, and the seventh member of the group is missing.
By the time Ivy and Parker realize what’s really at stake, it’s too late to wake up and run."

This sounds utterly ridiculous and also pretty fantastic.  Like a mix between the movie My Little Eye and any number of the Point Horror books that I tore through as a young teen.  Awesome nonsense, I am sure.

What I Thought was True - Huntley Fitzpatrick

"Gwen Castle's Biggest Mistake Ever, Cassidy Somers, is slumming it as a yard boy on her Nantucket-esque island this summer. He's a rich kid from across the bridge in Stony Bay, and she hails from a family of fishermen and housecleaners who keep the island's summer people happy. Gwen worries a life of cleaning houses will be her fate too, but just when it looks like she'll never escape her past—or the island—Gwen's dad gives her some shocking advice. Sparks fly and secret histories unspool as Gwen spends a gorgeous, restless summer struggling to resolve what she thought was true—about the place she lives, the people she loves, and even herself—with what really is."

Because summer and islands and star-crossed romance etc etc etc.  This is by far the summeriest summer read I have on my shelves and i've been saving it for my very own island sojourn next month.

There are many more that I hope to read, not least Megan Abbott's intriguing The Fever, Tahereh Mafi's entire Shatter Me series and Dreams of Gods and Monsters but I think that the above are a good start... Happy Summer - may it be filled with sunshine, lollipops, rainbows everywhere and excellent books!

June 12, 2014

Blinded by the Light (Review: The Taking; Kimberley Derting)


The Taking
Kimberley Derting
HarperTeen 2014

Kyra's life is going pretty well. A decent athlete, there are college scholarships on the horizon and a future to plan with her perfect boyfriend, Austin and her best friend, Cat. Sure, her Dad might be a bit full on but he and her mother love her.  Still, like all teenagers, she sometimes argues with her dad and during one such argument she storms out of the car on a stretch of highway only to be overcome by a blinding light. She wakes, seemingly the next day, near a local gas station and makes her way home. Except that it's not the next day, it's five years later and while Kyra is unchanged from the day she left, with no memory of the time passed, the rest of her life is five years down the line and irrevocably altered.

Great premise, right? Sadly, The Taking never quite lives up to it's opening chapter. Kyra segues from vaguely sympathetic to irritatingly obtuse. On returning from her mysterious sojourn she seems disinclined to question where she has actually been. But that's OK, because no-one else seems that bothered either.  Austin and Cat have moved on in ways that are ripe for exploration but that aspect of Kyra's story is largely ignored.  Luckily for Kyra, Austin's younger brother Tyler steps manfully up to the boyfriend plate. And no one finds this insta-relationship either weird or unhealthy IN ANY WAY. Not even Tyler, from whom you'd expect some insecurities considering that Kyra was deeply in love with his brother not twenty-four hours ago (in her timeline, anyway). Clearly Kyra is moving on. Ah, the fickleness of youth.

Still, one would have thought that, considering Derting's excellent approach to parent-child relationships in previous books, the characterisation of Kyra's parents might hold water. But no. Kyra's mother feels happy leaving her to her own devices within days of her miraculous return, despite clear evidence that her daughter is suffering (at best) from severe amnesia, pausing only to state her hope that Kyra's might not sit around watching Judge Judy all day. BECAUSE NOW IS THE TIME TO PLAN YOUR FUTURE, YOUNG LADY. Never mind the fact that you have been missing for, oh, five years. Her mum also indulges in some eye-rolling regarding her ex-husband. Kyra's devoted Daddy, demonstrating just about the only rationality shown by any character, has become a UFO nut, believing that Kyra was abducted by aliens. The kicker is that Kyra (who has actual proof that her body HASN'T PHYSICALLY AGED IN FIVE YEARS and who has a sole memory of a blinding white light) also thinks that dear Daddy is nuts.  Seriously, she doesn't even consider (whisper it) abduction as an option.

Additionally, you would think that a teenager appearing five years after she was last seen, perfectly well (and with memory loss, no less) would attract at least local press, yes?  No. The distinct lack of a clamouring media circus beggars belief. But the press aren't the only professionals slacking on their day jobs - you can add the medical profession and the police to that particular count as well. Eventually, some Men-In-Black-X-Files types appear but it's all too little too late. While a book focusing on a possible abduction by aliens need not be burdened with exact realism, The Taking lacks, well, any.

The plot meanders about for the majority of the book, focusing largely on Kyra's re-integration to every day life (surprisingly dull) and her burgeoning relationship with Tyler. Tyler is by far the most likable character in the book despite the creepiness of his acting so instantly on the crush he's harboured for the missing girlfriend of his elder brother for the last five years. I mean, he really wastes no time, jumping straight in with romantic chalk paintings and general wooing. In other news, the story picks up in the last quarter with talk of tainted blood and conspiracies and shadowy government agencies but by that point it's increasingly hard to care.

What makes The Taking so infuriating is not just the waste of such a brilliant premise, but that Kimberley Derting is an accomplished writer. Her Body Finder series is quite brilliant, with highly believable characters, watertight plotting and a creep factor to keep you up at night. One can only hope that Derting returns to thrillers sometime soon (or to her equally well received dystopian foray) because this venture into Sci-Fi really hasn't worked out that well. Saying that, the ending of The Taking is an intriguing cliffhanger and perhaps the plot-holes seen in this book will be long forgotten by the time book two rolls in. Although not in these hills. Pick up the Body Finder (seriously, DO IT - our hugely positive review is here), try out The Pledge but here in The Mountains of Instead we'd give The Taking a miss. Sadly, not recommended.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird, who really wanted to like this book. The Taking is available now.  Thank you to the publisher, via Edelweiss, for providing us with a copy of this title to review.

June 05, 2014

Public Service Announcment: The Times They Are A'Changing...

The Mountains of Instead is now over four years old.  Really. I'm quite surprised that it's still here and even more surprised at the satisfaction, pleasure and friendships starting and maintaining it have brought me.  BUT (and, as you can see it's a BIG but) my life is very different now to when I started this blog. Back in 2010, I was the single, stay at home mum of a two year old and had, if not limitless hours, then plenty of time on my hands to devote to reading. Vitally, my idea of a To Be Read pile was the two or three books I had sitting by my bed.


Things are very different now.

Today, I work part of every day (bar Sundays) in my local library (and yes, working in a library is every bit as good as you might suspect), am half way through studying for a degree in English Literature and about to start working towards my CILIP (Chartered Insitute of Library and Information Professionals) accreditation and chartership.  Additionally, and more importantly, I now have an awesome six year old who is at school most of the time and who I like to spend quality time with whenever she is not.  


She's a reader too and I'd like to spend a lot more time reading with her.  Finally, I also attempt to have a life with friends and wine and sunshine and lollipops.  

So, where does that leave The Mountains of Instead?  Well, recently, it's left them a little neglected and that is largely to do with the afore-mentioned TBR pile.  This pile no longer sits at three or four, or even twenty or thirty.  No, my TBR pile is in the hundreds.  

I have book that I have bought, books that I have been given and books that have been sent to me from the loving hands of many generous publicists.  They sit on my shelves and cry out to be read.  And I sit looking at them feeling completely overwhelmed. Recently, reading has felt like an obligation; a chore that has to be time-managed and spread-sheeted and approached with a strict running order in mind. Well, no longer - for I HAVE HAD AN EPIPHANY.

I was looking at my pile of gorgeously unread books and realised that I could just start at one end and work to the other.  Or just pick whatever took my fancy.  Or *whisper it*, ignore them altogether and re-read an old favourite.  In short, I could read the way that we are meant to - for fun and in almost total ignorance of publication dates and obligation. Seems obvious, doesn't it?  But I am sure that I am not the only reviewer who who has felt that sense of obligation and I am sure that I won't be the last.

Personally, I'm going for a solid start-at-one-end-of-the-shelf and work to the other approach and I'm pretty excited about it. The first few books are things like Catherine by April Lidner, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman and Say Her Name by James Dawson - the latter because I have started to place the new books that I have received at random throughout the TBR shelves instead of keeping them all at one end.  I've also got reviews written up for #Scandal by Daisy Ockler, The Taking by Kimberley Derting and Untold by Sarah Rees Brennan.  I still want to review and I still want to talk about these books, even more so because some of them have been languishing on my shelves for too long.  And there are so many that look good.  

Readers, I hope that you like this slight change to the scheduled programming - I honestly think it will add some much need variety and energy to MOI.  Publicists, thanks for sticking with me - I'm still happy to accept books for review although it may take me slightly longer to get to them (although I can always be swayed by the right title!) and you can expect to see some of your older titles high-lighted, too.

Ultimately, this new approach has made me feel excited about reviewing again, rather than obligated and I hope that shows over the next few months.  Now I just need to strategise about the state of my eGalley TBR.