Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Book review - The Dragon Book edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois

The Dragon Book is a collection of short stories featuring dragons. It includes prolific fantasy authors such as Diana Wynne Jones, Tad Williams, Bruce Coville, Tamora Pierce, and Naomi Novik.

I was eager to read the dragon book because of the authors attached to it – either I had read their work and enjoyed it, or I had heard good things about them and wanted to see for myself. I also wanted to see how all of these authors dealt with dragons in new and interesting ways. There was certainly a spread of genres and writing styles, from alternate reality to historical fantasy to present day. Each author took a completely different approach to dragons, creating an interesting variety of creatures in a mix of genres that I don’t usually read.

However, just as the dragons varied, so did the quality of the stories. Many were awkward and rushed, some were downright cheesy and painful to read. The vast majority of the stories were spectacularly mediocre. They weren’t particularly memorable – they were clever in their use of dragons, but that seemed for some of them to be their only aim. Those didn’t have enough plot to sustain even the short length of their stories.

There were of course exceptions. Tamora Pierce’s The Dragon’s Tale stars Tortall’s Skysong, aka Kit. It was an entertaining story and up to her usual high standard of writing, but I wonder how accessible it would be to readers who hadn’t read her ‘Immortals’ series. On a side note, I have to say that ‘kraken spit’ may be the best fantasy expletive I have read to date! The definite highlight for me was an author I hadn’t read before, Mary Rosenblum’s Dragon Storm. Of all of them, it had the best premise and an actual plot, one which could have sustained a longer story. I’ll definitely be reading more by this author

To be fair, several others were fairly good and most had at least some good points. Some were simply not my style, as you should expect in any collection of stories. It’s an interesting look at the various takes on dragons, it’s inventive in most cases, and probably worth reading. But I found that there is definitely chaff there. If you are an ardent fan of dragons, this may be worth reading for you. If you like collections of short stories, likewise. Overall, the book is ok. There will probably be several stories that you like. Maybe even one or two that you love. Whether you think that makes it worth trying is up to you. Perhaps one to borrow rather than buy.

Thank you to Anderson Press for sending me a copy.

Pages: 448
Category: I think some stories are for children/teenagers, but some are adult. I’d rate some of them at a 12+
Authors: Cecilia Holland, Naomi Novik, Jonathan Stroud, Kage Baker, Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple, Liz Williams, Peter S. Beagle, Diana Gabaldon and Samuel Sykes, Garth Nix, Sean Williams, Tad Williams, Harry Turtledove, Diana Wynne Jones, Gregory Maguire, Bruce Coville, Tanith Lee, Tamora Pierce, Mary Rosenblum, Andy Duncan

Teaser Tuesday

The Laurentine Spy by Emily Gee

'The secret passages didn't extend to the newer portions of the citadel - the men's wing and the royal chambers, the rooms where matters of military intelligence were discussed. If they did, there'd be no need to ask questions and draw attention to herself, no need to guide conversations to risky subjects.'

- page 16 US edition

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Book review - Fire by Kristin Cashore

In a world full of beautiful monsters that can bend men to their own will, Fire is that most dangerous of things – a human monster. Exceptionally beautiful and irresistible to all those who cannot guard their minds against her, she could even make men stick a knife in their own eye if she wished. But Fire is afraid of her huge capacity for power and influence, having seen her father abuse his own power so extremely that he almost brought about the downfall of the kingdom for his own amusement. Under her attractiveness, Fire is struggling with her own morality. She lives far away from court, afraid of both her influence and those people who hate her for it. Yet trouble is brewing in the Dells, a generation paying for their fathers’ mistakes, and Fire must master her own power to protect her home.

I’m of the opinion that Graceling was good, but not great. I think I should mention that so you have some context for this review, because I thought that Fire definitely was amazing.
Fire was stunningly crafted and filled with an array of excellent characters. There was a depth to even minor characters, making for a truly believable tale. It’s not hard to believe that these characters have an existence outside of the limited page space given them in the story. Fire herself was a great main character, both interesting and likeable. She’s also incredibly strong, battling the guilt of her own existence, unsure of her place in her world.

I’m beginning to get the impression that Kristin Cashore is incredibly interested in the psychological effects of events, rarely investigated in young adult fantasy. Cashore marries classic elements of fantasy – fighting for a kingdom, love, huge climactic events – with smaller, more individual elements – confusion, loss, subtle power shifts, – producing some of the most realistic fantasy I’ve ever read.

I love this world that Fire lives in, with its beautiful but deadly monsters. The country itself is completely unstable, establishing a world fraught with everyday dangers. It is so rare that a book combines all of these elements so successfully, and it engaged me completely. The plotting was nicely done, and although I predicted most of the revelations early on, still it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of it at all. For me, Fire was almost a perfect fantasy novel.

Also, just look at that cover! I mean, how could anyone resist!? (This is written as a YA book in the US, but for some reason, it's printed as an adult fantasy in the UK, so you'll find it in the adult sci-fi/fantasy section instead of the teenage one.)

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Teaser Tuesday

Warprize by Elizabeth Vaughan

"I have sworn the same oaths." He tilted his head. "Xylara ..."
"You can't get away with disobeying the King, Eln." I flashed him a smile, "he's not your half-brother."

- page 8 UK edition

I'm about halfway through and enjoying it thus far. Life has sort of got in the way for me recently, but I'm going to make an effort to post at least two reviews a week.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Book Review - Wake by Lisa McMann

Janie often races out of a classroom in a panic and avoids sleepovers like the plague. The other kids just think she’s a little strange, but the truth is that Janie gets sucked into peoples’ dreams. If anyone falls asleep near her, she’s dragged along to watch the dream. She’s seen all of the mundane ones, the bizarre ones. She’s even gleaned surprising information about her classmates from them. But when she’s dragged into a nightmare with a sinister monster, she’s amazed to see herself in the dream as well. And there seems to be more than her strange ability than she’s ever realised, for in one strange dream, someone sees her watching.

The levels of coincidence in Fade were perhaps on the outskirts of believability. Several chance coincidences went by unexplained, possibly for use in further books, but it stretched my credulity at times. On the whole, I found Wake entertaining, clever, and interesting. The premise was fairly well explored, focusing more on Janie’s character and struggles with her powers than the origins of the powers themselves.

The dream culture was intriguing, though I’d say a little skewed. A lot of the dreams Janie finds herself in are ‘falling’ dreams or ‘being naked in a public place’ dreams, which I’m not convinced that all that many people have. Also, she learns many useful things from her dream walking. I would guess that for every person who dreams of true events, there must be dozens more who dream utter nonsense.

I found the set-up of Janie’s past helped me to understand her as a character. Her past and relationship with Cabel was especially touchingly written. I do wish though that there had been a bit more interaction and closure with her mum. I’d also say that the ending was quite rushed, and a certain revelation was more convenient than credible. Fade was far shorter than I expected, but despite this managed to tell an engrossing and original story. It was fleeting yet lasting, beautifully written, the writing evoking the feeling of a dream itself. The characters were especially well drawn and I look forward to reading more about Janie.

Thankyou to Simon and Schuster for sending me a review copy.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Teaser Tuesday

Winter Song by Jean-Claude Mourlevat (translated by Anthea Bell)

'In the next row little Catharina sat up, unable to believe it. Buta glance at Milena's empty bed, impeccably made and empty, immediately told her what was in store for her. She tried to catch Helen's eye, but Helen turned her head away.'

- page 42 UK edition

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Teaser Tuesday

Rampant by Diana Peterfreund

'I might as well have gone crazy, judging by my new status as social pariah. And it's not as if the Myersons wanted to hire me again. After all, I was the girl who hung out with rabid goats.'

- page 22 US edition

Monday, 19 October 2009

Book review - Rampant by Diana Peterfreund

Astrid’s mother has always told stories of killer unicorns. These stories have gone from fun to embarrassing as Astrid grew up with her eccentric mother. But these stories turn out to be less myth than history. Astrid is a Llewelyn, one of the few families that produced unicorn hunters hundreds of years ago. The unicorns were supposedly hunted into extinction three hundred years ago, but an increasing number of sightings suggest a re-emergence. Astrid’s mother is thrilled, and packs her off to a cloister in Italy to train to continue the family tradition.

Rampant was enthralling and entertaining, a cleverly constructed fantasy. The writing and the characters deserve a special commendation. Astrid’s cousin Phil is bubbly and engaging, though perhaps a little naive. Her new friend Cory is determined and wilful, yet also too bloodthirsty. Each character has depth, not only multiple facets, but also reasons for these facets, events that have shaped the personalities. Astrid herself is interesting, though I would say too weak-willed. I can’t really understand how her mother could force her to go to Italy to kill unicorns if Astrid didn’t want to – surely most teenagers would be able to say no to that?

Of course, the aspect of virginity is interesting, especially when some interesting guys come on the scene. The use of mythology to illustrate the plight of the hunters is clever – some are eager to do war on the unicorns and some are very reluctant warriors. The unicorns themselves are of course more complicated than they first seem. All-in-all, an excellent adventure with romance, action, fantasy and a cast of memorable characters. I can’t wait for the next book.

My copy is a US edition, I don't think it's being printed here in the UK at the moment, but it's available from Amazon.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Book review - Ice by Sarah Beth Durst

Ice will be published in the UK on the 29th October
Cassie has been brought up in the Arctic with her father, a polar bear researcher. When she was younger, her grandmother would tell her stories of how her mother had been taken to the kingdom of the trolls when Cassie was only a baby. Now almost eighteen, she knows this is just a fairy story but this doesn’t stop her from imagining life with a mother. The day before her birthday she tracks the largest polar bear she’s ever seen. He’s fast and she loses him at a wall of ice she could have sworn he just walked into. As Cassie begins to learn the truth about this unusual bear she’s plunged into an adventure full of magic. Her past is entwined with this huge polar bear and Cassie has to decide how far she would go to bring back the mother she doesn’t remember.

This modern day fairy-tale is a good read. Sarah Beth Durst has created a modern world full of hidden magic, yet remarkably has also managed to achieve a fairy-tale quality to her writing. Bear’s history is far more complex than the usual ‘I did something wrong so the fairy turned me into a bear,’ consequently making the character himself more interesting, though I’d have liked to have learned more about his past. Cassie is a strong main character struggling with the impossibility of this new world she’s found herself in.

The new mythology Sarah Beth Durst has created fits seamlessly into descriptions of the modern world, perhaps because Cassie’s existence is so isolated and different from most other peoples’. Apart from filling the modern world with unseen magic, I have to say I didn’t find the book too special. The 'circle-of-life' theme was rather sketchy and the plot was predictable - there was nothing too surprising in there. But then, aren’t all fairytales like this? And don’t we just enjoy them for what they are no matter how many times they are retold? I know I keep reading them.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Book review - Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

The world is on the edge of a battle between the Clankers and the Darwinists, two sides with very different weapons. Prince Alek, the son of the Archduke, is forced to flee from his own people after an assassination leaves him orphaned. Deryn, a British midshipman aboard the famous Darwinist airship Leviathan, is actually a girl in disguise. These two people must navigate their way through the ugly outbreak of war that will eventually lead them together.

The idea of Leviathan, that in an alternate reality, World War One was fought between the Clankers (those who use machines) and the Darwinists (those who've evolved several ‘fabricated’ living creatures to replace machinery). It’s an unlikely premise and a wonderful idea, one that I would say was underutilised in the book itself. The idea of members of these two opposing sides colliding is creatively executed, resulting in neither a ‘good side’ or a ‘bad side,’ but an exciting mix of the two.

Alek was an interesting hero, confined by the lack of experience that often comes alongside privilege. I sometimes felt he was a little inconsistent as his voice is one of an intelligent youth, yet occasionally he would behave very stupidly, giving himself away by revealing his upbringing. Despite this conflict, I generally found him an interesting character, though perhaps he wasn’t as developed as he could have been. Deryn was a wonderful heroine, incredibly active and energetic. She was down-to-earth, very smart, and always entertaining to read about.

The ending was unusual. Now that I think about it, this part of the story had reached its conclusion, so the timing was perfect. Usually you get the sense of winding down towards the end or alternatively, a build-up of tension for a cliff-hanger. Leviathan did neither of these – it simply finished when the words ran out. Just to clarify, it had me surprised, but it wasn’t a disappointment, and it certainly has me second-guessing the next book. Leviathan was a really entertaining read, well-written and cleverly executed. For me, it didn’t have that indefinable sparkle-factor, but it had almost everything else.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Book review - Crossed Wires by Rosy Thornton

Peter is a Cambridge don, widowed father of identical twins. Mina is a single mother, struggling to make ends meet with her call centre job and worrying about her wayward teenage sister. Both are miles apart, but their situations are similar. When their worlds collide after Peter drives his car into a tree stump and calls Mina’s insurance centre, they discover how much they have in common. They also learn about themselves, love, parenthood, and how small things can connect people.

Now firstly, I have to say that Crossed Wires is an adult book, not a teenage book, and it reads as such. Not that the content is graphic (I’d say at most the book would be rated a 12A), but in terms of its style. Crossed Wires is what I would call a gentle book. It’s character-driven instead of sensational, think of an indie character based film as opposed to an action blockbuster. The characters are utterly believable and completely sympathetic. The plot is also, for the most part, surprisingly plausible. The idea of two people meeting through a call centre is completely unlikely, but Rosy Thornton has injected exactly the correct amount of believability to their interactions, and created the right circumstances to allow their relationship to progress naturally.

A huge part of this book focuses on parenthood, which doesn’t necessarily alienate teen readers, as it’s done in an interesting and thought-provoking way. However, the slow pace, the seeming insignificance of the story, are things less common in young adult than adult literature. The book also felt, to me, a little bit too surgical. It was academic in its precision to detail, which dampened my interest in the storyline somewhat.

I do feel that many teens will enjoy Crossed Wires just as many adults will. It’s a masterful piece of writing, warm and hopeful. As long as teenage readers are aware that they are reading an ‘Adult’ novel, that the structure and writing style are rather academic, then I think they’ll find Crossed Wires an interesting read. It’s certainly beautifully written and deserving of praise.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Teaser Tuesday

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

'Gradually he forgot that he was at the controls, feeling the steps as if they were his own. The sway of the cabin settled into his body, the rhythms of gears and pneumatics not so different from his runabout’s, only louder.'

– page 15 UK edition

Monday, 21 September 2009

Book review - Perfect Girl by Mary Hogan

Ruthie has suddenly fallen in love with one of her best friends, Marcus. Just as she realises how much she likes him, a new girl appears at school. Jenna is perfect in all the ways that Ruthie isn’t and, worst of all, Marcus is definitely interested in the new girl. But Ruthie has her own secret weapon – Fabrique magazine’s ‘Goddess of Love,’ her Aunt Marty. Enlisting Aunt Marty’s help, Ruthie is on a mission to turn herself into a perfect girl and win the love of the boy next door.

Perfect Girl is definitely for younger readers, I’d say tweens and young teens, though the main character is supposedly fourteen. That said, Perfect Girl is a surprisingly deep book. With its cast of quirky characters; Ruthie’s chronic worrier mother, her seemingly perfect Aunt, the eccentric and talkative old lodger, Mr Arthur, Perfect Girl is far more about family than it is about chasing after boys. Ruthie’s chaotic family life and lack of a father leave her embarrassed and feeling not-quite-normal, but she slowly begins to appreciate her family for who they are.

Her position is an interestingly difficult one – her mother is hugely overprotective of her, she knows nothing of her father other than the basic information the sperm bank gave her mother, and her mum is currently at odds with her only other family member, her Aunt. This extreme situation makes Ruthie more than a little confused and angry, but it slowly untangles itself. While Ruthie may never achieve perfect, in chasing it she discovers more about her family and ultimately herself.

It’s a fairly short read, but well-written and fun, perfect for younger fans of Luisa Plaja or Liz Rettig.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

BBAW Meme in 5 words

Amy's suggested that we answer these questions in five words or less, but I'm going to go one better and answer each in EXACTLY five words, so here goes:

Do you snack while you read? If so, favourite reading snack?
I drink tea. A lot.

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?
Write? In a book? NEVER!!!

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Leaving the book flat open?
Memorise page number. Then forget.
Fiction, non-fiction, or both?
Fiction. Non-fiction is for work.

Hard copy or audiobooks?
Audiobooks make me fall asleep.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you able to put a book down at any point?
Usually read cover to cover.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away?
Invent meaning. It's usually wrong.

What are you currently reading?
Just re-read King of Attolia.

What is the last book you bought?
High Lord by Trudi Canavan.

Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can you read more than one at a time?
Generally juggling too many books.

Do you have a favourite time of day and/or place to read?
Bed. At night. With tea.

Do you prefer series books or stand alone books?
Series that can stand alone.

Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over?
Maria Snyder rocks my socks.

How do you organise your books? (By genre/title/author's last name, etc.?)
Book goes where it's RIGHT.

And there you have it. Five word sentences are fun. See you soon, I hope.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

A BBAW interview with ... Avis

One of the best things I've discovered since I started reviewing is this great community of online bloggers. I love finding new blogs, so I liked the idea of the Book Blogger Appreciation Week interview swap. Basically, you're paired up completely randomly with another blogger and get to discover their blog and chat to them. I tend to know lots of the YA blogs out there, but not many others. I was lucky enough to be paired with Avis from she reads and reads, where she spotlights fiction written by women.

What is your favourite genre? Are there any genres you won’t read?

Literary fiction is my favourite genre although I also really enjoy mysteries, SF, contemporary fiction, memoirs, personal essays and certain types of nonfiction (such as The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, for example). I’ve also recently been discovering YA and graphic novels. The genres I don’t normally read are chick lit, paranormal fiction, Christian fiction, horror, thrillers, academic nonfiction, romance and westerns.

Who is your favourite author?

Picking a single favourite author is impossible! Some of my favourites are Janette Turner Hospital, Barbara Kingsolver, Nancy Mairs, Michael Cunningham and Kate Wilhelm, just to name the first five that come to mind. There are others I’ve read more recently that feel like potential favourites (they can’t be favourites yet because I’ve only read one of their books so far): Pagan Kennedy, Michelle Richmond, Susan Olding, Stephanie Kallos and Marina Endicott.

Do you have any books that you reread time and again?

I’m not much of a rereader (there are so many books I haven’t read once yet!), but I do enjoy rereading my favourites every now and then. Three that I’ve read at least twice and will probably read again are The Diviners by Margaret Laurence (she’s brilliant and this is her best book in my opinion), The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver and A Door into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski.

Do you judge a book by its cover?

I actually think it’s almost impossible not to judge books by their covers. For me, covers act as a kind of sorting mechanism. I read a zillion blogs and come across heaps of books nearly every day, so I need a fast way to eliminate at least a few of them as potential additions to my wish list. (I don’t have time to read every single review I come across.) At their best, book covers should be a kind of visual shorthand, so that readers can recognize the types of books that appeal to them just by looking at the cover. Of course, it happens pretty often that a book’s cover is completely misleading. This happened to me recently with Crossed Wires by Rosy Thornton, which I almost didn’t accept for review because of its pink cover but ended up really enjoying. Obviously, the cover doesn’t make or break it—if somebody I trust strongly recommends a book, I’ll read it, whether or not I like the cover.

What do you do when you’re not reading or blogging?

For work, I’m a freelance French-to-English translator. For fun, I watch movies or TV, hang out with friends, play Carcassonne, write, cook, sleep.

If you had to pick the three best books you’ve read so far this year, what would they be?

Pathologies: A Life in Essays by Susan Olding
The Wishing Year by Noelle Oxenhandler
The Impostor’s Daughter by Laurie Sandell

Thanks for the fun interview Avis! You should all go and check out her blog.
*edit* And you can now read her interview of me if you want to.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Update. Also, Catching Fire

I’m so sorry I’ve been neglecting the blog lately, but I’m going back to Uni soon so I’m catching up with friends as much as possible these last few days. I’m not going to do a review for Catching Fire because anyone who enjoyed The Hunger Games will buy Catching Fire regardless of what I say. (A review will probably come soon anyway though).

But for now, I’ll just give a few thoughts. When I finished, I wasn’t completely happy. It hooked me and was brilliant, but the things that happened weren’t what I wanted to happen. I thought it was amazing, but I also wasn’t sure about it. Then I remembered – I felt this way about The Hunger Games. Exactly the same. They’re definitely growers for me. This is why – what I want to happen doesn’t happen. What does happen is better, but it takes me a while to see that. So now I’m going to sit back and say that Suzanne Collins knows best.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Teaser Tuesday

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

"I just can't wait for the whole thing to be over," I whisper.
"I know," says Greasy Sae, "but you've got to go through it to get to the end of it. Better not be late."

- page 15 UK edition

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Book review - The Bride's Farewell by Meg Rosoff

When Pell runs away, she leaves the life she’s known, her family, and her brand new wedding dress. She takes her horse and young, mute brother. She doesn’t know where she’s going, but she wants to escape a life of hard work and drudgery. On the way, she meets people connected to her past as well as to her new future. Through it all, she reacts with resilience and determination to the struggles thrown in her path. Will she find what she seeks, or forever wander, searching for all that she has lost?

The Bride’s Farewell a surprisingly short, though entertaining, read. Meg Rosoff is an author who can make her readers completely believe in the surroundings that she creates. There’s an interesting cast of characters, though I will say that the coincidences linking the characters together are at times unbelievable. There’s a slightly old-fashioned charm about the story that makes it so believable as a historical novel.

In some ways the plot is just too chancy. Various people are lost and found throughout the story, despite the fact that England is a big place. The chances of finding one another were rather slim. However, it was also entertaining and with a small suspension of disbelief comes an original, though somewhat predictable, story that’s worth reading.

Pell was a good heroine, hardworking and determined. Not only did I want her to have a happy ending, but I also felt that she’d worked hard enough to deserve one, a rare thing in many books now. Her relationship with the hunter was compelling and unusual. I wanted to know much more about him, but the fact that you know so little is one of the defining factors in their curious relationship. I suppose if too much page time had been spent on them alone, the book would have become far more of a love story than anything else. As it is, the romance is enough to flavour the book but not too much that it takes over. My biggest complaint with the book is the fact that Pell grew up with Birdie as her best friend, never discouraging him. I find it hard to believe she’d then just run away as she would have known how badly it would affect him.

I enjoyed this and would recommend it, though it was a quick read. It’s being published as a hardback this September and my advice would be to wait for the paperback as it’s just not long enough to justify hardback prices in my opinion. It is a beautifully written book nevertheless.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Teaser Tuesday

The Magicians Guild by Trudi Canavan

'Looking up, she saw that several magicians had gathered around their fallen companion. Some crouched beside him, but most had turned to stare out at the people in the square, their eyes searching. Looking for me, she thought suddenly'

- page 18 UK edition

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Book review - The Magicians' Guild by Trudi Canavan

For five hundred years, the Magicians’ Guild has been the most powerful group of people, loyal enforcers for the King. Only people whose potential for magic has been ‘unlocked’ can manage the practise, and only people from the most powerful families are accepted into the guild. Thus it is incredibly elite – and incredibly hated by the poor, not least because the magicians enforce even the King’s more extreme orders. All this changes when one day the magicians are driving the poor out of the city, and a girl fights back. Sonea is furious with the magicians and the King, everyone who is forcing her out of the life she has worked so hard to build. But when she manages to knock out a magician right through the magical barrier protecting them, she is forced into hiding. The Guild are amazed to learn of this untrained magician and are determined to find her.

I bought this book because I read the first chapter or so online, and it absolutely hooked me. That chapter was the best part of The Magicians’ Guild. It’s not that the rest was bad, it was just long. 463 pages and the story could have fit into 250. By three-quarters of the way through, I was beginning to not really care what happened as long as something did. There’s also a hint of the inevitable about this book, and if I know what’s going to happen then I don’t want to spend 250 pages getting there unless those 250 pages have been very well written. The concept is brilliant, I just wish there had been more to it. Nevertheless, The Magicians’ Guild was an entertaining read.

Sonea is an engaging heroine, though not particularly unique. I enjoyed the contrast between the rich and the poor. Of course, the reader automatically supports the poor over their oppressors, especially since the poor live in the ‘slums,’ where there are gangs and ‘The Thieves,’ who have secret passages everywhere, almost every building it seems. A small part of me really enjoys the streetwise, savvy-ness of such a setting. The magicians themselves had interesting dynamics going on – not all are old and fusty-dusty as you might expect from such a guild.

I did enjoy The Magicians’ Guild, I don’t want to come across as overly negative. But then, I don’t want to be overly positive either. It was fun, held my attention despite the long-windedness of it, and I liked it. But it didn’t sparkle, it didn’t amaze me. Read it for fun, I’d even recommend it, but for me it was missing the final star that would make this book great.

Friday, 28 August 2009

And again...

So, having been back a week from here...... which absolutely was as beautiful as the photo looks, (and hot! I'm from England. I'm not used to hot!) and then running into several problems with my internet, I'm leaving again! It's just for a long weekend though, over the bank holiday. I'm going to schedule some posts, so you might even get more than normal. But I definitely will have no internet access where I'm going. A clue - it involves a huge field. Another clue - it involves a tent. Yep, I'm going camping. Wish me luck.

(and one more because I have a huge folder full of photos of the amazing scenery)

Ahh, Greece. You are so very pretty.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Book review - Willow by Julia Hoban

Seven months ago, Willow’s parents drank too much at a dinner party and asked her to drive them home. Willow was behind the wheel when they crashed, killing both of her parents. Willow herself escaped pretty much unscathed – bodily. She faces drastic changes in her life. She has to move in with her older brother, a brother who used to be so close and now hardly speaks to her. She has to work to help to pay rent and she has a new school. More important than the outer changes are the changes in Willow herself. She’s desperately struggling with her grief, trying to stay in control. People think she’s being strong, but Willow has a secret. She’s numbing the pain by secretly cutting herself. And then she meets Guy, and he discovers her secret. Now he won’t let her fade into the shadows, but keeps pulling her out, determined to save her.

Willow was a very special book. Not only does it deal with a main character whose parents died in a car crash while she was driving, it also manages to portray her sense of guilt and loss. And yes, she begins to cut herself, which is written in a completely empathetic way. Not only has Julia Hoban managed to accomplish all of this, but she’s also made the book somewhat compelling and definitely entertaining, something I’d have assumed almost impossible from the blurb. And here’s the thing – Hoban hasn’t sacrificed Willow’s story for the sake of this entertainment. She’s achieved a precarious, but almost perfect, balance of light and dark. And I’m a little bit in awe of her for it.

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t really read ‘issues’ books – or if I do I expect to find them tedious but meaningful. So I was a little apprehensive beginning Willow, but I’m truly glad I did. The characters were all believable, especially Willow’s older brother David, and new friends Laurie and Guy. All have an interesting mixture of flaws and strengths. Willow’s relationship with David is always coloured by her feelings of guilt and his apparent denial. In contrast, her relationship with Guy is very open and honest, more so as their bond grows, creating a natural progression to their relationship. This relationship did seem a little too one-sided however. I’d have liked to have learned a bit more about Guy’s past because the way the book showcases him makes him seem a bit too perfect.

I was completely surprised by how much the ending satisfied me. It couldn’t be a perfect ending – not while also keeping the integrity of the subject matter – yet for me it struck exactly the right chord. Willow is a beautiful book that was honest and touching and I found it a surprising delight to read.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Teaser Tuesday

The Hollow by Jessica Verday

The wind continued to howl around me, and the rain pounded on the scant shelter ahead. Whoever he was, he was crazy to be standing out there. Before I could even think it through, I found myself taking a couple of steps out from underneath the awning.

- page 24 UK edition

Author Spotlight

The lovely L. Lee Lowe emailed me earlier this week, letting me know about her new YA sci-fi/fantasy novel Corvus. A free chapter and podcast will be posted every Friday. The first chapter is somewhat confusing, but interesting nevertheless and the second nicely sets up the world. It's an interesting idea and a serialisation I look forward to reading more of.

In her own words: 'In an alternate present the minds of teen offenders are uploaded into computers for rehabilitation—a form of virtual wilderness therapy. Zach is a homo cognoscens, one of the new humans who can navigate the Fulgrid. Though still a high school student, he is indentured to the Fulgur Corporation as a counsellor. Laura is a homo sapiens. Their story is part odyssey, part tragedy, part riff on the nature of consciousness.'

Friday, 21 August 2009

Book review - Lipgloss Jungle by Melissa de la Cruz

Lauren has been accepted as one of the Ashleys, a select clique who rule the school she attends. Her plan is to bring them down from the inside, but now that she’s finally found a place with them she’s not so sure. They can be bossy but they can also be so much fun to hang out with. Soon she has more important problems. A rival group has begun to challenge the Ashleys, led by Lauren’s former best friend. All the Ashleys are outraged at this, but they have their own problems to deal with as well. Is the clique going to collapse under the pressure?

I’m not quite sure who Lipgloss Jungle is aimed at. It’s marketed as a young gossip girl, which seems fair. I’d say it’s about 11 or 12+, though the girls sometimes act more maturely than that and sometimes less maturely. I didn’t have any confusion reading this book as my first introduction to the series (It’s actually the fourth book), though I did find Lauren the least interesting character although she seems to be supposed to the central character. I also didn’t get engaged in her relationship with boyfriend Christian, perhaps because it and they were introduced properly in a previous book and left to play somewhat in the background in this one. For that reason I’d suggest beginning this series with the first book if you decide to give it a go.

The book is told from the alternating perspectives of each of the four members of the ‘Ashleys’ clique. The other characters are rather clich├ęd, though I will say no character is completely bad or completely good, making all of their motives that bit more interesting. All are overly obsessed with clothes, looks and boys, worrying over first kisses and suchlike.

A fun little summer read for tween girls. Though it has little substance it’s entertaining enough and will probably keep many girls happy for an afternoon.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Book review - City of Ghosts by Bali Rai

1919 and the city of Amritsar is in turmoil. Unrest sweeps the streets as more and more citizens protest against British rule. Orphans Jeevan and Gurdial have been inseparable from a young age, but while Gurdial falls in love with a rich merchant’s daughter, Jeevan spends more time with his hot-headed new friends. Meanwhile a young Sikh World War One veteran waits patiently for a letter from the woman he fell in love with. Amritsar is a city of dreams and a city of ghosts. And the whole city is being dragged towards disaster in the wake of conflict between angry young revolutionaries and the British authorities.

City of Ghosts was captivating and superbly written. I had heard of the fact that one third of British troops weren’t from Britain, but I’d never really considered the practicalities of this – would a Sikh be able to wear his turban in the trenches? How would it feel to fight in a horrific war, be regarded as a second-class citizen by the side you fought for, then return home to unrest and countrymen who consider that your fighting for the British makes you a traitor? Bali Rai addresses these questions and many others in City of Ghosts.

It’s surprising how well he has told many sides of the same story – though it’s clear which side he sympathises more with, the author is careful not to vilify indiscriminately. In the afterword he mentions not sticking exactly to the facts. While I’m sure this is the case, he seems to have managed to capture the feel of the time. It’s refreshingly unbiased – I’ll admit that I usually cynically find that books like this have been written to prove a point, which, however valid, usually annoys me. However, I felt that with City of Ghosts, it was written to tell a story, one that has not been told before.

All of the characters are sympathetically portrayed. It’s interesting to see not only the characters and their actions, but also the circumstances causing their decisions, how far each of them will go when pushed. A city on the brink of chaos is the perfect setting to examine human principles and capabilities, to push characters as far as possible, which in turn creates an interesting sense of tension to the story. The love stories between Gurdial and Sohni and Bissen and Lillian are not simple, both relationships have huge obstacles in their way, yet somehow are still hopeful.

My one main complaint is that the book seems to condone Udham’s actions. City of Ghosts helped me to understand and sympathise with his plight, but however justified it may have been, his own action was still murder. I also found the ending of Bissen’s storyline slightly confusing, leaving me wondering whether the letter was legitimate or not. Other than that though, the book ended with clarity and conclusiveness.

A beautiful story of just a few citizens caught up in the strife that gripped Amritsar in 1919. Through telling the story of these young people, the story of the city itself is also told. A rich, vibrant city so well portrayed you can almost taste it. This is a masterful tale of love and loss, of falling, failing and dying, but also of hope.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009


I'm going on holiday tomorrow so will be away from the internet for over a week. I was planning on scheduling some posts for while I'm away but my internet has been down all day so there will just have to be silence at About Books for a week. I'm on a different computer just to post this quick note. Have a good week everyone!

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Series or franchise?

Many authors already established as authors of 'Adult fiction' have recently taken the leap to teenage (or 'Young Adult') fiction. This is probably because the market for YA fiction is currently large and thriving. Whatever the reason, I realised recently that these 'Adult' authors always seem to do so in series. Usually these series are more like a TV series than book series - the end of the book leaves you with more questions than you had at the beginning. No book in the series can stand alone, each is a chapter in the series. (There are some exceptions to this, for example Ally Carter who began writing for adults and then switched genres, has the Gallagher Girls series with the same characters but different stories. Each book is it's own story though they link.) I can name several authors - Lili St. Crow, Andrew Klavan, James Patterson, who've done this recently. I apologise if you're a Maximum Ride fan. I sort of was for the first three books, before I realised it would never end and never make sense.

I have nothing against series. If I've loved a story then often I'll want to return to that world. I just feel that each book should be whole and complete in itself. Write a book, conclude it and THEN decide to write another one. Some authors who do this well are Shannon Hale and Jaclyn Moriarty. Of course, some stories have too much plot for one book and need to be in a series. The author will have the whole series planned (I'll use Stephenie Meyer as my example here, though I've never read her books). So if it's not a series that I object to itself, it must be something else. A franchise maybe?

Maybe it's when I feel like an author hasn't written a book to satisfy the reader, they've deliberately NOT satisfied the reader to keep them coming back, to keep the mysteries. I want authors to create stories, not franchises. If those stories happen to connect, that's fine. Often the writing is good, they're enjoyable books, but they're blatantly a first-in-a-series and it's starting to drive me CRAZY. I don't want to be too judgemental as I know authors have to sell books to make their profits, but if the author doesn't love the book, how can they expect me, the reader, to? It isn't just the 'Adult' authors who do this, it's just that they seem to do it a lot. Because this is how 'Adult' series work or because they think teenage fiction is easy to write?

This isn't a slam on 'Adult' authors for trying to write teen fiction, I love it when they do. If I enjoy their book I'll check out their other books for adults. Just please make a story that has a beginning, middle, end. Over one book, over four, I don't really care (though Adult authors, if you're listening, I'd love to see some stand-alone teen books from you). But when all you put in is hook, hook, hook and never bother to conclude, I start to lose my faith in you.

So I have to ask this. As a reader, am I being selfish? Is it acceptable for an author to give you a set of books that are probably never going to conclude? Or is it because I am spoilt by the huge number of books in the teen market at the moment?

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Book review - Ember Fury by Cathy Brett

Ember Fury releases in the UK tomorrow (the 6th August)
From the back cover because I couldn't seem to manage to write my own summary for this one:
'Having celebrity parents isn’t as hot as it sounds. Yes, there’s money to burn, fame and some totally smoking guys... but when your dad’s more interested in blazing a trail to the top of the charts than why you got kicked out of school, again, it can make you seriously angry. And if there’s one thing Ember Fury knows, it’s that the smallest spark of anger can ignite a whole heap of trouble.'

I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up this book – I didn’t even know what the plot was about. I read it because I heard that it’s an interesting blend of text and image. I don’t read graphic novels, I just don’t find that the medium works for me. But half graphic novel and half plain ordinary novel? That idea appealed to me because potentially you have the best of both. Ember Fury lives up to that potential.

You may notice the use of fire metaphors in the blurb. That would be because Ember is a pyromaniac – a fire starter. She’s been kicked out of several schools and recently landed in rehab due to her tendency to set light to things when she’s upset. At the start of the book Ember is quite a naive yet confident character – the stereotypical problem child of celebrity parents. As the story progresses, her insecurities and loneliness justify most of her actions. She’s a reluctant teenager thrust into the spotlight whenever she stays with her dad in America, but this time she’s just been kicked out of another school, she has a new step-mum to meet, and her dad hasn’t bothered turning up to see her. She has to face other people judging her and using her just because of who her dad is. Despite this she’s quite funny and very overdramatic. The graphic side picks up on this characteristic beautifully, showing images of how she feels as well as what’s happening.

There’s also a paranormal element to the book, though it’s never fully explained whether her invisible friend Ned is a ghost or just completely imaginary. Ember Fury is a good book that will have younger teens hooked. Because of the approachableness of Ember’s character and the way the text is broken up between graphic segments, it’s a great book for reluctant readers but unlike many other such books it doesn’t exclude confident readers either. Because of the maturity level of the character I would say it’s more suited to younger teens, who I think will really enjoy this fun but also deep book.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Series spotlight - Megan Whalen Turner

You thought I’d forgotten about them, didn’t you? I hadn’t but I have been thinking and Series Spotlight is no longer going to be regular, just whenever I find an amazing series I want to give you a heads up on. It’s also going to be much shorter, just a flavour of the series, a recommendation more than a review. Why? Because the old format was too long and also because I’m lazy. It’s also hard to find a series every week that I love enough to want to write about!

But today I present to you...
The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, and The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner.

Gen is a thief. He can steal anything. Except himself out of prison. Which is where the first book picks up. Gen’s plans often land him in trouble, but always he is confident, witty and ingenious, with more than one trick up his sleeve. This series is set in a medieval world much like Greece and the stories are interwoven with myths. This is a favourite re-read series of mine. I can’t really tell much plot as it gives too much away – each book has a couple of very surprising twists – there’s always more going on than you realise. Political intrigue, adventure, action, humour, a rich and vibrant culture, entertaining characters, interesting plots, each book has all of these and more.

I highly recommend the series as one of my favourites (and look – it seems the Newbery folk back my recommendation!). Plus a sequel is in the works, which I’m super excited about. (I don’t think it’s published outside of the US but you can get it from sites like Amazon UK and this is one series I REALLY advise you to buy even if you don’t really like importing books.)

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Book review - Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

The UK paperback releases 6th August.
‘There are thirteen reasons why your friend committed suicide. You are one of them.’
They are sent from person to person. When Clay receives the package, he has no idea what’s inside. Intrigued, he finds seven cassette tapes. On each side of the tapes Hannah Baker has recorded a reason why she ended her life. The rules are simple. You listen all the way through and you pass it on to the next person in the story. Clay can’t think of anything Hannah could blame him for, but he received the tapes so he has to listen. Over the course of one long night he listens to Hannah’s story, wandering the streets of his town as he follows in her footsteps, coming to know Hannah better than he ever has before.

I’ll admit it, I was expecting a rather depressing story. A story with a big moral (anything you do could be one more reason that someone commits suicide). To be honest, I was expecting more literary highbrow-ness than entertainment, but somehow Thirteen Reasons Why delivers both.
Clay is an incredibly honest main character and can’t comprehend how he’s involved in the story. Hannah was the girl he liked from afar and never really got the chance to get to know. Through the tapes he can understand Hannah’s story and finally connect with her. Hannah herself comes across as composed and intelligent, fully aware of what she’s doing. She also has a sense of humour and perspective on the events she describes. As she says on the tapes, she blames very few of them, but she wants them to know how their actions affected her. This mature outlook is vital to the book as it means it’s not a narrative of finger-pointing and revenge so much as a story about the truth. Interestingly, several of the recipients of the tapes don’t see it the same way and judge others based on the story despite the fact that each of them received those tapes for a similar reason.

It’s a clever tale that allows the reader to see the same events from different interpretations. Everyone has preconceptions about other people. Hannah’s tapes illustrate how harming and misleading these can be, but also how they can come about. Especially in school, people can quickly be assigned a reputation and expected to stick to it. Other people see them as this characteristic – shy/funny/sweet and they may feel they have to live up to it. Thirteen Reasons Why plays up to this, challenging even the reader’s preconceptions. Clay comes across as a little dorky in his own narration, but in other people’s eyes he is cooler. Because of these two main narrators, this book is great for guys and girls, without excluding either sex. I recommend it to all.

I hate to end on a ‘this book makes you think,’ but it truly does. Not about life and death so much as image and seeing beyond the stereotypes. It’s not just meaningful though, it’s also an entertaining read. It wasn’t hard to get through, and I didn’t feel too noble reading it. I don’t want to detract from its meaning, but I also want people to understand it’s a good read! I wanted to know what happened next in Hannah’s story, I wanted to know how people fitted in, and especially how Clay fitted in. It was also interesting to see Clay wandering the streets of his town, meeting people from school and not knowing if they were on the tapes. Do they already know how he fits in? Will they be featured after him in the story? Do they have nothing to do with it at all? There’s a good element of suspense and I was intrigued to see how it would all play out.

What do you think of the new UK paperback cover? I like it more every time I see it, but I can't help feeling it will appeal more to girls than guys which is a shame.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

What NOT to do 2

I've collected a few more of these, so here for your reading pleasure is What NOT to do part deux, alternatively known as Please Authors, I beg you, don't ruin a good book by doing these things. Maybe before reading this post you should go back and read What NOT to do 1 if you haven't already.

As before, I'm leaving out general problems like poor characters or plot. Here are some specific things I've been picking up on recently. Again, I'm not trying to criticise specific books so anything in quotation marks is paraphrased by me.

Show that a Lord in a historical fiction book is a nice guy really by having him always address his servants like ‘if it isn’t too much trouble, would you be so kind as to fetch Miss Moore some tea and refreshments?’ – I don't care how nice a guy he is, it wouldn't occur to him to be so polite to his servants all the time. Plus it gets annoying very quickly. Show how nice a guy he is by making him rescue kittens or something instead.

Heroines who are absolutely gorgeous, but charmingly unaware of it. – Generally seen through the eyes of several males just so the reader realises she’s beautiful (because charmingly modest heroine has told the reader that she’s not beautiful and we can’t have the reader believing that their heroine is plain!) before moving back to her point of view. On the same note, heroines who have a childhood friend desperately in love with her, several men along the way in love with her, just about anyone who meets her, in love with her.

Quests whose success balances upon knife edges/hangs on single threads – Questers are frequently reminded of this by random wise people along the way even when they’re not in immediate danger of any kind.

Questers seek wise/knowledgeable person to shed light on their quest. Wise person falls over himself being friendly and generally wise yet doesn’t say anything useful, despite knowing stuff. Finally, he wishes questers luck on their quest, telling them that he can say little (and why is that exactly? ) but this ... proceeds to speak cryptically and in verse even though he managed normal conversation moments ago. At the end of the poem, wise/knowledgeable person can say no more (other than you have very little time, usually) and reminds questers of Knife Edge/Single Thread mentioned above – Questers and reader alike can then spend most of the book trying to figure out the cryptic poem, which adds a fun element. Hey, it’s interactive! Then they can feel stupid at the end when all is revealed. How obvious! Everyone say ‘of cooouurse!’

Have a character called Cat – I’m not being critical if you ALREADY have a character called Cat, that’s fine. I have nothing against the name, or your books. But authors take note! There are now enough Cats in YA literature to last us a while. And Kat is not a whole different name. Same applies. I know two Cats in real life. I have read about more than fifteen. Why is this?

Have a boy who turns out to be a girl in disguise at the same time as the Princess disappears – WE KNOW IT’S HER!!! Just because author has ever so casually mentioned how Princess has one colour hair and girl in disguise has a different colour hair doesn’t fool your discerning readers. Some of us have heard of wigs before.

Some cryptic verse making up a treasure hunt to treasure which an eccentric, but extremely wise old person hid centuries ago (it is generally unexplained why such crazy-but-genius old people are always in possession of priceless treasures) - said eccentric knows, of course, that the treasure must be hidden well, so only one who is worthy/really needs the treasure/is noble of heart can find it. They don’t consider how if it’s important, maybe they shouldn’t bury it/ hide it in that secret compartment in the loft/ build a house on top of it. If it’s so important, maybe someone will need it in a hurry and not have time for a treasure hunt. Invariably, it’s a close-run thing, but treasure is found in the nick of time to avert disaster.

Explain every action of a character to show how good they really are. If someone was shooting at us/chasing us/trying to kill us in some horrible way, most of us would have no qualms in retaliating. You don’t have to explain why it’s alright for character to fight back – ‘I know violence is wrong and all, but I firmly believe that in self-defence it is occasionally the only action and I’m no pushover despite being peaceful and full of goodness. So I pulled my arm back and punched him’ is unnecessary.

Decide to branch out into young adult books and create a series (*cough franchise cough*). The necessity of an actual plot is reduced and the writing doesn’t have to be as good because after all the readers are younger. We won’t even give them a satisfactory conclusion at the end because then we will have the impressionable youngsters hooked for life – I hate to break it to you, but the choice in YA lit is more diverse than ever before. There are some excellent books out there and teens are harsh critics. Just because a few teen series have been huge recently does not mean that you will win at this. You probably won’t.

Make your book seem ‘classic’ and your newly created world rich in history by sharing it all in a dry and unexciting manner – Yes, that reminds us of a history book. Yes, we believe in your world as a real place. No, we are not still reading because the dry and unexciting voice sent us to sleep.

That's it for today. What about you? Any pitfalls you find authors falling in to far too often? Any irritating little problems that stop a good book from being a great book?

Friday, 24 July 2009

Blogger appreciation week

I know posts about this have been all around the blogosphere recently, but I thought I'd do a quick post for anyone not familiar with this. My Friend Amy is hosting a Book Blogger Appreciation Week in September, you should go and check it out.

Usually I'm a bit cautious with all the events with names like 'THE young adult review blog week' as I think the community of teen book bloggers can get quite clannish and unintentionally make non-bloggers or new bloggers feel excluded, but this week Amy is hosting seems like a great idea. You don't have to be a blogger to nominate your favourite blogs, it's all just (as the title suggests) showing your appreciation for good bloggers. I've nominated my favourite blogs and suggest you go and do the same (this is honestly not a plug for myself - I know there are tons of way better blogs out there. I just think that all of the winners will really appreciate being voted for and also Amy has done a fantastic job with the new site, so the more people who vote, the better!)

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Book review - The Last Thing I Remember by Andrew Klavan

Charlie is a good guy. He works hard, he’s a black belt in karate, and he’s never been in trouble. He has his problems as every teenage guy does, like talking to the girl he likes without making a fool of himself and the best friend who seems to be in some kind of trouble. When he goes to bed these things are important. When he wakes up they’re not. That’s because he’s strapped to a chair in a prison cell covered in blood, bruises and burns. He has no idea how or why he got there, but he knows he’s in trouble – someone outside the cell has just ordered his death. Charlie West is on the run, in danger and alone, and he doesn’t even know why. Because he can’t remember the last year of his life.

The Last Thing I Remember has a good premise (though admittedly it bears a striking resemblance to the Bourne Identity series). Charlie’s search for the truth leads him to police stations, a terrorist group, and a crazy lady with many cats. It’s an interesting plot although by no means concluded at the end of the book (have I mentioned this is the first in a series?). For the first half of the book the narrative cuts between his present problems and the last day he remembers. There are important clues in the last day he remembers to why he is in trouble now. The plotting here has been careful, but the writing is less smooth – some of the transitions are very awkward.

Charlie as a character is amusing on occasion. At times he seems a bit slow to grasp what’s going on, but that is to a reader who is reading objectively, not a person who’s just woken up in a room and has no idea why, so perhaps it’s understandable. Especially in the first few chapters, he’s interesting and smart. He does have some unforgiveable traits as the book goes on. Firstly he is just too good. He calls everybody ma’am and sir (even a crazy lady who’s warning him about the mind control people), he analyses and justifies every time he defends himself. I suppose to some extent this works to show that clearly he is a good person and he’s woken up in a world that he doesn’t belong to. Maybe it’s a personal thing, but to me he’s too self-righteous. There’s also just something about Charlie that screams to me this character isn’t a really teen! He was created by an adult!

Also, the writing seems to imply that you have to be religious and patriotic to be a good person, which irritated me. His reaction to someone suggesting that he’s a terrorist is I can’t be a terrorist. I love my country! which pretty much killed my irritation, being almost hilarious in its ridiculousness. To me it implied that if he didn’t love his country... What about I can’t be a terrorist. Blowing people up and suchlike is WRONG!

Having said this there are also some good characters, most noticeably Jane, who intersperses insanity with extreme wisdom. She’s also handled surprisingly sensitively. She does keep many cats as per crazy cat lady formula, but she’s also much younger than a stereotypical ‘crazy person’ and an interesting character. The idea is a good one, the plot partially predictable but interesting nevertheless. If you can ignore the self-righteous tone, I’d say read it. There are snatches of real humour in the writing and the action scenes are especially evocative. In my opinion the good does outweigh the bad and I will be reading the sequel despite my problems with this installment.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Book review - The Agency by Y S Lee

When she was twelve, Mary was a housebreaking orphan, convicted and sentenced to the gallows. Five years later Mary is a well-educated, respectable young lady. Rescued from death by an unusual group of schoolteachers, she’s been taught to be independent and intelligent, an unusual education for Victorian girls. Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy is recruiting and raising girls of special abilities. The Agency is a secret society of female detectives and Mary is about to join their numbers. Sent to a merchant’s house to uncover the truth of his missing cargo ships, Mary is to all appearances a demure young companion to his daughter. She quickly realises that the house is full of deceptions, respectability masking mystery.

I bought this because of the words ‘Victorian detective trilogy.’ I love the idea of Victorian Ladies tripping around having secret adventures while pretending to be respectable. A Spy in the House introduces the audience to this world along with Mary – she’s on her first assignment and she’s learning as she goes along. Mary’s an intelligent, active but impatient main character who, true to the book, is a lot more than meets the eye. She has a past that was buried even before she became a thief and this past of course catches up with her somewhat. Her tenuous partnership with James, a civil engineer with his own reasons to investigate the merchant, is nicely written. There are enough romantic sparks to entertain the audience while still leaving room for the relationship to develop in the next books. Specifically, there’s a great moment when they are stuck in a closet together.

A Spy in the House was fun, clever and well characterised. The investigation of missing Chinese sailors gave the book an extra depth in dealing with a culture not usually shown within Victorian London. It was (and I seem to be saying this more and more often these days) the first in a new series. However, I do think that A Spy in the House managed a good balance with some unanswered questions, but enough plot resolution to satisfy the reader. Did it live up to my expectations? I’d have liked to have seen more of the fashionable world to contrast with Mary’s illicit doings. I also felt that the investigation was over-complicated at times, but I did enjoy it. A solid good.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Book review - Selina Penaluna by Jan Page

Evacuees Jack and Ellen are twins, sent to the safety of Cornwall during the war. In the small seaside town they live with Mr and Mrs Rosewarne, a wealthy couple with a large house right beside the sea. What starts off as a holiday quickly becomes more serious. The Rosewarnes are peculiar, especially towards Jack, acting as if he was their real son. Ellen soon takes advantage of this opportunity, but Jack is uncomfortable. He turns more and more to the stunningly beautiful local girl Selina.
Selina was abandoned by her mother as a young girl, but not before Mora tells her that she’s not her daughter at all. Mora dropped her baby in a pool and she claims the baby who came out was not her daughter. Half convinced she’s a mermaid, Selina is left alone with her abusive father. She and Jack need one another, but the closer they become, the more they force Ellen out. Their passionate relationship seems destined to end in tragedy.

Selina Penaluna was more than I was expecting. I knew it was a love story for teenagers, so I expected it to be a love story about teenagers. It is, but it’s also more than that. It spans several generations and the narrative switches between the present and the past that is catching up to main character Ellen. The depth of the story is reminiscent of Michael Morpurgo but for older readers. Selina Penaluna isn’t just a straightforward story, but deals with life, regrets and mistakes, leading readers to question their own lives and how they will view them years from now. The book also feels slightly old-fashioned in essence. Jan Page has perfectly captured the differences between generations and you can feel the depth of the story.

From about halfway through I’d guessed at the plot but that didn’t really detract from its meaning. It’s quite straightforward but the jumping around in time makes the story seem more thorough. I don’t think I’m making much sense here, so I’ll just say that Jan Page hasn’t just captured the voice of the past, but also created a story that has a quality of the past in itself.

Every character is deeper than is apparent at first glance. All three of the main characters act stupidly at times, yet it’s possible to sympathise with all of them even when they come to odds with each other. Those who act suspiciously or badly usually have motivations behind this and the complex relationships are much more like real life than the linear relationships usually found in books.

Selina Penaluna is quite slow paced. It doesn’t have a particularly exciting plot, but what it does have is absolute believability. Jan Page has created a story that I can imagine a grandparent telling me. It’s an unlikely story, but it rings true because of the detail, the characters, the mistakes. It feels like it could be a completely true story. It’s somehow deeper than most teen books out there at the moment. Not in terms of complexity of characters or plot, but in the added dimension of age. Most books I read shy away from the prospect of getting old, looking back on your life, preferring to centre solely on teen protagonists. Selina Penaluna is that too, but there’s more to it, it feels like the actions the teens do have more consequences because we can see them in Ellen as an old woman.

I apologise for making very little sense. Mixed feelings on the book as it was quite slow, but kudos to the author for making it so real. I think it’s probably worth reading for that.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Book review - Academy 7 by Anne Osterlund

Only 50 pupils a year are invited to join the most prestigious school in the universe. Aerin is a wary fugitive, Dane is the son of the most powerful man in the Alliance. Both are at the top of their year, competing with one another. When Dane pulls a prank, Aerin gets caught up in it. Their punishment eventually leads to a truce and then friendship. They have more in common than they could possibly have first guessed. Both have secrets, both understand the limitations and rules of their friendship. Some things they won’t share, not even with each other. But when these secrets threaten to spill out and destroy everything they’ve made for themselves at Academy 7, they have to make a choice. Keep running from their troubles or try to fix the damage done by the previous generation. Their first year is full of danger and they need each other to survive.

Academy 7 is a sci-fi story that doesn’t feel like one. Let me explain: the Alliance is the most powerful group of planets in the universe. All the students come from different planets, a couple of which are described. BUT there are no complex explanations of how space travel began, no descriptions of the inner-workings of a space ship. There’s enough information to tell the story and no extra information to get in the way. There don’t seem to be any aliens, it’s more like colonisation of empty planets occurred years before and these separate planets developed separate cultures.

Aerin and Dane are interesting protagonists. The story is told alternating between their points of view. Both have dark pasts and both are struggling with them. As characters themselves they are smart, complex, and resourceful. Their competitive rivalry has a realistic development to friendship and eventually romance. The principal of Academy 7 was nicely written and the reader gets a lot of insight into her mind for the relatively small amount of time she appears on page.

Overall the plot was quite predictable and it was quite easy to work out what had happened between their parents. The writing was entertaining but not outstandingly beautiful. The only factor that pulled this story out of mediocrity for me was the two main characters and their relationship. I don’t want to come across as too negative about Academy 7 because I did enjoy it, but it’s one that I could stop thinking about as soon as I finished it. It’s good but I didn’t find it outstandingly memorable.

(And I also found Aerin’s name a bit distracting since it reminded me of this Aerin. I’ve never come across another Aerin before)

This is another one I don't think is publishing outside the US at the moment, but you can get it from Amazon.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Series spotlight index

Series spotlight posts listed alphabetically according to authors' surnames

Dominic Barker - Blart series
Ally Carter - Gallagher Academy series
Clare B. Dunkle - Hollow Kingdom series
Adele Geras - Edgerton Hall series
Julia Golding - Cat Royal series
Shannon Hale - Bayern series
Mary Hoffman - Stravaganza series
Jaclyn Moriarty - Ashbury/Brookfield series
Lisa Shearin - Raine Benares series
Sherwood Smith - Crown/Court Duel series
Maria V. Snyder - Study series
Scott Westerfeld - Midnighters series
Megan Whalen Turner - The Thief series

Book review index

Book reviews listed alphabetically according to authors' surnames.

Laurie Halse Anderson - Speak

Jay Asher - Thirteen Reasons Why

Bernard Beckett - Genesis

Robin Benway - Audrey, Wait

Cathy Brett - Ember Fury

Pamela Brown - The Swish of the Curtain

Gail Carson Levine - Fairest

Trudi Canavan - The Magicians' Guild

Kristin Cashore - Fire

Kristin Cashore - Graceling

Anne Cassidy - Looking for jj

Cassandra Clare - City of Ashes (book 2)

Cassandra Clare - City of Bones (book 1)

Rosemary Clement-Moore - The Splendour Falls

Suzanne Collins - The Hunger Games

Melissa de la Cruz - Lipgloss Jungle

Sarah Dessen - Lock & Key

Sarah Dessen - The Truth about Forever

Sarah Beth Durst - Ice

Jennifer Echols - Going Too Far

Simone Elkeles - Perfect Chemistry

Kat Falls - Dark Life

Gayle Forman - If I Stay

Sandra Glover - Spiked!

Michael Grant - Gone

Julia Hoban - Willow

Mary Hoffman - Stravaganza: City of Masks

Mary Hoffman - The Falconer's Knot

Mary Hogan - Perfect Girl

Mary Hooper - Newes from the Dead

Mary Hooper - Petals in the Ashes

Marie-Louise Jensen - The Lady in the Tower

Catherine Jinks - The Reformed Vampire Support Group

Danielle Joseph- Shrinking Violet

Caro King - Seven Sorcerers

Andrew Klavan - The Last Thing I Remember

Tanya Landman - The Goldsmith's Daughter

Y S Lee - The Agency

Gemma Malley - The Declaration

Sarra Manning - Let's Get Lost

Melissa Marr - Wicked Lovely

Sue Mayfield - Damage

Lisa McMann - Wake

Linda Newbery - Flightsend

Anne Osterlund - Academy 7

Jan Page - Selina Penaluna

Diana Peterfreund - Rampant

K. M. Peyton - Prove Yourself a Hero

Aprilynne Pike - Wings

Luisa Plaja - Extreme Kissing

Luisa Plaja - Split by a Kiss

Bali Rai - City of Ghosts

Liz Rettig - My Dating Disasters Diary

Meg Rosoff - The Bride's Farewell

Lisa Shearin - The Trouble with Demons

Lili St. Crow - Strange Angels

Rosy Thornton - Crossed Wires

Jenny Valentine - Broken Soup

Scott Westerfeld - Leviathan


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