Saturday, 28 February 2009

February in books

It's the last day of February! I always think of February as the worst winter month - it's ages after christmas and it feels like winter will go on forever. There are crocus and daffodil and snowdrop shoots everywhere at the moment although they haven't bloomed yet, but I guess they show that spring is finally coming.
I feel like I should do a kind of roundup post for the end of the month. In February I read a total of 19 books and 2 plays. I reviewed a grand total of 9:

Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr
Spiked! by Sandra Glover
Let’s get lost by Sarra Manning
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Looking for jj by Anne Cassidy
The Goldsmith’s daughter by Tanya Landman
The truth about forever by Sarah Dessen
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
Split by a Kiss by Luisa Plaja

All of them are good books but my personal favourites were The Truth about Forever, The Goldsmith’s Daughter and City of Bones.

A few books that I liked but didn’t blog about are:
Book of a thousand days by Shannon Hale
Inside the cage by Matt Whyman
Ithaka by Adele Geras
Midnighters: Blue Moon by Scott Westerfeld

And the books out in March that I really, really want to get my hands on?

Something, Maybe by Elizabeth Scott
I really enjoyed Perfect You and the sample chapter for Something, Maybe has me begging for more!
Furnace: Lockdown by Alexander Gordon Smith
I only heard about Lockdown a few days ago but Liz's review over at My Favourite Books has me interested already.

*Edited to add*

I should probably include Going Too Far here too. It's not available on Amazon UK until April, but the US release date is March 17th. What can I say, look at the beautiful cover! And the sample chapter is pretty cool too.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Series spotlight - Raine series by Lisa Shearin

There are so many good books that have been out in the market for ages. Series Spotlight will be featured every week and is to introduce readers to series they may not have heard of before. Usually, these series will be ongoing, like today’s spotlight – Lisa Shearin’s Raine Benares series.

- - - - - - - - - -

OK, first of all, technically these books are Adult fiction. The main character is about 30 (although honestly she seems younger than that – maybe early twenties) and there is some innuendo though it’s not too bad. But there is one thing that will make teens uncomfortable with the first book in this series. That happens to be the honorary teen character. Piaras is cute, interesting, and a great character. But he’s also eighteen. And after a while, Raine’s attempts at protecting him and calling him things like ‘sweetie’ will start to grate with real teens. I mean, how many eighteen year old lads do you know that wouldn’t protest at repeatedly being treated like a kid and called ‘sweetie?’ I don’t know any.
I only mention this because I want you guys to be forewarned. It will probably annoy you. But the thing is that this is only a small grievance and you mustn’t stop reading because of it. Because these books are just so good.

Raine is snarky, sassy, street-smart and downright funny. Other characters are well written, her cheeky pirate cousin Phaelan springs to mind, as do her two rival love interests. Yes that’s right, a love triangle is involved. And while it’s not the main focus of the story it does serve to make Raine’s problems that bit more complicated than they already are. These books have a little bit of most genres in them. Officially they are urban fantasy, but they take place in an invented world. There are also large elements of crime, action, thriller, and comedy to them. Not to mention the romantic subplot.

Magic Lost, Trouble Found
Raine Benares is an elf, a seeker and from the most notorious family of pirates around. Her magical abilities shoot from mediocre to amazing when a friend steals a magic amulet from a sorcerer and the amulet bonds itself to her. Unfortunately, a lot of other people want this amulet and since Raine can’t take it off, they’re searching for her. These people are strong, powerful, and in the Guardian Mychael’s case, pretty good-looking. Raine has to use new allies and old contacts to find out what exactly has attached itself to her and how she can lose it, thereby losing the unwanted attention of most of the most notorious villains around.
There is a whole lot of plot packed in to this book. You have to keep track of loads of characters and motives and the action is really fast-paced. Despite this, it’s light, it’s fun and it’s funny. Raine’s humour shines through. I’ve read bad reviews of this series, but I’ve also found big fans. I guess it’s like the covers – you either love them or you hate them. Personally I love them both.

Armed and Magical
Raine and most of the cast of Magic Lost, Trouble Found head to the Isle of Mid, Mychael’s domain and home of the biggest University for sorcerers. If anyone knows a way to separate Raine from the Saghred, they’ll be somewhere on Mid. However, a small island with the strongest magical talents may not be the safest place for Raine, especially as some of them would like to have her newfound powers themselves. On top of that, students are going missing, Tam and the head of the council hates her and she’s just discovered that the old master of the Saghred who disappeared hundreds of years ago may not be as dead as everyone thinks he is.
The problem of Piaras being treated like a child, as I mentioned above, is much less evident in Armed and Magical. Partly because there’s a whole university full of similar aged students and partly because of the introduction of a great new character – Talon the cool goblin student. I loved this second book. Occasionally I had to stop and try to remember what was going on, but mostly I was just enjoying it. There are some funny scenes in this one too – Mychael walking in on Raine in the bath springs to mind – ladies, this guy is so sweet! The romantic elements develop, we learn more about the characters’ pasts (and they all have secrets), there are missing students to be found, idiot bureaucrat council members to be defied and a new, stronger villain. A great second book.

What’s next?
The Trouble with Demons is out on 28th April 2009:
My name is Raine Benares. I'm a seeker. People hire me when they need something found. I'm not usually the one being sought. But that all changed when I found the Saghred, a soul-stealing stone of unlimited power -- and the bane of my existence. Now mages and madmen have me in their sights, not to mention demons...
An opened Hellgate leads to a demon infestation on the Isle of Mid, and while there's never an ideal time to face down demon hordes, it's hard to imagine a worse one. Already fighting the influence of the Saghred, Raine discovers she is also magically bonded to a dark mage and a white knight, two dangerous and powerful men on opposing sides -- and Raine's stuck in the middle.
But with demons pouring through the Hellgate, Raine can't afford to be distracted. Turns out, the demons want the key to unlock the Saghred. As a seeker, Raine should be able to find it first. As the axis of light and dark powers, she's a magical cataclysm waiting to happen...

I can't wait!

You can visit the author's website, where she has sample chapters for all of the books. You can buy the books here (UK) and here (US).

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Book review - Split by a Kiss by Luisa Plaja

Everybody has wondered what would have happened if they did/didn’t do something. Split by a Kiss has the unusual concept of narrating two alternate storylines after a decision main character Jo has to make. Living in America for a year because of her mum’s new job, she has a chance to reinvent herself. At a party, she is given the chance to make out with the most popular guy in the school. From then on the narrative splits into two possible routes. Told from the alternating perspectives of cool Josie, who kissed the popular guy, and nerdy Jo, who didn’t, Split by a Kiss is unique and very clever.

When reading the synopsis for this, I assumed that I would be supposed to support the nerdy Jo. Although they are the same person, ‘Jo’ is the one who didn’t sell out and kiss the guy she didn’t like. Fortunately, it wasn’t like that at all. In both sides of the story, Jo/Josie make big mistakes, and I actually ended up liking ‘Josie’s’ plot more. Wow, that’s very complicated to describe. I kind of knew where the plot was going from the beginning. Certain things happen to both Josie and Jo and these, I rightly assumed, were the important plot parts. However, Jo and Josie reach the end in very different ways. What was especially interesting was that because the two story parts followed similar but not identical time-lines, the reader gets a more complete story than either version of the main character.

I’m sure it was very difficult to write as I’m having huge difficulties just describing it here, so I’ll make it simple. It was funny, I liked most of the characters, I enjoyed the romance, and I loved the idea. The balance of English-American references was interesting and makes it accessible to readers on both sides of the Atlantic. A light, amusing read following a girl’s experiences with love, friendship and finding out who she is.

Monday, 23 February 2009


It's often really annoying that most book contests are only open to people in the states, but I've found a couple of great contests you lovely UK (or other not-from-America) people can enter:

My Favourite Books is holding an amazing contest to give away boxes of books to schools and libraries as well as individual books to UK school children, so if you happen to be a teacher/librarian/school child in the UK, go and check it out! And if you're not, go and give Liz and Mark some love anyway for doing something so cool. This contest ends 28th February, so get any entries in fast!

Chicklish is giving away sets of Sophie McKenzie novels. Again, I'm sorry this is only open to UK people. It ends, uh, today, so you'd better be fast!

The last is a contest open worldwide, and this is hosted by Amy from Addicted to Books. She's giving one lucky person five books so get over there and enter! (Please mention in your entry that I sent you guys). This one lasts until the end of March.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Book review - City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

Clary is just a normal girl hanging out with her best friend Simon when she witnesses a murder. Then the body disappears and it seems she is the only one who can see the strange three people who hunted him down. Soon after, her mother disappears and she runs into these strangers again. They are somehow all connected and Clary realises she is not as ordinary as she once believed. Determined to find her mother, she enlists the help of the three shadowhunter children and finds herself in more danger than she could have dreamed of.

Although parts of this book were completely formulaic (pretty girl oblivious of best friend being in love with her) the writing and characters made up for it. Not only were the characters likeable, but they were also complicated. I could easily believe that they had lives and motives outside of the plot, people not being either good or bad, but a bit of both. The shadow-hunter children sometimes talked like they'd swallowed dictionaries, although this is probably to show how unlike normal teenagers they are, it unfortunately made them seem not like teenagers at all, but this was my only problem with the characters.

With enough twists to keep the suspense and an interesting plot, City of Bones was gripping and entertaining. Cassandra Clare is especially good at weaving the romantic elements into the plot, with exactly the right amount, not too much to slow down the plot. The book kind of resolves at the end, but leaves a big question for the reader (anyone who has read the book will know what I'm talking about - noooooo, he can't be!!!). I’m definitely going to be reading more in this series.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Author Interview with Julia Golding

Since 2006, the amazing Julia Golding has published 13 books, with at least 3 more written! These books include the popular Cat Royal series and Companions Quartet, as well as a series featuring a teenage spy, and a couple of standalone novels. Recently I got the chance to ask her a few questions.

What are you reading at the moment?
Books on Tudor England - many and various.

Ooh, exciting. I wonder if this has anything to do with a
certain new Tudor book you’ve mentioned...
What was the first story you ever wrote?
Can't remember, but I filled many notebooks while at primary school with stories.

Your range of careers seems to have been as diverse as the genres of your books. Did you have a favourite job (other than author), or do you just enjoy the variation?

Can you speak Polish?

You’ve written an incredible amount of books in just a few years, so what’s the writing process like? What is a typical day for you, how many hours do you spend writing?
Fun, most of the time, but difficult when the family is at home (like now) and I can't get to it because they are under my feet (literally). Usually about four hours, starting off in a cafe and then at home in my study.

How long does each book take to write?
Depends - about 3 to 4 months spread over a year or more.

How did you find out that your first book was going to be published? What was your reaction?
It was a slow process of growing commitment from OUP so there was no Eureka moment.

How do you manage working with two publishers at the same time?
I have more than 2 and it's fine.

If you had to pick one favourite scene from any of your books, which would it be?
Cat boxing Syd.

Which is your favourite book cover?
Cat Among the Pigeons

I love Stingo, he’s amazing and just makes me smile. Do you know any real-life Stingos?
If only... I did know a very military minded human rights worker who did loads of dangerous stuff to find evidence of abuses and I suppose Stingo owes something to him. He was great to go hiking with because he carried all the equipment and whipped up a hot meal on top of a mountain.

Thanks Julia, for taking time out of your hectic schedule to talk to me.

What’s next?
The publication of Cat’s Cradle and Deadlock has unfortunately been pushed back until 2010 due to a cover rethink, but her next novel, Wolf Cry, is out in August.

You can visit Julia’s wonderful website here, which includes a question and answer section with the cast from the Cat Royal series – at the moment Syd is in the question chair, so get any questions you have in fast.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Series spotlight - Bayern series by Shannon Hale

There are so many good books that have been out in the market for ages. Series Spotlight will be featured every week and is to introduce readers to series they may not have heard of before. Usually, these series will be ongoing, like today’s spotlight – Shannon Hale’s Bayern series.

These are based on a group of friends in a fictitious land – Bayern. Each book is told from a different character’s perspective, but includes all of the main characters. The first book, a retelling of the fairytale The Goose Girl, sets up this group of friends. The subsequent books, while not being retellings of specific fairytales, still retain the fairytale-like quality. This series is so beautifully written, humorous yet deep, fantastic yet realistic. I’ve heard the series described as lyrical and I have to agree. When reading any of this series, I have the feeling that every single word has been agonised over. There’s not a single word more or less than there needs to be to tell the perfect story.

The Goose Girl
Crown Princess Anidori Isilee has struggled all her life in the shadow of her mother, the perfect Queen. More inclined to go riding with her father, or learning the language of the birds with her aunt than holding court, she fears that she is a failure as a Princess. Only her father, her horse and her maid Selia are her true friends. But when her father dies, she discovers that she is not to inherit the crown after all, but be sent to a strange country and marry a Prince she has never met. When she is betrayed and left alone in a foreign country, Ani must learn to be herself, as a humble goose girl, before she can set things right again.
A beautiful story. As a fairytale, a certain amount of the plot was formulaic, but the writing was clever and enchanting, making the whole tale feel fresh, which essentially it was. Shannon Hale has taken a few small paragraphs of a fairytale and created a comprehensive world, characters and story. This is an old favourite, so satisfying and memorable, highly recommended. From the premise and title, I’d assume that this book finds more of a home among girls, but I’d like to add that when my brother read it, he enjoyed it.

Enna Burning
What would it be like to learn the language of fire, an element so destructive to everything in its path? Enna is about to find out. Bayern is going to war and Enna is right there in the action. Desperate to use her secret new talent, she disappears on illicit missions to enemy towns. However, soon these missions will put her in great danger, leading her to question her loyalties, motives, love and herself.
The plot for Enna Burning is much more complex than that of The Goose Girl. It is also somewhat grittier. Although still beautifully written, and retaining its fairytale qualities, Enna Burning addresses issues of death, grief, kidnap, and war. Most of the characters from The Goose Girl are back in this second chapter in the lives of the animal workers from Bayern. When most stand-alone books result in sequels, the results are disappointing and badly planned. Fairytales don’t have sequels do they? Apparently they do! And they can be just as good as the original.

River Secrets
Razo is short and skinny, not that great at fighting. That’s why when Talone chooses him to go on the peace mission to Tira, he assumes that it’s more to do with his being friends with Finn and Enna than his actual potential usefulness to the peace process. Relations between Bayern and Tira are still very tense following the war featured in Enna Burning. Razo’s unshakable cheerfulness and outgoing friendliness might just be exactly what the peace process needs.
Razo is one of the greatest characters from this series. Practical joker, cheerful, loyal and incredibly amusing, he’s a wonderful main character. I also liked that this main character doesn’t develop any nature-speaking talents – he doesn’t need them. With an interesting plot focusing on court intrigue and a new vibrant culture for a setting, River Secrets is a great addition to the series. I’d also like to include a well-done to Ms Hale for writing so well from a boy’s perspective.

What’s next?
Forest Born, starring Razo’s sister Rin, out in October 09 (I think)

These series are being re-covered both in the UK and the US. What do you guys think? I love the original covers myself, but I think they’ve done a wonderful job with the new covers, especially the photographic Goose Girl.

You can visit the author's website here and you can buy the books here (UK) or here (US)

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Book review - The Truth about Forever by Sarah Dessen

Macy is cool, calm and collected. She is ‘fine. Just fine.’ But on the inside she is still struggling to come to terms with her dad’s sudden death. Her perfect boyfriend has gone to brain camp, leaving her with the prospect of an endless summer, spent studying and working at the library with two girls who hate her. Enter Wish Catering, who serve the food at a party her mum hosts. On a whim, Macy takes them up on a job offer and is suddenly thrown into a chaotic, disorganised world. For Macy, who’s become organised as a way of dealing with her dad’s death, this is difficult to handle. But she soon makes new friends and begins to learn that she doesn’t have to be perfect after all.

From people who like Sarah Dessen, I always hear that they love all her work, but The Truth About Forever one of their favourites (This Lullaby usually being the other). Why it took me this long to read it is really down to the cover. And not even all of the cover. I don’t like the hand. It’s an odd reason not to read a book, but that’s me.
Anyway, I got this at the library and I’m so glad I did! It’s wonderful. The characters are absolutely amazing. I believed in every single one of them and of course, the romance with gorgeous, sexy Wes didn’t hurt. Macy’s job with Wish is the kind of dream job that you’d love and her co-workers are all ideal. I did find that Wes and Bert living on their own near their aunt, who is also near Kristy and Monica was a bit of an idealised community, but then this is storyland! And most of this book is extremely believable, especially Macy’s recovery.

If you want a contemporary teenage book that includes realistic life today without overdramatizing, or becoming patronising, try one by Sarah Dessen. Yes, they usually include recovery from some problem or other, but that’s not the point of them. The point is that they’re fun, emotionally engaging, and realistic with amazing characters that you will want to be your friends.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

In other news

The Hunger Games has won the Cybils YA fantasy and science-fiction award! I loved this book, and think it deserves all it gets. So well done to Suzanne Collins!

Other winners include Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale and The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.

Congratulations to all authors and let's hope this introduces more readers to some of the amazing books released last year.

Book review - The Goldsmith's Daughter by Tanya Landman

Itacate was born under an ill-fated sky just before dawn. The priests predict a terrible future for her, effectively destining her to a life of domestic drudgery. Her twin brother, born seconds later just as the dawn rises, is predicted a life of glory. Itacate doesn’t accept her fate though – secretly she is fascinated by the crafting of gold. This dangerous secret is threatened when the strange warriors arrive and Itacate’s strong Emperor welcomes them as guests rather than meeting them in war. These fearsome warriors seem to love nothing so much as gold and the Emperor is determined to appease them. As Itacate finds herself in the Emperor’s palace working for the very people she believes are her enemy and fighting to keep her secret (and so herself) safe, she catches the attention of one golden haired stranger. Soon the fate of herself, her family and her beloved city are all under threat.

This is the first book I have ever read that features the Aztecs in a sympathetic way. I think most authors are put off by the millions of human sacrifices, but The Goldsmith’s Daughter looks beyond that. What would it be like if you truly believed that for the sun to rise, it requires sacrifice? And what if one of those sacrifices is someone you love? This book by no means justifies the ancient practise, but it uses the Aztec culture as a rich and vibrant backdrop for an interesting story.
Following the events leading up to the Spanish destruction of Tenochtitlan, the great Aztec city, The Goldsmith’s Daughter in one sense has only one possible outcome. However, it is the outcome of Itacate and her family that the reader is emotionally invested in, more than the city that has caused her such pain. The characters were interesting and believable, from the brother who has never needed to be jealous of his sister to the neighbours who mistrust Itacate because of her ‘destiny.’ I loved following Itacate on her journey as she tries to shape her own destiny, both at times achieving and failing in this. My biggest problem with this book is that I don’t believe in love at first sight. I don’t believe that just because two people saw one another on a bridge means that they will be willing to die for one another. I just don’t. In that respect, I found the relationship between Itacate and Francisco quite shallow.

Other than that though, it was a great book set in an interesting culture. If, like me, you don’t know much about the Aztecs other than that they did a lot of human sacrificing, then The Goldsmith’s Daughter will help you to see a whole new side to them. Itacate’s journey is both triumphant and grim, worth reading.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Books by their covers...

Sorry for the lack of actual reviews recently, but I've been suffering from a horrible cold. Good result - more time to read, bad result - can't actually gather my thoughts together to review what I've read. They will be written eventually though.

A post about Aurelia at Em’s Bookshelf got me thinking about book covers and how influenced I am by them. (Aurelia was one of those books where the cover influenced me a lot) Usually if I’m buying over the internet they don’t have so much influence over me, but if I’m in a bookstore the cover is the reason that I’ll pick a book up. Then I flick to a random page and read a bit to see if I like the style. Sometimes though, I see a cover I can’t resist.
Be warned! The book covers featured below are utterly irresistible and may well make you unable to withstand their beauty! But you must! For sometimes, books are simply not as beautiful as their covers! (Although sometimes they are and this will make you very happy) For some of these books I know practically nothing about them – I’m not endorsing the books, just the beautiful, mesmerising covers.

Books I have bought solely (yes, I’m not proud of it) for the cover:

Aurelia by Anne Osterlund. The cover promises so much; intrigue, masks, disguises, court, take your pick. There is something about masks that I just can’t resist! If I’m honest, I was disappointed by this one. It didn’t live up to the cover for me (which is a bizarre way of measuring a book as other people will like the cover more or less, but there you go)
The Secret Countess (aka The Countess Below Stairs) by Eva Ibbotson. I loved this, but then I was in the right mood to love it. Now that I’m more initiated to Ibbotson, I know her formula much better. But this was my first Ibbotson book and I enjoyed it a lot.
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. The pic here doesn’t do it too much credit – trust me, it’s sparkly and beautiful. You can read my thoughts on Ella Enchanted in my Fairest review – once again I was slightly disappointed.
Books that the cover made me pick up, but I knew a bit about before I bought them:

The Lady in the Tower by Marie-Louise Jensen. I like that the head isn’t cut off. And you can see the Tudor French Hood. And it’s got a shiny red title (although it looks pink here) and shiny letter writing down one side. And the girl looks like she has a secret.
Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr. The contrast of colours is so pretty. It pretty much sums up the whole book – urban, faeries, mystery.
Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin. I love the title and the cover, especially the drawn-in headphones, which just fits the book so well. (Strange but true fact – I don’t like the photo of the girl if you turn it upside down. I can foresee a lot of people twisting their heads in an effort to see the picture on the screen upside down right now! It surprised me a lot how different the cover looked the other way around. But there you go!)

Books I want to buy solely for the cover (I hardly know anything about these books, but they are so pretty!):

Faerie Rebels by R J Anderson. I don’t really like the UK cover at all (or the UK title, which is Knife) but this US cover makes me want to read the book so much. I think it’s the white hair on a young person – eye-catching and intriguing. Plus the beautiful illustrative style.
Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George. Look at the dress. Look at it! The motion of the dress as she moves is so gorgeous. That is the sort of princess dress that’s probably very uncomfortable, but most girls would like to march through a castle in, swishing dramatically, at least once. Ok, maybe not for real, but the idea is appealing...
Taken by storm –byAngela Morrison. I know nothing about this one at all, but I just love the cover so much! The colours, the watercolour paint effect, the clouds, I love it!
Undercover by Beth Kephart. The colour contrast between the leaf and background is so striking. And is that ice I see? Ice with a skate mark? I love ice-skating!
What about you? Are there any books that you have bought or want to buy just because of the cover? Any that you haven't bought because of the cover?

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Series spotlight - Study series by Maria V. Snyder

There are so many good books that have been out in the market for ages. Series Spotlight will be featured every week and is to introduce readers to series they may not have heard of before. Today’s spotlight is the Study series by Maria V. Snyder.

This series follows Yelena Zaltana and her friends as they negotiate their way through their home court and further abroad, becoming involved in national problems. Yelena has to fight hard to help maintain peace in her rigorously militarian state, using every ounce of cunning, intelligence and perseverance she can muster. The series is not for younger readers, some scenes may be very disturbing to them.

Poison study
A quick death
Or slow poison
Yelena has a choice – be executed for murder, or become food taster to the commander of Ixia. She leaps at the chance for survival, but her relief may be short-lived. Life in the palace is full of hazards and secrets. Wily and smart, Yelena must learn to identify poisons before they kill her, recognise whom she can trust and how to spy on those she can’t. And who is the mysterious Southern sorceress who can reach into her head?
When Yelena realises she had extraordinary magical powers of her own, she faces a whole new problem, for using magic in Ixia is punishable by death...

I love this book. Until the Hunger Games came along, it was my favourite, hands down. Ixia is a military state run by a fair, but technically dictatorial Commander. This makes for a fascinating setting; the laws are harsh and distrust between Ixia and the Southern country of Sitia is brewing. Yelena is the strongest, and at the same time most vulnerable, main character I’ve ever read. Poison study weaves a narrative between the present and Yelena’s past; how did she come to be found guilty of murder? I can’t really explain just how good this book is. It has wonderful characters, (especially Yelena’s soldier friends Ari and Janco) adventure, intrigue, a great setting, magic, a gripping blend of back-story and action and is beautifully written. For the first part in a trilogy, the ending is surprisingly satisfying. In fact, I recommend people read this as a stand-alone novel.

*Not recommended for younger readers as some of Yelena’s troubling past is described realistically and honestly.

Magic Study
You know your life is bad when you miss your days as a poison taster.
Completing her apprenticeship could prove deadly...With an execution order on her head, Yelena ha
s no choice but to escape to Sitia, the land of her birth. With only a year to master her magic - or face death - Yelena must begin her apprenticeship and travels to the Four Towers of the Magician's Keep. But nothing in Sitia is familiar. Not the family to whom she is a stranger. Not the unsettling new facets of her magic. Nor the brother who resents her return. As she struggles to understand where she belongs and how to control her rare powers, a rogue magician emerges - and Yelena catches his eye. Suddenly she is embroiled in battle of good against evil. And once again it will be her magical abilities that will either save her life...or be her downfall.

This is a good book. It has an interesting plot and good characters. If it was a stand-alone book, I’d probably have enjoyed it alot. But it’s not, it’s a sequel to Poison Study. And while I found Poison Study amazing, I only found Magic Study ok. I have to admit, it was a disappointment to me, but then I’ve heard from others who really enjoyed this one, so it may be worth a try. I think it’s because I felt that Yelena’s personal journey reached a satisfying conclusion at the end of Poison Study, but to be honest, it was probably my own high expectations that ruined this book for me. I don’t know, but I suspect that this is the classic case of a publisher not giving the author enough time to write the second in a series.

Fire Study
Yelena's new role as Soulfinder has made the Sitian Council uneasy. Worried that her new powers will corrupt her, the Council debates her fate. Yelena, though is trying to keep Sitia and Ixia from going to war. In the middle of political wrangling, Yelena receives a disturbing message: a plot is rising against her homeland, led by Ferde, the Soulstealer who murdered eleven girls and has escaped from prison with Cahil Ixia’s help. Cahil believes if he joins with the new Daviian Clan, he will have enough support to regain the Ixian throne. Testing the limit of her skills, Yelena becomes embroiled in the desperate fight to stop Ferde and the Daviian Clan from siphoning enough power to unleash a Fire Warper on the world. That would be worst than war between the northern and southern lands. Especially since, of all the powers Yelena possesses, she couldn't set fire to a candle wick if her life depended on it. And there is more at stake than just her life.

I haven’t read the last book in this series and I don’t plan to. However, just because I didn’t love the continuation of the Study series doesn’t mean you won’t. And it especially doesn’t mean that you should avoid the series altogether. Poison Study is one of the best books I’ve ever read and I recommend it.

What’s next?
A companion series, called the Glass series. This follows Opal, a character from Magic Study. (and possibly Fire Study too, I don’t know) The first in the series, Storm Glass, is out 28th April and I am de
finitely going to look into this new series.
As a glassmaker and a magician-in-training, Opal Cowen understands trial by fire. Now it’s time to test her mettle. Someone has sabotaged the Stormdancer clan’s glass orbs, killing their most powerful magicians. The Stormdancers—particularly the mysterious and mercurial Kade—require Opal’s unique talents to prevent it happening again. But when the mission goes awry, Opal must tap into a new kind of magic as stunningly potent as it is frightening. And the further she delves into the intrigue behind the glass and magic, the more distorted things appear. With lives hanging in the balance—including her own—Opal must control powers she never knew she possessed...powers that might lead to disaster beyond anything she’s ever known.

You can visit the author's website
here, where you can read extracts from all of the books. You can buy the books here (UK) and here (US)

Monday, 9 February 2009

Random stuff

I’m a FOOB! (ok, technically I’m only mentioned in a post that’s called the FOOBS, but I prefer to call myself a FOOB) It makes me happy to be a foob because it is so very cool a word. Also because the lovely people over at chicklish called my blog excellent. Thanks Luisa!

I’ve been reading books like a crazy person. This is because I went to the library and they had loads of books I wanted/sounded interesting. I'm reading them faster than I am able to write reviews though.

If you are in the UK you should check out the giveaway over at
dragonfly reviews, where Sara is giving away a free copy of Shrapnel. Email her by Friday for a chance to win.

What I should be doing:
1.Researching a history essay

2.Writing a history essay
3.Writing that review about The Goldsmith's Daughter that I keep putting off

What I am doing instead:
1.Eating an orange
2.Writing this
3.Surfing the web for still more ways of wasting time in an educated and literary way.

As said in the About Me section at the top of the page, I put off work. I am a natural last-minute kind of person. I have perfected it into an art form. At least, this is what I tell myself.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Mini reviews - I see a theme here ...

On my most recent trip to the library, I got several books that I’ve realised are all similar in a way. Usually I lean towards historical fiction or fantasy, but I’ve just read several that focus on modern teenage girls tackling some kind of big problem. I didn’t really realise it until I’d read them all, they all focus on very different issues. I thought I’d share.

Spiked! – Sandra Glover
As might be guessed from the title, this is a book about a girl’s drink being spiked. Don’t worry though, it’s not a story with a MORAL. Spiked! was really interesting because it was a bit like a game of Cluedo. Of course, most of the characters have secrets and these gradually come out as the audience try to work out who the bad guy is. This is made the more intriguing because you get sections of the book written in the ‘spiker’s’ point of view without revealing their identity. The plot isn’t too gripping, but this didn’t matter because I was too busy trying to analyse each characters’ motives and possibility of being the psycho. It also addresses the often avoided issue of the problems that a victim faces after a traumatic event, how everything doesn’t automatically become right again. Enough twists and turns to keep me guessing until the last minute, this book was more a puzzle or game than an example of wonderfully written prose, but it was fun and very interesting.

Looking for jj – Anne Cassidy
A disturbing and yet gripping take on how a child could become capable of murder. This was fully believable, especially the sections written from the point of ten-year-old jj. Several years on, and the story also addresses the difficulty for a teenager to recover from something so haunting in her past, as well as how constant media interference can threaten the world she’s built up for herself. As other critics have pointed out, it’s completely gripping, completely believable and well worth reading. It’s a disturbingly realistic look into the psychological impacts of abandonment, guilt, fear, and how a single mistake can haunt the rest of your life. It’s not easy reading. But it is well-written and thought-provoking and I highly recommend it.

Speak – Laurie Halse Anderson
This book was at a disadvantage because it is very similar to Sarah Dessen’s Just Listen, which I’ve already read. Similar, and in my opinion, not as good. Traumatic event, mistaken result of traumatic event means everyone hates her, she doesn’t know how to deal with it. All about recovering, being able to speak up for yourself and generally becoming comfortable with yourself. I’d say targeted at a 13-15 year old audience, it’s an interesting character study, but I felt that the plot-line was a bit bare. If you haven’t read Just Listen, you’ll probably really enjoy this one, it’s sympathetic and detailed enough. If I’d read them the other way around, I’d have enjoyed Speak a lot more.
Let’s get Lost – Sarra Manning
I do love the idea that people who seem to have it all are secretly crumbling apart underneath. I also love the fact that this main character becomes an obsessive tidier when she’s upset. I didn’t like the idea that a twenty-year-old would go out with a sixteen-year old and not notice the age difference. The older a person gets, the less an age gap matters, I think, but in your teens you do so much growing that such a difference should be obvious. I do like a story about a mean girl, especially one who is fighting so hard to keep it together because of something really bad that’s happened recently. I cared about the main character and her family, I just didn’t care enough about any of the other characters to really enjoy this story. Small parts of this book really interested me, but I had to wade through a whole lot of words to reach them. I confess – I skipped bits. I hardly ever do this, it’s my version of dumping a book and not reading any more. Other people may enjoy Let’s get Lost and relate to it, but I just didn’t.
Of the four, Spiked! and Looking for jj were my favourites and I'll be looking out for more titles by both of these authors. Any suggestions from people? I think I'll be giving this genre a rest for a while, but are there any similar books I should try?

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Book review - Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr

Aislinn has always been able to see faeries. Her grandmother taught her three rules – don’t stare at invisible faeries, don’t speak to invisible faeries and don’t ever attract their attention. She has spent her life following these rules, pretending to be oblivious to the faeries as everyone else is, but somehow she has broken rule number three – two faeries are following her and she doesn’t know why. She does know that they are extremely powerful court fey and she also knows that she doesn’t like faeries. At all. But as she notices more and more faeries watching her and one in particular, Keenan, won’t leave her alone, she realises that she has to break all of her rules to save herself.
I really enjoyed this one. Aislinn is fighting to create her own destiny, not blindly following her Gram’s rules, but also fighting not to fall for Keenan’s faerie charms. The idea that her relationship with Seth is developing alongside her unwanted relationship with Keenan is especially gripping. Keenan is determined to snatch her away from her old life regardless of her own wishes and the cost of this for Aislinn is increasing throughout the book. The idea that Aislinn’s life up until this point has been almost entirely revolved around faeries and avoiding their attention added an intriguingly self-controlled aspect to her character. The romance was wonderfully developed, although the ease with which Seth accepted that faeries were real was more than a little bit unrealistic. The romances were tangled up and many went against the characters ‘destinies,’ the classic forbidden love that makes the audience support the matches far more.
When I first saw this book in shops months ago, I loved the cover. Really, really loved it. The colours are so gorgeous, and somehow evocative of faeries and magic. But for some reason, I kept not buying it. Until recently. I’m glad I did because I loved it and I recommend it. Please be aware though that some references may not be appropriate to younger readers. It’s not too bad, but it’s worth pointing out.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Series spotlight - Cat Royal

There are so many good books that have been out in the market for ages. Series Spotlight will be featured every week and is to introduce readers to series they may not have heard of before. Usually, these series will be ongoing, like today’s spotlight – Julia Golding’s Cat Royal series.

This series follow Catherine Royal, an orphan and ward of Drury Lane theatre, and her adventures in late eighteenth century London and further afield. The books are written in prose, but a cast list at the beginning of each book, and the dividing of ‘chapters’ into Acts and Scenes adds a fun theatrical touch. Maps and a list of vocab at the end of the book ensure that readers aren’t confused by the eighteenth century setting. In theory the books could be read as stand alone, but I strongly advise you to start at the beginning of this series as Cat’s relationships with her friends, acquaintances and enemies are complicated to say the least.

The Diamond of Drury Lane
Cat was found by Mr Sheridan, the owner of Drury Lane, when she was about two. She has spent her life behind stage in the theatre, rubbing shoulders with members of the highest of London society, while also being friends with some of the lowest. It is here that she meets Pedro, an African boy with a talent for the violin, Lord Francis, a duke’s son who seems to want nothing so much as adventure, and Jonny the new prompt, who takes over as Cat’s new tutor. It is also here that she first hears about the diamond hidden somewhere in the theatre. It’s not long before Pedro runs into Cat’s biggest enemy, Billy Boil and his gang, Lord Francis sneaks out to attend a boxing match with Cat, and news of the diamond spreads.
The first of the Cat Royal series is the only one exclusively set in the streets of London, among the gang fights and markets of Covent Garden, where Cat is completely at home. The theatre of Drury Lane is evocatively described and while I predicted the plot quite early on it was still entertaining and light-hearted, making me eager for more.

Cat among the Pigeons
Pedro’s old master has turned up and seems determined to recapture him. Cat, Frank and Lizzie do what they can to stop this but soon Cat is on the run herself. She has managed to cause an uproar in a gentleman’s club and the Bow Street Runners are searching her down. She is forced to ‘don a breeches role’ and go into hiding. However she soon comes face to face with her old enemy Billy Boil. Cat runs into many problems in this second book, including saving Pedro from being shipped off to the plantations, finding herself needing to behave in a ladylike manner among three Puritans, and the confusing necessity of acting as a boy acting a girl.
Again, a wonderful frolic through Cat’s home town, but the stakes are higher and the meanings are deeper. The author addresses the need for the abolishment of slavery and discourse on freedom and society are present. This is possibly my favourite of the Cat Royal books so far – the scenes with Cat dressed as a boy were the highlight.

Den of Thieves (US release date – April 09)
Cat heads for Paris as a dancing spy after Mr Sheridan’s shocking announcement that Drury Lane will close for building work. Once In Paris, Cat quickly becomes acquainted with Parisian street gangs of varying morals. Set at the time of the French Revolution, it’s inevitable that Cat would become involved in such an event. Caught between the rival gangs of the Thief King Jean-Francois and the Bishop of the Notre-Dame thieves, Cat has to cling to her cover as a dancer and come to the rescue of friends who are in serious danger.
Using the French Revolution as a vivid backdrop, Den of Thieves weaves a tale of intrigue and adventure, more streetwise savviness on the part of Cat and sees most of her friends reunited. With a light romantic element and a fast-paced plot this next instalment of Cat Royal’s adventures doesn’t disappoint.

Cat O’Nine Tails
‘His Majesty's Ship Courageous this present day calls all able bodied volunteers who desire great honour by serving the Royal Navy. Loyalty, courage and gallantry will be met with the warmest encouragement from Commander of the King's ship, Captain Barton. Early applications for the voyage are welcomed as Courageous will sail with immediate despatch. God Save the King.
Presenting the fourth volume from our famous feisty heroine Cat Royal... In which Cat becomes an unlikely recruit for the British Navy, takes passage to America and navigates her way through a fiendish plot to do away with Lord Francis, heir to a dukedom. From the grand Assembly Rooms of Bath to the wilds of a new frontier, Cat finds she is for once quite out of her depth. All aboard, Cat's going abroad.’
This book really addresses the issue of family – Cat as an abandoned orphan has always wondered about her family and in Nine Tails she finds a surrogate family in the most unlikely place. However most of all it is about finding yourself through new experiences. This is probably my least favourite of all the books so far. I can’t quite put my finger on why, only that by placing Cat so far out of her comfort zone the book has lost the chance to develop my favourite part of Cat’s character – her street-wise experience.

Black heart of Jamaica
‘Due to the threat of a rebellion by the slaves of this island, be it therefore enacted that from this day, 1st July 1792, all persons report any suspicions of revolutionary plots immediately!

By Order of the Governor
Presenting the fifth adventure from the spirited Cat Royal in which she joins a travelling theatre, turns pirate, undertakes a Caribbean Cruise and gets mixed up in a slave revolt.With a guest appearance from
Mr Billy Shepherd (Formerly of Covent Garden.)
Prepare to swash your buckle in Cat's most outrageous adventure yet!’
Pedro’s old master, Kingston Hawkins, is back and thirsting for revenge. This time, it is Cat on his home ground and he is well aware of his advantage. Cat seems to grow immensely in this book, and the issues of slavery, friendship, racism, independence and growing up are all sensitively and thoughtfully addressed. There is once again a large amount of plot packed into this book and with the fast paced action and a cast of wonderful characters it was a great addition to the series.

What’s next?
Cat’s Cradle, the sixth book. This features Cat going to Scotland and it appears has something to do with her birth family. Unfortunately it has been put back to 2010 for the development of a new jacket. I’m in two minds about this. While I’m disappointed about the set-back, I’m also glad about the new cover, which will apparently look considerably different. I put off buying this series for ages because I didn’t like the covers. Eventually, I only bought them when I read on one of the blurbs that Cat was a ‘dancing spy.’ I like the covers now, but they must put a lot of potential readers off. This also gives US readers a chance to catch up. Den of Thieves will be released April 09 in the US and I have to say I much prefer the US covers. Look how beautiful!

You can visit the author's website here, or buy the books here (for the UK) or here (for the US)