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