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

Holiday

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.)