Sunday, 30 January 2011

Review: Stefan's Diaries Volume Two: Bloodlust by L. J. Smith

Stefan and Damon Salvatore are now vampires, and must deal with the consequences of their fate. They escape their small hometown of Fell’s Church, which is overrun with vampire hunters, and travel to New Orleans. While Stefan revels in his powers, Damon continues to mourn the loss of Katherine, the beautiful vampire that turned them both. But New Orleans offers temptations and dangers. Stefan falls in love with another human, and his willpower is tested to the limit. Damon ends up captured by an evil, sadistic vampire hunter. Stefan knows that he must save his brother, but will it cost him his new love?

Edit: I've since discovered that Stefan's Diaries are written by a ghost writer - although in the kindle edition that I read there is no indication of this. Therefore I retract my comments about L.J.Smith's writing not being as good as it was in the original Vampire Diaries series. It also explains a lot of the other problems I had with this book. I will leave the review unaltered, but please take it as my problems with the ghost writer's writing standard - not L. J. Smith's. 

I read and reviewed the first of Stefan’s diaries about a week ago, and I was pretty disappointed. I love the TV show, and I love the original books, but this read more like fan fiction that hadn’t even bothered to get the bits it was copying from the TV show right.

So I wasn’t fussed on reading the second one, but it seemed fair to give it another chance – I am a complete sucker for the Salvatore brothers, and I really wanted to see what L. J. Smith did with them in this new alternate reality where they no longer come from renaissance Italy…

This book was better, but only in that it had stepped away from the material covered in the TV show, and so it wasn’t awkwardly conforming to events that had already been written – and doing a bad job of it at that.

Instead we saw Damon and Stefan running away from Mystic Falls and those that hunted them there, and find their way to New Orleans, for a fresh start.
Most of my complaints about the first book still stand here. The writing is way too modern, it simply wasn’t believable that she was writing about these two boys in 1864 and using modern day language. But the thing that really gets me is that there is so much that could be done – so much story that could have been covered. These two newly turned vampires have eternal life, and yet the events are incredibly rushed. Again, it felt like this was the bare bones of a draft, and I kept waiting for someone to come and flesh the story out. It has so much potential, a wealth of information and situations that could have been mined, and they’re just wasted.

However, because it deviates from the TV show, this book was a lot better. It was simply Smith imagining what the brothers did next, and it was an interesting read. It was great to see what turned Damon from being the good boy who didn’t want to be a monster, into a vengeful killer, and what made Stefan stop being a heartless murderer. But again, it felt rushed. Stefan stopped being bad ass way too quickly. Given how characters have talked about his past, I was expecting a lot worse than what he got up to. So he killed a few people? Damon has done way worse… And we’ve been lead to believe that Stefan used to be like Damon. I just felt a bit let down that Stefan had barely dabbled in being a bad ass before he started atoning. 

However, Damon’s transformation makes a lot more sense with this back story.
One thing that really irritated me though, is that the Lexi we’ve met in the show drinks human blood. She doesn’t go out and kill, but she does drink human blood, and comments to Stefan that she tried drinking animal blood but couldn’t stand it. In the book she doesn’t drink anything other than animal blood…

It just frustrates me that these two mediums are claiming to be telling the same story, and there are massive plot holes in the books that don’t make any sense if it’s supposed to be the same as the show.
Like I said, it reads like fan fiction.

However, this book is worth a read, and is much better than the first of Stefan’s diaries. L. J. Smith seems to find her stride a little better in this one. I’ll keep an eye out for the third instalment, and hope it improves further on the low standard that’s been set so far.

Review: Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

What young girl wouldn't love to dance away her nights in this splendid castle, in the arms of a handsome prince?
As crown princess, Rose is never without a dance partner. She and her eleven sisters are treated to beautiful gowns, slippers and dances at party after party in their father’s palace. But their evenings do not end when their guests return home. Instead, Rose and her sisters must travel deep into the earth to the wicked King Under Stone’s palace. There, the girls are cursed to dance all night long each night, even when they grow exhausted or ill.
Many princes have tried and failed to break the spell. But then Rose meets Galen, a young soldier-turned-gardener with an eye for adventure. Together they begin to unravel the mystery. To banish the curse, they need an invisibility cloak, enchanted silver knitting needles, and of course, true love.

I love fairy tales – they make me feel all warm and mushy inside. It’s like putting on a favourite pair of pyjamas when you’re ill and being told a story again. I used to have a picture book telling the story of the twelve dancing princesses that my sister has long since stolen away, and it was always one of my favourite tales.

This retelling stays true to the original, but makes something more of the story. There’s more danger, humour and romance, and the stakes are a lot higher than I remember them being – but all that makes it into an even better story. 

It’s incredibly simple, so don’t expect anything too thrilling or deep, but it has the same lyrical quality you can find in other fairy tale retellings, like Robin McKinley’s ‘Beauty’ and it captivates you quickly, providing a lovely escape for a few hours.

Instead of Galen simply finding out the princesses secret and rescuing them, they are bound by a curse, unable to speak of it, and the kingdom starts to fall into chaos the longer the mystery goes unsolved. In fact by the end, it’s bordering the Salem Witch trials, and I was surprised how tense it gets! I was expecting a children’s story!

With so many princesses it’s hard to really get to know them properly, and that’s my only complaint, that I wish I could have found out a bit more about them; that they could have been more than just names and a couple of traits that I occasionally got confused. However, the principle characters are well written and very likeable, and there’s enough to them that you genuinely invest in them and want to see what happens.

As I said, the stakes are raised, and whilst you know that everything is going to end up happily ever after (it is a fairy tale after all) it genuinely gets a little bit terrifying for a while. I’d recommend this as a book to fill in and provide a bit of escapism. Anyone who’s familiar with the tale will enjoy this novel and the expansion it provides on the original.

The sort of sequel ‘Princess of Glass’ is already available and follows one of the princesses, Poppy, as she goes off to find her own fairy tale – a retelling of Cinderella. Definitely one to check out.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

The Vampire Diaries: The Descent Review

'The Descent'
Get the tissues out, because Damon's having an existential crisis.

Oh Vampire Diaries, you are determined to SLAY ME. I cannot take this level of ANGST two episodes in a row. I have had to go out and buy chocolate to get through this week’s long anticipated episode – it has been a very long winter…

So we left the folks in Mystic Falls with Damon deciding to be friends with benefits with the newly rabified Rose – having pissed off the latest Werewolf in town, Jules. Meanwhile Stefan spent some quality bonding time in the tomb with Katherine, Elena signed her latest suicide pact with Elijah, and Caroline and Tyler had some of the most heart breaking moments EVER.
However the award for heart break is about to be passed on to Rose and Damon, who officially stole it this week. I haven’t cried that hard since, well, Tyler’s transformation in November.

So Stefan was mainly absent this episode, apart from the obligatory poisoning whilst shirtless at the start of the episode. A development I was actually quite happy with. I think given the content in the other storylines it made sense to not over clutter with characters, so Bonnie, Jeremy and Jenna were also absent – although I think Jenna was out stalking Elijah if her reaction to him last week was anything to go by.

Storyline the minor: I was so hyped about the Caroline/Matt/Tyler triangle after the transformation last episode, but the whole thing felt quite eclipsed by Rose’s storyline. I loved the awkward ‘hey I saw you turn into a wolf last night and then whilst you were all chained up you cried on my new shoes’ meet and greet. Although seriously Matt, learn when not to interrupt. I love Matt to pieces, I want to see more storylines involving him, but equally I really want Tyler and Caroline to have a chance to make a go of it. I’m starting to wonder when Caroline’s going to snap and tell Matt she’s a vampire. It’s only a matter of time before he finds all this stuff out, and I honestly think if they hadn’t been interrupted, Caroline might have told him. Five bucks says she makes it another two episodes max.
Of the two kisses, yes Caroline’s admitted she loves Matt, but I think I swooned a little when Tyler kissed her. He’s realized how much she cares and how much she’s willing to risk for him, and I like this side that’s emerging.

JULES. I felt SORRY for you. I could understand where you’d get that attitude what with Wolf boy being ripped to pieces – but seriously. We have one terrifying bad ass in town. She made no attempt to restrain herself, quite cheerfully murdered a bunch of campers whilst wolfy, and then whilst HUMAN killed a police officer. She just lost all boundaries I thought she might have, and is going to be a really dangerous influence on Tyler. I have a bad feeling Caroline’s days are numbered. I love her and don’t want them to be, but it’s a gut feeling...

Elena! Thank you for re-finding your spine and joining us. She got a little whiny and gaspy the last few episodes, so whilst she really should have called her hunky brother back ups a little earlier, I admire that she wasn’t afraid and kept trying to look after Rose. Although waiting from bright sunshine to epic darkness may not have been the best idea before venturing out to find out where the rabid vampire went.

Storyline the Major: I have so many favourite scenes from Rose and Damon this week. Which is particularly impressive given that I haven’t been fussed on her before now. Kinda frustrated I only started to like her character as soon as she was going to snuff it, but better late than never, and she truly showed how high the stakes are with this werewolf bite. It’s going to be a scary second half and I think it was good to draw out her death so that we’re all aware that this is real, it’s deadly, and there is no miracle cure to save our favourite gang of vamps. Also, I love that this show isn’t afraid to go there. By there, see Tyler and Mason’s respective transformations, Stefan’s torture, plus now Rose’s demise. It was horrible and heart wrenching and it didn’t shy away from the horror of it.
These will probably seem like no-brainers to everyone who’s watched it but favourite scenes:

1.       Rose going schiz on Elena’s ass. That was scary. Very scary, and the first time there hasn’t been anyone around to save her and she had to fend for herself. Is this the Salvatore brother’s being lax and preoccupied, or them trying to give her space?

2.       Damon snapping Rose out of it – her cries of make it stop followed by him carrying her home. Damon being a man without being a git is always something that gets me.

3.       Rose’s profound truths. Oooo Elena, you gonna have to have ‘the talk’ soon. Yeah, the one about whether you’re Vampire bound.

4.       Rose’s dream. Only thing that frustrated me about this is that she grew up in ENGLAND. This was AMERICA, and very obviously so. Well at least to anyone who’s from England… True this is Damon making things up in her head, but surely he’s hopped across the pond at some point? I know it’s picky, but Rose acting like this was where she grew up when it blatantly wasn’t irritated me.
However, I cried like a small child in this scene. That Damon had found out from Elena, and taken her there to ease the pain. That he was trying so had to be childish and happy with her, whilst crying in the real world. Rose’s chance to escape the pain and talk about being a vampire and how much she missed being human, it was perfectly done. And particularly cut with Damon crying and staking her. It was perfect.

5.       Damon’s drunken existential crises. Everything about this was brilliant. The call back to the pilot with him lying in the road for the car to stop. The music making the whole scene incredibly edgy. The fact that he compelled Jessica to stay there, but didn’t take away her fear. He needed that, he needed to talk, to spill his darkest secrets, and I have to say that was a brilliant way to go with this. That Damon’s darkest secret is that he’s desperate for his humanity? Given the pieces of Damon we’ve been given through the flashbacks, this didn’t surprise me in the way it seems to have done some people, but it still was brilliant for him to finally admit it. And particularly him letting her go and then killing her anyway. It was so similar to the old Damon, but with one difference. He wasn’t enjoying it, he was genuinely torn and torturing himself, and it broke my heart to watch.

So for next week: UNCLE JOHN! I hate that man, but god I’ve missed him. More of Damon’s bedroom please? More of Elena’s backbone please? And a little more shirtless action and I’ll be a happy girl.

This episode was brilliant – every episode is upping the stakes and tightening the emotional wires. If next weeks episode makes me cry I don’t think I’ll handle it. I’m loving the next chapter though, and I am so glad Vampire Diaries is back. An awesome episode, possibly the best this season – although the competition as always is hot and fast on its heels.

The Vampire Diaries airs next on February 3rd with “Daddy Issues”

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Review: P.S. I Love You by Cecelia Ahern

Some people wait their whole lives to find their soul mates, but not Holly and Gerry. They were childhood sweethearts – no-one could imagine Holly and Gerry without each other. Until the unthinkable happens. Gerry’s death devastates Holly. But as her 30th birthday looms, Holly discovers that Gerry has left her a bundle of notes, gently guiding her into her new life without him, each signed ‘P.S. I love you.’
With some help from her friends and her noisy and loving family, Holly finds herself laughing, crying, singing, dancing – and being braver than ever before. Life is for living, she realises – but it always helps if there’s an angel watching over you.

I’ve managed to avoid this book like the plague ever since it screamed onto my radar in 2007. After all, why would I want to read a book about a relationship after one half is dead? Romance is so depressingly dead most of the time these days that I like my books to have a little more spark, chemistry, and two alive people…
However, I finally got over myself and read it – partly spurred on by channel four advertising that they’ll be showing the film this coming Sunday, and it was a bit of a mixed bag for me.

On the one hand the writing wasn’t great, the dialogue was awkward, and the characters sometimes were a little flat, often doing things that were random or unrealistic. Whilst I appreciated Holly was grieving, the repetitive arguments with friends and completely defeatist attitude – often resulting in pages of the book dedicated to her saying over and over again how she couldn’t do it and didn’t want to get up – became a little wearing, and made me want to skip through.

However, I still loved the book. It was touching and moving and made me cry. A lot. It grieved with Holly over her loss, but it also celebrated the life that she had been left to live. The relationship was real, they had arguments and fights, ones that Holly insisted on reliving after Gerry’s death, and beating herself up that she didn’t apologise to him about them, that she wasted time fighting with him in the first place.
It was a terrifying look at death – a subject that everyone will have to face in some form or another throughout their lives. It looks at the aching loss and complete shut down experienced when your reason for living is gone, and the recovery process involved – and most importantly it doesn’t rush it. It takes Holly a long time to even attempt to get her life back together, and it’s only with Gerry’s help that she does this.

Oh Gerry – any woman who had you would have been one of the luckiest women alive. In fact part way through the book I sobbingly told my Mum that there were only about five men in the world that were like that, and most of us never stood a chance. Depressing, but still nice to be able to read about that level of attachment, devotion and completely consuming love. The only thing I didn’t like about the notes was their brevity. In the film they are much longer reminisces of memories and times they shared. In the book they’re short notes with barely a few lines, usually with an instruction along with the P.S. I love you… I would have liked a little bit more, but then I can see how it worked better in the film to lengthen them.

Regardless, the notes were beautiful and truly helped to capture the essence of the relationship they shared, despite the fact that Gerry was dead. After reading I feel sad and a little empty, but uplifted as well. Love exists in the little things, and sometimes it’s easy to forget.

I enjoyed the book, but I’m not desperate to go out and read Cecelia Ahern’s other books – but I have a feeling this will be one I come back to when I need to be reminded that life goes on, and with time heals all wounds – or just when I need a good cry. 

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Gossip Girl Review: The Kids Are Not Alright

'The Kids Are Not Alright'

I may have fallen on the Dair wagon...

I’ll admit, I wasn’t as hyped about the new episode of Gossip Girl that aired last night. Partly because, hell, the Vampire Diaries airs in two days, and partly because it’s just been so damn long since we had a new episode of GG. I get why there are hiatuses, but they last so long it can go one of two ways, kill the enthusiasm, or fan it into a swoon worthy rage.

However,  I was surprised after watching “The Kids Are Not Alright” – it wasn’t the most OMG worthy episode that we had just before the break, but it was still a solid hour of amusement. It brought along a few more plots, opened up even more questions and generally had me sniggering, Is anyone else mildly curious by the idea of Chuck and Serena after their ‘mummy issues’ ? Strangely perverse, yet oddly compelling. And funny, and a little bit terrifying (in a good way I suppose) that Serena can actually pull off looking like Lily – I wasn’t convinced until she put on the glasses, and then it all just fell into place.

Serena and Dan  got a little bit of closure – yay! Dan’s constant pining had gotten a touch on the grating side, so it was nice for them to admit they weren’t there yet, but they might be in the future. And it also leaves room for the possibility of Dair… Now before all you Chair lovers get irate, listen for a moment. I love Chair – Chair is endgame for me. But in the meantime, the banter and emotion rising between Dan and Blair was one of the best things all night. I want more. Just so long as Chair get it on again eventually. Actually I can see some jealousy issues coming up for Chuck in the not too distant future at this rate.

Man bangs plus Dad were a bit boring this episode. I know Nate relies on the brain power of his hair, and he has cottoned on a little quicker this time to his Dad’s shading dealings – but I don’t think he could have been more boring this week if he’d been thinking about it. Actually if he’d been  thinking about it, he probably would have just looked confused the whole time.

Chuck – if your voice gets any slower and your eyelids droop any more, then people are going to start thinking you’re having a stroke. Get over it, and get back to the schemey boy we know and love! I loved Blair’s line about Chuck and Serena scheming and disguises were involved – no good can come of this!

Blair, baby, you are my favourite. I think of all the characters Blair has grown and developed as a person the most over the four seasons. She’s stopped being a bitchy Queen – well not entirely, but she’s rounded out so she’s not just that. I love how her Mum took her to task, and then they bonded over scheming, battle plans and fashion magazines. Also, as a career choice, that’s pretty much perfect for Blair – how had she not planned this out already??? She plans everything! Including sitting two seats away from Dan in the cinema so no one will connect them. Sure Blair, two seats’ll do it… 

New characters? Reserving judgement until we see a bit more of them. Lily? Urgh. She was telling the truth, but that doesn’t mean I dislike her any less – that woman is screwed up on so many levels. And Rufus? Grow a back bone man! Although I think their whole relationship was summed up when they were drinking champagne before the party, and Lily huffs and walks away just as Rufus is trying to help her on with her wrap, forcing him to run after her. He is a lap dog. I miss the Rufus who, you know, was a decent human being who hadn’t sold his soul for botox.
Favourite Character: Blair, hands down. Although she wins most weeks.

Favourite Moment: Chuck having Mummy fantasies featuring Serena. They should so explore that.

Bitch Slap Moment: Lily storming off telling Eric and Serena to trust her. She has no right to ever say those words again. That woman has no concept of the truth, unless it bribes her.

Overall a really solid episode, and I’m looking forward to next week – if only to find out what happens in that cinema and to find out why Dan and Blair are fighting over a stapler in one of the promo pictures.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Books I'm squeeing about in February

So January has been a dark month. Less of the snow, more of the rain. So I’ve spent most of it hiding under my duvet reading – a habit I fully intend to continue through into February. So what’s got me excited for the month ahead? On my list of 2011 books, most of them are coming out in the June/July time, but luckily there are some choosing to offer me some light relief ahead of schedule.

Delerium by Lauren Oliver
Released: 3rd February 2011
Seriously the amount of love this book has gotten already is insane – there are good reviews left, right and centre and even a love letter over at The Crooked Shelf.
And from the sneaky peak of the first few pages, the love looks like it’s well deserved. I cannot wait for this one to drop through my letterbox.
Go forth and pre-order!

The Queen’s Lady by Eve Edwards
Released: 3rd February 2011
There is sometimes method in my madness when I buy books and leave them for a little while before reading them. This tends to only happen if it’s the first in a series, and I want to try and reduce the waiting gap between the first and the second. I recently read and reviewed The Other Countess, the first book in the series, and boy did I love it.
It was funny, moving, the characters were incredibly well written, lifelike and flawed, and the amount of research that most have gone into it quite literally blew my mind. And you know what the best part is? This second book is about my favourite character Lady Jane. I want her happy ending dammit!
Go forth and pre-order!

A Touch Mortal by Leah Clifford
Released: 22nd February 2011
This is my whim book of the month. E.g. I wandered around Amazon getting side tracked by pretty covers and seeing what they recommended I read next based on books I loved. So I know very little about this book, other than the cover is intriguing and it’s about a dead person who’s not really dead, well she is but she’s trapped, but I don’t think she’s a ghost. I’m not sure. She could be. Anyway, I’m intrigued enough to want to find out. In case you haven’t been persuaded by my awesome selling tactic the full blurb can be found here –
And you can then go ahead and pre-order it here!

So those are my three books for February – but don’t be fooled, I’m sure Amazon will find plenty else to tempt me with that I just haven’t spotted yet.

March is shaping up to be a pretty hot month as well. Entwined by Heather Dixon, The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell, Darkest mercy by Melissa Marr, and The Return: Midnight by L. J. Smith. I literally cannot contain my excitement. I may combust before we even get there.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Review: Playing the Game by Belle de Jour

Game over? Belle is starting to wonder if she should call time on the call girl business...get a day job, a life free from secrets and have a 'normal' relationship with the Boy. But will Belle cope with the nine-to-five, a staggering decline in her underwear budget and no more paid sex? As Belle explores life and love after the game, her story is frank, smart and refreshingly honest. Punctuated with advice, anecdotes and reflections in her inimitable voice, this is a novel of secrets and lies, scabrous wit and more than a little lust.

I loved the ‘Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl’ and its follow up. They were sharp, funny, and included as many taboo topics as possible. Belle’s voice was incredibly clear, and they became my dirty little secret read – because face it, whilst there are fabulous tips on love and life, most people who read her books are reading them for the explicit descriptions of her life as a call girl.

However ‘Playing the Game’ fell more than a little short. Riddled with typos, it felt rushed and too slow all at the same time. Rushed in that it didn’t feel edited, and too slow because the pacing was all wrong. In this novelised version of her life, she quits being a call girl less than a third of the way into the book and then ambles along through a nine to five job and a series of awful dates and relationships. It just felt a bit aimless. I think part of the charm and success about the first two books were they were non-fiction, candid recollections of a woman who was doing a job most of us wouldn’t have the guts to do, and telling us all the intimate details. It was the fantasy side of reality.

‘Playing the Game’ loses that shine, and whilst there were still very funny moments, ratings of dates, geeky references to ‘The Princess Bride’ and ‘Battlestar Galactica’, and lists of do’s and don’ts for the modern girl in any situation, it just didn’t do it for me.

There were a lot of moments that felt incredibly familiar, and I’m not sure if they were lifted from earlier books or moments from the television series, so it did feel like some of it was a bit of a cop out. There were several plot threads that weren’t tidied off, and considering this was supposed to be fiction, I expect at least a bit of that. In fact the end itself felt like a let down. It just wasn’t the Belle I’d grown to love from her first books.

So whilst I thoroughly recommend checking out Belle de Jour’s non-fiction books ‘Intimate Adventures’ and ‘Further Adventures’ I’d suggest giving ‘Playing the Game’ a miss. Why settle for second rate when she’s already given us the best?

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Review: Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

In Ethan Wate’s hometown there lies the darkest of secrets . . . There is a girl. Slowly, she pulled the hood from her head. Green eyes, black hair. Lena Duchannes. There is a curse. On the Sixteenth Moon, the Sixteenth Year, the Book will take what it’s been promised. And no one can stop it. In the end, there is a grave. Lena and Ethan become bound together by a deep, powerful love. But Lena is cursed and on her sixteenth birthday, her fate will be decided. Ethan never even saw it coming.

Ooo I liked this book for so many reasons.

1.      It was a male first person point of view, I like this, I don’t know if it’s just that I zero in on the books with girls as the epicentre, but this made a really refreshing change. In fact when the view point changes briefly to Lena towards the end I got really grumpy with Ethan for slacking in his storytelling duties.

2.       History! Mythology! Wrapped up in a town! It was almost like reading the first series of The Vampire Diaries TV series – it was essentially a love story but it was wrapped up in all these events and history about the town and the other people. This could have been used more, but it was a really good draw for me.

3.       THEY TAKE THEIR TIME TO HAVE FEELINGS! You have no idea how grumpy I get where in a page the hero and heroine fall in love. Jeez guys, that is not real life. You fall in Like, you fall in Lust, but never in Love in a page.

4.       Ridley. Words cannot describe the epicness. I love her. I want to be her. Kinky outfits, boots and lollipops galore. I hope she’s in the next book. I don’t care that she’s evil, she makes my life.

5.       As much as I love Vampires and Werewolves (vast amounts/words cannot describe) it was a refreshing change to have something a little different. Caster’s, who are epic in their awesome powers, and a little creepy all at once, but definitely get the award for most screwy family of the year so far.

6.       It took its time. This book was set over five months. Now I know some books pretend they’re spread over a year, but often they become so rushed that it’s hard to remember that. Chapters were headed with a date, which gave you an exact pin point of how much time had passed, and it took its time. There were slower patches, but it helped with the overall build of the book. I like downtime, it gives me chance to breathe for a minute before the next oh my god my life is going to end moment.

7.       The town. Descriptions were something this book knew how to do – the town, the accents – again nothing was rushed and it was laid out so you felt as if you were there, living it out, hearing the voices. That’s one thing I struggle with in books, the accent is almost always English in my head, but with the writing style you couldn’t help but get an awesome southern drawl, and I loved it.

I think that’s it for my love list for now, but with the sequel there is a potential it may continue to grow… 
Overall I really enjoyed the book. Some reviews have complained about the pacing, that they got lost when it stopped being about feelings and became more about magic. I don’t know if it’s just that I’ve read so many fantasy books that I pick up the rules of a new world a lot quicker, but I found the added elements of danger heightened the relationship and took it to new levels where it might else have become stagnant and boring. I read to escape and to find somewhere knew and exciting, I don’t want to be bogged down in reality, I’ve got enough of that thanks.

The relationships were realistic and well constructed, and they didn’t feel rushed or forced – they were two teenagers falling in love at a relatively normal pace for those with hormones on red alert most of the time.
It was a little slow to get in to, but once I was a couple of chapters in I was completely hooked, and I am so glad that for once I though ahead and bought the second book “Beautiful Dar
kness" at the same time...

Monday, 17 January 2011

Review: Stefan's Diaries Volume One: Origins by L. J. Smith

Set during the Civil War, against a backdrop of grand estates, unimaginable riches, and deadly secrets, three teenagers in Mystic Falls, Virginia enter a torrid love triangle that will span eternity. 
Brothers Stefan and Damon Salvatore are inseparable until they meet Katherine, a stunning, mysterious woman who turns their world upside down. Siblings turned rivals, the Salvatores compete for Katherine’s affection, only to discover that her sumptuous silk dresses and glittering gems hide a terrible secret: Katherine is a vampire. And she is intent on turning them into vampires so they can live together—forever. 

Edit: I've since discovered that Stefan's Diaries are written by a ghost writer - although in the kindle edition that I read there is no indication of this. Therefore I retract my comments about L.J.Smith's writing not being as good as it was in the original Vampire Diaries series. It also explains a lot of the other problems I had with this book. I will leave the review unaltered, but please take it as my problems with the ghost writer's writing standard - not L. J. Smith's. 

Woah, woah, woah – hold up for just a minute. Why have we suddenly decided to have Stefan and Damon originate in Mystic Falls? I’m a fan of both the books and the TV series of The Vampire Diaries (as I will tell anyone who looks at me the wrong way, never mind asks.) And I liked the differences – it helped to set them apart, so that I didn’t get grumpy when the TV series deviated from the books. They were both separate and good in their own right. So why has L. J. Smith suddenly decided to write Stefan and Damon not as renaissance Italy gentlemen, but as civil war southern gentlemen? (Continuing with how the series has portrayed them.)

And not only that, she’s taken the dialogue of scenes that are shown in the series, but altered them so they don’t quite match. I feel that if she’s going to take the idea of Mystical Falls and 1864 and use those, she should have at least done it thoroughly.

I’m in two minds, half of me is furious that this isn’t Stefan’s diaries as written by him in Italy, and half of me drooling over the fact I have something else to read that’s connected to The Vampire Diaries during this ridiculously long hiatus.

However, nothing can distract from the very modern language used throughout the book, which seems awkward given the time period this is set in. In fact the writing standard as a whole, which I’ve come to expect to be very high in Smith’s books, is not nearly as polished. The book is filled with potential, and yet it feels like the bare bone of structure of a story. A rushed novella, which could have been a fascinating tale in its own right. It just feels as though without the knowledge you have from watching the TV series, this wouldn’t have held together. Characters aren’t properly introduced, and there’s no depth or meaning or motives behind some of the actions. I felt decidedly let down by it.

However, I am curious to see what Stefan and Damon get up to in their time before returning to Mystic Falls to plague Elena, so I’ll keep reading the series; but in my mind it doesn’t read like some of the prose L. J. Smith has delighted us with in the past – instead it’s like reading some fan fiction for the TV series.

Review: The Other Countess by Eve Edwards

England, 1582, Ellie – Lady Eleanor Rodriguez of San Jaime – is in possession of a gold-seeking father, a worthless title and a feisty spirit that captivates the elite of the Queen’s court, and none other than the handsome new Earl of Dorset . . . William Lacey has inherited his father’s title and his financial ruin. Now the Earl must seek a wealthy heiress and restore his family’s fortune. But Will’s head has been turned by the gorgeous Ellie, yet their union can never be. Will is destined to marry a worthy Lady so the only question is – which one . . . ?

I think I may swoon a little. As far as I’ve come across in my long years reading young adult fiction, I’ve never really come across a period romance whose blurb reads like some of the romantic fiction you can find in the adult section. So I got far too over excited when I found this, and was curious to find out what the difference is. The answer? Not all that much. It was effectively the same plot points used in every romance, just minus the overtly sexy scenes.

That doesn’t detract from the novel in anyway – it was a fabulous example of period fiction (in this case the Elizabethan era) done remarkably well. The research that must have gone into this to make it so well drawn and realistic, physically makes my head hurt. Everything, from banquets and jousting to dress and values is perfectly researched and executed, which makes it that much easier to immerse yourself in the story and enjoy it.

Ellie is your typical heroine, dragged down by fortune and her father so she’ll never make a successful match with William, who she’s slowly but surely falling in love with. She’s intelligent, witty, and doesn’t always do what’s expected of her. And William – ooo he’s yummy. Particularly if you like the strong and sexy type, with a soft streak a mile wide and a duty to his family (who consist of awesome siblings who were blatantly raised on love rather than any stuffy nobility complexes.)

What I particularly loved is that this isn’t a story about a couple who fall in love etc. Well it is, but it is more of a foursome – Ellie and William, and Jane and James. William needs money for the estate so he needs to marry a rich girl, Jane, who’s secretly in love with William’s brother James, and has also cultivated a very realistic and touching friendship with Ellie, the girl who’s not so secretly in love with William. It’s exciting stuff! Add to that the fact that the relationships are shown to grow and flower, rather than just a few pages and bam they’re in love, and I’m completely sold.

The characters are flawed, but that’s what makes them so realistic and easy to like. For example Jane is a typical spoiled rich girl, but she feels so trapped that it makes her relatable, and from there you can go from relating to full on loving by the end where she takes charge after realizing the boys are all too idiotic to sort out this mess themselves. I love head strong intelligent women. In fact, I was very close to preferring her to Ellie, so I’m so glad she gets her own book next.

The friendships that grow between each of the characters are realistic and well drawn, and there is a good mix between the first half of the book taking place at court, and showing some of the excitements of the palace, and then moving to William’s estate, where there’s a more laid back approach to life.

I was mildly frustrated that whilst Ellie and William’s relationship was all tied up by the end of the book, there wasn’t anything more about Jane and James, which is why I’m so excited about the next book “The Queen’s Lady” dues out on 3rd February 2011, and detailing their relationship as it progresses.

Finally a good romantic period fiction for young adult (all the flirty swooning without the sordid sex – it’s a good balance!) The writing and research have both been carried out to an incredibly high standard, and I can’t wait to follow the character’s further in the next book.

Review: Bitten and Smitten by Michelle Rowen

Blind dates can be bad, but Sarah Dearly's date is a true contender for worst ever. His neck nibbling didn't just leave a bruise; it turns her into a vampire -- and the newest target for a pack of zealot vampire hunters. With her date now their latest victim, Sarah runs for her immortal life -- straight into Thierry de Bennicoeur, a master vampire who is just a wee bit suicidal. Thierry can't resist a damsel in distress and agrees to teach Sarah how to live the vampire life if she'll help him end his own. But as it turns out, Sarah may be his best reason for living.

I’ve been ill for the last week, and when I’m lying on my fainting couch looking pathetic and pale I need a very specific type of book to see me through; I need fluff, I need wit, I need romance. However, due to The Vampire Diaries being on hiatus for WEEKS I also fancied something paranormal. After all, the last time I had this urge I found Robin Mckinley’s ‘Sunshine’ which makes me think these urges are good things.
So I found this and it told me it had all of the things I had requested. It was good, it didn’t make me shriek and throw it in the air and declare it to be my new best friend, but equally I didn’t just throw it in the air and shriek at it for being bad. It fell rather squarely in the middle.

It was funny – it had some one liners that made me laugh out loud. But it wasn’t funny all the way through; there were moments of brilliance, and some that fell short of the mark. I liked Sarah’s initial struggle to try and fit together her real life and her new shiny vampire existence, and for me that’s where a lot of the humour came from. So when it started to be a little more brooding and angsty, I got a bit bored. Don’t get me wrong, I like brood and angst, but when I’m expecting it, not when I’ve been promised a laugh a minute romance.  There was quite an abrupt shift where it was all a little bit ‘aha I am more evil than you thought (only you probably guessed a little while back) and now I am going to stun you with my confession!’ Or ‘I am not as evil as some people have been making me out to be, but you just didn’t trust me!’

It was still funny and still good, and I have gone out and bought the sequel and am looking forward to it. The first three quarters are well worth reading, but I lost it towards the end, and it just seemed a bit hit and miss. This could have been because my temperature was rising and I was generally a little incoherent, and I will try reading it again at a later date, but it really didn’t wow me.

It just wasn’t what I’d hoped for.

I think part of the non-wowing was to do with the vampires themselves. I love vampire stories because there are these terrible things they have to overcome in order to blend with the human race, and there’s usually some clever way they can do this (cue day light ring, sparkling, dark glasses and umbrellas.) But these vampires really didn’t seem to be afflicted by all that much. They could go out in the sunlight (it did hurt the eyes a little, but not much) and yes they drank blood but they didn’t run around draining people. They had tiny little fangs there were only noticeable up close – and that was about it. I like danger of discovery, and where the people that do discover have a little more at stake (pun very much intended) than they appeared to here.

Whilst I did love Thierry I didn’t feel like we got to know much about him, so it was a bit frustrating for Sarah to suddenly be in love with him. Yes he was hot and sexy and mysterious, but not enough to go killing yourself over. And the other half of the love interest, Quinn, was a bit stalkerish. He broke into her flat and started kissing her and got frustrated when she didn’t want to go out with him. Her reasoning being he’d tried to kill her twice – a fairly good reason in my book.

So there were elements I wasn’t fussed on, and I felt the last quarter of the book wasn’t as tight at the rest, but I still enjoyed it. It was funny and flirty and Sarah was very likeable and real, which helped keep me amused. I’ve already bought the sequel, so I’ll give that a go and see whether it improves my mood.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Review: The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw

A novel to fall in love with - for anyone who loved the escapism of "The Time Traveller's Wife" and "The Memory Keeper's Daughter". A mysterious metamorphosis has taken hold of Ida MacLaird - she is slowly turning into glass. Fragile and determined to find a cure, she returns to the strange, enchanted island where she believes the transformation began, in search of reclusive Henry Fuwa, the one man who might just be able to help...Instead she meets Midas Crook, and another transformation begins: as Midas helps Ida come to terms with her condition, they fall in love. What they need most is time - and time is slipping away fast.

This novel is achingly breath taking; that’s the only way I seem able to describe it. I picked it up on a whim (again, cover’s and titles sway me) and promptly fell in love. It’s a bleak, atmospheric novel that moves along in a very quiet fashion, following the tangling lives of Ida and Midas.

The slow pace doesn’t detract from the reader’s enjoyment, it simply means that Shaw is able to prolong the ride, take note of the little details and spin the characters into living breathing people. The writing is superb – with elements of the same finely honed prose and subtle blend of fantasy and reality that made ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ one of the most well-known of this generation.

Shaw takes his time to bring the character’s to life, everything is very slow and controlled, which makes the conclusion all the more shocking. Even though it is built up to throughout, the final transformation takes place at such a speed that contrasts so well to the rest of the book, and makes it even more powerful. It’s heart breaking, and for that reason alone I would love it, but everything about this book is just so right. The quality presented in his debut novel is stunning.

I love that Shaw doesn’t feel the need to explain the mechanics of this world, and he writes with such certainty that the reader barely thinks to question the world they’re being shown – a world of miniature flying cattle, and a girl turning to glass, just like those in the past whose glass statues can be found in bogs on the island of St. Hauda’s.

I found the novel unsettling to say the least – this island seems so cut off from the rest of the world, the atmosphere so bleak and quiet, it feels as if the characters are trapped in their own little bubbles of life. However, I loved it and will continue to re-read it, because whilst I enjoyed it the first time round, that enjoyment increases the more I go back over it.

If you’re looking for a novel that captures another facet of love that lies mostly untouched, or simply want a fairy tale for adults, give ‘The Girl with Glass Feet’ a try – it’s startling in its brilliance and will stay with you long after you’ve finished.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Review: Entangled by Cat Clarke

'The same questions whirl round and round in my head: 
What does he want from me? 
How could I have let this happen? 
17-year-old Grace wakes up in a white room, with table, pens and paper - and no clue how she got there. 
As Grace pours her tangled life onto the page, she is forced to remember everything she's tried to forget. There's falling hopelessly in love with the gorgeous Nat, and the unravelling of her relationship with her best friend Sal. But there's something missing. As hard as she's trying to remember, is there something she just can't see? 
Grace must face the most important question of all. Why is she here? 
A story of dangerous secrets, intense friendships and electrifying attraction.

Entangled is not my usual read when I go for young adult fiction. I tend to go for fantasy or something based way back in the past – but the blurb (and the cover!) were too intriguing for me not to give it a go. In fact, from what little I could garner, I had no idea what genre the book would fall into, so I went in with an open mind, and wasn’t disappointed.

It was dark, it was heart breaking, but it was also funny and tinged with hope. It’s an impressive debut novel, and I’m looking forward to watching Cat Clarke’s career progress, because it’s going to take some doing to beat this first offering.

The plot is clever offering us a tale within a tale, as we try with Grace, to work out what she’s doing trapped in this room, but also the events that led up to her being here. Clarke keeps the reader guessing, only giving out the little titbits of information we need in tiny portions, so that it isn’t until the final few pages, that everything slots into place and we finally understand what’s happened. I was particularly impressed that both storylines were equally gripping – sometimes with multiple plots, the reader can become too engrossed in one to want to bother with the second, but the balance struck here is perfect.

Grace’s voice is incredible. I am always impressed by books that have used the first person narrative, and not only done it well, but staggeringly so. Robin McKinley’s ‘Sunshine’ springs to mind (one of my all-time favourite books) so the fact that I’m comparing the quality of Clarke’s first person narrative to that, is pretty impressive.

She strikes just the right line of boisterous, semi-aggressive teenager who has no idea how to deal with the emotions she’s faced with – or the situations she finds herself in. Grace plants herself clearly from page one, and the clear, at times tough and sometimes tender narrative does not relent. I wanted to wrap her in my arms and hug her, I wanted to throw things at her for being a moron, but at no point did I stop liking her. She was, despite all the bravado, so vulnerable, and so blind to the signs that it was heart breaking to read.

Also, perhaps slightly surprisingly given the darker elements of the book, I wasn't expecting to come across  some of the steamiest scenes I think I've read in young adult fiction. Ladies you might need a fan...

‘Entangled’ is an incredible read, and Cat Clarke is definitely one of the new authors to watch over the next few years. 

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Review: When the Duke Returns by Eloisa James

For the Duke of Cosway, it was a marriage of convenience. For his bride, it was anything but... 
Isidore has waited for many long, frustrating years for her mysterious husband to return from exploring the world. They were married by proxy when she was just a child, but now she’s fully grown and yearns for nothing more than for her Duke to return. 
Until he does come back. And he is not what she expected. At all. 
Not only does he refuse to conform to any of society’s norms: he won’t powder his hair, has little regard for cravats, and seems frighteningly keen on running around the countryside in nothing but short trousers. But – more shocking than any other revelation – he reveals that he is a virgin. 
There is an undeniable attraction though, and while Isidore tries to establish whether this Duke was actually worth waiting for, Cosway himself begins to discover that there may be more adventures in marriage than in all of the rest of the world...

I adore the Desperate Duchesses series, and if you haven’t tried them yet, get to it! I am sucker for romance, anything from modern day chick lit to Eloisa James’ period romance – they always follow patterns, which isn’t at all boring or predictable, it just means that you know there will always be a happily ever after. And quite frankly, we need as many of those as we can get. However, I’m very picky about those that I do like – for example, whilst I will be the first to admit I love a bit of steaminess, I’m not all that fussed on some of the outrageously explicit scenes you can get in some books. So I choose my romances with care.

Eloisa James is high up on my list of loves – she knows just how to write my most delicious kind of romance. Gorgeous guys? Check. Feisty well dressed women? Check. Witty banter? Check. Intelligent plots and writing? Check.
How could you not love that?

James writes intelligent plots, with steamy scenes that will have any girl weak at the knees, and combines that with humour and well drawn characters. ‘When The Duke Returns’ is no exception, as the fourth book in the series, it draws on characters we have already grown to love and understand, adding a sprinkling of new ones to keep everything fresh. I will admit that I love when the books are set in London, as I love the social whirl that comes with the capital – however, being set at Cosway’s ancestral home doesn’t detract in the slightest. It offers a secluded bubble for the romance to blossom in – and it’s an unconventional one at that.

This series is full of unconventional romances, and I think that’s one of the advantages that sets it apart from others in the genre. Isidore and Cosway are already married, a fact that Isidore has known since she was twelve, and has never questioned or strayed, despite not knowing her husband. Cosway on the other hand, is an arrogant fool who wants an annulment simply because Isidore is a feistier wife than he had imagined. I do want to shake him from time to time for attempting to be such a calm island of serenity, when he should be getting off his high horse and making Isidore feel loved and appreciated for who she is. He frustrated me, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story, it simply heightened it, and proved once again what a good writer Eloisa James is for creating flawed and believable characters, who the reader can still relate to and love.

I also enjoy the interweaving stories of the other character’s – for example Jemma and Elijah have their own moments where they move forward in their relationship, aided and abetted by the devilish Villiers. I have to say I can’t wait to have another book more focused on these three and their relationships. It began in ‘Desperate Duchesses’ and will continue in the fifth book ‘This Duchess of Mine’

If you haven’t discovered this series, then they are the perfect way to ease yourself into period romance if you haven’t tried it yet, or to continue your education if you have. In order, the series is ‘Desperate Duchesses’ ‘An Affair Before Christmas’ ‘Duchess by Night’ ‘When the Duke Returns’ ‘This Duchess of Mine’ and ‘A Duke of Her Own.’