Thursday, 19 July 2012

Review: Before I Wake by Rachel Vincent

Huge thanks to Mira Ink for sending me a copy to review.

I died on a Thursday-killed by a monster intent on stealing my soul. The good news? He didn't get it. The bad news? Turns out not even death will get you out of high school...  Covering up her own murder was one thing, but faking life is much harder than Kaylee Cavanaugh expected. After weeks spent "recovering," she's back in school, fighting to stay visible to the human world, struggling to fit in with her friends and planning time alone with her new reaper boyfriend. But to earn her keep in the human world, Kaylee must reclaim stolen souls, and when her first assignment brings her face-to-face with an old foe, she knows the game has changed. Her immortal status won't keep her safe. And this time Kaylee isn't just gambling with her own life...

Kaylee has grown so much over the course of the series. She smart and strong and desperately loyal to those she cares about. You’d think she’d be irritating with all of these good and selfless qualities, but actually she just remains one of my favourite heroines. It was heart breaking to see her try to come to terms with her death, with the barrier and differences that now separate her from her friends and family, and to deal with the abuse and heart ache from most of those so called friends following her incredibly traumatic death.

My only real complaint was that her death and the trauma that must have induced wasn’t fully explored I didn’t feel. We did get touches of it, particularly at the start of the book and from her Dad and Tod as well, but the lack of emotional response from her friends was shocking. I actually found that really hard to deal with on Kaylee’s behalf. To see how she fights for them and protects them and does everything in her power to save the day/situation/world and to see how she has grown and developed and overcome such horrific adversities (such as her own death) is just amazing to see. It’s turned her into a truly remarkable character, one that I will love coming back to again and again.

Speaking of remarkable characters, can we take a moment to just appreciate the sheer awesomeness of Tod?
He’s funny and sweet and kind and would actually do anything in the world to protect Kaylee. Which is more than we can say for some of the others… It was so good to see him get his chance to shine, and to see more of his character and discover more about him. He’s been such a fascinating character right from the start and I’m so glad we’re finally getting to see him shine.
And to see the hot make out scenes. Those are good to. Oh man Tod is so on my list of fictional boys I’d like to date.
And strangely the relationship and the foreverness doesn’t send me screaming for the hills as some others do. This feels natural – they’ve come to be friends, to care for each other, and to grow beyond that into something more. It was organic and believable and as a result I am well and truly on Team Tod & Kaylee. Taylee? Kod? I think I’m going to go with Team Kod.

It was great to see a new character make an appearance. Luca was a breath of fresh air and I can’t wait to see more of him and his abilities. Of course the added bonus of Luca is that we finally got to see a bit of a different side to Sophie, which has been a long time coming and I am so glad she’s included more now and we might get a chance to see her get a bit kick ass instead of being bitchy.

Nash really still got on my nerves, which is unsurprising given how I’ve felt about him for the last two books. His constant whining that he hated Kaylee for framing him for her murder (when she does manage to sort that and only did it in the first place to save the lives of two friends) was a little irritating to say the least. I am fascinated that Vincent has managed to create a character that I loved so much in the first two books, and then do a complete flip round on him to highlight all the negative elements of his personality. They were always there beneath the yummy exterior, it’s just how they’re coming to light now. It’s an incredible feat, and one I applaud her for – it certainly threw me as I watched him change over the course of the series – but unfortunately it doesn’t make me like him anymore.
I do however hope that there is still time for him to have a little redemption in the final book in the series.

Speaking of characters that make me want to beat my head against a brick wall, Sabine and I are still having a bit of a love hate relationship. I think she’s incredibly strong, and I admire her and really feel for her with some of the more emotional elements of her personality, but at the same time I still find her a little difficult with her constant blame placement on Kaylee, when Kaylee has actually done nothing to Sabine.

With the final book looming you can expect some pretty terrifying stuff to go down, and Vincent more than delivers. We still get the funny and fluffy moments, but they’re mixed in with the horrifying and downright scary ones too. Tough to imagine given how terrifying the whole series has been, but Vincent really ups the ante, and I was left gaping at the book when I reached the end. I was completely in shock, but it sets things up brilliantly for the final book in the series which I am now even more desperate to read.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Review: The Flappers: Ingenue by Jillian Larkin

Huge thanks to Harriet at Random House Children's Books for being awesome and sending me a copy to review.

Power... love... scandal...
There’s never enough to go around.
In the city that never sleeps, Lorraine Dyer is wide awake. Ever since she exposed Clara Knowles for the tramp she was—and lost her closest confidante in the process—Lorraine has spent every second scheming to make her selfish, lovesick ex–best friend pay for what she did. No one crosses Lorraine. Not even Gloria. 
True love conquers everything—or so Gloria Carmody crazily believed. She and Jerome Johnson can barely scrape together cash for their rent, let alone have a moment to whisper sweet nothings in the dark. And if they thought escaping Chicago meant they’d get away with murder . . . they were dead wrong.
Clara was sure that once handsome, charming Marcus Eastman discovered her shameful secret, he’d drop her like a bad habit. Instead, he swept her off her feet and whisked her away to New York. Being with Marcus is a breath of fresh air—and a chance for Clara to leave her wild flapper ways firmly in the past. Except the dazzling parties and bright lights won’t stop whispering her name…
INGENUE is the second novel in the sexy, dangerous, and ridiculously romantic Flappers series set in the Roaring Twenties… where revenge is a dish best served cold.

I absolutely adored the first book in this series ‘Vixen’ when it was released earlier this year. And now, six months later I’ve finally got to see what happens next.

However the second book, whilst still showing a solid base and instalment in the series, had lost a little of its shine in the move from Chicago to New York. Whilst all the characters were intertwined in their small circle in Chicago, no one really meets each other (despite being in the same city) until the last section of the book, which left the first part of the book a little choppy and disjointed as we skipped back and forth between the characters and their very different lives.

The plot continued to move logically and coherently, building on the foundations that had been set up in ‘Vixen’ but sadly the characters did not always follow the same logic. There were abrupt moments where behaviour felt contrived and forced, especially with Clara, who still remains my favourite character of the book, and yet she swung back and forth so abruptly and became so selfish with her writing that I found has actions and motives a little less cohesive than they were in the first book. I still loved her story, and I really liked seeing her development and I’m really excited to see where this set up takes her to in the final book in the trilogy ‘Diva’ but I wasn’t as enthralled on the ride as I thought I would be.

The most natural storyline really went to Gloria and Jerome. I was thrilled with their relationship and how Larkin had handled it, so it was great to see this natural progression between the two of them as they’re forced to face the consequences of their actions. Larkin really plays on and highlights how taboo their relationship was, detailing the extreme lengths they have to go to with the flat, the problems with a white singer and a black piano player trying to get work and the tension and strain this puts on their relationship.
It was devastating at times, and uplifting at others, but I really feel that their story is the most fascinating and well concocted of the series. I can’t wait to see where Larkin goes from here with them and what happens next.

It was great to see a new voice and plot interwoven into this book in the form of Jerome’s sister who comes to New York to try and help save Jerome. We were introduced to her very briefly in the first book so it was really good to see her try and atone for her actions in the first book and make things right from the events she helped to set in motion. It was also great to see her find her own love interest in Evan (who we again met in the first book briefly.)

Lorraine continues to be a bit of an enigma. She swings back and forth so rapidly between being incredibly childish and selfish, to actually being half decent. I can’t really seem to get a handle on her, and I’m not quite convinced by her yet. If there was some foundation to her character, other than the fact that she’s selfish I find her storyline a little more interesting, but as it is I still haven’t warmed to her in the slightest.

However, with the final events that unfolded in this book she’s in a solid place to really take off in the final book and I really hope that we get to see her grow and develop and mature into the woman that we keep seeing glimpses of.

Ingenue is still a very good book. It’s a good instalment in the series, progressing the story along and setting up a great foundation for the final book in the trilogy. Sadly it just didn’t quite sparkle for me in the same way as the first book, but I still highly recommend the series and cannot wait to see what happens next.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Review: Trickster's Choice & Trickster's Queen by Tamora Pierce

Trickster’s Choice:
Alianne has an oppressive heritage. She is the daughter of Alanna, Lady Knight and King's Champion - the foremost warrior of Tortall. After a stormy argument with her mother, Aly runs away, but she gets more than she bargains for when she is kidnapped by pirates and sold as a slave in the Copper Isles.
Trickster’s Queen:
Aly's adventure continues. . . . No longer a slave, Alanna's daughter is now spying as part of an underground rebellion against the colonial rulers of the Copper Isles. The people in the rebellion believe that a prophecy in which a new queen will rise up to take the throne is about to be realized. Aly is busy keeping the potential teenage queen and her younger siblings safe, while also keeping her in the dark about her future. But Aly, who is usually adept at anticipating danger and changes, is in for a few nasty surprises.

I read the two books in this series so quickly one after the other that I don’t really feel like I can split the review into two separate ones, so instead I’m just going to talk about the whole.

I love Tamora Pierce’s books. The first book I ever took out in my secondary school library was ‘In the Hand of the Goddess’ (book two in The Song of the Lioness Quartet, apparently I’m terrible at reading books in order and have no patience to wait for the first book to come back into the library. Shocking I know.) And that book choice (and the subsequent reading of every single Tamora Pierce book I could get my hands on) shaped the rest of my reading from that point on.

It is from her that I gained my love of fantasy, of feisty and strong heroines, of fantastic plots and sword fights with a healthy dose of magic thrown in for good measure. And so when I saw these two new books focusing on Alanna’s daughter I couldn’t resist.

And they are very good examples of why Tamora Pierce remains the queen of high fantasy. They don’t have quite the same magic and appeal as The Song of the Lioness Quartet, and they are a lot heavier going, but they were definitely worth the wait.

Aly was a fascinating character in her own right, never mind that she was the product of one of my favourite fantasy couples of all time. It was fascinating to see the little glimpses we got into George and Alanna’s lives now they’ve grown up and started a family (although the little girl in me really wanted some more of them…) She combines just the right amount of qualities of both her parents with enough individuality to keep her individuality.

Pierce has a formidable array of skills that she utilises in all of her books. Her world building is fantastic. It’s complex and rich, full of vibrancy and life and history and religion and utterly engrossing. There were some aspects that of this that bogged the book down a little in places, which is something I haven’t really experienced with a Pierce back before, but on the whole it was fantastic.

She creates a likeable and realistic heroine, and then surrounds her with equally fascinating and believably secondary characters. Everyone comes alive from the page, whether it’s some of the softer moments with Nawat or conversations with Dove, or the planning with the rest of the rebellion. The only thing that might put a damper on some people's enthusiasm is that like most of Tamora Pierce's heroines, you know that Aly is somehow going to save the day and come out on top, which may ruin some of the intrigue. However despite knowing there was a more than good chance things would end up ok, Pierce still manages to make the plot engaging and twisty so that I really couldn't see how some things would play out, and the emotional impact some of these events may produce.

There’s enough action to keep the whole thing ticking along quite nicely. and enough twists and turns that even I wasn't sure how things might turn out. Admittedly the first book was a lot more about the set up and establishing the characters and situation which meant that it wasn’t as high paced as the second book, but together they still clip along at a good pace.

Everything is believable, right from the characters and world to the motives the politics and the evil schemes that Aly comes up with to strike terror into their enemies. It was fascinating to see the strength of Alanna come through combined with George’s cunning and slyness, and I loved seeing her work as the Spymaster.

The thing that I love most about Peirce’s writing is her romances. They are never forced, there are never any triangles just for the sake of tension, but most of all there is never any insta love. In fact I don’t remember any paragraph where Aly suddenly realizes she’s in love, which is fantastic, because it’s a slow gradual process that is utterly believable. These books that have the sudden realization paragraph make a little bit of my soul die every time I read one, because they usually completely undermine any build up and turn what was progressing quite nicely into a be all and end all relationship. There is none of that here, and yet I completely believe that Aly loves Nawat. I completely believe that they are right for each other and five years down the line she isn’t going to run off with someone else. I completely believe that their commitment is real and durable, and that’s what makes it so special for me.

It isn’t the sort of series to gain the same praise as ‘Song of the Lioness’ but it’s still a very well written fantasy, engaging and fascinating, and a welcome break from the real world into the intrigue and plotting of the Raka revolution. For fans of Tamora Pierces other books, Maria V Snyder and Kristin Cashore, this is a brilliant fantasy series.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Review: The Peculiars by Maureen Doyle McQuerry

This dark and thrilling adventure, with an unforgettable heroine, will captivate fans of steampunk, fantasy, and romance. On her 18th birthday, Lena Mattacascar decides to search for her father, who disappeared into the northern wilderness of Scree when Lena was young. Scree is inhabited by Peculiars, people whose unusual characteristics make them unacceptable to modern society. Lena wonders if her father is the source of her own extraordinary characteristics and if she, too, is Peculiar. On the train she meets a young librarian, Jimson Quiggley, who is traveling to a town on the edge of Scree to work in the home and library of the inventor Mr. Beasley. The train is stopped by men being chased by the handsome young marshal Thomas Saltre. When Saltre learns who Lena’s father is, he convinces her to spy on Mr. Beasley and the strange folk who disappear into his home, Zephyr House. A daring escape in an aerocopter leads Lena into the wilds of Scree to confront her deepest fears.

I had really high hopes for ‘The Peculiars’ – everything about it appealed to me, from the blurb and the cover to the reviews and snippets of conversation I kept hearing about it. And for the most part it lived up to my expectations, but there were a few things that fell short and knocked it down from five stars to four.

The concept was fantastic and for the most part the execution was as well, what let it down was the inability to decide on one story line to take the characters through. It felt like there were two stories trying to be told. Ideally that would have been split into two books, the first involving Lena and her attempts to discover the secrets at Zephyr House, and the second the escape through Scree. But because both were crammed into one book neither were given the attention they deserved and as a result the book was an odd jumble of the two and never really took off.

I loved the concept, the world building was really good and I could have quite happily read a book twice its length to explore even more of the world. It’s was beautifully constructed but I was a little baffled as to why it was labelled as a steampunk book, as aside from a couple of wacky machines and a dirigible there is absolutely nothing that would tie it to steampunk, no development and construction that affects the whole world with these leaps forward in technology, so I kind of felt a little let down and mislead by that. However apart from that I thought the world building was great.

The narrative was a little uneven, there were some flashbacks towards the start of the novel that suddenly disappear a few chapters in with little to no reasoning behind them. It felt a little jagged and I was left feeling like they had just been shoved in to provide some information for the reader that they otherwise wouldn’t have had, there was no reason or development of these to make them a solid part of the narrative.

I was also a little concerned by some of the ideals and beliefs that Lena holds to. It was a great coming of age story but I felt that some aspects were handled a little indelicately. For example Lena is terrified because she thinks that being a Peculiar means she’ll have no soul, she’ll be unable to help the terrible things she’ll inevitably do, and Peculiar’s are treated as second class citizens. They’re rounded up and sent off to the mines, and they aren’t allowed to own property are just a couple of examples of how this is portrayed. And most are desperate to remove the things that make them peculiar, to stop the abnormalities and fit in as 'normal' people. However at the end of the novel Lena comes to accept her peculiarities not because it makes her strong and equal, but because they make her special. She also signs over her property, her life and her way of earning a living to a man (who yes seems quite nice sure) because she is a woman, a peculiar and is therefore not human or worthy enough to take control of her life, even out in the wilds of Scree where no-one would really know and/or care, and in doing this she is praised by those around her. She becomes completely dependent on this man to look after her, provide for her and not kick her out into the wilds of Scree – this place that should be rights be hers. It just seemed a little too close to the line. Lena is forward thinking and strong for a lot of the novel and it really felt like this undermined her. It was also the way that women are portrayed as weaker and subservient to the male characters, and all of the male characters, including Jimson are arrogant, cocky and completely despicable at some points. It left me with a bit of a nasty taste in my mouth when I finished, which is a sham given how well everything started out.

It took a very long time to really pick up speed and get going, which wouldn’t have been too much of a problem if the two storylines weren’t battling for supremacy in the second half of the book. All in all there were some great ideas and some lovely writing and concepts, but a lot of it ended up being obscured by some slightly twisted ideals and portrayals and a plot that was so tangled around itself that it never really took off.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Let's Talk About Audio Books

I have an admission – I’ve never really been a fan of audio books. Yes, yes, I love my kindle, but aside from that I am a print and pages kinda gal. A book never seems to have the same impact for me unless I’m reading it and exploring it myself.

This could also have something to do with a youthful encounter with a sample of the ‘Twilight’ audiobook which scarred me for life. Because the accent and the voice were just so wrong when I listened to it. I know the majority of books that I read are American, but I’m a British girl through and through, so on the whole (there are some notable exceptions) characters have a British accent in my head when I’m reading. So it’s such a jolt for me to then go and listen to an audiobook where the main characters don’t sound how I expect them to. Silly but true.

Anyway, I’m digressing. The fact remained that I really wasn’t fussed on audio books. If I listen to one it tends to be when I’m in bed falling asleep, which is not helpful when trying to listen to a book I don’t know, because I either stay awake all night to hear what happens, or the more frequent option, fall asleep part way through and the next morning I have no clue where on earth I got to. Then I end up listening to the same opening section over and over again and inevitably lose interest.

But then something happened. Something magical, in the form of ‘The Night Circus’ by Erin Morgenstern. Because this is a book I have read so many times I can quote most of it. I love it inside and out, and it’s one of my favourite books to dip in and out of. And then I listened to the audiobook, and it didn’t matter if I fell asleep part way through or started somewhere in the middle, because I knew it so well that I could pick up where we were and everything made sense. It was a sense of familiarity and comfort, listening to these words that I’ve read countless times, soothe me to sleep when the insomnia kicks in.

I had gripes with it sure, there were some voices that didn’t sit right with me, the most notable being Poppet and Widget who just weren’t Irish in my head, at any point. Ever. But other than that Jim Dale’s reading of ‘The Night Circus is utterly captivating. It transports me back to the circus, whether I’m in bed trying to get to sleep, or in the office tackling a mountain of paperwork, or suffering from a migraine so bad that I can’t read, or do anything really except lie there and listen to the soft voice of a well loved book.

And it got me thinking, yes ok I’m not a fan of coming to a book first time through the audio version, but what about those books that I know inside out, that are favourites that I read time and time again? Would they cause the same sense of irritation or would they, like ‘The Night Circus’ provide a sense of escapism that I could dip in and out of without having to take to much care where I came in or what happened.

So I started hunting around to see if there had been audiobooks made of some of my favourite books, and there were…
It started with ‘Silent in the Grave’ read by Ellen Archer, who voiced Lady Julia so perfectly that I will admit to giggling with glee when I started to listen to it. My love for this series knows no bounds, so to suddenly be able to listen to it at any time without carting around the book was fantastic. I haven’t managed to catch all of it all the way through yet, so I don’t want to comment on anything much more, but Archer is utterly brilliant as Lady Julia, and even as Brisbane. She captures the mood, the tone, the humour – everything. And it’s so fascinating to hear a story like this come alive for me through someone else’s voice.

And then I hit gold. I wondered idly what ‘The Scorpio Races’ would sound like, who would have read it, whether it would sound how I imagined it. So I tracked it down and it completely blew me away. Read by Steve West and Fiona Hardingham they completely capture everything I love about the book. The voices are absolutely perfect, particularly West’s which I’m not ashamed to admit does send shivers down my spine. The story that I love on paper, suddenly came alive in a way that I hadn’t truly anticipated, and swept me away back to Thisby and the races and the island that is as much a character in its own right. I never thought that an audiobook would move me or take me away as effectively as the book, and I’ve been, quite happily proved wrong. 
I’ve listened to this one countless times since I bought it, every night going back and finding new bits and old bits and letting the tale wash over me.

So I’ve been converted, quite thoroughly it seems, to the idea of audiobooks. I still wouldn’t want to listen to a book I don’t know, but in the mean time I have plenty of favourites to come back for over the next few months. Next on my wish list are Graceling, Fire and Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore, and read by Emma Powell (the samples sound fantastic.) And Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, read by Mandy Williams and Justine Eyre.

But what about you? Are you a fan of audiobooks or not? And if so what type do you most like to listen to?

Review: The Selection by Keira Cass

For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in the palace and compete for the heart of the gorgeous Prince Maxon.
But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn't want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.
Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she's made for herself- and realizes that the life she's always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

After all the insane amounts of crazy that kicked up around authors and less than complementary reviews and BAD THINGS ALL ROUND, I very nearly didn’t read this book. Behaviour like that just makes me want to blacklist and ignore the pretty cover and not bother with the book at all.

But the pretty cover won out, as they are so often prone to do, and I put my preconceptions aside and gave The Selection a shot, and actually it was pretty good.

It was a fun and quick read, very little in the way of depth and some rather major flaws rattling around too, but at the same time I really enjoyed it. I became completely engrossed in the story and found myself desperately racing through the pages to see what happens – only to be greeted by one of the most frustrating ends to a book I’ve come across in some time, but more on that later.

Despite being set up as a dystopian post war story, the writing is never dark and focuses more on the girly pretty, cat fight and gorgeous dresses kind of side. Yes there’s hardship and poverty, but it takes a step back and puts the reader on the other side of the fence, the one we rarely see in dystopians.

I liked the characters, I did have some issues with development for Aspen and the love triangle in general, but I warmed to America quite quickly. She had a great clear voice that really drew me into the story and made me care what happened to her. She offered a slightly cynical and fresh view on the whole process, and I liked seeing how she worked and thought and dealt with things. The secondary characters were on the whole pretty good, although again they could have done with a little more development to make them stand out and really lift the book up, but it was great to see some of the personalities come through and the ways the girls interacted with each other and the constant one-up-manship of the competition.

I did feel as though it had been set up that a lot more of the competition would have been televised, it felt like it should have been something akin to big brother with the cameras so that the viewers really saw what was happening. As it was it was a couple of interviews and that was it, so I didn’t really feel that that aspect was thoroughly explored which was a bit disappointing, I think that could have been a lot of fun.

My biggest problem was the world building, or rather the distinct lack of it. Aside from the knowledge that there was a war and there are castes, the reader is never shown anything about the repercussions, we never learn more about the history or the rebels or how any of this was set up and the world survived. In fact if it wasn’t billed as a dystopian and you took out the brief reference to the war there would be absolutely no hint that it should be a dystopian novel.

This isn’t helped that due to the confined setting we see very little of the world outside the palace. I think that the hardships and struggles of some of the characters would have come across a little better if we’d had chance to see a bit more, and find out a little more about the world.

My other issue was the love triangle. So many love triangles try and fail to bring tension and believability to help it along, but sadly this one really missed the mark for me. I never warmed to Aspen, there’s a line between being proud and being a jerk, and I’m afraid that he fell into jerk territory for me. He is then absent for the majority of the book whilst America tries to get over him (and pretty much succeeds) and then he shows up being aggressive and territorial and jerky again, and he really just didn’t appeal.

I did however quite like Maxon, although it didn’t feel like we got to see enough of his character and to truly realise his potential. However I much preferred the relationship that built up between him and America – it felt natural and unforced – and I’m really looking forward to seeing how that progresses in the next book.

I like cliffhangers as much as the next person, they’re great to really leave the reader desperate for the next book, but this one kind of felt like a movie where you get to a moment and then the screen goes black and ‘to be continued’ comes up, and there’s no real reason for them to stop there other than they want you to come back and see what happens, and results in me getting overly frustrated with the whole thing. Sadly this was one of those endings. I didn’t feel like there was enough conflict or drama or resolution to justify that ending where it happened, so it felt like a little bit of a cop out, which was a shame. However I do really want to find out what happens so I will be getting hold of the next book despite my grumps with this one.

On the whole though I really enjoyed it. It wasn’t anything overblown or extravagant, nothing life changing or particularly deep, but I still liked it, I still rooted for the characters and I still want to know what happens next.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Review: A Night Like This by Julia Quinn

Anne Wynter’s job as governess to three highborn young ladies can be a challenge – in a single week she finds herself hiding in a closet full of tubas, playing an evil queen in a play and tending to the wounds of the oh-so-dashing Earl of Winstead. After years of dodging unwanted advances, he's the first man who has truly tempted her, and it's getting harder and harder to remind herself that a governess has no business flirting with a nobleman.
Daniel Smythe-Smith might be in mortal danger, but that's not going to stop the young earl from falling in love. And when he spies a mysterious woman at his family's annual musicale, he vows to pursue her. But Daniel has an enemy, one who has vowed to see him dead. And when Anne is thrown into peril, he will stop at nothing to ensure their happy ending…

I am a massive fan of Julia Quinn’s books, I have to retire to my fainting couch every spring when a new book is released, and then promptly don’t come out until I’ve read it. I know some people whinge about predictable plots, but for me there is something comforting in knowing that the two people who fall in love will ultimately end up together – that true love really does conquer all. Julia Quinn’s books are in fact, Chicken Soup for my Soul.

And yet I was a little underwhelmed by this latest book. There were still the swoonworthy hero’s, the feisty heroines, the drama and intrigue and fluff. The witty banter and fantastic secondary characters. In short, everything I love about the books was present, and yet there was something very much missing for me.

It could just be that I was having an off day when I read this one because I have seen plenty of reviews from others saying that this is yet another fantastic example of Quinn’s writing. And yet something just didn’t quite hit home for me. If I had to pin point it I would probably say that the governess and Earl storyline slowed everything down a little bit. Instead of the drama and intrigue and waiting for each other to realize they’ve actually fallen in love, we had the love (or lust/like/staring dreamily into each other’s eyes) right from the start, and what followed was a novel full of descriptions of why they liked each other, and Anne repeatedly pointing out that an Earl and a Governess is just not allowed. It meant that everything became very bogged down over this one point, and the plot never really got going. Yes ok there are some very high tension scenes as we race towards the end of the book, but they weren’t quite enough to pull it up for me.

It still has all the makings of a great JQ novel. There are some hysterically funny moments, beautiful touching moments and edge of your seat high tension. There are the falling in love moments, and the bits where it’s all going wrong moments, and the fluff. But at the heart are the usual JQ hero and heroine who fall in love against the odds and would move heaven and earth to be with each other. Her books give me hope for true love, for romance, and that Mr Right is waiting out there somewhere.

Not every book an author writes is going to hit the right notes for everyone, and sadly I think that ‘A Night Like This’ is that book for me and Quinn. However I still recommend it as a great read, but if you want a fantastic example of Quinn’s writing I will always go with ‘Romancing Mr Bridgerton’ and ‘It’s In His Kiss’ – earlier work but utterly brilliant examples of why Julia Quinn is one of the leading regency romance authors in my eyes, and why I will still go back to her books time and time again.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Review: Fire by Kristin Cashore

It is not a peaceful time in the Dells. In King City, the young King Nash is clinging to the throne, while rebel lords in the north and south build armies to unseat him. War is coming. And the mountains and forest are filled with spies and thieves. This is where Fire lives, a girl whose beauty is impossibly irresistible and who can control the minds of everyone around her.
Exquisitely romantic, this companion to the highly praised 
Graceling has an entirely new cast of characters, save for one person who plays a pivotal role in both books. You don’t need to have read Graceling to love Fire. But if you haven’t, you’ll be dying to read it next.

I have to be honest, when I finished ‘Graceling’ and realized that the next novel had absolutely nothing really to do with Po and Katsa, I didn’t want to read it. I pouted, I whinged, and I stared mournfully at ‘Graceling’ and thought about how much I loved it.

And then I stopped wallowing and started ‘Fire’. And yes admittedly it did take me a couple of chapters to get over the fact that it was so different from ‘Graceling’ but then I stopped comparing and just got swept away by it.

Cashore proved to be a master storyteller with ‘Graceling’ and has firmly cemented her status with (if possible) the even better ‘Fire’. It’s an utterly brilliant companion novel that takes a step away from the world and characters in ‘Graceling’ to give substance, texture and backstory to the events that have already unfolded, and those yet to come in ‘Bitterblue’.

It was an utterly beautiful novel, full of elegantly understated prose that was simplistic but completely spellbinding. And just as in her first book, Cashore creates an incredible blend of fantasy with compelling characters and myths and politics, intrigue and danger, and love.

Fire was a fascinating her heroine, strong and independent, but at the same time a complete contrast to Katsa. She appears softer and more fragile at moments, but never loses her core strength. So determined to do what is right, to atone for her father’s mistakes and failings she was a completely captivating heroine who pulled me right into her story.

I felt as though I identified more with her than Katsa, with her inner strength as opposed to physical strength and burning determination and strength of will. Not to say that Katsa isn’t those things as well, but Fire embodies that determination and fierceness with less of the accompanying anger that Katsa exudes, and there is a fragility to Fire that made her at times stronger and more vulnerable, that made me want to protect her in a way I hadn’t felt for Katsa.

As with ‘Graceling’ Cashore creates a host of supporting characters that create a fantastic cast for the book; Brigan completely melted me in a way that I hadn’t really felt with Po. There was something more ‘human’ in these characters – ironic given Fire’s monster heritage. It was such a delicious blend that meant that I was completely pulled in and swept away, something I’ve only experienced in high fantasy with Tamora Pierce and Maria V Snyder.

I thought that how Cashore chose to handle Leck as the master villain was fantastic. We are introduced to him in ‘Graceling’ and we certainly start to see what terrible things he has done with his grace, but he never really developed fully into the monster that was hinted at. So to go back to his roots, to his very beginning and see more of his character, more of the events that shaped him as a person was fascinating. It made him that much more real for me, and the stakes that much higher. And despite already knowing what will happen that does not diminish the threat and fear that are tangible throughout his appearance in ‘Fire’.

Whilst I love the different elements of both books, there was something pitched absolutely perfectly that spoke to me more in this book than I’d experienced with the first book. The characters were brilliantly nuanced, showing both their strengths and fragility with their weaknesses. The intrigue of politics and war, the subtle shifts in power in the relationships and the development as each of them came into their own. It was a brilliant cast that worked perfectly to make this an emotionally engaging and satisfying read.

Cashore’s imagination is utterly incredible. The depth and breadth to this series so far is unbelievable. She has shot very quickly to one of my favourite authors, and this series to one of my all-time favourites. All that remains now is to see how ‘Bitterblue’ fares and whether the threads can all be pulled together to create one seamless whole.

A beautiful companion novel that stands on its own as well, Cashore has firmly marked herself as one to watch with this beautiful and breath taking series.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Review: City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare

The demon Lilith has been destroyed and Jace freed from captivity. But when the Shadowhunters arrive, they find only blood and broken glass. Not only is the boy Clary loves missing, so is the boy she hates: her brother Sebastian, who is determined to bring the Shadowhunters to their knees.
The Clave's magic cannot locate either boy, but Jace can't stay away from Clary. When they meet again Clary discovers the horror Lilith's magic has wrought - Jace and Sebastian are now bound to each other, and Jace has become a servant of evil. The Clave is determined to destroy Sebastian, but there is no way to harm one boy without destroying the other.
Only a few people believe that Jace can still be saved. Together, Alec, Magnus, Simon, and Isabelle bargain with the sinister Seelie Queen, contemplate deals with demons, and turn at last to the merciless, weapon-making Iron Sisters, who might be able to forge a weapon that can sever the bond between Sebastian and Jace. If the Iron Sisters can't help, their only hope is to challenge Heaven 
and Hell - a risk that could claim their lives.
And they must do it without Clary. For Clary is playing a dangerous game utterly alone. The price of losing not just her own life, but Jace's soul. She's willing to do anything for Jace, but can she still trust him? Or is he truly lost? What price is too high to pay, even for love?

Whilst my initial reaction to ‘City of Fallen Angels’ was to love that we had another book in the series, the further I got from it the more I realized there were so many aspects that didn’t work for me until I was left feeling a little less than enthusiastic about ‘City of Lost Souls’. It wasn’t that it wasn’t a good book, it was still a great book, and Cassie Clare still remained one of my favourite authors after reading it – it just didn’t pack quite the same punch I’ve come to expect from her otherwise brilliant writing.

However I shouldn’t have worried, where CoFA was a bit of a let down after the explosive first trilogy in the series, CoLS really worked to pull it back together again. It was tighter, the writing was better, the humour was back and there was infinitely more action that had me on the edge of my seat as I raced through the pages.

Clare is one of those talented authors who consistently proves time and time again just how good she is at what she does. She has this ability to make me fall in love with her complex characters that have grown and evolved over the course of the books, her vast and detailed world building, and the complex history and myths that have been interwoven into the patchwork of Shadowhunter lore. An ability to create a connection between reader and book so that when I open up a new book it feels like I’m coming home. I can identify with the characters, the emotions and impact of some of the things they’re going through. But most of all she creates this brilliant blend of fantasy and reality, so that it really feels as though this world could exist, that I could step through and find myself face to face with a demon, or a vampire, or a snarky Shadowhunter. I love that sense of freedom and escape that I’ve come to associate with her books, and whilst I didn’t experience that level in the fifth book, the sixth has definitely brought it all back into play.

I loved the ever widening circle of characters that the story shifts to centre on, it really gives more scope to the books, and gives the reader a chance to get to know the characters inside and out. I always love more Simon – for me he’s always been one of the best characters in the entire series, the arc and growth and the rollercoaster of things he’s had to adapt and deal with, he’s fascinating and funny and yet despite being a vampire, so completely real and human. So I loved seeing him come into his own even more in this book.

I also loved seeing some more of Alec and Magnus. They are a fascinating couple, the power plays and games, but also the complete love and devotion between them as well, so it was really interesting (and heart wrenching) to watch Clare play with this dynamic, to test the limits of the relationship and the individual strengths of Alec and Magnus. It was heart breaking but also so completely real – yes ok the issue coming between them is probably not one that every day couples will have to face, but that doesn’t stop the relationship from being any less real and engrossing to watch play out. And despite the conclusion for them in this book, I have no doubt that it will continue to be one of the most fascinating relationships of the series as we watch them try to work it out.

And yes, I loved watching the new dynamics between Jace and Clary as the stakes got even higher, and their twosome expanded to become a rather terrifying threesome. One of the skills I love best is how Cassie can blur the lines between right and wrong, and can turn even the most twistedly horrifying character into someone who might be redeemed at times. It’s a skill that left me with more than a few soft moments for Sebastian – for all of his flaws – and I really hope that we get to see a few more facets of Sebastian in the final book.

The book is darker, there are some more horrifying moments, some truly hard to read moments and some completely gut wrenching moments. I really hope this is an indication of where the final book is going, because this slightly darker turn definitely brought some fascinating elements out to play that I want to see more of.

I’d also love to see more of this shift away from Clary and Jace, and more of the supporting characters coming into their own, and of course, some happy endings after all the blood and guts and gore would be lovely to…

So I can safely say that I’m really looking forward to the conclusion of the series. City of Lost Souls has definitely upped the ante and the pace and I cannot wait to see where we go from here.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Happy Team Human Day!

Yes, it is finally here, after far too many months of build up 'Team Human' by the wonderful duo Sarah Rees Brennan and Justine Larbalestier is finally here!

This will without a doubt, be one of the best books you read this year, so get to your nearest bookstore and get your copy today!

You can read my spoiler free review here!

And you can read an interview with the fabulous Sarah Rees Brennan to celebrate the release of 'Team Human' here!

Just because Mel lives in New Whitby, a city founded by vampires, doesn't mean she knows any of the blood-drinking undead personally. They stay in their part of town; she says in hers. Until the day a vampire shows up at her high school. Worse yet, her best friend, Cathy, seems to be falling in love with him. It's up to Mel to save Cathy from a mistake she might regret for all eternity
On top of trying to help Cathy (whether she wants it or not), Mel is investigating a mysterious disappearance for another friend and discovering the attractions of a certain vampire wannabe. Combine all this with a cranky vampire cop, a number of unlikely romantic entanglements, and the occasional zombie, and soon Mel is hip-deep in an adventure that is equal parts hilarious and touching.
Acclaimed authors Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan team up to create a witty and poignant story of cool vampires, warm friendships, and the changes that test the bonds of love.

Seraphina Giveaway Winner!

Thank you to everyone who entered my giveaway for an ARC of Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. I loved seeing everyone's answers!

I've drawn the winner at random, so it's with great pleasure I can announce that Sally @ Always Lost in Stories has won the giveaway!

Thank you for leaving your email Sally, I'll be sending you an email shortly to arrange the copy to be sent to you!

Thank you again to everyone who's entered, and I'll be holding another giveaway soon!

Monday, 2 July 2012

Author Q & A with Sarah Rees Brennan

 You guys, guess what? ‘Team Human’ is released TOMORROW. I can barely contain my excitement about it, because it is officially the best thing since sliced bread. And I can barely contain my excitement about the lovely lady who has agreed to answer some questions about the book! Sarah Rees Brennan, one half of the crazy duo who has written 'Team Human' is one of the best and funniest young adult writer's around today.
So sit back, enjoy, and count down the hours until tomorrow’s release day!

“How did the book come about? The concept and the collaboration?”

Oh God, I know it's horrible to say our vampire book was inspired by Twilight, but it really was: Justine was watching New Moon, and I said my favourite scene was when Bella's friend is like 'why do you have to go chasing around on motorbikes just because your boyfriend broke up with you!' And then we talked about our friends who had boyfriends we didn't like--I think everyone has friends like that, it's universal, and it's especially bad in school when you can't get away from them being all 'Ethan is soooo dreamy.' And then we thought, what if the boyfriend of our friend that we hated really was a vampire? And I made Justine watch the Vampire Diaries. That was a very important part of the process. I love those vampires and their diaries.

“How did the writing process work? Did you write separate sections or work on it together? Or did you have specific characters that were ‘yours’?”

We'd alternate chapters. Usually one of us would write a couple and the other would write a couple more: I often write overlong so Justine would split up my chapters and cut them down, and I'd add to hers, so there are no chapters that ended up being *just* anybody's.

“Did you write it apart or together? And did you meet up to block it out?”

We were apart--SUPER apart! Justine lives in Australia and America, and I live in Ireland. Luckily, I keep a vampire's schedule, so Justine would be like 'we need to talk' and I'd be like 'It's three a.m. So I'm ready, gimme a call!'

“Who was the voice of reason in the process?”

I'm sure Justine would say it was her. ;) I admit once such was definitely the case.

JUSTINE: You can't write a make out scene with the surf pounding on the shore... it'll seem NAUGHTY.

SARAH: Why I never, Larbalestier you filth monger!

SARAH: ... I've typed in some things into google and I now realise you are entirely correct. Now leave me... I must wash out my eyes.

“How were the harder decisions made when writing, was there a nominated person who had the final say?”

Oh, no. I think if there had been the other person would have strangled them. The only fair thing to do is keep offering solutions until one is acceptable to both parties... and everyone has to be open to compromise. You get to a place where one person says 'No, it's all my own way' and it's all over... collaboration means cooperation. So, lots of just talking things through. We were like the Vampire UN for a while there.

“Did it help the writing process having someone else involved, or did it make it harder?”
Easier in some ways, and harder in others!

“Where did the title and tag line come from, because they are AWESOME.”
Thank you VERY much! Scott Westerfeld, Justine's brilliant husband, came up with the title, and Justine and I were both like 'Huh! ... Actually we really like it.' And the tag line 'friends don't let friends date vampires' - was ME! That's right, ME! (Drunk on power, Sarah collapses into a heap of confetti.) It's due to Harper being awesome that it's on the book. I was like 'Imma put this joke on these Team Human stickers I'm making' and they were like 'Can we put on the book?' and I was like 'Can you!' and they were like 'No, but can we?' and I was like 'Yes! Yeah, sorry, I thought that was implied...'

“We know you have a thing for irredeemable characters, is there one in Team Human for us to root for?”

Hmmm. Maybe. Vampires are always up to dodgy business. There's this one vampire called Minty who fakes a British accent, totally sneaks illicit bites on the sly, and who is our editor's favourite character...

“Has the response to ‘Team Human’ surprised you at all? And what were your agents reactions?”

I've just been really happy that people seemed happy we were doing it, and excited to read it! And then there were amazing starred reviews, and I was even happier! (Writing books full of jokes means sometimes you don't get taken seriously... breaking news, I know! But I was just so glad people saw what we were trying to do.)

I must say however that my agent, Kristin Nelson, had a reaction I found totally insulting!

SARAH: So I secretly wrote a book with a friend of mine I'm sure you're pretty surprised.


SARAH: Nope?

KRISTIN: Being your agent has led me to be very zen. This isn't such a crazy thing to do. Not compared to some of the other stuff I fear you doing. Hey, a book, great! I'll go sell it.

SARAH: ... Good?

KRISTIN: Remember don't put any fireworks up your nose and don't buy a sports car and drive it into a tree.

SARAH: ... You can't tell me what to do.

“Would you collaborate again in the future?”

Me and Justine, or me and someone else? (Call me, J.K. Rowling. ;)) Collaboration is generally a fun thing to do, if you have an idea you're excited about and you're both willing to compromise! (Seriously J.K. Rowling, call me. Any time. Night or day.)

“We know you have Unspoken coming out in Autumn 2012, is that a standalone or will there be more books to come in that series?”

I do! It's book one of the Lynburn Legacy series, and it's a trilogy. I love a trilogy. I have a rule--book 1, set up, book 2, make out, book 3, defeat evil. Unspoken's a Gothic mystery about a girl reporter who finds out her imaginary friend is a real boy living in the Gothic manor up on the hill. There are also dark deeds going on in the woods. No geographical location is safe! And as you can imagine, there is much scope for making out and evil-battlin'!

I hope you guys will enjoy it. And I hope you will enjoy Team Human!

A huge thank you to Sarah for taking time out from her hectic schedule to talk to us! And if that Q&A made you laugh, smile or even snort just a little bit, go and buy it tomorrow! It will be the best purchase you can possibly make!

To see more of Sarah’s special brand of crazy visit her Live Journal here .

And her tumblr page here!