Thursday, 13 September 2012

Noughts and Crosses

Malorie Blackman
10 / 10

From the blurb: Callum is a nought - an inferior white citizen in a society controlled by the black Crosses. Sephy is a Cross - and the daughter of one of the most powerful, ruthless men in the country. In their hostile, violent world, noughts and Crosses simply don't mix. But when Sephy and Callum's childhood friendship grows into passionate love, they're determined to find a way to be together. 

And then the bomb explodes...

I know, I know! It shouldn't have taken me this long to get around to reading this book. But I finally saw it on offer in the supermarket and bought both this and its sequel, 'Knife Edge'. 
And then I devoured them both. 

Usually when a book is so highly spoken of, I'm a little wary. But Noughts and Crosses deserves every kind word. Callum and Sephy are fascinating. How they managed to grow up to be thoughtful and fierce in a world that teaches everyone to hate... it's basically a miracle. Much like their relationship, which flourishes even under extreme strain. But, like the blurb says, then the bomb explodes. 

Callum and Sephy are slowly, agonisingly torn apart, and their lives take completely different directions. One makes the wrong choices, one seems to make no choices at all. And yet I felt they couldn't have done anything else. Like Katniss, they are the unwilling heroes of this book, thrust into the centre of attention when they'd rather be on a desert island. You'll find yourself rooting for them even when it seems impossible to get out in one piece, wanting them to do whatever they must to survive. 
Even as they separate, Sephy's attempts to broach the gap and Callum's rebuffs will make your heart ache. 

And Jude! Callum's family are as compelling as he is. His brother, Jude, is a ball of hate, desperate for revenge. I loved him, both in this book and its sequel. His sister ghosts through life, a reminder of the injustice done to noughts every day. She almost serves to justify Jude's anger. His parents, Ryan and Meggie, are struggling to raise children that will make the right decisions without knowing what right is. Seeing the flashes of recognisable family life in this world made the whole thing worse, somehow - I could imagine my own parents fighting the way Ryan and Meggie do. 
Sephy's parents, on the other hand, you love to hate. Her father has as much power as one man can, but does nothing good with it. Her mother copes in the only way she can, drowning her sorrows. And her sister, Minnie, is completely removed from the plight of noughts. It's as though she lives in her own dream world. 

The storyline is fast-paced and riveting. It felt as though the world got shaken up entirely every few chapters, often enough to leave me breathless. One twist in particular, involving the star crossed lovers themselves, felt like a punch to the gut. And the ending... well, don't do what I did, and read the last page! If you don't see it coming, it'll just about kill you. Even knowing it was coming, it still felt horrible. 

Each chapter alternates between Sephy and Callum's point of view - it jumps from one to the other a little too often for my liking, sometimes feeling a bit jarring. But most of the time it works really effectively, and at one point in particular it works a bit too well. Nearly broke my heart, this book. 

My copy also included the short story, 'Callum'. It was nice enough, but I didn't really feel like it added anything. 

Teaser quote: 'I grip Sephy's letter in my hand, lying on the ground, listening to the sound of all my hopes and dreams moving further and further away. Like listening to the sound of a door being slammed in my face.'

An Abundance of Katherines

John Green
9 / 10

From the blurb:When it comes to relationships, Colin Singleton's type is girls named Katherine. And when it comes to girls named Katherine, Colin is always getting dumped. Nineteen times, to be exact. On a road trip miles from home, this anagram-happy, washed-up child prodigy has ten thousand dollars in his pocket, a bloodthirsty feral hog on his trail, and an overweight, Judge-Judy loving best friend riding shotgun - but no Katherines. Colin is on a mission to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which he hopes will predict the future of any relationship, avenge Dumpees everywhere, and may finally win him the girl.   

I loved this book!

For a while I've been picking John Green's books up, reading the blurb, and putting them back. Partly because I have a million other books to read, and partly because the price never seems to drop. However, I've finally read three of his books, and loved each one. 

Colin is a compelling protagonist - he's decided that having graduated from high school, he is washed up. He was a child prodigy, but has never managed to make the leap to genius and will therefore never make a valuable contribution to anything for the rest of his life. 
Until he discovers that relationships seem to follow a curve. Then it becomes all he can think about - can he predict any relationship's progress? Can he know how long it will last and who will dump the other person? 

I loved Colin's mixture of sadness and anger, and his need to rationalise everything. Hassan, on the other hand, barrels through life without thinking of the future. His father is rich, he reasons, so why put effort in? He has decided the same thing Colin has: he will never be remembered for a great invention. But his reaction is decidedly different - he enjoys this feeling, the lack of responsibility. Compared to these two, many of the characters are a little underdeveloped. Lindsey is a stupid, slightly wry teenage girl (though with a surprising softness, a vulnerability that I didn't expect when we meet one of the older residents of the town) and The Other Colin is a typical teenage jerk. I've met a dozen people like them in my own life, and it's almost disappointing to see them in the pages of a John Green book. 

This is by far the cleverest book I've read in a long time. The anagrams, the science of predicting relationships, it all blew my mind and instead of bogging down the story as I'd expected, it produced the same fervour in me that it did in Colin. 

Green's sense of wit shines in this book, more so than the others I've read, in his footnotes and also throughout the story. 
However, the ending was not what I expected. Overall, I found this book a bit too saccharine. Everyone's basically good, there's no real horror or pain. And the ending... well, I don't want to ruin it. But it made me want to wince. I put the book down knowing that I'll read it again, but I'm glad there's no sequel. 

Try this if you liked 'Perks of Being a Wallflower' by Stephen Chbosky, 'One Day' by David Nicholls or Jeffrey Eugenides' 'The Virgin Suicides'.

I'm Back!

It's been a while since I was last on here!
My summer holidays have been much busier than I expected - I've been to Taunton for a music festival, London and Birmingham to visit family. I've had my nineteenth birthday (and got a Kindle! Yay!) And now I'm getting ready to move back to my student house to start my second year of university. So expect a load of reviews of books I've read in the last two months; I've got a lot of catching up to do!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012


Anna Carey
7 / 10

From the blurb: Sixteen years after a deadly virus wiped out most of Earth's population, the world is a perilous place. Eighteen year old Eve has never been beyond the heavily guarded perimeter of her school but the night before graduation, Eve learns the shocking truth about her school's real purpose - and the horrifying fate that awaits her. 
Fleeing the only home she's ever known, Eve sets off on a long, treacherous journey, searching for a place she can survive. Along the way she encounters Caleb, a rough rebellious boy living in the wild. Separated from men her whole life, Eve has been taught to fear them, but Caleb slowly wins her trust... and her heart. He promises to protect her, but when soldiers begin hunting them, Eve must choose between true love and her life.

I have to say this before I can even think about the rest of the book: the ending is abominable. Seriously. Any reader will see it coming a mile off and still hate it when it happens. It's clichéd and horrible, and goes against the whole journey of the book. 

Also, the relationship between Eve and Caleb is sweet, but overly fast. They're suddenly planning their whole lives together when they barely know each other. At least Caleb has enough sense to apply the brakes. I would have liked to know more about the Plague that created this dystopian world. 

Anyway, onto why I liked this book. Eve is a smart, strong woman struggling against the brainwashing that's been going on since she was five. Though on the other hand, she's somewhat careless when it comes to other people, and when she breaks down she does it properly! She says she's slow to trust, but once that barrier's crossed the first time she's basically fine. The King, the ruler of this terrible new world, wants Eve. Supposedly so she can carry his children. But he puts a great deal of manpower onto tracking her down, and Eve doesn't stop to question this the way I did. Why is one girl so important? I hope we find out in the next book.
 And Caleb is the angry but gentle product of horrible conditions for young men. But my very favourite character is Benny, the serious but lovely six year old who concentrates so fiercely when he reads or writes and who clings to Eve. When he meets her he asks, "Are you my mother?" and it's heartbreaking. Leif, too, makes a fantastic villain, a guy impossible to understand and great to hate. And just when you think all of the characters are damaged, there's a reminder of Pip and Ruby whose innocence is refreshing, but will destroy their lives. 

The pacing in this book is great; the action moves ahead at a pace maybe a shade too slow but not so much that it becomes sluggish. The only slight problem there is that high-action scenes are slightly clumsily written, becoming a little muddled. The way Eve surveys remnants of the old world, our world, is hilarious - look out for her description of a television. And though I may hate the cliffhanger, it has made me desperate for the sequel. 

Teaser quote: 'My,' he crooned, his voice completely out of tune, 'balls are sweating, my balls are sweating, I can't keep my balls from sweating, noooo, noooo, noooo!' 
'Why is that funny? What are "balls"? Like the ball of your foot?'

You'll probably like this book if you liked 'Immortal Rules' by Julie Kagawa or 'Crossed' by Ally Condie, the road-trip sequel to 'Matched'.

The sequel, Once, was released in June 2012.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Manga - Shutterbox

I try to read manga when I can because usually the artwork is beautiful. One fantastic feature of manga are the sidebars written by the authors - they're like a mini-blog, so you get snippets of information about the books and the writers themselves. In this section, I'm going to show some of my favourites when I can.

Rikki and Tavisha Simons

From the blurb: On the surface, Megan Amano seems like a typical Los Angeles girl, attending college and spending a good time of her afternoons in therapy. However, when Megan dreams, she travels to a place unlike any other - a supernatural and surreal college, one any recent high school graduate would die to attend. And usually they must... for Merridiah University is the afterlife's premier educational institute. But for Megan a great exception has been made. 

I have to say, this series is incredibly difficult to get hold of. It seems to be out of print despite being a fairly new series, but if you can find a copy, buy it! It is available on e-readers, though. Now I just need to get an e-reader. It's an American manga so it reads left to right. 

This series is deliciously quirky, with a bird acting as someone's conscious, a "camera ghost" and a skeleton who puts the scare in scarecrow. There are flying rabbits called Beebos. But it's Megan who gives the books their charm as she stumbles through this mysterious world in  her pyjamas. There she meets the enigmatic brothers Dane and AJ who seem to neither like or dislike each other. Each acts as a guide of sorts (though one does so kind of reluctantly) but they only give her very select information - not even enough to survive at first. In a world that seems lush but can be deadly, how can she trust the personifications of the beautiful, dangerous environment?

I'm only on the third book of five published so far, but it's a great story from the start. 

Friday, 13 July 2012

Friday, I'm In Love! - Until I Die

This is the first of what I hope will become a weekly post called 'Friday, I'm in love!' (is the link to The Cure song too tenuous? Will people hear that when they read this? I hope so.) The point is to cast a spotlight on book characters who seem specifically designed to fall in love with. Whether they're gentlemen, nerds or bad boys, I want to show you some of my favourites! (I'm also hoping to twin it with a weekly Wednesday post tentatively titled 'Wednesday's Women')
First up is... 
Jules from Until I Die by Amy Plum.

To look at he's described as "cute": wiry build, curly brown hair and often sporting a sunburn. More importantly, though, he's "animated" if you watch him smile or tell a story to send his friends into peals of laughter. He has a studio he likes to escape to, and that's where he creates his paintings, or he hides in the nearest art museum. 

But the most appealing part of Jules's personality is his gallantry. He's a gentleman, always showing concern for Kate's well-being. He died in the war to save another soldier and since then he's thrown himself into awful situations to save lives. He holds doors open, bows playfully and listens before speaking. And my favourite facet? The way he flirts with Kate. I can never tell for certain if he really fancies her or not - is he just trying to make her feel special to cheer her up, or is he letting her know he's there should she decide she wants him without pressuring her? 

I adore him even though he's not the main man, maybe more so because of that. He's content to be supporting and doesn't always need the attention to be on him. 

So who're your book crushes? Do you prefer leading men to background boys? And are you a Vincent fan, a Jules fan... or an Ambrose fan? Let me know!

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Sweet Evil

Wendy Higgins
8 / 10

From the blurb: What if there were teens whose lives literally depended on being bad influences? This is the reality for sons and daughters of fallen angels. 
Tenderhearted Southern girl Anna Whitt was born with the sixth sense to see and feel emotions of other people. She's aware of a struggle within herself, an inexplicable pull toward danger, but Anna, the ultimate good girl, has always had the advantage of her angel side to balance the darkness within. It isn't until she turns sixteen and meets the alluring Kaidan Rowe that she discovers her terrifying heritage and her willpower is put to the test. He's the boy your daddy warned you about. If only someone had warned Anna. 
Forced to face her destiny, will Anna embrace her halo or her horns?

Anna was surprisingly likeable for such a good girl. She struggles against the lure of alcohol and drugs, stronger in her than other people. Once she lets loose, the effects are terrifying and hilarious. And the friends she makes along the way are even more compelling. Kope is a sweetie, if a little safe - hopefully we'll see him truly explode in the next book. I adored Blake, though I wish he'd done a little more. And the twins, Marna and Ginger? One you love to hate, the other you want to protect. 

I never truly fell for Kaiden, though. Some of the moments between him and Anna were truly heartbreaking, but I couldn't bring myself to root for him. Partly because I was reading as an English girl, I think; he's the epitome of clichés that Americans apply to Brits. Some of the things he said sounded so forced or old-fashioned that I found myself wincing. 

The idea of Nephilim has been approached in a lot of books I've read lately, though Wendy Higgins adds another fresh twist. I love stories that examine the differences between each demon, and there's a whole cast of fallen angels in this book - that will only expand in the sequel! 

However, it's only now that I'm thinking back that I realise the plot was maybe a little thin. There's a high school party, a road trip, another party and then... the end. It also felt like it was cut off rather suddenly and harshly, as though it was too long and the end was lopped off to become the beginning of the sequel. It's mostly a novel of character exploration - which, I like, don't get me wrong, but it didn't have the same fierce intensity of similar books. 

Teaser quote: We were damned for simply being born. So why was I holding fast to rules that didn't really apply to me anyway? Why shouldn't I take from this life what I could in the time I had? This had nothing to do with what Pharzuph demanded of us, and everything to do with what Kaiden and I had become to each other. 

This was reminiscent of Brenna Yovanoff's 'Smoulder' and Nephilim also star in Becca Fitzpatrick's series, the first of which is titled 'Hush, Hush'. 

The sequel, tentatively titled 'Sweet Hope' is under consideration with the publishers. Check for up-to-date news.


Jennifer Bosworth
5 / 10

From the blurb: My name is Mia Price and I am a lightning addict. I want the lightning to find me. I crave it like lungs crave oxygen. Nothing makes you feel more alive than being struck.

I didn't know what to expect when I started this book. I knew it would contain a post-earthquake LA, a girl addicted to being stuck by lightning, and a choice that would decide the earth's fate... or something. (I'm still a little foggy about her big choice and its direct impact.)

But if I'm being honest, I was a little disappointed. There were two different cults trying desperately to recruit Mia and a strange boy begging her to stay out of the conflict altogether. She struggles when it comes to deciding who to trust - and yet I couldn't bring myself to care. There was no real sense of tension or fear. Maybe it's because I didn't find Mia an interesting character. She starts out as an unwilling heroine until her family are threatened (her younger, innocent brother who gets dragged into the fight and her mother who mentally "checked out" after losing someone she loves in a mine building collapse) but has none of the likeability of Katniss. 

Katrina, on the other hand, I found curious and compelling. She's a child warrior of sorts, dark and sophisticated, fiery and cool, but actually vulnerable under the dark hair and striking clothes. But she wasn't really in the book enough to salvage it. That's something I found a lot in this book, actually - I'd be fascinated by a character, like Militiaman Brent, but they'd barely show up. 

And what of Jeremy, the gorgeous but sweet love interest with "boxy, Clark Kent glasses"? Well... he was kind of dull. He kept so many secrets from Mia and after a few of the things he does to her, I couldn't bring myself to love him the way Mia inexplicably and practically unquestionably does. He's not the only character with strange methods, either. Kale claims to want to recruit Mia, but instead of treating her with respect he just aims for force. She agrees to help and in return he... attacks her? Really? 

Having said that, I did read the book til the very end. The climax was good, if not amazing, and there were a few laughs to be had. There was nothing hugely exciting about Bosworth's post-apocalyptic vision except the Rove, though I did really like that idea (not telling what it is, though!) and the poetry that links to it. 

I did enjoy reading this book. But I probably won't read it again anytime soon. 

Teaser quote: People probably wondered if I had scales under my clothes. Nope, just Lichtenberg figures. 

Try this if you liked 'Blood Red Road' by Moira Young or 'Maze Runner' by James Dashner.

Read and Re-Read - Smoulder

This is where I'll show books I read over and over again, because I just love them!
(Also known as 'The Space Between' outside the UK)
Brenna Yovanoff
10 / 10

From the blurb: Daphne is the half-demon, half-fallen angel daughter of Lucifer and Lilith. Life for her is an endless expanse of time - until her brother Obie is kidnapped, and Daphne realises she may be partly responsible. Determined to find him, Daphne travels from her home in Pandemonium to the vast streets of Earth, where everything is colder and more terrifying. 
With the help of the human boy she believes was the last person to see her brother alive, Daphne glimpses into his dreams, discovering clues to Obie's whereabouts. As she delves deeper into her demonic powers, she must navigate the jealousies and alliances of the violent archangels who stand in her way. But she also discovers, unexpectedly, what it means to love and be human in a world where human is the hardest thing to be. 

The mythology in this book is so in-depth and fascinating - there's a whole host of demons and angels and somewhere in between lies Daphne. Lilith is given a new lease of life; she's a real person under all the evil and though she is often cruel and careless, she truly cares for both Daphne and Obie. It's also interesting to see Brenna Yovanoff's museum of human artifacts, which mundane items are held up to show human life, and her terminal - it's the only way to travel from Pandemonium to Earth, and is laid out much like the London Underground. 

Once Daphne's on Earth, she's hilariously clueless. Instead of being slapstick, though, it's curious and terrifying. Despite being so dangerous, she is utterly naive and I felt a need to take her hand and lead her through our world. It's great to see the world through her eyes, the eyes of someone who can see all the beauty and horror and hope we've grown accustomed to. 

But what really steals the show in this book is the relationship between Daphne and Truman. It's breathtakingly fragile and they're both such destructive people. I found myself rooting for them from the beginning, wanting them to join in a crash of light and fireworks and excitement. They start in a spiralling descent, though, each unwilling to rely on the other, instead preferring to fall apart. There are so many beautiful moments between them, and each one feels breakable and brief. 

Teaser quote: I pull back the shower curtain and take Truman's hand. When I close the curtain around us, he raises his eyebrows but doesn't say anything. Behind the curtain, everything feels safer, like the world is very small.
We stand facing each other in the bathtub and he watches me intently. Moves his lips but no sound comes out. He raises his hands and mine rise to meet them, fingers tangling. Here is the best - the realest thing of my life and I don't know how to let him touch me. It scares me, how much I want things. 

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The Immortal Rules

Julie Kagawa
6 / 10

From the blurb: In a future world, vampires reign. Humans are blood cattle. And one girl will search for the key to save humanity. She must decide what - and who - are worth dying for. 

My vampire creator told me this: 'Sometime in your life, Allison Sekemoto, you will kill a human being. The question is not if it will happen, but when. Do you understand?' I didn't then, not really. I do now.

I wanted so much to love this book. I've heard nothing but rave reviews about this book. It has a feisty heroine, an adorable love interest, and severe violence. What's not to love? 

But it was so slow to warm up. It took 194 pages for what I felt was the set-up to end, and the really meaty middle section to begin. Those first 194 pages were filled with boring routines, chunks of information about a world Allison was about to leave behind, and characters who were well-rounded, but needlessly active. 

However, once I got past that section, I really began to enjoy this book. As I said, Allison is a strong protagonist; she's angry and handy with a katana, and has a sense of honour and loyalty. Also, she's a survivalist. Once she accepts that becoming a vampire, the very thing she hates the most, was the only way to survive, there's no angsty self-loathing. The relationship between her and Zeke, a human boy, is beautifully self destructive and I loved watching it unfold (That sounds awful when I read it back, but you know what I mean!). Zeke is the highlight of this book, for me. He's smart enough to look assured on the outside, but behind all that are the introspective questions you'd expect from a young adult. He's stoic and brave, loyal to a fault, and generally a good guy. 

The action is fantastic, once it finally gets going. It's fast paced and tense, and kept me up well past my bedtime! Plus it didn't fall into the trap of playing safe. I never knew what would happen next, who would die. Nobody was to be taken for granted, not even the lovely little Caleb. And Jebbediah, the leader of their ragtag family, was impossible to read. Could we trust him, and did we want to? (Well, I didn't want to. I didn't like him. But I enjoyed not liking him!) 

Overall, not a bad book. I did enjoy reading it - I just hope that the sequel won't have the same long-winded build up!

Teaser quote: 'Be warned,' he said in a low voice, 'even if I turn you now, there is still a chance for you to rise as a rabid. But I will not leave you,' he promised in an even softer voice. 'I will stay with you until the transformation, whatever it may be, is complete.' 

Try this if you liked Julie Kagawa's 'Iron Fey' series, or Andrew Fukuda's 'The Hunt'.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Manga - Ouran High School Host Club

I try to read manga when I can because usually the artwork is beautiful. One fantastic feature of manga are the sidebars written by the authors - they're like a mini-blog, so you get snippets of information about the books and the writers themselves. In this section, I'm going to show some of my favourites when I can.

Ouran High School Host Club
Bisco Hatori
From the blurb: In this screwball romantic comedy, a poor girl at a rich school ends up working for the school's swankiest club - and gets mistaken for a boy! 
One day, Haruhi, a scholarship student at exclusive Ouran High School, breaks an $80,000 vase that belongs to the "Host Club", a mysterious campus group consisting of six super-rich (and gorgeous) guys. To pay back the damages, she is forced to work for the club, and it's there she discovers just how wealthy the members are and how different the rich are from everyone else. 

This is a cute, funny manga aimed mostly at girls - a self-proclaimed 'rom-com'. It's hilarious, and regularly finds me laughing out loud. It's fanciful and often ridiculous, and never takes itself too seriously. More recently though (17 of the 18 volumes have been published) it's been getting deeper. There's been a lot of character development and it's probed issues of identity, family and duty. The biggest theme is familial bonds; which is more important, family or friends, and how far should you go to please your relatives? 

Rarely does a book make me cry, but Host Club has managed it. Haruhi is such an independent, fascinating heroine. She barely notices the difference between genders and doesn't enforce stereotypes, and barely acknowledges her emotions. So when she discovers she's fallen slowly in love with one of the boys in the host club (no spoilers!) and can't be with him, it breaks my heart to see her eventually fall apart - she's so strong for so long that seeing her upset is horrible. 

The other characters are fantastic, too. There's charismatic Tamaki who is positive to the point of annoying. Threatening Kyoya is dark and a genius, with unreadable motives. Hikaru and Kaoru are twins with a desperate need to be seen as one entity but two identities, on an endless quest for fun. Hunny is almost painfully adorable, a boy who loves anything cute but is surprisingly mature. And then there's Mori, who's so quiet you can almost forget he's in a scene, but he's chivalrous and kind, with amazing insight into other people. 

Overall, this series is beautiful. I can hardly wait for the next book - but I don't want to read it, because it's the last one!

Ouran High School Host Club volume 18 comes out at the end of June 2012.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Read and Re-Read - Divergent

This is where I'll show books I read over and over again, because I just love them!

Veronica Roth
10 / 10

From the blurb: When sixteen year old Tris makes her choice, she cannot forsee how drastically her life will change. Or that the perfect society in which she lives is about to unfold into a dystopian world of electrifying decisions, stunning consequences, heartbreaking betrayals and unexpected romance.

Tris is the epitome of strong heroines: plucky, independent, brave, selfless, loyal. She's determined and I just adore her. Four is a stoic young man, always looking out for others. So any book where two characters like this fall for each other is already onto a winner.

But this book is so much more than that. Tris lives in a world where at sixteen, everyone must choose a faction based on which personality trait they value most: selflessness, bravery, honesty, intelligence or kindness. When she discovers their supposedly utopian society is actually hiding dark secrets, she's horrified. She never falters though, despite knowing that her chosen path will not be an easy one. She has her friends to lean on, at least - but some prove themselves unworthy of her trust. The book reaches a heartbreaking climax where nobody is safe and nothing can be predicted.

This is a real pulse-pounding read that will leave you gasping for breath and, at points, trying not to cry.

Teaser Quote: Somewhere inside me is a merciful, forgiving person. Somewhere there is a girl who tries to understand what people are going through, who accepts that people do evil things and that desperation leads them to darker places than they ever imagined. I swear she exists, and she hurts for the repentant boy I see in front of me.
But if I saw her, I wouldn't recognise her.
'Stay away from me,' I say quietly. My body feels rigid and cold, and I am not angry, I am not hurt, I am nothing.

'Insurgent', the next book in the series, was released in May 2012. It was fantastic, though I still prefer 'Divergent'.

So what books do you read over and over again? Let me know!

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The Iron Queen

Julie Kagawa
8 / 10

This review may contain spoilers if you haven't read the first two books in the series. A review of The Iron King can be found here, and The Iron Daughter here.

From the blurb: My name is Meghan Chase. I thought it was over. That my time with the fey, the impossible choices I had to make, the sacrifices of those I loved, was behind me. But a storm is approaching, an army of Iron fey that will drag me back, kicking and screaming. Drag me away from the banished prince who's sworn to stand by my side. Drag me into the core of conflict so powerful, I'm not sure anyone can survive it.

This time, there will be no turning back.

Let me say this first of all: the packrats are back! Yay! It's a slightly disappointing appearance, but at least they're here. More importantly, the whole gang's back. Grimalkin proves over and over again why he's my favourite character, with his barrage of sarcastic quips and mysterious air, turning up just in time to (disdainfully) save the others. Puck's trying hard to deal with his heartbreak so he's a little mopey and a little angry, but mostly just as funny as always. Ash is stoic and protective and... a little dull. His relationship with Meghan continues to baffle and disappoint me - oh, he's so handsome, I love him. Now they've decided to spend their whole lives together and get married. WHAT? Where has all this come from? I want so desperately to enjoy them being together, but something stops me. And he's pretty overprotective in this book.

Having said that, I still can't like Meghan. She's stopped crying so much, thankfully, and is getting stronger. She learns to fight and insists on using her lessons, which I'm glad about. But she still grates on me. She's very overdramatic, and really dense when it comes to people.

Thankfully, there are more new characters to make me forget about Meghan. There's Razor, a cute little gremlin, (sounds kind of contradictory...) Diode the anxious hacker elf, and Glitch, Machina's former first lieutenant. Rowan's back in all his gory cruelty. Unfortunately when Tertius comes back, he's pretty useless. He does absolutely nothing before disappearing again.

The storyline in this book is fantastic, though. It's a real them-against-the-world adventure quest. The outcome is bleak but they have no choice but to soldier on... so they do, with aplomb. However, it seems like a very safe book. It's another story where you're reading it, knowing that nobody you care about will die. I like to be worrying about the characters, panicking that they'll die. It's also very predictable in places; you'll see the ending coming a mile off.

I liked this book, though I'm hoping the next will be better. It'll be curious to read from Ash's point of view - hopefully it will help to unravel his secrets a little more.

Teaser quote: 'Good idea,' Puck echoed from the back of the cave. 'Why don't you take first watch, prince? You could actually be doing something that doesn't make me want to gouge my eyes out with a spork.'

Try this book if you liked 'The Host' by Stephenie Meyer or 'My Soul to Take' by Rachel Vincent.

The Iron Knight was released in January 2012.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Dearly, Departed

Lia Habel
9.5 / 10

From the blurb: It should be game over for Nora Dearly when she is ambushed and dragged off into the night by the living dead. But this crack unit of teen zombies are the good guys, sent to protect Nora from the real monsters roaming the country and zeroing in on cities to swell their ranks.

Can Nora find a way to kill off the evil undead once and for all?
Can she trust her protectors to resist their hunger for human flesh?
And can she stop herself falling for the noble, sweet, surprisingly attractive, definitely-no-longer-breathing Bram..?

I loved this book! A friend of mine's been pestering me to read it but it's kept disappearing under the stacks of other books I've yet to read. And when I finally got around to starting it, I couldn't put it down. I couldn't bear to only give it only 9 / 10, but it wasn't perfect in my opinion, so I tacked on a cheeky .5. Hope you don't mind!

The first 30 pages or so seemed to drag a little because there were a lot of information dumps to introduce the futuristic steampunk world (there's a point, I didn't realise before reading it that it was set in 2196!). However, the action quickly picked up when zombies started attacking, as it should. At times the multiple points of view got a little draining - I could understand the need for it, but I didn't enjoy reading Wolfe's sections. I think it would also have been more effective to not know what he was thinking or doing, to have him be a bit of a mystery.

The zombie lore wasn't anything particularly new, but it was refreshing in its traditionalism.

Between the wars and natural disasters, people wanted to revert to something familiar but new. They chose the Victorian age, because it's highly romanticised. I loved seeing women in big dresses and parasols! It's a little saddening that feminism has been happily relinquished in this vision of the world. But that makes it so much easier to love the women of this book - Nora and Pamela struggle against the way they were raised to be strong, Chas is unconventional and fierce, Dr. Chase is full of brains and kindness. The other characters are just as brilliant. There's snarky Tom, funny Coalhouse and adorable Renfield (I kind of love Renfield, I'll admit it). Dr. Samedi gets the greatest entrance.

For me, though, Bram really stole the show. He's tender and sweet, easily hurt, caring but distant. He's not full of angst, though; he just gets on with whatever needs doing and doesn't take time to wallow. Such a gentleman, too! Watching the relationship bloom between him and Nora was beautiful. I found myself rooting for them from very early on. Bram is definitely the most worthy book crush I've seen in a long time.

My biggest (though almost only) problem with this book is the ending. It very suddenly seems rushed, and all at once a whole set of new plot points and problems are opened up. It felt very leading, as though suddenly it had been decided there would be a sequel but there was no real plot to fill it. Also, Habel seemed a little frightened of breaking her readers' hearts. There was always a sense of, "This will probably turn out okay. There will probably be a happy ending." Call me morbid, but I would have loved a few more bloody and horriyfing deaths thrown in there.

This is one of my favourite books in a long while. It was beautiful, emotional and violent. I'm really looking forward to the next book and can't wait to see Nora and Bram again - but I'd love a touch more torment!

Teaser quote: 'Mark my words,' Tom said, unswayed. 'In an hour she wakes up, slams back a fifth of somethin', and asks for a uniform.'

If you enjoyed this book, try 'Warm Bodies' by Isaac Marion for the zombies, 'Divergent' by Veronica Roth for the touching romance, or 'Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories' by Gavin J. Grant for... well, the steampunk. Duh.

'Dearly, Beloved' is due to be released in January 2013.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Classic Reading - Casino Royale

I'm trying to read more classics, so this is where you'll find them!

Casino Royale
Ian Fleming
7 / 10

From the blurb: In the first of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels, 007 declares war on Le Chiffre, French communist and paymaster of the Soviet murder organization SMERSH.

The battle begins with a fifty-million-franc game of baccarat, gains momentum during Bond's fiery love affair with a sensuous lady spy, and reaches a chilling climax with fiendish torture at the hands of a master sadist. For incredible suspense, unexpected thrills, and extraordinary danger, nothing can beat James Bond in his inaugural adventure.

'Skyfall', the newest Bond film, has an announced release date of October 2012. It's really exciting, and in the meantime I thought I'd try to read the original books.

If I'm being honest, I was feeling a bit let down. This is a classic, a massive franchise... and really dull. Until I got to about halfway through, when the gambling starts in earnest and the action starts to heat up. There's a terrifying torture scene that gives me chills to think of even now I've put the book down. And the fast-paced scenes, especially the fist fights, are so well written. There's even a crisis of conscience that serves to give Bond unexpected depth and make the reader question the nature of good and evil.

However, this book hasn't aged very well. There are long winded explanations of a simple game, and the book is an awful example of raging sexism. Vesper's as useless and emotional as Bond expects her to be, which is disappointing. There's also a lot of technology and it took me a while to work out that a "cable" is a telegram type thing. I did really enjoy Bond's explanation of his dressing gown.

I'm glad I read this as I did enjoy it, and I definitely want to read the next in the series. But if I'm being honest, I definitely preferred the film adaptation.

Teaser Quote: These blithering women who thought they could do a man's work. Why couldn't they stay at home and mind their pots and pans and stick to their frocks and gossip and leave men's work to me?

'Live and Let Die' is the next book in the James Bond series.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

‘Fahrenheit 451’ Author Ray Bradbury Dies At 91

"Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there."

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

Link to NPR news article (opens in new window)

Night School

C. J. Daugherty
8 / 10

From the blurb: Allie Sheridan's world is falling apart. She hates her school. Her brother has run away from home. And she's just been arrested.


This time her parents have finally had enough. They cut her off from her friends and send her away to a boarding school for problem teenagers. But Cimmeria Academy is no ordinary school. Its rules are strangely archaic. It allows no computers or phones. Its students are an odd mixture of the gifted, the tough and the privileged. And then there's the secretive Night School, whose activities other students are forbidden even to watch.
When Allie is attacked one night the incident sets off a chain of events leading to the violent death of a girl at the summer ball. As the school begins to seem like a very dangerous place, Allie must learn who she can trust. And what's really going on at Cimmeria Academy.

Okay, so this book wasn't entirely unpredictable. It had a lot of the recognisable tropes of a YA supernatural boarding school series. There was the gorgeous but unattainable boy who falls instantly and spectacularly for the new girl. There was a dark, brooding type who strives to be mysterious and just ends up being romantic fantasy fodder. And there was the best female friend, who totally flakes out, and the geek who steps in to replace her. Allie is typically rebellious, wearing knee length Doc Martens and dyeing her hair red (which seems a cliche. My hair's dyed red and I haven't felt the urge to commit a crime!)

But I really enjoyed this book.

I thought Sylvain was creepy and intriguing, and the story of Allie's missing brother cropped up just enough to maintain my interest in him. I'll admit to adoring Carter, against my will. And all the secondary characters were beautifully developed - I particularly liked Lucas. There are a few tense moments - usually spent running across the fields. Why do these students not learn to stay inside? Of course there's a ball, because that paves the way for the to-be-expected dress and hair and shoes and make up flutter, but thankfully a horrifying ocurrence saves the evening from being, frankly, dull.

I love the idea of playing croquet and tennis in the dark with glowing equipment. However, the whole school is told to stay away from the top floor of the building, because this is where the elusive Night School studies. They're then expected to simply... stick to that. And most of them do! But at a real school, that totally wouldn't work. Then there's the Night School itself. It's not a huge surprise what this turns out to be, but I won't spoil it here. I hope it turns out to be more interesting in the sequel, though.

The most interesting part of this book, in my opinion, comes from a terrifying moment on the roof involving fear, mental instability and vodka - a lethal combination, as anyone who's ever lived knows. There's some real character development and it throws the whole classic boarding school book structure on its head. Admittedly, for every scene like this, there are three slightly ridiculous ones. I've never been to a school where everyone would skinny dip together, for example. I don't think I even know any one person who would do it.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It was and wasn't what I had expected, but go in with an open mind and you'll probably like it. It's a little lighter than some of its contemporaries until a good third of the way through, but the story really heats up as the pages turn.

Try this book if you enjoyed 'The Candidates' by Inara Scott, 'The Name of the Star' by Maureen Johnson, or 'Torment' by Lauren Kate.

Book Two currently doesn't have a title, but should be released in the UK in January 2013.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Graphic Novels

The Dark Knight Rises is hitting UK cinemas on 20th July, and I for one can't wait. Watching Christopher Nolan's films, it's almost possible to forget Batman started in comics because they're so complete and self-contained.
So while we're on the topic of graphic novels (kind of. This segue was a lot less awkward in my head, I swear), here's three of my favourites.

Watchmen - Alan Moore and David Gibbons
The superheroes are ordinary people, susceptible to pride and evil just like the rest of us. The film was great, but there's no beating the original. This is a tale with a painfully poignant message: humanity is incurably rotten. People commit terrible crimes everyday, from murder all the way down to simply telling a lie. Even the ending is satisfyingly bleak.

V For Vendetta - Alan Moore and David Lloyd
If I'm being honest, this is one of very few books where I preferred the film adaptation. I thought Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman brought humanity to two very complex roles.
But there's no dismissing the genius of the original - this is not a book to be skipped over. And there's plenty of new material for those who have seen the movie; the ending is completely different. It came as a huge surprise to me!

Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
I fell, as Tim Burton says he did, completely in love with this book. It's a curious tale; an origin story for the Joker. The author himself says it is not the origin story, but one that the Joker has convinced himself could be true. It gives him some much-needed humanity, thankfully, but is to be taken with a pinch of salt. It also brings us Barbara Gordon, son of the Commissioner and an unfortunate victim, as any fan of the old comics will know.
This is so well written and drawn, and now it's been recoloured so it looks even more fantastic than it did originally. The flashbacks are black and white with just a touch of yellow in each panel, darkening gradually to red and adding a sense of menace.

I knew before writing this post which books I wanted to cover - it's not until I finished, however, that I realised they were all written by Alan Moore. Whoops! Oh well, he's clearly a genius, and I'm happy to tell people that.

The Iron Daughter

Julie Kagawa
This review may contain spoilers if you haven't read the first in the series, 'The Iron King', the review of which is here.

8 / 10

From the blurb: Half Summer faery princess, half human Meghan has never fitted in anywhere. Deserted by the Winter prince she thought loved her, she is prisoner to the Winter faery queen. As war looms between Summer and Winter, Meghan knows that the real danger comes from the Iron fey - ironbound faeries that only she and her absent prince have seen. But no one believes her.

Worse, Meghan's own fey powers have been cut off. She's stuck in Faery with only her wits for help. Trusting anyone would be foolish. Trusting the prince who betrayed her, deadly. But even as she grows a backbone of iron, Meghan can't help but hear the whispers of her all-too-human heart.

Oh, Meghan! What's the matter with you?
I'd grown to rather like Meghan by the time the first book ended. But she really makes me dislike her for a good few chapters at the beginning of this one. Ash's motives are far from murky, but as he pushes her away (to save her life!) she can't seem to understand why. She cries for pages and pages and pages... and pages, because she thinks he genuinely hates her. And maybe he does, 'cause I sure do! And if that weren't enough, halfway through 'Iron Daughter' she's surprised to find herself in the middle of a love triangle that was established in 'Iron King'.

Other than that, though, this was a really enjoyable book. Mab's court is crueller and much more interesting than that of Oberon, and there's another phouka - yay! And we get to meet Ash's brothers, Rowan and Sage. They're both fantastic characters in very different ways. I'd have liked to see more of both of them, but it would have been pointlessly plot-slowing. Shame. There's also the reappearence of a few minor characters from 'The Iron King' which was fantastic. It was a surprise to see who was keeping secrets and who was really as simple as they said. Best of all, though, Puck's back! And not a moment too soon. Grim's in this one a lot, too, still as cryptic as ever. And Ethan features, a little briefly but he's just as adorable.

The biggest character development comes from Ironhorse, actually. He still terrifies me, but by the end of this book it's easier to see him as a person than a metal creation. He's astonishingly sweet and loyal. There's also a few new characters, most notably Leanansidhe who is deliciously amoral, and Charles. Charles is somewhat of a mystery to Meghan, who feels as though she's seen him before. Even once we think we know who he is, Meghan can't work it out (understandably) and it's horrifying to see them interact like strangers, waiting for the realisation to hit.

The storyline was maybe a little meandering, but eyes are always on the prize: the Scepter of Seasons, which has been stolen by the Iron fey, throwing the balance off. Meghan is still self-sacrificing and determined, going some way to make up for her lack of personal insight. There's a horrifying death towards the end of the book and an almost-cliffhanger. I can't wait to see where Kagawa takes the story next.

Teaser quote: 'Hey, Princess,' Puck called, brushing feathers from his clothes and gazing around at the carnage. 'Looks like I got here just in time.'

Try 'Switched' by Amanda Hocking or 'Forsaken' by Jana Oliver if you enjoyed this.

'The Iron Queen' was released in October 2011.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

The Name of the Star

Maureen Johnson

8 / 10

From the blurb: The day Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London marks a memorable occasion. For Rory, it's the start of a new life at a London boarding school. But for many, this will be remembered as the day a series of brutal murders broke out across the city, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper events of more than a century ago.

Soon "Rippermania" takes hold of modern-day London, and the police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man police believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him. Even her roommate, who was walking with her at the time, didn't notice the mysterious man. So why can only Rory see him? And more urgently, why has Rory become his next target? In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, full of suspense, humor, and romance, Rory will learn the truth about the secret ghost police of London and discover her own shocking abilities.

When the main character, a charismatic girl named Rory, met a broody blonde and a brunette boy, I thought this book was going to be predictable. I was wrong. The author manages to breathe new life into the elements of her story which are becoming tired in YA fiction: a new girl at boarding school, her conservative roommate, and the cute, funny love interest – while neatly sidestepping any need for a love triangle.
This book manages to be lighthearted when it needs to be, but for the most part the beautifully chilling writing had me so tense that I couldn’t put it down. The plot cleverly updates the story of Jack the Ripper as a paranormal copycat draws a bloody trail through London in the media. I worried at first that there would be parts I wouldn’t understand because I don’t know much about London or Jack the Ripper, but thanks to Rory’s narration everything was explained. What’s more, because Rory is American, the explanations weren’t patronising or clunky, they just slotted easily into the story. It’s a great reveal when we find out who’s been murdering people, and the supernatural elements are kept simple and easy to understand, yet intriguing.

The characters are interesting, but I was disappointed that we didn’t get to see much of their personalities. In particular Jerome, the mischievous prefect, was introduced, but then kind of fell by the wayside. He was inquisitive with a fantastic sense of humour – and totally crushworthy – yet he seemed to be a plot device more than a person. Also, while Rory is in London along with the Ripper copycat, her parents are in Bristol. Though they only try once, very half-heartedly, to get her to go stay with them. Personally, my parents would have come to the school and dragged me away if that’s what it took.

Overall, ‘The Name of the Star’ is fantastic. It has a fast pace, gripping storyline, and a heart-stopping conclusion. Furthermore, it doesn’t fall into the trap of having a horrifying cliffhanger at the end; the way the story is left makes me want to read on without being annoyed by countless loose ends, and nobody’s fate hangs in the balance. It’s clever, filled with fascinating facts, and has a tone which is sophisticated without sounding forced.

Teaser quote: I looked at the stained glass image of the lamb in the window above me, but that only reminded me that lambs are famous for being led into slaughter, or sometimes hanging around with lions in ill-advised relationships.

Try this book if you liked 'Hereafter' by Tara Hudson, or 'Ultraviolet' by R. J. Anderson. 

Shades of London book 2, 'The Madness Underneath', is due for publication in January 2013.