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!

Site Modification

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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.