Wednesday 28 November 2012

Uncommon Criminals review

Uncommon Criminals
Ally Carter
July 5th 2012
Orchard Books

Katarina Bishop has worn a lot of labels in her short life: Friend. Niece. Daughter. Thief. But for the last two months she's simply been known as the girl who ran the crew that robbed the greatest museum in the world. That's why Kat isn't surprised when she's asked to steal the infamous Cleopatra Emerald so it can be returned to its rightful owners. There are only three problems. First, the gem hasn't been seen in public in thirty years. Second, since the fall of the Egyptian empire and the suicide of Cleopatra, no one who holds the emerald keeps it for long - and in Kat's world, history almost always repeats itself. But it's the third problem that makes Kat's crew the most nervous, and that is...the emerald is cursed. Kat might be in way over her head, but she's not going down without a fight. After all, she has her best friend -- the gorgeous Hale - and the rest of her crew with her as they chase the Cleopatra around the globe, dodging curses and realizing that the same tricks and cons her family has used for centuries are useless for this heist. This time, Kat's going to have to make up her own rules...

I think, a little tiny bit, that I might just like the Heist Society books more that the Gallagher Girls books. Of course, that will probably change as soon as I get around to reading the fourth GG book, but for now I stand by what I say. Uncommon Criminals was a great second book, and the fact that they feel standalone really helps to get rid of Second Book Syndrome, and it felt just as fresh and exciting as the first book (I can't really believe I actually just used the phrase 'fresh and exciting'.)

Katarina Bishop is one of my favourite characters in a series ever. Maybe it's the fact that the series is 3rd person or maybe it's just because she's an awesome badass thief and will no doubt end up being one of the best (and kindest) thieves in the business.  I think in this book we got to see both how self-sufficient and independent she can be as well as when she knows she's out of her depth and needs a little help. I really liked the way her attitude changed throughout the book, too. She's still strong and independent, but she also works really well in a team and she's realised that sometimes a heist is just too big to pull off on your own.

I also just really love Kat's crew. All of them. Apart from Nick, maybe, I'm still not entirely sure about him. But as long as it's not turned into a love triangle, I don't really mind him. Gabrielle is probably my favourite character in the whole book. I just love her because she's exactly the kind of character that readers are set up to hate when she's one of the most genuine characters. I just want to be her friend and I want her and Simon to get together and I love that she never once properly tried to go after Hale because I like her too much and I would be really sad if she ended up doing something horrible. And Hale. Hale, you guys. I could talk forever about how his relationship with Kat is so great, but I'll try not to. First of all, I've really enjoyed the progression of their relationship. It's been fairly slow going, but from the first chapter of the first book you could tell that they cared immensely about each other and that they were so going to get together, but that they're still friends first. I'm still not sure if they're actually going out yet or not? I think they might be? Anyway, there's a lot of stuff about that in here, but my favourite thing about it (yes, yes, a lot of favourite things going on here) is that it doesn't take a more important place than the heist in the plot. It's just an (almost) subplot. 

This is a sentence I never thought I'd be saying, but these books sometimes make me wish I'd been raised in a family of infamous art thieves. I mean, not literally because I just don't have the natural grace it takes  to do the stuff they do here, but you know what I mean. I don't actually want to steal things for a living, just for the record. But I do like the way they make the life look. It's obviously not meant to be a proper thing, because I'm pretty sure people don't do stuff like this in real life (or do we just not know about it, huh?), and the books make it look fun and exciting at first, but then you also see the pressure it takes on all those people in the life and even though you know it's kind of a bit silly, you just get so invested in the characters that it doesn't even matter because their feelings are real to you. But they're still really, really fun as well. Ally Carter does the same with the GG books as well, actually. Makes you think it's all fun and unrealistic at first and then makes you care about the characters and then makes horrible crazy things happen to them. I think I'm starting to see a pattern here...

Uncommon Criminals was a really great second book and I literally cannot wait for Perfect Scoundrels (can we talk about how much I love the titles of these books, too?! Because I do.) It shouldn't be too long to wait, now!

Friday 23 November 2012

Slut-Shaming in YA (Or Something That I Have an Opinion About That May Be Completely Unjustified)

(I tried to think of a funnier title, but I'm just not as on the ball as I used to be) *Puts on fancy discussion pants* So.  Slut-Shaming. I, generally, see slut-shaming as a bad thing. I think a lot of us do. So why is it that in teen books (and I’m sure many other kinds of books that I don’t read) seem to have characters that think they’re on some kind of moral pedestal and have the right to call anyone they think is prettier than them a slut?

I’m sure that it doesn’t happen that often, but I still think it appears more often than it ever should. I don’t mind if a character wants to bitch about other characters, but slut-shaming just really, really frustrates me, and whenever I do see it, it always seems to be coming from some Virginial-Better-Than-Thou type who thinks that they’re unattractive and want to project their insecurities on to girls that they think are prettier than them. And this just makes me so mad, because a) a pretty girl does not maketh a slut, and b) what’s so wrong with girls having sex anyway.

It’s this whole culture that we have that perceives sex as being an almost degrading thing for a girl to have. Like, so much negative sexual language is female-oriented (slut, whore, bitch ect) and I just want to know why. I understand that I guess it’s biological on some level, because women are the one’s who’re meant to have children and all that crap, and men are meant to spread their genes everywhere or some bullcrap, but come on guys. Seriously. It’s 2012, and a girl who has had sex should not be treated the way they sometimes are by other girls their age. And a girl being a virgin shouldn’t be a bad thing either! A girl/woman should be able to do whatever she wants to do with her body without being judged by the rest of us.

I think a good example of what I'm talking about is Taylor Swift (yeah, I know, she's not a YA character) but her song You Belong With Me (and possibly others, I don' listen to a lot of Taylor Swift though her music is very catchy) where she's like 'she wears short skirts, I wear t-shirts'? So what! Do you think wearing t-shirts makes you more or less worthy of a boy than a girl who wears short skirts? Maybe she wears t-shirts too, Taylor! Maybe she's cheer captain because she works really hard and is driven and that intimidates you! Maybe she's actually a really cool person and you just wouldn't know because you're so swept up in the idea that you deserve a boy more because you're more modest/because you wear sneakers instead of high heels or whatever? Really, let's face it, if he's such a great freaking guy, why hasn't he seen how great you are and dumped his horrid high heel wearing galfriend already? Huh? And don't tell me that part at the end of the video where she's in a white dress and the boy realises how great Taylor is all of a sudden isn't some kind of subconscious virgin thing (which isn't wrong! I'm not trying to say that at all) Grr. Sorry for ranting, that song just annoys me.

And I know you may be thinking, but Cicely, who are you to talk about sex? What do you know about ANY of this stuff you’re talking about? You would be correct. I don’t claim to know anything, I’m just observing as outsider. And again, it’s not even definitively used for girls who’ve had sex. It’s said about attractive girls, or girls who make an effort to look pretty and just because you don’t even try and still manage to have a love triangle, dearie, doesn’t give you a right to talk shit about other girls who want to look nice. There are better ways to deal with your insecurities than being mean about the girls who make you feel worse about them. There are better ways than always feeling inadequate compared to your best friends. This will not make you happy. This will not make you like yourself more. Heck, if you’re anything like me it’ll just make you feel worse. It’s how bullies are born, and maybe that girl that says mean things about you has the same insecurities you do. Maybe your best friend looks at you and feels like crap by comparison. Hating them because they make you feel more insecure will not make it better.

I hope I’m not sounding too preachy here. I’ve already discussed insecurity quite a bit here in Blogsville, and I am far from knowing any of the answers, but this whole culture of girls hating themselves and each other is just so negative. And I’m not saying don’t hate people, because it’s okay to not like people. I generally don’t like people as a rule (unless you’re my friend), but try not to be mean about them. I don’t even know who I’m addressing anymore. I keep on using ‘you’ like I’m talking to someone, but I don’t even know. Anyway, we live in a society where women are encouraged to not like each other, well maybe not that far, but we’re encouraged to focus on other women’s imperfections. We’re encouraged to only see our own imperfections. In Women’s Magazines, we see pictures of celebrities and we try to shame them, all to make us feel more ‘normal’, like even those whose job is it to be beautiful sometimes have off days. Which isn’t so terrible in itself, but sometimes they’re attacked for what they’ve done whether they cheated on someone or left the house without make-up or have cellulite or whatever, and it just makes me wonder, why? Why do we even care? Am I getting too off-topic here? I don’t even know anymore. This kind of ended up going a different way than I’d thought it would.

Again, I’m not trying to be preachy or make anyone feel bad, I just think our culture is so odd and unhealthy. I don’t think that people are bad for reading Women’s Magazines or for wanting to look pretty or for feeling insecure because that’s just normal, and I’m just an oddball for not really wanting those things. I just think that it’s really strange, how we’ve ended up being this way.

I have been reading a lot of Feminist blogs lately though. I mean, that could have a LOT to do with this.

*NB: I don't have anything against Taylor Swift, I was just using that one song as an example. To be honest, I don't know much about her so I'm mostly using it out of context.

**Virgin-shaming is JUST AS BAD. 

Sunday 18 November 2012

The Demon's Lexicon review

The Demon's Lexicon
Sarah Rees Brennan
June 2nd 2009
Simon & Schuster Children's

Nick and his brother Alan are on the run with their mother, who was once the lover of a powerful magician. When she left him, she stole an important charm - and he will stop at nothing to reclaim it. Now Alan has been marked with the sign of death by the magician's demon, and only Nick can save him. But to do so he must face those he has fled from all his life - the magicians - and kill them. So the hunted becomes the hunter...but in saving his brother, Nick discovers something that will unravel his whole past...

The Demon's Lexicon was... Weird. And I mean that in the best possible way. I've always been meaning to read one of Sarah Rees Brennan's books, and I kind of have (Team Human), but this is the first book I've read of hers that is, well, completely written by her. I'll be honest here, I mainly picked it up because Supernatural has had a great influence on my life of late and as soon as I saw the words 'brothers' and 'demons' in the same blurb as each other, I knew I had to read it. It was nothing like Supernatural, of course, but I really enjoyed it nevertheless. 

It took me a while to get into it, but I don't think that was the book's fault. I've just been in a bit of a slump lately (if you couldn't tell already with me posting what one review a week, sometimes not even that), but I'm getting better. I've realised that spending all my time between new tv eps pining for those new eps isn't going to make them air any faster, and I may as well spend my time reading in the mean time (though seriously, two weeks for the next episode of SPN? *cries*) Anyway, yeah, I did think it was a little slow at first, but once I became settled into the world I actually started to really like it. This has always been one of those books that I've picked up, read the first chapter of and put back down again without really knowing why, so I'm glad I finally got around to reading it.

This is a weird book for me to talk about the characters for, though, because my perception of them changed so much throughout the book that I realised about halfway through I was never going to know whether I trusted them or not, or if they were lying, until the end, and even then I wasn't sure. I will say this though; I loved Nick. I don't really know why... I mean, he was kind of an emotionally non-existent psychopath, but I still think that he was a really compelling character, and I think I'll miss his narration (it's 3rd person, but it's all from his POV) in the next two books, because I know that they're both from Mae and Sin's point of view. Also, I thought the thing about him at the end was really interesting. I genuinely had no clue that that was what the big reveal was going to be, and that made him just so much better to me. 

I still have no idea how I feel about Alan, so sorry Alan fans! I just don't know if we can trust him. That being said, though I was really wary of him for a lot of the book, I think he proved himself in the end and his reasons were good enough. But he could always be up to something and we'd never know! I don't trust anyone who is explicitly described as being an excellent liar and is generally adorable and charming. They MUST be hiding something. That's another reason why I like Nick; he's a terrible liar! I liked Mae a lot as well, actually, which surprised me. I don't know why, but I kept on feeling like I should be finding her annoying, but I just couldn't (by this, I don't mean that I think SRB intended her to be annoying, I just think that she's the kind of person that I would usually find annoying but in this instance, did not.). I'm looking forward to reading the next book and getting to see more of her, even if it means we don't get as much of Nick.

The world and Magicians and the Demons were all interesting, and can I just say how glad I was to read an urban fantasy type thing set in modern day England? I don't think I've read very many that are, and there should be more! Britain has scary things too, you know. We're pretty famous for them. Just throwing that out there. I really liked the ideas about how Magicians needed to use demons to get more power and the demon marks and the Magicians Circle's, and the Goblin Market! I really hope that there's more about that in the next two (which I figure there is because Sin is one of the POV characters and she, like, works there). God, you can really tell it's been two weeks since I last wrote a review. 

The Demon's Lexicon was a book that after a bit of a slow start really picked up and I think it's going to end up being one of my favourite series, but I don't want to get ahead of myself. (Though let's face it, it's Sarah Rees Brennan. Of course it's going to be one of my favourites.)

*Sidenote: Apologies for any bad grammar/sentences that kind of go on too long. I've been on Tumblr a lot lately. A LOT. It does bad things to your writing ability. Terrible things. 

Monday 12 November 2012

I Blame You, Supernatural

What's that? Cicely talking about a TV show once again? One would thing that this blog would be mostly about books given the title, but what can I say. I'm full of surprises.

I've been in a bit of a reading slump lately. It's not that I'm not reading, I'm just not reading as much as I want to be. I'd like to say it was because I've been in a funny mood, or that I've just not had the time, but I'd be lying to myself and everyone around me. I know exactly why I've not been reading as much lately, and it's all the fault of two brothers, a '67 Chevy Impala and a shit ton of ghosts, demons, vampires, angels ect. 

Even after I'd seen how this show had ruined the lives of my peers on Tumblr (seriously, if any of you follow me on there, I am SO SORRY.) I somehow thought that I would be immune to its charms. I'd watched the first few episodes before and I'd never really gotten into it, but a couple of weeks ago, I decided to give it one last shot.

What a mistake this was. I've probably said this before, but I started college, a place in which I actually have to do work on occasion and regardless not the best time to be getting into a tv show that had just started its eighth season. I really couldn't have picked a worse time to start watching it, but what's past is past, along with the three weeks of my life I wasted obsessively trying to catch up with this show (and yes, it took me exactly three weeks, thank you very much. Still not sure whether to be proud or ashamed. *shrugs nonchalantly*)

The reason why I'd never given this show much of a chance before was because I thought it'd be mostly Two Hot Bros Hunting Demons And Being Too Manly To Accept The Fact That They Have Emotions, and it kind of was, and you watch it thinking well, this is pretty good and funny and scary and stuff I guess I'll carry on watching it, but then. Then out of nowhere it's like HA I BET WE TRICKED YOU INTO THINKING THIS SHOW WOULD BE FUN WELL YOU WERE WRONG IT'S ALL PAIN AND TEARS AND DEATH AND WE WILL KILL EVERYONE YOU LOVE AND YOU WILL NEVER ESCAPE *WICKED LAUGHTER* (well, this is how it went for me. I'm not really sure about how normal folk with non-obsessive personalities feel about the show.)

And that's just before the Angels come into it. Seasons 4 and 5 have been my personal favourites so far (exact order: 5, 4, 2, 1, 7, 3 all pretty close together and then 6 all the way in that corner over there because apart from about 4 episodes it sucked) mostly because of the introduction of the angel Castiel. Cas is the best. There is no way that you can make it past season 5 of this show and not have Cas be in your top 3 characters. Even when he screws up, you can't help but love him because everything he does, he does because he thinks it's for the best. Even when he's walking down a dark path, you know he's done it because he's misguided and thinks that it'll help when it might just ruin everything. There's just something great about him, and I think that 79% of that is down to Misha Collins being fabulous, but the rest of it is just because he's well written and likeable and extra terrestrial the butt of jokes he doesn't get and simultaneously being one of the funniest and most serious characters and I know this sentence is too long but I don't care I just love Cas.

For the purposes of anyone reading this who do watch the show (if anyone reads this at all (though seriously if you watch the show TALK TO ME PLEASE)) I'm a Dean girl. Since the first ep. It's something about the eyes, they're just so pretty and expressive and I just feel so bad for him because he's not a bad guy and yeah he makes mistakes sometimes but I don't understand why he hates himself so much it makes me so sad. He takes on the guilt for everything and feels like he has this crazy responsibility for his brother, and he tries so hard to help people and do the best for them even if he knows it's stupid. I've never seen a character so prepared and willing to sacrifice himself over and over again, and he just needs therapy so badly it's really not good.

Of course, I like Sam a lot too, and I think he's a really interesting character and he definitely gets the more interesting plots, but I just can't connect to him the same way that I do with Dean. Again, I think it's the eyes. He's had a really interesting emotional journey during the course of the show, though, and he's changed a lot. It's so depressing when I see pictures of them in season one when they were such babies and they used to smile. Man, those were the days.

On the subject of smiling, the show is really good at funny as well. My personal favourites being The Monster at The End of This Book, Changing Channels, The Real Ghostbusters and The French Mistake. Sometimes it goes so meta that you start to wonder whether it should be working as well it does, but Ben Edlund is just a genius when it comes to doing crazy, hilarious episodes. Changing Channels, which is basically just the show mocking a load of other shows (Grey's Anatomy, CSI, Knight Rider ect) still remains one of my favourite episodes ever purely because of how surreal and hilarious it was, as well as how interesting it's contribution was to the plot arc of the season. We got a huge reveal about one of the side characters which I wasn't expecting, and a lot more backstory about why Sam and Dean had been chosen as the vessels.

That, and the meta world they created inside the show with the introduction of Chuck the prophet who'd written a series of books about Sam and Dean's lives from season 1 to season 3 is one of the things that made s4&5 so special to me. They really got to explore fandom in those episodes, and the fans and the books in the show were obviously meant to react the crazy fans they had in real life, but I think that they handled it really well, and even though they mocked us, they did it in a loving and respectful way, not without mocking themselves too. I firmly believe that you don't truly love something unless you can take the piss out of it (well, that's the case for me anything), and the show certainly mocks itself plenty.

I really love all of the other hunters, too, especially Bobby (don't even talk to me about Bobby. I'll probably start crying again.) It's really important both for us as viewers and for Sam and Dean to remember that the world doesn't revolve around them, and that sometimes they just need to get their heads out of their asses and look around them and see how what they're doing is affecting those around them. That's why Garth is one of my favourite characters. I know he's not been that well liked, and he's used as a bit of a gimmick, but I think in the most recent episode he really proved himself to be more than that. He's just so cool about everything and doesn't hold grudges with people and is just trying to do something useful. 

My favourite thing about the show, though (and yes, this will come to and end soon, I promise) is the importance of family. There have been love interests now and again, but the real foundation of the story is the relationship between the Winchester's. Even when they were hunting a Siren, for Dean it didn't turn into a sexy woman, it turned into a younger brother figure who was into the same music and cars as him, and I'm still not sure if that's just creepy or whatever, but it says a lot about Dean when it comes to actually loving a person. Though I promise you, I'm not into Wincest. It may not seem like it, but I have boundaries.

I was hoping that this was going to be a little less fangirly, and a lot shorter than it actually turned out to be, but oh well. I just have a lot of feelings. Though if you do start watching Supernatural, let me just warn you, you're favourite character WILL DIE. MULTIPLE TIMES. That, I can guarantee. I'm pretty sure I cried several times each season. Oh dear, I'm going back into fangirl mood. I should probably get back to books quickly before my brain explodes.

Tuesday 6 November 2012

What's Left of Me review

What's Left of Me
Kat Zhang
27th September 2012
HarperCollins Childrens' Books

How I Live Now meets His Dark Materials in this stunningly written and intensely moving debut.

Imagine that you have two minds, sharing one body. You and your other self are closer than twins, better than friends. You have known each other forever.

Then imagine that people like you are hated and feared. That the government want to hunt you down and tear out your second soul, separating you from the person you love most in the world.

Now meet Eva and Addie.

They don’t have to imagine.

I was very, very pleasantly surprised by this book.  I generally don't get into dystopia as I do with other genres, and it's not really one of my favourites. Apart from The Hunger Games and Divergent I don't really get the whole dystopia trend, and when I've read (or tried to read) dystopia's that aren't action based, I've generally found that I just don't really like them, but I actually loved What's Left of Me. 

Mostly, I think I could get on with at as a dystopian because it's doesn't feel dystopian. It feels like it's set in the present day, just in a world where people are born with two souls in them instead of one. There wasn't any fancy new technology mentioned or a new world or future I had to adapt myself too, and I really enjoyed that. I think sometimes that having super computers and weapons and what have you can just come across really cheesy, but even the more dystopic aspects of this book felt very realistic and like the course of action people would've taken had it been real.

It's kind of difficult to talk about the characters in this book, because it's kind of like there are twice as many because most of the main characters are actually two people, two different personalities, so there's a lot to talk about. I liked Eva, I thought it was really interesting that the whole book was told from her perspective because she isn't the dominant soul, and all she really does is watch things, but I liked seeing her become more dominant and recover some of the control she'd lost. I would've liked to have seen things a little bit from Addie's perspective, too, because even though they're in the same body and we get the gist of what Addie's thinking and feeling, I still think that she's an entirely different personality to her and I'd like to see what she really thinks about Eva taking more control.

I have a lot of the same feelings about Ryan and Devon, though, really. I liked Ryan a lot and I'm interested to see where the whole thing with him and Eva will go, but I also want to see how Devon feels about it. Is he okay with it? Does he like Eva too, or does he like Addie, or does he like no one and wish Ryan would just stop crushing on people already? You know, if this wasn't a serious story, there'd be a lot of comedic potential. It would take misunderstandings/confusing twins trope to a whole new level. What I do really want to see, though, is a love interest for Addie. Well, I kind of do and I kind of don't. I think'd it'd be really cool to have a YA book that has essentially two main characters and not have to have a love interest for both of them, but at the same time, it'd be interesting to see how it all played out. I just hope that by the end of the trilogy, Eva and Addie are both still alive. But there are always sacrifices in these kinds of books. Don't get too attached to anyone, because authors know who your favourite character is and they will kill them in the last book. ALWAYS.

I feel like Mr Conivent as a bad guy was creepy, but at the same time I want some shades of grey, you know? I didn't feel like we got the reason why America in particular was so against the hybrids, and if you're so desperate to get rid of the hybrids, there's gotta be something personal there, right? But I have been spending a lot of time on Tumblr lately and they overanalyse EVERYTHING over there, so I could be looking into and wanting too much that just ins't really reasonable or necessary. But I do really, really want to know more about the history and have some proper motivation and reasons behind the whole anti-hybrid thing they've got going on here.

What's Left of Me was a brilliant debut, full of original ideas and interesting characters, and I can't wait to read the second book when in comes out and finally have more about the world revealed.

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