Friday 31 January 2014

Monthly Round-Up: January

So January's been a bit of a slow month for me again, but January is always just kind of depressing and boring so I feel like I can be let off the hook a bit because of that. Though this January wasn't as awful and boring as it could have been because I got some lovely books and got to go to some lovely events and see lovely people.

Books Read:

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
Wolf-Speaker by Tamora Pierce
The Indigo Spell by Richelle Mead
Vicious by V E Schwab
Emperor Mage by Tamora Pierce
The Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
The Realms of the Gods by Tamora Pierce
Dead Ends by Erin Lange

So, only 8 books this January, but I liked all of them. Though I feel like I should probably start reading more books from this century again... But I can kind of see where the whole Tamora Pierce lovefest thing has come from now. I wasn't that keen on the Alanna books when I read the first two around this time last year, but the I got on with the Immortals series much better. Maybe it'e because there were so many animals in it... I do love animals. And dragons. Let's not forget about those anytime soon.

Books reviewed:

Bloodlines by Richelle Mead
A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge
Vicious by V E Schwab
The Golden Lily and The Indigo Spell by Richelle Mead (mini-reviews)
Dead Ends by Erin Lange

I'm just realising that review-wise this was actually an okay month for me! That's put me in a much better mood now. So yeah, that was sort of it for the blog this month.

Best Book:

Vicious by V E Schwab, but Dead Ends and Book of a Thousand Days were also brilliant.

I was also lucky to get to go to a couple of publisher events this month which up until the past few months I didn't really do, and they have all been really fun. I went to Random House and Faber on Saturday, and there are some books that I'm really excited about coming out from both of them. Echo Boy by Matt Haig (RH - also, Matt Haig was at the event and he was really great), Bird by Crystal Chan (RH, and I think it just came out yesterday?), The Fearless by Emma Pass (RH - I never read Acid, but I like the sound of her new book a lot), Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Tucholke (Faber - heard some mixed things, but I am all for the creepy books so I'm excited about it), and many others coming up in the next few weeks. I also went to the Books With Bite website launch, which was also a lot of fun and there are some great books coming from Orchard/Hodder soon, too. Plus I got to see a lot of people again which was really nice because I haven't been to much since November and I like getting to see all of the UKYA bloggers in real life at things!

Um, Sherlock series 3 started and finished, and it was pretty good but, in my opinion, not as good as the first two. And The Fault in Our Stars film trailer came out! I've only watched it a couple of times, but I think it'll be a very good film. And I will cry buckets. It doesn't come out until late June over here I think, though, so plenty of time to prepare myself emotionally (who am I kidding I'll never be prepared.)

So, yeah, that was my January! How was yours? 

Wednesday 29 January 2014

Dead Ends review

Dead Ends
Erin Lange
February 6th 2014 (UK)
Faber (UK)

Dane Washington and Billy D. couldn't be more different. Dane is clever and popular, but he's also a violent rebel. Billy D. has Down's syndrome, plays by the rules and hangs out with teachers in his lunch break.

But Dane and Billy have more in common than they think - both their fathers are missing.

They're going to have to suck up their differences and get on with helping each other. There are answers to be found.
Powerful, funny, moving - the ultimate coming-of-age novel.

I was a little surprised at how much I properly liked Dead Ends. I knew that I would like it, of course, because books about friendship are kind of what I'm all about a lot of the time. Don't know if I've ever mentioned that (I've definitely mentioned that I'm always going on about friendships I LOVE THEM). But I read it while I was having a bit of a Tamora Pierce thing and I thought I was only in the mood for 90s YA fantasy. Reading Dead Ends brought a bit out of that now, though nothing can make me stop loving Tamora Pierce. Sorry, I've done that thing where I make the intro to the book I'm reviewing be more about anything but the actual book...

Dead Ends is, ultimately, the story of a really great friendship between these two boys: Dane Washington, who is a bully and has anger issues etc, and Billy D, a boy with Down's Syndrome who is looking for his dad through clues that he thinks he left him in an atlas of America. They make a deal - Billy D will try and keep Dane from getting any more detentions, and Dane helps Billy find his dad.

I loved both Dane and Billy D. Which was weird because I wasn't really expecting to like either of them that much. It might just be because I read a lot of books about female characters/narrated by them, but I always feel like I won't like books about male characters as much. Which is probably bad, but whatever. Anyway, yeah, it took me a while to get to like Dane because of the fact that he's such a different kind of character and his voice was different to what I'm used to - not because he's a boy, but because he's a bully. But I loved his growth as a character and his concerns about his anger and the way in which he expresses it as a result of his friendship with Billy D. And I liked Billy D a lot, too. He has Down's Syndrome, and it's obviously brought up a lot because it's an important part of who he is and how people see him, but it not all that he is. Also there's Seely, who is so great.

It took me a while to get into, because of aforementioned Tamora Pierce reasons, but I eventually I kind of forced myself to sit down for a bit and give it the time it deserved and by that point I didn't really want to stop reading. It's not a super fast-paced action-filled book by any means, but the pace was good and left a lot of room for fleshing out Dane and Billy D and their search for Billy's father. And I loved the way that the whole dad situation was played out, and the fact that the book didn't turn out to be about what I thought it was going to be about. It's a lovely portrayal of a complex friendship and difficult family issues and there are a few issues which are addressed throughout the book, but it never feels like it's being preachy or pretentious or like it's trying to shove the issues down your throat. It never feels forced, and it is genuinely moving in places as you find out things about Dane's and Billy's lives and the fact that not everything is as perfect or great as people make them out to be. The ending, too, was perfect for the book. Bittersweet, yes, but right.

Dead Ends was a book that took me a bit by surprise, but I ended up genuinely really liking it and, as I said before, FRIENDSHIPS. Also, ROAD TRIPS. What more do you really need to know? (And yes, as it says on the cover of the book, it really is perfect for fans of John Green and R J Palacio. It's like Paper Towns mixed with Wonder, but different and great and lovely.)

Sunday 26 January 2014

The Golden Lily and The Indigo Spell mini-reviews

The Golden Lily
Richelle Mead
June 12th 2012

Sydney would love to go to college, but instead, she’s been sent into hiding at a posh boarding school in Palm Springs, California–tasked with protecting Moroi princess Jill Dragomir from assassins who want to throw the Moroi court into civil war. Formerly in disgrace, Sydney is now praised for her loyalty and obedience, and held up as the model of an exemplary Alchemist.

But the closer she grows to Jill, Eddie, and especially Adrian, the more she finds herself questioning her age–old Alchemist beliefs, her idea of family, and the sense of what it means to truly belong. Her world becomes even more complicated when magical experiments show Sydney may hold the key to prevent becoming Strigoi—the fiercest vampires, the ones who don’t die. But it’s her fear of being just that—special, magical, powerful—that scares her more than anything. Equally daunting is her new romance with Brayden, a cute, brainy guy who seems to be her match in every way. Yet, as perfect as he seems, Sydney finds herself being drawn to someone else—someone forbidden to her.

When a shocking secret threatens to tear the vampire world apart, Sydney’s loyalties are suddenly tested more than ever before. She wonders how she's supposed to strike a balance between the principles and dogmas she's been taught, and what her instincts are now telling her.

Should she trust the Alchemists—or her heart?

I was really excited about reading The Golden Lily after being surprised at how much I enjoyed Bloodlines, but I was left kind of disappointed by it, really. It was fine, but it didn't really live up to Bloodlines I think.

While I still liked Sydney in this book, I feel like she wasn't really given as much of an opportunity to stand out than she deserves. Really, the book just didn't go anywhere and didn't do any of the characters justice. There were some really great moments between Sydney and Adrian again, but there wasn't really much of a plot outside of their sexual tension, which is a little annoying to me but if you are reading mainly for Adrian then you probably won't be as disappointed as I was. It just really felt like the first half of the book was all just 'Sydney goes on a date!' (not with Adrian, just to establish that) and then like, one third from the end, they remembered they should actually add some plot to this book and it just didn't work that well for me personally. I did still enjoy it, because I devoured it in same way I devour all of Richelle Mead's books (seriously, even if I don't like what's going on I cannot put them down), but it just wasn't my favourite book of the series.

(Sorry that the blurb is so long I couldn't find a shorter one and now it makes my review look reallllly mini by comaprision, but hey.)

The Indigo Spell
Richelle Mead
February 12th 2013

Sydney Sage is an Alchemist, one of a group of humans who dabble in magic and serve to bridge the worlds of humans and vampires. They protect vampire secrets--and human lives." 
In the aftermath of a forbidden moment that rocked Sydney to her core, she finds herself struggling to draw the line between her Alchemist teachings and what her heart is urging her to do. Then she meets alluring, rebellious Marcus Finch--a former Alchemist who escaped against all odds, and is now on the run. Marcus wants to teach Sydney the secrets he claims the Alchemists are hiding from her. But as he pushes her to rebel against the people who raised her, Sydney finds that breaking free is harder than she thought. There is an old and mysterious magic rooted deeply within her. And as she searches for an evil magic user targeting powerful young witches, she realizes that her only hope is to embrace her magical blood--or else she might be next.

After not being that keen on The Golden Lily, I wasn't as excited about The Indigo Spell, but it surprised me and I think it was much better than it's predecessor. I just think that overall it was a much better story and there was a really good balance between the romantic tension and the main plot.

I really enjoyed the fact that there was a lot more about the magic side of Sydney's character in The Indigo Spell and her getting more used to using it because that's one of my favourite things about these books. Also it was just a lot better with the whole Alchemist business being brought in to the story a lot more than in The Golden Lily, and I am really curious to see where that's going to go. Like, after the ending of this book, I really can't see it going well. Plus I always enjoy reading about Adrian because let's face it he's pretty great. Though I still prefer snarky Adrian to serious romantic Adrian, but that's just me. I will say, though, that I was kind of sad about the fact that it felt like Jill and Eddie and Angeline were in The Indigo Spell a lot less than the other two because I love them all, and I felt like the whole Marcus Finch business went nowhere (though I am glad it didn't turn into a love triangle). And Wolf! The crazy self-defense instructor from the last book was back in it which made me extremely happy. I love him a little bit.

So yeah, I liked The Indigo Spell more than The Golden Lily, and I'm pretty excited to find out where this series goes even if I don't love it in the same way that I love Vampire Academy. 

Tuesday 21 January 2014

Vicious review

V.E Schwab
10th January 2014 (UK)
Titan Books (UK)

Victor and Eli, due to a research project gone wrong, become ExtraOrdinaries with supernatural powers. Ten years later Victor escapes from prison,determined to get his revenge on the man who put him there, while Eli has spent the years hunting down and killing other EOs. Driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the arch-nemeses have set a course for revenge...

Vicious was a really interesting book that was kind of out of my usual reading comfort zone, I guess (it's an adult novel and I don't usually go there unless it's for college), but regardless of that it was book that I could not resist. I mean, science? Vengeance? Superpowers? Who could say no to that?! Not me, that's for sure.

The real core of this novel is the relationship between Victor and Eli, how it all goes wrong and they are both sort of driven by each other towards this crazy path of revenge. From the start in college, their relationship is kind of toxic, with Victor mainly being drawn to Eli because of darkness that he saw in Eli every now and again, and his desire to draw that out. But even though, throughout the whole course of the novel, Victor proves himself to be despicable and does some pretty bad things, I still ending up liking him more and wanting him to come out of this whole twisted situation okay. This could have been because we get Victor's point of view on the situation first, so we get to know him first, but I think for me it was because Eli was somehow worse because he thought all the bad things he was doing was for the 'greater good'. Though neither of the characters are particularly sympathetic.

Although the whole story is really about Victor and Eli and their whole vengeance thing, I also ending up getting really into Sydney and Serena's story, too. Sydney and Serena are sisters, and they both end up being on Victor and Eli's sides respectively. I think that Sydney was my favourite character out of all of them, but that might just be because she's the closest to a YA/MG heroine in the book (she's only 13). Then again it might also be because she's brilliant and she can raise the dead. Like, that's kind of crazy. But I liked getting to see how these people had been drawn into Victor and Eli's conflict, and getting to see the situation from outside perspectives. Victor's other ally, his ex-prison cellmate Mitch, was also a great character.

One of my favourite things about Vicious, I think, was the scale of it. When it comes to superhero stories I expect huge final conflicts, with cities being destroyed and passersby all stopping to notice and news coverage and all that business. But Vicious is a lot smaller that this, yet it's all the better for it. When I was reading it, it felt a little bit anticlimatic, but now that I think back on it, it's really the perfect way for the book, and Victor and Eli's conflict to end. It's less of a superpower/superhero book and more of a book about two people with powers who want to get revenge on each other. And the very, very end of the book made me very happy, though I could understand if it made some people annoyed.

I also loved the worldbuilding, and enjoyed the way that the narrative was actually told. The ways in which Victor and Eli discovered that people could become EOs (ExtraOrdinaries - people with powers) actually made some sort of sense, and that's really important to me when reading more science fiction-y books. Obviously the science wasn't real, but it seemed logical in this universe instead of just random science-y stuff picked out of nowhere. Especially when it comes to powers, I much prefer the idea of getting powers through science than because you're born with them. And although I'm usually not that keen on having multiple points of view, because this book was in 3rd person it didn't seem as bad that it didn't just stick to one person. It allowed to story to be told in such a way that it kept you hooked because information was only being revealed fragmentally. You only get the full picture of what's happening, from both Victor and Eli's points of view, pretty much just before the end. I like that kind of edge of your seat stroytelling, you know? Though I will say that it took me a while to get properly into.

Vicious was a really, really good book. I can't really do it much justice because I always wait so long to write reviews and forget loads of stuff that I want to say about the book, but trust me this book is really good. If you like science-y, superpower-y books about vengeance, then this book is really for you.

Sunday 12 January 2014

A Face Like Glass review

A Face Like Glass
Frances Hardinge
May 10th 2012
Macmillan's Children's

In Caverna, lies are an art — and everyone's an artist . . .

In the underground city of Caverna the world's most skilled craftsmen toil in the darkness to create delicacies beyond compare. They create wines that can remove memories, cheeses that can make you hallucinate and perfumes that convince you to trust the wearer even as they slit your throat. The people of Caverna are more ordinary, but for one thing: their faces are as blank as untouched snow. Expressions must be learned. Only the famous Facesmiths can teach a person to show (or fake) joy, despair or fear — at a price.

Into this dark and distrustful world comes Neverfell, a little girl with no memory of her past and a face so terrifying to those around her that she must wear a mask at all times. For Neverfell's emotions are as obvious on her face as those of the most skilled Facesmiths, though entirely genuine. And that makes her very dangerous indeed ...

You may have noticed that I have been going on about this book a lot lately. Well, I say a lot, I mean I tweeted about it about twice. But that is because this book is probably the most inventive, interesting, fun, weird book that I've read for a while. The only book that I can sort of draw a comparison with is Chime by Franny Billingsley, not because they're alike, but because they're both sort of magical in an unusual way, though A Face Like Glass hasn't been as divisive with readers and is for a younger audience and isn't as confusing and difficult to get into.

I can hardly think of anything that I did not love about this book. The pace was slow at first, but deliciously slow in the way where the story and characters and world is being built delicately and masterfully. It took me a while to read, but only because I wanted to take the time to languish in the beautiful language, you know? It's been a while since I've read a book this amazingly well crafted and well written so I want to take some time to talk about it. And it's not that it's beautiful, although some passages truly are, it's just that there is such personality to it, you know? Kind of eccentric, but lovely. And there were times when I was reading it and Neverfell was talking or thinking about above ground outside of Caverna and it was like being able to see the sky through new eyes, you know? There is a way that Frances Hardinge has of describing things that make them seem new and fresh and exciting. I don't want to build it all up to much in the chance that someone reads this review and then reads the book and is disappointed, but this is genuinely how it made me feel, so, there.

All of the characters, too, were incredibly well written. I loved Neverfell, the girl with a face like glass, who can't in a world full of liars. Having spent most of her life living in Cheesemaster Grandible's tunnels making cheese, she knows little of Caverna and the complex political machinations and the lengths to which craftsmen will go to get power. She goes from being sort of innocent and not really knowing what's going on and having people manipulate her in the beginning, to taking initiative and action without ever losing sight of who she was. She just has a really great character arc and is a really great character and it was really great getting to see her start to actually take some control over what was happening to her in order to get to where she wanted. After her, Zouelle and the Grand Steward were my favourites, but the whole cast of characters were really interesting. I particularly loved the Grand Steward, who is so ancient and paranoid that he is literally always awake, splitting between Right Eye and Left Eye, having either his left or right side of his brain in control at one time. Like, it sounds weird but it is so crazy and fun to read about and it's really annoying that the one thing that I really want to talk about about this is a major spoiler for the book. 

I know that I'm a bit like a broken record here, but I also loved Caverna and just all of the details about what it looked like, how it worked etc. I mean, it is some really excellent world building for a really interesting and creative world. Caverna is entirely underground, and all of the people born there are unable to make facial expressions. They have to learn them. And instead of the upper classes being based on wealth, they're all craftsmen, who can make cheeses that can help you see the future or wines that alter your memory (this happens a lot in the book. It's pretty clever) or facesmiths who design new facial expressions for those who can afford them. Again, it's a little bit strange, but it just kind of works and you get really drawn into this world and Neverfell's struggle and all of it's weird little quirks. And it's not a perfect book or anything, but it's just so different and strange and lovely that I couldn't help but adore it.

I wish I could say more about this, but I think I would just be majorly repeating myself. Anyway, A Face Like Glass is a peculiar book, and not one that I would have ever picked up on my own, but it was one of those unexpected gems that you sort of just fall in love with. I wish I could express myself better and do it proper justice, but I don't really know how. I do know that I will be reading more of Frances Hardinge's books in the future, though.

Thursday 2 January 2014

Bloodlines review

Richelle Mead
August 23rd 2011

Blood doesn't lie...

Sydney is an alchemist, one of a group of humans who dabble in magic and serve to bridge the worlds of human and vampires. They protect vampire secrets - and human lives. When Sydney is torn from her bed in the middle of the night, at first she thinks she's still being punished for her complicated alliance with dhampir Rose Hathaway. But what unfolds is far worse. Jill Dragomir - the sister of Moroi Queen Lissa Dragomir - is in mortal danger, and the Moroi must send her into hiding. To avoid a civil war, Sydney is called upon to act as Jill's guardian and protector, posing as her roommate in the last place anyone would think to look for vampire royalty - a human boarding school in Palm Springs, California. But instead of finding safety at Amberwood Prep, Sydney discovers the drama is only just beginning...

This review is going to be weird to write because I've already read The Golden Lily, but I'm going to try and review them both separately anyway. I've been binge reading a lot of series lately. But yeah, Bloodlines was kind of weird for me because I first tried to read it ages ago when I first got it, probably around the time that I'd just finished Vampire Academy, and I just couldn't get into it. So I put it aside and I hadn't picked it up until last week, when  I read it in like a day. As a reviewer (of sorts), I feel bad about not reading books that I get sent before they come out so that I can have a review up on time, but I think that sometimes it does work out for the best. Now was the right time for me to get into this series.

I really loved being in the Vampire Academy world again and getting to spend time with some of my favourite characters from the series. I came to like Sydney and Jill a lot in VA, and Adrian of course, so it was nice to get to read a series which is about them properly. I was surprised by how much I liked Sydney as a narrator because she's so different from Rose, but I liked the fact that the tone of the story as well as the narrator was so different from Vampire Academy. It would feel a bit lazy if it was just Vampire Academy: California, you know? And I still really love Jill and Adrian, and the new aspect to their relationship that I was not expecting. I'm hoping it will have more of a purpose in the next few books, but it's still pretty cool. Also, Eddie Castile is adorable and I love him too. I don't really remember much about him from VA, but I'm glad that he's such a key character in this series.

One of the things which I probably liked most about Sydney's character development was her Alchemist background and her relationship with what she'd been taught and her actual experiences. Which is weird for me because usually I get a bit iffy about Religion in books, but when it's that integral to a character and their understanding of the world, it's kind of unavoidable and really helps to understand where Sydney is coming from. Unlike in VA, there's much less physical conflict that there is other kinds of conflict, and some of the best things in the book come from Sydney's conflict with her beliefs and her heart.

That being said, though there definitely isn't as much action as in VA (which I might have already said... I read the book a while ago so I'm scraping the barrel a bit here), it is still fast-paced and  builds up to an exciting ending. I did think that it was quite predictable, but that didn't detract from my enjoyment as even though I kind of figured out who the killer was, I really didn't want it to be them. And I liked the magic aspect of Bloodlines, too. I was familiar with the concept of Vampire magic and all that, but I liked seeing how humans had sort of made their own to do magic, and Sydney's vehement refusal to use it despite having a talent for it. I think that there's a lot more where that is coming from, given that one the books is called The Indigo Spell, and I am looking forward to getting to see all of that and Sydney's conflict with the practicality of magic in the environment that she's in and her religious Alchemist upbringing.

Overall, I really enjoyed Bloodlines and I am definitely looking forward to seeing how the rest of the series shapes up. I've already read The Golden Lily and should have a review of that up fairly soon, but I've heard that the series does get even better. Definitely for fans of Vampire Academy looking for more Richelle Mead greatness.

Wednesday 1 January 2014

Monthly Round-Up: December

It feels a bit weird starting off the new year with a recap post, but hey! December was a pretty good month for me reading wise, and also in general because Christmas, though I didn't get any books. I did get the first 3 volumes of Sandman, though, so that should be fun to get into! So, yeah.

Books Read:
Skulduggery Pleasant: Mortal Coil by Derek Landy
Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta
Bloodlines by Richelle Mead
The Golden Lily by Richelle Mead
Let It Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle
Saga volume 1 by Brian K Vaughn 
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

Books Reviewed:

Yeah, not such a good month on the reviewing month, but it was December so I was both busy with Christmas and busy making lists and preparing for the new year and making bad excuses, so there.  

Other Posts

Yeah, I usually wouldn't do one a list of non-review posts, but I had quite a few this month so I feel like it's warranted.

Book of the Month:

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge. This was just a random book that sort of showed up in the post several months ago that I really didn't give much of a second thought to. But when I started to read it I was just fascinated and engrossed and a little bewildered and it's complete magic. 

So that was my December! And Happy New Year!

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