Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Last Minute Christmas Present - Christmas is Cancelled by Aurelia B Rowl

It's Christmas Eve, the storms have blown themselves out (here in Somerset at least), and it's a glorious day. I suspect for some of you though it's marred by an element of panic - have you got everything ready for tomorrow? Have you got all the presents, wrapped them all? Well, if you find you're missing a gift, and the receiver happens to have the means to read an e-book, and likes a bit of Christmas romance, I've got the perfect last-minute gift idea right here - a copy of Aurelia B Rowl's Christmas is Cancelled.

Goodreads says:
Matilda 'Tilly' Carter didn't think her day could get any worse, but even Christmas had just been cancelled.

The one girl Dean Watson has sworn never to have—never even expected to see again—just flared back into his life and into his home—his sanctuary—like she belonged there. Christmas would certainly be more bearable with Tilly around though…

As the chinks in Dean's armor appear, Tilly seizes the chance to win her knight once and for all. She's not about to take no for answer—not this time—but Dean must resist, even as his heart rebels and temptation threatens to undermine his resolve.

Win or lose? Love or honor? Which will Dean choose? Assuming he gets a choice…


My review:
Christmas is Cancelled is the perfect Christmas read in my opinion - it's funny, sweet, romantic and a little bit sexy. It's just right to get you in a good Christmassy mood. Tilly has lost her job, her boyfriend and her home, all in one foul swoop, but fate has an amazing rescue in store for her - in the shape of Dean. It's been ten years since they saw each other, but when she bumps into her brother's best friend, the man she fell for hard all those years ago, Tilly's Christmas starts looking up. 

Rowl sets the pace perfectly as these two get to know each other all over again. There's a few twists and turns here and there, but that's life for you, and it certainly keeps things interesting. Technically a novella, Christmas is Cancelled isn't a long read, but Rowl somehow packs so much into it that it feels like a full novel. The characters are brilliantly brought to life, full of real emotion, and the chemistry between them is powerful stuff. 

It's impossible not to get caught up in Tilly and Dean's story - from the hints at their back-stories to the awkward, loaded moments between them, these are two addictive characters and a book I didn't want to put down. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll sigh. Everything you need from a heart-warming Christmas story. 

So even if you don't need to buy a last minute Christmas gift, why not treat yourself?

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Review: The Academy - Introductions by C.L. Stone

Published by: Arcato Publishing
Release date: 23rd December 2013
Series: The Academy #1
I got it from: NetGalley
Goodreads summary:

With an agoraphobic mother and a barely-there father, Sang abhors the isolation keeping her in the shadows. The only thing Sang craves is a fresh start and to be accepted as ordinary by her peers, because for her being different meant being cast out alone.

When her family moves to a new school district, Sang infiltrates a group of boys nearly perfect in every way. Grateful for an influence outside of her parents’ negativity, she quickly bonds with the boys, hoping to blend in and learn from them what it means to have a natural relationship with friends.

Only the boys have secrets of their own and they’ll do anything to keep her safe from the knowledge of the mysterious Academy that they've sworn allegiance to. Bit by bit, Sang discovers that her friends are far from the normalcy she expected. Will her loyalty change when she's forced to remain in the dark, or will she accept that she's traded one house of secrets for another?

Meet Kota, Victor, Silas, Nathan, Gabriel, Luke and North in a story about differences and loyalty, truth and mystery, friendships and heart-throbbing intimacy.

The Academy, ever vigilant.


My review:
I had a few issues with the beginning of this book - a couple of things didn't quite tie together as well as they should have done, leaving me questioning a couple of pretty major plot features, however I stuck with it and by the end I was glad I did.

Stone's character building is great - we meet seven different guys over the course of the book, which is a lot of characters to get your head around, but she pulls it off well - each guy has his own distinct personality, and the way they all interact with our heroine Sang really works. Stone is cunning in her use of situations to introduce each boy, making him memorable for one reason or another.

Sang herself is a bit of a weak link to start with - her character veers around a bit, one moment shy and naive, the next flirty and fun. But in a way, it makes sense - she's coming out of her shell, shocking herself at times with her own behaviour and learning what it is to be a friend.

Introductions is the title, and it's an apt one - this book is clearly the set-up for an interesting series. We meet all the characters and get a bit of the back-stories that are obviously essential to the series, but nothing major really happens. Despite that though, it's one of those unputdownable books that once I got into, I just had to keep reading! I'm very interested to see what the next book brings us.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Review: Drawn by Cecilia Gray

Published by: Gray Life, LLC
Release date: 15th December 2013
Series: n/a
I got it from: NetGalley
Goodreads summary:

Take a journey into the gritty world of political espionage through the eyes – and lies – of one extraordinary girl. A wholly original tale of friendship and betrayal from the author of The Jane Austen Academy series....

Sasha has a secret – that she can make you spill your secret with nothing more than a question. Her strange gift makes her a burden to her foster family and a total freak of nature. Not that Sasha cares. Why should she when no one cares about her?

Then the CIA knocks on her door. They want to give Sasha a new identity and drop her into a foreign country to infiltrate a ring of zealous graffiti terrorists. They want to give Sasha something to care about.

To survive a world where no one is who they seem, Sasha needs to make people trust her. But when that trust blossoms into love, Sasha is forced to decide between duty and friendship, between her mind and her heart, and whether to tell the truth or keep her secrets.


My review:
I started this book with some trepidation - I'm not really into political thrillers or espionage, but I fancied a change and Sasha sounded interesting. The book had a definite genre feel to it - some books cross genres and confuse libraries and booksellers, while others seem to fit quite neatly into a category. Drawn, to me, fitted the 'teen spy/agent' category perfectly. And yes, there is such a category, even if it's not official - look at all the books out there featuring teens who are/become secret agents for the government or some other organisation, and you'll know I'm right. So yes, Drawn is a genre book, but I'm not implying that's a bad thing. 

Spy books are fun. They might feature political agendas, but when it's YA you're reading, they're generally not really heavy-going. It's more like teen James Bond than teen... actually I don't know the names of any 'serious' spy thrillers, but I know they exist. Drawn is intriguing because of Sasha's power. Of course there has to be a legitimate reason for a 16 year-old to be getting involved with the CIA, and in this case, it's the fact that whenever she speaks, people tell the truth. It's an inspired talent - I've not read anything like it before, and it works really well for the book. Gray has thought out the idea very well, and the power affects every aspect of Sasha's life. It's surprising how much people keep inside their heads, and it's not until you really think about it that you realise it. How would you feel if you were talking to someone and suddenly blurted out 'you have a really big nose, I can't stop staring at it' or something equally unacceptable? That isn't a quote by the way, just an example. Or if you murdered someone and you buried the body, and you're being held of questioning, and before you know it you're confessing all. This is what happens to people around Sasha, which makes her not exactly a popular person. 

So Drawn deals with issues of isolation and loneliness, feeling separated from everything and everyone. But it deals with them in a sneaky way so you don't realise it's doing it. It also deals with how to deal with the fact that a very hot, very cool guy appears to like you, and you really like him back, but because of your life and your job you have to lie to him about who you really are. Yes, of course there has to be romance, but it's done in a really sweet, non-gushy way. In fact, the romance is very cleverly intertwined with the other aspects of the plot. 

Sasha herself has a great voice - she was a joy to read. Love the way she assesses weapons and exits when she walks into a room - the perfect way to remind us of what she is. She's funny, too, and we really get to know her well. She has the kind of voice that draws me right in and won't let go. I'm longing to read more of her.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Review: Becoming Alpha by Aileen Erin

Published by: Ink Monster, LLC
Release date: 17th December 2013
Series: Alpha Girl #1
I got it from: NetGalley
Goodreads summary:

Tessa McCaide has a unique talent for getting into trouble. Then again, it isn’t easy for a girl with visions to ignore what she sees. Luckily Tessa and her family are leaving California and moving halfway across the country, giving her the perfect opportunity to leave her reputation as “Freaky Tessa” behind.

But Tessa doesn’t realize that kissing the wrong guy in her new Texas town could land her in far more trouble than she ever imagined. Like being forced to attend St. Ailbe’s Academy, a secret boarding school for werewolves.

Even if the wrong guy did accidentally turn her into one of “them” and doom her to attending the weirdest high school ever, Tessa can’t help her growing attraction to the mysterious Dastien Laurent.

When vampires attack St. Alibe’s and her visions pinpoint an enemy in their midst, Tessa realizes that boy drama and her newfound canine tendencies might just be the least of her problems.


My review:
It's been a while since I've read a werewolf book. I kind of got saturated with them at one time, so I've given the sub-genre a rest but now I'm happy to have it back - especially in the form of this series introduction! 

Becoming Alpha is a great addition to the werewolf ranks - Erin's world-building is excellent and her characters are big and bold, making for a wonderful read. The mythology behind these werewolves is only touched on lightly in this first book, but what there is, is intriguing and I get the feeling we're going to learn a lot more in subsequent books. 

Tessa is a very interesting character, with her visions marking her as something special to begin with. As a person I loved her - she's such a typical teenage girl - at least she wants to be, but her heritage and visions make her life a nightmare, and I really felt for her. When she gets turned into a werewolf, the way she reacted and dealt with everything seemed very true to life - if life really did involve a secret werewolf school! I guess what I mean is, Tessa is so well-written that she comes across as very real, very genuine. 

The other characters around Tessa don't suffer either - I particularly loved her brother, and as for Dastien - who wouldn't fall for a hot, French werewolf?! Although strangely, I think Dastien was probably one of the weaker characters in the book. I hope we'll get to know him more in the next book, as I think he has a lot to offer. There's a large cast involved by the end of the book, and Erin does well to keep them all individual and interesting.

Becoming Alpha was an easy read - a YA supernatural romance that completely fits the genre. There's no startling originality, it's not going to change your life, but it's a really enjoyable read and I can't wait to read the next in the series.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Review: Olivia Twisted by Vivi Barnes

Published by: Entangled: Teen
Release date: 5th November 2013
Series: n/a
I got it from: NetGalley
Goodreads summary:

Tossed from foster home to foster home, Olivia’s seen a lot in her sixteen years. She’s hardened, sure, though mostly just wants to fly under the radar until graduation. But her natural ability with computers catches the eye of Z, a mysterious guy at her new school. Soon, Z has brought Liv into his team of hacker elite—break into a few bank accounts, and voila, he drives a motorcycle. Follow his lead, and Olivia might even be able to escape from her oppressive foster parents. As Olivia and Z grow closer, though, so does the watchful eye of Bill Sykes, Z’s boss. And he’s got bigger plans for Liv…

My review:
What an interesting idea, a modern-day take on the tale of Oliver Twist - with a twist! In fact, with several twists - for one thing, Oliver is now a girl - Olivia, known as Liv to her friends. And then picking pockets is a bit old hat, so Barnes has translated it into a truly modern tale by having her thieves use cyber-crime to make their money.

Now, it's been a hell of a long time since I read Oliver Twist, or even saw any movie versions of it, so I'm not that au fait with the story. However I did get a feeling throughout the book that certain things were cleverly twisted echoes of Dickens' version. Don't worry though - as far as I can remember, it's not like reading a copy of the original tale. Barnes has made this story all her own, with Liv and Z sharing the limelight, trading chapter for chapter in that time-honoured boy/girl point of view that I've come to love.

Liv and Z are both interesting characters. Liv is so good that sometimes it makes you a little bit sick. She's been through the harsh fostering system and has miraculously remained a good girl at heart. Z, not so much. He's a bad boy through and through, even if he is faking being a nerd. At least, that's what he thinks. How long can the bad boy last once Olivia gets her goody-goody claws into him though? Actually, I really liked the spark between these two. Neither of them want to fall for someone, but sometimes it's just not a matter of choice.

With a supporting cast of orphan hackers, evil foster-parents and the big bad boss-guy, Barnes weaves an intriguing tale that will have you reading long into the night.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Review: The F- It List by Julie Halpern

Published by: Feiwel & Friends (Macmillan Children's)
Release date: 12th November 2013
Series: n/a
I got it from: NetGalley
Goodreads summary:

With her signature heart and humor, Julie Halpern explores a strained friendship strengthened by one girl’s battle with cancer.

Alex’s father recently died in a car accident. And on the night of his funeral, her best friend Becca slept with Alex’s boyfriend. So things aren’t great. Alex steps away from her friendship with Becca and focuses on her family.

But when Alex finally decides to forgive Becca, she finds out something that will change her world again--Becca has cancer.

So what do you do when your best friend has cancer? You help her shave her head. And then you take her bucket list and try to fulfill it on her behalf. Because if that’s all you can do to help your ailing friend--you do it.


My review:
I knew as soon as I saw it that this book was going to be full of brilliance. Browsing through NetGalley, there are always a couple of books that make me think 'hmm, that might be interesting', but then every now and again, I see a book that makes me really, really want it. I don't always get the books - I'm just a small blogger based in the UK, not exactly a dream reader, but when I got that email telling me The F-it List was available to read, I whooped a little bit. 

Alex is brilliant. I love her. She's straight-talking and honest and tragic and amazing. She gets called a cold-hearted bitch, and you can see why straight away but that's not her - she cares, she just doesn't like admitting it to anyone, herself included. Her dad has just died, and now her best friend has cancer. That's a lot to cope with by any standards, and it takes Alex a while to work it out. 

Becca's bucket list is something of a vehicle for the book, but actually it ends up taking a back seat. It's more about Alex and how she finds a way to cope with grief, and then learns to let herself be happy again. Along the way there's tragedy and woe, bittersweet moments, and quite a lot of sex and swearing. Halpern writes in a way that feels very real, and I think a lot of people will be able to relate to this book in some way or another. The relationship between Alex and Becca is wonderful. There's a lot of humour in there, a lot of honesty and quirkiness. Alex is obsessed by horror movies and Becca loves her sci-fi series and computer games. These are girls who embrace their inner geek and are proud of it. Becca is quite a perv, Alex talks before she thinks way too often, and they just make such a perfect pair in so many ways. They're both completely believable and lovable as characters. 

The female characters are so amazing, it's a shame that I don't feel quite the same about the male characters in the book. Leo, Alex's love interest, seems like a great guy but a little flat. This is understandable to start with - Alex is really just using him, rather than actually getting to know him, so as we're reading Alex's point of view the fleeting impression of niceness we're left with feels right. Later on though things change but we never really get much of an impression of that boy. Then there's homeschool hottie Caleb, who is more of a peripheral character when I feel he should be a bit of a star. 

One-dimensional boys aside though, I loved the hell out of this book. It just felt incredibly real. A tiny bit of a tear-jerker (though not as much as you'd think with the big C involved), funny and honest and a wonderfully entertaining read. I'll definitely be looking up Halpern's back-catalogue. NB It's classed as YA but it borders on NA as the sex and swears might offend some.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Review: You are Mine by Janeal Falor

Published by: Chardonian Press
Release date: 6th May 2013
Series: Mine #1
I got it from: NetGalley
Goodreads summary:

Serena knows a few simple things. She will always be owned by a warlock. She will never have freedom. She will always do what her warlock wishes, regardless of how inane, frivolous, or cruel it is. And if she doesn’t follow the rules, she will be tarnished. Spelled to be bald, inked, and barren for the rest of her life—worth less than the shadow she casts.

Then her ownership is won by a barbarian from another country. With the uncertainty that comes from belonging to a new warlock, Serena questions if being tarnished is really worse than being owned by a barbarian, and tempts fate by breaking the rules. When he looks the other way instead of punishing her, she discovers a new world. The more she ventures into the forbidden, the more she learns of love and a freedom just out of reach. Serena longs for both. But in a society where women are only ever property, hoping for more could be deadly.


My review:
I approach high fantasy with caution. I'm definitely more of an urban fantasy girl, and I like my magic to be dark but believable. That said, I do have a very good imagination and love to get lost in a book, so my range of what's believable is pretty far-reaching. Although I like a real-world setting most of the time, I will delve deeper into the fantasy genre if a book catches my eye, and You Are Mine certainly did that. Am I glad I relented? Oh yes.

This is a brilliant piece of world-building. Falor dabbles with high fantasy while somehow keeping it real enough to relate to. Her uses of magic are inspired, and the races she has created are very well thought-out. Serena's life is completely different from mine, yet Falor writes her so well that I felt I really understood her, and her emotions became mine.

The concept of ownership that men have over women could have come across as trite, but you can tell that Falor has thought about it a lot, and she's created a society that seems very real when you're reading about it. The way Serena describes her life makes you really empathise with her, and the way she talks about how things work in her country makes me almost believe it is a real place.

There is definitely a fairytale aspect to You Are Mine - the magical realms, the evil, domineering father and the bevvy of sisters relying on our Serena's intervention. As for the knight in shining armour, or handsome prince, well you'll just have to read it yourself to see how that goes down. I don't want to give anything away.

Serena herself is a wonderful character. She's strong and has a mind of her own, two things that are not appreciated in her society. Most women in her world are meek and submissive, bowing down to first their father and then their husband's will. Serena isn't like that though - she has thoughts that would earn her a harsh punishment if ever a man heard them. At first, she doesn't know what to do with those thoughts - doesn't believe she can do anything. But when fate deals a twisted hand and changes her life, she grabs hold of the opportunity she's been given. Serena has her whiny moments, but given the circumstances you can hardly blame her - to me, it just makes her all the more real.

I'll definitely be looking out for Falor's next book, eager to hear more about her wonderful, magical world.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

UKYA review: Popping the Cherry by Aurelia B Rowl

Published by: Carina
Release date: 19th September 2013
Series: n/a
I got it from: NetGalley
Goodreads summary:

You only get one first time . . .

From driving tests to relationships, Valentina Bell thinks she’s a failure, with a big fat capital F. At this rate, she’s certain she’ll be a virgin for ever. So Lena’s friends plan Operation: Popping the Cherry to help her find the perfect man first time.

Yet somehow disastrous dates with bad-boy musicians and fabulous evenings with secretly in-the-closet guys aren’t quite working out how Lena planned.

Soon Lena’s avoiding Operation: Popping the Cherry to spend time with comforting, aloof Jake, her best friend’s older brother, who doesn’t make her feel self-conscious about still clinging to her V card. But could Jake show Lena that sometimes what you’re looking for most is right by your side?

A FOREVER for the twenty-first century


My review:
Ahh, this book was exactly what I needed. After trawling through a bunch of difficult fantasy novels, I was more than ready for this easy-to-read, light-hearted bit of contemporary romance. It was so nice reading a Brit book too - the voice is so different to a US one, but I often forget just how much difference it makes, what with the market being flooded with US fiction. As I'm taking part in the British Books Challenge this year though, I'm doing my best to read and plug as many good UKYA books as I can. Thankfully, books like Popping the Cherry make my job easy - as soon as I read it, I wanted to tell you all about it.

Lena is a great MC for starters. She's so blessedly normal. She's at college studying for her A-levels, but she doesn't really know what she wants to do. She has friends, but she's not uber-popular. She's not geeky, she's not beautiful, she doesn't have that much self-confidence but she's not a complete wall-flower. She's a virgin, which is kind of the point of the book, but she's not a prude. She has a great voice, and I loved reading her story.

Lucky Lena is also surrounded by a bevy of brilliant characters. Her group of friends are spot-on - I can just imagine those girls at college together, Rowl brings them all to life so well. Even the peripheral characters - the parents and other students - are excellently done. Some authors don't seem to realise the importance of secondary characters, but Rowl clearly does, and she does her job with aplomb. And then there's Jake. Ah, Jake. He's a builder by trade, he's 21, he's Lena's best friend Gemma's brother. There are so many reasons why he shouldn't work for Lena, somehow he does. He's not just a builder, he's a director of his father's company, and he's got vision. At that age, a few years difference is definitely a good thing in my mind - girls mature so much quicker than boys, that at 17, college boys are best avoided. The thorny issue of Gemma is more problematic. But is all this relevant anyway? Can Jake really be a contender for Lena's affections? He's definitely not on her cherry-popping list, so he's off-limits, right?

Rowl does breathless romance very well. There were so many moments in this book that had my stomach clenching, butterflies tripping around my insides. It really brought to life those heart-stoppingly awkward but beautiful moments when two people start to realise that there is something more between them than friendship. It's not plain-sailing by any means. Lena runs into more than her fair share of trouble, but luckily there's a certain someone there ready to act as knight-in-shining-armour. By the time I got to the end I was fairly screaming at the book to make it happen already, but that's all part of the fun. The ending itself was a little soppy, but in a nice way.

A perfect blend of teen issues and fun romance, Popping the Cherry is exactly my kind of book, and I hope it is yours too.

Monday, 23 September 2013

UKYA Review: Skulk by Rosie Best

Published by: Strange Chemistry
Release date: 1st October 2013
Series: n/a
I got it from: NetGalley
 
Goodreads summary:
When Meg witnesses the dying moments of a shapeshifting fox and is given a beautiful and powerful stone, her life changes forever. She is plunged into the dark world of the Skulk, a group of shapeshifting foxes.

As she learns about the other groups of shapeshifters that lurk around London – the Rabble, the Horde, the Cluster and the Conspiracy – she becomes aware of a deadly threat against all the shapeshifters. They must put aside all their enmity and hostility and fight together to defeat it.


My review:
I've had a run of mediocre books from NetGalley recently, but as soon as I started reading Skulk, I knew I'd stumbled across something special. For one thing, it's British, which immediately brings it up in my estimation. I can't help it, there's something kind of amazing about reading a great Brit book after trawling through mountains of US stuff. But that's not all Skulk has going for it - not by a long shot...

It's shapeshifters, but not as we know them. Somehow, Best has come up with a really original way of using shifters. I didn't think there were any left, but Best's groups of shifters are new and appealing. The history and origins of these shifters are interesting, and the way that Meg becomes one is very different. No infected bites here! The description of Meg's first shift, and all that comes with it, is brilliantly-written. In fact, the whole book is. Best brings her characters to life wonderfully - not just Meg, though her voice is very real, honest and likeable - but the rest of the skulk group who Meg meets, and other shifters that she comes across later, are all well-formed, interesting characters. Meg's parents, while lacking in parental skills, are beautifully evil as characters! Meg herself is a multi-faceted girl, on one level a rich, priveladged girl with a crappy home life, on another she's a talented grafitti artist with a mission. Then the skulk comes along and everything changes, and she becomes a reluctant heroine.

There's a lot of action, and it's well-paced. Best isn't afraid to let bad things happen, to show us a bit of blood and gore, and there's none of the 'talking down' effect that you come across in some YA books. Best treats her readers as intelligent people, and she hits exactly the right point between giving enough description to bring her world to life, while leaving just enough to the imagination of the reader. There's a hint of romance towards the end that I think will be built on in subsequent books, but it's not the be-all and end-all of the story, there's no inappropriate swooning at crucial moments and everybody isn't gorgeous! There are a lot of levels to this book if you start pulling it apart - a lot of different issues are brought up, but it's done in a subtle way so that taken as a whole it's just a really good read.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Review: The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

Published by: Scholastic Press
Release date: 17th Sept 2013
Series: Raven Cycle #2
I got it from: Amazon

Quote: 
Quote: "His eyes were frighteningly alive, the curve of his mouth savage and pleased. It suddenly didn't seem at all surprising that he should be able to pull things from his dreams.
In that moment, Blue was a little in love with all of them. Their magic. Their quest. Their awfulness and strangeness. Her raven boys."

Goodreads summary:
Now that the ley lines around Cabeswater have been woken, nothing for Ronan, Gansey, Blue, and Adam will be the same. Ronan, for one, is falling more and more deeply into his dreams, and his dreams are intruding more and more into waking life. Meanwhile, some very sinister people are looking for some of the same pieces of the Cabeswater puzzle that Gansey is after...

My review:
I haven't been this excited about the prospect of a book for a long time. Ever since I read The Raven Boys I've been waiting, with baited breath, for The Dream Thieves to come into being. As the publication date got nearer, I became more impatient and any book that wasn't The Dream Thieves couldn't satisfy me.

I managed to time re-reading The Raven Boys perfectly, so that I finished it on the day The Dream Thieves arrived. I didn't start it until the following day though - I needed that small amount of time to soak up all of The Raven Boys and prepare myself. Because I knew it was going to be big. I was not wrong.

Stiefvater's writing has reached a new level with this series. Every single sentence has the feeling that it has been very carefully considered, while still somehow managing to flow naturally and with an energy that will bite you if you're not careful. It's like reading a ley line. Here is a book that you cannot read when you're tired. There is so much going on, and all of it, every single word, demands your complete attention. If you miss something, you will be sorry. I suspect that when I read it again (which I suspect will happen quite soon), I will find even more magic, fall even deeper in love.

I refuse absolutely to give away anything when it comes to this book. The summary, as you can see above, is short and intriguing. It's a very hard book to write about without revealing something essential. There are things which are set up in the Raven Boys which you can't possibly see how they might pan out, and when events conspire to make these things happen it is somehow both surprising and obvious. Stiefvater must surely have access to some place like Cabeswater herself, as I really can't see how all this could have happened inside one brain, in order.

Th Dream Thieves is many, many things. It is, at turns, loud, subtle, gentle, dangerous, perplexing, serious, amusing, warm and awesome. It is, at all times, beautiful, riveting and wonderful. There is just so much of it. It contains magic, and it is magic. When I saw it on NetGalley, I requested it with some trepidation, and I was actually happy when my request was declined. Because this is the type of book that needs to be made of paper. It needs to be bound, or it might fly away. If you've read The Raven Boys, you know what you want, and you can rest assured that it will not disappoint. If you haven't read The Raven Boys, do so immediately.

Thank you Mrs Stiefvater. I had unreasonably high expectations, and you have exceeded them beautifully.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Slumber Blog Tour: Author Guest Post With Kathleen Bolton

I read slumber back in July, and I absolutely loved it, so when the opportunity came up to take part in the blog tour, I jumped at it. You can see my original review here, and today I'm very lucky to be hosting a guest post from author Kathleen Bolton (who wrote Slumber under the pen name Tamara Blake), as well as a giveaway so you can win your very own digital copy of Slumber. Don't just take my word for it though - you can read an excerpt of the book yourself and let me know what you think.

About Kathleen

Kathleen Bolton is a professional writer and editor. Currently, she is a contracted writer to WorkingPartners, Ltd Her projects include Confessionsof a First Daughter, a YA series about the misadventures of the U.S. President’s teen-aged daughter, and Secretsof a First Daughter, both published by HarperCollins Teen, under the pen name Cassidy Calloway. Her current project, Slumber, under the pen name Tamara Blake, released July of 2013 and is a dark suspense fantasy novel for teens. She is the co-founder of  WriterUnboxed, one of the foremost online communities for writers of fiction.
Kathleen lives with her husband and daughter in upstate New York.
Visit her AuthorTrackerwebpage at HarperCollins Publishing, or Goodreads

Kathleen's Guest Post

Getting the most from your secondary characters
By Kathleen Bolton, author of SLUMBER under the pen name Tamara Blake

Thank you for inviting me to guest with you today. Many readers have said that they enjoy the secondary characters in SLUMBER just as much as the main characters Ruby and Tam. As writers, we work hard to create characters that come alive on the page, no matter what their role is in the book. I thought I would share my three tips guidelines for creating unforgettable secondary characters.

1. Contrast to compare.

I like to use the rule of contrast when creating secondary characters. Doing so enables me to highlight my main character’s traits more brightly. For example, in SLUMBER, the heroine, Ruby, is a broke but hardworking girl who doesn’t like to play games. What you see is what you get with Ruby. So I made sure that her bitter enemy, the immortal fae Ivy, was a foil for Ruby’s earthiness. Ivy is spoiled, pleasure-seeking and likes to toy with people to the point of cruelty. They are opposite sides of spectrum, which allowed me to give their scenes extra zip.

2. Give secondary character one defining characteristic (ideally in opposition to your protagonist).

There’s a reason it’s called a secondary character: they exist to help tell the protagonist’s story, not their own. In SLUMBER, I needed this rule more than ever. The mansion of Cottingley was inhabited by a number of beautiful immortal faes, and it was challenging to give them enough memorability without derailing the main story of Ruby and Tam. So I made sure to settle on one unusual trait per fae – a swirly dragon’s tattoo, or French accent – so the reader wouldn’t be overwhelmed with detail. Just enough memorability for the reader to keep them straight without having to resort to a cheat sheet to tell who was who.

3. But don’t fall back on clichés.

Even if a secondary character only has a few lines, I like to make sure they seem fresh by giving them an unexpected twist. For example, in SLUMBER, Ruby’s little sister Shelley was in danger of running into cliché territory because she was a cute little girl who did cute little girl things. She needed a little edge, to keep her real and avoid becoming a cliché. So I gave Shelley a passion for drawing really bad pictures that no one can decipher, which provides comic relief and gives her an extra dimension.

There you have it, my three tips for creating memorable secondary characters. Thanks again for having me guest post today. I truly appreciate it.

Thanks for that Kathleen, as a writer myself I found that really interesting and useful, as I'm sure many others out there will. And now it's time for the Giveaway!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Many thanks to Diversion Books for letting me take part in this tour. You can buy the book from their site.

Monday, 9 September 2013

New Adult Monday: Me, Cinderella? by Aubrey Rose

Published by: CreateSpace
Release date:
24th June 2013
Series:
n/a
I got it from:
NetGalley

Goodreads summary:

One kind deed can change your life forever...

Brynn Tomlin could never afford to follow her heart. But when she sees a stranger shivering in the snow outside of the college library, an inexplicable urge leads her to buy him a hot cup of coffee. It's just a small act of kindness, a few words of conversation. Brynn should be focusing on her finals, after all, not on the man who looked up at her gratefully with piercing blue eyes.

He could have been anyone - a janitor on break, a graduate student, a bum. But the man standing outside in the cold turns out to be Dr. Eliot Herceg, one of the most brilliant minds in mathematics and heir to a fortune. After years of reclusive isolation, he now finds his heart awakening to the kind girl whose name he does not know.

Brynn has spent her life trying to forget her desires, and Eliot's deep wounds have taken nearly a decade to heal. After so much hurt, will either of them be able to open their hearts again?


My review:
I found this to be a really beautiful story. I wasn't sure if I'd like it before I started, as I'm not sure I like the idea of student/teacher relationships, but I decided as this is NA and the student is older, it's not so bad. So I gave it a chance, and I'm so glad I did. 

Brynn is a really good character. She's had tragedy in her past, she's kind of poor, but she doesn't dwell on all that too much. She is incredibly intelligent and she adores math(s) (I don't get why Americans remove the s). I loved the way she gets so excited about it, how she lives to solve these ridiculously hard problems and gets so much enjoyment out of it. Me and numbers don't have that kind of relationship, but the way Brynn was written made me feel like she was a friend who I totally get and love. She's a little naive, and doesn't have enough confidence in herself, but she's a sweet, smart girl and very likeable. You want her to get the happy ever after.

When Brynn meets Eliot she feels an instant connection, unlike anything she's felt before. The girl is a late bloomer, not having had a relationship before. She's fancied boys, but she's never felt anything like what she feels when she's around Eliot. She doesn't really understand it to start with. Okay, so I found Brynn a little too naive at times - can you really get that far in life without feeling desire? But I can overlook that, and concentrate on the great energy between her and Eliot. Neither of them realises who the other is to start - Brynn doesn't know he's a math(s) professor, and Eliot doesn't know she's a top student, in with a chance at his internship. They're neither of them whole or healthy inside, and each of them has their own reasons for avoiding getting close to someone. They can't deny the electricity they feel though, so we see this awkward little 'I-like-you-but-I-don't-want-to' dance. It's sweet. 

Both Brynn and Eliot have built pretty big walls around themselves, and as the book goes on we see those walls start to crumble slightly, but it takes something pretty big to pull them down altogether. In the mean-time we're left with a bit of will-they/won't-they. Rose hits the fine line before going over it though - there's not quite too much back-and-forth. Eliot is the real problem. He's older, and his hurt is more personal. He's very stubborn with himself, he doesn't believe he deserves to find love and happiness again, so he really shuts Brynn out. Every now and then though, he can't help himself, so the poor girl is left dangling, not knowing what he wants. Although that frustrated me a little, I couldn't help but fall for Eliot...

Eliot is older than Brynn. I don't think we ever actually hear his age, but he's definitely a bit different to your usual NA hero. He's an intellectual, he's loved and lost, he's kind of broken and he has an air of mystery that draws you in. When he meets Brynn something inside of him starts to open up. He fights it all the way, because he's a good guy and he doesn't think a student/teacher relationship is right. 

Rose treats us to just the right amount of back-story. Sometimes I get bored of reading about a character's past, but the lives that Rose has created, and the way she reveals them, was just right. Everything fits together perfectly in this book - the characters, the plotline, the history, the locations. I love that Eliot is Hungarian and half the book is based in Budapest - this makes such a nice change from the usual US campus, and it's such a romantic city to imagine. 

A note on the ending - you know how fussy I am! The end of this book is fine. No problem there. What I do have a problem with, is the fact that there's a sequel, which we're treated to a preview of at the end of this book. I didn't like that. I want my happy-ever-after, I want fairytale romance and escapism. I don't want to know all about how relationships aren't plain-sailing and easy to maintain. That's just a bit too real for me. So I personally won't be going for the next book, but that's just me.

Monday, 2 September 2013

New Adult Monday: Ice Games by Jessica Clare

Published by: Jill Myles
Release date:
29th July 2013
Series:
Games #3
I got it from:
ARC via GR New Adult Book Club Read & Review

Goodreads summary: 

Zara Pritchard is a has-been. Once an Olympic darling, she's been reduced to skating in a dinosaur costume and giving lessons at the local mall...which is why she's excited when she's offered a chance to sub on a TV show, Ice Dancing with the Stars. If she wins the show, this could be the break she needs.

There's just one problem - her partner.

Ty Randall is a MMA bad boy looking to fix his image problem. Sure, he's got the nickname of 'Ty the MMA Biter'. Sure, he might have bit a guy's nose off in the cage. But putting him on a reality TV show? A skating reality TV show? He's not interested. He'll do the minimum to fix his image and call it a day.

But when wash-out meets flame-out, sparks fly and tempers flare. And Ty and Zara start to realize that maybe this partnership might be just as steamy off the ice as on it...

 
My review:
A fun and flirty holiday read, exactly the kind of NA novel I like for a bit of light reading. There's no angst to be found here, no harsh reminders of the real world. Zara and Ty both have incidents in their past that they're not proud of, that have wrecked their careers, but for the reader it's just a little glitch with a great outcome - bringing the pair together.

Zara is tiny but feisty. She may be small but she's strong in body and heart. And when you hear Ty's words about her you'll see just how sexy she is. With the body and agility of a figure skater, a wild streak a mile wide and a determination to win, there's nothing not to love about this girl.

Ty is a fighter, and you can't deny that there's something sexy about that - his body, his strength and his toughness. But it's what's inside that really counts. He may have bitten a chunk out of a guy's nose in the ring, but with Zara he's as sweet as can be - at least he is after the initial clash of strong personalities. The little skater has got under his skin, and he'll do anything to make her happy - except wear sequins!

These two have chemistry from the moment they meet, and although they string us along for a while, we're treated to a doozy of a sex scene in the end! I don't feel bad about revealing that, as I reckon it's pretty much a given from the moment he puts his hands on her, and it gives you something to look forward to! A short book you can enjoy in an afternoon if you fancy a bit of fun and romance. It's part of a series but works fine as a standalone read.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Review: Inhuman by Kat Falls

Published by: Scholastic
Release date:
24th September 2013
Series:
Fetch #1
I got it from:
Netgalley

Goodreads summary:
In a world ravaged by mutation, a teenage girl must travel into the forbidden Savage Zone to recover lost artifacts or her father’s life is forfeit.

America has been ravaged by a war that has left the eastern half of the country riddled with mutation. Many of the people there exhibit varying degrees of animal traits. Even the plantlife has gone feral.

Crossing from west to east is supposed to be forbidden, but sometimes it’s necessary. Some enter the Savage Zone to provide humanitarian relief. Sixteen-year-old Lane’s father goes there to retrieve lost artifacts—he is a Fetch. It’s a dangerous life, but rewarding—until he’s caught.

Desperate to save her father, Lane agrees to complete his latest job. That means leaving behind her life of comfort and risking life and limb—and her very DNA—in the Savage Zone. But she’s not alone. In order to complete her objective, Lane strikes a deal with handsome, roguish Rafe. In exchange for his help as a guide, Lane is supposed to sneak him back west. But though Rafe doesn’t exhibit any signs of “manimal” mutation, he’s hardly civilized . . . and he may not be trustworthy.


My review:
I loved this book. Straight-out loved it. I'm not a huge dystopia fan, and there were a few flaws if we're going to get technical, but inhuman had that certain something - that indefinable quality that made me love it, despite all the reasons why I shouldn't!

There's a love triangle which has the feeling at the start that it's been shoehorned in somewhat, but by the end it somehow works on a lot of levels. There's the manimals (part human, part animal) - there is no way a virus should be able to alter a person's physiognomy to that level, but I love the idea of them so much I'll let it slide. It's no more incredible than vampires, werewolves or angels, so why not?

There were predicable elements, but they were off-set by a hundred little twists and turns that I didn't see coming, and I revelled in them. Falls' writing is seriously addictive. I felt what Lane felt, I saw what she saw. Lane herself is not the most original character ever - the girl from the soft side forced to survive in the wild - but I loved her all the same. Likewise for Rafe and Everson - hot, bad guy with a secret heart of gold and hot military guy who's just a misunderstood softie - neither of them particularly original, but each of them lovable in their own way. And for the record, in case you were wondering, I'm team Rafe all the way.

Taken to pieces, the only really exceptional thing about Inhuman is the part that gives it its name - those ferals, hybrids and manimals are what holds it all together and makes it special. That, and Falls' addictive, fast-paced and empathetic writing. The dialogue is great, the descriptions make me feel like I'm there, and the world building is out of this world! I can see this becoming a very successful series - it's different, fun and very readable. I know one thing for sure, I can't wait to read the next installment.

Monday, 19 August 2013

New Adult Monday: Deeper by Blue Ashcroft

Published by: Blue Ashcroft
Release date:
3rd August 2013
Series:
n/a
I got it from:
Netgalley

Goodreads summary:
Rain Wilson isn’t ever going to love again.

It’s a promise she made the day her boyfriend died in a water park accident, one she still blames herself for. Now she’s a senior lifeguard in a new town with a new pool and she’s just going to keep her head down and everyone safe.

Until a mysterious guy follows her into the waves at the pre-season bonfire and kisses her senseless. It’s just one mistake, and Rain is determined to put it behind her, until the dark haired, blue eyed hottie turns out to be her new co-supervisor Knight Mcallister.

Knight is hot, tatted, and carrying baggage of his own. He’s not happy about having Rain for a co-supervisor, and he’s even less happy about his attraction to her.

But between lifeguard drama, hot underwater kisses, and a growing attraction between them that can’t be stopped, Knight and Rain are being pulled deeper into their pasts, and realizing that sometimes too much broken can make a relationship impossible.

Then again sometimes it’s the broken parts of us that fit together best.


My review
Deeper is exactly my kind of NA book. It has everything I need and want from a book - girl and boy point of view, two strong characters each with their own secrets and problems, emotions that feel real and a good ending.

Rain and Knight are both great NA characters. They're both damaged by events in the past, and as usual you wonder for a while if two broken people can work well together. Sparks fly between these two, you can really feel the attraction they have for one another. It's in the way Rain gets butterflies and itches to touch him when she's trying to listen to him work out the schedule, and it's in the way he feels like he's woken up after years of walking around in a coma.

Rain is strong and determined. At just 19 she's young to be working as a supervisor lifeguard at a waterpark, but she's professional, good at her job and doesn't take any crap. Knight is cocky and confident most of the time, but now and again his facade slips and we spy the pain he's holding in underneath.

Deeper is the perfect summer holiday read in my mind. The setting, a waterpark, makes a nice change from college, and lets your imagination run riot thinking of all those sexy young things in swimsuits! Although there are emotional issues, it's not a heavy read. Ashcroft's writing makes it addictive, I didn't want to put it down once I got started.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Fabulous Friday: Review, Playlist and Giveaway of Love Exactly by Cassandra Giovanni

Woop Woop! I have a giveaway for you! The lovely Cassandra Giovanni has offered to give away a copy of her brilliant book Love Exactly, and she's even given us a playlist for the book to enjoy! First things first though, check out my review of the book...

Goodreads summary:

Emma Walker was a writer who'd lost herself to someone else's anger--who had given up on ever feeling like herself again.
Evan Levesque was a rock-god--the one all the woman wanted, but he'd never gotten used to the loneliness between the stage and real life.
With just one cup of coffee they'll begin a journey of self-discovery at each others sides, but can Emma handle Evan's fame while dealing with her own demons? Emma's checkered personal past, a bad relationship that haunts the edges of her memories, threatens to make everything implode on them when Evan takes matters into his own hands.
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but your words...they'll destroy my soul--Can Emma handle being put back together and facing who she's become because of it? 


My review:

Love Exactly was a joy to read. There's not as much heartache as there is in a lot of New Adult novels, and although that can make for a moving read, I don't think any less of LE for the lack of it. What LE does have is an overwhelming sense of rightness throughout - the way the relationship goes, the ups and downs, the realness of it all just feel so right.

Emma is honest and beautiful, inside and out. She's braver than she thinks she is, though it takes her a while to finally realise it. She's been through hell and back in the past, and it's affected her, as it would anyone. When she meets Evan she's very fragile, and the way he needs her, as much as she needs him, helps her to heal and grow.

Evan is just plain gorgeous. He's amazing in all sorts of ways. Apart from the purely physical hotness, he's deeply kind, romantic, talented and very lovely. He's almost too perfect. Even his flaws, such as they are, don't really seem like flaws when taken in context.

Evan is famous. He's a rock star. But he's also a person, and that's what we get to see the most. Emma grounds him, she lets him be himself, demands it even. Not that he's given to prima donna-esque outbreaks. He's 30 when we meet him - old enough to have worked his way through the bad-boy phase and come out the other side relatively unscathed. I would like to read Evan's side of the story, Beautiful Disaster/Walking Disaster style, because I get the feeling there's a lot more to him than we ever get to see.

If you've been reading my reviews you'll know how picky I am about endings, and I'm pleased to report that this is a really good one. So many books go on too far beyond the point at which they could and should stop, but Love Exactly ends in exactly the right place. Cassandra gets it spot-on, not just at the end, but all the way through. Her writing is full of feeling and addictive to read, her characters are genuinely likeable and everything about this book makes me want to read more of her work.


The Playlist

Music plays a huge part in Love Exactly - Evan being a rock star and all - so I asked Cassandra to give us her playlist for the novel. Here it is, lots of Maroon 5 on there! 
 
  1. Never Gonna Leave This Bed-Maroon 5
  2. One More Night-Maroon 5
  3. Payphone-Maroon 5
  4. Use Somebody-Kings of Leon
  5. Sweetest Goodbye-Maroon 5
  6. Mirrors-Justin Timberlake
  7. Make This Go On Forever-Snow Patrol
  8. Daylight-Maroon 5
  9. Secret- Maroon 5
  10. If You Could Only See- Tonic
  11. Inside Out-Eve 6
  12. Smoke and Mirrors-The Audition
  13. The Way You Move- The Audition
  14. Southern Girl-Incubus
  15. Eyes-Kascade (Ice Mix)
  16. Love Somebody-Maroon 5
  17. Just a Feeling-Maroon 5
  18. Sunday Morning-Maroon 5


Spotify:
Love Exactly Playlist

And now... The Giveaway!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Mini Reviews: Anna Dressed in Blood, The Replacement, Wake

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

It's dark and twisty. It gets inside your head, sinks its claws into your brain and refuses to let go. Whatever you're expecting, let go because this probably isn't it. This is better. It's like James Herbert with a sparkly sugar-coating for the YA market. Cas is awesome, and I don't use that word lightly. I love his voice. Somehow this manages to be a proper ghost story, a journey of self-discovery and a teen romance all rolled into one. Prepare to be astounded.

 

The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

Mackie is one of my favourite characters ever. I love reading the boy point of view, and Mackie's voice is extremely addictive. His world is dark - a gloopy, thick kind of dark filled with proper freaks, the kind that do bad things involving blood. These creatures are casually terrible and old as the hills. Yovanoff's writing is full of brilliance, sneaking into your consciousness and making you believe things that shouldn't be possible. Roswell is possibly an even better character than Mackie. I want more of him.


Wake by Lisa McMann

It's a slim little thing, which worried me at first, as I like to get my teeth stuck into a chunky novel. The style of writing is unusual and full of brilliance though, and somehow makes it more than it is. Third person, present tense, in a series of time-stamps. Staccato sentences, the bare bones of the story, and a collection of important occurrences and conversations. Somehow, in this stilted version of story-telling, we learn, see and feel everything that's important. I don't know how she does it, but it's exceptional. I need to read the rest of the trilogy now, which my library doesn't have, which is so frustrating! Why buy the first book but not the other two? Grr.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Review: The Genesis by K.L. Kerr

Published by: Penrefe Publications
Release date:
12th September 2013
Series:
Blood of Ages
I got it from:
Netgalley

Goodreads summary:
An Uncontrollable Power. An Unstoppable Corporation. A Vampire God.

The vampires of Dayson city are preparing for war. Having lived in constant fear of the Archway Corporation for decades, desperation has forced them into action. Their solution is to bring the First vampire, Alistair, back from the dead, a warrior famed for eradicating entire armies in the name of his kind.

For fledgling vampire Catrina Malinka, the fabled return of some unknown deity falls low on her list of concerns. Between fending off strangers trying to kill her in her dreams and trying to rein in an uncontrollable power that no one else even understands let alone shares, Catrina is forced to fight her assumed role in the war against Archway, which threatens to send her down a path she doesn't want to travel.

The first book in The Blood of Ages series, "The Genesis" is an urban fantasy about the inescapable nature of Fate and the corruption of power.


My review:
It was really good to read a vampire book about the actual vampires. All too often, vampire books are actually about a human, and their relationship with a vampire. In The Genesis though, we step into the life of a newly-bitten vampire. As we follow Catrina, we learn about the clan she is now affiliated to, and about how it feels to get used to the strange new powers she possesses.

Kerr does a great job of describing the new feelings that come with being turned into a vampire. Her vamps have a heart-beat, which is unusual but makes sense, but they stick with the traditional daylight burns, drinking human blood (thought not necessarily to the death), etc. Naturally, where there are vampires there are people who hunt them, so we are caught up in a battle between the hunters and the vamps. There are some good uses of technology, and I liked the fact that the clan has an infirmary because although the vamps can heal quickly, it's not instant.

I don't think I'm giving away too much here - it's all pretty inconsequential stuff - I just want you to get a feel for the world Kerr has built. It's done well - you can tell a lot of thought has gone into it, and it feels solid. Catrina takes to her new life pretty well, all things considered, but when you look at her old life it's easy to see why. She comes from an unusual background, and life as a soldier vampire isn't actually that different to her previous life as a human assassin. Everything ties together nicely, with the feel of a book well-developed, although a little more background to help us get to know Catrina personally wouldn't go amiss.

There's a bit of an Underworld feel to the whole 'bring the ancient vampire back to life and he will lead us to victory' aspect of the story, but not in a rip-off way. I'm not entirely sure how much I like the actual Genesis part of the book personally though. It's a new and interesting take on the vampire origin myth, and it lies well in the storyline, but there's just something about it all that didn't appeal to me. I think it might be the fact that I'm a sucker for romance, and there's a severe lack of it here. I'm sure some of you will love that - a vampire book that's not all about the sex or teen angst? A rare thing indeed.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Review: When the World was Flat (And We Were in Love) by Ingrid Jonach

Published by: Strange Chemistry
Release date:
3rd September 2013
Series:
n/a
I got it from:
Netgalley

Goodreads summary:
When sixteen-year-old Lillie Hart meets the gorgeous and mysterious Tom Windsor-Smith for the first time, it’s like fireworks — for her, anyway. Tom looks as if he would be more interested in watching paint dry; as if he is bored by her and by her small Nebraskan town in general.

But as Lillie begins to break down the walls of his seemingly impenetrable exterior, she starts to suspect that he holds the answers to her reoccurring nightmares and to the impossible memories which keep bubbling to the surface of her mind — memories of the two of them, together and in love.

When she at last learns the truth about their connection, Lillie discovers that Tom has been hiding an earth-shattering secret; a secret that is bigger — and much more terrifying and beautiful — than the both of them. She also discovers that once you finally understand that the world is round, there is no way to make it flat again.

An epic and deeply original sci-fi romance, taking inspiration from Albert Einstein’s theories and the world-bending wonder of true love itself.


My review:
The title of this book alone drew me in. It's a brilliant title, and it fits the book well, because it is a bit brilliant. I have to say, there are faults. Quite major ones in places if I'm being honest. I didn't love the book all the way through, but when I got to the end, it somehow made up for all that. 

The worst fault is the science. The theories used in the book may have stemmed from Einstein, but the way they've been twisted to make the story is kind of whacked-out. There's no getting around it, there are sections where you think 'what the hell?', sections where it's just plain confusing, and sections where you might snort in disgust. But then there are the parts that enable it to recover from all that. It's a mixed bag, but I'd still say it's worth a read. 

Lillie is mostly a good character. Tom, I'm undecided on. I usually fall hard for the love interest, but something about Tom made me keep my distance. I found the beginning of the book very readable - before the science, and Tom, get involved. Lillie's friends, and her mum, are all good, well-rounded characters, and the spark of intrigue from Lillie's dreams keeps it interesting. Then things get messed up for a little while. Keep reading though. I loved the ending. I really wasn't sure how it was going to go, right up to the end, which is impressive, and the way it did go, felt totally right. 

Jonach's writing (minus the bad science) is high quality. The dialogue is really good, the relationships between the characters work well, and it's descriptive enough that you get a good feel for everything, though it doesn't draw you right in like some books do.

Monday, 29 July 2013

New Adult Monday: Castles on the Sand/Love in Darkness by E.M. Tippetts

I'm reviewing this pair of books together, because they belong together, and because I was lucky enough to be given ARCs of both by the author at the same time.

When I applied to get read & review copies, I saw that the first book, Castles on the Sand, is classed as Young Adult, while Love in Darkness is New Adult. At the time, this confused me. Why would someone write a YA book and follow it up with a NA book? Doesn't that alienate a whole host of readers who like YA but feel they aren't yet ready for NA? After reading both, I'm still not sure that I totally agree with doing this, but I can completely see why it turned out like that. Hopefully after reading my reviews you'll see it too.

Castles on the Sand, when taken by itself, is a very interesting book. It deals with a lot of different topics, and I think it deals with them well. When looked at in conjunction with follow-up Love in Darkness, it could be seen as a prelude. An exercise in really getting to know the characters who matter so much in the second book.

There's a lot going on in Madison Lukas' tiny town. Not on the surface - there it's just like any other small town. But then you see that three of the main characters in the book have major family problems, of varying types, and that's a lot to take on. It's probably not unusual in any town, but to read about them all at once takes a bit of commitment. Castles on the Sand isn't an easy read, but it's a really good read.

There are aspects of Madison that annoyed/confused me. She takes that whole 'she's gorgeous but she doesn't know it' thing a bit too far. You can accept her kind of low self-esteem up to a point, particularly when taken in conjunction with her home life, but can she really not know how popular she apparently is at school? You'd think she'd notice something like that. Then the way she reacts to her long-lost brother turning up baffled me a little. She goes from deeply suspicious to 'I love you' remarkably quickly. But with a mother who literally doesn't care and a best friend who has a very odd way of showing it if she does care, Madison is clearly starved of affection. The unconditional love that her religious brother offers must just about bowl her over.

I have to mention the religion, as it features pretty heavily. A lot of the characters in the book are Mormon, although Madison herself isn't. Speaking as an agnostic, the religious aspect intrigued me actually. Mormonism isn't a religion I know much about, and I really liked how both the blind belief, and the skeptic outsider viewpoints are both explored.

Despite the aspects that annoyed or baffled me, I do like Madison. After all, what real person is completely likeable? We acknowledge and accept the faults of our friends, and the same goes for our favourite characters. There is another character who I liked even more, but I'm not going to reveal who... yet.

And from here on I guess you could say this review gets a little spoilery - in that by discussing book two, you get a feel for how book one goes. I won't reveal anything major that isn't in the Goodreads summaries, but if you'd rather not know anything then you probably need to go away and read Castles on the Sand before reading the rest of the review.

Castles on the Sand is Madison's story, and Love in Darkness is Alex's story. I'm so happy about that. I was hooked on Alex from the moment we met him in CitS, and to hear his story told his way is a gift. Not that it's an easy story to read. I thought CitS was a tough read, but LiD is another thing altogether. I really wasn't expecting a tale of mental disability, but that's what I got and it blew me away.

There's a chunk of time, two years, missing from between the two books, but it's not important to either story. It's time when Alex and Madison are apart, each working on their missions. We come across Alex at the end of his mission, and an attack of psychosis.

Because of his schizophrenic mother, Alex thinks he has an advantage. He knows what to expect, knows the signs to look out for. Really though, it puts him at a disadvantage, because it means he expects the worst and won't accept that he might not ever be that bad. Advances in science and treatment techniques mean that his story will be different from his mother's, but for various reasons Alex finds that hard to accept.

I thought Madison had low self-esteem, but Alex is like the poster-boy for it. He's hot, but he doesn't know it. He's been dealt a bad hand in life, but he doesn't see it that way. He won't see himself as a victim of circumstance - instead the people around him are victims of his problems and the ways in which he's dealt with them. His main problem is his complete and utter belief that he doesn't deserve Madison. We know otherwise, though. Despite, or maybe because of his problems, Alex is sort-of wonderful.

Tippetts' writing hits the perfect blend of telling us what we need to know, and making us feel what she wants us to feel. Her characters are brilliantly, heart-wrenchingly real, and both Madison's and Alex's tales each comes across with a very different persona. She's got their personalities spot on, and she makes us want to know them intimately. Tippetts must either have first hand experience of a schizophrenic, or she's really done her homework. Her portrayal of the condition is sympathetic yet realistic, and the voices which Alex hears make for weird but moving reading. I will definitely be looking up her other work now, hoping that her other stories will be just as beautiful and touching as this one.