Saturday, 31 December 2011

Best Books of 2011

Seeing all the 'best of' lists doing the rounds, I couldn't resist adding my own opinion to the best books published in 2011. I'm going to disclaim that I didn't read many of the books that were raved about this year (Wither, Unearthly and Between Shades of Gray are three that come to mind) and it's very possible that if I had, they would've made my list. This list is limited to the books that were published in 2011 that I read, and I've cheated a little by including one that was published in the US previously, but only published in the UK this year.

So, without further ado, my 'best of' list is as follows:

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Across the Universe by Beth Revis

Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Invincible Summer by Hannah Moscowitz

Entangled by Cat Clarke

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Book Review: Amy & Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson

First published in the UK: 7th July 2011
By: Simon & Schuster UK

Amy Curry is having a terrible year. Her mother has decided to move all the way across the country and needs Amy to drive their car from California to the East Coast. There's just one problem: since the death of her father, Amy hasn't been able to get behind the wheel of a car. Enter Roger, the son of an old family friend, who turns out to be unexpectedly cute… and dealing with some baggage of his own.

Meeting new people and coming to terms with her father's death were not part of Amy's plans for the road trip. But then neither was driving on the Loneliest Road in America, seeing the Colorado Mountains, visiting diners, dingy motels and Graceland. But as they drive, and she grows closer to Roger, Amy finds that the people you least expected are the ones you need the most ­ - and that sometimes you have to get lost in order to find your way home.

My review:

This book wasn't quite what I was expecting. I did what you're supposed to never do and judged the book by its cover, and the design of the UK cover seemed to promise something light, with wacky hijinks and lots of humour. However, from the first couple of pages it's shown that Amy is depressed and withdrawn following her father's sudden death and this is really quite a sombre tale, about a broken girl trying to heal herself and her family. It's not heavy-handed, but there's an undercurrent of sadness for most of the narrative. I'd say the tone is similar to 13 Little Blue Envelopes.

I did like the book, though and I like it more the more I think back on it. Amy and Roger are likeable characters but quite muted - they're both quiet types and don't really jump off the page. The big personality characters, like Amy's brother and Roger's ex-girlfriend, are off-screen for most of the journey and the roadtrip is a reaction to big events, rather than the big event itself. It's easy to read the book and keep turning the pages but its enjoyment factor is the kind that grows on you over time, rather than immediately knocking you off your feet.

What is unreservedly the best thing about the novel is all the little touches the author includes to make it seem real. We're given photographs of the places the characters visit and the food they eat, copies of their bills and receipts, and playlists of the music they listen to. The author did a blog tour this summer where she talked about how she crafted these things; I found it interesting and I recommend looking at her posts if you haven't already. These details in the book are so fun to see and really bring the story to life. I discovered quite a few new songs and all the mouth-watering descriptions and pictures of food made me, a life-long vegetarian, crave those meat dishes something bad. Those crumbly burgers sound yummy.

The storyline the book follows is predictable and you know from the start where the characters will end up: that Amy will come to terms with her father's death, that Roger will get over his ex, that new love will blossom. But, as they say, it's all about the journey and this book takes you on a nice, very readable journey.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Book Review: Darker Still by Leanna Renee Hieber

First published: 8th November 2011
By: Sourcebooks Fire

I was obsessed. 

It was as if he called to me, demanding I reach out and touch the brushstrokes of color swirled onto the canvas. It was the most exquisite portrait I'd ever seen - everything about Lord Denbury was unbelievable... utterly breathtaking and eerily lifelike. 

There is a reason for that. Because despite what everyone said, Denbury didn't commit suicide. He's alive. Trapped within his golden frame. 

I've crossed over into his world within the painting. I've seen what dreams haunt him. They haunt me too. He and I are inextricably linked - bound together to watch the darkness seeping through the gas-lit, cobblestone streets of Manhattan. And unless I can free him soon, things will only get darker still...

My review: 

I enjoyed this book a lot and I think if you are a fan of 19th century gothic fiction, you will, too. Leanna Renee Hieber's book deftly mimics the style and feel (and some of the plot) of these novels, to create Darker Still and the end result won me over. It's melodramatic and a little bit silly, but so are the books it's aping and Hieber employs enough knowingness and humour to make it work well.

The main character of Darker Still is Natalie and the story is told via Natalie's diary entries (book-ended by a police report claiming that, of course the contents of the diary are nonsense and we should not believe a word). Like other epistolary novels, it's sometimes absurd when and how Natalie is writing everything down, but that's a convention of the genre and Darker Still made me smile a lot by having Natalie nod to this with a suitable explanation every time.

Natalie is a charming heroine. She's a mute, which does the twin jobs of immediately engaging the reader's sympathy and serving as a metaphor for 19th century women being essentially voiceless in society. Natalie's father runs the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which leads Natalie to befriend the wealthy New York doyenne, Mrs Northe, when Mrs Northe purchases a painting of the English Lord Denbury. Lord Denbury is presumed dead, but his painting is astonishingly lifelike and it's not long before Natalie learns its secret: the real Denbury's soul is trapped inside the painting; a demon has taken over his body and is using it to commit murder on the New York streets.

So...melodramatic. But fitting for the genre and a lot of fun. Elements of great stories The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde are meshed together and like many 19th century novels, underneath the plot Darker Still is really a story about the era's mistreatment of women, repressed sexuality, fear of feminine power and all that stuff I loved to gab about in my Lit classes.

Natalie and Mrs Northe team up to save Denbury and it's delightful to see Natalie become stronger over the course of the novel and to eventually find her voice. Denbury mainly serves as a vehicle for Natalie to explore all this, and her sexuality, but I did find their scenes together pretty cute, as they struggle between their feelings and keeping propriety. The character of Mrs Northe kept me guessing the entire book as to whether she's really as good as she seems or is secretly sinister and I think my interest in the sequel is pinned on finding out more about Mrs Northe.

And yes, like all YA books nowadays, this is the first in a series. Having finished Darker Still, I have no idea what plot the second book could possibly have, however, I'm sure I will enjoy revisiting Natalie, and the author, again.

Rating: 4 stars

This book was provided to me by the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

In My Mailbox #24

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme created by Kristi @ The Story Siren. All links go to the Book Depository UK. 

I treated myself this week (actually, I treated myself last week, but the package got held up and only arrived a few days ago). I decided to finally ignore the cost and focus on the pretty and buy myself the complete hardcover boxset for The Wolves of Mercy Falls series:

The Wolves of Mercy Falls Trilogy by Maggie Stiefvater
The only one I haven't read yet is Forever, which I am saving for the day I go on Christmas break. I don't usually buy hardcovers because of cost/size and because some books might not be released in hardback, leaving you with a mis-matched set. But when a trilogy is perfectly matching, and the covers are so pretty, and all the books are written in different-coloured ink, well, that combination of factors proved impossible to resist.

Did you treat yourself this week?

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Book Review: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

First published: 27th September 2011
By: Simon & Schuster

Mara Dyer doesn't think life can get any stranger than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there. It can.

She believes there must be more to the accident she can't remember that killed her friends and left her mysteriously unharmed. There is.

She doesn't believe that after everything she's been through, she can fall in love.
She's wrong.

My review:

This book has a fantastic opening: It starts with a handwritten note which informs us that 'Mara Dyer' is not our heroine's real name and that she is somehow involved in a string of murders. Then the first chapter takes us to 'Before' and we see an extremely spooky Ouija board session (is there any other kind?) between Mara and her friends and are told that a few months after this, Mara's friends were dead. Cue the ominous music.

Mara wakes up in hospital with no memory of what happened the night her friends died. To help her heal, her family move to Miami, Florida so Mara can start over at a new school and have a normal life. Only Mara can't go back to normal - it seems her mind has been irreparably damaged and she is haunted by hallucinations of violence, darkness and death.

The part of this book that is a psychological thriller, I absolutely loved. A lot of  Mara Dyer is about typical teenage, new-school-mean-kids-hot-boy stuff, but every time we go into one of Mara's hallucinations, it's creepy-gruesome-scary stuff. And we don't always know what's real and what's Mara's delusion and all this kept me hooked. I found Mara to be a frustrating character, though, because she so obviously has serious, frightening issues, yet she refuses to get any help for them. It is realistic, because I know from experience that it's the kids with the most problems who are most resistant to accepting support, but as an adult reading about a teen like this, I was screaming: "Mara, you are seeing maggots in your food and dead people in your mirror! Get yourself to a shrink right now!"

One touch I really liked about Mara, is that she's half-Indian. It's not a big deal in the book, but YA can be so WASP-y all the time, that reading about someone who has a slightly different culture was cool.

Mara's romance with Noah is the main plot. Although the novel goes back to Mara's state of mind often enough to satisfy me, I definitely would have preferred it if the balance between the romance and the psychological stuff was weighted towards the latter rather than the former. This kind of romance is so prevalent in YA and there was an opportunity for Mara Dyer to be something completely different. I did end up falling for Noah, to my embarrassment. At first I was sure I was going to resist; he was such a stereotypical YA dream guy: Beautiful, rich, mysterious. And, of course, he's a bad boy, known to have slept with and used every girl in the school, and his banter with Mara can be explicitly sexual and crude. But God help me, after he rescues an abused dog and reads to Mara when she's sick, I was a goner. Job done, Michelle Hodkin. The chemistry between Noah and Mara is also very hot; it's a long time before they kiss, but all the staring, touching and stroking beforehand ratchets the sexual tension up to 100.

A lot of reviews I've read mention the ending to this book; it is a cliffhanger, which is something that annoys many, but my disappointment started earlier, when the truth about Mara and Noah is revealed. I wanted the explanation for Mara to come from the real world, not the paranormal and I wanted Mara and Noah to have connected as damaged people, not as supernatural. Not fair; authors doing what they want and not what I want!

This book was a good read and I enjoyed it, but as I said, the opportunity to be truly different was missed.

Rating: 4 stars

Friday, 18 November 2011

Follow My Book Blog Friday #20

Follow Friday is hosted by Parajunkee's View and Alison Can Read

Question: Letter to Santa: Tell Santa what books you want for Christmas!

Well, obviously what I most want for Christmas is world peace. But if that's too tall an order, I have a list of books I'd love:

Past Perfect by Leila Sales (looks so cute)
Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John (have read great reviews)
Shine by Lauren Myracle (the NBA fiasco only made me want to read it more)
Bunheads by Sophie Flack (for the little girl inside me who always wanted to be a ballerina)

That's not too much to ask for, is it?

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Reading Challenge #3: 2012 TBR Pile Reading Challenge

There is one challenge that I didn't even have to think about signing up for. My TBR list has been known to keep me up at nights, but there is a helping hand in sight and it's the 2012 TBR Pile Reading Challenge.

Ten bloggers are hosting this challenge from January 1st, 2012 to December 31st, 2012. The idea is that you read books that have been sitting on your shelf for a while; they have to have been published in 2011 or earlier.

These are the challenge guidelines:
  1. This challenge will run from Jan 1, 2012 - Dec 31, 2012.
  2. As the hosts would like to see quality reviews linked up to the monthly wrap-ups, only bloggers can enter. Sorry about that!
  3. Any genre, length or format of book counts, as long as it is a book that's been sitting on your shelf for some time now. Only books released in 2011 and earlier! NO ARCs and 2012 fresh-off-the-press releases allowed!
  4. You can list your books in advance or just put them in a wrap-up post. If you list them, feel free to change them as the mood takes you.
  5. When you sign up in the linky, put the direct link to your post about joining the 2012 TBR PILE Reading Challenge (You need to include the info + host list + challenge button. You can also grab the button code and add it to your sidebar!)
  6. You can move up levels, but no moving down.
  7. Sign-ups will be open until Dec 15, 2012, so feel free to join at any time throughout the year.
  8. At the end of each month one of the hosts will post a wrap-up. Every wrap-up will have it's unique theme, a mini-challenge, a giveaway and place for you to link up your reviews from this month. For each review you link up, you will get one entry in a drawing of one book of choice from Book Depository. It's open to INTERNATIONALS. For participating in the mini-challenge you will get +1 entry.
  9. If you miss a wrap-up post + giveaway, you can link up your reviews next month. Do not, however, try to link up one review twice - the hosts will be checking ;)
  10. December is a wrap-up for the whole year. All the book reviews you linked up January-November + the ones you'll link up in December will be entered into a HUGE giveaway - 12 books, 12 winners, INTERNATIONAL. 
  11. You don't have to follow all the hosts to join the challenge, but you do have to follow all of us to be entered in giveaways!

1-10 - A Firm Handshake
11-20 - A Friendly Hug
21-30 - A Sweet Kiss
31-40 - Love At First Sight
41-50 - Married With Children

Here is the list of hosts:

Evie from Bookish - @SeoEvie 
Caitlin from WatchYA Reading @caitlingss 
Christa from Hooked On Books @ChristasBooks 
Jenna from Fans Of Fiction @fansoffiction 

I am going to pledge to read 15 books from my TBR pile, which puts me on the 'A Friendly Hug' level. I'm committing to them in advance; this post is proof and I cannot weasel my way out of reading them (and they're great-sounding books, so why would I want to?!).

 1. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
2. Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George
3. What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell
4. Nobody's Girl by Sarra Manning
5. Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler
6. The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
7. Bread and Roses, Too by Katherine Paterson
8. Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
9. The Enemy by Charlie Higson
10. When It Happens by Susane Colasanti
11. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M. T. Anderson
12. Bloom by Elizabeth Scott
13. Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon
14. Love and Other Four Letter Words by Carolyn Mackler
15. Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips

I imagine each read book will be like a weight off my shoulders. If you want to feel the same, I suggest you sign up too!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Book Review: Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel

First published: 29th September 2011
This edition published: 18th October 2011
By: Del Rey

Love can never die.

Love conquers all, so they say. But can Cupid’s arrow pierce the hearts of the living 
and the dead—or rather, the undead? Can a proper young Victorian lady find true love in the arms of a dashing zombie? 

The year is 2195. The place is New Victoria—a high-tech nation modeled on the manners, mores, and fashions of an antique era. A teenager in high society, Nora Dearly is far more interested in military history and her country’s political unrest than in tea parties and debutante balls. But after her beloved parents die, Nora is left at the mercy of her domineering aunt, a social-climbing spendthrift who has squandered the family fortune and now plans to marry her niece off for money. For Nora, no fate could be more horrible—until she’s nearly kidnapped by an army of walking corpses. 

But fate is just getting started with Nora. Catapulted from her world of drawing-room civility, she’s suddenly gunning down ravenous zombies alongside mysterious black-clad commandos and confronting “The Laz,” a fatal virus that raises the dead—and hell along with them. Hardly ideal circumstances. Then Nora meets Bram Griswold, a young soldier who is brave, handsome, noble . . . and dead. But as is the case with the rest of his special undead unit, luck and modern science have enabled Bram to hold on to his mind, his manners, and his body parts. And when his bond of trust with Nora turns to tenderness, there’s no turning back. Eventually, they know, the disease will win, separating the star-crossed lovers forever. But until then, beating or not, their hearts will have what they desire.

In Dearly, Departed, romance meets walking-dead thriller, spawning a madly imaginative novel of rip-roaring adventure, spine-tingling suspense, and macabre comedy that forever redefines the concept of undying love.

My review:

I expected a fun read from this book and I got one. The most enjoyable thing about Dearly, Departed is its setting - I think a future where America takes on the culture and values of Victorian England was a genius idea from Lia Habel. It means that she can make use of the themes of 19th century fiction (like young women struggling against the social restrictions) but she doesn't have to worry about being historically accurate. It's not history, it's the future and it means Habel can cherry-pick what she wants from the Victorian era and our own, which allows for a lot of the humour. Proper ladies in corsets and respectable gentlemen in waistcoats dropping lines like, "As our esteemed elders used to say: Duh" is just funny. It just is.

Into this New Victoria, Habel also drops zombies. This is the first zombie novel I've read that didn't portray zombies as only mindless flesh-eaters, but as people, who happen to have died and then reanimated. I thought Dearly, Departed did a great job with Bram; he was a likeable and empathetic character and, despite being dead, Habel somehow made him seem dreamy, too, which was quite the feat. His relationship with Nora had a good build up and I really enjoyed their scenes together - I found myself rooting for the zombie to get the girl (although zombie kissing scenes were, um...I'm not quite ready for them yet).

The story is told in alternating points of view and this was both good and not-so-good. As I mentioned, I loved Bram and liked Nora, but I wasn't sure why Wolfe, Bram's army captain, was given a PoV as it didn't seem to add anything to the story. However, I loved following Nora's best friend, Pamela, as she tackles zombies armed with only her parasol, and her parts were some of my favourites. I felt that Pamela actually had a more interesting narrative than Nora did, as switching to other PoVs does slow down Nora's plot for a while and once she meets Bram, it seems like nothing really happens to her for some time and other plotlines (like Pamela's) get all the action.

There is a lot going on in the world of Dearly, Departed, though; Habel has created something very big and detailed. Even without the zombies, New Victoria has a bucketload of problems; like civil war, class prejudice and political intrigue, which should provide enough material for the novels to follow (Dearly, Departed is the first in a series). Although I admired the inventiveness, I felt like some of these ideas were executed a little clumsily - there are many info dumps throughout the novel and the villains of the story, once caught, explain - in explicit detail - everything they did and why in a way that isn't entirely natural or believable. I was also not a fan of the epilogue, which seemed to hurriedly throw out even more ideas to set up the next book, almost as if the author wanted to squeeze in everything she could before she exceeded her word limit. It was rushed, to say the least.

What made this book a winner for me overall was the humour, the characters and the premise. I laughed so much, I adored Bram and a zombie-infested New Victoria is a fun place to visit, even if I wouldn't want to live there.

Rating: 4 stars

This book was provided to me by the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Have Been On My Shelf For The Longest

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish.

Top Ten Books That Have Been On My Shelf For The Longest But I've Never Read

This is the kind of Top Ten list I can create without even having to think about it. The books that have been on my TBR list the longest are always there in the back of mind, making me feel constantly guilty for not having read them.

10. What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell

Funny (ha ha) fact: I actually derived my blog name from the title of this book. Funnier (weird) fact: I still haven't read this yet.

9. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susana Clarke

It's the sheer size of this novel that always discourages me from reading it. I look at it and start to panic that it'll take me a year to finish.

8. Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series by Louise Rennison

I was determined to start this series and bought a bumper edition of the first four books. I think it's sat on my shelf unread for nearly 3 years now.

7. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

I'm positive I will love this book; I know it will be an amazing read. Perhaps I'm so sure that I've got to the point where I don't actually need to read it to prove this to myself? Seriously, my first reading resolution for 2012 is to finally read this book.

6. Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

I've disappointed myself by reading far fewer fairytale retellings than I would like to and thought that I would. I bought this one because The Twelve Dancing Princesses was one of my favourite stories as a child, but for some reason, this has never felt like an urgent must-read.

5. Nobody's Girl by Sarra Manning

I've read a couple of Sarra Manning books and really enjoyed them, so I have no idea why I just stopped dead with this book and never read it and haven't read anything else by the author for a couple of years, either. Why would I stop reading an author I enjoy? It's madness, but I just got distracted by all the other authors.

4. The Enemy by Charlie Higson

I love zombie novels and was eagerly anticipating this one. And remains on the bookshelf.

3. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M. T. Anderson

I wonder if I'm a little intimidated by books with lots of shiny award medals on the front. I'm sure this is a great book and the premise really interests me. This is getting read soon. Honest.

2. Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

When I first got back into YA, this was recommended to me as a great 'gateway' book, as it's kind of YA but also kind of adult. I guess I didn't need a gateway, because I went straight into YA and never looked back. I do want to read this, though.

1. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

This book takes pride of place on my bookshelf as the book I have kept the longest without reading it. I'm not even sure if I should read it anymore - 10 years ago, it sparked a trend and interest in geishas here in the West. I remember going to the bookshop and seeing the shelves filled with books about geisha-dom and people like Madonna wearing geisha-inspired fashion and make-up. I wanted to know what the fuss was about, bought the book, but then never read it, which sort of defeated my purpose. Now that geisha fever has come and gone, I wonder if there is any point reading this a decade after everybody else did. I guess I must think so, because I've kept it all the same.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Reading Challenge #2: 2012 Science Fiction Reader Challenge

I'm a real lover of sci-fi and though in 2011 I've read plenty of YA with elements of sci-fi, I've let my adult reading of this genre slide. So I was thrilled to find Working for the Mandroid's 2012 Science Fiction Reader Challenge, which allows me to keep reading YA and encourages me to try some adult 'hard' sci-fi, too. 

There are twelve categories to this challenge, so essentially a book for each month (although the minimum requirement of books is 6). These are the categories:

YA/MG Science Fiction title
Adult Science Fiction title
Hugo Winner
Science Fiction Classic - Pre-1950s
Science Fiction Modern Classic - 1951-1992
Time Travel/Alternate History/Parallel Universe
Mad Scientists/Genetic Testing/Environmental Disaster

These are the rules:
1. The challenge begins January 1, 2012 and runs through December 31, 2012.  Books started before January 1 don't count towards the challenge.  Re-reads do count, but a new review must be written.  Any format of book counts - hard copy, audiobook, e-book.
2. A review has to be written and posted for each book in the challenge.  If you don't have a blog, they can be posted on Goodreads, LibraryThing, Amazon, Shelfari, Facebook, anywhere else book reviews are accepted and can be linked to.
3. Any books read for another challenge that fit into a category here can count towards this one.  One book, however, cannot fill multiple categories in this challenge.  For example, Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game technically fits into at least four of the categories.  It can only count for one though.
4. A post will be set up on Working for the Mandroid beginning January 1 for participants to add their review links.  
5. At the end of the year, all the people who signed up for the challenge and finished 6 of the 12 categories will be put in a contest for a not yet determined prize. Those who finish all 12 of the categories will be entered into a different,better contest.  Additional contests throughout the year might also become available depending on participation of readers and availability of prizes.  Note: The more participants, the more likely Working for the Mandroid can get some science fiction friendly sponsors, the more contests.

I think this challenge sounds like great stuff and I'm already excited about reading some Hugo winners and other sci-fi classics (maybe this is the time to finally finish Frankenstein). It's also comforting to know that probably 90% of the YA books of next year will count towards this challenge in some way. If you're interested, please sign up here. I hope more and more people sign up and make this challenge a great one!

Reading Challenge #1: 2012 Debut Author Challenge

You know 2011 really is coming to an end when all the new challenges for 2012 start their sign-ups. First up, is of course, The Story Siren's Debut Author Challenge for 2012

Although, I'm technically still a couple of books away from completing the 2011 challenge, I'm pretty sure I'm going to and so, I feel confident about signing up again for 2012.

  • To read & review a minimum of twelve young adult or middle grade debut novels between the dates of January 1, 2012 – January 31, 2013.*

*The 2013 extension is so that December debuts can be read and count toward the challenge.

  • You must have a Blog to post your reviews or be a member of Goodreads.
  • Your blog must be written in English.
  • Deadline to join in may 31, 2012

  • Must be a young adult or middle grade title.
  • Must be the authors YA or MG debut, released in 2012.
  • If an author has a previous novel published for adults or children, they can still qualify for the challenge.
  • If an author has a previous YA or MG title, they do not qualify for the challenge.

The Debut Author Challenge is one of the most popular reading challenges, so I'm looking forward to reading all the great reviews coming up next year!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

In My Mailbox #23

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme created by Kristi @ The Story Siren. All links go to the Book Depository UK.

I've had a really hectic few weeks at work, but nothing makes me feel right again like new books. This week I got:

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater 
Maggie Stiefvater came to London and I was lucky enough to attend the event, hear her talk about her writing and get her signature on my newly-purchased copy of her latest novel.

Fracture by Megan Miranda 
The icing on the cake of the Maggie Stiefvater event? Every attendee was giving a free ARC of this book, which is a 2012 YA debut. Guess I can get a head start on The Story Siren's next challenge.

Hope everybody else had a good week in books!

Monday, 7 November 2011

Multiple PoVs: Annoying or Illuminating?

Finishing Dearly, Departed and reading some reviews has got me thinking about multiple PoVs. I've always liked them. Some books I've loved over the past 2 years (Shiver, Across the Universe, Sisters Red) switched the point of view back and forth between 2 characters and I find it adds depth, particularly with a romance, to know what both characters are thinking and feeling and not to have to depend on one person's view. The author has to keep the story moving, so we're not reading the same event twice all the time, but other than that, I think it works.

Things get trickier when the PoVs spread to 3 or more. On the one hand, it is nice to get to know so many characters, especially as there are some who you suspect have much more going on underneath than they let show. With Mockinjay, I would've paid Suzanne Collins all I earn if she would have let us see what Gale was thinking or given us a way to check in with Cinna.

However, I've heard some claim that multiple PoVs like this are lazy; that they are employed when an author can't think of an original way to get across important information. If your villain has a nefarious plot you want the reader to know about, but there's no good reason for him to tell anyone about it, just give him his own PoV chapter and voila! The reader can learn his private thoughts. I've also heard the opinion that constantly rotating the PoVs slows the plot down, as the reader has to leave characters at key moments, move through several other characters, then try and recall where the original characters were.

I understand why an author would find multiple PoVs necessary if he/she is telling a huge, epic story. A Game of Thrones takes place with the characters at several locations and spans many years. George R. R. Martin has built an intricate world which he wants his readers to know every part of, and what better way, than by giving us first-person accounts of what this world is like from many characters; who are different ages, from different families and hold different positions in society?

However, with so many characters and plot threads, the odds are you won't enjoy every one equally. Reading A Game of Thrones, I tended to be more excited when I saw the next chapter was a Daenerys or Sansa PoV, than when it was Jon's or Bram's. A similar thing happened with Dearly, Departed. Other than the main story of Nora and Bram, I was much more interested in Pamela's adventures than I was in those of Victor or Wolfe. 

I think, like so many things, it all comes down to how skilful the author is at handling it. If every PoV is written well, gives the characters each their own distinctive voice, moves the story forward and gives the reader important insights, then I'm all for having many. However, the more there are, the harder it is to maintain this standard and perhaps, this is an area where numbers should be kept down.

What do you think?

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Compare the Covers: Bunheads by Sophie Flack

So after reading some good reviews, I went to purchase Bunheads and discovered two things: One, that it won't be published in the UK until next March and two, that it's another book with a different cover over here. So, let's compare:

UK cover                                                                               US cover

I've liked the US cover on the right since I first clapped eyes on it on a Waiting on Wednesday post. While I know it's the same image produced multiple times, I like the pattern made by all the white tutus. They almost create an optical illusion - at first glance, they can look like flowers or swans and you have pay attention to see that they are ballerinas. I also think that the identical images, striking identical poses gives a much clearer feeling that they are indeed, dancing and in perfect unison.

By having an isolated image, the UK cover on the left loses that feeling and it appears that the ballerina is hunched on the floor in anguish. I have a sneaking suspicion that the UK publishers are trying to call to mind Black Swan and play up the emotional distress a ballet career can cause. Adding that tagline also seems to reinforce this. What gets me though, is that the line: "On a stage full of beautiful dancers, how can one girl stand out?" would be much better illustrated by the US cover.

The UK cover is OK and I don't mind having that edition, but I have much more admiration for the image on the US one.