Friday, 27 April 2012

Audiobook Review: A Million Suns by Beth Revis

First released: 10th January 2012
By: Penguin Audio

Audiobook length: 10 hrs and 18 mins
Narrators: Tara Carrozza and Lucas Salvagno

Godspeed was fueled by lies. Now it is ruled by chaos.

It's been three months since Amy was unplugged. The life she always knew is over. And everywhere she looks, she sees the walls of the spaceship Godspeed. But there may just be hope: Elder has assumed leadership of the ship. He's finally free to enact his vision - no more Phydus, no more lies.

But when Elder discovers shocking news about the ship, he and Amy race to discover the truth behind life on Godspeed. They must work together to unlock a puzzle that was set in motion hundreds of years earlier, unable to fight the romance that's growing between them and the chaos that threatens to tear them apart.

In book two of the Across the Universe trilogy, New York Times best-selling author Beth Revis mesmerizes us again with a brilliantly crafted mystery filled with action, suspense, romance, and deep philosophical questions. And this time it all builds to one mind-bending conclusion: They have to get off this ship.

My review:

Because so many trilogies (especially ones that weren't originally conceived as trilogies) stumble or completely fall apart in their second installment, I feel like one of the highest compliments I can pay to A Million Suns is to say that it is just as strong as Across the Universe. Because it is - fortunately for this series, there's plenty of rich story opportunities to be mined from life aboard a spaceship. A Million Suns sees Elder take on the position of leader of the Godspeed. He wants to do it differently from the previous ruler Eldest, i.e. honestly and democratically, which soon reveals a problem: If the people of Godspeed are allowed a choice of who should lead them, they might not choose him. A Million Suns works best when it's exploring questions, of whether it's better to lie to keep the peace, or tell the truth and invite chaos, what makes someone a good leader and are leaders even necessary at all? I got so wrapped up in the drama aboard the ship and though my natural inclination was to side with Elder, more and more I began to see his opponents' POV. I love that this series actually encourages me to think and question the protagonists, instead of telling me they are always right.

I really like how Amy and Elder's relationship progresses in A Million Suns. Amy finally begins to reciprocate Elder's feelings, but the issue of whether this is just because he is essentially the only boy available is on her mind. I'm pleasantly surprised at how realistic a path their romance has followed, instead of the 'meant to be' stuff you often see in YA.

I read Across the Universe as a paperback, but with my Audible credit, it was cheaper to get A Million Suns as an audiobook. I really can't say enough good things about the narrators - Tara Carrozza is a fantastic actress who nailed every one of Amy's emotions and Lucas Salvagno sounded exactly like the Elder in my head - deep and a little robotic, but completely fitting for someone who's only recently started to tap into his feelings and is still trying to learn who he is as a person.

A Million Suns did have one thing I didn't like - a subplot for Amy where she tries to unravel a mystery left by Orion. Most of the clues are so ridiculously easy that it makes Amy look dense if she takes longer than five seconds to work each one out and it feels like the entire story thread is just there so A Million Suns can mirror the pattern of the first book, as if readers will be alienated if this second book is too different.

It's unnecessary, because A Millions Suns already has more than enough going on to keep you hooked. The ending is....on the one hand, how cruel to end it there. But on the other, how perfectly Beth Revis has made sure you will be gasping for the next book. If the final installment keeps to this standard, Across the Universe will be one of my favourite YA series of all time.

Rating: 4 stars

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon: The End!

End of Event meme

1. Which hour was most daunting for you?

About 3am, when it was pitch black outside and deathly quiet and felt like I was the only person awake for miles.

2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?

At this moment, when my brain is ready to shut down? A list is too much for me. All that comes to mind is Tina Fey's Bossypants - A little humour to get you through the last hours.

3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?   

Not really. It may not seem so from my crabbiness now, but I actually had loads of fun :-)

4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?   

I think the twitter hastag was great for connecting people.

5. How many books did you read?

4 and a half which is great for me. More than double what I usually get to read in a week!
6. What were the names of the books you read? 

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Sweet Tooth Vol 3: Animal Armies by Jeff Lemire
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness *audiobook
Touch by Francine Prose
I started The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan, but at that point my eyes couldn't focus anymore, so I switched to the audiobook of Bitter Melon by Cara Chow and managed to get about halfway through that.

7. Which book did you enjoy most?
A Monster Calls was actually perfect; it's now onto the list of my favourites of all time. It broke my heart, but in a beautiful way.
8. Which did you enjoy least?

I was really lucky, in that I liked all the books I read. If I had to pick a least favourite, I'd say Touch, but it was a good read-a-thon book - it had a mystery, an unreliable narrator, a court case, so it kept me reading in order to find out what the final truth was.

9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?

I wasn't a Cheerleader, but I thought they did an excellent job!

10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?

I definitely want to do this again. I'm fine with just staying a reader, although I'd quite like to host a mini-challenge next time.

FIFTH UPDATE - 6.45 am UK time. I finished Touch about an hour ago. It was a great read-a-thon book as it's based on discovering the truth about one incident: What happened between the main character and the three boys on the back of the bus? Did they hold her down and molest her or did something else happen? It kept me reading as I wanted to know the answer and as that was the whole plot, there wasn't too much I had to keep straight in my tired mind. I also managed to tweet and write a blog post somewhere between now and my last update, but I can't even think how that was possible. I was so knackered that I napped for around 30 minutes, although maybe it was longer. Anyway, I feel reasonably refreshed now, so I'm going to begin The Brides of RollRock Island by Margo Lanagan. Can't believe there's still 6 hours of this thing to go!

SIXTH UPDATE - 8.30 am UK time. I made the decision to switch to an audiobook when my exhausted eyes could barely take in anything. Wise choice. I'm now listening to Bitter Melon by Cara Chow and it's really great. I've had some breakfast and a cup of tea (more cultural stereotypes here!) and I'm actually feeling close to perky. This is the last leg and I know I'm going to make it now! 

SEVENTH UPDATE - 1pm UK time. - Wow, it's over! Really! I can't believe I actually did it, but I'm very glad I did! A big thank you to Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon for hosting the event, all the Cheerleaders and everybody who joined in and made this event so fun!

In My Mailbox #26

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme created by Kristi @ The Story Siren

These are actually my books from the last two weeks and I got some great ones.


Both of these books I have already read and reviewed here and here. I just loved them both so much, I wanted physical copies, as well as the ebook (Wanderlove) and audiobook (Lips Touch: Three Times) versions I already have.
Everything I've heard suggests that this book is going to be high on 'best of' lists for 2012. I'm reading it asap and am expecting great things.

Kindle ebooks:

This is currently free on Kindle. I've been looking for an opportunity to read Myers's work.

This book has been on my TBR list forever. It's currently available for $1.99 on Kindle.


I downloaded this with my latest Audible credit. A huge selling point was that it's narrated by Sarah Drew, who I still remember fondly as Hannah in Everwood.

What did you get this week?

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon! (With Updates)

I'm taking part in Dewey's Read-a-thon in a matter of hours! I'm very excited, as I wanted to take part last October but I missed it and missed out. Reading is my favourite thing ever, but it always seems so self-indulgent to read for hours on end and I start to feel like I should be doing something more constructive and less fun. The Read-a-thon gives me the excuse I've been waiting for, to read uninterrupted for a whole day. To make me feel even better about this event, I'm donating to a UK reading charity, The National Literacy Trust in the event's honour.

I am going to try to stay up and read and do reading and blogging-related things for the entire 24 hours: I'm armed with several cans of Red Bull and have stocked up on snacks. During the daylight hours, I'm going to vary my settings and read in different cafes and libraries (and parks if the weather's nice, which it probably won't be. Nothing falls, and puts the kibosh on days out, like London rain) around the city. I think I'm more likely to get bored and antsy if I'm cooped up at home for the full 24 hours.

I'll probably still be reading Anna and the French Kiss when the Read-a-thon begins, but after that, who knows? I've got a stack of paperbacks, e-books, audiobooks and library books in my possession and I'm going to get through as many as I can. I'll be updating this post every couple of hours to report my progress and I definitely want to visit other blogs and cheer other readers on.

Wish me luck and great reading!

Introductory Questionnaire
1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

London, England.
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

Hard question, because I have such a huge stack, I have no idea which books I'll get to. I guess Dairy Queen, because I just picked that up at the library yesterday and I'm the kind of reader that always prefers the newest and shiniest book!
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

Popcorn! I could live off the stuff and kind of did in my student days.
4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

I'm very scared of the future right now. I'll be leaving a school I've been teaching at for 5 years, the longest time I've ever spent doing anything. For the first time in a long time, I have no idea what the future holds, but it's a good scared feeling - an excited one.
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

It's my first read-a-thon and I'm most excited about chatting with other participants, of course!

FIRST UPDATE - 4.39pm UK time. We're just about 3 and a half hours into the Read-a-thon. I've been going back and forth between Anna and the French Kiss and the audiobook of A Monster Calls. I just finished Anna and am still on a high from it and am grinning stupidly with delight at that ending.

It didn't rain! I went to St James's Park and read right in front of Buckingham Palace - how's that for living up to cultural sterotypes? There were huge effing pelicans in the park, just strolling along the path. I was brave enough to take a picture, even though I am terrified of large birds. Then I headed to the nearest library, where I am right now. I'm starting to get hungry, though, so it's time for a food break.

Huge effing pelicans

SECOND UPDATE - 7.45pm UK time. Seven hours in and I've been commenting on a few blogs and finished Volume 3, Animal Armies, of the graphic novel series Sweet Tooth. This series started out good and has become amazing! It's about a post-apocalyptic world, where the only children born are half-human, half-animal. Volume 3 really fleshed out the supporting characters and I'm now fully invested in this story.

I'm going to comment on blogs for a little while now and then I'll start Touch by Francine Prose.

THIRD UPDATE - 23.55pm UK time. I'm just over halfway through Touch and I have to admit, at nearly midnight over here, I'm started to get tired. Good thing Ashley at the Read-a-thon website is on the same page as me. I was thinking a dance around the room might get my juices pumping and she has a song already picked out! 

FOURTH UPDATE - 2.35 am UK time. I just finished A Monster Calls and am something of an emotional wreck. That story is so beautiful and so heartbreaking, I'm not sure I can even put into words how special it is.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Compare the Covers: The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman

One good thing about books having wildly different covers in different countries, is it makes me curious about a book that I wasn't so curious about before. Neither the title or the cover of the US edition of The Book of Blood and Shadow had really attracted me, so I didn't read the synopsis. Until, that is, I was browsing a bookshop here in the UK and saw a title that looked familiar, but a cover that totally wasn't. It made me wonder: which country did it best? Which cover is most fitting for the story?

      UK cover                                                               US cover

Before I started writing this post, I would've picked the UK cover on the left as my preferred one. That was because I couldn't see the eye. So my apologies, because at first glance the US cover looks bland, but if you study it, you begin to see it's actually the coolest thing ever. OK, maybe not ever, but still. The looming black castle as the pupil, set against the purple and pink sunset as the iris of the eye - it's a very striking image and it's a shame that it's not more prominent, but then considering the book is about unearthing secrets, perhaps it's fitting that you have to look for it. The title of the book projected over the model's face is also a great visual touch; projectors make me think of characters pouring over old records and manuscripts in the back room of a library and I'm willing to bet, as the main character in The Book of Blood and Shadow interns with an eccentric professor, that she does plenty of that. So I've done a complete 180 from my first impression of the US cover and now I really appreciate it. It's interesting and it seems to fit the book. The only thing I'm not feeling is the author's name at the bottom - I wish the book designer had found a way for Robin Wasserman's name to become part of the image in a cool way, too, but instead it's just...there.

The UK cover did catch my eye straightaway in a way that the US cover didn't. However, the UK cover doesn't stand up to closer inspection. I love the colours - purple and turquoise. I like the birds and the swirls of smoke. I like that we can see it's set in an old European city (I haven't been to Prague, so I can't say 100% that it is Prague, but it looks close enough) and the girl running gives a sense of urgency. And still looks like a chick-lit cover to me. She's running, but with the windswept hair, the bright purple jacket and the stylish knee-high boots, I can't help but feel that she's running so she won't be late for her date with the hot guy in marketing, rather than running to solve an ancient mystery. And the tagline (for some reason, UK publishers really like to add a tagline that spells out the plot of the book a little more for its readers): "One girl. One night." Um, is she going to prom? OK, "centuries of secrets" does indicate that it's something more serious.

To be honest, I think 'chick lit meets the Da Vinci Code' is probably what the UK publishers were going for. And I don't think that's a bad or even inaccurate thing and their cover is really pretty and definitely piqued my interest in the book. But in terms of which is the better image, I give the US book designers their due credit.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Tips for New Bloggers

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

Top Ten Tips for New Bloggers

This is a Top Ten topic very near and dear to my heart, in that I've been doing a lot of soul-searching the last few months about what it takes to be a blogger and whether I really can/want to do it. I've only been blogging for a year and my blog is still small, so there will be advice much more valuable than mine, but I feel like I can offer a perspective on what it's like to start a blog and how different it is from your expectations.

10. Really think about what you want to achieve with your blog and what you want it to be.

I started my blog very uncertainly - so much so that I didn't even know if I wanted anybody to read it or not! I tried doing lots of different things with my blog, just because I thought it was what I should be doing and I wish I'd had a clear and pragmatic goal from the off. There are already hundreds, if not thousands of book blogs already out there, so you need to think to yourself: What can I bring to the blogosphere? There are bloggers who have huge followings and do a lot to promote books and generate buzz and there are blogs that do thoughtful discussion posts and there a blogs that run events and memes - the variety is huge. Think about what you'd enjoy and be good at and stick to that.

9. Participating in memes is the easiest way to build a following and interact with other bloggers.

When I started writing reviews, I was having a lot of fun getting my thoughts on a book out there. But with no followers, I did begin to wonder if it was enough. I was starting to feel like a madwoman, talking to herself all day. Even if your blog is just for you, nobody likes to feel like nobody else is listening to them, so you should check out other blogs and invite them to visit yours. The easiest way is with memes and they can be a lot of fun and I found they helped me get comfortable with commenting.

8. Don't compare yourself to other bloggers. 

There are bloggers who started out at the same time as me and their blogs became a hundred times more successful than mine. I'd sometimes feel bad about it: Why are they so much better at this than me? But there's no point in getting down; everyone is different and I don't even really want to be as successful as some other blogs, because I've had a glimpse of how much work it takes and I don't think I can do it. Your blog will grow at the pace that is right for you.

7. Make sure you are having fun and don't make your blog a burden.

Yes! You will not be paid to blog, so don't treat it as something you have to do - make sure it's something you want to do. Every blogger experiences burn-out at some point, and realises they have been pushing themselves too hard. Don't start thinking all your followers will desert you if you don't post every day. Relax. They won't.

6. Post what you want to post - don't chase after followers or trends.

I think this rarely works precisely because it is insincere. I haven't done anything too desperate, but I went through a phase where I picked the current popular books to review, because I thought more people would be interested in reading about them and be inclined to comment. But one of the things I actually dislike about the blogosphere is when you see the same books reviewed on every blog - I read blogs to be introduced to new reads! I think this goes back to having fun with your blog - read what you want to read and post what you want to post.

5.  Work on cultivating a few good friendships.

I've thought about deleting my blog many times in the last few months and one of the main things that has stopped me doing so, is how much I enjoy connecting to the small group of people I've met online. I have a few blogs that I regularly read and comment on and the other bloggers return the favour and it's such a nice thing to think there are some people who are interested in what you have to say. I know that I'll always read their posts and they'll read mine and that's actually enough for me.

4. Treat your followers now and again.

I've only hosted two giveaways but I'd love to again. I don't recommend having giveaways to gain followers; I did it because I honestly like making other people happy. Emailing people to tell them they've won is the most fun - you feel like a magical book fairy, granting wishes! 

3.  Join NetGalley.

I've drooled over many an ARC in an IMM, but I know I'm too cowardly to ever approach publishers myself. That's why NetGalley is so great - it was made for cowards! You only have to click a button to ask for something and if you're rejected, well, at least it's not to your face.

2.  Don't be afraid to change things up.

Early on in my blogging days, I wrote my reviews up as bullet points, but I quickly realised these didn't work and didn't give a reader a real feel of a book. I also used to participate in memes every week, but I've eased up on that now. I know my first point was to decide what your blog is and stick to it and this may seem contradictory. But what I mean is, don't let yourself be tossed every which way the wind blows because you're indecisive. Make choices you're sure about - and make new choices you're sure about when the time is right.

1. Be aware of how much time, effort, blood, sweat and tears are required to run a successful blog.

I really can't stress this enough. A successful blog takes W-O-R-K. If I had known how much, I probably would have been put off from ever starting one. If you want people to visit your blog and comment, you will have to visit theirs and this takes a lot of time. If you want to attract new readers, being on a number of different social media sites will help and this takes a lot of work. Making your blog attractive and memorable, with an original design may cost some money. Keeping on top of new releases takes effort. Reading enough books so that you can post regular reviews takes time. Coming up with other post topics takes effort. And this is ongoing and continuous - you can't take a day to comment on all the blogs, tweet and read something and think you're done for the month or even week. You have to keep these things up.

If this sounds like too much for you, don't be put off. That's where my number 5. tip comes in. Think small to start off: a small group of blogging friends, a few reviews, a couple of memes and you decide where you go from there.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Book Review: The Queen's Lady by Eve Edwards

First published in the US: 10th April 2012
By: Delacorte Books for Young Readers

England, 1584.

When beautiful Lady Jane Rievaulx begins her service to the Queen at Richmond Palace, she is thrilled to see the court's newest arrival . . . Master James Lacey.

No matter that Jane was previously courted by the eldest Lacey brother — James is the one who has won her heart. For his part, James cannot deny his fascination with Jane; his plans, however, do not allow for love. He is about to set sail on a treacherous journey to the Americas, seeking absolution for what he sees as past sins. But when Jane is forced into a terrible situation by her own family, only one man can save her. Will Master James return to his lady before it's too late?

My review:

Second Lacey brother James and Lady Jane were two of my favourite characters in The Other Countess, so I came into The Queen's Lady already excited to read about their romance. This companion novel/sequel begins about a year after the end of the first book and both James and Jane have suffered since then. James has witnessed terrible things in war and Jane has been widowed, is hated by her in-laws and back to being the pawn of her bullying father and brother again. In The Queen's Lady, James and Jane both seem beaten down and broken and far from the spirited and flirtatious characters they were in The Other Countess. Because of this, you do miss out on that sense of returning to much-loved characters - they're very different people here.

Although you don't have to read The Other Countess first to follow The Queen's Lady, I do advise it - I think to be invested in a love story, it helps to see how the couple met and how they first developed feelings for each other. James and Jane are already in love before The Queen's Lady begins and they actually don't have that many scenes together - James journeys to America, so they mostly long from afar. It definitely made The Queen's Lady better for me that I was already rooting for them from the first book.

In other hands, the things I've mentioned could have made The Queen's Lady a disappointment, but luckily, Eve Edwards is still skilled at keeping her romances as light, fizzy and delightful as a glass of champagne. All the best elements from The Other Countess are present here - the witty dialogue, the swoonworthy men, the courtly glamour - and especially the use of charming supporting characters. James's African servant, Diego, and Jane's seamstress, Milly, pretty much run away with this story. They are adorable, hilarious and very romantic, and the two of them standing strong against the prejudices of the age is easily as compelling a story as the main plot. And once the full Lacey clan turns up, the banter is back and the scenes between the siblings still go from rib-ticklingly funny to heart-warmingly sweet. I want to marry into the Lacey family. For reals. The youngest brother Tobias is still free.

The fun scenes and the happy endings are why I like this series. Things always wrap up so merrily and you'll find no complaints about the lack of realism from me. It's just too nice to read something and know that it will leave me smiling.

Rating: 4 stars

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

Monday, 9 April 2012

Hardbacks vs. paperbacks (and e-books!): The Book Reader's Eternal Question

I always knew I'd tackle this issue in a blog post on a day like today. A day so lazy, I have nothing to do but ponder pointless things (This is a lie. I have lots of stuff to do - work stuff - but I'd much rather ponder the pointless). Well, it's a bank holiday in the UK and it's pouring with rain, so it seems like I'll have no better time to discuss the age-old question: Do you prefer hardbacks, paperbacks or now, e-books?

For most of my life, I hated hardbacks. Too big and bulky and difficult to carry around. They were even difficult to hold up when I was a child reader. And the cost! Far more than my pocket money would stretch to. I could see that they looked posher and nicer on a bookshelf than paperbacks, but that wasn't enough for me when I could buy 2 or 3 paperbacks for the price of one hardback. Fans of hardbacks would tell me that hardbacks were worth the money because they lasted longer and didn't get creased and dog-eared like paperbacks, but I've always been one of those anal types who carries her paperbacks around in plastic covering and manages to read a whole book without ever breaking the spine - many of my books look completely unread to the untrained eye.

The final black mark against hardbacks was - and still is - that many books don't even get published in hardback, while every book will have a paperback copy. Another thing about anal types? We hate having mismatched sets! The idea of collecting a series in hardback, only for later books to be 'paperback originals', actually makes me shiver with dread. Better to just buy the paperbacks from the start, I've always thought.

So that was me and my attitude: Down with hardbacks! Paperbacks will do! Only, something happened. I became aware of book blogs; I started a book blog myself. And what did I see, week after week on IMMs? Hardbacks! Beautiful-looking hardbacks. Blogs also create hype; a need to have a book right away and not wait around for the paperback version. And while I've known for a while that it's better for the author if you buy hardbacks, I didn't really care until I started interacting with authors on their own blogs and on Twitter, found some I really liked and thought: Why not spend a bit extra if it will help them? 

However, some of my earlier hang-ups still stand. I will only buy a hardback if (a) I have already read the book and *know* I love it, and (b) it's a standalone or the whole series is already published in hardback.

Other than being cheaper and more suitable for reading on the go than hardbacks, I don't feel like paperbacks have anything particularly special to recommend them. For a long time, they were just the other alternative. Now there's a new other alternative: E-books and they're even cheaper and even more portable. I purchased a Kindle about six months ago and have added dozens of books to it since then. However, it's taken me a while to adapt to reading on the Kindle; reading on it would take me longer as I found the device...distracting, I suppose. My eyes would constantly dart to the progression bar, I would keep changing the font size, etc. It took me reading at least 5 or 6 books on the Kindle before I got used to it and could just read, without the device preventing me from fully immersing myself in the story. 

Now that I'm there, though? It's great. The convenience of carrying as many books as I like in one slim tablet really does outweigh most other concerns. can't pass e-books on after you've read them. And owning a book in e-format never seems like quite enough. When I first downloaded all the free classics, I thought I would get rid of my physical copies of Austen, Homer, the Brontes, etc. Only I couldn't bring myself to, even though these books are all on my Kindle. An e-book just feels...impermanent to me.

How do you feel? Do you love the beauty and style of hardbacks? Can you do better than me and give praise to the paperback? Or have you bought an e-reader and never looked back?

Sunday, 8 April 2012

In My Mailbox #25

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

I have been really lazy in 2012 and this is the first time I've bothered to do an IMM this year. The novelty wore off of a lot of blogging memes, but I'm ready to make the effort again. What I've felt really guilty about is that I haven't been calling attention to the books I've received via NetGalley and I feel like announcing them is part of the deal. So this week's IMM is a special NetGalley edition, where I shine a spotlight on the books I've received in the past few months (and haven't already reviewed).

From NetGalley:

This is the fourth book in the Bard Academy series. I've only read the first, but have copies of all the others and they are very quick, fluffy reads, so I won't have any problem whizzing through them all in a weekend.

I requested this book without realising it was a sequel, which is a shame, as I love epic fantasy and wanted to read this one straightaway. However, I have now managed to find a copy of the first book, The Sworn, at my local library and am looking forward to trying these books.

This is due to be published next month. I've been wanting to read Davis' book Mare's War, so when Happy Families was available on NetGalley, I saw it as a good way to try the author's work.

Confession: I haven't read The Demon's Lexicon series. I really want to; I've heard nothing but good things, but I haven't as yet. However, I follow Brennan on Twitter and she's hilarious; I really like her personality (and her commentary on The Vampire Diaries!) so I'm confident I will like her books, too. Unspoken isn't out until September, so I'm planning to squeeze in reading The Demon's Lexicon trilogy before then.
I was a huge, huge fan of The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants books and they really remind me of a particular time in my life. I'm actually really nervous about this book, which reunites the characters ten years later, as I don't want to be disappointed and I've stayed away from reviews so I'm not influenced by other opinions and can make up my own mind.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Book Review: Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard

First published: 13th March 2012
By: Delacorte Press

It all begins with a stupid question:

Are you a Global Vagabond?

No, but 18-year-old Bria Sandoval wants to be. In a quest for independence, her neglected art, and no-strings-attached hookups, she signs up for a guided tour of Central America—the wrong one. Middle-aged tourists with fanny packs are hardly the key to self-rediscovery. When Bria meets Rowan, devoted backpacker and dive instructor, and his outspokenly humanitarian sister Starling, she seizes the chance to ditch her group and join them off the beaten path.

Bria’s a good girl trying to go bad. Rowan’s a bad boy trying to stay good. As they travel across a panorama of Mayan villages, remote Belizean islands, and hostels plagued with jungle beasties, they discover what they’ve got in common: both seek to leave behind the old versions of themselves. And the secret to escaping the past, Rowan’s found, is to keep moving forward.

But Bria comes to realize she can’t run forever, no matter what Rowan says. If she ever wants the courage to fall for someone worthwhile, she has to start looking back.

Kirsten Hubbard lends her artistry into this ultimate backpacker novel, weaving her drawings into the text. Her career as a travel writer and her experiences as a real-life vagabond backpacking Central America are deeply seeded in this inspiring story.

My review:

In every glowing review of Wanderlove, the reviewer seems to have felt a deep emotional connection to the book. For the first few chapters, though, I thought this wasn't happening for me. Sure, I was enjoying the story of Bria's trip to Central America and mildly curious about the backstory with her controlling ex-boyfriend, but I wasn't super hooked. I didn't realise then, that Wanderlove is deceptively written. You spend a little while thinking you can take or leave it, but almost without you noticing, the novel snuggles its way inside you and you slowly come to see that you love it.

Wanderlove works whatever your age or experience: For all the teens who haven't travelled yet, Wanderlove probably has them saving up for plane tickets and for adults like me, who backpacked a long time ago, it brings all those memories back and makes you appreciate how effing great it was. Kirsten Hubbard is also a travel writer and it's obvious that she knows her stuff - lots of little details about the hostels, the bus rides, the people, are exactly right and make Wanderlove feel so real - and Central America sound so amazing. I want to go to the Lobsterfest in Belize so badly now. I wonder how many YA readers Wanderlove will send there.

Of course, a beautiful setting is not enough for a novel if it doesn't have a good story and good characters to put there. Wanderlove, however, delivers both. The journey the reader takes with Bria and Rowan parallels the one the characters have with each other and is typical of people who travel together: Starting out as mostly strangers, but the fact that they're sharing so many cool experiences brings them closer and soon there's a special bond between them. Both Bria and Rowan are trying to come to terms with difficult pasts and they are so great together by the end of the book; they mature together and have this trust and understanding between them that's enviable. (They're also incredibly hot together. There are a couple of scenes where Bria has to carefully study Rowan's body - purely for artistic reasons, of course - and I practically felt the steam coming off the page.)

Everything in Wanderlove is like that: It develops naturally. The novel is illustrated by Bria (well, really Hubbard - multi-talented, this one) but because she has artist's block when the novel opens, at first there are barely any drawings. But as she starts to deal with her issues, the drawings begin to decorate the text, so as well as being pretty, they make the reader happy for her. I especially liked when Bria drew the other characters - it made them seem real to me and I love to think that Starling and Rowan are really out there.

If you start to read Wanderlove and feel like it's not as great as I'm saying it is, my advice is to give it time. Just enjoy the journey - I promise you, you'll get there.

Rating: 4.5 stars

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

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Waiting on Wednesday #13

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill @ Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

The Selection by Kiera Cass

For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in the palace and compete for the heart of the gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn't want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she's made for herself - and realizes that the life she's always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

Published: 24th April 2012

WoW because: I remained immune to the hype about The Selection for a long time, but this week I cracked and became as uber-excited about it as everyone else. Honestly, I'm not sure if I'm more excited about the book, or the CW show (OMG, it stars Aimee Teegarden, aka Julie Taylor!), but the book's out first, so I'll start with that.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Book Review: Winter Town by Stephen Emond

First published: 19th Jan 2012
By: Little, Brown Young Readers

Every winter, straight-laced, Ivy League bound Evan looks forward to a visit from Lucy, a childhood pal who moved away after her parent’s divorce. But when Lucy arrives this year, she’s changed. The former “girl next door” now has chopped dyed black hair, a nose stud, and a scowl. But Evan knows that somewhere beneath the Goth, “Old Lucy” still exists, and he’s determined to find her… even if it means pissing her off.

Can opposites attract? Or does growing up mean having to grow apart?
Told from two perspectives, this funny and honest novel by Stephen Emond is a unique combination of text, comic strips, and art. It’s an indie movie in a book, perfect for the inner outcast and lovelorn nerd in all of us.

My review:

Winter Town has my favourite cover or 2012; I love it and it alone is what made me excited to read the book. However, as soon as I read the above synopsis, with the line "it's an indie movie in a book", my excitement significantly deflated. We all have prejudices against some genres and that description made me think Winter Town was going to be smirky and self-satisfied and full of obscure references to things that were too cool for me to get.

I can say that Winter Town wasn't like that. OK, the characters make lots of references to things from manga and indie music, but I got at least two-thirds of them. Unfortunately though, my assumption that this book wouldn't really be for me was proved correct and I didn't really like it.

A big problem for me was the writing - it was very simple and plain, so much so that it seemed childish to me. This may have been compounded by the fact that the book I read before Winter Town was Chime by Franny Billingsley and it was a mistake to follow the former with the latter. The writing of Chime isn't to everybody's taste (I'm not even sure it was to mine), but it is unique, strange, lyrical and clever and Winter Town seemed very bland to me in comparison.

I also couldn't like or connect with the characters. The whole story is told in third person restricted, with the first half being in Evan's head and the second half switching to Lucy's. I didn't like or dislike Evan, I just found him boring, with some real first world problems ("I'm brilliant at everything! Which amazing talent should I follow?"). Lucy, I did dislike. Lucy's insistence that there was something wrong with Evan being a good kid and that he needed to go off the rails and do dumb, illegal stuff to truly live, bugged me considerably. And not because I was one of those good kids - I was actually more of a Lucy than an Evan and I wish I could go back and be more focused and hard-working, not more wild. I did feel sorry for Lucy's situation, but it's very cliched 'problem teen' stuff (hating mum's new boyfriend, falling in with the wrong crowd). I felt like I'd read stories like that so many times because, well, I have.

Why didn't I DNF? Well, the simple writing I complained about does make Winter Town very easy to read and I finished it quickly. And I did like the comic strips that start every chapter. I didn't think they had a whole lot of relevance to the main story, but they were cute and funny. Stephen Emond also writes a comic book series, Emo Boy, and I think I might possibly enjoy that more. Winter Town, as I've said, just wasn't the book for me.

Rating: 2.5 stars