Sunday, 29 July 2012

In My Mailbox #28

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

I haven't done an IMM in an age, but this week I came into possession of a) an Amazon gift voucher and b) a reasonably large sum of money. Of course, I spent them both on books and I'm really excited about the ones I got. There's also a book I got a couple of months ago and some really great stuff from NetGalley.


Blood Red Road by Moira Young  
I bought this a couple of months ago at an event in London and was lucky enough to get a signed copy. 

Dream School by Blake Nelson
I read Girl as a teen and loved it, but I never even knew there was a sequel. As soon as I found out about it, I had to read it.

Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield
This has been getting great reviews and just sounds creepy and wonderful.

In Honor by Jessi Kirby
I bought this book for Tim Riggins. As soon as I heard a character was based on him, I knew I had to read this.

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

 From NetGalley:

 Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Saving June by Hannah Harrington

The Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Thank you to Bloomsbury UK, Harlequin UK and Angry Robot.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Some UK cover changes I love

I've started to feel bad about the fact that most of my Compare the Covers posts focus on UK cover changes I dislike, and I never post about the UK cover changes that I think are really good. So I've decided to remedy that and give UK publishers some love, with a whole post dedicated to the times when I think they UK did it better.

Sarah Dessen's books



The US covers of Dessen's books were recently revamped, but I still don't think they're anywhere close to being as cool, artistic and visually interesting as the covers we get in the UK.

Sea Hearts/The Brides of Rollrock Island



The original Australian title and cover may have the creep factor, but I'm much more attracted to the fresh, light colours on the UK cover and the rocky beach looks exactly how I picture the one in the book.

The Scorpio Races



I actually think the US cover for The Scorpio Races is really drab and boring and I would never pick it up in a bookshop. The UK one is much more lively and fun to look at.

The Gallagher Girls Series



I'm not saying the US covers aren't cute, because of course they are. But the UK covers make this series look super-cool and turn them from books you get for your little sister, to books you sneak a look at yourself.

Raw Blue



The Australian cover? Eh, I think the orange font, blue background and black-and-white model clash rather than complement each other. The UK cover is much better to look at.

Plain Kate/Wood Angel



Oh, come on. Tell me the UK cover isn't the prettiest, most darling thing you've ever seen.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Book Review: Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

First published in Great Britain: 1st May 2012
By: Gollancz

Eight years have passed since the young Princess Bitterblue, and her country, were saved from the vicious King Leck. Now Bitterblue is the queen of Monsea, and her land is at peace. 

But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on. Her advisers, who have run the country on her behalf since Leck's death, believe in a forward-thinking plan: to pardon all of those who committed terrible acts during Leck's reign; and to forget every dark event that ever happened. Monsea's past has become shrouded in mystery, and it's only when Bitterblue begins sneaking out of her castle - curious, disguised and alone - to walk the streets of her own city, that she begins to realise the truth. Her kingdom has been under the thirty-five-year long spell of a madman, and now their only chance to move forward is to revisit the past. Whatever that past holds.

Two thieves, who have sworn only to steal what has already been stolen, change her life forever. They hold a key to the truth of Leck's reign. And one of them, who possesses an unidentified Grace, may also hold a key to her heart . . .

My review:

I could have given Bitterblue anything from 3 to 5 stars. I didn't know quite what to say about it until I ran across something online, said about a television show, that I'm paraphrasing because I can't find the original source. But it went something like this: Do you enjoy this cast and these characters enough that you'd happily watch them sitting around and doing nothing but talking? If so, then the show is doing something wrong, because it means the plot is not hooking you enough.

That's similar to how I feel about Bitterblue. I enjoyed it because I love the world and the characters Kristin Cashore has created and I would have no problem reading 500 pages of Bitterblue alternating between walking around her castle and her city, and discussing life and love with Po, Katsa, Giddon and others. And after reading Bitterblue, it feels like that's exactly what I did do. The plot moves glacially, but the characters and the setting are amazing. Enjoyment of the book depends on how much you value the former over the latter.

I loved Bitterblue the person so much. I also loved Po, but then I loved him already in Graceling and was just glad he was around so much for Bitterblue. The big surprise for me was Giddon, who I didn't like at all in Graceling, but is developed into an excellent character here, once seen through a new perspective. Giddon was something of a bad guy in Graceling, because Katsa doesn't like him, but Bitterblue sees another side to him. Wonderful new characters are introduced, too. The prize for best goes to Death - Bitterblue's surly librarian - but Madlen, Hava, Teddy and Saf are all cool and interesting, too. I liked the way things went with Bitterblue and Saf's romance; I appreciated that the novel shows that not every romance is going to be the One.

Another great thing was the vivid description of artwork and architecture. Bitterblue has never seen much of her castle and city before now and as she explores them for the first time, the reader explores them with her. The bridges, the sculptures...everything sounds beautiful. I also can't say enough about the beauty of this book as a physical thing. Other blogs have some great photos of Ian Schoenherr's illustrations so you can see for yourself; I spent ages just staring at the pretty pages. That's the way to get readers to purchase a physical copy over an ebook.

We also finally get the story of how the world of Fire connects with the Seven Kingdoms and all three of Kristin Cashore's heroines meet at last. I really liked the talk between Fire and Bitterblue, with all its allusions to things from the other novels. (And I think I actually squeed when Fire said she'd been married for forty-seven years). 

All this accounts for why I got a 5 star feeling for Bitterblue. The 3 star feeling is for the plot and the pacing. Bitterblue is trying to piece together what happened when her father was king and the best way to describe the pacing is that it feels like everything happens in real time. Usually in a book or a film, we might jump ahead to the really important discoveries or maybe just have a 'research' montage. In Bitterblue it feels like we follow the queen every day and in every little thing, no matter how small. 

I'm a patient reader, so I could handle it. I honestly enjoyed Bitterblue and the others so much that I could have spent 500 more pages with them. Fans of this series are going to want to read this final (or is it? There are rumours) installment no matter what, so I hope I've just given an idea of what to expect when you do.

Rating: 4 stars

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Compare the Covers: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

I feel kind of bad about these 'Compare the Covers' posts, because I'm usually only moved to do them when I spy that the UK cover of a book I want to read is ranging anywhere from a) not an improvement on the original, or b) absolutely terrible. So it feels like I'm always putting down the work of the UK publishers/cover designers when, probably seven times out of ten, I prefer the UK versions of books. I just happen to make posts about the ones I dislike.

UK cover                                                                              US cover

The UK cover on the left isn't bad. The red is very striking and between the colours and the model, it's a very attractive cover. I think I would definitely pick it up in a bookshop and expect a fun read. But I'd also expect something a little bit...tacky. Cheesy fantasy fun. With the scary eye watching over our brave heroine and the lightning flashing in the red sky, this is a cover unafraid to embrace the cliche. I'd be expecting a guilty pleasure. I don't know if I'd be expecting a book that has received numerous starred reviews. My biggest complaint against the UK cover though, is - Paolini quote nonewithstanding - that the fact that this book is about DRAGONS is not prominent enough. I think the eye is a dragon's eye, but you can't really tell for certain. And if your book is about DRAGONS, that is not something you keep quiet about, you shout it from the rooftops.

Like the US cover, which actually has a dragon on the rooftops, making my point for me nicely. In contrast to the UK cover, the US cover is serious. Maybe a little too serious? It looks positively sombre. On the one hand, I wouldn't be embarrassed at all to carry the US version around in public. But on the other, I think I wouldn't necessarily be inclined to pull it off the shelf at first glance, either. Also interesting is that the UK cover makes me think 'Seraphina' is the name of the girl pictured, but the US one gives me the impression 'Seraphina' is a place - the UK cover is right in this instance. And the UK cover definitely grabbed me (it would have grabbed me more with DRAGONS, though). 

So in this case, I think neither cover wins outright. The US cover could do with a little more eye-catching colour and the UK cover could do with dialling back the cheese. If I borrow Seraphina from the library, I'll choose the UK cover. But if I buy it, I think the US cover is the one I'll prefer other people seeing on my bookshelf.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Freebie

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

I wanted to do a list of my Top Ten Minor/Supporting Characters Ever, but I'm pretty tired after a long weekend trip and the thought of whittling the hundreds of supporting characters I've loved over the years into just ten, makes my brain hurt a little. So I've narrowed it down to my favourite supporting characters in books that have been published this year. These are the guys and gals who aren't the leads, but definitely made the books better.

Top Ten Minor and Supporting Characters of 2012 YA

10. Kanin from The Immortal Rules
As a tall, dark, mysterious vampire, Kanin is something of a cliché. But he is also a total boss, who teaches our heroine, Allie, how to live as a vamp. Extra points for teaching her how to wield a katana.

9. Chris from The Book of Blood and Shadow
The reader learns that Chris will die on the first page and as you read on, you realise it's a real shame, because he is the most likeable of all the characters. A loyal friend, a romantic boyfriend, sweet and funny - Chris was a real gem.

8. Hazel's mother from The Fault in Our Stars
I  can't even imagine the hell this woman goes through every day, knowing her only child could die at any time. But she bears it all with humour, patience and grace. I love that Hazel's mother allows her daughter the freedom to fall in love with a certain Mr Augustus Waters and her line: "I won't be a mom anymore" is one of many from this tear-jerker that broke my heart.

7. Len from When You Were Mine
In real life, girls, you do not want a Romeo, you want a Len. Len is smart enough to see through your façade and know how you're feeling underneath. Len is snarky enough to make you laugh at yourself and realise your problems aren't so big after all. Len is talented enough to inspire you, so you push yourself to become better. And Len's kisses are sweeter because of all that.

6. Starling from Wanderlove
Doesn't everyone want to meet a Starling? That girl who will take charge of your life and make it so much cooler? Our heroine, Bria, is inept at being a backpacker until Starling, the poster girl for such things, takes Bria under her wing and puts her together with everything she needs for the trip of a lifetime: the clothes, the know-how and the boy.

5. The Beast of Waroch from Grave Mercy
Honestly, Grave Mercy is chock-full of awesome supporting characters, so it was an extremely tough task for me to pick favourites. But none is more larger-than-life than the Beast; a man with a terrifying face but a totally kind heart. I have my finger's crossed that he will play a larger role (maybe even a love interest role?) in the sequel.

4. Roar from Under the Never Sky
Every story needs a bit of light relief and Roar provides it in Under the Never Sky. Travelling with main characters Perry and Aria, he's a bit of a third wheel to their budding romance, so he's in an excellent position to observe and say out loud the things that nobody else will. Also, Roar has a tragic backstory of his own and even only hearing about his feelings for Perry's sister, Liv, made me root for him, so I can't wait to see them together in the next book.

3. Diego from The Queen's Lady
Servant to the Lacey family, Diego gives all the Lacey boys a run for their money in looks, smarts and a way with women. Despite some slip-ups - where he insists on offering a herd of cows as payment for his true love, Milly - Diego is a romantic lover and it is so much fun to read about him sweeping Milly off her feet.

2. Sybella from Grave Mercy
Of course I couldn't limit myself to just one character from Grave Mercy. Every assassin nun deserves a spot, but none more so than Sybella, whose madness is as strong as her skill. You cannot not love a girl whose first wish after coming to her senses, is for a poison that will make a man's member shrivel and drop off.

1. Death from Bitterblue
Ah, Death (it rhymes with 'teeth'). Death has the Grace that every book-lover would kill for - he's Graced to read with super-speed and remember perfectly everything he has read. Bitterblue's librarian, he is of a prickly disposition and one of the only characters who will roll his eyes and talk back to the Queen. But inside he is as loyal as they come, honest to a fault and tirelessly works with Bitterblue to preserve the history of her queendom. Oh, and he loves his cat.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Audiobook Review: The False Princess by Eilis O'Neal

First released: 25th January 2011
By: Listening Library

Audiobook length: 10 hr and 52 min
Narrator: Mandy Williams

Princess and heir to the throne of Thorvaldor, Nalia has led a privileged life at court. But everything changes when she learns, just after her 16th birthday, that she is a false princess, a stand-in for the real Nalia, who has been hidden away for her protection. Cast out with little more than the clothes on her back, the girl now called Sinda must leave behind the city, her best friend, Kiernan, and the only life she's ever known.

Sent to live with her only surviving relative, Sinda proves inept at even the simplest tasks. Then she discovers that long-suppressed, dangerous magic runs through her veins, and she realizes that she will never learn to be just a simple village girl. Sinda returns to the city to seek answers. Instead, she rediscovers the boy who refused to forsake her, and uncovers a secret that could change the course of Thorvaldor's history forever.

An intricately plotted and completely satisfying adventure, The False Princess is both an engaging tale in the tradition of great fantasy novels and a story never told before that will enchant - and surprise - its listeners.

My review:

I love it when a plan comes together. The False Princess contains many of my favourite things - princesses, castles, magic, secrets - but what tips it over from the like boat into the love boat for me, is that it's an extremely well plotted novel. Like a jigsaw puzzle, every little piece - even those that initially seem insignificant and throwaway - is fit together into a smart and satisfying conclusion.

The revelation about Sinda happens in the first chapter and the false princess is quickly on her way to her new life. Sinda is a quiet character and doesn't jump off the page, but she's very well drawn and sympathetic. I thought it was a nice touch to show that even in the drabbest part of Sinda's life (living a meagre life with her aunt in a small village), she's shown to work hard and do her best. I didn't read the synopsis for this audiobook, so I was actually surprised when Sinda discovered her own powers and was genuinely thrilled for her, because she really deserves it.

There's a wonderful cast of supporting characters, too. There's Kiernan, Sinda's childhood best friend who's eternally loyal to her; Philantha, her eccentric magic tutor and a special mention goes to the other princess, Orianne. I really liked that instead of resenting each other, the princesses were bonded by their unusual circumstances.

I also want to give a shout-out to the gorgeous names in this book! They really give The False Princess  the full 'magical fantasy' feel. People names like Nalia, Philantha and Orianne and place names like Vivaskari and Thorvaldor are brilliantly evocative. I'm glad I listened to the audio so I could get the right pronunciations (I'm sure I would have butchered them terribly if left to decide them myself).

I didn't fall in love with Mandy Williams's voice, but I mostly enjoyed listening to her narration. She does very well with a variety of female voices, injecting them with personality, but she's not as good at male voices and tends to put on the stereotypical deep-throaty voice thing. I think I'll swoon for Kiernan more when I read this again in hardback and can make up any voice I want for him.

Yes, I'm planning to read this again. I just really enjoyed it; there's something so pleasing about a novel where everything wraps up the way it should. If you're looking for a smartly-written fantasy with a great plot and charming characters, then I strongly recommend you try The False Princess.

Rating: 4.5 stars