Thursday, 30 June 2011

Read of the Month - June 2011

...or What I Read and What I Thought was best.

Phew! Busy month - the longer I blog, the busier I get, it seems.

In June 2011, I read:

1. The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan
2. My Life as a Rhombus by Varian Johnson
3. Wuthering High by Cara Lockwood
4. Angel by L.A. Weatherly
5. Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce
6. An Education by Lynn Barber
7. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Predators and Prey (Season 8, Volume 5)
8. Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins

And my favourite read this month was:

Sisters Red

An exciting page-turner, that had a poignant sister-to-sister relationship at its centre and all the folk tale allusions and mythology were just the cherry on top.

Review: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Predators and Prey (Season 8, Volume 5)

First published in: 2009
By: Dark House Books

When Buffy’s former classmate-turned-vampire Harmony Kendall lands her own reality TV show, vampires are bolstered into the mainstream. Humans fall in line; they want a piece of the glitz, glam, and eternal youth bestowed upon these mysterious creatures of the night. What’s a Slayer to do when vampires are the trendiest thing in the world? While humans donate their blood to the vampire cause, Slayers—through a series of missteps, misfortunes, and anti-Slayer propaganda driven by the mysterious Twilight—are forced into hiding.

Predators and Prey collects a series of one-shots establishing the new world order - where vampires reign supreme and Slayers are public enemy number one.

My review:

The main thing I've enjoyed about this series of Buffy comics is the opportunity to spend time in this world, with these characters, again. I'm of the belief that Buffy ran out of good storylines after Season 5 and the Season 8 plot has done nothing to persuade me otherwise, but it has offered moments where the familiar characters spout the trademark dialogue and remind me why I miss this show so damn much.

This collection of one-shots should, in theory, be fertile ground for more of that. None of the stories focus on Buffy herself or the main plotline; they are centered on the supporting characters. Unfortunately for me, half of the stories are about characters I don't care much about (Harmony, Andrew...what I wouldn't give for a Xander-focused one-shot). 

The 2 I liked best were "Safe" and "Living Doll". "Safe" features the team-up of Giles and Faith (yay!) and the pair investigate a supposed sanctuary for slayers. I enjoyed this because....Faith and Giles! I can't express enough how thrilled I am about these two working together. Again, the story's not up to much; it's predictable, but it's worth reading to get some insight into Faith and see Giles be bad-ass. I liked the artwork of the creepy dolls in 'Living Doll" and it thankfully and finally resolves the subplot of Dawn's ever-changing form. Here's hoping the series finds something better to do with her from now on.

While not a must-read, if you're a fan of comics this collection is a mildly diverting way to spend an hour and if you're a fan of Buffy, it's nice to get the chance to visit the 'verse again.

Rating: 3 stars

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Review: An Education by Lynn Barber

First published in: 2009
By: Penguin Books

1960: A stranger in a sports car offers a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl a lift. She accepts.

This was the beginning of the two most bizarre years of Lynn Barber's life. For the stranger charmed his way into her family, and turned all their lives upside down. He wined and dined Lynn in posh restaurants, whisked her off to Paris and introduced her to his louche friends – all with the delighted agreement of her parents. And without ever letting on exactly what he did for a living. Only when he proposed and she was on the brink of accepting did she find out something which made her realize she was making the biggest mistake of her life.

Beginning with this remarkable episode, this is an unforgettable memoir. Barber takes the story to the heady world of 1960s Oxford, followed by her improbable career as a sexpert and author of How to Improve Your Man in Bed.

My review:

The first thing that's worth mentioning about this book, is that despite the synopsis and despite being the entire subject of the film made, the teen-aged Lynn Barber's affair with a older conman is only a small part of her memoirs; it takes up only a chapter in it. It's easy to see why this episode in her life has been the most focused on: it manages to somehow be both extraordinary and relatable. You can understand how a teenage girl could be fooled like that, but it's still shocking to read about.

Real-life, as it often is, was far seedier and less romantic than the movies and the young Barber wasn't starry-eyed and swept off her feet like her film counterpart, Jenny. She wasn't in love with her older man; she was more or less pushed into dating him by her parents. Mr. and Mrs. Barber only saw a wealthy man to be caught and didn't much care that their daughter was barely legal. The whole story is pretty sordid and sad and the result is it changes and defines Barber from then on.

The rest of the book deals with, well, the rest of Barber's life up till the present. She goes to Oxford, marries and becomes a successful journalist. The book is short, under 200 pages and it's written in a breezy, chatty style that means it's easy to plough through (I finished it in 2 sittings). Barber is witty and acerbic, always looking at events in her life with a detached eye. She made me laugh a lot, but she's quite difficult to warm to. If you need a sweet, tenderhearted narrator then this book probably isn't for you: Barber's writer nickname is "The Demon Barber" and I wasn't exactly left puzzling as to why. Her description of her husband's illness and eventual death is genuinely moving, though and really brought back my own experience of seeing a loved one suffer like that.

Mostly, however, I would recommend this book to anyone who's interested in a career in journalism. There aren't many out there with Barber's experience: over the course of her career, she works for both newspapers and magazines, in both the US and the UK and from the 70s to the current millennium. Impressive, no? It's totally fascinating to see how it all operates; in different publications, different countries, different decades. And there's a funny celebrity anecdote or two as well, if you need more incentive.

Rating: 4 stars

Waiting on Wednesday

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

My first WoW post, but I learned about a new book this week that I'm eagerly waiting for. I was thinking about my favourite books of last year and Jaclyn Dolamore's Magic Under Glass was one of them. I decided to see whether or not she had any new books coming out and lucky for me, she does:

Between the Sea and the Sky by Jaclyn Dolamore

For as long as Esmerine can remember, she has longed to join her older sister, Dosinia, as a siren—the highest calling a mermaid can have. When Dosinia runs away to the mainland, Esmerine is sent to retrieve her. Using magic to transform her tail into legs, she makes her way unsteadily to the capital city. There she comes upon a friend she hasn't seen since childhood—a dashing young man named Alandare, who belongs to a winged race of people. As Esmerine and Alandare band together to search for Dosinia, they rekindle a friendship . . . and ignite the emotions for a love so great, it cannot be bound by sea, land, or air.

WoW because: I have a weakness for mermaid tales and the mythology of this one sounds really interesting and this book should tide me over until Dolamore releases Magic Under Stone.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

A Book Made Me Do It

That's what I was too embarrassed to say at the first lesson of my new hobby last Friday. With summer now here, as a teacher I've got a bit of time on my hands and thought I'd learn to do something new. What did I pick? Archery. Why did I pick it? Hmmm, let me see....

And also...

Yep, that might've had something to do with it.

I may not have wanted to admit it to a group of adult strangers, but books have long influenced me to try new things. No, I don't mean drugs or cutting (so stop looking so smug over there, Wall Street Journal) but when I read about characters becoming smarter and stronger, discovering purpose or having a rollicking good time doing something, I tend to think: Hey, maybe I should try that.

As a kid I tried to form my own babysitting club, but nobody in real-life lets 11 year-old strangers babysit their children. I started keeping my own journal because of Harriet the Spy. I begged my parents to take me to New York after reading Paula Danzinger's Remember Me to Harold Square and when they finally relented, I redid the entire scavenger hunt that the characters went on, visiting all the places they did.

I know I'm not alone in this. Thousands more tourists flocked to Europe's cultural landmarks after reading about them in The DaVinci Code. And that's the kind of thing I'm talking about and it's one of the main reasons I love books so much - they can inspire you to get off your behind and try something new, positive and adventurous. Being introduced to cool characters and seeing them live amazing lives, makes you aware that these things are possible. Now, I don't want to live in a post-apocalyptic future where I have to hunt food to survive, but I wouldn't mind being skilled, poised and strong. And maybe when I wield that bow and launch those arrows, some of what Katniss has will rub off on me. At the very least, I look incredibly bad-assed doing it.

What about the rest of you? Has a book ever made you do something?

Monday, 27 June 2011

Review: Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce

First published in Great Britain in: 2010
By: Hodder Children's Books

The story of Scarlett and Rosie March, two highly-skilled sisters who have been hunting Fenris (werewolves) - who prey on teen girls - since Scarlett lost her eye years ago while defending Rosie in an attack. Scarlett lives to destroy the Fenris, and she and Rosie lure them in with red cloaks (a colour the wolves can't resist), though Rosie hunts more out of debt to her sister than drive. 

But things seem to be changing. The wolves are getting stronger and harder to fight, and there has been a rash of news reports about countless teenage girls being brutally murdered in the city. Scarlett and Rosie soon discover the truth: wolves are banding together in search of a Potential Fenris - a man tainted by the pack but not yet fully changed. Desperate to find the Potential to use him as bait for a massive werewolf extermination, the sisters move to the city with Silas, a young woodsman and long time family friend who is deadly with an axe. Meanwhile, Rosie finds herself drawn to Silas and the bond they share not only drives the sisters apart, but could destroy all they've worked for. 

My review:

When you've been wanting to read a book for a while, there's always the danger that it won't meet your expectations. Luckily, this didn't happen with Sisters Red - I liked it just as much as I'd hoped I would.

The prologue is an updated version of Little Red Riding Hood and weaves together the familiar characteristics of the original (the wolf, the grandmother, the woodsman) with modern-day details (the girls eat Popsicles and watch The Price is Right) to create an eerie and atmospheric beginning. Fast-forward to the present and Scarlett and Rosie are teen werewolf slayers, their lives revolving around killing the beasts who murdered their grandmother and left Scarlett heavily scarred.

I really liked the device of having each sister narrate alternating chapters - it gave insight into both characters and allowed the reader to fully understand their bond. It doesn't get repetitive because Pearce keeps the action moving and something new happens in each chapter.

Scarlett is definitely not your usual YA heroine and I found her fascinating. She reminded me of the Buffy from The Wish episode of that show: angry, bitter and grimly fixated on the hunt. She's hard to love, but she's kind of awe-inspiring. Rosie is no slouch, either and I thought it was cool the novel showed that the sisters were equals in smarts and ability - I think my mouth is still agape at Rosie's awesome maneuvers in the climax. Scarlett and Rosie's relationship is the heart of the novel and the depth of their feeling is incredibly touching at times. Rosie's romance with Silas has some sweet moments, but it really pales in comparison to ScarRo, which is where the epic, overpowering love is at.

The Fenris were genuinely creepy and the encounters with them made Sisters Red a tense, addictive read - I always wanted to keep reading to see what happened next. The wolves don't really work as metaphor for rapists or other real-world predators (if Pearce even intended that) because there are set rules when it comes to attracting/defeating them, which is not the case in life. But as villains in a story? They bring the scary and then some.

I do think a lot of the plotline fell together too easily and conveniently and might not stand up under scrutiny, but while reading, I was completely carried along with it. Some of the plot twists were predictable, but I feel that was down to the story wanting to fit and evoke fairy tale conventions and I was fine with it.

The novel may have its imperfections, but it mixed folk tale, fight scenes, scares and sisterhood - those are a few of my favourite things and made it a just-right read for me.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Sunday, 26 June 2011

In My Mailbox #9

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by Kristi @The Story Siren. All links go to Amazon UK.

I have kind of a motley crew of books this week.

Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale by Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook
I saw this at the library and had to grab it. I'm a massive fan of Davies-era Doctor Who and this tells the behind-the-scenes story. Just the briefest skim-through showed me this was gonna be a great read and I can't wait to start it.

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
I picked this up at the free book stand we have at work. I'm going to the Canary Islands in a few weeks and I'm looking for some light beach reads to take with me.

Rumours by Anna Godbersen
Another potential beach read that I found at the library. I actually read the first Luxe book at the beach last year, so might as well make it a tradition!

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
I was really glad to get a copy of this at ReadItSwapIt, because it's out of print in the UK. I've seen this book recommended on a couple of sites, most notably Steph Su Reads and after watching TV's Game of Thrones, I've really felt like tackling some high fantasy in my reading.

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
This was also on the free book stand at work and I loved the BBC series, so I thought, why not try it?

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Book Blogger Hop #3

I'm taking part in the Book Blogger Hop, hosted by Crazy for Books. Although, I'm running late this week!

Book Blogger Hop 

 "When did you realise reading was your passion and a truly important part of your life?"

This is a weird question for me because my memories of becoming a book-addict aren't actually happy ones! I got into lots of trouble at school as a kid because I would rather read a book of my choice than do the assigned school-work and would prefer to sit indoors reading, rather than play outside with the other children. My parents and teachers were always torn on whether my reading so much was a good thing or a bad thing. So I knew reading was my passion from a young age because I didn't want to stop for anything. I even used to read as I walked - very impractical and drove my mother mad!

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Review: Angel by L.A. Weatherly

First published in the UK in: 2010
By: Usbourne Publishing

Willow knows she's different from other girls. And not just because she loves tinkering around with cars. Willow has a gift. She can look into peoples futures, know their dreams, their hopes and their regrets, just by touching them. She has no idea where she gets this power from... 

But Alex does. Gorgeous, mysterious Alex knows Willows secret and is on a mission to stop her. The dark forces within Willow make her dangerous and irresistible. In spite of himself, Alex finds he is falling in love with his sworn enemy. 

My review:

I've been extremely burned out on YA Paranormal recently and a lot of the recent books in the genre haven't really been doing it for me. I put off reading Angel for a while because of this and was prepared to not finish it if the first few pages didn't interest me.

Fortunately, the premise of Angel was good enough to keep me reading. In the world of the book, angels have come to Earth, but far from being celestial beings, they are actually predators who feed off the energy of humans. Once a person has been a victim of an angel attack, he/she has 'angel burn' (the US title of the book and much more fitting, IMO) and will physically and emotionally deteriorate - the angels cause everything from cancer to madness. And the kicker? These humans don't know the true nature of the angels; they see the angels as radiant, pure and good, even while the angels are slowly killing them.

Interesting, right? And the first 150 or so pages of this book are a cracking read as the plot is set-up and gets underway. Willow's psychic ability allows her to see that her classmate is in terrible danger from the angels and tries to save her...just as Alex, a professional angel killer comes to town. Some surprise twists and some exciting clashes get Angel off to a great start.

However, the pace of the story slows down considerably once Willow and Alex are thrown together and it becomes much more heavily - in fact, fully, a romance. I do appreciate that the author didn't fall into the trap of 'insta-love' that is so prevalent in YA Paranormal Romance; it's easy to see exactly why and how Willow and Alex fall for each other. But while I liked both characters and wanted them to be happy together, their love story alone wasn't enough story for me. I wasn't bored, but I wasn't swept away enough by it to not need anything else.

Things get exciting again at the end, but if I'm being totally honest, I do think many of the 500+ pages could have been cut to get there in a more timely fashion. As the first in a series, Angel has a lot going for it - likable characters, intriguing premise - and I'm interested in where some of the plot threads will go. But it's definitely one for readers whose preference is for the Romance part that comes with the Paranormal.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Friday, 17 June 2011

Follow My Book Blog Friday #4

Follow Friday is hosted by Parajunkee's View.

Q. Genre wars! What's your favourite genre and which book in that genre made it your favourite?

Good question. It's easier to pinpoint exactly when I became a fan of my second favourite genre, which is historical fiction. I know for definite that it was The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory that made me a devotee. But my no. 1 favourite genre is fantasy and it's more difficult to find the root cause of that. I could say it was my first Roald Dahl book, The Magic Finger but it probably goes back further, to the fairytales I was read as a child. All I know is that I've always loved stories where the impossible happened and still can't resist a dose of magic.


Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: "Awww" Moments

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

Top Ten "Awww" Moments in Books
(those cute lines, charming actions, kisses or any other sentimental moment that made you say "AWWW!")

10. Marcus Flutie tells Jessica she's "Sloppy firsts" in Sloppy Firsts
I confess: Marcus Flutie makes me weak in the knees. He always knows what to say to make a girl melt and when he tells Jessica this, he's both flirting and showing how much he knows her. It's an irresistible combination of sexy and sweet.

9. Dori Dilson sticks by Stargirl in Stargirl
Friendship counts for a lot with me. Now, Stargirl herself is charm personified, but she has lots of big moments that show how lovely she is. The way that Dori is just quietly and firmly by Stargirl's side through thick and thin, whether she's worshipped or vilified (*cough* unlike *cough* Leo *cough*), really touched me.

8. Peter takes Mrs Darling's last kiss in Peter Pan
Mrs Darling's mouth had one kiss on it that nobody could ever get. Mr Darling eventually gave up trying, but Peter Pan takes it quite easily and we sigh dreamily when it happens, because no girl can help loving Peter Pan.

7. Yorick writes a list of book recommendations for Agent 355 in Y: The Last Man
OK, this doesn't sound like anything much out of context but trust me, it's definitely an 'awww' moment. 355's whole life has been devoted to being an agent and she's never read books or watched movies. As they travel together attempting to save the world, her relationship with Yorick grows and the book list is one of the signs that show how much he thinks of her. And come on, I'm a bookaholic; of course I'm gonna think a list of books is way more romantic than flowers or chocolates.

6. Chase and Gideon sign their "I love you"s in Invincible Summer
This was the sweetest relationship in the novel. Every time Gideon signs that he loves his brother, Chase signs that he loves him the same and it was adorable every time.
5. Damian sees the spirit of his mother and she tells him he is her miracle in Millions
If you haven't read this brilliant children's novel by Frank Cottrell Boyce then I absolutely recommend it. Damian's mother has died and he has become obsessed with religion and Catholic saints. He has visions where he can see dead saints and he always asks if they know of a saint by his mother's name. Finally, he sees his mother - she has become a saint and when Damian asks what miracle she performed to become one...well, she made me cry.

4. Sam tells Miss Katherine Barlow "I can fix that" in Holes
Hard to believe that one of the sweetest, saddest love stories ever told takes up less than 10 pages. Both the author, Louis Sachar, and his character Sam, show how much feeling can be conveyed in a few words, as Sam offers to fix Miss Katherine's leaky roof, stuck windows, wobbly desk and finally, her breaking heart with his kiss.

3. Harry sees his patronus for the first time and realises it is his father in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Let's be honest, I could have chosen half a dozen moments from the Harry Potter series (The Mirror of Erised, Snape and Lily, anytime Ron defended Hermoine) but I decided to go with this one. This book was the first one in which Harry really learned anything about who his father was as a person and began to feel close to him. And he almost got to touch Prongs the patronus, before it faded away.

2. Liesel marches beside Max in The Book Thief
I'm sure no reader had a dry eye when little Liesel let nothing - not being manhandled by the Nazis, not the censure of her neighborhood, not her own fear - stop her from walking alongside and offering strength and support to her friend Max, as he was marched to his death.

1. The last "Real or not real?" exchange in Mockingjay
Part of the effect of this moment comes from all the heart-wrenching, gutting ones that have occurred before it. As a reader, my heart was broken along with the characters and I pretty much despaired of any kind of happiness, well, happening and then Katniss said that magic word. The sweetness is that much more sweet because it contrasts with all the bitterness.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Review: Wuthering High by Cara Lockwood

First published in: 2006
By: MTV/Pocket Books

When Miranda, a slightly spoiled but spirited fifteen-year-old from Chicago, smashes up her father's car and goes to town with her stepmother's credit cards, she's shipped off to Bard Academy, a boarding school where she's supposed to learn to behave. Gothic and boring and strict, it's everything you'd expect of a reform school. But all is not what it seems at Bard.

For starters, Miranda's having horrific nightmares and the nearby woods are eerily impossible to navigate. The students' lives also start to mirror the classics they're reading tragic novels like Dracula, Wuthering Heights, and Jane Eyre. So Miranda begins to suspect that Bard is haunted by famous writers who took their own lives and she senses that not all of them are happy. Complicating things even more is the fact that Ryan Kent a cute, smart, funny basketball player who went to Miranda's old high school landed himself in Bard, too. And the attention he's showing Miranda is making some of the other girls white as ghosts. Something ghoulish is definitely brewing at Bard, and Miranda seems to be at the center of ominous events, but whether it's typical high school b.s. or otherworldly danger remains to be seen. 

My review:

Well, the first thing I liked about this book is that it's dedicated to me. OK, so it doesn't mention me personally, but the dedication page says "...and to all English teachers everywhere." I'm an English teacher somewhere - I'll take it.

I picked this book up expecting it to be nothing but cute fluff and it fits that description. Miranda's narrative voice is written in that Meg Cabot-style of teen-speak: lots of observational humour and pop-culture references. Some of these references are already dated in 2011 (Ashton Kutcher and Punk'd, Heath Ledger as a teen heartthrob instead of a Hollywood tragedy), but the book does succeed in being funny and made me laugh quite a bit. Most of the characters are pretty fun and I have to give Cara Lockwood credit for including some non-white characters, which unfortunately is not as common in YA as it should be.

The premise is what attracted me to Wuthering High and I did get a kick out of all the literary references. For an adult reader with a decent knowledge of literature, working out who the teachers are is like completing a child's crossword puzzle - too easy, but sort of satisfying to get it right all the same. And it's great that this book might make a teen reader seek out some of the classics. However, while the idea of having teachers be dead authors and fictional characters come to life makes for some nice in-jokes and a few thrills, it falls apart when an explanation is given for it (it's just silly) and I felt it was a misstep for the book to suggest a dire, end-of-the-world scenario because of the real world/fictional world colliding (it's a light-hearted book; no need to tack on serious consequences).

I know some may feel that life's too short and there are too many important novels out there to bother reading a book like Wuthering High. It's also true that it you want a fun, light read, there are 'fluff' books with stronger positive messages, like Elizabeth Eulberg's The Lonely Hearts Club, or with cleverer world-building and plotlines, like Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls series. But I'm not gonna deny enjoying this one and the next time my brain feels over-worked and fried, I might just pick up another in the series.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Sunday, 12 June 2011

In My Mailbox #8

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by Kristi @The Story Siren. All links go to Amazon UK.

Just 2 books this week: one bought and one borrowed.

Don't the 2 covers complement each other well?

Unearthly by Cynthia Hand
Been so looking forward to reading this: I think it's between Unearthly and Wither for the most raved about YA debut of the year. Wither is not out in paperback until August in the UK, but Unearthly is available now so I bought it from Amazon.

Ironside by Holly Black
The last of the Modern Faerie Tales. I've enjoyed the other 2 books, Tithe and Valiant (more than I thought I would, in fact) so I'm eager to complete the series.

That's it! I'm now going to peek into everyone else's mailboxes!

Friday, 10 June 2011

Book Blogger Hop #2

I'm taking part in the Book Blogger Hop, hosted by Crazy for Books. Although this week, it's being hosted by Lori's Reading Corner.

Book Blogger Hop 

 "Who is the one author that you are dying to meet?"

I wasn't sure if I was allowed to give the name of a dead person, but I checked and others seem to have. So I am going to say Roald Dahl. The things I've heard about Dahl make him seem like fantastic company - it's said that he was so gifted with words and imagination that he could make the most mundane conversation sound amazing and that his children's friends used to beg to sleep over at the Dahl house, because it meant hearing the most brilliant bedtime stories. If I met Dahl, I would like to thank him for making me a lover of books, as his were the first I ever fell for.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Review: My Life as a Rhombus by Varian Johnson

First published in: 2007
By: Flux

Staying on track at school means a boy-free equation for Rhonda Lee, who spends most evenings doing homework and eating Chinese takeout with her dad. While Rhonda needs a scholarship for college, some kids at her private high school, like beautiful Sarah Gamble, seem to coast along on popularity and their parents' money. When forced to tutor Sarah in trigonometry, Rhonda recognizes all too well the symptoms - queasiness, puking, and exhaustion - that Sarah is trying to mask. On a sudden impulse, Rhonda shares her past with Sarah. Exchanging their secrets adds up to more truths than either girl would have dreamed.

My review:

I really liked this one. I know many people will hear "deals with teen pregnancy and abortion" and think issue novel and put it back on the shelf. DO NOT do this with this book. It doesn't moralise or pass judgment on the characters and it's not really about abortion, as such. It's about Rhonda and her struggle to love and trust again after what she's been through. Being hurt by past experiences and having to overcome that is not an 'issue', it's an universal experience.

Rhonda is a great character, too. She's bright, she's hard-working, she's loyal and she's fair-minded. I actually think she's a great role model for teen girls, despite her early mistakes. It's OK; she didn't spring forth into the world completely awesome, she had to learn to be that way. At the start of the story, Rhonda is closed off - she has a small group of friends but her sole focus is on getting into college and she's sworn off relationships completely. While that's an understandable and not altogether unwise decision for someone with her past, Rhonda's also become distant from her father and disinclined towards making new friends. It's clear she's shutting out more than boys here.

However, Rhonda can't help but bond with Sarah over their similar situations and their friendship begins to open up Rhonda's world again - especially when she gets to know Sarah's brother, David. Sarah and David are probably a little too nice to be true (David's incredibly understanding of Rhonda's "no sex" rule) but I couldn't help but like them, either, and hanging out at their house eating home-made cookies sounds like lots of fun.

Rhonda's relationship with her father is a far more difficult fix and the uncomfortable atmosphere between them is realistically conveyed. Many girls have had to experience that feeling of not being 'daddy's girl' anymore. If I have one complaint against this book, it's that we don't see the final reconciliation between these two. It's a shame, as I felt that the father-daughter relationship was the most vital to Rhonda's character.

Rhonda's a math whizz and something cute that Varian Johnson adds to the text are little diagrams, where Rhonda tries to work out her life as a mathematical equation. It gives you an insight into the character and it's a fun way of doing it. Educational, too.

The happy ending to this book might be a bit too neat (Sarah's life, in particular, seems too tidily wrapped up), but to be honest, after enjoying the characters as much as I did, I didn't care. I wanted everything to work out for Rhonda and I think every reader will feel the same.

Rating: 4 stars

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Book Settings

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

Top Ten Settings in Books

10. Diagon Alley from Harry Potter
I thought I'd get the obvious one out of the way. I've specified Diagon Alley because I have no desire to venture anywhere where epic battles between good and evil are taking place - if I could enter the world of Harry Potter, I would be content to just live a simple witch's life. All I would want, would be to travel via the Floo Network, sup a Butterbeer at the Leaky Cauldron, check out my vault at Gringotts, shop at Ollivanders and Madam Malkins and try to catch a Weasley boy's attention at Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes (what do you mean, they're all taken?!)

9. The Capitol from The Hunger Games
Don't get me wrong, I have no desire to be a spectator of the cruel, sadistic Games. But I would love to wear the outlandish clothes, try out the brightly-coloured dyes, taste the delicious food and generally live the happy, pampered life of a citizen of the Capitol.

8. The Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women from Gallagher Girls
What I wouldn't give to have a solid education in Covert Operations and Protection and Enforcement, to be fluent in 14 different languages and to wear those cute skirts. On top of that, the building sounds gorgeous: ivy-covered walls, big windows and sweeping staircases. And it's an explorer's dream; full of hidden levels to discover and secret passages to hide in. When can I enrol?

7. The Rose & Grave tomb from Secret Society Girl
OK, so outside it's a creepy graveyard, but inside it's a luxurious haven for the rich and the powerful. Huge rooms holding priceless artwork, an indoor swimming pool, a personal chef, an amazing library and a bunch of people who have pledged their loyalty to you forever. 

6. Malory Towers
Forget Hogwarts, if I had to choose only one boarding school, I'd still opt for Malory Towers. It may not house any wizards, but having midnight feasts, swimming in the nearby sea, playing tricks on Mam'zelle and winning at lacrosse is more than enough magic for me.

5. Sweet Valley from Sweet Valley High
Living in Sweet Valley means being stunningly pretty and well-off (odds are you won't be one of the 2 poor and ugly people in town), attending a school that has proms, dances or spring flings practically every week and having tons of good-looking football and basketball players who want to date you. You will get the chance to try every career going (journalist! fashion model! soap star!), travel to glamorous locales (London! New York! Hawaii!) and while you may experience some minor difficulties (evil twins! evil cults! evil werewolves!), everything will always turn out all right. And most importantly, time works differently there, allowing you to enjoy a never-ending amount of Christmases and summer vacations.

4. Earth in the year 2057 from This Place Has No Atmosphere
This book was the first to make me feel sad about getting old. I was only 11 or so when I read it, but I calculated how old I would be in 2057 and was devastated to realise I'd be too elderly to fully enjoy the awesome place Paula Danziger was telling me earth would be. Walkmen earrings, mood clothing, communicating with friends via hologram and being able to live on the moon...I'm hoping Danziger underestimated Earth scientists and we'll have this all while I'm still young.

3. The Mortmain's castle from I Capture the Castle
Is there anything more atmospheric and romantic than a beautiful but crumbling English castle? In my imaginary life, I came of age in such a place; strolling around the English countryside, living with charming eccentrics and scribbling quaint and touching observations about life in my journal.

2. Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
The chocolate river, lickable wallpaper, the Everlasting Gobstopper, edible pavements, bushes, grass, everything. 20 years after first reading, I'm still drooling.

1. New York
From numerous novels. It's my favourite place in life and it's my favourite place in fiction. I love everything about New York - I love the cultures, the fashion, the museums, the club life, the subways, the parks, the food, the street performers, the hustlers, the taxicabs...I could go on and eventually include the muggers and the sex workers. But I love it all and it's real and more exciting than any place you could make up.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Review: The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan

Published in Great Britain in: 2010
By: Gollancz

Gabry lives a quiet life, secure in her town next to the sea and behind the Barrier. She's content to let her friends dream of the Dark City up the coast while she watches from the top of her lighthouse. Home is all she's ever known and, and all she needs for happiness. But life after the Return is never safe and there are threats even the Barrier can't hold back. Gabry's mother thought she left her secrets behind in the Forest of Hands and Teeth, but, like the dead in their world, secrets don't stay buried. And now, Gabry's world is crumbling. One night beyond the Barrier . . . One boy Gabry's known forever and one veiled in mystery . . . One reckless moment, and half of Gabry's generation is dead, the other half imprisoned. Now Gabry knows only one thing: if she has any hope of a future, she must face the forest of her mother's past. 

My review:

Hmmm. Now my love for Carrie Ryan's first book is known and I didn't adore this companion novel quite as much. It actually took me around 150-200 pages before I really got into it - I did get into it, because Ryan is still masterful at creating an exciting story, but it didn't immediately engross me the way The Forest of Hands and Teeth did.

The first reason for this is that the setting isn't as compelling as the one in Forest. That was so evocative - the huge stone cathedral in the tiny village, the metal fences and the constant moans of the Unconsecrated from the surrounding forest - I could picture it vividly and it sucked me in. The Dead-Tossed Waves is set in the beach town that Mary washed up in at the end of Forest and is the story of Mary's daughter, Gabry. Gabry's generation has been protected from the zombies (now referred to as Mudo) and on the surface their lives are like those of any small-town teenagers, looking for thrills. It's an oft-used device for a horror story, so while it's comfortably familiar, it's not as distinctive as Mary's world.

I also didn't like reading about Gabry as much as I did Mary. I appreciate that Ryan made Gabry a very different character; Gabry is frightened and timid where Mary was headstrong and determined. I also trusted Ryan enough that I knew Gabry would develop as a character and find her inner strength and confidence and she did. Unfortunately, the reader is stuck with the weak, sappy Gabry for quite a while. I also got more frustrated with Gabry's romantic dithering than I did with the triangle in Forest - at least there, it was reasonably straightforward: Mary was betrothed to Harry but in love with Travis. In The Dead-Tossed Waves, Gabry changes her mind about her two guys so much that I lost track of what she was feeling about either. And the fact that she angsts more about her lovelife than she does about the life of another human being didn't sit right with me, either.

However, there were definitely some things about this book I liked. The world of Forest was suffocatingly small and little expanded upon; it added to the atmosphere, but I definitely wanted to know more. In The Dead-Tossed Waves, we start to find out and we see a lot more of how the wider world has been affected by the zombies. In Forest, there was just the Sisterhood and the Guardians - now, we have a Council House which runs the town, the Militia who guard it, Recruiters who recruit people to fight the zombies and Soulers, a religious group that worships them. Yes, zombie worshippers. It sounds amusing, but the Soulers spark a thought-provoking idea for this series to introduce and that's of what the zombies actually are and whether they retain anything of the person they once were. I don't know where the stories will go with that, but I'm certainly intrigued.

There's also a lot more going on in this book than there was in Forest - at one point I counted 5 different plot threads. At first I found this confusing, but the story starting working for me at the point when all these things fused together in a cool way. The nods to the first book were also very cool and appreciated by me. I'm looking forward to the third book because it seems that this is not just a story about zombies, but also about the people of the forest and I want to see how everything wraps up.

What Ryan still does best is thrill and the shocking moments that make me jump a little are done just as well in this book. Ryan is also not afraid to show that there are consequences for our actions and while that means no totally happy endings, it does mean we get organic and realistic ones.

My overall verdict is that this won't be my favourite individual book of the trilogy, but it's retained me as a fan of the whole.

Rating: 3 stars

Sunday, 5 June 2011

In My Mailbox #7

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by Kristi @The Story Siren. All links go to Amazon UK.

Oh, why, WHY am I still taking out library books when I have more than 10 out already? It's madness, but I can't seem to stop myself. I was only meant to be returning a book at Paddington library, when I saw:

Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce
Oh, Sisters Red. How I have wanted you and searched for you for so long. But you were always with another! Imagine my surprise to see you this week, just sitting on the shelf, waiting to be grabbed. Now that I have you in my grasp, I'll not return you until I've had my way with you. (Relax. That just means I'll read you.)

Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews
I told myself I wouldn't be starting any more new series for a while, but I cracked when I saw this. I've heard so much about the Kate Daniels novels from other blogs and I really wanted to try one.

Vampire Academy: Shadow Kiss by Richelle Mead
The reason why I wanted to hold off on new series is because I've been falling behind on my old ones. I love Richelle Mead, I love VA and I've got to see where this story goes!

Oh, and I almost forgot! I downloaded 2 graphic novels for free from Net Galley.

Buffy is my favourite TV show of all time, but the Season 8 comics were kind of hit and miss with me. However, as luck would have it, a couple of the ones I hadn't read were available free and I'm more than ready to give them another chance for that price.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Follow My Book Blog Friday #3

Follow Friday is hosted by Parajunkee's View.

Q. What are you doing to prepare for an upcoming zombie apocalypse and/or the return of Mel Gibson to the silver screen? (Both of which could be terrifying.)

Reading all the zombie material I can, of course! I've read The Forest of Hands and Teeth, The Dead-Tossed Waves and World War Z, have a copy of The Enemy waiting TBR on my bookshelf and Warm Bodies on my Amazon wishlist. Once I've read all those, I'm sure I'll be suitably prepared!

And I've never really watched Mel Gibson films (usually too violent for my tastes) so I doubt I'll notice!

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Re-read Review: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

In Mary's world there are simple truths. The Sisterhood always knows best. The Guardians will protect and serve. The Unconsecrated will never relent. And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village; the fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth. But, slowly, Mary's truths are failing her. She's learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power, and about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness. When the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, she must choose between her village and her future - between the one she loves and the one who loves her. And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded in so much death? 

My review:

This is kind of an important book for me as it started me on my YA/Paranormal kick. I mean, I've always read YA, but I would usually pick up what was most prominently displayed in the bookshop or library, so I read all the most popular titles/series, but never went seeking for anything else in the genre. Until I read this book, loved it, looked at Carrie Ryan's blog and from there looked at a whole lot of other blogs and got introduced to lots of new titles, started reading book blogs regularly and then started a blog myself. So without The Forest of Hands and Teeth, I wouldn't even be writing this review of The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Weird, huh?

I haven't re-read a book in a long time - my TBR pile's too big for me to allow it. But I wanted to read The Dead-Tossed Waves and I really wanted to re-read Forest before I did. Turns out, with my memory, re-reading a book is like watching a TV episode when I've been spoiled on the ending, but I don't know how things get to that point and there are lots of little details along the way that can still surprise me.

This time, I saw pretty clearly how non-standard a heroine Mary is for a YA book. She's selfish and stubborn and pig-headed, but the other characters know it and she openly admits it to herself. She is living in a world threatened every minute by zombies; that's pretty much how she needs to be to survive. I think that she's a really interesting character; there is always a lot boiling under her surface, even if she's presenting a poker face to others.

The Sisterhood is still my favourite part of the book - yes, even more so than the zombies. It's just such a intriguing concept; the idea of a group of nuns ruling a tiny community with an iron fist. Sister Tabitha is a powerful antagonist and if their interests had coincided, I think she and Mary could have made a great team.

I've read some reviews that think that between the secrets of the Sisterhood, the apocalyptic setting and the threat from the zombies, the love story between Mary and Travis is extraneous, but I like it because what happens to them shows the balls on Carrie Ryan; that she's not afraid to go to dark places with her story and on Mary; that she has the strength to do what she does. I don't think it would have worked as well if it was between friends or even family members.

There were at least 3 - no 4 - moments reading this book that made me gasp out loud the first time: It really is a thrilling read. Re-reading it gave me the opportunity to enjoy Ryan's prose more and see the build-up and foreshadowing she did for those vital moments and see how lovely the writing is in the quiet moments. I also appreciated some of Mary's other relationships, like the one between her and her brother.

So I like Forest just as much now as I did when I first read it, which is a relief to me (What if I had hated it? It would have tainted all that came from it). Now for The Dead-Tossed Waves.

Rating: 4.5 stars