Sunday 31 July 2011

Read of the Month - July 2011

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

I feel like I barely read anything this month. I was in Spain for a week and spent less time reading and more time drinking and socialising. Bad blogger (but everyone needs a break once in a while).

So in July 2011, I read:

1. XVI by Julia Karr

2. Rebel Angels by Libba Bray

3. Shadow Kiss by Richelle Mead

4. Don't Judge a Girl By Her Cover by Ally Carter

5. 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

It's harder to choose a favourite this month, but I'll go with:

Rebel Angels

A novel that managed to have both a good plot and gorgeous prose; I also loved the themes of female power and friendship.

Review: Don't Judge a Girl By Her Cover by Ally Carter (Gallagher Girls #3)

First published in the UK in: 2011
By: Orchard Books

Here's the thing about covert operations: the really bad things always happen when you least expect them. The enemies don't give you a heads-up. And they never let you stop to put on comfortable shoes.

A spy-in-training, Cammie Morgan has a cover for every occasion. But what happens when she is forced to lose her cover to save her best friend, Macey? Cammie and her friends are determined to hunt down the group that threatens to tear their secret sisterhood apart. This time it's personal.

My review:

The first Gallagher Girls book was fun but throwaway fluff, but the second kept continuity and expanded the world and the mythology enough to make me think that this was a series worth following. The introduction of the boy's school and the mystery of what happened to Cammie's father, showed there was a serious arc developing beneath the bubblegum.

Don't Judge a Girl By Her Cover has a kidnapping mystery as its Plot A: Macey's father running is for the vice-presidency of the USA and when Cammie visits her on the campaign trail, masked strangers attack and attempt to abduct Macey. Cammie and her friends become fixated on protecting Macey and figuring out who wanted to snatch her and why. Alongside this, the subplots pick up the series arc as Cammie has many enigmatic encounters with the elusive Zach and her aunt Abby comes to the Gallagher Academy and drops serious hints that she has key information about Cammie's dad.

The best thing about these books is that they're quickly-paced and the story zips along, with something happening in every chapter. I didn't like this particular one as much as the previous two, because I'm not so interested in the character of Macey (give me an A plot centred around Bex, Ally Carter, and I'll be yours forever) and I also found myself getting irritated by the writing this time around. The series has its own distinct writing style, which I would normally appreciate, but in this one, I thought it was over-done and every second paragraph sounded like a TV voiceover had intruded onto the pages. Example: "All around me girls worried about test and projects. People opened letters from home. But I couldn't help but think about how the world is just a web of secrets. I kept wondering if there was any way to break free." Can't you just imagine that in the voice of the dead desperate housewife? I hope that's toned down in the next book.

And I will read the next book. I could never deny that this series is always a fun and easy read. I think a lot of my complaints are caused by the fact that I'm much older and grumpier than the target audience for these books, but I read them anyway, because they are addictive and enjoyable. Don't Judge a Girl By Her Cover also brought some very interesting things to the ongoing storyline: Aunt Abby seemed like a cliched super-spy at first, but it soon became clear that was part of the 'cover' she wears to hide her demons and I'm really excited to find out what her involvement was with Cammie's dad's death and also how hot Mr Solomon, Zach and Blackthorne are all tied up in it.

Overall: Not my favourite book, but bring on the next one.

Rating: 3 stars

Saturday 30 July 2011

Review: Shadow Kiss by Richelle Mead

First published in Great Britain in: 2010
By: Penguin Books

It's springtime at St. Vladimir's Academy and Rose is close to graduation, but since making her first Strigoi kills, things haven't felt quite right. She's having dark thoughts, behaving erratically, and worst of all . . . might be seeing ghosts. 

Consumed by her forbidden love with her tutor Dimitri and protecting her best friend, the Moroi princess Lissa, Rose is in no state to see the deadly threat that will change her entire world - and make her choose between the two people she loves most.

My review:

Like many series, each passing book of Vampire Academy becomes less of a stand-alone story and more a furthering of the overall arc. I could say that this is the one where Rose sees dead people, but really Shadow Kiss is about developing the story and the reader learning more about Rose's powers, the moroi-dhampir world and Rose's eventual place in it.

I'm always wary when a book in a series suddenly makes a huge jump in length (I'm looking at you, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix). Could be that the story required it, or it could be that the editor wasn't strict enough. Shadow Kiss is almost twice the number of pages as the previous 2 Vampire Academy books and because of this, it's not as tightly paced as they were and the story does meander a bit before we get to the goods. There's field training going on for the dhampirs and Rose and Lissa visit the moroi court and there's some cool stuff: I particularly liked getting to meet a male blood-whore and any scene with Adrian in it. And Rose actually starting to question her choices as a dhampir and whether she wants to live such a restricted life is fascinating to me and I hope that becomes an issue with all the dhampirs. But 200 or so pages in, I did start to wonder where all this was heading.

However, where it did lead was, frankly, awesome. Did I see it coming? Well, when it seems like characters are happy and everything is working out for them, you know the sky's about to fall down. Those are just the rules. But it doesn't make what happens in Shadow Kiss any less shocking, dramatic, heart-breaking, everything. And it still took balls for Richelle Mead to go there - almost everything that drove this series (Rose and Lissa's friendship, the teen drama at St Vladimir's, Rose's forbidden love for Dimitri) has changed and that's a big risk for the author to take, but I am desperate to read what happens next.

Rating: 4 stars

Friday 29 July 2011

Follow My Book Blog Friday #6

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

Q. What T-shirt slogan best describes you?

At first I had no idea what to put for this question, but then I remembered this slogan that I saw when browsing Cafe Press.

Pretty much sums me up!

Monday 18 July 2011

Review: Rebel Angels by Libba Bray

First published in Great Britain in: 2006
By: Simon & Schuster UK

In this thrilling sequel, Gemma continues to pursue her destiny to bind the magic of the Realms and restore it to the Order. Gemma and her friends from Spence use magical power to transport themselves on visits from their corseted world of Victorian London (at the height of the Christmas season), to the visionary country of the Realms, with its strange beauty and menace. There they search for the lost Temple, the key to Gemma's mission, and comfort Pippa, their friend who has been left behind in the Realms. After these visits they bring back magical power for a short time to use in their own world. 

Meanwhile, Gemma is torn between her attraction to the exotic Kartik, the messenger from the opposing forces of the Rakshana, and the handsome but clueless Simon, a young man of good family who is courting her. 

This is the second book in Libba Bray's engrossing trilogy, set in a time of strict morality and barely repressed sensuality, about a girl who saw another way.

My review:

I didn't love the first Gemma Doyle book when I read it a year ago. Part of the problem was that it was the book I read after The Hunger Games and honestly, what wouldn't suffer in comparison? But the main issue was my dislike of most of the characters: I can see that, for Gemma's friends, Libba Bray meant to create realistic girls who are flawed, but the particular personality flaws (Felicity is a snob, Pippa is an airhead and Ann is bitter and self-pitying) happen to be ones I can't abide, so even though these girls were doing cool things, I didn't enjoy spending time with them.

Thankfully, in Rebel Angels, the characters were developed and given layers enough that I was able to warm to them and appreciate their friendship. What happened to Pippa in A Great and Terrible Beauty was the plot thread I was most interested in, so I was glad to see Rebel Angels pick it up, as the girls meet Pippa again when they return to the Realms. It's touching to see how much Pippa and Felicity mean to each other and is one of the things that serve to make Felicity more sympathetic. In fact, Felicity is the character who emerges as the most compelling, after a revelation about her family puts everything about her into a different light.

The main storyline is that Gemma must bind the magic of the Realms after it was set wild and unrestricted by her actions in the last book. But honestly, the plot is not what this book - this series - is worth reading for. What you read for is the opportunity to dive into this world of magic in 19th century England and the themes, of sisterhood and empowerment and young women trying to find autonomy and self-expression in a time period that was incredibly restrictive for them. All these things came together in this book and worked seamlessly with the narrative. Or maybe I was just more receptive this time? Anyway, I really enjoyed how multi-layered the text was and all the different themes it explored.

Because this series is a couple of years old and because of how the internet works, I already know there is some reader dissatisfaction with how the Gemma Doyle trilogy is wrapped up in The Sweet Far Thing. But at this moment, after Rebel Angels, I am happy to declare myself of fan of the series and am looking forward to reading the final tome.

Rating: 4 stars

Sunday 17 July 2011

In My Mailbox #11

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

I'm finally free! I finished work on Friday and now I have 6 weeks of glorious freedom ahead of me. So what did I do to celebrate? Get a cartload of books to keep me in reading material the whole summer, of course!


Raising Demons: A Hex Hall Novel by Rachel Hawkins
I read the first book only a couple of weeks ago, so I felt very lucky to stumble upon this second-hand copy.

Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler
From a swap from ReadItSwapIt.


Divergent by Veronica Roth
Everybody has gone crazy for this book - of course, I had to grab it when I got the chance.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Another 2011 debut that I've read nothing but positive reviews for.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
I said I'd read this before the movie came out and it's out in a few weeks, so I've really got to get a move on.

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
I loved the TV series.

Sweet Valley Confidential by Francine Pascal
I have fond memories of the original series.

Blood Red Road by Moira Young
I actually don't know much about this one; I picked it up because I recognised it as a 2011 debut and I'm participating in the challenge.

The Summer I Turned Pretty and It's Not Summer Without You by Jenny Han
To be honest, I just picked these up because they had 'summer' in the titles and I was just that buzzed about it being summer.

That's it! A summer of reading now awaits!

Wednesday 13 July 2011

Waiting on Wednesday #3

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

My WoW pick for this week is:

Torn by Cat Clarke


Four girls. One dead body. A whole lot of guilt.

Alice King isn’t expecting the holiday of a lifetime when she sets off with her classmates on a trip to the Scottish wilderness, but she’s not exactly prepared for an experience beyond her darkest nightmares…

Alice and her best friend Cass are stuck in a cabin with Polly, the social outcast, and Rae, the moody emo-girl. Then there’s Tara – queen of mean. Powerful, beautiful and cruel, she likes nothing better than putting people down.

Cass decides it’s time to teach Tara a lesson she’ll never forget. And so begins a series of events that will change the lives of these girls forever...
A compelling story of guilty secrets, troubled friendship and burgeoning love.

Released in: January 2012

WoW because: Cat Clarke's Entangled was the best YA debut I've read so far this year. The characters were very true-to-life and the plot kept you hooked from start to finish. Torn sounds like it has the potential to be just as engrossing: The plot sounds Heathers-esque and that is one of my favourite movies. Teen girls, secrets, murder...can't wait to read it.

Friday 8 July 2011

Follow My Book Blog Friday #5

Follow Friday is hosted by Parajunkee's View.

Q. What is the worst book that you've ever read and actually finished?

I don't even have to think about it: definitely On the Road by Jack Kerouac. It's such a classic and listed as a favourite by so many, that I felt I had to finish it. But I hated it so much and was so reluctant to read it, that it took me SIX MONTHS before I was done with it, which of course just made the hate worse. It was the boring, repetitive writing that did me in. I fully agree with what Truman Capote said about Kerouac: "That's not writing, that's typing." Guess I'll never be a Beatnik - I'm fine with that.


Wednesday 6 July 2011

Waiting on Wednesday #2

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

My WoW pick for this week is:

The Poison Diaries: Nightshade by Maryrose Wood

A dark, gothic tale of romance… and murder.
The latest book in the grippingly dark series, The Poison Diaries.

Our heroine, Jessamine, has lost her faith in the men she loved, and her innocence as well. She turns to the dark side and plots to kill her father, using his own poisons, before becoming an assassin, a poisoner for hire. Can she recover from her heartache and reunite with her true love, Weed? Find out in this thrilling story where poisons, darkness and horror are a part of everyday life, and love is the only cure.

Released in: September 2011

WoW because: I enjoyed The Poison Diaries - I liked the use of a real-life historical setting mixed with the paranormal element. From the synopsis for this sequel, it sounds like the story will fully embrace the gothic element and I'm intrigued by the idea of the heroine turning to the dark side.

Tuesday 5 July 2011

Review: XVI by Julia Karr

First published in: 2011
By: Speak

Every girl gets one. An XVI tattoo on the wrist - sixteen. They say they're there for protection. Some girls can't wait to be sixteen, to be legal. Nina is not one of them. Even though she has no choice in the matter, she knows that so long as her life continues as normal, everything will be OK. 

Then, with one brutal strike, Nina's normal is shattered; and she discovers that nothing that she believed about her life is true. But there's one boy who can help - and he just may hold the key to her past. But with the line between attraction and danger as thin as a whisper, one thing is for sure...for Nina, turning sixteen promises to be anything but sweet. 

My review:

A big problem I have with discussing the premise of XVI is that, even after finishing the book, I'm still not exactly sure what it was. I understand why an author would want to avoid too much exposition/info-dumps, but XVI really doesn't explain anything very much. From what the futuristic gadgets looked like to the motives of the villainous government, mostly, I didn't get it.

Here's what I was able to gather: it's set about 150 years in the future and the US is completely controlled by the government and media, who blare out 'verts' constantly to keep the people distracted. Despite being the title and the focus of the synopsis, the XVI tattoo isn't really an integral part of the plotline. The plot is about Nina dealing with the death of her mother, who was a resistance fighter (called a NonCon), protecting her little sister from her evil step-father, Ed and trying to find her real father to pass on secret information to him.

I found it difficult to get caught up in the story because I couldn't get a feel for what the stakes were. I don't know how this government came to be or why they do most of the things they do. OK, so girls are considered fair game for sex once they turn sixteen, leaving them open to rape and other kinds of assault. And it's clear there's a parallel with today's media putting pressure on young girls to be as sexy as possible. But in XVI all the men that Nina encounters that aren't friends or blood relatives are willing rapists, only put off when they learn she's not yet sixteen. So, what's made the men that way? Has the government deliberately made the men more sexually aggressive and if so, to what purpose? Also, Nina's best friend, Sandy, is desperate to be chosen for something called FeLS training and Nina's worried it's not what it seems. But I swear, it's not even fully explained how it's supposed to seem. Sandy gabbles about the training program but never says what it involves, so it was pretty hard to try and guess what it might be a front for. The whole book left me feeling like I'd skimmed it, when I'd actually read every word.

I thought the book missed what could have been key emotional moments. Nina's mother, Ginnie, dies after we see her in one scene, in which she has about two lines of dialogue - it was impossible for me to feel anything, because I hadn't had a chance to connect with her. Then, Nina finally meeting her father was incredibly anti-climatic.

I did come to like Nina as a character and I really liked her group of friends and the way they teamed up and supported each other. The one time the book truly moved me involved two of Nina's friends and a plasticene cow and it may not sound it, but it's really sad and sweet. As a contemporary YA novel of friendship and family, it had good characters and believable relationships so I probably would have liked it - it's as a dystopian or a thriller where I felt let down.

Rating: 2.5 stars

Sunday 3 July 2011

In My Mailbox #10

This is my tenth IMM? Wow, time flies.

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

All my books are library books this week, but these were some great finds.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, Ian Edginton and Ian Culbard
I'd never heard of this but it's a graphic novel adaptation of Wilde's novel, which is one of my all-time favourites. I'm looking forward to seeing what the new writer and artist do with the story.

Red Spikes by Margo Lanagan
A collection of 10 short stories by the author of Tender Morsels. I love the cover; it's so deliciously creepy.

Song of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce
I've been looking for this for so long! This bind-up of all the Alanna novels is out of print in the UK; you can only buy each book individually. The poor librarian had to go all the way into the basement to find it for me in the reserve stock. But I'm so happy to have it.

That's it for me! I'm on a book buying ban until August, as many books I'm dying to read are released then. So my only source of books is the library, but I can hardly complain when I'm finding such good books there!

Saturday 2 July 2011

Review: Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins

First published in: 2010
By: Simon & Schuster UK

In the wake of a love spell gone horribly wrong, Sophie Mercer, a sixteen-year-old witch, is shipped off to Hecate Hall, a boarding school for witches, shapeshifters and faeries. The traumas of mortal high school are nothing compared to the goings on at "Freak High." 

It's bad enough that she has to deal with a trio of mean girls led by the glamorous Elodie, but it's even worse when she begins to fall for Elodie's gorgeous boyfriend, Archer Cross, and frankly terrifying that the trio are an extremely powerful coven of dark witches. But when Sophie begins to learn the disturbing truth about her father, she is forced to face demons both metaphorical and real, and come to terms with her own growing power as a witch.

My review:

Hex Hall is not going to win any prizes in the originality department. Especially not from me, as I just read about a smart-aleck teen girl who screws up and gets sent to a supernatural reform school a few books ago. So, stop me if you've heard any of this before: Boarding school for witches, firm but wise headteacher, mean girls who pick on our heroine, a crush on the popular boy, a love triangle. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

Surprisingly, the been-there-read-that premise doesn't prevent Hex Hall from being a good read at all. Thanks to Rachel Hawkins' easy and accessible writing style, a likable heroine in Sophie and lots of good jokes, it was a thoroughly enjoyable use of my time.

I knew I was in once the dark witches were introduced. Bitchy teenage girls can be tiresome, but make them a coven of powerful witches and suddenly, they're awesome. I did feel that too many characters were brought in for one book and some weren't developed very much beyond their stereotypes. But Hex Hall has one character I've never seen before in Jenna, Sophie's roommate and a lesbian vampire. I adored Jenna to bits and their friendship brought out Sophie's best qualities.

What was truly shocking and elevated this book from dispensable fluff to a must-read, was the ending. I was fooled into thinking that the surprise revelation that occurs in the last 50 or so pages, was the climax of the story. While that was a nice twist, it doesn't compare to what happens after - that dropped my jaw. It also suggests a huge game-changer for this story and rather than being more of the same, the next book will take a completely different course. I take my hat off to Rachel Hawkins for doing that and am now looking forward to reading the next installment, as a little change from the norm is all that this series needs to be one of the best.

Rating: 4 stars