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August Round-Up

So for all that I said that August wouldn’t be a mega book month, since I was supposed to be doing my final corrections, I still managed to get a fair few packed in. I guess I’m just much lazier about doing the corrections than I thought – although I did do them, and send them on to my examiners. Now I’m stuck in the interminable purgatory of waiting for the examiners to either approve them, or seek further corrections. I’m inclined to believe it will be the latter, because I’m pessimistic, but I’m hoping with a tiny part of my brain that it will be the former, and I will finally (finally!) be finished this doctorate. I never expected it to take such a long time, and I’m more than burned out with it.

In any case, today is the last day of August, and it was a month filled with books, as well as stress. I started off the month with Goldenhand, my most-anticipated read of the year, and the rest of the month has been similarly good.

Books

  1. Goldenhand – Garth Nix
  2. What Remains of Me – AL Gaylin
  3. A Torch Against The Night – Sabaa Tahir
  4. Royal Tour – Amy Alward
  5. Holding Up The Universe – Jennifer Niven
  6. What We Did’t Say – Rory Dunlop
  7. Yours, Faithfully – Sheila O’Flanagan
  8. Stealing Snow – Danielle Paige
  9. Changing Places – Colette Caddle
  10. Frostblood – Ally Blake
  11. The Memory Book – Lara Avery
  12. Sabriel – Garth Nix*
  13. Glass Sword – Victoria Aveyard
  14. Finding Audrey – Sophie Kinsella
  15. One – Sarah Crossan
  16. Night Study – Maria V Snyder
  17. 13 Minutes – Sarah Pinborough
  18. Happily Ever After – Kiera Cass
  19. Say You Will – Kate Perry
  20. All The Bright Places – Jennifer Niven
  21. Sing – Vivi Greene
  22. My Sister’s Keeper – Jodi Picoult*
  23. The Fairy Tale Bride – Scarlet Wilson
  24. Throne of Glass – Sarah J Maas*
  25. The Unexpected Everything – Morgan Matson
  26. Lord Brocktree – Brian Jacques
  27. The Assassin’s Blade – Sarah J Maas*

Short Stories

I only read two short stories this month, but somewhat confusingly, the single short story I read from the collection To Hold the Bridge was, in fact, the story To Hold the Bridge, so I kept trying to put it in the books list instead of this list.

I also, technically, read two collections of short stories/novellas – The Assassin’s Blade and Happily Ever After, but since they’re sold as packaged books, they did actually make it onto the books list.

So my two short stories were

  1. The Creature in the Case
  2. To Hold the Bridge

Cover Art

Favourite Book This Month:

Without a doubt, this has to be Goldenhand. The only book which might have beaten it was Sabriel, but Goldenhand wins this time on novelty. In any month without new Garth Nix (or old Garth Nix) there would have been a lot of contenders for favourite book – A Torch Against the Night was superb, and All The Bright Places was heartwrenching, but I really, really love Garth Nix, so he wins this one, no questions asked.

Favourite Cover This Month:

Frostblood wins it this month for me, although Glass Sword was a close second. Just look at those ice-coated petals! My proof copy doesn’t have that cover art, but I think I’m going to have to buy a copy when Frostblood publishes, just so I can look at it!

Other Thoughts:

I continued my Redwall Reread with Lord Brocktree. Thirteen books in and I’m still loving this series. Incidentally, since my sister is currently reading Marlfox, and I’ve finished Lord Brocktree, our rereads have caught up with each other. From the next book in (Taggerung), we’ll be going in the same order.

I’ve also started rereading the Throne of Glass series, in preparation for the release of Empire of Storms next week. I’m really looking forward to Empire of Storms, but I have to keep reminding myself that it’s not the last book in the series, so it will probably end on some massive cliffhanger and then I’ll have to wait an entire year for the next one again. But in the mean time, I still have three more Throne of Glass books to get through before I even start Empire of Storms!

Sing, by Vivi Greene, I found to be quite forgettable, and I don’t think I’ll write a post reviewing it. But I have to admit that every time I looked at the cover, Ed Sheeran popped into my head. This was compounded by a clip from the Great British Bake Off, in which Val danced around her kitchen to that song while making cakes.

I also spent a substantial amount of this month sobbing into my books. All The Bright Places made me cry ugly tears, Glass Sword had a few heart-wrenching moments, The Memory Book took my breath away, One had my boyfriend checking if I was quite alright, Holding Up the Universe made my eyes burn, Sing gave me happy damp eyes on the final page … actually, maybe it’s not the books. Maybe I’m just too easily given towards tears. But All the Bright Places and The Memory Book should come with warnings on them for the risk of damp pages!

One other slightly odd thing which happened this month – the Sheila O’Flanagan book I read, Yours, Faithfully. I actually have no idea whether or not I’ve read it before. Parts of it seemed incredibly familiar – specifically that the guy had several mobile phones – but parts of it felt entirely new. So I was really torn on whether or not to put an asterisk on it in the list. I decided not to as, on balance, I probably read the first half of it, and didn’t finish it. But it’s a strange sort of anomaly in the list. I may well have read all of it before, but I’m just not sure.

Eight months in, I’ve read 146 books. That’s well over my GoodReads target of 100, and also well on track to beat 2014, when I read 154 books altogether. I really need to start looking again at the book challenges, to make sure that I tick off as many categories as I can in the next four months. Here’s hoping!

 

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Finding Audrey – Sophie Kinsella

27823777I haven’t specifically reviewed any Sophie Kinsella books on this blog before (although I’ve read a lot of them), so you might not have realised that I really enjoy her books. She’s written lots of really funny fiction about women getting into incredibly awkward and also hilarious situations, but in a way that’s both true to life and terribly endearing. Everything I’ve read of Sophie Kinsella’s has been verging on the ridiculous, but in a way that makes me accept it, as she writes with such humour and warmth that her books leave me feeling really warm and fuzzy inside.

Finding Audrey is her first foray into YA fiction, where previously she’s written adult books. I picked it up a few weeks ago, because I wanted to see if her humour translates into YA books. Good news! It totally does!

Finding Audrey – Sophie Kinsella

From the bestselling author of the Shopaholic series comes a story of humour, heart and heartache. Finding Audrey is Sophie Kinsella’s first novel for teens, sure to appeal to her legions of adult and young adult fans all over the world.

Audrey can’t leave the house. she can’t even take off her dark glasses inside the house.

Then her brother’s friend Linus stumbles into her life. With his friendly, orange-slice smile and his funny notes, he starts to entice Audrey out again – well, Starbucks is a start. And with Linus at her side, Audrey feels like she can do the things she’d thought were too scary. Suddenly, finding her way back to the real world seems achievable.

Be prepared to laugh, dream and hope with Audrey as she learns that even when you feel like you have lost yourself, love can still find you . . .

I was a little wary about this one. I wasn’t sure if Kinsella’s humour would transfer to YA, or else I was worried that it would tackle a relatively serious subject – Audrey’s anxiety – with too much levity. I wasn’t sure that it would be able to strike a balance between serious and light-hearted, and would take the shine off my normal enjoyment of Kinsella’s books.

I was wrong to worry, though. Finding Audrey was, for me, perfectly pitched, that it dealt with Audrey and her struggles with enough humour to keep it light-hearted, and enough gravitas to stop it seeming frivolous. Audrey’s mother, in particular, was a Daily Mail-reading panic-stricken overthinker who made me laugh out loud several times.

The format of the book was interesting – the chapters were very short, and interspersed with screenplay excerpts. Audrey’s gradual development over the course of the book as she prepared to start school again was nicely documented through the development of her film as well.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Audrey as a main character was so easy to relate to, and her budding relationship with Linus was filled with all the bittersweet feelings of first teenage love. Not too serious but not saccharine sweet, Finding Audrey was a winner for me.

Four Stars
****

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All The Bright Places – not a mood-booster

23357458So I learned a life lesson from All The Bright Places the other day. When you are stressed out and miserable, and all you want to do is get home and curl up with a good book, it is not a good idea to read the end of this book on a crowded tube home, when you have no tissues. It is a sob-fest. No other explanation needed.

And in case you were wondering, no it didn’t make me feel better. It just made my nose run for the entire 60-minute commute. It turns out I had no tissues. I was not prepared for this book.

All The Bright Places – Jennifer Niven

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the ‘natural wonders’ of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself – a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

The cover of the copy I have says that this is the next Fault in Our Stars. Now, I didn’t really love The Fault in Our Stars (although I did sob my eyes out at it), so I don’t think that would be the greatest accolade for me. But it did give me something of a heads up about what direction this book might take.

So this is a really lovely book, in general. It’s about Violet and Finch, both of whom are struggling when they meet on the ledge of the bell-tower at school. Why would a school have a bell-tower? I don’t know. It’s never really explained. Violet has recently lost her sister, and is struggling to cope. Finch can’t stop thinking of ways to die, and is struggling to cope. But between the two of them, and a shared Geography project, they start to go about finding a way to live, and a way to stay in the present.

This book is really quite beautiful. It’s about falling in love, about struggling as a teenager, about coping with loss, about finding someone you can be yourself with, and about accepting people the way they are. It’s about finding a way to move forward and a way to connect with people even in the face of how hard life can be. It’s full of beautiful imagery and two messed-up, sad, lonely people who find a way to make each others’ worlds a little bit brighter.

I really did enjoy this book. I don’t recommend reading it in public places, though. And I did have one major complaint. The last thirty or forty pages of the book were a sampler of Jennifer Niven’s next book – Holding up the Universe. I’ve actually already read that, so I was pretty disappointed, as I thought there was still a fair chunk of story left to go. I wish books which have sample chapters at the end would make that clear from the beginning, so that I wouldn’t be left wanting more, just from the thickness of the pages I have left.

Still though – a lovely book, with lots of really lovely moments in it about love, life, and struggling, and how to find one small good thing to keep going.

Four Stars
****

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Free Verse – about One and Two

AKA Do They Have To Be About Twins?
Also AKA One – Sarah Crossan

AN78152238OneThis year’s YA Book Prize winner, One, is by Sarah Crossan, and is a widely-acclaimed bestseller which follows the lives of conjoined twins Grace and Tippi. Written in free verse, the whole book is a series of poems which describe the lives of the two girls as they venture out of their home-schooled bubble and into the (frankly, terrifying) world of the American high school.

Grace and Tippi are twins – conjoined twins.

And their lives are about to change.

No longer able to afford homeschooling, they must venture into the world – a world of stares, sneers and cruelty. Will they find more than that at school? Can they find real friends? And what about love?

But what neither Grace or Tippi realises is that a heart-wrenching decision lies ahead. A decision that could tear them apart. One that will change their lives even more than they ever imagined…

From Carnegie Medal shortlisted author Sarah Crossan, this moving and beautifully crafted novel about identity, sisterhood and love ultimately asks one question: what does it mean to want and have a soulmate?

Funnily enough, One isn’t the first free verse book I’ve ever read. It’s actually the second. And that other free verse book I read – Identical, by Ellen Hopkins – was also about twins. Although admittedly, they were identical, not conjoined, twins. Even still. Do all free verse books have to be about twins?

I didn’t really enjoy One. Having thought about it for a few days, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not a style which works for me. I think the story, characterisation, etc of One would have been much more effective, for me personally, if it had been written in prose, not free verse. But I think that does actually just mean that I’m judgemental. I also didn’t like Identical.

Beyond the free verse element of One, there was one other big thing I didn’t like – specifically, that I found the plot predictable. I saw from the beginning where it was going, and therefore went through the whole book with the expectation that this would happen, which rather marred my enjoyment of the story as it developed. I was always waiting for the plot to get to where I assumed (correctly) it was going. Again, that might be my fault.

Even with my dislike of free verse, and my disdain for the predictability of the story, it packed a powerful punch. Perhaps it was because it was about sisters. I’ve mentioned several times that I’m close to my sisters, enjoy reading books about sisters, and am affected badly by emotional books about sisters (The Alphabet Sisters, which I have read several times, never fails to make me bawl ugly tears). For that reason, One did manage to still pack an emotional thrust that left me crying as my boyfriend looked at me in bemusement.

Even with that, though, this wasn’t a book that I’d go back to. It has won numerous awards and accolades, but it absolutely didn’t do it for me. I do think, though, that it was mostly down to my own personal reactions, and it’s still a very powerful book.

Three Stars
***

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The Rest of Us Just Live Here – Patrick Ness

I 29229799picked this book up for my sister for her birthday, and then demanded that she give it back to me so that I could also read it, because I’m selfish like that (and also that’s how our book-buying works). So although I bought it in May, I didn’t actually get to read it until July, because I had to wait for someone to go home to visit my sisters and collect the book from them. But that’s okay. I could cope with that kind of delay.

So Patrick Ness is my friend Kellie’s ultimate celebrity crush at the moment. He was at YALC, talking about his book A Monster Calls, of which the film is coming out soon. When I told Kellie this, I’m pretty sure she started hyperventilating, and begged me to send her a picture of him. Ness’s books have won pretty much every award going, and his Chaos Walking trilogy, which I read earlier this year, was quite engrossing. The Rest of Us Just Live Here, though, I was not so enamoured with.

A new YA novel from Patrick Ness, author of the Carnegie Medal and Kate Greenaway Medal winning “A Monster Calls” and the critically acclaimed Chaos Walking trilogy, “The Rest of Us Just Live Here” is a bold and irreverent novel that powerfully reminds us that there are many different types of remarkable.

What if you aren’t the Chosen One? The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions.

So here was my major complaint about The Rest of Us Just Live Here: in a book where there are fantastical things going on and blue lights killing people, giving sparse details about the fantasy things happening while concentrating mainly on the boring, ordinary struggles of the rest of the class makes their lives seem, well… boring and ordinary.

And here’s the thing: I love YA realism. I really love books which deal with teenagers trying to get around being normal teenagers, dealing with life, falling in love, anxiety, depression, family issues, all the normal things that everyday people have to deal with. So if this book had been about that – about a group of kids who were just trying to get along and deal with graduating and getting out in to the real world, I totally would have been on board with that. Not everyone has a major magical life crisis to deal with before they turn eighteen, and not everyone needs to save the world.

But this book just set Mikey and his friends up to be the most boring people ever, simply by virtue of their not being the Indie kids. And it constantly, constantly framed them as this, again and again.

The start of every chapter gave a brief synopsis of what the Indie kids were up to as they tried to solve the mystery of the blue lights and what was going on in the town. And that was funny, in a snarky kind of way, as they all had unique names and melodramatic reactions. Then there were the few digs at the tropey nature of YA – vampires were the next big thing, and then kids dying beautifully of cancer, etc. I won’t disagree that there were a few funny moments in this book.

Plus there was a beautifully diverse group of main characters, with struggles of normal teens like anxiety, OCD, relationship woes, school difficulties, and being the descendent of the Goddess of Cats, which was nice. A lot of this book was about friendship, about growing up, about family, and about finding who you are and where you belong. I just think that setting it against the backdrop of the exciting and life-changing events of the indie kids was setting it up to seem boring.

So that’s what I left the book feeling – like I had seen the less interesting side of the town. I know that the whole premise of the book was that not everyone has to be special and sometimes life is just ordinary, even in the middle of the fantastic, so perhaps I’ve missed something crucial here, but this book just didn’t do it for me. A book about the ordinary kids was, to me, very ordinary.

Three Stars
***

Perhaps A Monster Calls, which is apparently the best thing since sliced bread (or so Kellie says) will be more my style. It’s gone on my to-read list anyway!

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Frost and Fury

I realised last week, as I finished off Frostblood, that it was the third book I had read within the space of about a month (although not within a calendar month, admittedly) that featured frost and snow prominently. So I thought then, why not group them together and have a little post about all three of them. Some competition, one might say!

So! Here are the competitors:

Snow Like AshesStealing Snow, and Frostblood

The covers:

A little bit about each book:

Snow Like Ashes – Sara Raasch
The first in a trilogy. It follows the story of Meira, one of the last survivors of the massacre of her country, Winter. Raised in hiding with the rest of her fellow countrymen, Meira longs to be able to fight and protect her lost country against the forces which orphaned her and forced her out of her home. Desperately in love with her best friend, the future king, Mather, she embarks on a dangerous quest to rescue half of the locket which will bring power back to her country – discovering things about herself along the way.
Snow Like Ashes and the sequel, Ice Like Fire, are both already out. Frost Like Night, the third in the series, is due to be published in September.
Three Stars. ***

Stealing Snow – Danielle Paige
Also the first in a series (I think a trilogy as well, but definitely at least two). Snow, a seventeen-year-old inmate of a high-security mental facility, has been there since she was five years old. She has known no other life. So when a strange boy appears from her dreams and helps her to escape, she jumps at the chance. She finds herself in icy Algid, a land covered in snow and frost, and her true home. She discovers that she is the long-lost princess of Algid, and the key to stopping – or keeping forever – the winter that has trapped her subjects. River witches, thieves, shape-shifters and magic combine as she tries to navigate her way to making the choices which will shape not only her future, but that of her whole country. Presented as a retelling of The Snow Queen, this reads to me more like Wicked – the story of the villain(ess) and how she came to be.
Stealing Snow will be published in October this year, with the as yet untitled sequel slated for 2017.
Three Stars
***

Frostblood – Elly Blake
Yet another first in a series, Frostblood tells the story of Ruby. A fireblood, with the ability to manipulate heat and light, she is on a quest for revenge against the ruling Frostbloods for the murder of her mother. Helped by rebel Frostbloods, Ruby must learn to control her gift and make her choices – not least about the icy young man she has come to care about. In a world where frost and flame are deadly enemies, affairs between Fire and Frost rarely end well.
Frostblood is published in January 2017, and the sequels (Fireblood and as yet unnamed) will follow.
Four Stars
****
I had a big quibble about the blurb of Frostblood though – one of the things it mentions doesn’t actually happen until more than 200 pages into the book. I felt like it was too big a reveal for the blurb.

In any case, now that you know a little bit about each of the books, let’s get into the competition!

Best Cover

This was a tough one. I had to think for a while whether I should use the proof covers which I actually read of Stealing Snow and Frostblood, or the officially-released cover art. But when I went looking at the art of Frostblood, I knew I couldn’t leave that out, and the broken mirror in Stealing Snow is so atmospheric, so I had to include them. I love that the cover of Snow Like Ashes has Meira’s chakram on it, and icy white of Stealing Snow is really eye-catching. But in the end, I was sucked in by the beautiful frosted petals of Frostblood!

Best Use of Snow

The MC in Frostblood is actually a fireblood, so all the use of snow and frost is by other characters, but they do lots with it – fighting enemies, picking locks, smashing chains! Very little snow magic is in Snow Like Ashes until near the end of the book, although Winter is a country of eternal Winter (shockingly…), similarly to Algid. Stealing Snow, however, has not only ice tornadoes and snowstorms, but also an eternal winter, and Snow Beasts, as well as freezing people and snow projectiles, so for sheer versatility (and snow-on-snow battles), Stealing Snow takes this crown!

Best Main Character

Ruby’s hot-headedness gives her a tendency to run off and make decisions without thinking, while Snow’s general cluelessness (although not really her fault) makes her incredibly frustrating to read. Meira, on the other hand, is not only tough and a great fighter, but also resourceful and clever, and she embraces her heritage and love for her country with panache, so this round goes to Snow Like Ashes!

Best Love Interest

There were so many options to choose from here. Frostblood provides the enigmatic and icy Arcus, while Meira has been in love with her future king Mather since forever. But the entry of the Crown Prince of Cordell, Theron, throws an extra choice and mystery into the game. Snow, on the other hand, has not one, not two, but THREE separate love interests. There’s Kai, the mysterious and cranky boy mentioned in the blurb (so that’s a big sign that he’ll be important), and Bale, the boy she travels to Algid to rescue, as well as Jagger, the literal man of her dreams. I know Snow has led a sheltered life, living in a secure facility, but come on, can’t she interact with a boy without kissing him?? For me, the winner of this category has to be the icy-hearted Arcus, who slowly warms to Ruby’s fiery appeal, and may be far more than he originally seems… So the winner here is Frostblood!

Best Blurb

I already mentioned above that I really didn’t like the blurb of Frostblood, because of major spoilers, so that knocks that one out of the running. Stealing Snow’s blurb annoyed me because it framed the book as a retelling of The Snow Queen, and it’s really more of a prequel, so the winner of this category by default (although it is an intriguing blurb!) is Snow Like Ashes.

So after five tense questions, Snow Like Ashes and Frostblood are neck and neck. Snow Like Ashes has the main character, but Frostblood has the love interest and that truly beautiful cover. Snow Like Ashes is pulling you in with that blurb though. That means it’s time for a …

Tie-Breaker!

So I was going to go with ‘If both books were caught up in a fire, which would you save?’, but then I realised that Winterian magic would put out the fire, and Firebloods can’t get burnt, so I had to go back and think some more.

My second thought was flipping a coin, but then I forgot to assign a book to each side, so I just ended up with a coin on the floor and no idea what it meant.

So my third idea (third time’s the charm!) was to ask myself the question: if I could only buy the sequel to ONE of these books, which would it be? And then my answer was clear to myself.

Which means, that after a protracted battle of ice and snow, the winner is…

Frostblood!

 

 

 

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Nothing Tastes As Good – Claire Hennessy

^ This has to be one of the longest blog post titles I’ve written in years.

2016-07-14 18.58.15Claire Hennessy is an Irish author who’s been on my radar since I was quite young. Roughly the same age as my older sister, Hennessy’s first books were written and published before she left school (the first, I believe, was written when she was still in primary school!), meaning that they were published before I left school, too. I hadn’t read any of her stuff in years, but saw last year that she had been picked up by Hot Key books to make her UK debut. That came in the form of this – Nothing Tastes As Good.

Don’t call her a guardian angel. Annabel is dead – but she hasn’t completely gone away. Annabel immediately understands why her first assignment as a ghostly helper is to her old classmate: Julia is fat. And being fat makes you unhappy. Simple, right?

As Annabel shadows Julia’s life in the pressured final year of school, Julia gradually lets Annabel’s voice in, guiding her thoughts towards her body, food and control.

But nothing is as simple as it first seems. Spending time in Julia’s head seems to be having its own effect on Annabel . . . And she knows that once the voices take hold, it’s hard to ignore them.

I had a lot of thoughts about this book – I thought the structure was pretty interesting. The idea of an afterlife where you act as a spiritual guide to troubled people is an interesting one – a little bit like that tv show Teen Angel which used to be on the Disney Channel. After messing up your own life, you get the chance to help someone with their life. Except, of course, Teen Angel was mostly about Marty messing up his friend’s life, whereas Annabel doesn’t know Julia, and is trying to help her in order to get a chance at redemption.

The premise of the book was good. The topic was good. It tackled eating disorders from an unswervingly honest perspective – they can, and do, kill, and have that insidious effect of making the sufferer feel like they’re not actually unwell, but rather that everyone trying to help them is wrong.

NTAG was, I felt, a really good book, but not a brilliant book. It tackled tough issues with an unflinching, honest approach, and came from a grounded feminist perspective. I really liked Julia and her driven, obsessive nature, her struggles with the pressures of school and her extracurriculars, and the details which came out slowly over the course of the book about her life before Annabel appeared. I also liked Annabel and her attitude, her stubborn insistence that the way to help Julia was to make her thin.

And yet. There was something missing, for me, from this book. It was missing something like the punch which underlines every word you read in Asking For It, or the unsettling feeling which lingered about me after I finished reading Wintergirls, by Laurie Halse Ansdersen. It felt, to me, from the first page, that this was a redemption story. I knew from the moment we met Annabel that she would slowly realise over the course of the book that she was sick, and she needed to accept that, and it resulted in her death, and Julia was just a background story to help Annabel come to this realisation. By the end of the book, everything felt like it had been wrapped up neatly with a little bow, and happily ever afters would ensue. Except, of course, that Annabel was still dead, but even that felt a little unreal.

I don’t know quite why I felt like the book missed that impact factor. On the surface, it should have had it. The stark reality which hits you from the first page, that Annabel died from her disordered eating, should have been enough to make this an important book in the same way I think that Asking For It is important, and Wintergirls is important – even the way I think All The Rage by Courtney Summers and Speak, also by Laurie Halse Anderson, are important. I don’t know what it was. Perhaps it’s that eating disorders have never been a topic that resonates with me the way that Asking For It and All the Rage did.

That said, though, NTAG is still a very good book. It’s strongly drawn and the characters leap off the page. There was a lot that I identified with, and I really enjoy reading books which are set in Ireland and written by Irish authors. This is a book which will resonate with many, and it’s easy to read, engaging, and even sometimes fun. It’s a good book, it really is. It’s just not quite up there as a brilliant book.

Four Stars
****

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Goldenhand – Garth Nix

I posted only a few weeks ago about how excited I was for Goldenhand to be published in October. Somewhat unexpectedly, I didn’t have to wait that long at all to get my hands on a copy of the fifth foray into the Old Kingdom. Having spent the weekend at YALC and carefully perused the twitter feeds and MaximumPop!Books posts advising me of who was dropping which proofs when, I was one of several people loitering suspiciously near the Hot Key Books stand at 12 on the Sunday, when they were rumoured to be handing out *signed* Garth Nix proofs.

So it was with great excitement that, after all my lurking, I did actually get my hands on one of those bad boys and was able to dive in as soon as possible. Having sated myself with the first few chapters while waiting for the next panel discussion to start, I then read late into the night and throughout the next morning as I devoured every word of this reentry into Nix’s magical Old Kingdom.

I make no secret of the fact that Garth Nix is my favourite author, and furthermore that the Old Kingdom is my favourite series, so it’s to be expected that my reaction to this would be largely composed of excited flailing. But I also like to think that the reason why Garth Nix is my absolute fave is because he’s a phenomenally talented writer, capable of building a world which is utterly immersive, while still managing to paint a story which is true to life and believable. So while I admit bias, I think that my bias is backed up by Nix’s skill. Plus, I didn’t absolutely adore Clariel, so maybe that can go some way to supporting my theory.

In any case! The actual book. The British cover art is still yet to be released, although I would expect that it will be something similar to Clariel, which in itself was similar to the original trilogy covers – solid colours with blazing Charter marks on the front. I’m excited to see that, although I have to admit that I also really like the bells on the front of the proof copy.

Lirael is no longer a shy Second Assistant Librarian. She is the Abhorsen-in-Waiting, with Dead creatures to battle and Free Magic entities to bind. She’s also a Remembrancer, wielder of the Dark Mirror. Lirael lost one of her hands in the binding of Orannis, but now she has a new hand, one of gilded steel and Charter Magic.

When Lirael finds Nicholas Sayre lying unconscious after being attacked by a hideous Free Magic creature, she uses her powers to save him. But Nicholas is deeply tainted with Free Magic. Fearing it will escape the Charter mark that seals it within his flesh and bones, Lirael seeks help for Nick at her childhood home, the Clayr’s Glacier.

But even as Lirael and Nick return to the Clayr, a young woman named Ferin from the distant North braves the elements and many enemies in a desperate attempt to deliver a message to Lirael from her long-dead mother, Arielle. Ferin brings a dire warning about the Witch with No Face. But who is the Witch, and what is she planning?

Once more a great danger threatens the Old Kingdom, and it must be forestalled not only in the living world, but also in the cold, remorseless river of Death.

Goldenhand is the long-awaited fifth installment of Garth Nix’s New York Times bestselling Old Kingdom series.

So I’m just going to go right ahead and say that I absolutely adored this book. It was everything that I loved in the original trilogy, and everything that I really like about the Old Kingdom series in general, and suffered from almost none of the pacing issues that frustrated me in Clariel, the prequel.

Goldenhand brings together all the plot points from Clariel, the original trilogy, The Creature in the Case and even To Hold The Bridge, and paints a new story of the Old Kingdom which picks up the characters I loved from the previous books and catapults them into a new and thrilling situation filled with tension and excitement. It plumps out the backstory of Arielle, Lirael’s long-dead mother, adds in some great new characters – especially Ferin, the messenger from the distant North – and really shows how Lirael has grown into her new role as Abhorsen-in-Waiting.

I don’t want to put too much of the plot into this post because a) spoilers and b) it’s still a long time until the release date, but I do want to say that I really enjoyed it. It follows on from Clariel, and resolves some of the issues I had with the unfinished feeling of her story. It doesn’t feel like an add-on, though. It is a fully realised and satisfying plot of its own, and would, I think, stand well on its own – something I think is really important for follow-on novels. If this were the first Old Kingdom book you picked up, I think you’d be able to follow the story without feeling like you needed to go back and read the trilogy first. Although, of course, I would recommend that you read the trilogy. They’re excellent books, you know!

Goldenhand follows on immediately from The Creature in the Case, overlapping with it from the Old Kingdom point of view. It’s not necessary to read the novella first, but I did read it after, to refresh my memory and flesh out my understanding of the events leading to Nick and Lirael’s reunion

There were lots of things I really liked in this book, so I’ll list a few of them in bullet points here:

  • Badass female protagonist who knows what she’s doing and is capable of getting things done
  • But she isn’t one-dimensional and has all kinds of other issues which make her very human, from awkwardness around guys to dealing with her family and convincing them that she’s moved on from the quiet, Sightless librarian she used to be
  • Casual and accepting references to both lesbianism and bisexuality – particularly the latter, as it’s so easy to gloss over
  • Disabled protagonist whose story is about so much more than her disability
  • Healthy depictions of relationships (Touchstone and Sabriel are still my relationship goals)
  • Lots of interesting tidbits about the aftermath of the Binding of Orannis – Lirael is still deeply grieving for the Dog, and we get to see lots of her dealing with this (I miss the Dog.)
  • Introduction of a great new character in Ferin – a totally different person to everyone we’ve seen before, Ferin is from the Tribal North and is a whole new kind of strong female character
  • Mention of what Mogget has been up to (who doesn’t love Mogget!)
  • Explorations of new areas of the Old Kingdom. While the original trilogy was set largely around the Wall, Ferin’s journey takes further north, exploring the tribal lands above the Old Kingdom.

The proof copy I got didn’t have a map in the front pages, but that’s not to say that the final editions won’t. In fact, I would say it’s even likely, due to this tweet:

(I’m still trying to convince myself that I don’t actually need to buy this to hang on my wall.)

There were one or two things I didn’t like about Goldenhand. I know. It doesn’t seem possible. But they were tiny, tiny things, and I didn’t think they were big enough to deduct any stars from its rating. Nonetheless:

  • There wasn’t enough Sam. I want more Sam! I love Sam! Although there was talk of Sam, there wasn’t much actual presence of Sam, nor interaction with Sam, until very late in the book.
  • The pacing of the book, I thought, was a tiny bit … off. I was quite far into the book and wondering when we were going to get to the actual delivery of Ferin’s message, and was afraid for a little while that it would roll over into a sequel, leaving things unfinished. This might have been influenced by the fact that I thought Clariel left things hanging. But actually, when I kept going, this wasn’t the case at all, and everything was resolved within the one book. The ending, however, might be a tiny bit rushed. But only a tiny bit!
  • There is specific mention of Nick’s shoes midway through the book. But, having now re-read The Creature in the Case, Nick wasn’t actually wearing shoes when Lirael found him. Where did these shoes come from? I don’t know why this bothers me so much, but it does.

That’s it. Those are my three tiny complaints. Other than that, I really did love this book. I think it’s a more than worthy successor to the original Old Kingdom trilogy that I love so much, and surpasses Clariel by leagues. I can’t wait for the publication of Goldenhand so that I can get a hardcover copy and sit it in pride of place on my shelves next to the others. October *still* can’t come quick enough for me. I absolutely recommend that you re-read all four existing OK books and the two novellas/short stories in preparation for the release of Goldenhand later this year.

Five Stars
*****

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Brooklyn – Colm Tóibín

4954833Earlier this year, my sisters went to the cinema together to see Brooklyn. When they came back, the only information I got about it was from my younger sister, who said ‘you’ll cry’, and left it at that. A few months later, when it came out on DVD, my dad got it for my mum. I like to read the book before I see the film, so I put the book on my kindle, and read it on the tubes to and from college over the course of a few days.

It’s rare that I find a book that I actively dislike the main character as much as I did Eilis in Brooklyn. It’s also rare that I find a book where I strongly prefer the film version. That makes Brooklyn unusual in my books, for two reasons!

The Book

Colm Tóibín’s sixth novel, Brooklyn, is set in Brooklyn and Ireland in the early 1950s, when one young woman crosses the ocean to make a new life for herself.

Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the hard years following World War Two. When an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor Eilis in America — to live and work in a Brooklyn neighborhood “just like Ireland” — she decides she must go, leaving her fragile mother and her charismatic sister behind.

Eilis finds work in a department store on Fulton Street, and when she least expects it, finds love. Tony, who loves the Dodgers and his big Italian family, slowly wins her over with patient charm. But just as Eilis begins to fall in love with Tony, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her future.

So I read this book over the course of three days, and really my main reaction to it was that  Eilis is a big pushover and a wuss and a yes-man. Throughout the whole book, she had no agency, no backbone, and made no decisions for herself – she just went with what she was told to do, rolled over, and took it.

I absolutely hated her – every non-decision she made, from being shipped over to America because her sister said she should, to the eventual climax of the book where she didn’t actually make a decision, but just did what she was forced to. I hated her – I really, really hated her.

I’m a pretty spineless person myself – I like to say that I’m easygoing, but what I actually mean is that I’m too lazy to make decisions. Nonetheless, I have a certain amount of opinions, and am actually capable of making decisions for myself – or fighting back when something is foisted upon me. But Eilis? No such luck. She just rolled over and agreed to anything that was suggested to her, from intercontinental moves to jobs to all sorts of other things. I really, truly hated her as a character.

There were a few good things about Brooklyn – the scene setting was lovely. Lots of the supporting characters were compelling. I sobbed my way through the ‘devastating news from Ireland’ mentioned in the blurb (while on a tube! Oh! The mortification!) and was totally caught up in the emotion of the moment.

Sadly, though, it just wasn’t enough to stop me from hating Eilis and her story and the choices she made (or accepted that were made for her). She was a pushover and a wuss and I had no sympathy for her at all. She wasn’t compelling enough to carry her own story, and I finished the book sorely disappointed.

Two Stars
**

The Film

About a week after I had finished the book, I was home with my parents, and suggested that we watch Brooklyn. They agreed, so we all sat down to watch it. Then they changed their minds, and we watched something else for two hours, then changed their minds again, and we did eventually watch it.

That’s all preamble though. Brooklyn got a few Oscar nods, including Saoirse Ronan as Eilis. To be honest, I couldn’t see where the fuss about it came from. It was a good film, but not great.

When watching a film adaptation of a book, it’s difficult not to make comparisons, of course. Somewhat unusually, though, I enjoyed the film a lot more than the book.

Brooklyn the novel is told entirely from Eilis’s perspective – we see nothing other than what she sees, get no insight other than what she knows, but the film has a more omniscient presence. When Eilis is writing letters to her mother and sister, we see them, and how Eilis leaving has affected them – I really enjoyed this. It was great to see something more than the inside of Eilis – oh, how much I hated her – and her thoughts and feelings. The claustrophobia of the narrow, spineless mind which irritated me so much in the book was much less stifling in the film as we saw a wider perspective. That was point one in its favour.

Point two in its favour was that it changed the progression of the final third of the book slightly, in a way which made Eilis a much more likeable character. The difference is a massive spoiler, so I won’t go into detail, but suffice it to say, Eilis’ character is made much stronger, and she actually has something resembling a spine. Not an actual spine, mind, but something close to it. That was point two in its favour.

These two differences were enough to make a huge difference to my enjoyment of the film over the book – where I finished the book disgusted with Eilis and everything she stood for, film Eilis was more agreeable, and I finished the book actually happy for her and the choices she made – because she did actually make one tiny choice in the film, which is more than can be said for her book counterpart.

As for what my sister said? Oh, yes, I did cry. I sobbed my way through three consecutive scenes, and was struggling to breathe during the phone call home. It got so bad that my dad threw a box of tissues at me and then laughed. He’s an awful mean sod. There were also trickles of tears on and off throughout the next hour of the film.

Brooklyn the film was good, but not great. It was leagues better than the book, but I don’t think it’s the kind of film I’d watch again (unless I was in the mood to have my heart temporarily ripped out by that mid-way through happening).

Three Stars
***

 

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Tribute – Ellen Renner

18682784 I’m lucky enough to be a part of the Hot Key books blogger network, and this book was provided to me as a review copy. Man, am I glad it was. This book is fantastic!

Tribute – Ellen Renner

What if your greatest enemy was yourself?

Zara is a mage, one of the elite in a world where magic is power, and the non-magic majority live as slaves. When her slave child best friend is killed for the crime of literacy, Zara seeks revenge by spying for the rebel Knowledge Seekers. She finds her bravery and magical skill tested to the limit when a young Maker, Aidan, is taken hostage in a bid for supposed peace. Surprised by first love, she promises to help him. But before Zara can keep her promise, her secret is discovered. Hunted by her own, she seeks refuge with the Knowledge Seekers. But when you can kill with a thought, can you ever be trusted? Pain, romance, defiance and revenge combine in this powerfully written – and breathtakingly envisioned – YA fantasy.

I’m not backward about mentioning the fact that Garth Nix is my favourite author, and his Old Kingdom trilogy is one of my favourite trilogies, if not the actual favourite, basically ever. So Tribute, which is published by the same company that currently publishes Nix’s books (most recently Clariel) was probably going to be a winner for me. I went in with high expectations, and they were met at every turn.

I really, really liked Tribute. So much so that I’ve ordered Outcaste on Amazon, and it should arrive on Thursday. I’m very excited about it.

Tribute was excellent. It tells the story of Zara, a talented young mage, daughter of the Archmage, and a spy against her own kind. I love YA fantasy, and this is a really good example of it. It’s a bit like Trudi Canavan mixed with Garth Nix, which was a guaranteed winner for me.
The worldbuilding in this was excellent – it reminded me a lot of the Old Kingdom trilogy, in that there was a magical kingdom separated from a non-magical one by a wall. The system was explained quickly, with its intricacies and nuances revealed over the course of the book, rather than just slamming the reader with an explanation at the beginning. Although there was a glossary at the back, I didn’t use it, preferring to just figure things out as I went along, and I didn’t struggle too much with anything – the author did an excellent job of revealing things at just the right time.
The characters in this book were diverse and interesting, not always likable, but always engaging. I particularly liked Twiss, the young Thief who has a lot of dealings with Zara. Her development was absolutely enthralling, and it was really enjoyable to watch her grow throughout the course of the book.
While there is a love story in this book, and maybe it borders on insta-love, it didn’t grate on me at all, probably because everything around the rest of the book is so strong, and this is just carried along on a tidal wave of excellence.

It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what it was about this book I really liked. I think it’s something of a perfect storm of female-driven YA with a strong main character in an interesting and original fantasy world, with great characters and really believable development. There was very little I didn’t like about this book. Although part of a duology, and in fact the follow-up, Outcaste, is described as the second part of the novel, I really felt like it ended on a satisfying note, with certainly loose threads to be tied up, but nothing like the lack of resolution which plagued me in books like The Jewel.

This book has very quickly risen to the top of my favourites list for 2015, and I’m only hoping that the sequel is just as good. For any fans of fantasy, YA or otherwise, I heartily recommend.

Five Stars
*****

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