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Shift – Em Bailey

I saw this book in Waterstones in Ealing, which means that I decided I wanted to read it back in, like, January or February, before I moved out of my brother’s house. But it took me months and months to actually get hold of it and then several more months to actually read it.
But in the end I’m glad I did!
I’ve never read anything else by Em Bailey, and I don’t remember what it was that drew me to the book in the first place, but anyways.

This book comes with a trailer! Apparently that’s what books do now. I’m not sure I approve of this phenomenon.
But here it is! A trailer!

So, as I said, I’ve had this book for quite some time, but I never quite got around to reading it.
When I did decide to open it up, I was intrigued.

It reminded me really strongly of Ultraviolet, by R.J. Andersen. So that was a strike against the book in the first place, because I thought Ultraviolet was disappointing – so much so that I actually didn’t bother get or read the sequel.

But Shift went in a different direction.
Olive, the main character, has had an ‘incident’ in the past… some amount of time. It’s not really explained. Everything is a mystery at the beginning! Why she and Kate aren’t friends, where her dad is gone, who Miranda is, whether she actually killed her parents…

Over the course of the book everything unfolds slowly and is really compelling. There were a couple of moments which were like a punch in the gut, which I absolutely hadn’t expected this book to do to me. It packed a lot more than I thought it would.

I went into this book not expecting much, and was expecting even less when I picked up the Ultraviolet similarities. But I was very rapidly proven wrong. Shift was an excellent book, really well-written with strong characterisation and a couple of really interesting twists that I didn’t see coming (and one or two that I did).
I’d recommend it!

Four stars!
****

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The Night Angel Trilogy

More books!

NightANgelThis time it’s a trilogy of books recommended by Dave – who provided the Canavan books – on the basis that if I enjoyed those, I would enjoy Brent Weeks’ Night Angel trilogy.

So I started to read. I didn’t read anything about the trilogy online, because I often accidentally find out bits of information which spoil minor (or major) plot points and mar my enjoyment of the books. So I went into The Way of Shadows, the first book, totally blind, only knowing that if I had enjoyed Canavan, I would enjoy this.

As it turns out, this trilogy is about assassins (well, wetboys – they’re like assassins in that kittens are like tigers) in a medieval-style world which is populated by a variety of different kind of magicians.
Had I heard the word assassin, I probably would have gone in with my eyes a little wider open, but as I said, I didn’t want to spoil anything.

I really enjoyed this trilogy – I thought the middle book was probably the strongest. I loved the magic in it, the different cultures, the styles of magic, the investigation of human relationships, the huge variety of characters (although I didn’t appreciate that all the women fell into the virgin/whore [with a heart of gold] dichotomy) and really, I did enjoy this trilogy.

But my GOD, it was so bloody. It really was. As I was reading, Dave was sent a variety of texts which all went along the lines of
“so… much… blood”.
I know, I know. Assassins. There’s bound to be blood. And a few wars. More blood. But there were wars and assassins in Kyralia, and the descriptions weren’t half as graphic. I have a very vivid imagination, so images of cannibalism and men’s heads popping like pimples… well, they lingered in my mind. That was my main complaint.

Other than that – the women weren’t characterised very strongly. Certain characters kind of… vanished… midway through (Uly???). Lots of loose ends left, although I suspect that means a follow-up series.
There was a massive emphasis on love and the power of love and redemption and all that kind of wussy rubbish that was, well, a bit preachy.
But overall, I did enjoy it. And I would recommend it. But beware of the blood.
It gets three stars from me because I was taken aback, but if you go in expecting it, maybe you could give it four!

The Night Angel Trilogy: Brent Weeks
(The Way of Shadows, Shadow’s Edge, Beyond the Shadows)
***

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In Review

2013 is the first year since 1987 to have four different digits.

The above fact is there in case you don’t like retrospective posts, so that there’s still something to keep you entertained. =)

I did a lot of things in 2012.

In January, I went back to work in Dunnes, not in the same department as before, but I stayed there for three months, and enjoyed it immensely, even though I hate retail. Having a job has always been an important part of who I am, especially in Dunnes. I also laughed at Alex, Sinéad and a variety of other friends who had to sit exams, whereas I had done mine in December of 2011.

In February, I started the second half of my masters, which meant that I was back in college in Maynooth, but only two days a week.Image

In March, my sister came home and announced she’s marrying her boyfriend next year. So that’s cool.

In April, I turned 22, and my contract in Dunnes expired. I also competed in the IABCB National Band Championships with the Lucan Concert Band. We won our section, too!

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In May, I sat my masters exams. They were no joke, I’m telling you!

In June, my sisters and I went to see the Olympic torch in St Stephen’s Green, which was a once in a lifetime experience. Sinéad, on the other hand, tried to faint. She knows how to make the most of an afternoon. I also spent the majority of June in the Postgrad common room working on my thesis.

July was much the same, as I continued to work on my thesis, which was finished and handed in on the 27th July. It’s beautiful. I’m telling you. So beautiful. It’s purple, too. Other things happened in July, less interesting and far less happy things. While finishing my thesis was tough, the satisfaction of handing it in and finishing my masters was enormous. On the other hand, Alex moved away and if you know me, you’ll know how bad a month July was for me.

In August, I started an internship in Round Hall, a publishing house in Dublin. It was probably the best thing I’ve done all year – it gave me an idea of what I actually want to do in the future. Now I know that I want to work in publishing, which makes things a lot easier than this time last year, where I was thinking I wanted to be a solicitor, and sat FE1s, but failed them. 

In September, my exam results came out, and after some arguments with my head of department, I was eventually awarded a first class honours masters in International Business Law. Alex also graduated in September, so I was incredibly proud of him.

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As all my friends went back to college in September, I began to get a little bit jealous, having realised that finishing my masters meant I wasn’t going back to college.

In October, I started playing with the chamber group of the Liffey Valley Orchestra. Alex turned 25, and entirely refuses to acknowledge it. He tried to convince my 3 year old cousin that he was 19 this week. I also went to a conference held by the Society of Publishers in Ireland, where I was told about a Studentship for a PhD. I resolved to apply for it.

At the very end of the month, I graduated from Maynooth for the second time.

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In November, Alex and I attended an awards ceremony where he was presented with a medal for coming top of his class this year (the third year in a row). I was proud of him them, and I still am now.

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(I look incredibly small in this photo. I swear I’m actually taller than that.)

I also went to see Muse in concert with my sisters. They were fabulous, as always.

November was also the deadline for the application of the aforementioned PhD. On the day it was due, I was still missing a reference, which caused much panic, but I got in in eventually. Lastly in November, I was invited to interview for that PhD. I went to London for the weekend and visited my brother and sister-in-law for the weekend, and panicked wildly about succeeding in interview, but apparently I didn’t do too badly.

This month, December, I was offered the PhD. I accepted, and will be moving to London in five days. I also passed my driving test. I played approximately a billion Christmas concerts. I dropped my clarinet, which was quite upsetting, and I have yet to get it fixed. Christmas was quiet and relaxed and now, at the end of the year, I’m chilling out and watching TV with Alex, and planning on spending a quiet New Year’s Eve, making the most of the time I have with him before I move away.

I really enjoyed this year, although there were some terribly low points. I wasn’t best pleased that Alex moved to Limerick, so I retaliated by moving to London. 

No, I kid. Living away from him isn’t ideal, but I’m beyond excited at the idea of starting this PhD. I’m thrilled that I’ve achieved so much this year, and I’m hoping 2013 will be just as successful as 2012 was.

If you’re reading this, I wish you a Happy New Year and I hope that 2013 bring everything you wish for.

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We Need to Talk About Kevin

Look! Another book review! I’m so proud of myself.

So this is a book I was given for Christmas, by my baby sister, Sinéad, and I absolutely failed at reading it. In fact, I put it in a shoe box and completely forgot about it until she complained that I never paid attention to her presents (this was around my birthday, which is in April) and she wasn’t gonna buy me anything else. I, wanting to have a birthday present, immediately made the effort and started reading.
Then I gave up.

Eventually, I’ve gotten to the end of the book (in September, not bad!), and have gotten around to reviewing it.
It’s spoiler-free, by the way. I do hate spoilers in book reviews. Unless I’ve already read the book. Then I don’t mind.

So!
The story:
Eva Khatchadourian, mother of a notorious school killer, charts the journey of her relationship with her son, from before his conception to the modern day, through a series of letters to her estranged husband, Franklin.
It’s a chilling account of what happens when you don’t, really, actually love your child, and it lingers in the mind long after you’ve turned the last page.

I, for one, am looking forward to watching the film once Sinéad’s finished the book. Darren says it’s ‘powerful’, so that’s a good recommendation.

In any case,
The Good: Like Darren said, powerful. Entrancing once you get into it. It’s a worrying, chilling account of what happens when you don’t really love your child.
It makes me wonder, very strongly, whether it was a case of Kevin being truly evil, or that he turned out that way because he knew his mother didn’t love him.
It was a twisty, turny account of a journey from the discussions of whether or not to have a child to two years after the events of that ‘Thursday’, as Eva calls it.
You really get a sense of both the titular character and the narrator and immerse yourself in her doubts – was this her fault? Could she have loved Kevin better? Should she have had children at all?
The novel pulls no punches and constantly surprises. Several times in the course of the novel, I turned a page, discovered a fact and was surprised. I didn’t predict the ending as concretely as I would have thought I did, either, which is always good. I like not quite knowing what’s lurking on the next page, and it adds to the murky atmosphere of doubt which permeates Eva’s letters to Franklin.

The Bad: It was hard to get into at the beginning. Like I said, I got it at Christmas and didn’t finish it ’til September. I constantly put it down and never thought to pick it up again until Sinéad made some sideways remark about it. However, this really abated as I got further into the book. So I’m not sure if it’s a REALLY bad point.
It uses the wrong terminology for the crossbows. They’re constantly referred to as arrows, when in actuality, crossbows use bolts, and bows use arrows. Tut tut tut.
Lionel is a boy’s name, ok? A boy’s name!!

The Ugly: Four and a half out of five. Excellent book. I’m deducting half a mark for the slow start, though.

If you liked this, try: Hate List by Jennifer Brown (link forthcoming once I review it), Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult, The Lost Daughter by Diane Chamberlain

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Review: 9

Okay, it’s been a while, but I can’t think of what else to write about here so I’m going to review book number nine! This time it’s called
Where She Went by Gayle Forman.
Where She Went

First things first! This is a sequel. If you haven’t read the first book, it won’t make much sense, as it follows on from the first book.

Side note: The prequel to Where She Went is If I Stay. If you haven’t read it, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?
GO READ IT. It is absolutely fantastic. One of my favourite books.
Are you reading it now? No? Why not? Because you’re reading my blog post?
Oh, well, I guess that’s a good enough reason. But after that! Read If I Stay! It’s haunting, beautiful, eloquent… I can’t praise it enough!

Ahem. Back to the review proper.
Where She Went:
The Good: Similar to If I Stay, the prose is beautiful. The story is captivating, engaging and heart-warming. It’s both tragic and beautiful and wonderful all at the same time. Where If I Stay was written from Mia’s perspective, Where She Went takes Adam’s side. It follows the two of them on one night three years after the events of If I Stay.
I don’t want to ruin the story of either book, but the second nicely fleshes out the first. It follows on and elaborates on the story between Mia and Adam, filling in the blanks in the three years they were apart throughout the course of the book. It keeps the flashback format of the first book, and once again music plays a huge part in the book, which I, as a musician, do appreciate. Forman’s lyrical writing style shines through again and the sheer human interest of the story drives it. Emotive and powerful, it’s difficult to put down.

The Bad: The only bad things I have to say about Where She Went are in relation to If I Stay. It’s not as good as If I Stay. But then, sequels rarely are. As well as that, where If I Stay stands on its own, Where She Went, in actuality, I don’t think would. Because it picks up on the story of Adam and Mia, it’s focused largely on the aftermath of If I Stay. So without the first, the second doesn’t so much fall as stumble. It *could* stand on its own, but the book wouldn’t be half as powerful.

The Ugly: 4.5/5
It’s excellent, there’s no denying that. But it’s just that little bit behind If I Stay, and that little bit too fragile to stand on its own.

Similar: Before I Die by Jenny Downham, Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, If I Stay by Gayle Forman

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Review: 8

We’re on review number eight!! Something tells me that fifty might have been a little bit of an optimistic number to aim for in a year, since I’m, like, a final year and whatever. But anyways, we’ll see what we get to. Eight, thus far!
So book number eight is
Sing You Home, by Jodi Picoult
Sing-You-Home

The Good: The premise was fantastic! Lesbians, god freaks, evangelists, frozen embryos/zygotes/pre-children. Love, life, reproduction, cancer, lesbianism, sex, suicide, depression, self-harm, child abuse, anything you could think of was in there! It spanned more issues than you could shake a stick at!
The basic storyline was that Zoe wanted to use frozen embryos from a failed IVF cycle with her ex-husband to reproduce with her new partner, who’s a woman. There’s a court case, lots of accusations thrown, lovely discussions of various concepts of law and lots of hugely dramatic declarations of love, between a husband and wife, between a wife and wife, certain *forbidden* love (oooooooh!) and the love between parents and children, even those they have yet to meet.
The book starts off with a heavily pregnant woman, at 28 weeks, losing her baby. That touched a nerve for me, it’s something I care very deeply about, and it was very delicately handled. The book as a whole took quite a balanced view, deliberately showing the view-points of both parties involved in the lawsuit, with a certain gentleness which allows the reader to draw their own conclusions, as is typical of many of Picoult’s books. The ending was delicately handled without being schmaltzy, and it was sort of true to life as it wasn’t afraid to delve into the seedier side of court cases as well.

The Bad: It was, well, a little dramatic. All of Picoult’s books are. Not gonna lie, it’s part of the appeal for me, I love a bit of drama, but Picoult’s books set out to be thought-provoking in a way which, to me, fells a little bit false. It’s like she picks a controversial topic and then writes about it, rather than beginning a story which happens to encompass a controversial topic. A little like blogs which are written by people who take themselves too seriously, I think Picoult’s books, especially this one, set out to make you think about something and walk away with a changed opinion. And, well, much like blogs, that irritates me.
It’s kind of like you read it, and the whole way through, there’s a guy sitting beside you waiting for you to finish, and then at the end, he’s like, “Well, I hope that made you think!”
It seems sort of self-righteous or something, I’m not sure. But it’s the one thing which annoys me about Picoult’s books. Stylistically, it’s what drives me insane about her, the fact that she sets out to make you think. It’s visible in every word of her books, in the sheer number of issues she encompasses, in the book club discussion questions at the end, it’s, like, god, woman, just write a story and let us enjoy it for what it is!
Oh, and at the end of the book, it kind of wrapped up too easily. The way Zoe concluded her actions, and then the way Max did, it sort of left me with a bad taste in my mouth. It was all too happy. Life isn’t that happy. Picoult isn’t normally that happy!
No-one died in the end! That’s upsetting!

The Ugly: 7 out of 10. A good Picoult, but not a great one. An interesting premise, a good story, but not as heart-rending as it could have been, and a little too happy in the end, really.

Similar: The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes, Handle With Care, My Sister’s Keeper

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Review

I realised, when I finished that blog post the other day, about My Name is Memory and Fallen, that I hadn’t actually said what I thought about the actual book that I had bought and read that day.
So here it is!

My Name is Memory, Ann Brashares,
A quick review of MNIM:

The Good: Story was well-paced, development wasn’t left til the very end. Alternating chapters of narration meant that you got both back story and current story with a good balance between the two. The concept of past lives was explored, as was the concept of a person being evil, no matter how many times they’re re-born.
The climactic scene towards the end was interesting, not impossible to predict but not what I would have thought, and the lesser characters are actually ones I would like to learn more about. Development of the main character, Daniel, was present, although he seemed to grow only in this last life, and not in any of his hundreds of previous lives – a little odd.

The bad: The idea, well, it’s kind of clichéd. As I said in my last post, it’s strikingly similar to Fallen, which coloured my perception of it from the beginning. it’s one of those books which doesn’t warn you at the beginning that it’s part of a series and, worse, it can’t stand on its own as a novel – it relies on its sequel to tie up a lot of loose ends, which is something I really despise in a first book of a series – second in a trilogy, sure, but not the first.
The female lead, Lucy, had little to no development, seeming to be in love with this Daniel simply because a past her had said so – she was willing to go to ridiculous lengths for him (see climactic scene) after only one night together. Weird.
Also, the ending of the book was disappointing, because of its reliance on its sequel.
Lastly, it was marketed as an Adult Fiction book, something which I would call a mistake as everything about it, to me, screams Young Adult. There are no real scary scenes and it’s very similar to the current vogue of supernatural young adult books which Twilight seems to have spawned.

Overall? 2.5 out of 5.

Similar: Fallen by Lauren Kate, Kissed By An Angel by Elizabeth Chandler, The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants by Ann Brashares.

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