Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Review: Torment by Lauren Kate

Dear Blog,

I'm sure most of you know that Torment is being released tomorrow here in the UK (and is just released in the States)  Hence, my review:

Summary (from Goodreads): How many lives do you need to live before you find someone worth dying for? In the aftermath of what happened at Sword & Cross, Luce has been hidden away by her cursed angelic boyfriend, Daniel, in a new school filled with Nephilim, the offspring of fallen angels and humans. Daniel promises she will be safe here, protected from those who would kill her. At the school Luce discovers what the Shadows that have followed her all her life mean - and how to manipulate them to see into her other lives. Yet the more Luce learns about herself, the more she realizes that the past is her only key to unlocking her future...and that Daniel hasn't told her everything. What if his version of the past isn't actually the way things happened...what if Luce was really meant to be with someone else?

Review: The first chapter of Torment sees Luce arriving at a new school, this time on the sunny California coastline, and the aforementioned school is (imaginatively named) Shoreline. It's a far cry from the deliciously creepy sinisterness of Sword & Cross; this time the students go for parties on the beach, and there's not a CCTV camera in sight. It makes a refreshing change.

The new cast of characters Luce meets seem to fill the roles of those she left behind at Sword & Cross. Luce's new room mate is yoga addict Shelby, who seems to take the place of Arianne, while the utterly charming Miles assumes the role of Cam. Worry not, for the old S&C crew do make an appearance at the end, and Arianne even has a cameo in Las Vegas. It's a little weird, but in truth I suppose I could imagine her there.
Luce's friend Callie was a nice idea, but I really struggled to like her (I'm not sure if you were supposed to or not). She just seemed slightly giggly and airheaded- although I suppose that compared to a load of angels, demons and Nephilims, anyone relatively human looks that plain and dumb.
Anyway. Back to Miles, for he plays a pretty big part in Torment. Though Miles is not a demon, unlike Cam, and a mere Nephilim, he's still sweet and likeable, and clearly I'm not the only one who thinks so. He and Luce seem pretty attratced to one another, which adds yet another dimension to the tangled web of love that is Luce's life.

Speaking of tangled webs of love. The relationship between Luce and Daniel is just as eternal and passionate as it was before, but this time there's a rough edge to every passionate kiss, which made me happy. Just because it's eternal, doesn't mean that Luce and Daniel can't have a few spats now and again. One one hand it was slightly irritating to see the two fighting, which they do frequently in Torment, because they're so right for each other.  But on the other,  it just seems like a more realistic portrayal of love than some completely perfect relationship that you often come across in books, where the characters never say a word against their significant other. It makes me happy that Luce doesn't just do everything that Daniel tells her to do, even if it makes her sound slightly whiny at times. Now and again I wanted to slap Daniel and yell, "if you love her that much, then trust her, dammit!" Which for much of the book he doesn't seem to do.  And to quote Luce herself, "how am I supposed to understand if you don't tell me what's happening?"  

My thoughts exactly. But here we find out a little more about the mysterious Outcasts and their motives, as well as Luce's past lives with Daniel. It makes for pretty interesting reading, to resolve all these mysteries, and the glimpses into Luce's past lives are probably the most interesting part of the story, seeing as they left me asking the most questions in the last book.
Torment reminded me in a lot of ways of The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray. In some respects, nothing big and exciting really happens for the first couple of hundred phrases, until the climax, which is utterly fantastic and makes up for it. So part of me thinks, does it really have to be this long? But the other part thinks, yes it does. Because many of the questions asked in Fallen are resolved, but still enough is left unsaid to give the book an air of mystery about it.

Despite the slight slowness in parts, it was more addictive than I thought it was, and I read the last 150 pages or so in one sitting. The climax was particularly exciting, and leaves things open for the third book in the series/trilogy/whatever it is going to become, Passion. I suppose it's much like chocolate; you think you should save some for later, because surely it's not healthy, but then you devour it all anyway. It's hard to put down, but easy to pick up. 

In Three Words: Intriguing, romantic, unputdownable.
Recommended for: Everyone who read and loved Fallen. And if you haven't read it yet, what are you waiting for?!
Rating: 4. 

Thank you to Random House for sending me a copy to review.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Review: Across the Wall by Garth Nix

Dear Blog,
I've read this many, many times.  Most recently, a few days ago.
Seeing as this is an anthology of short stories, I'll say a few sentences about each.
This will have to be quick because it's late and I have a bad cold, so need sleep.

Summary (from Goodreads): Nicholas Sayre will do anything to get across the Wall.  Thoughts of Lirael and Sam haunt his dreams, and he has come to realize that his destiny lies with them, in the Old Kingdom. But here in Ancelstierre, Nick faces an obstacle that is not entirely human, with a strange power that seems to come from Nicholas himself.
With "Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case," Garth Nix continues to explore the magical world of the Abhorsen Trilogy. In additional short stories that range from two widely different takes on the Merlin myth to a gritty urban version of Hansel and Gretel and a heartbreaking story of children and war, Garth Nix displays the range and versatility that has made him one of today's leading writers of fantasy for readers of all ages.

Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case- is an excellent opening, and, really, you know it's the reason you bought this book.  Although Nick plays a pretty significant role in Abhorsen, the third book of the Old Kingdom Trilogy, he remains a little vague, and it's interesting to come back to him and see the world through his eyes.  It's mostly continuous action and other such exciting things, with Nick this time not seeming so weak and greedy and spineless so much as a likeable protagonist you find yourself rooting as he chases after the Creature in the Case and tries to save the old kingdom.
Under the Lake- when I first read this story (a couple of years ago) I hadn't read any Arthurian  legends so I didn't really *get* it.  Having read a little more Arthurian-ness since then, it seems like a fitting piece for the genre, yet I'm not big on Arthurian-type things, really (if only because my little sister kept making me watch the TV programme Merlin, which I dislike very much). 
Charlie Rabbit- I first read this when it was published in the anthology Kid's Night In.  It's quite harrowing in the fact that the two main characters are children facing possible death, and the effects and reality of war.  However, there's hope and joy at the end, which prevents it from being too dark.
From the Lighthouse- was a strange, darkly humorous little story, with a strange otherworldly setting and the power of teamwork bringing communities together and whatnot, without being overly preachy.
The Hill -is simplistic and probably the most child-friendly story in the book (while others are more definitely teenage pieces of fiction).  It's not necessarily boring, though.
Lighting Bringer- I'm not quite sure what to make of this story, dear blog.  I mean, as well as having your typical Nix-esque fantasty element, romance is one of the key elements (it was first published in the anthology Love and Sex).    It seems a little under-developed and rushed, like, "oh, that was it?" The idea is nice, but the story itself falls short.  Still, few stories combine the science of weather with fantasy/magic powers, and having built on various ideas of fact, Garth Nix turns it into fiction.  The intro is probably the most interesting in the book.
Down to the Scum Quarter-is the oldest piece in the book, and is in short just  a hilarious mockery of those "choose-your-own-adventure" books, and it even says in the intro, "decide whether you're going to cheat or not. Most people cheat in solo adventures, even if they don't admit it."  Inspired by The Three Musketeers, it's a great opportunity to don your cape and grab your rapier, and rescue your beloved.  It holds many laughs, and is a nice change from the norm.
Heart's Desire- another Arthurian tale, this time about the strange relationship between Merlin and Nimue, and despite the fact that Garth Nix normally stays away from folklore and such, it's in his typical fantasy style. 
Hansel's Eyes- a gritty urban retelling of the Hansel & Gretel story, in which the brother and sister are drugged with Chloroform and abandoned on the deserted side of town.  In this version they're both resourceful, and Gretel in particular doesn't seem like such a weak and simpering little child.  Okay, I know she kicks major witch butt at the end of the fairy tale, but for much of the rest of the story she's all 2-dimensional. 
Hope Chest - is an epic historical-western-scifi sort of short story, and at 40 pages or so the longest story  in the book after Nicholas Sayre.  The historical and western elements of the book are a little surprising, because Garth Nix doesn't normally include these things in his novels.  The blend of western-meets-scifi is quite bizarre and "what?!", but it works (look out for the awesome shooting scene in the train). 
My Really New Epic Fantasy Series -is another parody, originally a spoken-word piece that mocks all the clichés of fantasy writing.  Like Down to the Scum Quarter, it's interesting to see this side of Garth Nix that you didn't even know he posessed in the Old Kingdom trilogy. 
Three Roses- is a totally delightful and hopelessly romantic little fairy-tale.  It makes me feel smushy whenever I read it, and all, "aaaaw".  It's an utterly charming story.
Endings - is one of those stories which seems a little confusing at first, but the more you read it the more the mysteriousness reveals itself, answerig one set of questions and then leaving the reader to ponder another set, leading on from the first.  It's not even five full pages (at least in my paperback edition), but there's definitely a novel in it somewhere.  At least I think there is the potential to be.  The writing style fits the mysterious narrator, which seems calm and emotionless. 

Overall: It's an interesting mix of short stories, of all shapes and sizes.  Each story has a little intro, and though now and again it's a little self-indulgent, it gives background to the stories and explains some of them a little.

In Three Words: a mixed bag.
Reccomended for: all fans of Garth Nix.
Rating: 3.5

Monday, 20 September 2010

Speak. Loudly.

Dear Blog,
I am one of the (no doubt hundreds) of bloggers and twitterers (tweeters?) who is totally outraged by this article, which you've probably read by now.  The main cause for my anger is that the article, written by a Dr. Wesley Scroggins, is "soft pornography." 
Yes, I mean  a book that deals with the aftermath of the rape of a teenage girl.  The idea that it is anything else is, excuse my language, utter crap.
I quote from the article here-

In high school English classes, children are required to read and view material that should be classified as soft pornography.

Um, excuse me?! Either he hasn't read it, and is just acting on complaints of other parents, or he is very disturbed if he finds that rape is pornography. 

One such book is called "Speak." ...As the main character in the book is alone with a boy who is touching her female parts, she makes the statement that this is what high school is supposed to feel like. The boy then rapes her on the next page. Actually, the book and movie both contain two rape scenes.
I seriously doubt that this Wesley Scroggins, the writer of the article, has even read Speak.  Unless I missed something, then there's only one rape scene in the book.  And it isn't even graphic. It's more about what Melinda feels like, and what's going through her head. Nay, I suppose any readers 13+ could read the book.
And, what, then?  We read about sexual assault in newspapers and on the television and the radio- so why should books be any different? What world does Scroggins live in if he thinks that such novels corrupt our safe, happy childhood innocence?
It makes you wonder what Scroggins was like as a teenager, actually.  Another part of the article proceeds to talk about the evils of sex education being taught to eighth-graders, to which I can only say; better we young'uns know about the, erm, ways of the world than we don't.  The teenage pregnancy rate here in England is the highest in Europe. Surely Scroggins' way of wanting to keep us all in the dark is only encouraging that?

The very idea of banning Speak  is to my mind ludicrous.  Speak has helped many people come to terms with all shapes and sizes of abuse since it was first published in 1999.  It faces the brutal truth, which otherwise would be just swept under the carpet and left there for years, silent, smoldering into nothingness like the unspoken (that's the poet in me coming out), which Melinda tries so hard to hide in Speak.  But you know what the message is? There's a clue in the title.  Speak up. 

The article also attacks Twenty Boy Summer and  Slaughterhouse-Five, neither of which I've actually read, but, still.  Slaughterhouse is one of those Great Works of Literature everybody praises, but of which Groggins says "...is a book that contains so much profane language, it would make a sailor blush with shame. The "f word" is plastered on almost every other page."
 Does he honestly think that teenagers have never encountered swearing?  We hear far worse things on the streets and in schools than between pages of books. 
There are almost 300 comments on the article, however, most of which argue against Croggins. And as well as a multitude of blog entries (here and here and several other  places too) on the subject and a twitter thread, #SpeakLoudly.  So, well, yay for all the people who are standing up to Scroggins and speaking. Loudly.  

Sunday, 19 September 2010

In My Mailbox 15 (two weeks of books)

Dear Blog,
hosted as ever by The Story Siren.
This is actually 2 weeks' worth of books, seeing as I got some books I wanted to mention I recieved last week but couldn't, because I was out all day. 
I went a little insane this week and bought a load of books from a charity shop in town I'd never visited before.  Turns out they had loads of teen fiction, which explains my larger-than-normal haul from this last fortnight.

Torment by Lauren Kate (*squeal* thank you Random House UK!)

Audrey, Wait by Robin Benway
Glass by Ellen Hopkins (currently reading.  Sooo good)
Monkey bu Wu Cheng-en (review here)
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan (review here

Life of Pi by Yann Martel
The Legacy by Gemma Malley
The Lady in the Tower by Marie-Louise Jensen
Troy by Adele Geras
Mercy by Caroline B. Cooney
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Shadow Web by N.M Browne
Double Cross by Malorie Blackman
Heartbeat by Sharon Creech (review coming soon)
The Fences Between Us by Kirby Larson (yaaaaaaay!)

Well, reader, what about you? 

Friday, 17 September 2010

Foreign Language Friday: Monkey

Dear Blog,
Foreign Language Friday again.  The last one for a few weeks, I think, so I have time to read and/or gather more awesome novels in translation.  Last night I realised that if I do it every week then I might run out of books.  Eeek! 
Worry not.  It shall return in a while.  And sorry this entry's so short.

Name: Monkey (originally published as Xī Yóu Jì, Journey to the West)
Written by: Wu Cheng'en
First published in: Chinese.  Chinese script, I mean.
Translated by: Arthur Waley
Summary (from Goodreads): Probably the most popular book in the history of the Far East, this classic combination of picaresque novel and folk epic mixes satire, allegory, and history into a rollicking tale. It is the story of the rougish Monkey and his encounters with major and minor spirits, gods, demigods, demons, ogres, monsters, and fairies. This translation, by the distinguished scholar Arthur Waley, is the first accurate English version; it makes available to the Western reader a faithful reproduction of the spirit and meaning of the original.

Review: I actually found this on the manga shelf in the teenage section of my local library. I guess because the edition I read (pictured) looks rather oriental and kung fu-ish.
When my father saw I'd borrowed this from the library he quite interested that this was the novel that the Japanese TV programme of the same name had been based on, then proceeded to ramble about how he used to watch it.   But, yes, this is that book.

The translation is excellent. Seriously, I can't praise it highly enough.  It must be pretty tricky to translate such an epic novel from 16th-century Chinese, but Arthur Waley does it excellently. He abridges it in a different style from previous editions/translations, instead omitting whole irrelevant chapters as opposed to cutting out chunks of the dialogue.  And with over 100 chapters in the original work, I guess it needs it. 
It'd be interesting to read the original version to compare, I think.  If I ever learn Mandarin and/or to read Chinese, that is.  Until then, I'll just presume that it must have been hard work, and Waley did it well. 

It's pretty hard to believe that this is an abridged version.  At over 350 pages, with really really small  text, Monkey takes work. It's the sort of book where you need to be reading another novel at the same time that doesn't consume so much time or take so much effort.
And, still, despite the abridgement, in some parts it's painfully slow.  Tripitaka, Monkey, Sandy and Pigsy don't actually set out on their quest until a good 120 pages in or so, the first 90 just telling the story of how Monkey got all his powers, was imprisoned under the mountain and so on.  Lots of the book is made up of individual episodes and, in the case of lots of them, you wouldn't miss much if you had skipped it.  I did at one point try and skip forward a few chapters, but then was consumed by guilt and went back and read them (I can never skip parts of books or I feel like I'm cheating). 

Despite the epic length, it's an interesting read and much more light-hearted than I thought it would be.  It's full of jokes, puns, kick-ass fantasy fight scenes of the sort I've not read in ages, wit, and such.  It's also quite satirical, with heaven and hell being governed by a similar method to the (then) Chinese court. It seems both quite religious without having huge elements of religion in it, if that makes any sense. 

Monkey is, as the title suggests, the star of the show.  He's one of those characters you watch rather than feel for, but entertaining nonetheless in his arrogance and the fact that he never seems to really learn from all the a
However.  Pigsy, Sandy and Tripitaka got on my nerves a little.  Pigsy and Sandy both seemed very two-dimensional, and Tripitaka instead of being the hero seemed a little weak and easy to give up.   I wanted to shake him now and  again and exclaim, "come on, Tripitaka!   You can do it!  Don't leave it all to your primate friend!"  The series of monks and courtiers were slightly confusing, especially as some of them only  came into the story once or twice and yet still had their own stories to tell.  Which makes things pretty confusing in places.

So, well, overall I'm not sure.  It was certainly hard work, but there were moments of amusingness that made it worth it, sort of. 

In Three Words: entertaining, insightful,  loooooong.
Reccomended for:   People with time on their hands.
Rating: 2.5  Take it or leave it.  If you leave it, oh well, but if you take it and persevere, you'll be rewarded.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Book-ish Life Meme

Dear Blog,
I saw this first posted a few days ago over at Fluttering Butterflies and then at I Was a Teenage Book Geek.  In this interesting meme you fill in the blanks with titles of novels you've read this year.  All the links go to reviews I've written of them (providing I have of course). 

In high school I was Gone (Michael Grant)
Because I left school to be home-educated when I was eight, hence never went to high/secondary school.

People might be surprised I'm Looking for Alaska (John Green)

I will never be A Little Princess (Frances Hodgson Burnett)

My fantasy job is On Pointe (Lorie Ann Grover)

At the end of a long day I need The Sweet Far Thing (Libba Bray)

I hate it when Far From You (Lisa Schroeder)

Wish I had The Infinite Wisdom of Harriet Rose (Diana Janney)

My family reunions are Massive (Julia Bell)

At a party you'd find me with The Wind Singer (William Nicholson)

I've never been to  The Other Side of the Island (Allegra Goodman)

A happy day includes Drawing with Light (Julia Green)

Motto I live by Make Lemonade (Virginia Euwer Wolff)

On my bucket list Stop Pretending (Sonya Sones)

In my next life, I want to be Elsewhere (Gabrielle Zevin)

Well, what are you waiting for, readers?  Take part!  It's fun.  Post links in the comments section to your lists.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Review: What My Mother Doesn't Know

Dear Blog,
Sorry this review is one of my shortest ever, but I'm pretty busy this week.

Summary (from Goodreads):
My name is Sophie.

This book is about me.
It tells
the heart-stoppingly riveting story
of my first love.
And also of my second.
And, okay, my third love too.
It's not that I'm boy crazy.
It's just that even though
I'm almost fifteen
it's like
my mind
and my body
and my heart
just don't seem to be able to agree
on anything.

Review: I am a fan of two things; verse novels, and Sonya Sones.  And the reason I like Sonya Sones is because she writes verse novels.  I read her novel Stop Pretending  a few months ago (review here), and have since been meaning to seek out more of her work.
What  my Mother Doesn't Know is much more joyful and light-hearted.  The narration is noisy and happy in the same way that Stop Pretending seems distant and quiet, if that makes any sense, though there are some moments of seriousness as Sophie contemplates life, love and the world around her.

Speaking of Sophie.  She was completely boy crazy but instantly likeable anyway.   Probably, as nostalgic adults say, she was "in love with love" more than her boyfriends themselves, of which there are three.  There's Dylan, who seems nice enough at first but then just tapers off in typical teenage-love fashion, Chaz, an internet stalker, and Murphy, the class geek.  For a long time, although Sophie tells her friends she has a boyfriend, she doesn't actually confess it's Murphy for as long as possible.  But they were so cute together anyway.  Sophie herself was frighteningly realistic, complete with flaws and angry emotions and everything else that makes a character complete.  

The writing style is good in that it isn't just poetry that's been through a shredder.  Sophie has a voice, a certain way of talking.  Quite often it seems that poetry is poetry, and the narrator loses his/her voice in the attempt to make the poetry sound like  more than prose that's been through a shredder. And while it's told in a typical free-verse form, instead of experimenting with different shapes and forms  à la Lisa Schroeder or Ellen Hopkins, the choice of words and so on seems quite unique.

What My Mother Doesn't Know interestingly features on the ALA list of Most commonly challenged books in the United States in 2004 and 2005.  Having read up a little more about it, it's due to two things, 1 being, poems like It's That Time of the Month Again, which speaks for itself, and Ice Capades. The second reason is it being mismarketed and appearing in elementary school libraries, aimed at 11 and 12-ear-olds and so on. I suppose parents dislike the idea of their little darlings reading about the truth. Forgive me for being frank, but the truth is truth and  whether people like it or not we young people find reality interesting.  It seems a little unfair that due to the faults of various publicity departments and whatnot it should be so challenged everywhere.
Enough with my speech.  On to the summary.

In Three Words: Funny, realistic, rude, truthful.  Oops, that's four. 
Recommended for:
Rating: 4

Friday, 10 September 2010

Foreign Language Friday: Bonjour Tristesse

Dear Blog,
for once, a review I'm not writing in the middle of the night.  That makes a change. 

Name: Bonjour Tristesse (originally published with the same title)
Written by: Françoise Sagan
Originally Published in: French
Translated by: Irene Ash
Summary (from Goodreads): Set against the translucent beauty of France in summer, Bonjour Tristesse is a bittersweet tale narrated by Cécile, a seventeen-year-old girl on the brink of womanhood, whose meddling in her father's love life leads to tragic consequences. Freed from boarding school, Cécile lives in unchecked enjoyment with her youngish, widowed father -- an affectionate rogue, dissolute and promiscuous. Having accepted the constantly changing women in his life, Cécile pursues a sexual conquest of her own with a "tall and almost beautiful" law student. Then, a new woman appears in her father's life. Feeling threatened but empowered, Cécile sets in motion a devastating plan that claims a surprising victim. Deceptively simple in structure, Bonjour Tristesse is a complex and beautifully composed portrait of casual amorality and a young woman's desperate attempt to understand and control the world around her.

Review: I reserved this at the library after hearing that the author had written it aged eighteen after failing her exams.  Writers with such interesting stories interest me.  Often, I find, books with interesting authors are just published because of that, and then the books are terrible, but despite this I keep reading books with interesting and unique reasons for existence.
Anyway.  It's the shortest book that I've read since forever, so when it turned up at  the library I was all, "meh." I started reading it anyway, and how glad I am that I did. I was completely sucked in and had fleeting, unimportant things like rehearsals for shows and such gotten in the way then I'd have read the whole thing in one sitting.  Which in truth wouldn't be hard because it was so short, but anyway.

One of the reasons that Cécile, the protagonist, loathes her father's future wife so much is that she stands in the way of the fleeting, careless life that she shares with her father.  They're both quite happy driving around Paris in fast cars and going out every night and having flings (Raymond and Cécile's attitude towards unmarried sex made this pretty controversial back in 1954).  The spare yet vivid writing style fits their lives perfectly, and works well for the atmosphere that is the French Riviera at the height of summer. 

Cécile is both innocent yet an old head on young shoulders who doesn't want to be treated like a child.  I think Sagan's youth works well in that sense-they say write what you know, which is why Cécile is a believable character you're not sure whether you should love or hate (she's both a bit of a brat and a thoughtful sort of person.  Maybe both at once): one of those characters that you observe rather than live with.   It's interesting to watch her change throughout the book, despite how short it is; at the start she's a spoiled girl, and by the end she's a woman. Although it may be disguised by all that goes on in the book, she's really no different from any other teenage girl. 

Love is the main element of the book. I couldn't help but feel that with most of the drama set around Anne and Raymond, Cécile's relationship with a 26-year-old named Cyril.  It's mentioned a couple of times, but it's rushed and almost as if as soon as she meets him and they go sailing together, they're kissing and making love in the woods.  The focus is much more on the relationships between the adults in the book, and how Cécile
tries, and to a certain extent succeeds (but not the way you expect) to change everything.

And the ending? It was sad, but in truth, I sort of saw it coming.  It's not really that hard to work out that a book such as Bonjour Tristesse will have such a conclusion. Still, it was dramatic and wrapped things up nicely tragically, leaving few questions unanswered. 

In Three Words: sophisticated, dark, clever.
Reccomended for: every teenager- it's one of those books that will leave you slightly wiser and more aware of the world.
Rating: 4.5.  It's more than a mere beach read.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Review: Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Dear Blog,
If you're wondering how it is that I'm posting a review practically every day, then my reason is this:  I wrote a heap of reviews on holiday, so half of these I just have to type up and then post.  I'm not yet fully caught up. 
Anyway.  This is another late-at-night review so sorry it's so short.

Summary (from Goodreads): For years, Grace has watched the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf—her wolf—is a chilling presence she can't seem to live without. Meanwhile, Sam has lived two lives: In winter, the frozen woods, the protection of the pack, and the silent company of a fearless girl. In summer, a few precious months of being human ... until the cold makes him shift back again.
Now, Grace meets a yellow-eyed boy whose familiarity takes her breath away. It's her wolf. It has to be. But as winter nears, Sam must fight to stay human--or risk losing himself, and Grace, forever.

Review:  This is one of those books that I picked up at the library thinking, "hmm, everybody else on the internet seems to like it.  Perhaps I'll give it a go."  And it was better than I expected.  Waaaaay better.

The story alternates points of view between Grace and Sam, both of whom were great protagonists. Quite often in such dual narrative books it can be quite hard to make both voices sound original (in some books it can be kind of confusing as to who's talking), but the voices in Shiver are totally unique and seem to fit each character perfectly. Some parts of Sam's narrative, while he was a wolf, read almost like poetry, while Grace's "voice" was clear and realistic.  The writing style overall is poetic and flowing, and the descriptions leap off the page.

 Sam was undoubtedly my favourite of the two- he seemed ever so slightly more three-dimensional, complete with flaws and everything. Grace seemed slightly too perfect now and again, in a my-parents-are-away-all-the-time-so-I'm-really-driven-and-efficient sort of way. Still, she was likeable and capable, complete with a backbone and everything.  Her parents are equally mysterious - why do they never seem to care?  why don't they?  That was never really explored.

One of my favourite things (if not my favourite) is the romance between Sam and Grace.  It was so beautiful, and one of those rare romance books which leaves me feeling slightly lonely.  I'm so pathetic.  But that's how wonderfully written it is.   Their romance is both sweet and passionate, and paced just right.  It was good that you could see them from the others' point of view, which added a different aspect to the two of them.  The scene in the sweet shop was particularly touching and "aaaaw!".  Interestingly, there is no  main *villain* in Shiver that keeps Sam and Grace apart, except the change in temperature that will turn Sam into a wolf, possibly for the rest of his life. This makes it a little slow and lacking in drama,

Seeing as the trilogy is called The Wolves of Mercy Falls, this kinds of gives it away that, well, it's about wolves.  So I shall talk about them.  They were a refreshing change from the norm- notice how they're the wolves of Mercy Falls, not the werewolves of Mercy Falls.  I suppose the only thing that makes them *magic* is that they transform from man to wolf -they hardly seem like monsters at all.  Speaking of which, the ideas of the wolves transforming depending on how hot/cold it is was pretty refreshing and different from the norm.  No full moons around here.

The ending.   You may or may not like it, depending on whether a) you have any medical expertise in such things or b) you just think it's too far-fetched. I'm not quite sure what to make of it, in truth.  It's quite sudden and, "oh, is that all?"  However, it leaves you desperate for the sequel, Linger, continuing things.  The ending is very open, with many minor characters whose stories are continued and leave you  pondering their fate.

A Shallow Extra Thought: I've pictured the UK cover, but I much prefer the US one.  The cover from here in the sceptr'd isle makes it look almost like a horror story of sorts.  I suppose the grass is always greener on the other side. However, I've decided to finally stop waiting for the pretty US edition of Mockingjay to be a little cheaper on Amazon.co.uk, because in truth I just can't wait to read it now.  But back on the subject, the US cover is in my opinion prettier.
Anyway.  Which ever edition you can get hold of, read it now. 

In three words: poetic, romantic, haunting.
Reccomended for: everyone, on a dark winter's night with a mug of hot chocolate.
Rating: 4.   

Monday, 6 September 2010

Review: True Believer

Dear Blog,
I finished True Believer this afternoon.  Hence, I have a review-

Summary (from Goodreads): At 15, LaVaughn already knows that life is hard and that getting ahead takes a strong mind and an even stronger will. Surrounded by poverty and violence, she strives every day not to be just another inner-city statistic: "My hope is strong like an athlete. Every morning when we walk through the metal detectors to get into school ... it is an important day of dues-paying so I can go to college and be out of here." Last year when she babysat for Jolly, a young unwed mother, she saw firsthand how an unplanned pregnancy can diminish options. So she ignores the boys, studies hard, and hopes it will all be enough to get her into college. Then Jody moves back into the neighborhood. Once LaVaughn's childhood friend, Jody is now "suddenly beautiful... He could be in movies the way the parts of his face go together." If LaVaughn's choices were difficult before Jody, now they're almost impossible. What LaVaughn doesn't know is that Jody has difficult decisions of his own to make--decisions that could turn her carefully ordered world upside down.

Review: a couple of weeks ago I read and loved Make Lemonade (review here).  I found a copy of True Believer at a library a few miles away from my house and, as I do when I see books I’ve been wanting for a while with more enthusiasm than usual, grabbed it and rushed to take it out as if somebody was going to steal it while I held it.

The story picks up from where Make Lemonade left off: Jolly has moved on, going to school with extra funding to help her support Jilly and Jeremy, and LaVaughn is studying hard and taking extra classes to help her achieve her dream of going to college. In this second book of the trilogy, LaVaughn is slightly older and her world is slightly bigger; she’s contemplating life, religion, sex, heaven, hell, her place in the universe, the future, her relationship with her mother and LaVaughn’s reactions to her having a boyfriend, who she feels is replacing her dad, and LaVaughn’s own first love. All in all, she has a lot to deal with and to think about.

And Virginia Euwer Wolff writes about it excellently. LaVaughn’s voice is so clear throughout the book, it’s like she’s talking directly to the reader and confiding in them, after her own best friends Annie and Myrtle reject her. And you find yourself rooting for her. LaVaughn is in turn serious, entertaining, hardworking, and hopelessly romantic. Above all, despite everything, she has faith in herself. To quote from both part of a poem and the title of the book, she is a true believer. Her confidence and self-belief is kind of inspiring. But maybe that’s just me, being the insecure and fretful little thing that I am.

I’m not sure what I think of the romance between LaVaughn and Jody. On one hand, the conclusion to what was going on between them was slightly disappointing, but on the other it was sweet and utterly delightful. Some people would argue that nothing much really happens between them. I beg to differ. The moments where they’re together -at the dance, when Jody is practicing his lifeguard skills and LaVaughn pretends to drown for him, at the party- are just so sweet. And true, too- LaVaughn’s first experiences with love are full of ups and downs in turn.

I’ve read more free-verse novels in the last few months than I can count. When I read them I always have a good think about the writing style. What happens is nice enough, but sometimes the “poetry” just sounds like prose that’s been through a shredder. The way LaVaughn talks make it seem more like verse than *poetry*, à la Ellen Hopkins, but there are moments when the poetry just shines through in a “ta-da!” sort of way. The realistic dialogue makes the moments of true poetry really stand out.

In three words: beats the predecessor.
Recommended for: everybody who wants to know what happens to LaVaughn next.
Rating: 5. Even better than Make Lemonade.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

In My Mailbox 14

Dear Blog,
IMM is hosted every week over at The Story Siren.

This week was pretty cool, and one of those weeks In Which Tez Borrows More Books Than She Can Read Before The Library Books Are Overdue.  But what the heck, renewing books was invented for a reason.
This week was also pretty awesome in that I obtained three verse novels which I've been after for aeons.

Genesis by Bernard Beckett
Tell Me I'm OK, Really by  Rosie Rushton
Monkey by Wú Chéng'ēn
Dramacon volume 1 by Svetlana Chmakova
Dramacon volume 2 by ^^
True Believer by Virginia Euwer Wolff

What My Mother Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones (review written, I just need to post it)
Three Rivers Rising by Jame Richards (*excited squeal*)
Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

Oh, and one thing, seeing as you're here, reader: I think I might change the blog backround, template and such. What do you think?  Do you like my blog as it is, or would you prefer a change?
Anyway.  Enough of my rambling.  Which books did you get this week?

Friday, 3 September 2010

Foreign Language Friday: Heidi by Johanna Spyri

Dear Blog,
because it's a classic.  And sorry it's such a short review, but it's the middle of the night in England (I can't sleep), and so I'm not in my best review-writing mindset.

Name: Name: Heidi (originally Heidis Lehr- und Wanderjahre)

Written by: Johanna Spyri
Originally Published in: German
Translated by: it depends which edition you get.  Some translations are excellent, while some aren't so great.
Summary (from Goodreads): Johanna Spyri's classic story of a young orphan sent to live with her grumpy grandfather in the Swiss Alps is retold in it's entirety in this beautifully bound hardcover edition. Heidi has charmed and intrigued readers since it's original publication in 1880. Much more than a children's story, the narrative is also a lesson on the precarious nature of freedom, a luxury too often taken for granted. Heidi almost loses her liberty as she is ripped away from the tranquility of the mountains to tend to a sick cousin in the city. Happily, all's well that ends well, and the reader is left with only warm, fuzzy thoughts. Spyrii's story will never grow wearisome.

Review: Heidi is, I think, the sort of read meant for two types of people- children under ten or eleven, and adults who read it when they were younger and are re-reading it in a nostalgic sort of way.  I am neither, but if I don't read it now, I'll probably never read it -I can't be a nostalgic adult reading it if I didn't read it as a kid. Hence, it is now or never. 

I had better say this before anything else: If you like disturbing books where everybody dies, then Heidi is definitely not for you.  Heidi is full of happy people, beautiful scenery, and happy people surrounded by beautiful scenery.  Nobody dies, and the height of sadness and/or depressing things is when  Heidi is homesick and then the doctor decides that it's best for her to be sent home again.  So if you're looking for death and gore and depressing things, you may as well not bother reading Heidi.  However, if you're in need of cheering up or you've just read too much depressing fiction, then you should. It's the sort of sugary-sweet book which leaves you all warm and smiley.

It's quite hard to describe the writing style.  It's quite straightforward-clearly written for kids- but at the same time full of descriptions.  The best way to put this is by saying that the descriptions are very simplistic, I guess.    The plot is much the same- it plods along in a quietly paced sort of way.

Heidi was the Pollyanna-esque little person that I expected her to be, and held few surprises.  I thought she was utterly charming anyway, and the sort of main character that I come across now and again and wish was my little sister (other recent ideal little-sister-protagonists include Mei in An Ocean Apart and Yotsuba in the Yotsubato manga series).  It made me quite happy that considering the book was set over three years or so, her dialogue matured as the book went on (it gets on my nerves when a book is set over a long period of time and the characters' voice never changes).
Clara was nice enough, but unlike Heidi, she didn't change.  And she didn't really act like she was 12/13, either.  I guess that characters in books need some big event or something to change them and for them to develop into more three-dimensional people.  Which Heidi lacked, alas.  

One thing I wasn't too keen on was the element of religion.  This is probably just because I'm not a Christian, but I wasn't expecting so much of it.  There's lots of prayer, redemption and morality.  Clara's Grandmamma teaches Heidi to trust in God, pray every night, and that everything will turn out okay if she does.  And when everything does, she puts it down to that fact.   I have nothing against religion-if Heidi and her companions  are Christians, that's fine with me-but as I was reading it, it just felt...hmm. I don't know if any other non-religious-type people might feel the same way.

In Three Words: sweet yet dissappointing.

Recommended for: 6-10 year olds, mostly, or adults who read it as a child.
Rating: 2.  Alas.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Review: Gold Dust

Dear Blog,

Summary (from the blurb): Inez and her brother are amazed to find a huge hole being dug right outside the front door of their father's shop. Then suddenly more holes appear all over the main street and before long the cars can't use the road and everyone has to walk around balancing on planks of wood. It can only be a matter of time before the foundations give way and the whole town collapses. People are travelling from all over the country - the word on everyone's lips is GOLD. 

Review: I’m a pretty big fan of Geraldine McCaughrean, for this reason: I enjoyed her books when I was nine or ten, I like them now, and I’ll probably like them when I’ve been to university, when I’m married, when I’m an old lady, etc. etc. etc. Even though most of her books-for-young-people are suitable for 10+ or so, it’s impossible to outgrow them (that said, the only exception to this is The White Darkness and Cyrano, though classed on her website as an “adult” book, is shelved in “teenage” wherever I go. Anyway, it’s impossible to outgrow her books. Although most of them are about kids/teenagers, the writing style in way they’re written is quite mature, almost as if she were writing for herself. They’re written in such a poetic and flowing way that anybody could, and anybody should, read them.

Gold Dust is set in a town in Amazonian Brazil, and it’s alive with various Portuguese words and phrases (there’s a little glossary at the back as well). Inez and Maro’s world seemed so alive, the way their hometown of Serra Vazia fell apart with the arrival of garimpeiros felt so realistic and present. The settings were certainly realistic and vividly described, and  I particularly liked the scene where Inez and Maro are in the rainforest in the dead of night: it was so well-written and toe-curlingly creepy, and probably one of my favourite scenes in the book.

The characters. Now then. The characters were a huge part in the book. They were the story. But there were so many of them, and each with their own story to tell, all so colourful and exciting, that Inez and Maro, who were supposedly were the main characters, weren’t as three-dimensional and well explored as they ought to be. They were likeable enough, and were the heroes of the story to a certain extent, but who were they? Maro liked football and Inez was studious and a devout Christian, but what else? They were total mysteries.
Such is the bad thing about having so many individual, unique characters (*gasp* too many interesting characters? who would have thought I’d ever say that?!). It was almost as if there wasn’t a main character at all, which isn’t so bad, just means that there isn’t one single person who we can follow through the book and relate to and really feel for. Father Ignatius and his war of words with Valmir Zoderer was particularly entertaining.

The idea is certainly unique. The last book I read about a gold rush was two years ago, and the last book I read set in South America was one year ago. Either I read very narrowly or there isn’t much English-Language childrens/teenage fiction out there set in South America. Which is a shame because it looks like an interesting sort of place.
And the plot is pretty individual, too. It was paced perfectly so that you could almost see Serra Vazia literally falling into the ground bit by bit as the miners dug everything up in their search for gold.  It was sort of heart-warming, especially towards the end.  The sense of community is almost nostalgic. 

So, well, while it’s not the best Geraldine McCaughrean book I’ve read, it’s still a rewarding book and worth the read.

In Three Words: rewarding. South America!
Recommended for: 9-14 year olds, mostly, but I suppose anybody would enjoy it.
Rating: 3.